Sky News Interview: AM Agenda: Liberal Party Branch Stacking, Virtual Parliament



SUBJECTS: Liberal Party Branch Stacking, Virtual Parliament 

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Gentlemen, thanks both for your time. We’ll start with these allegations being made against some of your Victorian branch members, well, party members as well as ministers, Trent Zimmerman. Let’s begin on just what has been raised. We’ve got a statement that’s been put out by Kevin Andrews, for example, and Michael Sukkar. Do we need more information though, and fronting of cameras, in particular on these claims that electoral officers were put in Kevin Andrews’ office for the sole purpose or the principal purpose of being able to gather members of the Liberal Party rather than electoral office work? 

TRENT ZIMMERMAN MP: Well, I didn’t see anything on last night’s broadcasts, which would prove the case that that’s been happening. And I think that last night was quite different to the exposé that we saw about the Victorian Labor Party, where you had a minister effectively being caught in the act. But what both members have done is firstly indicate that they don’t accept that there’s been any wrongdoing on their part. But secondly, referred it to the Department of Finance for an independent review, and that’s what’s appropriate. 

HOST: So yeah, there was no, perhaps smoking gun. We didn’t see people going to an ATM to pull out money, but when this whole strategy of hiring people into this electorate office was described and then by Michael Sukkar as a good summary, does–do we need to hear a bit more about why he said good summary, for example? 

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I’m not sure whether he’s proposing to be talking to the media today, but I think what is important is that he has referred it to the Department of Finance for them to independently examine whether there’s been any inappropriate use of parliamentary resources. And I think that the main part about the program was obviously focused on the actions of non-parliamentary players in the Victorian division, and I think the Victorian division itself is going to conduct an inquiry into those matters, which were very serious and disturbing. 

HOST: So you’re talking about the role there of Marcus Bastiaan. He, at one stage, went to New South Wales to spruik the reforms of the Victorian Liberal Party. How seriously should that be taken out? 

ZIMMERMAN: Well, he did indeed. And I would just note with some irony that those that brought him to New South Wales described him as a future Robert Menzies. I’m not quite sure that that’s an epitaph that Robert Menzies would be very happily accepting today if he was still with us, so. But I mean, I suppose what is important is that the type of behaviour that we saw, exposed last night by those organisational figures, is something that the party can’t tolerate because that type of industrial scale branch stacking that was proposed could destroy the party. And in Victoria’s case, the intent was to effectively turn it into a conservative rump. What I think is important is, is that their ambitious plans didn’t succeed and their KPIs, for example, federally, whether to replace Tim Wilson and to replace Kelly O’Dwyer. Well, Tim’s still very much there and Kelly went of her own accord and her successor Katie Allen I don’t think is someone cut from the same cloth as some of those people that you saw on the show last night. 

HOST: Tim Wilson, in fact tweeting, not so cryptically, the song by the artist once known as Reginald Dwight, ‘I’m Still Standing’. Peter Khalil, your thoughts on this? So an internal investigation going on, you know, Victorian Liberal Party about any allegations of branch stacking and in terms of the office employment, both MPs, Kevin Andrews, Michael Sukkar, referring this to the Finance Department Is that fair enough? That’s a strong enough action? 

PETER KHALIL MP: Well, Tom, you know, we’ve heard Trent talk for about two minutes this morning and all I got out of that was that he was much better at doing an efficient, eloquent coverup unlike Scott Morrison, who contradicted himself. Trent didn’t. Because Scott Morrison, when this happened within the Labor Party, was very clear about the necessity for Labor and Anthony Albanese to show leadership. And I’ll make two points about this whole issue: first is that the attitudes we saw last night on the 60 Minutes report around constituents and the way that people denigrate the work that we do for constituents–and I’m sure Trent’s the same as me–I take great privilege and it’s a real joy in serving my community, that’s why I got into politics. I enjoy helping people and that’s part of what we do. And there are many good Liberal MPs that do that as well as Labor MPs, so that attitude needs to be denounced in no uncertain terms. And secondly, this goes to the leadership–of the contrast in leadership–when this happened in our party–and I know I Trent is trying to make a distinction, but let’s talk about leadership because Scott Morrison was very clear about it. Well in our conflict the minister was sacked by the Premier. That minister was then expelled from the party and then the entire Victorian branch–Anthony Albanese, the Federal Labor Party ensured the entire Victorian Labor Party branch was put under administrators Steven Bracks and Jenny Macklin to clean up any of those activities or those kinds of activities with respect to inappropriate use of taxpayer funds or invalid membership. What has Scott Morrison done? He said, ‘No, not here! It’s got nothing to do with me’ after he himself pointed out the need to show leadership on these issues. And this is becoming a pattern, Tom, where the prime minister says, ‘I’m not responsible.’ When it’s the national cabinet, and the state premiers do good work, he takes credit. When state governments make mistakes, he goes in hard and criticises, but never has been responsible for his own actions. 

