Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts.These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Meet The Press -

View in ParlView




December 5th 2004

MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER PAUL BONGIORNO: Hello and welcome to Meet the Press. John Howard gets on
with job, kicking big goals in the region, while Mark Latham pleads for his troops to get behind
his struggling leadership.

OPPOSITION LEADER MARK LATHAM (Earlier media appearance): We're also learning that fundamental
lesson in Australian politics that disunity is death.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Today a very senior view from Labor's back bench. Also, an exclusive poll on what
Australians think about the Government's rare Senate majority. And later, a key adviser to former
US President Bill Clinton, Professor Robert Reich. But first, what the nation's press is reporting
this Sunday, December 5. The 'Sunday Telegraph' in Sydney leads with "Give love instead of gifts."
It quotes Treasurer Peter Costello urging Australians to give less expensive presents as household
debt has risen to a record $720 billion. 'The Sunday Mail' in Adelaide has "Long shot for Aborigine
Incorporated." Essendon legend, Michael Long, has revealed plans to set up a privately funded peak
body to combat Aboriginal social problems. The 'Sunday Age' in Melbourne reports "Corporatised
childcare to face scrutiny." Spot checks and performance grading are part of a tougher Federal
Government approach as big business moves increasingly into the childcare industry. In Brisbane,
'The Sunday Mail' reports "Leader almost totally alone." It says even Mark Latham's closest
supporters acknowledge his horror weeks since the election loss. Pressure is now on him to lift his
game in the new year as Caucus eyes alternatives. Last week was the week from hell for Labor. On
show - its continuing despair and leadership doubts after its emphatic election loss, while John
Howard was stealing its legacy in the region. Former Keating Government trade minister and campaign
director for three federal Labor victories in the '80s, Bob McMullan, is our first guest. Welcome
back, Mr McMullan.


PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, after the ASEAN summit on Tuesday, it was John Howard and not Paul Keating
who could claim this:

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD (Earlier media appearance): It was a very successful meeting. We welcome
the commencement of negotiations for a free trade agreement between ASEAN and Australia and New
Zealand. The warmth of the relationship was very evident in the exchanges that took place.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, Mr McMullan, does that sum up Labor's despair at the moment, John Howard
achieving what Paul Keating in 1996 said he couldn't?

BOB MCMULLAN: Well, it's more a question of John Howard finally catching up with where Paul Keating
was. This is something that Paul Keating started in 1993 and I was involved with in '94 and '95 -
and it stopped. Nothing happened for years. And then the Government pretends it only started a few
years ago and now it's getting under way. It is a good thing - I welcome it - but it would have
happened a few years ago if John Howard hadn't sat on his hands for a few years.

PAUL BONGIORNO: I guess the disappearance of Malaysia's Dr Mahathir has helped.

BOB MCMULLAN: Well, it would have been hard to finalise the process while Dr Mahathir was there.
There's no doubt about that. Whoever was the Government, that would have been a problem. But we
were on the way to getting it started. I was at a meeting in 1994 where we started discussions
about this very issue, so it's no good pretending that at the end of 2004 he just had this
brilliant new idea - we were doing it 10 years ago. But it's a good thing and I welcome it.

PAUL BONGIORNO: In the recent campaign, Labor accused the Howard Government of not paying enough
attention to the region. Clearly that was wrong.

BOB MCMULLAN: No, I don't think so. They don't pay enough attention to the region, but we all live
here and they have to do something and we're pleased that, 10 years late, they're starting to get
on the right bandwagon in that direction. But their priorities are still far afield. I mean, why
are we in Iraq when we're not giving sufficient attention to things in our region? It's just a
matter of priorities. Not that they do nothing in the region, it's that they don't do enough.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Coming to Mark Latham - has he been his own worst enemy since the election?

BOB MCMULLAN: Well, really hard to judge. I mean, we're all disappointed because not only did we
lose, which I frankly probably thought we were always going to do, but we went backwards, which was
really a shock to me. That never occurred to me. And then we're all tired. Put those two things
together and it's a bad time to make judgments. So I think Mark really just needs, like the rest of
us, to have a break, rethink, recharge his batteries and come back in the new year with a bit of

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, was it a shock to you that he really had no job for you on his front bench?

BOB MCMULLAN: Well, certainly I thought I still had a contribution to make, I still think I could,
but I'm in a different role now and I'll try to turn it to advantage. I didn't enjoy it, but I live
with it. It's a leader's prerogative and I accept its consequences.

