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Parliament House, Canberra: transcript of doorstop interview: Zimbabwe sanctions; Senator Heffernan; media rules; unions.



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP - PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA, 20TH MARCH 2002

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Zimbabwe sanctions; Senator Heffernan; media rules; unions

CREAN: I congratulate the Prime Minister for his success in London. This is an appropriate outcome and he is to be commended for achieving it. I hope that he backs it up by the imposition of targeted sanctions against the Zimbabwe regime from Australia with the ultimate purpose of getting Commonwealth-wide sanctions against Zimbabwe.

The Prime Minister having now succeeded in London should return home and face the music tomorrow here in Parliament. He has the time to do it and he has many questions to answer. Senator Heffernan was not on a frolic of his own. Senator Heffernan did this with the knowledge of the Government. We now know that the Government knew two years ago that the documentation upon which Senator Heffernan was relying was bogus. If the Government knew that how did it allow him to continue to peddle it? Importantly, why didn’t the alarm bells ring when Senator Heffernan produced the ultimate document - the forgery? Why didn’t the Government, with its knowledge that the previous evidence was bogus, argue that this document needed to be checked? This was no frolic alone by Senator Heffernan this was a government that knew, a government that should have acted. A Prime Minister who was prepared to allow the smear to run. We want to know what the Prime Minister’s state of knowledge was and why he didn’t act to prevent Senator Heffernan perpetrating the smear through a forgery.

JOURNALIST: Are you saying that the Prime Minister knew all along that this was bogus and then deliberately read further allegations into…?

CREAN: I am saying that the Government knew that the documentation upon which Senator Heffernan relied was bogus. The Prime Minister must’ve known it. Senator Heffernan was peddling it, not just to the Prime Minister, but all around the place. The Government must have been seized with the knowledge that the document was bogus and the Prime

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Minister should have known it. His staff should have known it and steps should have been taken to prevent this scenario developing.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister this morning has refused to answer any questions about whether the Department of Finance knew about the document being a forgery before now. He says he doesn’t know anything about that and he won’t be saying anything until he gets home. Is that an appropriate response?

CREAN: Sergeant Schultz visits London. I mean I am sick to death of hearing the Prime Minister repeat the line he ‘didn’t know’. That’s the line to cover the lies. This is a Prime Minister that is in charge of his Government and it’s not good enough, in fact, it is outrageous that he can continue to get away every time with saying he ‘didn’t know’. Now let’s face the facts that the only reason Senator Heffernan is sacked is because Labor pursued this issue. Not because the Government pursued it but because Labor pursued it. We will continue to pursue it and the reason the Prime Minister won’t answer in London is the reason he must come back here and face the Parliament on Thursday. Face it because Parliament is not sitting for another seven weeks. The Prime Minister can run but he shouldn’t be able to hide.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the fact that Senator Heffernan has apologised, that apology has been accepted and the Prime Minister has sacked Senator Heffernan from his Cabinet position, do you think that should be the end of the matter?

CREAN: No, the Prime Minister must apologise to Mr Justice Kirby and so should the Attorney-General. And in particular the Attorney-General to the whole of the High Court. He said yesterday in the Parliament that Heffernan’s attack was not on the High Court - it was - read what he said in his statement in the Parliament. Here’s an Attorney-General misrepresenting even what the perpetrator of the forgery has said. So both of them owe apologies. But Senator Heffernan is not fit to sit in the Parliament. That’s the fact of it. And if he had any shred of decency left in him he would resign from the Parliament. But the Liberal Party also ought to expel him from their ranks. He’s not worthy of membership of them either. And if they are prepared to continue to condone someone who peddles a lie, peddles a forgery then they are in a pretty sorry state of affairs.

JOURNALIST: At the time the Prime Minister said that he would look at how judges might be able to be dismissed. That, you know, as it is at the moment they wait until they are seventy and can only be dismissed by both Houses of Parliament. Where does that leave what has happened now? Where does that leave his argument for that?

CREAN: Well, I don’t know because the Prime Minister has never fully explained it. But I think that what he was putting out requires very

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careful consideration before we advance it. Because I think it does go very much to the separation of powers questions. It would need to be thought through very carefully not just as a reactive diversion to the mess the Prime Minister found himself in. But look, that is in my view, an important policy issue which if it’s to be pursued needs proper consideration. The immediate question is: let’s get the Prime Minister back here. Let’s get him to face the music. This was not a one-man frolic it was the symphony playing and we want the conductor of the orchestra here to explain his state of knowledge.

JOURNALIST: On media rules and media reforms do you think Senator Alston’s legislation is doomed with the backbench trouble that he is having, apparently?

CREAN: Well, here is the Government in tatters again. I mean, the much vaunted legislation that was going to come forward in this fourth week only of a Parliament in nine months. That’s all the Parliament will have sat by the time we get back for the Budget, four weeks in nine months and they can’t even bring the legislation forward. It’s confirmation that they have no third term agenda and it’s no wonder that they are in the strife they are. They’re beset by crisis after crisis with no third term agenda to get on with. It is a government that isn’t fit to govern and hopefully that will be apparent to the Australian people when they next go to the elections.

JOURNALIST: Have you had any legal advice on whether, of what criminal charges could be laid against the Comcar driver who submitted the fraudulent evidence?

CREAN: No I haven’t sought that advice.

JOURNALIST: Was there any concern in the Labor Party Caucus meeting yesterday about unions in Victoria considering disaffiliating from the Party?

CREAN: Well, I’ve not seen any union disaffiliate from the Party. I’ve seen a lot of hype surrounding it but no call by a union to disaffiliate. We had discussions about this issue yesterday but I repeated what I have said publicly. I am about modernising the Labor Party. That means modernising its relationship with the trade union movement. I can’t envisage a Labor Party without a relationship with the trade union movement but it has to be a forward looking one. And that’s what I am going to lead the direction of the Party in. I want the trade union to be part of that drive forwards. I’m not going to be part of any set of suggestions that takes us backwards.

JOURNALIST: Are you saying that it is hype and not genuine concerns on the part of these unions and union leaders?

CREAN: No I am saying that if there are genuine concerns I’ve established a mechanism by which those concerns can be advanced. But if

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people are saying as a parameter we’ve got to go back in terms of defining our relationship then I’m not in that cart. And I‘m saying to people we’ll go forward, I’ll be consultative about that, I will involve myself in the processes. If people want to be part of that and contribute constructively then I welcome it.

JOURNALIST: On Zimbabwe again. Should the Australian cricket tour proceed in two or three weeks time?

CREAN: Are they playing in Zimbabwe?

JOURNALIST: They are due to play in Zimbabwe, two tests in Zimbabwe next month.

CREAN: Yes, well under what we have called for we have only called for targeted sanctions against the regime. Maybe they shouldn’t get tickets to get to the game. But I think the tour should proceed. Thanks very much.

Ends.