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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView


April 29th 2007M


MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER PAUL BONGIORNO: Good morning and welcome to Meet the Press. This weekend
has put the spotlight well and truly on the Labor Party, as it stage-manages a national conference
ahead of this year's Federal election.

OPPOSITION LEADER KEVIN RUDD (Friday): Our goal in one sentence is this - to build an Australia a
long-term prosperity without throwing the fair go out the backdoor. That is the Labor way.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Among the senior Labor figures at the conference, Shadow Education Minister Stephen
Smith. He'll lead the education debate this morning and is our first guest. And later, Greens
Leader Senator Bob Brown tells us what he makes of it all but first what the nation's papers are
reporting this Sunday April 29 - The 'Sunday Telegraph' leads with "Rudd caves. Unions win
child-friendly industrial relations coup." The paper says a family friendly IR policy will
reinstate penalty rates and increase parental leave. The Sunday 'Herald-Sun' has "Markets to drive
nuclear - PM." Private enterprise would drive Australia's nuclear power industry, John Howard has
revealed yesterday, and he's ruled out a referendum on nuclear power, saying this year's election
would provide a mandate. The 'Sunday Times' says "Labor abandons three mines policy. Kevin Rudd has
forced Labor to abandon its long-standing restriction on uranium mining but face stiff opposition."
The 'Sun-Herald' reports "We'll grab Harry and make Brits beg." An Iraqi militia commander in the
Mardi resistance army says he has soldiers who will be specifically trying to capture Prince Harry
if he goes to Iraq with the British Army. Well, as a former State secretary of the ALP in Western
Australia Stephen Smith is well acquainted with the machinations of the party, especially at a
national conference and welcome back to the program, Mr Smith.


PAUL BONGIORNO: Well "Rudd caves," the headline today in a few papers. Hasn't the conference
reinforced the impression that Kevin Rudd is dancing to the unions' tune especially on IR?

STEPHEN SMITH: I don't think so. What it's reinforcing is that Kevin is prepared to face up to the
economic and social challenges of the future and when it comes to industrial relations, we've got
John Howard out there with an extreme and unfair industrial relations package hacking away at
conditions and entitlements. What Kevin wants to do is to not adopt John Howard's approach which is
to say working families have never had it so good, but to try and make it better and easier for
them. And that's why a lot of our industrial relations stuff is about work and family balance, it's
family friendly but it's also employee and worker friendly. If the unions happen to agree with
that, then that's fine, but there's more than the odd item in the package which the unions don't
agree about and I think in the end that's the real test. When it comes to Labor and industrial
relations, if you've got sections of the business community out there saying there are bits we
don't like and sections of the union movement saying there are bits we don't like, that probably
means that Labor has got it right and that's the right approach for us to adopt in government,
having a balanced approach that's fair and make sure we continue to have a productivity economy.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Some of the business observers I spoke to yesterday were far from impressed.
Heather Ridout from the Australian industry group was completely unimpressed. She points out it's
going to cost business more, especially some of the things that were in the family friendly side of
it. The balance in their view is not right, it's now tipped too far the other way.

STEPHEN SMITH: Let's be frank about this. The last election John Howard told us nothing about what
he was going to do. He popped up after he got control of the Senate with a package that went much
too far, and sections of business got everything that they'd ever dreamed of without having
actually asked for it. Now we want to even that balance up and that's all we're doing. We're not
tilting the lever extremely in one way as John Howard did. It's all about tilting up the balance.
In that, business will in their eyes have some things taken off them that John Howard gave them. We
think the most important thing is to have a fair, balanced and productive industrial relations
system that make life better for working families, that gives them a fair day's work for a fair
day's pay, that enables them to get a better work and family balance and as Kevin put it in the
conference, doesn't throw Australia's fair go attitude out the back door.

PAUL BONGIORNO: If it's going to cost more, there'll be less jobs, won't it?

