With two days until the election, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has made his final address to the National Press Club, in Canberra.
Rudd’s speech consisted of a detailed account of the achievements of the government since its election in 2007. There were no new policy announcements.
The Labor leader took a series of questions from journalists and seemed in good cheer, despite the ALP’s position in the published polls.
Rudd again refused to be drawn on his political future after Saturday’s election. He accused journalists of wanting to be ahead of the game and said he was focussed on winning every possible vote between now and the election. He said his intention was to serve the electors of Griffith into the future as prime minister.
- Listen to Rudd’s speech (28m)
- Listen to Rudd take questions (38m)
- Watch ALP video:
Transcript of Kevin Rudd’s National Press Club Address.
HOST: Today we’re joined by the Prime Minister. So without any further ado, would you please welcome the Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd.
RUDD: Thank you very much. It’s good to be back in the nation’s capital, a capital which celebrates its centenary this year, 2013. Much of this election campaign, like many that have preceded it, has, to paraphrase the greatest master of the English language, been full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. But above the noise of gaffes and gotcha moments from both sides of politics, there are some phrases which somehow manage to penetrate. Often these are said in private moments, in the thousands of conversations we have with people who would simply describe themselves as ordinary Australians. Like the high school kids who have said to me right across the country that they wouldn’t know where they’d be without laptops in their classrooms, because of our computers in schools plan. The first year apprentice at one of our Trades Training Centres, with delight in his eyes as he tells me how he has used his tools for his trade grant to buy his first set of drills, or the kidney recipient thankful for the work of the new National Transplant Authority, or the middle aged nurse with tears in her eyes, describing the vital work she does in supporting cancer patients at home through our new network of Medicare Locals, but fearful for the future of her job.
I’ve found these to be the authentic voices of these self-described ordinary Australians everywhere. Often supportive, sometimes critical, at all times positive. And these are the voices that continue to sustain me in national political life, because our national political mission put simply is to do whatever we can to make life better for them. For their jobs, for their families, for their futures, and to both imagine and build an Australia of the future capable of doing just that. This is the vision and these are the values underpinning the vision that I outlined in my policy address last Sunday. This the core mission of progressive politics, the core mission of our party, the core mission of our Government.
In the course of this election campaign I have also heard other voices, more disturbing voices that have also stayed with me. One of those voices was this, and I quote: “I don’t think we should be getting ideas above our station”. Now, I know Mr Abbott was talking about a position on Syria. Notwithstanding the fact that Australia now finds itself as President of the United Nations Security Council. But I think that phrase, I don’t think we should be getting ideas above our station, is of itself deeply symptomatic of a conservative view of Australia’s future more generally. Of course, it begs the question of what “above our station”, actually means. Conservatives often point to a mythical, almost mystical point in an elusive imagined past and the Conservative mission sometimes explicitly stated as such is to return to that noint in history when everything is imagined to have been just fine and dandy. In the case of Australia’s Conservatives, a cocktail of the 1950, Upstairs Downstairs and Downtown Abbey all wrapped together, where plainly everyone did know their station in life. The problem is that Australians have never had much regard for our station in life. Or for that matter our class. That’s not our way of doing things. And we have certainly never been prepared to be constrained by others’ definitions of us. You see, we Australians have always had ideas well beyond our station. That’s who we are. That’s in our DNA. It is that in fact that defines us as Australians. It’s carved in our hearts. It’s embedded in our national identity. You saw it when a motley group of shearers in the 1890s said they’d no longer settle for poor pay and conditions, and fought for a fair go until they got it, they formed a union, they then formed a political party and the history of this nation has changed as a result.
You’ve seen it also in a Slovakian refugee who fled the ravages of Hitler’s rule to become our nation’s most successful entrepreneur. Ben Chifley had ideas above his station too when he dared to dream of Australian citizenship rather than simply being a British subject. Gough Whitlam, well he always had ideas above his station when he made university access available for all. Based on merit. He also had ideas above our national station when he led a tiny delegation to Peking as it was then called in 1971 to begin the process of formally recognising the country that has now become our largest economic partner. Bob Hawke, he had ideas above his station when he introduced universal health insurance under Medicare for which we celebrate the 30th anniversary tomorrow. Paul Keating had ideas well above our station when he introduced universal superannuation, with the result that twenty years later, we now have $1.6 trillion under management and the fourth largest funds management in the world.
Yes we’re in the business of having ideas well beyond our station and our government has certainly had ideas above our station, too. We convened and had the audacity to do a 20:20 summit which sought to imagine a future for Australia where we could perhaps have Australia’s first National Disability Insurance Scheme or we might dream of having Australia’s first National Transplant Authority, or we might dream of having our first dedicated children’s television channel on the ABC. And a research program for a future bionic eye that would in time rival the bionic ear. Well, we’ve done a few things about all of those things.
Nobody imagined that we would get through the financial crisis without heading into recession. But again we had ideas beyond our station and we proved them wrong. Nobody ever thought we could ever secure a seat at the world’s top economic table because that was certainly beyond our station. With the G20 once again we proved them wrong. Few people thought after 27 years we could secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council. We imagined it differently, and proved them wrong again. And nobody ever thought that the mighty Murray-Darling would be able to flow free to the sea again and once again we imagined it differently and thought the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and, through it, that we were giving the Murray the best chance it could possibly have in the future.
And one other thing, nobody ever imagined that a national apology to Indigenous Australians as the first act of this Government in Parliament could have such a palpable effect on both the practical and psychological dimensions of reconciliation. The truth is our Conservative opponents have sneered at most of these things on the way through. As Prime Minister of Australia, I am proud of each and every one of them and a whole lot more besides. Because if I‘ve said it many times before, we are the party of nation builders, the ones who build the nation up. Our opponents have invariably been content to oppose, to oppose, to oppose, and then tear the house down. We’ve been in the business of writing the nation’s history. They have been in the business of opposing what we’ve done and then un-writing the nation’s history, or rewriting it.
