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

View in ParlView


DEBORAH KNIGHT: Good morning. Welcome to Meet The Press. Wherever he goes in the rest of his 17-day
world tour, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is unlikely to receive a warmer welcome from a friendlier
host than that at the White House. Policy differences seemed to evaporate in an atmosphere brimming
with good will.

US PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH (Yesterday): I have found him to be a straight forward fella. Being
from texas, that's the way I like it.

PRIME MINISTER KEVIN RUDD: Mr President you said you had a warm regard for me because from a Texan
point of view you found em to be a reasonably straight shooter. I therefore designate you as an
honorary Queenslander.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: With the latest on the Prime Minister's world tour, we'll be speaking with Ten's
Political Editor Paul Bongiorno live from New York shortly. And later - from global diplomacy to a
domestic dilemma, we'll speak with Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin just back from a visit
to the remote Queensland community of Aurukun which he describes as tragic and broken. But first, a
look at what the nation's papers are reporting this Sunday, March 30. Adelaide's 'Sunday Mail'
says, "Bush sees Rudd as a new man of steel." The ringing endorsement capped off a morning of talks
between the two leaders with Kevin Rudd described as a "straight shooter". Brisbane's 'Sunday Mail'
reads, "Petrol watchdog aims for 5 cent a litre fuel cut." Petrol Commissioner Pat Walker believes
he can cut petrol prices by 2 to 5 cents a litre if the Government adopts a national Fuel Watch
scheme. Melbourne's 'Sunday Age' has, "Union seeks six months paid leave for mothers." Public
servants will campaign for 26 weeks paid maternity leave with their union claiming mums and babies
have the right to six months together. And Sydney's 'Sun-Herald' headlines, "How we switched on by
turning it all off." The city's glittering skyline and famous Harbour went to silhouette at the
appointed hour as people let out a cheer and celebrated Earth Hour by candle and torchlight. The
Prime Minister has kicked off the first leg of his round the world tour meeting with top US
officials, including, of course, President Bush. Kevin Rudd is now in New York where he's meeting
the Secretary-General of the United Nations and will soon deliver a major address to the American
Australian Association. Paul Bongiorno is covering the lengthy trip and joins us now from New York.

Paul, Kevin Rudd and George W. Bush seem to have hit it off extremely well during that first
meeting since the Australian election. The anticipated tensions over Australia's withdrawal from
Iraq didn't eventuate?

TEN POLITICAL EDITOR PAUL BONGIORNO: Yes, good morning, Deb. That's certainly correct. It was all
sweetness and light at the White House yesterday. Stark contrast to what happened four years ago
when the President at a news conference attacked the former Labor leader Mark Latham's promise to
bring the troops home by Christmas. It was dangerous then and encouraging to terrorists. Yesterday,
he saw it as a reward for Australia's success. Australia can withdraw because its been successful,
and the President himself talked about drawing down American troops. A lot of water has passed
under the bridge in four years. George Bush is now America's most unpopular president and the Iraq
commitment has certainly lost support here. And I think that comes out very clearly in the news
conference that was held in the White House yesterday. Here are some edited highlights.

GEORGE BUSH: Obviously, the Prime Minister kept a campaign commitment which I appreciate. I always
like to be in the presence of somebody who does what he says he's going to do. You know, often
times politicians go out there and they say one thing on the campaign trail and they don't mean it.
Well, this is a guy who meant it. I'm sure the press is going to say, aren't you mad at the Prime
Minister for fulfilling his campaign pledge? And the answer is, no. No, you don't even need to ask
the question now! (Audience laughs)

KEVIN RUDD: Mr President, you said that you had a warm regard for me because from a Texan point of
view, you found me to be a reasonably straight shooter. I therefore designate you as an honorary
Queenslander. In the great state of Australia, I come from the great State of Queensland. It may
surprise you that it is bigger than Texas. But, can I say, but, can I say quickly.

