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Transcript of Press Conference of the Leader of the Opposition: Sydney: 3 October 2004\n



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FEDERAL LABOR LEADER MARK LATHAM

TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE

SYDNEY

3 OCTOBER 2004

*E&OE ** Subjects: Election Campaign 2004

LATHAM: Thank you very much. Today has been an opportunity to set out Labor's plan for families - taking the financial pressure off, easing the squeeze - because this is a campaign where the Coalition has been putting forward initiatives that only come in response to Labor's long term solutions for the country. It is the big difference. Mr Howard still can’t commit to serving the full parliamentary term. He can’t commit to long term solutions. That’s why all his policies are crafted only with an eye to the very short term through to next Saturday. Labor has got the long-term plans in family, tax policy, health and education to lift the financial pressure off Australian families and give them a fairer go for the future.

I was pleased, with all the families inside, to set out my own plans, family living arrangements, after the election, if we come to the Government - the fact that we don’t need two publicly subsidised Prime Ministerial residences. Kirribilli House should be given back to the Australian people. It should be handed over to the great fundraising activities of our national charities like the Spastic Centre, St Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army. I think that is not just something that is good for them; it sets a very important message to the Australian families who are doing it tough that, in my circumstances, the Prime Minister of the country should be showing a bit of austerity. It saves money in commuter travelling costs, up and back from Sydney and Canberra, to have the Prime Minister in the

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Lodge. That’s where I’ll be with Janine and my children. Just one publicly funded Prime Ministerial residence. Families are doing it tough - highest taxing Government in Australia’s history, the family debt crisis, household debt, the out of pocket expenses that come out of the health and education systems. Families around the country are doing it tough and the Prime Ministerial family should be setting the example, showing a bit of austerity, and ensuring that Kirribilli House belongs with the Australian people for the fundraising activities, for the open days, and to ensure that the activities respect the heritage value of the building and property, respect the dignity that is needed.

There will be an element in our plan of some cross subsidisation from commercial use but that will be low-key, respecting the heritage values of the building, and to cross-subsidise through so that the great charities of the nation can use Kirribilli House, free of charge, have their access, raise their funds for the benefit of disabled children, for needy people in the community. I would feel much more comfortable as Prime Minister knowing that the facilities there, the old house, are going to be used to help disabled children rather than to help me in my circumstances. I won’t need that. I’ll be the nation’s leader in the national capital, living out of The Lodge. I think that sets the right example for families around the country that are doing it tough. It’s the right thing to do in terms of saving a bit of Government money and restricting the Prime Minister’s family to The Lodge in Canberra. That building, that property belongs to the Australian people and we’ll be giving it back to them.

JOURNALIST: It is more about symbolism than saving money. I mean, we are not talking huge wads of cash here are we, that you’re going to save?

LATHAM: The Prime Minister has cost the taxpayer a couple of million dollars with his commuting up and down, Sydney to Canberra. Obviously if you are in The Lodge you haven't got airfares and commuting costs. So millions of dollars matter in the broad sweep of Government management and I think austerity starts at the top. We’ve set out plans for eliminating waste and mismanagement, for making savings at the centre of Government and getting the resources out to communities and families on the edge. I think the savings should start at the top. I made some savings with our superannuation arrangements and further savings in terms of living arrangements are most appropriate. This does save some money that is significant but it also sets a very good example that, at the top, you’ve got austerity in Government, saying to the families who are doing it tough that you understand their needs. We’ve got good policies to help them but I think that leadership and example for the Australian people really matters as well.

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JOURNALIST: If you win Government, will you turn your mind to the living arrangements of the Governor-General? He also has a Sydney residence, Admiralty House.

LATHAM: No, that’s not on our agenda. I’m setting the example myself. As the nation’s leader, I think you should live in the national capital - The Lodge in Canberra. Kirribilli House, which is the showpiece residence there, fronting on to the harbour, should be handed back to the Australian people for the open days, for the access and most importantly for the Spastic Centre, St Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, other great national charities, to use it, free of charge, for raising funds and putting the resources where its needed, helping disabled children, helping the needy in our society. I mean, it’s a wonderful property. I don’t think it should be for the exclusive use of the nation’s Prime Minister. It should be for the nation’s people.

