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Transcript of interview Fran Kelly: Radio National Breakfast: 22 October 2018: Wentworth by-election; the Guardian reporting the government agreed to black out six paragraphs of an Auditor-General's report



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THE HON CHRISTOPHER PYNE MP Minister for Defence Leader of the House Federal Member for Sturt

TRANSCRIPT

E&OE TRANSCRIPT Interview with Fran Kelly, Radio National Breakfast 22 October 2018

SUBJECTS: Wentworth by-election; The Guardian reporting the government agreed to black out six paragraphs of an Auditor-General’s report;

FRAN KELLY: The Wentworth result has sparked some soul-searching within the Liberal Party and internal calls for a policy reset on some of the more polarising issues like climate change and asylum seekers. Christopher Pyne is the Government Leader of the House. Christopher Pyne, welcome back to Breakfast.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: The Government has just been smashed by a 19 per cent swing in Wentworth, one of the biggest in political history. If the Liberal Party had its time over would you have dumped Malcolm Turnbull or would you have fought harder to save him?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I think it’s well past time that we moved on from the change of prime minister. I think that’s what the Wentworth by-election message was: that disunity is death. It’s time to put that behind us and get on with focusing on the economy, jobs, social reform - all the things that are important to Australians besides politicians talking about themselves.

FRAN KELLY: Okay, but nevertheless some within your party brought this on - Peter Dutton and others. Should they shoulder this result?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I’m sure that all of our friends in the press want us to talk relentlessly about the internals of the Liberal Party; I’m well over that. Everyone

knows my view from two months ago, but I’m focusing on defence, defence industry, jobs, the creation of a strong economy, and making sure that we’re putting families and individuals at the centre of our decision making process.

FRAN KELLY: Well, you all need to be focusing, I suppose, on what the message was from Wentworth. The Prime Minister has blamed the result on voter anger over the way Malcolm Turnbull was knifed, but there was also inaction on climate change, the running sore that is offshore processing, the Jerusalem announcement, the support for a racist motion in the Senate; all those issues came up strongly in the final weeks. When you track all the polling and the stark difference between the pre-poll and postal votes with the ballots cast on the day, is it clear to you - you’ve been around a long time - is it clear to you that these issues fed into the campaign?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, in fact on Monday before the by-election, the polling showed us losing 59-41 and by the by-election day we seem to have lost by about 51-49, so in fact in the last week we pulled back the vote very substantially. I’m sure there are a lot of issues that played into the Wentworth result. Wentworth is quite a unique seat - it’s probably the most small-L Liberal seat in the country; it’s a very small seat - I think it’s geographically the smallest in the country at 38 square kilometres; and their former member had just been defeated by a party room coup.

So, I am not in the least bit surprised by the result. It wasn’t a result the Labor Party can take any comfort from - their vote fell by over a third, the Greens’ vote fell by a third. In that respect it’s not a typical result - it was won by an independent, not by the opposition parties. And for us, we’re simply getting on with the job.

Fran, I’d remind your listeners and yourself, of course, and my colleagues that before the Wentworth by-election we had 148 seats in the House of Representatives, we needed 75 to win. After the Wentworth by-election there are 149 seats, we still need 75 to win. So, for us we still need the government, with its 74 votes, plus one crossbencher. So, for us the situation has not changed. But the message from Wentworth is very clear and I’m sure my colleagues and the rest of the polity will hear it.

FRAN KELLY: Well, that’s what I’m wondering - what you believe the message from Wentworth is, because some of your colleagues - and I’m quoting Trent Zimmerman, Craig Laundy, Tim Wilson, and a couple of others - are pointing to a need for the party to do more on climate change or to have more active policy on climate change and a more humane approach to kids and families stuck on Nauru. Do you agree with that?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I think the message from Wentworth is very clear: disunity is death and it’s critical to be in the mainstream of politics if you want to win. The Liberal Party is the party of the centre-right; it isn’t a party of the far-right. Now, we have a very clear policy on climate change: we want lower prices, we want reliable energy, and we intend to meet our international targets, our international obligations to reduce our carbon footprint. That’s always been our policy and we need to continue to articulate how we’re going to bring that about.

FRAN KELLY: Well, that’s a goal but it’s not a policy. You have to have an aim of how to meet those emissions. That’s the point, isn’t it? That’s what you now don’t have without the National Energy Guarantee.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: [Talks over] Well, we are meeting those goals. No, we are meeting those goals and we intend to implement those aspects of the National Energy Guarantee that continue to bring that about.

FRAN KELLY: There’s already been pushback to some of the calls that I mentioned there from Trent Zimmerman and others on climate change from some of the more conservatives within the party room like Craig Kelly. Can the party afford another divisive internal battle?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, of course it can’t and that’s the message from Wentworth: disunity is death. We have potentially seven months to the next election. If people want to continue to fight amongst themselves, there’s no doubt that the result of the election will be a Labor victory, and the last thing we need is Bill Shorten to be the prime minister of Australia. So, people either get in behind the team and try and win, or they elect Bill Shorten as prime minister.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. Talking about team player, we now know the Prime Minister, Dave Sharma and others asked Malcolm Turnbull to write a letter of support for Dave Sharma in the final weeks or final days. Some of your colleagues are furious he refused. Do you think that would have made a difference? Do you think he should have done it?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, the Wentworth by-election’s over. It looks like we haven’t won it. And there’s still postal votes to count but it would be very surprising if we won from here. And I think it’s well and truly time we stopped examining the entrails of politics and focused on jobs, the economy, the kind of reforms that the Australian public want to see - which is what the Morrison government’s been doing for two months, we’ve got off to a very good start, I think the Australian public want to give us a chance and we need to give ourselves a chance of making sure that we keep the CFMEU out of the Cabinet room.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. Christopher Pyne is the Defence Minister and the Leader of the House. It’s seventeen minutes to eight.

