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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView


2nd September 2007


MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER PAUL BONGIORNO: Hello and welcome to Meet the Press. A few horses sneeze
and a multi-billion dollar industry grinds to a halt. The livelihoods of hundreds, perhaps
thousands, of workers cast into doubt, raising issues of compensation and blame.

NSW PRIMARY INDUSTRIES MINISTER IAN MACDONALD (Thursday): This is shocking news because it means
that the racing industry at Randwick for the spring carnival will come to a total halt.

CEO RACING NSW PETER LANDYS (Wednesday): We want to find out where the source came from because
it's cost the thoroughbred industry in NSW million of dollars and we'll look at every option.

PAUL BONGIORNO: We'll talk to the man who suddenly finds himself in the hot seat, Agriculture
Minister Pete McGauran. And later, as world leaders prepare to gather in Sydney for APEC we talk to
one of Australia's most experienced diplomats about what to expect, but first a look at what the
nation's papers are reporting this Sunday September 2. In Brisbane, the 'Sunday Mail' leads with
"Moreton Bay collision kills four." Three members of a family including a boy, eight, were among
four people killed in a boating tragedy on Brisbane's Moreton Bay late yesterday. The deaths
occurred when two pleasure craft collided. The 'Sunday Telegraph' leads with "Rugby league's
crisis. Drugs on Roo tour." Former Kangaroos coach Chris Anderson has confirmed star player Gorden
Tallis lodged a formal complaint about the drug habits of several players, including Andrew Johns,
on the 2000 tour. The 'Sunday Mail' has "Lawyers seek horse flu billions." Lawyers are preparing a
class action to recoup the billions of dollars lost as a result of the outbreak of equine
influenza. The targets will ultimately be the Federal Government or companies responsible for
quarantine procedures in Australia. The 'Sunday Age' reports "Howard's $2 billion splurge." Prime
Minister John Howard has spent nearly $2 billion on Government advertising and information
campaigns since coming to power 11 years ago. $850 million has been spent since the last election.
It's a fair bet that a couple of weeks ago few Australians had ever heard of equine flu. Now it's
caused major disruption to an $8 billion a year industry, and the Federal Agriculture Minister,
Peter McGauran, joins us, welcome back and good morning.


PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, it's over 100 years since Federation and we haven't had equine flu. By any
measure this is a massive failure, is it not, of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service?

PETER MCGAURAN: It is an inescapable conclusion that there's been a breach in the quarantine
system, but by whom, where and how we don't yet know. We've obviously got a full and comprehensive
investigation under way. We have a large team of investigators, many of them ex-police officers,
interviewing every single person who came in contact with these horses from the moment they touched
down on Australian soil right through to their current confinement.

PAUL BONGIORNO: There was a suggestion yesterday in the 'Australian' that maybe the source of this
infection isn't a horse at Eastern Creek but maybe a human carrier?

PETER MCGAURAN: We're certainly looking at all the links in the chain starting off from the arrival
on 8 August at Mascot Airport, Sydney, of the horses from Japan and then following them through the
transportation to Eastern Creek quarantine station. So we need to identify and interview all of the
persons associated at the airport, the pilots, the crew, the grooms, the cargo handlers. Mind you,
that is a quarantine zone, they just don't land and casually make their way to the quarantine
station, we take charge of them from the moment they touch down.

PAUL BONGIORNO: The affected horse trainers are positive a breakdown at the federal quarantine
station at Eastern Creek is to blame for their predicament. Here is what Anthony Cummings had to

TRAINER ANTHONY CUMMINGS (Thursday): I don't think there's a man at Randwick who doesn't think it
came from Eastern Creek and the stallions that came in from Japan. When you've got the same strain
in Japan as at the same strain at Eastern Creek and then the same strain here, which is what we've
been told, there's little doubt at all that that's where it came from.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, you're allowing AQIS through its compliance section to investigate
itself. It's obvious that such a massive failure, there'll be people who would be anxious to define
failure as success, wouldn't there?

