Press Conference – Sydney – Tuesday 19 April 2022

KRISTINA KENEALLY
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS
SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY

JASON CLARE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS
SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL SERVICES, 
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND TERRITORIES
MEMBER FOR BLAXLAND

E&OE  
PRESS CONFERENCE 
SYDNEY 
TUESDAY, 19 APRIL 2022 

SUBJECTS: Alan Tudge; federal election; polls; anti-corruption commission; New Zealand resettlement deal; cashless welfare card; wages; cost of living. 
 

JASON CLARE MP, LABOR CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: Thanks for coming along today. It’s week two with this election campaign and its week two of the Alan Tudge cover up. There are two parts to this cover up. The first is the half a million dollars of taxpayers’ money that’s been spent, paid out in compensation to a former government employee, presumably because of the actions of Alan Tudge. The Prime Minister was asked this question on morning television now more than a week ago and he is still ducking and weaving. He’s still refusing to answer the question. Why is half a million dollars of taxpayer’s money being paid out here in compensation if Alan Tudge did nothing wrong? Why has half a million dollars of taxpayer’s money been paid out in compensation? And if he did something wrong, why is he still in Cabinet? That’s the first part of this cover up.  

The second part are these WhatsApp messages between Alan Tudge and his former employee. WhatsApp messages which indicate that Alan Tudge has broken the Ministerial Standards, has encouraged his former employee to not tell the truth to the Australian Government Security Vetting Agency. If these WhatsApp messages are real, then Alan Tudge has broken the Ministerial Standards. It is against the law not to tell the truth to security agencies. It’s against the law to encourage somebody not to tell the truth to security agencies. And if you look at the Ministerial Standards at 5.2, it sets out very, very clearly there. If you encourage someone to break the law, then you have broken the Ministerial Standards. That’s why I said yesterday if these WhatsApp messages are real, Scott Morrison should sack Alan Tudge immediately. At the very least, he should refer this back to Vivienne Thom, whose investigation never looked at these WhatsApp messages. And while he’s at it, he should refer this matter to the Federal Police for investigation.

Now Kristina Kenneally, who’s fresh out of COVID, is all over this and that’s why I’ve asked Kristina to join me for this press conference today. Kristina? 

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Thank you Jason, and it is good to be back from my self-isolation due to COVID. I might just say to people that COVID is a dreadful disease and thank God I was triple vaxxed. That being said, it was still very difficult, and I would encourage people to start seeing if they haven’t got their booster shot, or their second booster shot, to get it and to get flu shots as well.  

In terms of Alan Tudge, Scott Morrison must
answer today why Alan Tudge is still a Minister. Why Alan Tudge is still a candidate for the Liberal Party at this election. Alan Tudge, as has been revealed in these WhatsApp messages, appears to have encouraged his employee to lie to national security agencies in her vetting process. Jason has already made clear that’s a violation of the Ministerial Code of Conduct. It is also a violation of the law under Section 11.4 of the Criminal Code. A person who urges the commission of an offence in fact commits the crime of incitement and that person is guilty of the crime of incitement even if the offence wasn’t committed. It is an offence to lie to national security agencies. It is an offence to withhold information that is necessary for the conduct of a vetting process. And yet, if these WhatsApp messages are real, this is exactly what Alan Tudge appears to have done.  

Mr. Morrison cannot pretend that he is talking tough on national security, while he has one of his own Ministers encouraging people to withhold information from the very national security agencies and the very information they require. And let me explain why this is so important. The ASIO Director-General has warned in his annual threat assessment that the biggest security risk we face is foreign interference and espionage. It has supplanted terrorism as the biggest security risk Australia faces. The reason we do national security vetting of Commonwealth employees is to ensure that we are protecting against foreign interference and espionage. This is critical information our national security agencies need. Who are you in relationships with? What could be used to blackmail you? And yet, here is Alan Tudge encouraging one of his employees to hold that very information.  

So, Mr. Morrison must explain today why Mr. Tudge is still in his Cabinet. Mr. Morrison must explain today why is $500,000, half a million dollars of taxpayer money, been paid to this former employee if Mr. Tudge did nothing wrong? And Mr. Morrison must explain today why he won’t refer these WhatsApp messages to both Vivienne Thom and to the Australian Federal Police for investigation of possible criminal action by Alan Tudge. Jason, I think at that point, happy to take questions. 

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about Medicare? Can you please (inaudible) about expanding the cashless welfare covered dimensions? 

