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Wollongong: transcript of doorstop: Telstra policy announcement; war with Iraq;\nCunningham by-election.

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Subjects: Telstra policy announcement; War with Iraq; Cunningham by-election

BIRD: … Obviously, I’ve been out working for three weeks, and now we’ve got the [inaudible] office opened, and I appreciate you being here to do that, Simon. It’s been an honour to have you in our region again, and can I say that, over those three weeks I’ve been campaigning, many, many people have raised with me their concerns about increased costs around a range of issues, but in particular their Telstra costs. I’ve raised that with Simon on the last visit, and I’m very pleased to welcome him back here to make an announcement on that issue for us. Thank you Simon.

CREAN: Thanks very much, Sharon. And thanks very much for the welcome, a windy welcome. But it’s a great job that the SES workers have been doing in getting power restored to the community.

Sharon mentioned that, in her consultations with the community, the issue of Telstra line charges and their increase had come up frequently, and she raised this issue with me last time I was down. And the Parliament is in a unique position next week to do something about this. Next week, the Government has to get formal approval to enable Telstra to put up the charges that actually came into place on June of this year. Labor will vote against those charges, meaning they won’t go up.

John Howard is prepared to allow Telstra to put these charges up: line rental, telephone, mobile telephones, and the like. It will cost the community an extra $100 million. Australian families don’t deserve to be slugged for this. The reason John Howard’s doing it, is he wants to fatten Telstra to sell it. Well, Labor’s opposed to the further sale of Telstra and we’re opposed to this slug on Australian families.

John Howard is allowing Telstra to operate just like the banks, and Labor is determined to stop that. I’ll be recommending to my Caucus next week that


we disallow these new charges in the Senate. It means we will give relief to struggling Australian families who currently have to bear the increased cost, but we will give relief to.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned earier [inaudible] to Mr Howard at the next election. Is it because John’s just too hard to beat?

CREAN: No. They’re both beatable, and they’ll be beatable on the issues. And I’m prepared to confront them on the issues. The difference is, John Howard still hasn’t determined whether he will confront us on the issues in Cunningham on the 19th of October. They still haven’t declared a candidate. He’s taking Cunningham and the Illawarra for granted. The issues that are important down here are Telstra - people want to know about John Howard’s intentions and how he intends to develop them. I’ve indicated today we’re going to stop him in terms of putting up telephone rental charges. But they want to know about his policies on health and education, because they’re not working for the Illawarra. Labor will be putting forward constructive alternatives. John Howard is taking the Illawarra for granted.

JOURANALIST: Can we talk about splits within the Party? Harry Quick has already mentioned that he’s prepared to cross the floor if Labor backs war with Iraq.

CREAN: We have to work together to ensure war is avoided. No one wants to go to war. If Australia is committed to war, we are putting Australian lives on the line. And both the Prime Minister and myself are committed to ensuring that doesn’t happen, if it can be avoided. The difference of opinion, where we differ is that I believe that the solution has to be through the United Nations, and we have to exhaust that opportunity before any other resort is taken. I’m now pleased, I’m now pleased that the Prime Minister has agreed with that, but I wish he would get on the phone to George Bush and convince him to persist harder with the United Nations solution.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] within your own party. Are you concerned that other members will break away from the party, cross the floor, if you do decide …

CREAN: The Labor Party has a united position on this, has had so since April, we have been totally consistent - do it through the United Nations framework. That is the unanimous position of the Australian Labor Party. I’m delighted now that John Howard has joined the chorus.

JOURNALIST: Harry Quick has said, though, that if Labor does back war with Iraq under any situation, he’ll cross the floor. [inaudible] a split within the party?


CREAN: No split in the Labor Party on this. We are absolutely united; we have been so since April. It’s the Government that’s been all over the shop. And Alexander Downer’s inept and mishandling of this issue has put Australia in a very difficult position.

JOURNALIST: You’re in a difficult position, too. You’ve just had a fair smacking in the local Mayoral election. How confident are you for Cunningham?

CREAN: I never take the seat for granted, and that’s why I’m down here on a regular basis listening to the issues, identifying with them, and responding to them. Today is a very good example of that. The issue that people have been complaining about is their line-rental charges going up. I’m prepared to do something about that; I’m prepared to keep them down.

The issue of the Lord Mayoral election sends one clear message: if you take an electorate for granted, you will be punished. I’ve heard that message, and that’s why I’m here on a regular basis, operating in the interests of the Illawarra. John Howard hasn’t heard that message, but I’m delighted that we’ve got a candidate of Sharon’s capacity to continue giving effective representation for the Cunningham electorate. That’s what I’m committed to achieving; that’s why I’m behind her campaign. That’s why we’re working for the Illawarra.

JOURNALIST: That’s not your only problem, though. You’ve got Ian McManus up in Heathcote who’s not very happy; you’ve got Col Markham in Wollongong. And it looks like Campbell could be in difficulty in Keira. Labor’s in trouble [inaudible]

CREAN: All political parties have to recognise the need for reform. I’ve recognised that, that’s why I’m doing something about it. I’ve indicated as part of my leadership that I want to modernise the Labor Party. That’s why I’ve got a Special Conference in three weeks’ time to address those very issues - to modernise it, to make it more open, to make it more inclusive, to ensure that the branch-stackers don’t prevail. I’m prepared to do something about that in the interests of improving and attracting people to the Labor Party. But I’m the only political leader prepared to do it, because John Howard won’t clean up the mess in his ranks. He’s got branch-stackers determining preselections; he’s got people living overseas in Hong Kong determining candidates for the Liberal Party, and he won’t do a thing about it.

JOURNALIST: Will it be enough to get you over the line?

CREAN: We will, in putting Sharon forward, demonstrate our commitment to continued, effective representation for the area. We will never take the seat for granted, we wanted to have the best possible representation, and we want a candidate prepared to stand up for the region.


That’s what I’m putting forward to the people of Cunningham. It’s a test that I’ve established for myself; it’s a test that I’m happy to meet.

JOURNALIST: Simon, some people here in the region argue that, by imposing a candidate into Cunningham, you are taking the electorate for granted.

CREAN: The circumstances of a by-election are always different. This by-election came on us very suddenly. The rules of the Labor Party enable a speedy process in those circumstances; that’s what was invoked. The N40 was always there to deal with by-elections. What I wanted was a candidate in the field quickly, but a quality candidate - a candidate who represents the community, a candidate who understands the community, a candidate who is a champion for the community. And we’ve got that in Sharon Bird. I don’t think anyone can fault her as an outstanding candidate for this region. And the process and the rules have been used appropriately to achieve that result, a great result for the area. What we’ve got to do is to campaign around that, and I’m confident that we will succeed.