Transcript - Interview with Neil Mitchell – 3AW
8 November, 2012
E & O E – PROOF ONLY
NEIL MITCHELL: Before that though in the early 1940s, Robert Menzies lost the Prime Ministership and came back a few years later but in the meantime he launched a series of radio speeches, Fireside Chats or Messages to the Forgotten People. I thought it was an appealing idea for a former Prime Minister of this country, Kevin Rudd. This is about trying to identify issues that matter to people. It’s about discussion, ideas and debate around policy - stepping away, if you like, a little from the day-to-day political thrust. In the past month, Kevin Rudd, according to Sentia media has been the fourth most discussed and reported politician in the country. On social media he is about three times as popular as the Treasurer, Wayne Swan. Overall in media, he is narrowly behind Swan as number four and that’s through the period of the mini budget with Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott well out in front. So we’ll speak every month or so on these sort of issues in our Canberra studio today. Kevin Rudd, good morning, welcome.
KEVIN RUDD: Good morning, Neil. Thanks for having me on the program. No fireside here in Canberra but it’s a bit chilly, and I’m no Bob Menzies.
NEIL MITCHELL: Well you still might make a come back.
KEVIN RUDD: I’m no Bob Menzies and I’m not a candidate.
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay, we might get to that. I wanted to ask, I know you know Barack Obama and the US election result, but one of the things that hasn’t had a lot of attention is Colorado and Washington both voted to legalise recreational use of cannabis and at the moment the US justice department is not planning to do anything about it. We could see two American states with legalised cannabis. Do you think that that’s the way to go? Should we be looking at legalising the drug?
KEVIN RUDD: I followed the debate reasonably closely over there over the years. My short answer to it, Neil, is no and that’s because if you look at the medical research which has formed part of the Australian National Drug Strategy drawn together from samples from across the world, there’s too much data out there linking the use of cannabis with various psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia. It’s too big a risk to take and therefore my answer, very simply, to your question is no.
NEIL MITCHELL: It’s a problem though isn’t it? It’s heavily smoked, it’s broadly smoked and a lot of kids seem to think it’s harmless still. Kids, I mean, younger people, younger users.
KEVIN RUDD: You know I just don’t share that view. It’s certainly a discussion I’m sure all parents have with their kids from time to time. There are two concerns: one, it’s a slippery slope between something like cannabis and other harder forms of drugs which become acutely addictive but the other is the simple link between cannabis use and schizophrenia, and there are too many studies which suggest that link, so given all that I think it’s far better that we stay where we are. It mightn’t be super trendy, it mightn’t be super fashionable but I think that’s the right, proper and, I think, conservative approach.
NEIL MITCHELL: Did you ever try it at university though?
KEVIN RUDD: You know Therese and I have often had chats about this, we must have been such nerds at university that no one ever offered us so the answer to your question, mate, is no.
NEIL MITCHELL: What do, let me get to Obama, what do you identify as the issues that really matter to people at the moment. What do you think it is that they are?
KEVIN RUDD: I get around the country a fair bit. I think Australians want to know whether in the future we have an economy beyond the mining boom because that’s all about jobs. They want to know whether we’ve put all our eggs in one basket or whether we’ve properly diversified for the future. I think the second thing that they are concerned about, obviously, is whether their schools are performing for their kids. The third big one that I pick up around the place is the health system functioning properly for people. If your kid gets sick at two o’clock in the morning what do you do? Is it better or worse than it was before? And I think the other one I pick up all the time, Neil, with varying degrees of intensity, and brought on by the debate in the United States by the recent super storm, is what is actually happening with climate change and what are we looking towards in the future in terms of extreme weather events, for example. But they’re the three or four big ones and I think people out there in the nation would much prefer that on those really big ones, we the country, the nation works together. We’re at our best as Australians when we’re pulling together and frankly we’re at our worst when we’re ripping each other apart.
NEIL MITCHELL: Well could I suggest that we’re at our worst at the moment and there’s another issue which I get strongly from people which is, and I aim this at both sides, leadership, dignity of leadership style and as you say working together. But your lot, not the Labor Party but politicians, are very much on the nose with the people.
KEVIN RUDD: Yeah I think that’s a fair call. I get around the country a fair bit and I hear that from folks a lot about the political process in general. Sometimes in Question Time it feels like kindergarten without the class. I think as a nation we all need to lift our game, that’s Labor, Liberal, National, Calathumpian, whoever. The bottom line is the challenges are big. There are some really bright people in Parliament but it’s like this place encourages the worst in our natures rather than the best, and if you put their brains together to work on some of these big national projects, the nation would be hugely better off.
