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Sydney, NSW: transcript of doorstop interview: Defence headquarters, university funding, Aston by-election, Eminem, independence of the ABC

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Kim Beazley - Doorstop - Defence Headquarters, University Funding, Aston By-Election, Eminem, Independence Of The ABC

Thursday, 19 July 2001

Kim Beazley - Doorstop Interview Subjects: Defence Headquarters, University Funding, Aston By-Election, Eminem, Independence Of The ABC

Transcript - Sydney, NSW - 18 July 2001


JOURNALIST: ...Defence facility in Queanbeyan?

BEAZLEY: Well, is it? That's the first question. Because the whisper we get is that it's HMAS Harman, which is in Canberra. So, we don't know yet where the headquarters and defence forces will be. Suffice it to say there is an argument, always, to place the headquarters of the defence forces near the political leadership because in any war situation there needs to be the closest possible consultation. And during WWII, of course, it operated effectively out of Victoria Barracks, and that was an inconvenience whenever the Government was in Canberra. So, you do need a close correlation between the two. But I suspect Mr Reith and Mr Gary Nairn jumped the gun, because I suspect it's not in Queanbeyan at all - it's in Canberra. And we would certainly want to see a situation where people in Queanbeyan benefited, people in the Eden-Monaro electorate, benefited from any housing or anything associated with it. I think there's just an outside chance they may be in the process of being one additional group of victims of the mean and tricky spirit of this Howard Government in its late phases.

JOURNALIST: University funding, several vice-chancellors...?

BEAZLEY: They're absolutely right. The universities of this country have been pillaged by the Howard Government - a billion dollars cut from them. We have to invest in these areas of acquiring knowledge and skills if we are to be a successful people. Our universities are under pressure, under threat. They've gone from staff/student ratios of about 11 or 12 - quite good by international comparisons - to around about 19. Regional universities are feeling massively pressured now. The Government has turned their backs on them - and they've turned their backs on the future of this country.

JOURNALIST: So, you would increase funding?

BEAZLEY: What we have said, of course, is that we're going to be governed by the budgetary circumstances. But we've already shifted priorities. We know the Government's priorities - ours are different. Our priority is investing in the capacity of our nation to prosper in the future. So, as we respond

to the Knowledge Nation taskforce which has called for increased funding for universities in much the same way as the Vice-Chancellors have, we know that they are front and centre in our plans for a ten-year implementation of our Knowledge Nation agenda.

JOURNALIST: ...concede on Aston?

BEAZLEY: You don't concede until the final votes are in. But we're delighted with Aston. We have pulled off a very good swing in a very difficult seat for the Labor Party - not in one of our target areas. You see, the battle in the next election is going to be fought in the far outer suburbs of the major capital cities and in the regional centres. If you look at the fault lines dividing Australian society now, these are the people who have not benefited from the political changes of the last few years. These are the people bearing the burden of a GST and bearing the burden of under-investment in health and education. That's where the fight will be. So, a good swing in Aston is a bit of a bonus.

JOURNALIST: ...Eminem's visa has been granted. What's your reaction to that?

BEAZLEY: I'm not surprised it's been granted. But I am regretful that the huffing and puffing that those of us in politics have felt obliged to do over the course of the last month or two, courtesy of silly Liberal frontbenchers means that he's got publicity he does not warrant and I don't want to add any more to it today.

JOURNALIST: ...Opposition on the record as with the ABC hierarchy, that you....Donald McDonald. Given the events of the last 24-hours, does the Opposition still have confidence in Jonathon Shier as managing director and Donald McDonald as Chairman?

BEAZLEY: The political independence of the ABC is on trial. It's on trial now. Mr Shier needs to explain why he needed a third legal opinion after having two on this matter. Mr Shier needs to explain whether or not this particular program is going to be broadcast, and if it is, will it be cut. Because this program, from the evidence in the papers today, and the ability of the ABC to put it on, goes to the very heart of the political independence of the ABC. And if this Board and this Managing Director cannot defend that, then the institution of the independent national broadcaster if fatally undermined. Now, the particular program, which I have, of course, not seen, and don't know the detail of, would no doubt be embarrassing for the Government at this particular point of time because it would shine a light on their dirty tricks. We've already seen something of what this Government is prepared to do in the course of these last six months - $20 million a month of taxpayers' funds being spent on advertising the Government - unprecedented - unprecedented and corrupt. And we have also seen, of course, the willingness to lie hugely during the course of that by-election in Aston about the Labor Party positions on a critical matter in that electorate - the Scoresby freeway. But it seems as though this is part of a pattern. And what we need to do is to perhaps to see something of its origins in this particular story. But Mr Shier knows, Mr McDonald should know, that on the handling of this, goes the whole issue of the ABC's independence. This is a serious issue.

JOURNALIST: What position would you be in in Government in terms of dealing with unhappiness with the ABC but you wouldn't want the Government to seem to be directly interfering with it, either, would you?

BEAZLEY: What I'm directing to Mr Shier is - it is his task and Mr McDonald's to defend the independence of the ABC. But I do think that when we are in Government we have got to find mechanisms, if we get there, we have got to find mechanisms which can guarantee in the public mind

that the ABC is effectively operating independently. There are a lot of question marks over many issues in broadcasting: whether or not it's possible for a wide diversity of views based on the diversity of ownership to persist in a world where enormous investment is required to get up any successful media operation. But one thing that guarantees in this country a diversity of thought is an independent ABC. If that is undermined, well, an important underpinning of democracy in this country goes to Hell in a hand basket.

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

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