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Opposition Leader discusses Qld election campaign; industrial relations; media coverage of politics; political life; seat of Wright; Telstra; and parenthood.

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Subjects: Queensland Election campaign; Industrial Relations; Media coverage of politics; Political life; New Seat of Wright; Telstra; Parenthood

KING: Only a couple of hours until the State AlP launches its campaign to win the 2006 election, this will be at the Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane. It will be the fourth campaign launch I think, with Peter Beattie as Leader. And more than 700 of the Party’s faithful will mix with the likes of former Governor-General, Bill Hayden, former Premier Wayne Goss and current Federal Leader, Kim Beazley who’s just popped by. Good morning Kim Beazley.

BEAZLEY: Every good to be with you.

KING: The State ALP don’t need you do they, I mean latest Newspolls shows the Party will be returned with even more seats. Is this about boosting your popularity or Peter Beattie’s?

BEAZLEY: I’m here to give a bit of a hand. I was up in North Queensland last week and I’m here today. This is Peter Beattie’s campaign. This is Peter Beattie’s launch. This is about State issues. There’s one federal issue intruding and that is industrial relations. And the Nats and the Libs here, they want to try

and distance themselves from that. But there are a number of voters in Queensland who at least are being influenced in this State election by the notion of getting a bit of insurance by returning the State Labor Government. And of course if you happen to be a State worker you gain a lot of insurance. And the fact that Peter Beattie is out there fighting against those federal laws helps too. So, it’s an issue and I’m here to reinforce it.

KING: What’s your evidence it is intruding, I mean talkback calls is a good barometer of what people are thinking. I haven’t had one call relating to industrial relations that I can think of during this campaign, it’s been very much on State issues?

BEAZLEY: I copped a fair bit of it when I was in North Queensland last week, both around the street and in discussions over the air-ways - so there was a fair bit around there then. I’ve noticed that more and more as I go around the country, that what we said at the outset that this was going to be like an infestation of termites or a slow burn. Gradually people are going to become more and more familiar with the threats to them and then they’d start asking questions. And the other reason why I say I think it’s having some impact here is that the Liberals and the Nationals say it. When you see the desperation they have to try and uncouple themselves from what Howard’s doing in Canberra. But you cannot be lions in Brisbane and lambs in Canberra. The Queensland Nats and the Libs voted for this extreme experiment.

KING: What would you give to be in Peter Beattie’s position in the polls?

BEAZLEY: Look he’s earned it. He has substantially re-badged this State with his Smart State idea. He’s also produced a very collaborative model, if you like, for interstate relationships and for relationships with the centre. He’s been a very interesting Premier of Queensland that way. A different Premier of Queensland, and it works.

KING: You must take a bit of comfort in these polls though. It’s three months ago the only thing people were talking about was the health crisis in Queensland. People were talking about whether he could cling on to power and now they’re talking about how many extra seats he might pick up. Things can

turn very quickly in politics.

BEAZLEY: Isn’t it a lesson not to be fascinated by polls but instead to be concerned about issues and what’s happening to people? If you get concerned as a politician with polls, you get trapped into being a commentator. What you’ve got to be concerned about is what people are thinking and feeling, and focus on that. Don’t focus on how you’re doing, focus on what they need. That’s what I’ve been trying to do in Queensland as I’ve come up here, quite frequently, to try and build our federal position here.

KING: And you do and you need to build your federal position here, if I’m right, to gain government.

BEAZLEY: That’s exactly right.

KING: You hold a handful of the 28 seats, soon to be 29 seats - federal seats in Queensland. How come Labor seems to be so popular internally within the State but not federally? So many people seem to be voting ALP at the State level but at the Coalition at the federal level.

BEAZLEY: That’s not simply a phenomenon in Queensland - it’s a phenomenon across the country if you actually take a look at recent results. I

think that it represented a particular judgment at a point of time about John Howard. That now people see John Howard as having changed. They saw that John Howard, when they believed him to be really focused on Middle Australian concerns a few years ago. Now they think he’s about the big end of town - I think industrial relations has played a large part in that. The politics around privatising Telstra has played a role in that. The Iraq War has played a role in that. The Iraq War now impacting on our petrol prices. All these sorts of things, some people are comfortable, but they’re now longer relaxed.

