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Transcript of doorstop interview of Mark Latham, MP at Concord Repatriation General Hospital: Concord, Sydney: 27 June 2004. \n\n

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SUNDAY, 27 JUNE 2004

*E&OE** Subjects: Political advertising, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Iraq, Free Trade Agreement

LATHAM: We did a tour of the hospital and a discussion of many of the issues they face. Today, I am announcing a new Labor policy to end for all time taxpayer funded political advertising. I think the Australian people have grown very cynical and worried about the level of taxpayer funded advertising we’ve got, particularly at the current time where the Howard Government is spending $123 million of our money - taxpayers’ money - in many cases, for a blatantly political purpose. All of this advertising material here is being developed by the Government to assist its election prospects in the future, when the money would be better spent on the basic services needed in the Australian community - $123 million would buy an extra 2,000 nurses in our hospital, and a hospital like this would be a beneficiary of that sort of service provision, $123 million would provide an extra 2,000 teachers in our schools, much needed in the education system. We are much better off spending public money on public services instead of what amounts to a party political purpose.

What we will do in government - a Labor Government would introduce legislation that basically means that political parties have got to comply with the Auditor-General’s guidelines. Those guidelines are very clear. They were developed four or five years ago and they basically say that the advertising should be for the provision of information, it shouldn’t have political imagery. It should be targeted for people who need the information and there should be no suggestion that taxpayer funded advertising is going to be used for political purposes. Any party that gets outside those guidelines in government would have to pay for the cost of the advertising through its public funding under the Electoral Act.

What we would do is ensure that, if a government had political-type advertising that was outside the Auditor-General’s guidelines, there would be a recommendation from an independent auditor to say that the cost of that

advertising should be met with a reduction in their public funding for election purposes. This would basically mean that Mr Howard and future governments would have to live up to what he said in September 1995 - propaganda should be paid for by political parties. I agree with that: propaganda should be paid for by political parties not the Australian taxpayer. We will apply that standard to ourselves in government. A Labor Government will be bound by that.

Any future government who got outside the Auditor-General’s guidelines, the political party would have to pay for the cost of that advertising with a reduction in its election public funding. We are going to apply that standard to ourselves as a Labor Party so it is only appropriate that we apply it to the Howard Government now with its $123 million advertising budget. We’ll ask the independent auditor to look at all of the advertising from this day forward and if any of it is outside the guidelines there would be a corresponding reduction in the Liberal Party’s public funding after the next federal election.

This is a standard for the Labor Party; it’s a standard for the Liberal Party. Let’s end for all time taxpayer funded political advertising and ensure the money is actually spent where it is needed most, for the benefit of the Australian people for essential services, nurses in hospitals and teachers in schools. Let’s get fair dinkum about giving the taxpayer real value for money.

JOURNALIST: Can you show us what sort of problem you have with the advertising?

LATHAM: I think you can see that the strengthening Medicare campaign, in particular, and the TV ads are about the sort of imagery you normally see at election time. The Auditor-General has said that this sort of taxpayer funded advertising should be about the strict provision of information, without political-type imagery. It should be targeted at the people who need the assistance rather than a broad based advertising campaign. Another example is the material that is going out to accompany the $600 family payment. People are going to get the payment anyway; why does there have to be extra advertising for something that’s going to happen in any case. That’s the sort of material that strikes me as getting outside the Auditor-General’s guidelines. With our process of an independent auditor looking at it, making a judgement, if a party in government is using the advertising for the wrong purpose they will have a corresponding reduction in their public funding after the election. It basically says to the political parties, ‘Get fair dinkum about it. Do the advertising for the right public purpose and if you want to do your political imagery, that sort of advertising, pay for it out of your own coffers.’ Let’s have the propaganda paid for by the political parties and let’s have genuine advertising and genuine public services coming off the government budget.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, Bob Carr has some advice for you on the Free Trade Agreement and troop withdrawal. What advice do you have for him?

LATHAM: One of the good things about my job is that you get advice from a lot of people, including Mr Carr in this case. He’s supporting our policy on Iraq. In relation to the trade agreement, I just make the common sense point that we don’t need to rush in. This is an agreement that wouldn’t come into place until next year, so it’s over six months away. The American Congress hasn’t voted on it and, quite frankly, the Australian Parliament hasn’t seen all of the details. The people on the Senate committee looking at the trade agreement haven’t had all the information and detail they need to make a final report, weighing up the pros and cons and making a judgment in Australia’s national interests. So, in relation to this agreement and any other matter, I don’t want Australia flying blind and possibly smashing into the mountainside. If you haven’t got all the information and detail you don’t need to rush into a decision.

In the Federal Labor Party we want all the information before we make a judgment in Australia’s national interests. We set up the Senate process so that the Australian people could have their say about the FTA. We are going to see that through to its logical conclusion. That’s the democratic thing to do; it is also the smart thing to do for Australia, and we are going to continue down that path.

