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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView



October 14th 2007


MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER PAUL BONGIORNO: Hello and welcome to Meet the Press. Today's the day the
PM will call the election. He's expected to see the Governor-General shortly and then to reveal the
date. Playing into the election issues, national security, brought into strong focus by the death
of an Australian soldier last week. The body of Trooper David Pearce returns home, our first combat
fatality for five years in either Iraq or Afghanistan. And the military warns the risk is high,
others will fall.

PM JOHN HOWARD (Tuesday): The operation in Afghanistan involves resisting brutal terrorism. It's a
just cause.

OPPOSITION LEADER KEVIN RUDD (Tuesday): Any Australian soldier who dies proudly wearing the uniform
of Australia in defence of Australia's interests, as defined by the democratically elected
Government of the day, deserves our absolute 100% support.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Labor's defence spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon is our guest. And later, the battle for
control of the Senate. We speak with Family First's Steve Fielding. But first - what the papers are
reporting this Sunday October 14. The 'Sunday Telegraph' leads with, "Howard will call it today."
Australians will vote in a Federal election on November 24. The PM arrived in Canberra last night
and is expected to hold a mid-morning news conference after seeing the Governor-General. A 6-week
campaign is designed to wear down frontrunner Kevin Rudd. The 'Sun-Herald' Taverner poll taken in
the two biggest States has young voters flocking to the ALP. 73% prefer Labor, according to the
headline. The Opposition has an 18-point lead, two-party preferred. The 'Sunday Mail' has, "Howard
and Rudd smash open election piggybank." Both sides try to woo voters with $20 billion worth of
promises since the May budget. One of the big points of difference in this election is withdrawing
our troops from Iraq. The Government refuses to give a timetable, Labor is committed to one.
Neither side is talking of withdrawing from Afghanistan. Good morning and welcome to the program,
Joel Fitzgibbon.

SHADOW DEFENCE MINISTER JOEL FITZGIBBON: Good morning, Paul, and good to be with you.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Just going to the election, you've now got the bookies Labor odds-on favourite to
win, the Taverner poll today, an 18-point lead, you'd have to fall over to lose wouldn't you?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, we're obviously very encouraged by the polls but we don't underestimate the
task we've got ahead of us, and you know John Howard is a very clever politician. He's down there
in that bag of tricks now on a daily basis. Who would have ever believed that the PM would suddenly
discover reconciliation? I think the very interesting thing about that poll today is the way in
which its identified the strength of Labor support amongst very young voters. And this highlights
the fact that John Howard recently changed the electoral laws to cut off enrolments as soon as the
election is called. Now, based on the 2004 election, that will deny some 400,000 young Australians
a vote at this election, so we can see what John Howard's been about in terms of those electoral

PAUL BONGIORNO: What's the biggest risk for Labor, do you see in the next six weeks?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I don't know whether I'd put it in terms of risk. We will win this election if we
keep putting out a very positive message. John Howard has to wake up to the fact that this election
is not about his place in Australian political history, it's about the future. And Kevin Rudd's
been talking about new leadership, he's been putting some very important messages in education, in
health, and things like climate change. IR is obviously a very important issue in this election. If
we keep talking on the positive, while John Howard continues to talking about the past, we will win
this election.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, of course the economy had terrific unemployment figures during the week. Is
the economy the one thing that may force voters to re-think just as they're about to vote?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, the economy is strong because we're in the middle of a mining boom and I
think people understand that Labor is a team of competent economic managers. And I don't sense any
concern in the electorate about Labor's capacity to properly manage the economy.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Let's go to your portfolio area and going to Iraq and we have a question from our
Meet the People site on

YOUNG WOMAN: Instead of creating peace within this world, the only thing that this war is creating
is the pool of innocent blood. My question is to you is - are we ever going see a positive result
out of this war, what is it going to be?

PAUL BONGIORNO: Are we going to see a positive result?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: She makes some very important points Paul, and Iraq is an unholy mess, created by
an ill-conceived intervention. But the Labor Party is committed to a long-term and stable future
for Iraq. Where we differ from the Government is how best to achieve that, and of course we believe
that the solutions lie in greater diplomatic and political solutions, rather than guns and bullets.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Labor policy is for a phased withdrawal and negotiation with your allies. What does
that really mean?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, it means we believe our combat troops should come home, Paul. Defence
planning is about the allocation of your limited resources in priority terms.

