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Parliament House, Canberra: transcript of doorstop interview, 5 June 2001: Politicians superannuation, BHP-Bilton merger, opinion polls, Kevin Rudd/foreign policy, NZ becoming a state of Australia, US nuclear tests, One. Tel.

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Kim Beazley - Doorstop - Politicians Superannuation, BHP-Billiton Merger, Opinion Polls, Kevin Rudd-Foreign Policy, NZ Becoming A State Of Australia, US Nuclear Tests, One.Tel Wednesday, 06 June 2001

Kim Beazley - Doorstop Interview Subjects: Politicians Superannuation, BHP-Billiton Merger, Opinion Polls, Kevin Rudd/Foreign Policy, NZ Becoming A State Of Australia, US Nuclear Tests, One.Tel

Transcript - Parliament House, Canberra - 5 June 2001


JOURNALIST: What do you think about the moves towards a 55-age limit on super?

BEAZLEY: Well, I don't think it's a bad thing at all for us to be put in the same situation as the community on accessing superannuation payments. I notice the Prime Minister has made his quarterly statement - that he's giving these matters due consideration - and we'll be interested to see anything he comes up with. But, frankly, I think this is a matter that should go to the Remuneration Tribunal. At the moment now, most of the parliamentarians' entitlements are considered by them but not superannuation. This is an expert body with an understanding of how these things work and a thorough appreciation of how the community operates and they are an appropriate body, to my mind, to give this matter consideration. It shouldn't be in the hands of Members of Parliament.

JOURNALIST: Realistically, though, is the Remuneration Tribunal really going to make a ruling that doesn't favour politicians?

BEAZLEY: Well, what the Remuneration Tribunal does is put down recommendations for government for legislation. In this particular instance, that's what it would do. And the Remuneration Tribunal is at arm's length from politicians. And that's what ought to be the way in which this matter gets considered. Everything else is, in relation to Parliamentary entitlements. Accountability's the name of the game these days, across the board, both in terms of ensuring that politicians keep within the entitlements that they are entitled to and we have suggested an independent auditor for that process. And, as far as the entitlements themselves are concerned, it's appropriate, again, that that should be at arm's length, too.

JOURNALIST: Should the Tribunal also look at changing the balance between actual superannuation and salary?

BEAZLEY: Well, I think the Tribunal would look at what was referred to it. I would think that they …

JOURNALIST: Should that be referred to …

BEAZLEY: They would take a look at the totality of the situation of Members of Parliament and they have a capacity to independently come to conclusions about the specific matter given it. And they would, I would assume, that if they went and took a look at superannuation entitlements, they might look more broadly. But, to my mind, while it is true that Members of Parliament, Ministers, leaders of parties, get paid a great deal less than equivalent remuneration in the community, I don't think it's just simply a question of whether politicians' remuneration is too low, but whether others is too high. And I think, in certain circumstances, it is too high and we ought not to be comparing ourselves with executives of companies. What we ought to be doing, in relation to executives of companies and directors, is making absolutely certain that shareholders have the capacity to scrutinise those enormous payments against performance. And, at the moment, the legislation does not oblige that.

JOURNALIST: Is there a case for getting politicians to opt out of the generous scheme?

BEAZLEY: I think it is better that all workers be in a particular area, be in the same scheme. I think that is a more sensible outcome for people who are in the workforce and a sensible outcome for politicians as well. Better to get the scheme right.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, do you support the approval of the BHP-Billiton merger by the Treasurer?

BEAZLEY: Well, I've always had my concerns about the Billiton-BHP merger. We urged that a certain minimum set of criteria and a minimum set of objectives be achieved to ensure that the headquarters of the merged entity remained here in Australia and I welcome the fact that there seems to have been some assurances given in that regard. I think the case is very strong for greater transparency now in the FIRB process. This is another indication of why that should be so. Obviously the BHP shareholders are cheerful enough with the outcome, I can't help feeling that a great Australian institution now has a level of vulnerability to the maintenance of its Australian national character. And that saddens me.

JOURNALIST: Would your government have done anything differently?

