ABC 774 – Jon Faine
SUBJECTS: AFP inquiry into Australia Day riot
Jon Faine: What would an enquiry achieve?
Christopher Pyne: Well the enquiry would achieve a number of things. Firstly, it should test the processes and procedures of the Australian Federal Police that day.
Faine: Do you think they were lacking?
Pyne: Well if I could just finish. They need to be reviewed as they should always be reviewed when there’s such a serious security breach. Obviously this was the most significant breach of security of a Prime Minister since the Fraser Government.
Faine: Was it?
Pyne: Well obviously it was. I meant there hasn’t been a situation where any Prime Minister has been dragged in a headlock along a path, down stairs, losing their shoe and pushed into the back of a ComCar in the history of the federation.
Faine: It seems from the distance of the comfort of my couch watching television, it seemed completely unnecessary, unwarranted and an overreaction to the situation at hand.
Pyne: Well then you would probably agree that there should be some kind of review of the processes and procedures of the AFP. Let alone what was going on in the Prime Minister’s office and the role the Prime Minister’s office played in what was clearly an affray. That is another thing that needs to be enquired into. Exactly who else did know in the Prime Minister’s office the actions that were taken by one media advisor? Is it really believable that there were three other Gillard staffers at the Lobby restaurant at that time and one media advisor, recently appointed, decided to take it upon himself to pass on information to ACT Unions to get to the tent protestors which then led to this extraordinary ugly incident on Australia Day. The other thing that needs to be enquired into is why is it that there was an affray if the Leader of the Opposition’s comments had been passed on verbatim. They were so utterly benign it beggars belief they could have led to any kind of riot at all.
Faine: Several things. First of all, I think to call it a riot is absurd. Gillard’s office were engaging in the same sort of dirty tricks politics that for instance you, your colleagues and all other politicians engage in to try and discredit their opponents all the time. I remind you of Godwin Grech and all that affair and, if anything, seems to be a media and political beat-up of extraordinary proportions utterly undeserving of serious consideration while the nation has much bigger things to talk about.
Pyne: Well John that is a perfectly valid opinion which you’re quite entitled to put. My view is that this is the most serious security breach of an Australian Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. The Prime Minister’s office was directly involved in the circumstances which lead to it. There is a claim and counter-claim of who said what to whom and why and when. It’s not clear from the Prime Minister’s press conferences that she has a handle on what is going on in her office. Apparently on Thursday afternoon the staff member concerned told the other staff in the Prime Minister’s office and no one though to tell her until the story was broken on Friday morning by Ray Hadley and then it took a further eight hours for that to be announced coincidently after the media cycle for the day had finished. And finally there were other officers from the Prime Minister’s media unit in the press gallery on Thursday afternoon saying that Tony Abbott had been responsible for a riot at the Lobby restaurant. All of these things need to be properly tested and until they are its very hard for the Prime Minister to move on from what’s been a very grubby episode.
Faine: Well you don’t call an enquiry into exaggeration and conflagration do you? I mean there has to be something that actually happened and all that happened here was that Julia Gillard tripped on the stairs, lost a shoe and the cameras captured in for the world’s media.
Pyne: Well there was the humiliation of the Prime Minister that’s true.
Faine: Well that doesn’t trigger an enquiry does it Christopher Pyne?
Pyne: It reflects very badly on Australia internationally and domestically. I mean I don’t think anybody who has seen that footage could think that that had been anything less than a very unpleasant riot or affray and their certainly was a riot.
Faine: We can’t keep saying riot. Riot is what happened in London, riot is what’s happening when people burn cars in the streets of Paris from time to time, riot is what happens in – that was not a riot Christopher Pyne. It’s absurd to call that a riot.
Pyne: Well Jon there was property damage, there was assault, there was battery, there was threatening.
Faine: People banging on a window. It’s not a riot.
Pyne: Well it’s perfectly fine for you to down-play it, that’s absolutely fine. I just have a different view to you about that and I think a lot of Australians do.
Faine: Oh call it a Revolution! Let’s go whole-hog. Call it a Revolution!
Pyne: I think there are different degrees for affray. And this affray was certainly a very ugly one and the only way of getting to the bottom of how it came about and who was responsible for it…
Faine: How many people went to hospital?
Pyne: Well fortunately none.
Faine: How much property was destroyed?
Pyne: Well that remains to be seen and I’m sure the Lobby restaurant will be making their claims in accordance…
Faine: For goodness sake. This is just ridiculous. The whole thing has taken on almost comic proportions.
Pyne: Well I don’t agree with you and I think most Australians have a different view. I think they think they want to have two answers. They want to know why it was that the Prime Minister’s office was involved in instigating this incident.
Faine: Because you guys play dirty tricks on each other all the time and here someone got caught.
Pyne: And why is it that the Prime Minister hasn’t got a handle on what is going on in her office. In Australian politics…
Faine: Hopefully she’s running the country rather than finding out what a junior press secretary said to someone on a phone.
Pyne: Well that’s the whole point, John. I couldn’t agree with you more. I wish the Prime Minister’s office was obsessing about running the country, about job security and about border protection and about cost of living rather than obsessing about dirty tricks and grubby deals and trying to destroy the Leader of the Opposition. You couldn’t be more right.
Faine: I understand on Wednesday Tony Abbott will be addressing the National Press Club and what little mail I’ve had about what he’s going to say is that he’ll hit the reset button and try and swing over from Doctor No to alternative Prime Minister. Here is my vision for the future of the country. Is that what’s going to happen Wednesday?
Pyne: Well I haven’t seen the Leader of the Opposition’s speech. I think its Tuesday but I could well be wrong. I’m going to be there so I better work that out before I leave Adelaide I suppose. But obviously we have a whole suite of policies that have still been in place since the last election and Tony Abbott I’m sure will be continuing as he has over the last twelve months to give serious speeches about the challenges that face Australia because we do need at least one political party who is obsessed about the concerns of Australians on a day-to-day basis rather than just political survival.
Faine: I understand that this year he’ll be flicking the switch to being credible alternative Prime Minister rather than critic and someone dedicated to destroying the credibility of Julia Gillard which was pretty much last year’s agenda.
Pyne: Well I think our agenda is always to present an alternative government but we’re also faced with prospect in this hung parliament that the Government keeps giving the Opposition so many reasons to be critical of their performance.
Faine: Much to discuss over the days and weeks to come. I’m indebted to you. Thank you for your time.