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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Leader of the Opposition, Adelaide, 24 November 2004. Adelaide visit; disability support pension; National Party pork barrelling; ALP National Executive.

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LATHAM: I’m here today with Stephen Smith, our Industry Shadow Minister to talk to BAE about important issues in Defence industry. We’ve had a good talk about how Government can help, with certainty and planning for the benefit of the Defence industries in Adelaide. The other issue that was discussed was the importance of overcoming the skills shortage. And it comes as a reminder, flying into Adelaide airport of course that they haven’t got the tradesmen to do the walls and the ceilings and they’re paying huge amounts of money just to try and get the people to complete that project. Well so too, when it comes to information technology, aerospace engineering, all the industries of an advanced nature have got skills shortages in this country. It’s long overdue for the Howard Government to invest in training and skill development, if we don’t do that, then obviously there’s going to be inflationary pressures in the economy and one of the forces driving up interests rates in the future. So, overcoming the skills shortage is going to be one of the major planks of policy development for the Labor Party and one of the things we can productively do to grow the economy but also put downward pressure on interests rates.

Can I just mention two other issues in the news today. The first is the news that the Government is talking about coercion when it come to pushing people off

disability support pensions and into the workforce. From the Labor Party’s point of view we believe that people with mild disabilities should invest in their skills, their training, their rehabilitation, we can create workforce opportunities for

them. I think it’s totally inappropriate for the Government to be talking about coercion when we’re dealing with people with disabilities. We’ve got to invest in them, get it right for their training, their skills, their work prospects before

they’ve got any decent chance to try and move from the DSP. I urge the Government to invest in people before start talking about coercion and the new Minister, Peter Dutton, has the wrong approach and the wrong language in this very sensitive area.

The other issue I mentioned is our concern as an Opposition Party about the news that projects are being funded by the National Party in the recent election campaign without even applications being lodged under the Regional Partnership Program. The fact there are six projects highlighted in the media today. One of them, the R M Williams Bush Centre in the seat of Hinkler is being funded by

John Anderson during the election campaign without the local council even lodging a funding application. So, this just raises questions about the credibility and integrity of the funding program and how it’s been used for political purposes by Mr Anderson. We know this from the funding of the Equine Centre in the seat of New England and the controversy with Tony Windsor. We’ll be

asking questions about this and I want to see Mr Anderson table all the information about these funding projects and explain to the Australian people how he’s putting up millions of taxpayers dollars without funding applications and due process having being completed. This is the last thing the Australian people want to see. They pay their taxes. They want to see the money allocated for the right reasons, the right process rather than a political spending spree in the Federal Election campaign. So, we’ll be asking questions about that in the Parliament in the coming two weeks and I urge John Anderson to make available, publicly available the relevant information and try and give the Australian people an assurance that this happened the right way instead of a politically motivated use of taxpayers money on some mad rush in the election campaign to get the money out when funding applications haven’t even been lodged in the first place.

Stephen, do you want to say something as well?

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Mark. As we’ve had an inspection here at B A E and had a conversation with management, there were a couple of very important principles which came out of it. Firstly, so far as the industry is concerned the absolute essential requirement for industry is certainty, certainty. And it’s very much uppermost in the conversations that I’ve been having with business industry already. But one thing they do want is policy certainty. Secondly, to

underline Mark’s point, in a high tech, high skilled industry such as this, the Defence industry, the skill shortage is an obvious issue and particularly applies to the location we’re in, in Adelaide. But a couple of very good points that we’ve drawn out of this consultation is one of the many that I’ll be having over the course of the coming weeks and months, the need for industry and business policy certainty and the growing dramatic skills shortage to adversely impact upon Adelaide, adversely impact upon business and adversely impacting upon economic growth generally. It’s really one of those areas where the Government has dropped the ball, investing in the skills and education of our workforce is one of those very important (inaudible) to get to the next wave of productivity reforms, making sure that we remain internationally competitive, making sure that we remain an attractive place for economic and productive activity and an attractive place for international investment.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, post election, do you feel the Labor Party is turning on you at this stage? Are you still confident that you have their support?

