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Hello and welcome to Capital

Hill, I'm Andrew Greene. On a

two long-awaiting day of dramatic developments in

investigations troubling the

Gillard Government. First the Commonwealth Commonwealth Auditor-General

highlighted a series of flaws

in the Government's handling of

Network contract, then hours the tender for the Australia

later Fair Work Australia

announced it had referred its

investigation into the Health

Services Union and its former

national secretary Thomson to Commonwealth national secretary Craig

prosecutors. Well joining me

this evening to discuss these

matter and plenty more. Labor

MP Anna Burke and from Adelaide

Liberal senator Simon Birmingham. Welcome to you both. Thanks, Andrew. Firstly

to the ongoing Craig Thomson saga, late today we saw the member for Dobelle release a brief statement in which he

by Fair Work Australia acknowledges the announce ment

regarding the investigation regarding

into the health services Union.

He adds "I maintain He adds "I maintain my

innocence and will continue to

do so. I will also continue to

further investigations relating fully cooperate with any

to this matter." Firstly to

you, Simon, should this now be

left with the appropriate authorities, the DPP? Well,

certainly the DPP has a role to

play here, Andrew, and a very,

very important role it is. very important role it is. But

the Coalition believes that

Australians have a right to

know if a member of the House

subject of potential of Representatives is the

proceedings, that Australians subject of potential criminal

Gillard Government which relies have a right to know if the

on the votes of each and every

Labor MP including Craig

Thomson is being propped up by

someone who is the subject of criminal proceedings. Will the

Opposition will pursuing the

Fair Work Australia? The release of this report from

Opposition believes that after

3 years more than 3 years of investigations the fact that

this report is finalised means

Australians have a right to see it should be made public.

it, a right to know it, a right to know just what went on inside Fair Work

Australia, just what Craig

Thomson was or was not up to

and of course there's a legal

process to be followed here and

that may well end up in

criminal proceedings against Mr Thomson or others but Australians do have a right to

far more transparency in this

matter than they have been

afforded to date. Anna Burke,

given there are so many charges

being referred to the DPP could this potentially unravel this potentially unravel the

Gillard Government? We need to

wait and see what the report

says and what the charges are

and we need to let due process take its course. It's way early to be making any take its course. It's way too

outrageous claims in respect of

what may happen. maintained his innocence, many what may happen. Craig's

other people are involved and

we need due process to

continue, you know, you're

innocent until proven guilty.

We have a very strong legal We have a very strong

system in our country and the

DPP has proper processes to follow.

follow. I would agree follow. I would agree with

Simon though that this has

taken too long and I think

certainly the members of the

HSUA have a right to know what

has been going on in their union and union and that everybody needs

to be called to account in

respect of union membership money. With the Victorian

branch we saw certainly the

Coalition pursue the release of

that report, would it be

report from Fair Work helpful if we did see this full

Australia? I think we should

always see these reports, that

would be my view, but

understand what the reports are would be my view, but I don't

or the sensitivities around

them or what will lead to

criminal investigations.

Obviously in that case then the

report may need to stay

confidential until such actions

are taken. You wouldn't want to actually undermine any legal

process by making a report

public but I think everybody is

right to the presumption of

innocence. I we certainly saw

when one of Simon's colleagues

a Liberal member of the Senate

was charged in respect to a

criminal action that criminal action that those

processes were allowed to take

place and they saw out their

due course and I think we

should allow that to happen

charges are going to be here and we don't even know if

laid. Given it has taken laid. Given it has taken 3

years, you acknowledge there is

far too long for this process

to see its course, you're also concerned for Craig

Thomson? I'm sorry, I didn't Thomson? I'm sorry,

hear the end of that

concerns also for Craig question. Do you hold some

Thomson? Noo Look, exactly

right. I think the length of time, the pressure put on

Craig, his wife and family is untenable, sitting there day

in, day out, you know,

maintaining his innocence and

also going on with public life

is very difficult and I is very difficult and I think

for all concerned, particularly

Craig, his wife and family, I

think they would like to see an

end to this and 3 years was too

long. We did also see another

report released today, that

from the Auditor-General having

a look at the Ausnet process,

sooinl - Simon Birmingham, the

Government has agreed to

compensation for Sky News, is

this the end of the matter?

Not at all. We're seeing

taxpayers having to pick up the

bill for yet another Labor

bungle, in this case a couple

of million dollars being paid

to Sky News, the ABC is out of

pocket for their participation

in the process as is the Department of Foreign Affairs

and the bureaucracy generally

for running a very expensive, very prolonged tender process

that ultimately was axed. Why

was it axed? It was axed

because as the auditor General report demonstrations is the

dysfunction at the heart of this Government brought the whole thing unstuck. We ended

up with the situation where the Prime Minister Prime Minister stripped Kevin

Rudd, who was then the Foreign

Minister and his department of any responsibility, handed it

over to Stephen Conroy the Communications Communications Minister creating what the Auditor-General has acknowledged is a perceived if

not real conflict of interest.

