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Opposition Leader discusses Rudd government's 100 days; workplace relations; NSW government; public hospitals; and the Coalition.



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON. DR BRENDAN NELSON MP

29 February 2008

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. DR BRENDAN NELSON MP INTERVIEW WITH RAY HADLEY, RADIO 2GB, SYDNEY

Subjects: Rudd Government’s first 100 days; workplace relations; New South Wales Government; public hospitals; Coalition.

EO&E………………………………………………………………………………......

DR NELSON:

G’day Ray, thanks for having me.

QUESTION:

It’s a pleasure. It’s been a fairly tough three months. We’ve heard the Prime Minister this morning talk in some detail about the first 100 days in government. Didn’t say a lot. He seems to be….one of the girls in the office said he’s a bit like the Deputy Principal, or the Principal of a school, or the head Prefect, just missing is the badge. And we talk about the think fest, and the gab fest and getting help from other people, are people normally looking for leadership as opposed to consensus from a Prime Minister?

DR NELSON:

Look its three months as we know Ray and we’ve had more than 50 committees, commissions, task forces, reviews and a whole variety of things and the new government hasn’t yet made any real decisions. It’s been implementing things that it said it would do before the election. But you know it’s interesting, one of the radio commentators in Melbourne said to me last week, earlier in the week I should say, he said look, Prime Ministers seem to get a bit of a honeymoon, what about Opposition Leaders? But I think we’re a bit concerned that some of the real issues that are facing a lot of your listeners in terms of market volatility, we’ve had two rate rises, one official, one unofficial, we’ve had the biggest fall in business confidence from the

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National Australia Bank survey since September 11 and the Sensis survey of 1800 small businesses has got a 36 per cent reduction in confidence in government. So you know in the end the things that really count, is the government’s got to make decisions and it’s got to have a plan to deal with the things that are facing us in day to day life.

QUESTION:

Had you had a honeymoon, it was only to the Blue Mountains for two days, you didn’t go to the French Riviera, because you’ve had a fair bit of work to do and you’ve copped plenty. How are you coping with it? I mean you know you’ve been a Minister, you’ve been there in the forefront but now all of a sudden you’re the crump, you’re the boss?

DR NELSON:

I really enjoy it. It’s a great privilege, it’s an honour to be the alternative prime minister of Australia and the Leader of the alternative government. We’ve had to make some decisions. They haven’t been easy ones necessarily. We supported the ratification of the Kyoto agreement, knowing that the main game’s in 2012. We made the decision that whilst we had gone to the election with WorkChoices that Australians basically decided they didn’t like it - at least enough of them did to change the government. We were wrong as I said yesterday, in bringing WorkChoices in without the no disadvantage test. We tried…..

QUESTION:

….so it was right except for no disadvantage, was it?

DR NELSON:

In hindsight Ray, which is a great thing, you know my kids have got it, but you look back, in 2006 the average 2GB listener was trying to you know water the lawn, we see the dams falling, we see evidence of climate change, the then government seemed to be focused on workplace relations - which was about Australia’s future of course - and we decided to go down that road without a no disadvantage test. Then Prime Minister John Howard moved to fix it. But we were wrong and so we’ve decided we won’t oppose Labor’s changes.

QUESTION:

Where do we find the balance? You see I relay a story about a fruitier from Merrylands who rang me probably 10 years ago and said look, I’ve caught a bloke knocking off money from the till, tried to sack him, I can’t get rid of him, you know

I’ve talked about putting cameras in there and the union says do that and we’ll shut you down. So where do we go and then it does appear that some employers made hay while the sun shine, so where do we go in the middle somewhere so that everyone gets a fair go?

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DR NELSON:

It’s like everything. You’ve always got a very small number of people who give the rest of them, in this case, employers a bad name and the Labor Party actually adopted significant elements of WorkChoices. They won’t tell you that, but they do have individual agreements with a no disadvantage test in their legislation. So we decided we won’t oppose that legislation. We feel very strongly about unfair dismissal provisions. I had a bloke running a small automotive business in Melbourne say to me on Tuesday, he said, ‘look mate, before unfair dismissals came in, my mate employed two plasterers, they knocked off at 11.30 and they went to the pub, came back at 2.30 drunk,’ and he gave them a warning. The next day they did exactly the same thing, he said, ‘right, you blokes are out’ and it cost him $22 grand. Now we cannot afford to return to that sort of environment. And one of the reasons why more Australians today have got jobs than they use to is because small businesses, the people that are actually the backbone of this country, feel confident about taking employees on.

QUESTION:

It’s a balancing act. Now because you’re from this state, from this city, you’ve observed no doubt the goings on at state government level with Morris Iemma and most people, clear thinking people are absolutely horrified that this government was returned with an increased majority back in March. I mean we do have a problem in

the state of New South Wales and you as the Leader of the Coalition have a problem federally that despite the shortcomings of the Carr/Iemma Government they were returned. What’s wrong with the Liberal Party, the Coalition in New South Wales that they can’t make inroads on what appears to be a dysfunctional government?

DR NELSON:

Well look firstly, Morris Iemma and his people spent a fortune on their election campaign…..

