TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Now to our guest, former prime minister, sinophile and diplomat Kevin Rudd, a close watcher of the upcoming leadership transition in China and what that means for Australia.
He also kick-started the campaign for Australia to win a seat on the UN Security Council, which will come to a head with the UN vote in just over 24 hours.
To discuss these matters as well as uranium sales to India he joined us but naturally enough the politics of invective was also on the agenda.
Kevin Rudd joined me a short time ago.
Kevin Rudd thanks for joining us.
KEVIN RUDD, FMR PRIME MINISTER: Good to be on the program.
TONY JONES: Now, we'll get to China and other issues shortly.
First you've been sceptical in the past about selling uranium to India, have you changed your opinion now that it looks like it's actually going to happen?
KEVIN RUDD: Well what I said at the last ALP national conference is that I supported the Prime Minister's decision. That remains my position. Of course the conditionalities attached to that are quite formidable as the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister would be aware and that is to ensure that our bilateral safeguards agreement with India that all those conditions are met, including India's compliance with the requirements of what's called the nuclear suppliers group.
These are stringent and they must be gone through and we must reach agreement as we have with each and every other country to whom we supply uranium.
TONY JONES: You still think it's possible it simply won't happen?
KEVIN RUDD: It depends entirely on the negotiations. I would assume given that India has long stated it wants to have Australia as a long-term source of supply, that they will want to clear the way through these negotiations.
But these are quite dense and technical and intrusive negotiations for a country which has guarded its nuclear independence quite closely for so long. So let's wait and see but India has been quite strong in its statements certainly to me in the past as both prime minister and foreign minister about its desire to have Australia as a long-term source of supply. So let's assume we'll get through these negotiations.
TONY JONES: Let's go to the other regional powerhouse China and behind closed doors the Chinese leadership in a once in 10 year transition is being decided. We'll know the result fairly soon, although it's obviously predetermined. What will the new leadership be like? What will change if anything?
KEVIN RUDD: This is a really important question. There's two big political transitions about to occur, one in the United States with the election on the sixth of November, the return of president Obama or the election of governor Romney.
But secondly on the eighth of November, the 18th party congress of the Chinese Communist Party convenes and by convention they will be in office for 10 years, this new team. My argument is what happens between China and the United States for the next four to five years will actually shape much of the contours for the next ... for the rest of the half century.
On the new team in China, Xi Jinping is I believe on the side of the economic reformers. He's a person very comfortable in his own skin. He's confident, I believe, of his family's military and political background and I believe will be a strong leader in his own right.
As for the other likely composition of the standing committee of the Politbureau: if they bring the size down from nine to seven and the names being kicked around including Chung as premier Shung who is currently senior vice premier and others, I believe, you will have a centre of gravity in this new leadership which will be reformist and that I believe is a leadership which the United States can deal with.
TONY JONES: What about control of the military and that is you could be seen to be done through being the chairman of the military commission, how quickly will that transition take place?
KEVIN RUDD: That's a really key question. In the Chinese system they don't have what we would call a National Security Council which brings together the army, the foreign policy establishment and the intelligence agencies around a single National Security Council with a national security adviser. It's separated out which creates problems for the rest of us in dealing with the Chinese on security policy questions.
So their apex of the system is the central military commission which is a party body only. In the past when we had a transition 10 years ago between Ming and the current president Hu Jintao, there was a two year delay as Ming stayed on as chairman of the military commission until Hu Jintao eventually replaced him.
The open question in China is will there be a similar arrangement with this transition from Hu Jintao to ShiXing Ping. We don't know. The key thing though is will the Chinese move to a better central coordination of their national security policy because often we find out there in China's international and regional behaviour that you see different signals from the foreign policy establishment to what you may see on the surface of the South China Sea in terms of units of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy.
TONY JONES: It's been a brutal process behind the scenes and one of the contenders for the leadership, Bo Xilai, has been expelled from the party over a scandal, most likely go to jail and obviously the question is whether this was a factional issue. Do you have any idea of what was going on behind the scene there?
KEVIN RUDD: As someone who has been looking at Politbureau politics for the last 25 years or so, that's what I was trained to do back in the distant days of university and the Australian diplomatic service, we all have our theories. I think we can overstate the importance of this one.
Chinese domestic politics within the framework of what is a Marxist-Leninist party is always opaque to the outside. And I think if you look back over the last 20 years there have been a few big bumps in the road. The events of '89, prior to that the purging of Bung.
