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Parliament House, Canberra: transcript of doorstop interview: John Howard's retirement plan, APEC, election.

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Kim Beazley - Doorstop - John Howard's Retirement Plan, APEC, Election //media/1001/kbmcact051001.html Friday, 05 October 2001

Kim Beazley - Doorstop Interview Subjects: John Howard's Retirement Plan, APEC, Election

Transcript - Parliament House, Canberra - 5 October 2001


BEAZLEY: John Howard again today would not confirm that he will serve a full term if elected and then run at the subsequent election. He will say anything but that. He will say he's enjoying the job. He'll say he's not thinking about his retirement. But he will not say the simple words: "I am going to serve, if elected, a full term and I'm going to subject myself to the assessment of the Australian people at the end of that term". He won't say that.

The only thing you can say with absolute certainty about this election campaign is that after it's all over there'll be, at some point in this Parliament, a by-election in Bennelong.

The second thing he's been saying over the course of the last day or so, and again yesterday, is that irrespective of whether or not there is an election campaign on, he will attend APEC.

He should not attend APEC if there is an election campaign on. The Australian people get five weeks, and five weeks only, to hold the Australian political parties accountable in an election campaign. It is a requirement on all leaders to be present before the Australian people for the entirety of those five weeks.

John Howard has never been anything more than a bit player at APEC. He was an APEC sceptic, unlike Hawke and Keating, who dominated affairs at APEC, Howard has been scarcely noticeable. He would play no substantial role at this APEC, either.

He should be properly represented. Anderson, Downer or Costello should go. If it occurs during an election campaign, and in a period in which the Government is effectively in caretaker mode, then there should be an Opposition representative, and the Opposition representative would be Laurie Brereton. John Howard should be there for the Australian people for the full five weeks of the election campaign to explain what it is that he has done as the Government of this country, and what he intends to do for the next three years. Included in that explanation should be a commitment that he will stay.

JOURNALIST: But if Australia is to play a part in this international response to terrorism, shouldn't our Prime Minister be at APEC?

BEAZLEY: Australia is playing a part in this international response to terrorism. APEC is there for that and broader purposes. The simple fact of the matter is that John Howard has never been more than a bit

player at it. Australia can play an adequate role by sending an appropriate representative - his deputy, either as leader of the Liberal Party, or his deputy in Government. But he owes it to the Australian people to be here for five weeks of that election campaign, explaining what he intends to do with the next three years of government, should he be elected to it.

Let's make no mistake about that. The people who will be leading at that APEC meeting will not be John Howard. It will be people like George Bush and they will be the ones effectively coordinating the response to international terrorism.

JOURNALIST: If you were the Prime Minister at the moment, wouldn't you like to be treading the world stage, though, with George W Bush and the like?

BEAZLEY: If I was Prime Minister of this country and I'd called an election, I'd regard it my duty to be in this country for that election campaign. The Australian people need, throughout that period of time, an explanation, of course, as to the things that we are doing abroad and the things that we're doing domestically. It will be a debate, this election campaign, about security abroad and security at home. That debate should take place with the leading protagonists every single day of the election campaign. John Howard has been an APEC sceptic. He belittled the achievements of Hawke and Keating in establishing APEC and tried to drift Australian foreign policy away from multi-lateral arrangements. People's memories are very short on these matters. He only became an APEC supporter when APEC pulled his irons out of the fire in Wellington when we were in trouble on the Timor issue.

It is true that George Bush and others will use this as a rallying point for a whole range of international purposes, one of which will be a further development on coalition building in relation to international terrorism. They are the ones who will be playing the role as far as that is concerned.

JOURNALIST: Are you expecting the poll to be called today?

BEAZLEY: It's got to be called soon, there's no question about that. I think when you look at what's happening in the business community now, when you look at the concerns that there are in the business community over the uncertainties created by events like the collapse of Ansett, we need a Government now in place that has a mandate: a mandate to manage the economy effectively, a mandate to manage security at home as well as a mandate to manage security abroad. Quite frankly, the only people in this election campaign who are offering that broadly based position is ourselves.

You saw today a restaurant that is an icon in Melbourne close. It closes, according the manager, for two reasons: the continuing impact of the goods and services tax and the collapse of Ansett. All the problems that are there in the Australian economy at the moment the Government has complete ownership of. We have yet to be hit with any international impact. What the job of his Government is to do over the next five weeks, if he calls it over this weekend, is to explain his stewardship to the Australian people. That's his job.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister says opinion polls will narrow once the campaign is under way. How difficult will it be to drag voters' focus back to domestic issues?

BEAZLEY: We are going into this election campaign as underdogs - there is no question about that. There is no doubt at all in my mind that as the election campaign proceeds, there will be a focus again on domestic issues. One of the reasons for that is this: on the issues internationally about the struggle against international terrorism, the political parties are as one in terms of our international response. There is no

point of difference between us internationally. There'll be a few points of difference between us on the domestic security agenda, but they'll be matters of degree, not principle. That will become obvious when I release our policies on that during the course of the election campaign. But degree, not principle.

JOURNALIST: Is that what you will do the first week?

BEAZLEY: It will be one of the things I'll be doing in the first week, yes, of the election campaign.

JOURNALIST: To get momentum going?

BEAZLEY: No, not to get momentum going, but because we need to explain to the Australian people, step by step, all the issues that we will deal with in Government. We have to deal with security at home, and security abroad and we will be doing that. I think, of course we'll start the underdogs. There is no doubt at all that he, like many leaders internationally, benefited from the contemporary climate. But as the focus comes onto domestic matters, I'm impressed by the way there seems to be an assumption that if the focus is on domestic matters, John Howard is likely to lose. I can see why people would make that assumption, because he has been anything but an effective steward of domestic politics over the course of the last five years.

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