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Parliament House, Canberra, 8 March 2000: transcript of doorstop interview [Bronwyn Bishop; aged care, Council on Reconciliation poll, Commonwealth Bank/Colonial merger; film censorship; mandatory sentencing]

Kim Beazley - Doorstop Interview


Subjects: Bronwyn Bishop/Aged Care, Council On Reconciliation Poll, Commonwealth Bank/Colonial Merger, Film Censorship, Mandatory Sentencing


Transcript - Parliament House, Canberra - 8 March 2000


E & OE - Proof Only


BEAZLEY: Well, Bronwyn Bishop is still there and that is simply a sign of the Prime Minister's scandalous disregard for elderly Australians. On any set of standards of competence that he said he required of his Minister, Bishop failed. It's time Bishop went.


JOURNALIST: Have you got any more nursing homes up your sleeve for today?


BEAZLEY: We have got so much evidence of this Minister's neglect we hardly know where to go. One thing we found out, however, yesterday, was that Bishop is repeatedly reported - contrary to her assertions that she's known nothing about the sorts of things that went on at Riverside or any of the other nursing homes that have come under critical attention from her agencies - she has been aware of that, and done nothing. She is grossly negligent as a Minister.


JOURNALIST: Do you think it will come down to her resignation, or certainly the Prime Minister's indicated to his Party room that he's not going to push?


BEAZLEY: It is absurd for the Prime Minister to be standing by this Minister. You have got to, if you're an elderly Australian - and often elderly Australians are frail and concerned about the circumstances in which they live - have confidence in the Prime Minister and the Minister specifically designated to be there for your concerns. It makes an absolute mockery of all the Prime Minister's and Bishop's various protestations last year of the contribution of the elderly in the International Year of the Elderly. It makes an absolute mockery of everything that they had to say during the course of that year that she continues on her negligent incompetent way. Now, if the Prime Minister does not have the guts and moral fortitude to stand this Minister down, he must be subject to exactly the same criticism that she is. He is negligent, too.


JOURNALIST: So, if she was your Minister, would you sack her?


BEAZLEY: Absolutely. She has no case, none. And whatever thin veneer of a case she had was stripped away yesterday when she was sort of like … it was like flashing a dirty postcard in one of the less salubrious ports around the globe - here it is, these are the reports I regularly receive. And then she closed off any tabling of that report by bogusly claiming that it was confidential to her when what clearly that report would have indicated, or those reports would have indicated, is the scandalous issues in many of the nursing homes ... I should say at least some of the nursing homes in this country ... have been fully before her, fully before her office, fully before herself and she has done nothing. Every step that Bishop and the Prime Minister have taken over the course of the last few weeks has been guided not by a concern for the frail aged in this community, but to protect their own wretched, useless hides. And it's time their wretched, useless hides were hung out to dry on this issue.


JOURNALIST: One Coalition backbencher says she shouldn't resign. It's ridiculous to expect Bronwyn Bishop, herself, to go around and change dirty bandages. What's your reaction to that?


BEAZLEY: What a stupid person that is who said that. What would be nice of Bronwyn Bishop would be for her to actually turn up in one of these homes where risks have been identified for the elderly. I mean, you can't get Bronwyn out of an opening night at the Sydney Opera House, but you can't get her into a nursing home where patients are at risk. I mean, what is she? The Minister for Good Times or the Minister for Aged Care?


JOURNALIST: How many nursing homes do you have up your sleeve?


BEAZLEY: There are quite a number of nursing homes that have been identified and identified publicly. And we, of course, will want to know exactly what Bronwyn has done about all of them. We actually know what Bronwyn has done about all of them - nothing.


JOURNALIST: Are they in different parts of the country or in Queensland, the majority?


BEAZLEY: There are nursing homes in many parts of the country which are being subject to critical attention. These are publicly known, actually. They've been carried in newspaper reports from time to time. What was not publicly known was that Bronwyn knew all about it. And Bronwyn did absolutely nothing about it. So, we intend to pursue these matters diligently during the course of the day.


JOURNALIST: Are you surprised that 52 per cent of Australians think that Aborigines are not disadvantaged?


BEAZLEY: I am a little wary of that poll as I've come to know a bit more about that poll. There's, apparently, a contrast between folk saying that they don't think that Aboriginals are disadvantaged and then asked, 'who's worse off, Aboriginals or other Australians?' An overwhelming number say the Aboriginals are worse off. I think there may be one or two things wrong with that poll. But, irrespective of what that poll says, a Prime Minister must assert leadership on these issues. It is obvious that we need to be a reconciled community. We particularly need to be a reconciled community with the original inhabitants of this nation. I don't think that that's an arguable proposition. You can have a bit of debate over definitions of words here or there, but there are two central propositions, I think, for the beginning of a reconciliation process. And that is a simple, courteous statement of apology for mistaken policies which saw so many Aboriginal children separated unjustifiably from their families with awful consequences both for their families and for themselves. It's a simple matter of an apology for that. And there ought to be, of course, recognition of the fact that they were the original inhabitants of this country.


JOURNALIST: Shouldn't the Newspoll hold some weight, though, given that it's been conducted by the Reconciliation Council?