LATHAM: I got the support of the party just a month ago. I was elected unanimously as the Federal Parliamentary Leader and just yesterday we had a very good meeting of the National Executive about the election review and constructive recommendations about how we can improve our performance as a Parliamentary Party and in policy development. In party administration,

campaign planning, selection of candidates. Right across the board there were very constructive suggestions about how we can do better next time. So, that’s what a review is about. It’s not about negativity, it’s working out ways in which we can better serve the Australian people and be more effective as a political party.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, how strong is your support in Caucus? There was a report in the Bulletin today (inaudible) that the Labor Party that a leadership change is inevitable, are you concerned that this is leaking from senior members in your party?

LATHAM: Well a month ago without any opposition I was re-elected as Leader of the Australian Parliamentary Labor Party and one thing you know about senior people who won’t put their name to the articles, they don’t account for much, I once described them as big men on the blower but cowards in the Caucus and I think that situation is still the same. For anyone in public life that won’t put their own name, their credentials to the article, the thing they’re promoting, you know you’ve also have to think about journalistic standards whether these things are true. People who won’t put their name to it, obviously they won’t have the accuracy of what they’re saying tested in the public arena. At the end of the day it just ends up being meaningless scuttle butt.

JOURNALIST: Can you confirm your support might have fallen since last month?


JOURNALIST: Do you blame State Leaders for your election loss, particularly Victoria and the Freeway issue?

LATHAM: Well, that report on the front page of The Australian newspaper is wrong. It’s ridiculous to suggest the states were the reason why we lost the election. The reason is federal and I’ve taken the primary responsibility for that as the Leader of the Federal Party. But again, there are people who leak information, so called information after the internal Labor Party meetings, they’re not doing for reasons of accuracy, that’s self-evident, they’re doing it for other motivation and this is not an accurate reflection of what I said. My point was that I could have handled those state issues more effectively in the campaign. I’m blaming myself in terms of the different issues in New South Wales and Victoria and talking about ways in which we can improve that in the future. So the report is wrong and I take the blame and the full responsibility for the way in which the federal campaign handled those state issues in the recent election period.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to those who backed you in the leadership ballot (inaudible)

LATHAM: I think the thing you have written down on your little bit of paper, who ever has given you that is no more reliable than the other people we’ve talking about.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that there appears to be a constant effort now to undermine you?

LATHAM: I’m concerned about the best interests of the Australian people and the commonsense proposition that a good effective opposition has got to be united. In politics, disunity is death and we know from our last Parliamentary term, one of the things that went against us was the reality that we spent 18 months talking about ourselves, all these internal processes. Well, for Australians who are worried about the education of their children, the health care of their parents, the quality of our (inaudible) they’re the big issues the Labor Party should be talking about and for these people who are big on the blower but not so courageous in the Caucus we’d all be doing a better job if we talked about the big issues impacting on the Australian people. Skills shortages, industry training, disability support pensions, integrity (inaudible) schools, hospitals, there are a thousand a one issues that the Australian people are

worried about in our democracy and if the Labor Party spends all its time talking about itself then we would have learned nothing from the last Parliamentary term and made it so much harder to be effective in the next election campaign.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

LATHAM: Well, I’ve got the support of the colleagues in that I was elected unopposed as Leader of the Party a month ago, just a month ago. And from those who talk to me and election review processes we are moving forward as a united force. I can’t answer for anonymous comments in the press,

sometimes these journalists can’t answer for the accuracy of it. As we see on the front page of The Australian where one fellow was sold a pup so a lot of it is scuttle butt and the Parliamentary Party has got a good sense of purpose and is moving forward.

JOURNALIST: What feedback have you received from your meetings around the country? Does your leadership style need to change? What needs to change?

LATHAM: I’ve commented on those things extensively and we’re looking to the future and good public policy developments, recent issues like the skills shortages in industry and I’m here today to help with the progress of Labor policy to build the strength of the South Australian economy and to establish a good working relationship with the business community.

