Rudd Offers “New Leadership”

Kevin Rudd, Leader of the OppositionAustralia is facing “new” and “great” challenges and requires “new leadership”, according to the Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd.

Addressing a press conference in Brisbane, Rudd warned of a situation where “nothing changes” if the coalition is returned at the November 24 election.

Australia requires someone to say “the buck stops with me”, Rudd said, citing Labor policies on education, health, climate change, industrial relations and foreign affairs as areas requiring new leadership.

Rudd said he would serve a full three-year term and beyond. He said Howard has lost touch with working families but Peter Costello has never been in touch.

“I understand the challenges our country is facing in the future”, Rudd said. Long-term economic prosperity beyond the China boom is a future priority.

Rudd emphasised the importance of policies on climate change. An “education revolution” is core business, he said, citing his own educational opportunities as a means of unleashing human potential, as well as providing economic benefits.

Rudd said Howard had offered no plans for the future. Rudd committed himself to signing Kyoto, abolishing WorkChoices, and developing broadband infrastructure. “I am an economic conservative”, he said.

Rudd warned of the “mother of all fear campaigns” over the coming weeks. On experience, Rudd said Howard had “buckets” of experience in fear campaigns. “Australia cannot afford another three years of a government which has already had eleven years”, Rudd said.

He denied that wall-to-wall Labor governments meant a lack of “balance”, as Howard asserted in his election announcement. Rudd said the Senate was where checks and balances operated in the federal system, citing Howard’s policies on WorkChoices as evidence of a lack of balance.

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This is the transcript of the statement and responses to questions from the Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd.

RUDD:

This election is about Australia’s future and it’s an election about a choice about who offers new leadership for Australia’s future. New leadership to help working families, new leadership with fresh ideas to deal with Australia’s future challenges. And what I’m offering the Australian is new leadership, both to help working families under financial pressure and new leadership for a plan for our country’s future. This is a great country and there’s no better place on earth to live or to raise a family, but now today our country is facing new challenges, great challenges, and we must meet those challenges if we are going to secure our country’s long term future.

Our country has a future too full of promise to allow a Government that’s been in office for eleven years, a Government that’s lost touch and a Government that’s gone stale just to continue on. You see, when it comes to our future we need better than that. The greatest risk for Australia’s future is for the Coalition to return and nothing changes. Nothing changes on climate change and water, nothing changes for our hospitals, nothing changes for our schools, our technical colleges, our universities, nothing changes when it comes to our workplaces, except of course Workchoices which would be made even worse. That’s why during this campaign I intend to make the case why Australia needs new leadership now.

When I became Leader of the Australian Labor Party, I began outlining our plan for the future and during the course of this campaign I’ll be outlining further fresh ideas, new policies and adding to the plan that we’ve already put out there for our country’s future, not just for the next three years, but for the next five, the next ten years and beyond.

Australia needs new leadership. New leadership for our education revolution so that our kids have the best jobs, the best paid jobs and the highest skilled jobs of the future. New leadership when it comes to our need for new infrastructure. New leadership to fix our hospitals, to have someone prepared to put their hand up and say the buck stops with me. New leadership which understands the needs of rural and regional Australia. New leadership which gets the balance right between fairness and flexibility in our workplaces. New leadership which keeps the economy strong but ensures the economy delivers for working families. New leadership which embraces the enduring value of our alliance with the United States but leadership which has an exit strategy for our combat forces in Iraq.

On these Mr Howard, over eleven years, has failed to act and what I offer the Australian people now is a plan of action. I’m offering new leadership, a plan for Australia’s future, a clear-cut commitment to work for that future and an equally clear cut commitment that if I’m elected to become the next Prime Minister of Australia, I will serve a full three year term. If elected again I would serve beyond that as well.

Mr Howard by contrast says that if he wins the next election he will retire and hand over the Prime Ministership to Mr Costello, without Mr Costello ever having to face the Australian people. Mr Howard has said that working families have never been better off. Mr Howard’s lost touch with working families but Mr Costello has never been in touch with working families.

