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Tweed Heads, NSW: transcript of doorstop interview, 15 February 2001: Labor's policy on the environment One Nation preferences, GST, regional Australia, donations to political parties Knowledge Nation, target seats.

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Kim Beazley - Doorstop Interview Subjects: Labor's Policy On The Environment, One Nation Preferences, GST, Regional Australia, Donations To Political Parties, Knowledge Nation, Target Seats

Transcript - Tweed Heads, NSW - 15 February 2001

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BEAZLEY: This is our last Press Conference like this of the tour and I guess I would like to start with thanking you all for your patience and forbearance over the course of the last few days. For my point of view this has been a significant exercise in listening to the views of the average Australian family and their concerns and taking those on board. I have had a few ideas on solutions to the sorts of problems I anticipated would be raised with us. More problems than I anticipated have been, and this is an opportunity for me, it has been an opportunity to take on board those concerns and to accept the obligation to come up with further solutions to the sorts of problems that have been raised with us. We talked about many things. Labor's new policies in the area of education, aged care, of flood relief, of insurance related to flood and we have had a debate on Telstra and the ABC on the way through as well. So it has been very much a policy-driven trip as well as a listening trip. And we have now one final piece of policy that we would like to discuss. And it relates to the environment and is a second cut of our environmental policies following what we had to say about salinity some months ago.

So I announce today these initiatives as part of Labor's policy on the environment. Firstly the establishment of a national framework for environmental information systems. This is to put in place a common database developed in consultation with the States and local authorities, and of course the private sector, so that there is a rationalisation and a creation of synergies between databases. Those databases are absolutely critical to proper planning for sustainable development and sustainable use of the environment.

Secondly, establish an undertaking to work cooperatively with the States to implement land clearing controls and to accept responsibility where we are working cooperatively with the States and there are financial implications involved with the stakeholders concerned - accept responsibility or part responsibility at least at the Commonwealth level. This is something the Commonwealth will not do and so for example in the Sate of Queensland will leave Mr Beattie in a position of them lecturing him but him at the same time having to deal with the problem exclusively within the framework of Queensland's resources.

To establish too a revolving conservation fund and what this conservation fund would permit would permit the Commonwealth to acquire property that is ecologically sensitive and to ensure that it is properly ecologically protected and then sell it on with the conservation caveats over it. So that any future usage of it had to be compatible with its environmental values. It would mean, if we were looking at it as to how this would work realistically, taking out of circulation an area probably endangered but it may well be an area that is beautifully suited to ecotourism. So you can then subsequently onsell it for

the purpose of ensuring that the Australian people had an opportunity and those visiting Australia an opportunity to enjoy its values in a way that preserved those values.

And finally, the establishment of an Office of the Commissioner for the Environment. And this Commissioner will head up an independent body responsible for monitoring all the areas of environmental issues that would come within the purview of the Commonwealth.

And these are practical initiatives, part solutions for the sorts of environmental problems that we now confront, building on Labor's determination that there will be a cooperative relationship between the Federal Government and the States so that we are working together, not scoring points off each other, but working together to secure sustainable and important outcomes for the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, what level of funds would be put into the Conservation Fund and what level of money would you anticipate would have to be expended on the Commonwealth responsibility on land clearing.

BEAZLEY: Well firstly for most of these initiatives, the funds would be fairly small, as I think you can see, and for a revolving fund which could conceivably operate off budget as well and on budget, it would be small as well. That is not to say at some point of time there would not need to be a commitment of resources.

As with the policies I have been announcing, the final cut of what we are prepared to put into it and the pace at which these things are set up is determined by responsible budgetary planning and we will have the basis of that up by the time of the next election. But what you need to know is the direction in which we are going and the priorities that we are establishing.

Of course on something like that section of the undertaking here which deals with cooperative relationships with the States on land clearance before we actually had a full comprehension of what the cost was likely to be, you would have to talk it through with the relevant States.