CLARE: Okay, happy to do that. Before I get to that the one point, what we’ve missed here is the Prime Minister has got questions to answer here, but so does Alan Tudge. Alan Tudge is running for Parliament. At this election, we’re told that if the Liberal Party manages to scrape across the line here, that he’ll be a Cabinet Minister in this decade-old Liberal Government. If he’s running for Parliament, he can’t hide from public scrutiny. This bloke is effectively in witness protection at the moment, and he’s got questions to answer. I’d encourage journalists to see if you can find him and ask him that question too. Why is half a million dollars of taxpayer’s money been spent, paid out to a former employee of his? And why should he stay in Cabinet where it appears from these WhatsApp messages, if they’re real, I’d ask him, are they real? Will he deny that they’re real? If they’re real, why should he stay in Cabinet at all, and why the Prime Minister shouldn’t sack him?  

You ask about these statements that have been made by Anne Ruston when it comes to cashless welfare card. She said in 2020 that they want to expand it to become “the universal platform.” The Prime Minister himself has said in 2019 that it should be a national expansion. So, the problem here (interrupted) 

JOURNALIST: They’re not saying pensioners, where were they saying pensioners?  

CLARE: Well, ask the Liberal Party, they’ll tell you that they think the pension is welfare. And they think that people on welfare should be on this card. 

JOURNALIST: Labor’s point on this is that they’re going to expand pensions. I’m asking where a coalition minister says it will be expanded to pensioners.  

CLARE: Well, here’s my challenge to the Prime Minister today: If you’re not going to do this to pensioners, then promise to scrap the card altogether. And you can bet your life that Scott Morrison won’t do that. Where they have said that they want to expand this, I think that this should put the fear of God into pensioners around this country. You just can’t trust Scott Morrison with anything. Even his own colleagues call him an inveterate liar. Even his own colleagues say that Scott Morrison doesn’t tell the truth. You’ve got Barnaby Joyce on record saying that Scott Morrison is a compulsive liar. He hasn’t just lied to the French President; he’s lied to you. In the past, Scott Morrison told us that we were at the front of the queue. Well, we learned the hard way that that wasn’t true, and Australians were locked down for months.  

JOURNALIST: You seem to be perpetuating this claim that it’s been expanded to pensions when you can’t direct me to one quote.

CLARE: Well, I have. 

JOURNALIST: Not to pensioners.  

CLARE: A “universal platform” means a universal platform.  

KENEALLY: Actually, I might just take this on. Because Anne Ruston said to a Parliamentary Inquiry, and I quote: ‘she was open to a conversation with the nation about the further use of the cashless debit card as a welfare measure’. These are Anne Ruston (interrupted) 

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) 

KENEALLY: Because the Government thinks that the Aged Pension is welfare. Understand this, Anne Ruston would love nothing more than to expand this cashless debit card to pensioners and to anyone else in receipt of a form of a pension payment. 

JOURNALIST: So, you don’t think this is a dishonest claim? 

KENEALLY: Even Liberal MP Bridget Archer has said that she is concerned that her own government is going to expand this to pensioners. So don’t come in here and try to say that the government have got clean hands on this. Anne Ruston is on the record. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison is on the record. And Jason is right. If they don’t have any plans, scrap this card. Labor will get rid of it. The government should commit today to doing so. 

JOURNALIST: Just firstly on the Tudge matter, with relation to the first aspect you raised, that $500,000, the Prime Minister said on Sunday, and I quote: “if there were any matter that was in the assessment by the Department of Finance that involved the conduct of any minister whatsoever in the granting of that payment, then the matter would have been raised with me.” So, it appears on face value that the $500,000 is not in relation to Alan Tudge. 

JASON CLARE: Face value? I don’t think you can take this Prime Minister on face value on anything. If it’s not about Tudge, who’s it about? Give us the information. The individual who was the recipient of this compensation payment has cleared the Government to clear the air. She said that the Government can tell the Australian people the truth here, but this Prime Minister is still ducking and weaving, not giving people an honest answer. Just remember on day one of this campaign, not even day one, as he stood in his courtyard announcing the election, this Prime Minister had the gall to tell the Australian people that he was “upfront” with them. And on the first day of his campaign, he’s covered up half a million dollars of taxpayer’s money. We deserve to know why it was paid out. Now all he’s saying in that statement is it’s got nothing to do with Tudge. Well, if it’s got nothing to do with Tudge, who’s it got to do with? We deserve to know the truth. It’s your money. You deserve to know what’s happened here. And this is just one part of this cover up. The other part are these WhatsApp messages. If Alan Tudge has broken the law, if he’s encouraged somebody to break the law by not telling the truth to security agencies, he should be sacked. Whether this is in the middle of a Parliamentary term, or 30 odd days before people vote, it’s not good enough for Scott Morrison to think that he can just cover this up. This is not going to go away. The Australian people deserve to know the truth. 

