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Opposition Leader discusses SA desalination plant; water; industrial relations; live sheep exports; vision for Australia; education standards; and Adelaide United football match.

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Subjects: SA Desalination Plant; Water; Industrial Relations; Live Sheep Exports; Vision for Australia; Education Standards; Adelaide United Football Match

BYNER: My special guest in the studio is Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd. Tell me why you’re here.

RUDD: I’ve been here with Premier Mike Rann and we’ve been talking about water. Two things in particular: if we become the Federal Government later this year, I’ve committed publicly today to provide South

Australia with $160 million as a 50 per cent contribution to the desalination plant for the upper Spencer Gulf. That matches the contribution -

BYNER: Now, are we talking about the one that BHP are building?

RUDD: That’s correct -

BYNER: Because it’s my understanding ... what is your understanding of the percentage of desalinated water that would be available for consumers?

RUDD : A significant amount. The extension of the desalination project is to make that more available and also to relieve pressure from the Murray itself.

BYNER: But you know the Murray’s not pumping any water into the catchments at the moment.

RUDD: I understand that and part of the problem is to provide some relief to what is already a highly stressed river. With this desalination project, we’ve looked at in some detail, there’s been something like a dozen or so expert

reports over some years. It seems to be very well researched. It achieves two objectives: one; taking pressure off the Murray, and secondly, providing an additional water resource for users, including residential users, all around the

Spencer Gulf.

BYNER: Alright. So, if you’re prepared to put up $160 million to help in the BHP-funded desalination plant, does that mean that that is a system of water supply you are seriously looking at across the country?

RUDD: It’s horses for courses, Leon. It depends on what is necessary in each State in the country. Here, it’s top of the pile when it comes to the State Government’s evaluation of water resource projects which make a practical, commonsense difference now. In different States it’s different solutions. Yesterday I was with Premier Beattie in Brisbane and we’re looking there at providing funding for what’s called the Western Corridor Recycling Project - a very big project, third biggest recycling project in the world, the biggest one in the Southern Hemisphere, and we’ve provided a commitment of funds for that out of the Australian Water Fund. One of our concerns is this Fund was established by Mr Howard about three years ago, a couple of billion dollars

in it, and as of literally a month or two ago, most of the money had not been allocated or spent. If we’re being practical, commonsense and positive about real water resource solutions for the country’s future, for the States’ future, my view is, get these projects going now.

BYNER: Does it surprise you that the $11 million raised locally in South Australia for the River Murray levy is unspent?

RUDD: Well, on the details of that, I’d actually need to be properly advised by people here in South Australia. All I’m concerned about is what do I do at a level of national government to make these large projects work.

BYNER: Alright. So, we’re looking at $160 million investment to help BHP establish the desalination plant, much of which will be used for industrial purposes, which are not unimportant for South Australia. The other thing that’s

been very controversial, we’ve had some public rallies, Kevin, in the last couple of days, people rallying against the possibility of building a weir. Now, the Government is saying there’s only a 10 per cent chance, my information is that the Premier of South Australia, in wanting to do that, would have to get permission from the Murray-Darling Basin Commission which may not be given.

RUDD: Well, on the current powers of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission on these sorts of projects, that’s what’s up for grabs at the moment and that’s the other reason for being in Adelaide today. That is Mr Howard’s proposal for the Murray-Darling to become effectively a Commonwealth agency

under a Canberra-based government department. Or, Premier Rann’s proposal, which is, is this better done by establishing an independent board of commissioners of water resource experts appointed jointly by the States and the

Commonwealth, ultimately answerable to the Commonwealth minister but where you’ve got the experts in control rather than the politicians. That’s what’s up for grabs right now.

BYNER: Yes. The only thing that makes me just wonder about that proposal, which sounds reasonable on the surface, Kevin, is that we had a different kind of (inaudible). But we had the State Bank here that had very separate management and had there been a much closer scrutiny of that management, we wouldn’t have had the $3 billion debt. Now, I’m not suggesting that the same scenario exists with the possibility of experts looking after the water. But what I’m saying is that governments, to be leaving something to the experts and not be very closely scrutinising it so they can be accountable, can open up problems which otherwise wouldn’t exist, would you not agree?