So in the context of this campaign day in, day out you hear me say that we are in the business of building the nation’s future, whereas Mr Abbott’s is in the business of cuts, cuts and more cuts for Australia’s future. This debate is one which has a long resonance, a long historical resonance in the competing traditions of of Australian political history. We’re not simply looking at an isolated series of events today. They are part and parcel of two competing political ideas on the role of government in both the economy and society and for our part I have been clear cut from day one on our plan for building the nation’s future. I have been clear cut about the strength of our economic credentials against almost any comparison against our predecessors. As yesterday’s national accounts data demonstrated for all, we have just concluded five and a half years of positive economic growth, despite the worst global economic conditions since the Great Depression. We inherited an economy of something just above a trillion dollars in size. We now have a $1.5 trillion economy. Australia’s economy has grown 15 per cent over that time. Around two and a half times the speed of Canada, four times the speed of the United States, six times the speed of Germany and I remind you that the British economy today is 3 percentage points smaller than it was in 2007.
We have now as a nation managed to generate 22 years of successive economic growth. 11 years combined under Labor, just over 11 years under the Conservatives. No-one in the workforce today under 40 has been in the workforce to see firsthand the ravages of a recession. Recession is not a risk we should ever entertain lightly. In 2007 there were 10.7 million Australians in a job, as of today there are 11.65 million. Just under one million more in work. Inflation has averaged 2.6 under our Government, 2.6 under the previous government.
Families who are paying interest rates at about 8.55 per cent interest rates at about 2007, are now paying interest rates on their home loan on about 5.95 per cent, which means on a household on a mortgage of $300,000, they’re paying $6,000 a year less than they were in 2007. Average weekly earnings have risen 4.8 per cent per annum under our government compared with 4.2 per cent per annum under our predecessors. Over the last six years the tax to GDP ratio has averaged 21.1 per cent under our Government compared with 23.4 per cent under our predecessors. And our predecessors still hold the record as the highest taxing government in Australia’s history.
And most critically productivity has risen by 10 per cent since the Government came to office. Labour productivitiened the Fair Work Act at 1.9 per cent growth per annum is almost three times higher than that achieved under the WorkChoices regime of 0.7 per cent per annum. We have achieved all of the above with among the lowest debt and deficit ratios in the world and with a triple A credit rating from all three international credit rating agencies. Our predecessors only managed two such ratings. We secured the third. But as I said in an address to this National Press Club when I returned to the Prime Ministership, this is no time to rest on our laurels, because global economic circumstances are changing. We cannot afford to simply have all our eggs in one basket for future. We must diversify our economic base. That’s why I outlined a new seven-part national competitiveness agenda with the object of reaching a total factor productivity target for the economy of 2 percentage points for future each year. That’s why I’ve also targeted the small business sector with a small business investment boost which would provide an upfront tax deduction for small businesses purchasing new equipment worth up to $10,000. And together with the other measures for small business, we would provide $5.4 billion of tax incentives for all small businesses right across Australia. That’s why in the course of this campaign I’ve also outlined a $1 billion industry innovation partnership program across the emerging sectors of the Australian economy. Including food technology, high-tech manufacturing, oil, gas and mining services, medical technology, biotechnology, bio pharmaceuticals, financial services, the digital economy, spatial technology and the rest. I’ve also confirmed $500 million of expanded co-investment in Australia’s car industry which directly and indirectly employs a quarter of a million Australians. Their jobs are important to me. The jobs of all Australians are important to me which is why the growing of the economy is important to me.
I’ve also confirmed the future of our defence industries, including bringing forward the construction schedule of naval vessels to keep our shipyards working. That’s why we’ve also outlined bold plans for the medium to long-term future including the expansion of the Ord in Western Australia, the creation of a Northern Territory special economic zone, announcing plans to secure a corridor for a high speed rail link between Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne and charging an Australian naval taskforce to advise which elements of the fleet based east should be moved to the Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. These about planning for the long term future, imagining the future where we need to be and then taking practical steps to get there consistent with the progressive tradition of Australian politics. These are all large, long-term projects just as the National Broadband Network is a large long-term project, from which all Australian businesses, households, schools, hospitals, universities and institutions will benefit.
On education, in building the schools of the future, we also do so on the basis of a strong record of achievement. Think right across the nation at the moment. Think of the 500 new language and science centres. Think of the 263 new state-of-the-art Trades Training Centres and now rising to a national network of 510. Think of the 3,100, 21st century libraries built across our primary schools, the 2,900 new multipurpose facilities capable of bringing all school communities together often for the first time. 4,500 new classrooms most with new interactive whiteboards. Just under one million new computers in schools to provide one for every student from years 9 to 12. Australia’s first national curriculum. Australia’s first uniform testing arrangements for literacy and numeracy in our primary and high schools. And the SchoolKids Bonus for 1.3 million Australian families to help buy books and school uniforms to help the family budge. At our universities we now have 190,000 more students than we did in 2007. Our plans for a new TAFE Australia Network, if our negotiations with the States and Territories fail to produce an effective result. And for the future, Australia’s first needs-based funding formula for a further $15 billion investment in the nation’s schools over the next six years under our Better Schools Plan. The equivalent of about $1.6 million extra on average for every school in the country. That’s changing the face of Australia’s future.
In health, building the health and hospitals of the future, the Government has also grounded our reforms in the most comprehensive agreement because the Commonwealth and the States in history. And as a result, the Commonwealth is investing a further $19 billion in the health and hospital system by restoring over time Commonwealth funding to 50 per cent with the States compared to 38 per cent to which dropped under the Conservatives which created a real crisis in our public hospital system as the Commonwealth simply walked out the door backwards. Funding has been delivered for 11,000 more doctors, 26,000 more nurses, 26 regional cancer care centres, including also a large construction program of 1,300 building projects of hospitals, clinical projects, accident and emergency and the rest, a network of more than 50 new GP Super Clinics and 61 Medicare Locals. These are delivering palpable and new health services to the Australian community right across the nation in a way which was not done before. Because we believed we could do it better than we inherited from the past. We’re also investing a $3.4 billion aged care reform program and for the future a new DisabilityCare system which will be rolled out across the country to benefit up to half a million Australians living with disability.