JOURNALIST: Starting the second week of the campaign, we have an election coming up. We’ve seen polls tightening and dare I say, betting odds gone from (inaudible) 

CLARE: You’re not looking at the betting odds, are you? 

JOURNALIST: Every now and then. How important is it, given what’s happened over the last couple of weeks, and we’ve already seen Labor people come out in the papers saying this isn’t the start to the campaign that we wanted (inaudible), how important is that Anthony Albanese performs strongly on Wednesday.

JASON CLARE: I think these debates are a terrific opportunity for Anthony to make the case to the Australian people, to the people in that audience, but to all Australians about why it’s time for change. This is the best country in the world, but we deserve a better Government. This Government deserves to be thrown out. The Australian people don’t throw out governments lightly. But I’ll tell you what, they throw governments out when they have continually failed them, when they have no ideas for the future and when they are just fighting amongst themselves. And this government meets the trifecta, this government ticks all three of these boxes. We’re offering a better future for all Australians by cutting the cost of childcare, cutting the cost of electricity, by fixing the crisis in Aged Care, by strengthening Medicare, by making it easier for people to see a doctor, making it easier to buy a home, and also, and this was a key part of the campaign over the last few days, there’s only one party at this election promising a National Anti-Corruption Commission. If you care about getting rid of corruption in Canberra. There’s only one party to vote for in this election and that’s Labor. 

JOURNALIST: But that message doesn’t seem to be coming through with the punters does it, though? 

JASON CLARE: Let there be no doubt, this is going to be a tight election. I think this will be a nail biter. Most elections are. Polls always tighten. I just encourage you to not focus too much on polls. We do that to our detriment. We’ve learned the hard way that polls aren’t accurate. We need to win seats, not polls. We need to win the hearts and minds of Australians with a better plan to build a better future for all Australians. And I’d also say this, that after almost a decade in government, asking for another decade in power, does Scott Morrison really deserve to be rewarded with your vote after he abandoned you during the bush fires, after he failed you during the floods, after he left Australians waiting for vaccines when they were locked down, after he deliberately kept wages low, and now after he is promising to introduce his old industrial relations laws, which threaten to cut people’s wages and conditions again. After he has promised in the last few days not to reintroduce or not to introduce at all, an Anti-Corruption Commission. After his own side say that you can’t trust this bloke, and that he’s a liar and when he has no plans for Australia’s future other than to get himself reelected. This Government will only get worse not better if it wins this election and it’s time that they spent some time in Opposition so they can fix themselves.

JOURNALIST: You use the Industrial Relations Law (inaudible), to launch a Work Choices Campaign 2.0. And just to the Senator as well, given some comments you made this morning about the New Zealand Resettlement Deal, how will you ensure that there is no backdoors to come from New Zealand to Australia in line with your policy. Have you spoken to any officials (inaudible)? 

KENEALLY: Okay, first, three things. One I’m no longer a Senator. I resigned this week so that I can stand to the Lower House. Let me take first the Industrial Relations question. As the cost of everything is going up and except your pay, Scott Morrison brought forward legislation to the Parliament that would actually cut people’s pay. That legislation was only defeated because the Australian Labor Party stood up and voted against it. We fought for people to get a pay increase. Scott Morrison fought for people to get a pay cut. Unbelievably, he has flagged in this election campaign, that if reelected he’s going to bring that legislation back.  

Here we are facing 1.4 million Australians unemployed or underemployed, can’t get enough hours at work to pay their bills, we are facing projections in the Budget that inflation is going to outpace wages growth. And yet we have a Prime Minister in Scott Morrison who is promising to bring back legislation that will cut people’s pay. Tony Burke, our Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, will have more to say about this but it beggars’ belief that Mr. Morrison thinks at this point where the cost of living is the number one issue, certainly in the seats where Jason and I live and certainly for Australians right around the country, that what Mr. Morrison wants to do is cut people’s pay. And he should be questioned about this today in his media conference.  

On the issue of borders, this week Mr. Morrison sought to manufacture a difference with Labor on Operation Sovereign Borders just to distract from his own failures and incompetence. This is a desperate act of a desperate Prime Minister.  