PAUL BONGIORNO: But experience is something in short supply in the Labor Party, isn't it?

BOB MCMULLAN: Well, in a sense it is and I thought I still had a contribution to make, but Mark
didn't and that's essentially his right and I'm not going to fuss about it. I just move on. I get
lots of opportunities to get publicity criticising the Labor Party, but I try to use my time to be

PAUL BONGIORNO: OK. Well, the federal election certainly changed the political landscape. In an
IPSOS Mackay public affairs poll, exclusively for 'Meet the Press', we tested Australia's view of
the Government's once-in-a-generation control of both houses of Parliament. 24%, mainly older
Coalition voters, think it will mean a better Parliament. 38%, mainly Labor voters and high-income
earners, think it will be a worse Parliament, while 36%, mainly younger voters think it will be no
different. Well, Mr McMullan, one way to look at that poll is that 60% have no real problems,
they're happy enough for the Government to get on with its agenda in the Senate.

BOB MCMULLAN: Yes, I think for a lot of people so far it is not a big issue, but I think what it
shows is almost no-one other than committed Coalition supporters think it's a good thing, and the
seeds of your next defeat are often in your biggest victory, and I think that's the problem for
John Howard. I think he knows it. I'm not sure his colleagues have worked it out yet, but I think
he has. The biggest problem for the Government in the last two years is going to be coping with the
control of both houses, constraining the excesses of their most enthusiastic supporters.

PAUL BONGIORNO: We also tested the political potency of issues like gay marriage, abortion and stem
cell research in Australia. The IPSOS Mackay poll found 42% of Australians were more likely to vote
for a candidate who promised strong action on these issues, 48% less likely. There seems to be a
divide there. Are Australians perhaps less fussed about these issues than Americans?

BOB MCMULLAN: I think it is a lesser issue than in the United States - well, they are, those range
of matters - but still a significant issue. The thing to remember in Australia, there is not one
constituency, there are two. There are pro-life people and pro-choice people and they're both
strong and they both have votes and they're both important. But these are issues that, by their
very character, you just have to do what you believe is right and live with the consequences, but
that shows it's not a one-way street politically.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Electorally, though, you try to pick where the majority is, don't you?

BOB MCMULLAN: Well, how can you - on a fundamental issue like abortion you can't say, "I think it's
wrong, but I'm going to vote for it because that's what the majority think," or vice versa. You
have to work out what you think and say it. Frankly, I think most political leaders and politicians
in Australia do that and live with the consequences of their views. What that survey shows, which
is very interesting, is that it's a much more politically complex question in Australia than it is
in the United States.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Time for a break. When we return - is there any hope for Mark Latham's leadership?

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on 'Meet The Press' with Labor's Bob McMullan. And welcome to the panel,
Eleanor Hall, ABC Radio Current Affairs and Steve Lewis, the 'Australian'. Queensland Premier Peter
Beattie dramatically entered federal Labor's leadership melees on Thursday.

QUEENSLAND PREMIER PETER BEATTIE (From earlier media appearance): I just say to them all, sooner or
later, someone has got to bang some heads together. There have to be some senior people in the
party that sit down, support Mark, support the National Executive. If they're not going to support
Mark, well, then get rid of him. I don't know who else is better, to be frank, but if they're going
to get behind the federal leader, for God's sake get behind him, otherwise they're just going to
die the cut of a thousand deaths and we'll lose more seats and I won't see a Labor government in my

ELEANOR HALL, ABC RADIO CURRENT AFFAIRS: Bob McMullan, clearly Peter Beattie's advice is back him
or sack him. Now, former national secretary Bob Hogg came out this week and said Labor is in denial
and should get rid of Mark Latham. Can the parliamentary party support a leader who's led them to
such a comprehensive defeat?

BOB MCMULLAN: Well, everyone was shocked by the size of the defeat, including me, I have to say,
but I think this is the wrong time to be making those sorts of decisions. We're all really, as I
said to Paul earlier, we're all disappointed with the result, we're all tired, and it's just I
think we need to go away - and Mark does - and rethink, regroup, re-energise and get some momentum
and give Mark a chance to rebuild some momentum in February through the early part of next year and
then have a long, hard look at it after we've had a chance to think and a chance to reflect and
re-energise. Making decisions in this sort of context, you make bad decisions.

ELEANOR HALL: He clearly has, though, got a clock ticking on his leadership. How long has he got?