Now other Politbureau members who have fallen by the wayside for one corruption scandal or another. I don't think we should overestimate the significance of this in terms of the likely nature of the transition.
The question is will this leadership, this I believe likely to be seven member standing committee the Politbureau which will be China's cabinet for the purposes of our discussions here in Australia, will it further implement economic reforms to carve out a greater space for the private sector in China's economy in order to sustain economic growth?
I believe they will because the current growth model is expiring, they've already indicated they've got to move to a new one. They've got to implement that course of action. That is key for the future of our economy. The politics of China were to go wrong on that the implications for us would be profound.
TONY JONES: The fate of Australia's Security Council bid will also be known by late this week. Now you put this process into place as prime minister, will you consider it part of the Rudd legacy if Australia is brought into the Security Council?
KEVIN RUDD: You know, with due respect, Tony, I think that question is completely irrelevant. What is relevant is whether Australia actually succeeds because our national interests are at stake. This was the right thing to do because it had been, it will be 27 years since Australia served on a Security Council.
We've been on the council four times before, in the '40s, the '50s, the '70s, the '80s and now a gap of 27 years and most people are just scratching their heads around the world as to why this is the case.
There are big issues at stake on the Security Council. It's more active now than it's been at any time in its history, multiple sanctions regimes, we're engaged in I think 15 global peacekeeping operations, 13 political operations, 120,000 peacekeepers around the world. Quite apart from our own immediate interests, which is the drawdown of our troop presence in Afghanistan which affects the UN Security Council resolution over the 13, 14 period we'd be on, as well as the future of the East Timor resolution, not to mention things like election scheduled in Fiji in 2014 as well.
TONY JONES: Let's move on to domestic politics. We've had some very bitter, personal political debate in the Federal Parliament in recent weeks, what do you think the public has made of this?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, I think the Australian people would much rather our nation came together than was constantly pulling itself apart. There is a great, I think, yearning in the country, and I travel around as much as any other member of parliament, for us to craft a common vision for the country's future and if we can't have a common vision for the country's future at least a policy based division on what that future might be.
What's our future on how to diversify the economy post a mining boom? What's our vision and what are our policies on the future of education, will it be better or worse under Mr Abbott? Better or worse for our hospitals under Mr Abbott? Better or worse for our infrastructure under Mr Abbott? Better or worse for our foreign policy with our engagement with the world where Mr Abbott says the modern world was invented in English?
I think that's the debate people would like. It's unrealistic in a two-party system for us to have a perfectly common vision so if we can't, a policy based debate on the alternatives for Australia's future.
TONY JONES: Lindsay Tanner's had quite a lot to say about this recently; he refers to it as the Punch and Judy show of Australian politics. The politics of personal attack has created a plague, he believes, on both their houses, do you think that's what voters are thinking?
KEVIN RUDD: I think if you were to take a bit of a sweep over time there's been something of a kabuki play going on which is, Lindsay's Punch and Judy analogy is about right as well. There's a certain terrible familiarity between whack, whack, whack and whack. Of course it takes two to Tango in this.
You, our good friends in the media, are happy to emphasise that dimension to it, current program, of course, honourably excluded. I believe the appetite of the country is for God's sake I want to know what the future of our economy is going to be, how do we sustain growth beyond the mining boom, how do we diversify in the economy and the key questions which affect people's everyday lives.
That's the discussion the nation wants.
TONY JONES: How do you think the gender wars have been playing with the public?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, I believe that the Australian public, and the Queensland public are as one. They are more deeply concerned about the bread and butter, back to basics issues that confront families which is will I have a job? We've had a tick up in unemployment though the overall strength of the Australian economy is robust against any international measure.
I believe there's a big debate given State Government cutbacks in Queensland, which have been huge, more than 4,000 people in the health system, as to whether our hospitals are going to be better managed and funded under conservative governments than Labor. For those reasons these are what I describe as the back to basics concerns which I believe are around the dinner table each night. There are debates to be had about people's attitudes to questions of gender but I believe they are part of a much broader mix of more basic questions which families in Australia are concerned about.
TONY JONES: You were in parliament when Julia Gillard made her now quite famous misogyny speech. Did you regard it, as many do, as a watershed for women in Australia and everywhere else?
KEVIN RUDD: I believe the watershed in Australia has been the passage of legislation which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of gender. That's where the watersheds lie.
