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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Shadow Minister for Health: Melbourne Airport, Victoria: 20 January 2005: Return to Australia.

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JULIA GILLARD M.P. Shadow Minister for Health



20 JANUARY 2005


Subject: Return to Australia

JULIA GILLARD: I’d like to thank the many members of the media who volunteered to come out to the airport and help me with my bags. That was very generous of you. We thought in view of those many kind offers that it was probably better to do it like this.

All jokes aside, can I start by saying this is obviously a difficult period for the Labor Party. I thought it was a real tragedy that Mark Latham decided that he couldn’t continue his career in public life. Mark was a leader of energy, of enthusiasm, of conviction, of ideas. I’m going to miss him. Obviously our personal friendship will continue, but I think there is a real vacuum left on Australia’s political stage by Mark Latham leaving public life.

Obviously now the issue for the Labor Party, with Mark having resigned, is to resolve the issue of the leadership. It’s not my intention today to say anything about that matter, except that I want to talk to my Caucus colleagues.

I have obviously been on a private holiday in Vietnam, as I think you know. I’ve been in a different time zone. I haven’t been able to see all of the media and I think it’s important that I spend some time talking to my Caucus colleagues.

I’ve always found in the various leadership issues I’ve been involved in that there’s a great deal of wisdom in Labor Party Caucus and I want to tap into that wisdom by talking to my Caucus colleagues.

Having said that, can I just say looking at the media, one of the problems with Labor leadership contests, or perhaps with leadership contests generally, is that they look in the media as if they’re some sort of political beauty contest. That’s not the way I view the question of the Labor leadership.

The question of the Labor leadership is a question about Labor’s future direction and policy vision for Australia. And I think Labor supporters, Labor members, people who would like to be Labor supporters want to see Labor be a strong Opposition, but they

want to see a Labor Party that’s stridently out there advocating an independent foreign policy, advocating health, education and family policies that make a real difference to people’s lives and to their life chances. And they want to see us out there advocating an economic policy that shares opportunity and prosperity and the prospects of opportunity and prosperity for all Australians.

Those things aren’t mutually exclusive, they aren’t either/or. We’ve got to do those things all at the same time. I think we’ve failed in that regard to date and part of the way I will look at the leadership issue in the Labor Party is I will be looking to see how we can

strengthen Labor’s hand to pursue that sort of policy direction to which I’m very deeply committed.

QUESTION: Have you not decided whether you’re going to stand yet?

GILLARD: I really haven’t got anything to say on the leadership question other than what I’ve said. I want to consult with my Caucus colleagues. I haven’t been able to do that in circumstances where I’ve been in and out of hotels in Vietnam and in a different time zone.

QUESTION: So do you think you might have missed the boat?

GILLARD: [Laughs] Look, I’m back in Australia. I obviously wasn’t going to talk to anybody about leadership issues before Mark Latham made his decision, which of course he’s only done in the last few days. And I took the first flight back to Australia that I could.

These are issues that people in Caucus reflect on and reflect on deeply. We don’t make a decision until next Friday and I think I’ll have ample opportunity to talk to my Caucus colleagues about the issue.

QUESTION: Would having Kim Beazley as Leader stabilise the Party? Would having Kim Beazley as Leader stabilise the Party?

GILLARD: Look, I think the Party has to be stabilised. But the Party also has to be pointed in the right direction and that direction, as I say, is one where I think we are a strong Opposition, we are … where we are holding the Howard Government to account. I believe I’ve played a role in that to date as Manager of Opposition Business, but we need to be vigilant, continuously holding the Howard Government to account.

But I am also vitally interested in Labor’s policy directions, in an independent foreign policy, in bold social policy and in economic policy that makes a difference for opportunities for prosperity for all Australians.

QUESTION: It sounds like you’re interested, Julia. It sounds like you’re dipping your toe in the water.

GILLARD: Look, I’m interested in talking to my Caucus colleagues and I’ve always found they make very wise decisions on leadership matters.

QUESTION: What about the Deputy Leadership?

GILLARD: Look, the only vacancy, as I understand it, is the vacancy in the leadership. Obviously in tumultuous times like these, I think we all reflect on our position and what we should do in the future. But the only vacancy is the vacancy in the Labor leadership created by Mark Latham’s resignation.