JOURNALIST: The environment was a big issue in the WA election. How big an issue really is it going to be here.

BEAZLEY: Well, overall in Australia the environment is a big issue. It has its different manifestations in different parts of the country, its different emphases. There are overall concerns about salinity. There are overall concerns about water quality and air quality. Air quality of course relates to greenhouse gas issues. These are in the minds of many Australians big issues indeed, but then when you move away from what you might call the national issues, you always find local issues.

JENNY MCALLISTER: It is a really important issue in this area. People are talking about (inaudible) policy, they are talking about conservation and biodiversity and they are talking about coastal management and those are the types of questions that people here are looking for answers on.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) against other issues like petrol prices and the GST.

JENNY MCALLISTER: I actually think for people in this area it is incredibly important. People come here because it is a beautiful area. It's an area that is under a lot of pressure for that reason. It's a high growth area and it's of course in that way particularly on most people's minds.

JOURNALIST: What scale of land acquisitions could the Commonwealth mount. For instance, could

you have been in a circumstance where you could boost Port Hinchinbrook.

BEAZLEY: I wouldn't be specific to a particular location and again this would have to be something you would sit down and work through with the States because they have responsibility basically for land management. But I am sure they would be very pleased to follow the Commonwealth in a situation where they have an environmental area that they have to deal with to see in operation a Commonwealth fund that could acquire it. So I wouldn't be specific to a particular location. Suffice it to say, constantly round this country, areas are being razed as significant to biodiversity. Now little can be done about it because they are not necessarily in public hands and the private owners say - hang on, you know, this is our property, we are entitled to a reasonable return on our property and simply imposing a restriction on us is unfair treatment of us.

Now in those circumstances there is an opportunity to relieve them and I think when you have got that people are going to be much more cooperative in the way in which they handle their own situations than they are prepared to be at the moment.

JOURNALIST: What (inaudible)logging and wood chipping in electorates like Gippsland that you might have to win from the National Party. Eden Monaro that you might have to win from the Liberals.

BEAZLEY: In Eden Monaro there has been a real effort by the Labor State Government to establish a regime in relation to forests, native forests and logging in other areas. That balances the concerns. The concerns related to sustainability, the concerns related to environmental values, and the concerns of the workers for employment. And by and large around the country, it has been possible, particularly for State Labor Governments to achieve a balance. Now that is not to say that all have been in the cart so to speak and some concerns have not been raised. They have been raised. But we have not been bad at it. In WA that proved not possible and there has been, I think on the coast of WA, so little native forest left unlogged, old growth forest was left - that it really did come down to an issue - would you do any more and the vibe was absolutely clear cut

But in NSW, where we are at the moment, you have a green Premier, in the case of Bob Carr, and he has managed to achieve a balance, not to everybody's satisfaction. But he has managed to achieve a balance. The one person to whose satisfaction, or one of the people to whose satisfaction it has not been achieved is Wilson Tuckey who was wandering around this debate desperately seeking political advantage in a fashion completely unattuned these days to what the average Australian wants.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the environmental group (inaudible) WA election...

BEAZLEY: The environmental vote in WA was highly significant basically because of the stands that Geoff Gallop took. A substantial number of people who are environmentally concerned voted for Geoff Gallop directly. In WA the Green Party has always been a well-structured operation of a more political character and I am not handing out any gratuitous insults here and a more sustainable long term character than the Green Party operation anywhere perhaps but Tasmania. And they have had a formidable political organisation for a long time. There is no doubt that they turned that formidable political organisation to supporting first their candidates and then the Labor Party at the last State election. But the Green Party in WA has been a force for a long time and will continue to be. It won't necessarily be as strong, disciplined or well organised elsewhere round the country.

JOURNALIST: Also about WA, the members for Moore and Pearce, Noel Washer and Judy Moylan are talking about doing a deal with One Nation on preferences in the Federal election. What is your response

to that.