We’ve also been building a clean energy future for Australia. We’ve ratified Kyoto and if returned we will ratify Kyoto 2. We’ve implemented a mandatory Renewable Energy Target of 20 per cent by 2020 and as of 1 July ’14 we’ll move to a floating carbon price as part of an emissions trading scheme. We’ve also established a Clean Energy Finance Corporation to help fund the renewable energies of the future. And the result? Emissions from electricity generation are already down 7 per cent. Generation from renewable energy is up 25 per cent. The number of solar panels on household roofs now more than one million up from just 7,500 when we first came to office. If you want to know where change has occurred, look very hard and very close at the renewable energy sector.
So when friends I have said to the nation during the course of this election campaign that I have a positive plan for building the nation for the future, the economy of the future, the industries of the future, the jobs of the future, the schools of the future, the hospitals of the future, the clean energy of the future, let me tell you, there is substance to our proposition. These are not words. These are actions. Actions translated into real things on the ground which work.
An election is about choices. Whereas as our plan is about building the nation’s future Mr Abbott’s consistent Conservative script is to cut, to cut and to cut again for the future. As I have already said today, this is not an isolated event in conservative political history. When the Coalition came to office last time, they established remarkably a commission of audit. And over two years made cuts the equivalent of 2.7 per cent of GDP. This was the equivalent, back in ’96-7 and ’8 of cutting $43.4 billion from the economy now over the next two years. This is a huge slice of economic activity.
Given our current annual growth lies at 2.6 per cent and given that a substantial driver of growth in the June quarter just released is public investment, this should give all analysts cause for pause and concern. Professor John Quiggan as well as the Nobel Prize winning economist Professor Joseph Stiglitz recently commented on the impact of austerity measures on Australia on a given order of magnitude of cuts. Professor Quiggan’s conclusion, basing his model on IF fiscal multipliers and Occams’ law is that for every $10 billion of austerity cuts in a given year, economic growth would slow by 1 per cent and there would be 50,000 fewer jobs. The question therefore arises that this critical point of the national election campaign as to the magnitude of the Coalition’s cuts given that to date they have failed to produce a comprehensive detailed account of their cuts. Including independent public verification for the benefit of all of you in this room and all the people of Australia.
What Mr Abbott has told us so far is that he will cut the Schoolkids Bonus to zero. Which will affect 1.3 million Australian families who will lose on average $1,230 a year. He said he will abolish the Low Income Superannuation Contribution to zero. Which will affect 3.5 million working Australians who will lose up to $500 a year. He said he will cut the retirement savings of 8.4 million workers by delaying the increase in the superannuation guarantee level. He will cut the Better Schools Plan by about $8 billion which will mean that schools on average will be $880,000 worse off. He will cut taxation measures to support small business which will impose a $5 billion plus hit on 3.2 million small businesses losing the instant asset write-off of $10,000 and 110,000 companies, through scrapping the loss carryback scheme. Mr Abbott says he will cut $1.2 billion in assistance to the car manufacturing industry, putting at risk the jobs of quarter of at risk the jobs of quarter of a million Australians who work directly or indirectly in the auto sector. He said will cut the retirement income of up to a million self-funded retirees and part pensioners by cutting franking credits to fund his unfair and un affordable Paid Parental Leave scheme.
There are reports in the media that he will also cut $2.4 billion from the Regional Infrastructure Fund, cut $900 million from what he describes as wasteful projects under the Australian Research Council, as well as cut the Foreign Aid program. But the truth is that with less than 48 hours to go before polls open, neither we nor you in the press nor the people of Australia have been provided with a comprehensive detailed list of all of all Mr Abbott’s proposed funding cuts. The Government has complied with Peter Costello’s Charter of Budget Honesty. The bottom-line impact on the budget is as the Government described in its Economic Statement. So with 48 hours before the polls open, with the media blackout now in force, Mr Abbott has still failed to release a comprehensive, detailed, independently verifiable account of all of his cuts so that the Australian people are now left completely in the dark on how his massive cuts would hurt their jobs would hurt their jobs, the economy and possibly even trigger a recession.
And this pattern of evasion continues through until this day. Mr Abbott has previously said that education and health are both quarantined from cuts if he’s elected as Prime Minister. Let me say exactly what he has said on this. He promised, and I quote him: “no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to pensions” but today when asked specifically about his proposed Commission of Audit this question: “What areas would be quarantined and are there some areas that would not be touched”, Mr Abbott said, and I quote him again: “I am very happy to have the Commission of Audit go through the whole of administration”.
No quarantining of education, no quarantining of health, no quarantining of pensions, the whole of an administration, in direct response to a very direct response to a very direct question. So one day, education and health are supposed to be quarantined from Mr Abbott’s cuts, the next day they are not. All this as a fundamental contradiction of his position two days before an election and without producing any national list of detail as to where his cuts would fall. This is remarkable. It is extraordinary. So let me therefore pose the question about Mr Abbott’s massive cuts on your jobs, your schools, your hospital, and their impact on the economy overall. Because these are entirely reasonable questions for which no answer has been delivered. So my message to the Australian people today is a simple one: our plans to build Australia’s future are clear cut, fully costed and publicly available for everyone to criticise, comment on, love or hate. They are all there.
With less than 48 hours to go, Mr Abbott is deliberately evading scrutiny because he fears that if you the Australian people knew the dimensions of what he and his government are planning by way of cuts he is frightened you would not vote for him. So I say to the Australian people if you are in doubt after all this evasion on how Mr Abbott’s massive cuts would hurt your jobs, your schools and your hospitals and the economy in this most fragile of global economic times, don’t vote for him.
