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Sydney, 1 December 2000: transcript of Media Conference [ Wayne Swan].



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Kim Beazley - Media Conference Subject: Wayne Swan

Transcript - Sydney - 1 December 2000

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BEAZLEY: Some time ago I said that I had a set of political standards which I would apply without fear or favour to my colleagues because we in the Australian Labor Party are determined that the Australian people should have confidence in politicians and our political system.

As a result of the standards that I laid down, it is my unfortunate duty to announce that a member of my front bench, Mr Wayne Swan, is being stood down while a police investigation proceeds into matters that were raised by the AEC with the DPP.

I note that the DPP has said, and the AEC has said, that they are unable to arrive at any concluded position on the matter and that is why they've referred it to the AFP.

I note, also, that Mr Swan has said, in his own press release, that he welcomes the opportunity to clear his name on this matter. There have been, over the course of the last few months, two police investigations in relation to front benchers on both sides of politics. The difference is, in the case of the frontbencher from the ALP, he has stood down while that investigation proceeds. In the case of Mr Reith, he did not. We do have different standards and we do adhere to them. And as a result of that, Mr Swan has been obliged in these circumstances to stand down.

I should point out clearly that these matters are not related to the general matters that are being considered by the Shepherdson Inquiry in Queensland. The Sheherdson inquiry goes not to these matters, but to the issues of the relationship of the electoral roll to the internal political processes of the Australian Labor Party. On those matters, I've made clear several things. Firstly, my strong support for the stand and steps that Peter Beattie has been taking. Secondly, the confidence I now have that the national rules that I put into the ALP's platform, the first time such rules have been put into the platform in 100 years of the Labor Party's existence are on the right track are going to be an essential protection against rorting inside the Australian Labor Party and major important step in ensuring that there is a clean political process for the Australian people. Those rules, of course, were a template imposed on all the State branches of the Australian Labor Party. I believe they are good. If anything were to arise from the Shepherdson Inquiry or responses to it, which suggested that further measures might be taken, then, of course, I would take those measures as well. Suffice it to say, that I think all the particular issues that have thus far been presented at the Shepherdson Inquiry would be any possibility that that would occur in the future unpunished in the Australian Labor Party would be remote indeed.

JOURNALIST: Is this the end of Wayne Swan's career?

BEAZLEY: This is a police investigation. It's not a charge. I note that Mr Swan has said that

he welcomes it and that he believes that it will clear him.

JOURNALIST: Does he still have your full confidence?

BEAZLEY: I am a strong supporter of Wayne Swan's capabilities, I've always made that amply clear. And as I said, I note what he has said in regard to these matters. But there is now a police investigation under way. And I think the sensible thing for us all to do is to await its conclusion.

JOURNALIST: You must ask the question, why a brown paper envelope? Why not an ALP cheque, some sort of record, some sort of receipt? You must have asked…

BEAZLEY: What Mr Swan will have an opportunity to do in the course of this inquiry, of course, and I know he has his own views on all those matters, that he will have an opportunity to present his views on that to the police. And it really has got to the point where it would be….I notice the AEC themselves have said that they would not want to comment on that, it would be an invidious thing for them to do so. And it would be invidious for me. Or, I might say, anyone else.

JOURNALIST: Why didn't you stand him down when you first heard of these allegations?

BEAZLEY: Because the standard I have put in place, which is much stricter than Mr Howard, and the oddball position I find myself in is that Mr Howard thinks Mr Swan should not stand down, and I think he should. That's an odd difference in the approaches. Until an investigation is under way, then there is no appropriate reference point associated with the particular alleged act. Some people would say, as Mr Howard does, unless charges were laid there is no appropriate reference point in relation to the alleged act.

So, I'm applying here a standard which does not normally apply in Australian politics. And I should say that the standard I'm applying does not go to any presumption that Mr Swan is not innocent.

JOURNALIST: You must be personally wounded and hurt because he is an adviser, he is a friend.

BEAZLEY: He is a friend. He's an adviser.

JOURNALIST: What's it like to sack a friend?

BEAZLEY: I understand this about politics, you're never tested in politics by the standards you impose on your enemies. You're only tested in politics by the standards you impose on your friends.

JOURNALIST: So, it must be a very bad day for you.

BEAZLEY: I'm unhappy, of course, about the circumstances in which Mr Swan finds himself. He is entitled absolutely to a presumption of innocence. He would be entitled to a presumption of innocence even were charges to be laid. He is even more entitled to that presumption in the circumstances where an investigation is simply proceeding.

JOURNALIST: Do you approve of handing out cash to minor political parties?