NEIL MITCHELL: Well, with due respect, your lot is in charge. Surely it is up to them to lift the standard.
KEVIN RUDD: Well, I’m not discriminating about what I say here, Neil, all of us, including myself, constantly need to lift our game. There’s a very simple test that you need to apply, I think, in national political life. If you’re going to have a go at somebody, if you’re going to criticise them – two principles. Number one, explain the reason why you don’t support that approach, that attitude or that policy and the second thing is what you do instead. People want to hear the reasons, they also want to hear the alternative and I think that’s a pretty basic principle to be applied for anything that you’re saying. Take another big one, for example, is how do we preserve peace in Asia. We see all these headlines rolling around about crises in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, standoffs between the Japanese and the Chinese, occasional sabre rattling between Beijing and Washington. These are really big challenges. If we lose peace and stability then all the things I listed before, about the economy, jobs, schools, education and the environment pale into insignificance. That’s where our national brains need to be applied as well. Working together on the huge challenges of the future and bringing the nation’s talents together for that sort of stuff, but here in Canberra, you’re right we all need to lift our game.
NEIL MITCHELL: Well, here’s where there is a vacuum of leadership and again I’m pointing this at both sides of Parliament. People don’t get a sense of that sense of direction or of control.
KEVIN RUDD: Well to be fair to the government, I think, let’s just take one recent example. I think the government has done the right thing in putting out there a very extensively researched white paper on our future direction with our region, our hemisphere called Asia. This has been a product of a lot of thought, a lot of work, a lot of consultation with the business community and others, and it is a very good framework for how we engage the big economies and political systems of our own neighbourhood for the next 20 or 30 years. I think that that is a good piece of positive work. It’s not all doom and gloom here in Canberra and I think that’s one exception.
NEIL MITCHELL: What did you think of the sexism debate? You’re critical of the way Parliament is going. What did you think about that debate with name calling going both ways?
KEVIN RUDD: Well I think when you look at some of the previous statements that have been made, just to pull one out of the air, and I do so cautiously because people will accuse me of being opportunistic here, but I pull one out of the air when one political leader says, for example, over his dead body will there ever be paid parental leave or paid maternity leave in this country, that reflects a set of values which people like myself and Prime Minister Julia Gillard actually really disagree with because we think if you’re going to go through the business of building a family and having kids, a bit of support through paid maternity leave is a good thing. It’s those sorts of attitudes which in the case of Mr Abbott we think belong to a different century, not the current one. Did it all spiral out of control? Probably, but if we bring the debate back to core policies like this I think that, and a policy like that I think on balance is sexist, then it’s legitimate to discuss it in those terms.
NEIL MITCHELL: Yeah, but is it legitimate to be throwing around terms like misogynist and sexist as a form of abuse?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, look on the question of policy. If you go back again to statements and policies which reflect, shall I say, the policy philosophy of the alternative Prime Minister of Australia, then it’s a fair conversation nationally to have in its broadest terms. For example, when again Mr Abbott has said maybe men are better physiologically equipped for leadership positions than women.
NEIL MITCHELL: Well, that’s a long time ago that he said that.
KEVIN RUDD: Hang on, but I mean put all these things together, Neil, and they do sort of form a pattern, and that stuff he’s said recently about paid maternity leave is not ancient history. There’s a bit of a pattern there, so is this a fair topic of discussion based on the attitudes and policies? Yes. But I think the overall challenge we all face in this place, myself included, is whatever the temptation, no matter how badly you feel towards your political opponent on a particular day and I’ve had a few of those feelings on occasional days...
NEIL MITCHELL: And your mates. Some of your mates too.
KEVIN RUDD: Well, they’ve been pretty colourful in their character analysis of me. Despite your temptation, it’s far better not to whack back. Take a deep breath, think about it and explain what your position is and why, and why you disagree with the other mob, and why therefore you’ll do it differently. I think that’s what the nation would appreciate more broadly.
NEIL MITCHELL: Well, sexism is one issue raised by the government, another issue raised by the opposition, and I’d ask is this fair, is the Prime Minister’s performance as a solicitor around that union slush fund. Do you think it’s fair to ask her, to target her over that?