KING: Do you think there’s something to be said as some pundits say that voters like to have one Party in power at the State level and another Party in the federal area?

BEAZLEY: Obviously, objectively some people do vote like that, otherwise you wouldn’t have the sorts of results that you’ve got.

KING: Does that make it harder though then for you next time if Peter Beattie is put in here with an increased majority next week, does that make it even harder for you next year?

BEAZLEY: No. Because what it’s doing is shining a light, at least in part, on one or two issues that are important to us. The health issue is important federally. The skills issue is important federally and the industrial relations issue is important federally. And to have those, in some way or another teased out and represented in the outcome of this poll, I think is very important federally.

KING: A lot of criticism here on how the media has treated Dr. Bruce Flegg, I think, including from the Premier Peter Beattie. How would you rate the media’s coverage of politics nationally?

BEAZLEY: Well you know there’s no sense in grizzling about the media.

KING: Are you given a fair go though?

BEAZLEY: Politicians always have a view about the media. Look our job is to reach beyond any media interpretation of what it is you’re doing, to deal with real issues.

KING: Have you been given a fair deal by the media?

BEAZLEY: In many ways yes, and in some ways no, but so what? It’s not the business of the media to give me a fair deal - it’s the business of me to get out there, understand what people are worried about and meet their needs. And frankly, the more you’re out and about, and I’m a big believer in being out and about, the more you can reach over anything that may be there in any media handling of it, to go straight to people. And that’s what we do.

KING: Lawrence Springborg this morning has withdrawn from the campaign after a death in the family. How much do wife’s and husbands of politicians take on when you lot are away so much and you’re probably the perfect example, your family is in Perth, you, essentially live in Canberra?

BEAZLEY: It’s the hardest thing in the world. You can’t expect anybody’s sympathy for you because we’re all volunteers in this business - nobody conscripted us into politics. And all of us are passionate and proud to be committed and involved in politics. But there are some people who suffer badly along the way and they’re our families.

KING: Why do you do it?

BEAZLEY: Because you believe in it. I really believe in things for this country. I believe in things for our society?

KING: How many times has your wife sat you down and said: “that’s enough”?

BEAZLEY: Well she understands I think what my level of commitment is and she has a level of commitment herself too. She believes many of the things that I believe, and she want’s to see me succeed with them.

KING: If you lost the next election, will that be enough?

BEAZLEY: I’m going to tell you something Madonna, losing the next election is not an option.

KING: But if you do?

BEAZLEY: I don’t even think about it, because to me…

KING: But you’ve got to think about it, you’ve got to sit at home on those long flights home at some stage, you’ve got to sit and think: will I continue if I’m on the Opposition benches the next time around?

BEAZLEY: I think if the industrial relations issues wasn’t there, I think if the concerns I now have for nation building investment wasn’t there, I could probably afford that sort of personal reflection. But quite frankly, I can’t afford it, not anymore, I have to be focused on only one thing: If I don’t win the next election I’ll worry about it then. But right now I’ve got to worry about winning the next election.

KING: A new seat’s been created up here for the federal election by the name of Wright, quite controversial, do you support that name?

BEAZLEY: It’s fine. I mean, the Electoral Commissioners make up their own minds and I’ve been the first Federal Leader into Wright. We’ve got a couple of good candidates, good community candidates on offer for our Party preselectors. One of them will emerge and I think they’ll be the next member.

KING: To win government, I think any political analyst would say you’d probably have to pick up a dozen or so seats, or close to that, up in Queensland. Can you give me a handful, four or five, that you think, given what IR, you say, is doing to the electorate, you will pick up?

BEAZLEY: Well, Wright’s one of them, Herbert’s another, Leichhardt’s a prospect there and then there’s a number of the seats here - the Longman’s, the Petrie’s the Bonner’s, the Blair’s. People are aware of the seats that we’re targeting here. But I don’t worry about redistributions. One thing you can say about a redistribution is this: It doesn’t change a vote. The only thing that changes a vote is whether or not you get your message across. So, I fight for every vote I can get in this State.

