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Transcript of joint doorstop interview Kim Beazley and Wayne Swan, Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices, Sydney: 4 May 2005.

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Subjects: Liberal Leadership turmoil; Budget; Australian Hostage in Iraq

BEAZLEY: The choice for the Liberals is Costello or disunity. Now, a fair dinkum Prime Minister cannot accept headlines like this (Quit or We Will Fight) coming through on a daily basis. A fair dinkum Prime Minister would call his Treasurer in and lay down the law and say, ‘you’re either loyal or your quit, one thing or the other’. It is a weak performance from this Prime Minister, he’s showing now leadership. For him to be putting up at this crucial stage the development of national policy with this unseemly fight inside the Liberal Party over his job, he should either tell Mr Costello to go or Mr Costello to give him an unequivocal commitment to maintain his silence.

The Prime Minister is being turned into a lame duck Prime Minister with his lame duck status out there for people to see on a daily basis.

Next week we’re going to have the Federal Budget down. There’ll be arguments over whether the Government’s got the level of surplus right, some $14 billion taken out of the hide of taxpayers in this country. There’ll be arguments about investment in infrastructure, investment in the skills that this nation needs to generate our next period of economic growth. These are crucial issues for the Australian people.

But the Prime Minister and his Deputy do not have their minds on this. Their minds are distracted by their unseemly struggle and their Government’s mind is distracted by this unseemly struggle. The Australian people deserve better than this. Now, I’ll ask my Shadow Treasurer to say a thing or two.

SWAN: Well, I think a Budget is about maximum unity, when a Prime Minister and a Treasurer must be working together to put together a plan for the future. Could I also say that I welcome the decision today from the Reserve Bank to keep rates on hold. Struggling families in this country are paying among the highest interest rates in the western world and they are still getting over the March increase. So, that is a welcome relief for Australian families but it’s why we need maximum unity in the Federal Government. We need a set of policies produced in the Budget that will put downward pressure on interest rates and

invest in the productive capacity of the economy. The problem we have here is that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister don’t have their eye on that task, they have their eye on each other.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, could I just ask you about Mr Downer’s appearance on al Jazeera today? Do you think he’s done the right thing there in appearing on al Jazeera?

BEAZLEY: I’m not going to second guess whatever the Government’s doing in relation to trying to secure the release of the Australian who’s being held in Iraq. I think the Government can do without a running commentary from the Opposition on a day to day basis. I’m seeking a briefing. I understand that Kevin Rudd had a briefing yesterday, I’ll get one today. But I think, basically, I’m in the position that every Australian is in and that is we’re praying for the safety of the captive, praying that he gets released, that the right thing happens here. The Government is going have to work very hard to secure that without conceding policy. I’ve had enough to say about that in the past, too. They cannot concede policy but they’ve also, and I’m sure they appreciate this, they’ve also got an obligation to do their very level best to protect Australian citizens. I hope that whatever Mr Downer’s had to say and all the other contributions that have been made is a product of serious calibration amongst experts of what ought to be done and said to secure the release of Mr Wood.

JOURNALIST: There’s nothing you’d do differently to the Government’s position?

BEAZLEY: If there was something I’d do differently I wouldn’t say it now, frankly. That would be for something to say in the aftermath of what we hope will be a successful outcome in this regard. The Government’s got to be given space to handle this situation as indeed does Mr Wood’s family and I’m assuming that everything that they do and say now is being calibrated by the team that has

been put in place to give Mr Wood the best chance of getting out alive.

JOURNALIST: There’s some suggestion of some US assistance in seeking his release. Are you aware of how much the US is helping?

BEAZLEY: Not at this stage. I suspect I will be once I’m briefed on it and then I would regard it as a matter of public discussion? No, I wouldn’t. You’re actually in a situation now where it’s a very sensitive position. A small mistake either way can tip the balance in this important situation and the Government’s got to be the best judge of what will tip the balance one way or another and we hope that the exercise we do of analysing it after it’s all over is what we’re analysing is a successful outcome.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, why does Labor care so much if the Government is united or is not united?

BEAZLEY: Because we’re Australians. It’s our job as Opposition to hold this Government accountable and one thing we know is this: Australians will not get the correct judgements made about all the critical issues in the Budget by a Government that’s not concentrating on it but concentrating on each other. Absolutely every decision now; the size of the surplus; level of tax take; investment in dealing with issues related to the poor; investment in dealing with skills; these are all being taken by a government whose main focus is not on what does this nation need now, but who’s going to be boss. Now, you can’t do that.

