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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView



6th February 2005


MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER PAUL BONGIORNO: Hello, and welcome to a new year of Meet the Press. Kim
Beazley promises to give John Howard the fight of his life. Today, the reborn Labor leader speaks
out on the eve of Federal Parliament coming back to work. But first, what the nation's press is
reporting this Sunday, February 6. The 'Sunday Telegraph' in Sydney reports - no Liberal candidate
in the by-election for Mark Latham's old seat of Werriwa. The paper says Liberal power brokers
consider it a race they almost certainly could not win. The Adelaide 'Sunday Mail' has 'Clues to
Woman's Identity Missed'. While Australian psychiatric patient Cornelia Rau languished in the
Baxter detention centre as a suspected illegal immigrant, bureaucrats only had to pick up their
newspaper for a clue to her identity. There's also a report Ms Rau could sue for unlawful
imprisonment. The Melbourne 'Sunday Age' leads with 'Cabinet Push may spark Air Price War'.
Airfares to the United States may tumble under a secret proposal to allow Qantas to increase its
level of foreign ownership and to give rival Singapore Airlines better access to the lucrative
Australian-US route. The 'Sunday Herald Sun' has 'Woman Denied Legal Abortion'. A woman carrying a
dangerous pregnancy was refused an abortion by a major public hospital because of the current
political climate. A battered and bruised Labor Party returned to the safe haven of Kim Beazley
after the wild ride of Mark Latham. Mr Beazley spent the last week selling himself in four State
capitals and this week will face John Howard across the dispatch box in Parliament. Welcome back,
Mr Beazley.

OPPOSITION LEADER KIM BEAZLEY: Very good to be with you, Paul. I lie. (Laughs) I got up at 4:30 in
the morning to do this.

PAUL BONGIORNO: (Laughs) I know. Congratulations on being a grandfather. Have you introduced a book
to your new grandson yet?

KIM BEAZLEY: We will give him plenty of books. He will be read to regularly by his grandparents and
by his parents. He's a lovely little boy and I couldn't be more chuffed for my daughter and
son-in-law and the bub.

PAUL BONGIORNO: That's one race you beat John Howard to. He's yet to be a grandfather.

KIM BEAZLEY: I think my daughters must be trying to even up the scales on the age factor.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, just coming to that point, it's 5:30 in the morning in Perth. It certainly
strengthens the argument for you to have an East Coast base.

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, I was convinced of that a long time ago, but if I needed more convincing, this
morning's performance would do the trick. Getting up at 4:20 is no fun.

PAUL BONGIORNO: How do you explain to the taxpayers, though, that they'll have to help you pay to
have that base by way of travel allowances?

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, they won't, really. Basically I'd probably start off renting. I'd pay the
rental, and oddly enough, if you are out of your home base, which in my case would be Perth and
you're in another capital city, as I understand it, if you're actually renting there or staying
with friends or doing something like that you actually get a lower rate of allowance than if you
were staying in a hotel. So, in fact, for the taxpayer it'd be cheaper, but that's not the point.
The point is do we have a decent contest in this country for who leads this country and I
understand and recognise from my previous experience I've got to be able to fight all over the
country, that's on the East Coast and the West Coast, and so I will.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Just going to that Cornelia Rau case, it does on the face of it look disgraceful.
Do you think there should at least be a Senate inquiry to find out how our officialdom could get it
so wrong?

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, it's an awful story. It's a terrible story and it does put a question mark in
your mind over the character of the care and the character of understanding what's going on inside
the minds of people in the detention centres that would permit something like this to go on for so
long, and, of course, there are legal issues there. She may well have a compensation claim. Senate
inquiry, I'm not sure about that, but there certainly should be an independent inquiry put in place
by the Government as to how this could happen and the extent to which it is a unique case or it
actually reflects extremely bad practice in the... (Inaudible word) I hope that the Government will
do that.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Do you fear there may be an unhealthy culture in our Immigration Department that
something like this could happen? Maybe fed by the asylum seeker problem with people like Peter
Cassan, the Kashmiri who's been locked up for six and a half years. India won't take him back, we
won't let him loose in our community?