RUDD: Unless it’s properly constructed, Leon, you’re right. Which is one of the reasons I’ve put before in a press conference here in Adelaide, namely, what are the objectives, the policy objectives, which would be provided to this new agency - be it a Canberra government department or Mike Rann’s proposal for an independent commission. Are those objectives: one; environmental flows for the River Murray? Two; is it to provide an adequate water supply for all sustainable irrigators? Or is it three; an adequate water supply for the particular needs of South Australia? And if it’s all of those, in which order of priority? Then you’ve got a separate set of questions once you’ve clarified the objectives, which is how is that best given effect through either of those two models of agency. There’s a lot of lack of clarity in the detail yet in what’s coming out of Canberra. I hope we can get there by the end of this week because the nation wants us to work together on what is a national water emergency.

BYNER: Kevin, you will be needing to start to come up with some very specific detail about some of your announced policy, and I would presume that you will be doing that very soon because doing it just before an election doesn’t give people the opportunity to digest what it is you’re offering. Now, I just want to move to the IR laws. As you know, they have been very controversial and now they’re virtually (inaudible) principles and everything that’s going on with IR has been set into law. You won’t be able to just rip up contracts, as was suggested before and I think you’ve acknowledged that. So, what happens to the agreements? First of all when you don’t have a Senate with the numbers on your side, and even if you win, which at this stage the polls are suggesting that you will, but even if you did, history’s against you. Dr Dean Jeansch, Professor of Politics, says that it would be an absolute extraordinary piece of history if you could get 57 per cent of the Senate vote where you could control the Senate. So, even if you wanted to shut the rules away, which you can’t in that sense, you wouldn’t get permission via the Senate. So, what are you proposing to do, specifically?

RUDD: Well, we’re up always for a Senate negotiation. I think let’s get our ducks in a row first. I’d be pretty happy with a majority in the House of Representatives, and for that I need the support of the good people of South Australia. But if we do get elected and if I become Prime Minister, it is part and

parcel of Labor’s history to deal with complex majorities in the Senate. Most of our time in government in the past has always been spent doing those sorts of negotiations, certainly throughout the Hawke and Keating Governments it was that way, 13 years many great national decisions taken but through complex negotiations in the Senate. I suppose I’d say to your listeners, the problem right now is since the last election, Mr Howard, with absolute control of the Senate, has been able to get away with blue murder on things like industrial relations. And people, in their hearts of hearts, have become very concerned about that happening because they think things have got out of whack. We need to restore the balance so that our workplace (inaudible) -

BYNER: You can’t just invalidate a contract so what are you going to do?

RUDD: Well, individual contracts already in place, of course, they need to be taken through to their legal point of conclusion and we understand that. You need to have appropriate (inaudible) arrangements and Julia Gillard, the Shadow Minister, is working precisely on that. In terms of the future function of the Industrial Relations Commission, again, well prior to the next election, you’ll have a complete statement from us on that.

BYNER: OK. Cathy, from Noarlunga, what’s your question for Kevin?

CALLER: Good morning, Mr Rudd. Good morning, Leon. Mr Rudd, last Thursday Leon hosted a debate between the RSPCA, (inaudible) and Mr McGauran on the live sheep exports. We’ve just seen recent footage which was terrible, sheep being put in the boots of cars, on roof racks, one and a half hour journeys, cattle mutilated with knives. (inaudible) wants this terrible industry, barbaric industry, banned. The only response from Minister McGauran was he’s going to send the Egyptian Prime Minister another letter, which, I suppose, is similar to the memorandum which was just a brief note reminding the Minister of things to remember. Surely, Labor can do better than this on this very important issue of animal cruelty.

RUDD: We can and we will. I grew up on a farm and I know what farm life is like. I know that it’s a difficult, hard environment. We had a beef property. I understand these things. But I cannot abide animal cruelty and if there was anything which lies within the Commonwealth’s powers to make sure that that sort of abuse does not occur within this industry, let me assure you, it will happen. It turns my stomach when I see that sort of imagery.

BYNER: You would have seen the report on Today Tonight last week where we saw sheep being put into boots of cars, and so on?

RUDD: I didn’t see it because I was out. It’s been described to me.

BYNER: Are you suggesting, then, that you will ban the live export of sheep to the Middle East?