As I travel around Australia people have asked me, legitimately, why do you want to become the Prime Minister of this country. I am putting myself forward to become Australia’s next Prime Minister because I understand the challenges which our country faces in the future and I want to be a leader of the Government of this country as we tackle those challenges of the future head on.

First to build long term economic prosperity beyond the mining boom through investing in an education revolution, 21st century economic infrastructure like broadband, fixing the federation as well as preparing the nation for the rise of China and the rise of India.

Second, offering help and support for working families on the way through by getting the balance right in our workplaces and by fixing our hospitals so that working families when they need hospital and medical care can get the best we can absolutely provide.

And third, acting nationally and internationally decisively on climate change so that we do not destroy the economic and environmental future of the next generation of Australians.

Whenever I go out across this great country of ours and I speak to working families I talk all the time about the need for an education revolution. For me, this is core business. I have a passionate belief in education. I have a passionate belief in the importance of education providing opportunity for all Australians.

Now, I consider myself to have had a fortunate life. Like many kids in this country, my family went through some rough times but mum and dad always ensured I had a good education at the local country state school at Eumundi. More than anything else a good education provides the opportunity and ensures our young people that they will be rewarded for hard work, achievement and success. More than anything else, an education, a good education offers a new course in life. It enables you to unleash your potential as a human being and it also provides a great opportunity, greater opportunities than people had before.

But more than anything else a good education also is a building block for the nation’s future economy. That’s why I believe in an education revolution. That’s why I believe that a trade certificate is just as good as a university degree because both are critical to our nation’s economic future.

I believe this with every fibre of my being and when I look to this generation of Australians, the challenges that they will face in the future are even greater than those faced by my generation. That’s why we need a vision for Australia to have the best education and training system in the world. We as a country need to widen our vision.

I’m really looking forward to this campaign and during this campaign I’ll be announcing policies, I’ll be announcing fresh ideas which build on our plan for the nation’s future which I’ve been outlining during the course of this year. What puzzles me is that on the day this election is called Mr Howard, with all the resources of government has not put forward any plan for the nation’s future after eleven years. Let me give you this clear-cut commitment, if I’m elected to become the next Prime Minister of Australia I will ratify Kyoto, I will prohibit the construction of nuclear reactors in this country. I will abolish Workchoices. I will end the blame game between Canberra and the States. I will invest in an education revolution and I will build a world class broadband network for this nation, city and country.

None of this is possible without a strong economy. That’s why I’ve always said and why I will always say, with pride, I’m an economic conservative. I believe in budget surpluses. I believe in the independence of the Reserve Bank. I believe in its inflation targeting regime. That’s why we are also putting forward carefully costed promises for this election campaign all designed to put downward pressure on interest rates.

To win this election we are going to have to make history. We’ve only won twice from Opposition since World War II and we have to win sixteen seats and on top of that we’re up against one of the most clever and cunning politicians this nation has ever produced. But let me make one prediction and that is in the days and weeks ahead the good people of Australia are going to be bombarded with the mother of all negative fear campaigns.

Mr Howard and Mr Costello will say that if I am elected as the next Prime Minister of Australia the skies will fall in. Mr Howard has spoken today a lot about experience. Let me say this, Mr Howard has bucketloads of experience when it comes to negative fear campaigns. He’s done this every election campaign so far and gotten away with it. The reason Mr Howard does this and why he’ll do it again is because he has no positive plan for our nation’s future.

Australia cannot afford another three years of a Government which has already had eleven years. A Government which has lost touch with working families, a Government that’s gone stale and a Government without fresh ideas for our nation’s future. I refuse to stand idly by and allow this to happen. That’s why I put myself forward for new leadership for our nation Australia’s future.

I’m happy to take your questions.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard today has said that he campaigned about leadership and (inaudible), he said he’s experienced, he’s had eleven years (inaudible).

RUDD:

Well Mr Howard has had a lot of experience in taking Australia into a war without an exit strategy, the Iraq War. Mr Howard has a lot of experience in telling Australians that the reason for going to war was to reduce the terrorism threat when it has increased the terrorist threat. Mr Howard has a lot of experience in denying that climate change represented an economic and environmental challenge for this nation’s future. Mr Howard has a lot of experience in perpetuating the buck-passing and the blame game between Canberra and the States on hospitals. I’d say Mr Howard gets a big review when it comes to experience in those departments.

