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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView


March 18th 2007


MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER DEBORAH KNIGHT: Good morning and welcome to Meet the Press. This morning -
Australia and our place in the world. The past week has seen the Prime Minister treading the
international stage, signing a new strategic agreement with Japan, making surprise visits to our
forces and leaders in Iraq overnight and to Afghanistan, and boosting Australia's commitment to the
war against terrorism.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD (Thursday): We remain committed as a nation to assisting Afghanistan in
resisting terrorism, in resisting the Taliban forces.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But despite all the diplomatic activity, the Opposition says our international
image has gone backwards. Our guest this morning is Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Robert
McClelland. And later we'll speak with ethics expert Dr Simon Longstaff on the dirty issue of
mud-slinging in politics. But first let's take a look at what's making news in the nation's papers
this Sunday March 18 - Sydney's 'Sunday Telegraph' has the headline that leads all papers today,
"PM's plane in emergency landing," terror as smoke fills C-130 Hercules. His plane was forced down
in Iraq during a surprise visit when thick smoke filled the cabin, all on board donning emergency
gas masks for the rapid descent. Although shaken, Mr Howard was unhurt and continued his visit,
meeting with Iraqi and US officials. Perth's 'Sunday Times' has "Santoro's new share bombshell."
The Prime Minister has been dragged deeper into the affair with revelations his disgraced minister
may have had at least nine more undisclosed conflicts of interests. And Melbourne's 'Age' says
"Hanson admits affair with staffer." Former One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has admitted, in a
tell-all biography, to having had a sexual relationship with former staffer David Oldfield. Well,
it's been a big week in international affairs for Australia. The Prime Minister in Iraq and
Afghanistan after signing a new security agreement in Tokyo, all of great interest to Shadow
Foreign Affairs Minister Robert McClelland, who's our guest on Meet The Press this morning.


DEBORAH KNIGHT: We'll head to the international stage in a moment, but another scandal has claimed
the Government's second minister in two weeks, Minister for Ageing Santo Santoro, over undisclosed
share transactions. He resigned late on Friday with this parting note.

FORMER MINISTER SANTO SANTORO: And I wish to stress at this point, as I have been stressing all
week, that I have done nothing that is illegal, nothing that is dishonest and more importantly from
a ministerial point of view, nothing that has a conflict of interest attached to it.

JOHN HOWARD (Friday): I am frankly angry and disappointed at the Senator's conduct. There is no
excuse for somebody not complying with the rules.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: A clearly angry Prime Minister there. Is it time for the ministerial code of
conduct to be policed by an independent body?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: It's certainly something to consider. I mean, it's disappeared off the table and
been placed in the bottom drawer for about eight years and it's been brought out because it's an
election year and there's been some jousting about issues of personality. But there is certainly an
argument for that. I think, in particular, issues of potential conflict of interest are
significant, and on the allegations at least today that certainly arises in respect to Senator

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Do you think that Santo Santoro's resignation will blunt the Government's attacks,
specifically on Kevin Rudd? Tony Abbott, for one, says he won't be letting up.

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Look, I think the public generally is getting a bit frayed at the edges with the
personal attacks. But I think the issue of the ministerial standards is a significant thing.
Inevitably, the Opposition will want to pursue that to some degree at least this week. In reply,
you would expect the Government will have a bit of counter-jousting. We would obviously want to
focus on the real issues, issues of dental care which is in the media today, but there will be some
debate on these issues obviously.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: We will return to that issue again later with the panel.

But on to international affairs, and the Prime Minister made a surprise visit to Afghanistan and
Iraq overnight. He's considering sending more troops, Australian troops, to Afghanistan. You
support that. Why not into Iraq as well?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Yeah, look, we think the work of our troops in Iraq, if you look at the fact
that they haven't actually been called out in this back-up capacity in Iraq, we think those
resources could be used better elsewhere and in particular where we can have greatest impact, and
that's clearly in our region. In particular, when you look at the dangers ahead in Afghanistan we
think having troops available for rotation, equipment available, the intelligence resources,
limiting the chain of command to where there's real danger in Afghanistan has got to be our
priority. We think obviously also there's big issues in our region, East Timor, what will happen
with the elections in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands still unstable, a coup in Fiji, all these
things we say really should focus our security priorities on our region.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: You're critical of the Government for not having an exit strategy for Iraq. What's
Labor's exit strategy for Afghanistan?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Well, again, in terms of Afghanistan, we've got to see how it pans out. The
United Nations thinks that we're going to be there for quite some time to bring stability to that
country. You know, our focus will be on bringing stability to Afghanistan. Why do we say
Afghanistan and not Iraq? Well, for a start it's the site of about $3.2 billion a year - not
million but billion dollars a year - in terms of the opium trade that funds terrorist organisations
in our region. Everyone who's been charged with a terrorist offence in Australia has been trained
in Afghanistan. It's probably where Osama bin Laden still is. In summary, it's 'Terrorist Central'.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But regardless where the terrorist forces originated from, it still is a terrorist
training ground as much so in Iraq as it is Afghanistan.

