THE HON RICHARD MARLES MP
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE
TEN NEWS FIRST BREAKFAST
TUESDAY, 23 AUGUST 2022
SUBJECTS: Solicitor-General Report on Scott Morrison’s secret ministries.
LACHLAN KENNEDY, HOST: There’ll be some interesting reading later today when the Prime Minister releases legal advice into former PM Scott Morrison’s secret job-sharing in five ministerial portfolios. Leaked media reports suggest Solicitor‑General Dr Stephen Donahue’s view is scathing of Morrison’s failure to honour the conventions of Australia’s democratic system. Joining us from Canberra this morning is the current Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles. Minister, you would have read this report from the Solicitor‑General, is it scathing?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Oh, look, well I’ve not seen it yet. It’s going to be presented to Cabinet this morning and it’s important that we understand the legal dimensions of this. We really want to make sure that whatever loopholes exist here we can close so that this never happens again. We’re obviously engaging in our own Government in a transparent way, but it’s really important the governments of the future operate in a transparent way. But I think, Lachlan, one of the things that comes from this, is that there’s got to be some political consequence here for what Scott Morrison has done. He’s treated the Australian people with contempt by keeping the whole country in the dark. But the idea that he can be there, secretly administering five departments of government while the Ministers themselves had no idea about that, undermines the Cabinet process, which is at the centre of the Westminster system. And it’s really, I think now for Peter Dutton to explain what are going to be the political consequences of that. We hear Karen Andrews saying that he should resign from Parliament. Peter Dutton seems to think as long as he makes a couple of phone calls and says sorry it’s all okay. Surely, it’s got to be more than that. Peter Dutton needs to show some leadership now and explain what is the consequence for Scott Morrison’s behaviour?
KENNEDY: And in terms of the political consequences, you’re obviously talking about more than a censure motion here, you’re basically saying he’s got to go, right? There are only two consequences really?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, ultimately, I think it is for the Liberal Party and for the Leader of the Liberal Party, Peter Dutton, to make clear what he thinks should happen here. What is the consequences of somebody behaving in a way which is so duplicitous of the Australian people? Because whatever the legal consequences of this are, whatever the legality around this is, what’s absolutely clear is that Scott Morrison hid from the Australian people that he was secretly administering five departments of government. I mean, that is clearly a disgrace, and it’s got to be more than simply ringing up and saying sorry which remedies this, and that’s why Peter Dutton needs to come out and show some leadership on this issue. Really the ball is in his court. We want to see what he’s going to do about the consequences for Scott Morrison. From the Government’s point of view, we want to make sure this can never happen again, which is why we’ve commissioned this advice from the Solicitor‑General and we’ll take whatever steps we need to make sure that if there are loopholes here, they are closed.
KENNEDY: Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce says Australians don’t really care about what’s going on here. It’s within the Canberra bubble, it’s not relevant to people who are in the checkout, doing their shopping today, dealing with the cost-of-living crisis. He’s got a bit of a point, doesn’t he? I mean, it doesn’t really affect people day to day.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think there are a whole lot of issues which are very much present in people’s mind, like cost of living, I understand that, and the skills crisis that the country is facing at the moment. You can speak to businesses big or small and they will be talking about the skilled workers they cannot find which is why we’re having the Skills Summit next week. But I don’t agree with Barnaby Joyce that people don’t care about this, because this goes to the question of transparent government, and Australians want to know that what they see is what they’re getting from their government, and transparent government is a really important principle, and so we do think this matters. We can walk and chew gum at the same time here. We’ll be dealing with issues around cost of living as we have and we’ll be dealing with the skills crisis which we are, but this is something which needs to be dealt with as well.
KENNEDY: Just on the issue of the transparent Government, I’m a little surprised that you, your office and yourself, haven’t been presented with a copy of the Solicitor‑General’s advice. The Prime Minister did receive it yesterday. You’re the 2IC, shouldn’t it have been shared with you?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it is being shared with us today and within 24 hours it’s going to be shared with us. So that’s happening and we’ll be considering it and making the decisions that we need to make so that as we go forward, as a government, but also governments of the future, if there are loopholes here we’ll close them.
