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Members discuss how Minister Gary Nairn's Chief of Staff criticised ALP candidate.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in an y other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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PM

 

Wednes day 19 September 2007

Members discuss how Minister Gary Nairn's Chief of Staff criticised ALP candidate

 

MARK COLVIN: The Special Minister of State, Gary Nairn, came under pressure in Parliament today to discipline his chief of staff after comments the staffer made last week at a public meeting. 

 

PM was at that meeting last week where Mr Nairn's chief of staff Peter Phelps heckled the Labor candidate for Eden-Monaro, the former Army Colonel Mike Kelly 

 

Mr Phelps accused Mr Kelly of using the Nuremberg case, like the guards at Belsen concentration camp, when Mr Kelly said he'd had to serve in Iraq because that was his duty as a soldier. 

 

While arguing that his chief of staff went to the meeting in a private capacity, Mr Nairn has told Parliament he that doesn't agree with any comparisons Mr Phelps made between Nazi Germany and Australian soldiers in Iraq. 

 

From Canberra, Gillian Bradford reports. 

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: When PM went along to hear the Labor candidate Mike Kelly address a community meeting in Queanbeyan late last week, we certainly didn't suspect the man throwing some rather forceful interjections was the chief of staff to a minister. 

 

PETER PHELPS: Simon Green said it was illegal and immoral. 

 

MIKE KELLY: We are where we are now, mate. 

 

PETER PHELPS: And Kevin Rudd said it was illegal as well, too. 

 

MIKE KELLY: Yep, we are where we are. 

 

PETER PHELPS: And you took part in an illegal action according to their standards. 

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: But on Monday Peter Phelps, the chief of staff to the Special Minister of State and Member for Eden-Monaro, Gary Nairn, confirmed it was him in this exchange with Labor's candidate, the former Army Colonel Mike Kelly. 

 

MIKE KELLY: I told you that it was a total failure of diplomacy, to establish that mission on a sound footing of legitimacy. 

 

PETER PHELPS: (Inaudible) illegal and immoral. And you took part in it willingly because you weren't sent over there, you volunteered, didn't you? 

 

MIKE KELLY: No, I was a soldier, and I did what I was ordered to do. 

 

PETER PHELPS: Oh, like the guards at Belsen, perhaps? Are you using the Nuremberg Defence? No, no, come on. 

 

MIKE KELLY: No, no, no that's fine. 

 

PETER PHELPS: He is a military lawyer who knows full well… 

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: Today Labor's deputy leader Julia Gillard opened Question Time, wondering if Gary Nairn thought that behaviour was appropriate.  

 

JULIA GILLARD: I refer the Minister to a question posed by his chief of staff, Peter Phelps, to Colonel Mike Kelly, asking if he compared his military service in Iraq to that of Nazi guards at the Belsen concentration camp. 

 

PARLIAMENTARIANS: Shame. 

 

JULIA GILLARD: Does the Minister endorse his chief of staff's conduct? And what will he do about it? 

 

GARY NAIRN: I think it's only appropriate that individuals in their own private capacity, when invited to attend a forum, goes along to that forum and participates in the debate. 

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: Mr Nairn initially stuck to the defence that his chief of staff went along to the meeting simply as a citizen of Queanbeyan - so could say anything he liked. But when pushed again, he did distance himself from those comments - though still not going so far as to discipline Mr Phelps. 

 

GARY NAIRN: Clearly, Mr Speaker, I would not, I would not agree with any comments that might, that might compare the work of Australian soldiers with those in Nazi Germany. 

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: Even though Mr Nairn disowned his man this afternoon, this morning he allowed Mr Phelps to go on ABC Radio in Bega to defend his interjections at the Queanbeyan meeting, and Mr Phelps was far from apologetic. 

 

PETER PHELPS: I wanted to go along and have a bit of a, bit of a chat and see if Colonel Kelly could justify his position on a range of issues. 

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: Mr Phelps has form in putting forward his views as a private citizen. The ABC's Media Watch revealed a few years ago he wrote letters to the editor of the Canberra Times without declaring he was then the chief of staff to another minister, Eric Abetz. 

 

The Jewish Labor MP, Michael Danby, emerged after Question Time with a scathing assessment of Mr Phelps. 

 

MICHAEL DANBY: I felt sick to my stomach sitting in Federal Parliament hearing some of these comparisons and the atrocious statements of the Minister's chief of staff. 

 

Mr Nairn's chief of staff, Dr Peter Phelps, has attempted to equate an Australian who served in Iraq with someone who was a Nazi concentration camp guard at Belsen. This is deeply offensive, not just to the Australian Jewish community, but to all of out World War II diggers and airmen who fought to defeat Nazism. 

 

I call on the Prime Minister and the Special Minister of State to unequivocally condemn these remarks of the Special Minister of State's chief of staff. 

 

MARK COLVIN: Labor MP Michael Danby, ending Gillian Bradford's report. And PM this evening received a copy of a letter that Peter Phelps has written to Mike Kelly, unreservedly withdrawing his inappropriate comments and regretting any offence.