GORGE BUSH: Can you recover nicely?

KEVIN RUDD: The recovery point is this. Queenslanders and Texans have a lot in common, and they get
on well.

PAUL BONGIORNO: As you noted, Australia will begin withdrawing 500 combat troops from southern
Iraq, and I heard that you accept this decision which did, as you say, play out in our election.
But how does it fit with your view expressed quite strongly again yesterday that to withdraw troops
at this time would be "to retreat" and you described our former Prime Minister as a "man of steel."
I wonder how you would describe Mr Rudd?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Fine lad, fine lad. First of all, I didn't exactly say that. And by the way, we are
withdrawing troops. It's called return on success. Troops are coming out, because, we're
successful. And so, I would view the Australian decision as return on success. Returning home on
success. That's fundamentally different from saying, well, it's just too hard, pull them all out.
Thank you for coming. I have enjoyed it.

JOURNALIST: A man of steel?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah, heck yeah.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Paul, I'm not sure if the "fine lad" comment was referred to you or Kevin Rudd, but
a lot is being made of the "man of steel" reference. It is not exactly clear if the President was
anointing Prime Minister Rudd the new man of steel?

PAUL BONGIORNO: That's right. I think he'd prefer to call him a fine lad, which is a bit
patronising, I think. At the end of the news conference. One of the Australian journalists yelled
out, "man of steel" and he thought about it and said, "heck, yes" and Kevin Rudd chuckled and
thought that was terrific. I don't know what John Howard would think. And I think we have to admit
that it had to be dragged out of the President, but at least he said yes.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Pau, also in the press conference, the issue of China and Tibet was raised and
Kevin Rudd was quite forthright about the issue of human rights abuses in Tibet?

PAUL BONGIORNO: Yes, the President said that Kevin Rudd is clearly an expert on China. Mr Rudd in
an answer to a question said that the Chinese should show more restraint on Tibet and he's urging
the Chinese Government to talk informally to try to sort things out with the Dalai Lama and the
President himself said that he couldn't have put it better. And that's being read by observers here
in the United States as quite a strong shot across the bows for China, coming not only from the US
President, but from our new Prime Minister.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And finally, Paul, you are obviously in New York with the skyline behind you.
What's on the agenda now for the Prime Minister?

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Secretary-General of the
United Nations is due to end about now. Climate change was going to be one of the first topics
raised by Kevin Rudd. There are concerns in the Australian Government that the goals set out at
Bali for reducing harmful emissions that are to be settled on in two years time may not be
achieved. They believe there's a little dragging of the chain at the process level and I understand
that Mr Rudd was going to urge the Secretary-General of the United Nations to ensure that things
get moving.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: A lot to come on this world tour. Thanks you for your time this morning. Ten's
Political Editor Paul Bongiorno covering the Prime Minister's tour. When we return, with the panel,
we'll speak with the Federal minister who wants to make a difference to the plight of Indigenous
Australians living in remote communities. Jenny Macklin is just back from Aurukun, the troubled
township she describes as "tragic" and "broken".

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Welcome back. Welcome to our panel, Jennifer Hewett from the 'Australian' and from
Steve Lewis from News Limited. The Rudd Government recently declared a commitment to closing the
17-year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation.
It also wants to take action to improve problems, like the high level of infant mortality among
Indigenous people.

KEVIN RUDD (March 20): Given enough determination, enough goodwill, enough hard work and enough
resources and enough vision, I believe that not only can we close the gap, but we will close the

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Jenny Macklin is the minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs. Welcome to Meet
the Press.