HOST: Well let me just jump in. The case, the case for Labor had clear evidence on phone recordings, clear evidence of branch stacking. We don’t have the same evidence here, do we? First of all, that there might’ve been some sort of plot that wasn’t successful. And in terms of ministerial involvement, the closest seems to be a quote where Michael Sukkar talks about people that complain about branch stacking. That’s a long way short of what happened with Adam Somyurek, isn’t it? 

KHALIL: You have a Senior Counsel in Geoffrey Watson. His comments and his expertise were taken at face value and prima facie by all Liberal MPs and commentators when this happened to Labor, making the same point about the inappropriate use of taxpayer funds, and the fact that a minister of the crown actually supported or endorsed those activities and that that in itself is prima facie a case for ministerial responsibility against the position of trust. 

HOST: Do you trust the Finance Department though, those aspects in terms of hiring practices and offices is going to be looked into. Do you trust the Finance Department to do that? 

KHALIL: Of course I trust the Finance Department to make an internal investigation. The point here is that Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party are dodging responsibility on this. We are held to a high standard in the Labor Party and we acted and acted swiftly as the leadership by Premier Andrews, as well as Anthony Albanese. And what we see here is that the prime minister says, ‘it’s got nothing to do with me’. It’s absolutely disgraceful. 

ZIMMERMAN: Tom, the allegations are just chalk and cheese. I mean, for Peter to try and draw an analogy between the two circumstances just doesn’t bear the scrutiny of the facts. And in the case of the first 60 Minutes episode about the ALP, you had not only a minister being caught on camera undertaking activities which were clearly dubious, but you also had that minister expressing views about his parliamentary colleagues and his party colleagues, which were sexist and homophobic and reprehensible, and as much as anything, that’s the reason why he went. And I just think that trying to compare the two is a nice attempt by Labor to try and cover up their own disgrace. And expected– 


No, I’m not trying to compare the two. Trent, I’m not, Trent to be fair, I’m not trying to compare the two. Every individual case here is different. What I am comparing and contrasting is leadership, the different types of leadership, okay? They’re very different cases, clearly. There is a case to be heard with respect to the Liberal Party and activities of both Michael Sukkar, Kevin Andrews and your organisational wing. The point I’m saying is that unlike Anthony Albanese, Scott Morrison refuses to take action and responsibility on this, where he should as a leader of the Liberal Party. The federal leader as well as the prime minister. 

HOST: Okay, I’m going to jump in. We’ve given this a good run. Just want to talk to the two men on the topic before we go: digital parliament, virtual parliament, whatever you’d like to call it. Trent Zimmerman, I know you’ve been involved in sort of the testing side of this. Where are we at on this? Because there are calls to be able to have this possibility in a much more widespread sense. And, you know, the example given for women that give birth during their terms of parliament. This is within our capabilities, isn’t it Australia? A modern country like this, that we’ll be able to have more than just sort of doing speeches, but we could have a full on attendee at parliament in the future virtually within a couple of years? 

ZIMMERMAN: Well, this is the dress rehearsal, and we’ll see how it goes over the next two weeks. And hopefully we won’t have some of the types of glitches that beset Westminster when they went down this path. But I think that, yes, it may open up opportunities for the future, but there are some limitations and first and foremost, you actually have to under the rules, be physically present vote, so therefore none of those participating virtually this week will be able to vote. And they’ll be paired as part of the arrangements, obviously between the parties. 

HOST: But should that be changed, ultimately? 

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think, I think there’s something to be said for actually being here to vote in the parliament. And I think that there is also something to be said for physical meetings continuing to occur because part of the benefits of parliament, frankly, is the interaction that you’re having with your colleagues, with your ministers and shadow ministers, if you’re in opposition, and you wouldn’t really want to do anything that negated the benefits of physically being here. 

HOST: All right. 

ZIMMERMAN: And it’s not going to be ideal, but we will make it work for these extraordinary times. 

HOST: Peter, what are your thoughts on that? Do you agree that ability to vote will always be one in person? 

KHALIL: Yeah, I’ve thought about this a lot and, similar to Trent, this issue is about voting. I have no problem, obviously with the virtual parliament for us to make speeches and to ask questions. I do agree with Trent on the point that being there in person, not just for voting, but also in the engagement with other MPs and discussions around policy and all of that is also of importance. This question around voting is a really serious one. We’re not doing that in these couple of weeks in the virtual parliament. We’re just making speeches and asking questions. And I think let’s see how that goes. It’s important because many people, whether they be men or women in their family responsibilities, are unable to actually get there for various reasons. This is actually a good solution. And I’ll just finish by saying the real problem I have is I already know the camera puts on 10 kilos. So, I’m already starting off the back of the grid on that one. 

ZIMMERMAN: I’ve got to use that as my justification, Peter, as well. 

HOST: Well I’ll tell you what… Yeah, I’m not sure that will get you an extenuating circumstance leave pass, Peter Khalil, but your Skype connection’s been pretty good. Maybe improved today. Maybe the team at parliamentary services has, I don’t know, increased the speed over the weekend. We’ll see how it holds up at 10:00 AM. Trent, Peter, thanks for your time. 

ZIMMERMAN: Thanks Tom. 

KHALIL: Thanks Tom.