In the course of a Centenary of Federation interview with the ABC’s Kerry O’Brien, Opposition Leader Kim Beazley has discussed Labor values.
Beazley commented on the 100-year history of the ALP and what the party stands for today.
Today is the anniversary of the opening of the first Commonwealth parliament in Melbourne’s Exhibition Building.
Transcript of Kim Beazley interview with 7.30 Report host Kerry O’Brien.
KERRY O’BRIEN: To address some of those observations in Fran Kelly’s story, I spoke late today with Labor leader Kim Beazley in Melbourne.
Kim Beazley, Labor has travelled a long way in 100 years, a long way from its sometimes radical working-class roots, hasn’t it?
KIM BEAZLEY: Yeah, we’ve changed.
I would argue that though some of the policies have altered quite dramatically over the years, the fundamental egalitarian values remain.
They always remain relevant.
They just have different meaning at different points in our history.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Can you understand, nonetheless, why so many people today seem to be frustrated, that in their perception there is little real choice between the two major parties in Australian politics, that the gap between Labor and Coalition, as one voter recently put it on this program, are as thin as a cigarette paper.
KIM BEAZLEY: Well, if a voter says that, I deeply respect his views but he is wrong.
This would be a very different country if we had won the last election and a much more different country if we’d won the one in 1996.
Elections do change countries.
We would not have a GST.
We would have substantially more invested in education.
Business tax concessions would come with innovation when they’re actually working for new things for the country.
You would have seen a nation which would not have been experiencing an economic downturn in the last quarter of last year.
It would have been a nation eminently more just and a nation better positioned to be the sort of knowledge nation it needs to be this century.
Our positions with the Liberals, though we are both fundamentally committed to democracy and parliamentary processes, are chalk and cheese.
KERRY O’BRIEN: But where once there was a sharp difference between the party of Labor and the party of capital, you now, in the broad, tend to walk down, broadly, the same path.
You both supported deregulation of the banks and the rest of the financial market.
In fact, Labor led the way.
KIM BEAZLEY: Look, I think there’s a very great difference.
The Liberal Party has really been heavily bound up with Thatcherite conservative agendas.
There is no such thing as society.
Whilst it is true that the Labor Party, in the era of Hawke and Keating, supported opening the country to more effective participation in the international economy and some of those changes that you mentioned related to that.
That is no different from Ben Chifley having to go the rounds of the Labor Party back in the 1940s to get the party to sign up to the Bretton Woods agreement.
That was part of openness in his day and that has been part of it in ours.
The Labor Party has always had a very substantial levelling of internationalists and a very deep comprehension of the fact that we survive and prosper as a trading nation and if we are denied opportunities to trade, then we do not survive and we do not prosper.
So that’s — Ben Chifley had his argument about Bretton Woods, we had our argument about the things you’re talking about.
But we always accompanied it with a focus on the things that governments can do well to ensure that people are protected in a society when change is taking place.
I could go through the health reforms, the education reforms and the social wage to demonstrate us.
The rhetoric changed and the substance changed when we were defeated in 1996.
KERRY O’BRIEN: But I’m talking both about reality, in some instances, and certainly very strong perceptions.
You mentioned Thatcher.
You’ve both supported, you and the Coalition, have both supported big privatisation agendas.
In fact, Labor led the way with the sale of Qantas and Commonwealth Bank.
KIM BEAZLEY: The Labor Party had a very clear-cut set of views about what should stand in the public sector and what should not.
Unlike the Thatcherites, it was not an ideological predisposition against the public sector.
It was a question of what is appropriate in the public sector and what isn’t.
And where a situation of monopoly existed, where something was important to nation-building, where the market-share, where the monopoly was really very substantial, then it should not go.
The Liberal Party’s position has been — that doesn’t matter.
That is why the Labor Party drew the line in the sand at Australia Post and Telstra, because of the different situation, in terms of their relationship to the Australian people’s needs and their long-term contribution to nation-building, than something like Qantas or the Commonwealth Bank, where they were already either low on market-share, in the case of the Commonwealth Bank and many alternatives there to it, or where the requirements of two-airlines’ policies or whether or not you’d have an airline at all — which is one of the reasons why Qantas or its predecessors, TAA, had been created.
Those sorts of issues had long since passed but the issues surrounding Telstra and Australia Post were there.
So that was our position.
Ours was not an ideologically per blind position.
Ours was — yes, there’s a good role for the public sector where certain conditions prevail.
But our political opponents’ position was — there is no role for the public sector here.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Once again, you and the Coalition both supported the demolition of Australia’s protection for manufacturing industry.
In fact, once again, Labor led the way at a cost of hundreds of thousands of those traditional jobs.
KIM BEAZLEY: No, we didn’t cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
This is a common mistake.
