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Murwillumbah, NSW: transcript of doorstop interview: Telstra pledge, bank fees, marginal seat campaigning, new defence facility, Liberal Party leadership, independence of the ABC, GST on site fees.

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Kim Beazley - Doorstop - Telstra Pledge, Bank Fees, Marginal Seat Campaigning, New Defence Facility, Liberal Party Leadership, Independence Of The ABC, GST On Site Fees

Tuesday, 24 July 2001

Kim Beazley - Doorstop Interview Subjects: Telstra Pledge, Bank Fees, Marginal Seat Campaigning, New Defence Facility, Liberal Party Leadership, Independence Of The ABC, GST On Site Fees

Transcript - Murwillumbah, NSW - 20 July 2001


BEAZLEY: I have just signed, again, a pledge that if we are elected to office we will not allow the further privatisation of Telstra. We will not allow the sell-down of another share and nor will be allow it to be split up and privatised by stealth. And there are reasons for that. The main reason is the nation building task that Telstra performs. It is now critical for the economic future of the bush, and the economic future of regional Australia, businesses and all consumers and customers that we have an institution that puts people before profits, that ensures that there are workers in regional Australia to perform the essential tasks of both establishing and upgrading modern telecommunications systems. And these are all at risk should Telstra be fully privatised or privatised further. So, we will not support - under any circumstances - the further privatisation of Telstra.

Now, I notice Mr Costello was mocking us out there the other day saying that I'd signed similar pledges on things that had been privatised in the past. I have done no such thing.

But we are signing it here. This nails our flag to the mast. We would have no more credibility as a political party, nor me as a political leader, if I were to breach an undertaking like this. And nor would Jenny McAllister, as a Member of Parliament from this area, if she were to breach it. She would have no more credibility either.

And that is why we're signing it. We're signing it because we're big believers in Telstra. We are big believers in the task ahead of Telstra - the things it is going to have to do, the technologies which are not even yet invented, but which will be critical to economic and personal survival in regional Australia 10 to 15 years from now.

JOURNALIST: Mr Costello was saying that the ALP in the Commonwealth Bank prospectus said that it had no intention of selling-off the Commonwealth Bank and that's what he's saying is, 'you can't trust the ALP'.

BEAZLEY: That was a valid representation of the position of the Government at the time. The decisions that it arrived at and was necessary to properly inform the Australian people of what the decisions were of the Government to that point.

JOURNALIST: What if something changes?

BEAZLEY: If something changes, I'm gone. That's the point. That's the point of what's happening here. The point is, as a political leader, and we as a political party, could not survive this undertaking. This is not a prospectus, this is a pledge to the Australian people - it's not a prospectus, reflecting an attitude of government at a particular point in time to a commercial opportunity that they are providing. This is a pledge, a political commitment, upon which the breach of which we could not survive politically.

JOURNALIST: Banks yesterday announced a jump in fees in money they've earned off fees of $6.3 billion. Your thoughts on that?

BEAZLEY: Twenty-five per cent of the money of banks now coming from fees. That's extraordinary. Something like a 50 per cent increase over the last five years. What the Reserve Bank has effectively suggested today is that the Labor Party's policy for a negotiated or imposed social contract with the banks is not only necessary, but practical. We have got to sign the banks up to a social contract with the ordinary customers of banks in Australia. We have got to get fee-free services for pensioners. We have got to get fee-free and no-frills services for ordinary Australian families. We've got to get commitments from the banks to continue services because while these fees have gone through the roof, 25 per cent of their branches have closed. They have social obligations, banks, not just commercial ones. And it's up to the government of the day to ensure that they comply with them - and we will.

JOURNALIST: If you don't, what will happen?

BEAZLEY: If we don't what will happen is this: fees will continue to rise. Fees will make it harder and harder for pensioners to use the facilities of banks - harder and harder for families to use the facilities of banks, less and less likely in places like this that there will be banking services. That's what will happen if that social contract isn't agreed. And we will seek first from the banks a voluntary compliance with it. But if we don't get it, if we don't get a tough social contract signed up on a voluntary basis, we will legislate it. And the Reserve Bank today has given us the absolute indication as to why that should happen and why it is practical. Other countries can do it, why can't we?

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, don't you think the public is tiring of political leaders from both sides doing what you're doing here today, travelling to marginal seats to make announcements you could make cheaper and more efficiently...?

BEAZLEY: No, because it's necessary for politicians to talk to the people that they seek to represent. There's too much making announcements from Canberra. There's too much sitting in Canberra and not listening to what's happening amongst ordinary Australians around the country - too much disconnection in Australian politics. It's now dangerous for Australian democracy, the amount of disconnection which has developed. I've been doing this for five years now. It's not the first time I've been here.

JOURNALIST: You got stuck into Peter Reith for doing one in Queanbeyan the other day.

BEAZLEY: No, I wasn't stuck into him for doing something in Queanbeyan. I got stuck into him for misleading the people of Queanbeyan. He was out there saying was doing this facility in Queanbeyan

when, in fact, from all that we can see, it's being done in Canberra.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, Peter Costello today has attended a fundraiser for Bruce Baird. Do you read anything into that in terms of leadership succession in the Liberal Party?

