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Disunity did Labor in -

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EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: On the Labor side, former Trade Minister Richard Marles was a Kevin Rudd loyalist, but he's now looking forward to generational change in the party's leadership. Richard Marles joined us from our Melbourne studio.

Richard Marles, thanks for joining us.


EMMA ALBERICI: Now Labor has experienced its worst performance at an election in more than 100 years. What do you put that down to?

RICHARD MARLES: Well, I heard that line from Tony Abbott and it obviously overstates things. On a two-party-preferred basis there have been half a dozen elections since the Second World War which were worse and we're in a better position in the Parliament than we were in '96. So I think it needs to be seen in context. But that said, we lost an election and we lost it solidly and that's a very bad event for Labor and we do need to look very carefully at what happened and how we are gonna rebuild. And in terms of what do I put it down to?, I don't think there's any doubt that in politics, disunity is death. And in all the questions that I was faced by voters during the campaign, the one that was obviously most hard to answer was around the stability of our leadership over the last four years and I think we need to work out a way in which we can present - be more unified and then present a more unified face to the Australian public. And it's not the only issue, but that is a key issue and it's one that we are simply gonna have to remedy going forward.

EMMA ALBERICI: Your predecessor as Trade Minister Craig Emerson tonight has blamed Mr Rudd for destabilising Ms Gillard's campaign in 2010 with damaging leaks and undermining her leadership throughout her term in office. Dr Emerson said Mr Rudd was "hell-bent on revenge". What do you think?

RICHARD MARLES: I think too much ultimately is made of the personal contest between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Actually I think the truth is that there was disunity throughout the entire caucus and we bear, all of us, a collective blame for that. And I bear some blame for that, but we all do. And it's really important that we do see this in a collective sense and that we do make sure that we deal with the divisions throughout the team, not just at the top, because at the end of the day, they simply manifest feelings that were being exhibited elsewhere. Now I actually do feel that amongst a newer, younger generation within the caucus, there is a real sense that we need to move past some of the divisions of the past. I believe that we can do that and I actually think there is a real sense of wanting to rebuild from this from a newer generation, which in a sense now assumes the leadership of the federal caucus. And so I actually think that there is hope there. But this goes beyond simply a contest between two individuals. It is a deeper issue than that and we need to see it as that and we need to rectify the problem from there.

EMMA ALBERICI: Well help us understand what was fuelling the disunity if not a campaign by two individuals.

RICHARD MARLES: Well, if you look back - I think the roots of this go much further back. Between 2003 and 2006, we have the most intense period of leadership change within the federal caucus. We went from Simon Crean to Mark Latham to Kim Beazley to Kevin Rudd, all in a very short space of time. Leadership challenges and leadership changes are very difficult things to deal with. It is a heart-wrenching experience to go through. And I think from that, a lot of baggage was created and baggage that unfortunately was taken into our time in government. I actually think the roots of this go well beyond the particular contest between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. And I think for those of us of a newer generation, it's really important that we understand that and that we do take forward a mature sense to dealing with issues of contest, be it the leadership or be it issues of major policy, that allow us to articulate those and argue those through and prosecute the cases, but do in a mature way which doesn't create baggage, as it has done in the past. But I don't think - I think actually focusing on the two individuals misses the point somewhat. And it is a greater collective responsibility that we need to see in all of this. And that also involves making sure that we are able, as a group, as a team, to move forward in a more mature way and I reckon that's the challenge for us going forward now.

EMMA ALBERICI: So are you saying that over the six-year period there were unresolved scores still being settled?

RICHARD MARLES: I think scores being settled, it puts it too strongly, but perhaps it is right to say I think there were unresolved issues. I think there was baggage from a previous era. And I think the way in which leadership challenges were conducted and the way in which people came out of that did linger and that is actually the lesson that we need to learn from this. I mean, I think there is another issue in all of this, which is that we've gotta give our leaders a go. And that's not just in government, but it was the case in opposition, it's gonna be the case going forward as well. I think it's really important that whoever we put in the leadership is given a good go. But that and being able to maturely go through the process of choosing a leader without creating baggage is something that we need to do much better.

I mean, from my point of view, having gone through a couple of these now, I've found them the most difficult decisions to make. And it's not like I've been choosing between an angel on the one hand and a demon on the other. You end up choosing between two really talented individuals, both of whom have a great contribution to make. And - but you have to make a choice. You can't escape it. And I think we need to be a bit more sympathetic about the choices that people have to make. You know, people of sincerity can come to a different position and that's OK. And we need to be able to acknowledge that and we've gotta create a different culture, I think, in relation to that.