In terms of how you’re going to do that - managing the House - you’re the leader of a minority government now in the Lower House, do you believe that the assurances from the crossbench - several crossbenchers - that they won’t support a motion of no confidence, are watertight?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I’m absolutely certainly that the government can see out its full term - and win again by the way - with crossbench support. As I said, the last two months the government has not lost a vote because we’ve had the support of at least one crossbencher on every ballot. Now, when Labor was in power in the 43rd parliament, under Julia Gillard, they lost 76 votes, they still stayed in power.

FRAN KELLY: They got 530 bits of legislation through. Does that give you heart?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: We’re getting a lot of legislation through, we’re getting a lot of work done. Every week after the parliament rises, I publish the amount of work that we’ve had- we’ve got done. Now, you don’t measure success by the number of bills you’ve passed, you measure success by things like a growing economy - which we have, the higher- even faster growing economy than the G7 countries. But we are getting the work done. Labor managed to stay in power for three years, they lost 76 votes on the floor of the House of Representatives, the media didn’t say the government was about to fall. And this government is not about to fall.

FRAN KELLY: [Talks over] The opposition did, the opposition cried chaos almost every single day.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: And Tony Burke is doing the same thing. That’s the nature of opposition.

FRAN KELLY: [Laughs] Alright. If there is a no confidence motion, can you rely on the support of the speaker? Because Tony Smith, the speaker, has previously indicated he wouldn’t use his casting vote to give the government a majority. He says he doesn’t believe in manufacturing a majority that’s not there. Quote - if in the final vote there is not a majority, you don’t vote to give it one. Does that leave you more vulnerable?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: [Talks over] Well, that’s the precedence. No, we’re no more- we’re actually a lot less vulnerable than the Gillard government was in the 43rd parliament. We have 74 votes on the floor of the House, we require one crossbencher. There are a number of different crossbenchers who have guaranteed support for the government. In fact even Kerryn Phelps, the putative member for Wentworth, has indicated her view that the government should see out its term. That’s what the public expect. I think the Labor Party’s going to look very silly if they keep calling for an election.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. So, no plan on your part to get Tony Smith back to the government benches, our of the speaker’s chair?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I certainly do not intend to pull a swifty like the Labor Party did in the Gillard government when they asked Peter Slipper to abandon the Liberal Party and they knifed poor old Harry Jenkins, who was the speaker at the time. That was a very big stain on the 43rd parliament and that was completely unnecessary act on their part. And we have absolutely no intention of those kinds of Labor Party parlour games.

FRAN KELLY: Can I ask you a question about your Defence portfoilio?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Sure.

FRAN KELLY: The Guardian’s reporting today the government agreed to black out six paragraph of an Auditor-General’s report that found you could have paid half the amount of the $1.3 billion contract for the combat vehicle fleet - the Hawkeis I think they’re called. Did you do that at the behest of the company who made them - the French multinational arms company that struck the deal - and why?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, the Attorney-General did it because myself, as the Minister for Defence Industry, and Marise Payne as the Minister for Defence, asked the Attorney-General to act under the legislation to ensure…

FRAN KELLY: [Interrupts] But why?

CHROSTOPHER PYNE: I’m answering your question. To ensure the national security of the country. Comparing the Hawkei vehicle to the JLTV is like comparing a Ford Territory to a Toyota Sahara and saying they should both cost the same price. That’s not the case. They are very different vehicles. The Hawkei has a number of different capabilities that I think are extremely important that I didn’t think I wanted our opponents around the world to necessarily know about. And we took- I took the necessary action to protect the national security of the country, not for commercial reasons but for national security reasons. But I would reiterate that the two vehicles that are being compared by the Auditor-General’s report are not the same vehicle.

FRAN KELLY: Okay but the Auditor-General has told the parliamentary inquiry already he worked through this report with the Department of Defence to ensure it contained no information that would jeopardise national security and he remains unaware as to why national security grounds were used to justify it.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, he worked with the Department of Defence to try and get the report in a state that we thought was acceptable and not going to damage our national security. I still had concerns, I acted under the legislation. The Attorney-General acted under the legislation - that’s what it’s there for. And I would reiterate a JLTV is not the same as a Hawkei and comparing the two is like comparing a Territory with a Sahara. And they’re not the same.

FRAN KELLY: You accept though, that the company only raised concerns about its commercial reputation? It wasn’t concerned about national security.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, that wasn’t the business of the company to raise issues around national security. They were making sure that their vehicle was properly considered by the ANAO report.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. Christopher Pyne, thank you very much for joining us.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It’ a pleasure.

FRAN KELLY: Christopher Pyne, Defence Minister and Leader of the House.

Media contacts Scott Bolitho: 02 6277 7800, pynemedia@defence.gov.au Ella Kenny: 02 6277 7800, pynemedia@defence.gov.au Defence Media (02) 6127 1999, media@defence.gov.au

Authorised by the Hon Christopher Pyne, Minister for Defence, SA, Australia.