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Well, in terms of what's happening in Iraq, I think Iraq is literally a civil
war. What you're seeing there is you're seeing the Sunnis and the Shiites fighting for control of
that country. Yes, there are certainly elements that have come in as part of the insurgency that
are al-Qa'ida supported, primarily aligned to the Sunni side of things, but it is part of this
jousting for control of the country. Ultimately in Iraq you need an internal political solution to
what is obviously a civil war. Afghanistan, you've got the whole forces of Taliban, about 10,000 of
them on all reports, being trained in Pakistan ready to launch in that country for the purpose of
taking it over. In that sense there's two different scenarios. Obviously it would be desirable to
have stability in each of those areas, but from our point of view we think it's a matter of
focusing our resources where they can be most effectively utilised and clearly we say that's our

DEBORAH KNIGHT: The Prime Minister was also this week in Japan signing an historic security
agreement. Despite some concern that China will see it as an unfriendly alliance, the Prime
Minister has said that we shouldn't be concerned about - that China has nothing to worry about.
He's right, isn't he? We shouldn't have to kowtow to China when we're signing allegiances and
strategic alliances with other countries.

ROBERT McCLELLAND: We shouldn't have to kowtow to anyone, but I think the old art of diplomacy is
that you keep people potentially affected, nations potentially affected, you keep them in the loop.
I think there could have been much greater transparency in that whole process. The fact of the
matter is both China and South Korea are quite anxious about what's involved. I think they could
have been kept in the loop in a much more sophisticated sense.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: When we return with the panel, why is politics getting so personal? And how's this
for the mea culpa of the week? NSW Transport Minister John Watkins after a train breakdown on the
Sydney Harbour Bridge caused commuter chaos just a week before the State election.

NSW TRANSPORT MINISTER JOHN WATKINS: We sincerely apologise to the passengers that were delayed. We
apologise to all of those customers that were delayed. We apologise to all of those thousands of
passengers that were delayed. We apologise for any disruption that was caused this evening. We
apologise to those passengers on board trains and those others that were delayed getting home. I
apologise to all of those passengers that were delayed tonight in any shape or form.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: You're on Meet the Press where our guest this morning is Robert McClelland and
we're joined by our panellists Steve Lewis from the 'Australian'.

STEVE LEWIS: Good morning.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And Tom Allard from the 'Sydney Morning Herald'. The subject of mud has been front
and centre in politics over the past few weeks. Here's the Federal Treasurer's take on the ongoing

TREASURER PETER COSTELLO (Thursday): Well, Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd are slinging mud like there's
no tomorrow. They're slinging mud today at Santo Santoro, they're slinging mud today at John
Howard. But this is not a new thing for Kevin Rudd. Kevin Rudd is - was one of the great
mud-slingers of the Parliament. He was the person that slung mud over the Australian Wheat Board
and he's still at it.

TOM ALLARD: Robert McClelland, less than a week ago you said that voters hated mud-slinging, yet
you've just indicated this morning that you're going to have another go at it in Parliament this
week in terms of the share scandal and other issues. Aren't you being a bit hypocritical there?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Well, I think the issue of the ministerial standards is an issue in itself - how
it operates, the extent to which it's being applied now where it hasn't been applied in the last
eight years - are legitimate issues to pursue. You make a valid point. At the end of the day the
voters will be interested in ministerial propriety, parliamentary propriety, but they will want
focus on the big national issues - climate change, dental care that we're seeing in the papers
today, a whole range of things.

STEVE LEWIS: Isn't the danger, Robert McClelland, that the attacks will come back on to your leader
Kevin Rudd, whose integrity, if you like, is being questioned by a series of Government ministers?
Isn't that the danger for Labor - that while pursuing these attacks on Government ministers, your
own leader is being questioned?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: There are some issues that you have to do it - when a minister resigns because
it's alleged he's breeched the ministerial standards, I think the Opposition inevitably has to look
at those issues. I think it's also inevitable that the Government's strategy, as we've clearly
seen, is trying to discredit Kevin Rudd who is performing very, very well. Obviously I'm not
objective, but I think generally accepted that he is. That will inevitably occur. I think the real
risk in terms of the balance of risk is that the Government will overplay that instead of telling
the people what they're doing about these important issues, such as we've discussed.

