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Transcript of doorstop interview with Graham Edwards: Landsdale, Perth: 7 November 2006: Interest rates; Water Summit; Stephen Conroy’s baby/surrogacy; laws; Fiji; death penalty for Saddam Hussein; Melbourne Cup; Brian Burke.

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Subjects: Interest rates; Water Summit; Stephen Conroy’s baby/Surrogacy laws; Fiji; Death penalty for Saddam Hussein; Melbourne Cup; Brian Burke.

BEAZLEY: Whether or not the Reserve Bank decides that interest rates should be raised today, the simple fact of the matter is John Howard has breached his trust with the Australian people. These interest rates rises come after John Howard has said emphatically that if you re-elected him, interest rates would be kept at record lows. Well there have been three interest rates rises since John Howard said that. That breached trust with the Australian people

The truth is: They have not managed the Australian economy in a way that keeps downward pressure on interest rates. They have simply not done that. The things that we need to do, the things that we need to do skill the Australian workforce; the things that we need to do to plan for national leadership in our infrastructure; these would have kept, if Howard had done them, downward pressure on interest rates. He failed to do that and in failing to do that, he mismanaged the economy and he put pressure on Australian families.

That’s the new interest rate reality that is something that only Labor understands. And that is for ordinary Australian householders with mortgages, they now confront a situation where they’re paying a higher percentage of their income in interest rate payments than they ever have before. That’s the reality. That is what ordinary Australians now confront. But John Howard’s misleading the Australian people breaches trust. He stands condemned for that and that’s whether or not interest rates rise.

Now this Water Summit proceeding in the Eastern States now, and I’ve got to say this: I hope this is the last Water Summit that John Howard presides over because frankly he’s got to roll up his sleeves and do some work. We’ve had summit after summit. We’ve had Water Offices created. They’ve had all sorts of bureaucratic machinery put in place. The States have been handing to the Commonwealth Government for months and months now, viable plans to enhance the water position of this country. And John Howard simply has not made any decisions on it.

The Prime Minister’s office and the Commonwealth bureaucracy has become an archive when it comes to dealing with water matters - that is not part of the active process. Now, it’s time for him to get active. No more summits for Mr Howard, simply action. That’s what we want to see from Mr Howard after this.

Now, one of my colleagues had a specially joyous moment yesterday and that was Steve Conroy and his wife Paula. I do wish them all the best and every joy with the arrival of Isabella and I hope they get many, many years of joy in their

lives from her. In fact, as a dad, I know they will. Over to you.

JOURNALIST: What do you think of Victoria’s surrogacy laws?

BEAZLEY: I’m not going to comment on anything other than just saying, I think that it’s a terrific thing that Steve and Paula and those who have helped them, have done, I just wish them all the joy.

JOURNALIST: Should there be a uniform approach?

BEAZLEY: I just wish them all the joy in the world. I’m not going to make any more of a story of this than that. This is a very personal time for the pair of them and I just wish them every happiness.

JOURNALIST: It would have been easier for them if there had been a national approach though?

BEAZLEY: Let’s just not worry, let’s just be joyful with them at what they’ve been able to do.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) Fiji, Mr Beazley, we understand that there are SAS and Defence Force Personnel there. Do you think that that’s actually provocative?

BEAZLEY: Any government confronting the possibility of at least the potential of a threat to Australian personnel, needs to take what action they can to deal with the problem or be in a position to deal with the problem should that arise. I would assume that nobody has moved, Australian personnel, have moved to the area without the knowledge of the Fijian Government.

JOURNALIST: Could it make matters worse though, our Defence Force Personnel being there?

BEAZLEY: I think you’ve always got to make a balanced decision and you’ve always got to be, as Prime Minister or Government of the country, conscious in the first instance of the safety of the Australian people who are in the area. And you need to be in a position to do what you can for them, if you

have enough forewarning that that is the case. I’ve had some experience of this myself as Defence Minister in circumstances where we didn’t get forewarned. It’s an anxious time for relatives, for the people themselves, and you need to do

what you can to position yourself effectively for it. At the same time, there should not be a coup in Fiji - this should not happen. With any sort of luck it won’t.

JOURNALIST: Has the Government informed you that (inaudible) Fiji?

BEAZLEY: I haven’t had a conversation with the Government on this - no. I just go by what’s available in the press.

JOURNALIST: Tony Blair’s come out today and said he doesn’t support the death penalty for anyone, including Saddam Hussein, where do stand on it?

BEAZLEY: Firstly, I’m glad that Saddam Hussein has gone through a process of justice for the Iraqi people. And the process has produced a verdict and the sentence. I don’t support death sentences either. I support very long periods of imprisonment. However, this is a matter for the justice system in Iraq, how they choose to handle the result of this verdict. The tragedy is this: there were tyrannical killings under Saddam Hussein. Saddam’s gone and the killing goes on. This endless killing in Iraq and that is a huge human tragedy.

JOURNALIST: Is there a real fear he may become a martyr?

BEAZLEY: These are all sorts of things that the Iraqi people themselves are going to have to calculate on that. The important thing, however, is there is a process of rule of law coming into place and a trial process associated with that. You have to assume that the trial process proceeds on a bona fide basis.

