SUBJECTS: Christian Porter; Scott Morrison’s treatment of the French
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Richard Marles is the Deputy Opposition Leader and he joins us on Drive. Welcome.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: How are you, Patricia?
KARVELAS: I’m good. Christian Porter has been defended by the Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who says he’s done nothing illegal and had a bad day the wicket. Should the Ministerial Code of Conduct be tightened to clearly deal with matters such as this?
MARLES: Well, I think it’s a bit more than a bad day at the wicket. I mean, at the end of the day we’re talking about an amount of money, which we don’t exactly know, but seems to be up to a million dollars. And, we don’t know how the trust was put together, and we don’t know who’s contributed to it- and that’s wholly unacceptable. It’s wholly unacceptable for a Minister, it’s actually wholly unacceptable for a Member of Parliament. And, you know, we’re all as Members of Parliament obliged to make declarations about these matters. We don’t know whether the people who made the donations were doing business with the government, we don’t know whether there were conflicts of interests, that’s exactly why these measures are in place, so that there is the confidence that in donations such as this, there isn’t any untoward influence, which has been gained. But right now, we don’t have any of the normal answers to the normal questions that we’d be asking about a donation of this size.
KARVELAS: So, will Labor be referring the matter to the privileges committee? And what can happen through that process?
MARLES: That is our intention. I mean, we- well in essence, what we want to understand is whether or not Christian Porter’s actions are consistent with the obligations that exist to Members of Parliament, not just members of the ministry, but for Members of Parliament. And the privileges committee has an ability to censure an MP. But it’s a very significant thing to be referred to the privileges committee for a matter of this kind. But ultimately, before it gets there, this is really a matter that Christian Porter himself should clear up. I mean, I think it’s actually very simple for Christian Porter. Either he gives the money back, or he lets the Australian people know who provided the money. There really can be no other expectation than that. And until he does one of those two things, there is obviously a cloud over his continuing in the parliament.
KARVELAS: So, do you agree with the government’s reasoning that Mr. Porter’s future is now with the people in his electorate, I mean, is that ultimately the case?
MARLES: It is the case for all of us, but there are also standards that we need to maintain. There are rules that we need to abide by which all of us as Members of Parliament do, and I think there is an expectation amongst the community that they will take for granted that we’re meeting those rules, and we’re meeting those expectations. And to have a donation of this size, where Christian Porter himself can’t tell us who donated the money, is just completely unacceptable.
KARVELAS: How concerned are you about the long term damage it may cause between France and Australia, the way that we’ve handled this issue?
MARLES: Look, I do feel concerned about it. I do feel- I mean, the starting, I mean, obviously, there’s been a lot of damage done to the relationship with France. And I think the important point to make here is that France matters. I think too often over the journey we’ve underdone the relationship with France. We don’t think about it like this, but in many ways, France is our nearest neighbour, the closest overseas population to the southeast corner of Australia, is in France, its Nouméa. France’s longest border, Australia’s longest maritime border is with each other. And so, we have significant interests with France in the Pacific and with our region. And it’s really important that that relationship is in good shape. And the inevitable consequence of the failure of this government to properly handle the submarine program, the deal with France, has led to a real damaging of that relationship.
KARVELAS: Does this put Australia’s hopes of a free trade agreement with the EU in danger, given France is a key player?
MARLES: I hope not. I mean, I hope that that is a matter which is dealt with separately and obviously it involves more countries than just France. But I think we have a whole lot of interests with France, in our region, where France is a Pacific player- it is a Pacific power, and this is our neighbourhood and they’re in it, and we should be working closely together. And it’s really that which worries me, in terms of the future of our relationship with France and the impact that has occurred as a result of what’s transpired- not so much last week but through the mishandling by this government of the future submarine program with France over the last few years.
KARVELAS: Richard Marles, thank you for your time this evening.
MARLES: Thanks Patricia.