THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
WEDNESDAY 30 DECEMBER 2015
SUBJECTS: Mal Brough, Jamie Briggs, Trade Union Royal Commission, 2016 election
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: …The Domain has always been a place where people come to make a case: we have Speakers’ Corner right in the back corner over there where people used to come and stand on soap boxes and actually make their argument to the Australian people about their political beliefs. We have just over to my left what the Parliamentary Press Gallery called the “Tree of Truth”, the place where state government ministers and parliamentarians – state and federal – often hold press conferences so that they are answerable to the people of NSW, and the people of Australia. Malcolm Turnbull should be out here today being accountable to the Australian people for the shambles of his Government. The problem with Malcolm Turnbull first of all is that his judgement in the Jamie Briggs and Mal Brough case has been so flawed from the very beginning. Mal Brough had flashing red lights going off around him before Malcolm Turnbull appointed him as Special Minister of State – a ministerial position that has responsibility for upholding the integrity of the Parliament, ensuring that ministers and parliamentarian offices are safe and secure. I mean, this was an appalling appointment from day one and it was an appointment made because Mal Brough was Malcolm Turnbull’s numbers man.
We also now have the case of Jamie Briggs. I’m not going to go into the details of the allegations that have been made, out of respect for Mr Briggs’s family and also for the young woman who has made the complaint. What we know though is that Malcolm Turnbull was – he’s made a virtue of working during the Christmas break. He was out with the media yesterday, he could of – certainly he would have known that Mr Briggs was going to have his press conference later in the day. It is extraordinary that Malcolm Turnbull so timed his media appearances yesterday to be sure not to get any questions about these matters. I think it’s imperative that the Prime Minister stand up today and answer some very serious questions about these resignations yesterday. The first question the Prime Minister has to answer is why he appointed Mal Brough in the first place when these allegations were already public? And the second question Mr Turnbull has to answer is why he stood by his minister for so long? Even after the minister himself made admissions on television that he had asked James Ashby to procure Peter Slipper’s diaries, even after the intense parliamentary scrutiny showed up Mal Brough again and again as being very cavalier with the facts, Malcolm Turnbull stood by him. He said that Mal Brough had no case to answer, that there was no new information. So that’s the third question for the Prime Minister: what’s changed in the last month? What new information has come to light that Malcolm Turnbull a month ago was saying that Mal Brough shouldn’t step aside, and yesterday welcomed him stepping aside? What has changed? It is phenomenal that the Prime Minister thinks – having said that he wants to have a conversation with the Australian people, that he wants to treat the Australian people like adults - he thinks that we can get away with treating them like mugs over the Christmas break. He thinks people aren’t watching federal politics and that if they get out all the bad news stories in one day: the Medicare cuts not going back to help the health budget but instead going back to help the bottom line; the Gonski funding cuts confirmed so that every school in Australia we know will be an average of $3.2 million worse off. And now these two resignations – or a resignation and a stepping aside – action that should have been taken months ago in the case of Mal Brough – Jamie Brigg’s resignation being used as a cover for the action that Mal Brough should have taken months ago.
Can I just make one additional point. This incident involving Mr Briggs also involves a staff member of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is very important that the Foreign Minister is available to answer questions to ensure that all proper processes were followed in this case and that the young woman in question will suffer no negative consequences for making this complaint. And while she’s at it, it would be a very good idea if the Foreign Minister answered the two absolutely critical questions that have come up in recent days about the security of Department of Foreign Affairs staff in our embassies in Baghdad and Kabul. We had a story yesterday that the security at the embassy in Baghdad was under question, that the resourcing of the security was under question and that there was some question indeed about whether security could be appropriately provided to personnel in one of the most dangerous postings on the planet. Today we hear that a similar situation exists in Kabul, again one of the most dangerous postings that foreign affairs staff can be asked to undertake. Again it seems the Australian Government is skimping on their security. It is imperative that the Foreign Minister stand up and answer the questions about her role, her knowledge in the Briggs affair, and also these very critical issues about security in our embassies overseas. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: I wanted to ask about the Trade Union Royal Commission handing down the findings today. Would the relationship between Labor and the CFMEU be put under any pressure [inaudible]?
PLIBERSEK: Well the first thing to say is we have zero tolerance for bad behaviour and if any union or any a union official has done the wrong thing, they should face the full force of the law. People who do the wrong thing by the union movement aren’t just breaking the law, they’re robbing their members and betraying their members. So we’ve got zero tolerance for people who do the wrong thing in the union movement. And in fact when we were in Government we substantially increased the penalties for people who do the wrong thing and increased the requirements for transparency and good governance in both employee and employer groups. We’ve also more recently written to the government – Labor has written to the Government – proposing a number of other changes that would increase penalties for wrongdoing and that would provide greater scrutiny and greater accountability for registered organisations. So, we are prepared to act, we have acted when we were in Government and we’re certainly very critical of anybody who does the wrong thing or any organisation who does the wrong thing. What we won’t accept is a politically motivated set of recommendations that’s about destroying the union movement because Australians know that unions have won for them some of the things that make working life possible to combine with family life: the 8-hour day, paid parental leave, right to request provisions for flexibility for people with caring responsibilities, equal pay. I mean, these are all things that would not have happened without the Australian union movement.
JOURNALIST: What would be the reaction [inaudible] ?
PLIBERSEK: Well look, Brendan O’Connor will be standing up later today when we have a final idea of what the recommendations of the Royal Commission will be. So I can leave to him any more detailed responses, after we’ve actually seen the final response. But, as I say, there’s no tolerance for anybody who has done the wrong thing.
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think this is absolutely about clearing off the barnacles, as Tony Abbott would say. Malcolm Turnbull promised the Australian people that there wouldn’t be an election before September or October. I don’t think there’s any way of reading this other than a government preparing for an early election. And trying to take out the trash: put out all of the negative stories on a day when they think no one is listening. Truly, the Prime Minister must think Australians are mugs if he thinks that they’re going to fall for this. A Prime Minister that goes missing when the bad economic figures come out – at the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal update – and a Prime Minister that goes missing when he sacks two ministers. It’s extraordinary if Malcolm Turnbull thinks that he can get away with doing this at a quiet time and slipping this information out there without proper scrutiny.
JOURNALIST: What about the issue of workplace relations [inaudible] ?
PLIBERSEK: Well, you know I can’t speculate about when and why the Government will call an election. What I can certainly say is it looks very clear that despite Malcolm Turnbull’s very clear commitment that he’d be going until September or October, it looks like all the signs are there for an early election. Okay, thanks everyone.