There are some people in Australia who think that the economy, jobs, education, health and the rest will simply continue much the same as before, if Mr Abbott was elected. My message to Australians is that from the Liberal Party’s own history, we know that not to be the case. We know that absolutely not to be the case. Remember when they came in in ‘96 they got rid of the Commonwealth Dental Health Scheme. We also know that there is only one credible reason why Mr Abbott is being so evasive about the detail of his cuts now hand that’s because he knows you would be concerned about the big hits on jobs, the big hits on schools, the big hits on hospitals that would occur in the future.
The truth is this: if Mr Abbott is elected, there will be fundamental change to the face of Australia. Everyone needs to know that. Mr Abbott’s cuts risk damaging our economy at a time when our economy has fared the Global Financial Crisis reasonably well and at a time when we must protect jobs not cut jobs for the future. We know from history that Mr Abbott’s Liberals do transfer much of the economic burden from big companies to working families, so that those families, end up paying more in their cost of living to pay for tax cuts to big mining companies on the one hand or to pay for his unfair Paid Parental Leave scheme on the other. And the other thing we know from history is that in Mr Abbott’s Liberals may not own up to it, but it is in their DNA to do anything possible to undermine wages, conditions, penalty rates and overtime arrangements for people who work. So if after 20 years in Parliament, four years as Leader of the Opposition, and a five-week election campaign, you still have doubts about what Mr Abbott would do to you, your jobs and to Australia, and to our economy, then don’t vote for him.
Based on their history, I genuinely fear for what the Liberals would do in office. The truth is, it would not be the same Australia of a fair go for all. It would be a radically different Australia, where there is a fair go for some. I don’t want an Australia that is divided into winners and losers. I don’t want an Australia that is wrapped in dispute and division and thrown into a new culture of confrontation. Because I have a different view for Australia’s future. One that brings people together, rather than dividing them. Together around a common progressive plan for Australia’s future. That is the Australia which we the Australian Labor Party are seeking to build in government. If returned by the Australian people, that is the sort of Australia we would seek to build for Australia’s future. I thank you.
HOST: Thank you, Prime Minister. Time now for our usual round of questions from the media. I would appeal to members to keep their questions to a single question and keep their questions short. The first question today is from Paul Bongiorno.
JOURNALIST: Paul Bongiorno, Ten News, Prime Minister. Last night in the intimacy of his kitchen, Tony Abbott told Annabel Crabb that no matter what happens on Saturday you can be certain of one thing on Monday, he won’t be the Opposition Leader. Can we pose the same question to you? Can we be certain on Monday no matter what happens you won’t be the Opposition Leader?
RUDD: What you can be certain of, Paul Bongiorno is this – between now and 6pm on Saturday I will be fighting for every vote in the country, and with one objective which is to see the return of an Australian Labor Government. And the reason I’m passionate about that and will do everything in my power to do that is that I am fighting for the Australian people. I am fighting for their jobs, I am fighting for their fair pay and conditions, I am fighting for their hospitals, I am fighting for their schools, I am fighting for their broadband, I’m fighting for their clean energy future and that will take every fibre of my being. And guess what? The judge at the end of the day is the Australian people. I accept their verdict. They are a pretty smart bunch, the Australian people, and they work out fact from fiction and I will settle with great contentment with their conclusion.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Phillip Hudson from The Herald Sun. You talked in the speech about how proud you were of the 20:20 Summit and about Australians having ideas above our station and the need for long-term vision. If you win on Saturday, I’m just wondering if you’re thinking of having a 20:30, 20:40 or 20:50 summit. You mentioned most of your Labor predecessors in your speech. I wonder if you think that Julia Gillard had ideas above her station?
RUDD: If you listened very carefully to my policy launch last Sunday, I paid appropriate respect to all of our previous Prime Ministers, including Julia, and I paid respect to her contributions both to the NDIS and to the Better Schools Plan on multiple occasions. I think everyone who fairly has observed this debate would know that. In terms of the future and being open to the whole business of ideas, let me just say this: I have always been in the marketplace for ideas for the country’s future because I’ve worked out a long time ago, that guess what? In that little place on the hill, you don’t have the monopoly on wisdom. I hate to say this, folks, here in the press gallery, but neither do you. So therefore there is a big challenge to keep the doors of government and the national institutions of our country open to ideas from the workplace, from our research and scientific institutions, from those who would challenge our assumptions in order for us to frankly frame and reframe where we can take the country into the future. I remember that very well back in ’08, sitting down on the floor with a bunch of people, because we didn’t have enough chairs apparently in that room and listened to what they had to say about where we could take the country and it was inspiring to listen to them. I know the natural cynicism of elements of the media establishment would just say “talk fest”, terrible thing, a thousand people come to Canberra, spin a whole lot of ideas, nothing happens. I would submit to your attention the record of achievement which flowed from the ideas that which were canvassed in that summit.
One I didn’t mention before by the way was the Australian Civilian Corp. The Australian Civilian Corp is a terrific institution. We’ve legislated for it. What is it? A standing body of 500 people, thereabouts, which comprises people who are experts in dealing with natural disasters where they occur anywhere in the world so at the flick of a switch, if we have a disaster in the Solomons tomorrow, Papua New Guinea the next day or in Indonesia the day after, or somewhere else in the world, that 500 people can be mobilised and despatched immediately as a crack team of people who can fix a disaster as best as can be done on the spot. You know something? That came out that have group as well. So in terms of what form would be for the future and sucking in the good ideas of the country I’ll leave that to Cabinet colleagues to deliberate on, but what I do know is that we operate often in this capital in a hothouse, a political hothouse which focuses on the minutiae of politics as opposed to how you construct a vision for the country’s future where folks out there in my state of Queensland, over in the west, down in Tassie and everywhere else can say, “That’s where we want to go and that’s how we will get there.” Often we get constricted by the culture of this town. I think one of the challenges for all of us in the political futures we choose is to always keep our ideas, our minds open to new ways of thinking from right around the country and right around the world. The National Broadband Network, frankly those ideas came from folks who came to talk to us out of experience in America and said: “Why don’t you do that? Why don’t you roll this out and be world leaders?”. To which I said: “What a good idea. Let’s try to make it work”
JOURNALIST: Simon Cullen from ABC News. During the past week we’ve had figures from UNHCR which showed that in the past week the number of people fleeing Syria has now topped two million people. Given the use of chemical weapons, do you think it’s time for the Australian Government, whoever wins on Saturday, to consider putting in place an operation safe haven or similar arrangement that John Howard put in place during the Kosovo crisis?
