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Transcript of doorstop interview at Ashwood College, Victoria: Education policy; a Republic; war in Iraq and the Alliance; TTVs and women and children in detention; Senator Peter Cook; Point Nepean.

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Mark Latham MP 10 December 2003

Federal Labor Leader

Transcript of Doorstop at Ashwood College, Victoria

SUBJECTS: Education Policy; A Republic; War in Iraq and the Alliance; TTVs and Women and children in Detention; Senator Peter Cook; Point Nepean

LATHAM: This is a demonstration that after some of the attacks and closures of the Kennett years the Government is still insisting on fighting back in Victoria, and schools like this will receive every support and encouragement when we release the package next year. We need an equity needs based supporting the government and non government schools that need the extra resources and federal support to get the job done for the next generation.

I am here today to promote schools like this and let them know, the students, the teachers, the parents we will be working hard to get a good policy out for them in the course of 2004.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

LATHAM: I know Jenny Macklin has been doing a lot of work on it and we will have something out there in due course. We have taken a stance that we want our policies out in the public arena where people can understand them. We have done that in higher education and in TAFE. I have been talking a lot about that in early childhood development, so my priorities are very clear there. When it comes to schools, people won’t have to wait until the last minute. They will know the latest stance nice and early in the course of 2004, and we will be advocating good life long learning strategies right around the country, right through next year and the election year for the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: That will be a bit different to the last election campaign where it was put out a bit late in the public domain?

LATHAM: Yes well we have moved passed that, there is no small target. We will have big, creative, strong policies that people can relate to, understand and know where Labor stands and know the important points of principle. The important points of difference in Australian politics and that is what our democracy is about, points of difference, advocating better policies for the future. As I have said over the past week I want to lead a positive Opposition. Sure I want to point out the shortcomings of the Federal Government, but most of all put forward the solutions particularly in education and health care for our children.


JOURNALIST: When you talk about national coordination of schools, how hard are you going to push that, I mean there has been a lot of suggestions over a good number of years over that type of stuff, it needs someone to push it.

LATHAM: I have had a discussion with a few of the State colleagues already about federal, state Labor cooperation, so I think we are more likely to get it done with people working together. Lets not have it as a political fight or a buck passing exercise, we all support the principle that is at stake and I am very confident I can work with my state colleagues to get the result. To get the result that is needed, it has been mentioned for 20 years at least.

JOURNALIST: In regard to a Republic what is your own view on an elected head of state [inaudible]

LATHAM: As a citizen and I have said this in the Parliament I support direct election of an Australian President. We need a head of state who is one of us and that truly means in my assessment that we all have a sense of participation, a sense of belonging to the process, by which that person would be selected. I support it, I voted yes at the last referendum on the basis that a Republic is better than the current system but I made it plain then in my own personal views, I support the direct election model. I believe in the dispersal of power, opening up democracy, the rate of public participation. I said at the time in 1999 that the change to the preamble would have been better if we had a big national process of people getting involved, having their say, forums and discussions about the preamble to the constitution. I believe that we are most likely to have a republic if the Australian people think it is a person who is not only one of us but is someone who we have chosen directly, voted for and that is the nature of a democracy.

I know others have a different point of view and I respect those, even someone like Malcolm Turnbull who has changed some of his politics lately, but I respect the work that he did at the last campaign. The good thing about the Labor strategy is our three-stage approach, it allows people democratically to make the choice. First stage, a national plebiscite to decide whether or not the Australian people want to become a republic. Second stage on the assumption that people have said yes, what sort of model would they support? And we would have a debate in process about that. Then whatever the model, I would be supporting it through to a referendum to make the formal constitutional amendment, again, if that is the will of the Australian people. So my stance on the republic is democracy. First let’s open up the process of participation and give the Australian people a guaranteed process that is sound, open and democratic. At the end of the day, hopefully according to my own values we will have a head of state that is one of us.

JOURNALIST: What would be the time frame [inaudible]

LATHAM: Simon Crean has outlined this process in the past, obviously we would be wanting to do most of this in the first term of the Latham Government. Allow me time to discuss with Simon the detail of his past announcements and I will be making known our timetable well before the next federal election so that people know in electing a Labor Government the inclusive, progressive way in which we would advance this particular issue.