JOURNALIST: What sort of activities do you envisage happening there - are we talking big fundraising balls, for the black tie set, or open days for barbeques for fundraising?

LATHAM: The open days for the Australian people: there could be the odd barbie there and make sure that, as they come through, you could have a morning tea or lunch. But it should be open for the public, as other public buildings are, for access and to just have a look at the old heritage values of the building. The view on to Sydney Harbour, which is obviously magnificent - the Australian people should have access to it. And the fundraising activities - I think we can be guaranteed that the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul, they’ll be conducting themselves in a proper way that respects the heritage value of the property and the dignity it deserves. So they will be doing their fundraising activities according to their own priorities. The Official Establishments Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department will have the management, obviously authorising the fundraising activities, and working hand-in-glove with the charities to make sure it all works. They raise the money and the property is used well in the public interest.

JOURNALIST: Where will you stay when you’re in Sydney then? Will you go back out to Campbelltown?

LATHAM: That’s something we’ve got to sort out in our arrangements. But, obviously, I’ve got family out there and, in Sydney, it’s always good to be close to family. It’s my electorate as well in the south west of Sydney. I’ve lived there all my life and I’ve got no plan of being a stranger in the future to my own community, my own extended family. We’ll sort that out after the election.

JOURNALIST: A week to go, how confident are you feeling?

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LATHAM: I feel confident about the campaign we’ve been running because we’ve been putting out the big solutions - Medicare Gold, fair funding for our schools, our tax and family relief. They’re big solutions for the future of the country and I’ve enjoyed every minute of the campaign. This probably sounds funny but I woke up this morning and said to Janine that I’ll be a bit sorry when it ends. It’s been such an honour to get around advocating policies. We’ve enjoyed the chance to meet so many people, have so many wonderful experiences. And, in a democracy, we have voting day but, the campaign itself, I’m glad Mr Howard made it six weeks instead of five.

JOURNALIST: Do you think you can win Parramatta? There have been polls all over the shop -

LATHAM: The polls are all over the shop?

JOURNALIST: On Parramatta there’s some -

LATHAM: Those polls - the difference between the Newspoll and the Nielsen, I’m sure that’s reflected in the seat of Parramatta as well. These polls are all over the shop, as you say, and the main thing that happens is that we advocate policies and the people get to have their say next Saturday.

JOURNALIST: Peter Costello has been out again this morning criticising you for not submitting all your policies for costing. Can you tell us when that will happen, when they will all be in?

LATHAM: The beautiful irony is that the Labor Party has complied more completely with the Charter of Budget Honesty than the Government themselves. We’ve lodged 71 policies, valued at over $25 billion, made up of savings of over $9 billion. The Government, and it’s Mr Costello’s Charter of Budget Honesty he’s only submitted 54. So they are well short of Labor's 71 policies. And the 54 they’ve put in are just over $10 billion so less than half the value of the policies submitted by the Labor Party. And on the savings front; we haven't got the spendometer today of course but I can report that, while Labor has submitted savings of close to $10 billion, the Coalition has only put in three items - just three. We’ve complied with the Charter more fully than the Government has.

JOURNALIST: If you don’t put in all of your family and tax policies, you are actually in breach of the Charter, aren't you?

LATHAM: No, the Charter runs through next week, and it’s possible to have matters assessed by Treasury through the course of next week. But we’ve

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lodged all the outlays. What's happened here with the tax and family that Mr Costello was saying, along with some people in the media, ‘Put it in, put it in: release it, release it’ - well, Labor released it and Mr Costello was promising a demolition job. He came up with one item, where he tested his own economic credibility, the so-called $700 million difference between the working tax bonus and the low income tax offset. So Mr Costello in the public debate said, ‘Look - this is the thing that needs to be assessed. This is the matter that needs to be sorted out in Labor's tax and family.’ So we’ve lodged all the outlays. The matter where he’s staking his economic credibility can be assessed by Treasury and Finance and I understand they’ll have the assessment out next Tuesday. But you’ve got Mr Costello’s claim about our package. You’ve got our assurance that it’s sound. We’re going to have an independent assessment of that released publicly in the course of next week. That is what the public debate and transparency is all about.

