Release Date: 
31 August 2015

Topics: Dyson Heydon, Royal Commission, Cabinet, Prime Minister’s trip to the Torres Strait

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Alan Tudge, good afternoon.

ALAN TUDGE: G'day Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I presume you’re happy. Dyson Heydon issue over, charge on?

ALAN TUDGE: Listen, we wanted Dyson Heydon to stay there but obviously he was the decision maker in this. And the reason we wanted him to stay there and this Royal Commission to continue is because it has been uncovering an enormous amount of corruption, of bribery, of links to bikie gangs which have occurred.

That is worthwhile airing so that it can be addressed and these unions can be cleaned up.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: What if Bill Shorten says ‘I overlooked the detail on that receipt.’ Union official ‘X’ says ‘I overlooked that.’ Dyson Heydon reads an email, it’s got Liberal all over it the initial invitation, yet he overlooked it a few times including when it’s in the subject heading.

That provides the perfect out for anybody who appears before him.

ALAN TUDGE: The key charge against him was that he is somehow partial in his views because he accepted an invitation to this event initially. Of course though the evidence showed that when he was made aware that it was connected to the Liberal Party, he withdrew.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: That’s not true. He accepted an invitation to a Liberal Party function, that’s in the email. He knew it was a Liberal Party function, he overlooked twice that he had accepted an invitation to a Liberal Party function.

So it’s not as though all of a sudden it was suddenly news to him it was a Liberal Party function. He knew it was a Liberal Party function the first time around.

ALAN TUDGE: At the end of the day, people know Dyson Heydon. They know he is a person of impeccable character. He was appointed by the Labor Party to the Court of Appeal in New South Wales, he was appointed then to the High Court by a Coalition government.

He’s one of the most esteemed jurists in the nation that we have ever had. He is such an impeccable person. That was one of the reasons why the government appointed him in the first instance.

The real question though Raf is not the ins and outs of these details which you’re referring to, the real question is why is the Labor Party and the union movement so gung-ho about destroying him and destroying this Royal Commission.

The reason is because it is uncovering so much material which is…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Maybe the significant work has happened outside of the Royal Commission. Kathy Jackson, CFMEU and Boral have all happened without the Royal Commission.

ALAN TUDGE: Some of it has but there are also four arrests which were made outside of the doors of the Royal Commission hearing in Canberra. Four arrests immediate.

Now those arrests by those people weren’t made by Dyson Heydon, they were made by the police in the ACT. That’s the type of thing which has been uncovered.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: $80 million worth of arrests?

ALAN TUDGE: This has big implications if there’s widespread corruption within the union movement in Australia.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: A big ‘if’ though, [inaudible] one of them not even a union official, one of them a union member. Two others ex-union officials.

ALAN TUDGE: But this is what is being uncovered, Raf, in this Royal Commission. It’s the evidence which is being presented that people should look at. It’s not just the CFMEU which everybody knows has got some dodgy business going on, there’s evidence in relation to the AWU, HSU, TWU.

It appears that there is widespread misappropriation of funds, of corruption, of bribery.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: ‘Widespread’ is actually a big stretch, isn’t it? I’m not saying there aren’t significant questions say around the AWU but when you then say ‘widespread’, we don’t know that for sure at all yet, the Royal Commission hasn’t finished.

ALAN TUDGE: This is what the Royal Commission is uncovering and I just point out that there certainly has been evidence which indicates that there has been corruption and bribery and the like in multiple unions, not just a single one, in multiple unions.

What does this mean for the everyday person? For the everyday person this means that if there is such activity, widespread across the union movement, it means that less infrastructure gets built, it means that the costs go up.

It actually means that there are fewer jobs and there’s less investment. That’s the practical implication on the ground when you don’t have legal activity going across our society.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I do want to ask you a Cabinet question or two. However, across the spectrum of political commentary, when this story emerged, when you have everyone from The Australian through to The Guardian saying ‘listen, Dyson Heydon has compromised the Royal Commission’, would you at least concede every time, and there’s likely to be a lot out of this Royal Commission that is not a charge but is really dodgy, this is not the way business should be done, the easiest recourse for any union leader, any Labor politician is going to be ‘Dyson Heydon, you can’t trust him’.

That’s a significant own goal, isn’t it?

ALAN TUDGE: The Labor Party and the union movement are going to be saying that regardless because they don’t want this Royal Commission to continue. But I point out just two things.
One is that let’s have a look at the facts and the evidence which are presented in the Royal Commission. They stand alone by themselves. One of the pieces of evidence is that four people have already been arrested, there’s twenty-six people who have been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for investigation and charges. That’s the evidence.

The second point I’d say is that if there are arrests or charges, they then go to the police, to the Director of Public Prosecutions who make those charges and to the courts to conduct those hearings. I think this Royal Commission is doing a very good thing for our nation by uncovering this.

