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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Leader of the Opposition: South Perth: 29 March 2005:: Indonesian earthquake; OECD Report; Liberal Party leadership; generic drugs; polls; Rod Barton/Senate Inquiry.



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FEDERAL LABOR LEADER KIM BEAZLEY

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP, SOUTH PERTH, 29 MARCH 2005

E & O E - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Indonesian earthquake; OECD Report; Liberal Party Leadership; Generic Drugs; Polls; Rod Barton/Senate Inquiry

BEAZLEY: Once again we see a terrible tragedy emerging amongst our good friends in Indonesia with several thousand reported dead from yet another earthquake in the general vicinity of Aceh. This is very sad news and the Opposition sends its deepest condolences to those in Indonesia who are struggling to recover from the first body-blow and now experiencing a second. We will stand behind anything the Government decides to do to provide assistance to our friends in Indonesia in this time of terrible tragedy.

There are some other issues around in domestic Australian politics. We’ve heard from Alby Schultz and Peter Slipper. What this shows, what Alby Schultz and Peter Slipper have shone a light on, is what’s been obviously bubbling around inside the Liberal Party for a long time, there’s emerging deep disunity. The problem with the Liberal Party is that they’re focused on themselves and not on the needs of the Australian people. They are now in the early phases of a major leadership dispute. While the Australian economy is suffering from inattention on skills and infrastructure in particular. This is their mind not on the main game. Peter Costello could end this speculation at a stroke. But I’m not going to hold my breath on that.

There is now another OECD Report out. The last OECD Report said Australia was not performing on skills. It also said the Australian Government is not performing on infrastructure. Now we have a report which indicates that Australia has one of the worst rates of poverty in the industrialised world, particularly amongst elderly Australians. That’s three strikes now against the way this government is managing this economy. And if life is unfair for a number of Australians and the wealth creation we need is being hampered by the fact that the Government has dropped the ball on the skills needed amongst our people and on the infrastructure needed to remove bottlenecks in the economy. The best way of dealing with poverty is to create wealth. But you can’t create wealth without skills.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask on the tsunami? What further aid should Australia provide?

BEAZLEY: Australian is already providing very substantial aid and obviously for starters, as we do the new aid package, associated with the billion dollars that we have put forward, then some regard ought to be had in the first instance for the people who may need additional assistance. We should stand ready, if it’s requested, by the Indonesians to deploy our armed forces, which has just come home, as we did in the case of Aceh that maybe required. Whatever it is we need to do we should do.

JOURNALIST: When you said Mr Costello could end this, what do you mean, what could he do?

BEAZLEY: Peter Costello could stand up and say: of course I discourage anybody from suggesting that I should be Leader of the Liberal Party, I’m prepared to sit here until hell freezes over and John Howard stays there forever. I’m not holding my breath on that because I don’t think Peter Costello will do that. What’s happening now is the Liberal Party is starting to ferment. It’s bursting out in the open what’s been going on behind closed doors for a long time. It’s an example of the Liberal Party focused on itself and not on the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: It’s often said that you would have a better chance against Mr Costello than Mr Howard at the next election, do you believe that?

BEAZLEY: Mr Costello and Mr Howard have been joined at the hip in all the mistakes of this government over these nine long years. The dropping of the ball, on real reform in skills, and investment in infrastructure both John Howard and Peter Costello bear the responsibility, co-equally for all of that. It doesn’t matter who leads, what really matters is what the Australian people need. What the Australian people need is a Government that’s focused on them and this government is showing all the signs of a government that’s been in office far too long, more preoccupied with itself than with the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: It is fair for you to criticise given the Leadership wrangling that the Labor Party had recently?

BEAZLEY: We are the Opposition and as an Opposition our job is to hold the Government accountable. Since I’ve been Leader of the Labor Party we’ve been doing a pretty fair job, I think, of holding the Government accountable. The Government of the day, it’s the people who are taking decisions right now that effect lives of you and me. When the Government of the day is preoccupied with itself and not with what the people of Australia need, then what you have is a substantial problem.

JOURNALIST: You say that was the problem with the Labor Party many months ago, and you had similar instances of people speaking out.

