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Opposition Leader discusses children overboard inquiry; public liability insurance; and stem cell research.



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

TRANSCRIPT 0F INTERVIEW - RADIO 5DN JEREMY CORDEAUX, ADELAIDE 26TH MARCH 2002

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: ‘Kids Overboard’ inquiry, public liability insurance and stem cell research.

(Tape Break)

CREAN: …junior people in Defence, this is the Commander of the Adelaide, Commander Banks who says he sent thirteen e-mails saying that the story about ‘Kids Overboard’ was not correct.

CORDEAUX: But who did he send them to?

CREAN: He sent them to his superiors and the Departmental head, Alan Hawke, says he sent four communications to Peter Reith’s Office on October the 11th. And you’ve also got in the notes that Commander Banks submitted last night diary entries where he had discussed it with Admiral Shackleton, the Head of Navy, who says you’ve done everything that you needed to do, don’t worry it’s all political. Now if the Head of Navy is admitting it’s political Jeremy, and you’ve got a Commander who was on the vessel knowing that his reports have been misinterpreted, a person who expresses relief when he heard Admiral Shackleton say the story was not true, in November, then didn’t hear the correction and remember it’s the famous correction that Reith and Howard have been relying on to say that admiral Shackleton didn’t contradict their story. The whole of the Navy right up to the top knew the story was wrong, yet the Government was prepared to still get away with the lie.

CORDEAUX: Don’t you think though that at that level in the military, in the navy, it is very political?

CREAN: No, I don’t. I don’t believe that at all, nor should it be. I think that the military and the Defence Forces are there to serve the Government of the day and defend the nation but they’re not there to cover up for it. They’re not there to be in embroiled in political activities.

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CORDEAUX: They were just second guessing, and meaning no harm, having no vision that this was going to be seized upon as such a big, in the least in some people’s minds, big political issue?

CREAN: They knew it was a big political issue because Reith’s Office was hounding them to release the photographs. And we know now thirteen photographs were sent. I released the details of the thirteen photographs Jeremy because the Government wouldn’t. John Howard still hasn’t said which Ministerial Advisers got those photographs. Now I think that’s an important question to know. Now I also believe it’s terribly important if this inquiry is to get to the bottom of it that Ministerial Advisers have to attend. If the Government’s version is right, that the Ministerial Advisers didn’t pass the information on, they were acting as Ministers. They should be accountable as Ministers, they should be accountable to the Parliament. But I don’t believe it wasn’t passed on and I think that that’s why Reith has to attend and answer his involvement in this whole sordid affair.

CORDEAUX: So you want scalps, you want heads, what exactly do you want at this end of this?

CREAN: I want the truth. I want the truth Jeremy because if the Government was prepared to deceive on this issue for electoral purposes, just as I believe it was prepared to allow the deception on the Heffernan allegations to run. If it’s prepared to deceive on those issues what else is it going to do it on? And I think that we have to get to the bottom of the Government’s tactics, it’s underhand tactics, and I believe that they were tactics condoned from the top. Now we need to get to the bottom of it. We’ve got the smoking guns. We haven’t established the bullets but I think that’s why the inquiry is terribly important. It is the honesty, the integrity of the Government at stake here.

CORDEAUX: Yet if you go out there, into the court of public opinion, I don’t think you’d find too many people who would believe that the threats to throw the children overboard weren’t made and that in reality those people those people would have thrown those children overboard.

CREAN: No one is condoning the making threats, no one is condoning that sort of action, no one can condone it. But that is not the issue that we’re looking at here. I agree that we have to be tough on border protection Jeremy. I’ve said this on your program before. But you don’t have to resort to lies to get your message across. You don’t protect your borders by telling lies. You protect your borders by decisive action, not by telling lies.

CORDEAUX: I saw this thing on CNN the other day of the big old rusty ship prowling the Sicilian coast with thousands of, certainly many hundreds of asylum seekers, threatening to throw their children overboard if they weren’t allowed to land. It’s obviously a tactic that is used by these people regularly to extort an outcome that would not normally be there.

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CREAN: And we shouldn’t respond to those sorts of tactics in the way in which the tactics are designed to get us to respond to but my point is you don’t have to lie to make your case and that’s what I’m charging the Government with having done. Now whether the Prime Minister or Reith actually told the lies, what we now know is that the Government lied.

CORDEAUX: But surely the Government could have been misled by somebody who was either second guessing or somebody who had a misplaced sense of …

CREAN: All right so how does the misleading, how is the misleading allowed to happen when you’ve got the Commander of the vessel, that picked them up, saying it didn’t happen and communicating it to Reith’s Office where you’ve got Admiral Shackleton saying it didn’t happen. This is the Head of the Navy and this information is communicated to the Departmental Head because he’s now admitted that he was told and knew on the 11th of October, by the 11th of October and made four communications to Reith’s Office. You can’t convince me and I don’t believe that the listening public will accept the fact that the Head of Navy knew and the Head of Defence Department knew but the Government didn’t know.

CORDEAUX: But apparently couldn’t pick up a telephone and ring directly the Prime Minister.

CREAN: Exactly, well yeah, they certainly rang the Offices and they expected that to be passed on. Why wasn’t it? Was it passed on or if it wasn’t, why wasn’t it? There the issues that have to be established in the inquiry.

CORDEAUX: I know that they’ve got you on a tight schedule this morning, I wanted to cover a few other things. Yesterday, actually it was in the Weekend Australian, that the judge, Justice James Thomas, who’s retiring, Queensland Judge. He said the national insurance crisis has been caused by judges playing Santa Claus with compensation pay outs and it’s all, as he puts it, come home to roost. Now, I got this from the Variety Club last night, which is a great children’s charity…

CREAN: Yeah it is.

