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Opposition Leader discusses Australian flag; water summit; and Australia Day.

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Subjects: Australian Flag; Water Summit; Australia Day

MURDOCH: Now, more on this one story which seems to have ruffled your feathers this morning, what appears to be a decision by organisers of the Big Day Out music festival in Sydney to ban the Australian flag at its concert.

STEFANOVICK: Now, they’ve denied it’s banned but they admit they don’t want to see it there. Joining us now is the Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd. Mr Rudd, good morning to you.

RUDD: Good morning, Karl. How are you?

STEFANOVIC: Good thank you. What do you make of this plan?

RUDD: I think it’s just gone too far. When you have any national event organiser in this country describing the Australian national flag as “a gang colour” then I don’t know what sort of country we live in any more. I support the Prime Minister on this. Mr Howard has said that this should simply be a decision which is overturned. I agree with him completely. I just think this is excessive and wrong and it’s doubly wrong in the lead up to Australia Day.

MURDOCH: Mr Rudd, the organisers say they do have some problems with people at the concert in particular because the flag incites hatred. What are your thoughts on that?

RUDD: Yes, but any event that you go to, a sporting event around the country, sometimes there are problems with the display of national flags. We saw recently, problems at the tennis in Victoria. But when it comes to the Australian national flag, we’re all Australians and therefore we should carry our flag with pride. I’m proud of the flag. Mr Howard’s proud of the flag. All Australians are. I just think this is the wrong measure to try and deal with unruly behaviour in a crowd.

STEFANOVIC: We’ve got an email here, Mr Rudd, in from Craig, who says he’s been to 11 straight Big Day Outs and there is certainly a problem, he says,

“racist troublemakers do use the flag as a symbol of their racist feelings and it’s destroying what the flag means.” Do you think that we do have some problems there in relation to respect for the flag?

RUDD: Well, I don’t believe Australia is a racist country at all. I mean, I was born in this country, I travel widely across it. We’re just not like that. When it comes to individual crowd control though, Karl, I think the responsibility lies with event organisers. If someone is mucking up and they’re causing trouble, then go and push them out of the event. That’s what you’ve got security for at these sorts of events. It doesn’t mean that you, therefore, deny the right of every decent Australian to go in there who want to display their flag with some patriotism and feeling. That’s fine and we should encourage it.

MURDOCH: We do agree with you on that, but do you feel that perhaps there should be some legislation brought in to protect the flag?

RUDD: Sarah, I didn’t quite catch that one. You say put legislation to ...

MURDOCH: To be brought in to protect our flag.

RUDD: Well, when it comes to our flag, I’m of the view that it should be flown with pride right across the country. If people desecrate the flag it makes me feel ashamed that people would do that to our important national symbol. All of us are products of a previous generation which fought under the flag and many of them died under the flag. I think we need to protect our flag and to make sure it’s honoured.

When we look at the decision today taken at this event, the Big Day Out, which is a terrific event for young people across the country, let’s not be wowsers about this, it’s a great event, but I think the event organisers have just got it plain wrong when they try and hide our flag as if it’s some symbol of shame. It’s not. We should fly it with pride.

STEFANOVIC: Do you think it should be protected in law?

RUDD: Protected in law? If that’s necessary the events of Big Day Out, I don’t think suggests there’s a problem on that score, then more broadly if there are protections needed for our flag to make sure it’s honoured properly, I’m prepared to consider that. If Mr Howard’s got a proposal to put forward, I would approach it in an entirely constructive spirit. I think all Australians, as we

approach Australia Day, want to honour our country’s achievements, perhaps even push to one side.

STEFANOVIC: All right, Mr Rudd, I’ve been in Victoria the last couple of days, over the weekend, they’ve had some rain there, and the rain is also

stretching across areas that haven’t seen it in 10 years. You’re out and about trying to encourage the States to work a little closer together. Do you think they’re not doing that at the moment with the Federal Government?

RUDD: Look Karl, I think what we need is to stop the blame game when it comes to water policy. One of the proposals I put forward yesterday was that we have in Canberra, convened by Mr Howard, a National Water Summit which the Opposition would attend, the State Premiers would attend, their Opposition counterparts, so that all the positive proposals for dealing with the national water emergency could be dealt with.

You go around Australia and every major city that I go into, water is at the top of people’s concerns. In rural and regional Australia, the same thing. I think what people want is for all the politics to be put to one side. I’m disappointed that Mr Howard’s Government, so far, hasn’t seen fit to support the idea of my bipartisan National Summit. Even if we need to, let’s create a national war cabinet on water. Let’s have a political truce at least for three months. Let’s get the

solutions and stop the blame game.

STEFANOVIC: In Cabinet they would contend that they’re doing that already though.

RUDD: That they’re doing it already? Well, last year they had a Summit dealing with the Murray Darling itself. It was convened at short notice on Melbourne Cup day. I don’t know if everyone was focussing much on Melbourne Cup day, even those at the meeting.

One of the problems which emerged from that one, Karl, was this: right now, Mr Howard has a war chest of about $2 billion, $1.72 billion, it’s called the National Water Fund. All the States and Territories for the last couple of years have been putting proposals into that fund to get money to fund practical water projects right across the country. In Victoria alone, where you’ve just been, they’ve submitted literally, probably 20 to 30 such proposals, but as of now, only three have been approved.

Mr Howard, at that Summit, said he would put a bomb under the approval process, well it hasn’t gone off yet. And one of the practical things I’m putting forward for a National Water Summit is that we get these practical water projects up and running as quickly as possible, because people want solutions, they’re tired of the blame game between Canberra and the States.

MURDOCH: Thank you very much, Mr Rudd. Well, it’s Australia Day on Friday, how will you be celebrating?

RUDD: I will be celebrating here in my own community in Brisbane and with the great Australian salute that I’m giving it at the moment as well.

STEFANOVIC: We have had a viewer write in and ask - I don’t want to do this, but it’s been insisted on me that I ask you this - are you a board shorts man or a budgie smuggler man?

RUDD: This is a family program. I’m a long term supporter of board shorts. I’ll leave others with Speedos. Speedos can be worn by others. I don’t think that’s my league. Australia Day will be here in my community in Brisbane and we have an event in our community where we honour volunteers. I’ve done it every Australia Day, the south side of Brisbane here, people who work in Meals on Wheels, people who don’t make it to the ‘A list’ of Australia Day and get their Orders of Australia, but people who deserve recognition of being the unsung and silent volunteers who keep this great country of ours ticking over.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah, well said, Mr Rudd. Thank you very much for your time today. I appreciate it.

RUDD: Thanks for having me on the program.