Sunday, 17 February 2013

Transcript – Sky News Australian Agenda


Peter Van Onselen: Can I start with some news of the day? It's across News Limited Sunday papers but it's the splash in Adelaide with The Advertiser there. The situation is that they're accusing you of stalking the Prime Minister, the headline says, and angry GIllard supporters are frustrated that when she is looking at coming to South Australia to make some announcements you're also going there too. What's the genesis of this?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, you know something, Peter, facts are often useful in any discussion on these sorts of matters. The facts are simply these: November last year my good friend and good local member, Tony Zappia, Federal Member for Makin in Adelaide, invited me down to Adelaide to participate in an interfaith forum. I do these from time to time around the country. In November last year I accepted the invitation and nominated the date for this coming Tuesday. Then the end of January this year the public notices go out that there's going to be a Community Cabinet in Adelaide. Of course, I've not received any requests from anybody to reschedule or change this event. Nor has Mr Zappia, I checked with him this morning. In fact I only found out the Community Cabinet was going to Adelaide last week.

Peter Van Onselen: So you had already agreed to go there before that announcement was made?

KEVIN RUDD: Yeah, that's right. I had agreed last November to be there next week because I schedule things a fair way in advance. Community Cabinet gets announced I think in January saying they're going to be there that same day. I only find out about that conflict the end of last week. But the bottom line is this, I don't think anyone would have known that I would be doing this. But it has now been splashed all over the front page of the Adelaide Sunday newspapers and so I don't want any controversy for Tony Zappia. I don't want any controversy that will detract from the important work that the Prime Minister and the team will be doing in Adelaide that day, so I've already discussed with Tony rescheduling and that's what we are going to do.

Paul Kelly: Well, if we can go to other current newspaper reports, what's your response to the fact that Senator Xenophon was detained when he was attempting to enter Malaysia? What's your assessment of the situation as a former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister?

KEVIN RUDD: Well I follow Malaysian politics fairly closely and as you know, Paul, as someone who follows the politics of the region in depth, there is a highly contested election not far away in Malaysia. And the ruling party has been in power for a long, long time currently under Prime Minister Najib, who's been a good friend of Australia.  I've got to say, though, that detaining any member of the Australian Parliament in the way that Senator Xenophon appears to have been detained is just unacceptable. And, therefore, I am sure Senator Carr, the Foreign Minister, has this in hand.

Paul Kelly: How should the Australian Government respond in this situation?

KEVIN RUDD: Well we are robust about our democracy and therefore we should be robust in our response to our friends in Kuala Lumpur. As you probably know I wouldn't necessarily agree with Senator Xenophon on a whole bunch of things but he is an elected member of the Australian Parliament and therefore should be treated with appropriate respect.

Paul Kelly: Just on this point, how concerned are you about the situation in Malaysia about so called rorts in the electoral system? Is this a matter that the Australian Government and the Australian Parliament should be concerned about?

KEVIN RUDD: Look, the internal electoral system of the Malaysian Federation is a matter for the Malaysians. If we were to begin as a matter of Australian policy to cast the ruler over electoral systems around the world we'd probably have a very long list; probably starting with a few years ago in a certain, and very famous, US Presidential election. So not going there. But on this question about protecting the rights and dignity of an Australian Senator and a Member of the Australian Parliament, I think we should be appropriately robust.

Peter Van Onselen: Just on another foreign policy matter, the Citizen X issue in relation to Israel – how can it happen? I mean you're a former Foreign Minister, a former Prime Minister. How could it happen that where the Australian Intelligence knows about what is going on, with him as a prisoner, but the Government isn't being made aware of it?

KEVIN RUDD: I think Bob Carr, the Foreign Minister, has done the right thing to request a formal brief from the Department and Agencies. Of course there is a limit to what I can say about these matters because it does touch on intelligence matters. I've got to say, though, like Bob and I'm sure like Stephen Smith, I’m a little surprised to see this bob up in the newspapers recently and deeply surprised to hear that not only had this person been incarcerated but subsequently died in custody. I think we need to get to the bottom of this.

Paul Kelly: How should the Australian Government respond?

KEVIN RUDD: Well I think we should get the facts as to what's transpired firstly in Israel concerning this arrest and this incarceration. Then secondly, the appropriateness or otherwise in terms of internal actions in government agencies. These are the two elements of it. 

 

You'll remember Paul back in that same year in 2010 we had something of a crisis in the Australia-Israel relationship because, after extensive examination of the facts, we determined as the National Security Committee of the cabinet that Israel had wrongly used Australian passports in an assassination against a Hamas leader in Dubai. We were not impressed. We conveyed that publicly and privately to the Government of Israel. The sanctity of the Australian passport system is fundamental to the security of every travelling Australian and there are millions of them each year. And as you know, we took other actions as well.

 

So I think we've got to work out on this one what's happened and if there are further actions necessary. The tradition of this Government is to be robust on these matters even with a country with whom we've had the friendliest of relationships going back to the foundation of Israel in 1947.

Peter Van Onselen: Mr Rudd, I just want to briefly go back to the issue of what's on the front page of the Adelaide paper today. It must be frustrating, I mean you must have your suspicions about how this ended up in the media. I wonder whether this is going to deter you on one level from going to do your bit campaigning around the country and also you must be frustrated by the endless speculation about the timing of you appearing on programs. I know, for example, I have been trying to talk to your office about getting you on here since last year and I think we set this date up in January and yet speculation ran rife with people talking to me when they got wind that you were coming on that this was all about the timing of the week that was. How is this going to affect the way that you look to campaign for Labor between now and the next election?

KEVIN RUDD: Look, my objective is to do whatever I can on the ground to support our local Labor candidates and local Labor members to get them re-elected, in order for the Gillard Government to be re-elected at the next election. That's what I do.