BEAZLEY: You should understand that for 20-plus years in politics, the Liberal Party of

Australia funded the entire election expenses, or ensured the entire election expenses of the Democratic Labor Party were funded.

JOURNALIST: But does the ALP…

BEAZLEY: And the question is the transparency. That is the question, not the act. Of course, people build political alliances and give each other mutual assistance. That has been the case from the beginning of the Australian political process. The most obvious substantial component of that is the coalition between the Liberal Party and the National Party in that regard. And from time to time, the Labor Party has come to arrangements with other political parties. It's not the principle of it, it's the transparency of it that counts.

JOURNALIST: But there hasn't been any, has there, that's the problem? Brown paper envelopes.

BEAZLEY: Well, we shall see. These are untested suggestions and there's an inquiry proceeding into it and I think both the normal conduct of the affairs of this nation and the conduct of affairs in this particular case require all of us to await the outcome.

JOURNALIST: Presumably Mr Swan has taken you through the facts? Can you tell us what amount Mr Swan…

BEAZLEY: I know deal of these matters beyond what is public so far in terms of the suggestions. But it is not appropriate for me to comment on that because an investigation will tease out other things as well during the course of it and of course I've had conversations with Mr Swan about it. And I know why Mr Swan, on that basis believes that this is an opportunity to prove his innocence. But it is not sensible for me to comment on those matters. The AEC won't, neither should I and I don't think, while an investigation is proceeding that speculation is appropriate.

JOURNALIST: But some basic facts, for example, has Mr Swan confirmed that money was paid in cash?

BEAZLEY: I say again, this matter is now under investigation. It's in the hands of the Federal Police, it has been put there by the AEC. They have said it's inappropriate to comment on it, and it's inappropriate for me.

JOURNALIST: Does it make a mockery of the electoral process, that there is cash for preferences?

BEAZLEY: That is not demonstrated. These issues are under investigation. But does it make a mockery of the election process that parties make agreements on the distribution of preferences and give each other assistance? No. Transparency is important in that regard. But as I've pointed out before in the case of this particular election, while the national negotiators of the Labor Party and the Democrats negotiated preference arrangements in relation to Queensland, it is not the case that they negotiated preference arrangements across the board. In my State, the Democrats negotiated preference arrangements with the Liberals and at that election in my constituency, Liberal Party campaign workers were handing out Democrat how-to-vote cards. And I should make the point that the Electoral Act makes no difference between support in cash and support in kind.

JOURNALIST: Do you still categorically deny that there was any cash for preferences deal?

BEAZLEY: You've heard what we've had to say, and the Democrats have had to say, about the role of the national negotiators in that regard. And the fact that they have assumed responsibility for any preference decisions taken in regard to where agreement was reached between the Labor Party and the Democrats. To take it beyond that, however, will be now starting to prejudge the process of an investigation which is under way. And I'm not going to do that. The AEC won't do that and nor should I and nor should anyone else.

JOURNALIST: How do you think the Australian voter feels? You have cash for preference allegations, you have confirmed electoral rorting. How do you think the average Australian voter perceives this?

BEAZLEY: I think firstly, the average Australian voter is impressed with the way in which Peter Beattie is getting on top of this issue in Queensland. I have also been pointing out to the Australian voter that in terms of the basic issues that are there before the Shepherdson Inquiry, which are in essence a continuation of matters which had been previously resolved in some other areas prior to this, influence the decisions that we took to put in place a national rule to clean up rorting. Now, when that national rule is finally in place in every State, which it will be next year, then the Labor Party will have a completely clean set of national rules with major penalties internally for that sort of rorting. It has to be said that in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, that situation does not obtain in the Liberal Party.

JOURNALIST: Have you gone back to the ALP records and read for your own satisfaction that 1996 deal between the ALP and the Democrats?

BEAZLEY: Again, I have already said where I believe that the matter was negotiated. I, of course, have made general inquiries in relation to it. And, of course, have discussed this with Wayne. But it would not be appropriate for me to say what those conversations involved, this matter is now there as a police investigation.

JOURNALIST: Did you share with him the attitude that he will be cleared?

BEAZLEY: Wayne Swan claims strongly his innocence. And I, of course, hope fervently that that is the case. Again, it's not for me, or anyone else, to prejudge the outcome.

JOURNALIST: How do you think this will affect your election hopes this year? I mean, mud does stick.