STEPHEN SMITH: We think we've got the balance right. We think it will be productive, effective and
efficient. When it comes to the cost on business, the other policy area that we've tipped out in
recent days has been a commitment to start removing in a serious way the regulatory burden on
business which is a massive cost impost and that has been very warmly welcomed by business.

PAUL BONGIORNO: "Fresh thinking" has been a theme of the conference. The Government helpfully
points out that John Brogden in the 2003 election against Bob Carr had a fresh approach. They say
this really masks inexperience - it didn't work for Brogden, why will it work for Kevin Rudd
against John Howard?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly I think the comparison is just a nonsense. I won't make any comments
about John Brogden because he's gone through some tough times. I also think it underlines the
desperation that we now see from the Liberal Party. Kevin is proving to be a very effective leader
of the Labor Party and what we're seeing in this conference is a Labor leader and a Labor Party
that is at last after a long period of time in Opposition changed and ready for office. That's why
we see John Howard making mistakes, slipping, being a bit desperate, Kevin is out there fronting up
to the challenges of the future, whether it's a balanced industrial relations system, whether it's
investing more in education, whether it's making effective policy to reduce greenhouse gases and
climate change, we're facing up to the future. All we'll see from the Liberal Party as they do
anything, say anything and throw the kitchen sink at us, is about them, not about the future of the

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well just going to education, the teachers union has a TV campaign targeted mainly
at the Government, but with Federal Labor meant to get the message too, their ad has the PM's car
driving straight past an assembly of Government school students. The voiceover tells viewers that
the share of funding for public education has decreased by 7% or $1 billion a year under the Howard

JOHN HOWARD: A dishonest advertisement. 67% of Australian school children attend Government schools
and Government schools receive 75% of all public funding.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, as I understand it, Mr Smith, State Governments do make up the shortfall and
that's their responsibility after all, isn't it?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the advert's talking about difficult things. The advert talks about a decline
in the Howard Government's investment in Government schools over its period of office. John
Howard's defence is to draw in the State contribution. He spent the last 11 years trying to blame
the States and blame teachers for inadequacies in the system and not accept responsibility. Now on
the funding issue, he's using that as a defence.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Will Rudd Labor restore that funding?

STEPHEN SMITH: We want to forget about the divisive old issues of the past and arguments of past.
We want to make a greater investment in education at every level, that includes schools. We want to
fund schools on the basis of need, whether they're Government schools or non-government schools...

PAUL BONGIORNO: Does that mean that more money almost by definition will have to go to public
schools, to Government schools rather than private schools?

STEPHEN SMITH: Our aspiration, our intention, is to fund all schools more, and on the basis of need
where are the areas of need? There is a very respectable argument that some Government schools,
particularly Government primary schools, are in need. So we want to fund schools on that basis and
of course that will include Government schools. The Commonwealth Government does have a primary
obligation to ensure that Government schools are funded appropriately. We can't end up in Australia
with a two-tiered system, so we have to fund all schools on the basis of need. What we're
interested in, what we're really interested in, is the educational outcomes of our kids. We want to
invest more in education at every level and improve those educational standards, not just in
comparison to what they've been in the past but internationally because that's where the real
education competition now is, with our neighbours.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're building up a big expectation with your education revolution, especially in
the area of tertiary education. If you don't deliver big dollars, it will look like empty rhetoric,
won't it? Our intention is to improve the quantity and the quality of investment in education at
every level, from early childhood through to universities. We can't afford to see a continuing
decline and falling behind our competitors in, for example, the university sector. We've lost jobs
that have been in the manufacturing area in recent years, low-skilled, semi-skilled jobs. If we
don't make the investments in higher education, in skills and training, then we'll start to lose
the high-skill hi-wage jobs as well. We are now in a fierce international competition with our
neighbours, with other countries like China and India making massive investments in education. We
have to match that for the future.

PAUL BONGIORNO: A lot of people will be looking for the dollar signs. Thanks very much for being
with us today, Stephen Smith. I know your time is tight this morning. When we return with the
panel, Bob Brown. And the fruitiest moment of the week came from the Treasurer.

