In separate interviews today, the two most senior ministers in the Howard Government have maintained the personal attacks on Kevin Rudd which began a week ago.
In an extraordinary outburst on the ABC’s Insiders, the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, described Kelvin Thomson as a “pretty grubby sort of character”. Thomson resigned from the shadow ministry two days ago, following revelations that he had once written a reference for the fugitive Melbourne crime figure, Tony Mokbel.
Downer attacked Rudd for throwing political mud, saying: “… Mr Rudd accused us I mean, in effect, accused us of corruption, he accused us of perjuring ourselves before a Royal Commission. I mean, here is somebody who has dished it out and dished out an awful lot of dirt over a long period of time, and when he gets attacked himself he says, ‘Oh, well, that’s an abuse of the Prime Minister’s Office.’ It’s again a character issue.”
Downer also bought into a developing story about a dispute concerning the Rudd family’s eviction from their rented farm following the death of Rudd’s father in 1969. Downer said: “I – remember – don’t have any idea what the truth of this is, I just make the point that it’s very interesting that he seems to be getting into conflict with people about what the truth of different stories is. Well, there you are. This is somebody who’s said terrible things about us over the last few years, has been happy to say so, has thought he was all terribly clever going out and abusing and denigrating the Government and now wants to change his personality somehow into something completely different. I don’t think, as time goes on, that’s going to be terribly convincing.”
In an interview on Channel 9’s Sunday, the Treasurer, Peter Costello, also attacked Rudd over his meetings with the Western Australian lobbyist and former Premier, Brian Burke. Costello said: “Now, I think, as Alexander Downer said this morning, nobody’s hurled more mud in the Parliament than Kevin Rudd. The public may not have been switched on to it, but you go back and you see what he said about Downer and Howard? He’s regularly called them liars, a pretty strong allegation to make. Now, it’s unbelievable to me that a bloke who’s hurled so much abuse, the moment he had the first whiff of scrutiny, wants to say ‘oh, it’s all terribly unfair’. Now, Mr Rudd’s got to make up his mind if he’s going to run around the place hurling character assessments at Howard and Downer and the rest of us. He can’t actually turn around and say ‘nobody can give a character assessment’, of him, he’s going for the top job after all.”
Costello also engaged in innuendo about Kelvin Thomson: “Well, it’s an interesting reference, isn’t it, Laurie, because Kelvin Thomson said his last eight years of unblemished record, in the interview, clearly Kelvin or his office knew there were blemishes. They didn’t say he had an unblemished character, they said his ‘recent’ unblemished record. They knew there was something up there Laurie, the interesting thing to know would be who brought Tony Mokbel to Kelvin Thomson, and why was Tony Mokbel brought to Kelvin Thomson.”
- Listen to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer (9m)
- Listen to Treasurer Peter Costello (5m)
This is the partial transcript of Alexander Downer’s interview with Barry Cassidy on Insiders.
Cassidy: Does it come as some relief to you that your chief tormenter, Kelvin Thompson, is no longer a shadow minister?
Downer: I don’t know about my chief tormenter, but I’ve always thought Kelvin Thompson was a pretty grubby sort of character, if I could say so and be, for a foreign minister, rather undiplomatic about him, and look what he’s been up to. I think it gets to the whole sort of question …
Cassidy: Why do you describe him as grubby? What has he done to warrant that?
Downer: I think he’s one of those people who was quite happy to make all sorts of pretty base allegations against people in the government.
But can I just say, I mean, here we have it again, a whole question of judgment about the Australian Labor Party. From Kevin Rudd to Kelvin Thompson, there are questions here about their judgment, about their wisdom, about whether these are really people who would be fit to be a government and to all the things, not just play politics but do all the very serious things that governments have to do. I think this debate is a very important debate in terms of that context. The public may be not interested in all the minute details of these issues, of the Burke affair and Mr Rudd, or this particular question of Kelvin Thompson, but they are interested in the leaders of their country being people of sound judgment, because that’s important to the stability of our country.
Cassidy: Well, then wouldn’t they make the same allegation against you – sound judgment when it comes to going to war with Iraq, sound judgment about $300 million bribes going to Saddam Hussein?
Downer: Yeah, of course, and that’s my point. Last week when Mr Rudd was attacked, you know he has a glass jaw, Mr Rudd. Last week when he was attacked he said it was an abuse of the Prime Minister’s office to attack the Leader of the Opposition. Excuse me if – you’ve mentioned those two things, excuse me if I draw your attention to the fact that Mr Rudd continually says we went to war in Iraq on a lie, i.e. that we claimed there were weapons of mass destruction when we knew all the time there weren’t. He knows that’s not true. He himself said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He said it was beyond any doubt. He knows only too well every country, every intelligence agency and the United Nations all thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Cassidy: He believed that but he didn’t use that belief as a reason for going to war. He opposed the war.
Downer: That’s his well, he – he didn’t exactly. He had, as Mr Rudd always does, he had two positions on that. He said he’d support the war if all the members of the Security Council supported the war and that’s, of course, if France and Russia were prepared to support it as well as the other permanent members and when they didn’t he wouldn’t go along with it. That’s a different thing from saying he opposed the war, opposed it completely and outright.