BEAZLEY: Well I think for those who like their politicians with a bit of courage and fortitude, we have seen over the last few days not much demonstrated by Nationals and now it seems that the disease has spread to the Liberal Party. There are a couple of panic stricken individuals in WA. It remains for Mr Howard to be asked the question. Ms Moylan and Mr Prosser may not think that the question of a preference deal and Mr Prosser may think that the question of the preference deal with One Nation is an open question - Prime Minister what do you think and how will you be directing the Liberal Party organisation in Western Australia to clarify this matter? It is a move beyond a question for them, to a question to Mr Howard. Mr Howard directs Federal preferences, no one else.

JOURNALIST: Pauline Hanson says she is terrified ...that you will say 'sorry' to Aborigines, has she got the potential to reignite division?

BEAZLEY: Let me say this to Pauline Hanson: If she has any serious concerns about what is happening to battling Australians, those with problems in the dairy industry, those with problems who have had to deal with restructuring, those who have to live on low wages because the Industrial Relations Commission has been gutted. She has got a problem with those who can't get access to public hospital beds and go on a ambulance run around when they have got emergencies. She has got a problem with people who can't get into decent aged care facilities and she fears me becoming Prime Minister. She has a complete inadequacy in her analysis of what is happening to ordinary people in this country or in reality, which I strongly suspect, she does not care at all.

JOURNALIST: Do you think 'sorry' will have strength at the next election as an issue?

BEAZLEY: I believe, and I would have thought that she would have had some concern for this, it constitutes common courtesy. I think, in fact, it stands for much more than that, but the average Australian thinks of it as common courtesy and the average Australian is behind that proposition now. They want this issue out of the way so that we can move on building a better climate, a more reconciled climate in this country on race relations. So I think she is quite off beam on that and what I would suggest is that she reflects on her own family experience and where she may have been taught, as I was taught around the kitchen table, that when you have wronged someone you apologise. That is the first part of moving on. And apart from anything it is common courtesy and rather than try and take political advantage - which she always seems to do as she strikes attitudes - to start to think of basic common decencies that apply in civil life in this country. But overall, frankly, I think that her statements today, Pauline Hanson's statement today show that she is not actually seriously thinking through solutions for the problems of ordinary people of this country - she is out there striking attitudes and posturing.

JOURNALIST: She has also called for cuts in foreign aid to countries, particularly like Indonesia because they burn the Australian flags?

BEAZLEY: More of a posturing. We need a stable economic, economically viable Indonesia. It is going to be a hard one to get but I tell you this; if we cannot get a stable, economically viable Indonesia which is the nearest thing we have to a bordering neighbour, the problems for this country and people in this country will be manifold and multiply. If she can't understand that, it is merely yet another reason why people should vote against posturing and vote for a solid proposition.

JOURNALIST: We have heard a lot in the last few days today that Mr Costello is concentrating on scraping the IAS altogether. What is your response to that?

BEAZLEY: These folk are in full panic mode. They have made a complete mess of the taxation system of this country in practical terms. And I think that Mr Costello is primarily culpable for it and if he scraps that and he changes the BAS, all I can say is that the arguments that we made - for which he mocked us -have been proven correct.

JOURNALIST: Would you follow...?

BEAZLEY: No, I did. What I said was that we took the stand that we did on the BAS and part of what our committee was looking at was how we could simplify and change the process associated with the IAS, that has to change too. And that is a part of mandate of a committee that we have got operating. We have a committee now looking at this and looking at all the ways in which you can deal with it with a totally open mind on what ought to happen in relation to it.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, are you concerned that the establishment of an Environmental Commissioner might be seen as just another bureaucratic layer that might tend to develop in Australia.

BEAZLEY: No, I'm becoming increasingly a believer in the ombudsman type, this is not an ombudsman, right, it is an Environmental Commissioner, but the situation of an official who is inserted into the system basically as a whistle blower and a guarantee that all the issues will be properly considered. Now in the case of aged care, that was the ombudsman we were talking about, in the case of the environment there is no single reporting point at which people who are concerned about these issues can see producing authoritative statements at one point removed from government. Now I think that we might be able to overcome some of those problems with type of appointment.