PAUL BONGIORNO: They should come home by mid-year? What if in negotiation with our allies they say
to us, "No we need you for another couple of months, we need you for another tour of duty?"

JOEL FITZGIBBON: We've made it clear, Paul, that we cant any longer afford to have so many people,
so many resources, locked up in Iraq, nor do we think that the military process is the long-term
solution for Iraq.

PAUL BONGIORNO: So, no equivocation - all out mid-year?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: We've indicated that we would commit to another rotation so that we don't leave
anyone in the lurch. We will consult with our allies. We have a very strong and good relationship
with the United States and I'm very confident and have no doubt indeed that we can get our combat
troops out by mid-next year.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Phased withdrawal, does that mean you'll leave 200 there, 250 out?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: No, not at all. Our combat troops must come out in one lot. You need critical
mass, they must come out together. We talk about phased withdrawal because of course we've got more
than 1,400 people in the theatre, in the gulf and across the Middle East in Iraq in particular, and
we'd like to think that at some point they can all come home, but first it's our combat troops.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, on Wednesday the PM accused Kevin Rudd of being cowardly in his treatment of
Shadow Foreign Minister Robert McCelland over the Labor Party's death penalty policy.

JOHN HOWARD (Wednesday): Robert McCelland was the unfortunate messenger. So what did Mr Rudd do? He
turned around and pretended to the world that it was all Robert McCelland's idea and then he blamed
his staff. Mr Rudd has articulated that same policy himself and he should have been man enough to
have accepted responsibility for it instead of trying to blame somebody else.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, it goes to character, doesn't it Mr Fitzgibbon, the PM's got a point, hasnt

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Kevin Rudd always handles these matters in the most professional way. Thats
exactly what he did on Tuesday. I think the ultimate test here is whether Robert McCelland is
satisfied with Kevin's reaction to the speech and the subsequent publicity. I've spoken to Robert
and he's more than comfortable with how Kevin handled the situation.

PAUL BONGIORNO: What we saw out of that intervention by your leader of course is that now we have
Labor and the Government both with contradictory policies - we're against the death penalty in all
circumstances anywhere and yet we won't fight it in particular circumstances, like for terrorists.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I think the very positive thing that came out of Robert's speech and the media,
the publicity which followed, is that it caused both major political parties to reaffirm their
total commitment against capital punishment in all circumstances. What Robert didn't say is that we
would use Government resources to lobby foreign Governments to allow terrorists to avoid the death

PAUL BONGIORNO: OK, when we come back with the panel, has Labor an exit strategy for Afghanistan?
And the stunt of the week goes to Independent Senate candidate Nick Xenophon. He went to the
giraffe enclosure at Adelaide Zoo to announce he was sticking his neck out by leaving State
politics to try for the big time.

SENATE CANDIDATE NICK XENOPHON: Look, I've had stunt block lately but hopefully I'll have a stunt
in the next week or two.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press and welcome to our panel, Alison Carabine, Radio 2UE, good
morning Alison.

ALISON CARABINE, RADIO 2UE: Good morning, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: And Ian McPhedran, News Limited papers. Good morning, Ian.

IAN MCPHEDRAN, NEWS LTD: Good morning, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Afghanistan, before Iraq descended into murderous chaos, was described as terror
central. The death of an Australian soldier last week has thrown the spotlight back on that
country, with questions being asked about how realistic our strategy is there. NATO appears
half-hearted and there's a real worry that we'll be left in the lurch by Dutch forces in the
Oruzgan province.

DEFENCE MINISTER BRENDAN NELSON (Wednesday): Australia is not a NATO country. It requires a NATO
country to lead the operations, and we do understand that negotiations are being undertaken at the
moment with some NATO countries with a view to filling any reduction in Dutch forces should that be
the ultimate outcome of the deliberations in the Dutch Cabinet and the Dutch Parliament.


IAN MCPHEDRAN: Mr Fitzgibbon, Labor's going to withdraw 500 or so combat troops from Iraq. Will
they be redeployed to Afghanistan immediately?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: You certainly highlight an important issue. We are overstretched and we can't
afford to have so many resources locked up in Iraq. You'll remember not that long ago the UN asked
the Government to send some people to Darfur and the Government's response is, "We simply can't
because we don't have the people." So we do have a serious capacity problem. Afghanistan is very
very important. We're there, we are fighting terrorism at its roots, it's where terrorism begins
and our commitment is a very very strong one, and of course we would consider any request to make
an additional commitment, but I should say - and this is where I agree with Brendan Nelson - we're
not going to be putting additional people into Afghanistan just to let some other NATO country off
the hook. It's got to be in proportion.