RUDD: The first thing I would say is that this country and our Government is proud of the fact that we’ve increased the intake of this country to the official humanitarian program from 12,000 a year to 20,000 a year. I’ve also said if we successfully implement the regional resettlement arrangement which is showing early signs of success that we would then move to expanding the official intake of refugees under the humanitarian program to 27,000, and that then gives you the flexibility to move in those sorts of directions. At present, that has constrained and made more difficult by the pattern of irregular arrivals through the people smuggling industry. So on Syria in particular, what I would say right now is I remember signing this off recently was we are providing every level of support to all the UN agencies, most particularly the UNHCR in Syria and its operations supporting those who are displaced from Syria now in Turkey and Jordan and elsewhere, but I would say through our official humanitarian program, we should always look to what we can do for current major trouble spots around the world and obviously that includes Syria, and I have an open mind as to how we would address that in the future. We are by instinct a compassionate people. We want to help people who are in total distress. That’s why we take people from camps which are hell holes, the names of which nobody in this room could list, including me, and who have been there for six, nine, twelve years and longer. As for the good people of Syria, who don’t deserve the atrocities being metered out to them, I put them in the same category.
JOURNALIST: Mark Kenny from The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. I guess this question stems from Paul Bongiorno’s initial question: If you don’t think voters have a right at this stage to ask you about what you would do vis-a-vis the Opposition leadership after the election should you lose, could you enlighten them and particularly the electors of Griffith that you would commit to stay for the entire term no matter what happens on Saturday?
RUDD: My intention is to continue to serve my local people as their Member of Parliament; my intention equally is to serve them as their Prime Minister. So what I would say to all such questions which are consistent with what journalists like to write, which is to get ahead of the game, rather than simply respond to the game as it is now, is that my focus lies on the events of this Saturday and this Saturday is when the Australian people and with due respect not you, Mark, although you’re one of them, will get to decide. We will be watching your vote as well, by the way. We have your name, your address, we’ll come after you, and we are still in control of the security agencies. That was a joke, by the way. So, the target right now is to put our best foot forward and explain our policies to the Australian people, and to shine a spotlight on the other mob in terms of their pattern of evasion.
Here we are, 48 hours before an election, and we are left in the dark as to where Mr Abbott’s massive cuts to health, to education, to jobs will fall. This is a deliberate act of evasion at a time when the media blackout has already begun so that no scrutiny is applied to where his cuts will fall because he has politically, cynically concluded that’s the best way to win an election. Therefore, the question for the nation, including its national media establishment is the scrutiny to be applied to that 48 hours before an election. So I’m fighting the fight today, tomorrow and Saturday, and further questions on these matters could be addressed subsequent to that date.
JOURNALIST: Michelle Grattan from The Conversation. Mr Rudd, just taking up that point being left in the dark, if you were re-elected would you be willing to amend the Charter of Budget Honesty so that costings had to be produced, say, by the beginning of the last week of the campaign or the end of the second last week?
RUDD: Michelle, we’ve actually looked at this long and hard and the Charter of Budget Honesty is something that we’ve complied to. Folks, this is how we’ve complied with the Charter of Budget Honesty. There you go. That’s us. That’s what we put forward. And therefore what you saw with our pre-election economic statement, saying what our Budget bottom line would be and how it would be constructed, that is confirmed by this process. That’s us. I don’t even have the single page press release from the other mob, but it’s something like this. That versus this, and if you think that is being upfront with the Australian people about what your costings are, where your cuts will fall, how many jobs will go, which schools will be hit and which hospitals will be hit, I don’t think they are levelling with us.
Now, what the Opposition have done is through the use of the Parliamentary Budget Office is whack, as they’ve said, I think about 200 of their policy into Parliamentary Budget Office before the election is called and therefore technically, technically saying that they don’t have to publicly produce the results from the Parliamentary Budget Office, or their conclusions one way or another about the accuracy of the costings of their cuts. And frankly, that is just a cynical manipulation of the process set up by Peter Costello, not my best friend – I’m sure he is a good friend of some of you in the room – but we respect him as a former Treasurer of the Commonwealth, but someone who set up the Charter of Budget Honesty so that when people go to vote there is a level playing field of information and numbers, and so if the Opposition are going to cynically seek to escape scrutiny by that means, then obviously technical changes would need to be considered in the future about how that could not be the case in the future. The bottom line is this: you know, If Mr Abbott did not have anything to hide, why is he going to these extraordinary lengths to be evasive 48 hours before an election? I don’t get it. I think the Australian people do because he is hiding something he doesn’t want them to know and it is big cuts to their jobs, schools and hospitals.
HOST: Paul Osborne.
JOURNALIST: Paul Osborne from Australian Associated Press. You talk about big ideas and vision. Just wondering win or lose, what further reforms do you think should go forward in terms of the Labor Party, and do you have any ideas for electoral reform as well, including fixed four-year terms, please?
RUDD: Well, I think everyone knows I’ve always been a fan of fixed four-year terms and that has been my position since Adam was a boy. Secondly, you mentioned the question of broader electoral reform. I think we do have to look at the question in the future of imposing funding caps on election campaigns, and I would draw to your example what is done, for example, in the revolutionary Socialist state otherwise called Canada. The Canadian reforms in this area, I think, are worthy of emulation, and certainly worthy of consideration. I don’t think we want to get to a stage in this country where a political party can simply buy an election outcome, by having a whole bunch more funding support. Now, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that various of our big mining companies probably have an interest in the mining tax being abolished. Therefore it follows that they may have an interest in ensuring that our Conservative friends get elected. Well, all I’m saying is I think Australians are beginning to get sick and tired of an electoral system which enables anyone, from whichever tradition to effectively buy an election by virtue of being able to buy a huge amount of television advertising. So you asked the question about where that could go in the future. My position is simply this: We should look carefully at the Canadian model in terms of where we can take that in its application to Australia for the future.