JOURNALIST: Would he report annually, like an annual stock take?

BEAZLEY: I think that you would find that this person was closely engaged in most of the environmental discussions all of the time in the community. Of course, like any other person in a statutory authority they will be producing annual statements but they would be doing a lot more than that.

JOURNALIST: You are campaigning against the GST on a tax, but it doesn't seem to be a lot that you can do about it because of the revenue problems. How much of a political problem does that pose for you?

BEAZLEY: We are not operating on the assumption that the first thing that we do about the GST is the last thing. We are operating on the assumption that we have on our hands a complex and unfair tax that may take some considerable time, bearing in mind we need to act with responsibility in relation to the budget, to render more just and more simple. So, we don't operate on the assumption that the first thing that we do about it is the only thing that we do about it. But the first thing that we do about it, as with everything else we do, will be underpinned by responsible attitude to the Budget so that people will know that the country will be well governed.

JOURNALIST: So does that mean that somewhere down the track you would look at this tax on a tax?

BEAZLEY: Well, if you liked what we were doing with our proposition in relation to the last spike of excise increases, which was basically GST driven, is part of the process or part of the approach you would take to dealing with the problem of a tax on a tax. So we are not un-alert to that issue, there is not obviously a total solution for it but it is at least in part a response to one of the underlying realities created by it. The Government said that there would be no taxes on taxes on, of course, that was just

another piece of misleading on their part. But, as I said, I think that is a useful initiative in relation to dealing with part of the problem created by a tax on a tax that will, of course, be a factor in the way in which we look at rollback of the goods and services tax. That is removal of complexity, achievement of fairness, and so far as you can with this tax, it's where we are headed - budget responsibility in handling the pace of change.

JOURNALIST: Is rollback something that can go on to eternity?

BEAZLEY: Well, I don't think that we will go onto eternity...

JOURNALIST: Well, as long as you are around.

BEAZLEY: ...either fortunately or unfortunately and - well, I would look at Tony Blair's Government. As soon as the budget became available, or the budgetary circumstances permitted - even though the VAT has been in place for along time in the UK - he removed, or cut down, I think, the rate at which it was levied on household fuel. Then another budget later he looked at the fact that it was levied at all on women's sanitary products. The British Labour Government has recognised that there is an essential unfairness in the British taxation system associated with it and they are doing their own version, though they don't call it that, of a rollback. When something becomes affordable and they do something about it and I would anticipate that after our initial phase that we would constantly keep under review ways in which we could make it fairer - and that is just commonsense really, that is no big deal.

JOURNALIST: ...the Government could ever afford to take GST off petrol?

BEAZLEY: As I said, we are looking at the structure of rollback to see what it is that we can do with it and people are making approaches to us on petrol - at the moment now we have a very specific proposal on petrol - and that is the one that we are handling - the last spike.

JOURNALIST: ...not rollback in perpetuity, ... rollback through ...term of a Labor Government? Would you envisage that sort of time frame, or would it extend beyond that?

BEAZLEY: I would think that any government constantly keeps the taxation system and ought to keep the taxation system under review on the basis of relieving pressure on people and increasing GST is that.

JOURNALIST: ...continued uncertainty for the businesses etc. that have put systems in place to cope with this GST which has already ..complex to have to continue to make a judgment for that...?

BEAZLEY: It raises no spectre at all. The sorts of propositions that are being suggested around the place, like taking it off those who are in caravan parks, like taking it off women's sanitary products, there is not a single person I have heard in small business has any problems with that at all. Obviously, as we look at it we have got two sides of the coin -simplicity and fairness. And we are going to be very careful on all the things that we do that we don't offend one at the expense of the other.

