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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 101


Mr RUDD (Leader of the Opposition) (4:20 PM) —One of the interesting things about the debate in the chamber this afternoon is that the Prime Minister has just required a prime ministerial protection order from interventions. If this is a serious debate about matters before the House and matters before the nation, why is that particular procedural device necessary to protect the Prime Minister from the indignity of points of order? I find it extraordinary that the Leader of the House would seek to protect the Prime Minister in such a fashion rather than allow the Prime Minister to fend for himself, as other members of this chamber are required to do.

The motion before us asks why these questions have been put to the parliament today. The answer is that the function of the parliament is to provide the executive with the opportunity to answer questions put to it by the opposition. These are matters which therefore demand answers. What we have had from those opposite today is a sense of continued feigned indignation, as if any negative smear campaign has been mysteriously pulled out of space, with which those opposite have had nothing whatsoever to do—no awareness whatsoever on the part of the Prime Minister or on the part of anybody else. But look carefully at the Prime Minister’s response to the questions which were asked: ‘I, the Prime Minister, have no awareness of any such activity. I am not responsible for it and I am not aware of others in the Liberal Party and the government.’ We have heard that through ‘children overboard’; we have heard that through the ‘wheat for weapons’ scandal; we have heard it time in and time out as you have sought to avoid accountability in this parliament.


Ms Roxon interjecting


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The member for Gellibrand has been warned!


Mr Abbott —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. The motion that the House has passed requires the Leader of the Opposition to detail to the House his smear allegations against the Prime Minister. He needs to speak to the motion.

Opposition members interjecting—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—There is no point of order. I warn members that a number have been warned and I will not give them another warning.


Mr RUDD —I find it interesting also that, apart from the prime ministerial protection order issued by the Leader of the House, the Prime Minister has cut and run from the chamber altogether on these matters. I find it remarkable that a government of courage and a Prime Minister of courage have to hide behind such procedural devices to avoid accountability.

There is a big problem with the argument advanced by the Prime Minister today. The Prime Minister’s conspiracy theory runs along these lines: after a press conference I conducted at Queanbeyan yesterday, I came back into this chamber and organised through my office an exclusive interview with Laurie Oakes. That is the proposition; the Prime Minister just put that. There is a little problem with that conspiracy theory, because Laurie Oakes came and saw me yesterday morning before I went anywhere near Queanbeyan. Laurie Oakes came to my office to put these particular matters which had been put to him. So the prime ministerial conspiracy theory is that we have a press conference out at Queanbeyan—


Mr Costello interjecting


Mr RUDD —also put by this man, who lacks the courage ever to become Prime Minister—only courage enough to whisper innuendo about his Prime Minister when the Prime Minister is not here. What we have here is the Prime Minister advancing a conspiracy theory which collapses in a heap. The journalist in question, Laurie Oakes, one of the most respected figures in the gallery, came to me yesterday morning before we went anywhere near Queanbeyan and put to me the specific propositions. The conspiracy theory collapses in a heap.

The second point is that other media outlets later in the day also contacted by my office confirmed that the same story was being shopped around—a remarkable coincidence, it seems. And again we have the Leader of the House refusing—


Mr Abbott —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. Is he saying that Laurie Oakes said the government said this?

Honourable members interjecting—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —What is the point of order? I could not hear it. If the members would be quiet, I might hear it.


Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, the point of order is relevance to the motion. Is the Leader of the Opposition saying that Laurie Oakes claimed the government gave him this evidence?


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —That is not a point of order.


Mr RUDD —Two other media outlets confirmed subsequently that this story had been shopped to them in recent days. Furthermore, we are advised that this story had come forward from a source hostile to the Labor Party. Furthermore, the contents of the story ran along these lines: it contained the date of the medical procedure which I had, it had also the details of the doctor who supposedly performed the procedure, though the name of the doctor was not given to me, and, furthermore, there was a further view put that the source had said that the durability of the aortic valve used in the replacement surgery had a finite duration, it would last 10 years, and therefore my health was in some peril. This was not put to one media outlet; it was put to, we have at least confirmed, three media outlets.

Prime Minister, you were absent from this: the approach from Laurie Oakes came before I went anywhere near Queanbeyan yesterday. Your entire conspiracy theory collapsed in a heap while you were absent from the chamber.

Years ago—and this matter has been raised, I think, by someone opposite—in an interview, I think on Channel 7, we were asked about organ donations. I said I supported organ donations because I had been the beneficiary of one. Furthermore, in private conversations with cardiac patients at various times who have sought some counsel and support I have provided whatever counsel and support that I could.

