ScoMo lashes Labor over his own call with Trump


Prime Minister Scott Morrison has played down a phone call President Donald Trump made to him about a controversial United States inquiry into the Russia probe.

Mr Morrison said it was a brief and "uneventful" conversation where Mr Trump simply asked him for a point of contact with the Australian government.

In an interview with Sky News political editor David Speers, Mr Morrison was hit with several tough questions on the matter, following pressure from the Opposition that he provide "straight answers".

Speers said there was concern Australia was getting sucked in by Mr Trump.

"Were you played by the President?" Speers asked.

"It's disappointing (Bill) Shorten and (Anthony) Albanese have gone down this path," he said.

"I think it shows signs of unresolved bitterness on Mr Shorten's part."

He said their criticism of the phone call was opportunistic and immature.

Mr Trump has tasked his attorney-general, Bill Barr, with investigating what sparked Robert Mueller's probe into whether the Russians interefered with the 2016 US election.

The inquiry is widely seen as a partisan attempt by the Trump administration to discredit Mueller's inquiry.

Mr Morrison promised Australia would co-operate with the inquiry during a phone conversation with the US president last month.

"The president contacted me and asked for a point of contact between the Australian government and the US attorney, which I was happy to do on the basis that it was something we had already committed to do," Mr Morrison said.

"It would have been, I think, frankly more surprising had we chosen not to cooperate."

Mr Speers asked if the request was a favour, given Mr Morrison then got a special invitation to the White House last month.

"Not that I recall at all," Mr Morrison said.

David Speers interviews Scott Morrison on Sky News.
David Speers interviews Scott Morrison on Sky News.

Mr Morrison said the request for help wasn't unusual given the US was Australia's most significant ally.

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He said it would be more surprising if Australia didn't help.

"We're used to sharing a lot of information," he said.

"It would be quite extraordinary to deny (the request).

"Australia wouldn't do anything that would be in conflict with international interests.

"We would never do anything that would prejudice our interests."

He said there had been a lot of reckless and salacious commentary about the call but the facts were simple.

The initial probe was sparked by a tip-off from former Australian diplomat Alexander Downer.

Mr Morrison indicated Australia was unlikely to provide Mr Downer's diplomatic cables about the matter to the investigators.

But asked whether the government would facilitate an interview with Mr Downer, he said that was a matter for DFAT.

Earlier, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the prime minister needed to explain exactly what transpired during the call.

"The prime minister needs to make a full statement and not say this is just gossip, not give one of his usual prevarication sthat we see from this government," he told reporters in Queensland on Wednesday.

"He is ducking and weaving, this prime minister, he's loose with the truth.

"He needs to be held to account for this and needs to explain fully to the Australian people what went on here."

Foreign Minister Marise Payne defended Australia's involvement in the investigation.

"I don't see it as Australia being dragged into a US political issue," she told ABC radio.

"The inquiry, very much like the others which have been ongoing in the United States, is a matter for them.

"We are conducting ourselves as you would expect us to do in these circumstances, we are working in Australia's interests, and we are working with our closest and most important ally.

"We should assist them as we can, we ensure that assistance is appropriate, and that is what we are doing."

Senator Payne said it was up to the US to decide if the full transcript of the telephone call would be released.

Mr Downer, Australia's former high commissioner to the UK and the country's longest-serving foreign minister, played a pivotal role in sparking the FBI investigation into Russian interference.

He met with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who told him about damaging Russian information about rival Hillary Clinton.

That conversation was a key trigger for the FBI inquiry.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said Mr Morrison had sacrificed Mr Downer's reputation to indulge the US president's bizarre conspiracy theory.

"It's clear that Scott Morrison's thrown Alexander under the bus, there's no question about that," he said.

Australia's ambassador to Washington, Joe Hockey, has also formally offered Australia's help with the investigation.

He said while Mr Downer was no longer employed by the government, Australia stood ready to provide the investigation with all relevant information to the inquiry.

Mr Trump's call to Mr Morrison comes after revelations the US president called Ukraine's leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy to ask for help investigating Democrat presidential hopeful Joe Biden.

The US House of Representatives has opened an impeachment inquiry into Mr Trump centring on that call.

In the Sky interview, Mr Morrison savaged the nation's four biggest lenders, labelling the decision to pass on just a part of the RBA's cut as "profiteering".

"They never learn, they honestly never learn and it's disappointing," he said.

"I suspect we're both mortgage holders and like all the other mortgage holders they have a reason to be disappointed in the banks basically profiteering."

- with AAP

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