KENNEDY: Something a little bit lighter. We saw video last night of the Prime Minister out in Sydney having a good time, taking in a concert, enjoying a beer. You can hear the crowd cheering him on to skull that beer. I can’t help but compare these scenes here to the controversy that is surrounding Finland’s Prime Minister after videos of her dancing at a private party released. There’s all sorts of claims that she wasn’t taking her job seriously. Is there a double standard for male and female leaders in your opinion? I mean, where do you stand on the line between politicians’ public and private lives?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think one of the things that’s really clear is politicians are humans as well, and it actually matters if you want people to perform at the highest level in their job that they have some down time as well. I mean, that’s actually really important to give you the break to enable you to do your job at the highest level and think that’s what we’re seeing happen with Anthony last night. It does explain why I had a missed call from Anthony this morning when I woke up which was quite late. I was worried that there was something pretty serious going on, but when I saw the new this is morning, I breathed a sigh of relief that he’d just been coming back from a concert.
KENNEDY: Right, so, he’s going to be singing his way through cabinet by the sounds of it.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Looking forward to that.
KENNEDY: I bet we all are! If you could record some of it for us, let us know.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Sure, no worries.
KENNEDY: Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles, thanks for your time this morning. We appreciate it.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Lachlan.
THE HON RICHARD MARLES MP
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE
TUESDAY, 23 AUGUST 2022
SUBJECTS: Solicitor-General Report on Scott Morrison’s secret ministries.
KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, Scott Morrison’s secret ministry saga is back in the spotlight today with the Prime Minister to release legal advice on his predecessor’s self‑appointments.
ALLISON LANGDON, HOST: To discuss, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles joins us now live in Canberra. Nice to see you this morning, Deputy PM.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Good to see you, Allison, Karl.
STEFANOVIC: How are you?
LANGDON: We know the PM was briefed on the Solicitor‑General’s advice yesterday. Are you also across it?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I’m not, but we will be getting that later this morning when Cabinet meets, and obviously it’s important that we understand what the legal dimensions of this are so that we can, as we go forward, close whatever loopholes exist here so this never happens again.
But I think there is a real political issue here, because what we have is a Prime Minister – former Prime Minister – who obviously treated the Australian people with contempt but his own Cabinet colleagues with contempt and the Cabinet process with contempt, and there’s got to be some political consequence to that. And the question really for Peter Dutton is, what is that? I mean, you hear Karen Andrews saying that Scott Morrison should resign from Parliament. Peter seems to think it’s okay if he makes a few calls and says sorry. Surely it’s got to be more than that and surely Peter Dutton cannot be okay with this being the way in which government is undertaken.
STEFANOVIC: Does Peter Dutton have any power to do anything if it’s the office of Prime Minister? And also, if he’s found to have done actually nothing legally wrong, what loopholes will you close?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, Peter Dutton has the power to determine how he pins his colours to the mast. Fundamentally, where does he stand in relation to this? Is it okay or is it not? Is it enough just to make a couple of calls and say sorry, or is it more profound than that? Because I think the idea that we had somebody who was secretly administering five separate departments of government while the Ministers themselves didn’t even know about it is obviously –
STEFANOVIC: But are you saying –
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: – it completely undermines the way in which government operates.
STEFANOVIC: Sorry, are you saying, Richard, that he needs to have a Coalition edict, a rule drawn up internally, or is this more than that? Is this something that you can outlaw and close those loopholes?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, from the Government’s point of view, from our point of view, what we need to do, looking forward, is make sure that this never happens again. So, it’s our job to understand what loopholes existed here so that we can close them and that’s what we’re going to do. And that’s why the Solicitor‑General’s report was important, and that’s why we want to look at that today and understand how we move forward.
From Peter Dutton’s point of view, he’s got to determine what are the political consequences for someone in his party doing something of this kind. And he really needs to make it clear what his position is in relation to this, and the divisions that you’re seeing on the part of the Opposition right now between himself and Karen Andrews speak to the fact that we do not see leadership here from Peter Dutton about what the consequences for Scott Morrison should be for acting in this way.