So we had a genuine problem

here of conflict of interest in

terms of the decision maker in

Senator Conroy, we had a litany

of processes that are outlined

that were failed to be that were failed to be followed properly, including the handling of commercially confident information,

information that information that ultimately

ended up, some of it being

leaked in the public arena that

was then used to justify axing this

this tender. So it is a sorry,

sorry saga here. The Prime

Minister needs to explain why

she allowed this conflict of

interest to happen, why she had

to make the changes she did that stripped Kevin Rudd of

responsibility and gave it to Stephen Conroy and Senator

Conroy needs to explain how on

earth he allowed such lax

processes in his department, in

his office to let this tender

go off the rails leaving

taxpayers with a multimillion

dollar bill. Anna Burke, the Auditor-General did highlight

some degree of dysfunctionality

in this tendering process. Did

you have any concerns when this was happening? To be honest

it's something that's not on my

radar or that of my electorate,

I will be honest. But I think Senator Conroy actually asked

the Auditor-General to conduct

the inquiry into the tendering

process. The Opposition process. The Opposition only asked twice. Senator Conroy

asked for the Auditor-General

to come in, we've welcomed the

report, we've looked into the

issue, we did pull the tender

process when it got to the stage that it wasn't in the

public's interest and due

compensation has been awarded. That is a normal tendering

process if it goes off the

rails, if it goes off the rails

it often does. The ABC's doing

a great job and it will

continue to do a great job in

this space that's to the

benefit of all of us. Were you concerned about Kevin Rudd

being sidelined? To be honest

it really wasn't on the radar

of many individuals. It's not a

top priority issue. So to be

brutal about it, until you read it on the front page of it on the front page of the the 'Australian' it's one of 'Australian' it's one of those 10th order priorities. There's

much more concerns to my

electorate, today's interest rate announcement is one of them. To that shortly. We'll

move on briefly to the report

by the group of eminent

Australians who are calling for

a rethink of Australia's drug

laws. This is something that

often gets raised by people

often gets raised by people in

the electorate. Firstly to you, Simon, is there some room to

perhaps have a debate about

perhaps have a debate about the

current stringent war on drugs,

as it's known? Well, Andrew, I

think there's a couple of

things to focus on here and

that is that firstly we do need

to maintain a consistent

message in the public arena that

that illicit drugs are unacceptable and the Coalition

did that very clearly during

our time in office. Is our time in office. Is that

working, that type of

approach? We did actually see

significant decline e significant decline e according

to the data during the to the data during the period

between 1998 and 2004 between 1998 and 2004 in the

number of people using illicit

substances. So there was some

success in that regard. The Commonwealth's role

overwhelmingly is a big picture

level, it is about, of course,

making sure that drug im ports

are stopped, that those significant things that

everybody agrees on in terms of everybody agrees on in terms

breaking the supply lines for

illicit drugs actually occur.

The debate that this report

appears to be suggesting is one

really for the States about how

much effort they put in to individual offences versus also

trying to go after suppliers

and the real problems and the real problems in the drug racquets and certainly for

individuals who have a drug

problem I think there's got to

be an appropriate balance that

focuses on education and rehabilitation whilst government authorities and

police really go after the drug king pins. Anna, king pins. Anna, there appears

to be no movement from either

side of politics on this debate but is it at least worth but is it at least worth having

the debate? Look, I think it's

worth having the debate. I

think it's always worth raising

these issues. I think for a

long time the issues of drugs was

was on the agenda and it seems

to have slipped off the radar

and I think the report may have

put it back on there. There are

many families who suffer because of the because of the scourge of

drugs, both legal and illegal.

The notion of just say no

hasn't work, the notion of

calling it a war is ridiculous.

This is a pe renial, it's

something that will always be

with society and we need to

look at supply, harm and demand

reduction and not just supply.

Supply is an important issue

and at a federal level Simon's

quite right, that is our

jurisdiction and we need to be looking at that but we need to

people turn to drugs. Finally get to the root cause of why

tonight, the interest rates

were kept on hold today by the

Reserve Bank. Would voters in both of your constituencies be expecting

expecting some relief post

budget in the next decision? I

think, Andrew, that there are

very real cost of living

pressures that voters are

feeling at present and with the looming introduction of the

carbon tax later this year

voters will be looking for any

relief they can get. So certainly for households who

are feeling mortgage stress they're looking for any break

they can get and if there is

something that comes from the

Reserve Bank after the budget

in May well that will be good

news for them. And Anna, what

do you expect in the coming

months? Look, it's always a

mixed bag in my electorate.

I've got a lot of self-funded

retirees who like to see

interest rates go because their term of investments go up. I

also have people who have high

neck of the woords you've paid mortgages. If you buy in my

a lot of money to get there.

You keep interest rates steady it means the economy is going

OK. People are struggling with

household bills. Certainly the carbon tax is not going to be

adding greatly to that pressure

and the compensation package

will ensure most households are looked after. But we always

need to be mindful about the

pressures on households and to

ensure that we're doing things

to keep job rates up, keep employment levels going employment levels going and to

keep hope alive in our

community and I think community and I think everyone

looks with interest at interest rates up or down. Simon,

finally, the Reserve Bank finally, the Reserve Bank does make the point that inflation

has begun to come down, so is there a case for further

easing? Look, I think we

always want to see Coalition side interest always want to see on the

Coalition side interest rates

as low as possible, I'm very

cognisant of the points Anna

makes about self-funded

retirees but in the end low interest rates help home owners, help young people,

importantly they also help

small business and business small business

investment so anything that can

get interest rates lower is a good thing, that's certainly what we enjoyed during the

Howard years. Tight budgetary management, strong surpluses

and that will and that will help keep

interest rates as low as human humanly possible. That's all

we have time for tonight. Thank

you very much Anna Burke in

Melbourne and in Adelaide Simon

Birmingham. Thank you. Thank

you. We'll be back at the same time tomorrow. For all goodnight. Closed Captions by