BEAZLEY: Yes, I do. I read several things into it. Firstly, Peter Costello is out there saying that the job is not vacant - well for a job that's not vacant, there seem to an awful lot of applicants. He seems to have gone up to NSW on a talent search for deputy leaders. The bad news for Costello is - there isn't any. There isn't any talent amongst those NSW Liberals - and that must be horrible news for him indeed.

But I tell you what's going on here, it's an extraordinary thing, really, this is a dysfunctional and disunited Government. And what they are is competing around the issue of feathering the nests with leadership and deputy leadership and they do not give a darn about what is happening to ordinary Australians. They've got no policy - no vision for the next term. The Labor Party has got 80 policies out there on our website. You know exactly now what a Labor Government will do when it's placed in office. You'll know what our priorities are, the directions in which we're going - it's all there on the Labor Party website. But the Liberal Party now is a policy-free zone in the policy area - but a catfight when it comes to who is going to be Mr Howard's successor.

JOURNALIST: Would you like to see Abbott and Costello?

BEAZLEY: The question would be: 'who's on first?' if it was Abbott and Costello. But the thing about the Liberal Party now is ever since John Howard said he was about to disappear, which he announced about a year or so ago, that he wouldn't serve out another term, they've represented a sort of cubs around a kill, jostling for the position. The only thing that is not there in play is the public interest. You can't have a government that is operating as this Government is operating - hurling money out into the public in the hope of saving its skin, irrespective of the Budget consequences, spending $20 million a month of taxpayers' funds on advertising itself while indulging in an enormous internal struggle around the spoils. This is not a government, it is a squabbling flock of geese.

JOURNALIST: Is the Labor Party putting a dossier together on Mr Baird as suggested by the Daily Telegraph?

BEAZLEY: Why would you need to? The thing about Mr Baird, he's just one of the string of characters lining up in the eventuality of the Liberal Party's defeat. I mean, I'm amazed that they're behaving like this. There you've got the Labor Party, united in purpose, policy coming out week by week, a solid direction in vision for the future of Australia and what they're doing is jockeying around for some sort of advantage over each other for the deputy leadership of the opposition.

JOURNALIST: Would you agree, seats like this, if you don't win this one you won't win the election?

BEAZLEY: Oh, yes. If you don't win seats like Richmond, we wouldn't win the election. That is absolutely true. That is why it is necessary to have a good candidate, which we do have in Jenny McAllister, and it's necessary to have good policies, which we do have for regional Australia - and this is one of them, the pledge that we're making on Telstra.

JOURNALIST: How tough will it be, though?

BEAZLEY: How tough will it be to win? It will be as tough as any seat to win. I once, myself, won a marginal seat that required about a one per cent swing and it was a hell of a year or two that I spent

winning that particular marginal seat. But in the end the swing was on and we won it by 7,000 or 8,000. And I think, myself, that when you look at the cat fight that the Liberal Party has become, you look at the disunity between the Liberals and the Nationals, we don't have a Government any more and the public is beginning to respond to that.

JOURNALIST: Four Corners are apparently going to air that show that Mr Shier got involved in. What are your thoughts on that?

BEAZLEY: Well, I welcome it if they do. But there are still unanswered questions there. We need to know why Mr Shier decided to go down the road of checking it, as he did after two good legal opinions had been given to him. We would also, we'll be sitting there watching it with sharpened pencils when the program is broadcast. We'd like to know what was cut out. It's terribly important that we keep an effective, independent national broadcaster. That's not a political interest of the Labor Party, it's a public interest.

JOURNALIST: You have grave concerns?

BEAZLEY: Yes, I do. And I've expressed them over the course of this last week. I have grave concerns. And, in fact, we've expressed them for some time, for the independence of our national broadcaster. You see, we have a view about what the ABC ought to be to this nation. We see it as part of nation building as well. We see, as the technology changes, particularly with its digitisation, as providing an enormous opportunity to be not only a national broadcaster, but a public educator and a regional broadcaster. And we think in those circumstances that its independence is terribly important. And there's been endless efforts made by this Government to compromise that over the course of the last little while. So, naturally our suspicions arise when we see events like we've seen over last few days.

JOURNALIST: How important do you think the GST on site fees will be, especially for the Richmond community?

BEAZLEY: Very important. It is a piece of hypocrisy when Costello brought in that legislation which he's mal-administered ever since, he said rents were exempt. Well, they're not exempt - not while ever people are paying GST on site fees in parks with manufactured homes. That is an important part of rollback. It will be an important part of rollback in the election campaign and we are committed to it.

JOURNALIST: What do you think of Mr Anthony's role in all of this?

BEAZLEY: Well, pretty supine, really. He's not had a startling achievement. I mean, the Government has been solidly rolling back the GST under pressure from the Labor Party - one measure after another. They've had 1800 amendments to it. We've been putting the weights on them. But the one thing they haven't rolled back on yet, most of what we've suggested they should, they have, so that's why we keep a bit up our sleeves, but while they're rolling back everything else, the one area that would affect Mr Anthony has not been rolled back. So, they don't seem to think that Mr Anthony is a terribly useful member of their Cabinet.

Ends Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.

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