TREASURER PETER COSTELLO (Tuesday): The price of bananas fell 73%. So, what you saw go up has come
significantly down.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press and welcome back to the program, Senator Bob Brown, good
morning Bob.


PAUL BONGIORNO: And welcome to our panel, Michelle Grattan, the 'Age'. Good morning, Michelle.


PAUL BONGIORNO: And Malcolm Farr from the 'Daily Telegraph', good morning Malcolm.


PAUL BONGIORNO: One of the biggest tests for Kevin Rudd at Labor's conference was his bid to update
and expand Labor's 'no new uranium mines' policy. It was a gamble that succeeded but only narrowly,
here's some of the flavour of the debate.

SA PREMIER MIKE RANN (Saturday): During the time that we've had a no new mines policy, we have seen
uranium exports in Australia treble.

SHADOW ENVIRONMENT MINISTER PETER GARRETT (Saturday): My reason for my objections are based on the
principle that I believe no generation should appropriate the future and that the risks associated
with uranium mining are greater than the benefits.

SHADOW MINISTER FOR WATER ANTHONY ALBANESE (Saturday): You can guarantee that uranium will lead to
nuclear waste, you can't guarantee it won't lead to nuclear weapons.

leader is a great idea, then go ahead and vote for the Albanese-Garrett amendment.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, Senator Brown, after that vote yesterday, no uranium mines or no new uranium
mines is surely a lost cause now?

BOB BROWN: Well, no, it's not because the Greens will vigorously oppose the expansion of uranium
exports from this country and indeed the PM's dangerous proposal for 25 nuclear reactors with
uranium enrichment. And the Labor Party and Kevin Rudd yesterday was caught by the contradiction of
his own argument, that nuclear power development and uranium enrichment and waste dumps - which, by
the way, Malcolm Turnbull says we must consider for Australia, being a global nuclear waste dump -
are not what Australians want, but we can export it to other countries including Russia for
example, which just this week is reneging on a major treaty to contain conventional weapons, that's
got Europe in uproar, but it just shows that the big end of town has got both the big parties where
it wants it, the uranium miners are going to make a killing, but as Peter Garrett just said, we're
selling the right of the security of our kids and the next generation in this country to make
profits for the big end of town and Labor's fallen in with it. Somebody said to me this morning,
coming here, a young women in Sydney, that is very very scary. They find this policy very scary

MALCOLM FARR: Let's go to Peter Garrett. You've stood shoulder to shoulder with him on issues in
the past. How would you rate him now? Has he been discredited because he is now part of a
Government that advocates further uranium mining?

BOB BROWN: Peter will have - we're going to see Peter advocating for uranium mining and exports and
people are going to shake their heads around the country. Personally, I'm pleased he's in there. I
think he'd be the best person that Labor's got to be the next Minister for the Environment, but
this cosiness between the Labor heavies and the big corporate sector in Australia is to the
detriment of Australians generally, the safety and wellbeing and the feeling of what this country
is for the future.

MALCOLM FARR: He's a Labor heavy! Peter Garrett is a Labor heavy!

BOB BROWN: He certainly is and he'll be advocating the export of uranium and the destruction of
more old growth forests and a lot of things which I find incredible. But that's why I'm a Green and
not in the Labor Party, because this country needs a very, very clear advocacy of the clean, green
alternatives and the renewable energy alternatives which can make this country both safe, have the
energy it wants and a world leader in turning around the threat of climate

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Senator, you tried to get Peter Garrett or you were interested in getting Peter
Garrett as a Green. What do you feel about that now, seeing if he was in the Greens he'd be saying
one thing, in Labor he's going to be saying another, what...

BOB BROWN: Michelle, I sat with Peter and he won't mind me because I've said before, and said in
the wake of Cheryl Kernot - the big parties of course will SA to something like Peter Garrett, come
on, grandma party says, "Come a little closer, Red Riding Hood" and "changes from inside" and -
gulp - that's the last you hear of them.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: The parable of Peter Garrett?