IAN MCPHEDRAN: This is the front line in the war on terrorism. We've 25,000 or so Australian
troops. Surely we have a capacity to have more in Afghanistan. Your leader says that he would be
happy to look at putting more into Afghanistan. What sort of numbers would you be looking at?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, if we get our combat troops home from Iraq we will have a greater capacity,
but we will remain stretched. And we don't take decisions to send our young people to war lightly.
We would of course take great note of the advice from the CDF and the service chiefs, but we are
open to the question of reinforcing our commitment to Afghanistan.

ALISON CARABINE: Mr Fitzgibbon, Labor has an exit strategy for Iraq, but not for Afghanistan. Would
the Afghan commitment be open-ended under a Labor Government?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Our commitment is for as long as its takes, but they are very different wars. In
Iraq you have a civil war with no end in sight. In Afghanistan you are fighting a clearly defined
enemy trying to overthrow a democratically-elected Government. We can see an end to that conflict.
It's easy to us defeating the Taliban and finally securing that Government. It's hard to see an end
to the conflict, particularly in Iraq. I think that's the big difference.

IAN MCPHEDRAN: You say as long as it takes. A British General said the other day that it would be
at least 30 years in his view. Is 30 years your view?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: 30 years is not my view, but I do accept that we look like being in Afghanistan
for some time to come.

ALISON CARABINE: Mr Fitzgibbon, Do you want to be Defence Minister? Kevin Rudd won't guarantee any
ministerial positions beyond the economic portfolios, do that make your nervous?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I would love nothing more than to become the country's next Defence Minister. I
hope all politicians come to the job with a view to making a difference and Defence provides no
better opportunity. Surely there's no greater priority for a Government than to defend the nation.
But I think Kevin Rudd is absolutely right to keep these positions contestable. The best way of
ensuring he gets the best possible ministry is to keep people on their toes. You don't promise the
front row in a footy side, his position forever, and we are very fortunate to have so many talented
people knocking on our doors.

IAN MCPHEDRAN: The Government has promised spending billions of dollars to equip our defence force
to fight alongside the Americans anywhere in the world. Is that your strategy, your plan, for the
future - do you support this spending? We support the spending, Ian, but I'm really concerned about
the ongoing drift or disconnect between strategic policy, capability planning and forward structure
plans. We need a new white paper. The one we're working off now was developed in the late 1990s and
released in the year 2000. The world has changed so much in that time. 9/11, the Bali bombings, big
changes in the global distribution of power. We need a new white paper to ensure that we're on
track in terms of strategy and defence planning, capability planning and of course Defence Force
structure planning.

ALISON CARABINE: How soon world we see that white paper? It would be our absolute first priority,
Alison, and I've consulted the CDF on this issue and we're very, very confident we could release a
new white paper by the end of 2008.

ALISON CARABINE: If we could shift back to the election, much is made of Kevin Rudd's me-tooism. Do
you feel that there is a danger that could backfire?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: No, I think Kevin's positive messages will inevitably bring us in line with the
Government on some issues, but people know where the differences are. You can see them very clearly
in industrial relations, you can see them very clearly in climate change, you can see them in both
health and education, so I think people can see big differences between us and them, but I think
it's very, very normal in mainstream society that we be close to the Government on some issues as

ALISON CARABINE: Mr Rudd also has a reputation for being something of a control freak. This was a
question posted on the MySpace Meet the People site. "Joel Fitzgibbon, have you cleared everything
you're going to say in the Meet the Press interview with Kevin07? Has it been tested in an opinion
poll and will you be hanged for saying the wrong thing? Is it true Kevin07 has said to team, 'When
I want an opinion, I'll give you one?' Are we hearing your opinions or Kevin Rudd's?" The answer to
that question is no - have I had my interview cleared, etc. But can I say, I'm very very happy to
be working behind a strong leader who knows what he wants and has a vision for this country and I'm
very very happy to follow him.

ALISON CARABINE: Does he cast a long shadow?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: He does indeed!