KING: You keep referring to industrial relations. Is that the issues? Is there a second issue or is that so far in front you don’t think anything else matters?

BEAZLEY: It’s a really major issue because what we’ve got here is not industrial relations reform, what we’ve got here is a dangerous experiment and it’s just destroyed the balance of industrial relations. That affects everybody’s income and it affects their ability to sustain family life at home it affects their ability to earn enough to pay their mortgage. It can’t get bigger than that and affecting the very existence and happiness of people at home. So, that’s a big issue but there are other issues. There are nation building issues. Currently now, only the State Governments are focussed on nation building issues. They talk about the things that they need to do to change our infrastructure.

What John Howard, for example on Telstra, should be talking about is roll-out of high-speed broadband. What he’s talking about instead is the politics of the Liberal Party and selling Telstra.

KING: Can I ask you something on Telstra? I see the head of the Government’s Future Fund says it won’t seek to control Telstra once it becomes a significant shareholder. What do you think investors would think of that?

BEAZLEY: I think there are a lot of people who are T2 investors who are going to be very worried about the way in which this is being sold. In two years time you’re going to have 30 per cent of the company overhanging the market. They’re never going to get a break when it comes to the value of the shares which they paid so much for, and were encouraged to buy by John Howard. So,

what I’m saying is this: We’re not going to sell any more of it. When we get into office if there’s 30 per cent of it left we will keep that and we’ll just take the dividend and use it for nation building purposes. We’re not going to sell any more of it and we’re not going to have people worried, who are shareholders, about that huge overhang on the market destroying the value of their shares.

Now, we’re only having this darn thing sold now basically because John Howard doesn’t want to go into the next election as a 51 per cent owner of Telstra because he believes that it would give the Labor Party an advantage. That’s simply not good enough.

What he’s got to be worried about is the performance of Telstra and of our communications system - which is not good enough. We need access to high-speed broadband as a major infrastructure issue in this nation - and that’s what we in the Labor Party are about. They are about playing political games.

KING: But it’s not an issue that people would determine their vote on.

BEAZLEY: Some would, particularly in regional Australia. They’re worried about the fact that there seems to be big inequities in the sorts of services they get, compared to what’s happening in the metropolitan area. But increasingly in the metropolitan area, there are people saying, “What are we worried about the ownership for, what we’ve got to be worried about is high-speed broadband and

we’re not getting it. We’re falling behind”. And so we are. That’s what we’re worried about in the Labor Party.

KING: OK, now, a fairly parochial question. Just before you came on, I don’t know if you heard the debate, but Phil Emmanuel, a leading Australian guitarist, is performing at a Father’s Day conference, or thing, up here on Sunday and he’s come out today saying political correctness has gone mad in Australia, we’re no longer smacking our kids because we’re told not to do it. The result is that we’re bringing up kids that have no sense of discipline. Should parents

smack their children, do you think?

BEAZLEY: I don’t smack Rachel. I don’t hold myself up as any sort of paragon, or whatever.

KING: Have you ever smacked her?

BEAZLEY: To the best of my recollection, no. But I don’t because there are other mechanisms of punishing her which are far more effective, I find. But that’s just me. That’s just us as parents. I wouldn’t presume for one minute to tell anyone else how to handle their kid. There’s zones off-limit for pollies like me and as far as I’m concerned, I’m not here in the advice-giving for parents of the nation. Everyone has to work out their own discipline methods.

KING: But is there a criticism that political correctness has gone a little bit too far so some parents aren’t doing something that they might think is right because their almost shamed by the educators, the specialists, about what it could do to their kids?

BEAZLEY: Well, parents have got to think their way through all those issues. It’s a hard thing being a parent. It’s a tough thing being a long-distance parent. It’s hard. There’s lot of joys in parenthood and lots of problems associated with parenthood. The great thing is, by and large, most parents get it reasonably right.

KING: I appreciate your time this morning, Kim Beazley.

BEAZLEY: Good to be with you.