BOB BROWN: Indeed it is. And all we're left with is hope. Hope that somewhere down the line, Peter
will be able to influence Labor in ameliorating a policy which as you saw went through the Labor
Party yesterday, not on its merits, but so it wouldn't embarrass Kevin Rudd. What an extraordinary
failure of principle in the Labor Party to allow that to happen.

PAUL BONGIORNO: But no Government is going to pay billions of dollars in compensation to shut down
a uranium mine.

BOB BROWN: Well, the problem here is both Labor and the Howard Coalition are now going to put
billions of future prosperity at risk in Australia by opening new uranium mines and exporting them
to the rest of the world. And let me clear about this - the quid pro quo is the rest of the world
is going to expect the biggest uranium exporter in the world to be the nuclear waste dump. That's
coming down the line for Australia, under Labor, as it's coming down the line to Australia under
the Coalition. It's only the Greens who stand against that very scary future scenario.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Senator Brown, The PM made the point yesterday that many countries in the world
already have nuclear energy. JOHN HOWARD (Yesterday): And if we are really serious about years into
the future reducing the greenhouse gas emissions, we must acknowledge at least the contribution
that in time nuclear power can make to that - and I'm not talking here about something that's
revolutionary and

PAUL BONGIORNO: Michelle Grattan?

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Senator, doesn't John Howard have a point here, that to say 'never ever' to
nuclear power, given the importance or the danger of the whole climate change issue, shouldn't we
at least be keeping an open mind for the future, when maybe safeguards will be stronger and nuclear
energy safer?

BOB BROWN: Well, you always keep an open mind, as you say, Michelle, but at the moment we don't
have safeguards.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: But do you have an open mind for the long-term on this issue?

BOB BROWN: I've got an open mind. I've read up about nuclear power and followed nuclear power, but
I cannot get behind, nor will the Greens get behind, Labor or the Howard Coalition exporting
uranium to the Russians who built Chernobyl. What an extraordinary...

MALCOLM FARR: That was more than 20 years ago. No way are the current reactors of that poor

BOB BROWN: Well, the spread around the world is of that poor standard and, Malcolm, there is no
safe way of burying high radioactive wastes. We know that al-Qa'ida is canvassing for the
technology to get nuclear weapons, we know that when you put uranium out there, as speakers at the
Labor Party conference said, you cannot draw a line between the peaceful use of nuclear power and
the production of nuclear weapons. We're in an age where China has rockets that can reach Sydney,
India just fired a rocket that went 3,000 kilometres, double that and they will very shortly, and
they'll be able to reach Australia too, and we're exporting uranium to them. It is daft, immoral,
this country doesn't - it is unnecessary - and PM Howard, the only answer he's got to climate
change is to say "nuclear." Well, nuclear is a tiny fraction. Energy efficiency which is totally
safe, produces many more jobs, is much more stimulatory to the economy, with the potential through
technology of a much better income return to Australia and to our economy, can produce 30%, 40%,
50% of the power we need to make a start in turning around global warming. And it's not on the
agenda of either of the big parties. All we're talking about is nuclear.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Time for a break. When we return - is Labor squeezing out the Greens? And
Nicholson's cartoon from the 'Australian' newspaper's web site has the PM swimming against rising
sea levels. PM: OK, men, re this national audit on rising sea levels due to global warming, you all
know our policy. We will not do anything that harms the economy, so just... PHONE RINGS PM: Hello.
I see, look, my advice is that this is not happening. Look, Jeanette I've asked you before not to
ring on this phone. I'm in the big room. Jeanette, the whole Cabinet is here. No dear, they cannot
talk among themselves until they're finished. What? You can see the water coming in under the
lounge room door? Are you sure one of my cardigans hadn't got stuck in the washing machine hose
again? No need to panic. Why not just move the Berber rugs from Kirribilli to the Lodge in
Canberra. What? Jeepers, my Donald Bradman night lighter has short circuited?! Cripes! It is
serious! Right men, I've just got to duck out, talk among yourselves.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press with Greens Leader Bob Brown. Labor Leader Kevin Rudd has
reserved some of his toughest criticism for Bob Brown, especially when it comes to the future of
the coal industry.