PETER MCGAURAN: We are determined to get to the truth of the matter and just see how it happened,
and whether - you have to assume there's human error, and also was the quarantine system rigorous
enough? But I do see that there are strong arguments for a public inquiry, we're considering that,
we've taken on board the submissions of the racing and equestrian industries who believe that
public confidence in quarantine has to be maintained and however transparent and accountable our
current investigations are, justice not only needs to be done, it needs to be seen to be done.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Have you got a time frame?

PETER MCGAURAN: We're considering it very carefully at the moment, examining the options and what
would be served by a public inquiry. But nobody should have any doubt as to the rigor and
determination we have to leave no stone unturned.

PAUL BONGIORNO: As Minister in charge of AQIS, is it your advice that the trucks, for example, are
washed out after horses have been delivered and unloaded?

PETER MCGAURAN: Yes, and bear in mind that no horse has left Eastern Creek. The infected stallions
are still there, so it means it has escaped Eastern Creek or the airport or somewhere in the chain
by human contact. Now, everybody who goes in and comes out is disinfected, the equipment and
everything, and we cannot find a link between Eastern Creek and any of the infected premises
throughout regional NSW or Queensland.

PAUL BONGIORNO: There was a horse groom quoted by Australian Associated Press that said that he and
other drivers have left the quarantine station without washing or without changing. That would have
to be worrying, that information?

PETER MCGAURAN: On the face of it, yes, but we don't know who this individual is. I welcome and
strongly encourage anybody who has had experience about past or current breaches of quarantine to
come forward, and we need to talk to them, but in the absence.

PAUL BONGIORNO: They need an inquiry to do that, an independent inquiry?

PETER MCGAURAN: Quite possibly, and that's one of the things that we're taking into account. But we
want to test it and verify it and act upon it.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Yesterday you met the horse industry here in the NSW. What sort of financial
assistance package are you offering?

PETER MCGAURAN: People are hurting. This has devastating financial implications for numerous
individuals and small businesses. We already have an emergency relief fund but that's all it is.
It's not meant to be assistance beyond that for immediate financial commitments. We're looking now
at a wage subsidy whereby we could look at paying the Newstart allowance, the unemployment benefit,
and a trainer or an owner tops that up, to keep people engaged, because the horses still need
caring for and working.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Has that got a $100 million price tag, that sort of package?

PETER MCGAURAN: It will be very expensive, to be sure, but we're modelling the numbers at the
moment and I hope to be able to respond to the horse industry before long.

PAUL BONGIORNO: When we return with the panel, the Howard Government's fourth term set to pass the
three year mark. How's it looking in regional Australia? And the tease of the week was not in New
York at Scores strip club but in Darwin when the PM was asked about the election date. REPORTER: Is
there any way you can tell us. JOHN HOWARD: No, I have no intention of doing that. One of the few,
you know, privileges people in my position have is not putting you out of your misery.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press with Agriculture Minister Peter McGuaran. And welcome to
our panel, Maria Hawthorne, Australian Associated Press, and John Stanley, Radio 2UE. It sure looks
like an election campaign - a hug, and protesters, for the Prime Minister in Darwin, while Kevin
Rudd and his glamour candidate, Maxine McKew, were pressing the flesh in Bennelong.

OPPOSITION LEADER KEVIN RUDD (Wednesday): Today is a significant day. It's three years to the day
since Mr Howard called the 2004 Federal election. I think it's time for Mr Howard to confirm that
we're going to have an election in October this year. The third anniversary of the election itself
is the ninth of October, and so things are getting close.

MARIA HAWTHORNE, AAP: Mr McGuaran, does Mr Rudd have a point? If the election drags on much past
the third anniversary will it be a good look for the Government?

PETER MCGAURAN: The PM and the Government's record has been we go the full term. The PM believes
obviously in giving people value. They voted in for three years and I'm sure the PM is weighing up
a whole range of issues and opinions. Mr Rudd's may not rank all that high, I venture to suggest.

