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Early Agenda -

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Topics: Minister for Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd; Prime Minister's international plans; Speaker's
position and parliamentary reforms; Villawood Detention Centre; Support for soldier in Afghanistan

KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me now on the program here in the Canberra studio, the Minister for Home
Affairs Brendan O'Connor. Good morning, Mr O'Connor.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Good morning, Kieran.

KIERAN GILBERT: With me from Brisbane, I've got the Shadow Attorney-General, Senator George
Brandis. Senator Brandis, thank you very much for your time this morning. You heard what Kevin Rudd
had to say. Essentially he asked about the Opposition's comments that he is a Prime Minister in
exile. He says the Opposition can make whatever comments it likes. His job is to work hard in
defence of Australia's national interest. That's fair enough, isn't it, for a foreign minister to
be over there in New York at the UN General Assembly and pretty much scoffing at the Opposition
criticism?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well, I think that Mr Rudd is obviously enjoying himself hugely, attracting as much
attention to himself and away from Julia Gillard as he possibly can. But in relation to his remark,
it certainly shows a degree of high-handedness and arrogance for Mr Rudd to think, well, I no
longer have to respond to domestic criticism. I am not answerable to the day-to-day exchange of
political debate back in Australia. Now I think we're going to see a lot more of that in the months
and years to come, Kieran, for as long as Mr Rudd is the Foreign Minister because, you see, Mr Rudd
now, because of what the Labor Party did to him, Mr Rudd thinks that he is owed something by the
Labor Party and that he has basically got free rein to do whatever he likes. And that's a very,
very dangerous attitude for any politician to have.

KIERAN GILBERT: Brendan O'Connor, what do you make of that statement? Can he be reined in? Will he
be subordinate to Prime Minister Gillard in this role? It's obviously going to be difficult to
manage.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, I expect George to say those things but the facts are we have in Kevin Rudd
a man who has got the contacts, the experience, the capabilities to be a fantastic foreign
minister. As we have already seen, he has met with very high officials. He has met with significant
people on the world stage, as he should.

We are an important country. He represents us overseas. But look, when it comes down to it, the
Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister will work very closely together and the Prime Minister has
already indicated her intention to be attending some very important meetings overseas, including
the G20 in November.

KIERAN GILBERT: I want to ask you about that. The G20, there's APEC in November, these important
summits - how important is it for Prime Minister Gillard to establish her own presence on the world
stage, to be seen having the face to face talks with the Chinese President, the American, the
Indonesian leadership?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Look, I think we have to look at the context of where we find ourselves just
after the election. The Prime Minister had to make sure she dealt with those issues arising out of
the election, making sure that as we go into the opening of the

Parliament next week, that things are in place to ensure a stable and effective government.

And that was our priority and indeed, she has also indicated that as Prime Minister, as leader of
the Government she will be attending those and these and it is entirely proper. Indeed, it is
appropriate that she would be at the G20, for example, because she needs to do that when she can.

But, you know, you rely upon a foreign minister and I believe you will see them working very
closely together. It's a great thing.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. Senator Brandis, what do you think about these commitments that Julia Gillard
has announced - the G20, APEC? I mean, obviously a Prime Minister has got to attend those things.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well look of course, Kieran. That's not controversial. There are international
forums - the G20, I think, is one of them - in which you would expect the head of government to
attend. That's not the problem here.

The problem here is that you have a Prime Minister with little or no experience in international
diplomacy and a foreign minister who used to be the Prime Minister and who has no relationship
other than a tense and perhaps civil but hostile relationship with the Prime Minister, both
competing against each other to be Australia's voice on the world stage. And I think that is a
very, very dangerous situation.

Let me put this question - does anybody seriously think that Julia Gillard, as Prime Minister, will
speak with the authority in foreign affairs that Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister spoke with? Because
when Mr Rudd was Prime Minister, he basically ran foreign policy.

Stephen Smith was largely left to do more routine meetings and essentially consular things. Now, Mr
Rudd, as Foreign Minister, is not going to allow a Prime Minister to treat him the way he treated
Stephen Smith. And you are going to have these two competing and mutually hostile power centres
with control of Australia foreign policy.

KIERAN GILBERT: Well Brendan O'Connor, I'll let you respond before we...

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Look, I mean that's a complete nonsense but entirely predictable that George
would say that.

KIERAN GILBERT: But is it really a nonsense?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Of course it's nonsense.

