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Transcript of doorstop interview: Balmain: 22 July 2013: Labor Party reforms; asylum seekers

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Subjects: Labor Party reforms; Asylum seekers

PM: The Australian parliamentary Labor Party has today met here at the Balmain Town Hall.

Today, the Australian parliamentary Labor Party has made more history in Balmain.

Today, the Australian parliamentary Labor Party has decided to democratise the party for the future.

The party has decided also to make sure that the PM who the people elect in the future will be the Prime Minister the people get in the future.

The Australian Labor Party has been meeting in this hall for the last 120 years, in fact the Australian Labor Party has been meeting in halls like this around Australia for the last 120 years.

Today, the ALP has passed one of its most significant reforms to the party in recent history.

This reform brings us into line with the sorts of models which have been embraced in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.

These are reforms which will be welcomed by our 44,000 rank and file members across the nation.

Each of our members now gets to have a say, a real say in the future leadership of our party.

Decisions can no longer simply be made by a factional few.

But these reforms also extend beyond party lines, they go to the Australian public itself.

The Australian public now have certainty. Australians demand to know that the Prime Minister they elect is the Prime Minister they get and that is underlined by these reforms.

The changes that we have passed will see the federal parliamentary Labor Party leader elected jointly by the party membership and the members of the FPLP on the following proportional basis: votes by the party membership is weighted at 50 per cent and votes by the federal parliamentary Labor Party weighted also at 50 per cent.

An election for leader shall automatically occur following an election where the ALP does not form government.

An election for leader can be called by the Caucus Secretary after any of the following events: upon the resignation of the leader, at the request of the leader, or at least 75 per cent of the members of the federal parliamentary Labor Party sign a petition requesting that an election for a new leader be held on the grounds that the current leader has brought the party into disrepute.

These changes were also if we were to continue to be the party of ideas, reform and change, as well as the party of fearless debate.

We have also, in our meeting today, accepted three sets of amendments moved by myself and seconded by Anthony Albanese, the Deputy Prime Minister.

And that is that the rule, in terms of the Leader of the Opposition, if the party doesn't form government, under those circumstances, the leader would be open to a future ballot if there was a petition of 60 per cent of the members of the federal parliamentary party rather than 75 per cent as is the case for the party when we are in government and the leader is Prime Minister.

The second procedural motion that was put forward by myself and the deputy leader relates to the closing of the day of nominations for the election of a leader and the third is that in the interim period between an election and such an election being held for the party leadership, the deputy leader or the highest ranked House of Representatives member shall act as leader for the interim.

I welcome the fact that the parliamentary Labor Party has chosen to support these procedural amendments moved by myself and the Deputy Prime Minister.

Friends, for the future, this is an important set of reforms for our party.

Across Australia, the great thing about the Australian Labor movement is that we are a party of the grass roots.

We are at our best when we are listening to people right across the country.

And we are at our best when we know that the rank and file of our membership, all 44,000 of them, know that they have an active say in the future direction of our party.

This therefore is a good story to sell for us across the country.

I believe it is the right message for the party, it is the right message also to the country at large, who have raised concerns about these matters in recent times.

I repeat, under this reform, we have implemented the single greatest reform in the parliamentary Labor Party, the Labor Party more generally in recent times.

Not only democratising the party but also ensuring that the Prime Minister the Australian people vote for is the Prime Minister that the Australian people then get.

Of course, this is a matter for us primarily but also of relevance to the country at large.

As well as this, in recent times, we have embraced another series of important policy directions.

Last Friday, we made clear through the announcement with Prime Minister Peter O'Neill from Papua New Guinea, our new approach to the question of asylum seekers.

The rules have changed and that is now legitimately the subject of attention around the world, which is precisely as we want it to be.

A clear cut message to people smugglers around the world.

This month, we have also launched our landmark national disability reforms, DisabilityCare Australia.

On track to benefit tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands and then millions of Australians over time, though ultimately peaking at this stage, based on our projections, at 460,000.

We have also extended our Better Schools negotiations under the Better Schools Plan.

We have received, of course, the support of the Government of Tasmania, the Independent Schools Association and we are also into the conclusion of our negotiations with other sectors of the Australian education community as well.

We have also acted to scrap the carbon tax, bringing forward the introduction of the emissions trading scheme, which will ease cost of living pressures for Australian families.

Friends, what I would say overall to all Australians who have been engaged with what we have been doing in the last three weeks, is we have been getting our own house in order.

With this major reform to the parliamentary party, I believe we have one of the most modern party structures in Australia, going into the future. That is as it should be.