JOURNALIST: Is interest rates going to be the key issue at the next election, if it is, are you concerned about polling which shows that the perception among the community that Liberals are still better managers of the economy?

BEAZLEY: Well, firstly, I think interest rates will be an issue at the next election. There’s no doubt about that. And there’ll be industrial relations. There’ll be climate change. There’ll be a range of issues associated with management of the economy, like skills and the rest. The simple fact of the matter is this: We’ll go into the next election campaign as the only party with a plan to deal with it. And that will be our advantage in the next election campaign on interest rates. We will be the party with the plan to put downward pressure on interest rates, because we are the party that has put in place plans identified as

necessary by the Reserve Bank, in report after report to the Government, which the Government has ignored.

JOURNALIST: How do you do that?

BEAZLEY: What the Reserve Bank has said to the Government is this. There will be inflationary pressures in the economy unless you do several things. One of the things they suggested was train enough skilled people to reduce wages cost pressures; ensure that there’s national leadership on infrastructure to improve the export performance of the country; ensure that you have incentives there for innovation in business. These are things that the Reserve Bank, since 1999, has repeatedly telling the Government.

We have got a Blueprint on every one of those and we have been arguing about skills and infrastructure and innovation for years, not just since I’ve become leader again - for years. We have said that they are one of the key elements in keeping a low interest rate regime in place and Howard’s ignored them all.

You see, Howard has basically skated on easy street. He’s skated on the back of Western Australia since he has been the Prime Minister of this country. He has not taken the hard decisions which actually will produce the long-term benefit for the management of the economy in the country, including on interest rates. So, it’s us. We are the ones who can go into the next election campaign claiming, totally legitimately, that we are the best for the country on interest rates.

JOURNALIST: You still have a perception problem in the community.

BEAZLEY: Perceptions change when confronted with reality. And we’ve had three reality checks on John Howard’s statement at the last election campaign that he could be trusted to keep interest rates at record lows. Abraham Lincoln had a lot to say about it at one particular point of time - you can fool some of the people all of the time, but his final statement you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. The time has come for John Howard where his

credibility has been tested on interest rates, hence the advertising you see behind me. I don’t need any polls to tell me this. I hear it on the street all the time - we trusted John Howard and he let us down.

JOURNALIST: The Water Summit. Mike Rann has said that there’s a case … it doesn’t make sense to farm cotton or rice in Australia. Do you agree with that?

BEAZLEY: I do think that we have to look very carefully at crops which put pressure on our water resources, there’s no doubt about that. We have to look at all the pricing issues related to our water supply. We have got to do some very hard thinking in this country. But as well as hard thinking, we’ve got to do some action.

The truth is, John Howard has had on his desk from the States, a whole range of worthy water projects and he’s basically been holding off on it. There was $2 billion available two years ago and nothing’s happened, even though the plans are in there. Howard’s been holding off on them basically because he wants to

release them in an election year. We are sick of seeing this sort of cynical government that has these sort of periods of feast and famine when it goes to putting in resources to the projects that we need. It’s time that John Howard’s faults here were properly identified by us, and of course in the Opposition we have been, in the media, in the public mind.

He’s not only let this country down on interest rates, he’s let this country down on climate change, he’s let them down on water resources.

JOURNALIST: If there’s no immediate action from this Summit on Water, how likely is it before cities like Adelaide are going to reach crisis point?

BEAZLEY: There is a very good chance that the perfect storm-type combination of a long running drought and climate change, inaction by the Commonwealth Government in leadership terms of water resources issues, particularly in the Murray-Darling, a very good chance that towns and cities will suffer severely. And that has to be dealt with. It has to be dealt with very realistically. But the simple fact of the matter is Howard’s had plans and proposals on his desk for months if not years, and nothing has been done about it. The money’s been there but nothing’s been done about it.

JOURNALIST: But is there a case for cutting the number of irrigators?

BEAZLEY: That has to be worked through in relation to how you plan your total water picture. That’s the sort of thing the States and the Commonwealth are looking at.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, where do you stand on therapeutic cloning?

BEAZLEY: Firstly, I think it is very important that we stand at the forefront of scientific research in this country - be it in the biotechnology area or any other. That is the future for this country. That’s the first point.

The second point is, when you see human suffering you want to do all in your power to relieve it. So, my approach to this legislation ought to be governed by those two concerns.

Of course, whatever you do has to be ethical. It has to be within a framework of proper ethical constraints. So, I’ll be looking at the legislation in relation to the ethical constraints that are on it. But I approach it with a disposition to be favourably disposed.

JOURNALIST: Your tip for the Melbourne Cup?

BEAZLEY: Well, I’ve been saying Yeats because I like the idea of a poet winning the Cup, you know. I don’t know if it will, nobody does.

JOURNALIST: Should the WA Labor Party cut all ties with Brian Burke?

BEAZLEY: I think you’ve got to wait until this particular inquiry’s over on all these things, quite frankly, and not nibble around the edges of it. Just wait until it’s over and see what it produces.

JOURNALIST: It doesn’t look good.

BEAZLEY: Well, wait till it’s over and see what it produces. That’s what Alan Carpenter’s telling them and it’s a sensible thing for him to say.