JOURNALIST: A reasonable look at a Charter of Budget Honesty is that you submit everything. Do you guarantee that before election day everything - not whether they do it or not - Labor puts out will go to scrutiny under the Charter of Budget Honesty?

LATHAM: Yes, we’ve said that from day one. We’re putting it all in. It’s a big task to get it all but at this stage, if there was a lodgement odometer then we’re ahead 71 to 54. That’s a good performance on our part. It is their charter in its origins; Labor is ahead 71 policies to 54 - $25 billion to just over 10 and on the savings front, we’re ahead by the length of the straight. Labor is complying with the Charter more than the Government and the question is: why hasn’t Mr Costello done as much as us in lodging material so that the Charter provisions are all available? But our agenda really with the Charter has been to say, ‘What are the priority areas where you need lodgement? What are the big things that need to be lodged?’ Mr Costello made his big claim about our tax and family, staked his whole economic credibility on his false claim about the $700 million, so we said, ‘Let’s get that material in’ and next week, publicly, we’re going to know whether he’s right or we’re right and his economic credibility and future as Treasurer is going to be tested in the public arena. That was our approach and just yesterday we lodged another 25 items for costing including Medicare Gold and all the other matters out of our policy speech two days earlier. We’ve been on the job to get these things ahead and I suggest to the Financial Review a lodgement odometer on Monday and you’ll see the big difference.

JOURNALIST: Why leave it so late to put these policies in for costings, tax and family came out three weeks ago?

LATHAM: We’ve got it in and we’re ahead of the Coalition. It’s a big job to get these things in but we’ve lodged 44 savings items. The Coalition has

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lodged three. So we’re ahead on that front, 44 to three. It’s a difference of 41 so you must be asking them: ‘Where are all the savings, where’s the lodgement?’ And then we’ve lodged the two big items in tax and family on the outlays front and then another 25 yesterday. All up that’s 27 and 44 that have gone in. We’re over the 70 mark - 71 - compared to the Coalition’s 54.

JOURNALIST: Putting quantity to one side. What about the timing of them. Why are they in so late in the campaign? There’s only a week to go.

LATHAM: You’ll get the assessment on the big tax and family debate. Mr Costello’s claim and his weak credibility versus our plan that’ll be out there before voting day - I understand on Tuesday, so that’s a good thing in terms of the transparency and the public debate.

JOURNALIST: Surely it is about more than we’re better than them so everything is okay. I mean, don’t the Australian people deserve all your policies out there, all of them released and costed before the election so they can decide? I mean, everything gets down to us versus them, which is what the Australian people hate. You were just saying we’re better than the Coalition so we’re good.

LATHAM: We’re saying we’ve lodged 71 policies; they’ve lodged 54.

JOURNALIST: Why don’t you submit all of them and have them all costed well before the election?

LATHAM: We have costed our policies. Those costings are available. Mr Costello can say whatever he likes about them any day of the public debate. We have costed and released our policies and now, in terms of the priority to get them in, it’s a huge task to get them in. We’ve got the 71 that have already gone into Treasury and the Department of Finance and the rest will follow next week. We get them all in but, in the priority areas, the debate with Costello about tax and family, Medicare Gold and all the items in the policy speech, they’ve all gone in. That’s the right way to do things and we are complying with the Charter.

JOURNALIST: Is the Charter a good idea. Is it something you’ll keep?