TONY JONES: You know what I'm talking about. Many women describe this as a speech they will never forget. Some say they punched their fists in the air when they heard it. This is the sort of thing that women had been saying under their breaths for many years. And they regarded this as a very important speech. How did you regard it?
KEVIN RUDD: I think the response by women, as you've just described it, is entirely understandable given, given what many women in this country, including my wife Therese, have experienced in terms of the reverse end of discrimination over a long period of time. For goodness sake, we've still got clubs in Queensland which only admit males. I mean it just defies my imagination.
And I think the subtle forms of discrimination against women have existed for a long time in our country. But the great thing about Labor Government reforms is that we've turned these things around fundamentally.
When we look at the alternatives and the policies put forward by Mr Abbott, they are, in my view, regressive. Remember this is the man who said when it came to universal paid maternity leave that it would be over his dead body that we'd ever have such a provision in Australia. A bloke who on an attitudinal basis said that women were biologically or psychologically non predisposed to positions of authority.
TONY JONES: So do you buy the argument that he's a misogynist?
KEVIN RUDD: I believe his attitudes and policies belong to a different century, possibly not even the 20th century, maybe the 19th century. I don't believe they form part of a future modern Australia. But I go back to my earlier point about the nature of the political debate in Australia today.
What people are hungering for is a policy-based debate. What is the shape and content of our policy on universal paid parental leave, a reform which we put through in the period that I was prime minister, against what he offers as an alternative. Given he said, not that many years ago, that it would be over his dead body that we had anything like that. I think a very antique view of the role of women in our society.
TONY JONES: I'm going to have to bring you to how we got to this point with a hung parliament and in political terms the Prime Minister's speech was all about stopping a vote to remove Peter Slipper from the speakership. Now I know he's an old friend of yours but was it actually a fundamental misjudgement to put him in the speakership in the first place?
KEVIN RUDD: The political discussions around that were matters for the Prime Minister and other senior ministers at the time. I'm not privy to those. I understand the nature of the hung parliament, it's very, very difficult. I'm also entirely familiar with the fragility of human nature on all sides of politics in Canberra. I think before people start throwing too many stones at glasshouses people should be just generally mindful of the frailty of human beings in that place.
TONY JONES: Published accounts of the night of Peter Slipper's resignation feature your own role in counselling him through what must have been for him a very emotional and difficult night. Did you draw, as it has been written, on your own experiences of being dumped as a prime minister?
KEVIN RUDD: You know something, Tony, I'm not going to get into the business of personal conversations with individuals who are in a state of duress, I'm just not. What I do know, however, is that someone who has a bit of compassion about them, having seen people in extreme situations in the past in Canberra and some situations which have ended tragically, I wasn't about to stand around sitting on my hands while there were people going through a very, very extreme time.
I don't particularly care what side of politics they're from. There's a point you reach in this business where you see someone as a human being and if that human being's fundamental well being is at stake then I think you as a person of compassion, or any person as a person of compassion would act. If you don't I think it says something about our humanity.
TONY JONES: The Liberal MP Mal Washer was there and he said you were terrific and that you explained that for you being dumped as prime minister was like entering a long, dark tunnel, is that correct?
KEVIN RUDD: As I said, I'm not going to ...
TONY JONES: But is it correct, whether you said that to him or not?
KEVIN RUDD: Nice attempt to get it out of me again but I'm not going to talk about private conversations with any individual in a state of duress. Mal can say what he likes. Mal's a medical doctor, well respected on both sides of the parliament. Very sad that he's leaving the parliament because he's a resident medico for anyone with any complaints.
I'm not going to go into any of that. My resilience in coming through political events, I'm bright eyed and bushy-tailed, contesting the next election. I'm pretty happy with the world mate.
TONY JONES: The personal attacks on you at the time of your leadership challenge earlier this year were almost unprecedented in Australian political history. For a Labor Party to dump upon a former prime minister in the way that they did no one had ever seen anything like that before, how can you simply turn the other cheek?
KEVIN RUDD: Politics is a rough business. The key question is this, do you wallow about these things or do you get on with not just your life but get on with what you think is important? And for me what's important is getting out there and fighting the good fight. I mean I was out there today with Darryl Mellum the member for Banks sitting on a margin of 1.4 per cent in a community which I believe is going to be best represented by an Australian Labor Government.
