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Early Agenda -

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Sky News AM Agenda with David Lipson

7 December 2010

Subjects: WikiLeaks, Newspoll, Mike Taylor resignation.

LIPSON: Hello and welcome to AM Agenda. I'm David Lipson. Concerns

over WikiLeaks have dramatically escalated today from

diplomatic red faces to potential threats to our national

security. Two more explosive documents have been released by

the WikiLeaks site. The first includes the names of 23

Australians in Yemen suspected of supporting terrorists. The

second is an inventory of potential terrorist sites around the

world, including here in Australia. Well, on the show today,

the Shadow Attorney-General, George Brandis, will be joining

us from Brisbane. But first to the Trade Minister, Craig

Emerson, with me here in our Canberra studio. Thanks for your


EMERSON: My pleasure.

LIPSON: I know the Government doesn't want to talk on the substance of

these WikiLeaks releases, but how serious is the threat to our

national security in regard to the latest leaks?

EMERSON: The leaks are grossly irresponsible and we're very concerned

about them. I think every right-minded person would be

concerned about leaks that have a potential impact on national

security and so we are.

LIPSON: So, but how seriously should Australians, I mean, should we be

worried, as Australians, about our security at home?

EMERSON: Well, it's a bit hard to comment on each and every specific

leak that comes. And listening to some early morning media it

sounds like there's plenty more in the pipeline from media

outlets through arrangements that they've made. I'm talking

globally now. So I don't think it's even helpful for the

Australian Government to have a running commentary on each

leak as it comes out. But where it is a potential threat to

national security, of course, this Government is concerned.

I'm sure the Opposition would be. And I'm sure that

fair-minded Australians would be as well.

LIPSON: Yesterday, we saw a separate leak and there has been some

comment from the Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, also the Prime

Minister in regards to the leak which claimed that he had told

the US to be prepared to deploy force in China. As Trade

Minister, negotiations with all countries are pretty delicate,

particularly, well, China's no exception. Is this going to

complicate things for you in your role in dealing with China?

EMERSON: No, I don't think so at all. And what Kevin was talking about

is the need for China to integrate into the region. I note

that while Julie Bishop criticised Kevin Rudd over it,

Alexander Downer actually said that's exactly the sort of

discussion that he would have had and did have when he was

Foreign Minister. I mean, the Chinese are very mature. We've

got a robust relationship. That will continue. I don't think

any of that would come as a major surprise to anyone. And the

fact is we've got a fantastically strong commercial

relationship - a 40-fold increase in exports from 1990 to

2010; a 40-times increase in exports. So that's just the

beginning really. When you look at China's urbanisation and

industrialisation, it's going through this massive

transformation to become an incredibly large economy and it's

got a voracious appetite for our commodities. But I will make

this other point. China has now become the biggest importer of

Australian service exports. So it's not just all about our

coal mines and iron ore mines. We ourselves are integrating

economically with China, and that's good for Australia, good

for China, good for the region.

LIPSON: So, their hunger for our commodities, you think, will mean

that these sorts of diplomatic embarrassments, if you like,

won't have any impact at all?

EMERSON: Well, I wouldn't even call it a diplomatic embarrassment. I

think that, you know, it was a frank discussion. And as

Alexander Downer has said, that's the sort of discussion he'd

have. But no, the Chinese and Australians are working very

well together on our commercial relationship. I was in China

just a few weeks ago meeting my trade counterpart, Mr Chen

Deming. He seems like a really nice bloke. And we'll continue

those discussions here in Australia - probably at the end of

the first quarter of 2011. So there's a lot of enthusiasm for

that relationship and an incredible amount of potential.

Everyone understands if you can get a 40-fold increase over 20

years where China is just on this take-off path, well imagine

when it's, you know, fully airborne and more and more people

are moving from rural areas into cities. That means you need

housing, you need transport, you need railway lines, you need

energy. Well, that's Australia.

LIPSON: I want to bring Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis into

this. Thanks for your time, Senator. I want to talk to you

briefly about the news of the day, these latest leaks from

WikiLeaks. Yesterday, the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister,

Julie Bishop, said we shouldn't leap to criticise, to condemn,

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Is that still the

Coalition's position?

BRANDIS: Well, I think that what Mr Assange has done is reprehensible

and I think that what he's done is very, very irresponsible.