KEVIN RUDD (April 3): Well, Bob Brown was in this region recently spelling the end of the
Australian coal industry. I'd say this about Bob Brown - Bob Brown has rocks in his head when it
comes to the future of coal.


MICHELLE GRATTAN: Senator, Labor's attacks on you seem to be working at least to some extent - in
the polls, your vote is going down. Do you think that the Greens have stalled as Labor has been
more in the ascent?

BOB BROWN: No, look, our polls did go down because of the Rudd phenomenon and there's been a sea
change going on out there, people want to change government and Kevin Rudd's the one they see to do

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Could you be drowned by the waves?

BOB BROWN: No, the Greens have held very strongly. We went up in the Galaxy poll last week to 9%.
We're averaging 7.4% on the four polls. A poll from just a month ago shows in Tasmania in those key
marginal seats - across Tasmania, has five seats, they're very important to this election - The
Greens are rating at 13% in the House of Representatives, and as high as 28% according to a
Newspoll in the Senate. The Senate is the key here. We've got Howard versus Rudd, everybody's going
- and the gallery's galvanised by that - but who's going to have the say in the Senate? Are we
going to leave the Coalition in control of the Senate? If they win office, they'll put through much
more draconian legislation, if they don't they're going to be hostile and it's very likely that a
Rudd government would be forced to a double dissolution by a hostile Costello-led Senate within 18
months or so. The option is for the Greens and the crossbench to take back the balance of power and
the Greens are going to be aiming very strongly to do that. We will handle that responsibly and we
are a very important, potent alternative vote for Australians who feel that the big parties are too
close to the big end of town and are too divorced from the average working family that we hear so
much about out there in voter land.

MALCOLM FARR: The Greens have modified the drug policy which seemed to bedevil them election after
election after election. Did you do that to be more marketable to the punters, and is there
anything else you're going to modify?

BOB BROWN: Clearly, we've got a very responsible policy for dealing with the drug scourge which is
a really huge problem in Australia. It's very very similar to those of the big parties. The only
problem is that Mr Howard doesn't admit to funding harm minimisation around the country and the
Greens say that's a good thing and so do the experts. But, yes, we are always taking feedback from
the public and we are very strong on social justice. For example, I'm askance at the way Labor has
thrown out much of the tenets of the right to strike in this country and even the ability of people
to get together to protest against WorkChoices as we've seen Labor's had speakers at it in the last
year or so. That will be banned under the new rules being brought in by Labor. This is a very
conservative Labor Party. And we need a socially minded, progressive alternative voice and that's
the Greens in the country.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Senator, about your own future, you're going for another term, you're up for
election at this poll. Will you serve a full six years if you're elected?

BOB BROWN: Yes, and I'm in full throttle, Michelle, the country needs the Greens, I've got a great
working team in the Senate. By the way, the other three are women, we're a 75% female party, we've
got very good candidates for the I'm looking forward to an increased Senate team and putting our
policies to the Australian electorate, because we are a clear alternative from those very
conservative bigger parties which are too close to the big end of town. And we've got - the
election prospects for us are very bright indeed. I'm looking forward to this election and putting
our platform to the Australian people.

MALCOLM FARR: Family First not a problem for you? You'll be out-competing for the same territory.

BOB BROWN: They'll be the tustling for votes. It's a fundamentalist party. It will be the tustling
for votes with the Howard Government. It's a problem for them. It's not a problem for us.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, thank you very much for being with us today, Senator Bob Brown. And thanks to
our panel, Michelle Grattan, the 'Age' and Malcolm Farr from the 'Daily Telegraph'. Until next
week, goodbye.