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Transcript of interview with Leigh Sales: Lateline: 30 June 2010: Super Profits Tax; Henry Tax Review; Kevin Rudd; Federal election; retirement.

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DATE: 30/6/2010

TITLE: Lateline

TOPIC: Super Profits Tax, Henry Tax Review, Kevin Rudd, Federal Election, Retirement

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Well the Federal Government will be hoping to hold the seat of Melbourne in the upcoming election with the member, the well regarded Finance Minster, Lindsay Tanner, announcing his retirement.

Mr Tanner's seat is a prime target for the Greens, they hope the Government's shelving of its Emissions Trading Scheme to deal with climate change may have bred disillusionment among traditional Labor voters.

Since announcing his retirement last week, on the same day the Labor Caucus replaced Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard, Lindsay Tanner's kept a low profile.

But, to answer questions about his decision to leave, the change of Prime Minister and the contentious Super Profits Tax, Mr Tanner joined me from Melbourne a short time ago.

Lindsay Tanner, thanks for being with us.


LEIGH SALES: Let's start with the Super Profits Tax. Are we going to see that issue resolved by the end of the week?

LINDSAY TANNER: I'm in no position to say Leigh, I'm not directly involved in the negotiations. Our view all along has been that we'd like it resolved sooner rather than later but, of course, in complex negotiations and discussions of this kind your primary objective's always to get it right and I've got no doubt that Wayne Swan and Martin Ferguson are still beavering away with that objective.

LEIGH SALES: You're a senior Government minister, though, in charge of Finance. Are you getting any sense from your colleagues about how it's progressing?

LINDSAY TANNER: Oh look we've obviously had some informal discussions, but very general, that are simply an indication of, we are working away at it and hopeful of reaching a landing point but, that's about it Leigh and I really am not directly involved and so I'm not in a position to fill you in one way of the other I'm afraid.

LEIGH SALES: Based on what has been said publically though, is it safe for we the public to assume that the 40 per cent rate across all commodities now won't be part of the final deal, given how firm the mining companies are in their opposition to that?

LINDSAY TANNER: Oh look I can't give you any indication or not if there'll be anything that people could describe as a deal. Whether there'll be a proposition that some people in the sector are comfortable with and others aren't, or whether we end up with something the mining industry across the board doesn't agree with.

Ultimately these are decisions for Government and for the Australian Parliament, Leigh, and although we're very happy, and have been from day one, to discuss the detail, particularly some of the complex issues about the application of existing projects for instance, we've always taken the view that, ultimately, we have the responsibility on behalf of the Australian people to take a position and to seek to legislate that position.

So, we're happy to engage in these processes of consultation and negotiation but we are not backing away from our responsibility to the Australian people.

LEIGH SALES: The mining industry says that if the matter's not resolved by the end of the week that it will resume its advertising campaign. Is that sort of deadline pressure helpful?

LINDSAY TANNER: Oh look they're entitled to take whatever view they like Leigh. We, as an act of good faith, decided to withdraw our advertising campaign and that met with a positive response, but that's really a matter for them as to how they want to pursue discussions on these matters. You would expect that if they make that choice, that is a big signal that things aren't going quite as well as people would hope, but, let's wait until we get there to see what happens.

LEIGH SALES: Given that Labor recently ditched a prime minister, have you given the mining companies the upper hand in this negotiation, have you shown them the extent of your political desperation?

LINDSAY TANNER: Well, first I wouldn't describe it as political desperation. Obviously, these things are always difficult and different people have different views on them. Reasonable people will have a different perspective, including different, from different parts of the country, but I think ultimately there's still an issue here and it really doesn't matter who the key players are there is still a big issue to be resolved for the future of our country and we are committed to getting a fairer deal for the Australian people from the sale of their resources.

LEIGH SALES: In hindsight do you think it was a mistake for the Government to not release the Henry Tax Review when you got it? Should you have had an open debate about all of the options and then released your policies, rather than hold the review close until your policy settings were all ready to go?

LINDSAY TANNER: A number of people have put that kind of proposition to me over the last few weeks, Leigh, and I've always said that, although it's the kind the thing that sounds, in theory, appropriate, in practice what would have happened would have been that, the moment we don't rule out this proposal, it becomes the Government's proposal, we are effectively in the same position as we were on May the 2nd when we announced our intention to proceed with that proposal.

So, although in theory I can understand why people are expressing that view, I think in practice it would have made no difference.

LEIGH SALES: But how do you then ever commission a review on something if the findings of that review can't come out and be open for discussion because of the sort of factors that you just mentioned?

