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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Leader of the Opposition: Sydney, 12 October 2004: [Second anniversary of the Bali bombing; tribute to Senator John Faulkner].

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LATHAM: If I could just start by thanking the organisers of today’s ceremony. It’s been a good chance for the community and elected representatives to pay their respects to the victims of the Bali bombing. And also to try and provide some comfort and support for the loved ones - the family, the friends and members of the community who have gathered here today in such a good ceremony, in such a good fashion, a good Australian way to pay our tributes. So, thanks to the organisers and as ever we pay our respects in memory of the tragedy two years ago.

Secondly, could I pay my tribute to John Faulkner who has today announced that he will be standing down as Labor Senate Leader. Senator Faulkner has been an outstanding leader of the Labor Party in that Chamber for the past eight and a half years, since we went into Opposition in 1996.

He’s set a very high standard for what can be achieved in terms of holding the Government to account through Question Time and his legendary use of the Senate Estimates. John has also been a great member of the Labor Caucus, a unifying figure, a key Party strategist, someone who has acted as a mentor to younger MPs and always tried to bring people together in the Parliamentary Labor Party. And also he’s got a great standing as a Party Historian, someone who knows the traditions of Labor as well as being part of our drive for social justice and a fairer society. So I thank him very very much as I am sure Party members right around the country will thank John Faulkner for his contribution. It’s been fantastic over the years.

And of course he is staying in the parliament and in the Caucus, we look forward to his ongoing contribution. And all those bureaucrats in Senate Estimates can not yet rest easy. He’ll be back in terms of holding the Government to account. He’s been a fantastic Senate Leader in terms of accountability, setting a very high standard for the integrity of Australian politics. So I thank him so much for his contribution over the years and look forward to his ongoing role in our parliamentary Party.

JOURNALIST: Who would be a good successor to Senator Faulkner as Senate Leader?

LATHAM: Today is a day for paying tribute to John, I’m not too sure the Party was expecting today’s announcement. But no one has earned more than John Faulkner the right to make an exit from the leadership of his own timing and his own choosing. So he has done that, we pay tribute to him and of course we will be talking around the Parliamentary Party. And if we find someone half as good as Senator Faulkner in that role then we will be fortunate indeed for the next parliamentary term.

JOURNALIST: …[inaudible] has said the Labor Party needs to change. How does it need to change?

LATHAM: Well obviously we have got things to learn out of the election defeat. We’ve got to take responsibility, I’ve got to take responsibility for the result and part of that is to listen to and learn from the Australian people. I mentioned just yesterday that in terms of economic policy and credibility we’ve got to work harder, we’ve got to make appropriate improvements to our stance and reputation in the community. And obviously in other policy areas we will be listening to the Australian people and having a serious assessment of why we failed to get the majority support of the Australian people and try to do better in the future. There’s no miracle solution, there’s no overnight answer. We’ve got to take the result seriously, listen to the people and learn as much as we can from their verdict.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]…do you take some of the blame?

LATHAM: Yes, I just mentioned the responsibility that I’ve taken.

JOURNALIST: Is Senator Faulkner the first casualty after the election loss?

LATHAM: I wouldn’t see John that way on a day where he has decided to stand down from the Senate Leadership. I prefer to look at his contribution, and you wouldn’t find a Senator on either side of the parliament who has added more in terms of accountability and the effective use of the forums of the Senate. He’s been an outstanding parliamentarian and I pay tribute to his service rather than any downside. I don’t think there has been any downside to Senator Faulkner’s contribution to the Australian Senate and the Australian Labor Party.

JOURNALIST: How effective can Labor be in the Senate given the Coalition looks very likely to hold a majority?

LATHAM: From July next year that is the judgement of the Australian people. It looks like they will have a Senate majority and of course we’ll see how that is exercised and as much as possible in a minority in both chambers Labor will be trying to hold the Government to account. They’ve made a lot of unfunded promises, and spending commitments, a lot of hopes they held out to the Australian people. A good fighting Opposition plays a role, not only in being constructive with our own policy agenda, but holding the Government to account and that’s what we will try to do.

JOURNALIST: Which promises are likely to become non-core?

LATHAM: We’ll just have to wait and see. We’ve seen that in the past and if we see it in the future the Labor Party will be there to hold the Government to account.