BEAZLEY: It's very difficult to tell because I'm aware of the fact that when we were in government, we were constantly jawboning with companies on these sorts of issues and on the things that were doing. We were constantly talking to BHP, for example, about the steel industry. Now, I understand that BHP is going to spin off the steel industry in a manner which gives it a chance of being sustained. I hope that is true. I hope that is true because that is at the core of Australian manufacturing industry. So, we used to take these things very seriously without being in a position to regularly jawbone companies on these matters and we managed to use that process to massively improve our performance on manufactured exports and our achievement of world's best practice in production. We've got to get back to that, those sorts of objectives from government. It is very difficult to say exactly in which direction you would have taken it. Suffice it to say, we would have been most anxious that a company like BHP not lose its national character.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, the polls this morning showed Labor opening a seven-point lead over the Coalition but the Prime Minister regaining his lead as preferred Prime Minister. Can you read anything into that?

BEAZLEY: The polls bounce around. The only thing I can say on the preferred Prime Minister stakes is, I've found it extraordinary that the Prime Minister, struggling for so long in not just that poll but all the

other polls, vis-a-vis the Opposition Leader, as far as I'm aware, that's unprecedented that right through 1995 Mr Keating led Mr Howard. Mr Kennett led Mr Bracks 2:1 when he was in the process of losing. Carmen Lawrence, I remember, was 20-odd points ahead of Richard Court. Richard Court has ahead of Geoff Gallop. Generally speaking, even governments that are about to lose have their leaders 10-15 points ahead of the opposition leader. I found it extraordinary. In the last three months all polls have had him and me bouncing around the same figure.

JOURNALIST: So, you think the polls are looking pretty good the Labor Party?

BEAZLEY: That Newspoll is going up and down. Frankly, I've lost the capacity to relate it to any particular set of events. You know, we had a very good week in Melbourne and we went down, the Government has had the focus in the headlines with a Budget and we went up. I think this is pretty fair indication that people should wait for final polls, rather than worry about the polls that they get to see on a fortnightly basis.

JOURNALIST: Should Kevin Rudd be reigning in his comments on foreign policy?

BEAZLEY: We've got a very vibrant caucus and that's a good thing. When you look at the factional-riven divisions in the Liberal Cabinet with Warren Truss and the other National Party Ministers lining up on Robert Hill, Peter Reith leaking on Peter Costello consistently, you know, somewhere in the Prime Minister's office, evidently, a Shane Stone letter being leaked out on Costello, I mean, they're a nest of vipers. We've got a bit of creative tension from time to time. Suffice it to say that, of course, those who are responsible for either the direction of Party policy, in terms of their Shadow Ministerial responsibilities, and those who are responsible for Parliamentary Committees ought to be in a situation where they consult and, as I understand it, that in the future there'll be good consultation between the two, whenever the Chairman of the Committee wants to write. That's not a veto, on anything that he has to say. I've appreciated the fact that our people tend to get out and about and express their views. That's because we've got a few brains. It's nice, always, to see evidence of that out there in the public.

JOURNALIST: So, is Laurie Brereton wrong to slap down Kevin Rudd?

BEAZLEY: This is, as I said, we've got a vibrant caucus. Laurie Brereton is the spokesman of the party on Foreign Affairs. End of story. He is. And he speaks for the party on those matters.

JOURNALIST: Have you intervened to try and sort this matter out?

BEAZLEY: I think they settled it pretty fairly themselves.

JOURNALIST: On another Foreign Affairs matter. A New Zealand Cabinet Minister has again raised the issue of New Zealand becoming another State of Australia. Do you think that's ever going to happen or is this another, what you referred to, as a quarterly issue?

BEAZLEY: Well, it certainly is an old one. Probably most Australians aren't aware that in the Australian Constitution, there is provision for New Zealand's admission to Australia. It doesn't actually require an Australian referendum. All it requires is a vote of both Parliaments. My impression of the New Zealanders, and I've known a lot of them over the years, is they're pretty proud of their sovereign status. I wouldn't expect any moves on their part any time soon on that matter.

