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Transcript of press conference: Sydney: 4 December 2007: Private Luke Worsley; Bali climate change conference; ministerial code of conduct; Senator Faulkner; Peter Garrett.



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THE HON DR BRENDAN NELSON MP Leader of the Opposition

4 December 2007

TRANSCRIPT OF THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON DR BRENDAN NELSON MP PRESS CONFERENCE, SYDNEY

Subjects: Private Luke Worsley; Bali climate change conference; ministerial code of conduct; Senator Faulkner; Peter Garrett.

EO&E…………………………………………………………………………………

DR NELSON:

I firstly make some comments about the death and funeral of Private Luke Worsley. Private Luke Worsley, we all went to his funeral today and recognised his life and celebrated his life along with his family and his significant sacrifice on behalf of us as Australians. In our name, under our flag, wearing our uniform, Luke Worsley gave his all. He gave his life for Australia; for us, our freedoms and our values. He fought for Australia, but in the end he died for his mates. Every Australian should be very proud of what this man has given us, what he has done for us and in his sacrifice what he has also done for the freedoms of the Afghans who can only dream of the kind of freedoms that we have in our own country.

My condolences and the thoughts of every Australian go out to Luke and his family and all those who loved him and gave meaning to his life.

I’d like to make some comments on a number of contemporary issues. Firstly, I congratulate Mr Rudd on ratifying the Kyoto Protocol for Australia. As I announced last week, the ratification of the Kyoto protocol is supported by the alternative government and I congratulate him for having done that.

I look forward to the Bali meeting next week, and again I support Mr Rudd in making sure that he gets the very best outcome for Australia. It’s extraordinarily important for all of us that we make sure that whatever is signed on our behalf in Bali is one that serves the interests of Australia and most importantly future generations of Australians - not only environmentally, but also economically.

I notice that Mr Rudd is already, now for the first time, recognising that working families will as a consequence of the agreements that he is likely to enter into on behalf of Australia, that working families are going to be expected to pay more for

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electricity and energy. It’s always been our very real concern that, whilst as Australians and global citizens we’ve got to come to terms with the environmental deadlines that are bearing down on us, it is extremely important that before we actually go and sign up for anything on behalf of Australia, that we have a very clear idea of what the economic consequences are going to be and the price that will be paid by future generations of Australians.

I also ask Mr Rudd that why is it that after a year as the Leader of the Opposition and now the Prime Minister of Australia, we are yet to see his ministerial standards and his code of conduct and probity. And in that sense I note that Senator Faulkner as the President of the Australian Labor Party is the Special Minister of State and I would have thought there is a conflict of interest in that appointment, in that Senator Faulkner, Minister Faulkner, will have ministerial responsibilities for electoral affairs and other things which are of direct interest, and indeed would be in conflict with his interests as President of the Australian Labor Party.

I find it rather extraordinary that Minister Peter Garrett, Minister for Environment, apparently will not be asked questions in the House of Representatives about climate change. You’d have to ask yourself why Mr Rudd as Prime Minister lacks sufficient confidence in Mr Garrett that he would not allow him to be asked questions in the House of Representatives in relation to climate change. It was always very interesting to see Mr Garrett attempt to answer questions, but it is rather extraordinary that Kevin Rudd doesn’t have sufficient confidence in him to actually be asked them. And given the importance of climate change to our future, to the many challenges that face Australians today and the sort of Australia and the sort of world we are going to be living in - 10 or 20 or 30 years from now - I fail to understand why in fact Prime Minister Rudd does not have the confidence in Mr Garrett to be taking questions in the House of Representatives on climate change.