QUESTION:

….and now we know where the money came from…..

DR NELSON:

Yeh that’s right, we had mass marketing, they outspent us at least three to one and in addition to that we’ve had a government in New South Wales which has been focused far too much on media and trying to mould the way people think through media presentation. I must say that’s the kind of approach that Mr Rudd seems to be taking, but it really does worry me. Look whatever the politics of your listeners Ray, it worries me, that we are three years away from a state election - all is not well in the state of Denmark, all is not well in the state of New South Wales. Our economy in New South Wales is growing at less than two per cent. I’m very worried with the changes in the global economic environment, with what looks like further tightening of monetary policy from the Reserve Bank, that Mr Rudd and his government if they

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make decisions to reduce expenditure in New South Wales, mate we could see our economy clubbed.

QUESTION:

What magic wand will the Federal Health Minister wave today at a meeting of State and Territory Health Ministers to solve the increasing crisis in this states health, let along whatever crisis maybe happening in other states and territories?

DR NELSON:

I don’t know what magic wand there is. Look my background is I’m actually as a doctor myself. I was President of the Australian Medical Association, federally, in the mid 90s and my very strong view is that ‘Kevin 08’ needs to put his money where his mouth was in ‘Kevin 07.’ There should be more money put on the table for the states, for public hospitals. I think they should roll the current agreement over for the next 18 months and make sure that there are performance benchmarks on those hospitals. We have a right to know how our hospitals are performing so the public can actually compare one with the other. So my view is more Commonwealth money on the table today. They should roll the agreements over with performance requirements on those hospitals and give this health care commission, headed by Dr Christine Bennett, an opportunity to actually give fair dinkum advice to the government. I mean if Mr Rudd’s serious about the health commission, he’ll actually give them time to develop the ideas and give that advice to it.

QUESTION:

Can you as someone who was at the coalface in relation to health in New South Wales explain to my listeners how the former Dr Graeme Reeves could have been told in 1997 that he shouldn’t be practicing obstetrics in gynecology, but somehow was given a position in a public hospital system in southern New South Wales? With the advent of computers, Google and all the rest of it in 2008, can a doctor practice for seven years and create the carnage that he created on the women we saw in State Parliament yesterday?

DR NELSON:

It’s an absolute disgrace Ray. It’s an indictment of the people that are employing and made the decisions to employ him in the hospital and health care system. I also think that - I realise the Medical Board is constrained by the legislation under which it actually has to operate - but I think the New South Wales Government and the Medical Board is going to have to have a very long hard look at both of themselves about how they actually manage people like this. I also think that those medical colleagues, those other doctors that must have had an idea what this bloke was on about, I think they also need to ask themselves what were they doing when they must have had some idea of what was going on with this bloke?

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QUESTION:

Back to the federal scene, you’ve got people there, vastly experienced people who are being underutilised - Peter Costello, Alexander Downer, Kevin Andrews, Mark Vaile, Peter McGauran to name but a few. They’ll go one would imagine between now and the next federal election. Would it be presumptuous to assume that we need by-elections for all of those? Surely they’re not going to go in dribs and drabs so we have a by-election then another by-election then another by-election. As the Leader, knowing that these men are intent on perhaps going to other places, which is I guess reasonable given that they’ve gone from positions of power to being on the backbench, what do you do with them, how do you manage them as the Leader?

DR NELSON:

Well the first thing is I mean they’ve worked damn hard for their respective electorates and they’ve worked very, very hard for Australia and I think Peter Costello and Alexander Downer, in particular, have earned the right to make the decisions they think are in the interests of their electorates and of their families and of our party. We don’t know yet whether they are going to go or not but I think hypothetically, Ray, if they do make the decision that they are going to leave the parliament it’s preferable that we have those by-elections on a single day.

QUESTION:

And the others, same deal? Because I mean it’s going to reflect poorly on you as the Leader if you know, Peter Costello says in July, I’ve had a gut full of this I’m going to go and work for Macquarie Bank. And Alexander Downer says I’m going into radio, talkback radio in Adelaide with my wife. And Kevin Andrews says I’m going to do this. And Mark Vaile says I’m going back to the farm. And Peter McGauran says I’m going to be a bookmaker at Randwick. I mean….and they go over the next 12 months; it’s going to look pretty ordinary for you as the Leader?

DR NELSON:

Well look I…

QUESTION:

…you couldn’t convince them to actually do the right thing and all go together if they’re going to go?

DR NELSON:

Well Ray, look I’ve been talking to them - and by the way they are making a contribution, they give not only me but those of us who are leading the party at the moment advice about various things in terms of the economy and a variety of things - but as I say, look I won’t comment specifically on it other than I’ve been talking to them and they haven’t yet made the decisions as to whether they are going to continue or not.

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QUESTION:

Okay well you’ve raised the next point. You say they still give advice, there’s going to be a vacuum there when Costello, Downer, Andrews, Vaile and McGauran do go because you’re talking about collectively, decades of experience, parliamentary experience, so what happens because all of a sudden you’ve got them to call on at the moment and seek advice, or they offer advice but they’re gone, they’re replaced by, if it goes your way at the by-election, by people who have no experience?