JOURNALIST: Don't you need a GST commissioner on this...?

BEAZLEY: That is way too premature for even contemplation. We have not even thought about that.

JOURNALIST: It would be a continuously rolling program?

BEAZLEY: I think you are in a position to make a set of statements about what rollback will constitute and to put in place a process to say to folk well if you got any other views well, put it in. But as far as we

are concerned we have got an open mind on what ought to be included within rollback and we don't necessarily think that once you have made one set of changes you will never ever make any other changes til hell freezes over, that is not commonsense.

JOURNALIST: Have you thought of a summit?

BEAZLEY: No, I haven't thought of a summit. I will put you on the policy development...I've got a question over here and then we'll go over here.

JOURNALIST: A couple of weeks ago the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff described the mood in regional Australia as feral, after four days on the bus, would you agree that that's an accurate assessment?

BEAZLEY: No it's not. In the Australian history from time to time and in fact most of our history, people in our society have felt under pressure and feeling under pressure they will often feel anger. Expressing anger at what is happening to themselves does not mean that they merit the epitaph feral any more than a businessman who objects the level of company tax or some operation of the company tax system, ought to be described as feral. It does seem that these out of touch folk have a particular view of the class structure in our society, that allows them to readily characterise fellow Australians with the demeaning epitaph of either feral or second class citizens or whatever - and I tell you as you would have seen from our discussions yesterday that the folk who are living in mobile home parks -they hate it.

JOURNALIST: Just a local issue. Banana growers are concerned that the NSW Labor Party has accepted a $25,000 donation from a Philippines Food Export Company - any comment on that?

BEAZLEY: No. That's Larry Anthony, not Banana Growers, there is a difference, between Larry Anthony and Banana Growers. In the case of Larry Anthony, you have a very scared politician, whom I would suggest on this occasion is feral - and that particular problem has manifested itself in that press release. Why does Larry know about it? Because the Labor Party honestly declares its donations. That's a good starting point. Why does Larry Anthony worry about it? Because the National Government is considering the terms and conditions under which bananas might be imported into this country. If we went through the donations, such as they choose to declare publicly, of the Liberal Party and picked up, what is I think, a business donation factor of something like 5:1 to their advantage over the Labor Party -we could extract each individual businessman, attach them to a road contract or a construction contract. We could attach them to a customs decision if we wanted to. We could attach them to a Government decision involving the location of nursing homes. We could do a whole range of very destructive things. Now does Larry wish us to go down that path?

JOURNALIST: So the donations, you're saying, it won't change policies down the trunk?

BEAZLEY: Of course not. None do. Donations are dealt with by the machinery of the Party, not by the political leadership of a Party. And it is the Party machine, be it the NSW State Secretary, or the National Secretary who answers for that.

JOURNALIST: This morning on the radio interview you said that you wanted to change the way Australians think, what did you mean by that?

BEAZLEY: We have been changing the ground of debate and I think we have succeeded. Knowledge Nation issues, be it in relation to education, innovation in business, research and development, science. We put that on the agenda and I was mocked for it, a year or two ago. I was mocked for it as we did it.

What do you mean Mr Beazley by Knowledge Nation? Well I know what I mean by Knowledge Nation, but what I've been delighted about is everybody is providing their own definition and what has happened in the process is that the whole ground of Australian political debate is changing - and not a moment too soon. Because it is around that debate that we determine whether or not as a nation we survive and prosper.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, will you be throwing a lot of resources into this electorate to try and win it back?

BEAZLEY: We don't have a lot of resources, but such as we have, we spend on marginal seats, and this is marginal. And we also spend in areas that trigger our hearts, and where you find people battling, you can always find a good Labor campaign. And therefore we will be, because we know that people are battling in this constituency, and I might say in all of the Northern NSW constituency, which are among the poorest in the country. One of them, not this one, one of them is the poorest in the country. And we in the Labor Party believe that we take our existence in the first place for representing people in such circumstances.


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