LINDSAY TANNER: Well, because it happens in one instance doesn't mean that it's always gonna happen. I'd remind you that there was something around 130 different recommendations of the Henry Review and we did rule out a number. We indicated a variety of others were predominantly matters for State Governments and we didn't want to override them on those issues, and again, there was a

list of quite a substantial number of proposals that we didn't indicate we were gonna adopt but, we weren't ruling out and we believed are open for subsequent discussion.

So, there's a bit of a 'horses for courses' question here of actually making a decision how to deal with a particular proposition on its merits, and that'll vary according to what the issue is.

LEIGH SALES: The mining tax is one of the things blamed for Kevin Rudd's downfall. Can I ask, are you comfortable with the way that the prime minister was ousted?

LINDSAY TANNER: There's only one reason that any of us are Members of Parliament, Leigh, I said this in my speech to the House indicating I was not returning, and that is that when we front up to an election there are about 100,000 odd ballot papers out there in our electorates with our names and the words 'Australian Labor Party' underneath those names.

That's why I've been a Member of Parliament for 17 years, I've had the words 'Australian Labor Party' after my name on the ballot paper, and that's why anybody else - Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, all the rest of us - that's why we've been in Parliament.

That means we sign up to collective decision making and it means that sometimes decisions occur that we agree with and sometimes they don't, and when you have ballots, by definition, there'll be a winner and a loser.

But, ultimately, you've got a process here, it's a democratic process, it can be very tough, it can be bruising, but it is a democratic process and always, win, lose, or draw, you have to abide by the outcome and get on with the business and that's what people in the Government are doing.

LEIGH SALES: So are you saying that what happened to Kevin Rudd then is just part and parcel of the way politics is done?

LINDSAY TANNER: I've been in the game for 17 years in the Parliament and prior to that of course I've been very active in Labor politics since I was a teenager.

I've seen lots of tough things happen. I've seen people go through some awful battles, I've seen people really hurt by political combat. It is the nature of the game, it's, you know, a bit like football, sometimes you get injured and in politics it's a tough game and we all sign up to it knowing that sometimes things are gonna quite go as we hoped that we'll get great hires, great opportunities but we will also, from time to time, suffer great lows, great defeats and some demoralisation.

That is just the nature of the game and it's really a wrong way to look at it to pull out one particular example and say 'oh isn't this terrible.'

Democracy is a contact sport and it always will be that way and the great thing is that it's the alternative to violence for settling disputes, for settling contests about issues and interests.

LEIGH SALES: None of that actually answers, though, whether you are comfortable with the way that Kevin Rudd was ousted.

LINDSAY TANNER: Well, my answer, Leigh, is that I'm comfortable with the Labor Party making majority decisions about its leadership and all the other issues that it has to deal with and sometimes my view prevails, sometimes it doesn't. I've been on the losing side in ballot, I've been on the winning

sides of ballots, but I've always...

LEIGH SALES: Were you on the losing side on this one?

LINDSAY TANNER: Well, I'm not gonna give any commentary about my views about the particular contest that occurred here but, I'm always comfortable with being part of those processes.

LEIGH SALES: Do you think Labor could suffer any sort of backlash from voters who feel that the way Kevin Rudd was ousted was ruthless and unfair?

LINDSAY TANNER: To be honest I don't know. I've got no doubt that there are always going to be some voters out there who will have a different point of view from what the majority view of the Labor Party was. That's just the nature of things. There's always going to be divergent views in the community.

It is conceivable that will occur. I'm not in a position to judge, but all we can do, having made the decision, is to get on with the business of governing Australia in the interests of the Australian people, of building long term sustainable growth in the economy, of developing an agenda for our second

term, if we are elected to government, and prosecuting that agenda.

That's what we're doing and other people will comment and analyse about these things. I honestly don't know.

LEIGH SALES: Julia Gillard said that under Kevin Rudd the Government had 'lost its way.' How had the Government lost its way?

LINDSAY TANNER: Look, I think that's a generic description of losing a bit of connection with the Australian people and clearly the battle over the resource super profits tax I think had a destabilising impact on the Government prosecuting its message. But again, I don't wish to enter into some kind of historical commentary about this. Really we've got to be prospective about it. We've got to focus on getting things right.

We are in the business of solving this dispute, of getting a good outcome for the Australian people that at least most, if not all, of the people in the resources sector are able to accept. Time will tell whether we'll be able to achieve that but that's gotta be the focus.

LEIGH SALES: Let me ask you one more historic question. You were part of the so called group of four that was central to the Rudd Government. Do all four of you accept equal responsibility for the decisions about policy and strategy that were made?

LINDSAY TANNER: As far as I'm concerned, yes. If you're part of the decision-making process you accept responsibility for that. In the same way that I accept responsibility for Labor caucus and Labor Government decisions. I don't turn up in my electorate and say the opposite of what I say in Canberra on behalf of the Government.

