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Parliament House, Canberra, 6 June 2000: transcript of doorstop interview [GST; Solomon Islands; APEC; industrial relations]



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Kim Beazley - Doorstop Interview Subjects: GST, Solomon Islands, APEC, Industrial Relations

Transcript - Parliament House, Canberra - 6 June 2000

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BEAZLEY: Another day, another story in the GST botch. Now, the Tax Office admits that perhaps they breached privacy rules in what they proposed to do with selling ABN numbers. They cannot get anything right, and they are driving small business mad. And this is just an adding of insult to injury. Small business people who cannot get answers from the Tax Office in this incredibly complex tax which has been imposed on them to administer, find that one thing they can guarantee, apparently to the Taxation Office, is that their details will be sold around for the profit of the office. Well, at least that's been tumbled as we've revealed yet another botch. But the unfortunate feature of this is what it signifies about the overall administrative competence of this Government. The answer to that is, not much.

JOURNALIST: ...(inaudible)...

BEAZLEY: Well, I think there's a couple of things to be said about that. Firstly, they lied about the impact of the effect of the GST on beer. That is quite clear, they lied about that. The second thing is that you'll recollect that when the brewers launched their campaign using their own money, as opposed to the taxpayers' money, we found that on that day the Government had paid for, with taxpayers' money, premium rights in an attempt to use their advertising to lock the brewers advertising out of prime time. Now, that would have doubled up the cost on those slots for the Australian taxpayer. They will do anything, they will say anything, they will spend any amount of taxpayers' money to cover their lies and their incompetence.

JOURNALIST: ...Fiji and the Solomons...

BEAZLEY: Look, I think what the Solomons shows is what we should have learned from Fiji. And that is a stitch in time saves nine. This Government was warned about what was happening in the Solomons. They dragged their feet on it, despite the fact that they had evidence from a Parliamentary delegation and that they had pleas both through that Parliamentary directory for assistance with a police force that has essentially broken down and could not maintain law and order and which would have been a relatively easy thing for Australia to organise a group of nations to fix. Now, a penalty is paid by Australian inaction. And we do have responsibilities in this region. And then

we see, yesterday, as the military takes some action against Speight in at least starting the process of isolating him, what does the military say as one of the reasons for his action? He says, 'look, the Europeans are threatening to ban our sugar exports to them. That will put unbearable pressure on our economy'. So, finally somebody acts on sanctions and there is some sort of response inside Fiji. And the only people who are not acting on this in a timely fashion is the one power which is regarded by the rest of the world as having some special responsibility in this area, and that's us. And yesterday Howard was up in Parliament, you know, doing his diminishing Australia role...'we have nothing to do with this. These are matters for them to resolve'. Well, he obviously thought we had had enough to do with it to send some police into…at least a couple of analysts, if you like, for what police presence might be required just a week or two ago, he sent them into the Solomons a week or two ago. So, there was some indication that he understands there is some expectation on us. But, of course, always, too late, too unfocussed, too incompetent.

JOURNALIST: How much of a worry is for ... Australia ... Solomon Islands..?

BEAZLEY: Well, look, it was once said, and he was a bit mocked for it, an Australian academic and former intelligence officer, Paul Dibb, talked about an arc of instability across the north of Australia and that this was something which ought to engage the attention of Australian policy makers. And he was mocked somewhat for being, allegedly pessimistic and overwrought in his analysis. But you've got to say you look through the region it's a pretty accurate portrayal. Now, this an area of direct relevance to Australian security and of direct relevance to Australian diplomacy. And the Government is always behind the game, always behind the game, never ahead of it. These are countries which look to Australia and which expect an Australian view...

JOURNALIST: Should Australia be making much of an effort to for..?