Now, that having been said, as far as I can see, he hasn't

broken any Australian law. I think the Prime Minister was very

clumsy in her language yesterday when she said that he'd

engaged in illegal activity. He hasn't broken any Australian

law on the basis of the information that is in the public

domain at the moment. Nor does it appear he has broken any

American law. So I think we need to keep a sharp distinction

in our minds between conduct which is morally censurable, as

Mr Assange's conduct, I think, is, and conduct which attracts

the criminal law, which, as far as I can see, nothing that Mr

Assange has done does.

LIPSON: Well, we've heard now that his assets, we understand, have

been frozen, that he's tried to set up a meeting with UK

police. Is that sort of action appropriate - freezing assets

and the like - do you think?

BRANDIS: Well, my understanding is that Interpol has seized, has issued

a warrant for Mr Assange not on the basis of the WikiLeaks

episode but in compliance with a request from the Swedish

Government to take him into custody concerning a sexual

offence alleged to have occurred in Scandinavia. Now, the

seizing of assets is a reasonably commonplace thing when an

arrest warrant for an international fugitive is being policed

or being enforced. But that I think you'll find is quite a

different matter from the WikiLeaks episode.

LIPSON: Do you agree with that? Is that a common occurrence to freeze

assets, Craig Emerson, for a charge such as a sexual assault

in an overseas country?

EMERSON: I wouldn't disagree with George Brandis QC. Not that I know

more. I'm more likely to know less than George about these

matters. But look, Mr Assange is entitled to Australian

consular assistance as an Australian citizen. So I think

George is right to separate the WikiLeaks issue from these

allegations, personal allegations against Mr Assange.

LIPSON: Well, I just want to talk again...

BRANDIS: Can I say, David, too...

LIPSON: Yeah, sure.

BRANDIS: ...I think that, I think there's been a lot of very overheated

rhetoric about this. I mean, I even heard, particularly in the

United States from some of the far right-wing groups, I even

heard Senator Mitch McConnell, the American Republican Senate

leader, say on American television overnight that because of

the WikiLeaks episode that there ought to be some

retrospective criminalisation of Mr Assange's conduct. Well,

you know, I think we need to step back from this and

appreciate that in societies governed by the rule of law, one

thing that we never do is retrospectively criminalise conduct.

If there's a gap in the criminal law, it ought to be

addressed. And perhaps the WikiLeaks leak does indicate a need

for law reform in this area better to protect national

security information, even when it reaches the hands of a

third party who is not the person who actually engaged in the

espionage. But to suggest that there ought to be the

retrospective application of a criminal law to a person who at

the time he engaged in the conduct was not in fact in breach

of the law, I think is an appalling thing to say.

LIPSON: What about this claim that he's considering suing the

Australian Government for defamation? Is that anything that

your Government would be worried about, Craig Emerson? I'll

get to you in a moment, George.

EMERSON: I can't say anything profound about that. I mean, these are

matters for Mr Assange. I think we share with the Coalition

the concern about these leaks, about the national security

implications of these leaks. So let's leave it there rather

than Craig Emerson QC joining George Brandis QC and discussing

possibilities of legal action.

LIPSON: And George, you wanted to say something there?

BRANDIS: Well, I was just going to say, let me make it clear - the

Coalition has absolutely no sympathy for Julian Assange. As I

say, what he's done is reprehensible. But I think the Prime

Minister has been characteristically clumsy in her language.

She said that he's behaved illegally. He in fact hasn't

behaved illegally, although he's behaved reprehensibly. And

this is the problem with this Prime Minister. She is never

quite on top of her game and she's proved that again yesterday

with the clumsiness of her reaction to this episode.

LIPSON: Well let's hear a little bit from Prime Minister Julia Gillard

speaking last night on the ABC in relation to Australia's

relations with China. Have a listen.

[Start of excerpt]

GILLARD: We believe there will always be differences between countries.

We'll have differences with China and they are resolved

through diplomacy and dialogue.

[End of excerpt]

LIPSON: The Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd wasn't too concerned either.

He held a press conference yesterday where he said that

diplomacy is a robust business.

[Start of excerpt]

RUDD: The business of diplomacy is not just to roll over and have

your tummy tickled.

[End of excerpt]

LIPSON: Well George Brandis yesterday, Alexander Downer told Sky that

he felt sorry for Kevin Rudd. Do you?

