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Kevin Rudd’s Second Washington Press Conference After Resigning As Foreign Minister

Having announced his resignation as Foreign Minister at 1.30am in Washington DC, Kevin Rudd has held a second press conference later in the day to comment on reaction to his move.

Rudd left open the possibility that he might challenge Julia Gillard’s leadership of the ALP.

Listen to Rudd’s press conference (14m)

Watch Rudd’s press conference (14m)

Transcript of Kevin Rudd’s Washington press conference.

RUDD: Well, good morning, ladies and gentlemen. The reason for calling this press conference this morning is, as you know, I’ll be in the air for the next 24 hours or so returning to Australia.

Overnight I’ve had many conversations with caucus colleagues and with ministerial colleagues.

I’m very pleased by and encouraged by the amount of positive support and encouragement of me to contest the leadership of the Australian Labor Party.

I have many more calls still to make.

Their overall argument to me is that they regard me as the best prospect to lead the Australian Labor Party successfully to the next elections, to save the Australian Labor Party at those elections and to save the country from the ravages of an Abbott Government.

I’ve frankly been shocked and disappointed by the tone and content of the intensely personal attacks which have been lodged against me overnight in Australia.

Whatever our differences in politics I do not believe that these sorts of vicious personal attacks have a place in our national political life.

We all have a responsibility to preserve the fabric of decency in our national political institutions, and that includes within our principal political institutions including our principal political parties, therefore I’ve been shocked and disappointed.

I would say to you and I would urge my own supporters in Australia not to retaliate, not to engage in this sort of vicious personal attack. I don’t believe it has a proper place in Australian politics.

The reason I also think that, is that in Australia today people are sick and tired of the politics of division, sick and tired of the politics of division within our political party, sick and tired of the politics of division in Australian politics overall, and, as we know, Mr Abbott is the national master of the politics of division and dividing our nation.

Therefore it is important that we begin to cultivate and develop a new sense of unity in our country; unity because the policy challenges we face are so formidable, as indeed the international community face as well.

The bottom line is, this question of the future of the leadership of our party and our country is not about personality; it’s about trust; it’s also about policy and it’s about vision.

I’m proud of the fact that when you look carefully at what we’ve been able to achieve as a Labor Government, from the time I was first elected back at the end of 2007, the achievements are formidable.

Remember it’s through that period of Government, when I had the privilege of being Prime Minister, that Australia got through the global financial crisis without going into recession and without generating mass unemployment. A single achievement among all the major developed economies. And not only that, but we emerged with among the lowest debt and lowest deficit rates of all the developed countries in the world.

And when I look ahead, can I say the Australian people and the Australian business community need to have confidence that the Government is in strong and stable hands in negotiating the very uncertain global financial shoals which lie ahead.

We’re not out of hot water yet when it comes to Europe, I think everybody knows that, and therefore in the very difficult period which lies ahead in 2012 experience and competence and discipline will be needed in terms of our national economic management fully wired to the threats which lie out there in the global economy.

But can I also just emphasise this; that in the achievements, the policy achievements that we have registered so far as a government, in the period that I’ve been leader, and post that, we have done some formidable things.

  • A massive new investment in education;
  • A massive new investment in our public health and hospital system;
  • The launching of a National Broadband Network so that everyone in the country has an opportunity to be wired to the information highway of the 21st century;
  • Of course dealing also with the challenges of climate change, the fact that we now have in legislation a 20 percent renewable energy target, which we did not have before;
  • And beyond that again, dealing with the challenge of indigenous disadvantage and the apology to the first Australians.

But that is what we’ve done so far.

What I’d also like to talk about in my remarks today is the policy challenges which lie ahead for Australia, and these are big ones.

Number one, the restoration and the maintenance of business confidence.

Business generates jobs. It’s fundamental that there is confidence in the business community to invest and to continue to create jobs. That is critical. And a policy area where I want to see new work for Australia, by the continuing Government of Australia, is in the area of small business and what we do to encourage directly small business to invest in their businesses’ future and turn them into the big businesses of the future. And that means changes to the way in which we deal with them on tax.

Second, a big policy challenge for the future is manufacturing.

I have said before, five years ago when I first contested the leadership of the Australian Labor Party, that I never wanted to be Prime Minister of a country which didn’t make things any more – that remains my enduring passion. I do not share the view that manufacturing is somehow old fashioned and belongs to the old economy. It’s never been my view. We have to be smarter about manufacturing, but can I say loud and clear, I believe fundamentally in the importance of a strong Australian industry for the future and as a result a strong industry policy for the future as well

And let me say quite bluntly, I do not support the decision taken by the Government to axe the support we have provided for the Australian automobile industry through the Green Car Fund which myself and Minister Kim Carr signed off on in good faith with Australian auto, with auto manufacturers from around the world.

Remember this: the Australian auto industry came through the global financial crisis without a single company falling over. We preserved the industry – it’s still strong and competitive. And there’s nothing wrong with an industry policy like that. And if you compare it with industry policies of various forms around the world – let’ just be very plain about this; we’re not Robinson Crusoe in having an industry policy, and furthermore, our levels of industry support are among the lowest in the world.

