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Leigh Sales talks to former Opposition leader -

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Leigh Sales talks to former Opposition leader Kim Beazley

Broadcast: 06/09/2007

Reporter: Leigh Sales

Leigh Sales talks to former Opposition leader Kim Beazley about the future of the relationship
between Australia and the United States.

Transcript

LEIGH SALES: As we've seen, in the past couple of days both Kevin Rudd and John Howard have focused
heavily on Australia's relations with its long-standing ally, the United States, and one of its
newest friends, China.

Any future Australian Prime Minister is going to face a delicate juggling act balancing relations
with both superpowers whose own relationship remains complex and somewhat fluid.

And, with an Australian election likely to be called any day, Mr Rudd and Mr Howard are both trying
to convince voters the other is not up to managing these foreign policy challenges.

Kim Beazley is a former defence minister, former Opposition leader and a board member of the new US
Studies Centre at Sydney University.

He's also frequently tipped as a possible future Australian ambassador to Washington.

He joins me now from Canberra.

Kim Beazley, the Prime Minister announced today that Australia will hold an annual security
dialogue with China. How much is that decision about appeasing China, because it's unhappy that
Australia has a security dialogue with Japan and the United States?

KIM BEAZLEY, FORMER FEDERAL OPPOSITION LEADER: We do have to be very careful about that security
dialogue with Japan and the United States, that it's not cobbled together in a way that suggests
that there automatically ought to be an adversarial relationship and a power contest in the
northern Pacific. That requires a deal of deft handling.

As I understand it, we've had security discussions with the Chinese for some considerable period of
time. This seems to be formalising what is a process that has been there and it's necessary. I
would like to see that particular dialogue that we have now established used to encourage the
Chinese to a similarly transparent and intensive dialogue with the United States and for that
matter with our other neighbours in the region. I think that is very important so we don't slide or
slip into the sort of adversarial relationship which dominated Cold War politics. There's no need
to do that and I hope we won't.

LEIGH SALES: Is it appropriate for Australia to be having a security dialogue with China when
there's a very real risk that at some stage China could be involved in a military conflict with
Taiwan, the United States would weigh in on Taiwan's side fully expecting Australia to be on its
side in that.

Isn't there a conflict of interest here having a strategic relationship with China and a strategic
relationship with the US and Japan?

KIM BEAZLEY: There is a massive interest in us ensuring that that precisely does not happen. That
is why we both need a dialogue with China and we need to encourage the Americans to have one as
well. The Americans aren't looking for a fight here, nor are the Japanese, nor are the Chinese and
nor are those on Taiwan.

Basically, if a fight like the one you've just described occurs it will be a result of monumental
miscalculation. One of the ways of avoiding monumental miscalculation is to keep talking, keep that
functional relationship going, keep an understanding going of how each other sees the world. So, I
think it's tremendously important that we don't fall into that trap and this is one of the ways of
avoiding it.

LEIGH SALES: How far away or how close do you think the US and China might be to having some sort
of security dialogue?

KIM BEAZLEY: They do have discussions now, but they do need something of the complexity without
actually, without the tonality of the relationship they had when they had those strategic
discussions with the Soviet Union. They do need some of the complexity of the dialogue they had
with the Soviets. That transparency and understanding of each other's strategic doctrine, they need
a comprehension of each other's plans and development of their weapon systems and protection
systems like national missile defence shields. They need to be obviously responding to each other's
concerns when there is an issue raised by one or other side about developments that either side are
putting up. This requires a very high level of sophistication.

The good thing about Australia is that we do have people who understand this sort of dialogue very,
very well and I'd suggest one of those who understands it as effectively as just about anybody else
in this country happens to lead the Labor Party.

LEIGH SALES: Let's turn to Iraq which was, of course, a feature of Kevin Rudd's talks today with
George Bush. I want you to put aside politics and tell me as a very experienced former Defence
Minister, a former alternate Prime Minister of this country and as somebody very connected in
Washington, what is now the right course for the US to take in Iraq?

KIM BEAZLEY: I think the United States needs to start to uncouple itself from the situation in
Iraq.

Colin Powell was absolutely right when he told George Bush that if he intervened in Iraq in the way
he intended, it would suck the oxygen out of US foreign policy. To a very large degree that has
happened. The most effective way to put the oxygen back in is to deal with the problem. The United
States is going to have to accept a sub-optimal outcome in Iraq. I believe they will. I believe
they'll move in that direction.

