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Opposition Leader discusses the children overboard affair.

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Subjects: ‘Kids Overboard’ deceit.

CLARK: We’ve invited Mr Howard of course on the program and Mr Ruddock too, the Immigration Minister. They are having a hugely busy day in Parliament and can’t at this stage appear, but Simon Crean, the Federal Opposition Leader joins me on the line this afternoon. Mr Crean good afternoon.

CREAN: Hi Philip, how are you?

CLARK: I’m very well. What do you think of Mr Howard’s defence? He says after all he didn’t actually know. In his defence I suppose the report doesn’t conclusively demonstrate that he did know. Does it?

CREAN: No it doesn’t and we therefore have to rely only on the Prime Minister’s word, but I think people have and this is what we’ve been trying to get out today Philip. Do you really believe that when the Prime Minister says he is going to investigate additional facts, he says that on October the 10th, don’t you think his Department would tell him what those additional facts were?

CLARK: Because the report does make it perfectly plain doesn’t it that his Department was told…


CLARK: …there is no doubt about that. It was told in no and equivocal terms, in unequivocal terms, that this, that the allegations were a lie.

CREAN: It was told on the 10th of October, as was Minister Reith. Now Minister Reith still, previous Minister Reith, wants you to believe he wasn’t told but the report says he got a letter. He got formal advice, I mean look Reith’s credibility is shot to pieces and I just don’t believe that Peter Reith wouldn’t have told the Prime Minister about the change in private and I don’t believe that the Prime


Minister’s own department wouldn’t have drawn it to his attention. I mean you don’t say publicly you’re going to conduct further investigations and then do nothing.

CLARK: You may have a kinder view of Mr Reith’s performance and that than I do. I don’t know over the years I can probably perfectly well believe that Mr Reith might of thought well hang on this is too hot and I’m not going to tell the Prime Minister about this but I must say I do find it hard to believe the Prime Minister’s own Department with Max Moore-Wilton at the head of it, did not having received this information feel that it would have had to pass the information on to the Prime Minister’s staff.

CREAN: Exactly.

CLARK: I mean the report doesn’t make it clear whether it was passed on though does it?

CREAN: No of course it doesn’t. What it does is to say that, the report actually says that the Prime Minister was not advised by the Department. It doesn’t actually go to the question as to whether the Prime Minster’s staff was. But again look, I think you’ve just got to, people, I know how Government operates Philip. The Prime Minister’s out there this is a crucial issue in the whole election. The Prime Minister admitted today it was the basis upon which they got elected. Everyone knew this was an issue that was raging. They knew that Prime Minister had claimed parents had thrown their kids overboard as had Reith and as had Minister Ruddock and yet on the 10th of October the Department of Defence and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Minister for Defence according to this report all knew that information was wrong. Now the first thing that should have happened is Peter Reith should’ve fessed up publicly. He didn’t and he stands condemned, but I do not believe that the Prime Minister’s own department wouldn’t have advised him of the change to circumstances. Nor do I believe that Philip Ruddock’s own department wouldn’t have told him.

CLARK: I must say I, like, I presume many citizens of the country, find that incredible, find that impossible to believe. I mean, in fact commonsense might tell you, Blind Freddie that great and sage politician himself, might say that the only reasonable conclusion that you can draw is that they did know and thought well hang on I am just going to let sleeping dogs lie on this one because the issue is running well for us.

CREAN: Well I think that that is the conclusion that most people will come to and I think that is why we’ve got to persist down the track of getting the Government to just tell the truth. Because, you know, if it’s got away with deceiving the public before it’s going to continue to do it in the future. If it thinks it can get away with it for the past it will continue to do it for the future. I just think that now that we have got this Government for another three years that we have to expose them for that deceit.


CLARK: This is Simon Crean the Federal Opposition Leader. …One of the problems you have got Mr Crean is that this issue is running in Mr Howard’s favour. As you know, I mean, I have got in front of me the findings of a survey in NSW conducted on behalf of the NSW Labour Council of Unionists. I mean these are people on your side of the fence. And it shows that 58 per cent of unionists and 67 per cent of non-unionists out there thought that Mr Howard handled the whole issue pretty well.

CREAN: Well that’s until now. I mean, look, you don’t have to lie to protect your borders, Philip. And when you have consistently said, and I have said since I have been Leader, I do agree with the need for procedures to be there and tough on border protection. I believe it can be done in a more compassionate way and they’re the policy initiatives that I have announced. And you do not have to lie to protect your borders.

CLARK: There’s going to be a Senate inquiry into this I presume, isn’t there?

CREAN: Yes there is.

CLARK: Will Mr Reith be called before that inquiry?

CREAN: Well, that is up to the Senate as to who it calls and I wouldn’t want to pre-empt who they decide to call but, yes, they could.

CLARK: I mean there are some obvious answers to be gleaned from this and they are not forthcoming from the report. It makes me wonder, I must say, one of the questions that occurred to me is why was it not possible to interview people and find out why this information wasn’t passed on and make a finding about it.

CREAN: Exactly, because that is the missing part of the report and in a sense that is what the Senate Estimates, the Senate inquiry has got to go to. When did these people know? When was it passed on? I mean, what has actually come out today, there has been some interesting developments today. It has now been established that an inter-departmental committee, that is, the people from Defence, people from Prime Minister and Cabinet etc knew on the 7th of October that there was doubt about the ‘kids overboard’. Knew on the 7th. So in other words this is a Government that relied only on one piece, one person saying it happened and when that information went before the committee that was supposed to consider it the committee came to the conclusion on the 7th of October that there was doubt about the proceedings. Now you would have thought that that would have sent the alarm bells up.

The other thing that was interesting was the contradiction the Prime Minister made today. Today he said when I asked him who he spoke to on the evening of the 7th of November, because you will remember on the 8th of November he went to the National Press Club it was the final week of the campaign. He said ‘he had checked the issue the previous night’. I asked who he checked with. He told me today it was ‘Peter Reith’. Yet we know from an earlier transcript he was saying it was both


Reith and Minister Ruddock. You know, what is he trying to do? Protect Philip Ruddock, keep him out of it, make Peter Reith the scapegoat. It’s just, you know, when people are put under the griller they come up with some interesting contradictions.

CLARK: …(inaudible)…

CREAN: That is why there has to be a full inquiry.

CLARK: Yes I think that’s right. It has been a pretty messy and unsavoury affair. And it certainly goes to show why that movie, that film, that video which, of course, showed nothing of any sort for the children being thrown overboard took so long to be released and why it was such a fizzer when it was.

CREAN: The other interesting thing that came out today because Philip Ruddock had said during the campaign that this action, you know, the kids overboard was premeditated. Well how can it be premeditated if it didn’t happen?

CLARK: If it didn’t happen. Exactly.

CREAN: …(inaudible)…

CLARK: All good questions, Mr Crean. Good to talk with you. Ends.