KEVIN RUDD: Well Oppositions will ask whatever they want in Question Time and I’ve got a lot of experience of that. I had a lot of experience of it some years ago when the Opposition asked a series of questions about whether I was the corrupt recipient of benefits concerning a ute, for goodness’s sake, in terms of whether I’d brought in a national program in the Global Financial Crisis to assist with the financial support of car dealerships across the country to benefit a particular individual. Did I like all of that? No. Was it complete and absolute nonsense? Yes. Was it proven to be utterly fraudulent? Yep. So Oppositions will ask anything and I think the Prime Minister has responded effectively to these questions so far and Oppositions will continue to ask whatever they like.
NEIL MITCHELL: Do you think that there are more questions to answer?
KEVIN RUDD: I believe the Prime Minister’s account of this period goes directly to the questions which have been asked. I believe that she has provided a strong set of statements in the press conference that she gave some weeks ago on this subject and responded directly to the questions that were put to her and I see that again through the press she is doing today. The core question though, let’s call it the basis of our discussion today, is whether it’s a debate about sexism or whether it’s a debate about these sorts of issues which you’ve just raised. What I think the country wants us to talk about it is: how do we diversify the economy, if and when the mining boom is over, have we have put too many eggs in one basket, what are the alternative industries to generate growth in the future and will therefore the kids and myself have a job in order to pay the school fees, send their kids to school or whatever.
NEIL MITCHELL: Well, I haven’t heard any debate about that, have you?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, I think that a lot of it gets lost in the wash. On diversifying the economy, again to be fair to the recent white paper put out by the government, it asks some pretty basic questions and outlines a way forward. In other words, who do we sell to in the future, who are our markets? North East Asia - yes. China, Korea - tick. Japan - tick. India – tick. South East Asia. Indonesia, a huge economy lying on our doorstep, a quarter of a billion people. Not just asking where we can sell to but also how we should have access to those markets? So that’s why we have free trade negotiations underway with all of those countries because if we sell more to them, guess what? We raise Australian living standards and have more wealth in this country. How do we build the skills so that our kids and ourselves can properly engage those markets? Again the white paper goes through that and how do we have the infrastructure necessary to connect to those markets? And that’s where frankly a high speed broadband network, not just for us at home but also linking us to huge networks abroad is going to be important for the next 20 to 30 years as well. So there is a debate about those things but you know what it’s like, with the colour, sound and movement of a particular day in national politics. It’s going to get blown away by the recent, the most recent, ear splitting moment.
NEIL MITCHELL: We’ll take a quick break and come back with an ear splitting moment in a minute.
Kevin Rudd’s in our Canberra studio. I’ve just got word of that terrible crash at Coolaroo. A senior constable from the highway patrol was in fact cradling the young 16 year old girl as she died on the scene, with three kids dead. Mr Rudd, is there a role for federal government here? We are all so horrified when this happens but it continues to happen. Kids kill themselves on the road.
KEVIN RUDD: Yeah, Neil, I’ve just heard about this as well. As you know, it’s the dread moment for all of us who are parents. The call in the middle of the night. And all of us who have teenagers, as we still do, you worry about these things intensely. So to the parents and families involved in this most recent tragedy, my heart goes out to them all.
On your policy question about what government can do. Truth is, everyday in Australia we lose four or five people in road accidents and we have ninety or a hundred who are seriously injured. I understand the numbers have slowly crept down over the years through actions we have taken pretty forcefully on drink driving and also through improvement in the design of motor vehicles. The fact is that when you and I were kids, Neil, the thought of actually being forced to wear a seatbelt was seen as a massive imposition on our civil liberties. Now it’s just common sense. My father was killed in a road accident largely because he didn’t have a seatbelt on. Then you go to car design itself and I think this is where the Australian Road Safety Strategy, which Anthony Albanese launched last year, has got some real things to say to make sure that all safety designs are absolutely state of the art and are incorporated into all cars used on Australian roads, and also road design itself. But are we going to legislate against human nature? Don’t think so, no, sadly.
NEIL MITCHELL: Barack Obama, you know him well. Wall Street isn’t too keen on the re-election. Is that a reflection on the state of division in the country?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, Wall Street represents a set of interests that sometimes don’t coincide with those of a democratically elected government. Remember the global financial crisis occurred in large part because we had under-regulation of financial institutions around the world. And that, what was then called the sub-prime scandal in the United States, then reverberated through the financial system in America, through their financial affiliates around the world and through most financial institution in the world, and five years later we are all still paying the price for it. So I think the fact that Wall Street is not welcoming in part President Obama’s re-election is because he’s had to take some tough measures to tighten up Wall Street. And I think frankly that’s what’s accounted in Europe and none of us want to see a repeat of what happened in 2008.