LEIGH SALES: There's been a lot of speculation that Julia Gillard could call an election this weekend. Is that what we voters should be expecting?

LINDSAY TANNER: Look, I think you can expect whatever you like, Leigh. I will find out, I suspect, a little bit before you do but I doubt whether the gap will be that great. It's the Prime Minister's...

LEIGH SALES: You can feel free to give me a ring if you like.

LINDSAY TANNER: {laughs} It's the Prime Min..well given how fast the media is these days, you guys knew about the challenge before I did so, in fact maybe you should be ringing me. But I honestly don't know.

You know, like everybody else, I'll be just preparing for all possibilities. Of course I'm retiring but I'm very committed to ensuring that Labor holds my seat and that the new Labor candidate is elected in my seat and so I'll be watching with as much interest as anybody else.

LEIGH SALES: Does it say anything that the media did know about the challenge before you as one of the most senior members on the front bench?

LINDSAY TANNER: Not necessarily because from what I can see it all happened very quickly and, just circumstances were such that I was physically out of the loop to some degree and also the very early reports were saying that I was in Kevin Rudd's office and given that I was in a pub having dinner

out in the suburb of O'Connor I kind of thought that maybe the reports were a bit off beam if they were saying I was sitting in the Prime Minister's office when I was some kilometres away.

So that's just the way things unfolded. I don't think there's any big issue about that.

LEIGH SALES: But it makes it sound like you hadn't been a party to any discussions about 'how was Kevin Rudd going?' and you know 'should a change of leader take place?' Is that actually the case or have I got the wrong impression there?

LINDSAY TANNER: Well I'm not gonna reveal what discussions that I have been party to other than to say that, I think as people would clearly understand, I had no role in moving to a challenge so I was not in any way involved in organising for the challenge to occur. I think that's pretty widely understood.

LEIGH SALES: 'The Age' editorialised about your impending retirement that it might indicate an abiding failure in Australian political life that politicians find managing the work/life balance to be notoriously difficult. As someone for whom that has been the case, do you have any ideas about what

could change to make politics a bit easier, if you like, for people?

LINDSAY TANNER: Well, sadly no otherwise I probably would have put them in place and I might conceivably be recontesting. But I think there's a couple of things worth saying here Leigh. One is it's not the only occupation where these problems are pretty severe. There are other occupations in the work force where people encounter similar problems.

Secondly I'm someone with two families. So, I've got little kids in my existing marriage and I've got two older kids from a previous marriage. All of whom I love dearly and I have obligations to and I want to be with and that's a bit different from somebody who's just got children from a current marriage.

There's lots of parliamentarians, indeed some senior ministers who've got little kids. I've had the additional challenge of having the older kids as well. I don't complain about that, that's just a reality. But it means that the kind of job that politics is, lots of travel, being away from home a lot of the time, very long hours, just it becomes very difficult to manage.

I have managed it for a long time and who knows, maybe I could have managed it more but you've got to make priority choices in life, I've made a priority choice, but there are lots of other people who face similar priority choices who are not politicians, who are not high profile people, who are not as necessarily well paid as I am.

So I don't complain about any of these things. If I had of had kids in my early 20s and they were all grown up now life would have been different but, I didn't.

LEIGH SALES: Was it a decision that had been a long time coming? Is it something that you'd gradually come to terms with or has there been a particular incident that was the straw that broke the camel's back?

LINDSAY TANNER: Oh, Leigh, really I said everything I needed to say about this in my comments to Parliament and there's nothing really I can add to that.

LEIGH SALES: You said in your farewell speech to the Parliament that you don't intend to play a serious or significant future role in politics. Why is that?

LINDSAY TANNER: I think it's important for people who have been senior ministers not to get in the road of people who follow in their footsteps and I'd have to say that I think almost universally the giants of the previous generation who were there or departing when I first got into parliament have been very good in that regard in honouring the right of the new leadership of the Labor Party, the new leading figures, to tackle the challenges as they see it and not to be sitting on the sidelines lecturing them about the good old days or how it should be done.

So, I have no intention of being an active player in the political scene. I am committed, as I said in my contribution, to doing whatever I can to further my involvement with helping people in the African-Australian communities.

That's been a passion of mine for a long time, I've been doing a lot of things that people wouldn't necessarily know about and I want to continue that. But that's not in my mind a political involvement, that's a community involvement.

LEIGH SALES: Lindsay Tanner, hopefully we'll get to speak to you once or twice more before you retire, thank you very much for making time tonight.

LINDSAY TANNER: Thanks very much, Leigh.


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