The Australian Labor Party which I was asked about as well, a great beast, sometimes gainly, otherwise not, and a vehicle for all the reforms I’ve just referred to since we have been around from the get-go in 1891, but we’re always in the business of our own reform and the catchcry that I have always made loud and clear is that the party’s future lies in continuing democratisation of everything we do, throwing the windows and the doors of the place wide open. A bit like what I said before in response to the question about new ideas for government, but also infusing our political culture as the Labor Party with new ideas as well. I think that’s really important for the future and whether that’s in the business of pre-selections or policy or frankly ensuring that our candidates increasingly reflect a broader spread of folks, I think that’s the direction we need to go. Also, what I would say is the first step that has been taken with changing the rules for the election of the parliamentary leader I think are important steps. Probably the largest single structural reform in terms of the election of the leadership since we were formed in 1891.
But I see that as one step of many steps which need to be taken. We cannot simply be frozen in time, nor can any political party and I would commend democratisation of the party structure to our Liberal and National Party friends as well because there is a question in this for the country, to maintain the country’s confidence in our national political processes, I believe our parties must be much more open to others becoming directly and indirectly involved in them in order to maintain a connection of good legitimacy with the public at large.
HOST: Kieran Gilbert.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Kieran Gilbert from Sky News. If the economic record of your Government and Labor generally is so good, why hasn’t Labor been able to convince the Australian people of that legacy? Is it because Labor has been dysfunctional and the infighting over the last three, four years, has distracted from the economic record which you believe is so good?
RUDD: No, actually through not enough accurate reporting from Sky, Kieran, and all those squillions of Australians who watch. No, the point – I make that in reference to a certain leader of the Liberal Party who only condones debates on Sky and no open debates on free-to-air television, be it the ABC, Channel 10, Channel 9, Channel 7, and the fact that we seem to allow that to happen as if there is no consequence is just wrong. This should be an open process, like the United States, where everyone can be equally exposed for their failings, their successes and choices made. So this was not a gratuitous swipe at Sky, this was me simply referring to Mr Abbott’s chosen medium.
On the question of our economic record, it is a strong record. I think one of the things that has happened Kieran is this: Many people have said this and I think there is some truth in it, in the Global Financial Crisis, we dodged a bullet and we didn’t dodge a bullet by accident. We dodged a bullet because most of my Cabinet colleagues who are here and others burnt the midnight oil for months on end, months on end, in order to make sure we had the best possible response in order to avoid the possibility of recession. I remember the early briefings which simply said recession is unavoidable to which I said: “Let’s have a go.” And so all those steps that we took, the initial stimulus package, the subsequent stimulus package, the rolling out of the Building Education Revolution Package, etcetera, were designed to plug the demand gap in the Australian economy, and because it didn’t happen here, it didn’t happen here, I don’t think a lot of folks kind of worked out what happened around the world. I don’t blame them for that because we live in Australia and you just observe the circumstances around you but I think the inherent dishonesty of the intellectual debate which has been managed by Mr Abbott and the Conservatives running their illegitimate fear campaign on debt and deficit is wrong on two levels. Number one, it’s wrong, and because, as you know, we have one of the lowest debt and deficit levels of all the major advanced economies in the world, and a AAA credit rating, which they can never answer the question on, by the way. But there’s a second reason why it’s wrong, as well.
Mr Abbott has never engaged in any discussion with anybody else about the counter factual, and that is had we not stimulated the economy, what would have happened? Where would unemployment have have gone to? How would we have experienced a sustained recession in this country, like the one I can remember 20 or so years ago and let me tell you, folks don’t easily recover from that. I look to my friends from the trade union movement here who know full well that when you go into unemployment through a recession in certain parts of the country, people end up being unemployed long-term and often inter-generationally. So that has never been a focus of the debate in this country, the counter factual, okay if we took your advice and didn’t stimulate, the economy went into recession, we would have mass unemployment, by the way the Budget would also be hit because your unemployment benefits would go like that, your tax receipts would go down like that, but no one has engaged in the counter-factual of that debate. It’s a very valid point. But that, together with the, I think, the fear-driven campaign around debt and deficit has been deliverately manipulated by our conservative opponents to prevent, I think, the good news of the economic record from getting through, and also, just dodging the bullet itself. And I think, it’s all those factors combined.
HOST: Laura Tingle.
JOURNALIST: Laura Tingle from The Financial Review, Prime Minister. Just going to your economic record, a lot of the criticism of that record goes to the fact that Labor hasn’t met its budget surplus forecasts, and in turn that is often reflected the fact that the revenue base has not performed as expected. Isn’t a missing part of this election campaign a discussion of that revenue base and the fact that it will continue to be volatile and unpredictable and make it hard for whoever is in government to actually make any sensible plans, and if you are re-elected on Saturday, what would you do about that?
RUDD: Well, Laura, you are right to point to the fact that whoever is in government over the last several years post the Global Financial Crisis in particular and given other structural shifts in the global economy and other forms of economic transactions, including, for example, online purchases which go to the GST base, these are all radically affecting revenue challenges facing government of whichever political persuasion. In this country, it is a debate often which is conducted in isolation as if no-one else around the world experiences these parallel problems. Let me tell you, they do. There is a whole lot of intergovernmental work under way on some of these things, including, for example, the manner in which we have the taxation treatment of goods or services purchased online. These are discussions occurring between all governments.
So, there are certain structural problems there which need to be dealt with, one of which I’ve just referred to. The second is this, for the future, why I put such absolute premium on Australia’s role in the G20, which is charged with maintaining global economic stability, is to get to a stage whereby not only do we have a stable financial system so that we don’t have the immediacy of collapse that occurred when financial institutions got into trouble in 2008/9, but at a macroeconomic level, we have stability and a great ability to predict growth levels into the future as well. If there is one element missing from the G20 agenda so far, it is to give proper effect to the Pittsburgh declaration of 2009 which is about a formula for balanced and sustainable growth over time. What is missing in fact are the new commonly agreed drivers of future growth.