NEIL MITCHELL: So, Obama, good for Australia?
KEVIN RUDD: Yeah, if you were to go through the measures about why I think Barack Obama’s re-election is good for Australia. One, its continuity, he knows us and we know him. He likes us and we like him. Second thing is, here in Asia where our core challenge is to preserve the peace and stability in our region, which underpins everything, he knows the Chinese leadership and the new Chinese leadership, which incidentally will start to be elected today in Beijing. They know him as well so there is a real opportunity here to develop what I have been arguing for, which is a new strategic road map for China-US relations for the next five years. That’s a real big one and the third one; I think he’s going to be a steady hand on the tiller when it comes to unfolding challenges in the Middle East, including for example Iran. The one which will hit him first, which is subject of some commentary in today’s media, which is described as the fiscal cliff. Essentially, absent an agreement between the congress and himself, he’ll have about a six or seven hundred billion dollar hit on the US economy which will throw it into recession and, if that happens, it will throw out a huge negative impact on the rest of the global economy, including us.
NEIL MITCHELL: Just speaking of Iran, I’ve noticed Australia’s not talking to Iran in Bali at the meeting in Bali. Is that a good idea? Don’t we need to talk?
KEVIN RUDD: On that particular report I’m not familiar with, Neil. Generally speaking I’ve met previously as foreign minister with Iranian foreign ministers. They have often been fairly frosty conversations but I believe nonetheless in having open diplomatic channels with governments that you completely disapprove of. The real challenge here is Iran’s nuclear problem, ah program, and not just Israel feeling threatened by that but also other countries in the golf states in the Arab world as well. This is a big one but having a steady hand at the tiller on this is going to be critical because the effects us as well because if we had a major war in the middle east, let alone conflict in Asia frankly the strategic underpinnings of the global economy, global growth, and therefore jobs for Australians would be threatened.
NEIL MITCHELL: Well, it’s reported today that our prime minister won’t talk to the Iranian president in Bali. Is that, would you be talking to them or not?
KEVIN RUDD: Look, I don’t know the circumstances surrounding that. I don’t know what the scheduling arrangements are. Foreign minister to foreign minister conversations are reasonably normal because that’s what foreign ministers are to do if the proposal was to talk to President Ahmadinejad of Iran I think had that opportunity presented itself to me in the past I would have scratched my head as well. Remember this guy is called, if that’s who we are talking about here in terms of the Bali meeting again I am handicapped by the fact that I don’t have the report, this is a guy who has called for Israel to be removed from the face of the map, wiped off the map. I think when you are dealing with those sorts of things with an individual in particular you’d probably have a few thoughts if you sit down with them.
NEIL MITCHELL: Well, thank you for speaking to us. Can you guess the biggest news story this year according to Sentia Media?
KEVIN RUDD: The biggest news story this year according to Sentia News Media?
NEIL MITCHELL: The biggest number of mentions in the media.
KEVIN RUDD: The re-election of Barack Obama.
NEIL MITCHELL: No. You know it’s a trick question.
KEVIN RUDD: Ha ha, tell me mate.
NEIL MITCHELL: Your leadership challenge. Sixty thousand mentions. Bigger than the Olympics and bigger than the storm.
KEVIN RUDD: Well that didn’t turn out too well, did it.
NEIL MITCHELL: But what is your future. What do you see as your future now as a former prime minister? Are you like Bob Hawke and John Howard. I mean very former. What is your role?
KEVIN RUDD: Well I pride myself in being a local member of Parliament in the community in Brisbane which I love very much. In the south side of Brisbane where Therese and I and the kids have lived for the last 20-25 years or so. It’s where our kids have gone to school.
NEIL MITCHELL: But are you trying to make your role more public?
KEVIN RUDD: No I’m about to say that’s part of who I am. Secondly, I’ve made no bones about the fact that on national policy challenges for the future where I believe I have a contribution to make to the national debate I will continue to do so whether that’s in indigenous policy, or as you and I have just been discussing the diversification of our economy for the future. So as I posed the question before I became PM preparing Australia for when the mining boom is over. And a third thing which really galvanises my energies which is some of these big international challenges I’ve spent a lot of time with the China question because it’s going to be the number one economy in the world within the next decade and avoiding conflict between them and the Americans is huge. So you want to know what animates me in public life. It’s these three big sets of challenges.