The simple fact of the matter is without an extraordinary effort they can not sustain much beyond
the early part of next year current levels of troop deployment. They are preparing, I do believe,
for an end game. They are preparing to go somewhat down the road that was suggested by
Hamilton-Baker, the report they had towards the end of last year. I do believe the United States
will start a process of uncoupling themselves from Iraq and that ought to be encouraged.

LEIGH SALES: What is this sub-optimal outcome you think they're going to have to settle for?

KIM BEAZLEY: Sub-optimal outcome is an Iraqi mess. That's what exactly they have on their hands
now. It's very difficult to see what can emerge from the Iraq that we now confront. The fact of the
matter is none of the different religious groups in Iraq accept the fact the other is to be
empowered.

The answer to it, I'm afraid, is to be found amongst themselves. It can't be found by us, it can't
be found by the United States, it has to be found by them. They may not find it. But what we must
try to get is a situation where the United States is not so deeply bogged down.

LEIGH SALES: So it seems that your position then is that this war is not winnable for the US?

KIM BEAZLEY: I don't think that's a very helpful way of looking at it. I don't think it was
something the US ought to have got into and I think the Labor Party's advice to the United States
at the time, which was not to do it and certainly not to do it without any form of UN cover and
widespread international support, was the correct advice. If we'd had a Labor Government at that
point in time, whether that advice was welcome or not, that advice would have been proffered and
right now the Australian Government, at least to the American people would have looked like a much
more useful entity as a result of it.

However, that did not transpire. Talking about winning and losing is not helpful. Talk about
getting the best situation you can and then building a coalition or a set of arrangements in the
Gulf to try and deal with the consequences of this I think is important.

Now, there is some evidence that is what the US is trying to do now in the types of establishments
it's establishing with some of the other Gulf States. There is something of a dialogue proceeding
with the Iran, as the United States attempts to adjust its position in Iraq.

LEIGH SALES: What is Iraq going to look like under these circumstances that you've outlined?

KIM BEAZLEY: It's very difficult to say but it's very difficult to see emerging from Iraq an entity
that looks like what it was before intervention. Maybe there'll be some sort of federal structure.
Maybe there'll be some sort of regional autonomy, much as what the Kurdish areas enjoy at the
moment. It is very difficult to say. But one thing's important and that is that it's the Iraqi
people who determine that arrangement and not we ourselves confecting it for them.

LEIGH SALES: How difficult do you believe it's going to be for America to recover its international
reputation in the wake of this?

KIM BEAZLEY: Probably a great deal easier than the American President and the American
administration and probably many people in the American Congress think it's going to be.

They have slipped into the sort of consciousness that they had at the conclusion of the Vietnam
War, that their reputation would be trashed, allies would feel them unreliable, that there'd be a
dim in addition of international power of the United States. I think the United States will emerge
from this somewhat damaged but as time goes by, the reality of the power relationships globally
will set in, United States is and remains a considerable power and it remains a nation which
everyone else needs to have a dialogue and whose interests everybody else needs to take into
account. That won't change.

LEIGH SALES: Do you believe that if Kevin Rudd pulls troops out of Iraq that it will damage the
alliance?

KIM BEAZLEY: No. I don't, actually. You know when I was a minister we had an even relationship with
the United States. There were good relationships on a personal basis. But the United States
respected the fact that we had points of difference with them. Sometimes on matters of great
strategic significance like the strategic defence initiative. That was accepted because we were
also prepared to do a bit of burden sharing ourselves. And Kevin Rudd remains prepared to do that,
both in the region and, of course, in Afghanistan as well. Plus it's the way he's intending to pull
out.

The simple fact of the matter is the Australian troops are associated with the British deployment
more than they are with the Americans. Nothing is more evident now that Gordon Brown has started
the process of running down the British deployment. I do think that by the time Kevin Rudd pulls
out the Australian troops assuming he's elected to office and nobody round our way is counting our
chickens. We're being pretty modest about things. But when Kevin Rudd is in a position to do that,
he'll be coming out with the British at the same time as the British are drawing down their forces,
and probably the Americans will have started a similar process themselves.

LEIGH SALES: The former Opposition leader Mark Latham wanted to set a timetable for the withdrawal
of Australian troops. He also wanted to charter more independent course from US foreign policy.
What's the difference between Mark Latham and Kevin Rudd when it comes to the US alliance?

KIM BEAZLEY: Look, in many ways it's the way in which you put it. I don't think you should go into
a relationship with your principal ally, the United States, on the basis that you're looking for
opportunities to disagree with them.