LANGDON: What if there’s nothing significant in this report? And we did hear from Chris Uhlmann earlier that he’d heard that Scott Morrison did request permission from the Solicitor‑General when he took over Health initially, but then he used that advice to take over the further portfolios.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Whatever the legal consequences – whatever the legal situation around this is, the political situation here is manifest. Scott Morrison treated the Australian people with total contempt. He sought to administer five departments of government secretly. I mean, that’s not okay. Whether it’s lawful or not, it’s just not okay. And there has to be a consequence to that, which is Peter’s job. Our job as the Government going forward is to make sure that this can’t happen again. And that’s what we want to understand. We want to make sure that Government happens in a transparent way in the future. Obviously, from the point of view of our Government, we’re going to govern in a transparent way, but not just us; Governments in the future, need to be constrained in a way which means that government is done in a transparent way, and the Australian people deserve nothing less.
STEFANOVIC: So the long and the short of it is if there’s nothing illegal or there’s no loopholes to close, you’ll outlaw it as a Labor Party?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we want to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. Government should happen in a transparent way, and we want to understand how this has occurred and put in place whatever measures we can to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future. That’s our responsibility, as well, of course, in terms of the way in which we govern Australia, to do so in a transparent way, which is what we’ve been doing and what we will continue to do. Peter Dutton’s job is to understand what is the political consequence for Scott Morrison, and he actually needs to show some leadership in respect of that.
LANGDON: And, Richard, where was your invite last night to the Gang of Youths concert with your Leader? We expected to see you by his side downing beers together.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, I actually have had the experience of having a beer with Anthony in his own electorate and that experience was Anthony going to the bar, getting a couple of schooners of Albo draught, coming back and then there’s a conga line of people wanting to get selfies with Anthony as he’s drinking his own beer. And the only conclusion I drew from that is I’m obviously a completely hopeless local MP because none of that happens when I go for a beer in my electorate.
STEFANOVIC: Well, maybe when you go to the finals against the Pies and your Geelong, I mean, that’s –
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: That’s going to be a big, big day. A big day. Cannot wait. And I expect the Today Show to be done from Geelong when we’re in the granny.
STEFANOVIC: All right.
LANGDON: The Deputy Prime Minister tells us to – well, that’s, you know.
STEFANOVIC: And the Government can pay for it. Then we’ll end up at ICAC. Everyone’s happy all round.
Thanks, Richard, great to see you.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: No worries. Good to see you.
THE HON RICHARD MARLES MP
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE
ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
TUESDAY, 23 AUGUST 2022
SUBJECTS: Solicitor-General advice on Scott Morrison’s secret ministries; Review into Port of Darwin lease.
MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Thanks for your company. The Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, will today release legal advice around the former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, secretly taking on those five ministerial portfolios. The advice prepared by the Solicitor‑General is widely expected to find that Mr Morrison’s decision was not illegal, but that is unlikely to put the issue to rest. There are still calls for a broader investigation, and it’s emerged that a separate probe is now underway within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
LISA MILLAR, HOST: With questions being raised about the Governor‑General’s role, the office of his official secretary says it supports a more transparent process to make sure appointments are made public. Well, Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles joins us now from Parliament House. Good morning to you. Welcome to News Breakfast.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Thanks, Lisa good morning to you.
MILLAR: Have you seen the advice?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I’ve not seen the advice.
MILLAR: Right. And it’s going to Cabinet then. You will be seeing it shortly, no doubt?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Indeed.
MILLAR: All right. And what is Cabinet going to be asked to do with it? Why the process of taking it there this morning first?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think it’s important that we understand everything that has happened here. We need to understand it from a legal point of view, but whatever the legal outcome here is, what’s really clear is that Scott Morrison treated, firstly, the Australian people with complete contempt by not making transparent the decisions he was taking in respect of who was running Australia at that point in time, but he’s treated his own colleagues with contempt and I think, importantly here, he’s treated the Cabinet process with contempt and that’s really at the heart of the Westminster system.
I think as we go forward here, whatever is the legal advice, there needs to be some political consequence for a person who has flouted, really, the Westminster Cabinet system so completely. What we see is an Opposition, is a Liberal Party which is completely at odds here with what to do here. Peter Dutton seems to think it’s all fine. Karen Andrews thinks that Scott Morrison should resign from Parliament. There clearly needs to be some political consequence. We need to hear that from the Opposition about what they intend to do.