LATHAM: We’re happy to keep it in place and we’re happy to comply with it. The other thing about our policies is that you don’t have to just rely on what Labor is saying: in tax and family, certified by NATSEM and the Melbourne Institute - the two great economic modelling organisations. I mean NATSEM use the same econometric model as the Treasury in doing these things. It is part owned by the Commonwealth. The credentials of our tax and family plan are well established and Mr Costello ended up with egg on his face when he attacked

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them and we predict quite confidently he’ll have even more egg on his face next Tuesday.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask a non-domestic question just for a moment. You’ve just launched your foreign policy - Mr Rudd has anyway - in which you reiterated your pledge to bring Australian troops out of Iraq by Christmas. Does it worry you at all that this is obviously at odds with your Labour counterpart in the UK, Mr Blair?

LATHAM: No, it doesn’t worry me in the slightest. We were at odds with Mr Blair when he decided to join the Coalition of the Willing and go to war in Iraq. We said at that time it was overwhelmingly in Australia’s interests to protect our region, get our security right in our part of the world, and in fact the war in Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction that ultimately didn’t exist would be diverting resources away from the real task: the war against terror in our part of the world. And that Labor critique doesn’t give us any joy as an Australian Labor Party to say we were correct. If all the effort in Iraq had gone into catching bin Laden, destroying Al Qaeda, breaking up JI in South-East Asia then Australia today and the world today would be a safer and better place.

JOURNALIST: But if you’re elected and Mr Bush is re-elected and you go ahead with your pledge to pull troops out of Iraq, that’s not going to do much for Australian relations with the US, is it?

LATHAM: We’ve made our commitments clear and we had a disagreement about the war in Iraq. We said this wasn’t the best way to win the war against terror and, as I say, it doesn’t give us any great joy to say we were correct in that assessment. Was it good policy to go in search of weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist? No. Was it a good practice to make Australia less safe in the war against terror, to make us a bigger target? No, it wasn’t. Our commitments now are to help with the rebuilding of Iraq through the United Nations process - and Mr Rudd last night outlined our $75 million commitment, helping with the UN Protective Force, the customs service, the health services in Iraq. We’ll be there in the reconstruction of the country but, in terms of Australia’s military and national security priorities, under a Labor Government it’s our part of the world. It’s the real security of the Australian people in our neighbourhood, in the part of the world in which we live.

JOURNALIST: Do you still base what troops will come home on seeking Foreign Affairs advice after you are elected?

LATHAM: Yes, that commitment remains and repeated by Kevin Rudd last night that we seek the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs about the

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security of the Australian mission in Baghdad and we’ll act on that advice in Government.

JOURNALIST: But it’s obvious then that some troops at least won’t come home.

LATHAM: It’s not obvious because we haven't received the advice but we’ve said for many months now we’ll take that advice and act on it in Government.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, Queensland academic Bonnie Robertson has released an open letter talking about how both sides of politics have completely ignored Indigenous issues in this election and saying that reconciliation has almost fallen off the radar. What would you say to that?

LATHAM: I think the academic needs to read our policy for Indigenous Affairs, which is a commitment to public housing improvements, to health improvements, to dental care, to education commitments. Kerry O’Brien, our spokesperson, released a very good policy with Warren Snowdon in the Northern Territory that sets all those commitments, plus our commitment to an apology to the Stolen Generation and the ongoing task of reconciliation - solving poverty and ensuring that Indigenous Australians have the same opportunities as the rest of the community and achieving the reconciliation that has gone nowhere under the Howard Government.

JOURNALIST: When are you going to release your forests policy and are you going to do it in Tasmania?

LATHAM: You’ll see those things in the fullness of time and as we know -

JOURNALIST: We’re just doing our diaries.

LATHAM: Are you? I think your diary matches mine and that’s one of the nice things, as we move around from day to day.

JOURNALIST: Any tips for the Grand Final?

LATHAM: Not tips, but I’ll be cheering for the Doggies. I saw there were some Doggie fans outside. My young fellow cheers for the Doggies. I don’t think he knows too much about the footy team but he prefers dogs to roosters. I’ll share that preference tomorrow as well. Thank you. [Ends]

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