On top of that can I say this: the three sets of information which these journalists put to me yesterday have never, ever been put into the public domain. We were therefore put in a position where I had to respond to the matters which had been put. The reason why the question was put in this House today is that the job of the parliament is to get an answer back from the executive as to whether these things are true. But it does not stop there. The question is asked, particularly by the Leader of the House, as to why we could possibly suspect that the government may be involved in anything untoward. Here we have, in the Sunday Telegraph from 29 August 2007, ‘Dig round and you’ll soon find a dirt unit’, an article by Simon Benson. It involves an interview involving a radio host, Bill Shorten and Tony Abbott. Bill Shorten says:

“Tony, are you saying you don’t have a dirt unit and it doesn’t have people trying to scour up the backgrounds of Labor candidates?”

The answer from Tony Abbott:

“Of course ...

Government members interjecting—


Mr RUDD —I am reading a transcript.

TONY ABBOTT: “Of course. Obviously you want to look at the files and all that kind of stuff.”

That is the question which was put to him by Bill Shorten in that interview, and that was the response of the Leader of the House. That is the transcript. So you ask with this feigned innocence and indignation why we in the opposition might dare suspect that you guys might be up to no good. I think there is a reasonable basis for looking at that.

Furthermore, when you look at the other matters which have been put into the public debate on all of this, the other matter which was canvassed today in a question goes to the report by Hedley Thomas in the Australian. The report by Hedley Thomas is quite explicit:

Liberal Party figures in Queensland, including a forensic accountant, have been examining the purchase, and the links between the vendors—

referring to the purchase of a house by my wife and me—

and the Labor Party’s investment companies, for several months.

If that is in the public record and it is there from Hedley Thomas, who is a longstanding journalist with News Ltd, it is equally legitimate to put this matter for the government to seek a response to. But, on top of that, is the government saying that Jason Koutsoukis lies through his teeth—this is the term of art used by those opposite? Jason Koutsoukis, only a couple of weeks ago or less, details precisely his visit to a ministerial suite to be handed a file which has ‘Gillard’ on the top and deals explicitly with a whole series of allegations concerning the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. And you sit there opposite believing you are purer than the driven snow. It is remarkable—the feigned indignation about these questions, including from Captain Courageous over there, the would-be Prime Minister without any intestinal fortitude whatsoever to ever stand up to the plate and say: ‘I would like to be Prime Minister. I would like to have the guts to challenge the Prime Minister. But—oops!—I’ll step back from the plate again.’ Always privately lacking courage and lacking conviction, always whispering behind people’s backs but never with the fortitude, the conviction, to stand up to the plate and actually challenge the government’s leader, the leader of the Liberal Party, for his job.

Debate interrupted; adjournment proposed and negatived.


Mr RUDD —Then we have the question that concerns the activities of those in the government dirt unit, which we have already referred to in detail concerning Dr Phelps, the chief of staff of the Special Minister of State. The truth of these propositions—and I have only been through three of them: the Koutsoukos article, the Hedley Thomas article, the confession by Tony Abbott in the Sunday Telegraph, as well as all these related matters—points to the fact that these matters should be answered by the Leader of the House or the government itself.


Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I know this is a debate but he is not entitled to misrepresent me like that. It is a blatant, deliberate misrepresentation and Dietrich Bonhoeffer should not do that.


The SPEAKER —The Leader of the House will resume his seat. That is not a point of order.


Mr RUDD —In terms of misrepresentation about the existence of a dirt unit, it is extraordinary that the Leader of the House could stand in the chamber and say that it does not exist when, out of his own mouth, he says that it does. The question put to him by Bill Shorten was:

Tony, are you saying you don’t have a dirt unit and it doesn’t have people trying to scour up the backgrounds of Labor candidates?

The answer was then:

TONY ABBOTT: “Of course. Obviously you want to look at the files and all that kind of stuff.”

What has happened here is, of course, that the Leader of the House has been hoist with his own petard, hung out by the words that have proceeded from his own mouth, confirming, less than a month ago—on Melbourne radio, I presume—that in fact this dirt unit does exist and engages in that sort of activity.

The feigned indignation becomes much wider than that. Let us remember a certain individual called Senator Heffernan. The Prime Minister has made reference to all these indignations in the past. Prime Minister, you have a responsibility when it comes to either backing or overturning remarks by Senator Heffernan. What did Senator Heffernan have to say about the Deputy Leader of the Opposition? And what did you say in response to that immediately? ‘But look, I’m not telling people what they should apologise for or not; I’m just stating my own view.’ In other words, when that foul language was used by Senator Heffernan in relation to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, what the Prime Minister sought to do was quickly step to one side—’Nothing to do with me; it’s old Bill there, running off the tracks. I don’t have anything to do with that.’ Then what happens? The heat gets too much, the political reaction around the country gets too solid and suddenly the Prime Minister has to change his tune later on. The reason we moved an amendment earlier on, which the government was not prepared to take, was that all these questions go to the absolute heart of the integrity of the operations of this government.