We have also been putting our best foot forward on key areas of policy, on the future challenges to our economy and our response to it through a national competitiveness agenda, through to what we have done most recently also in relation to asylum seekers and of course the price on carbon.

More work is to be done.

We will continue to do our best for the Australian people but I believe this is a positive day for democracy in Australia, an historic day for the Australian Labor Party and a great day for Australian Labor Party members across our nation.

JOURNALIST: With the Caucus rule on the leadership, are you worried at all that the trade unions may try and change that post-election at national conference or are you confident that fifty-fifty model will now stick?

PM: The Caucus is the master of its own destiny.

The Caucus has spoken and after a significant protracted, vigorous debate involving no uniformity of views, but reaching a resolution that this was the best way forward, the Caucus has spoken.

Therefore, this will be the model we take into the future.

I know there will be some resistance from a few folk around the show.

That is normal given the composition of our great and glorious movement.

But let me tell you, this has been a vigorous debate today.

It has been a lot of consultation over the last two weeks and frankly this is reform that has been coming for a long, long time.

The Australian Labor Party needs to throw open the doors and the windows to let a bit of fresh air in for the future. In fact, a lot of fresh air.

Open to new ideas, new people to make sure we're out there representing the Australia of tomorrow, not the Australia of 40 years ago.

JOURNALIST: In recent weeks there has been allegations of branch stacking, for example in the seat of Kingsford Smith. With these reforms, how long are they going to take to filter through if there is allegations of branch stacking in recent days?

PM: Party reform is a long process.

This single reform in terms of the election of the parliamentary leader is, I think, the biggest reform in recent party history, by a long shot.

In terms of probity across NSW, you will understand that not long ago, I requested the national executive to undertake intervention in the state of NSW.

That process is underway.

Any irregularities in any voting process, of course, would go through the national executive.

Party reform overall is going to take a while yet. There are future things to do as well.

I want to see the party democratised more and more and more.

That is the pathway to the future and no one in our show should have anything to fear from the voice of the people.

JOURNALIST: Were asylum seeker issues discussed, Mr Rudd, and what was the response from your colleagues on that - on your plan?

PM: Obviously I provided a report to the Caucus on what I have been doing as leader with my Cabinet colleagues over recent weeks.

And, of course, I reported to them on the reasons we had taken the decision we announced last Friday with the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.

Obviously, there are Caucus members who are concerned about this and they expressed their concerns directly.

My response and that of Tony Burke - the Minister - and other colleagues, was that our challenge here is to deal a fatal blow to the people smuggling industry long term.

And you can't do that unless you go to the core reason this industry exists, which is them offering people around Australia - around the world I should say - the prospect of coming here to live full-time.

Rather than us taking - rather than us continuing to take refugees from other centres around the world which is what we’ve done in recent times.

So this - from our perspective and the Government's perspective and my response to questions from the Caucus - is the right response and it is the right ethical response to the drownings we see at sea, the proliferation of this industry, and the fact that people languishing in camps for 10 and 20 years aren't getting a fair go, in terms of coming here as a bona fide refugee.

JOURNALIST: You once argued there was a biblical requirement for us to look after the stranger in our midst, has that argument gone, what has happened to that argument?

PM: Well, without going to the absolute accuracy of your quote, let me say this: we have an ethical responsibility to look after people wherever we can.

And that means that when people come to our shores, we look after them humanely and we look after them humanely consistent with what we're required to do, as well, through international law and under the refugee's convention.

And through this approach, the regional resettlement arrangement, we are doing precisely that.

We have been mindful of first of all, the importance of people being treated in a humane fashion.

We have been mindful of the requirement that people are assessed according to proper standards.

We are mindful, also, that under the current provisions of the convention, no-one is actually ultimately required to provide a final state of residence for a person determined to be a refugee.

There is a requirement for best efforts under the current convention but no requirement to actually say here is where you can live once your status is determined. We have done that.

And on top of that, it is the requirement, we feel, both under international law, and in our response to this practical challenge, to use the humanitarian quota of 20,000 places to benefit those who are languishing, in some cases rotting in camps, around the world.

These are our ethical requirements as well and I will not be Prime Minister of Australia and see the entire orderly immigration system itself threatened by not sending a message such as this to the people smuggling industry around the world.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how quickly can you scale up Manus Island to the 3,000 that you mentioned, and also if your efforts are frustrated in legislation after the election, would you be prepared to call a double dissolution on it?

PM: I won't go into hypotheticals at all.

What we have done is put forward a clear cut policy.

We have negotiated and agreed it with the Government of Papua New Guinea.

We have had Cabinet National Security Committee and its advisors and the full Cabinet working on this for some weeks.