BEAZLEY: I don't think polling ought to hold any weight at all, to tell you the truth. I mean, in politics they are interesting but they're just tools. Public opinion changes. Public opinion will frequently change when the Prime Minister exercises leadership. If the Prime Minister stated to the Australian people why he believed reconciliation was necessary, and you would have had every confidence that he would do that after his protestations following the last election, then the Australian people will tend to give the bloke a bit of credit and follow along with it. But if the Prime Minister says, 'I'm going to take a backseat on this. Everything I said on election night is about as meaningless as everything I've said about GST, about care for the elderly, or anything else', then, of course, the Australian public is unlikely to take it seriously.


JOURNALIST: Do you agree, then, with Senator Ridgeway's suggestion that the Prime Minister's feelings and response to reconciliation, certainly in the last couple of weeks, is linked to these polls?


BEAZLEY: I haven't seen Senator Ridgeway's comments on it. But I have no doubt in my own mind at all that the Prime Minister is using the polls as comfort for his failure to implement what he said he would do on election night. And that's just part of what's a natural tendency on his part anyway, and I think it's just one of the tragedies that we have a Prime Minister who is so diminishing the national spirit. He's diminished it in so many areas. He's diminishing it in this. We can do better.


JOURNALIST: ...Commonwealth/Colonial merger.


BEAZLEY: Well, firstly, I think it puts an absolute premium on that argument that the Labor Party has been making for some time now - that the banks have got a social responsibility, particularly in regional Australia, to ensure that services are maintained. And they ought to be quite directly and deliberately contributing to that. And we will continue to pursue those policies because they are at risk here. Secondly, of course, there's a continuing problem with competition associated with this, and we would urge the ACCC to look very closely at the competitive issues associated with this merger. And, thirdly, there's a question of jobs here. Some 3000 jobs, I see, are rumoured to be at stake in connection with this. I don't think Australians want to see any more indifferent executives receiving huge payouts when mergers and other forms of acquisition take place, and the ordinary workers out to grass in jobs that they were doing very well and, effectively, with minimal compensation.


JOURNALIST: So, your response is mixed?


BEAZLEY: My response is not mixed. My response is those three points that I just made.


JOURNALIST: So, would you support the Democrats in partially re-regulating the banks if they don't meet those social responsibilities?


BEAZLEY: I think it's going to be amply capable for a government to jawbone the banks into doing the right thing if the government actually is committed. What you see from this Government, we've had the odd foray on bank interest rates but when something serious comes up like the rise recently in the usurer's interest rates applicable to credit cards, we see absolute silence from the Government. And when something like this occurs, we see no action from the Government in trying to get the banks into a scheme that would keep regional banking services in place. We put a scheme up at the last election. Not all that hard for the banks to achieve given their huge profitability that has come because of decisions by government and employers over the course of the last 20 years. Not an absurd proposition to claim part of that for keeping services going.


JOURNALIST: Are National Party MPs being wowsers over the issue of film classification?


BEAZLEY: The Attorney-General's worked hard with the States to get agreement on a censorship regime. We think it is a reasonable regime. The National Party is very late into the field on this in declaring no confidence in their Coalition Minister. We support the propositions that the Coalition Minister has put forward and we note the National Party's extremely late entry, and wonder if there is more politics than principle in this.


JOURNALIST: Just one quick message for women on International Women's Day.


BEAZLEY: Yes, firstly, for all the women of Australia, have a great day today. This is a day in which your achievements and your contribution to the nation are celebrated. Women are everywhere these days, in every profession at every level, and the nation is the better for it.


JOURNALIST: Does opposition to mandatory sentencing from Harry Gibbs make it even more difficult for the Prime Minister not to act on mandatory sentencing?


BEAZLEY: The Prime Minister must act, and the Prime Minister knows it. The Prime Minister knows that this is a blot on the nation, particularly those mandatory sentencing laws related to the Northern Territory. A blot on the nation, and he must act. If he does not act, well, there'll be a report coming down soon and I'd be very surprised if that found that the existing arrangements were appropriate. That report will give us an opportunity to move ahead with the position we've determined, anyway, and that is to, if the Northern Territory and the other States where this is a concern will not act - at least insofar as these issues affect juveniles - we will.


JOURNALIST: Is it a bonus, though, that the report's been delayed now till Monday and that the Labor Party has a by-election on Saturday in the Northern Territory?


BEAZLEY: I think you should know something about Clare Martin and this by-election, because I don't think she's been given sufficient credit for this. A week or so ago, Clare Martin put in the Parliament of the Northern Territory a bill to repeal mandatory sentencing. Clare Martin's not running away from this issue. She has taken it up front. She believes, along with most people of commonsense and decent goodwill believe, that the operation of the Northern Territory is absurd and unacceptable, expensive to taxpayers, and dangerous to the lives of young Northern Territorians. Clare Martin hasn't run away from this issue because there's a by-election around the place. She's taken it front-on.


JOURNALIST: Does the delay of the report show the depth of division with the Coalition ... argument that Senator Coonan and Senator Payne, who are concerned about the way they should hand down the report?


BEAZLEY: Sorry...


JOURNALIST: the depth of division within Coalition ranks about mandatory sentencing, given that Senator Coonan and Senator Payne were delaying the delivery of the report … concerned … reports this morning. They're concerned about the way they can actually hand down the report and not offend the Prime Minister.


BEAZLEY: Oh, well, I have not been aware of that degree of difficulty being experienced by them. But if they're embarrassed by the Prime Minister, my advice to them is don't be, he's pretty weak.




Authorised by Gary Gray, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.