Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of interview with Barrie Cassidy: ABC Insiders: 25 August 2013: Syria; Government's record; Tony Abbott's $70 billion of cuts

Download PDFDownload PDF

Campaign Transcript


E & O E - PROOF ONLY _____________________________________________________________

Subjects: Syria; Government’s record; Tony Abbott’s $70 billion of cuts _____________________________________________________________

HOST: We’ll cross to Canberra now where we’re joined by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. Good morning. Welcome.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Barrie. Thanks for having me on the program.

HOST: Do you at least accept that you left an impression that you were taking time out from the campaign to deal with the Syrian crisis?

PM: Not at all Barrie. The bottom line is if I hadn't taken the opportunity to alert the Australian people as to what was going on, I would have been criticised for that. Furthermore, when you look at statements made by the White House during the course of yesterday, it was very plain when you have the President of the United States receiving briefings on appropriate responses from the international community and by the United States, a menu of responses to respond to the use of chemical weapons, I have a responsibility to make sure the Australian people are aware of that. I think the other point I'd make is just this - in that press interview yesterday, I then went on to talk about the other issues in the campaign, in particular the National Broadband Network. So for me the campaign continues, as was evident by what I did yesterday, which was to continue to campaign on the core issues affecting people in the this election.

HOST: Part of the problem is you made that announcement at 10 o'clock, you flew to Brisbane, it wasn’t until 6 o'clock that you got to Canberra. The crisis had been going in Syria now for days. Why did it take until 6 o'clock at night on Saturday night for the experts to get their act together?

PM: Well the experts and the officials and the advisers behaved entirely appropriately. When I spoke to the Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department yesterday morning, he advised me that it was appropriate that a briefing occur of myself and the Foreign Minister and others by relevant officials. Furthermore, he said

that given the time gap of various other capitals around the world and the need to collate the relevant information from the intelligence agencies, security agencies, from the Defence Department, from the Department of Foreign Affairs, that the earliest that such a briefing could productively occur would either be last night, Saturday night, or on Sunday. I said the best thing to do was to do it as soon as possible. He recommended therefore that we do it last night. That's exactly what happened.

I see in today's newspapers, from Mr Murdoch's newspapers in many parts of the country, stated on the front page that a national security briefing to ministers and myself was abandoned because of other commitments I had in Brisbane. That is 100% false. Had the newspaper bothered to contact my office, they would have known it was 100% false and the journalist who wrote the story has gone out there this morning to say their headline was false. I don't think it could be any clearer in terms of what has happened here.

HOST: Are you able to say what the other appointment was at 3 o'clock after you taped Kitchen Cabinet?

PM: I had other appointments in Brisbane. They were of a private nature and I don't wish to disclose those but they were longstanding and dealt with a whole range of matters involving various members of the community.

HOST: On Syria now more generally, is there anything that Australia can do directly in response to the situation there given that the Government is in caretaker mode?

PM: The first responsibility, Barrie, in caretaker mode is to ensure that the Australian public are made aware of what's going on and to ensure that Mr Abbott, as the alternative Prime Minister, is made aware as well through the caretaker conventions. Secondly, what we have done is of course make contact with friends and allies. The Foreign Minister Bob Carr has been in contact with both the French and the British Foreign Ministries and Foreign Secretary. I have been in contact with the US Ambassador here as well as with our officials. The core question is this - number one, I think anyone watching your program this morning would just be horrified by what they've seen on their screens. It is 2013. We have the use, it seems, of chemical weapons in large scale against a civilian population.

This is just horrendous beyond description. On the analysis, based on the information available to the Government at this time, indications point to the use of chemical weapons and indications point to their likely use by the regime. However, no-one should rush to that conclusion until we have the definitive report from UN weapons inspectors. You asked particularly what Australia can do.

In a week's time we take over the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council. One of the reasons I put forward for nominating Australia to that position some years ago in the midst of considerable controversy and opposition here was that we would have a place at the leading councils of the world on critical decisions such as those now affecting Syria. So we will be using our position on the Council now and from next week to try and forge consensus in the Council around a resolution or a Presidential statement from the Council to support the Secretary General's call for

the Syrian regime to admit weapons inspectors now. The burden of proof lies with the Syrian regime and the weapons inspectors are those who can provide that proof.

HOST: It does seem as if the United States is preparing at least for the possibility of military intervention. Can you see the day when Australia might join them in some sort of military intervention?

PM: I think in these circumstances, Barrie, it is important to be calm and measured in our response to crises. The first step is to inform the Australian public as to what is happening to the best of our knowledge. Secondly, to then engage in what we are currently doing which is the proof-testing exercise. I think we are all very reminiscent of when previous Australian governments and other governments went into armed conflict in Iraq based on, frankly, something that was entirely incorrect.

When it comes to the situation in Syria, whatever the response may be and whatever form it might take, it is absolutely critical we get the facts absolutely right first. But the burden of proof, in my judgment, now lies with the regime. They've got to come clean with the international community, they've got to allow the weapons inspectors to have access to this site now because, as I said, all the indications point in their direction. Responses - that is something which would come next.

HOST: We will turn our do attention to the campaign now. Why do you say you deserve to be re-elected?

