DAVID LIPSON: Well, it’s been a while since we’ve seen Labor MP Craig Thomson on the doors of Parliament House arguing the Government’s case but today he felt that he was on a winner after a letter was sent to him this week from the Opposition, courting his vote on the matter of superannuation. This, of course, after the Opposition Leader said so many times that they would never accept the vote, the tainted vote, of Craig Thomson. This is what the Member for Dobell said outside Parliament House this morning.
CRAIG THOMSON: This letter comes the very day that the numbers tighten up. It could have come any day in the last year when I’ve been on the crossbenches but, no, this is an Opposition Leader who will do anything, say anything… it doesn’t matter what the position is as long as he can make… do what he needs to do to become Prime Minister…
DAVID LIPSON: The Opposition says it was an honest mistake and the man who signed that letter, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Senator Mathias Cormann, joined me here in the studio a short time ago to explain it.
DAVID LIPSON: Mathias Cormann, thanks for your time. How did this happen?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, let me just make clear upfront, the Coalition will not be accepting Craig Thomson’s vote under any circumstances on this or any other legislation. Now, what happens is that whenever Labor introduces legislation which is bad for Australia or is bad for people across Australia, such as Bill Shorten’s bill [Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Further MySuper and Transparency Measures) Bill 2012] before the Parliament right now, which tries to transfer billions of dollars of superannuation of more than a million Australians from their chosen fund into his legislated MySuper default fund without their approval, then what I do as a matter of standard operating procedure is write letters to all of the crossbenchers in the Senate and in the House of Representatives explaining our views, putting forward our amendments for people’s information so that they can pass judgement on it. Now, the number of crossbench Members of Parliament keeps growing in this Parliament. Somewhere along the way, Craig Thomson’s name was added to that list and it shouldn’t have happened. I signed a letter to him in error. It was an oversight and, of course, as I’ve said at the beginning, under no circumstances will the Coalition accept… [cut to Prime Minister live doorstop interview]
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] … vote or is there a difference?
JULIA GILLARD: Well, Mr Abbott has said consistently that he wouldn’t accept Craig Thomson’s vote and then he’s got his team out there canvassing for it. It’s a clear example of double standards. I started the week calling out the Liberal Party on double standards and here we are, at the end of the Parliamentary week, with double standards back on display.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] … sign thousands of letters. Do you accept that this is just a mistake from Mathias Cormann and that it was just a bit of an oversight?
JULIA GILLARD: Well, it’s for him to explain.
DAVID LIPSON: The Prime Minister speaking on a range of issues there but starting off that news conference with the issue of the letter that was sent to Craig Thomson by Mathias Cormann. Apologies that we had to cut into that interview but you did hear his explanation there that it was a mistake, that it was written and signed in error and his affirmation that indeed the Coalition would never accept the tainted vote of Craig Thomson. Well, joining me in the studio now is Labor MP Andrew Leigh and also Liberal MP Simon Birmingham. Thank you both very much for your time.
ANDREW LEIGH: A pleasure.
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, it does appear a little strange that the Opposition led the charge on Peter Slipper, demanded he be removed as Speaker, for making comments… over text messages that he did but then more than happy to accept his vote in his Parliament. What’s the difference here?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, David, the difference is very clear and the Speaker’s position is effectively the most senior position in the House of Representatives, the Speaker of the Parliament, of course, actually reflects the Parliament to the public, to Australia in general and of course we expect that the Speaker should uphold the highest of standards, the highest elements of probity. That is why Peter Slipper had to be removed as Speaker. Now, Peter Slipper remains the Member for Fisher. His electorate, in that sense, is entitled to be represented and, importantly as a differential from Craig Thomson, he is not the subject of criminal investigation. He is not someone, in that sense, who is alleged to have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars of money from the hardest working Australians and applied it for his own ends.
DAVID LIPSON: There are investigations still ongoing by the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] into the Cabcharge matters that are not yet resolved in regards to Peter Slipper, though.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And we’ll, of course, monitor all of those sorts of things but at this stage we don’t see a situation that is analogous to Craig Thomson’s. Now, Peter Slipper’s is a very different situation. He deserved to be removed from the Speaker’s chair. It was an outrage that Andrew and all of his Labor colleagues voted to keep Peter Slipper in the Speaker’s chair but the right thing happened – Peter Slipper did the right thing, he stepped down from that high office so that we can try to do something to restore the integrity of this rather tattered Parliament.
DAVID LIPSON: Andrew Leigh, you heard the Prime Minister speaking just a short time ago, saying that she would be calling any sexist comments when she saw them but, you know, the Opposition is claiming that she’s just using this as a shield, as an excuse against legitimate criticism.