And on the issue of the New Zealand deal. This Prime Minister has said for years that if you take up the New Zealand deal, the boats will restart. That wasn’t true then, it’s not true now. And on the eve of an election, Scott Morrison backflipped and accepted the New Zealand deal, in just a desperate effort to sandbag inner city Liberal seats. And in doing that he failed to shut the back door from New Zealand. That is New Zealand citizens have the ability to come and live and work in Australia, and that back door as confirmed to the Senate Estimates remains wide open. Let me be clear about a couple of things. One: Labor supports Operation Sovereign Borders, regional resettlement, offshore processing and boat turn backs, where safe to do so. And Labor will implement the New Zealand Deal, and we will shut that backdoor either through regulation or legislation. 

JOURNALIST: So, no one who goes to New Zealand will be able to resettle in Australia under a Labor Government? 

KENEALLY: Yes. 

JOURNALIST: And you see Temporary Protection Visas as part of Operation Sovereign Borders? 

KENEALLY: When Mr. Morrison makes this claim, he’s lying. Understand this about Temporary Protection Visas, nobody’s gone on one since Operation Sovereign Borders was introduced. Not one person, because anyone who attempts to come to Australia by boat is turned back or sent to Nauru, and that will be the same under a Labor Government. If you attempt to come to Australia by boat, you will not settle here. You will not get a Temporary Protection Visa or any other Visa. Understand this about the people who are currently on Temporary Protection Visas, they came under Liberal and Labor Governments, before Operation Sovereign Borders. They have been living in the country for more than a decade. They work, they pay taxes, they run businesses, they employ Australians. I visited a cafe in Adelaide run by Temporary Protection Visa holders, they employ Australians, and yet, every few years, these refugees have to go through another assessment process. To what end? To what purpose? Nothing except the waste of taxpayer money. The Department of Home Affairs is clogged and backlogged. We have waiting lists for citizenship, we have waiting lists for Partner Visas. We have complaint after complaint from the business community that Skilled Visa and other worker Visas take months, sometimes years to get approved. Why? Because the Department of Home Affairs is clogged assessing the protection claims of people that the Liberal Government already recognised as refugees. When Mr. Morrison says this is part of Operation Sovereign Borders, he is lying. 

JOURNALIST: Can you really support Operation Sovereign Borders? (inaudible) 

KENEALLY: Yes. 

JOURNALIST: On the campaign more generally, do you concede that the first week was a bit bumpy for you guys and how will you get yourself back on track into the second week? 

CLARE: Well, have look at Scott Morrison’s first week.  

JOURNALIST: I’m asking about your first week. 

CLARE: Well, this is a competition between two major parties, two leaders. It’s fair to compare and contrast, right? So, have a look at Scott Morrison’s first week. He announced a jobs plan at a place that is sending jobs overseas to Vietnam. In his first week, he covered up half a million dollars of taxpayer’s money paid out in compensation, presumably because of the actions of one of his Cabinet Ministers who is still in Cabinet. Ten minutes to midnight, before announcing the election, they stack the Administrative Appeals Tribunal with more of their mates and extended their terms. So, I said the other day, this Government is behaving like somebody who books a hotel and doesn’t just steal the shampoo and conditioner, they take the TV, they take the bed as well. In the first week of the campaign, Scott Morrison ruled out establishing a National Anti-Corruption Commission, that gives you all the evidence you need about what he thinks of trust and integrity. In the first week of this campaign, the civil war that is engulfing the Liberal Party opened up on a new front on the northern beaches of Sydney. And today you’ve got Matt Kean, the Treasurer of New South Wales, again calling for that candidate to be dis-endorsed. In the first week of the campaign, Scott Morrison at a press conference thought he was in Parliament. He was in Parramatta, 280 kms away. He didn’t miss it by this much, he missed it by this much. And the other day, he forgot what the JobSeeker Payment was. So, if you want to compare and contrast leaders, there’s your comparison for you. There is only one leader in this election who is an honest man, who when they make a mistake will own it. The other one runs away from accountability and taking responsibility for anything every single day. 

JOURNALIST: Respectfully, you just outlined Scott Morrison’s failures. Unless you’re running a campaign, which is ‘we are not Scott Morrison’, you have to put forward an alternative vision, which is your campaign. So, how will you get your campaign back on track and convince voters that you are an alternative government that isn’t just the message of ‘we aren’t the Liberals’. 