Secondly, on the AWB issue, obviously we’ve had a Royal Commission into this and this Royal Commission has shown absolutely what we have always claimed we have always claimed that we didn’t know about this and we certainly didn’t want to see any bribes paid to Saddam Hussein’s regime. It’s an absurd proposition that we would want to when we wanted to get rid of them.
But Mr Rudd accused us I mean, in effect, accused us of corruption, he accused us of perjuring ourselves before a Royal Commission. I mean, here is somebody who has dished it out and dished out an awful lot of dirt over a long period of time, and when he gets attacked himself he says, “Oh, well, that’s an abuse of the Prime Minister’s Office.” It’s again a character issue.
Cassidy: That’s almost arguing there’s some sort of moral equivalence between Kevin Rudd meeting with – having dinner with Brian Burke and something like AWB that dragged on for years and there were documentation flying around that should’ve been seen and acted upon. It’s hardly a comparison between the two events.
Downer: Excuse me if I point out to you that in the first place the Government never endorsed or supported this particular activity by AWB. There’s been a Royal Commission, which if anybody bothered to read the report of the Royal Commission, demonstrates that in black and white.
I think the issue is this the issue is that for the last few years Mr Rudd has made the most appalling allegations against people in the Government. He’s said simply appalling things about people. I mean outrageous suggestions of corruption and so on. And then look what we have going on within the Labor Party. We have his very odd meetings with Mr Burke. I mean, and where does that leave him now? His story about what happened at this dinner, his fanciful claim that he just turned up because he went there with a mate, Graham Edwards, when in fact invitations were put out pointing out that he was the guest speaker. I mean, what are we supposed to believe? He’s hostage, of course, now to Mr Burke because if Mr Burke were ever to speak and to contradict the story of Mr Rudd of course that would be the end of the Rudd leadership. So the fact is that whether Mr Burke were telling the truth or whether he wasn’t he would certainly he certainly holds Mr Rudd hostage, if you like, because of Mr Rudd’s behaviour during the end of 2005.
Cassidy: You’re clearly not going to back off the character issue?
Downer: Well, I think character is character. I mean, here is somebody who has made egregious allegations, I think, against people, including on AWB which were proven to be completely false by a Royal Commission. Who would you believe? A Royal Commission or an opposition politician?
These allegations were proved to be completely false that Mr Rudd had been making throughout 2006. He continually goes back and claims we went to war with Iraq on a lie when he himself believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and said so very passionately.
I mean, Mr Rudd is one of those people who will say absolutely anything to advance his own personal interests. He believes in nothing, he stands for nothing except for Kevin Rudd.
Look, we’re only in March, I think as this year wears on people will become a bit more familiar with this.
Cassidy: And I think, as you suggested when you called Kelvin Thompson a grub, it’s not particularly dignified for a foreign minister, but obviously you think this is personal?
Downer: Well, I think they’ve been you see, whenever we criticise the Labor Party it’s all, “You shouldn’t speak of us like that,” but you go back over the transcripts and the press releases and things and see the things that have been said about us. Just shocking things are said about us. I mean, they have attacked the Prime Minister in particular, the Treasurer, me, the Health Minister, the Attorney-General and so on and accused us of all sorts of things this which are essentially not true.
I mean, I think actually, funnily enough the Prime Minister is a very good and a very decent man who stands up for Australia. You can disagree with his policies but people like Mr Rudd continually calling Mr Howard a liar. Of course, since he’s been the Leader of the Opposition he’s changed his persona as much as he possibly can, as you would if you weren’t a sincere and genuine person but just acting out a role.
I mean, there’s a story in one of the Sunday newspaper’s today where the Lowe family which Mr Rudd says – or Mr Lowe evicted his, Mr Rudd’s family, contradicting the Rudd story. Now I have, of course, absolutely no idea what the truth of this is, I know nothing about it, I just note that this family is out there saying that they have been grievously hurt by the claims that Mr Rudd has made. Now, Mr Rudd stands by his story, a familiar loan, by the way – Mr Rudd stands by his story.
Cassidy: By the way, that goes back to when he was 11 years old. Does this suggest that you’ll be trawling back through his past to see whether everything else he said about his previous life were true?
Downer: Of course, this is the argument that the Liberal Party can’t attack the Labor Party, only the Labor Party can attack the Liberal Party. Excuse me.
Cassidy: I’m wondering whether it’s legitimate to go and examine it, that’s all.
Downer: I didn’t examine it. It’s there in a newspaper today. Somebody the family, the Lowe family, has gone out and talked about this. It’s not a question of Mr Rudd when he was 11 years old, it’s a question, according to the Lowe family, of what Mr Rudd has been saying since he became a politician. What he did between the year age of 11 and when he became an MP isn’t the issue. The issue is the conflict between the Lowe family’s story and Mr Rudd’s story.
