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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView



29th May 2005


MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER, GREG TURNBULL: Good morning and welcome to Meet the Press. Well, it's
five years since hundreds of thousands of Australians walked across bridges to show their support
for reconciliation. How far have we come since then? In a rare television interview, the
Governor-General, Major-General Michael Jeffery, gives us his view of where to now for
reconciliation. We also cover today the future of Commonwealth-State relations. We speak to the
Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks. But first to what the nation's press are reporting this Sunday
29th May. You'll find it's all Schapelle Corby. In the Sydney 'Sun-Herald' her lawyers admit an
appeal to the High Court could lead to an even tougher sentence including the death penalty. The
Brisbane 'Sunday Mail' says Schappelle Corby's supporters are planning a national day of protest
over the conviction to coincide with her 28th birthday on July 8. It's National Reconciliation Week
but many Australians would be hard pressed to say what that means and what it's striving for. The
Governor-General, Major-General Michael Jeffery, has a keen interest in advancing the cause and
he's our guest this morning. Your Excellency, welcome to the program.


GREG TURNBULL: What do you understand by the term 'reconciliation' and how can it be advanced?

MICHAEL JEFFERY: Well, I like to look at the definition, if one can put it that way, in terms of
linkage - linking the magnificent history of a people going back at least 40,000 years and probably
60,000 years with all that that means to the modern day and the people of the modern day. I prefer
to define it in a linkage sense.

GREG TURNBULL: But is that a commendable lofty notion, does it have a practical effect? Because as
we know, the Government recently has been talking principally about practical reconciliation, about
dealing with those health, education and imprisonment and substance abuse problems. How does the
notion that you're discussing relate to those problems?

MICHAEL JEFFERY: I think there is a practical connotation to it. You may recall that the day before
Australia Day at Uluru, a very spiritual place for indigenous people, I spoke about the desire and
perhaps the need to - for all Australians to look at the history of our indigenous people going way
back that 40,000-60,000 years, because it's a marvellous story to tell. How did those people
survive for so long - longer than any other known civilisation - through eons of history, probably
taking in all sorts of climate changes? But they did survive and they prospered and they had
systems of activity, operation, story telling and trade. A history that I think we should be doing
more to record and understand and what I was suggesting at Uluru is that perhaps those people with
real knowledge and wisdom could think deeply about this and look at the enduring features of
Aboriginal history, culture, tradition, with a view to bringing it perhaps into the education
system. Because my feeling is that if indigenous history and culture was really taught well and
consistently across the nation, it would do much for Australia to understand where it's come from,
rather than just say from 1788, European settlement. If we all understood that our history went
back through the indigenous cultures 60,000 years and that European settlement was just one
component of that history, I think we'd do a lot for reconciliation and indeed national pride.

GREG TURNBULL: Do you think the national debate has moved on from the roadblock that became the
'sorry' controversy?

MICHAEL JEFFERY: Well, it is moving on - it's moving on I think to practical measures. I mean,
there isn't an Australian from my experience who doesn't want to see indigenous people living
happy, contented and fulfilling lives. And how to do that of course will be continuing topics for
the reconciliation meetings in the next two days. But I'm coming in, I guess, from a slightly
different approach to the practical health, education, aspects, to this linkage business and
understanding our history. But I think there are two other areas in which we can all play a very
good role. Look, one is to publicise far more widely the hundreds, probably the thousands of
success stories in indigenous life. I'll give you one - many years ago I was privileged to
establish a unit, an army unit in northern Australia called Norforce, it's a surveillance unit,
it's part-time regular, part-time reserve, but it has 300 indigenous soldiers in it. It's probably
the largest employer of indigenous people in the country. We set up another unit in Cape York
called 51 Far North Queensland Regiment, which has a lot of Torres Strait Islanders in it. They are
both very good news stories, and there are hundreds and hundreds of others and what I would like to
see is the good news stories being publicised far more frequently than the nasties, if can I put it
that way, and let's look at how and why individuals and groups have succeeded in the way that they

GREG TURNBULL: Governor-General, if I could move from a good news story to a bad news story for a
moment. Most Australians over the weekend have had something to say about the Schapelle Corby case.
As our representative of our head of state do you have a view on it?

