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Lunchtime Agenda -

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SUBJECT: Opposition allegations; Climate talks in Doha

LIPSON: Greg Combet thanks for your time. We’ll get to climate change in a moment, but first to the AWU affair. The Prime Minister has avoided directly answering the question about whether she personally vouched for this Workplace Reform Association. Now we see evidence that she did write to the regulatory body in WA. Did she mislead the WA Commissioner for Corporate Affairs?
COMBET: Well I don’t even know if a letter exists. I’ve seen the transcript but what’s the allegation of wrongdoing that you’re asking me about? That as a solicitor she might have written a letter? Is that what it is?
LIPSON: That she wrote a letter personally vouching for an association that she later described as a ‘slush fund’ and that which was then used to embezzle allegedly-
COMBET: You can’t-
LIPSON: -union funds.
COMBET: The problem with this whole thing is that, you’ve got to understand, all the issues are being conflated in one. The Prime Minister acted as solicitor, advising a client, on how they might go about setting up and establishing this fund. She would have produced a draft set of articles of association, something of that nature - and if there is a letter, I don’t know. I haven’t seen one. I’ve seen the reports in the paper today about a transcript that suggests there’s letter - it would have been as a solicitor, writing to the relevant authority in Western Australia assumedly, saying this isn’t a trade union, it’s a proposed incorporated association that has these purposes. The purposes for which she’d provided advice to her client. What is the claim of wrongdoing? What is wrong with that? What is being alleged here?
LIPSON: The claim is that she, she vouched for an organisation?
COMBET: That’s not vouching for anything.
LIPSON: Well she argued for this organisation-
COMBET: She didn’t argue for anything-
LIPSON: -to be established.
COMBET: She proved provided advice on what it was.
LIPSON: But wasn’t it? In this letter, according to the transcript in her own words - that transcript involves - is she talked about writing to the WA regulatory body to, where they had concerns about this organisation that was being formed, not by Julia Gillard-
COMBET: How do you know that?
LIPSON: Well the claim-
COMBET: No, seriously-
LIPSON: The claim-
COMBET: I’ve been involved in the establishment of incorporated associations in the past too. You often have to send a letter just clarifying one particular thing or the other and if you’ve got an instructing solicitor they may do that on your behalf. What is the wrongdoing again? You’re suggesting that because of these allegations that these characters who were involved in the fund may have misused the money, that somehow the Prime Minister is complicit in this. That’s a serious allegation, where is-
LIPSON: I’m not suggesting she’s-
COMBET: Where is the evidence? And what is the allegation of wrongdoing?
LIPSON: Well the allegation of wrongdoing is about the letter that she wrote. That she, you know, according to-
COMBET: Have you seen that letter? What wrongdoing is in the letter?
LIPSON: I haven’t seen the letter but there is-
COMBET: Well you’d want to be careful-
LIPSON: There is, there is the transcript-
COMBET: If you’re claiming wrongdoing, you’re making a defamatory claim. What is the claim of wrongdoing?
LIPSON: Why for example was AWU in the title of this organisation that wasn’t a union body?
COMBET: Let me go back to some basics. Union officials have to be elected, which means they have to run an election campaign. One of the reasons that funds of this nature are established, are to help have in a controlled way, funds set up to support the election of the union officials. A team of people would be supporting themselves being re-elected. It’s a good thing if these things are incorporated so there’s a clear set of objectives and rules that apply. Sometimes solicitors provide advice upon how you might set up such a fund. There’s no wrongdoing. It’s entirely lawful. And often times in the labour movement - I was 25 years as a union official - those funds have some reference to the union in the title of them. There’s nothing unlawful about it. There’s nothing illegal about it. What is the allegation of wrongdoing here? It is actually quite commonplace that something might be established of that nature.
LIPSON: The Opposition says her position is untenable.
COMBET: Julie Bishop’s position is untenable. I’ve never seen anything like this. In public, in the media during this week, she made direct defamatory allegations that she cannot substantiate. She should resign. What is the allegation of wrongdoing against the Prime Minister here? Can anyone clearly say? What evidence is there to support anything? There isn’t. This is just all smear. Nothing more, nothing less.
LIPSON: But if it wasn’t unlawful why won’t she herself, as the Opposition has called on her repeatedly to do, give a statement to the Parliament, put the whole thing to rest.
COMBET: She’s answered, I think what would it be? 28 questions this week in Parliament. Is that not enough for you? She’s held two extremely lengthy press conferences and at various times over 20 years answered numerous questions about it. What’s the allegation against her again? Has she really been hiding from anything? No. I think that’s pretty upfront isn’t it?
LIPSON: Okay. In to your portfolio area some pretty disturbing revelations or claims coming from these global climate talks in Doha. Today the World Meteorological Organisation saying that Arctic sea ice is down to its lowest recorded level. Are you satisfied that the rest of the world is doing enough to combat this dangerous climate change.
COMBET: We everyone is trying hard to make sure we do enough and it’s very important you point to this because the UN conference on climate change is going on in Doha at the moment and the scientific evidence that’s being presented is extremely worrying. It’s what we’ve been trying to point to as a government for some time. Of course we’ve got increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere but Arctic sea ice is now at its lowest recorded level ever. And this is revealing are area of permafrost which has got ancient forests and biological matter in it, that once it thaws will start releasing large amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere. And you’re talking potentially the scientific advice is tens of billions of tonnes. So this is a very serious position. It only underscores the importance of nations working together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To start to make sure that we can limit the temperature increases that we’re going to experience in the world. And that’s why we’ve implemented a carbon price as our part, to play our fair share, and of course the discussion in Doha over the next two weeks will be about what other nations are doing and what binding obligations they will take on to get this issue in hand.
LIPSON: Greg Combet, thanks for your time today.
COMBET: Thanks very much.