BOB MCMULLAN: Well, I'm not sure that's the right way to say it, but I do think, come February,
when Steve's paper starts publishing its polls again and everyone starts focusing on that sort of
stuff, taking it seriously in the new year, which I think is about February, then I think - and the
Parliament comes back around the same time - people will start to take it seriously then and have a
long, hard look. But there is no reason why Mark can't build a bit of momentum through January,
going into that period and if your leadership is going well, then the speculation disappears.

STEVE LEWIS, THE 'AUSTRALIAN': Well, Mr McMullan, you are clearly saying that Mark Latham is on
notice. What do you believe he has to do to regain the respect of your colleagues and the public?

BOB MCMULLAN: No, I'm not really saying he's on notice. I'm simply saying - well, Peter Beattie is
right in one sense. I thought he was a bit premature in his exclamation, but he's obviously right -
we can't just go on talking about it and muttering about it for years. You've actually either got
to stop talking about it or get on with it. But I don't think this is the right time to be trying
to bring it to a head. But, listen, it's clear leaderships - in any group of 100 people, there is
always going to be someone who doesn't like you, someone else who thinks they ought to be running
the show. What you need is momentum. The party needs to be looking like it's going somewhere and
then people will follow. And there is no reason why Mark can't do that, but that's what needs to

STEVE LEWIS: But you mentioned February, you mentioned Newspoll. Are you saying that if his
approval ratings remain where they are or indeed get worse in the early part of next year, then the
Caucus will move on his leadership? Is it as simple as that?

BOB MCMULLAN: Well, no, it's not. Not being in any of the big factions, I'm not really well placed
to judge what all those people are going to do, but I say to you....

STEVE LEWIS: You might be better placed than most.

BOB MCMULLAN: Well, sometimes to judge what they should do, but not necessarily what they will do.
I'll be there with them looking in the new year and saying, "We need to take a fresh look," but
what we're hoping is that the fresh look will tell us that things are on the improve and on the way
back. Look, there is always more leadership speculation in every term of Opposition than there is
actually movement. I think we need to relax a bit, say, let's see how we're going in the new year,
and let's hope that's we've got a bit of momentum where we don't have anything to worry about. If
we do, we can't just ignore it forever.

ELEANOR HALL: Is that hope, though, partly because Labor doesn't have an alternative?

BOB MCMULLAN: Oh, no. In every political party, in the Parliament now and ever since I can
remember, there have been a number of people capable of leading. It's a question of timing and
opportunity. We have several people capable of leading and there would be a terrible state of
affairs if we did not.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Who are they?

BOB MCMULLAN: Oh, I think everybody knows who they are. There are more articles in the newspaper
today with the same names listed in them than I can count. But there are a lot of colleagues
clearly there and ready to lead now and encouragingly, there are a whole lot of new people coming
through who I think will be the next generation of leadership. We're not badly placed in that
regard. The one argument that's going around that I think is terribly flawed is the lack of an
alternative. The truth of it is at the moment people are reserving judgment because it's too early
to make the harsh calls that people are making about Mark. I think people are being unfair to him.
And I'm just saying give him a fair go, give him a chance to get back on his feet after the
election shock and that's the reasonable thing to do.

STEVE LEWIS: Just on those alternatives, Labor had a disastrous result in Queensland. Does that
then make Kevin Rudd the number one alternative in your mind?

BOB MCMULLAN: Well, certainly Queensland is a place you have to look. When you talk about American
presidential elections, the Democrats say, "Who's going to win Ohio?" I think we have to say,
"Who's is going to win Queensland?" It doesn't necessarily mean it has to be a Queenslander, but it
certainly means we've got to focus on Queensland. We can't win the election without doing a lot
better in Queensland. I thought that was true last time, but not everybody shared that view. I'm
sure it's right this time.

ELEANOR HALL: Would it be too risky to go for a woman as leader, say, Julia Gillard?

BOB MCMULLAN: It wouldn't be too risky to go for a woman, but you've got to have the - it would be
unwise to chose someone just because they're a woman, but I don't think the time when the Labor
Party is going to be led by a woman is all that far away, but I'm not sure it's next year.

STEVE LEWIS: Just talking about women, Adele Horan who is a respected social commentator, she
yesterday said that Latham's bully-boy image was a huge turn-off for women and she said there is no
alternative for Labor but to dump him. How do you respond to that sort of critique from somebody
like Ms Horan?