PM: Well Barrie, I'm the first one to admit at having returned to the Prime Ministership, that in the past, the Government has got a number of things wrong. All governments do. I seek, however, to admit it. For example, I don't think our actions on the carbon tax were right. That's why I changed it and moved towards a floating price.

HOST: What was wrong with that?

PM: Well, to begin with, we didn't have a mandate for it. Furthermore a floating price is the best response to changing international markets, so I have changed that. The second point is this - I think we also saw emerging unnecessary divisions between government, business and unions. I have sought to change that by bringing people around the one table, the ACTU, the Government and the Business Council of Australia. Thirdly, I think we also saw something wrong happening in the Labor Party. We have seen of course the report of ICAC in NSW so the actions we have taken there - mine - to reform the leadership structure of the Labor Party so there is a new system for electing the leader but also to authorise federal intervention in the NSW branch.

I'm up-front about the fact that this hasn't all been hunky dory. But I'd also say with a full and complete view of recent political history, Barrie, everyone in government in times past has made mistakes. If we are looking into some halcyon days under the Liberals, they are the government that brought in WorkChoices, they are the government that took us to war in Iraq based on, frankly, a lie and they are the Government who presided over the worst corruption scandal in Australia’s history -

the wheat-for-weapons scandal. So I am just saying that we have made some mistakes, all governments do and I admit ours.

HOST: Mistakes since 2010. Were there any mistakes between 2007 and 2010?

PM: Of course there were, Barrie. I have been the first to admit that as well.

HOST: For example?

PM: I have also admitted in previous discussions that in relation to the communication of the decision concerning the Emissions Trading Scheme in the lead-up to 2009-10, that that was not done correctly. Furthermore I have also said that, with the benefit of hindsight, in around 2009-10, we should have begun to adjust our policy on people smugglers earlier than we did, with the benefit of hindsight.

But I would make this point overall to go back to your first question, Barrie, which is the Government's case for re-election. On the big calls, Barrie, we have got it right. On the big calls on the economy, and keeping us out of recession, we got that right. Our actions on the Global Financial Crisis, we got that right. The action on keeping our employment level at less than half that of what's in Europe, we have got that right. On the big calls on a National Broadband Network, we've got that right. On the big calls on a health and hospital system whereby we return to 50% funding for the hospitals with the States in the future, we’ve got that right as we have on the Better Schools Plan for Australia's future and a National Disability Insurance Scheme. These are the big calls. On so many of those, Mr Abbott has got those calls absolutely wrong, including on the economy and how he would have responded to the Global Financial Crisis.

HOST: So you have admitted mistakes, because in 2007 you campaigned against one of Australia's most successful Prime Ministers in John Howard and you beat him, and yet now you are struggling against Tony Abbott, could it be because now you have a record and in 2007 you didn't?

PM: I think, Barrie, that's a statement of the obvious. If you have been in government for a period of time, you both have a record but you also have plans for the future.

HOST: You don't necessarily have to be burdened by that record but it appears as if you are.

PM: I think any government, if they are being honest with the Australian people, says what they've got wrong and what they've got right. I don't believe the Australian people believe any politician standing up there with their hand on their chest saying: "Aren't we terrific, we have done everything fantastically well". That's ridiculous. I go back to the question of the big calls, on the economy, on jobs, on people's sense of security about whether they are going to have their jobs properly protected and their penalty rates and overtime protected in the future, where Mr Abbott $70 billion of cuts will fall on their jobs, their hospitals, their schools and the affordability and unfairness of his Paid Parental Leave scheme.

These are wrong calls on the big questions by Mr Abbott. On the big calls on the economy and taking Australia forward, building a future for all Australians, on those big calls, we've got them right. They are the ones that Mr Abbott refuses to debate in this election campaign.

HOST: You talk $70 billion in cuts, Saul Eslake, a very well respected economist, said it’s $30 billion. There is a very big gap between what he says and you say.

PM: The $70 billion figure is not invented by the Government. It is used by both Mr Hockey, the Shadow Treasurer…

HOST: Not for a long time…

PM: …and Mr Robb the Shadow Finance Minister. But here is the rub, Barrie, if the alternative government, Mr Abbott's team, wanted to put this matter to bed, why is it that two weeks before election day they've refused to adhere to Peter Costello's Charter of Budget Honesty and put it all on the table? I will tell you why. Because the strategy being pursued by Mr Abbott is one of evasion. What I think the Australian people are doing as we approach the second last week of the campaign is beginning to lift up the lid - lift up the bonnet and have a look inside at the engine and ask some questions. Which jobs will go? What will happen to the future of the car industry, 50,000 jobs there once Mr Abbott removes proper support for it? What will happen to my hospital? What will happen to my school? What will happen to 1.3 million families who depend on the Schoolkids Bonus. What will happen to all these things? So I think on these questions, people will ask themselves, what exactly am I buying?

I saw in the newspaper today a report which said Mr Abbott will say at his campaign launch later today in Brisbane that if the people elect his government, they will know what they get. Well, Mr Abbott, I think what the Australian people really want to know is where your $70 billion dollars’ worth of cuts will fall on their jobs, their schools, their hospitals and how on earth are you going to fund this un affordable, unfair Paid Parental Leave scheme which leaves so many people in the lurch?