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, I think this does show up the possibility of a lack of attention to the
individual cases that are there before the folk who are responsible in the administration, and in
those circumstances I would think if the Government was sensible about it and prudent about it
they'd take a bit of an independent look at this particular case and work out why it happened and
deal with the circumstances.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well John Howard's beaten you twice in a general election. He seems confident he
has your measure. Have a look at this.


REPORTER: How do you feel PM about once again facing Mr Beazley as an opponent?


PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, Mr Beazley he knows you, how are you going to surprise him?

KIM BEAZLEY: Well he does know me and one of the attributes I have is I never underestimate my
opponents. He's been a wily opponent and he's won a lot of elections but I do believe the
mathematics are running out for him now and running out at the very core of his last election
victory, which was management of the economy. One of the things we are seeing now - in the OECD
report last week in the statements, the knowledge that is there generally in the community that our
good economy was a product of a Hawke and Keating governments and to a large extent what we have
put in place has been squandered by this Government and the chickens are going to come home to
roost in this term.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well this week you had a victory lap around the continent, meeting Premiers Bob
Carr, Peter Beattie, Steve Bracks, Mike Rann.

KIM BEAZLEY: Geoff Gallop.

PAUL BONGIORNO: And, of course, Geoff Gallop when you got home to Perth. Is it now a case in the
Labor Party of the State tail wagging the Federal dog?

KIM BEAZLEY: No. I've seen some silly argument in some of the media that somehow or other the
change in Federal Labor Party leadership was induced by the State Premiers. It wasn't. It was a
product of Mark Latham making a determination that his health would not sustain his leadership.
Simple as that. Had he had a different view of the world, Mark would still be leader of the
Australian Labor Party. Nobody was tearing him down, least of all the State Premiers. But the State
Premiers do like stability, like other members of the party. One of the challenges I said that
confronted me when I took over the leadership was to settle the Labor Party down and I think we've
made some good progress on that in the last week in the visits that I've managed to do around the
States talking to the premiers, talking to party members I'm very happy with how that progress has

PAUL BONGIORNO: Time for a break. When we return with the panel, we probe Kim Beazley's exit
strategy for the United States and its coalition partners from Iraq.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press with Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and welcome to the
panel Michelle Grattan the 'Age' and Malcolm Farr, the 'Daily Telegraph'. At his first news
conference as Labor leader, Kim Beazley warned the United States not to get caught up in a civil
war in Iraq. On Monday, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had this to say.

to survive if the attitude of the international community is we all just want to cut and run. That
will be an abandonment of democracy and support for freedom and democracy and handing the country
over to al-Zarqawi and his terrorist cohorts and Saddam Hussein's, the residue of Saddam Hussein's

MICHELLE GRATTAN, 'THE AGE': Mr Beazley, you've said that the Americans mustn't get bogged down in
a civil war in Iraq, but how precisely do they avoid doing so?

KIM BEAZLEY: Well just on Alexander Downer, at my first press conference I said that it was time
the Australian troops and the diplomats being protected by them were moved into the green zone for
better protection. He said my views were outrageous and then two days later the Government was
announcing they were going to do just exactly that. So I think we can start to look at those
comments in the same light. The simple fact of the matter is if the Americans become bogged down in
a civil war in Iraq the consequence of that for American standing around the globe and in the
general struggle with a war with fundamentalist terror will be severely diminished. There is a
chance now. There's been an election. An elected government will be formed. It's flawed in the
sense that one part of the country did not participate, but what we ought to be doing now is
encouraging a political negotiation - or what the Americans ought to be doing because they're the
ones with the influence - is encouraging a political negotiation to bring this to a political
conclusion. I mean, if the Americans are simply manipulated into a constant conflict in which
they're losing lives and by virtue of the fact that they're engaged, giving a chance for those
characters like al-Zarqawi and his al-Qa'ida types to find themselves ideologically reinvigorated
or invigorated by that activity, then it's a very bad thing for all of us. I just take my views as
common sense.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Now, on the Australian troops you've made it clear the troops guarding embassy
officials have got to stay while they're there and need protection, but what about the troops that
are training Iraqi forces, do you think they should come out quickly which was Labor's policy
before the election, or should they stay until their task is completed?