DEBORAH KNIGHT: Countless Government and ministers before you have tried and failed to improve the
plight of Aborigines. Why do you think you'll make a difference?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think we're determined to do is to set ourselves very clear targets as you've just
seen from the Prime Minister. Setting a target to close the life expectancy gap between Indigenous
and non-Indigenous Australians. It is a 17-year gap. We know it is going to take time. We in fact
expect that it will take a generation, so that's why we've set ourselves shorter term targets as
well. Within 10 years, we want to halve the mortality rate for children under five that exists
between Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids, but also halve the gap in literacy and numeracy between
Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. Those gaps are very, very significant. We know if we're to
get to the eventual stage of closing the life expectancy gap, we do have to address the literacy
and numeracy issues and one of the specific commitments we've made in that regard is to make sure
that every single Indigenous 4-year-old is able to get a preschool education, and we've said that
we'll deliver that in the next five years.

STEVE LEWIS, NEWS LIMITED: Jenny Macklin, you have set yourself an enormous goal. Will the
Government in its first budget show some commitment, some financial commitment towards addressing
these particular issues?

JENNY MACKLIN: One of the things we're determined to do, Steve, is implement our election
commitments, and one of our election commitments was to do exactly this. It is to make sure that
every child in Australia has access to a preschool education, every 4-year-old, and specifically,
the Prime Minister has highlighted the need to put up the front, the provision of preschool
education for 4-year-olds in remote parts of Australia where we know that the gaps between children
are so great. As you know, just this week, I've been in Aurukun. They have a functioning childcare
centre that has a preschool teacher working there. Most of the staff are Indigenous, so actually, a
good place in Aurukun. It is full, it needs more places and it is something that we'll be
delivering on.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Minister, lots of senior Aboriginal leaders and now the Government are talking
about boarding schools, and this of course comes a month after the apology to the stolen
generations. There's a terrible irony isn't there, that people are saying that actually many of the
kids are better off out of the communities?

JENNY MACKLIN: I don't think that there is an irony actually. I think that there's a world of a
difference between taking children on the basis of race and Indigenous parents themselves and
Indigenous leaders themselves saying, we think it would be better for our children to, for example,
go to Weepa and be educated at the Western Cape College in Weepa where we can see Indigenous kids
doing well. The commitment we made just this week was to build a 120-bed hostel associated with the
school that's there, functioning well in Weepa. The parents in Aurukun that I spoke to said to me,
we want to get the kids out of the chaos, we want them to go to school and we think that they will
be much better able to do that in Weepa, staying in the hostel. And that's going to be available to
children and young people right across the Cape.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Given that chaos, do you think that it is time and the fact that it is a nightmare
for the kids in these communities, isn't it time to rethink the whole concept of having remote
communities as the answer for much of the Indigenous population?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I think it is certainly time that we look for a whole range of new solutions
and I think we have to be very, very open to looking at proposals that are coming forward like
these boarding hostels. You would have seen Galarrwuy Yunupingu pressing this this week, and in
addition to announcing this new one in Weepa, as part of our election commitments, you asked what
we would be doing, we will be building three additional hostels like this in the NT, because at the
moment, the vast majority of kids in remote parts of the NT don't have a secondary school to go to.
So, we have to get them to school, we have to get them in a disciplined, organised environment that
school provides and we need them getting a good education.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And issues of violence in remote communities aren't just isolated to the Aboriginal
communities either. Will you be looking at other ways of tackling the problems amongst the white
community as well as the Indigenous community?

JENNY MACKLIN: You're right. And that's why we've announced we're going to establish a national
child protection framework, because we do understand that the levels of child abuse across
Australia, it is worse in the Indigenous community, I'm sorry to say, but across Australia, we're
seeing increased levels of child abuse. So, we're already in the process of doing this. You might
have seen a comment that I've made that I want to make sure that the baby bonus, for example, is
spent in the interests of children, and for those families who are caught up in the child
protection system, either because they've been neglecting their children or abusing them, we want
to make sure that that baby bonus is spent in the interests of children, not spent on drugs or
alcohol or gambling.

STEVE LEWIS: Minister, you've just returned from Cape York. Talking about the NT Intervention, is
there scope to extend that into Queensland based on your experiences in the past few days?