EMMA ALBERICI: Dr Emerson believes it's in the best interests of the party for Kevin Rudd to leave the Parliament in the spirit of what you're talking about, to move on for the next generation. Do you agree?

RICHARD MARLES: I think it's a matter for Kevin Rudd. And I'm not about to say to Kevin Rudd what he should or shouldn't do. Kevin Rudd has been a wonderful servant of the Labor Party, as I might say has Julia Gillard. Both deserve within the labour movement to now be revered as former prime ministers and people who have made an enormous contribution to both our movement and our country. And I think in the case of Kevin Rudd, that demands respect from all of us and a respect which allows him to have the dignity to choose the way in which he wants now to proceed. If he wants to serve his term, I think he should be perfectly free to do that and I don't think any of us should be in the business of telling a former great Labor prime minister what to do in that regard.

EMMA ALBERICI: Have you had it confirmed from him that he will be staying on?

RICHARD MARLES: I've not - I've had a text communication with Kevin since the election, but I've not actually spoken to Kevin since the election. I will. But no, so I haven't had it confirmed.

EMMA ALBERICI: Do you want to share with us the contents of those texts?

RICHARD MARLES: Oh, it was just, you know, wishing each other the best. And I will have a chat with Kevin in the next couple of days. But I think it's a matter for - as I say, it's a matter for Kevin and he deserves the respect from all of us and the space to make the decision that he wants to make in relation to this. He is a former Australian Labor prime minister. There is a dignity and honour which goes with that within our movement and we should be respecting that.

EMMA ALBERICI: There are reports around this evening that Anthony Albanese has the numbers to become Labor's leader in opposition if he chooses to stand. Do you think he should be putting his hand up?

RICHARD MARLES: Well I think that Anthony Albanese is also a wonderful servant of the Labor Party. He has a lot of very good attributes. He's a very, very strong parliamentary performer. And I think he - and there is no question that were Anthony to become the leader of the Labor Party, he would make a very good leader of the Labor Party. I also think there are others, and Bill Shorten's name has been raised and I think a lot of people would say in relation to Bill that - would be saying to him that it's not in his interests to stand as the Labor leader at this time. I actually think that it's in the interests of the Labor Party for Bill to put his hand up at this time. I think it's actually important that he does that. I mean Bill is somebody who has been a very, very effective politician. I think you look at something like DisabilityCare Australia, which is such a wonderful social reform, well, Bill Shorten was the person who galvanised an area of public policy and a constituency which felt like it had not been properly able to access the ear of government previously. He galvanised that community, raised it as a major issue and has put in place one of the signature achievements of the last six years. He's a very effective politician and I think it's actually important that Bill puts his hand up.

EMMA ALBERICI: So clearly you would be backing Bill Shorten?

RICHARD MARLES: Well I think let's see who puts their hand up. I think one of the great things is that if where this goes is it that we have Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten both putting their hands up in a contest, that's a great thing and - because they're both really good people. And we are then faced of course with a difficult choice, but it's also a wonderful choice because know we're gonna get somebody who's gonna be a fantastic leader of the Labor Party. And I think this goes back to the point I was making before: if that's how it plays out, then this is a contest that ought to be celebrated, and as difficult as the choice will be between the two of them, it's really important that we conduct that contest in a different way than leadership contests have been conducted in the past.

EMMA ALBERICI: And just finally and quickly, do you share Dr Emerson's concerns about what part Kevin Rudd might play in terms of influencing the leadership, were he to stay in the Parliament?

RICHARD MARLES: No, I don't. Kevin has made it clear that in terms of serving as the leader of our party, he has done that and that he wants to move on and he thinks it's important that the leadership of the party moves on. Now I absolutely accept that and I do take it at face value and I think Kevin does want to move on from having served as the leader of our party and I think he's right to feel that the party needs to move on from the era of the government we've just had. And so I don't have concerns about what role Kevin would play in that regard. And I come back to my earlier comment about that: I think it's really important that in terms of honouring the dignity of Kevin Rudd and the legacy that he now has as a great Labor prime minister, that he ought to be entitled to determine his own future.

EMMA ALBERICI: Richard Marles, thanks for being with us.

RICHARD MARLES: Thank you, Emma.