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Parliament House, Canberra: transcript of doorstop interview: Tampa spying, mandatory detention, "Pacific solution", workplace relations, the Oscars.

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Subjects: Tampa spying, mandatory detention, “Pacific Solution”, workplace relations, the Oscars.

CREAN: Well last night’s statement by the Government in relation to this allegation of spying on Australian citizens and using that information to its political advantage, the document itself raises more questions than it answers. The fact that they’ve been forced to put one out and late in the day shows they’ve got a lot of answering to do. What we want to know is what they’ve been hiding. And we will be using the opportunity in the Parliament today to pursue that issue. It is of serious concern that the Government is prepared to use information, spying on Australian citizens to advance their own political agenda. This is a government, if it’s true, that yet again has shown that it will stop at nothing to get itself re-elected. I might say though that this will not be the only issues that we pursue in question time today. And the Australian public expects us to approach the Government in the Parliament on a range of other issues and we will.

JOURNALIST: What sort of inquiry would you be pushing for?

CREAN: I think that we’re saying we will be pursuing this in the Parliament today. Whether or not an inquiry is needed, time will tell. But I don’t think this is an issue we can put off to an inquiry that may be established down the track. The Australian public deserves to know the answers now. And we’ll be using the Parliament today to try and get further information.

JOURNALIST: Bob Brown has suggested that it should go to the same Senate inquiry that’s going to look at the kids being thrown overboard claims. Would Labor support that?

CREAN: Well if you look at the terms of reference of that inquiry there is clearly a capacity for this issue to be considered there. My point is we shouldn’t wait till then. This is a Government that needs to be held


accountable now and we’ll be using the Parliament today to try and get that accountability.

JOURNALIST: How far do you realistically expect to get with questioning in the Parliament because up until now they’ve cited national security?

CREAN: They’ve cited national security and I think that one has top recognise there are national security issues. But this is the question of what the Government’s state of knowledge was and how they used it, and what they commissioned. This is what the Government has to answer on.

JOURNALIST: Was the Tampa, sitting off Christmas Island, a threat to national security?

CREAN: Look this should not be seen in the prism of Tampa. This is a government that is prepared to use information obtained through a circumstance to run a political agenda. That’s the issue here. Don’t try and narrow it to Tampa. If they can use this information against Australian citizens, against journalists, what does it say to the legislation we still haven’t seen about whistleblowers. An issue that I know journalists around the country are concerned about. Would the new powers of this yet unseen bill prevent the story which appeared in yesterdays paper being printed? They’re the questions that we need to ask in a contemporary sense. Tampa’s happened. But let’s understand what’s involved in the Government’s actions and what the implications are for its forward agenda.

JOURNALIST: So you don’t want an inquiry necessarily into the mechanics of DSD, you want to find out who’s instructed them if any? What information came to cabinet? How they responded to it?

CREAN: That’s right, we need to establish what the Government’s state of knowledge was, how it activated it and how it used it. If this went to Cabinet, the whole Cabinet was complicit. If this went to Cabinet, you’ve got Cabinet approval to use information obtained by spying on Australian citizens for their political agenda. If they were prepared to do it then, they’ll do it again if they can get away with it. And if they can introduce legislation that prevents reporting on it, where does that leave the Australian citizenry then?

JOURNALIST: Robert Hill says there was no tapping of calls for the MUA or the International Transport Federation and it was only inadvertent breach. What questions do you still want answered?

CREAN: Well, if they weren’t tapped, who else was? That’s the question. I mean they rule out what the stories said. But they don’t say no one was tapped. This is the point. So were journalists tapped? Were politicians tapped? How was that information used? What authority was


given? How did the Cabinet consider it? I think these are very important questions that the Australian public deserves to know.

JOURNALIST: Will you also be quizzing the government today over the cost of the “Pacific Solution”?

CREAN: Look I think that I’ve tried to quiz the Government and indeed you have at press conferences, the Treasurer. And he just won’t answer. It’s the arrogance of the Government, they know there’s been a cost blow out but they won’t tell. I think the most appropriate form for pursuing that line of questioning, maybe in the Question Time but I think most appropriately in Senate Estimates next week, where we have departmental officials present and where there is real opportunity to go through it. So whether we get a non answer today to highlight the point that the Government won’t answer might be a wasted question. Let’s wait and see. But the real opportunity to establish the cost of the “Pacific Solution” presents itself next week in Senate Estimates.

JOURNALIST: On workplace reform, what proposals is Labor going to put up to make things easier for small business in relation to unfair dismissals?

CREAN: We’re going to make it easier for small business to get on with running their businesses. And that means lifting the burden of red tape associated with the GST. We’re going to be introducing legislation to implement the policy we went to the last election with to lift the burden of red tape on small business.

JOURNALIST: What about unfair dismissals though?

CREAN: Well you say unfair dismissals, I say speak to small businesses. And the issue they want addressed is the burden of red tape associated with the GST. If this Government is serious about doing something for small business it will get behind our agenda. If they want talk the issues of unfair dismissals in that context, let’s have a discussion. But if they’re just going to trot up the same old bill, the same old bill then we’ll knock it off.

JOURNALIST: Are you willing to discuss a modified bill?

CREAN: Of course, and I’ve said that we’re prepared to discuss a range of issues to assist small business get on with doing what they’re good at, running their businesses. But we are not going to make it easier for people to be sacked unfairly.

JOURNALIST: Were you aware that nine MPs were going to be on the stage with Carmen Lawrence at the protest rally yesterday?


CREAN: Well I wasn’t aware of the specific number but I was certain with a rally of that number outside you’re bound to attract lots of MPs.

JOURNALIST: And were you happy with what she had to say, do you agree with it?

CREAN: What Carmen had to say yesterday was completely in accordance with the resolution endorsed by yesterday’s Caucus.

JOURNALIST: She said that Labor is going further in winding back mandatory detention. Is that right?

CREAN: Carmen Lawrence, herself accepts that there has to be a continuation of some form of mandatory detention. The issue is the length of time and the condition in which people are held. That’s what the Caucus resolution says there will be further debate upon. She was talking about where that further debate could go. We will have the debate and we will arrive at a decision at the appropriate time.

Are you interested in the Oscars? This is not the Hobbit versus the Can Can. This is more serious this is Australia versus New Zealand. And given the outcome in the cricket we want to clean up. Now I’ll be meeting Helen Clarke on Friday. But I’m looking forward to an Australian win over there. But it’s not just good for the film industry it’s great for jobs in this country. So I wish Nicole every success.

JOURNALIST: So is Russell Crowe a Kiwi or an Australian?

CREAN: No, Russell’s over here. So Russell and Nicole, let’s wish them well.