ABC Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennett

24 July 2023


Greg Jennett, Host: Okay, let's cover off some of the day's events with our political panel. Joining us this Monday, NSW Senate combo, Labor's Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres is with us in Sydney. Welcome, Tim. And from Deniliquin, I think it is, in the State’s south, Deputy Nationals Leader Perin Davey. Welcome back to you too, Perin. Tim Ayres, I probably should put to you, as I did with Matt Keogh a little earlier, this breaking news reported by others, I stress, that Kathryn Campbell may have resigned, quit substantively the public service. Do you have any communications available that would confirm that?

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: No, I don't. I heard you put that to Matt, just a few minutes ago. I mean, we as a government have been determined to do two things here: one is commence this Royal Commission process, make sure we get to the bottom of what has happened here. It has been a cruel, illegal, unfair process that has demonised some of the most vulnerable Australians and put people in a terrible position. So, get to the bottom of that. But secondly, make sure that we are a government that is driven by what are the proper processes. And you've seen that unfold over the last couple of weeks. There's a Royal Commission report which is completely authoritative, which has made adverse findings about previous Ministers, including the previous Prime Minister. There is a confidential section there which has been drafted because the Royal Commission's explained there are adverse findings about individuals there, there may well be proceedings. It's important that people in my position respect that process and don't say anything that would undermine the process. But to be very clear, Greg, the first that I'd heard about that was your interview with Matt a few moments ago.

Greg Jennett: I understand your position and just how isolating it can be to be in either a television studio or in Perin's case out in the field. Look, to that end, I'm probably at some advantage because in the course of your answer, Tim Ayres, we have a written statement, one line. It is from the Defence Department. I'll read it in full to both of you. It's headed statement on Kathryn Campbell. Defence can confirm it has accepted Ms Kathryn Campbell’s resignation from the Department, with effect from Friday, the 21 July. Defence will not provide further comments. So, that's breaking news confirmed by the Defence Department. Over to you, Perin Davey. That news, coming as it does, how does it change materially, do you think, the fallout from the Robodebt Royal Commission. Obviously, the pursuit of Kathryn Campbell would probably be ongoing under the circumstances, would it, whether she was in the public service or not?

Perin Davey, Senator for NSW:  Well, I mean, the fact is, we don't know what the pursuit of anyone will be. The sealed section, as Tim mentioned, is there to ensure that the Royal Commission didn't prejudice any future prosecutions or investigations that will take place. So, I think we all need to be very measured in how we respond and we need to make sure that we allow those processes to take place without prejudice, without prejudgment and without some of the over the top commentary that we have heard from the current government, racing to actually tarnish and rule judgement on people. We accept and the opposition, the Coalition has accepted the findings that the Robodebt was a very unfortunate point in our history. Our comments is that we have to learn from these mistakes. We have to make sure that we have due process in the future. We have to make sure that our public service does give fair and free and frank advice and actually highlights these issues when they come to light and doesn't allow Ministers to proceed unaware of any legal issues that might be there. But we can't prejudice any proceedings that may take place and our focus as a Coalition is to just learn, take the lessons on board from the Royal Commission and make sure that when we return to the government benches, we do so with integrity.

Greg Jennett: Yeah. Now, I understand what both of you are saying. There is a natural justice procedure underway here and we don't want to trample on that. Can I just ask you, Tim Ayres, sort of a sidebar issue. Her most recent position before resignation, Kathryn Campbell, was around AUKUS within the Defence Department. Labor internally is in the midst of its own brewing argument about that. With National Conference coming up. Be quite some embarrassment, wouldn't it, to the Albanese Government if that is openly split in the ALP on the National Conference floor? Is that going to happen?

Assistant Minister: Well, can I just respond firstly to what Perrin just said, I wish all of that were true, but the moment adverse findings were made about Mr Morrison, the former Prime Minister, who was an architect of this scheme, he said it all wasn't true. So, yes, we should learn the lessons from the Robodebt debacle, cruel, deliberate flouting of the legal advice, but people should honestly account for where they got to. Now, in terms of Labor's conference. We are the most democratic party in the Australian political system. There'll be 400 delegates coming to the conference, there'll be lots of different views about a whole series of different questions. No discussion is off limits. It will be televised, open to members, members of the public will be able to see it. It's the most open conference that you can imagine. And I'm very much looking forward to it, know there'll be different perspectives, all sorts of issues raised. I'm very much looking forward to the conference and listening to the views of delegates, delegates from right across the Labor movement, right across Australia.

Greg Jennett: All right, well, AUKUS wasn't something we were going to take a deep dive on here, Perin, but last word before we move on to the Voice. Any question from you on that?