BEAZLEY: I think two things about that. Firstly, that the Australian people need to be confident that when problems like this occur and that are now there manifest in all major political parties, that the leaders of those political parties are dealing with it. And I believe we are in the Australian Labor Party at both the State and Federal level. They need to be confident in that. If they're confident in that, then the focus of the Australian electorate will be on their primary concerns. And the primary concerns of the Australian electorate at the moment are what is happening to their petrol prices, what's happening in their public schools, what's happening in their public hospitals. And when it comes to a determination as to what the next electoral outcome will be, I believe it will be on the basis of the competing visions of the political parties on those matters, and a few others besides, and that will determine the outcome of the election.

JOURNALIST: It's less than a ringing endorsement of Wayne Swan, though, isn't it? Just to

say that you hope fervently that he is found to be telling the truth.

BEAZLEY: I would have thought that a fervent hope is a pretty strong supportive statement. I can't prejudge particular outcomes in relation to this - I'm not the AFP, and I'm not the AEC and I'm not the DPP. I could tell you what my fervent hopes are. But an investigation is going to proceed. And just as in the same way I won't be drawn on the minutiae of particular aspects of this investigation. I can't take that a point further than what I thought was a reasonable statement. Here I'm laying down standards. And the standard is this: that if a credible investigation is under way, not simply based on maliciousness, a credible investigation is under way, then the appropriate action of a party leader is to stand aside the person who is concerned. And that is an argument that I had with Mr Howard, but I think it's an argument worth having.

JOURNALIST: Is having a police investigation which could go weeks, even months, going to dent your ability to get out there and have policy reforms without people asking questions about Wayne Swan and constantly diverting attention?

BEAZLEY: Yes, of course. Because the issues that we are considering here for the Australian people are fundamental to them. And they will want to hear our conclusions on that. Now, I believe that the strong stand that has been taken by Mr Beattie in relation to the matters in Queensland and the strong stand taken by myself in relation to these standards, provides us with a ready answer to that type of question. And I believe people in conversation with us will rapidly get on to the issues that are serious as far as they are concerned.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of the Frankston East claims of money being offered to a minor candidate?

BEAZLEY: Isn't it interesting how hog wild that went today and this shows the dangers of taking at face value claims that are made off the top of their heads in an atmosphere like this. Because, as I understand it, an editor went out publicly today and said that if he's known the basis of those claims he'd never have published it.

JOURNALIST: So, is this going to get worse before it gets better in that sense? Because it is snowballing.

BEAZLEY: But it has to snowball with credibility. And once it ceases to snowball with credibility, people tend to get a bit rational again. And I think that is one of the instances, that is perhaps the first instance of it snowballing without credibility. I might say, also, you will recollect, and I can say this because the CJC removed their suppression order from it, the first claim that was made in relation to Wayne Swan was that he had enrolled 12 people at his residence at one point of time. A diligent search by the Australian Labor Party of the electoral rolls revealed that to be completely false - completely false. And therefore, there is, I think, it's very sensible for those now who are the recipients of these alleged tossed-off the head accusations to start to take a much more careful look than whoever it was dealing with that particular one at the time.

JOURNALIST: It just moves from politics more into a legal sphere. Do you think it's appropriate that the gentleman in Frankston East who has raised these claims and signed a statutory declaration, should face the legal consequences of perjuring himself…

BEAZLEY: Well, I think that those are matters that will be dealt with in Victoria as time goes by.

JOURNALIST: While you're awaiting the outcome of this inquiry, are you making internal inquiries into the Labor Party in other States, for example, have you spoken to the NSW Labor Party?

BEAZLEY: We now are going through the process of ensuring that the party rules around the country comply with the template which was put in place at the last National Conference. And that is our focus.

JOURNALIST: But that's…

BEAZLEY: That's pretty good. Having a position now for the first time in Labor Party history where we have a uniform set of rules. And, secondly, again for the first time in Labor Party history, where punishment involving expulsion for breaches of those rules is there on the table, then I think we've got the tough clean-up under way. Now, that is not to say that you won't find complaints raised about the preselection process. Nor does it say that after those rules are in place you won't find complaints raised about the political process. We've got hard, tough rules in relation to elections Federally, as well. That doesn't stop breaches occurring. The point is, when the hard rules are there, it's much less easy to get away with it.

JOURNALIST: …other party leaders in the States to tell you about any other strategies they might have in their focus?

BEAZLEY: The way these things operate in terms of internal party matters on preselection processes, they operate essentially through the machine. Now, that's always Mr Howard's cop-out, I must say, in relation to dealing with the Liberal Party. I accept that the Australian Labor Party party leaders have been regularly obliged to step into these situations. But I am, for example, I am very pleased with the way in which Geoff Walsh, our National Secretary is handling these matters. He has been very helpful to Mr Beattie and the Queensland Branch in the situation in which they find themselves. And he is, of course, monitoring this sort of situation around the country were it to rear its head elsewhere.

