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Opposition Leader discusses tourism package; Irukandji jellyfish stings; Shadow Cabinet; four-year parliamentary terms; defence; Middle East; and peacekeeping.

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Subjects: Tourism Package, Irukandji sting, Shadow Cabinet, Four year Parliamentary terms, Defence, Middle East, Peace keeping

CLARK: Well the politicians have invaded North Queensland today with the Shadow Federal Community Cabinet taking place in Charters Towers today and many of the Opposition Leaders in North Qld from yesterday visiting areas such as Townsville. Joining me now in the studio is the Federal Opposition Leader, Simon Crean. Thanks for your time this morning.

CREAN: My pleasure Michael. Not an invasion - friendly encounter, as always.

CLARK: Last time we talked to you about being in North Qld it was not in the role of Opposition Leader. How have you found the role in the months since we last spoke?

CREAN: Terrific. I have really enjoyed it. It’s been a great opportunity and as always great to come back here. I have been coming to Townsville now since 1957 so I have got a long association with the locality but you never cease to be amazed about the opportunity and the potential, the problems that the region faces so it’s terrific to be back and this time leading a rejuvenated Labor team, a fresh frontbench, a modernised frontbench.

What we are doing is looking to modernise the policies and this morning for example we launched a tourism package because we recognise the importance of tourism to this part of the country and its spin-off for the nation. The fact that that tourism, well first of all I recognise the importance of tourism to Australia as an industry, that is why I have put it into Cabinet. Steve Martin is the Minister for Tourism, of Cabinet ranking and that is the importance we place on the sector, on the industry. But we also recognise that up here what is the great attraction, what brings people here, is the


great natural heritage, the Barrier Reef in particular, the wilderness and so as party of today’s package what we have announced is the banning of oil drilling and exploration on the reef and calling on the Government to legislate to ban it. If they don’t, we will and we will support any legislation they bring forward to that effect. But also our commitment to ratify the Kyoto Protocol because it’s in the region’s interests, as well as international interests, that we reduce global warming. That can harm the reef, it can harm the natural environment, so these are two important aspects.

The other thing, coming out of the Shadow Cabinet discussions we have had around this is the need to establish a Labor Friends of Tourism group within the Caucus. People who can be closely tapped into, identified, worked with, by the tourism industry wherever it is around the country.

So it’s an important set of initiatives and it will have impact here.

CLARK: Relating to that issue of tourism. We only yesterday saw the death of someone due to an Irukandji sting and this was an American visitor to Far North Queensland. How important is it that we get funding into what is happening with Irukandji so that scientists and researchers know more about this creature and how we can be protected from these deadly stings?

CREAN: It’s the only way you can do it and it has to be done in a

shared way Michael. I don’t think it can be this notion that simply because it happened in North Qld, it’s only North Qld’s problem. It’s a national problem. It has to involve all levels of Government. I notice that the Councils are kicking in, local businesses are kicking in. State Government is prepared to kick in, as I understand it. The people dragging their feet are the Federal Government. Now I would urge the Federal Government to get behind the requests for support. This is one of those great examples where the solution requires a whole of Governments approach, a commitment from all levels of Government and I urge the Federal Government to not just take the issue seriously but to commit responsibly.

CLARK: Well you are heading inland today to Charters Towers for the Shadow Community Cabinet meeting. Why was the decision taken to go to Charters Towers?

CREAN: Well, Charters Towers is a centre of great historic significance, as well as great current potential. It’s also a first, a Cabinet or a Shadow Cabinet has never met at Charters Towers. It’s also in a seat that is not held by Labor and is very difficult to hold but I think that the message we are trying to send is we are relating to the community, regardless of the electoral spin-off. We want to demonstrate it’s not just capital cities, it’s not just coastline that we are concerned with. It’s the meeting of the Shadow Cabinet but it’s also the connecting with the community at large.


CLARK: It’s an opportunity for you to talk to the community and get feedback. Have you been getting feedback over the last week or so over this issue of four year Parliamentary terms?

CREAN: Yes, we have been and what people want to know is that the politicians are not doing it for their own interests, that it is a genuine attempt to reform and modernise the Parliament and this is why I have called for - whilst I think that four year terms are important - there are other issues in terms of improving the way in which Parliament handles itself that have to be addressed. For example I have proposed that we have a truly independent Speaker, that we improve the procedures in the Parliament, that we get proper accountability, Ministers required to actually answer questions, to not ramble on, to keep those answers short but to the point.

We have also called for changes to the Code of Conduct so that former Ministers can’t sign off on lucrative contracts in the areas that they were directly interfacing with whilst in the Ministry - the sort of Peter Reith/Michael Wooldridge circumstance. So I think it goes beyond the issue of the four year term Michael. I don’t believe that we will get the public confidence sufficient to give us the Parliamentary reform that helps us modernise the country - if people don’t believe that we have done what we can to restore their trust in the institution of Parliament and in politicians.

And so what I am actually calling for is the fact that we have a constitutional convention to address the issues to look at a suite of measures that can be put to the Australian people to re-establish that confidence, that trust.

CLARK: If we can talk about Defence now. It’s a good time in North Qld, we have got a lot of our troops, the first wave in fact coming back from their current deployment to East Timor. Do you think that these troops are going to be home for a short time and then maybe having to turn around and face the Middle East in a peacekeeping role? Would you give support to that type of role?

CREAN: Well, there are two issues. It depends. I mean obviously they will be in demand in a number of different theatres because there is still unfinished business that we are already aware of. If what you are referring to is the circumstances of a potential role in Iraq, that is something for which the case has not yet been made out. So we wouldn’t be supporting their involvement there unless that case is made out. And it is incumbent upon the Government to make the case to not only be frank with me in the briefings that I get, but with the Australian public, about the significance of it. Is it connected to the al-Qaeda? Is it connected to the war against terrorism? What is the evidence about that? I think we have to be very careful about the just going blindly down the path of assertions of the need for action without it being backed up by the facts.


CLARK: What about the situation currently with Israel and the Palestinians? Could you see a role for Australian troops perhaps to play a third party role with an international force there?

CREAN: Well again I think that depends on what the outcome of the discussions are. The great difficulty is there is no role for a peacekeeping force because there isn’t a peace and that is the great tragedy in Israel and the occupied territories at the moment that what we have got is suicide bombings faced by retaliation and it’s just a vicious circle. The Colin Powell visit is an opportunity, still an opportunity to get a ceasefire, get the parties back round the table.

CLARK: It is not looking very positive at the moment.

CREAN: No, it’s not and so therefore there is not much point talking about the role of the peacekeeping force unless you can get the peace. So all the efforts at the moment have to be directed towards getting the ceasefire, getting the parties back round the table. If out of those circumstances there is the call, then of course we would have to respond appropriately. We would have to consider that call. But the first step has got to be to try and secure that ceasefire.

CLARK: We are out of time unfortunately. You have to head to Charters Towers for the Community Shadow Cabinet meeting and you have got some questions being placed to you later today by the students of the School of Distance Education.

CREAN: I am looking forward to that. It’s obviously a great initiative that recognises distance but the importance of delivering education to the kids in those circumstances. You tell me they are very tough interviewers Michael so I will be looking forward to it. I will be prepared.

CLARK: Very cluey kids. Simon Crean, thanks for joining us.

CREAN: Thanks very much Michael.