Mr Howard interjecting


Mr RUDD —Oh yes it does, Prime Minister! It goes to the whole question of a government grown arrogant, grown out of touch after 11 long years in office, a government that has now sought to use all the instruments available to it in terms of the public servants who work for it, in terms of its own ministerial staff, in terms of the rort and abuse of taxpayer funded advertising—


Mr Costello —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The standing and sessional orders have been suspended to allow the Leader of the Opposition to detail to the House his smear allegations against the Prime Minister, the Liberal Party and the government. I would ask you to bring him back to detail the smear allegations that he makes against the Prime Minister, the Liberal Party and the government.


The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition, I am sure, heard that point of order. I ask him to come back to the debate.


Mr RUDD —On the question of the glass jaw of the Treasurer, and his inability to respond to the matters which have been raised, it stands for the entire chamber to hear. We have been through, point by point, each of the matters which have required answers by the government opposite. Why is there this feigned indignation from those opposite? Because they do not want to answer the questions. They do not want to answer whose ministerial suite it was where someone provided a dirt file in relation to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Whose was it? Have you bothered to check that out? Who is the forensic accountant referred to over here in the other article? Have you bothered to check that out? Has the government also bothered to ascertain precisely what has happened with Tony Abbott’s admission—


Mr Costello —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The standing and sessional orders have been suspended to allow the Leader of the Opposition to detail the smear allegations to the House. I would ask that you bring him back to detailing those allegations.


The SPEAKER —The point of order raised by the Treasurer is a valid point of order. The Leader of the Opposition has been asked to provide evidence and the Leader of the Opposition will come back to the motion.


Mr RUDD —On the question of the Laurie Oakes matter—and you were out of the chamber for this, Prime Minister—let me put it before you pure and simple: your contention here in this place was that a conspiracy had been engaged in by me with a journalist to do an exclusive interview subsequent to a press conference at Queanbeyan yesterday, and your conspiracy collapsed into a heap. Do you know why, Prime Minister? Because Laurie Oakes came to see me before I went anywhere near Queanbeyan. Three journalists came to us with the pieces of information that I referred to before, and we were also informed that the sources came from those hostile to the Labor Party.


Mr Andrews —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order that goes to the wording of the motion. We ask the Leader of the Opposition to give us just once piece of evidence—just one piece.


The SPEAKER —As I hear it, I believe the Leader of the Opposition is in order. Before I call the Leader of the Opposition, I would ask him to desist from using the words ‘you’ and ‘your’.


Mr RUDD —Thank you, Mr Speaker. Each of those reports to us by the media caused us to conclude, given the nature of the information, that legitimate questions needed to be posed. What is remarkable here is the feigned indignation from those opposite about where this material came from. It would have been very simple and straightforward for an unequivocal statement to be made about these matters, and it was not.

Honourable members interjecting—


The SPEAKER —I will warn other members if they continue to interject like that.


Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. Did Laurie Oakes say that the government gave him the information?


The SPEAKER —I say to the Leader of the House that the Leader of the Opposition is in order and he has the call.


Mr RUDD —Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I notice that once again the Leader of the House does not seek to extend the same sort of procedural protection to the likes of me as he sought to extend to the Prime Minister, and did so successfully. Once again, there is a series of interruptions as the response provided by me is delivered. Prime Minister, the country wants to have a debate about plans for the future. Do you know something, Prime Minister: you were extended that opportunity in the parliament today and you declined. The nation wants to know what your plans are for the future of the education system, because there is nothing there.


Mr Michael Ferguson interjecting


The SPEAKER —The member for Bass is warned!


Mr RUDD —They want to know what your plans are for the future of 750 public hospitals in the country, and they are not there. They want to know what your plans are for the future of broadband, and they are not there.


Mr Costello —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Standing and sessional orders have been suspended to allow the Leader of the Opposition to detail his smear allegation against the government. I ask that you bring him back to that.


The SPEAKER —The Treasurer has raised a valid point of order. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that if that point of order is alluded to again he will have to resume his seat.


Mr RUDD —On the question of our allegation against this government, I conclude with this: this government stands condemned for having lost touch. It is a government that has no positive plans for the future but is instead determined to wage an unrelenting negative smear campaign against the opposition from here until election day—an election day which Captain Arrogance over there has already announced on behalf of his Prime Minister.


Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.