I would say that any fair minded unionist, the Labor Party themselves, should welcome this Royal Commission because it is uncovering corruption and illegal activity inside the union movement.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Alan Tudge is with me. He’s the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. I hope I have time to discuss his trip to the Torres Strait with the Prime Minister. I can see many of you wanting to have your say on the phone, 1300 222 774 and I’ll get to those phone calls.

Alan Tudge, you tore strips off the Labor Party when they were in government. Tony Abbott, I’m going to read one of his quotes from 2011, ‘It’s absolutely urgent that the Prime Minister restore cabinet discipline. It’s an ill-disciplined government that is bad for the people. In the end, it’s about a better job for the Australian people.’

Cabinet has been leaking all year. This morning there are two cabinet ministers who are willing to speak anonymously to Fairfax. You have a big problem and they are the people closest to Tony Abbott.

ALAN TUDGE: Well Raf I’ll let you in on a secret. I think every single Cabinet since federation has leaked from time to time.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: If I had said that to you in the midst of your [inaudible] against Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard you would have dismissed it out of hand.

ALAN TUDGE: That was different in part because there were literally leaks almost every single week and there was warfare between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and each of the respective camps.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Labor was worse, definitely, but that doesn’t excuse what is going on.

ALAN TUDGE: The allegation today was not really a leak from Cabinet. The allegation made in one of the Fairfax papers was…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But Alan Tudge you’re talking to me about Cabinet leaks today rather than the Torres Strait because two people senior to you were willing to background journalists.

ALAN TUDGE: I’m speaking to you about it because you’re asking me about these questions…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: They knew the questions would get asked when they leaked.

ALAN TUDGE: I can also tell you that being up in the Torres Strait for a week, Cabinet leaks did not come up once in those conversations. They don’t come up in my conversations when I’m around my electorate which is out in the outer-eastern suburbs here in Melbourne.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: That may well be true, but those leaks only happen for a reason. They are there to destabilise Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott. You’ve got to concede that’s a problem?

ALAN TUDGE: You never want leaks, absolutely, you never want people who are backgrounding. You never want leaks out of the party room, out of Cabinet, out of any process. But they have happened from time to time out of every single government.

All I’d say in relation to the leaks today which concern Joe Hockey is look at Joe Hockey’s record in terms of him as Treasurer. We’ve got jobs growth ten times faster than what it was when Labor was in government.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Unemployment is higher.

ALAN TUDGE: We’ve got retail sales five per cent higher. We’ve got record housing approvals rates. We’ve got exports which are up. We’ve got some of the fastest growth actually in the developed countries, I think the fastest out of the G7.

That’s the type of thing which we should be looking at, the record of this Treasurer, a pathway back to surplus within four or five years. That’s his record so that’s what we should be looking at. I think it’s a very good record. Yes, there is more work to be done, but I think it’s a substantial record to date.

Now I’m happy to answer questions about the Torres Strait, Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Let me ask you this question. I do think there is incredible value in having you, Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott, white men in charge helping to build and paint a structure. I don’t think those things are symbolic, I think those things are important.

However the problems are massive. Does you being there, does Tony Abbott being there, lead to a concrete result a few years down the path, do you think?

ALAN TUDGE: I think it does. What it does is it gives myself, the Prime Minister, all of the other ministers an opportunity to spend several days focusing on these issues, which in many cases don’t get the attention they deserve.

And it’s not just the Ministers, there’s also some Secretaries of Departments. I think that makes us better policy makers because we’ve seen it, we’ve felt it, we’ve heard directly from the people on the ground.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Does it lead to policy change?

ALAN TUDGE: I think it does because you’re better educated, you’ve got a better sense of what’s working and what’s not working.

Last time we were up in East Arnhem land, this time last year, and I think one of the key things which came out of that was the need to redouble our efforts in relation to school attendance because despite our efforts, it still wasn’t getting there.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Was Tony Abbott actually hinting about changing the policy around school attendance last week? Is there going to be a change there? I understand your aims [inaudible].

ALAN TUDGE: One of the things which we discovered up there was that school attendance up in the Torres Strait and in the Northern Peninsula of Cape York is actually going remarkably well.

I went and visited this very small school on this tiny island called Masig. It’s only 200 people live there but 60 kids were going to the school. They had almost 100 per cent school attendance and they were performing in the top 20 per cent of the state.

To me that shows that if you’ve got that dedicated focus then you still can get phenomenally good results regardless of where you are and regardless of your social or economic circumstances. I think there are lessons from there that can be applied elsewhere in the country.

I would just make a plug because we may be running out of time that the Torres Strait islands are a stunningly beautiful part of Australia.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: That’s what they tell me. They tell us to go up there and visit them.

ALAN TUDGE: You should absolutely. People who are listening should go up a visit, spend some money up there. It’s a rich culture, different from Aboriginal culture [inaudible] Melanesian culture and a beautiful part of the country.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Thanks for coming in.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much Raf.