CLARE: Well, there are two points here. One, this government deserves to be thrown out. And two, we have a better plan for Australia’s future. I talked about that in this press conference already. You’ve got everything going up, except people’s wages. For most Aussies today that are watching this press conference, they know this is true, that the money in their purse or their wallet buys less today than it did a year ago. Let me give you a couple of examples. If you’re the average family with an average car, you’re spending a thousand dollars more on petrol this year than you were last year. If you’ve got kids in childcare, you’re spending 800 bucks more this year than you were last year. And if you rent, the Prime Minister doesn’t like to talk about renters, but if you rent and there’s more than two million Australians who rent, you’re paying on average two thousand dollars more this year than you were last year. The Prime Minister doesn’t have any plans to help people with the cost of living. He doesn’t have any plans to increase people’s wages. All he’s got is a petrol cut that lasts six months and then that’s it, it’s gone. He’s got a plan to get through the next 30 days. He doesn’t have a plan for Australia’s future.  

What we’re offering is real, sensible, honest, long-term plans that will help Aussies in the areas where they need help. Cutting the cost of childcare, cutting the cost of electricity, fixing aged care. For all of those Aussies out there watching today that have got older parents and thinking about when they might need to go into aged care, it will put the fear of God into them seeing what this Royal Commission has found about Aged Care. There’s only one party that says, ‘we get it and we’re going to fix it’.  

It’s the same with housing. The cost of housing has gone through the roof in this country, jumped by 25 per cent just in the last 12 months. And what’s the Prime Minister’s response to people who are struggling to pay their rent? Buy a house. He’s so out of touch, he should be on Mars. And then when it comes to corruption, and don’t think that Aussies don’t care about this. If there’s one thing that Australians hate more than anything else, it’s being taken for a ride. And when they see stories in the paper, about how their money has been used to feather the nests, and feather the seats of Scott Morrison’s Liberal mates, they hate that, and we’ve seen so many examples of that.  The only way to fix it, the only way to fix it, is to set up a National Anti-Corruption Commission. And if you don’t think corruption is real, you’re not looking for it. Just look at Scott Morrison’s own front bench where you’ve got more smoking guns there than a Clint Eastwood movie. 

JOURNALIST: On wages, will you rule out or reinstate old style policies that will keep wages in line with inflation? 

CLARE: Let me just make this point we’re not proposing an accord. One of the things that Bob Hawke and Paul Keating did, which was imaginative, which was sensible, which was pragmatic, was to get the people in the room that are going to help to get the outcome we all want. Remember that economic summit that Bob put together after he got elected in ‘83? That was the basis for 30 years of uninterrupted economic growth. The floating of the dollar, the deregulation of financial markets, and product markets, and labour markets. The big things that helped to build the economy that we have today. And what Albo said is we would have a National Employment Summit. The logic is the same. If you get the right people in the room to work together, then you can lift wages, and you can build a stronger economy. Labor’s done it in the past, and we’ll do it again. 

JOURNALIST: Just on Anne Ruston’s comments about Medicare (inaudible) five years ago. Is it then fair for the Coalition to highlight Anthony Albanese’s previous support for the mining tax? 

JASON CLARE: Well, we’ve got no plans to reintroduce the mining tax. On Medicare, this mob have form. Remember Tony Abbott’s comments, ‘no cuts to education, no cuts to health’. Then they win the election, they pull out the hacksaw. Not only that, they tried to force you to pay seven dollars to go to the doctor. And you still have candidates in the Liberal Party on the Central Coast of New South Wales, that are saying it’s a good idea to force people to pay seven dollars to go to the doctor.  

And just in wrapping up on this ridiculous scare campaign, the Liberal Party are pushing today about energy prices. It just goes to show you cannot trust the Liberal Party when it comes to climate change. A leopard doesn’t change its spots and they will never take this seriously. The fact is, half the Liberal Party and all the National Party think that climate change is what happens when you go to Hawaii for a holiday. That’s the truth. We’ve set out the most detailed plan an Opposition has ever put out, independently costed and modelled by Reputex, the best in the business. What that shows is that if you take the action that we’re proposing to take to get us to net zero by 2050, you cut emissions, but you also create hundreds of thousands of jobs, most of them in the regions, and you cut people’s electricity bills. That’s what the research shows, and it’s not just Reputex, it’s the Business Council of Australia, it’s the Chamber of Commerce, it’s the National Farmers Federation, that have all backed this in.  

And so, if the government want to play this game, release your modelling. The fact is, if you care about climate change, there is only one party to vote for in this election, and that’s the Labor Party. And if you happen to live in one of those once blue-ribbon Liberal seats like Kooyong, Goldstein or North Sydney or Wentworth or Higgins, then the only way to get action on Climate Change is to vote these characters out. Thanks very much. 

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACT: LABOR CAMPAIGN MEDIA 02 9165 8212