04 Dec 2017


SUBJECTS: New England by-election; Citizenship; Chaos in the Liberal Party; Michaelia Cash misleads the Parliament, Dastyari.

JIM MIDDLETON: With us this Sunday afternoon is Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Brendan O’Connor, good to be talking to you this afternoon. Let’s go first to New England, a massive endorsement of Barnaby Joyce. The voters of New England clearly don’t like this citizenship fiasco. Is it going to be the same story for John Alexander in Bennelong in a fortnight’s time?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Well firstly, Jim, can I congratulate Mr Joyce, he did well. The vote is very similar to the one he had when Tony Windsor wasn’t running on another occasion. But it was an overwhelming win. Not a surprise for Labor, but he’s back.  

As for what the public think, I do think they think it is a bit of a fiasco, but we need to comply with the law. We can debate up and down the pros and cons of section 44, and I think we need to look at broader provisions, not just the citizenship provisions.  

MIDDLETON: We might come to that in a bit more detail in a moment or two, but  first of all do you think the same lessons that apply to New England will apply to john Alexander in Bennelong with the citizenship fiasco will benefit him rather than Kristina Keneally.

O’CONNOR: I think it’s probably neutral. I don’t think people will use that as an excuse to vote for or against a government member.  I do think there will be a swing against the incumbent, John Alexander, but it’s a very hard seat for us to win, it’s a 10 per cent swing needed, it would be a remarkable thing for Kristina – a good campaigner, but I think it would be a very big climb up that mountain to prevail. We’re the underdog but we will fight hard.  

MIDDLETON: A re-energised Malcolm Turnbull speaking on Sky News this morning saying he is confident that he will lead the Coalition to the next election. That’s what Labor would like wouldn’t it? After all a switch to Tony Abbott would be to a man who has torn down two Labor Prime Minister’s and also, was very successful in going after Pauline Hanson back in the 1990s.

O’CONNOR: Well Malcolm Turnbull tore down Tony Abbott so they’re one all at the moment and I’m sure Tony would like a re-match. But as Bill Shorten and others have said, we will take all comers. We believe people are focusing on the policies and they believe the Government has lost their way.

The large tax break for big business, not supporting penalty rates for working people when wage growth is its lowest in a generation. We think people are hurting when they are looking at their household budget -

MIDDLETON: You still think that Bill Shorten and the Labor team can and will beat Malcolm Turnbull or anyone else that they choose to throw up?

O’CONNOR: It’s entirely up to them who they choose. We believe we are united. We present ideas for the future. We have a broader array of policies than most Oppositions have had in this country’s history. We’re confident we will remain united and we will present ourselves as an alternative government.

The government at the moment is in fundamental disarray and as a result, people are very upset.

MIDDLETON: You mentioned citizenship a moment ago. It will be a big  issue when parliament resumes tomorrow. The Prime Minister was saying this morning that the Coalition will refer Labor MP’s with doubts over their citizenship to the High Court if Labor won’t do it voluntarily. Why don’t you when you’ve got doubts certainly over Justine Keay, Susan Lamb, and Katy Gallagher for example, do the right thing as John Alexander did?  

O’CONNOR: Look, we’re very confident that they do comply with Section 44, but let’s see how things land once people have universally disclosed their details. There are many people who have not provided information. I think this is an opportunity for all Members and Senators, who have any questions about section 44.1 to provide that disclosure.

What is of concern to Labor is the inference by Malcolm Turnbull that he would only be referring Labor members who may have question marks –

MIDDLETON: Well he did suggest that there were no more on his side that there are any doubts about -

O’CONNOR: Well how would we know that! The only way we will know is after the disclosure, people will be able to examine that, including the media – very important scrutiny. Then I think we will have that discussion. But if the Government thinks it can use its numbers or use the power of a Minister to refer only its Opposition members of Parliament, if there are questions over their own members, then that would be an outrageous undermining of the Westminster System.

MIDDLETON: Isn’t this an issue which is too important for either side to be playing hard ball. The legitimacy of the entire parliament is in question at the moment. Why isn’t Labor trying to seize the moral high ground as it were and voluntarily refer people over whom there are any doubts on your side?

O’CONNOR: As I say, the advice we’ve received is, in relation to our members, they did everything they could do, they took all reasonable steps. They gave the money, which was presented. They presented the applications, they did everything to acquit their obligations under section 44.1.

In the case of the Liberals and the Nationals to date, they’ve done nothing. In the case of Barnaby Joyce, he literally did nothing and said he knew nothing. That’s an entirely different situation from people taking reasonable steps.

Now, again, let’s see how the week unfolds but there has to be a dispassionate assessment of all Members and Senator’s and people should be treated equally by the parliament. Whatever that means – it may be there might be members that are referred there may not be but it should be done with a blind eye, if you like, but it should be done without looking at the political persuasion of the Member or senator.

MIDDLETON: No preference deals with One Nation, full stop – that was what the Prime Minister had to say this morning. Do you think the Coalition has learned from its experience in the QLD election just a week ago?

O’CONNOR: I’m not sure Jim. They said that prior to the QLD election, they said there would be no deals but clearly there were preferences or certainly One Nation were high up on many of the how-to-vote cards that were distributed by the Liberal Party. There were Liberal Party volunteers handing out One Nation how-to-vote cards at polling booths.  

So I think the standard bearer is John Howard for the Liberal Party. He put One Nation last. If Malcolm Turnbull has any authority and is actually being honest in relation to this matter, he would follow the lead of his predecessor John Howard and put them last and say he will put them last in every electorate in Australia.  

