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Transcript of interview with David Lipson: Sky News, AM Agenda: 7 December 2010: WikiLeaks; Newspoll; Mike Taylor resignation

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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 time.

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 question.

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.