MILLAR: Well, you’re now the Deputy Prime Minister. What do you think the political consequence should be?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think what has happened here is obviously a disgrace and it’s appalling in terms of the way in which the Australian people have been treated with contempt. Certainly, from our point of view, in terms of the way in which we seek to govern the country, we will do so from a position of transparency, and that’s how we’ve been going about things from day one. This is not conduct that we would ever engage in, but we want to make sure that the lessons are learnt from this so that that never happens again.
In terms of what should happen to Scott Morrison, that, ultimately, I think is a matter for the Liberal Party and I’m very keen to see what their decision is in respect of this. But clearly, it needs to be a severe consequence, because what we saw was a total undermining of the Westminster system, a complete treating of contempt of the Australian people, and I don’t think it’s good enough that Peter Dutton says that that’s all fine.
MILLAR: When you talk about sort of closing loopholes and making sure it never happens again, what does that actually look like? Has the Government actually started drawing up something to ensure that goes through?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, that’s exactly what we need to be looking at when we look at this advice to make sure that there are principles in place which ensure transparency in the way government runs – transparency for the Australian people – and really that’s the consideration that we want to take or we want to have in making sure that we are learning the lessons from this going forward. From our point of view as the Government, that’s our focus, to make sure that Government as we go forward is undertaken in a completely transparent way. I think the job for the Liberal Party now is working out what it’s going to do with Scott Morrison and what the position of the Leader of the Opposition is in respect of all of this.
MILLAR: The former Australian Post boss, Christine Holgate, is pretty unimpressed to discover that her situation, which was a very tense situation, was being looked at while the former Prime Minister also held this role of Finance Minister. Is that a case that could possibly be reviewed?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think it’s an example of the problems that occur when you’ve got a person who is secretly administering five separate departments. And the world, the country, doesn’t know about it, let alone other Ministers who think that they are solely administering those departments themselves. I mean, it is a completely unsatisfactory situation, and I can understand how Christine Holgate would feel completely unsettled about this. It is just an example of what can go wrong when you set up government in that way, which is why it’s really important that we never see this happen again.
But I come back to the point, there is a real onus on Peter Dutton. Where does he stand in respect of this? Is he actually saying that he thinks that running government in this way is okay? And, if he doesn’t, then what’s the political consequence for the person who ran it in the way that he did?
MILLAR: Barnaby Joyce on the weekend said the Australian people are more interested in what they’re paying at the fuel tank and in the grocery stores than this. What do you say to that?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I think that’s right, but it’s not as though this is not important as well. It is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time and we’re completely focused on issues around cost of living. We’re completely focused on the skills crisis which is facing our nation, which is why we’ve got the skills summit next week. So, we are looking at all of those issues very clearly, but because there are issues there, doesn’t mean that this is nothing. This is quite significant. And it’s really important that we have transparent government in this country. That is certainly, as I say, how we intend to manage our Government, but it’s important that’s the way government is managed in the future.
MILLAR: I just want to quickly ask you about the Darwin Port situation. I know your Government has said it will be transparent, it will release the details of a newly commissioned report into the Chinese company – or the company connected to the Chinese Government’s – lease of the port. Why won’t you release the review that has already been done? The ABC FOI‑ed it. It’s not being released.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s not being released because the information that was going to be put out there has been determined to be classified. We’re not really in a position to question that. I can imagine there are a whole range of issues around this which are classified. Obviously, we are talking about advice which was given to the former Government, we have time don’t have access to that as the current Government. We have sought our own advice in respect of this. We made clear at the time we didn’t support the leasing of the Port of Darwin to a Chinese Government–owned company and we had grave concerns about it at the time. Now that we’re in Government, we’re seeking our own advice about the significance of that and what options exist and as soon as we receive that advice, we’ll make our decisions.
MILLAR: All right. Richard Marles, thanks for your time this morning.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Lisa.
THE HON RICHARD MARLES MP
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE
Tuesday, 23 August 2022
SUBJECTS: Solicitor-General advice on Scott Morrison’s secret ministries; Review into Port of Darwin Lease; Australia’s fuel security.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Later today, Cabinet will be presented with advice from the Commonwealth Solicitor‑General about former Prime Minister Scott Morrison being secretly sworn into five ministries that, well, were a secret – we didn’t know about. While the advice has not been made public, reports this morning indicate it is scathing of the former Prime Minister’s conduct, particularly the failure to inform relevant Ministers, Parliament, or the Australian public. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has indicated he’ll establish an inquiry into the scandal, and there are calls from across the Parliament to close whatever loopholes allowed it to happen. Even if it’s legal, why is it legal? How can it happen?