Perin Davey: The Prime Minister has been reported today saying that he does not want AUKUS raised at the conference. So, for the most democratic party in the country who doesn't allow their members to cross the floor, the Prime Minister is out there saying he doesn't want this debate held at the conference.

Assistant Minister: Well, he certainly hasn't been saying that.

Perin Davey: I’ll take Tim to task on that.

Assistant Minister: He certainly hasn't been said that. I read that report today. That is not the case. We are a democratic organisation. There is no direction to any delegate or any part of the party. That is a pretty silly story, you know, I'm looking forward to a conference, the first conference of the National Labor Party in government. It's a conference that's going to set the scene for future decades, future reforms, future policy direction. It's going to be a good conference where delegates understand their responsibility as members of a political party of government to set a reform direction that's relevant, directly to the interests of ordinary Australians. People will be watching the conference closely. There is a very high level of interest from some newspapers in the lead up to the conference and I'm looking forward to this conference. It's going to be a great expression of modern Labor.

Greg Jennett: Watching twists and turns in the draft platform is always a fascinating art in itself and the Prime Minister, I must say, probably couldn't even direct conference even if he wanted to. But anyway, let’s move on to the Voice. To you, Perin Davey, former Labor Minister Gary Johns. Now he's affiliated with Recognise a Better Way. I think he's also a board member of Australians for Unity in the Voice campaign. He's made some quite explosive suggestions in the context of the debate, do you distance yourself or do you seek to distance the No campaign from Gary Johns?

Perin Davey: Well, let me just say I'm not leading the No campaign. The No campaign is being run by non-political organisations such as Advance Australia and Recognise a Better Way. Gary Johns, a former Labor Minister, is not the only former Labor identity who is standing against and saying that people should not vote for the Voice in the referendum. But Gary Johns, my understanding of his commentary was it was part of a book that was published some time ago. And my understanding is his claims, or what has been reported today has been taken a fair bit out of context in saying that the focus and one of the focuses of all of us must be that we need integrity in the system. And there are Aboriginal leaders who are also calling for integrity in the system to make sure that when we are investing in solutions, in Closing the Gap priority areas, that the money is going to those who need it, where it's needed and actually leading to improved outcomes and not just entering into a money-go-round through the welfare system. We need to make sure the money is getting to where it is required. And I think that was the point of what Mr. Johns says, although some of it taken out of context, is quite inflammatory.


Greg Jennett: Yeah, it tends to get lost when it is inflammatory by nature. And this is part of the problem, isn't it? Tim Ayres in the Voice debate, some of the more inflammatory remarks do sort of fill the void from time to time, whether you endorse it or disagree with it, as I'm sure you do. It rather obscures the substantive debate, doesn't it?

Assistant Minister: Well, the fact that it hasn't been completely repudiated by everybody on the conservative side of politics shocks me. I mean, what Mr. Johns said was backward looking, reactionary and bigoted. There should be no argument about this question. Now, I understand that there are conservatives who support the Voice and conservatives who are opposed to it. Those are debates and arguments that should be had in a truthful and collaborative way that talks about the best interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and everybody in Australia. So, I understand that there are different views on the conservative side of politics about this question. But the problem here is that the leadership of the No campaign has been overtaken by the most extreme elements, the most extreme elements, the most far right elements of politics. And the case that is being run is a dishonest case. Now, people are free to make their arguments the way that they would like. But I would just say to people who are engaged in this debate that the views that have been attributed to Mr. Johns and that he's put out there consistent with the views of some others on the no side of the campaign, should be repudiated by every Australian of goodwill, whether they're for the Voice or against it. There have been some pretty dishonest things said over the course of the last couple of weeks by proponents of the No campaign and people ought to have a little bit of common sense, a little bit of goodwill about the way that they've approached this. And that has not been the case and there have been dishonest claims made.

Perin Davey: I would put it to Tim that it swings both ways and we've seen reports just over the weekend of the absolute trolling and the disgusting treatment of leading No campaigners, Indigenous leaders such as Warren Mundine and the mental toll that is taking on them. So, while I accept what Tim is saying in that we need to have this debate in a respectful manner and look to the future and not backwards I do find–

Greg Jennett: We seem to have lost, I'm sorry about that, we do seem to have lost Perin Davey very abruptly, mid-stride there. Tim Ayres on that note, we will wrap it up equally abruptly, I'm afraid, because we can't prolong that conversation.

Assistant Minister: It's been good to talk to you both.

Greg Jennett: Thanks for taking a few unexpected questions, too. Thanks so much, Tim Ayers.