BRANDIS: Well I think that any Head of State or Foreign Minister

conducting the diplomatic relations of their country needs to

be able to speak confidentially and candidly. Now having said

that, I agree with what Julie Bishop said yesterday. I think

that the language, the immoderate tone of the language that Mr

Rudd chose to try and impress Hillary Clinton with what a

tough guy he was, was very regrettable. I mean if you read

that cable, which is a summary by the Americans of the

conversation between Mr Rudd and Secretary Clinton, and you

look at the context in which this throwaway line was

introduced by Kevin Rudd, that if everything falls apart we

might need to use force, it's completely out of the context of

the conversation. It was gratuitous. It was Kevin Rudd

essentially trying to show off. To show what, in the eyes of

the Americans, what a tough guy he is, what a brutal realist

he is. Now I think the Australian people having suffered this

insufferable man as Prime Minister for nearly three years are

well used to the fact that there are very few things more

absurd in Australian politics than the sight of Kevin Rudd

trying to be the tough guy. But this time by showing off he

actually has potentially compromised Australia's relationship

with China and I think that's a terrible state of affairs.

EMERSON: Well let's hear from the actual former Foreign Affairs

Minister in the Coalition rather than the Shadow Foreign

Affairs Minister. He said 'it seems to me what Kevin Rudd was

particularly emphasising is something in the Howard Government

we emphasised to the Americans and that is with China, an

emerging power, it's very important to integrate it

successfully into the international community'. I'd regard

that as a pretty solid defence of Kevin Rudd by the former

Foreign Minister in the Howard Government.

LIPSON: So you don't think...

BRANDIS: Well Craig, but nobody disagrees.

LIPSON: ...that his comments were at all gratuitous, Craig?

EMERSON: Well this was a very strong endorsement by Mr Downer, who was

actually the Foreign Affairs Minister in the Howard

Government, of Mr Rudd's position.

LIPSON: And George?

BRANDIS: Well I think you're, Craig, I think you're setting up a bit of

a straw man here with respect. I mean nobody is...

EMERSON: No, I'm just reading directly from what Mr Downer had to say.

BRANDIS: ...nobody. May I finish? May I finish? Nobody disagrees with

what Mr Downer had to say and indeed that part of the

conversation between Mr Rudd and Secretary Clinton about the

need to integrate China into the international community.

That's absolutely true. Indeed it's commonplace and it's

bipartisan. What we are concerned about is when Mr Rudd went

further and gratuitously gestured towards the Americans about

the need to use force, which could only be understood to mean

military force, in a conversation about integrating China into

the international community.

EMERSON: George I can't find...

BRANDIS: It was gratuitous...

EMERSON: ...I can't find any criticism...

BRANDIS: ...and it was Kevin Rudd trying to be the tough guy.

EMERSON: ...I can't find any criticism of Kevin Rudd by the former

Foreign Affairs Minister in the Coalition Government. So let's

not talk about 'oh yes Mr Downer was right about this' but Mr

Downer strongly supported what Mr Rudd did.

LIPSON: Okay gentlemen, we've got to take a very quick break now.

We've got a few other things to get through after this break,

so don't go away.

LIPSON: Welcome back. Well the latest Newspoll numbers are out and to

go through them Martin O'Shannessy is in our Sydney studio.

[Cross to Martin O'Shannessy]

LIPSON: Martin O'Shannessy from Newspoll, thank you. We still have our

panel with us. Craig Emerson is with us here in Canberra.

George Brandis in Brisbane. First to you Craig, is that last

point, is this an indication that humans are concerned about

climate change but ultimately pretty selfish? Is that what

this is?

EMERSON: Well, it's not a surprise. I think Martin indicated that these

are the sorts of results that he's been getting for some time.

I noted that he said that nine out of 10 Australians believe

there's human induced climate change. Well, Tony Abbott's in

with the one out of 10 who believes that climate change is

absolute crap. So if people want a solution or a response to

climate change, don't ask Tony Abbott because he doesn't even

believe it exists.

LIPSON: George Brandis, how do you read these figures?

BRANDIS: Well, can I just say, what Craig just said is complete

nonsense. I mean the fact is...

EMERSON: No, that's a direct quote from Tony Abbott.

BRANDIS: The fact're certainly pinning your hopes on, a lot of

hopes on one throwaway line taken out of context, Craig.

EMERSON: Oh, this is not an iron clad promise?