What is missing frankly is the political dynamism necessary to bring the current trade round to rapid and immediate and effective conclusion. If you do that and re-open the arteries of trade more vigorously a agree on the future drivers of growth at a global level, we can get back to a point where economies are growing more consistently as opposed to the massive roller-coaster ride that we’ve seen in recent times which makes revenue prediction all the more difficult. So what I’m saying Laura, is that yes, we constantly have to look to the taxation treatment of individual items and that is a process of ongoing examination for all governments, I accept that, but more broadly it’s the question of economic growth and how that is engendered at a global level and the G20, I believe, has an increasing gap to fill on the question of stable global macroeconomic management. And finally, for this economy domestically, as I’ve said repeatedly through this campaign, diversifying the economy, not having all our eggs in one basket, is critical to producing a more predictable outcome as well. If our basket of economic activity is commodity-rich but manufacturing-poor, or in the services industries at the are growing not to their fullest potential, the mission for the future is through direct engagement by government with industry and with the unions to grow these new industry drivers and jobs drivers of the future, so I think it is a cocktail of responses at all those three levels.
JOURNALIST: Karen Middleton from SBS Television. You mentioned among the achievements of which you are proud over the years of the Labor Government your apology to the Stolen Generations. You made that not only the first priority in Indigenous Affairs when you were elected but first priority of the Parliament overall. Six years on, what should be the absolute priority for Indigenous Affairs for the incoming government, whether it’s yours or theirs?
RUDD: Well, I will give you two first priorities. The first is as rapidly as possible to conclude the constitutional recognition of the First Australians. It is just wrong in the year 2013 we have this as unfinished business. We need to reach conclusion, reach consensus, make sure the referendum question can get up with all sides of politics on board and for the constitutional change to be meaningful and substantive. The second is this, and it is the rolling agenda for Closing the Gap that I announced for the first time during the National apology itself. We didn’t do that lightly, and my own view at the time is it’s all very nice to go out and make a national apology speech and that of itself is important in the deep wounds felt by our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, but at the same time unless you’re being practical about it and how do you close the gap in health, education, in housing and employment and all the other practical measures, then frankly as I said in the apology speech it’s like a sounding gong. So, that annual framework of measurement which now is reflected in the annual statement by the Prime Minister of the day to the Parliament which answers line by line, item by item, where we’ve come from and to in the Closing of the Gaps in seven specific areas and I believe we are about to add an eighth or have added an eight, then that I believe is the critical framework for the future, and in Closing the Gap we’ve just got to continue to be honest, absolutely honest about where it’s working and where it’s not. Some great things we’ve done in early childhood education for Indigenous people where I think we will meet those targets we set in 2008, but in other areas, particularly in terms of education achievement in literacy and numeracy, where we’re not getting there as rapidly as we need to. Those are the two answers to my question.
JOURNALIST: David Crowe from The Australian. I was struck the other day by some TV footage of your morning walk where you ended up just in front of a homeless person and it reminded me of the promises that you made in 2007 and the way you sent out your MPs to visit homeless shelters. I notice some stats earlier this year showing that the target of reducing homelessness by 2013 probably won’t be met. In fact, I think it’s up 17 per cent. So I wanted to ask you how do you feel you’ve done on that promise you made? Leaders can’t deliver on every promise, but how do you feel you’ve done, and what would you do in the next three years?
RUDD: I saw that person too and I was reminded clearly of our continued responsibilities as a humane Government and as a humane people. I don’t walk away from any of that. And I remember coming into government and asking the question: Where is the housing portfolio, the homelessness portfolio. And there wasn’t one. That’s why we did, we created one. Tanya Plibersek was the first Minister and she and her successors have done a terrific job. Let me go to one measure of homelessness which is rough sleeping like the man we saw the other day near the banks of the Brisbane River. In the rough sleeping category, my friends in this sector who work in Brisbane tell me that the rate is now down about 40 per cent where it was in 2007, and just up the road from where we concluded that walk is one of the things we invested in, David, it’s called Common Ground.
It now provides supported accommodation for about 170 people, 110 of whom had either been sleeping rough or who have been homeless. It’s part of a network of Common Ground and like facilities around the country where my wife, Therese, remains the national patron, right across the cities which has a capacity of 500, 600, 700 people so the number of people sleeping rough is coming down. 40 per cent is not 100 per cent, but I want to get there as quickly as we can. Secondly in terms of broader definition of homelessness, what I would also draw to your attention is the range of government programs which we have invested in to provide more affordable accommodation for folks generally. We have invested in the very largest addition to social housing the country has ever seen. 21,000 new units of social housing nationwide. We’ve repaired about 80,000 units of social housing which would become increasingly unserviceable. We’ve implemented the National Rental Affordability scheme so that folks who are finding it difficult to have a home of any description can have one effectively at a subsidised rate and that is, has a target of 50,000 units of affordable accommodation. That’s 50,000 more units, 80 and 20,000 more units and 700 more places than ever existed in 2007.
So you asked me about how we have done. Mate, we always fall short of the glory of God in this business in terms of being able to deliver everything we want to, but we must keep that framework from our first Government white paper called A Place Called Home to be our measurement standard for whether we can act to bring this problem to its conclusion according to the measures that we’ve met. I don’t want to have a country in the future, which like so many other Western countries regards as normal having people sleeping on streets. That’s why we’ve acted in the way we have done. Beyond that, I also believe we have to stick to our target of halving homelessness by 2020 and throw all of our resources at it and part of that means enough jobs being generated, other support programs there and dealing effectively with mental illness which is chronic in this sector. Unless you’re dealing with the whole person, frankly you’re not dealing with it at all.
JOURNALIST: PM, we are effectively at time where we would normally conclude. I know you’ve got a tight schedule.
RUDD: Who have I got, ah, Mr Probyn next. Good god that could be terrible. Andrew, off you go.
