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Parliament House, Canberra, 20 June 1999: transcript of doorstop interview [cricket; Telstra; Warren Entsch; CARE workers; GST; Democrats; cream pies; Justice Callinan; VIP planes].



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

 

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP - PARLIAMENT HOUSE - CANBERRA,

20 JUNE 1999

 

E&OE-PROOF ONLY

 

 

Subjects: Cricket, Telstra, Warren Entsch, Care Workers, GST, Democrats, Cream Pies, Justice Callinan, VIP planes

 

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Firstly, on behalf of the Opposition, and I am sure, really, all Australians, I want to wish Steve Waugh and the boys all the best for the game tonight. All of Australia will be watching right through to the end, hopeful of a result at least as good as the last couple we have been given. And tomorrow will be the least productive day in the Australian workforce for the entire year.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

So, you won’t be asking questions at Question Time, is that right?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

They will be slow and deliberate questions, and I hope they are going to be delivered with a very sore head.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

…(inaudible)...

 

BEAZLEY:

 

That’s right.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Beazley, Telstra, an extra $314 million to win the votes of Harradine and Colston?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, the Government is shameless. The Government knows and so do the independents and so does every political party that the Australian people do not want their telephone company sold. Our people do not want it sold and they are entitled to have their way. What we have seen so far from Liberal Party efforts at selling Telstra is use of funds blatantly for political purposes to suit the Liberal Party. Ignobly, a great Australian asset is sold off for individuals in the Liberal Party to get out there and manage resources into their constituencies. This is one of the worst cases of pork barrelling, I think, that we have ever seen in Australia. Deliberate use of a great Australian asset for the narrow political purpose of one political party. The independents should have nothing to do with it, they will be shamed by it. They were ratted on in the last agreement, and they ought to learn from that.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Do you hold out any hopes that it could be stopped tomorrow, that Harradine and Colston might regard it as not quite enough?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

I do believe, in Senator Harradine, at least, resides great decency. Also in Senator Harradine resides great experience. He knows how he was misled during the last sale of Telstra. Once bitten, he ought to be twice shy as far as the sale of Telstra is concerned.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

He is said to be very happy, though. Is that not good for you?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

It’s not good for Australia. Look, I don’t own this company any more than any average Australian owns this company, but I am proud of it. And the fact that the company may be sold is not personal hurt simply to Kim Beazley, it is personal hurt to every single Australian.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

1.9 million Australians got in on the last share float. They are voting with their feet, aren’t they?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Most of them, if you see the surveys of them, don’t want any more sold. Admittedly, not by as heavy a percentage as those who don’t own shares. But still a majority of them, the last poll that I saw, don’t want anything more of Telstra sold, and they are right to think that way.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Beazley, with Parliament resuming tomorrow, will Warren Entsch be, again, in the Opposition’s firing line?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

He must be. The Opposition has a duty, and that is a duty to hold people accountable. And Ministers who are in a situation, whether knowingly or unknowingly, in contracts with the Federal Government, they have a pecuniary interests problem, and Ministers are obliged to uphold a ministerial code of conduct. We shouldn’t be talking about Entsch, he should have gone ages ago, but he is still there, and he is there as a symbol of John Howard’s lack of accountability. Entsch is going to be a famous man I can promise you that, he is going to be a very famous man. Every time someone like Mrs Kelly from the deli, sitting around her kitchen table, doing her accounts on the GST, she is going to remember Warren Entsch. The Government has one standard of accountability for its own. That is, you can get a House of Representatives resolution. They have another standard of accountability for Mrs Kelly - fill your forms out right or go to jail.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Has any further evidence emerged to incriminate Mr Entsch?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

What more do you need? What we have here is a situation where a Minister stands up and says: ‘I didn’t know I was supposed to declare I was a secretary or director’. He then gets up and confesses that, despite what the Corporation Law might say about the roles of secretaries and directors he has got nothing to do with managing this company. He then gets up and says, ‘well, I didn’t know that my company, of which I have 50 per cent shareholding, signed up a contract with the Commonwealth’. This is sort of finger print heaven. It is not actually securing a political result, which it ought to, and that is him out.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Are you any closer yet to taking a High Court challenge yet, or determining whether you will go to the High Court?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

We are going to hasten slowly on this. We don’t want to place ourselves in a position where we can’t ask questions of Mr Entsch. We might have been able to do that if the Government had acted honourably, but it hasn’t, so we have got to use, without difficulties associated with the sub judice rule, we have got to be able to use the Parliamentary forum. We also, I think, need to have a careful look at the Heather Hill case, because there are aspects of that which impinge on Entsch’s situation, and we also ought to get some decent legal advice. There is a lot of moral pressure on us to ensure that a case is taken but we have, as I understand it, 12 months from the date of the problem emerging, which was, I think, late March this year, 12 months before we run out of time to do anything about it.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Have you received that legal advice yet, Mr Beazley?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

No, because the lawyer who is advising us, who is a very good lawyer indeed, is in very high demand and he has not had the opportunity yet to sit down and consider the new developments. But I would recommend, and I am surprised, indeed, that this hasn’t been the case so far, I would recommend reportage of that initial legal opinion. That was an excellent statement about Mr Entsch’s legal difficulties, and it ought to be there for public perusal.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Should Natasha Stott Despoja and Andrew Bartlett resign if they cross the floor on the tax?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Look, that is a matter for their own conscience and their own concerns of what is happening inside the Democrats. Clearly, Meg Lees very ineffective bargaining has humiliated her Party, and they are there licking their wounds and they are there with the horror of knowing that, with Mr Costello and Mr Howard, they will share responsibility for this wretched tax. We don’t have tax reform any more in this country. There is not a serious person around who believes that to be the case. What we have got is a major tax mess, and more complex tax law, and it has now got Democrat and Liberal fingerprints all over it.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Beazley, is the inquiry into Mr Justice Callinan simply revenge for Lionel Murphy?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

