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Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Page: 10484


Ms JULIE BISHOP (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (3:20 PM) —I second the motion. The Prime Minister has failed the fundamental test of national leadership. The Prime Minister has failed the fundamental standards expected of a Prime Minister of this country. The Prime Minister, by his repeated failure to deny it, has effectively admitted that he or his office leaked a false version of a confidential telephone conversation with the President of the United States of America to the Australian media. This has much broader implications than just a breach of trust and a breach of faith with the President of the United States. This has ramifications around the world. This conversation has been reported in newspapers across the globe: in Beijing, in the United Kingdom, across the United States, in Asia and in Europe. The false account of a confidential conversation between the Prime Minister of Australia and the President of the United States has been news around the world.

What does this say about the Prime Minister of Australia and the office of the Prime Minister of Australia? What does this say to world leaders? For as long as the Prime Minister remains in this office, what does it say to world leaders about their ability to have a conversation with the Prime Minister about matters of confidence? Can they trust him not to give a version of a confidential conversation to the Australian media—and not only a confidential version but a false version of the conversation? This has implications for Australia in terms of diplomatic circles around the world.

What we do know is that there was a dinner at Kirribilli on 10 October. We know that there was a dinner and a prescheduled call between the Prime Minister and the President of the United States. What we do not know is who was listening to that telephone conversation, who was there. It was on loud speaker, so we are now told. Who was taking notes? Who was listening? Who else was at dinner at Kirribilli on that evening that could have possibly overheard a telephone conversation between the Prime Minister and the President of the United States? If we are to believe the Prime Minister and a staffer were present for the conversation and only they heard the conversation, then it narrows the field, does it not, to who could have told the Australian newspaper a false account of the telephone conversation?

After 10 October we heard nothing until an article that appeared in the Weekend Australian on 25 October. As the Leader of the Opposition has explained in excruciating detail, this version of the events was the Prime Minister big-noting himself. This was the Prime Minister saying that he had to inform the leader of the free world about what the G20 was; that he, the Prime Minister, was the only one in this conversation who knew what the G20 was, and that the President, who had, incidentally, just met with the G20, said to the Prime Minister, ‘What’s the G20?’ This is a version of the events that denigrated the President of the United States to build up the reputation, in the eyes of the media, of the Prime Minister of Australia. We can just imagine how the Prime Minister would have gone back into the dining room and big-noted himself—he has just had George on the phone and he had to tell George what the G20 was.

This version of the story appeared on Saturday, 25 October on the front page of the Weekend Australian. The Prime Minister can hardly say that he was not briefed on this one. It was on the front page of the Weekend Australian. Was there a public retraction and apology by the Prime Minister on the Saturday evening? No. Was there a public retraction and apology on the Sunday? No. Was there a public retraction and apology on the Monday? No. It was not until The Washington Post carried the unprecedented rejection by the White House of the Prime Minister’s version of this telephone conversation that we heard anything from the Prime Minister, and he was embarrassed into having to admit that the version of events that ended up on the front page of the Weekend Australian was not in fact true, but not once has the Prime Minister denied—having been given every opportunity yesterday in question time, having been given three opportunities in question time today—that he or his office were the source of this embarrassing diplomatic gaffe that will embarrass the Australian nation. (Time expired)