RUDD: No, I’m not suggesting that at all. What I am suggesting is that inhumane conditions, cruel conditions under which we see examples of this occurring at present, cannot be sustained and unless you can get proper arrangements and agreements at the other end, the importing country, then we’ve got to ask ourselves questions in deep conscience as well. I cannot abide animal cruelty under any form and we need to lift our game. And I tend to agree with your listener, though not understanding precisely the detail of what Minister McGauran may have written to the Egyptians, a gentle letter which says that we’re a bit concerned about things in passing ain’t good enough -

BYNER: Mr McGauran said on this program last week that there were inadequate refrigeration facilities for a value-added trade which could increase that would take the place of live beef exports. Now, we had a couple of experts who rang in and said, “I’ve been in the Middle East. I can tell you there’s oodles of refrigeration so that’s not an issue”. So, would you be prepared to ban live sheep exports?

RUDD: As I said before, no. What I’d like to see, however, is us move up the value-added chain. I have a very large meatworks in my electorate in Brisbane. They do fantastic meat processing here. I understand the whole questions about Halal and the Middle East and the rest of it. We can do a lot

better than we’re doing but I cannot respond to your listener’s question and abide unnecessary forms of animal cruelty.

BYNER: Hi, Kim. You’re talking with Kevin Rudd.

CALLER: Yes, thanks for having us. Yes, Kevin, look, I noticed the Prime Minister has come up with a $10 billion water plan. If we’re going to have these sort of nation building exercises, I would like to see a bit more discussion, a bit more thought into a real direction for the country. Have you got any plans along those lines at all, where we can see where we’re going, a coordinated approach?

BYNER: Well, on a national plan in general, can I say my vision for Australia’s future is either we ride on the back of the resources boom, which is this one-off bonanza which has occurred off the ballooning of resource prices around the world, or we can build long term prosperity by through, what I call, an Education Revolution. What’s my vision for Australia? How do we create the best educated, best trained workforce, and the most skilled economy in the western world? Because if we do that, we secure our long term future. The other one rests on luck and I believe you make your own luck.

BYNER: Kevin, what about the business of passing children, because we don’t like the word fail? There are experts now like (inaudible) from the Australian Council of Educational Research, who clearly points out that we are doing our children a terrible disservice if we’re just putting them up in a class because we don’t want to hurt their feelings.

RUDD: I agree with that. I am pretty hardline on education standards and the reason I am is that if you allow our kids to come out of the system with a false view of their level of ability and then they are put hard up against the workplace and the demands which they then face, you may be serving them a temporary comfort at school only to throw them into the cold, hard reality of the workforce. I’m all for hard standards and that means telling kids when they’ve passed or failed.

BYNER: So, that then puts you, I think, at odds with the education unions.

RUDD: Well, I end up having a brawl with some of the teachers’ unions but that’s life. But I reckon our teachers are a much maligned, unnecessarily maligned, profession. If I run into a teacher anywhere in the country, they don’t go into the classroom saying, "How can I muck up this kid’s education”. They are a dedicated group of professionals. My concern is this: do we have enough absolute rigour in our national approach to curriculum to give our teachers the best resources to do the job? That’s where my question lies. That’s not a criticism of teachers.

BYNER: So, you agree with the national curriculum idea?

RUDD: I agree with us moving towards a national curriculum in areas of critical need across the country. Why, for example, can’t we move towards a common curricula on maths, on science, on English? So many of our Australian kids each year move around the country if their parents move with a highly mobile workforce. That’s important. But secondly, I don’t want a national curriculum to produce (inaudible). I want a national curriculum in these areas, ultimately, with high standards, which goes back to your question, Leon, about pass and fail. It’s tough, it’s hard, but I think you’ve got to do this.

BYNER: Thanks for coming in today. Are you going get any time at all to do anything enjoyable which is not political whilst you’re here, or is that just too big an ask?

RUDD: I’m in and out on this occasion. Last night I was with Mike Rann at the Telstra Dome barracking for Adelaide United, and barracking unsuccessfully.

BYNER: What did you think of the game?

RUDD: It was an uneven match but we sat there proudly with our Adelaide United scarves on. Can I just say this: my wife is from Adelaide and told me before I jumped on the plane, “If I see you barracking for Melbourne you can’t come home”. So, I guess I’ve got to say, “Darling, I did it but it had no effect whatsoever”.

BYNER: Thanks, Kevin. Good to see you.

RUDD: Thanks for having me.