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Australia House, London: transcript of press conference: meetings in London, Cheryl Kernot.



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

TRANSCRIPT 0F PRESS CONFERENCE - AUSTRALIA HOUSE, LONDON, WEDNESDAY, 3rd July 2002

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Meetings in London, Cheryl Kernot

CREAN: Well I've had some very significant discussions today, not just with the Prime Minister but the Chancellor, also yesterday with the Minister, David Blunkett, for Home Affairs. These were wide-ranging discussions we've had over a number of areas but one particular field that we've talked about is how we deal with the question of asylum seekers and I think it's becoming increasingly obvious that no one country can have a solution to this problem. Many countries are affected by it. It requires an international approach and I have had long discussions about the way in which such an international approach might be developed. The framework essentially is to establish an effective principle by which people are processed in country of first asylum. That is something that the Seville conference has recently been attempting to grapple with in the context of redefining the Dublin Accord, but this is something I am more convinced than ever has to be a fundamental base block for dealing with the problem. I think there then has to be circumstances in which we are much tougher on cracking down on the people smugglers, imprisoning them, impounding the boats, stopping the problem at source.

The other issue is the need to get something of an international framework, ideally through the United Nations, and I'll be having discussions in Geneva with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to see whether we can get a more effective international framework for the orderly processing of asylum seekers. In that context, I think countries that participate in this framework are going to have to look sensibly at not just the processing issue but the preparedness to take the fair share of genuine asylum seekers and be prepared to look at assistance in the resettling of those who aren't genuine asylum seekers; they're seeking economic asylum.

So I think that there is a solution out there to be developed. It does require further discussions. I have indicated back in Australia a preparedness to sit

down with our government and try and work through a lasting, long-term solution as a replacement for the Pacific Solution and it's the discussions that I have had over the last couple of days, and will continue to have in the rest of my visit, that hopefully will help formulate the policy response which we'll be announcing some time in the future.

REPORTER: Laurie Oakes, Cheryl Kernot. We've heard the allegations made by Laurie Oakes. What's your response to them? Would they have affected your welcoming of Cheryl Kernot into the party had you known about this relationship before.

CREAN: Well, I think the revelations themselves require a full explanation from both Gareth and Cheryl. I was not aware of the decision by Cheryl to join the Labor Party way back then until just before it happened. I had accepted what Gareth had said within parliament and I think in the circumstances of this email which I haven't seen, I've seen reports of, but I haven't seen the email itself, but Gareth needs to give a full explanation. There is no justification for misleading the public or the parliament. I think if these allegations are true, the people that are going to suffer most of all are the families; Cheryl's family and Gareth's family, and I feel sorry for them, they must be going through a very hard time at the moment. But apart from that I can't really comment about allegations that go to personal circumstances. I think that what we now have is the situation in which if these allegations have been made then the people directly concerned need to give a full explanation.

REPORTER: If the email is true then it's certainly a relevant story, isn't it? I mean it is something where Gareth Evans does have to explain the statement to parliament.

CREAN: Well I don't... I repeat the point. There is no justification for people in public life misleading the public and I hold very strongly to the view that you don't mislead in parliament. Whether that's Peter Reith or Gareth Evans it makes no difference. You have got to be honest in your dealings with the public. The public elect you in trust. They are not entitled to have that trust abused. That is a principle that I hold very firmly to. But in the absence of seeing the full text of the email, in the absence of any response from Gareth and Cheryl, I can't take the issue any further than what I have seen.

REPORTER: Does it surprise you? I mean if it is true, did you notice any sort of gleam in their eyes?

CREAN: I see gleams in all sorts of people's eyes for all sorts of different reasons but no, I accepted what Gareth had to say in the parliament and I think it is a circumstance in which people's private lives do not, in normal circumstances, become the subject of public comment. That raises another

issue but it's out there in the public now and I think that we are entitled to an explanation.

REPORTER: Is this a step too far in terms of media reporting? Have they crossed the bounds?

CREAN: Well, I think that's a judgement that others make and in the main I think that people's personal lives are the subject of their own decisions and should not be made the subject of media speculation, gossip, reportage. I think what we've got here though is a more fundamental principle and that is if the story is true, and I say that, that's the qualified point about it because I haven't seen Gareth's response and I haven't seen the email, but if the story is true and the parliament has been being misled then I think that is a serious matter.

REPORTER: Have you tried to speak to him because it does affect the reputation of the Labor Party as a whole, doesn't it?

CREAN: No, I haven't.... well first of all I haven't tried to speak to him. I have only found out about this as I have come here this morning. I mean I have been up in the gym this morning, I've been trying to catch up with the media, I've had a lovely conversation with the High Commissioner, our High Commissioner in London, and then with Tony Blair and then with Gordon Brown. This has been a fairly full day for me and perhaps you'll forgive me if these other issues haven't been top of my agenda but I am trying to deal with them in the circumstances in which I fully expected these questions to be asked today but I can't comment any further from what I have already said.

REPORTER: Will you try and (inaudible)

CREAN: Look I am going to Brussels but I had no intention of meeting with him in Brussels. I have got a very full program there. I am having briefings with NATO. I'm talking with the EU about the European approach to the dealing of asylum seekers and I'm also speaking with the EU about Kyoto and the signatory to Kyoto. I think these are terribly important issues. They are issues I am keen to get a perspective of here. I am going to the United States next week and I'll be continuing to pursue those issues then.