NEIL MITCHELL: You’ve said you will not challenge as prime minister again but if somebody, if Bill Shorten knocks on the door and says what about it, would you think about it?
KEVIN RUDD: You know something, Neil? I think I couldn’t be plainer about it than to say that as I said back in February that I wouldn’t and furthermore...
NEIL MITCHELL: Said that you wouldn’t challenge.
KEVIN RUDD: That’s right. And furthermore...
NEIL MITCHELL: Would you be available. Could you be drafted?
KEVIN RUDD: Someone ask the other day, was I a candidate, to which the answer was no.
NEIL MITCHELL: Yeah but could you be drafted?
KEVIN RUDD: No. I’m not a candidate Neil and you know that.
NEIL MITCHELL: Yeah but a candidate is different to being drafted.
KEVIN RUDD: You can delve down, subpar, sub analysis as much as you like.
NEIL MITCHELL: I’m just asking a question for an answer.
KEVIN RUDD: I just said I’m not a candidate and furthermore I’m really enjoying what I am doing but I can’t be plainer than what I said in February. And that is that the statement that I made fully and comprehensibly at the time. The truth is we had a leadership ballot in February. I lost, the PM won. I’m enjoying my time on the backbench and engaging in the sorts of things...
NEIL MITCHELL: What about the front bench would you like to come back one day to the front bench.
KEVIN RUDD: I am very happy where I am.
NEIL MITCHELL: But that’s not an answer either.
KEVIN RUDD: No, I’m very happy where I am.
NEIL MITCHELL: So am I but if somebody asked would I like to be something else maybe I would consider it.
KEVIN RUDD: No, just very happy where I am. To go to the question...
NEIL MITCHELL: Well answer the question.
KEVIN RUDD: Hang on; to go to the question, the core question here is what is I am doing and why. Being an MP...
NEIL MITCHELL: The core question is do you want to go back to the front bench one day.
KEVIN RUDD: Not necessarily. I’m perfectly happy where I am. And the answer is no. I’m very happy where I am and I also have a responsibility which is to take up the argument of how would Australia change under our alternative PM, Mr Abbott. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last...
NEIL MITCHELL: He just sent me a message saying it’s a great idea having fire side chats with Kevin Rudd. Could he please do the same regularly?
KEVIN RUDD: That would be a good opportunity to...
NEIL MITCHELL: You could debate him.
KEVIN RUDD: Yeah right.
NEIL MITCHELL: You wouldn’t or he wouldn’t.
KEVIN RUDD: I last remember debating Mr Abbott when I was prime minister and he was the leader of the Opposition on the future direction of Australian health policy an, I think, pretty insightful event and I think we’ve seen a bit of that since then. When you ask Mr Abbott what’s your alternative policy and plan for Australia’s future there is usually a very long silence on the detail of that. Mr Abbott’s always been good at the demolition derby but not about the future.
NEIL MITCHELL: So do you want to debate him?
KEVIN RUDD: That is a responsibility for the prime minister not me.
NEIL MITCHELL: Ok. Now, just finally. The PM has responded to a questionnaire from Marie Claire would you rather have a 5 point bump in the poles, a good night’s sleep, or more sex.
KEVIN RUDD: I’d rather sit on the veranda with Therese and the kids and have a cup of tea. There you go.
NEIL MITCHELL: How old are you?
KEVIN RUDD: That is the most bizarre question I have ever heard in my life.
NEIL MITCHELL: But it gets the point I was making before where it gets to the point about the standing of politician leadership. I mean really I don’t care how much sex the PM has or wants whether it’s you or Julia Gillard, or John Howard, or Bob Hawke although we did tend to know about Bob Hawke.
KEVIN RUDD: Yeah right. This conversation is going to spiral out of control.
NEIL MITCHELL: That’s the plan.
KEVIN RUDD: Yeah, yeah I know that. So all I can say is that a strong cup of tea preferably Australia’s afternoon tea, blended by myself. 10c a tin goes to the RSPCA, with Therese on the veranda. I can’t say with the cat and the dog anymore. Jasper’s gone.
NEIL MITCHELL: Why did you tell the whole world Jasper had gone?
KEVIN RUDD: Because pets are part of our family and there is a whole bunch of people listen to your program that have got cats and dogs and feel about them the same way I do. That’s why.
NEIL MITCHELL: Thank you very much for your time.
KEVIN RUDD: Look after yourself, Neil.