TOM ALLARD: But isn't Kevin Rudd's personal history fair game because he inserted it into the
political process. You've run paid ads about his personal history. So why can you complain when the
Government looks to scrutinise it?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Well, I think from our point of view, we want to get the Government debating on
the issues that they're failing to address and that should be our focus. If the Government in reply
doesn't address our concerns - why kids aren't getting their annual check-ups because their parents
can't afford to pay for a dentist - if the Government doesn't address those issues and instead we
see the likes of Tony Abbott and Peter Costello up there banging into us, I think the public are
going to get very frustrated. It's like when someone throws a bouncer at you and you hit it for a
six and they keep throwing bouncers you say, "Keep on chucking them."

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Isn't it fair enough though for the alternative prime minister to come under this
level of scrutiny and for the voters to see how he responds to that type of pressure? I mean,
that's how voters helped make their minds up, to some degree, on Mark Latham as well.

ROBERT McCLELLAND: I think in an election year anyone in a leadership position expects they're
going to have the mouthguard in a fair bit of the time, that's true. It's a question of balance, I
suppose, and how personal that they do get. Again, I'm not objective, but I would suggest going
back to the recollections of an 11-year-old boy, the time after his dad died, is a bit rugged, but
that's for others to judge.

STEVE LEWIS: Are you concerned that Mr Rudd, like Mr Latham in 2004, as this scrutiny continues,
that he will self-destruct or that voters will see through him and, at the end of the day, that
will cost Labor dearly?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: I know both men well, and I can assure you Kevin Rudd is not a Mark Latham, and
I think voters will again - I think in fairness to Kevin, I think they have seen how he's handled
himself, and I think paying him some respect in that.

TOM ALLARD: Back onto foreign affairs, Mr McClelland, we're all concerned about this spring
offensive by the Taliban and al-Qa'ida forces in Afghanistan five years after that invasion - after
the September 11 attacks, things aren't looking very good there at all. A big part of the problem
has been that Pakistan, or elements of the Pakistan security services, have been harbouring
al-Qa'ida, have been harbouring the Taliban and allowing them to regroup, to retrain there, ahead
of this offensive. Shouldn't you be turning our attention to Pakistan to get them to put some
pressure on these groups?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: I think that's a really good point. I think you've got to call a spade a spade.
It's not simply turning a blind eye. The evidence suggests there's actual assistance being provided
by elements of the Pakistani security forces to the Taliban and al-Qa'ida links. And I think there
really needs to be international pressure there. The United States have actually threatened cutting
off aid to Pakistan unless they rein in the activities of these elements of the security forces. We
are looking at a very, very dangerous situation in Pakistan - some 10,000 troops being trained
there on behalf of the Taliban. Obviously a significant threat to our troops and other troops - a
very, very dangerous situation - and I think our Government has an obligation to call a spade a
spade and get stuck into the Pakistani Government for not doing enough in that area.

TOM ALLARD: And the aid that we send them, which is reasonably considerable, I mean, should we be
talking about withdrawing that right now, to put a bit of pressure on them?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: I think from the point of view of the humanitarian aid that went in after the
earthquakes, that perhaps should be quarantined, but in terms of security assistance, those sort of
things, most certainly should be looked at, unquestionably should be looked at.

STEVE LEWIS: Closer to home, Mr McClelland, you've called for a greater emphasis on the Pacific, on
Australia supporting the Pacific. What specifically would a Labor Government do to try and improve
relations in the Pacific? Do you have a concrete plan at this stage?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Well, I think we've got to do better than the current Government where we have
no ministerial-level diplomacy with Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, but I think it's a
question of resources. It's a question of focus. We have a plan to create a college of governance,
administration and security to increase the skills of Australians, a train the trainer program for
Australians to assist in capacity building in the region, and also to invite civil servants from
those countries for their skills, but there's a whole range of things including a business
development, encouraging businesses to go there. There's a whole range of encouraging -

STEVE LEWIS: And what about guest workers? Should we be encouraging Pacific Islanders to come to
Australia as guest workers?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: That has been an issue of some controversy, but we've certainly indicated we're
going to look at that issue. I mean, in one sense having well-off families sending kids here as
backpackers from Europe and so forth is very nice, but why we're not assisting the island states is
an issue that we need to look at.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Mr McClelland, on the issue of Zimbabwe, we've seen disturbing events in Zimbabwe
over the past few weeks by the regime of Robert Mugabe.


