SKY News AM agenda - Interview with Kieran Gilbert

Release Date: 
15 June 2015

KIERAN GILBERT: You heard what Don Rothwell had to say, if our Government has paid people smugglers to return a boat, we’ve engaged in people smuggling in his view.

ALAN TUDGE: Well this is an allegation at the moment which is unfounded, there’s no proof and we will not be commenting on operational matters. Our firm resolve has been since the start to stop the people smugglers business, to stop the boats, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.

KIERAN GILBERT: So when you say an allegation, it’s not proven, are you saying it wasn’t done in the Government’s view?

ALAN TUDGE: This is an allegation which has been made which is unproven, now we have not confirmed this, we have not denied it, we simply said that we do not comment on operational matters to do with sovereign borders. We’ve always had that position right since the very beginning of our policy, we’ve had that for very good reason…

KIERAN GILBERT: Not quite, the Immigration Minister last week said ‘no’, you hadn’t, now you’re saying…

ALAN TUDGE: We’ve had this policy for very good reason, and that’s because we don’t want to inform the people smugglers exactly what we are up to, now we’ve been very successful with this policy, we’ve stopped people drowning at sea, we’ve protected our borders, we’ve given greater confidence to our overall immigration program as a result.

KIERAN GILBERT: Sure it has been successful, no argument from me on that, but I guess the question is, don’t the Australian people deserve to know if we’ve engaged as a government in people smuggling?

ALAN TUDGE: We’ve always had the policy as you know Kieran not to comment on operational matters particularly when they involve national security matters.

KIERAN GILBERT: But Mr Dutton and Julie Bishop both said ‘no’ last week and no they’re saying we’re not going to confirm it, it’s a debacle.

ALAN TUDGE: Well right since the very beginning as you know when operational sovereign borders began about 18 months ago now every single day the media was complaining because Scott Morrison was not providing detailed information about what we were doing.

KIERAN GILBERT: And it looks ridiculous now.

ALAN TUDGE: The fact of the matter is the system is working, the alternative is Labor’s system.

KIERAN GILBERT: It might be working but the point is we could’ve breached international law according to what Don Rothwell said.

ALAN TUDGE: Well you would’ve heard from the Immigration Minister yesterday as well who said that everything we do is within the confines of the law, it’s in the confines of our international obligations but the important thing is that we have stopped the boats, consequently we have stopped hundreds of people drowning at sea and saved billions of dollars in the process.

KIERAN GILBERT: That’s all true those points at the end. What’s Labor’s view on this I guess you’ve written to the Auditor General wanting to know if this money was spent, if it’s by an intelligence agency as the Daily Telegraph reports this morning ASIS, do you really want to expose that? Surely in terms of national security you don’t want our intelligence agencies, their work exposed either?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE: Well the Australian public have a right to know Kieran and that’s why Labor’s written to the Auditor General to ask him to investigate whether or not these payments have occurred but the Prime Minister can put this to bed today, by simply coming out and saying yes or no, have these payments occurred. Last week as you said we have the Immigration Minister and the Foreign Minister categorically deny that these payments were being made, the Prime Minister’s left it up in the air, the Australian people deserve to know whether or not the Australian Government is paying people who are committing very serious crimes under Australian law and as your guest said under international law.

KIERAN GILBERT: But it’s not that easy is it, if it’s ASIS – our foreign intelligence service – that’s done it. If it’s an ASIS officer with cash how can Tony Abbott come out and confirm that?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE: It doesn’t really matter who it is, it’s a question of whether or not the payments occurred then Australians can make a judgment on whether or not it’s appropriate to do so. What’s important initially is that the information is disclosed to the Australian public and it’s not unreasonable for taxpayers to get some certainty and some disclosure on these issues.

KIERAN GILBERT: The Prime Minister keeps saying as does Alan Tudge that it’s effective, the policy, that’s what they say is the bottom line, do you think that is going to be a potent message for the electorate given that proved pretty popular in terms of the last election that promise and now they’ve delivered it.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE: We’ve always said that the deterrence value in the policy is in the regional resettlement arrangement, that’s the element that’s proved effective, but the question the Prime Minister needs to answer is whether or not this is the reason that the so called on water operations are kept so secret, is it because they’re paying people smugglers to turn around and go back, that’s the question the Prime Minister needs to answer, the Australian public have a right to know if this is the reason why this element of the policy is being kept so secretive.