QUESTION: If you don’t run, who will you put your support behind?

GILLARD: Look, I’m going to consult with my Caucus colleagues and I really haven’t got any further … anything further to add to that.

QUESTION: Were you critical of the media for Mr Latham’s resignation?

GILLARD: Look, I can understand Mark’s perspective, that perhaps the hounding of him and his family had become intolerable for them. I think there was a high degree of interest in Mark as Leader, perhaps more of a degree of interest in him and his personal life than we may have seen in Australian politics before. Perhaps that’s the down side of being a young dynamic leader who burst on to the political stage in the way that Mark Latham did.

Obviously whether or not the degree of media intrusion could be tolerated was ultimately a matter for Mark and his family to decide.

QUESTION: Have you spoken to him?

GILLARD: I did speak to Mark Latham when I was overseas. I haven’t spoken to him since his resignation. Obviously he would be taking the opportunity, now the burden of making the decision is off his shoulders, to spend some time with his family.

QUESTION: You spoke to him before he resigned. What did he tell you on that phone call?

GILLARD: Oh, look, I really don’t want to canvas individual discussions with Mark Latham. I think the circumstances of his resignation are now well known and well out there. The question of his health and what that would mean for his future and particularly his future family life were uppermost in his mind.

QUESTION: Did you encourage him to bat on?

GILLARD: Look, I don’t think that anybody can give someone else advice about how their own body feels, how their health is, what their prospects for the future are. He’s got

two small children, that was uppermost in his mind. They are deeply personal matters and not matters about which someone else can advise.

QUESTION: Given the divisiveness of the last couple of years, how important is it that there is a clear winner, or even a consensus candidate to emerge from this ballot?

GILLARD: What I think is necessary is a cultural shift. If we look back over recent Labor history, I think since the 2001 election we’ve seen some corrosiveness in Labor’s culture. We’ve seen some instability, people unwilling to support the Leader, people unwilling to take the necessary steps to back the Leader in. Whoever is the Leader of the Labor Party, I personally always been very supportive of a culture that says you back the


And I think if I can say one thing for myself, my track record has been I was a very loyal supporter of Kim Beazley, when Kim Beazley was Labor Leader. I was a strident supporter of Simon Crean when Simon Crean was Labor Leader. I think I’m on the public record and noted as being one of Mark Latham’s strongest and continuing supporters. I think that’s the kind of culture we need in the Labor Party, one where you back the Leader in.

No leader is going to make the right judgment call each and every day. Leaders make great decisions and sometimes they make errors. The important thing for Labor culture and for Party stability is people accept the obligations to support the Leader.

QUESTION: Is there any time in the future when you could see yourself coveting the Leader’s job? Even if it’s not now.

GILLARD: Look, I really don’t want to say anything more about the leadership than I have said, which is I’ll be talking to my colleagues and I’ve found in past leadership issues … I wish I could have a political career in which I’d never been required to count a leadership ballot. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case, I’ve had to count two and in those leadership ballots that I have counted, I’ve found that there’s a great deal of wisdom in my Caucus colleagues and I want to talk to them about the immediate leadership issue now.

QUESTION: Can you rule yourself out?

GILLARD: Well, look, we can get into all the word games about ruling myself in or out. I suspect I’m not very good at word games, having flown through the night on Vietnam Airlines, as good as the service is, and so I really haven’t got anything to add to what I’ve said.

I’ll be talking to my Caucus colleagues and I’ve always found them a very good source of advice on leadership questions.

QUESTION: You’ve spoken about what a leader would need for the Labor Party. Do you think you have those qualities? Are you perhaps too nice?

GILLARD: [Laughs] I’m not sure that I’m frequently accused of being too nice, that’s not a perspective I would say Tony Abbott or Peter Costello have got of me. Though you might want to ask them about that. Look, I don’t think you’re probably the best analyser of your own skills and abilities, because you’re a bit biased. I’ll leave that to others.

QUESTION: Kim Beazley has stressed the importance of stability, unity and experience in the next … as the qualities that the next leadership should bring. What are the other qualities that will be important?

GILLARD: I think the qualities in opposition which we need are boldness, you need boldness to seize the agenda. Mark Latham at his best showed that and showed it well and showed how it could work on the Australian political stage. You need a deep connection with the thinking and feeling of the Australian people. You need to understand what their aspirations are.