DEBORAH KNIGHT: Should we force our Australian cricket team to call off the tour to Zimbabwe later
this month?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: I think there's a jealous history or a history of jealous self-independence from
our sporting organisations. I'd certainly think it's worth talking with them and saying is it
something they really want to do given what is an outrageous abuse of our principles in Zimbabwe? I
mean, that's, I think, something certainly to legitimately raise. They make the decision but I
think we're entitled to say, "Is this a good thing, visiting Zimbabwe, or is it -"

STEVE LEWIS: It certainly forced change in South Africa. Shouldn't we be taking a similar stand in
terms of Zimbabwe?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: It did. It ultimately, over a period of time, unquestionably did in South
Africa. I think these are things to look at from not only politics but the community sporting
organisation generally.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Robert McClelland, thanks for joining us this morning.


DEBORAH KNIGHT: When we come back, should ethics and politics be mutually exclusive? And
mud-slinging is the theme of this week's Nicholson animation from the 'Australian' newspaper

KEVIN RUDD CHARACTER: The honeymoon has exceeded all of my expectations. Look at these poll
results, 80% satisfaction.

JULIA GILLARD CHARACTER: Yeah, we're a dream team.


RUDD: I didn't order that.


HOWARD: Ha, ha, sign here, Mr Burke. You'll never get that stain out.

RIGHT-WING VOTER: Oh, let's get that top off right now.

HOWARD: They'll never keep that going till October.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: You're on Meet The Press, welcome back. Federal Parliament is sitting again on
Tuesday. And should we expect more of this?

TONY ABBOTT (28 February): The only socialist thing about him was his haircut, Mr Speaker, his
depression-era haircut. Whether it's Dr Death or Pol Pot, don't trust him with the health system.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Tony Abbott there in full flight. Ethics is the focus of our next guest, Dr Simon
Longstaff, Executive Director of the St James Ethics Centre. Welcome to the program.


DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, it has been an intense few weeks in politics for mud-slinging. Have voters
had enough? Is it time for a truce?

SIMON LONGSTAFF: Oh, I think that the voters look at this and they question the sincerity of the
challenges being made by one party against the other. And it's not just in the Federal Parliament -
you see this around the country, whatever the political perspective. And they really see it's a
kind of a tit-for-tat exercise for political reasons rather than necessarily reflecting some kind
of deep concern about ethical issues in politics.

STEVE LEWIS: Dr Longstaff, is it time for there to be a tougher ministerial code? We've seen John
Howard bring it out of the drawer in recent times. If you had your way, what you would like to see
in a ministerial code?

SIMON LONGSTAFF: I'd like to see the application of the code. I don't know if it needs to be much
tougher, though.

STEVE LEWIS: The code itself is OK, it's the application.

SIMON LONGSTAFF: The general principles, which the Prime Minister brought in when he was first
elected to government, are about right. What you want to try and do is prevent having any influence
being exercised over the decisions of particularly ministers to ensure that they make a
disinterested judgment in favour of the public interest. The problem with the code so far has been
that, after a fairly spectacular beginning, it was set aside. There was differences between hanging
offences and non-hanging offences. And I've got to be frank, you've got to feel a bit sorry for
John Howard today. I mean, he shouldn't have to be going after ministers asking them to do the
right thing - they should be taking personal responsibility, as most will, and recently it seems
almost breathtaking that they haven't actually paid attention to the issues they should have done.

TOM ALLARD: But hasn't John Howard's selective use of the ministerial code of conduct, in a sense,
emboldened people like Senator Santoro? Because he really hasn't been applying it. I mean, for
many, many years he wouldn't sack anyone.

SIMON LONGSTAFF: Yeah, I think that's part of the problem. Generally speaking, when you look at the
conduct of politics in Australia, there's questions about whether the doctrine of ministerial
responsibility still applies as it once did, and I think it probably doesn't in many cases. I think
that the fact that you don't quite know whether or not the boom's going to drop on you or not might
want to make you want to chance your arm if you're a politician. And so there does need to be some
kind of process in place by which you can be pretty certain, if you're a minister, that there's
going to be action on the code if it applies.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: So is an independent policing body the answer? Robert McClelland says it's
something worth considering.

