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Opposition Leader discusses Interfet parade; Country Labor; and GST advertising.

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Kim Beazley - Interview with Michael Clarke Subjects: Interfet Parade, Country Labor, GST Advertising

Transcript - ABC Radio, Townsville - I7 May 2000

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CLARKE: Good morning, and thanks for your time.

BEAZLEY: Very good to be with you, Michael. It was a terrific night last night. And I thought that the great North Queensland weather was going to let us down, but it didn't. That poem says, 'the night rack came down all ragged and brown, but it did not discharge'. And, so, it was a very good evening for the troops and their families.

CLARKE: It seems that in the last couple of years one of the few issues that the Government and the Opposition have been able to agree on was the East Timor operation and the role that our troops played in Interfet. As a former Defence Minister, what feelings did you have when you saw the parade last night?

BEAZLEY: Well, immense pride in the quality and character of Australia's warriors, there's no doubt about that. Confidence in their intelligence and their diligence and their devotion to duty, which I think we've seen amply displayed. You always know it's there if you're Defence Minister, because you see it almost on a daily basis when you are Defence Minister. But I was Defence Minister, now, a long time ago. And it was good to see again that sort of dedication. And the easy knockabout attitude they have when they stand down, so to speak, and have a few drinks.

CLARKE: How long is the Opposition, therefore, then, prepared to support the ongoing Australian work in East Timor?

BEAZLEY: Well, there's much more work to be done. I think the work that needs to be done now is by the politicians. We have an absolute requirement upon us to see that this succeeds. It's difficult. We have difficult relationships now in the region around us. But East Timor needs us to be clever, well focussed and successful in our diplomacy. And I think you will see us part a little company from our bipartisan support - and that bipartisan support remains for the troops and their commitment - but we have, in recent times, been a bit disturbed by missed opportunities by the Australian Government.

CLARKE: Moving on. There's a lot of talk about the moment about Country Labor.

BEAZLEY: That's right.

CLARKE: What is Country Labor all about?

BEAZLEY: Well, it's an invention, if you like, or a development of the NSW Branch of the Labor Party. They have found it useful to focus themselves on the needs of regional NSW by creating within the Party, for want of a better term, what could be called a ginger group, a pressure group, to keep rural

issues to the fore in Labor Party thinking. You know, in the daily life of politics, it's as easy to forget things as it is to remember them. And distance often makes you more forgetful. So, if you've got a group in the Party that is devoted to regional Australia, it makes a difference. And it's been very useful.

CLARKE: Is it, though, however, just a con to grab rural votes?

BEAZLEY: No, it's not a con. Not at all. It is a genuine attempt in that State to restructure in a way that ensures that we maintain our representivity. You see, the Labor Party began in the bush. It began in Barcaldine. The greatest speech, the greatest definition of Labor Party attitudes was, of course, Ben Chifley's Light on the Hill speech. And that was delivered at Bathurst. The rural roots of the Labor Party are very strong. And it suited the interests of the National Party, in particular, the Liberal Party also, to deny that. And, so, it's important that we positively reinforce those roots from time to time. We've registered the name federally, now, but it's up to the individual State branches to choose to use it if they wish.

CLARKE: OK. You've been travelling around regional Queensland this week. You're in the North at the moment. Do you think that there is a need for a Country Labor branch in Queensland?

BEAZLEY: I'm not sure that the Queensland Branch would choose - though the Queensland Branch has the opportunity - I'm not sure that they would actually choose it. Queensland is a different State. Queensland is highly decentralised. You cannot forget Queensland's regions in the day to day life of politics. A city like Townsville, I20,000, Mt Isa, I think that's about 40,000 or something like that, and you go through Gladstone, Bundaberg, these are very big towns. And, though Queensland is a much bigger State in population terms than Western Australia, Perth and Brisbane are the same size. That tells you something. So, the Labor Party in Queensland has always carried with it that regional badge, and I don't think it's ever been as necessary in the Labor Party in Queensland to have within its ranks, if you like, a body which keeps people's minds focussed on the needs of regional Australia. So, I'm not sure that the Queensland Branch, though it's up to them, they could, I'm not sure the Queensland Branch would choose to go down that road.