MICHAEL JEFFERY: Well, I wouldn't be stating. I think it's totally inappropriate for me, Greg,
there is so much discussion on it and I don't think it's something that I should be talking about

GREG TURNBULL: Would you lend your office to any plea to the Indonesian President that might be
down the track?

MICHAEL JEFFERY: Well, I think that's speculation. We just have to see how things go. I have been
known to do that in at least one other case, but we'll leave it at that to see how things develop.

GREG TURNBULL: OK. Can I just put it to you that the republic debate seems to have been dormant in
the period of 21 months that you've been Governor-General. Is that good luck or good management?

MICHAEL JEFFERY: Well, I've always said that people should take a great interest in how they're
governed. Indeed that was one of the key themes of my Australia Day address, that we should all
look at being far better informed and that civics and citizenships should be taught in schools. And
that process is now being developed by State and Federal Governments and I think it is to be
applauded. I think everybody has the right to look at the way things happen, including the way
we're governed, and if people can come up with systems that are better, then that's fine. But my
point has always been that to make any judgments about the future - wise judgments about the future
- you've got to understand how your present system works. It has been successful for over 100 years
and I think you have to look at why it's been successful before you can make wise judgments about
perhaps any prospective changes.

GREG TURNBULL: Governor-General, we're just about out of time for your time. But help me out of
this one before you go. Are you in fact our head of state or a representative of our head of state?

MICHAEL JEFFERY: Well, the Queen is the monarch and I represent her and I carry out all the
functions of head of state.

GREG TURNBULL: Very good - I'll pass that on to Tony Abbott. Thank you very much, Your Excellency,
for your time this morning.

MICHAEL JEFFERY: Thank you very much, Greg, I've enjoyed being with you.

GREG TURNBULL: After the break - Commonwealth-State relations - the Victorian Premier, Steve

GREG TURNBULL: You're on Meet the Press and we're joined by Victorian Premier Steve Bracks. Mr
Bracks, welcome to the program.

VICTORIAN PREMIER, STEVE BRACKS: It's good to be with you.

GREG TURNBULL: And our panel this morning is Jennifer Hewett from the 'Financial Review' and
Michael Harvey from the 'Herald-Sun'.

JENNIFER HEWETT, 'AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW': Premier, you want a new era in Commonwealth-State
relations - lots of harmony and cooperation - how realistic is that?

STEVE BRACKS: When you say "a lot of cooperation," I think some cooperation would be of great
benefit. I mean, we do not have a framework for Commonwealth-State relations. And that - really my
point is this - if you look at the last 10 years, we've had great productivity improvements through
the Australian economy. Why is that the case? It's because of national competition policy. Policy
which was adopted by State and Federal Governments, we passed complimentary legislation, we drove
through those competitive arrangements to ensure there was no lazy public monopolies. And now it's
finished. We've got no framework for the future, no plan for reform, no plan to increase our
productivity, our participation of our workforce in our economy - and I think that's the problem,
and that's really, I think, what cooperative federalism can do. It can drive together a better
economy, more productivity and that's what's missing.

JENNIFER HEWETT: But in fact, you and your colleagues, the State Labor Premiers, have been very
resistant, it seems, with co-operating with the Federal Government. You're going to line-up there
on Friday, there's going to be a lot of argy bargy. To what extent do you take responsibility or
the Premiers take responsibility for the lack of this?

STEVE BRACKS: I think Australians are frankly sick of the blame game. They're sick of State
Governments blaming the Federal Government and sick of the Federal Government saying it's all the
States' fault. They just want us to sort it out. I think the Australian people are right. They want
us to resolve matters, to work out responsibility levels, to work out how we can work together
jointly in certain occasions and just get on with the job of doing it. That's the task ahead. There
are times in which there will be differences, of course there will be, but there is a great
opportunity to have a shared agenda for the national economy, for productivity improvements. And
you think of the big issues - infrastructure, the amount of capital investment we need to drive a
competitive economy. And the people and the skills we need to make sure we can reach our potential.
They're the things we should be working on together, they're the blockers to growth, yet we don't
see any discussion of that. My fear is this, Jenny - that effectively what the Federal Government
is doing is running an agenda, let's say on industrial relations, which means they'll have no
effort, no weight, behind things that will really make change in our economy and really produce

MICHAEL HARVEY, 'HERALD-SUN': Mr Bracks, speaking of industrial relations, the Victorian Government
handed its industrial powers to the Commonwealth in 1996 - that was of course the former
government. You haven't wound that back. So, presumably, you think Victorian workers are doing OK.
When you meet the Premiers, the other Premiers next week, will you be telling them to sign up to
John Howard's unified system in the interests of better cooperation?