And I would summarise their aspirations as very firmly wanting a unique Australian identity. I think we are very firmly of the view we want to be Australia, we want an independent foreign policy, we want our own cultural identity. I think those things are deeply rooted in Australians.

I think the fair go, bold social policy that makes a difference to people’s lives is a deeply held conviction in Australians and I think people understand that you can only do those things with a growing economy and we always want people to have fair access to jobs and the wealth and prosperity that a growing economy can bring.

QUESTION: Don’t they also want stability in their Oppositions, a safe second choice if you like? Is perhaps Kim Beazley the best person to provide that stability?

GILLARD: I think people want to see an Opposition that’s getting on with the job and whatever decision the Labor Party makes now, once made it is made. The culture that I support in Labor and believe I’ve demonstrated personally is a leader deserves the Party’s support. They deserve that support strongly when they get it right. They deserve that support even more strongly if they make the occasional error.

If you have this sort of corrosive culture which I thought we saw emerge after 2001, then that necessarily brings disunity, defeatism, it means that we take our eye off the main game, which is getting on with the policy job and connecting with the Australian community and we end up talking about ourselves too much.

QUESTION: It has been a cancer in the Labor Party, this disloyalty. How do you cure it? How would you cure it?

GILLARD: Well, I think you cure it by a shift of culture. I had the opportunity to work here in Victorian state politics under John Brumby, as his Chief of Staff. John Brumby, I think is one of the most formidable politicians in Australian politics today.

But ultimately his leadership was undone by a corroded culture and the Labor Party here made the choice when it shifted to Steve Bracks to end that culture. And what you’ve seen since, of course, is the rise of the Bracks Labor Government and its great solidity in this state, where really it is largely unchallenged by the Opposition on a day to day basis and has a very firm culture of supporting the leader and getting on with the job. Labor can do that.

QUESTION: Do you have the skills to change the culture? Do you have the skills to change the culture?

GILLARD: Well, it’s not a one person job, it’s the job for everybody.

QUESTION: Isn’t Kim Beazley back to the future? That’s what people are saying inside the Party. Is it back to the future?

GILLARD: Well, obviously Kim has been Leader before. I think back to the future is a nice little slogan, but I’m not sure that it tells you very much. In that sense, you’d say John Howard was back to the future too, or as many times. So I’m not sure that that’s a deeply analytical point about what Labor should do next.

QUESTION: Why the delay in backing Kim Beazley now when you’ve backed him in the past?

GILLARD: Well, look, I think I’ve got an opportunity now to talk to my Caucus colleagues and that’s what I want to do. It’s not an opportunity I’ve had while I’ve been away. It’s not an opportunity I sought to take before Mark Latham made his final decision to resign, because I believe … view that as being inappropriate.

QUESTION: Whoever the new Leader is, realistically, how many election cycles is it going to take to get this Labor Party back up to full steam so the Australian public can trust them?

GILLARD: It should only take one. The goal has always got to be to win the next election. That’s the task for all of us.

QUESTION: Is that a bit of a long shot—

QUESTION: Is it realistic?

GILLARD: Look, if I can rely on my Victorian experience again, given we’re standing in Tullamarine Airport, I remember the days when people used to joke about the Victorian Opposition, about the Kennett ascendency, the Kennett ascendency then being

so received by the media that the cult of Jeff was everywhere. And what we saw, of course, in the 1999 election was despite the cult of Jeff, despite media writing off the prospects of the Victorian Opposition, the Victorian Opposition coming through.

So politics is a quickly changeable business. You’ve always got to have your eyes firmly set on the next election and you’ve got to have your eyes set on the vision and direction to take to that election. Making a leadership decision now gives us the opportunity to debate through and assess that vision and direction and I think we should take that


QUESTION: Will you consider contesting the Deputy Leadership?

GILLARD: Look, there is only one vacancy at the moment and that is the vacancy for the Leader.

QUESTION: How was your holiday, Julia?

GILLARD: [Laughs] Well, I was just about to say we’ll have to wind this up now, because you wouldn’t want the deeply grasping staff to get anxious about where their duty free presents are. You don’t want to get between these girls and the duty free lipstick. So, it was good. It was good.

I’d recommend Vietnam for anybody, though probably better to stay longer than I had the opportunity to do.

Thank you.