BRANDIS: But back to the serious point, back to the serious point. I

think that what the figures reveal is that the Australian

public - who overwhelmingly believe that, at least partially,

human activity does cause climate change - have absolutely no

confidence in this Government to come up with a solution. And

you know, you've got to see this in the context too, David, of

the fact that what the Government is proposing. A carbon tax

is something that will push up electricity prices, push up the

cost of living massively, and is something that Julia Gillard

hand-on-heart promised would not occur right up to the

election. She said again and again, quote 'there will be no

carbon tax' unquote. And then the moment she locked down the

Independents' support, what does she do? She lays the ground

to introduce a carbon tax. So I think this 49-47 figure does

at least in part also reflects the well founded cynicism of

the Australian people that a government that has lied to them

about so many things, and is now lying to them about a carbon

tax, is not a government that's going to solve the problem.

EMERSON: Can I squeeze in here? Just take, take a breath. Now this

guy's a QC. You'd think a QC would have some passing

familiarity and respect for the truth. Julia Gillard said that

the Labor Government, if re-elected, would work to put a price

on carbon. Now that means an emissions trading system. That is

one that was supported by Malcolm Turnbull at the cost of his

political career because he was knifed by Tony Abbott over it.

What you just heard from George Brandis was just a pack of

lies. And I don't think it's edifying, people calling each

other liars, but the fact is...

BRANDIS: Craig, Craig, I don't think you should be, I don't think that

is very edifying.

EMERSON: ...that Julia Gillard, Julia Gillard said before the election,

and you know it George, you know it, that we would work to put

a price on carbon. You that very well and that's what we're

working to do.

BRANDIS: Craig, did Julia...

LIPSON: Okay look, we could...

BRANDIS: ...Julia let me, no David, David, just let me have

a go at this because I've been accused...

EMERSON: You said that she's introducing a carbon tax and that - you

said she's introducing a carbon tax.

BRANDIS: I've been accused, accused of lying. Did Julia Gillard, Craig,

did Julia Gillard not say more than once before the election,

quote 'there will be no carbon tax' unquote. Did she say that

Craig? Yes or no?

EMERSON: And George, .George did - and I'll answer this with this


BRANDIS: Yes or no?

EMERSON: Did she say after the election we are putting in place a

carbon tax? Julia Gillard said we are putting in place a price

on carbon through an emissions trading system...

LIPSON: All we've, I'm very sorry, we've, I've got to wrap...

EMERSON: ...the very scheme that Malcolm Turnbull embraced.

BRANDIS: Craig, every man, every man and his dog in this country knows

we're going to have a carbon tax.

LIPSON: George, I'm sorry I've got to wrap you both up.

EMERSON: And you're lying, George.

LIPSON: I'm sorry, gentlemen.

EMERSON: You're lying, straight out lying.

LIPSON: I've got to wrap you both up, we're about to run out of time

but I just need to get a comment from both of you on reports

that we're hearing that Mike Taylor, the head of the Murray

Darling Basin Authority, has quit. First to you Craig Emerson,

what does this mean for the Murray Darling plan? Is this in

serious strife now?

EMERSON: Well, if this has happened, it's happened while we've been

on-air so I guess it would need to be confirmed to provide a

sensible comment. The Murray Darling Basin Authority is set up

as an independent authority, independent of government, and it

prepares a plan and then consults on that plan and then the

Government itself decides what it will adopt. So there's an

independent process. My memory, but don't hold me to this, was

that this was established, this process, by the Howard

Government. It may not have been but I know George is going to

say well this fellow shouldn't have been doing the public

consultation. It is an independent process based on their

independently arrived at plan and then the Government

considers the information that comes.

LIPSON: And George Brandis, just very briefly?

BRANDIS: Well look, if this is true, I feel sorry for Mr Taylor,

because he basically was made a fall guy for the Government's

policy failure in this area. It was him, not the Minister, who

was asked to confront the angry crowds at Leeton and

Deniliquin and at the other meetings...

EMERSON: No, no, I've just explained that and anticipated you

beautifully, George.

BRANDIS: ...and the other meetings in the irrigation areas when the

Minister, Mr Burke, didn't have the courage to go before the

local people who were affected by his own Government's policy

and face them. It was a great example of...

EMERSON: He just ignored everything I said.


BRANDIS: ...Ministerial powers to put Mr Taylor in that position.

LIPSON: Okay. Gentlemen, thank you very much, we are unfortunately out

of time. Thanks for watching. I'm David Lipson...

EMERSON: And let's have a go at the truth next week, George.

LIPSON: Good bye.