JOURNALIST: Thanks Prime Minister. I’ve got your favourite topic as well.
RUDD: Oh, good.
JOURNALIST: Now it starts off with the mining tax. There was a catastrophic loss of faith in the Labor Party when you announced the mining tax on two fronts, first of all –
RUDD: 70 per cent of Australians supported it, but I don’t want to confuse the question with point in detail.
JOURNALIST: In Western Australia, they felt that it was lack of consultation and also lack of understanding in the way that the resources sector worked.
RUDD: I think a huge majorities of West Australians also supported it because it was actually providing wealth back to those people who were not actually employed directly in the mining sector, but I’m all interested for your question.
JOURNALIST: During this campaign you announced the troppo tax, an idea to lower the tax rate in the NT. Why shouldn’t West Australians view this dimly given it was done with lack of consultation and it also misunderstood the way that WA and the NT are in competition for this same business?
RUDD: Well, the thing I would say in response to our elegant description of the tax as well, which doesn’t contain any element of bias in the question at all, is as follows. If ever you’ve been to Darwin, it’s isolated, it is a long way away and if you are up there, I have a very simple view of the world that the good folks of the Northern Territory need a leg-up, they need a hand-up and if you’re up there trying to manage an economy and deliver social services to such a remote part of Australia. I will tell everyone in this audience I am pro-Territory and therefore if we can construct therefore in the future a special economic zone which has a different corporate tax rate in the future consistent with the objectives I outlined I’m all for seeing how that will work in the future what we have also indicated is that we will consult on the way through as to how that works and if you look at the broader proposal I put, Andrew it referred to a special economic zone for Northern Australia, not just the Territory. The question or the point that I also made clear that day is that the problem constitutionally with both North Queensland and northern parts of Western Australia is your ability under the Constitution to have different taxation rates between states.
That’s why I chose to identify the Territory as an appropriate place of priority. So whether you are in the Kimberleys, whether you’re in Broome, Cairns, Townsville, Alice or in Darwin, I’m for northern Australia. I’m simply taking a first step when it comes to the Territory. On your broader point on the mining tax, I fundamentally dispute the assumptions underpinning your question. If you look at the polling data, public polling data at the time in terms of levels of support across the country for taxing super profits by mining companies in order to provide investment across the general economy, then I believe that’s a measure the entire Australian community would support, hence our support for the continuation of the MRRT. I will take one more then go.
JOURNALIST: Malcolm Farr. Just very quickly, you said before that the ALP needed an infusion of new ideas in terms of reform, party reform. Win or lose on Saturday, do you believe you would be the best person to do that infusion?
RUDD: Well, that presumes a particular outcome on Saturday which I’m not prejudging. I’m there in the business of contesting the election and I will continue to do so through until 6pm Saturday night. On the future of the Labor Party about which I’m equally passionate having been a member for 32 years, I’m just open and upfront about the fact that we have to be in the business of continued reform. It is like the country at large.
Progressive politics is not just about what we seek to do for the nation, but what we seek to do for ourselves as a political party as well, and that means you must be in the business of maintaining continuing values but reforming our structures and policies consistent with the challenges of the future, and the differing compositions of our society. If we go back, for example, to where we were in the 1950s and the level of unionisation, it was massive. Now it’s less so. I’m a strong supporter of our trade union movement but there is a whole wider church out there as well. The small business community is big. I find it ironic in this election campaign, for example, Malcolm that here I am as a Labor PM with a $5.4 billion head start on Mr Abbott when it comes to taxation treatment of small business. He must assume he has got them in his back pocket and that’s the end of that. I don’t because there is 3.1 million of them employing 5.3 million of them and for me they’re important.
Perhaps the best way of summarising my views on this, Malcolm is this: I believe the Australian Labor Party at its absolute best is a bit like this – we are the party of the little guy and I mean little guy in a non-gender specific way. A little guy, whether that little guy is a person who can’t frankly look after themselves because they have a disability and therefore we ought to make sure we have a National Disability Insurance Scheme to look after them. The little guy who can’t get a job or who has lost their job, and we want to make sure that that person has every opportunity through training, through education, through help and support and assistance to find a job. We also want to be the party of the little guy, of the person who is in a job, who fears that through changes to the laws, that they won’t get a fair go in terms of their penalty rates and overtime or general working conditions, and that’s why we support the Fair Work Act. It is a good piece of legislation. We’re also for the little guy who then chooses to leave paid employment and set up their own business and become a small business entrepreneur.
That’s why through this campaign I’ve announced one measure after another in terms of regulatory compliance for small business which is right out there in terms of anything the other side of politics has offered. Compliance on GST, how we assist with superannuation payments, how we assist with paid parental leave arrangements, et cetera. As well as the taxation benefits we’ve described as well. So at our best, we are all those little guys, and we are pushing the nation in the direction of turning each of those folks into the people who provide vision for your country’s future. And the last point is this: unless we as the Labor Party or the large political parties of Australia constantly have their eye on the horizon to know that the business of national leadership is identifying number one, what are the new challenges and opportunities and threats emerging.
Number two, how can we best anticipate those in order to minimise the risk and maximise opportunity?
Number three, work out the plan for dealing with each and every one of them, whether it’s the future of the Chinese economy, whether it’s where climate change will hit us in 20 years’ time, the ageing of our population or frankly the need to do more for Northern Australia.
The business of national leadership and vision is to target those future needs and challenges and to do it while bringing everyone along with you in the various categories that I just referred to before. It is a hard business but you know something? It’s worthwhile and I think the Labor Party at its best has done that in its history and will do so in the future. The alternative is what I described as rear vision mirror view politics, always kind of having a look backwards and see which way this is going and that is going and then responding to what occurs, rather than anticipating change, embracing it and maximising this country’s opportunities in the future, together with those folks who are out there struggling on the way through. That’s the mission of Labor. I am proud of it and if the good people of Australia re-elect us on Saturday, that’s the mission we will continue into the future.
Thank you for your time.