I put myself forward as someone who has worked extensively as a senior public servant, someone who has worked as a diplomat representing his country abroad, someone who’s worked in small business and someone who’s now been in Parliament for nearly a decade. The Australian people will make their decision.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) …between the Federal and State Governments, Howard said this morning…inaudible.

RUDD:

The checks and balances of Australia’s system of government lies primarily in the Senate and what happened when Mr Howard got control of the Senate at the last election? He used and abused his power to bring in the harshest set of industrial relations laws that this country has ever seen – with a huge impact on working families, stripping away penalty rates, overtime and basic conditions which working families for generations have enjoyed. So that is a core element of the checks and balances of this system so that when we go to the next election we will see the same attitude brought to bear when it comes to elections to the Senate.

When it comes to the States and Territories, can I say this? I think politically it has suited Mr Howard very well to have Labor Governments at the State and Territory level so that the blame game, so that the buck passing can continue as an excuse for not solving national problems.

Guess what? If I’m elected to become the next Prime Minister of Australia it presents me with a unique opportunity in the year 2008 to get to the bottom of fixing health and hospitals once and for all. That’s why I put out a $2 billion plan for doing it. That’s why I put out a three stage timetable for doing it and if we fail to deliver we will have no political excuse whatsoever, that’s my response to Mr Howard’s charge.

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible.)

RUDD:

Well Mr Howard has said that his plan for the future is to win the election, retire and hand over to Mr Costello. I would say that the Australian people would regard that as curious, given that Mr Costello has not been allowed to face the Australian people in his own right. I’m up against Mr Howard at this election, what Mr Howard chooses to have Mr Costello do or what Mr Costello chooses to have Mr Costello do is a matter for them.

My job is to put forward a positive plan for the nation’s future. I suspect, looking at the content of what Mr Howard said earlier today, that they will see their principled job as running a negative fear campaign from day one.

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible.)

RUDD:

Well 70 per cent of Mr Howard’s Cabinet did not want Mr Howard to continue as Prime Minister because they did not believe that Mr Howard had a plan for the future. That’s my response to that one.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard said that Australians would not know what they were getting with a Rudd Government…(inaudible.)

RUDD:

Well can I say, when asked today, Mr Howard whether he would nominate all members of his Cabinet, he declined to do so. And guess what else Mr Howard and Mr Costello refused to do? When Mr Howard hands over the Prime Ministership to Mr Costello, if he is relected, who will be Mr Costello’s Treasurer? Will it be Mr Downer, will it be someone else? Will it be Dr Nelson, will it be Peter McGauran? Who knows. And then, who would be Mr Costello’s Foreign Minister, because Mr Downer has long said in Canberra his aspiration is to become Treasurer and Deputy Leader and then have another go at the leadership. So I think it’s very important for Mr Howard to reflect carefully on the additional portfolio responsibilities that flow to the Costello handover which he’s now confirmed.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard (inaudible)

RUDD:

As I travel across Australia and talk to working families across the length and breadth of the country, working families are saying this to me that, when they look to their long term future they understand that this mining boom is delivering an enormous economic advantage to Australia but they are fearful about what happens long term when the mining boom is over. In the immediate term in our current economic circumstances, those who are experiencing real difficulty are those who are finding it impossible to make ends meet with child care costs going up 12 per cent a year, with mortgage interest rates having gone up five times since the last election when Mr Howard promised that they would not go up again, when rents have got out of control and where groceries and petrol prices have gone through the roof and without any action being taken by the Howard Government to apply more competitive pressure to the system such as we’ve articulated.

All these things together impact on working families but you know what is the icing on the cake for working families on cost of living pressures? It’s Worchoices stripping away penalty rates, overtime and basic conditions and, added to the other cost of living pressures, making it very tough to make ends meet so when Mr Howard says to that group of Australians, and they are in provincial cities and towns as much as they are in the cities and suburbs, when he says to them, working families have never been off, they know as they try and balance their family budget that that’s simply not true.