KIERAN GILBERT: The Foreign Minister is a life-long diplomat.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Yes, which is a good thing.

KIERAN GILBERT: It's his bread and butter. He loves this stuff.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Yes, which is a good thing.

KIERAN GILBERT: But can it overshadow the Prime Minister?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: No, look, I think that's just overplaying this. The facts are we can go about
talking about the conflicts that may arise from time to time. We haven't yet discussed the problems
that Tony Abbott will have with Malcolm Turnbull, for example.

But the reality is, in our government we have a Prime Minister who is by definition the leader and
there is no doubt in my mind that when the decisions are to be made, they'll be made by her and of
course Kevin Rudd will do a good job, a very good job as far as...

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, we've got to...

GEORGE BRANDIS: [Interrupts] I think the problem - if I may quickly come in though - I think the
problem, Kieran, is that this shouldn't even be an issue. And it is the very fact, Brendan, you
have to say we have a Prime Minister...

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Only you are saying, George, that it's an issue. No one else is saying it's an
issue.

GEORGE BRANDIS: But the very fact that you have to say, Brendan, we have a Prime Minister who is by
definition the leader, well it should be more than by definition. The Prime Minister should be in
substance the leader and Kevin Rudd, at least when it comes to foreign policy...

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: All right, well, I went on to say that, George.

GEORGE BRANDIS: ...won't allow her to be.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: You should listen to the entire sentence. I actually went on to say that. But the
point is, I know you will try to make much of this, but the reality is we'll see those two, the
Prime Minister and foreign minister, work very closely together.

KIERAN GILBERT: All right. Let's move on. The Speaker's position is still up in the air. Senator
Brandis, Parliament returns next week, 28 September. We're no closer to knowing who the speaker is.
Rob Oakeshott's withdrawn his candidacy, accusing the Opposition Leader and the manager of
Opposition business of reneging on the deal.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well, I think we should just take a reality check here and remind ourselves what
the constitutionally orthodox position is. The constitutionally orthodox position is that the
government provides the speaker. Now, we have at the moment, or in the last Parliament we had
observance of that constitutionally orthodox position.

We had, in Mr Jenkins, a Speaker who had a good reputation, both among Government and Opposition
members of Parliament. And Tony Abbott has said that we would be perfectly content for Mr Jenkins
to continue to be Speaker.

Now it is more than bizarre to me that you have a Labor Party in power, in perhaps slightly
controversial circumstances but they ended up being in power, and they seem to be shying away from
observing the constitutional orthodoxy and nominating their own person who is, in fact, the
incumbent Speaker, has the Opposition's confidence.

KIERAN GILBERT: But, Senator Brandis, the fact is with the pairing arrangements and so on, that's
done by a handshake, isn't it?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well, pair...

KIERAN GILBERT: If you wanted to agree to this you could have done it to enable the Independent to
serve as Speaker.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Pairing, look, under Section 40 of the Constitution the Speaker doesn't have a
deliberative vote so for that reason, in my view, pairing arrangements are inappropriate for the
Speaker and that I think is the view of the Clerk of the House of Representatives as well.

And the issue doesn't arise because if the Speaker casts, if the Speaker doesn't cast a
deliberative vote and the independents vote along the lines they've indicated they will, the
Government will still control the chamber, 75 votes to 74.

KIERAN GILBERT: Brendan O'Connor, Harry Jenkins seems to be the Speaker without a home at the
moment and the Labor Party's certainly not speaking out in defence of his performance. Do you want
him or not as Speaker? He seems to have been cast adrift.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Look, Harry Jenkins - Harry Jenkins has been a very good Speaker. I think
everybody across the chamber...

GEORGE BRANDIS: Good, well let him stay.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: ...understands that but can I just say we are in a different situation and the
Opposition and, indeed, the Government with the Independents entered into an arrangement which the
Opposition seems to be walking away from now. What they need to know, what the Government needs to
know, is whether the Opposition was genuine when it said it would actually enter into a new set of
arrangements for the House of Representatives.

Now, it would appear now that they're raising constitutional issues and other issues so that they
can walk away from an agreement they signed up to prior to them knowing whether they were going to
form government or not. That seems to me that they don't have the bona fides that they suggested
they did have when they entered into those discussions.

