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Leader of the Opposition claims the Opposition will move a motion in Parliament to include an expression of profound regret for injustice and dehumanising treatment suffered by Aboriginal people; comments on GST

PETER THOMPSON: The Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, stopped short yesterday of saying sorry in his address to the Reconciliation Convention, but he did call on Parliament to pass an expression of profound regret for the injustices done in the name of European settlement.

Kim Beazley joins us now in our Canberra studio, and he's talking to Fran Kelly.

FRAN KELLY: Kim Beazley, did the Prime Minister get the tone and the sentiment right or wrong yesterday? I mean, how would you score his speech?

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, I think to some extent he arrived for combat, not reconciliation. There were some good words in that speech but there was also, if you like, a defiance of the argument that is being put forward by a number of people associated with the reconciliation process, and it seemed to be a desire to take them on which I don't think was necessarily going to assist the atmosphere down there at all, or likely to produce an outcome from the words that he did use that would have their intended effect in terms of mollifying or giving sucker to people who feel deeply wounded.

FRAN KELLY: But he did say sorry, which some people have pointed out since, is more than you said. I mean, Democrats Leader Cheryl Kernot said sorry, Prime Minister John Howard said sorry, Opposition Leader Kim Beazley didn't say sorry.

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, I think I did. But in any case, what I think is necessary is to get in place the appropriate resolution to offer those apologies. But he said sorry that people felt bad, you know. I think you actually had to say sorry for what actually happened, I think it's a matter of national shame and therefore there has to be restitution. And I do think that it was important that he took advantage of the opportunity down there.

Now he has several other opportunities. He's got the opportunity that arises from a parliamentary resolution on the referendum and an opportunity that will arise from a response to this report on lost children, and I hope he takes them.

FRAN KELLY: I'll come to the parliamentary motion a bit later on, but after your speech yesterday, after the round of speeches yesterday in the auditorium, there was a fair bit of criticism of your speech from some indigenous people there. They felt that you didn't really say anything, you didn't put your neck out. I mean, are you a little afraid of appearing too friendly to Aboriginal Australians after Labor's last election defeat?

KIM BEAZLEY: No, not at all, not in the least. And I might say that on each of these particular issues that have come up that concern the Aboriginal people, Wik and extinguishment, I've made absolutely clear we will not support extinguishment. The question of the lost children, I've made absolutely clear that we need gestures of reconciliation including compensable gestures of reconciliation which I made absolutely clear yesterday.

So, as far as this is concerned, I do think the Aboriginal people have a case and the case has to be met, and it has to be met by the community in order for us to have the united and whole community that we need.

FRAN KELLY: Today the Prime Minister will move a motion in the House endorsing the 1967 referendum result calling for a process of practical reconciliation. Will the Labor Opposition support that motion?

KIM BEAZLEY: We will see. Now, we have offered the possibility of bipartisan support and we've offered a proposition. The Prime Minister wants something shorter than the proposition that we've put forward. I don't mind it being shorter but it needs to be all-encompassing. And it needs to acknowledge the fact, I believe, that the 1967 referendum gave the Commonwealth the powers to make laws for the benefit of the Aboriginal people, not their disbenefit. And if we can get a mutually-agreed position out of that, well, well and good; if we can't, then we'll express our views.

FRAN KELLY: Doesn't that particular point go to the nub of the argument over Wik at the moment, and isn't the Government likely to avoid being trapped into any kind of expression like that that you could then use politically?

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, I think that the Government themselves have made amply clear in their own advice publicly that this is a matter that they understand fully, and that if they go down this road - and they seem to have advised the pastoralists of this - if they go down a road that disbenefits the Aboriginal people, they may not have a head of power under which to act. In addition to that, they may in fact be in a situation where massive compensation payouts would ensue. So, in those circumstances, I really do think that they ought to be prepared to support a resolution which acknowledges what the 1967 referendum was about.

FRAN KELLY: Will you move to have the motion today include an expression of profound regret for the injustice and dehumanising treatment suffered by Aboriginal people, something you called for yesterday?

KIM BEAZLEY: It would be either in this particular motion or in any motions associated with the ... dealing with the lost children report. It has to be in one of them, either this one or the one in relation to the lost children report.

FRAN KELLY: Will you try it today?

KIM BEAZLEY: Let's take a look at what we can get out of them today and what the emphasis ought to be on today's events. But let me say this: it has to be incorporated in any response on the lost children's report, no question about that. There is a very serious national issue to be confronted as far as that is concerned. Part of the restitution associated with that is a declaration along those lines. But I think that the restitution is far broader than that.

FRAN KELLY: If it doesn't come, will you move such a motion in the Parliament?

KIM BEAZLEY: Yes, we will move that, if it doesn't come.

FRAN KELLY: It's a difficult issue, isn't it, Kim Beazley? I mean, the Prime Minister believes that if he indulges the Aboriginal position too far it could drive some of the community over to the extreme right, because they do believe that balance is already too much the Aboriginals' way. I mean, it's a very delicate balancing act, isn't it?

KIM BEAZLEY: Look, there has to be an argument. Let me take the 'stolen children' issue, which I think is a critical one because it actually affects just about every Aboriginal family in Australian society. It is not as though we do not confront those sorts of issues, albeit on a lesser scale, generally in the community. There is often compensable activity as a result of bureaucratic or private bungling take place in the courts. People get awarded outcomes, apologies and restitutions are made.

This actually is simply a matter of treating the Aboriginal people equally, equally with people who've suffered from the Voyager disaster, equally with people who have had compensation for wrongly implanted breast implants, equality with people who have suffered as a result of tobacco-related diseases, equality with people who've suffered as a result of abuses in schools and orphanages and the rest of it.

This is nothing unusual in that sense. What's unusual about it is the broad scale of it and the targeting of a particular race of people. But it would not be anything like equality of treatment unless they were addressed in the same way that other actions have been addressed in our community.

Now, if that's explained to the Australian people, I don't think there's a problem with it.

FRAN KELLY: Mr Beazley, if I could just move on finally and briefly to another issue that you're concerned with at the moment, that's tax reform. You've locked Labor into a position opposing a GST, but a scare campaign on the GST wouldn't necessarily work again, will it? I mean, things have changed considerably. We now have business and welfare groups arguing for tax reform and some form of consumption tax. Who's voting with you?

KIM BEAZLEY: Let me say two things: firstly, what do people actually mean by tax reform? Everybody's out there saying: 'We want tax reform,' this and that. When you actually ask: 'Well, what do you want, what do you want to change in the taxation system?' nobody is terribly clear.

FRAN KELLY: Some form of tax reform, though, Robert Fitzgerald from ACOSS said, some form of consumption tax.

KIM BEAZLEY: Yes, but nobody is terribly clear. That's the first thing. The second thing is, when it comes to a GST, the GST was very popular until subject to analysis. And when, for example, facts like these are revealed or argued - they're already revealed, but argued - that when New Zealand put in its GST arrangements compensation was offered middle income earners and low income earners and it was gone within three years - the lot, all the compensation gone. And the GST was up. And when you go to the European experience where GSTs start out quite low and end up, in some cases, on some categories of goods as high as 37 per cent, I think you find that community support fritters away.

FRAN KELLY: Kim Beazley, thank you very much.

KIM BEAZLEY: Thank you.

PETER THOMPSON: And Kim Beazley was talking to Fran Kelly.