JOURNALIST:

With the six week campaign, is that one week too long?

RUDD:

Well that’s Mr Howard’s decision. I think what’s been quite wrong is Mr Howard putting his hand in the pocket of taxpayers now for weeks and months to fund his election campaign with taxpayer funded advertising. You know, since the Parliament rose last time, $21 million- a million dollars a day in taxpayer funded advertising. I’ve been this last week looking very much at what’s happening when it comes to cancer research and cancer treatments, $21 million would have been better spent assisting some of our researchers do their job in assisting those who are perfecting cancer treatments around the country.

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible.)

RUDD:

Well I’m a very proud Queenslander and I love this State, I grew up here, my mum was born here, it’s in your veins. I’m passionate about Queensland, I’m passionate about Australia. But you know something? At the end of the day people will make a judgement about my plan for the nation’s future. They’ll also make a judgement about whether our plan incorporates rural and regional Australia and let me add this, how could it be, that this Coalition Government made up of the Liberal Party and National Party could have delivered a second-rate broadband service to non-metropolitan Australia. People ask why have we put forward a $4.7 billion plan on broadband, it’s part of our economic future, it’s part of our building the nation’s future once the mining boom is over, but it’s also part of delivering services beyond the big cities and how could the National Party sit by and allow a second-rate, second-speed, slow-speed system to be delivered to those in regional and rural Australia. It’s just wrong and that’s why I believe that policies like that will have a strong message to sell beyond the cities.

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible.)

RUDD:

I believe that this is going to be the fight of our lives because we have only won twice from Opposition since World War II, we have 16 seats to win and we are up against a really clever politician and I believe that this will go down to the wire.

JOURNALIST:

How personal do you expect the campaign to get?

RUDD:

Well, Mr Howard and Mr Costello, from Parliament and from their statements outside of Parliament, have already indicated this will be a negative fear campaign from beginning to end based on unions, based on experience, based on interest rates and as I said their overall charge is that if the people of Australia were to vote for me as the next Prime Minister of Australia the skies would then fall in. Well you know something? Mr Howard’s used the negative fear campaign on every previous election and he’s gotten away with it and he thinks he can do so again. I think the Australian people, however, have seen a lot of Mr Howard in the meantime.

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible.)

RUDD:

We are committed to full employment. The labour movement and the Labor Party always has been committed to full employment and when it comes to a unemployment number with a three in front of it, we believe that’s a right goal for Australia too, but if you have a strategy to reach that goal. And what’s our strategy? An education and skills revolution. A technology revolution through high-speed broadband, taking red tape off the back of business so they can become more productive.

Let me say one other thing though about Mr Howard, Mr Howard comes out and speaks of that particular new objective, Mr Howard at the last election said to the Australian people he would keep interest rates at record lows. Did Mr Howard have a plan to make sure he could deliver on that undertaking? Absolutely not because since then interest rates have gone up on five separate occasions, costing thousands of dollars to those holding average mortgages right across the country, so Mr Howard goes out there and makes a bold statement on the day he calls an election about an unemployment objective, I ask people to reflect on Mr Howard’s bold statements three years ago that interest rates would be kept at their then levels. One more question, then I’m going to zip.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard said you never accept responsibility for anything that goes wrong on your side of politics, what do you say about that?

RUDD:

Well Mr Howard has never taken responsibility for the Iraq War, he has never taken responsibility for his statement that if we went to war in Iraq it would reduce the overall terrorist threat, when it fact he’d been warned by the intelligence services that it would increase the overall terrorist threat. Mr Howard has never taken responsibility for his Government, through the Foreign Minister, authorising $300 million in corrupt payments to be made to Saddam Hussein’s regime, money which was then used to by guns, bombs and bullets for later use against Australian troops and Mr Howard has never taken responsibility for children overboard.

On the question of taking responsibility, I ask people to look at the facts of Australia’s recent political history, rather than simply Mr Howard’s spin-doctoring today delivered to him by Crosby Textor and on that, we’ll close.

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