JOHN STANLEY, 2UE: The former PM, Paul Keating, when he was PM fighting the GST, he told the people
of Australia that they couldn't see the Senate as a backstop, that if he lost power the GST of John
Hewson would not be rejected in the Senate. If as the polls are right and you do lose power, would
you look at blocking the IR changes, particularly if they were seen to have been the reason which
you lost the election?

PETER MCGAURAN: Well, that's impossible to answer because we don't yet - we cannot yet be certain
we'll win the Senate. That's an issue for afterwards.

JOHN STANLEY: Thought about it, though?

PETER MCGAURAN: No, Paul Keating had that luxury because at that time the Labor Party was in a
minority and the Democrats held the balance of power and had already stated a position on the GST,
whereas for us, we're in the majority, we could lose it, so I think to indulge ourselves with
pronouncements like that is showing a degree of complacency.

JOHN STANLEY: Haven't thought about it though?

PETER MCGAURAN: Not for a moment.

MARIA HAWTHORNE: While we're talking about the Senate, how close are you to an agreement with the
Liberals on the Senate ticket in Victoria, and are you confident that the Nationals will get a
winnable spot on that ticket, given the defection of a Nationals Senator to the Liberals?

PETER MCGAURAN: The Coalition agreement in Victoria stands where the Liberals and Nationals don't
stand against sitting members in the lower house, and for the Senate, this time around, the
National Party has the fourth position, which in the normal circumstances would be unwinnable. It's
really the next election after this that the Nationals return to a winnable position under the

PAUL BONGIORNO: But shouldn't they have been bumped up given the events of the last couple of

PETER MCGAURAN: Agreements are agreements. They're binding.

JOHN STANLEY: Just picking up a couple of the points in relation to the horse crisis, can you see
any possibility of any of the Sydney horses particularly at race courses which haven't been hit by
equine flu getting to Melbourne for the Melbourne Cup? I think the Melbourne Cup favourite is at
Warwick Farm, which is unaffected.

PETER MCGAURAN: It's a possibility, and racing authorities in NSW are making strenuous efforts to
explore the options, one of them being Canterbury race course, where there are no horses stabled on
course, could become a quarantine station as a stepping stone for some of the top fancies caught in
NSW to the spring carnival, but I think the Victorians will have a lot to say about this, but as
the weeks go by, you wouldn't rule it out.

JOHN STANLEY: The Victorians, the race clubs, could say no to that?

PETER MCGAURAN: It wouldn't just be the race clubs, obviously it would be the Victorian Government
which has jurisdiction over the matter.

MARIA HAWTHORNE: When will we here from AQIS about Eastern Creek? Will there be an official
statement from them soon?

PETER MCGAURAN: No, because investigations are still under way. It's a huge task and the
epidemiology inquiry is proceeding parallel to our inquiries as to the individuals, so until we
have something further, there's really nothing we can say to be perfectly frank, except that we'll
pursue every avenue. I and agencies and departments are completely transparent and accountable,
nobody should have any doubt that the matter will reach a conclusion eventually.

JOHN STANLEY: You have at this stage, you say the inquiries, you've found no link at all yet from
Eastern Creek to Centennial Park?

PETER MCGAURAN: That's the whole problem, John, because the infected horses are still behind locked
doors, which means that a human or a piece of equipment transferred it, and Centennial Park we now
know was not the source of the outbreak. The first source of the outbreak was Maitland horsing
event on the weekend of the 18th of August, and that gives us a focus. Of the several hundred
horses now infected, most if not all of them either passed through Maitland on 18 August or have
contact into contact with a horse at Maitland.

JOHN STANLEY: Is it feasible that somebody for instance rode in Japan, came home, had nothing to do
with Eastern Creek and then got on to a horse and it came in that way?

PETER MCGAURAN: Well, that's part of the inquiry. Who was on the plane? Who were the handlers,
where did the handlers go? But the epidemiologist will have a fair bit to say about this because it
can only be transmitted by humans on their hand or clothing or in their hair for a limited time.
Some are advising that if exposed to sunlight, the ultraviolet rays kills the virus on a human
straight away. Others say it can last up to 12 hours. The textbooks say that if it's on a piece of
material, say a horse rug or a horse cloth, in moist conditions, maybe 36 hours.