ANDREW LEIGH: David, I think we got to a certain point where the Prime Minister simply said ‘enough is enough’. The combination of comments from Mr Abbott whether it’s saying that women are less entitled to positions of authority, less suited to hold power, standing in front of deeply offensive signs without ever really asking the question ‘how would I feel if someone treated my own daughters like this?’ and then the catcalling across the chamber in Parliament directed… so much of it sexist calling to the Prime Minister…
DAVID LIPSON: Just on that, what she took issue to yesterday was the call from Tony Abbott or the murmur from Tony Abbott that she was a piece of work and forced him to withdraw it – what’s sexist about that?
ANDREW LEIGH: Well, it’s just part of a pattern of behaviour from Mr Abbott, I think, David. I think we’ve just seen too much of this from Mr Abbott – the constant use of the word ‘she’ rather than ‘Prime Minister’… what we see is really a pattern of behaviour that I think is unbecoming and that I don’t see in many other members of the Opposition. There’s no way Simon would ever behave like that towards a woman Prime Minister. There’s no way Malcolm Turnbull would ever do that but Mr Abbott has chosen to behave in a set of ways which I think are unbecoming to the office of the Leader of the Opposition. The difference, I guess, between Peter Slipper and Tony Abbott is that Peter Slipper apologised for sexist comments and stepped down; Mr Abbott has done neither.
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, I’ll get you to respond to that but also the claim there about Tony Abbott standing in front of the ‘ditch the witch’ protesters, for example. After so much criticism of Peter Slipper, or so much criticism of the Government for protecting Peter Slipper and promoting Peter Slipper, isn’t the Opposition, through these protesters, through programs like Alan Jones, protecting people whose behaviour is less to be desired as well?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, David, firstly on matters of hypocrisy, shall we say… you know what, Andrew? I’d never call one of my opponents a ‘mincing poodle’, either. Julia Gillard saw fit to do that and, in the end, the Prime Minister has played the rough and tumble of politics just as harshly as anybody else and, if you dish it out, you’ve got to be willing to take it and what we’re seeing now, though, seems to be a whole narrative from the Government that any criticism of this Prime Minister is somehow based in sexism. Well, that’s just not true. Every Prime Minister – John Howard, Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, Malcolm Fraser, Gough Whitlam… they’ve all copped a barrage of criticism at different times. This Prime Minister cops it as well. Why? Because she lied about the carbon tax, because she’s hurting the cost of living of Australians, because of the issues and the bad things her Government is doing – that’s why she’s copping this criticism. Now, in the end, Tony Abbott has made very clear that he doesn’t condone things like those signs at the rally, that he would urge Australians to engage in a more respectful dialogue in these sorts of ways and he, of course, did condemn Alan Jones’s remarks so let’s not be in any doubt here: we don’t condone those types of extreme statements but Australians have engaged in them for a long period of time against many different Prime Ministers of all different political persuasions. Just because all the previous Prime Ministers were blokes… nobody said it was sexism. Well, now that we have a woman as a Prime Minister, that doesn’t make it sexist either.
DAVID LIPSON: Isn’t there an implicit condoning if you continue to appear at those rallies, if you continue to appear on radio programs like Alan Jones?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, our job as politicians is to speak to Australians, to make sure that we convey our message to Australians and they understand the issues that we’re debating and that means getting out and talking to people and oftentimes many of us will speak to groups where you don’t agree with the tone of the question that’s put to you, with what somebody else in that forum may say but, in the end, you have to behave in a way that you see fit. I just think the Prime Minister at present is engaging in the ultimate of double standards. She has played it as hard anybody else in this Parliament and for her to stand up now and try to claim ‘woe betide me’ frankly just doesn’t gel with most Australians.
DAVID LIPSON: There’s a report in The Australian newspaper today – analysis from Victoria – suggesting that Labor’s funding of community sector pay rises falls $120 million short over four years.
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, should the Government be committing a more precise dollar figure for this and should they be contributing more?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, at surface value, this appears to be one of those issues of the Government over-promising and under-delivering, that they’ve gone out, of course, with great hype and said ‘we’re going to deliver on this measure of equality but then, when it comes to funding it, not actually putting the cash on the table. Now, Andrew’s a smart guy. He knows that the states have limited revenue raising powers and that when you come to… effectively hundreds of millions of dollars of extra expenditure on the states, they have to find it from somewhere. If it’s a federal promise, frankly the Federal Government should be stumping up that cash so I think there is a real problem here that the Government have gone out, set expectations so high and really failed to deliver on them.
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, Andrew Leigh, we are actually out of time. Apologies for that but we will speak to you next time and great to chat to you this morning.