SIMON LONGSTAFF: I think it's worth considering. I don't know - I wouldn't see it so much as
policing. I mean, there's an element of providing guidance to people so that they can make some
decisions often where it's a little bit grey as to what the right thing is to do. So taking out of
the mix the political element and saying, "OK, here's someone you can go to, you can explore these
issues," and if there has to be a judgment call made, they're going to do so on the public policy
issues rather than the politics, would probably help.

STEVE LEWIS: We've also seen John Howard in recent days tripped up over the question of fundraising
- the question of a fundraiser that he was involved with some years ago in Brisbane. Are you
concerned, in an election year, at the level of funds being raised by both major parties,
particularly by corporations? Do you believe the laws are tough enough to ensure that safeguards
are in place?

SIMON LONGSTAFF: Well, I am concerned. I'm not sure whether it's more laws or whether it's a better
form of public funding of political parties that's required. I mean, the cost of running for
office, whether you're in an electorate just as a person seeking election to a particular seat or
more generally for the parties, is so huge now that they're desperate for cash. And I do worry
about the fact that - you hear stories of people going to these $10,000-a-seat dinners with
ministers, and this is Labor, it's Liberal, it's National. It doesn't matter who you're looking at,
it's all the same, and you wonder about whether or not it's appropriate in a democracy that you
should be able to buy your place next to the ear of somebody who has so much power in our country.
Now, I understand practically why they do it, and I think we've got to think through the
implications of this. But it's not a particularly good situation in which to be. I think we should
address it to try and remove that particular piece of mischief from the system.

TOM ALLARD: Simon Longstaff, I wanted to ask you about religion and politics. We've seen religion
make a comeback in politics. I wanted to particularly ask you particularly about Kevin Rudd because
he's given a very interesting interpretation of the gospels, which essentially says that they
support Labor's social justice cause. Should politicians be bringing God, I guess the realm of the
unknowable, the realm of faith, into politics and using it to justify their side of things?

SIMON LONGSTAFF: I think both sides do it. I mean, Tony Abbott probably reckons the gospel support
the Coalition, so they're going to debate these issues. Look, the thing about it is - actually, I
don't mind the fact we have - in fact, I rather like the fact that we have people in Parliament and
in Government who've got strong convictions, often drawn from a religious perspective, because it
means they're not going to just blow with the wind, or they shouldn't, because their consciences
will be operating, and that's an important thing in politics. But at the same time I would not want
them, particularly if they have a ministerial office, drawing upon their own personal faith as the
basis for deciding what happens to be in the public interest. So, it's a bit of a mix that you
want. What you want is somebody who will not do anything, who has got beliefs that give them
guidance and strength in their judgment, but nonetheless who will always prefer the public interest
to their own personal beliefs. And that's what I think we often get, rather than the opposite.

STEVE LEWIS: Is there a danger, with all the mud that's being thrown around, with all the
examinations of people's personal behaviours and personal files, that people just simply won't want
to go into public life? It will become too difficult.

SIMON LONGSTAFF: Well, I think there is a risk. We're pretty good in this country for the most
part. There are conventions in the media, for example, which I'm sure you would all adhere to,
about where you do not go in terms of the personal lives of Members of Parliament and ministers.
But we all know too, that if you're a politician that makes this an issue then it's likely to be
followed up. So there's an element in which you sort of court your own potential disaster if you
make too much of some personal element in your story. And also realistically, I mean, politics in
Australia now is less about parties, it's more about personalities, so you get this kind of
presidential style.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: So we're moving more into the US style?

SIMON LONGSTAFF: I think so. I think it's unfortunate, but I think that's where we are at the
moment. And people are going to be tested, particularly in an election year. The question is, do
the politicians actually have enough self-restraint not to go where they can because they get the
oxygen, if you like, of publicity from the media. I mean, they can create this story and there will
be a lather, a sound and fury. Whether or not anybody is seriously concerned about the issues or
just about the politics of it is open to question.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Dr Simon Longstaff, it's going to be a very interesting election year. Your ethical
standards will be put to the test. Have you had a flurry, just quickly, of people enquiring about
your ethical - you do also lessons in ethics?

SIMON LONGSTAFF: We provide actually the world's only free confidential helpline for people with
ethical issues. We get all sorts of people and, I must say, occasionally the odd politician and odd
journalist too. So it will be interesting to see - everybody's ethics will probably be put to the
test in an election year.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Great. Thank you for your time this morning. That is the program for this week.
Thanks for your company. And thank you to our guest, Dr Simon Longstaff, and to our panel Steve
Lewis and Tom Allard. Hope you can join us next week.