I – remember – don’t have any idea what the truth of this is, I just make the point that it’s very interesting that he seems to be getting into conflict with people about what the truth of different stories is. Well, there you are. This is somebody who’s said terrible things about us over the last few years, has been happy to say so, has thought he was all terribly clever going out and abusing and denigrating the Government and now wants to change his personality somehow into something completely different. I don’t think, as time goes on, that’s going to be terribly convincing.
Cassidy: We’d certainly plan to discuss that issue with the panel a little later on. Minister, thank you for your time this morning.*
This is the partial transcript of Peter Costello’s interview with Laurie Oakes on Sunday.
Oakes: All right, on to the events of the last week or so, because of your parliamentary skills you become the government’s chief hitman, the bloke who goes out and tries to demolish Kevin Rudd on things like the Brian Burke dinner. Now, you do it brilliantly, everyone agrees with that but are you concerned that, because you have to do this job it affects the way voters see you?
Costello: Well I think it’s important that we keep the scrutiny on Mr Rudd, and I think all of the members of the government will do that because we’ve now moved through a different phase. The phase, at the beginning of this year, was, you know, nice Mr Rudd, you know, wants to be Prime Minister, and he got a good run from the media, you know. The phase we’ve moved into now is, nice Mr Rudd, may in fact be put in control of the Australian nation, and the economy and who’s behind Mr, Nice Mr Rudd and what’s his judgment like? And that’s where you’ve got to have the scrutiny come on him, you know, this is a big job that he’s going for now, he’s not just running around as a Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesman, it’s a big job he’s going for, and if he wants to be Prime Minister the people of Australia have to know what his judgment is like and, I think, the most important thing that comes out of all his dealings with Brian Burke and it wasn’t just one dinner by the way, it was a lot more than that.
Oakes: The luncheon as well.
Costello: He has…there’s a lunch, there’s a breakfast, there’s a dinner, there’s another event being organised when he begins to pull out and what this tells you is that Mr Rudd’s judgment failed him. Now his judgment can fail him when he’s running for Leader of the Opposition, it doesn’t matter much but if he became Prime Minister, and his judgment fails, the country suffers. That’s why you need to know about these things.
Oakes: Well I’ve had leaked to me some Labor Party research, they did some focus group work in Queensland and South Australia last week in the wake of the Burke affair, and they found looking at you, that your likeability is down quite a lot as the pollsters say, and your negatives are up. Now, are you worried that you could come to be regarded the way Paul Keating is, is that something you …?
Costello: Well, I think it’s very unfair to compare me to Paul Keating.
Oakes: Unfair to who?
Costello: Well, I’m very glad that he came out again last week. It was very interesting wasn’t it, Rudd’s in trouble, so who does the Labor Party trot out, Paul Keating. Now, you know, really, you’ve got to ask yourself this question, Laurie, if he got into trouble as Prime Minister, who would they be trotting out from behind the screen? You know, talk about a blast from the past. Mr Keating was out there trying to help Mr Rudd last week, couldn’t happen if Mr Rudd became Prime Minister, he wouldn’t want it to happen, and I thought it was an early foretaste of what we might see if Mr Rudd ever achieved his life ambition.
Oakes: But don’t the punters hate this kind of personal stuff, wouldn’t they prefer it if the government was ? got back to running the country instead of hurling mud at Kevin Rudd and others? For example, Alexander Downer this morning has described Kelvin Thomson as a grub. People don’t like that, do they?
Costello: Well you know, you talk about hurling mud at Mr Rudd, right. Now, I think, as Alexander Downer said this morning, nobody’s hurled more mud in the Parliament than Kevin Rudd. The public may not have been switched on to it, but you go back and you see what he said about Downer and Howard? He’s regularly called them liars, a pretty strong allegation to make. Now, it’s unbelievable to me that a bloke who’s hurled so much abuse, the moment he had the first whiff of scrutiny, wants to say ‘oh, it’s all terribly unfair’. Now, Mr Rudd’s got to make up his mind if he’s going to run around the place hurling character assessments at Howard and Downer and the rest of us. He can’t actually turn around and say ‘nobody can give a character assessment’, of him, he’s going for the top job after all.
Oakes: Final question, Kelvin Thomson’s resigned from the frontbench, is that enough, and do you accept what he did was just a stupid mistake?
Costello: Well, you know, again this comes back to Kevin Rudd’s judgment, doesn’t it? Of all the people that he could have made first law officer of the Crown, he chose a bloke who’d given a reference to drug fugitive Tony Mokbel.
Oakes: He didn’t know that …
Costello: Well, it’s an interesting reference, isn’t it, Laurie, because Kelvin Thomson said his last eight years of unblemished record, in the interview, clearly Kelvin or his office knew there were blemishes. They didn’t say he had an unblemished character, they said his ‘recent’ unblemished record. They knew there was something up there Laurie, the interesting thing to know would be who brought Tony Mokbel to Kelvin Thomson, and why was Tony Mokbel brought to Kelvin Thomson.
Oakes: Mr Costello, we thank you.
Costello: Thank you very much.