JOURNALIST: What is your reaction to the poll in the Age today [inaudible]


LATHAM: The majority of Australian people in that poll and also most importantly the feedback I get, there is heavy scepticism about the wisdom of going in to that [inaudible]. I’ve said that in the Labor Party if we had the luxury of hindsight we wouldn’t change our position one inch. We were opposed to that conflict on the basis that you needed more time, more certainty and certainly in the conflict itself and the aftermath, no weapons of mass destruction were used or identified, so we don’t change our position but the world moves on and we want to play a constructive roll. Australia has a role now, an occupying power and important role in post war reconstruction for the benefit of the Iraqi people and we would want to play a constructive role as the situation moves [inaudible]

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] change our relationship with US

Latham: No we support the Alliance. We support a good working relationship, the United States it is an important ally and I am very much encouraged by the good constructive meeting I had with Ambassador Tom Scheiffer last week. Labor founded the Alliance under John Curtin in 1941/42 and we will always maintain the Alliance. From time to time we had differences of opinion. That happened between Whitlam and Nixon. It happened between Hawke and Reagan. It happened earlier this year with regard to Iraq. Our fundamental commitment to the Alliance is the foundation stone of national security and it is strong but there will be differences from time to time and friends have the capacity to handle those differences and move on which is what I do for the future.

JOURNALIST: The poll also showed that almost 50% of people agreed with your assessment of George Bush [inaudible] dangerous what do you think of that?

Latham: The comments I made in the context of that debate. But my bigger responsibility now is to lead the alternative government and I do that in the context of strong support for the American Alliance wanting to build a strong working relationship with the Bush administration. I have made an important first step last week in that regard and the past is in the past. The war against terror, we have to win it for the benefit, the safety, security of the Australian people. It is not a war that is going to be won in the past. It is a war won for the future and that’s my commitment in terms of Labor Party strategy and Labor Party policy.

JOURNALIST: Can I just clarify on that plebiscite. Your saying [inaudible] it is conceivable there could be a vote a referendum vote by 200. Is that what you are saying?

LATHAM: These things will be sorted out and announced in due course but we will make a lot of progress on this in the first term of the Labor Government. We will be going to the Australian people. Let me just have a look at the commitment and have a talk with Simon Crean about the plans that he had. I would want to consult with the former leader and people will know well in advance of the next election. The timetable we set out to advance this very important issue for the independence of our nation the pride of our nation and to modernise our Constitution if that’s the wishes of the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: On another issue you said you are open to discussion on the asylum seekers before conference. Are you open to meeting with TTV holders [inaudible] women and children in detention before national conference.



Latham: I’m open to any process that helps me to learn and to listen, to build my understanding of these issues. We have a policy that supports TTV’s but obviously that is under debate and consideration in terms of national conference. It is no good me having a closed mind to these issues. There would be no point in having a national conference at all. So I want to build a dialogue with people like Carmen Lawrence and others who are involved in the issue and arrive at the best policy in Australian national interest and if that means visiting and talking to people I am always open to those processes, that is a very very important part of our

democracy and the role I have as alternative Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] discussions with Senator Peter Cook?

Latham: I don’t know about deselection. I understand he didn’t run in the ballot on Monday and I have made Peter Cook a Parliamentary Secretary and he is an important part of our parliamentary scene. The man of great experience in our system, someone who has always done a very good job in industries and shadow portfolios and I look forward to working with Senator Cook in the future for the benefit of the party and most importantly our nation.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

LATHAM: Yes I have had discussions with Peter and he wants to work for the future as part of my team and I am glad he is there as one of my Parliamentary Secretaries and that’s the capacity [inaudible] forward for the future.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Steve Bracks [inaudible]

LATHAM: I had a good meeting with Premier Bracks this morning and we discussed Point Nepean, he knows Labor’s strong commitment to ensure that the land, the public space, the access is handed back to the Victorian Government, and that we would honour that commitment in Government. Of course there are legal issues, and financial issues. As much as it is possible we will always have a policy of handing back Point Nepean to the Victorian Government as a national park. We also had a few words about the controversy that [inaudible] in process and transparency of what the Federal Government and Fran Bailey are doing so I will be working with the Victorian Government to maximise the interest of the Victorian people, to protect the environment values, the access to that site and our ultimate goal will be to ensure 100% of it, not just part of it, 100% of it, is in the hands of the people of the National Park.

LATHAM: Thankyou very much.