JOURNALIST: Given his comments though and what he said about your stand on Iraq; are you tempted to tell him to pull his head in?

LATHAM: No, I’ve given my response in that regard. He’s supporting our policy, so there’s no problem with that.

JOURNALIST: Have you spoken with the Premier about it?


JOURNALIST: How is he supporting your policy - he is urging more diplomacy with the US over withdrawing troops?

LATHAM: No, he’s supported the policy of having the troops out by Christmas. That’s what I read in the newspaper. I haven’t heard this interview, which I think is broadcast this evening.

JOURNALIST: That’s right.

LATHAM: That’s what I’ve read in the newspaper.

JOURNALIST: He says the relationship with the United States will be diplomatically difficult to manage.

LATHAM: He’s supporting our policy and that’s the main thing.

JOURNALIST: But that’s not supporting your policy. That is the complete opposite.

LATHAM: I’ve read in the newspaper he’s supporting our policy. I haven’t heard the broadcast of the interview but I’ve read in the newspaper that he’s supporting our policy which is to have the troops out by Christmas.

JOURNALIST: So neither you nor your staff has had the opportunity to speak with Mr Carr in the past week or so?


JOURNALIST: How do you react to the criticism of the lack of leadership over the PBS back flip?

LATHAM: What do you mean by that?

JOURNALIST: Well, you’ve been criticised for leaving it to Bob McMullan to make the statement.

LATHAM: I’ve spoken about this in the Parliament and its standard practice for shadow ministers to brief the media about the decisions for which they’re responsible.

JOURNALIST: You don’t think you should have been there?

LATHAM: It’s standard practice for shadow ministers to brief the media for things that they’ve got responsibility on. I’ve advocated this in the Parliament and am happy to answer any questions about it now.

JOURNALIST: Why the back flip?

LATHAM: We made a judgement that it’s important to have fiscal responsibility. We’ve got a budget pledge to keep the budget in surplus every year of the next parliamentary term. So, quite frankly, we can’t fund every reversal of Howard Government cut backs. We can’t restore every single service that has been slashed over the last eight years. You’ve got to make decisions; you’ve got to make choices. In the health area, we’ve got commitments for a

National Dental Program, for restoring bulk-billing, for vaccinating our infant

children - all very important commitments but quite frankly you can’t fund everything. We can’t restore every service that has been cut by the Howard Government. Budgets are about choices and we are dead set keen to maintain our budget pledge of surpluses every year in the next parliamentary term and, within that framework, this is a decision that had to be made.

JOURNALIST: Were you expecting the generally negative response to it though?

LATHAM: People will make their own judgment about these things. We’ve got a budget pledge that we’re sticking to - surplus budgeting, keeping downward pressure on interest rates, that’s very important, but also a whole range of social investments that we are going to fund in a responsible way, in health and education in particular.

JOURNALIST: How do you feel about the Government ignoring the advice that it was given about the $3,000 baby grant and instead of paying it over a fortnightly period giving it in a lump sum?

LATHAM: It’s a major concern. They’ve ignored that advice. I think the staggered payments of that money would produce a better outcome for people. The $3,000 is more likely to be spent on children than for some other purpose if it’s staggered over a period of time, and that’s what Labor does with its baby care payment. So too the $600 family payments that have been going through, and some very concerning reports that the money has been spent on gambling and such purposes, again, if it was paid fortnightly, if there was a staggered payment, it is more likely to be spent on the intended purpose by government and that is for the benefit of the children.

JOURNALIST: What do you say about the criticism about a rift in the US and Australia diplomatic relations under a withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq, in general?

LATHAM: I’ve seen the reports out of the United States where both sides of politics are saying that the relationship will be strong under an Australian Labor government, that both Republicans and Democrats are saying that the United States Alliance would be strong. That’s how we see it; we established the American Alliance. We believe in it passionately but we also recognise that it’s not a rubber stamp. There won’t be 100 per cent agreement - there wasn’t in the past and there won’t be in the future. Labor will always stand up for Australia’s best interests. That’s what we are doing now and that’s always been our approach.

JOURNALIST: Australian troops came under attack last night in Iraq does that strengthen your argument for withdrawal?

LATHAM: I wouldn’t make a political point about that. Our troops are very brave and they always perform exceptionally well in the tasks that they are given by Government so that’s not something that’s appropriate for a political commentary rather to commend our troops for their bravery and their dedication to service.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister is about to travel to almost every State and there is talk that there could be an election before Parliament resumes. Is the Labor Party now going to start campaigning?

LATHAM: Start campaigning! I feel like I haven’t stopped in terms of getting around the country and advocating a whole swag of new policies since December last year, so I will keep on doing what I’ve been doing for the last seven months. Absolutely. Thank you.