JOHN STANLEY: The worst result would be then that you'd never know? It's possible?

PETER MCGAURAN: Exactly, but remember the quarantine protocols are established on the basis of a
low, very low, degree of risk. I mean, otherwise you'd never let any horse in. The quarantine
system erects a barrier so as not to let anything escape, but there's no such thing as 100%
security, otherwise none of them would come to Australia.

MARIA HAWTHORNE: But if you can't get to the bottom of where this came from, what confidence can we
have in the quarantine system and given that New Zealand is threatening to take us to the WTO to
get their apples in, what confidence do we have that Australia can be safe? I would separate each
of the issues or agricultural products, so imported pig meat or salmon or apples is quite different
obviously to horses, they all have their own import risk assessments, their own protocols and so
on, but I agree with you, we have to maintain confidence in the quarantine system and that's why
such careful thought is being given to a public inquiry.

JOHN STANLEY: Might we have to vaccinate all our horses now in the future as they do in other parts
of the world? Only as a last resort, because at the moment we're tracing every horse with
influenza, successfully. We believe the strategy of containment will work, and vaccination will
mask the symptoms preventing us from tracing, so we want to eradicate it without having to resort
to vaccination.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Before we go, how badly is WorkChoices playing out in regional Australia? After
all, the Nationals in fact represent the poorest workers in the country through their regional

PETER MCGAURAN: I think we're getting the message through. The fear campaign of unions and Labor
combined is wearing thin now, because people are seeing that for small business it is a job
creation mechanism.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Do you think it will take longer rather than sooner to get that message through so
you'd like to see an election as late as possible?

PETER MCGAURAN: I'd like to see an election take place in the normal course of events.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you very much for being with us, Peter McGuaran. After the break, Richard
Woolcott, author and diplomat, looks ahead to the APEC summit, and Nicholson on the 'Australian's
website has this saucy cartoon on new tactics for Labor after revelations and reaction to Kevin
Rudd's strip club visit - and a warning the satire here might offend some viewers.

JULIA GILLARD CHARACTER: Kevin, we've had a close look at the polls after your visit to the strip
club and the results are very interesting.

KEVIN RUDD CHARACTER: Look, I am sorry, I was a complete goose.

MAN: Kev, forget that, here's your new campaign schedule. 12 noon, get completely shitfaced at the
Angler's Arms. 12:30 meet and greet Ed the wino. 2pm, press the flesh in the hot tub at the Pink

KEVIN RUDD: I can't do all that, I'm a Christian.

JULIA GILLARD: You think you've got it bad, I'm off to unveil our promises!


PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press. When the APEC leaders meeting convenes in Sydney this
week, it will bring together not just 21 heads of government but also hundreds of diplomats behind
the scenes. And apart from disruptive security locking down our biggest city and the fancy dress
picture opportunities, APEC is a unique summit.

JOHN HOWARD (Monday): It is the largest in terms of clout, if I can put it that way, by far,
international gathering that Australia has hosted in her history.

PAUL BONGIORNO: One of Australia's most experienced diplomats is Richard Woolcott, he's the author
of a new book, 'Undiplomatic Activities', and knows more than most about the diplomatic life.
Richard Woolcott, welcome to the program and good morning.


PAUL BONGIORNO: In the very serious last chapter of your book you wrote, "President Bush still a
figure of fun to many, is more seriously a lame duck President, as he wages an increasingly
unpopular war, respect for him internationally continues to decline. Sadly for Australia, John
Howard and Alexander Downer misjudged the capabilities of the Bush Administration and eagerly tied
their and our fortunes to flawed American policies." But 4.5 years ago would any Australian
government have picked just how bad the strategy from Bush and Rumsfeld was actually and going to
turn out to be?