IAN MCPHEDRAN: Just on the issue of strategic policy, you've made a big issue of wastage in the
defence forces, the billions of dollars you've highlighted in waste terms. How would you deal with
that issue when and if you get elected?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: First of all Ian, we've got the Kennaird process for these things which we have a
bipartisan approach to. The Government hasn't been following it. It's been making ad hoc decisions
like $6 billion of taxpayers' money on Super Hornets without any comparative analysis with other
aircraft. We want to get back on track with the Kennaird process, make sure due process is
followed, and we think there are lots of efficiencies to be made at various levels. We think the
DMO, the organisation charged with purchasing equipment, could work much better and more
efficiently. We want to run that DMO like a business, not like a bureaucracy.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Mr Fitzgibbon, we have another question from the Meet the People site on on the defence force. Here it is.

YOUNG MAN: Mr Fitzgibbon, you have accused the Howard Government of not addressing the defence
force's recruitment and retention problems. Considering your slogan is "Fresh Ideas", what fresh
ideas does Labor have to address this very important issue?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: First of all Paul, the Government's come to this thing too late. It's been
developing over the last half a dozen years, suddenly it's throwing money, finally, at recruitment
and embracing some of our ideas about talking to Generation Y in their language, through the
mediums they use to gain their information. But the even more important issue is retention. We've
got to be working on keeping the people we've already invested so heavily in, and the Government
has failed so badly in this regard. We believe you can do much more for defence families, so when
the family is sitting down at the kitchen table trying to decide whether to remain in the ADF or
take the job offer elsewhere, we can throw on the table some family-friendly policies that just tip
the balance in favour of staying rather than going.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thanks for being with us today, Joel Fitzgibbon. Coming up, Senator Steve Fielding
and the battle for control of the Upper House. Peter Nicholson and Paul Jennings from the
'Australian' newspaper's website - pulp, the politics of the Gunns mill in Tasmania.


JOHN HOWARD: Malcolm, would you shut up for a minute? I'm trying to write these special lyrics.


KEVIN RUDD: We've come for our singing lesson.

JOHN HOWARD: Great, here, take one of these each, will you.

KEVIN RUDD: One, two, three, four.

PETER GARRETT (Singing): Call me, king of the pulp mill.

JOHN HOWARD: Hold it. More feeling on the word 'pulp mill'. I want to hear those trees falling and
those votes rolling in, like this. (Singing) Call me king of the pulp mill.

PETER GARRETT: Call me... (Coughs) I'm having trouble with the high notes. Can't I just mime it?

KEVIN RUDD: I'll do it if you can't. I used to sing in the church choir, you know?

BOB BROWN: Peter Garrett, you traitor, you're not my friend any more.

JOHN HOWARD: Don't you just love groupies?

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press. This campaign is sure to see more focus on the Senate.
The election of the Nationals' Barnaby Joyce last time gave government control of the Upper House
for the first time in 24 years. Though a maverick on some issues, he denied the house of review the
independence from the executive that voters had come to expect. Senate committees were tamed and
major legislation like WorkChoices rubber-stamped. While trying to redress that situation, besides
the Greens is Family First, its sole Senator, Steve Fielding joins us. Good morning and welcome
Senator Fielding.

SENATOR STEVE FIELDING: Good morning and thank you.

PAUL BONGIORNO: The election will be announced today, who do you think's going to win it?

STEVE FIELDING: Look, I think it's going to be very close. And I think Australians have got two
battles on their hand. One is who is going to run the Government of the day and the second battle
is the battle of who's going to control the balance of power in the Senate - and that's got to be
taken very seriously.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You travel around the country talking to people, what sense do you get? Are the
polls right? Is Labor the favourite in your view?

STEVE FIELDING: Look, certainly Labor are definitely in front and I think that part of the reason
why Labor are in front is that the Government have used their control of parliament, that is, the
control of the Senate, and I think they've misused that trust that people have placed with them and
I think that people are starting to think about the Senate a lot more. Most Australians feel
uncomfortable with the Government of the day having control of the parliament in totality. Most
Australians also feel uncomfortable when the Opposition can veto everything - that's chaos. What
most Australians like is when you get a third party - and we think like Family First - that it can
look at the issues on their merits and argue common sense and let that prevail.

ALISON CARABINE: Family First could be the party that holds the balance of power. If Labor wins and
wins by a fair margin, would you respect its mandate and not be obstructionist?

STEVE FIELDING: Look, I think our record or the record of Family First, we have two State
parliamentarians in South Australia, they work very well with the Government of the day, and that
is Labor. I work in the Senate and the Government of the day is Liberal. Family First has proven
themselves to be able to work with both sides of parliament and that is very, very important to
voters. You need a party that sits in the middle that can work with both parties. I've made it
quite clear that on day one Family First may not have had the balance of power last time, but we
would have the power of common sense and we'll work with both parties.