Richard Marles is the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence and our guest this morning. Richard Marles, welcome.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Good morning, Patricia. How are you?
KARVELAS: Good. You haven’t seen the advice, but you’ve said Scott Morrison should face severe consequences for his behaviour. What do severe consequences look like?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I actually think, ultimately, that is a question for the Liberal Party, and I want to see what Peter Dutton actually thinks should happen here for somebody who has clearly treated the Australian people with total contempt in that there was no transparency. He’s treated his colleagues with contempt, but he’s treated the Cabinet process with contempt and that’s really at the heart of the Westminster system. And for someone who’s so completely flouted, really, our own system of government, there’s got to be some political consequence. You know, we heard Karen Andrews say he should resign from Parliament. Peter Dutton seems to think it’s okay, as long as he makes a few calls and says sorry. Surely it can’t be as simple as that. We really need to hear from Peter Dutton about whether he thinks it is okay that we have somebody who is secretly sworn in to administer five separate departments of the Commonwealth Government –
KARVELAS: Hang on a minute. Peter Dutton has said he doesn’t think it’s okay. He’s made that clear.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, but is it enough to just make a couple of phone calls and say sorry, or is there something more significant here which happens as a result of doing this? I mean, we’ve got a situation where people who were administering their departments, Ministers, had no idea that there was somebody in the background who had all their powers as well and was able to administer them at the same time. I mean, there’s a whole lot of issues that can arise from this, a whole lot of problems in the way in which government is administered, not least of which is all of this is happening in a way that is completely un‑transparent.
KARVELAS: So, you say Karen Andrews – you mentioned she called for him to resign – do you back Karen Andrews’ call?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is squarely a question for the Liberal Party.
KARVELAS: Sure, but I’m asking you because you’re my guest today. Do you think it would be in the best interests of Australian democracy for him to fall on his sword, so to speak, and to resign from Parliament immediately?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think the consequences have to be severe, and I think it is a matter for Peter Dutton to answer that question. From the point of view of the government, we want to learn the lessons of this to make sure that this can never happen again. I mean, I can tell you that what we draw from this is that we will always be transparent with the Australian people about who’s actually governing the country, who has powers to administer which department. That’s the way in which we’re going to go about things. But we also want to understand the legality of this so that we can make sure that not only our government but governments in the future operate in a way that is transparent, and if there’s loopholes that need to be closed here, then they will be closed.
KARVELAS: Okay and in terms of an inquiry – the Government says there should be an inquiry – I spoke to Liberal MP Bridget Archer yesterday. She said the inquiry should be broadened to include wider issues like the Governor‑General’s role and the Public Service’s role. Do you think it should be wider and look at those issues?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think the starting point is we need to understand what Scott Morrison did here as the former Prime Minister. I mean, that’s where the decision trail started. He’s the person who initiated all of this. I think we need to understand what has happened there and look at those other questions subsequently to that –
KARVELAS: So, hang on a minute I just want to nail that down. You’re saying “subsequently”. That means after. So, an inquiry just into Scott Morrison is what you’re saying?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think fundamentally the issue here is what did Scott Morrison do. He was the Prime Minister. He was the person who exercises power. Power is exercised by the government of the day, not by the Governor‑General, not by the Public Service. It’s exercised by the government. And it’s the way in which that power was exercised by Scott Morrison which needs to be examined here, and the consequences of that, making sure that loopholes are closed, is what we need to make sure that we act on. But this starts with where power was exercised and it was exercised by the former Prime Minister.
KARVELAS: So, in terms of an inquiry, you want it to be limited to what Scott Morrison did. Should there be other inquiries into the other elements; the Public Service and the Governor‑General?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, we’re getting the advice today which will go to the questions of the legality of this. We want to understand what happened and make sure that it never happens again. That’s the way in which we are going to go about this –
KARVELAS: Yeah, but on my actual question, with respect, what gets inquired into? You talk about Scott Morrison. What about the other elements? Do you think they should be inquired into?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we need to understand what happened here and it’s hard to walk down that path without first understanding exactly what Scott Morrison did and how he exercised that power. And that’s where our focus is at so that we can make sure that this never happens again.
