A testy Anthony Albanese has repeatedly refused to apologise on behalf of two of his top ministers who have repeatedly accused Opposition leader Peter Dutton of ‘protecting peadophiles’ .
In an at times fiery radio interview on 3AW host Neil Mitchell’s final day as a broadcaster, the prime minister was reminded he had promised a more respectful political discourse before the election yet had failed to reign in his ministers’ ‘outrageous’ suggestion about the Opposition leader.
Embattled Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil in parliament on Wednesday tried to lay blame on Mr Dutton, her Liberal predecessor in the job, over the government’s asylum seeker debacle claiming the ‘mess’ originated under him.
Ms O’Neil claimed Mr Dutton had voted to protect paedophiles over children with Minister for Sport Anika Wells then repeating the claim on morning TV the following day.
Mr Dutton, a former Queensland Police detective, said it showed the government was getting desperate, adding that he had ‘arrested sex offenders before’.
‘It’s one of my life’s passions to make sure women and kids are safe. I feel very genuinely and deeply about it,’ he said.
‘Yes the comments hurt, but they don’t mean anything to me because I know who I am. I think I am owed an apology from Anika Wells and the Prime Minister.’
Other senior government ministers like Richard Marles and Bill Shorten refused to endorse the characterisation.
Retiring radio host Neil Mitchell (left) and Anthony Albanese (right) have gone toe to toe after Mitchell said the PM was falling short of his pledge to raise the standard of political discourse
Sports Minister Anika Wells repeated the nasty comments on the Today Show after Clare O’Neil said Mr Dutton voted to protect paedophiles
When grilled by Mitchell on Friday, Mr Albanese refused to apologise to Mr Dutton sparking a heated clash.
‘Neil, this opposition leader has a record – and go back and look at the front page stories accusing us of a range of things – it is Peter Dutton,’ Mr Albanese said.
‘But you’ve said you are better than that,’ Mitchell interjected.
‘That’s right,’ Mr Albanese said.
‘Is there an apology there?’ Mitchell asked.
‘Well I. Hang on. Hang on. Ask me about things I’ve done, and I’ll be happy to be accountable for them.’
‘But they are your ministers,’ Mitchell said.
‘Oh Neil, Neil, he moved a motion yesterday in the parliament saying essentially that we wanted a range of sex offenders, rapists, that we wanted them out on the streets. He did that yesterday in the parliament,’ Mr Albanese said.
‘So in reply you say he’s protecting pedophiles? Terrific. Thank you for that. That’s a terrific standard of debate. You’ve really improved the quality of politics. That’s outrageous. Alright he’s insulted you. Take the high moral ground. Apologise.’
‘Yes, Prime Minister.’
‘I’m accountable for what I say.’
‘They’re your ministers. You’re the boss.’
‘I’m accountable for what I say. And he has accused consistently those ministers. And what the minister said was that his opposition to the legislation that was before the parliament on Monday – it’s completely inconsistent with what he has said. From day one, we have here on this issue the High Court of Australia making a decision.
‘And consistently what the Opposition have done, led by Peter Dutton, is suggested that somehow we wanted these people, these people to be out on the streets. None of that is true Neil and you know that that is not true.’
‘I agree that that is not true, nor do I believe that Peter Dutton is protecting pedophiles. Do you apologise to him or not? Or are you standing by your ministers?’
‘Neil. I am accountable for what I say,’ Mr Albanese said.
‘Oh Prime Minister. You’re the boss. You’re the boss.’
‘It’s about time that Peter Dutton took responsibility for what he said.’
‘So I’ll repeat the question. Do you stand by what your ministers said?’
‘Neil. I stand by everything that I say. And I stand by the fact that my ministers have been doing everything they can to protect community safety. And Peter Dutton from day one has been focused on just politics,’ Mr Albanese said.
‘You can solve it all here just by making that point and apologising.’
‘No I can’t. I hate to tell you Neil, but I can’t solve it all here. The fact is that Peter Dutton has made a decision consciously as he used to as a minister (to) stand up and accuse us consistently of not being concerned about community safety.’
Mr Dutton has demanded and apology with other senior Labor ministers refusing to endorse the description
Mr Dutton, a former cop who has long been an outspoken advocate for child safety , lashed the comments and said they indicated the government is ‘really getting desperate’
Mr Albanese also rebuffed assertions he should ‘spend more time in the country’ if he wanted to prevent leading a one-term government.
The Prime Minister again defended his recent overseas travels, maintaining that none of those trips were for holidays and at all times he was ‘representing Australia’.
In the last two months, Mr Albanese has visited the US twice, China, and the Cook Islands.
The Coalition has been supportive in principle for much of Mr Albanese’s recent travel but last month called on him not to go to APEC amid rising concerns about community safety.
He said he spent ‘every day I can in the country’.
‘I haven’t been on overseas holidays,’ he said.
To that, Mitchell put to him that he was needed at home as well.
‘Part of the job is to represent Australia. You know why? Because one in four of our jobs depends upon our trade,’ he said.
‘Now fixing some of the trading relationships that we have, either with the United States deals we’ve done on critical minerals in clean energy, the removal of some of the impediments to trade with China, which is making a difference for our barley farmers and our wine growers and all of those industries, benefits Australia.’
Mr Albanese said he wasn’t paying much attention to recent polls that showed support for Labor had plummeted to its lowest level since last year’s election.
He told Mitchell he didn’t agree that the public was ‘turning’ on him.
‘Polls come and go … What I’m focused on is the medium term, just day to day,’ he said.
‘Because if you do that (spend too much time on the polls), you’ll end up not delivering the sort of government that we need.’