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Transcript of doorstop interview: Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices, Perth: 19 April 2006: Solomon Islands; Family Tax Benefits; asylum seekers; Indonesia; petrol prices; American/Iran tensions.

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Subjects: Solomon Islands; Family Tax Benefits; Asylum Seekers; Indonesia; Petrol Prices; American/Iran tensions

BEAZLEY: My first remarks today I want to direct to the situation that’s emerging in the Solomons. Can I say to the Federal Police officers who have been injured and those who’ve been engaged in the struggle to maintain law and

order in the Solomons that we appreciate their courage and their commitment, their vigour, their good sense and their effectiveness. Their families are very much in our hearts at this time. They need reinforcement and I want to say this to the Government - the Labor Party will support, in a bi-partisan way, anything that our policemen and peacekeepers need to maintain law and order. If that means an extra commitment of troops, so be it. It that means an extra commitment of police, so be it.

I say to the Prime Minister, I say to those on the ground in the Solomons, the job these people are doing is immensely important and it must be supported and seen through successfully. So, again I emphasise, in a bi-partisan way, the Labor party will support any additional resources that our men and women on the ground need to do the very important job they are doing and they should determine what they need. The Prime Minister should be guided by what the Commander on the ground says is now necessary. And what he says is necessary should now be provided.

Now I want to talk a little bit about Howard’s complaints about the fact that we don’t think millionaires should get Family Tax B. John Howard is a home wrecker. He is wrecking homes with his industrial relations changes by making mums and dads easier to sack. He is wrecking homes by ripping away penalty rates, shift allowances and the like which ensure that ordinary Australian families can actually pay their mortgages. You can’t sustain your family if don’t have a roof over your head. Well I’m for the millions of middle Australians who need support in the social system and the taxation system. And John Howard is for the rich. I’ve got nothing against millionaires, but millionaires do not need social benefits. And that’s all there is to it. They don’t need social benefits. They particularly don’t

need social benefits that are paid for by huge impositions on women entering the workforce, or men in the workforce on middle incomes working a bit of overtime. For them they stand to face effective marginal tax rates now in our unreformed system of between 50 and 60 cents in the dollar.

A woman coming into the workforce pays 50 or 60 cents in the dollar effectively in tax if she’s in that middle income bracket. She subsidises the social benefits for millionaires who don’t want or need them. That’s the simple equation that we’re dealing with here.

Why is John Howard shining a light on such a reprehensible position? Well he’s doing it for this reason. He wants to talk about anything but industrial relations. He will lie, deceive, exaggerate, he will do anything but talk about the impact that he’s having on middle Australia with his industrial laws now. And he will have been surprised by the extent to which some employers have moved so rapidly to undermine working conditions for middle Australians, and he’ll be worried by it

But he won’t do anything about it, like petrol prices, in the end he won’t do anything about it.

JOURNALIST: Last night in his speech he flagged tax cuts for lower middle income families. Isn’t that pinching the ground from underneath you, underneath Labor?

BEAZLEY: Understand this. If there’s any tax cuts for lower and middle income Australians, it will be because the Labor Party has nagged him to death. We have been nagging him year in and year out on his unwillingness to hand anything more than a milkshake and sandwich-type tax cut for middle Australians. If he now decides in this Budget, and he’ll be doing it over Costello’s metaphorical dead body, since he’s the last man in Australia standing against tax reform. But if he does it in this Budget it will be solely as a result of the extent to which we’ve embarrassed him, embarrassed him last year in the debate, embarrassing him now. He may well want to distract attention from the fact that he’s been dragged kicking and screaming to do this.

These are the people we are for. We are for the millions of little Australians who now pay very high taxes and we are not for using them to subsidise the wealthy who don’t want it.

JOURANLIST: So if there are tax cuts you’ll take the credit?

BEAZLEY: Of course we will. And we’ll be entitled to. You’ll recollect the pain we went through trying to get a decent tax cut for middle Australia last year when we had some capacity to do something about it in the Senate. We did our level best to get a decent tax cut for middle Australia. If we get it now, we are entitled to take the credit. We are absolutely entitled to take the credit and Howard’s not. For years now he’s pillaged middle Australia on behalf of his own

obsessions and his own absolute determination to defend welfare benefits for wealthy Australians.

I’m not attacking wealthy Australians here, understand this, but I’ve not seen the millionaires out there in the streets with placards demanding Family Tax Benefit B. I’ve not seen one of them. In fact I’ve not met one of them who’s slightly embarrassed by it. But John Howard will defend that till hell freezes over. And what he’ll do is maybe do something for middle Australians if the Labor Party drags him to it.

JOURNALIST: What would be a decent tax cut this time?