CORDEAUX: Now, their public liability insurance premium has gone from $15,000 in 2001 to $110,000 this year. Now this whole charity could be put out...

CREAN: Well put out of business and I mean…

CORDEAUX: Well what can we do about this?

CREAN: Well I’ll tell you what we can do about it. I believe it requires all levels of Government to face up to their responsibility in this. Federal, State and Local Government, because the Local Government in many cases operates the community facilities, the swimming pools and all those sorts things that are also being under threat. We have a responsibility to our communities and to community activity because it is the lifeblood of many parts of the country. What it requires is whole of

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governments addressing their responsibility but through a Heads of government commitment. The Prime Minister must get involved. If the Prime Minister doesn’t get involved and simply passes it back to a junior Minister, which is where the conference is headed at the moment, he will I can guarantee you, have come out of the meeting, the buck passing, the blame. The states will say it’s a Federal Government responsibility, the Feds will say it’s the states. You saw Peter Costello the other day in the Parliament saying it’s all the states responsibility. Well I accept that the states do have some responsibility in this but it’s not just them, the Federal Government has responsibility for the regulation of insurance and the Federal Government should be in there trying to set a national framework by which we address it.

CORDEAUX: Could you see a national kind of a workcover, a national insurance compensation program of some kind, there are strict guidelines as to who…

CREAN: It may be one of the solutions, but I think that what we’ve got to investigate is the question of capping the payouts particularly in terms of these community type activities. We’ve got to look at means by which you stop the ambulance chasing that many lawyers engage in. And you’ve got to look at the question as to whether insurance companies are actually using the justification of September 11 and all of the higher risks to actually raise the premium. That is a Federal Government responsibility Jeremy. So I think that Local Government has to be involved because they’ve got to know what the extent of risk is that they, their activities, their community activities are undertaken with State Governments and Federal Governments but will not happen unless the Prime Minister says I’m convening a meeting and I want every state Premier there. We’ve got to solve this as a nation and if I was Prime Minister that’s the meeting I’d be convening and chairing.

CORDEAUX: I can’t understand why if I want to go in the Variety Club Bash or I want to do something else why I can’t sign a disclaimer that simply says I take my own risk in doing this activity.

CREAN: All of those solutions have to be faced up to. This is an issue that’s been focussed on and I think unless we deal with it we’re going to see the death of communities.

CORDEAUX: Yes, absolutely.

CREAN: We’re going to see the death of communities because the very things that bind them simply won’t be able to be happening and I think that’s a tragedy.

CORDEAUX: Can I get a quick comment from you on stem cell research, it seems like we are poised here to do something potentially quite revolutionary and wonderful in terms of medicine and there are people arguing about its validity or the ethics of it?

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CREAN: Well I believe that we’ve got to allow the medical research to continue. We’ve got to give them access to the excess frozen embryos from the IVF program and that is the policy of the Labor Party, which I announced over a week ago. But I do recognise that there are moral issues here that require a conscience vote. I’m prepared to allow my people to have a conscience vote but I think that the Prime Minister needs to do the same. He’s the one that’s been dithering on this issue. I’ve given the lead. I’ve said we should do it but I’m going to allow a conscience vote and I challenge the Prime Minister come out and say that you’re for it as well but allow your people a conscience vote because my belief is that if the Parliament is allowed a free vote on this we will approve it.

CORDEAUX: Well The Age seems to think that the stem cell research by and large has got the go ahead.

CREAN: Well I hope that story is right but this has been, this has taken them now six weeks. Well what sort of a Government is it where the Prime Minister used to go around the country talking about the significance of medical research for this country and how he’s backing it and yet he’s allowed this area to go into limbo because he won’t make a decision. He can’t make a decision on it. I hope this is the decision that he’s adopted. I’ve given the lead in relation to it. I think it’s the correct direction. If he’s got problems within his own Party about it, allow them a conscience vote because I believe that there are sufficient numbers in the total Parliament for us to make the right policy decision but still recognise the people who are concerned about this from an ethical point of view, moral point of view but they can have a conscience vote on it. Do the right thing Prime Minister, back the policy and if you’ve got problems internally allow a conscience vote.

CORDEAUX: How are the relations between the states and, because it’s all Labor now right around the state and territories. I saw that amazing picture with the NSW Treasury being patted on the head by the Federal Treasurer…

CREAN: This was arrogance, this was arrogance and John Howard at the State Conference over the weekend, the one where he backed Kerry Chikarovski to the hilt, and now it looks like we’ve got ‘Chika - Rolled’ but you’ve got the Prime Minister and the Treasurer seeing the fact you’ve got State Premiers, all Labor, as a threat. I see it as an opportunity, now we’ve talked about public risk liability I think the issues of population policy, of salinity. All of those are huge national issues, which require a whole of governments approach for the Heads of Government commitment and that’s the relationship I want to build with all of the State Premiers. They’re the discussions that I’ve commenced already with them, because I believe that the national issues have to be approached in a partnership way. People are sick of the buck passing between the two levels of Government and I want to develop a partnership for development, a partnership for advancement, a partnership for strengthening our economy but delivering a just society. And I’m prepared to work to that program over the next couple of years. I see it as an opportunity, not a threat.

CORDEAUX: Sounds good to me. Good to see you.

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CREAN: Thanks very much Jeremy.

CORDEAUX: Enjoy your stay in Adelaide, where you off to now?

CREAN: I’m off to a meeting with the Economic Development body here in South Australia at the University and then we’ve got the Shadow Cabinet.

CORDEAUX: Have a great day.

ENDS.