JOURNALIST: What feedback have you received on Mr Smith’s appointment (inaudible)

LATHAM: Yes, people are very positive about Stephen’s role, to have a good working relationship and also the idea that he’s got a bigger set of responsibilities with Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations. It’s a big area where we’ve got to lower the cost of doing business in this country. There’ll be efficiency of infrastructure, help with the effectiveness of Industrial Relations system and as the Labor Party, we believe in the collective bargaining process and a good safety net. But we’ll also have a dialogue with the business community as well as the trade union movement about the best framework for our IR policies and when it comes to industry policy, that’s the sort of messages we had here today about the certainty and continuity. So, in all those areas we can do a lot with effective economic policy and the business community is delighted that Stephen has discharge of those big responsibilities.

JOURNALIST: Has Labor (inaudible) to move towards the Centre?

LATHAM: We’ve always been a party of the Centre-Left. Centre on responsible economic management and good economic changes and productivity for the future. The Left of Centre when it comes to good progressive policies for the fairness of our education and health systems (inaudible) social opportunities for all Australians. So, I wouldn’t listen to the sort of analysis you have about Left and Right. We’re a party of the Centre Left in the way I’ve described and the work we do on the economy is consistent with that traditional approach.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

LATHAM: Well, you’re always looking for the best way of effective candidates coming through. And here in South Australia there’s Steve Georganas, Kate Ellis, very good candidates who won seats and Tony Zappia was a great candidate who fell just short in Makin. So, in some parts of the country we had the highest quality candidates and all our candidates worked hard and worked as best they could in the recent election campaign. But these are not so much performance contracts but agreements that hard working candidates will receive more support from the party. The harder they work and get stuck in, the more resources they’ll receive from the central campaign organisation. So, with the program of helping people but also saying to them, the harder they work as candidates, the better they perform the more assistance they’ll get from the party.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

LATHAM: Well, we all need to work harder don’t we? What is the optimum level of hard work, you can never do enough and in an election campaign, particularly when people fall just short, then obviously you wonder about extra things that could have been done. Well, what we’re saying to the candidates next time around is we obviously want people with good community profile, candidates like Tony Zappia, a local mayor, who’s popular, well known, well regarded in the community and to back his efforts as he works hard with the

campaign resources to win the seat. And we’ll be going through that process and working with the candidates according to those principles.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

LATHAM: Well, you know inevitably after an election loss there are different views that are circulated, some on the record, most off the record and the comments we discussed earlier on, I think people get things out of their system and obviously in the new year we’ve got the opportunity to go forward with policies on a productive, positive agenda that the Australian people want from the Opposition. So, across the Parliamentary Party, the people are working

hard on the policy are very united, a good sense of purpose but inevitably after an election loss there are a few others that are a bit edgy and have some other things to say, well they’ll get that out of their system and I’m sure in the new year we’ll see 100 per cent united purpose and good strength from the Federal Opposition.

JOURNALIST: Are you advocating, are you seeking particularly to reach out to soft targets (inaudible)

LATHAM; I don’t think you win support by targeting so called soft voters, whatever that’s supposed to mean in practice. We win public support by learning about better forms of public policy, better ways of delivering good economic and social outcomes, good environmental outcomes for the Australian people. So, (inaudible) about policy, as well as being here today and obviously wanting to develop better policy and talk to people about how we can be relevant to their daily experiences, talking to Mums and Dads about the education and health system and talk to industry about productivity and training. These are all the things we want to do, and we’re on a vote winning exercise as much as we’re here on a policy development exercise and do that for the next twelve or eighteen months, get our policies right and obviously spend a lot more time communicating and advocating with the Australian people about the things that we can do. In many areas we carried forward policies from the campaign, in health and education, the environmental stand, so we can talk to people about good Labor strategies right now, but particularly when it comes to industry and the economy, we’ve got a big period of review and consultation ahead of us, talking to industry leaders about how we can do better in the future and that’s what the core purpose of our visit to Adelaide today and tomorrow.

Thank you very much.