We believe we have a thorough approach which is eminently defensible in the international community and with the prospect of being effective.

Now, on the question of the implementation of this, which goes to your first part of your question, as I said, and Minister Burke said, in our press conferences last Friday: this is going to take quite a while to roll out.

It is a big operational undertaking and I have said from the outset, there will be bumps in the road, there’ll be challenges on the way, we understand that.

People will engage in the politics of this big time, as well as the prospect of legal challenges here and Papua New Guinea.

This is what happens when you seek to act decisively on something as fundamental as this.

But we make no apology for the decision we have taken.

We have reflected on it long and hard, and we believe it is the right response given the incoming problem that we now face.

JOURNALIST: The British Labour Party is having a discussion at the moment about restricting union members who are members of the Labour Party only to those who have a ticket in the British Labour Party, so you don't have the automatic union affiliation. Is this something you think the Australian Labor Party should look at?

PM: Well I was talking to Ed Miliband, the British Labour Party leader, about this in the last couple of weeks. Ed’s a good friend of mine - I’ve known him for the last decade or so.

So I won't comment on the British internal debate, a matter for the Poms, and they seem to be doing well in a few areas of late recently as well unfortunately.

But, could I say this: what we are seeking to do here with this reform is say to all of our friends and supporters in the trade union movement, we want you active in the branches of the Australian Labor Party. That is what we're saying.

So when you’ve got a have a whole lot of people out there who are members of trade unions, we want you to be active in your local branch - the Balmain branch, the Bulimba branch in Brisbane where I come from.

So that you're part and parcel of local community life.

That is where we want to see the activism of our trade union friends and that is what this reform is designed to encourage.

JOURNALIST: Does the no advantage principle apply to asylum seekers sent to Papua New Guinea: meaning that do they still languish for years unspecified to have their claims processed or will claims be processed immediately?

PM: On that, I direct that question to the Immigration Minister. I don't wish to say anything inaccurate.

As you know, we indicated that this new arrangement would apply from the date of announcement last Friday. But I would suggest you put that question to him. I do not want to say anything which is misleading.

JOURNALIST: You say you won't apologise for the toughness of this policy, but will you apologise for dismantling the Pacific solutions?

PM: In many times in the recent debate on the question of asylum seekers policy, what I’ve said I this - and I think you’re aware of it.

Number one: we took our policies to the 2007 election with that explicitly made clear to the Australian people and we were voted in on that basis. And we did so under the circumstances at the time.

What I have said most recently in interviews on this subject is that circumstances then internationally changed, particularly in the period of 2009-10.

I have also said we should have adjusted our policy earlier.

What I am saying now is given the information about the numbers of people coming; secondly it overwhelming our humanitarian quota of 20,000 a year, who normally we ask people around the world through the UNHCR to fill.

This required an adjustment in policy.

That is what I have said and that is what underpins the new policy approach we have adopted for the future.

Remember, Australia remains the third most-generous country in the world in the resettlement of refugees.

After the United States and Canada, we take the largest number. Under this Government we have increased it from 12,000 to 20,000 a year.

I have foreshadowed with the successful implementation of this regional resettlement arrangement, that we also leave open the possibility of increasing that number from 20,000 to 27,000.

I have also said very clearly here are the range of other protections we are building in under the obligations of the UN Convention. But I am also saying to people smugglers and their business model around the world that, frankly, your model is busted.

And you better get used to that fact because this Government is going to take a hard line on this.

These folk are merchants in death and their business model needs to be dismantled. Part of this policy response is to do just that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, have you made a final decision on the election date yet and if you have, do you care to share it with us?

PM: Let me just say, you know something, in this period of government, we have been focused on the outstanding policy challenges that we face.

And there are still a number to address.

We have been dealing with this problem of asylum seekers policy.

We have been dealing with the challenges of cost of living pressures and therefore the decision we have taken to scrap the carbon tax.

We have also been dealing with the matters that gathered here today to attend to in Balmain which is fundamental party reform.

I have also been seized as, to the Government, of the new economic challenges which lie ahead of us given the end of the China resources boom and the need for us to diversify the economy, create new industries, so we don't have all of our eggs in one basket.

These are big challenges for government. We still have other challenges to deal with.

People have mentioned here today, this broader debate as I understand that you would on asylum seekers.

I have also seen statements from Mr Abbott on this. I want to make something plain here in my response to what he has said today.

It is quite plain to us that Mr Abbott is out there deliberately undermining the Government's clear message to people smugglers.

This is not in the national interest. It might be in Mr Abbott's personal political interest but frankly, if you do that sort of stuff, you raise the question about your ultimate fitness to hold the high office of Prime Minister.