CLARKE: On a Federal level, though, do you believe that the Party needs to do a lot more to win back support in areas like North Queensland?

BEAZLEY: We should always be focussed on what's happening in regional Australia. We were for periods of time when we were in office. You'd have to say that, over the last few years, we have had a good focus on the affairs of regional Australia. It's been not the only influence. But, for example, it's been an important influence on our concern that we should not privatise Telstra though...

CLARKE: ...perhaps, that continuing feeling that we see at election time that people believe that the major parties, including Labor, have let them down the in the past?

BEAZLEY: Look, everywhere I go in this country now, people say to me this, and I can encapsulate it in one sentence: 'if the economy is so good, why aren't my family and myself doing better?' And that's a very, very common question, not just in regional Australia, but in suburban Australia as well. And you won't find the attitudes necessarily as different as you think when you go around this country. And it's basically because the balance has been tilted against the ordinary Australian family by Government policy. If you're imposing a GST, which is easier on business and developed at the big end of town, that shifts the tax burden to Australian families, what do you expect them to say? How do you expect them to feel about politicians? If you are privatising Telstra which, unlike Qantas or any of the other outfits that

have been privatised, is used by every single Australian and every Australian knows that their ability to participate equally in Australian society depends upon affordable access to communications in the modern world, how do you expect them to feel when you wreck their schools and their universities and make it more difficult to get a decent quality performance out of them? What do you expect people to say when you turn over public hospitals and leave them waiting lists as long as your arm? You expect people to say those things. That's why we're focussed on all those issues because we think it is our duty. And if you're not focussed on them, you're not relevant. Now, that's not to say people will necessarily believe you. Australians have a well developed BS detector in their system. And they are very likely to look sceptically at politicians. That's why you have to be constantly listening and learning about what they have to say.

CLARKE: Do you think that BS detector is a little enhanced in rural and regional Australia?

BEAZLEY: Well, because they have felt the burdens, collectively, even more than has been experienced in suburban Australia, even though there is considerable similarity, as I said. My first job was on a farm. One of the things I learned when I was on the farm, was that there are things that you had to do in the morning at 6.00am, and things you had to do at night at 10.00pm, and, you were basically working constantly in a solitary way between those hours. And when you did, you listened to the ABC. And there was probably more information going into the heads of a person in regional Australia as a result of that sort of process than is the case in suburban Australia. So, there tends to be a more focussed political attitude as a result of the character of work in regional Australia than there is elsewhere. So, these are factors that probably amplify the point that you're trying to make.

CLARKE: OK. Just finally, on the issue of the GST, what is wrong with the Government putting out advertisements that are basically talking about the GST? What's the Labor Party's problem there?

BEAZLEY: Well, I think it's everybody's problem. You know, talkback radio has been absolutely reddening the ears of Government Ministers all over the place. You talk about the detector that I referred to a bit earlier on, well, it's working overtime when it comes to those ads. Look, I guess what I'd say would be this about them: every time you see one of them, understand that it's three primary school teachers down the drain. What I would urge Australians to do, because I know they object deeply to have $360 million of their money spent on advertising the Government and not providing them with information, is to ring up your local Liberal Party members, or fax them, or get onto their e-mail and tell them what you think about $360 million of your money being spent on non-information. If you were a small business person watching those ads, you tell me you're trying to get from the Tax Office, now, vital information on how you implement the GST since you've been made an honorary tax collector. Do you think that any of those ads would assist you with that information? Of course, they wouldn't. We have gone beyond the political campaign. Everybody knows this darn tax is coming in four or five weeks time, they know that. What they don't know is what they're supposed to do about it. Now, there might be some justification for spending a certain amount of money on getting a Tax officer to go and sit down with somebody and actually give them a few answers. But there is no justification for election-style propaganda at public expense.

CLARKE: Mr Beazley, thanks for your time this morning.

BEAZLEY: Good to be with you.