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Transcript of interview with David Speers and Kieran Gilbert: Sky News: 27 February 2012: Labor Party leadership

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Minister for Defence - Interview with David Speers and Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

27 February 2012




TOPICS: Labor Party leadership.

DAVID SPEERS: Minister, welcome.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much.

DAVID SPEERS: How confident are you about the outcome today?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I’m confident that the Prime Minister will have a convincing win, and she’ll get the very strong support of the Caucus. I’m a strong supporter as you know. But I think the most important thing now is that once that convincing win occurs we simply have to get on with the job of governing. We’ve got to rule a line under this. We have to accept that there’s been a pretty rugged leadership contest. But then we have to say that this is now behind us. We are now behind the Prime Minister and the Government and get on with the job of running the country.

DAVID SPEERS: Can you recall though when a Prime Minister- and you’ve been around politics a long time- a Prime Minister has had a third of their Caucus vote against them and then gone on to win an election?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, a third of the Caucus will potentially express their view about their choice of leadership. I’ll give you another modern day example. Tony Abbott won his leadership contest by one vote, but the Liberal party then managed to get in behind him. If we are a political party that is worth its salt, when the Prime Minister has a convincing win, we then need to show that we are worth our salt and get behind her. We’ve had leadership contests in the past and they’ve been pretty rugged. Hawke and Keating, Crean and Beazley, on the Liberal Party you’ve had Fraser and Gorton, Peacock and Howard.

DAVID SPEERS: Nothing like this though.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I’m not sure that’s right. I’ve been around, as you say, long enough, and I remember what people said about each other at the time. And in some respects, you can say that Malcolm Fraser’s demolition of John Gorton still stands up there as the all-time demolition job. I think the public understand that there is a rugged contest on, but what they want is once that’s over, we have to get on with the job of being united. We’ve got to get on with the job of running the country and, I’ve always believed that irrespective of the political difficulties that we’ve had, very much of it self imposed as a result of leadership struggles, that we’re competitive for the next election and, indeed, we can win the next election.

KIERAN GILBERT: But if the Prime Minister can’t turn things around and the polls do remain in the mid-30s or lower, do you deny that there is a very real discussion and prospect that the Labor Party, towards the end of the year or early next, will have to look to a third option and that you might be the safe pair of hands that the Government needs?

STEPHEN SMITH: My very strong view is that we settle this morning the leadership of the parliamentary Labor Party for this parliamentary term once and for all. That’s my very strong view. Secondly, on David’s own introduction there have been a couple of polls published in the last week which put us at 47 to 53. Well, that’s a better position than we saw historically the Hawke Government at over the period of its term, the Howard Government, the Keating Government. So, I’ve always been that of the view that if we keep on doing the job of the fundamental reform that we have been doing, and the Prime Minister has got a very good record in that respect - and that it will be ongoing, that by the time we get to August, September, October of next year, the competition will be Julia Gillard versus Tony Abbott, and in that contest she is going to be very, very competitive.

DAVID SPEERS: Well why, Stephen Smith, have you not engaged in the sort of language that we’ve heard from Simon Crean, Wayne Swan, Stephen Conroy and Tony Burke?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we each use our own words, or our own analysis. I don’t think I’ve been backward in coming forward. On Thursday of last week, when the contest was on, I did extensive media in my own state and I said that people need to understand that by the time Kevin had come to the end of his premiership he was very unpopular in the community, firstly. Secondly, he had lost the confidence of the vast bulk

of his colleagues, Cabinet and Caucus because when we were trying to deal through difficult policy and political issues, we couldn’t work those through with him. Now other people have expressed their own experiences in a different way. I’ve made it clear that on my observation Kevin lost the confidence of his Cabinet and the confidence of his colleagues and that has been in very many respects reflected by what you have seen today.

DAVID SPEERS: What about this argument that Cabinet Ministers such as yourself, if you had problems towards the end, should have done something about before tearing it down?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well that assumes that nothing was done or said, firstly. Secondly, it also invites me to break Cabinet solidarity which I am not proposing to do.

KIERAN GILBERT: You’re close to Wayne Swan and some of the others that have launched these visceral attacks against Kevin Rudd- was it about about killing him off once and for all? That’s what-

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I use my own language firstly. Secondly, other colleagues use their own language. Yes, I’m very proud to say that Wayne Swan is one of my closest political and personal friends. Equally, I’m very proud to say that Anthony Albanese is one of my closest personal and political friends, and they have different views about this matter. But I think it was legitimate for the community to say we never really got a proper explanation in our minds about the events of 2010 - please give us one, and they got one. I gave my analysis; other people have given you theirs.

DAVID SPEERS: I’ve got a couple of direct questions for you, Stephen Smith. At the end of the year if the party comes to you and says we want you to be Prime Minister will you really say no?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it’s not going to happen.

DAVID SPEERS: What if it does?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it’s not going to happen. Today we will rule the line under the leadership of this parliamentary term once and for all. And today, when the Prime Minister has a convincing win, we get behind her and we keep on with the job of doing a couple of things that I think we’ve

done well. One is manage the economy well, and run and manage our national security interests. They’re the two fundamental requirements of any national government. I think we’ve managed the economy well in difficult circumstances. We’ve managed out national security interests well. What we haven’t done a good job of is managing our own political interests, and to a very large extent that’s been about leadership tensions.

KIERAN GILBERT: Will you accept the offer of Foreign Minister, or are you happy as Defence Minister?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I asked to this job. I’m happy doing this job. But I’m old-fashioned about these matters, they’re entirely matters that the Prime Minister.

DAVID SPEERS: You enjoyed being Foreign Minister didn’t you?

STEPHEN SMITH: I enjoyed being Foreign Minister, I enjoy being Defence Minister. As I say I’m old-fashioned - I’ll do this job until such time as the Prime Minister says to me that she either wants me or requires me to do something different. That is entirely a matter for her.

DAVID SPEERS: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks David, thanks very much.