STEVE BRACKS: Well, once you refer powers, there is no way back. This is a one-way street. Of
course, the powers were referred by the previous administration, the Kennett administration in
Victoria. We have not sought to take them back nor could we constitutionally take them back. But we
have sought to protect our workforce in the meantime. We had some old contracts which are under the
State Employee Relations Act. We've transferred them over to the Commonwealth further, which gives
them some better protections. But I think there is a heightened issue in Victoria. We don't have a
system, so we're totally captive of the federal system. If that federal system becomes less fair,
that means every Victorian worker will have a system where some of the things they take for
granted, like leave loading, like long service leave, will be stripped back. So, they've got no
protections, no safe system, so it becomes more of an issue really for us on whether or not this is
a fair package. And my view is it has crossed the line. It's not fair and it's not on those
principles of the umpire deciding independently on what is a fair go all around.

GREG TURNBULL: Let's just have a quick look at how the very evangelical John Howard on IR put the
case for a national system with all States referring their powers. This is the way he put it
through the week.

JOHN HOWARD (May 26): A national step, a system, Mr Speaker, is the next logical step towards a
workplace relations system that supports greater freedom, flexibility and individual choice. It is
not about empowering Canberra, but liberating workplaces right across the nation.

GREG TURNBULL: Will you urge other Premiers to liberate work places all across the nation? You're
for amity and cooperation. Can that start next Friday?

STEVE BRACKS: There is actually a problem in Australia. And the problem is that we're holding back
our productive capacity. We're holding it back because we can't get skilled workers. We're holding
it back because we're not investing in infrastructure which will drive productivity. What Mr Howard
is doing, what the Prime Minister is doing, is finding the wrong solution for the very problem we
have. How is reform of industrial relations going to help get a better skilled workforce? How's it
going to help reduce the bottlenecks to growth in our economy? That's the key question. And of
course, we know that this is largely an old agenda being run by the Prime Minister fulfilling his
ancient ambitions, you know, wanting to go out office saying, "I gave it a go, I really did make
the big change, I want to change".

JENNIFER HEWETT: If the battle is kind of basically going to be lost, you've been living with a
national system for such a long time, why don't you just say, "Alright, we'll deal with this, we
don't particularly like it, as a trade-off, why don't we get more cooperation on things like
education and skills training that you really want"? Why is that so impossible?

STEVE BRACKS: Well, that should be a matter that doesn't require trade-off. To invest in education,
to invest in infrastructure, to invest in skills shouldn't be a trade-off.

JENNIFER HEWETT: But realistically, you've got State Labor Premiers all against the Howard
Government, and you're going to have a huge brawl on this. Why divert your attention on that

STEVE BRACKS: To pick up this point that you raised - you said we've been living under a federal
system, so what's the problem? This is the problem - the federal system is changing. So, the very
things that workers are under, a choice of an award, an Australian workplace agreement with bigger
allowable matters, a wider range of allowable matters, stripped back to less allowable matters, the
umpire not being able to decide on wages or conditions, not being able to have recourse for unfair
dismissals, these are things which exist already which have been taken out. So, when you say, yes,
in Victoria we're working under a federal system yes, we are, but we're going to be working under a
new federal system with less procedural fairness, less third party rights and the umpire
effectively being taken out and shot and put someone else in there who can be an advocate on behalf
of one side of the equation, I think that's the problem. You know, our system was built on the fair
go. That's what it was built on.

MICHAEL HARVEY: Speaking of industrial relations Premier, Victoria's union climate is often
described by other States as a basket case, and this comes into play with the looming decision that
the Cabinet is going to make on the air warfare destroyer contract - Victoria versus South
Australia. South Australia likes to paint itself as benign in the industrial sense. They've been
using this to their advantage in the bidding process. Are you concerned at this dynamic?