KIM BEAZLEY: There are not very many - when you go outside the guarding arrangements inside Iraq
itself, there are not many Australian troops there at all.


KIM BEAZLEY: I think in the country itself there's a few hundred. Look, I really do think they're
not the issue except their protection is a very big issue.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: But should they stay?

KIM BEAZLEY: Something extra ought to be done about that and hopefully it will.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Should those trainers stay though, Mr Beazley?

KIM BEAZLEY: I think what we should be doing is arguing with the Americans what the Americans ought
to be doing. When we ran the last election campaign the Government said that they should stay as
part of the coalition effort. We said there should be troops in there to encourage the United
Nations to be part of the exercise. So either way, after the last election, had we been elected
there still would have been some forces there engaged. But that's not the point, Michelle. I mean,
really, we talk often or the Government talks often as though we had an armoured brigade hunkered
down in Fallujah in the way in which they discuss these things. Our troops are there doing a
professional service. The real issue, and it's about time it was an issue in this country, because
we have an important relationship with the United States and important things to do globally. The
United States is in the process, potentially, at least, of being sucked into the vortex of a
long-running civil war and it must not happen.

MALCOLM FARR, THE 'DAILY TELEGRAPH': Mr Beazley, your predecessor missed a trip to Washington for
domestic reasons, let's say. Have you considered going over to say hello to the re-elected Bush
Administration and in particular have a chat to Condoleezza Rice and others?

KIM BEAZLEY: I certainly will do that over the next year or so. What I want to do now is get
reacquainted with the Australian people as party leader and pick up the issues that are concerning
them and deal with them. There'll be plenty of time for overseas trips during the course of the
next three years. I can always pick up a telephone and talk to friends in the American
Administration and I will do that.

MALCOLM FARR: On things closer to home such as Werriwa, it's now pretty clear the Liberals will not
stand a candidate in the Werriwa by-election. What's your response to that?

KIM BEAZLEY: How serious are the Liberals in their claims about their care for the people of
western Sydney? That is one of the great regions of Australia, the western Sydney region. One of
the great engines of the Australian economy, one of the great battlegrounds, if you like, of the
political context. And they want to desert the battlefield in a by-election. I haven't got much
time for them if that's what they're doing.

MALCOLM FARR: They don't think they're going to win and I think it's pretty obvious they're not
going to win. Why go to all that expense and keep harassing the poor souls from Werriwa who will be
facing a second election in what, about four months or so?

KIM BEAZLEY Well, they'll face a by-election. Whether the Liberals run or not there'll be
candidates in a by-election in Werriwa, there's no question about that. I just ask that question
again - how serious are the Liberals about the concerns of the people of western Sydney, the issues
they have with infrastructure, the issues that they have with education, the issues that they have
with their health? The Liberals want to run away from a debate on that in that region. It says
something about the Liberal Party and what they know underlies some of the difficulties and flaws
in their own policies.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: On another campaign, do you think that the Western Australian Government will be
able to hang on?

KIM BEAZLEY: The West Australian election will be decided on State issues. One thing did happen
this week...

MICHELLE GRATTAN: You've been active in it?

KIM BEAZLEY: I've been active in the campaign. But it's a campaign on State issues. One very
important thing happened, and that was the leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Liberal
Party, exposed what a risk he is and what a risk his party is to the prosperity of Western
Australia when they came out with a proposition to build a multibillion dollar pipeline without
feasibility study, without working out what it would cost the West Australian consumer. Now, apart
from any debate about the canal itself, apart from any debate about that, that went to the heart of
the risk of the change of government in what has been a very prosperous State.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Coming back to federal debates, the abortion debate has been raging. You've put
your own view as being against abortion. One of your Labor colleagues John Murphy is proposing a
private members bill to force doctors to provide more information about abortion. Are you in favour
of that bill? Are you in favour of him putting it forward as well?

