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Transcript of Press Conference of the Leader of the Opposition: Parliament House, Canberra: 24 June 2005: Shadow Ministry Reshuffle; Zimbabwe; David Hicks.
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION HON KIM C BEAZLEY MP
TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA, 24 JUNE 2005
E & O E - PROOF ONLY
Subjects: Shadow Ministry Reshuffle; Zimbabwe; David Hicks
BEAZLEY: I don’t know about you but my night was topped and tailed by Australia’s cricket success. A very nice set-up for our discussion here today. Well look, I have said to you yesterday this; that the Labor Party had a critical role to perform in Australia’s national interest now, and that is, simply a product of the fact that from 1 July this Government gets absolute legislative power and there is only one force, in parliamentary terms, in Australian politics that can hold this arrogant Government accountable and that is us. That is the Australian Labor Party, and that is why we need the best frontbench arrangements in order to be able to do that.
I have said in a couple of speeches recently that Australia is very much at a political crossroads. We’ve a government with an economic reputation it does not deserve. It’s a government that is taking us down the low-skills road, the low-wage road when it should be taking us down the high-skills road. Our powerhouse universities are just simply being looked at as profit centres. It has dropped the ball on research and development and innovation, particularly in industry. It is pushing short-term consumption, when our critical national infrastructure needs the absolute attention of government.
It is not just the Australian Labor Party saying this. This is being said by the Reserve Bank. This is being said by the OECD. And perhaps that most enduring value of all, that Australians most like to identify themselves with, is being critically undermined by this government and that is the Australian notion of a fair go, a decent opportunity for all Australians -- a far go. And we saw the most recent manifestation of that - the government jumping in to freeze pay wage levels for the most vulnerable people in our community, of a piece with everything that they happen to be doing in industrial relations.
This arrogance, incompetent government has got to be held to account. So we have got two clear visions. One is to hold this arrogant and incompetent government to account, and the second is to carefully and steadily develop policy so that when the next election comes around, we will present an effective and well-supported program for the next Labor Government. Those are the two essential tasks that we have got, and this reshuffle is a very important step to
achieving those objectives. I am setting up a team of heavy hitters at the heart of the development of Labour's economic policy. I am bringing into the team Lindsay Tanner - a proven policy performer, a person with a good policy critical mind and as Finance, he will have the responsibility of overseeing how all members of the Shadow Ministerial team develop policy. He is tough and he is smart and you all know his policy credentials.
I am also adding Kevin Rudd to the team. He already does an important job in relation to Foreign Affairs and on national security policy, and I am brining him in to play in international economic policy by adding to his tasks in Foreign Affairs the important Trade portfolio.
Now, this means that my core economic team of Wayne Swan in the Treasury, Jenny Macklin with Skills, Stephen Smith with Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations are now being joined by Kevin Rudd and Lindsay Tanner. And this is as strong an economic team as I have ever seen the Labor Party put before the Australian people. It assembles all those talents in the Australian Labor Party that are identified as at the heart of renewal in our leadership capabilities. It is a very important step and it is a step, as I said, we take not only in our own political interest, in terms of winning the next election, but national interests in terms of holding this arrogant government accountable.
We also need a single spokesperson on water. Water is a critical area of policy now and it has been somewhat underdone, as far as we are concerned, because there has been no single person with responsibility for it. I am giving that job to Anthony Albanese, as well as the other portfolio obligations he already has. He is a young, energetic bloke and he will be out there working on developing that policy and selling it effectively. I am totally confident in that.
I have resolved something of an anomaly in Stephen Smith’s portfolio which -- and I have done that of course with a discussion with him -- and that is identifying the need for a separate Transport spokesperson and we now have that in Kerry O’Brien. He is a good pair of safe hands and a very effective performer as though of you know him I am sure will agree.
We also have to deal with the issue of immigration. Now, there was a Bill which went through the Parliament last night which scarcely changes anything. That is the truth of the matter. It scarcely changes anything. We still have a mess in that department, and nobody being held accountable for it. We have a mess in border protection and a mess in the humanitarian issues that immigration always teases up. Now, I am going to bring into the portfolio one of the brightest young lights in the Australian Labor Party, Tony Burke. He is a man with a very strong commitment to family and fairness. He has a sharp policy mind, but he combines that with a really terrific heart. And I think probably, many of you will have seen him perform in Parliament, you would also agree with me, he is one of our coming parliamentary performers. Now Immigration is always going to be a
substantial issue in Australian politics, and the mess that this Government is making of it with no clear cut capacity to get itself out of that mess, to extract itself from it, and we do know this: Tony Burke will be an important part of the national debate right down to the day the next election is held.
I have also asked Peter Garrett, one of the most capable people I have met, to be my Parliamentary Secretary for Reconciliation and the Arts. Peter brings a fresh perspective to Canberra and Canberra needs it. And this is a first step for bigger and better things for Peter Garrett.
