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Transcript of interview with Lyndal Curtis: ABC News 24: 14 November 2013: retirement of Kevin Rudd; debt limit; $8.8 billion RBA grant

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Subjects: Retirement of Kevin Rudd, debt limit, $8.8 billion RBA grant.

CURTIS: Welcome to ABC News 24.

BOWEN: Thanks, Lyndal.

CURTIS: First on the issue of Kevin Rudd, how do you think history will judge him?

BOWEN: I think history will judge him well, a man who defeated the most formidable conservative politician of the generation in an election which was not inevitable for Labor to win. A man who introduced great reforms, repealed WorkChoices. Of course the apology to the stolen generations and together with Julia Gillard, across a period of office, big reforms to education, not just education funding but a national curriculum, DisabilityCare, an increase to the

aged pension as well, of course, of getting Australia through the global financial crisis. That's not something that was just important then. You look around the world, there are plenty of countries comparable to Australia that are still paying the debilitating cost of not acting as well as Australia through that global financial crisis.

CURTIS: The record, though, is mixed. For all the good there were mistakes, decisions not taken or taken that shouldn't have been and the campaign to regain the leadership. Did he damage the party?

BOWEN: I'm not going to go through in detail the last six years or the leadership ructions which, of course, proved very, very difficult for the Labor Party. But I will say this. Kevin Rudd returned to the leadership earlier this party

year. He didn't have to. The party asked him to. It would have been easy for him to say “No, I was available, you didn't want me, now I'm not available.”

He took the view it's his responsibility. It's no disrespect to Julia Gillard to say that the election result could have been a lot worse for Labor than it was. Yes, the election result was a defeat and a significant one but we are a formidable fighting force with more than 50 people in the parliamentary - in the House of Representatives. I think that's a very good base for which Bill Shorten can lead Labor to victory into the future.

CURTIS: One of the things I've never been able to understands is the very different experiences people had of Kevin Rudd. You have always said you were treated very well. Others say they were treated very badly. Was he different to different people or were you just more forgiving?

BOWEN: Lyndal, I'm not going to go through a commentary. Those things have been aired and I think the Australian people are interested in a discussion about the future, not the past. My experience of Kevin Rudd, as a member of his Cabinet, was that he always treated me very well. He became a friend and treated my family very well and paid an interest in my family and interested in my children and talking to my children when occasionally the Prime Minister would ring the Treasurer and the kids would be in the background. He knows my children well.

I've seen a side of Kevin Rudd that plenty of people haven't seen. I've also seen a pretty funny and good sense of humour and a self-deprecating sense of humour, he can take the Mickey out of himself in a way which I think many people wouldn’t have seen, so I’ve seen that. I respect the views of everybody in the caucus, of course. On the day of Kevin Rudd's retirement it's appropriate for me to pay tribute to him but to emphasise I'm looking forward to the future. I think there has been plenty of naval gazing, plenty of discussion and people putting views forward and giving character assessments all over the place of Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and all sorts of people. There is not much future in that. There is a future to keeping this Government to account and focusing on good policy for Australia.

CURTIS: On that score, the debt ceiling increase legislation is likely to go into the Senate today. What happens if the limit isn't increased?

BOWEN: The limit will be increased from our point of view. We voted for an increase and we will vote for an increase in the Senate. This is a politically confected crisis by Joe Hockey when there is no crisis. He is confecting one for political circumstances. The Government can have an increase in the debt limit today. It will be $400 billion though. We think that's more than enough to get

Australia through not only the immediate future but on all the figures we have in front of us, the next few years quite easily.

Now, if Joe Hockey says he needs more, let him release the mid-year economic outlook, which will be his mini-budget and will reflect all the decisions he has taken. He’s saying “If there is no increase, I will have to cut on December 12.” He can have an increase. No-one is saying he can’t have an increase. The responsible thing for him to do is realise he is the Treasurer of Australia, he has responsibility to the economy. Accept that the Parliament has spoken. Accept that all the Parliament is prepared to authorise at this stage, at this stage is $400 billion. Take that. It means the Government can continue and debt can be issued and if he needs more later he can come back and justify it.

CURTIS: Mr Hockey says he has been advised there needs to be a $40 billion-$60 billion buffer on top of what is needed. Did you get the same advice from Treasury?

BOWEN: The AOFM, it’s not Treasury in fairness it’s the AOFM, has always asked for a buffer. The projections show debt hitting $370 billion in 2016-2017. Yes there is a need for a buffer, that’s several years off, that’s several years off. He has not justified half a trillion dollars. This is the key example of the Government behaving differently to the way they promised. I don't think when the people poured into polling booths around the country on September 7, they thought they were voting for a government who’s first step would be to ask for

half a trillion dollars in a no doc loan. Not willing to justify it, I mean the executive memorandum…

CURTIS: It doesn't mean they are going to spend up to that amount?

BOWEN: No, but it means they want the ability to do so. It's appropriate for the Parliament to say you should not have the ability to do so. You can have a debt limit which you need. The debt limit you need at the moment is $400 billion.

CURTIS: Tony Abbott has offered Bill Shorten a briefing on this. Will Mr. Shorten take that up?

BOWEN: No, he should give the Australian people a briefing. It’s not about us, it’s about the Australian people, being upfront. They have made decisions like increasing - giving the Reserve Bank a grant of $8.8 billion which will increase our debt interest bill over the next four years by more than $1 billion. They have not justified that. They are refusing to release those documents, although we have other measures in place to get access to those now. They are not being up front with the Australian people. We don't want a confidential briefing. We want the documents out before the Australian people.

CURTIS: Treasury officials, won't they be appearing before Senate estimates next week. Can't you get the information you need from them then?

BOWEN: It's not the Treasury officials job to explain to the Australian people why we need a debt limit increase. The Treasurer has responsibilities here. They are responsibilities he is failing to fulfill. He is acting like a Shadow Treasurer. He is being B-grade actor, confecting outrage, confecting a political crises. And if he confects an economic crises as well, it we will be his responsibility and we will hold him very much to account for it.

CURTIS: On the issue of the increase in the Reserve Bank's reserve fund, the Treasurer offered to release the advice to him if advice to Wayne Swan was allowed to be released. Mr Swan - there has been a Treasury minute to him put out. Should you take up the Treasurer's offer?

BOWEN: Wayne Swan has released the advice he received. Now again...

CURTIS: From the Treasury, not necessarily from the Reserve Bank?

BOWEN: There is already correspondence from the Reserve Bank on the public record as well. But this is furphy by Mr Hockey. Again, news flash Mr Hockey, you are the Treasurer now. You have got responsibilities, you have advice here today and you’re not releasing it. I asked him to release it. He refused. We FOIed it. It’s been refused. Now there’s a resolution in the Senate, the Government will be in contempt of the Senate if they don't release the documentation to the Senate. We’ve had to resort to that, we shouldn’t have had to.

Mr Hockey says “I'm happy to release it” but he’s refused at every instance. This isn't a trade, this isn't some sort of school boy football card trade. He is the Treasurer of Australia. He’s got documents to release. He is bringing the culture of secrecy right into Treasury, refusing to release the incoming Government brief, refusing to release the mid-year economic statement and refusing to release the documentation from the Reserve Bank and the Treasury on the advice to his as to whether the Reserve Bank needed an $8.8 billion injection this year. He claimed yesterday in the Parliament that the Reserve Bank asked for $8.8 billion this year but he refuses to release the documentation. If he has got nothing to hide, he would have released it weeks ago.

CURTIS: Chris Bowen, thank you for your time.