HOST: Are you pleased, that until this point anyway, Julia Gillard has chosen to stay out of the campaign?

PM: I said from the point at which I returned to the Prime Ministership, I would not be engaging in any negative commentary in relation to Julia's Prime Ministership. I believe that is simply wrong in principle. I don't intend to engage in that now or in the future.

HOST: How can you say that when you said on Friday she was leading the party to a very, very catastrophic defeat?

PM: Barrie, that was something I actually said at the time when the campaign - when I returned to the leadership, as you well know.

HOST: How can that not be criticism?

PM: That reflected as you know, Barrie, the facts at the time and I said it very bluntly at the time. There is nothing new in that. On her policy record, I have been asked about this many times. Australia is a better place as a result of the extraordinary work which Julia has done in education reform. Her work on the Better Schools Plan, her earlier work on testing in schools and, furthermore, her work in conjunction with Jenny Macklin and Bill Shorten on bringing in Australia's first National Disability Insurance Scheme.

I believe our job in leadership is to affirm the contributions of those who have come before us, whatever our personal disagreements may have been made with them.

HOST: Will you be inviting her to the campaign launch?

PM: I understand Julia has made plain her position on that question and I respect it. It is entirely appropriate that she make her own call on this and I respect her decision entirely. I think earlier in your question you referred to the circumstances which I faced in 2010. The difference is, in 2010, of course I was recontesting an election and during that election campaign I was asked to campaign both obviously in my own seat but in other seats as well. Julia's record, I honour. I will not engage in any character assassination of her or her political and policy reform record. I believe we should be building one another up, not be in the business of tearing one another down.

HOST: Again then I ask the question as to why would halfway through the campaign would you refer to this catastrophic result?

PM: Well, I was simply referring to what I had already said. I have made no criticism whatsoever of Julia's policy achievements and the core focus of this campaign, Barrie, as you well know, is not whatever personal disagreements Julia and I have had in the past, they are well documented, including by yourself. This is about a contest between the Government that I lead and Mr Abbott. Mr Abbott, as of this day, two weeks out from a campaign, effectively is avoiding any level of scrutiny. Avoiding any scrutiny on his costings, avoiding any scrutiny on where his cuts would fall, avoiding any scrutiny about what he would actually do with the Goods & Services Tax and avoiding any scrutiny on what would happen with the Fair Work Act and protections for penalties rates and overtime.

We have got a clear plan in these areas and our plan is very basic. We want to build the jobs and industries of the future and we have a plan to do that. We want to diversify the economy, not have all our eggs in one basket and we have a plan to do that. We want to build and complete the National Broadband Network, we have a plan to do that, and a plan to invest a further $15 billion dollars in the school system of the future and $20 billion dollars in the hospitals of the future so that we provide the services which Australians need for the future. That's our plan of building. Mr Abbott's plan is one of cutting down. I think my job is to make that alternative very plain so that, come voting day, if people choose to vote for Mr Abbott, they know precisely what they are getting. At present, that is being kept from them.

HOST: Are you at least grateful that Julia Gillard supporters have not attempted to sabotage your campaign in the same way that your supporters sabotaged her campaign in 2010?

PM: I am not going to go to internal debates at that within the Labor Party either at that time or on this occasion. I respect Julia Gillard's contribution. I have made that plain in our discussion this morning, in particular her contributions in health - I'm sorry, in education and in schools reform and on top of that in a wider health sphere in terms of disability reform.

She has made great contributions, they should be respected. I am not going to go into debates about the party's internals. This is a federal election about an alternative between what an Australian Labor Government offers versus that which Mr Abbott would do or at least keep hidden until after September 7 should he be elected.

HOST: Your campaign launch is very late in the piece, the last Sunday before polling day. What is the strategy behind that?

PM: I believe in previous times, the timing of all that has varied either between two weeks out and one week out. But Barrie, at the end of the day, the timing of these things doesn't matter. This is a debate about Australia's future.

It is about whether we are going to be a country which is going to build the economy and the jobs of the future or one which has a philosophy of just cutting everything to the bone. The problem is this - it is not just where the cuts fall. I talked before about getting the big calls right on the economy and keeping this whole show afloat during the Global Financial Crisis, including the challenges we face ahead with the slowing in China. But I really do fear that with its $70 billion dollars of cuts or $60 billion dollars or $50 billion dollars of cuts, the bottom line is there is a grave risk that by undertaking actions of that type, that Mr Abbott's policies, would at a level of economic management, throw the economy also into recession.

There is a risk of that. If I can see one real symbol, I've got to say, of absolutely poor economic judgment and management, it is the unaffordability of a $22 billion dollar Paid Parental Leave scheme. That's more than we the Commonwealth spend on childcare every year, more than we spend on the NBN every year. It is just unaffordable and for him to equate that with the aged pension reform as he did in the debate last Wednesday night shows an absolute lack of priorities. My job is to put those priorities before the Australian people. Whether it is today or whether it’s next Sunday, I think that's immaterial.