REPORTER: Why would the principle be important now given that both are no longer in parliament and it's old news?

CREAN: Well, it's old news but I still think the fundamental principle is you don't knowingly mislead the public, or the parliament. I think this is a terribly important question of trust and honesty.

REPORTER: On the face of it, it doesn't look good for the Labor Party, does it?

CREAN: This is not an issue in terms of the Labor Party. This is a question of allegations involving two individuals that they are now required, I think, to give explanation to.

REPORTER: But given the importance ....

CREAN: And until they do, I don't want to speculate on an email I haven't seen and in the context of allegations made where the individuals haven't, as far as I am aware, yet responded.

REPORTER: If it is true, given the importance of Cheryl Kernot's defection in the political landscape of Australia at the time, doesn't it discredit that era in the sense of discrediting the Labor Party as well, as whatever judgements you might make about the relationship?

CREAN: Well, I was not aware of Cheryl's move to us until just before it was made. When it was made, I think that there was a big bounce in terms of Labor's standing in the community because essentially what you had was a third party endorsement saying John Howard is not the person to run this country. John Howard can be beaten, but only Labor can beat him and I think that was a terribly important statement in its own right at the time. It was up to those involved directly in the discussions to make judgements, make the approaches. I wasn't involved at the time but I think there is an issue here that impacts upon the families concerned. I know Merran and the kids, I feel very sorry for them. I don't know Gavin as well but from a family perspective they must be going through the awful times at the moment to have all this revealed publicly. I am sorry that that is the case, but it does require explanation, in particular because there was a denial in the parliament.

REPORTER: Wouldn't this cast that whole political drama at the time though in a new light, don't you think?

CREAN: Well dramas happen at the time. I mean I don't think you can relive history now, let's not try and delude ourselves you can't. I saw "The Time Machine" the other day but I don't think anyone's suggesting we turn the clock back and if we did we might turn it back to just before Tampa. But we have to deal with the circumstances as we find them. These are new allegations, they are only allegations. I've not seen the evidence and I haven't seen the response. I think it appropriate to wait for that before any further comment is made.

REPORTER: If the allegations prove to be true, they were made ... the initial deception, if that is what it was, was made in parliament to a what many regarded as an unnecessary and scurrilous attack at the time, which was the next day withdrawn. In those circumstances, isn't somebody that has had an affair, that is not necessarily any business of anybody else's, entitled to lie?

CREAN: No they're not entitled .... I don't think there are any circumstances that justify lying. None at all. I think in politics your word is your bond. It's your currency. You can't debase a currency. People expect when you give a commitment or make a statement, they expect to believe that statement. As for the other question, I think that people's private lives are their own affairs. I believe it is important that confidences associated with that be respected because there are the families. The families are the ones that really do get hurt. I don't know what the consequence of this revelation is. Maybe Australian politics is moving into that phase that all of us feared we didn't want to go, like America or the tabloids in the UK, where constantly people's private affairs have been exposed. I think this is a complicated world these days. There are all sorts of pressures on individuals and families and I think that people are entitled to pursue their lives in private. It is where it crosses over to its impact on dealings with the public that I think it has a relevance, but only to that extent.

REPORTER: You must have had some suspicions yourself. The very fact that you are prepared to entertain the possibility that it is true, because as you say in politics your word is your bond and Gareth did give you support.

CREAN: Yes, well I think that Gareth has to explain his circumstances. I think that is the important next step.

REPORTER: What is the nature of the explanation that you are satisfied with?

CREAN: Look, I'm not going to be drawn on a hypothetical question. I have tried to be as open as I can with you. I haven't seen the evidence. I haven't seen the response. I think you as reporters need to cite the evidence, you need to pursue the response. There are principles involved here. I have outlined those, that's what's guided me in terms of my response. I hold very firmly to the view that you have got be honest with your dealings with the public. You have got to be truthful, particularly in the parliament. We have seen too many mistruths from the other side, not the least of which are associated with the 'kids overboard' and the state of Peter Reith's knowledge. I don't care which side of politics it's on, you've got to be honest in your dealings with the public.

REPORTER: One quick question on the subject, like you have met the Prime Minister here. Have you detected any sympathy from Mr Blair and people here in Europe for the Australian Government's position over asylum seekers?

CREAN: Sympathy to the extent to which we're all having to deal with a major problem. But what I think that I've been pursuing with the PM and with the Minister for Home Affairs, is the need to get an international response. I am very encouraged by the response I got from Tony Blair and David Blunkett in that regard.

What I am disappointed about is that the Government doesn't seem to be pursuing with any rigour at all an international solution to this problem. Now, what this visit has confirmed in my mind, is that the solution can't be looked at in isolation. You can't have a simply unilateralist approach, the sort of clamping in on the borders. There is a problem out there that has to be dealt with. It has got to be dealt with in a comprehensive way.

We need an international framework and the principles that I've outlined here, and which I have spoken about back in Australia, I'm convinced is the way forward. I'll continue to put forward policy responses that reflect that. I'm encouraged by the positive response it's got over here. I simply urge the Australian government to join with us, develop a bi-partisan solution to this, develop a lasting solution, develop a solution that works - not just a fear campaign.

ENDS