RICHARD WOOLCOTT: Well, it's a bit hard, it's a hypothetical question, Paul, but looking back 4.5
years, a number of people including former diplomats and former defence officers who were very,
very sceptical about the prospects of a successful invasion of Iraq, particularly when the task in
Afghanistan had not really been finished.

JOHN STANLEY: Looking at Kevin Rudd, if he does become PM, are you any more confident that he would
take a more critical approach to advice he's given by the United States?

RICHARD WOOLCOTT: I suspect so. He has already said so. I can't speak for him of course, but he
voted against going to war when the parliament voted on the issue. And he's already very recently
said that it's still his intention to negotiate the withdrawal of Australian combat troops, but
what we're dealing with now of course is trying to clear up the awful situation we've got ourself
into. Alexander Downer has said on a number of occasions that foreign policy should be judged by
outcomes. Well, what are the outcomes of the Iraq war? They're mostly very negative. OK, we got rid
of Saddam Hussein, but that was not the original intention of Australia in going to war. But we're
left with a situation where Iran has now become a dominant influence. There's been a massive
increase in terrorism in Iraq itself and probably in the region. There were for example virtually
no contact between al-Qa'ida and Saddam Hussein in 2001. We have the massive destruction of Iraq's
infrastructure, the huge number of civilian casualties, the number of American and British deaths,
and also huge number of refugees who have overflowed into Jordan and Syria. So we really are left
with a very difficult situation with probably only bad options to deal with.

MARIA HAWTHORNE: This week we've seen general Petraeus telling some Australian troops that the
surge is working. Earlier we had John Howard writing to the Iraqi Government warning them that it's
time to bring some unity. Do you think that this is part of a positioning to kind of defeat a
victory in some ways, to say that the job is done and it's time to come home?

RICHARD WOOLCOTT: I don't know. I can't foreshadow General Petraeus's report, but we have a very
long history of window dressing and spin to put a much better complexion on the situation than
reality would suggest is justified. This has been going on for a long time. What the 'New York
Times' I think has correctly, Paul, called in an editorial, culture of cover-up, to make the
situation look less disastrous than in fact it is. But even if the surge is showing some positive
results, we're still left with a dreadful situation and probably worse situation than before the

JOHN STANLEY: If that's the case then - and I think most people acknowledge that it is, that it is
a mess that we have helped create - can we just pull out and leave it without going in there and
trying to fix the mess we created?

RICHARD WOOLCOTT: Well there's a moral issue there, and I've long since retired as Secretary of the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade but I do feel that there's some obligation on Australia,
having taken part in the invasion, wrongly in my view, there is nevertheless an obligation now to
make a substantial contribution to the reconstruction of Iraq, but fundamentally the problems of
Iraq can't be solved in Washington, London or Canberra. In any case, our commitment is very very
small. We're talking about 550 combat forces, the Americans have more than 150,000, so I do think
we're going to have some moral obligation to play a larger part in the reconstruction of Iraq,
provided the Iraqis can start to rebuild their own society.

PAUL BONGIORNO: How would you describe the APEC meeting this week? Is it more than just a talkfest?

RICHARD WOOLCOTT: I think what you had in your introduction about John Howard saying about APEC is
quite correct. I was at the initial APEC meeting in Canberra on November 7, 8 and 9 in 1989. It was
a very successful Australian initiative, meeting could be held in Canberra, and only about 12
countries were involved. Now it's 21. While some commentators say that APEC is maybe moribund,
maybe it's got too big, it is nevertheless a very valuable organisation, probably the preeminent
forum, regional forum, in which Australia participates. As John Howard, as well as Bob Hawke and
Paul Keating have noted, it is the only forum which brings together in a congenial atmosphere, the
heads of government of China, Japan, the United States, and of course in this case, Australia as
the host. So I think APEC has come a very long way and APEC also does a lot of useful but not very
well known work, such as the harmonisation of customs procedures, pressure for trade facilitation
and liberalisation.

PAUL BONGIORNO: So it's got plenty of work still to do. Thank you very much for joining us today,
Richard Woolcott and thanks to our panel, Maria Hawthorne and John Stanley. Until next week,