KIERAN GILBERT: All right, gentlemen, we've got to take a quick break.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well, can I look, I have to quickly correct that, Kieran. I have to quickly correct
that. No agreement can be made in violation of Section 40 of the Constitution. The proposal to pair
the Speaker, as Christopher Pyne said on Q&A last night, came from Mr Albanese himself, in
ignorance of what Section 40 requires.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: These matters weren't raised during the discussions.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, let's take a break. We'll be right back. Stay with us.

[Commercial break]

KIERAN GILBERT: Welcome back to AM Agenda. With me this morning from Brisbane, the Shadow
Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, and here in the Canberra studio the Minister for Home
Affairs, Brendan O'Connor.

Minister, can I ask you about this fatality at the Villawood Detention Centre yesterday? It does
appear to be a suspected suicide of this 36-year-old Fijian man. Do you have any more information
for us on the investigation?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Look, it clearly is a tragic individual circumstance and I extend my sympathies
to the gentleman's family, it's a very difficult time for them now.

What we have here, of course, is a very important matter that needs to be dealt with properly. The
New South Wales police are investigating the matter. The service provider for Villawood Detention
Centre, Serco, will also be providing a full report and no doubt there'll be a coronial inquiry and
until such matters are resolved I can't really go much further except to say the Government takes
these matters very seriously and we want to be very sensitive about how this matter's dealt with.

KIERAN GILBERT: This is obviously a very delicate situation. We've just seen some images there on
our screens of the ongoing protest on the rooftop. It's obviously, as I say, a delicate and quite
volatile situation.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: And that's, I guess, my point, that we have a matter that we're having to deal
with. Serco is engaging with those men, clients that are on the roof and are talking to them so the
matter can be resolved properly and peaceably and we don't want to be inflaming this issue. It is
certainly a tragic circumstance for the individual in question and his family and the appropriate
law enforcement agencies and other agencies are providing information. As I say, there'll be a
coronial inquiry.

KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Brandis, what do you make of the tragic circumstance yesterday at Villawood
and this ongoing sort of precarious situation that remains there?

GEORGE BRANDIS: I think, obviously, it is a very sad situation and I think the word precarious,
Kieran, is an appropriate word but I'm sorry to say, notwithstanding this - what a sad situation
this is - that we can't say that this is not a legitimate matter of political discussion as I think
Brendan was rather implying when he said we don't want to inflame this.

The Opposition doesn't want to inflame it but it won't be deflected either from doing its job and
reminding the Australian public that the reason we have more people in detention now than we have
ever had at any other time in our history, in our peacetime history, is because of a series of
decisions by this Labor Government two years ago which resulted in the people-smuggling trade
reviving and the Australian Government losing control of our borders.

Now, let us not use honeyed words to try and escape responsibility for a series of outcomes, tragic
outcomes though they may be, that have a cause and that cause is decisions by this Government that
put people smugglers back into business and caused all these people now to be in detention in
Australia when at the time the Howard government left office this was not a problem we had.

KIERAN GILBERT: We're almost out of time but I just quickly, very quickly, want to get your
thoughts on this email from a digger relating to the contact in which Lance Corporal Jared McKinney
was killed. Senator Brandis, this is obviously a big worry if this soldier on the ground in
Afghanistan says he didn't have the support needed.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well, look, this is something that obviously the Government will want to examine
carefully and I'm sure that it will take the Opposition into its confidence by providing the
appropriate briefings to our Shadow Defence Minister.

I do want to use the opportunity to reiterate that the Afghanistan deployment has bipartisan
support and I'm sure that both sides of politics are firmly of the view that our soldiers deployed
on hazardous missions overseas, where they put their lives in peril, need all the support that they
can be given.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, Brendan O'Connor, just quickly to you.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, I mean, I agree with George. This is a complex and challenging environment.
The Defence Force will indeed be investigating the death of Lance Corporal McKinney and, you know,
we need to do this carefully and properly but it's a really tough environment. It's a difficult war
but it's an important contribution that we're making.

KIERAN GILBERT: They need all the support they can get.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Indeed.

KIERAN GILBERT: This digger doesn't appear to be believe he's got it.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: No, I understand that and the facts are that the Defence Forces are investigating
the matter. The Defence Minister will be commenting further today on this matter and I think we
should leave it to him to fully explain this issue properly.

KIERAN GILBERT: Brendan O'Connor and Senator George Brandis, as always appreciate your time this
morning. Gentlemen, thank you and that's all for the program, I'm Kieran Gilbert, thanks for your
company.