BEAZLEY: I don't think he understands that Australia actually operates in a regional and global context. He is embarrassed by it, he is uncomfortable with it, he is unfamiliar with it, and he keeps himself as deliberately ignorant as he can. The problem is, issues don't go away. Sometimes issues get a lot worse, both in the countries themselves and, ultimately, perhaps for Australia or Australian business interests, as a result of that inactivity. He doesn't understand that what regional leadership means is decisive action at points of time when action could be most effective. He instantly moves into denial and huddles up inside his shell the moment anything happens in the region which is uncomfortable. And his first comment on it is always, 'we are not to blame'. Well, we used to do better than this. In fact, we did better than this, not just in the era of Labor Governments, we did better than this, and expected more of ourselves, when John Howard's much admired, from his point of view, predecessors happened to be in office. Now, why is it that we've gone out of the last century and come into this century with perhaps one of the most diminished Prime Ministers and Governments in terms of

defending Australian interests on the international stage?

JOURNALIST: Should Australia draw up sanctions against the Solomon Islands?

BEAZLEY: In the case of the Solomon Islands, when it's a very confused situation, what we need to amend is the fact that we were asked for help in a situation in which, clearly, and for some months now the Government of the Solomon Islands has been saying, 'because of the internal disputation between different Island groups here, in Solomons, we can no longer rely on an effective police force. We have been mucking about with that, mucking about for two or three months now, when a bit of decisive action a bit earlier on with a minimal number of people would see in this situation in all probability not...

JOURNALIST: ...in Darwin today. What do think will come out of that..?

BEAZLEY: The Government doesn't use APEC much now. The Government is always slightly embarrassed by the fact that it was an initiative of their predecessors, even though it is a previous APEC leaders' meeting that pulled our irons out of the fire on Timor. And John Howard can thank his lucky stars that the efforts of Hawke and Keating produced that situation which enabled us to get that situation resolved. So, the Government has not been a big user of APEC. But the Government needs to use it. It is important that barriers to Australian goods come down throughout this region. And, still, the best mechanism for it, in which Australia is involved. And we've been excluded now under this Government…..virtually all other regional organisations and APEC. So, we have got to use it the best we can. And I would hope that Vaile will use it effectively to bring down those barriers and that he will use it effectively as a regional organisation for Australia - because there ain't nothing else.

JOURNALIST: ...(inaudible)... if we don't address out relationship with Indonesia there could be a possibility of cold war between...

BEAZLEY: The Indonesian President has had the hand of friendship out to John Howard for some time. Secondly, the Indonesian President has had a solution out there to a possible area of substantial disagreement between Australia and Indonesia and East Timor. That is the plate of that particular part of our region. He's had that hand of friendship out there, too, for some time. And John Howard has just been sitting on his digs. Now, what I hope John Howard will do when he visits Japan, is to get some added value from that trip by sitting down with President Wahid and talking these issues through with him. You know, it's always going to be difficult now that Indonesia is a democracy for Indonesian Presidents to leave home and to talk to Australians, or anyone else, for that matter, particularly when parliamentary sitting times approach, and they are approaching now in Indonesia. And we do have, and ought to, and have in the past, walked the extra mile on these matters. It's not a question of John Howard's pride. It is a question of Australian national interest. John Howard seems to indicate a

separation in his own personal view of his standing and the Australian requirements.

JOURNALIST: ...IR legislation. Obviously...

BEAZLEY: Look, my advice to the Democrats is, understand where this comes from. This comes from Reith's embarrassment that his industrial relations legislation is being confused daily. It comes from Reith's embarrassment at the public exposure of the fact that the way he set up his industrial laws obliges conflict between workers and management, workers and owners. Now, these are serious problems for Reith to confront. He knows he's to blame, even if not everybody sheets the blame home to him as often as they should. So, what this exercise is about is increasing the unfairness of this particular legislation by saying, 'OK, I've sent everybody running at each other and now I'm going to tip the balance in favour further of the employers against the interests of ordinary Australian workers and hobble the Industrial Relations Commission even further'. Now, what I hope Senator Lees does is to take a stand. And we will offer that opportunity for a stand in favour of an independent arbitrator, the Industrial Relations Commission, in favour of enhancing the powers of the umpires, in favour of enhancing their capacity to establish industrial peace, in favour of allowing a system to operate that properly reflects what it is, a mechanism by which ordinary Australians achieve happiness in life. Now, if the Democrats can stand alongside us on that, it will be all to the good for the ordinary Australian.

Ends

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