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Transcript of doorstop interview: Canberra: 8 September 2015: Tony Abbott's royal commission

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SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s royal commission

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: The disclosures today in the national broadsheet, The Australian, in relation to the trade union royal commission are damning.

These revelations this morning show that the royal commission is tainted and biased.

Labor has said all along that we did not support the terms of reference of the royal commission because they were partisan and it was a political exercise to attack the opponents of the Prime Minister - $80 million of taxpayers’ money being spent on a political witch hunt.

We’ve also made clear, and it is the reason there is a matter before the Senate today, that the commissioner should recuse himself because of, at the very least, an appearance of a conflict of interest in him accepting an invitation to a Liberal Party fundraiser.

Now, the commissioner has refused to recuse himself of that position and Tony Abbott, again, has shown a failure in leadership in not acting to withdraw the commission of the commissioner, Dyson Heydon. And today we’ve seen that Kathy Jackson, the royal commission’s star witness, the friend of Tony Abbott, who has said that she is heroic. And indeed, of course Christopher Pyne and Eric Abetz have all been glowing in terms of her character. Kathy Jackson, the woman who has recently been convicted of defrauding $1.5 million of money from health workers in this country. It is clear today

from the revelations on the front page of The Australian that Kathy Jackson has been coached to give testimony, being told what she will be asked, being told what she will not be asked and indeed being treated with kid gloves. I’ve been saying and Labor has been saying for weeks now that Kathy Jackson has been treated differently from other witnesses that have been called before the royal commission.

It is clear now from the revelations today in The Australian newspaper that the Counsel Assisting the commissioner has acted in a biased manner, acted in a way that has favoured Tony Abbott’s friends and looked to hurt Tony Abbott’s enemies. We have a situation now where we have a tainted royal commission. We have a commissioner who will not accept that he, in accepting an invitation to a Liberal Party fundraiser, showed at the very least an appearance of a conflict of interest. We have the Counsel Assisting the commission clearly coaching and working with a witness. Not examining her conduct but actually using her to attack the enemies of Tony Abbott while helping his friends. This is a tainted royal commission, these revelations are damning and for that reason if not for any other reason but there are many other reasons the Senate today should pass the motion to provide the Governor General an opportunity to have that commission withdrawn.

Happy to take questions.

JOUNALIST: Labor [inaudible] numbers?

O’CONNOR: Well let’s just see what the Senate decides - the Senate makes that decision. We’ll see what happens when that matter is debated but let’s be very clear here. This story today - the revelations in The Australian newspaper today make it very clear that the commission is biased. Counsel Assisting the commissioner was coaching witnesses - a witness by the way who has been convicted of defrauding workers of $1.5 million. This is Tony Abbott’s friend. She’s been treated differently than other witnesses. I mean this is a commission that will look after Tony Abbott’s friends to hurt Tony Abbott’s enemies. This is a disgraceful act, a disgraceful piece of conduct by the commission which is really underlining exactly the problems that this commission had. When this commission was established the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and the Minister for Employment said this would be a commission that cuts both ways. Where is the evidence that this commission cuts both ways? This is a political exercise designed to attack the opponents of the Government, it’s spending taxpayer’s money to do it. It’s abusing executive power - remember this is not a court this is an executive inquiry and it has been tainted and it is now showing the extent and nature of its bias, which seems to have no bounds. We need to see, for that reason, a decision by the Senate today for that commission to be withdrawn.

JOURNALIST: Is the Senate putting the Governor-General in an untenable situation? He gets advice from the Government, from the Ministers - for decades that’s been the case except for one notable exception.

O’CONNOR: Let me tell you while we’re now in a seemingly untenable situation. We’re in a difficult situation because the Prime Minister decided to use taxpayers money and establish a royal commission into his opponents. To write terms of reference that are clearly politically partisan. We’re in a difficult position now because the Prime Minister failed to act when it was clear that the commissioner accepted an invitation to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser. We’re in a difficult and challenging position right now because the commissioner even with the evidence that was clear he accepted the invitation knowingly, did not recuse himself.

This is really of course the doing of Tony Abbott, he has a decision to make, he could have made that decision weeks or months ago. Indeed he should not have established the commission as it stands - the terms of reference are biased. The conduct of the counsel assisting the commissioner is clearly biased. I mean how can it be that a convicted fraudster Kathy Jackson can be treated with kid gloves by the counsel assisting the commission and at the same time other witnesses are treated very differently.

These disclosures today underline what Labor has been saying all along and that is that this is a biased commission, one that has been used for improper purposes, one that is a political exercise by the government.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

O’CONNOR: That’s entirely up to parties before the commission. I don’t know whether they’ve made a decision on those matters or not. My point is that this is of the government’s making. There has been an executive inquiry established. It has been partisan in nature. The terms of reference are designed to attack the opponents of the government. There is at the very least an appearance of a conflict of interest insofar as the conduct of the Commissioner is concerned. And in the newspaper today we can clearly see that the counsel assisting the commission has been coaching witnesses, treating them differently than other witnesses. Looking after the friends of Tony Abbott to attack the enemies of Tony Abbott. This is a tainted royal commission and of course this story today underlines that fact.

JOURNALIST: If it’s such an urgent issue and it needs to be addressed, why is the motion being delayed twice? Is that simply because you don’t have the support?

O’CONNOR: How the Senate conducts itself is entirely up to the Senate. There are bills in the House before the senate that have been sitting there for 18 months and haven’t been put to the Senate. So if you want to talk about delays, why has Eric Abetz got seven bills he hasn’t passed?

JOURNALIST: But are you confident you will have the support?

O’CONNOR: That’s entirely up to the Senate. The real issue here and the matter I wanted to raise and I think it’s a very pertinent matter is that The Australian newspaper

today has disclosed that the commission has been assisting witnesses in an improper manner. It has been treating some witnesses differently than others, which underlines the institutional bias that this commission has.

Thanks very much.