The huge job losses in the manufacturing sector occurred between about 1970 and 1985, two years into our period in office but the situation with regard to protection was still then intact.
It lost it because the protective environment was no longer capable of sustaining the changes which took place with the extent to which we were in a global economy then anyway and of technological change.
From 1985 to when we fell, manufacturing employment in Australia stabilised and rose.
Because the Labor Party pursued industry strategies — steel policy, car policy, policy on textiles — in which we reoriented those industries to, firstly, take advantage of technological change in world’s best-practise ideas that were negotiated through with the union movement and the manufacturers and put in place.
And, secondly, with substantial assistance to them, with R and D tax concessions and the like, which saw them grow from being purely domestically oriented to very substantial contributors to our export figures.
Since we left office, that trend line-up of manufacturing employment has taken a substantial slip away.
All the industry plans are gone.
People like Nick Minchin say that there’s no role for Government in involving themselves in things like industry plans.
The tax concessions that were there have been replaced by a generalised taxation position for industry and the consequence is that there is no longer incentives there to innovate an Australian industry and we now pay a penalty.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Now we come to the GST.
Labor was the first to raise it seriously, put it on the landscape back in 1985.
And even though John Howard introduced it, you will keep it going, albeit with little bits knocked off around the edges.
KIM BEAZLEY: We opposed the VAT.
The Labor Party never put forward a value-added tax.
That’s one of the common misnomers of this debate.
We never bother to answer it because there’s so many other things we want to argue about the GST.
But Keating’s option, which was not picked up by the Government, which was rejected because we could not find a way to make it fair was nevertheless an American-style retail tax, not a European-style value-added tax.
We rejected it anyway and we have stayed absolutely, unremittingly opposed to the goods and services tax ever since.
KERRY O’BRIEN: But now that it’s here, you’re going to keep it but knock a few bits off the edges.
KIM BEAZLEY: I’m not going to cop that, that sort of appellation that somehow or other we wanted this in.
We hate this tax.
We hate the opportunity cost that it’s caused this nation with the slashing of universities, of public — of private savings in the co-payment on superannuation, with what’s happened in public hospitals to pay for the compensation associated with it.
We have become a much worse nation as a result of that tax having been put in place.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Whether you hate it or not, we’re dealing with public perceptions now and people who want to have a choice in their vote.
They don’t really have a choice on the GST — it’s going to stay.
KIM BEAZLEY: They have a big choice on the GST.
They have a choice between the party which put it in and the party which hates it, wants to make it simpler and fairer and wants to do more than just chip away at it.
Over time, we would obviously be seeking opportunities to reduce the impact of that goods and services tax on those Australians who carry the burden of it, particularly the elderly, particularly families, particularly one-and-a-quarter type income families.
We are going to have it in focus whenever we think of fairness in the taxation system to deal with those problems associated with it.
We are not responsible for the mess that has been created.
A few offhand, off-the-top-of-the-head comments about — oh well, you know, it’s in so you can’t do anything about it, or you won’t do anything about it — baloney!
We can do things about it.
We won’t just cop the cynical, half-baked analysis in that regard.
We can’t create a mess.
We’re not in the business of resolving one problem and creating another set of problems which impact on employment and impact on the enjoyment of life.
But because we say that doesn’t mean we’re not going to do something about it.
KERRY O’BRIEN: You have quoted Ben Chifley’s inspirational ‘Light on the Hill’ this week John Howard’s rejoinder was that, while he didn’t agree with Ben Chifley’s politics, unlike you, at least Chifley stood for something.
KIM BEAZLEY: Let me say on that, I’m not Ben Chifley, I know, but also I’m not running against Bob Menzies, so John Howard can offer all the insults he likes on that front, he is not seen in the same light as Ben Chifley’s opponents.
I stand for something.
I wonder what John Howard does.
He stood for never ever on a GST.
He stood for not Americanising the health care system and he said as a result of industrial relations changes he would introduce no worker would be worse off.
Those were John Howard’s values in 1996 — his promises and his undertakings — and they lie cringing in the dust now and he is a blank space as far as after the next election is concerned.
What do I stand for?
What are my values and objectives?
One — social justice, two — knowledge nation.
Three — making Australia a fairer society whether you happen to live in Australia or you happen to live in the bush.
And on health care — against its Americanisation.
These are my underpinning values.
I am a classic social-justice oriented social democrat.
John Howard is now a conservative without direction, without opinions, back flipping to save his skin.
Now he can offer all the insults that he likes on Chifley.
I have never claimed to be as good as Chifley, but, frankly, in dealing with John Howard, I don’t have to be.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Kim Beazley, thanks for talking with us.
KIM BEAZLEY: Thank you.