JOURNALIST: But Federal Labor’s had its fair share of leadership battles.

BEAZLEY: And they were resolved. Paul Keating had the bottle to bring it to a head with Bob Hawke and Bob Hawke had the bottle to demand that that should happen.

JOURNALIST: You don’t think that kind of thing should be resolved by the electorate eventually?

BEAZLEY: And, frankly, we were a better government than this Government. We actually did the reforms that produced the prosperity which is why people like Wayne and myself are so angry now with this Government. Having squandered the legacy that we handed them, a legacy I might say which we handed them at enormous political cost to the Australian Labor Party, they are now trashing that legacy with their own internecine bitterness and squabbling. We do know from our own experience that this can’t go on, that we

lived with a government that had the bottle to resolve it and the Prime Minister that had the leadership to bring it to a head and a Treasurer that had the gumption to understand it needed to be brought to a head, just in the same way as the whole process of government has been dumbed down since we’ve left. Well, what was strength in the previous Labor Government is just weakness in this Government and the simple fact of the matter is that you cannot have a daily squabble unresolved on these issues at any time, but to have it in the week

leading up to the Budget, the psychological impact of which is critical to the next move in the economy is just intolerable.

JOURNALIST: How’s unity in Labor?

BEAZLEY: We’re the Opposition and Oppositions are always bubbling with ideas and bubbling with approaches. But I’ve got to say it’s an unusual situation when an Opposition, given the fact that we’re not under the same pressure, there is more unity in our show than there is in the Government’s. And I’d say there’s more unity in our show by a country mile because we understand what our responsibilities are. Our responsibilities are, as an Opposition, to hold

the Government accountable and we are doing that and this is part of the process.

JOURNALIST: Just on the Budget, there is some speculation that there’ll be tax cuts in the Budget. Do you support the idea of tax cuts in this Budget?

BEAZLEY: We’d support incentive in the taxation system. You’ve got to understand, what is our principle challenge now? Our principle challenge has been set for us by the OECD, by the Reserve Bank, by the relevant commentators on our national economy. It is to secure the next phase of growth in productivity and everything has to be calibrated by that; be they tax cuts which have got to emphasise incentive; be they changes in relation to the skills training system for our young people and for all people actually in the Australian economy now; we’ve got to be encouraging people back into the workforce; we’ve got to be encouraging them to skill themselves in a way that is relevant to the economy; we’ve got to get investment in the infrastructure right. The Government actually has to do all these things in the Budget, not just one of them. They’ve put themselves under a lot of pressure for two reasons, really, apart from their leadership tensions. The $66 billion punch, which I might say, was part of the leadership problem 12 months ago, that they put on the bottom line to get themselves re-elected, but worse than just the $66 billion punch, it was invested in the wrong things. It was not invested in things which will create growth. It’s invested, basically, in consumption to get themselves elected. Now, all these things have to be cured in this Budget and yet we’ve got a Government not focussed.

JOURNALIST: Would it be in Labor’s best interests to have Costello as Leader of the Liberal Party?

BEAZLEY: We’ve got to think about the position of Australia. Frankly, I think the way in which they’re both behaving they should both go. The petulance that we’ve seen displayed by the Treasurer, the sort of mindless gripping to power and the preparedness to accept lame duck status no matter what so he can hang on to the job, by the Prime Minister. You wouldn’t want either of them. As far as the Labor Party is concerned, we think this is a government which will find itself, it’s time, well and truly having come by the next election whether it’s led by Mr Costello or led by Mr Howard. But it has to be led in the interim with unity in the interests of the Australian people and our job as an Opposition is to bring this to a head in so far as we can to get this issue resolved.

JOURNALIST: Costello is saying that in relation to the leadership was that he’s not a softie. How would you interpret these comments?

BEAZLEY: Well, that he is a softie. If a fellow says, ‘I’m not a softie’, then he probably is. I think the issue for Mr Costello, as it was once for Paul Keating, do you have the bottle to resolve this? You find yourself in a position of

irreconcilable disagreement with the Prime Minister, it’s not right. It’s not right for the country. Mr Howard is in the same position. When we had Hawke and Keating were by considerable margin more substantial politicians than these two and each day goes by that case is proved.