Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of press conference: Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices, Sydney: 23 August 2006: Telstra; Centrelink; water; Sydney University AWAs; flag burning punishment; James Hardie; Queensland election campaign.

Download PDFDownload PDF




Subjects: Telstra; Centrelink; Water; Sydney University AWAs; Flag Burning Punishment; James Hardie; Queensland election campaign

BEAZLEY: The Government has got to stop dithering on Telstra. The Government has got to now firmly take it of its ‘for sale’ list and start Telstra working on nation building issues that the country needs, particularly in regard to high-speed broadband. This dithering must now stop. The shareholders of Telstra need certainty from the Government and that certainty will come when the Government says, “The sale of our further 51 per cent, it’s off. We are not going to do that. What we’re going to do is concentrate on working with Telstra and the other providers to give us the communications system we now need as a nation.”

In these nation building areas, the Howard Government is just increasingly unreliable and increasingly poorly focussed. It doesn’t matter whether it’s national leadership on the broad areas of infrastructure or national leadership on

the broadband. They just don’t get it.

Now, there’s another couple of issues around. One has been the issue of privacy related to Centrelink. This is three strikes of administrative inefficiency against this Government. You’ve got the strike of incompetence in Immigration; the strike of incompetence in administration of Defence; and now we have the strike of incompetence and breach of privacy in Centrelink.

The Government responds to these as though it’s been a government in office for 10 weeks. It’s been a government in office for 10 years. These sorts of errors, these sorts of problems, these sorts of offences simply should not be occurring.

There’s a couple of other issues around. There’s picket lines at Sydney University at the moment in relation to AWAs; AWAs being forced on the academics by the Howard Government.

The Government, in its approach to universities, should be focused on excellence. It should be focused on supporting the development of good Aussie

ideas to be transitioned into Australian industry and be transitioned into Australian services. They should be concentrating on competence in research and development. Instead, the Government message is to the universities, “You experiment for our industrial relations legislation.” It’s not right. It’s not the right pressure to put on universities. We want excellent performance from universities, not feeding John Howard’s extreme industrial relations agenda.

Now, there’s one or two other issues around. Anthony Albanese’s making a speech, as I said, on water issues, in which he’s suggesting we should set a 30 per cent target for recycled waste water.

We face massive problems in the long term from the impact on our society on our resources of global warming. We have got to get smarter in the way we do many things. We’ve got to get smarter with water. We need to build peoples’

confidence in recycled water. The effect of global warming over the years is going to be an increase of evaporation and in many areas in which we inhabit, a decrease in precipitation.

What we now need is governments setting national targets, undertaking nation building projects associated with dealing with our problems with water. And that will only come when a federal government is prepared to provide national leadership. So, we should set a national target of 30 per cent of recycled waste water and we should be moving towards ensuring public confidence in that as we build up to achieving that outcome.

That’s all I’ve got to say, so fire away.

JOURNALIST: Just going back to Centrelink. You were saying that the Government is at fault here. But hasn’t Centrelink identified a problem and taken steps and now they’ve taken extraordinary steps of making all these sackings

and then asking (inaudible)?

BEAZLEY: It’s always good when you find out that there is a problem. It’s very bad that the problem has developed. This is so much of a piece with this Government. You find bits and pieces of problems emerging in the Immigration system. Then you find other problems emerging in the Department of Defence. Then you find further problems now emerging in Centrelink. Yes, it’s good that Centrelink detects it but it’s bad that it actually developed. We have had a government which has been great on spin for the 10 years it’s been in office, hopeless on delivery. And part of delivery is competent administration.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, interesting punishment handed down for burning a flag, that you might have heard of. The kid has to give an apology on it. What’s your thoughts on that?

BEAZLEY: Well, I hope that he has a good experience. I think it’s the Brighton RSL that he’s going to. I hope the old diggers sit him down and have a good conversation with him on the subject of respect. I think it’s a good punishment that has been devised, a punishment along the line of respecting

things in our community. Respect our community. Part of respecting our community is respecting the flag. I can’t think of a better group of teachers than the gruff old blokes that the youngster will confront down at the Brighton RSL. I know the diggers. They’re not going to be hard on him. When the kid walks in their hearts will melt and they’ll sit down and they’ll do absolutely the right thing in getting this youngster to appreciate what it is that this country does for him. I congratulate the Magistrate.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there should be more calls to make the burning of flags to be illegal, what do you think of that?

BEAZLEY: Well you’ve got democratic issues there. I think this is the better way of handling these sorts of things. You know, if you go and burn the flag you’re creating a public disorder so you’re going to confront other sets of laws that are associated with it. And if you get Magistrates as sensible as this particular Magistrate is, you’re probably always get quite a good outcome in advancing our sense of nationality and our sense of community. So, I think this is the right response for people who do flag burning and I commend the Magistrate. You don’t often go around commending Magistrates, usually you’re giving them a kick up the backside but on this particular occasion, the Magistrate who is responsible for this deserves a tick.