KIM BEAZLEY: Look, people in the Labor Party are allowed an individual attitude on abortion. That's
been made clear at repeated conferences. Having said that, I do regard the privacy issues concerned
with women who have a process of a termination, I do regard them as important. I would not want to
see that violated in any way. I mean, there is an awful lot of batting of gums going on around the
country about this at the moment. I don't think it's helpful at all.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Are you just saying there that Senator Boswell's request for more statistics is not
to be taken at face value, that he has another agenda?

KIM BEAZLEY: Yes, I think he has another agenda. You can ask him about his particular agenda. But
what I have to say about that is this - this country and this community has decided via courts, via
legislation in some States - and it is a State issue primarily in terms of the legislation - that
women do have a right to choose. So those who have the sorts of attitudes that I have, ought to
take a leaf out of the book of what was done last year by the Catholic Church in Sydney, and that
was to set up a service that made a decision to have a child more cost effective or easier rather
than going around trying to impose penalties on women who exercise a right to choose.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Time for a break. When we come back, we ask - was Kim Beazley too afraid to take on
the factions over his frontbench line-up. And the cartoon of the week - Petty and 'The Age' has
this take on Mark Latham's legacy for Mr Beazley. The new leader enters his office to find a filing
cabinet stuffed with discarded ladders of opportunity. A cleaner asks, "Do we leave these?"

PAUL BONGIORNO: Welcome back. The Howard Government is under intense pressure from business and its
own backbench over tax reform. Last week Labor, too, signalled it believes more should be done to
build incentive into the system. That raises questions for Malcolm Farr.

MALCOLM FARR: Mr Beazley, there have been a lot of Labor signals on tax, but they have been mixed.
What will the focus be? Will it be on upper middle-income earners who through hard work have jumped
into the highest tax bracket, or will it be on the under-$50,000 a year people whom you say need
more relief?

KIM BEAZLEY: It's called chewing gum and walking at the same time. Obviously the most fiendish, if
you like, impact of the taxation system is, in fact, on low-income earners, under $50,000, a
problem we've identified where their marginal tax rates are way higher than those up the line
basically when they're coming out of the welfare system or the family payment system into work.
That is obviously a critical area. People under $50,000 got no tax breaks from Costello and Howard
at all. That was an issue at the last election. But there's also an issue of the fact that many
tradespeople are finding themselves in upper income brackets. Both these taxation issues have to be

MALCOLM FARR: OK, there has been a lot of bickering around with the thresholds, are you going to be
bold young men and women and actually change the rates?

KIM BEAZLEY: We're actually going to be sober-minded middle-aged men and women, which most of us
are. Though we do have good young folk in our show. We are going to look at the taxation issues
which we identified in the last election and still do so, against the other great issues in the
national economy, particularly what's happening with our national infrastructure and the
performance overall in our industry on innovation and research and development. You've got to
balance the lot, but you've also got to have fairness and incentive in the taxation system.

MALCOLM FARR: Through the rates, or through the thresholds?

KIM BEAZLEY: What we did last time round was to push those thresholds up and that seems always to
be - not always, but that is a sensible way to go - but the simple fact of the matter is these are
issues which we will work our way through over the course of the next three years, whilst holding
the Government accountable for the fact that it is the highest taxing government in Australian

PAUL BONGIORNO: Mr Beazley, you left Mark Latham's frontbench intact, rejecting one proposal to
install Julia Gillard as deputy or another to appoint Kevin Rudd as Shadow Treasurer. That
speculation put pressure on your deputy Jenny Macklin. This is how she answered it.

months ago. In fact I've been the deputy leader for three years. I've never been challenged. I see
it as a very important job, a job in itself, not a stepping stone to some other job.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, Mr Beazley, it's always good news for a leader to have a deputy leader
without those ambitions. How safe is she in the job?