ALAN TUDGE: I’ll tell you what we do know, there was 50,000 payments made under your watch that you facilitated, each of about $10,000, so about $500,000,000 passed hands to the people smugglers -

KIERAN GILBERT: But not taxpayer funds -

ALAN TUDGE: Because of the policies which Labor put in place which facilitated the people smuggling business, that’s what we do know, and the concern here from Mr Thistlethwaite’s answers now is that they will return to those policies.

KIERAN GILBERT: But you say you’re breaking their business model but is it because you’re creating another business model by handing out cash?

ALAN TUDGE: Again it’s an allegation, we’re not going to comment on operational matters, the fact of the matter is that the people smugglers business model is broken now, it is no longer coming to Australia, we have been very successful at this, and you even hear from Matt Thistlethwaite now that they won’t commit to our policies, they won’t commit to the continuation of our very successful border protection policies so should they be elected then the chances are the boats will just start to come again.

KIERAN GILBERT: Your response to that Matt Thistlethwaite.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE: Well if the policies that the Government has in place are that they’re paying people smugglers and as your previous guest has said potentially complicit in breaking international law then Labor’s got every right to ask questions on behalf of the Australian public about these payments being made and the Prime Minister really does need to come out today in the Parliament, the forum for accountability to the Australian people, and just tell us whether or not – no riddles, no rhetoric – just tell us yes or no, have these payments been made?

KIERAN GILBERT: Are you encouraged by this Fairfax IPSOS Poll out today that shows Labor up a couple of points, the Government down?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE: I’ve consistently said on your program the polls are going to go up, the polls are going to go down, and there’s plenty left before the next election, and what’s important is the policies and I think we’re seeing that the approach that this Government is taking particularly on important issues like housing affordability demonstrates just how out of touch they are.

KIERAN GILBERT: With 7 in 10 of those surveyed in the capital cities saying that it is not affordable for first home buyers to crack the market is this a reflection do you think to Joe Hockey’s comments from last week?

ALAN TUDGE: This particular poll is one poll, there’ll be another poll tomorrow Kieran, yes you’d like to see the polls up rather than down but at the end of the day we’re absolutely focused on the task at hand and this week particularly we’re focused on getting our small business package through the Parliament because it provides enormous tax breaks for millions of small businesses which will turbo boost that sector, it will create further jobs, it will create further investment and overall that’s good…

KIERAN GILBERT: And not an easy time over the next couple of months with Bill Shorten appearing before the Royal Commission, if he’s so convinced that he’s done everything to look after cleaners and the rights of workers when he was secretary of the union, why doesn’t he just come out and make a definitive statement, do it to Parliament like you were urging the Prime Minister to do on a separate matter to clear this up otherwise it is going to linger through the papers and elsewhere.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE: Well Bill’s cooperating he’s said that he will provide evidence to the Royal Commission, what’s important in a lot of these agreements and awards is the details and I think Bill needs to be given the opportunity to explain those details in the appropriate forum which is in this case the Royal Commission.

KIERAN GILBERT: Wouldn’t you urge him to come out on the front foot if it’s all to the benefit of workers why not get out on the front foot?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE: Well he has done that, he’s happy to stand on his record, he’s happy to say that he’s worked with workers for over 20 years, he’s happy to stand on his record, he’s happy to say that he’s left workers in the AWU and in the country better off and I think he’ll be able to explain that in detail at the Royal Commission when he gives evidence.

ALAN TUDGE: He could explain today, what’s wrong with him doing a doorstop today and explaining exactly what happened in relation to those deals. Those deals, they stink and frankly he should come out and explain exactly what his role was particular the Cleanevent deal which seemed to trade off penalty rates for union payments, now Cesar Melhem resigned over that, the AWU officials now are trying to retract that agreement, what was Bill Shorten’s role in that, he should explain.

KIERAN GILBERT: We’re out of time.