JOURNALIST: So, you are not taking a personal interest? You haven't asked…

BEAZLEY: I'm not taking a… you don't think this constitutes a personal interest? I moved at the National Conference the national rules. I'm taking a very direct personal interest in ensuring that the rules of the Labor Party are such that would give everybody confidence in our process.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, you're 12 months out from an election. Do you feel that all of the momentum gathers to things like petrol prices and fall out from the GST is now going to be wiped away…

BEAZLEY: Not at all. I mean, we might take a few hits in the polls. But let me tell you, as I go around this country and people talk to me about the petrol prices, what's happening to them in public schools, what's happening to them in public hospitals, these are things which worry them intensely. Also, a vision for this country on the sort of nation we need to be. People are now very conscious that the low value of the Australian dollar is at least in part related to the fact that we're not seen as a knowledge economy or a new economy. Globally a judgement is being passed upon us. And that what we need is vision in these areas. And we

have put forward a lot of constructive ideas. And I think, frankly, that as time goes by, as people see what Peter Beattie is doing, as people see that we are prepared to take action in regard to these matters ourselves, the focus goes off that and on to these other things. And as from time to time, too we get bogus cases come out and the media gets more suspicious of what is being presented to them then that tends to send things off the boil as well.

JOURNALIST: …worst week as Labor leader?

BEAZLEY: It's a tough week. It's been a tough week for me as a Labor Party leader. But it is only an insurmountable week when you happen to be becalmed. And because of the actions that we took at our National Conference in relation to the national performance of the Party, and because of the actions taken by Peter Beattie in Queensland, and because of the way in which the Federal Party has been able to assist him, we are not becalmed.

JOURNALIST: Is it tough to put a positive spin on this, though?

BEAZLEY: I'm not trying to put a positive spin on this. I'm trying to tell you what are the things that influence us and the directions in which we are leading the Party and the decision that we've taken in regard to this matter. It's not an easy decision, it's a hard decision. And I should say, it's a decision that is made in the context of the absolute right of Mr Swan to a presumption of innocence. And the knowledge that on the previous occasion when things were raised in regard to Mr Swan, that they were utterly false.

JOURNALIST: I know you don't want to go into detail about the Swan case, but did you ever say to Mr Swan, 'why didn't you write a cheque?' It seems so sleazy, the cash, the political go between.

BEAZLEY: I am not commenting on any of those matters. Mr Swan has his own views on those events. And they will be presented in due course to the police and the police will obviously inquire of others about the circumstances at the time. Can I say, the Electoral Act in regard to transparency makes no difference between cash and kind.

JOURNALIST: How are these payments usually made?

BEAZLEY: And I'm not going to…

JOURNALIST: …(inaudible)…

BEAZLEY: Look, these issues are now the issues that are under deliberation. And you'd need to get…

JOURNALIST: …payments to minor parties?

BEAZLEY: I don't approve of payments to minor parties being in the context of preference deals and I don't approve of things which are not transparent. But, I've got to say, all political parties establish alliances and those alliances involve exchanges of preferences and mutual help. And that has been so for a very long period of time in this country.

JOURNALIST: And you can buy that?

BEAZLEY: The country has bought it. I mean, what is the relationship between the Liberal Party and the National Party over the course of the last 70-odd years?

JOURNALIST: That was…

BEAZLEY: What was the relationship between the Liberal Party and the DLP over a very lengthy period of time? What was the relationship between the Liberal Party and the Democrats in my home State and my seat in the 1996 election? I mean, these… I was thoroughly aware of what was going on in my seat. But I didn't complain about it. I regarded that as essentially their business and we had our own tactic to try and get around it at that particular point of time. But that was accepted by me as part of the political process. But what has to be there is transparency. What is going on here is an inquiry, a valid inquiry by the Federal Police, in those circumstances, I've chosen a course of action which is a standard somewhat advanced from that of my principal political opponent and I'm pleased to, in that sense, to be able to put that standard forward.

JOURNALIST: How is Wayne Swan taking all of this?

BEAZLEY: Well, obviously, he's very disappointed and concerned but very confident.

JOURNALIST: Can you tell us when the payment was made in relation to when the national deal was struck?

BEAZLEY: Look, that is obviously not a question that the AEC would want you to inquire into beyond the police arrangement. It is certainly front and centre the sort of deliberation that the Federal Police are now involved in.

JOURNALIST: Does Kim Wilke have your full support?

BEAZLEY: Kim Wilke examined the circumstances of the operation of his office and came out himself. You know, we do make mistakes from time to time in the administration of our affairs. The difference, it seems between us an our political opponents, is that when we make them we make them public.

Ends

Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.