BEAZLEY: Well the Treasurer has to determine that. Now in Opposition you cannot know what amount of money is out there. But what has to happen is that there needs to be substantial tax reform when you’ve got a surplus of about ten billion, we don’t know, but when it’s about that you can actually make some modifications.

But the focal point of the tax reform has got to be middle income Australians and particularly this interface between the social payment system and tax which means that when women join the workforce, they effectively often pay 50, 60 cents in the dollar tax, effective marginal tax rates. It is no longer just a question of social justice - it’s a question of economic management.

We have, in some areas, serious labour shortages. We have a large number of skilled women and semi-skilled women sitting outside the workforce. They want to get into it but the penalties with childcare, the penalties with effective marginal tax rates are so heavy that they won’t go into the workforce and as a result we’re importing excessive amounts of skilled labour from overseas.

Now all the equations here are wrong - they’re all wrong. We ought to be doing everything we can to encourage middle income Australian women, in Australian families, into the workforce and the tax system plays a vital role in that and that’s

where the focus has got to be.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, all this talk about family tax benefit and tax cuts, does this mean that families have really become the next big battleground?

BEAZLEY: Families are always the big battleground and should be. I mean families are nurturing the next generation of Australians. Families nurture our future.

Families have got to be the focus for good sound policy, be it in education; be it health; be it in taxation policy. We’re for middle income Australians. You had Howard out there the other day saying that the Labor Party is doing thin edge of the wedge politics here. Well let me tell you this. The Family Tax Benefit’s

structure, the Family Tax Benefit idea was started by the Labor Party - as though we’re against it. That was focussed by us on middle Australia - not on the wealthy. It was focussed on middle Australia, which is where it ought to be - because we stand with the millions of people in middle Australia. We don’t stand with a hostile face to the rich but we just say the rich don’t need it, as simple as that. I’ve never heard a rich man say that we did.

JOURNALIST: One hundred and twenty Australian police and soldiers I think are heading for the Solomons today. Do you (inaudible) a blank cheque, as many as needed, no matter how many?

BEAZLEY: Pretty much. I would take the view that whatever the man on the ground says, we’ve got a commander in there, if he says that he needs another 120 extra troops we should provide it. If he says he needs another extra 120 police we should provide it. If he says we need a bit more than that, we should provide that. The Solomon Islands is our backdoor. We absolutely have

to make sure that the South Pacific works. It’s within our capacity. It’s a substantial problem for those on the ground who are dealing with it, but it is a problem that Australians can deal with. It’s of a size that Australians can deal with if we have the will to do it. So, therefore I support them, my prayers are with them, and I think all Australians will have them in their heart and hope very much the situation settles soon.

JOURNALIST: The UNHCR says that it’s concerned that plans to toughen (inaudible) see Australia end up ducking its responsibilities? Do you agree with UNHCR?

BEAZLEY: Well John Howard’s appeasement and grovelling to Indonesia has failed and everything he’s done here has been incompetent and wrong.

To do what this Government is doing, to change our laws at the behest of the complaints of another country, suggests to them immediately that what we did was wrong. John Howard has effectively apologised to the Indonesians for actually doing the right thing. Now that is the wrong thing to do. It’s the wrong message to send. What has to happen when you’ve got the right policies and

you implement them in the right way and your neighbour has a problem with them, you’ve actually got to go and explain it to your neighbour. You may not be immediately understood but you’ve actually got to get out there and explain it to them.

It’s no sense sending public servants up. I am sick of the card-carrying cowards of Howard Government Ministers. We’ve seen it in the Wheat Board scandal where they’ve put themselves arms length, pushed their public servants out there, pushed the Wheat Board people out there and have said “Oh, no, there’s

no responsibility here”. They ran into trouble in Indonesia so who do they send? They send the head of the Foreign Affairs Department. What do they pay the Foreign Minister for? What are they paying the Prime Minister for? The problem that they’ve got is not with the Indonesian bureaucracy. The problem they have is with their Indonesian political system. The politicians should do the job and stop hiding in coward’s castle. Now their obligation is not to appease, but to explain. We’ve not done anything wrong but as a result of John Howard’s inept and basically incompetent actions in changing our law, seemingly under international pressure, we’ve got more of a problem than we would have had otherwise. So this has got to be fixed by Howard and his Ministers and it will take some time because they’ve handicapped themselves.

Now I want to say one thing to my good Indonesian friends on this. We need to understand Indonesia. We always need to understand Indonesia and work very hard at it and to be sensitive to Indonesian concerns, worries and fears. They also need to understand us. But what is going on now in putting pressure on us, in relation to our asylum seeker policies and the like, is counter-productive from their point of view because all it does inside Australia is get Australian hackles up and make more Australians sympathetic to the idea about the possibility of political changes in West Papua. That is not sensible. Indonesians need to understand us and the impact of what they say on our politics.