STEVE BRACKS: Well, I'm not concerned because the evidence shows that there has been almost no
industrial disputation at the Tennex Williams Sound dockyards, almost none. That was a reform and
change which was made to change from a Commonwealth-run factory, a dockyards, into a private sector
organisation which has been efficient. And the outcomes are there for everyone to see. The frigates
have been built on time and on budget. They are working effectively. We've had the first warship
engaged as part of Iraq recently. You compare that, I guess, to the performance in other shipyards
where we have had budget blow-outs, we have had performance problems. I think the evidence speaks
for itself. The evidence speaks for itself - we've produced on time, on budget and the industrial
disputation has been almost zero on that side.

GREG TURNBULL: Premier, we'll take a break there. When we come back, we'll discuss among other
things why the men from Snowy River are an endangered species. And in our cartoon of the week,
Wilcox in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' has a King Kongesque Prime Minister perched on Parliament
House as Australian workers flee to ponder John Howard's latest raft of industrial relations

GREG TURNBULL: You're on Meet The Press with Premier Steve Bracks. And he's under fire from
mountain cattlemen over his Government's move to ban grazing on Alpine national park land. The
Federal Government is on the side of the graziers, as the Federal Environment Minister explained.

SENATOR IAN CAMPBELL (May 26): I think all Australians would want to see in another 100 years time
the descendents of these mountain cattlemen still doing it. Let's not stick it in a museum. It's
working, it's worked well for 170 years. Why kill it for a few Green preferences in a State

GREG TURNBULL: Michael Harvey.

MICHAEL HARVEY: Premier, the Nationals' leader in Victoria described you as the Premier who killed
the Man from Snowy River - pretty graphic language, but he's about right, isn't he?

STEVE BRACKS: Well, if that's the case, then the Man from Snowy River was killed 33 years ago in
NSW and almost 100 years ago in the ACT. We're the only State in Australia that in a national park
allows grazing of cattle. We've said that those cattle can move to State reserves, State forests,
10,000 cattle can move into those areas. So, in the alpine area we'll have grazing we're saying in
the area which affords the highest possible protection, a national park, there is no place for
grazing. And of course I just heard, I saw the Minister's comment, but you know the Minister's own
department made a recommendation to the task force which our Government set up to examine this

MICHAEL HARVEY: That was just one officer wasn't it?

STEVE BRACKS: An officer who was writing on behalf of the Minister. And on behalf of the Minister
the Department independently found, the Federal Department, that the only way you can proceed with
world heritage listing of the alpine national parks combined with New South Wales, Victoria and the
ACT was to remove the cattle. That was the finding - unequivocal. And, of course, the Minister now
wants to politically intervene when, knowing his own department objectively on scientific evidence
is saying the cattle should be removed. All the science says they should go. All the evidence about
what will preserve and keep a pristine national park says they should go as well. And of course
we've got an alternative.

MICHAEL HARVEY: So, if the Minister slaps a heritage listing in an emergency sense on the alpine
park, you'll obviously fight it?

STEVE BRACKS: Well, I don't think we'll need to because our legal advice shows he can't under the
Act. So, he'll have to make some extraordinary steps. He might have to change legislation. I mean,
put it this way, we have licences and we issue those licences. If there is bushfire, if there's
problems we restrict those licences. So, by practice, by common practice all the time we're
adjusting licences. Is the Federal Government saying, "I'm going to force another jurisdiction to
actually issue a licence"? These licences have expired.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Premier, on one other issue of fairly angry people fighting, is the Labor Party
itself. Why is it so hard for Victoria to find a place for stars like Bill Shorten or Evan Thornley
when they've made it clear they really want to get a berth in Federal Parliament?

STEVE BRACKS: Well, when you go through generational change and when you look at new people coming
in, there is always going to be some disruption, some issues about how power is shared or how power
is taken and of course we're in that period. You're right, there is a move to try and get some new
blood into the Federal Labor Party. I think that's a good move. If you look at the historic
position in Victoria, whether it's with Julia Gillard or Jennie Macklin, or Nicola Roxon, we've got
some very good, capable people there. I think we have a responsibility to look at continuing that
process and making sure we get the best people possible into Parliament and that's a responsibility
across the nation of which Victoria shares.

