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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Leader of Opposition: Parliament House, Canberra: 12 March 2005: Skills shortages; Telstra; China FTA; The Budget; Anzac Cove; Mark Latham; visit by Indonesian President; Werriwa.

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Subjects: Skills shortages; Telstra; China FTA; The Budget; Anzac Cove; Mark Latham; visit by Indonesian President; Werriwa.

BEAZLEY: We’ve heard John Howard during the course of the week and again today. I have to say this that John Howard does not seem to understand the difference between a casual, low pay job and a career. And what their parents want for their young folk is an opportunity to be able to build a life. To be able to have a family, create for that family, opportunities, to be able to pay a mortgage, pay private health insurance. You can never do that with a casual, low paid job. You can only do that if you’ve got a career. What this country needs is opportunities for young people to become plumbers, electricians,

hairdressers, mechanics. All the sorts of skills which are now, because there in such short supply, people like them in such supply that it’s slowing down the growth of the Australian economy.

John Howard was saying on television this morning, we’ve been talking about that, meaning the Government for the last three months. The Labor Party has been talking about that for the last five years. The only answer that John Howard has is to turn on the immigration tap and to build these technical colleges which will not produce a single, graduated apprentice until 2010. We say the answer is, train Australians. That’s our view, train Australians.

The Government has also been out there on Telstra today. What the Government is doing is squabbling about how they should carve up Telstra, how they should privatise it. We say what they should be talking about is providing services to Australians in the bush, and to Australians in the outer metropolitan areas, that’s what they’re crying out for, they’re crying out for decent services. Everybody in this country knows that if you privatise a monopoly, the only thing the privatised monopoly will do is raise prices on you, that’s all they’ll do. They won’t be about improving services they’ll be about charging you for services. What we need to do is to get this government getting back to a proper sense of priorities and the priorities are these. Make sure that people in regional Australia have access to the same standard of services that people have in metropolitan Australia and make sure people in metropolitan Australia have access to the right services.

That’s what the Government’s got to be doing. You won’t get that through privatisation. If this government succeeds in privatising Telstra, in five years time we’ll all be standing around talking about what a mistake that has been, as we see somebody else picking up a huge dividend as the price of services is rising and there’s still the complaints of about the adequacy of them.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, when you say the answer is to train Australians, does that mean that Labor now does not support an increase in skilled migration.

BEAZLEY: What we say about migration is the migration program has been good for Australia, I’ve always said that. It’s not a substitute for training Australians. If it becomes a substitute for training Australians you’ll never build decent, community consensus behind the migration program, more so it’s not right. If the Government had been matching the states in spending on skills, the 270,000 young people who missed out on a TAFE place would have got in.

JOURNALIST: Would Labor oppose the 20,000 increase in skilled migration intake?

BEAZLEY: We say to the Government: get your priorities right. Migration is good for all sorts of things, national development issues, aging of population issues. We ought to be about skilling Australians and if you start saying to the Australian people: we don’t care about training your kids, we don’t care about doing the things that are necessary to help them build their careers, we’re going to import everybody, you won’t get any support for the migration program. Australian’s will turn against it. We don’t want that, we want Australians to be confident that the Government is on their side about training the young people and knowing the difference between a casual, low pay job and a decent career. Now, I’ve got nothing against the jobs that are provided, those casual, low paid jobs. It’s an opportunity for kids to earn money it’s an opportunity for kids to develop skills, working with other people. These are not unimportant things but there not for the long term. They don’t give you the chance in the long term to build your families, create your opportunities for a happy life.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, on Telstra, Nick Minchin this morning suggested that any proceeds from the sale of Telstra would go to not retiring debt and not investing in infrastructure but investing in the stock market to make sure that the Government still gets the dividend.

BEAZLEY: The Government’s all over the place on Telstra. They don’t know whether they want to break it up. They don’t know whether they want to spend the money that they get from the sale of it on infrastructure or retiring debt or whatever. They have, they are totally confused. The Australian people aren’t confused the Australian people know exactly what’s on here. If you privatise Telstra the costs of the services will increase and the chances of the services being right for you, in particular in regional Australia will go down. The Australian

people are saying to the Government, very clearly, don’t privatise Telstra and the Government ought to listen for once.

JOURNALIST: What sort of separation should there be between the different functions of Telstra?

BEAZLEY: The Labor Party looked at all of that back ten years ago now. We said at the end of the day what we wanted to do was to deliver lowering prices, by putting in place competition and to ensure that in a government owned, a publicly owned Telstra we had a body which could be deputed to improve the services to all Australians at affordable costs. So, prices kept down by competition and services made right by the effective monopoly provider of the main network being in public hands. It was a sensible solution and it remains a sensible solution.

JOURNALIST: Given that they are the Government and they are going to sell it, what sort of services does Labor want?

BEAZLEY: Given that I’m in the Opposition and that I’m leading the Opposition I’m going to make darn certain that they have has hard a time as possible doing what the Australian people don’t want them to do. I’m going to put the pressure on them to improve services in regional Australia and I’m going to hold the National Party’s feet to the fire because they’ve been wandering around misleading their constituents who have a very distinct view on what ought to be happening out in the bush and trying to kid them that the services are good. They’re not fools, they know exactly what’s happening to them and we are going to hold the Nationals’ feet to the fire.

JOURNALIST: On the Chinese Free Trade Agreement, is it putting the cart before the horse to recognise China as a market economy even as a starting point for the negotiations?