Now, I have also put in place a strategy group, the membership of which will have been circulated to you in the papers that you would have received by now. The responsibility of that strategy group is to put in place the policies that advance the priorities that I outlined in the speech that I made the Sydney Labor Party Conference a couple of weeks ago. I laid down what Labor Party priorities would be, in a whole range of areas, and the job of the strategy group is to work with the Party, to turn these priorities into relevant policy and campaigning so that we both listen to the Australian people in these areas, understand their concerns, but also get on top of the need to deliver to them effective, alternative government.
So, in summary, we are enormously mindful of the vital national interest task that we now perform, in the Australian Labor Party, and determined that our frontbench will be the most effective that it can be to take on the Government in every level of government activity, to expose it for the arrogant incompetent government it is, to expose it for the government that has missed so many opportunities in a period of time in which the Australian economy -- through no fault of their own -- has performed so magnificently, and gave government space be able to do things that ensured that the next phase of Australian wealth creation would be put in place. Missed all those opportunities. Now, we are here to make absolutely certain that those opportunities are not missed.
JOURNALIST: Why didn’t you have the ticker to dump underperformers altogether?
BEAZLEY: I believe that all the members of my front bench are performers. They’ve got to be put in the right positions. It’s as simple as that.
JOURNALIST: What role has Annette Hurley going to get?
BEAZLEY: When she eventually comes in, and you do understand that has to go through a process which will occur when there’s a Caucus meeting after the July 1st date. She will go into the Multicultural area and the Citizenship area.
JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, three days ago you said that Laurie Ferguson continued to enjoy your confidence. What’s changed in the space of a three short days?
BEAZLEY: Well he does. He enjoys it in a different position.
JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, you obviously fought to get Lindsay Tanner back on the front bench. Why didn’t you fight to get Bob McMullan or Craig Emerson back to the front bench?
BEAZLEY: Look, I take the view that there are tasks that are not simply tasks for the front bench, but back bench as well. Simple as that. Thirty-two is a reasonable level - number -- for a front bench. Thirty-two is a reasonable
number for a front bench. That was the size of the front bench that Mark Latham took into the last election. They’ve got a great contribution to make. They are making a great contribution but I’m not one who believes -- and we are talking about the front bench here today of course, and that’s got to be our focus -- but I’m not one who believes that they’re the only people who work in the Labor Party.
JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, at least three of your front benchers are facing possible de-selection in Victoria before the next election. How are they going to be able to hold the Government accountable and develop policy if they’re fighting in their own backyard to stay in the Parliament, and would you -- is it time for you take on the factions in Victoria and tell them to back off your front benchers?
BEAZLEY: All of us who join the Labor Party, me included, are always accountable to the party at preselection time. And while I support all my colleagues, we all, and that includes me, run the gauntlet of a democratic party and we have to be able, as Labor Party Members of Parliament, to hold the confidence of our local selection processes at the same time we hold the Government accountable. It’s part of being an effective politician.
JOURNALIST: Is this a merit based re-shuffle and what did Simon Crean do?
BEAZLEY: Simon Crean wrote the book on Regional Development. He is going to have an opportunity in Regional Development, with a great body of experience that he has, not just in the area of regional development, he’ll be of great assistance to us as we go around campaigning in regional Australia, which is one of the areas which will be a critical battleground at this election.
JOURNALIST: So is it a merit based re-shuffle
BEAZLEY: Yes this is a merit based re-shuffle. It’s also a re-shuffle based on other considerations as well. Match-ups -- who opposes who in the
line-up -- and groups focused on particular policy issues. So, you’ve got a whole range of considerations, but of course merit is there and it’s critical.
JOURNALIST: Is Mr Crean happy with his grouping?
BEAZLEY: I’m not going to go around and characterise how anybody has responded to this. Suffice it say that everybody has agreed to serve in the places that they have been given and as I said, Simon has great strengths in the regional development area. He wrote the book on it and many of the things that he put place, when he had that portfolio in government, despite the fact that the whole show has been pillaged by the National Party in particular and the Liberal Party occasionally, many of his institutions remain in place.
JOURNALIST: Why do you need a specific spokesman on Pacific Island Affairs?
BEAZLEY: And on Overseas Aid. He assists -- and Kevin Rudd needs even more than he’s needed before -- assistance now that he has two big portfolios of state. So, he’s going to assist, effectively, in the Overseas Aid area as well as the Pacific Islands. Look, I think the Pacific Islands is an area where Australia has special responsibilities, special and unique responsibilities. And Bob has been doing, despite the fact the he’s apparently been criticised from time to time in the media, I know what he’s been doing, and he’s been getting around and developing an encyclopaedic knowledge on the Governments and peoples of those areas and what their up to at the moment. And we need that.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that news of some of these changes leaked out before the people involved had been told?
BEAZLEY: I rather things didn’t leak out. Suffice it to say I’ve been working on this for the best part of the week with my senior colleagues. Nothing leaked until yesterday.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) independent faction with Bob McMullan?
BEAZLEY: I’m happy with this team. It’s the team I’m going to take into the next election. Bob Sercombe is there, and a whole range of issues at the time the front bench was previously elected. As I said before, I’m not of the view that this is the only part of the Party that functions that there’s no role for people elsewhere.
JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, given that the economy played such a central role in the last election (inaudible) always seems to be at the centre of political debate, why has it taken you until now to put, in your words, the team of ‘heavy hitters’ into these portfolios? Doesn’t that just say that you’ve wasted the six months?
BEAZLEY: Oh, four or five months, right, thanks. Be reasonable. And what I said at the time is I wanted to have a look at how -- I’ve been briefly back on the front bench just before the previous election --but I wanted to have a chance to look at the front bench, where the flaws were in the structure, where
people would be best slotted to fit into our overall task, and I gave myself a few months in order to do that. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.
JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, Bob McMullan has given a fairly feisty interview this morning. He criticised, not so much personally, but the way that Caucus selects, the way that the right factionalism has to warehouse its position and said this related to leadership, etc. Do you think that that you’re presented with this team and any future teams is ideal, that it could be changed?
BEAZLEY: I do agree with the Party rules on election of Shadow Cabinets, yes I do. I think it’s very important in government not to be a government of yes men and women. I’ve served for 13 years in a Labor
Government which, I might say, was a darn sight better government than this one. I notice that Mr Howard tends to surround himself with yes men and women and cronies, and talented people on the Liberal Party back bench do not make it. And there he has complete control. From my point of view, I like the democratic character of the Australian Labor Party, but it also imposes on me the obligation to get the right faces into the right slots in the general tasks that we have in holding the Government accountable. And I’m happy with that.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) themselves into these roles before you reassess them?
BEAZLEY: As far as I’m concerned, there’s always this. There’s the unexpected out there in Australian politics, but as far as I’m concerned, this is the team, in the positions I want to take into the next election.
JOURNALIST: Is Mr Crean the first former Labor Leader to be demoted against his will and do you think that there’s going to be further destabilisation as a result of these changes by the so-called Crean forces?
BEAZLEY: I’ve said I’m not going to go into my discussions with any particular individual about whether or not they liked or disliked what was happening to them. But all those discussions were held on the basis that people were prepared to serve, and I take that at face value. People have indicated to me that they’re prepared to serve, because they don’t serve themselves, they don’t serve me, what they serve is the national interest and the Australian people and the Australian Labor Party. That’s whom they serve. And that’s an obligation on me and that’s an obligation on all my colleagues and, frankly, I expect them all to comply with that.
JOURNALIST: Mr Crean, as you remember, couldn’t win one of those democratic ballots that you just talked about and had to be shoe-horned in by Mark Latham.
BEAZLEY: You can nit-pick about that all you like, but I’d say this about Simon; there’s a body of experience there that is a very useful experience to a front bench team, and he is, as I said, he wrote the book on regional development and I’m happy with that.
JOURNALIST: Hasn’t he been dumped from the tactics group?
BEAZLEY: There’s been no decisions taken on the tactics group. That’s a matter for the weeks down the line.
JOURNALIST: He’s not on your strategy group, though (inaudible)
BEAZLEY: No, he’s not on the new strategy group. I’ve made that clear.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) why not have him on (inaudible)
BEAZLEY: Because we need to keep the strategy group reasonably small.
JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, how’s your health?
BEAZLEY: My health’s terrific.
JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, Annette Hurley. What portfolio (inaudible)
BEAZLEY: Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs when the Caucus gets a chance to deliberate on that. Look, can I say, and Phil (Coorey) would no better than most, but those who are from South Australia would know that she’s a person of considerable experience and, as I said, there are many things that go into determining a front bench - regional representation is one of them, and frankly, we’re underdone in South Australia. So I’m grateful of this opportunity to make sure that after she’s here, that is less the case.
JOURNALIST: Don’t you hold yourself up, though, to ridicule when people from the outside, the average voter, look and see that someone who’s not even in the Parliament yet is already on your front bench?
BEAZLEY: No. Take a look at Tony Burke. He walked into the Parliament and walked onto the front bench, and I didn’t notice any criticisms of the decision taken to promote him today, thanks very much.
JOURNALIST: On a separate issue. On Zimbabwe, the Prime Minister said this morning that he thinks that African countries, black African countries, really have to do more to stand up to Zimbabwe and stop the violence, to stand up to Mugabe. What role is there for the Commonwealth, and particularly for Australia do you think, to stop that?
BEAZLEY: Maximum pressure has to go on the Government of Zimbabwe to democratise itself and to start treating its people decently. Its behaviour has been outrageous and there’s an obligation on the Commonwealth, an obligation on the African nations around it, to hold them to an obligation to treat their own people reasonably.
JOURNALIST: Laurie Ferguson’s been given Population Health, and Health Regulation -
BEAZLEY: Population Health, and Health Regulation, yes. He’ll be assisting Julia Gillard. And I might say, too, Julia Gillard has been a very strong performer in Health, and she’s been kept in that position, and Laurie’s going to give her some assistance there.
JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, are you happy with what’s happening with David Hicks?
BEAZLEY: What we have said repeatedly is that as far as we’re concerned David Hicks, along with all the others who are at Guantanamo Bay, deserve either a fair trial or release. And we have been calling persistently for a fair trial for David Hicks, and we have expressed persistently that we do not think that the tribunal road, which seems to be the road down which the Americans are going, constitutes that.