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Transcript of interview with Andrew Rochford, Kath Robinson and Paul Henry: Channel 10 Breakfast: Labor leadership

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Minister for Defence Stephen Smith - Interview with Andrew Rochford, Kath Robinson and Paul Henry, Channel 10 Breakfast

27 February 2012





TOPICS: Labor leadership

ANDREW ROCHFORD: Stephen, how are you feeling today about the vote? Is it going to go the way that everybody is expecting- for Julia to win with somewhat of a landslide?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I’m a strong supporter of the Prime Minister, as I have made clear consistently over a long period of time. I think that the Prime Minister today will have a convincing win. But I think the most important thing for the Party and for the Government and for the nation today, is that once the decision’s made, we put it behind us and we get on with the job of running the Government. I think that the community understand there is a leadership contest going on, but once it’s over, they want us to get back onto the job of governing the country and that the most important thing we have to do.

ANDREW ROCHFORD: There’s some interesting results came out in the Newspoll today showing that obviously Labor support has risen to it’s highest in the last 12 months, but the PM was at its lowest in the last 6 months. Does that change your opinion in any way what you think it might sway a few of those voters that aren’t completely convinced?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well Caucus members will make their mind up and vote accordingly. I think the vast bulk of Caucus members, my colleagues; have already made their mind up. But in terms of opinion polls and election chances going consistently, the next election will be in August, September, October, of next year so we’ve got 18 months ago. But two opinion polls that have come out in the course of the last week or so, see us on 47% two-party preferred, in other words we are within striking distance.

There are any number of Governments in recent times whether is was the Hawke Government, the Keating Government or Howard Government, who at various times in their time as a Government were doing worse in the polls than that. So, I continue to very strongly to believe that we will be competitive at the next election as we get closer to that election the leadership contrast will be Julia Gillard versus Tony Abbott. So, I’m one who very strongly believes that we are competitive to the next election. We simply have to say to ourselves, today sells leadership in this parliamentary term for all-time in this term, let’s now get on with the job of governing.

KATH ROBINSON: But Minister, does it settle at once and for all? You just said after today’s that ballot you going to get on with the job, but if Kevin Rudd takes a third of the Caucus votes, it means that a third of the Caucus is against Julia Gillard.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well let me make this comparison- our political opponent Tony Abbott won his leadership ballot by one vote, but the Liberal party was then able to get behind him. We simply need, in the face of what I believe will be a convincing win for the Prime Minister, for all of us to get behind the Prime Minister. I remember in December 2006 when Kevin was elected leader of the Party, he took up with a Caucus meeting and he said we’ve got 12 months or so to go until the next election we now have to have a zero tolerance for any ill discipline in the same rule has to apply here. But I also know my colleagues, as I have done for a long period of time, I think my colleagues will view very dimly anyone who doesn’t get in behind the Party, the Government, the Prime Minister after today’s ballot.

We now have to simply accept there’s has been a pretty rugged leadership contest. In my view there will be convincing winner today we now need to start doing what we are required to do to represent all those people out in the community who support the Labor Party, all those members of the Labor Party, and to do our job of governing Labor Party into doing well.

PAUL HENRY: Stephen, would you rule yourself out as a contender if, as we predict, Julia Gillard wins today, and yet polling gets worse and worse?

STEPHEN SMITH: Yes I do- as I say today, when this decision is made, that settles the question for this Parliamentary term. That’s the end of it.

I’m a strong supporter of the Prime Minister. I’ll continue to be a strong supporter of the Prime Minister and it’s not just a decision I make looking at events of the past, it’s all so events, or, looking at the future. The Prime Minister in very difficult circumstances, a minority Government, has got through a series of very important reforms that the country’s future. Traditional Labor reforms, whether it’s means testing, health-insurance, whether it’s putting a price on pollution, whether it’s separation of Telstra and the NBN network, all of these things are very significant reforms done from a minority Government position. That’s a very significant record of getting things done and I very strongly believe that she will continue to get things done.

PAUL HENRY: Stephen, thank you very much for joining us.