I was out a week or so ago in the seat of Macquarie, a seat we need to win to form a majority next time around. You can focus on frankly fighting the good fight for the things I've believed in for the last 30 years or you can go into a corner and start wallowing. I am not made of that stuff. If I was I think I would have crumpled up and died a long time ago.
TONY JONES: But what I'm saying here is we were talking earlier about the nature of Australian politics, what it's come to, how Lindsay Tanner described it and look, I'll just go through a couple of these things. You were called chaotic, a dysfunctional decision maker, a person who put his own self interest ahead of the Labor movement, someone who does not hold Labor values, a populist, a manipulator, a false Messiah and by one intemperate backbencher a psychopath, can you simply shrug off this kind of thing.
KEVIN RUDD: You missed the bloke who called me a fraud by the way, that was on that list as well. It's a stunning character reference.
TONY JONES: But I'm saying is where did the Labor Party get to where senior people within it end up saying these kind of things of a former prime minister?
KEVIN RUDD: I think the challenge for all of us, whether it's in the Labor Party or beyond it, in the Liberal Party and the national political, let's call it establishment, is to actually lift ourselves above the ruck for a bit. I think the country expects it of us, I think they're deeply disappointed in all of us at the moment. What they're looking for is a clarity of purpose for the country's future. This ain't a bad country of ours called Australia, I've travelled around a bit and seen a few others.
But the people expect us to carve out a future vision and policies to get there for them, their families and those who come after them. This sort of stuff frankly doesn't really add up to a row of beans. And the sooner we get past, shall I say, the personal, deeply personal attacks on all sides of politics the better. The longer I'm in public life the more I know that everyone out there is frail, everyone has made mistakes. I've made mistake, it's just the nature of things. Dare I say it the ABC has made some mistakes in the past as well.
TONY JONES: I'm sure it has but in this case we're talking about your party and the senior colleagues who are still in place and I'll just compare it, if you like, to the Abbott/Gillard animosity which now appears to almost verge on personal hatred. Is this a failure of political leadership?
KEVIN RUDD: I think if you sit across the House of Representatives and you sit across from Mr Abbott, I understand how difficult that can be for dealing with a political leader for whom it is a very, very extreme sport. What worries me about Mr Abbott is that is his attitude. Mr Abbott sometimes exhibits to me the characteristics of someone who genuinely loves the smell of blood on the canvas, something I heard him say once, as a bloke who claims to have a boxing blue.
I get worried about people who just see politics as the game, as the piece of sport. It's not that. Politics is about power and it's about whether power is used for the many or the few. The first lines in the first speech I ever gave in the parliament, I meant it then and I mean it now. I think the country expects us to rise to that level and leadership is required of all of us. All of us.
Otherwise what I fear, not just in this country but other democracies, is that we slowly start to chip away at the credibility of the democratic process itself. That is dangerous and if I might draw an analogy with the discussion we had earlier about the rise of China, when you're going to have within the next decade the emergence for the first time of a country which will be the largest economy in the world, and for the first time in a couple of hundred years a non-Western, non-democratic state offering different models to the rest of the world, I think we've got a challenge here and abroad to make our democracies work to invigorate them with some basic civility and ideas and a debate about policies for the future which are not going to cause our citizens to collapse in despair.
That's the challenge for all of us including yours truly.
TONY JONES: Final question, are they collapsing in despair at the moment?
KEVIN RUDD: You mean in Australia?
TONY JONES: Mm hm.
KEVIN RUDD: As I roll around the suburbs of my own electorate and schools and I've been to a lot recently and other parts of the country, there's a deep worry about which way we're going. I think there's a deep concern about the way in which Mr Abbott would take the place.
I think they want of all of us, myself included, a policy debate on the future. You often hear that said as if it's some sort of throwaway line from a politician, but in the midst of the bitterness of the political discussions that we've had internally for quite some time now and not just constrained to the internals of the Labor Party or Mr Abbott or the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, but more broadly. I worry about the people losing faith in our democracy all together.
So frankly, I think the season has come for us to lift ourselves above the ruck. We're 12 months out from an election, what are the competing visions? What are the competing policies? And I believe our side of politics offers the most compelling narrative for this country's future. We're the builders, they tear the place down.
TONY JONES: Kevin Rudd, we'll have to leave you there. We thank you very much for taking the time to come and talk to us tonight on Lateline.
KEVIN RUDD: Good to be with you.