JOURNALIST: Just back to water, do you there will come a time when Australians in big cities are going to have to accept the fact they’re going to have to drink recycled effluent?

BEAZLEY: Waste water is more than just about effluent - this is one of the problems at the moment. If the discussion is all round about the issue of effluent - effluent is part of it, but there is also storm water, there are a range of ways in which waste water is generated. Now, in Europe, they handle this very, very well. It does actually require a considerable amount of effort to build confidence in the product of recycled waste water. It’s not something you can do very quickly, in Europe they leave it in ponds I think for years to ensure that all the impurities are removed from it. But what we need is confidence building in that - there are no choices here really.

We actually do have to achieve the sorts of targets that we’re talking about here - 30 per cent recycled water. So, what we need to do is take a step back from if you like, the alarmist discussion of it, and start the process of confidence building in the public. At the same time you hear people worried about effluent, you also hear people phoning into radio stations, they talk to me, when you do get a bit of rain they all complain about the amount of rain they see pouring down

stormwater drains and headed out into the river system or the ocean or whatever. Well that’s also waste water and that’s the sort of thing that you’re talking about trapping and making certain that when you go for recycled water you’ve got a decent outcome. So, the people need to have confidence built in the recycling process.

JOURNALIST: Have you or other Members of the Federal Opposition held discussions with James Hardie (inaudible) over tax cuts for compensation?

BEAZLEY: Well, we have a very firm position. We believe that tax deductibility across the board needs to apply. They are not applying tax deductibility in relation to the benefits that people receive. Now, we are moving

Acts in Parliament to achieve that outcome. It beggars belief that the Federal Government is looking for a windfall from those who are the James Hardie “beneficiaries”, because all they’re getting is a decent response to their dreadful situation. The Federal Government should be on their side. The Federal Government shouldn’t be in the business of trying to get money off them - they shouldn’t be looking at it as a windfall opportunity. So, we think tax deductibility, across the board, insure that every component of that funding arrangement gets the tax treatment that it needs and we’ll keep pressing it.

JOURNALIST: Have you specifically held talks?

BEAZLEY: Specifically I personally have not had discussions with James Hardie but I’m certain that those in our frontbench who sit down and talk these issues through with these people who have suffered in relation to it have got a pretty clear-cut impression of what’s been going on. Mostly, my discussions on it have been with the ACTU and with the people who are the beneficiaries.

JOURNALIST: Will you be going to Queensland to help Mr Beattie campaign?

BEAZLEY: I’m going to Queensland tomorrow and I’ll be in Cairns. I’ll be dealing with industrial relations and education issues while I’m up there. Now, Peter Beattie strikes me as the sort of bloke who’s conducting a very fine campaign on his own but there are a few issues where we cross over. There’s no question that one of the factors, it’s a lower level factor, but it’s not unimportant, one of the factors in the Queensland campaign is that the State Governments are able to do a little bit to protect workforces against the worse depredations of John Howard’s industrial relations legislation and I will not miss an opportunity to make that point.

JOURNALIST: Just back to Telstra for a moment. How long do you think the Government can put off making a decision on what it’s going to do with its remaining share?

BEAZLEY: The Government should have made a decision on this a long time ago and decided not to sell the rest of it. What we’ve got now is just unconscionable dithering and the people who are directly, if benefited by that of course, are the T2 shareholders, who look at this overhang on the market that will keep the price of Telstra suppressed for years and years. The best chance that the T2 shareholders have, and the best chance that we have for what’s an even more important agenda, and that is nation building, is if the Government ends its dithering by saying it won’t do it.

JOURNALIST: Back to Centrelink. Are the revelations about Centrelink staff (inaudible) part of a wider problem?

BEAZLEY: It’s certainly a sign of across the board malaise - I’ve identified three areas of that malaise in public administration. And that is a product, I believe, at least in part of a Government which is focused on the politics but not on the delivery. And there is no set of workers more pressured in this country than Centrelink workers. You go and have a chat to Centrelink

workers - they’re overrun. They’re overrun with problems, I’m not saying those problems are related to this issue, but they are, themselves, generally overrun with the extraordinary complexities with dealing with Government legislation.

JOURNALIST: What changes do you feel need to be made?

BEAZLEY: One of the good thinks about the Federal Labor Party and it’s an important element of our fitness to govern: we have always been devoted to delivering. We have always been devoted to ensuring that when you actually decide a policy you’re capable of implementing the policy. We’ve always understood that it’s one thing to get the basic outlines right but it’s often quite a different thing to get the delivery right and if you fail on the delivery you often wreck your objectives.

So, I can recollect when I was a Minister, you were never able to bring a submission to Cabinet unless you had a detailed analysis of what its impact would be on the public sector in terms of the number of employees you needed to deliver a particular outcome. And what impact it would have on the public sector in terms of the way in which the thing would be delivered. Once you had your debate on the issue, you then went into just as lengthy a debate on the delivery. From what I hear of the Howard Government, most of their stuff is done by PowerPoint presentation.