No it is not. The Labor Party did not initiate these circumstances. It is not a Labor Party judge sitting over a matter that caused some aspects of barrister Callinan’s activities to come to his attention. Nor is it the Labor Party dominating the Law Council of Australia who asked for an inquiry. I would have thought it was in both Mr Callinan’s interests and the Government’s that they cleared this matter up with a properly based inquiry, but such is the partisan character these days of this Government, they have got no fundamental decency when it comes to any form of accountability.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

The Yugoslavs seem very reluctant to let go of the CARE people. Has the Government done all it can?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, we did urge Alexander Downer to go, and he has now gone. We would now urge him to stay. I think it is very important that he stays there as long as possible, to demonstrate the seriousness of Australia’s concern for our two fellows and the Yugoslav national who was assisting them. We cannot let this go. The simple fact of the matter is, Australians are a generous hearted people and part of that generosity of spirit extends to work for voluntary aid organisations like CARE, and our people are everywhere, all over the globe. They are not spies they are people engaged in humanitarian work. We cannot let this one go. There is a national interest here.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

... is calling for a reassessment of the Government’s strategies of these people, and basically saying the UNHCR shouldn’t be giving any money to Belgrade, for...

 

BEAZLEY:

 

I think the world community, non-government organisations who give aid, have a very direct interest in all of this, and that includes the UN High Commissioner on refugees. They have a direct interest in this. It is not right that people who are not spies should be in prison for this sort of activity, which is simply humanitarian. And this is an Australian national interest, as I said, it is broader than that.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Beazley, just quickly on tax. Have you determined whether you will be moving any amendments to the tax bills over the next fortnight?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, we will certainly be engaged in an amendment associated with the issue of books. We, like you, have not been vouched-safe with our new tax act. We, like you, do not yet have the national loaf, or the national quiche, or the national pizza, or the national salad. We are all looking forward to these recipes, and I am particularly looking forward to the national cream pie. But we are yet to see any of this, so we, of course, are not in a position to know what particular amendments we will be moving or supporting.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

On the cream pie, should there be better protection for you guys, to stop that sort of thing happening?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

No, it was very nice pie.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Do you think it raises issues of security, though?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

No, I don’t think so. I mean, fair dinkum, this is a not a case of extreme malevolence here.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

So, it’s Mr Howard’s turn next time?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

No, I don’t think they would get through to Mr Howard, it has to be said. He is protected, and I think they would find it a pretty tough job getting through.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Tim Fischer suggested you should have been wearing an Akubra, Kim, it may not have got through.

 

BEAZLEY:

 

I don’t think it would have helped. Tim does wear his Akubra with great frequency, and indoors as well. He may have a steel reinforced Akubra, and one with shutters that, with a flick of a switch, can come down, or an air bag or something like that, to sort of knock off an incoming pie. But what I know of Tim’s Akubra, I don’t even think it would have been able to substantially resist the pie onslaught.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Did you get to eat much of the pie?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

I got to eat a bit.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Given the demonstrations overseas against the G8, do you take it personally?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

No, not at all. What I thought was very interesting, and I must give him public thanks for this, Hugh Morgan was actually chairing that show. He introduced me, then he cleaned up my face afterwards. It must have been the highest priced valet service I have ever had. I am going to be sending Hugh a note to thank him for that. But it has got to be said, that when you have got the Leader of the Opposition standing alongside the CEO of probably the world’s largest uranium operator, and the greenies hit the Leader of the Opposition, it has got to be said the team is not on top of it.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Your aeroplane ride, what happened there?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, look, I am interested in this. There is growing evidence of not only this Government’s lack of accountability, but also its vindictiveness. Now, I want to know why a plane which was stationed there at 4.30pm, the Government knew full well what I was engaged in last night, I had an invitation to the Australian Rugby Union for one of their rare Tests in Western Australia. They had invited me to the official function beforehand, and to the game subsequently I could not board a plane at 4.30pm and attend that function. As an old rugby union player, I do like to see the banner erected in Perth, and when I get an official invitation, I take it seriously. I was told if I boarded that plane at 4.30pm, [yesterday], I could make it to Newcastle in time for these events, which kicked off at about 12 o’clock [today]. But, of course, I could not do the function that I was supposed to do. I was given no explanation. I find, also, as I fly across with Wayne Swan, that he has just received a letter from Senator Newman’s office informing him that, in future, copies of departmental press clips will no longer be provided to Members of the Opposition. Now, we used to do that routinely, when we were in office. We provided those services for our political opponents. It helps to have that information base going around. I can only assume that what is developing here is a pattern of deliberate destabilisation of the Opposition. That is all I can assume from this.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Do you think that means they are worried? The Opposition is making a bit of an impact then?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, we are. We are making a major impact. They know full well, now, that the public has turned on them and this goods and services tax issue vehemently. They know too, that the public does not agree with them on Telstra. These are two ideas in an ideas bereft government. It is about their only two ideas, and the public hates them. The Opposition happens to be pointing that out to them, and so, they are shooting the messenger.

 

ends.

 

 

lk  1999-06-22  11:00