JOURNALIST: Senator Faulkner said that he wouldn’t be taking responsibility for forests policy, that he accepted responsibility for the campaign, but he specifically said that he wouldn’t take responsibility for the forest policy which was so damaging to the Labor cause in the week. What’s your response to that?

LATHAM: You’ve made an assessment about its impact. We have a different point of view, we had that through the week. In any case we weren’t doing this because it was easy or necessarily popular - we did it because it was right. And the Labor Party in the past has had a proud tradition on environmental issues - the Franklin Dam controversy, saving the Daintree, the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park, our proud record at state level on national parks. We believe very strongly in the conservation importance of the mighty Tasmanian forests. And we thought we had a good package in place in terms of adding value to the industry and having regard for employment security. So we did those things because we thought they were right and the Australian Labor Party believes very strongly in environmental protection and I’m sure we will continue that in the future.

JOURNALIST: Should you have consulted people like Dick Adams in Tasmania?

LATHAM: That happened and of course there will be further Caucus discussion about this issue as I outlined yesterday.

JOURNALIST: When will you announce the new front bench?

LATHAM: I mentioned yesterday the Caucus will meet on Friday week to elect a new Labor Executive and a new Labor front bench.

JOURNALIST: Will Crean still be your Shadow Treasurer?

LATHAM: Well you’ve got to go through the process. We’ve got a Caucus process to determine the new front bench and the parliamentary leader allocates the positions. I’m not making any announcements today well ahead of the Caucus meeting in ten days time.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think Mr Faulkner quit the Senate?

LATHAM: Well I’m sure he’s made a lengthy statement. He hasn’t quit the Senate, he has stood down from the Senate Leadership and I’m sure he’s made a lengthy statement and answered questions about that in Canberra today.

JOURNALIST: …[inaudible]…criticised the Party method of putting candidates up and said it was a disgrace and it should stop putting Labor Party hacks and union hacks into those positions. What do you say to Graham Edwards’ comments?

LATHAM: We will have a good talk about these things as a parliamentary Party starting on Friday week. And all those views make a contribution to the review, the assessment that Labor has to go through. The honest and frank assessment we need about the areas where we can improve to win the trust, the majority trust and support of the Australian people at next election.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with him though?

LATHAM: Look I’m not providing my lengthy report. I get to report, I have got the honour of reporting to the Labor Caucus as the Parliamentary Leader Friday week and obviously my full comments will be reserved for that forum.

JOURNALIST: What legacy will John Faulkner leave?

LATHAM: I think John Faulkner will leave a legacy of a new high standard of parliamentary accountability. He was an outstanding parliamentarian, someone who achieved a lot in his role as Senate Opposition Leader. But also was a high achiever in

his term as a Minister prior to 1996 and before that served the Labor Party with great distinction as a Party official. So I think he will have a legacy that is about his standard of performance as a parliamentarian. But also he has contributed a lot to our culture, to our Party’s history. Labor always values our heritage and John has played a great role in keeping the Labor heritage and history alive and passing on many of those important lessons to future generations of Labor parliamentarians. So he has been a top notch performer in all respects.

JOURNALIST: Michael Costello made some strong comments on Monday about the election and John Faulkner has said that the Labor Party has been [inaudible] to Michael Costello over the years. What’s your response to that?

LATHAM: I made my response to Mr Costello yesterday and I have nothing further to add.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, on this anniversary of the Bali bombings, how much progress do you think Australia has made since the bombings in combating the threat posed by groups like JI?

LATHAM: We made observations about that during the election campaign. Labor’s approach is always for the real security of the Australian people in our part of the world. And the very sad event that we commemorate today along with the Jakarta bombing in more recent times is a reminder that we always need to vigilant, working hard to keep Australia safe and secure, working hard on good international strategies to combat terrorism and in this term of parliament Labor will continue that role. We have got a clear agenda, clear policy contributions to make. And as ever in this area which should be above Party politics we urge the Government to do as much as they can, adapting our strategies to keep Australian people safe and secure.

JOURNALIST: Is the Government doing enough at the moment?

LATHAM: Look, we made those observations in the election campaign. Today is a day of remembrance not so much political commentary and I would rather stay above those partisan comments if we can.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government is doing enough to help the victims and their families?

LATHAM: I’m sure a lots is being done. The thing to do today is offer them our love support and comfort as much as we can in the horrible circumstances - parents who’ve had to bury their children will never forget the pain, it will never go away. What we should do on a day like this is give them every comfort and support in the horrible personal circumstances that they’ve been through.