A third big area of policy for the future is the continuation of health reform. This is fundamental.

Remember, when I first became Prime Minister I said that we needed to have a health and hospital system where ultimately the buck stopped with me. What happened in reality is that we fell short of that with the National Health and Hospital Reform programme. We squibbed some of the hard decisions in the end, and decisions that were taken under the course of the last 12 months.

It’s no secret to my colleagues that I didn’t support that.

I believe we’ve got to complete the task of reforming our health and hospital system for the future because it’s so fundamental for all Australian families. We need to make sure that doctors are more accessible, that hospital beds exist, and for me, this is an abiding passion.

Can I also say that for the future, we also need to make sure that we are engaged in the strong business of education. I’m disappointed – deeply disappointed at the Government’s decision to axe a scheme which I introduced. And the scheme I introduced was to half the HECS fees of maths and science students going into university. And if they proceeded to pursue a career in the maths and sciences, to halve their HECS fees again.

And if you looked at the data that’s come out since then, our study of maths and science at senior secondary school goes down and down and down. If we don’t get this right, let me just tell you folks, we may as well kiss tomorrow goodbye – it’s so fundamental. And this is a scheme I brought in, in good faith and which regrettably has been axed. It needs to be restored – we need to get on with the business, and similarly with the emphasis on Asian languages in Australian education.

My vision as always is to have an Asia-literate Australia at the forefront of the knowledge of Asia and China, Indonesia and other countries who will be writing the history of the 21st century. We need to be able to read it and to speak it.

And finally, could I say beyond these important matters of policy, there is the big question of the reform of the Australian Labor Party itself, so that our party which has been around for 120 years – one of the oldest continuing democratic political parties in the western world is equipped for the tasks of the 21st century. And that means a party in the future which is not governed by the faceless men.

Can I conclude and say this – I must now return to Australia, aircraft await – but the bottom line is this: as I said in my remarks yesterday, I will make a full statement on my future on the question of the Australian Labor Party leadership in Australia. That is the right place to do it.

I’ve been left with no alternative in this country in terms of tendering my resignation as Minister for the reasons I outlined in my statement here yesterday, but on the future of the leadership of the party, that is a statement to be made in Australia. I’m encouraged by the levels of support I’ve received so far. I’ve got a lot more people to talk to, and I’ll be making a full statement there.

Ladies and gentlemen, I can take just a few questions. And then when Ranya says there’s a plane waiting, she’s not joking, okay?

QUESTION: Do you have the numbers, Mr Rudd, to…

RUDD: Can I just say on the question of the numbers – the perennial question in politics – it’s important at this stage of a process like this to remember one, I will declare my position on the future of the ALP leadership on my return to Australia; number two is anyone is a mug who believes in circulated lists of numbers at this stage of a possible ballot process – anyone’s a mug who believes that.

There is a huge doctrine of enlightened self-interest at work when people put out one list or another in terms of how many numbers people have. But I can say to you in complete candor, and I’ve got to say with a degree of contentment, happiness and surprise, is the level of support which is coming in, and not just from the parliamentary party. Can I thank also the extraordinary expressions of support from the Australian community.

I think when this comes to a head, it really does need to be recognised that the future government of Australia is not about the power of factions, it’s about people’s power. And the people of Australia have a view on the future leadership of their country. I would urge each and every one of them to make that view known across the country. Pick up the phone, talk to MPs, talk to your media outlets, express your view. Ours is a democracy in the open spaces, not behind closed doors and not governed by faceless men.

Another question. Yeah.

QUESTION: Mr Rudd. In your view, clearly, Julia Gillard is a failed Prime Minister. Is that correct?

RUDD: I have not stated that I have made a decision to declare for the position of the leadership of the party. I have said very plain – plainly that I need to consult more with colleagues, and it’s appropriate to make that statement in Australia.

But let me just say this: I do not believe that Prime Minister Gillard can lead the Australian Labor Party to success in the next election. That is a deep belief; I believe it’s also a view shared right across the Australian community.

I can take one more.


RUDD: I just want to be fair…

QUESTION: …your allegations of treachery against your former colleagues have been returned tenfold overnight. Have you done anything that would warrant the Prime Minister to sack you which was speculated widely yesterday?

RUDD: Well can I just say I seem to recall that some time yesterday I tendered my resignation, and the reason I did that was that you can’t be Foreign Minister of the country when the Prime Minister of the country refuses to express her confidence in you.

And that’s what occurred in the last 24 hours which caused me to make an extraordinary statement yesterday about the need to resign.

Can I say more broadly on the question of personal attacks, I just emphasise again what I said before – whatever our different political views, whatever they are, across the Australian political landscape there is a place for civility. There is a place for actually conducting a debate in a way which gets to our vision for the nation – our positive policies for the future.

And sure there are tough questions about individuals. But you know, hooking into one another in highly vicious, personalised attacks I don’t think is Australian. And I don’t think we should be part of that focus, and as they say in the classics – I’ve got to zip.

Thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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