KARVELAS: And later – you said “subsequently” – you think the other elements should be looked at?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, the point I’m simply making is if there are loopholes to be closed, they need to be closed. I mean, we’re saying that too. But what we want to do here is understand what occurred, looking forward, and making sure that it can never happen again. And that’s what we have said we will do. And that’s our responsibility as the Government of the day, looking at what’s happened in the past and how we take the country forward. I think there is a responsibility here from the Liberal Party, who own, if you like, what occurred in the past and what should now happen with Scott Morrison. And there is a real question, I think, for Peter Dutton in all this.
KARVELAS: Amending the Minister of State Act to require publication of ministerial appointments was a logical way of approaching the issue. That’s according to constitutional law experts, including Professor George Williams. Will you do that? Will you actually amend that Act?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, that may be one of the possibilities that come forward as a result of this. We want to actually look at what happened here and how we resolve this, but certainly what Professor Williams has said is an example of what might need to be done. I don’t want to pre-empt what the Solicitor‑General’s report says, but however this needs to be done, we need to be closing these loopholes.
KARVELAS: And is this a matter of priority? Are you going to be introducing legislation to fix this up, loopholes closed, reform the system as a sort of first point of an act that you’ll do in the next sitting?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, firstly, as a government, we can walk and chew gum. We get that there are a lot of issues going on out there. Cost of living, the skills crisis that we face at the moment and, of course, we’ve got the skills summit next week, and so all of these are issues which are really pressing for the Australian people. But transparent government matters too. It really matters. And it matters that the Australian people have a sense of confidence about their government, that they have a sense of knowledge about who is administering what department. And so it is important that we understand what happened here and if there are matters which need to be resolved, that they are resolved properly.
KARVELAS: Okay; and with a sense of urgency?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, well it’s what I just said.
KARVELAS: Okay. Just on a couple of other issues, you’re refusing to release a review of the leasing of the Port of Darwin commissioned by the previous Government. And you say that’s because some of it is confidential. Are you prepared to cancel the lease if that’s what the advice in the inquiry you’ve commissioned recommends?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don’t want to pre-empt again what advice we get. So, to be clear, the subject of the FOI request from the ABC was in respect of advice that was given to the previous Government. We don’t have access to that advice as the current Government. Elements of it have not been released because it involves classified information. I can understand how that would occur. But when it comes to the substance of this issue, we obviously didn’t support the lease of the Port of Darwin to a Chinese Government–owned company at the time. We will seek our own advice about the consequences of that and what options exist for us now. And we’ll obviously act on that advice.
KARVELAS: Just on another issue we’ve covered already this morning, new research commissioned by the Department of Defence says a conflict in the South China Sea would threaten 90 per cent of Australia’s refined fuelling imports, which is just a staggeringly high number. How vulnerable are we if conflict does break out, and what are the solutions you’re looking at?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’re a trading island nation, and we rely very heavily in terms of fuel, but in terms of the way in which we engage in our trade, the basis of our economy fundamentally on the rules of the road, which is why I often talk about, as I’ve talked about with you, the importance of the global rules‑based order and specifically freedom of navigation on the high seas. As a trading island nation, that’s fundamental to us. And what you’ve just highlighted is a really good example of it. And when we see those rules placed under pressure, that directly engages our national interests, which is why we are so focused on activities which assert the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, freedom of navigation, on bodies of water around the world but particularly on bodies of water where our trade passes, and the South China Sea is one of those.
KARVELAS: What’s the Government’s plan for getting more fuel stored in Australia? Does it involve opening up new refineries?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, firstly, it’s very important that we maintain the refineries that we have. One of those is, of course, in my electorate in Geelong. We are very much looking at the question of fuel storage so that we can have a sense of confidence about this – have a sense of sovereign capability, if you like, around this. But I come back to the point; what this highlights is how important for our nation the global rules-based order is, freedom of navigation, the rules of the road. And that’s why we do everything we can to assert them.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Patricia.