BEAZLEY: These sorts of things happen in Opposition because in Opposition you’re not actually taking decisions day to day that affect people and in Government, it’s crucial. What’s happening now in relation to government is bad for the Australian people because it means the Government is not focused on them. We have this undignified lingering inside the Liberal Party which is causing considerable bitterness in their ranks to emerge which affects their capacity to govern effectively. We would argue they haven’t governed very effectively for some considerable time and this makes the matter worse.

JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott’s just announced a price reduction on new generic drugs. Do you think that that’s good for consumers?

BEAZLEY: Basically, with all health policies they’ve pursued they have not been good for consumers. We have seen for example, in the private healthcare system, exponential increases in what people have to pay for their premiums. We see the cost of medicine rising substantially under this Government. So, we in the Labor Party, of course, welcome the capacity in generic drugs to bring down the cost of medicine which is one of the reasons why we struggled so hard to make sure our capacity to do that was protected under the Free Trade Agreement we have with the US.

JOURNALIST: Going back to the leadership issue. The latest Newspoll results weren’t very good news for you as Leader, as the Opposition Leader. Are you at all concerned about this?

BEAZLEY: Those are consolidated poll results so in that sense they are old news. There’s going to be more than 100 polls between now and when the general election is called nearly three years from now and they’re going to go up and down over that period of time. We’ve had two polls since I’ve been Leader that are objective polls. One was the Western Australian State election and one

was the Werriwa by-election and I was quite satisfied with both those results.

JOURNALIST: But the polls say that your current satisfaction rating was less than Mr Latham’s was at the time of the October election. Surely that’s a bit worrisome?

BEAZLEY: Like I said, one hundred polls between now and polling day, I mean, really. If we get into the business of commenting on the polls as they come by - and these are in fact old polls as you know because they’re consolidated polls - you know, we’ll be talking about nothing else. One hundred polls, we’ll just talk about polls and I think the Australian people would want us to talk about what matters to them.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there’s been enough contradiction raised by Rod Barton from an intelligence sense to show that Australians have been involved in interrogations before this?

BEAZLEY: I think the thing that worries Australian people was they were not told the truth about the reasons for our commitment to the conflict in Iraq and this facet of what has gone on since. You’ve got to remember that those incidents at Abu Ghraib really did major damage to the heart of our campaign

against disarming fundamentalist terror and therefore an understanding of any state of Australian knowledge at the time is important to the Australian people. So, I hope that this Senate inquiry will give Mr Barton an opportunity to do what the Australian Government won’t do - and that is give the Australian people an understanding of the level of the Australian Government’s knowledge of those events in Abu Ghraib. Of course, since then we have had added to the issues of honesty with our initial commitments and subsequent administration in Iraq, we have had John Howard’s massively broken undertaking to the Australian people at the last election when he said there’d be no substantial difference to Australia’s involvement. This has puzzled the Australian people. They clearly have the view that whether they’re opposed to it or supporters of the war, they think Australians have done enough in Iraq, we’ve done our fair share.

JOURNALIST: It seems to come down to wording as to what’s considered “interrogation” and what’s considered “interviewing”. Do you think the Government is hiding something?

BEAZLEY: I think if an interrogator thinks he’s interrogating he probably is. I think we can say that very simply. Mr Howard is very good at wriggle words. The Government is more interested in political positioning than solving problems really right across the board. That applies here as well. They’re always looking for wriggle words. They’re never straight with the Australian people.

I think Mr Barton, who’s as far as I can see from what I’ve seen of him in public, just a straight up and down public servant. There’s no political side to him, there’s no wrinkles to his personality, he’s typical of the sort of competent individual that you see in the Australian Public Service. He knows what he’s doing, he knew what he was doing when he was there, and he has given the Government a case to answer.

JOURNALIST: Just on the tsunami again. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono cancelled his trip to Australia. Do you think it would be appropriate or expedient for Australian politicians or a representative of Australia to go to Indonesia now?

BEAZLEY: I think, whether we go or not, we should certainly be asking the Indonesians what do they need. Do they need the assistance of the Australian Armed Forces, our helicopters and the like, in the circumstances in

which they now find themselves? Is there something additional we ought to do with our aid program that would help out in this particular situation? I think we have a reasonable relationship with Indonesia that will allow us to have those

conversations and those conversations take place in person or over the phone I think the things they have to happen and I’m sure they will actually.

Ends