Interview with Lisa Millar, ABC, News Breakfast

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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23 August 2022

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?


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 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.

MARLES: Thanks, Lisa.


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