Environment Minister Melissa Price denies offending the former head of a Pacific island nation with comments about his region always demanding ‘cash’.
The environment minister told parliament she bumped into Labor Senator Pat Dodson, who was dining with former Kiribati president Anote Tong, in a Canberra restaurant on Tuesday night.
She was allegedly told Mr Tong wanted to meet with her about climate change.
‘Is it about the cash?’ Ms Price said in response, Fairfax Media reports.
Environment Minister Melissa Price (pictured) denies offending the former head of a Pacific island nation with comments about his region always demanding ‘cash’
Labor Senator Pat Dodson (pictured) was dining with former Kiribati president Anote Tong when the comments were made
‘It’s always about the cash. I’ve got my chequebook over there. How much do you want?’
When asked in parliament on Wednesday if she denied the exchange, Ms Price said she ‘one hundred per cent’ disagreed with Senator Dodson’s recollection of the conversation.
However, Labor accused the environment minister of misleading parliament over her explanation, attempting to suspend standing orders in order for Ms Price to correct the record.
‘Misleading the House is the one thing that everyone in Westminster has always agreed is the reason a minister has to go,’ manager of opposition business Tony Burke t+-old the lower house.
The motion was tied 71-71, causing it to fail as there was no majority.
M-*r Tong has shrugged off the exchange with Ms Price, saying it was ‘not important’.
‘It’s hardly relevant to the mission that I’m trying to embark on,’ he told Sky News on Wednesday.
The environment minister told parliament she bumped into Labor Senator Pat Dodson, who was dining with former Kiribati president Anote Tong (pictured) on Tuesday night
Phil Glendenning, director of human right advocacy group the Edmund Rice Centre, was also* at the dinner and has confirmed Senator Dodson’s recollection, the ABC reports.
The environment minister says she told Mr Tong the Pacific was a good friend and neighbour to Australia.
‘I am very concerned that in some way president Tong has been offended in any way,’ she said.
Labor climate spokesman Mark Butler said the exchange was witnessed by a number of other people.
The comments demonstrate a lack of respect for Australia’s neighbours in the Pacific, he said.
‘How a new minister with responsibility for climate policy can say those words to one of the most respected advocates of strong action on climate change not just in our region but around the world beggars belief,’ he told reporters.
International Development Minister Anne Ruston met Mr Tong on Wednesday to reaffirm Australia’s commitment to the Pacific.
Labor is also accusing Ms Price of misleading parliament on Wednesday after she said the Great Barrier Reef Foundation could only spend five per cent of its record $444 million grant on administration costs.
The agreement between the foundation and the government states 10 per cent can be spent on administration, Mr Burke says.