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Queensland and other States as well?

JENNY MACKLIN: Sure. What we're doing in Queensland, just to go to Queensland first, you'd be aware
that one of the first things I did on becoming minister was to go up to Brisbane and with the
Premier of Queensland Anna Bligh and Noel Pearson, we announced our commitment to the Cape York
welfare reform trials so that's what we intend to do on Cape York. We do think it is critical to
introduce serious welfare reform and I was very pleased in Aurukun this week - it is one of the
welfare reform trial communities - and I was pleased to see that leadership in the community
supports this welfare reform. They want to get people off welfare, into work. Those people who
aren't caring for their children will have their income quarantined. We want to see change and
we're prepared to work with the communities and the leadership of Noel Pearson and the Queensland

DEBORAH KNIGHT: After the break, should working families fear the Rudd Government's first budget?
And Nicholson and his team on the Australian website with this blast from the past. A former PM's
view of Wall Street's role in the global economy.

PAUL KEATING CHARACTER: This is Paul Keating for the with the inside story on the
ways of Wall Street. Yes, Wall Street. First of all, the subprime mortgage crisis, it's going from
bad to buggery because, you know what, dodgy loans written by bankers who could not wipe their own
bum with a long handled squidgy. And second, yes you've got it, George Bush, the warmongering
monkey, that's all he is. George Bush invaded Iraq to push the price of oil down. But all he's done
is push it up.

BUSH: Whoops.

KEATING: He's just a useless ning-nong. How is he paying for the war? By deficit spending. He's
mortgaged the White House borrowed billions, squeezed a supply of credit and blown the crap out of
the American housing market.

BUSH: Double whoops, it was just friendly fire.

KEATING: Look, I've got to dash. I've got front row tickets for the new Broadway musical smash hit,
'Keating, the Messiah'. See ya scumbags.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: You're on Meet the Press with our guest this morning, the minister for families,
housing and community and Indigenous affairs, Jenny Macklin. The first budget of the new Government
is six weeks away, and the task confronting Kevin Rudd's cabinet is a tough one. How to keep all of
the election promise and still contain inflation and interest rates. Opposition Leader Brendan
Nelson thinks the job requires the Prime Minister's full attention here at home.

OPPOSITION LEADER BRENDAN NELSON (Thursday): This is going to be a very tough year for Australia.
The budget that the Government delivers will be very important as far as families are concerned in
meeting, not only their home loan payments but, also groceries and petrol prices throughout
Australia. And for Mr Rudd to be away for 17 days whilst the budget is being prepared is something
that's a little concerning.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, Jenny Macklin, he's right, isn't he? There are many crucial issues for the
Prime Minister to be focused on at home. But, do you feel vindicated at all after such a warm
reception that Kevin Rudd received in Washington?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I think it is just so important for the Prime Minister to be able to sit down
with the President of the United States - and he'll be doing the same in the United Kingdom and
other places - to really make plain Australia's position on such an important election commitment
that we made to withdraw our combat troops from Iraq and to reinforce our commitment to the United
States alliance, so, that was a critical issue for him to do. But, I think the Prime Minister also
understands just how important it is that the United States and other countries in the world
recognise that we are a player on the economic stage and that we want to make sure that our
economic opportunities are going to be taken advantage of. We know that when it comes to this
critical issue of families, standard of living, that they really are going to be affected by what's
happening in the rest of the world. I think the Australian public understand that. People
understand that. And that's why they're really pleased, I think, that the Prime Minister is going
to be able to take these economic questions into some of the major forums of the world.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Well, Minister, families will also be affected by the budget in May. There's a lot
of talk about protecting working families. There's also a lot of talk about a tough budget. I mean,
something's got to give there, doesn't it?

