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Transcript of interview with Mark Parton: 2CC Breakfast: 20 October 2010: Afghanistan; Federal Parliament

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2CC Breakfast with Mark Parton 20 October 2010


Subjects: Afghanistan; Federal Parliament.

PARTON: I was saying earlier that I thought it was a remarkable day in Parliament yesterday. And remarkable just because there seemed to be a lot of clear talking going on when it comes to this Afghanistan debate. We in the public get used to politicians not saying what they mean but in this instance yesterday, that wasn’t the case. I’ll be interested to see how Craig Emerson responds to that, of course, the Trade Minister, who joins us this time on a Wednesday morning. Good morning Craig.

EMERSON: G’day Mark.

PARTON: I thought it was really refreshing yesterday.

EMERSON: Yeah, so did I. I agree with you on the clarity, from both sides: from Julia’s speech and Tony Abbott’s speech. In all the important respects, they were saying the same things about our commitment to Afghanistan. It’s been a long commitment, as we know. And it’s probably been a good opportunity to remind, or re-explain to the Australian people the purpose, the rationale of the commitment that we have there; what we’re seeking to do and, ultimately, when we’re seeking to complete that mission.

PARTON: Nevertheless, a brave thing for a Labor leader to do, to come out and state very clearly that we’re going to be in this country for another decade at least. Is there any part of you, when that was laid out on the line publicly, that cringed and thought, ‘My God, how are we going to sell that?’

EMERSON: No, not really. What Julia was saying was that we expect the task of training the Afghan security forces in Uruzgan Province to last somewhere between two to four years. Then it’s expected that the nature, and probably the scale, of our involvement would then change. But we need to have a presence there. It might be in the area of training and more general involvement, rather than maintaining that


1550 level of combat troops. I think that the nature of the engagement would change, and that’s what Julia was saying. But I agree with you that she was indicating that this will still be a long haul in terms of any presence by Australian personnel in Afghanistan.

PARTON: Trade Minister Craig Emerson is with us. Having a chat to James Massola yesterday, as we do from time-to-time on this program, and we were talking about this new reality of Federal Parliament. And the fact that there are those that have said this is going to be a shambles and it won’t be able to hold together for anything more than a few months. But then, ultimately, what we’ve got is how the Parliament was originally designed to work, in that individuals who are, in theory, representing their constituents really do have the chance to bring something forward that’s meaningful.

EMERSON: I think that that’s a fair observation, Mark. And other Parliaments around the world have operated on this basis more often than not. That is, the Government of the day not having an absolute majority in its own right and, therefore, relying on the support of other parties or Independents. That’s the situation here. And perhaps that has led to a greater role for Parliamentarians within Parliament and a reduced role for the Executive. That doesn’t mean that we don’t get on with our responsibilities to govern Australia. But, as you’re indicating, within the chamber of the Parliament, you do now have more opportunities for individuals to express their views, whether they’re Labor, Liberal, National Party, Independent or Green.

PARTON: I tell you who was on fire yesterday. And I haven’t heard much of the new regime, but Harry Jenkins, he’s on fire.

EMERSON: I have to be very careful in speaking about Harry because he’s the independent Speaker and exercises enormous authority over people like me. So I will say to you and your listeners that Harry is a fantastic person and a wonderfully impartial Speaker.

PARTON: He really is clamping down on things that people would have got away with four months ago.

EMERSON: I think he wanted to before. He used to indicate when points of order were taken - by both sides - that he would like to respond to those but the Standing Orders did not give him that power. What he’s now saying is that, as a result of the new Standing Orders that were settled with the Independents, he does have greater authority to determine whether someone is being relevant in answering a particular question. And that’s probably the biggest area of concern. And certainly on our side, we need to be sure that we’re being completely relevant to the question. And, interestingly, on the other side - that is the Opposition - used to take a lot of just disruptive, frivolous points of order. That also is being dealt with by our great and powerful, independent, all-powerful, all-knowing, inspiring, omnipotent Speaker.

PARTON: God, you talk rubbish sometimes Emmo. That’s why we have you on. Thanks for your time this morning.