BOB MCMULLAN: Well, I have to say - declare an interest - Adele has been a friend of mine for a
very long time and I have a very high regard for her. I was shocked to read her piece - it was very
tough and I was very surprised, so I'm thinking about that a bit. I'm not sure that the published
material I've seen says that support for Mark amongst women is quite as disastrous as Adele's
analysis would suggest. But it is a very strong piece and I was shocked to read it and I'm thinking
about it, but I don't think things are as terminal as that for Mark and I do think people are being
a bit unfair to him at this stage in the cycle. Everyone is reacting to the election result, and
understandably, because it was a surprise, but they do just need to relax a bit and give him a bit
of a go.

STEVE LEWIS: Can I put this question to you: Are you disappointed with Mr Latham's performance
since October 9?

BOB MCMULLAN: It's a really hard time. I mean, I don't think he would say this has been the best
period of his leadership, but, boy, it's the hardest time...

STEVE LEWIS: Well, it's easily been the worst part of his leadership and he has lost a lot of
friends within your Caucus.

BOB MCMULLAN: Well, the period after a surprisingly bad election defeat is the worst time to be the
leader of a political party and...

STEVE LEWIS: But wasn't it also the time for him to step up to the plate and show real leadership
quality, something which many of your colleagues would argue he has not?

BOB MCMULLAN: I think in the new year he can do that and that's what the challenge is. I mean,
adversity gives you opportunity as well as challenges. He has got to seize that opportunity and I'm
looking forward to him doing it in the new year and if he does, we'll all get behind him.

PAUL BONGIORNO: So do you read the election as an emphatic rejection of Mark Latham, or do you see
it more in terms of the electorate staying with the devil they knew in fairly good economic times?

BOB MCMULLAN: The devil they knew is not enough. The key thing is why did people who voted for us
in 2001 with all the 'Tampa' - we're losing votes to the right and left on 'Tampa' - the people who
voted for us in 2001 didn't vote for us in 2004. That's more than just staying with the devil you
know. That's why it was a shock.

PAUL BONGIORNO: That's right. Well, the point of difference there is you didn't have Beazley
leading, you had Latham. But more on that later. We're right out of time. Thanks for joining us
today, Bob McMullan.

BOB MCMULLAN: Thank you.

PAUL BONGIORNO: After the break, the Labor movement turns to former Clinton Administration member,
Professor Robert Reich. And Nicholson in the 'Australian' picks up on Mark Latham's problems for
the cartoon of the week. "Latham's a dead parrot," says one bloke. "How do you feel about his
leadership?" asks another. The answer: "Pretty cocky. Pretty cocky."

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press. Professor Robert Reich of Brandeis University in the US
was Labour Secretary to the Clinton Administration. He is now in Australia to launch a new think
tank for the Labor movement. Welcome, Professor.


PAUL BONGIORNO: The Democrats in America and the Labor Party here have suffered the same electoral
fate. Is their only hope, in your view, to become more conservative?

ROBERT REICH: Well, the Democrats in the United States are now going through their usual rethinking
of whether to move right or fight. It's unclear where the Democrats are going to turn out, but my
view is that if the American public has a choice between 'Republican lite' or the real thing, they
will take the real thing every time, that the only way the Democrats have a long-term possibility
of success is to be Democrats and to provide a real alternative.

PAUL BONGIORNO: But in America, is it true - they talk about the moral majority - is it true there
is a moral majority or just that the Republicans were better at mobilising those who thought that

ROBERT REICH: I think the Republicans were far better. George Bush was very clever. Karl Rove, his
brain, as it were, was very clever at mobilising the religious right in the United States and
making the campaign which should have been about the economy, about the war in Iraq, about God,
guns, gays and true grit in fighting global terrorism. John Kerry was not able to fight back on
those terms.

STEVE LEWIS: Professor Reich, can I just talk to you about the issue of labour market deregulation.
You've been at the core of the program in the United States. In Australia, the Howard Government's
core agenda for this term is for the deregulation, for instance, making it easier for small
business to sack people. In your experience, will this have a positive impact on unemployment or a
recipe for industrial anarchy?

ROBERT REICH: Well, Steve, the United States is probably maybe 10 years in advance of Australia in
the direction of deregulating labour markets, so you can see for yourself exactly what you're in
for if you continue this road. You're in for an economy that is much more efficient and maybe grows
a little bit faster, but by the same token provides less economic security, wider gaps in income
and wealth between the rich and everybody else and also people work much, much harder than ever
before. That's the trade-off. If you want, you can choose.