DR NELSON:

Well Ray it’s a regeneration obviously and also you’ve got to look at the quality and depth of the people that we’ve got within our ranks. We’ve actually got quite a good balance of experience and people with new, innovative ideas and energy on our shadow frontbench, and in our middle and our backbenchers. So I don’t think anybody should think for a minute that if any of these people choose to retire that in some way we’re going to be bereft of ideas and energy. And the other thing of course is I take advice from a whole variety of people. You know, they don’t necessarily have to be in the parliament to give me or Joe Hockey or Julie Bishop or Malcolm Turnbull or anybody else advice.

QUESTION:

Should people underestimate…you’re a very quietly spoken man by your very nature, I’ve had meetings with you quite a number of times about other issues, not related to politics, you’re very measured, you’re very quiet, you don’t get excited like some other people including myself do….

DR NELSON:

I do sometimes mate…..

QUESTION:

Well I haven’t seen any evidence of it so I’m just thinking, is that the way, I mean, I’m not suggesting you’re acting, I just think that’s the way you are. And it’s not a criticism because we can’t all be the same. But is it sort of the person that can be the

next Prime Minister, who can lead the party, someone who is measured and you know, isn’t going to get down and dirty like some of your colleagues may, in relation to the parliamentary debate and other things?

DR NELSON:

Yeah will look I dish it out appropriately in the parliament when it’s necessary and I do get cranky about certain things, you know when you’re trying to put the rubbish tins out at one o’clock in the morning and you tread on one of the droppings from your Jack Russells, you get a bit cranky if you know what I mean. But look you speak to anyone that’s every known me and I think you’ll find that they’ll say look, you know Brendan’s thoughtful, he’s polite, he reads a lot, you know he’s analytical, all that sort of stuff. I always try to treat people with respect and decency. I believe very

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much that what goes around comes around. I have never and nor will I ever engage in personal attacks in the parliament or anywhere else. I think you need to get by on the strength of your argument and the other thing that I’ve never done is try to undermine the other people around me, that’s not the way I operate.

QUESTION:

Are there people within your Coalition that can do that sort of work because it is needed to be done from time to time. I mean Mr Howard had his attack dogs who were let loose every now and then on the Opposition?

DR NELSON:

Well you need fast bowlers, and you know we need all rounders, we need fast bowlers, we need wicketkeepers, we need all kinds of people Ray. But I’ve always been of the view by the way you put Australia first. Sometimes it means that you should be strongly supporting what the government of the day is doing. I think you need to have an effective working relationship with the Prime Minister. In that case obviously it’s Mr Rudd and myself. I think you need to be able to put aside differences where you think it’s in the, and believe it’s in the interests of other people, that’s the way I operate, always have done and always will do. And I guess my, you know, people kindly I think referring back to my medical life say that I’ve got a

bedside manner, and I think that’s appropriate. I think you get things done in life without being vicious or nasty or ridiculing people.

QUESTION:

You’ll be judged finally by the electorate if you last that long, I say last that long because the polls might get you before the electorate does. Mr Turnbull was narrowly beaten for the position you now occupy and he’s obviously a very ambitious man. Are you expecting if the polls don’t improve that there will be a challenge from within?

DR NELSON:

Ray I’m expecting to do the very best job I can and I am expecting to lead the party to the next federal election. I’m very confident about it and my job is to get out and about, spend the time in supermarkets and workshops and you know, out doing the things that are important to listening and understanding people - which I’ve always done by the way.

QUESTION:

In relation to the single biggest issue facing Australia, the suggestion this morning from the Prime Minister was that housing affordability and mortgage stress. He said on average 34 per cent of the household income goes towards the mortgage. He’s still blaming the former Treasurer and the former Prime Minister and the former government for that. How long can the blame game last in relation to what preceded him? At what stage in history do we say this is now your responsibility it’s not the responsibility of the former government?

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DR NELSON:

Well I think it should have started the day after the election to be honest with you and look, people, Australians are not stupid and Mr Rudd shouldn’t take them for mugs. We all know - I’ve got a mortgage and a car loan myself - we all know that over the last 10 years we gave Australia and Australians an economy in first rate condition. We know that interest rates were lower, we know inflation was lower, unemployment plummeted, small businesses were more confident and we’ve even got a situation where the most common complaint from businesses is they actually can’t find workers, which is a better problem than we used to have. So I think it’s certainly long past time for him to take responsibility for the job that he’s got ahead rather than trying to blame others for it.

QUESTION:

Good luck, you’ve got a job in front of you.

DR NELSON:

Yeah, I’ve got to tell you something form yesterday mate, I was in Martin Place, sitting in my car and I could hear your voice booming, and I turned to the vehicle next to me, it was a courier driver. I put down the window and I said, ‘mate you listen to Ray Hadley.’ And his name’s Mohammed, and he drives, I won’t name the company because they might finger him, and he put his thumbs up and he said, ‘G’day Brendan, go Liberal.’

QUESTION:

Alright mate, well Mohammed thank you for your loyalty and thank you Mr Nelson for coming in and talking to us.

DR NELSON:

Thanks very much Ray.

[ends]

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