I noticed yesterday that Mr Rudd also said yesterday that he would be cutting Defence and Mr Rudd seems to think that the military operations that are being undertaken by Defence in some way are not connected to the organisation which is necessary to

support it. I mean, Australians need to remember that the Australian Defence Force currently has almost four thousand men and women in our uniform deployed in different parts of the world, including on the borders of Australia. It needs to have an organisation which is well resourced in supporting those deployments. And basically Australia is a country at war, and it needs a well resourced, well funded Defence organisation to support it. Over the last decade or more there has already been more than $900 million shifted from the back end of Defence to the front end of it. All of those men and women that are serving Australia in various deployments throughout the world in our name require and need a very hard working, well resourced Defence organisation behind them.

Can you So, I am happy to take questions.

QUESTION:

Dr Nelson, I’ll take you back for a moment to your remarks about Senator Faulkner. (inaudible) Are you saying John Faulkner should step aside?

DR NELSON:

Well I think at this early stage, the Special Minister of State is responsible for many things including the electoral act and Senator Faulkner is the President of the Australian Labor Party, at least according to the Labor Party’s website. And in making decisions as the Special Minister of State he will have to make some decisions which may or may not directly impact on political parties, including his own. I think the responsibility falls to Mr Rudd to actually explain to us, you know, Mr Rudd please explain to the average Australian how come you’ve got the President of the Australian Labor Party as the Special Minister of State, which is responsible for the electoral act, the Australian Electoral Commission and a range of other things which actually have a direct effect on the Labor Party. So, I think Mr Rudd, as Prime Minister, just needs to explain that to us. And we’d also like to see, as I say, I mean we’ve had basically a year of Mr Rudd leading the Labor Party. He’s been talking about probity, standards and all of those other things with which we’d all agree. You’d think that after a year he would have been able to put pen to paper, or get in front of his PC and give us the code of conduct. So can we actually see that? And when we see it can we have an explanation as to how it’s not inconsistent with having the President of the Labor Party actually being the Special Minister of State.

QUESTION:

So you're not calling for him to resign, you just want answers?

DR NELSON:

Yeah, I think you’ve got to give the guy a fair go at this stage, but let’s just get an explanation of this. I’d be very interested to hear it - that’s for sure. And, as I say, I’d be very interested to hear why Mr Garrett as the Minister for the Environment is apparently not going to answer questions in the House of Representatives about climate change. I mean we always found it interesting, as I say, that Mr Garrett struggled with questions and now apparently he’s not even going to be able to answer them.

QUESTION:

Dr Nelson, when you say you want a review of the Liberal Party, what is it going to do?

DR NELSON:

Well, in order for us to be in a winning position in three years time there are three principal things that we need to undertake. The first is that we need to look at our party - the structure of our party; how does the party function; how do we govern membership; how are the key decisions actually made; what is the interaction between the federal body of the Liberal Party of Australia and our state divisions - and to make sure that we have a party structure which is appropriate for the 21st Century, is appealing to the average Australian in terms of membership, and is going to help us to get into a winning position in three years time. In addition to that of course we’ve also got to focus on policy to make sure - whilst we are very proud of what we have achieved over the last eleven and a half years and are digesting the reasons for the change of government - that we have an inspiring and appealing policy platform in three years time to put us in into a winning position. And then of course the other is personnel - to make sure that we can recruit the right candidates, the best candidates that reflect the aspirations of local communities, to run for the next election.

QUESTION:

Do you think you've hade the wrong candidates in the past?

DR NELSON:

Well, in fact I would argue that one of the reasons why the Liberal Party and the National parties were in government for the last eleven and a half years was because we had outstanding candidates. In fact we….

QUESTION:

So why do you need a review?

DR NELSON:

Well I think we need a review in relation to the way that we choose our candidates. There needs to be the capacity for the parliamentary Federal Liberal Party to be able to work very closely with our organisation to make sure that whilst we respect the importance of local divisions and local branches in choosing candidates that we also have input into it. It’s just very important and I’ll be driving that hard.

QUESTION:

On the topic of personnel, you've had some talks with today with Warren Truss. Is that correct?

DR NELSON:

Yes, I did.

QUESTION:

Can you tell us anything coming out of that?