ALISON CARABINE: But you may share that balance of power with the Greens, who you've accused of
being extremist - how would you work together?

STEVE FIELDING: Look, certainly Family First would work with both the two majors. The Greens are
extreme - most Australians think they are. You look at their policies on drugs, you know, giving
free heroin out to people, look at their policy on IR, they not only only want to wind back
WorkChoices, they want to go back way before that again. So what Australians want is if they're
going to have a third party, they want someone with common sense and balance, not extreme. Most
people would feel very uncomfortable if they knew the Greens were going to hold the balance of
power, less so as more and more people hear about Family First, they're saying, "Yes, we think they
would be very good with it."

IAN MCPHEDRAN: You have proposed a $10,000 baby bonus for a third child. Would that apply to gay
couples as well as heterosexual couples?

STEVE FIELDING: I think the issue that we've said from day one, Family First will not be advocates
for the gay movement. We think that kids are best brought up where possible with the mum and dad.
That's not always the case and we support single parents very, very strongly. But the issue is why
would you have a public policy that says you don't get a mum or you don't get a dad? I don't think
that's right.

IAN MCPHEDRAN: So the answer no, that wouldn't apply to gay couples?


IAN MCPHEDRAN: And just on that issue, should legislation be introduced into the parliament to end
discrimination against same sex couples?

STEVE FIELDING: Look, I think the issue here is that it's broader than just a sexual relationship.
I worked in the superannuation industry for years, and what about two sisters living together, one
is out working, one's caring for the other. There's discrimination there, so we need to look at
this issue broader than just always looking at the issue about gays.

ALISON CARABINE: You famously refused to horse trade your vote, you won't sell your vote to the
Government to get legislation through. Would that continue under a Labor government?

STEVE FIELDING: Look, I think that we've been proven to be able to work with both sides of
government. I think when you look at issues of the day, say for example you're looking at
telecommunications, I don't think bringing in something like petrol tax to the sale of Telstra
would make sense. But we will negotiate on Telstra and if we were to hold the balance of power with
Telstra we would make sure sure that people were looked after. With Telstra, is it an an essential
service or is it a business? It's a bit of both. We would have argued that point through.

ALISON CARABINE: You don't get anything for your constituency by giving the Government your vote,
so what's the point?

STEVE FIELDING: If you look at Senator Harradine, when he looked at some of the issues, say for
example Telstra, I think they're still having trouble spending the money in Tasmania. He negotiated
on the issues of the day and kept them on those issues rather than actually cross-trading across
portfolios. I think when you talk about those sorts of things you should deal with those issues on
their merits. That's what Australians want. They want people to deal with issues on their merits,
making sure that common sense prevails. WorkChoices is a classic example.

PAUL BONGIORNO: One of the big issues you've been championing is cutting petrol tax. That might be
fine for motorists, but what will it do for climate change?

STEVE FIELDING: Well, let's face it, let's have a look at this issue of petrol tax. Over 50 cents a
litre goes to the Government in taxes. That is outrageous. If you were tell me that that's being
used for climate change, that is a joke.

PAUL BONGIORNO: I think it's the pollution coming from the cars, isn't it? Doesn't encourage people
to use public transport.

STEVE FIELDING: On that point, you go to talk to most people in the outer suburban areas where the
bulk of Australia lives, there's no alternative, so the key to this position is we've got to use
our cars and to slug people over 50 cents a litre without cutting the pain is ridiculous. The other
thing is that when you look at tax cuts, the only tax cut that puts downward pressure on inflation
is petrol tax cuts, not income tax. There was an argument about income tax cuts would actually put
pressure on inflation. We need income tax cuts, but we should have also cut the petrol tax by 10
cents a litre.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Just very quickly and very briefly, do you expect to win one or two senators in
this election?

STEVE FIELDING: Look, it will be up to the voters. We're hopeful of picking up some more seats. But
look, I think the voters really need to take the Senate seriously this time around and the battle
will be between the Greens and Family First and I think most people would say they will be
horrified to think the Greens could hold the balance of power in Australia. I'm hoping Family First
will have that position.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thanks for being with us today, Senator Steve Fielding. And thanks to our panel,
Alison Carabine and Ian McPhedran. And don't forget you can now sent video questions for our guests
through Until next week, goodbye.