MIDDLETON: Attorney General George Brandis last week described One Nation as “poison” for the Coalition. Interestingly enough when I put the question about John Howard’s formula to the Prime Minister’s office this morning, they told me they couldn’t say because they didn’t know which Parties would be fighting the next election.

O’CONNOR: I think that is just obfuscation. They are either going to continue their position that is of gaining support where possible, seat by seat, or they are going to undertake to put One Nation last as John Howard did. I have to say I thought George Brandis’ comments were good and I applaud him, but it has to be in deed, not word. It has to be realised in deed. Therefore the Prime Minister must be very clear that if he wants to see the end of One Nation then he must put them last, and must say he will put the last in each electorate.

MIDDLETON: I want to get to a couple of other issues, one in your portfolio responsibility. Your opposite number Michaelia Cash and the tip off from her office about the Registered Organisation Commission’s police raids on union offices before a Senate Committee last week. She was refusing to answer questions on the grounds of, she says, public interest immunity. You say, that means she’s facing charges over the leaks. That’s a very serious charge. What evidence do you have?

O’CONNOR: What we’ve said, Jim, is firstly, she should be accounting to the Parliament – that’s a responsibility of a Minister. She misled the Parliament on five occasions a month ago, and now she is seeking not to answer questions about what is a criminal act, which is providing information to the media about a police raid. Now, we know one of her staff was involved, but there are a whole range of other things that she is not providing information about -

MIDDLETON: But what evidence do you have that she is facing charges?

O’CONNOR: Well, what I’m saying is that she is using public interest immunity as a defence to not answer questions of the parliament. If she is suggesting that she has the right to use the public interest immunity, then the only conclusion you can draw from that is that her office, and her conduct and indeed the conduct of the Registered Organisations Commission is under a criminal investigation of the AFP. That’s the only conclusion you can draw.  

I’m not suggesting that she is about to be charged. I’m making the very clear point that she is using a defence that the AFP is investigating this matter, well that means she is under investigation. Otherwise she could answer questions about her conduct in relation to this matter and she will not.

Now the Prime Minister should have sacked her a month ago. She is still there and now she refuses to answer to the parliament on matters of a criminal nature. It really needs to be dealt with and she needs to be forthcoming, otherwise she needs to resign.

MIDDLETON: her argument is that this whole matter is before the courts at the moment. It is therefore sub judice and she can’t answer questions at the moment -

O’CONNOR: Firstly, no one has been charge, it is not before the courts at this point -

MIDDLETON: There is this argument between the AWU and the ORC about the documents that were seized and that is before the courts.

O’CONNOR: That’s before the courts, but no one has been charged at this point. Look there is a very serious obligation of a Cabinet Minister to be accountable to the Parliament. She’s misled the Parliament on five occasions. She’s sacked her staff member who has taken the fall for all of this. And now she will not answer questions about other matters that are significant and relevant to this issue. She either has to answer questions, or if she is under investigation, I say she must stand aside until the investigation is complete.

MIDDLETON: Sam Dastyari – shouldn’t he simply quit the parliament for being a permanent embarrassment to the Labor Party?

O’CONNOR: He’s been foolish and he’s suffered the consequences. He’s lost his -

MIDDLETON: He’s been more than foolish Brendan O’Connor. He’s categorically breached Labor policy on a very sensitive issue. He’s misled us about that. He took money from a person with very close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and he may have breached national security.

O’CONNOR: We’ve had Government members and Minister’s take money from the same benefactor, including in some cases there has been benefactors providing watches to former Ministers and that is unconscionable and people should be held to account for that.

Sam has done the wrong thing and he has paid for it. He hasn’t acted illegally – I don’t know of what crime he has committed, but I will say this – there is a potential crime involved – and that is, if the information that has been provided to the media has come out of the national security agency, or if it has come via a Minister’s office, and I sat on the national security committee of cabinet for some years, I know what information that was in my office. If such information was used to create that story and I can’t think of any other way that story could have found its way on the front page of Fairfax – then that is a crime. If we are going to examine the conduct of Sam Dastyari, then we have to examine how that information found its way into the media, because that is very sensitive information and that would undermine the role of security agencies in these areas to have that splashed on the front pages –

MIDDLETON: But given what we know already, and what the Prime Minister was saying this morning, that he would not rule out the possibility that Sam Dastyari is being investigated for the possibility of a security breach, it is time, is it not, for a wholesale investigation into all of this stuff that we have seen about Sam Dastyari, the method in which it got leaked, and also the question of other members of parliament and their links to people and who have received money from people with links to the Chinese Communist Party?

O’CONNOR: I think we do need a stringent oversight of the conduct of Members and Senators and indeed political parties with respect to donations. Labor has already said that we think foreign donations should be banned and we really believe the Prime Minister should have supported us on that issue immediately -  that was November last year. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, there should be greater parliamentary oversight of agencies and indeed the role of Executive Government particularly when there is a suggestion that the Executive Government is using information of agencies for political purposes. Now, we’ve already seen that with relation to Minister Cash. That information to provide to the media during a police raid, undermined that raid – if it was a legitimate raid – and it was information that should never have been provided to the media, and yet it was done so by a Minister’s office at least, if not the Minister herself. So that is serious. And now we see with the Dastyari matter information in the media to reflect on an Opposition Senator, who has done the wrong thing and paid for it. I do think there needs to be a proper examination of that.

MIDDLETON: Brendan O’Connor thank you very much.

O’CONNOR: Thanks, Jim.  


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