KIM BEAZLEY: She's very safe in the job. She'll be Deputy Prime Minister after the next election.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Mr Beazley, though, you had some talent that's found itself on the backbench
through various circumstances - Lindsay Tanner by choice and Bob McMullan not so much by choice
under Mark Latham. Would you anticipate these two coming back before the next election to the

KIM BEAZLEY: You know our system, our system is for a Caucus ballot, but it doesn't mean under our
system that you can't make use of the talent on the backbench. You've named two talented
backbenchers. We have more. What this exercise for the Australian Labor Party over the next three
years and a determination to win is going to engage front and backbench alike. So there'll be
plenty of things for them to do.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Taking the existing team, do you think you'd have a reshuffle before the
election, or would you go in with the team as it is now?

KIM BEAZLEY: Look, I want this team to settle down. The reason why I made no changes was I decided
I'd go through this leadership ballot process without making deals, and exit it without owing
anyone anything. One of the ways of doing that was to take a look at what Mark had done with the
reshuffle and work out whether or not I liked it, and when I decided I liked it, I left it intact.
All of us have a task ahead of us and we'll have a look at how we go over the course of the next
three years. But I would expect to take something like this frontbench into the next election

PAUL BONGIORNO: But doesn't that decision of yours feed the perception that you were a weak leader
and not wanting to put your own stamp on the frontbench?

KIM BEAZLEY: On the contrary, it feeds the perception that I'm a leader who came into office
leading the Labor Party without owing any faction or anyone anything and that is in itself an
inherent strength.

MALCOLM FARR: I just want to ask about the Senate. Just before I do, do you anticipate that Mark
Latham will be assisting you in Werriwa at all in any of the campaigning?

KIM BEAZLEY: Mark needs to use the time to fully recover from his illnesses. I wouldn't put any
pressure on him at all.

MALCOLM FARR: You have only got 21 sitting days of the Senate before the changeover mid-year, which
give the Government control of the numbers there. Do you have any strategy on how to use those 21

KIM BEAZLEY: The 21 days will be like the other days of the sitting in this 3-year period except we
won't have control of the Senate. We regard ourselves as an effective Opposition and we're going to
be an effective Opposition operating in the public interest holding the Government accountable.
I'll tell you one of the things we will be doing over the next 21 days in the House and the Senate.
We will be calling this Government to account for the tens of millions of dollars wasted in its
slush fund on regional rorts. This is money which could be spent on schools, could be spent on
hospitals. Instead it was a slush fund to get themselves re-elected. It continues. Some of it's
improper, all of it is administered badly and some of it may be corrupt, and there are ministerial
fingerprints all over it. The House and the Senate will be dealing with it.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Regardless of that, the Government will be saying, "Well this is a big policy
year." Once the Senate changes they've got IR coming up, they've got the sale of the rest of
Telstra. They've got media deregulation. Now the Labor Party has been against the Government
proposals in all those areas. Aren't you going to be put into the position of leading the party
that's always saying no on these big things?

KIM BEAZLEY: They've never had such power. That is absolutely true. Now, I'm going to be leading
the party that defends the public interest as the Liberal Party's ideological prejudices get full
reign, which they will have in the Parliament after the middle of this year. And it is the public
interest we're defending. We're not wandering around being negative. We're out there making
absolutely certain the Government is accountable. We will become, I think, more relevant to those
of you in the gallery in the performance we put in in the House of Representatives holding the
Government accountable and a different sort of role in the Senate. We don't fear this point except
for the Australian people. We're right out of time. Thank you for joining us today, Kim Beazley.
Thanks to our panel, Michelle Grattan and Malcolm Farr. And in interests of balance we've asked the
PM to appear on the program and look forward to him doing so in coming weeks. Until next week it's
goodbye from Meet the Press.