Now in this country, the Government and the Opposition are united on the point that they believe that a coherent, united Indonesia territorially is very much in Australian interests and what we will support. And we’re not interested in undermining the territorial integrity of Indonesia. Now, that’s the position that Indonesian Ministers/Government ought to be pleased with. But to go further than that and to put pressure on Australia to change Australia’s laws when Australia’s laws are right is counterproductive.

For John Howard to appease, which is what he’s done, let’s say it pure and simple. I heard him on radio here yesterday saying I won’t apologise to Indonesia. He has apologised to Indonesia. By changing Australian laws at their behest it’s an apology. And what he should have been doing in relation to Indonesia is having the courage, the ticker, to get himself or Downer up there to explain the policy. But he’s not been prepared to do that.

JOURNALIST: Are you saying sending Mr L’Estrange is a waste of time?

BEAZLEY: When you’ve got a political problem you don’t send a public servant to fix it.

JOURNALIST: He’s the top bureaucrat.

BEAZLEY; Yes, he might be the top bureaucrat but its politicians dealing with a political problem. The people who are out there making noises in Indonesian media, in the public space in Indonesia, is not the head of the Foreign Ministry or the head of the Defence Department - it’s Ministers, it’s the President, it’s Members of Parliament. And I know as a politician if somebody comes to see me - it might be the Deputy Secretary of Indonesia’s Foreign

Ministry or whatever - I’d receive him politely and listen to him carefully but I would not consider myself being on the receiving end of a demarche from their Government. I’d consider myself, if it happened to be the Minister for Foreign Affairs sitting opposite me with something to say and they’re no different - they respond in exactly the same way.

You send your public servants when you don’t have the guts to do it yourself. That’s what you do, you send your public servants when you don’t have the guts to do it yourself. And that’s what John Howard has done - he has built on his appeasement with further incompetence.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, just on another one quickly - should Australians be copping these ever rising fuel prices or what can be done about it?

BEAZLEY: We’ve got to get ourselves independent of Middle East fuel. We now have to put in place, as I’ve suggested in a lot of my Blueprint speeches, we’ve got to now put in place our capacity to render ourselves independent of the politics of the Middle East in fuel supplies because that’s the problem now - that, plus the level of demand for petrol.

We’ve got to get alternatives in place. We’ve got to go down the road of bio-diesel. We’ve got to go down the road of ethanol. We’ve got to go down the road -here in WA. If we are in a position to put in place the policies we pursue there’d be an enormous boom for WA industrially - and that is gas to liquid conversion. Gas to liquid conversion’s a big answer for us here in this country.

We’ve got to go down the road of alternatives like solar power, wind power. Fair dinkum the other day I saw the orange-bellied parrot or something or other, one of which might have flown into a wind farm somewhere in the south of Victoria, therefore an entire wind farm gets banned by the Government. The most absurd piece of craven politics I think I’ve ever seen in a very long time. At a time when we’ve actually got to get ourselves independent of fossil fuels for many reasons. To do that was absurd.

So I think the Government must now take a stand. They’ve got to say ok we can see around now the Middle East’s unstable, it’s likely to get more unstable. The Chinese and the Indians are demanding more and more petrol as their economy improves and that’s a benefit for us in many ways.

We’re going to have high oil prices now till hell freezes over. So, what we’ve got to do is go down the alternative road, the resources rent, tax concessions and the other tax concessions that are needed for gas-to-liquid conversion. Whatever it is we need to do to get bio-diesel and ethanol going. Whatever we need to do to do the wind power alternatives, the solar energy alternatives - that is what needs to happen now and what should have happened years ago frankly.

JOURNALIST: Do you see the growing tensions between the US and Iran compounding these problems?

BEAZLEY: Yes they will - there’s no doubt about that. The problem is in international politics everything has a domino affect - one action or this action affects another. We’ve changed the political equation in the Persian Gulf by a wrong-headed policy in Iraq. The one thing that we know, definitely, has come out of the Iraq war so far is a massive increase in Iranian power. They’ve got enormous political power as a result of our misjudgements in the war in Iraq. So that’s one dimension of the problem.

At the same time as that has occurred we have got an argument with the Iranians about whether or not they should have nuclear weapons - frankly they should not have nuclear weapons. For them to have nuclear weapons would be incredibly dangerous. But in the worst of possible circumstances the US and the rest of us

now have to conduct diplomacy with the Iranians to talk them out of it. Because to go to war to do that would have its own knock on consequences which would be even worse than what we now envisage. So in the worst of circumstances we need the most delicate of actions. And the sort of clodhoppers of the Howard Government aren’t going to be much of a help here I’m afraid to say.