JOURNALIST: So, history's moved too far along …

BEAZLEY: It's not just a question of history. I just think they're very proud nationalists, New Zealanders, and so are we. I think, from the New Zealand point of view, they'd assume that they were being absorbed into Australia. It wouldn't affect our sense of nationality and sovereignty. It would affect theirs. And I don't think the New Zealanders like that idea all that much.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, Michael Wooldridge has said that he'll be looking into claims that stillborn babies were taken from Australia for nuclear testing in the US during the 50s and 60s. Have you heard of those reports? And, if so, …

BEAZLEY: Look, I haven't seen those reports and I couldn't comment on them, I'm afraid to say. I'd rather take a careful look at that before I went down that road.

JOURNALIST: What do you think about the Prime Minister's moves yesterday on One.Tel to amend the corporations law and bring back bonuses?

BEAZLEY: Let's go through this with the Prime Minister's comments. The Prime Minister is great at making a comment to get himself off the hook at any point of time and very slow to deliver legislation. We've had, for two years now, the proper regulatory arrangement for the insurance industry under consideration - no outcome. Tax avoidance part 4A legislation changes - no outcome. We've had a Prime Ministerial guarantee of 100 per cent of workers' entitlements in legislation. But, so far, only National Textiles has got it and all we've got is an administrative scheme that runs out in two years time - no outcome. Expect on this no outcome. Now, what we say is this: we have a plan and the plan is that shareholders ought to be able to see exactly what it is that their directors and executives are being remunerated and exactly the criteria for bonus payments. And if they're not achieving those bonus payments, or other incentives, they're not achieving the criteria associated with them, they don't get it. I mean, there is time for a bit of decent corporate regulation to protect the interests of shareholders, time for the Government to act to protect the interests of workers. It is an outrage that John Howard has not yet got in place a scheme on a legislative basis which gives an equivalent sort of outcome that the National Textile workers got. It is an absolute outrage. It's not just the One.Tel workers, but there are workers all over the place who have been missing out on this. And John Howard's administrative scheme, even if the States are in it, does not produce a 100 per cent outcome for workers. And it's wrong that the taxpayers should carry it. This is an industry expense. The insurance of workers' entitlements is something that the industry should carry and the Labor Party's scheme both gives the workers their assurance, and it puts the onus and responsibility where it rests - on industry and not on the taxpayer. It is not the responsibility of hard-pressed taxpayers, struggling to sustain their own families, to carry corporate Australia in living up to their responsibilities in relation to paying their workers wagers. It is the responsibility of corporate Australia. It's about time Mr Howard got on his bike and did something about it.

JOURNALIST: On politicians' pay, can you give a commitment that Labor will support any recommendations that may come out of the Remuneration Tribunal?

BEAZLEY: Well, you'd want to take a look at the Remuneration Tribunal. I mean, if they were, for example, to recommend giant hikes in politicians' salaries, I wouldn't give a guarantee on that at all. So, don't go sight unseen on that particular set of propositions. Suffice it to say, if you want to produce a set of changes that people would trust in relation to things like accessing the superannuation entitlements of politicians, and the scheme itself, you could only do that if it's not in the hands, ultimately, of Mr Howard or Mr Beazley, but of some independent authority. And the Remuneration Tribunal is the right one.

JOURNALIST: You've got a lot of people on your side of politics in the caucus that came in at, you know, 20-something. Would you want to see them, you know, leaving politics in their 30s or early 40s with, you know, mega-bucks payouts?

BEAZLEY: The Bill O'Chee case has undermined the reputation of politicians across the country. There is no question about that. The person who can earn substantial sums of money outside politics gets paid a parliamentary pension is something which has irked the public conscience on this in a major way. And that's why … we'll it's not the only reason why. But it's one of the reasons why this is something that needs to be reviewed, but not by a chap like the Prime Minister who said he'd review it every three months. You know, it's not the first time this issue has come up, as I'm sure you remember. We've had this about three or four times in the course of the last couple of years and, once again, you know, he says 'oh well, we'll have a look at it'. He's become the mirror. He'll look into everything. But it's a question of actually putting it to somebody who'll come up with a conclusion that the public can take a look at and all of us can take a look at and then make our minds up whether it's a reasonable way to go. But it's arm's length from us.

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

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