JENNY MACKLIN: The most important protection of course for Australian working families is that we
deal with inflation. If ever there's an enemy that families face, it is increases in the cost of
living. And Brendan Nelson seems to have finally woken up to the fact that we do have a major issue
for this budget - and that is inflation. Inflation is an issue that the previous government left us
with. We've had 12 interest rate rises in a row. These are issues that the Australian public and
especially families expect us to address and the number one issue we intend to address is

STEVE LEWIS: Well, Minister, you did win a battle with the razor gang over the carer's allowance,
but surely that means that other elements of your portfolio are going to have to give, the the
welfare payments are going to have to be brought back? Can we expect to see that on May 13?

JENNY MACKLIN: We understand how important it is to protect the most vulnerable, and you would have
seen most recently, we've just implemented another of our election commitments and that is to
improve the utilities allowance for pensioners, seniors, carers and people on a disability payment.
So, we do understand that you do have to protect the vulnerable.

STEVE LEWIS: What about those who are well off? There's a lot of middle class welfare out there.

JENNY MACKLIN: Just to go to another election commitment that we do intend to also implement - and
that is to put an income test on family tax benefit B at the level of $250,000. That was an
election commitment we made. We do understand that some of these decisions do have to be made. The
previous government wasn't prepared to.

STEVE LEWIS: Are you looking at extending that principle to other areas of the welfare budget?

JENNY MACKLIN: What I'm saying to you is that we intend to implement our election commitments, we
intend to do it in a way that both protects pensioners and carers, give them the extra support that
we said we would, increase the utilities allowance to $500, and on family tax benefit B, we are
going to introduce an income test, because we think that even at that pretty generous level, there
should be an income or a family income test.

JENNIFER HEWETT: That is a very generous level, isn't it? Do you think that there is too much
middle class welfare, and why not have more incomes testing?

JENNY MACKLIN: We've said where we intend to do it and that's the election commitment that we
intend to meet and I think that what we also have to do is make sure that across-the-board, whether
it is petrol prices, whether it is on grocery prices, whether it is on getting downward pressure on
inflation so that we don't continue to see rising mortgage costs for families, these are the big
issues facing families and I think as I said before, the number one issue is to address inflation.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Minister, what about paid maternity leave? Obviously there's a lot of pressure for
that. You support it. The baby bonus is a lump sum payment. Do you think there's any merit in
extending the baby bonus and calling it paid maternity leave?

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Or perhaps means testing that as well?

JENNY MACKLIN: What we've said in relation to the baby bonus is that first of all, we do recognise
how important it is to provide that additional support to families when a new baby comes along. We
all know that there are additional costs that families have with a new person coming into their
household. But, I think we also have to recognise that there's a different debate going on in
Australia about paid maternity leave. It's on the front page of one of the papers today. We've
instituted a major inquiry by the Productivity Commission. They will report next February on the
options for a paid maternity leave scheme here in Australia. We have a number of objectives. One is
of course to make sure that it is affordable for the country and particularly concerned to make
sure that it doesn't impact...

STEVE LEWIS: Do you think 26 weeks is affordable? That's what the public sector union is seeking.

JENNY MACKLIN: I see that that's what they're referring to.

STEVE LEWIS: Do you think that it is affordable?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think it is unlikely to have an affordable 26-week scheme.

STEVE LEWIS: So it is going to have to be something less than that?

JENNY MACKLIN: The vast majority of the countries around the world have something around the 12- or
14-week period and I think the critical thing is really to look at why we need such a scheme. I
think one of the first and important reasons is for a mother to recover from birth. A second is
also to recognise just how important it is for a new baby and parents to bond together, so those
early childhood reasons are also why we're engaging in this major new inquiry.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, we will await the Productivity Commission's findings quite eagerly. But as
usual, we are out of time. Thank you for joining us this morning, Families and Indigenous Affairs
Minister Jenny Macklin. And thank you for joining us Jennifer Hewett and Steve Lewis. I'm Deborah
Knight. Thank you for your company. See you next week.