What you need to do is work out what is the Australian national interests and what is in the
interests of the alliance and make a independent judgment about what that is. On many occasions
that will cause you to stand alongside the United States in a conflict or on an issue. On other
occasions it will cause you to say to the United States, "You ought not go down that road". This
was quintessentially one of those occasions when that latter conversation is precisely what ought
to have been held and I don't think now, even if at the time that might have created a degree of
bitterness, I don't think now it would be held against us. Don't we all wish that we'd taken that
option.

You don't look for points of disagreement with the United States you look for points at which you
advance Australian interests. That's the job of an Australian Government.

LEIGH SALES: Let's look at the opinion polls. Because everyone seems to be talking about it. Could
a drover's dog win this election for Labor?

KIM BEAZLEY: No, but a well-led party with good policies might, and I do believe that's exactly
what we have at the moment. Therefore, we've got a good chance.

We've been ahead of the Government for a considerable period of time in public regard and that is
because the public generally thinks this Government has got out of touch, too clever by half and no
longer interested in things that matter round the kitchen table and that started with WorkChoices
and has continued through other areas related to people's standard of living.

LEIGH SALES: From what you hear from people out and about as you travel around the country and in
your own electorate, do you think that the gap between the parties is as big as the opinion polls
are making out?

KIM BEAZLEY: I haven't found the atmosphere so good since 1983. That's the truth of the matter. The
environment in which we operate, the people's willingness to talk in a friendly way with us, there
is a very good response to the Labor Party out there on the streets at the moment. So, I do think
we happen to be well placed, but as I said earlier nobody round here is counting their chickens.

LEIGH SALES: Would Labor be in the same position it is today if you were still Opposition Leader?

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, we've been ahead in the opinion polls of the Government since April of last
year. So I do like to think that we would have been, had I still been leader of the Labor Party, in
a winning position. But that's one of those hypotheticals and what ifs of history.

The fact of the matter is we are ahead under Kevin Rudd. He is certainly captured people's
interest. They do believe that there is the something new on offer and something interesting on
offer here and I think if they had watched the last day's events, his conversations with George
Bush, his performance with the Chinese President at lunch today, I do think the people are starting
to form a judgment they might have someone new and interesting here, would have a view that they're
coming to the correct conclusion.

LEIGH SALES: In your view, what is the single biggest factor working against John Howard?

KIM BEAZLEY: There is no doubt that the wrong move was WorkChoices. It was not foreshadowed at the
last election. It was a smack aimed straight at the ordinary working class Liberal voter which
constitutes about half the Liberal Party vote. They regarded John Howard as having turned his back
on them.

Those aspirational folk in the community, most of whom had always voted Liberal even though they
may have been skilled workers and many of them trade unionists, always voted Liberal, believed that
Howard had decisively turned his back on them. That has caused them to question lots of other
things about John Howard and John Howard's administration. That's if you like, from Middle
Australia.

From other areas in Australia there's been other question marks put over John Howard, the so called
doctor's wives the sort of people in the leafy glades who take very seriously foreign policy issues
and issues in relation to reconciliation issues and environment and the like, and they feel John
Howard is out of touch on those issues as well.

So, John Howard's been caught in a pincher movement of people who are traditional voters for the
Liberal Party from all social categories in this country. It's a very bad position for him to have
got himself into. Only arrogance has put him in there.

LEIGH SALES: You and John Howard have both been in the Federal Parliament for around 30 years.
You've gone up against John Howard in two elections, so you know the man's mettle.

Do you think there's any prospect that at this moment John Howard would relinquish the leadership?

KIM BEAZLEY: That would be something, wouldn't it? That would be the rabbit that John Howard pulls
out of the hat is himself. I think he'd probably take the view that was cutting and running and,
therefore, he would not do it. But I don't rule out anything at this point in time.

There's no doubt if he did do that there'd be a slight period of honeymoon for his successor who'd
probably be Peter Costello, were he to do that. I don't think the honeymoon would last very long.
Actually, one or two Liberals have raised that with me, I have to tell you. I always like to have
military analogies, or military history analogies for these sorts of things. So I said, "Well, you
think you're standing on the beach at Dunkirk and you might go south to Normandy if you do that,
contemplate the fact that you might put yourself at Ground Zero in Hiroshima". They're stuck. They
are stuck I do believe with the position they now have and the public is onto them. I don't think
it matters who is their leader, they're going to have a deal of trouble in this election campaign.

LEIGH SALES: Kim Beazley, thank you very much for joining Lateline.

KIM BEAZLEY: Very good to be with you.