JENNIFER HEWETT: So, you think you and perhaps Kim Beazley should intervene in this to make sure
that people like Shorten and Thornley get seats?

STEVE BRACKS: I don't think there's any requirement for intervention. I think these things will

JENNIFER HEWETT: And it will definitely happen in the next few months?

STEVE BRAKCS: I think it will happen in the normal course of things. Leading up to federal
pre-selection and selection of candidates there's always going to be issues about incumbents and
new people seeking office. I'm sure it will sort itself out effectively.

MICHAEL HARVEY: But isn't there a leadership role, though? This is open warfare in the Victorian
branch. Yourself and Kim Beazley surely have a role in quelling what's going on.

STEVE BRACKS: There are strong party rules which have been adopted across the nation and Victoria
shares those. We've got even stronger ones in Victoria. And, of course, there is a separate issue
of people wanting to gain public office. That's the right of everyone. It's the right of everyone
to be competitive, to seek public office and to put themselves amongst their peers for that
selection. That's a process which is happening now. I can remember back when that process happened
in Victoria. The result was that I'm now in Parliament, that John Thwaites is in Parliament, that
my Treasurer John Brumby is in Parliament. That was part of a generational change. It led to good
effective Government that we have now and you have to go through these changes from time to time.

JENNIFER HEWETT: There is one other issue that in terms of Federal-State things with Kim Beazley,
that is going on at the moment, is the whole issue on tax. You've mentioned tax in your manifesto
on what should be done. Do you think the Federal Labor Party have played this very well in terms of
refusing the pass the tax cuts?

STEVE BRACKS: Well, I've said consistently that's a call for the Federal Opposition Leader Kim

JENNIFER HEWETT: That doesn't sound like an endorsement?

STEVE BRACKS: No, but it is a call for him on the tactics. But I do support absolutely and
unequivocally the fact that the tax relief was skewed to higher income earners when it could have
been built down to middle and low income earners and I think that was the key issue. That would
have been better for the economy, to put more disposable income in the hands of people who we know
with retail sales down could spend it better. That was the key issue. In terms of tactics, I've
said consistently that's a matter for Kim Beazley.

JENNIFER HEWETT: It sounds as if you disagree?

STEVE BRACKS: No, no, you can't read into that whether I disagree or agree. It's a matter for him.
He's best placed to determine the tactics. In relation to the policy, I think the policy of the
Prime Minister and the Federal Treasurer was wrong. I think disposable income in middle and lower
income earners pocket would be much better.

MICHAEL HARVEY: Mr Bracks, you were talking a bit before about new blood in the federal arena.
Every day I open the paper there seems to be another State Labor Premier who's been asked to go
Federal and lead the Opposition out of the wilderness. We haven't heard about you. Have you had the
call? Is there something you want to tell us?

STEVE BRACKS: I don't think, Michael, that you could say everyone. I think, Bob Carr and Peter
Beattie. There are still a great majority out there that have not had any involvement.

JENNIFER HEWETT: You're just waiting your turn. (Laughs)

STEVE BRACKS: No, look, I am totally focused on the task in Victoria. We're part way through our
second term. I'm looking forward to being competitive at the next election. My first, second and
third interest is in Victoria. It's a great State. It's 25% of the economy, it's a powerhouse and
in employment growth and I want to be there for the future.

MICHAEL HARVEY: At the next election you'll be marking seven years, which means you'll eclipse Jeff
Kennett. Are you going to get to the 3,000 days and get a bronze statue?

STEVE BRACKS: That's something I absolutely don't focus on. My focus is really on making sure that
we can deliver balanced government and the sort of things we were talking about of driving better
productivity in the economy and making sure therefore, we've got those proceeds to distribute more
widely amongst our community.

GREG TURNBULL: Mr Bracks, thank you very much for joining us this morning. We're going to leave it

STEVE BRACKS: Thank you very much.

GREG TURNBULL: Our thanks to Premier of Victoria Steve Bracks and to our panel, Jennifer Hewett and
Michael Harvey. Until next week, it's goodbye from Meet the Press.