STEVE LEWIS: So there's positives and negatives, if you like.

ROBERT REICH: Positives and negatives, exactly.

ELEANOR HALL: Speaking of the gap between the rich and the poor, Professor Robert Reich,
Australia's biggest bank has just announced it's going to defer its Christmas bonus payments for
its staff, but its executives will get their bonuses this year. Now, when you were Labour
Secretary, you did try to address that issue of skyrocketing executive pay. How did you do it?

ROBERT REICH: Well, Eleanor, we tried to prevent companies from deducting executive pay over $1
million a year - which would be to set a ceiling. We didn't get very far. We tried. It did go into
law, but it was watered down considerably. The point is that in the United States we now have the
widest disparities of wealth and income we've seen in over 100 years and that plays itself out in
many, many ways. It means that, for example, democracy itself ultimately may be be undermined. You
can't maintain a democracy when you have some people who are able to essentially control the
democracy through their campaign contributions?

ELEANOR HALL: Is that an issue that's in the public sphere? Are people worried about that

ROBERT REICH: Not enough. I don't think the Democrats have been talking about it enough. Certainly
the Republicans have not been talking about it. The media tends to be quite right wing. One of your
exports to the United States was Rupert Murdoch. Fox News and all of the Fox News clones, talk
radio - they tend to focus again on the very narrow moral issues of guns and sexual practices, gay
marriage and again being very tough in the world with regard to so-called global terrorism. The
economic underpinnings of the country are not being discussed.

ELEANOR HALL: Well, it's interesting that George Bush won an election when the economy did have
some flaws. One of Australia's prominent economists has warned that there could be a recession
coming here. What do you see as the future for the economy in the US over the next four years under
President George Bush?

ROBERT REICH: Well, the economy is gradually coming out of the recession of 2000/2001, and unless
the dollar continues to drop precipitously against the euro, I would expect the economy to do OK
over the next few years - not spectacularly, but OK. But that's a big if. The dollar now is very
fragile in world markets. As you know, the United States depends upon other countries to supply
over $2 billion a day to keep us in the way that we are - well, basically we're living high on the
hog. Individuals are not saving. The Government has a huge budget deficit of $416 billion this
year. We can't go on indefinitely and foreigners are not going to continue to lend us that kind of

ELEANOR HALL: Is there any prospect, though, that the Bush Administration looks like addressing
those deficit problems?

ROBERT REICH: Absolutely not. The President says that he is going to address the budget deficit,
but he is also simultaneously talking about making permanent his tax cuts that go mostly to the
wealthy. He has a hugely expensive set of what I call corporate welfare provisions that are
basically subsidies to big corporations and then, of course, the war is costing about $450 billion
to $500 billion per year. There is no way you can reduce the budget deficit. If anything, I think
it's going to continue to expand.

STEVE LEWIS: Is there scope for progressive parties, parties of the left, like the Democrats and
the Australian Labor Party to address these sorts of issues, or is it just a case of let the market
rip and take the consequences?

ROBERT REICH: Well, my view is - and I can't presume to talk about the Australian Labor Party,
obviously - but the Democrats really do have to address the economic issues. What the Republicans
have done is substitute cultural populism for economic populism. They've said, in essence, "The
problems that all of you middle Americans are facing in terms of working harder and having your
wages and benefits under great pressure and having enormous debt load, are somehow the
responsibilities and the fault of the cultural elites on the west coast and on the east coast,
Hollywood and the 'New York Times' readers and latte drinkers and those who want to push down your
throats their version of public and private morality such as abortion on demand and so forth." The
only way the Democrats can respond to that is to provide a kind of economic populism in which we
say essentially to people the truth, and that is your problems have to do with not only
globalisation and technology, but an economic system that is loaded for and to the advantage of
people who are very wealthy. It doesn't have to be that way.

STEVE LEWIS: We've seen in the United States and in Australia a rapid decline in membership of the
union movement. Do you believe the labour movement has a future, or it is really the case that
unions have to change and evolve and meet the needs, if you like, of workers in this new economy?

ROBERT REICH: Unions have a future if they change and evolve.

PAUL BONGIORNO: On that optimistic note, we're right out of time. Thank you very much for joining
us today, Professor Robert Reich.

ROBERT REICH: Thank you. Thanks to our panel, Eleanor Hall and Steve Lewis. So, season's greetings
and goodbye until we return in the new year.