Sky PM Agenda

Subjects: Security breach at Parliament House; Slater &Gordon; Olympic Dam.

Transcript, E&OE

23 August 2012

DAVID SPEERS: Let's bring in our guest this afternoon: Trade Minister Craig Emerson is in Canberra, in our Canberra studio. Minister, thanks for your time. Could I just start with that one: what did you make of this security breach in Parliament House – getting right up to under the Prime Minister's nose?

CRAIG EMERSON: Well, it's pretty clear that no actual harm was done. Obviously, the authorities will need to review how that young man got into Parliament House and then into the Blue Room. I'm not an expert on these sorts of things. Perhaps the security in the blue room where the press conference was taking place had assumed that he was a journalist. But it's not for me to pre-empt reviews, and obviously they're going to have a look at that.

SPEERS: All right. Let's get to the Prime Minister's rebuttal today of the claims that have been running against her all week about her past at Slater & Gordon. She's gone on the front foot to try and address the questions she's been facing. Do you think this issue has now been put to bed?

EMERSON: Well that's really a matter for the media. The Prime Minister stood up until there were no more questions. So that really puts the issue, in our minds, to rest. But there will be a continuation of pretty despicable blogging for people and on behalf of people who have very bad motivations here. In terms of the mainstream media, they have been asking for the Prime Minister to make statements. I don't know how more emphatically you can do that other than to stand up and ask questions, receive questions, invite the media to keep asking questions until they have no more – and that's exactly what happened. Now, I think that those in the mainstream media will have been following the publication of material in The Australian newspaper, and to an extent, in the Daily Telegraph. It would be surprising if they actually had not thought of the sort of questions that they wanted to ask. I know in Sunday Agenda Paul Kelly and others raised a number of issues, or believed that they were raising a number of issues. I can't see how a Prime Minister could engage more emphatically in answering every question that the media could think of other than to stand up and wait and answer questions until there are no more.

SPEERS: Wouldn't it have been better, though, Minister to have done this on Sunday morning with Paul Kelly and Peter van Onselen than to wait until Thursday afternoon and let this story run as long as it has?

EMERSON: As the Prime Minister has consistently said, there is no actual allegation of wrongdoing against her. But we have seen, unfortunately, the re-publication of material that the Prime Minister describes as being defamatory. This is the third time these assertions have been published and then re-published and now re-published again. So, in those circumstances you reach a point where, having reiterated as a Prime Minister that she has done nothing wrong and there are no allegations against her, that…

SPEERS: Well it's not defamatory to say, on her own admission today … …

EMERSON: … she arrives at a point where she decided to make a full statement.

SPEERS: The Prime Minister has admitted today that she was involved in providing advice in the setting-up of this workplace reform association. She didn't create a file at the law firm. Look, these may not be serious matters, but are they legitimate areas of interest when it goes to judging the character, behaviour and trustworthiness of the Prime Minister?

EMERSON: Well here we go again. You had, as an organisation, Sky Agenda, every opportunity to put all of these questions to the Prime Minister. It was exhausted, and now you're asking me for my opinion on these very issues that the Prime Minister canvassed.

SPEERS: I'm asking you whether they were legitimate questions to canvass. And, as I say, on the Prime Minister's admission, she didn't set up a file when perhaps she should have. I'm not saying it's a serious matter, as I say, but I'm just asking you whether you think this was a legitimate area of pursuit.

EMERSON: My response is that this matter should now be closed. Whether it is closed or not will depend on news outlets such as The Australian newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, Sky Agenda, and others. That's a matter ultimately for your news outlets, but I think it's a bit unusual to – having had that opportunity to ask the Prime Minster any and all questions – that you wanted to have me on the program and start asking me questions. Surely, standing there for as long as it took to answer all questions, which people would have had considered over a very long period of time, is sufficient – rather than asking me those sorts of questions.

SPEERS: All I'm asking you is whether this was, given your criticism of the media here, a legitimate line of pursuit – given also that we had a former partner at Slater & Gordon claiming she left under some pressure from Slater & Gordon.

EMERSON: Here we go again. Here we go again. And look, I am not going to kick the story along.

SPEERS: I'm just asking you whether this …

EMERSON: You've got plenty of footage. You've got 40 minutes of footage.

SPEERS: … I'm just asking you if this was a legitimate line for the media – given the criticism that you've just made of the media.

EMERSON: I repeat … Well, look, the media should not be so precious that when a Minister engages in the mildest possible criticism to just point out a couple of facts – now you're acting all wounded; that the media is being criticised. We get criticised all the time. We understand that. We accept it, whether we think it's fair or not. I've just engaged in the mildest possible comment on the media. Now you're saying 'given your criticism of the media'. I couldn't have been more moderate. And as far as we are concerned, that matter is now settled.

SPEERS: Okay. Well I'm certainly not feeling wounded. I'm just asking a question. Could I also ask you about …

EMERSON: Good on you, mate. You've got broad shoulders.

SPEERS: I just want to ask you about Olympic Dam as well. That dominated Question Time this afternoon.

EMERSON: Sure.

SPEERS: Now, Tony Abbott says that there were comments from Jacques Nasser, the Chairman, Marius Kloppers the CEO, throughout the course of this year raising concerns about Australia becoming a more high-cost economy to do business in. They did make those comments. Yes, BHP Billiton never mentioned the carbon tax or mining tax in relation to this specific announcement, but is there an argument that Australia has become a more high-cost environment with the new taxes that are being brought in?

EMERSON: Well let's go to the so-called "new taxes". We're putting a price on carbon along with many other countries around the world and other jurisdictions. For the most emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries, that $23 per tonne carbon price works out at $1.30 per tonne. We could sit back and do what Tony Abbott has done, and that is said that yes climate change is real – or actually maybe it's 'absolute crap', but today and the last few days he's believed that it's real – but they're not going to do anything real about it other than charge households $1,300 each for their very inefficient system. So we are implementing a price on carbon, and we are introducing and have introduced a mining tax – a profits-based one. Since that's happened, there's $270 billion of investment coming our way. Investment has grown in the most recent available period to March of this year by 20 per cent to be at 40-year highs. Now, what Tony Abbott did, however, is admit that he hadn't read a two-page statement from BHP in relation to the postponement of that project, and then today says he, in fact, had. So between 3.45pm yesterday and 7.30pm yesterday he's now claiming he read the statement and forgot all about it – because when he was asked by Leigh Sales had he read it, he said 'no'. There's not a lot of ambiguity around the word 'no'. And this goes to the question of Tony Abbott's character. He walked in there with one purpose, and one purpose only: and that is to blame the postponement of Olympic Dam on the carbon price and on the mining tax. He failed miserably, but he exposed yet again his inability to handle long-form interviews.

SPEERS: And just finally – we're nearly out of time: is the mining boom over, as Martin Ferguson seemed to suggest?

EMERSON: Prices have come off, and those price reductions from very high levels to still high levels are factored into our Budget. They are factored into our forward thinking. But in terms of investment – as Martin Ferguson has indicated – $270 billion. He's named the various major projects. It occurs to me, David, when we talk about $270 billion … these are sort of becoming pass� sort of numbers. A project of $20 billion was massive a few years ago. We're talking about $270 billion. That is a mining boom, but it's true that prices have come off which we fully anticipated. But they are at still historically very high levels.

SPEERS: Trade Minister Craig Emerson. We'll have to leave it there, but thank you for joining us this afternoon.

EMERSON: All right, thanks David.

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