BEAZLEY: If you’re going to enter into the serious negotiations with the Chinese on a Free Trade Agreement that should be permanently held there as a bargaining chip. It’s silly to surrender a bargaining chip before you go into a negotiation, that’s not making a hostile statement about a Free Trade Agreement or about the Chinese, it’s just about commonsense.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

BEAZLEY: When you listen to the words they’ve put forward it seems to be that at some point of time, before the negotiations begin, then they will. That doesn’t seem commonsense to me.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, on the budget, Nick Minchin has guaranteed that the election commitments will be introduced in full, the budget will be in surplus by

about $6 billion and they’re won’t be any spending cuts. What’s there to complain about such a budget?

BEAZLEY: My complaint goes back to the last budget in which a $65 billion punch was put in the bottom line to re-elect the Liberals and the priorities were all wrong. Now, $65 billion and we haven’t fixed infrastructure. $65 billion and we haven’t fixed skills. There’s clearly something wrong with the priorities of this government. Its priority is getting itself elected not doing what is in the national interest, not doing what the country needs in skilling the Australian population. We pointed that out in the election campaign and we still point it out. This budget is based on the last budget and the last budget had all the wrong priorities.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, federal senior Victorian Labor figures in the last week have spoken out about their concerns about branch stacking in the party there, is there are problem with branch stacking in the Victorian ALP and are you prepared to intervene if there is?

BEAZLEY: We’ve just gone though a very long exercise in the Labor Party of getting our roles right, of getting in place proper appeal procedures, getting in place hard rules that impose substantial penalties on people who are guilty of branch stacking. We have disputes committees set up in the Labor Party, all over the country. If you’ve got a problem with anything that’s happening in relation to your branch, you should take it to the disputes committee. I’m happy to leave these issues in the hands of the administration the rules are there, the rules are there to be enforced and if people have complaints about it that’s what they ought to take their complaints.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, why did you write to Mark Latham and offer to host a dinner and have you received a response?

BEAZLEY: I wrote to Mark Latham because all his Caucus colleagues feel for him enormously. They’re worried about him, they like to, it’s a very nice thing to do, they like to properly honour their former Leaders because we are always mindful of our history in the Australia Labor Party. Mark Latham has entered out pantheon and that needs to be properly recognised with a proper function. I fully understand, this is a matter in his hand, he’s got to make a judgment about his health and what he wants to do.

JOURNALIST: In respect of Gallipoli, are you concerned that the Government doesn’t really seem to know what is going on over there in respect of this road being put through in Anzac Cove?

BEAZLEY: I’m very concerned. When this started off about a week ago everybody was into the Turks. We discovered as the week went on when the Government finally ‘fessed up that they’d written to the Turks and asked the Turks to do this. So naturally they felt a sense of grievance about the fact that

they should become a matter of controversy. I would have thought a sensible thing, for the Government to do, in quietly discussing these things through with our Turkish colleagues, because they want to do the right thing, it’s an important area for them as well. We should have been quietly negotiating into that process given that we initiated it, a representative of the War Memorial to have a bit of look at what was going on to make sure that nothing was disturbed. It’s quite evident from photographs something was, someone has not handled this properly.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Australia may have developed an unfortunate sense of entitlement considering we invaded Turkey and 60,000 Turks died?

BEAZLEY: I think we’ve always been quite sensitive to that. I’ve been to a couple of these services and I’m going to another one shortly because the Prime Minister has invited me to do that and I will be attending it. This will be the third time I’ve gone on one of these anniversary visits and every visit has impressed me enormously with the very good relationship established between the Turkish authorities and the Australian authorities, they’re excellent. Because of the relationship of the Gallipoli campaign to Ataturk, he’s a Turkish hero and the founder of modern Turkey. They have their own view but it’s very strongly along the commemorative lines for their own reasons but we have our view. This is nothing about which we need to have a squabble this is something about which we tend, for our different reasons, see things much the same way and the Government should have not allowed a situation to develop where the Australian people are misled as to who was responsible for this situation.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the road works should be abandoned then?

BEAZLEY: I think they ought to be properly monitored to ensure that nothing happens which disturbs what are important relics. The Government keeps saying they’re not and the papers keep producing evidence that they are. This is not something for which I blame the Turks at all, the Government should have been in there with decent monitors to start with or negotiated that through with the Turks because you have to be sensitive about the sovereignty issues but the War Memorial’s never had a problem with that in the past.

JOURNALIST: Can we have a word on the impending visit of the Indonesian President, what benefit might come from this visit?

BEAZLEY: I’m very glad he’s coming and his presence here would be enormously welcome. That would be a bipartisan position in Australian political life. For us, in the Labor Party, this is the area of our principle focus, our top priority. It is utterly important that Australia gets itself into a position where it is completely effective in all aspects in the struggle in this region with fundamentalist terror. The starting point with that, of course, is good

relationships with countries in the region and this will help that and that’s a good thing.

JOURNALIST: In Werriwa next Saturday is there any prospect that Labor could lose that seat?

BEAZLEY: It’s going to be a hard fight for us. You’ve got sixteen candidates in there and there are all sorts of issues about filling in ballot papers correctly, that’s got to be done. It’s also very important that we make the point in this last week, your one chance of holding John Howard accountable, accountable for broken promises on interest rates, accountable for broken promises on private health care, accountable for the consequences of him buying himself back into power last time which is now not good for the country and not good for the economy. You’ve got a chance in Werriwa of sending John Howard a message but only one way of doing it, voting for the Labor candidate.

JOURNALIST: There’s a lot of ways to not vote for a Liberal candidate without voting for a Labor candidate if there’s sixteen.

BEAZLEY: There are no Liberals in this field. It’s just a variety of political parties, other than the Liberals, they squibbed this one in the hope that what would be created there would be a defuse political opinion going in all sorts of directions. The only way to counter what was the Liberal Party strategy in that regard is to vote Labor.