DR NELSON:

Well, Mr Truss and I have had our first formal meeting as leaders of our respective parties. We have agreed in principle to go into a coalition in opposition. I think it is very important in presenting ourselves as an alternative government that people can actually see what it’s going to look like. So the most important threshold question is that we will be a coalition. We’ve also had some discussions about the formalities of that agreement and I would expect to have an exchange of letters in relation to the coalition some time within the next few days. And we’ve also had some discussions around the appointment to, and the structure of the Shadow Cabinet and Shadow Ministry.

QUESTION:

Can you tell us when you will announce the Shadow Cabinet?

DR NELSON:

I intend to make that announcement on Thursday or Friday.

QUESTION:

(Inaudible)

DR NELSON:

We’ll go through the process of having a look at how our party is structured, how it is functioning at the moment, and I will let you know.

QUESTION:

With your Shadow Cabinet, do you have concerns about putting ministers who were very much associated with the Howard Government, for example like Kevin Andrew, in prominent positions?

DR NELSON:

Well, look it’s got to be a balance… Let’s just be clear about this. There was a change of government for three principal reasons. The longevity of the Government and some of the key personnel who were leading it. Secondly, the campaign by the unions in relation to Workchoices and the issues that surround that. And thirdly, I think the way in which we were prosecuting the arguments surrounding not only climate change but a number of other important issues for the Australian people. In terms of coming into

opposition and presenting and shaping an alternative government for Australia, it’s about a combination of experience - it’s very important that we have people who understand how government works and understand the importance of responsible decision making - but it’s also important that we have people that are new in the sense of coming forward for the first time on the frontbench. And you will see when I make these announcements with Warren Truss, you will see there will be a good balance between people that are experienced, that know what they’re doing in a sense

of having been in government, but also people that are new. And the most important thing, look, as I said last week, as a father of two apprentices apart from anything else, there was a change of government in unusual circumstances in that our economy is strong; most Australians believe that our country is moving in the right direction. But they made the decision to put Mr Rudd into government from opposition. And I congratulate him on that ground-breaking achievement. But it’s very important from my perspective that we be very proud of what we have achieved over eleven and a half years. We will be reviewing policies; of course we will. In fact we have already started that process. But so impressed was Mr Rudd with what we have achieved, that he adopted it. In fact he adopted most of the things that we were taking to the election as policy. So in making sure that we are an effective alternative government in taking Mr Rudd up to the task to see he delivers on the expectations he set for Australia we’ve got to make sure we have, as I say, a good balance between experience and that which is new.

QUESTION:

Dr Nelson, will you be seeking to engage the services of John Howard in any way? Are you going to engage him as a mentor in any way?

DR NELSON:

Well, I’ve had a couple of conversations with John Howard. John Howard served our country in public life for 34 years. He led a government that put Australia into a strong, confident, prosperous position. He re-shaped not only the Liberal Party. He’s re-shaped the Labor Party. The Labor Party that has come to government has been shaped much more in John Howard’s vision than, I would suggest, in Kevin Rudd’s. I can assure you I take advice and will be taking advice from a lot of people. I’ve told John Howard that he can expect to be getting a few phone calls from me to get advice and counsel about a variety of things. But I am my own person. I lead my own colleagues. And we will shape our alternative Liberal National Party government in the way we believe is appropriate for the 21st Century. We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved. We’ll build on the traditions that we have. I will be taking advice, not only from John Howard, but also Peter Costello and others. But in the end we will make the right decisions for Australia and the right decisions for this 21st Century and the next three years.

One last question.

QUESTION:

Do you have any concerns about today's Newspoll?

DR NELSON:

It’s day five. I mean, give me a break. It’s day five. I think the average Australia out there would say, ‘yeah, I might just see if I can get to know this guy’. Again, the average Australia would say, ‘fair go, you know, let’s just find out what this bloke’s on about’ first and then make your own judgments.

I’ll leave it at that. Thanks.

[ends]