Last year I would have been around to 15 or 20 different electorates. This year we have invitations from 20 to 25. Mr Zappia is one of them, but we have rescheduled that date. By the way, no one ever raised with us that we should not have gone there until we saw it splashed all over the papers. But I think I will just continue doing my thing. If you start having your life dictated by what's splashed about by others then you simply curl up in a ball and die.

Like that other thing in the paper this morning says that, or infers, that I set up Senator Brandis to ask questions about the AFP investigation into the leaked YouTube matter. For God’s sake. Brandis lives in Brisbane. I live in Brisbane. And together with all the other pollies we are on the plane coming down from Brisbane to Canberra and it's classic one: “Good morning, George”, “Good morning, Kevin”; “How are you?” “What are you reading?” “See you later.” I mean, I had never raised any such matter with Senator Brandis.

I mean, it's part and parcel of the diet regrettably of Australian politics at present but my job is to get out there, argue the Labor case, argue the case for the great policy achievements of this Government. Paul himself said in his intro, the state of the Australian economy is strong. This is a great global message. But to get out there and support our local members and frankly to get out there and paint a picture of what Australia would be like under an Abbott Prime Ministership – that is worthy of further discussion.

Paul Kelly: OK, we've got a major debate going on at the moment about the mining tax. You spoke about this last week. Is it correct to say that under your Government, when you were Prime Minister, the proposal for the mining tax, that is the mining tax Mark 1, the RSPT, that essentially was Wayne Swan's idea and came from the Treasury?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, Paul it's important to say that this was a Government proposal. I mean I am not about to walk away from corporate responsibilities for the Government of which I was proud to lead. I was Prime Minister. I accept full responsibility for decisions taken within the Government. The sequence of events though concerning the mining tax are pretty clear. You may remember, I think you were there, at the 2020 Summit in March of 2008 lots of good ideas came forward. Many of which have been implemented by the way. We have an Australian Civilian Corps by the way ready for the next natural disaster, fully legislated, an idea which came out of there. But in the economic working group of the 2020 Summit chaired by David Morgan and co-chaired by Wayne Swan, the Treasurer, this was their number one recommendation – for a comprehensive review of the taxation system. That was subsequently announced by Wayne the Treasurer. The Henry Review commissioned the Resources Rent Tax as one of its recommendations. The Treasurer, as I have already said a number of times in public debate, brought that to myself then as Prime Minister and Julia, who was then Deputy Prime Minister. After a lot of discussion we supported his proposal, got behind him, argued for it. As you know, the negotiations with the mining companies became fairly tense.

Paul Kelly: But just on that point, as Prime Minister looking at this issue was it your expectation that there would be prior consultation with the industry over the mining tax and a degree of support from the industry for the tax?

KEVIN RUDD: When you've got any significant tax proposal such as the mining tax, it goes without saying that you've got to work that through with the industry concerned. And, of course, the Treasurer, as responsible portfolio minister, had that as his charge. To be fair to the Treasurer, BHP and Rio effectively pulled down the shutters on real negotiations in the later period of my Prime Ministership and, Paul, I think it is now a matter of public record that we then went to RSPT Mark 2 in negotiations with Fortescue and let’s call it the newer, middle cap to lower cap miners on an amendment to the regime that would have made it easier for them. But the political events took place.

Paul Kelly: I just want to wind back a little bit here. Your tax was announced on 2 May 2010 and the industry immediately said that they had been betrayed, they'd been ambushed, they hadn't been consulted. Was that your intention or not?

KEVIN RUDD: My intention with any consultation with industry, whether it’s on tax policy, whether it’s on mining tax policy or any other policy, is to be utterly transparent. They've got to know ...

Paul Kelly: But there was no transparency here at all.

KEVIN RUDD: I think history will be the judge of what actually transpired in those negotiations.

Paul Kelly: Well let me just ask you directly. I mean we should stop mucking around here. We should confront the issue. Did Treasurer Wayne Swan, as far as you were concerned, mislead you as Prime Minister on this tax?

KEVIN RUDD: I don't think it's productive in the current political debate, Paul, to rake over the coals ...

Paul Kelly: You're not denying it.

KEVIN RUDD: ... rake over the coals about what transpired or didn't transpire in the internal discussion with the Government at the time or for that matter the Treasurer's discussions and negotiations with the mining industry. The key thing about this tax is ultimately its long term revenue performance, and what I have said consistently in the public debate was give it some time. Let's make an evaluation at least 12 months, two years down the track in terms of whether it can raise significant revenue for the Commonwealth – that's the core question here for the future.

Peter Van Onselen: Mr Rudd, if we can just call a spade a spade on this. I mean if it doesn't come out of where it's at, at the moment, at the 6 month assessment, it must be beyond frustrating that one of the key reasons used to replace you as Prime Minister was to fix the mining tax and the definition of fixing it is to put in place a tax that doesn't raise money.

KEVIN RUDD: Well tax is an essential element to what the Commonwealth does. There has been a legitimate debate about the nature of the mining tax in this country frankly over the last couple of years and it's become heated again in the last couple of weeks. But it's one part of a broader equation.

If you look at for example, the OECD report released only a couple of weeks ago about the erosion of the tax base in OECD economies around the world. This is actually a much larger debate about the pressure on the public revenue for all of our economies and goes to this point; the major digital companies, whether it's Apple or Google or the rest of those using digital platforms are engaged in forum shopping around the world, a race to the bottom to find tax havens in order to avoid paying tax here and in other countries. Take, for example, one of those companies, I think it's Google – $1.1 billion worth of sales here. How much do they pay in tax? Less than $1 million. Starbucks in the UK – 1.3 billion pounds worth of revenue. How much tax do they pay in the UK? Zero. This is happening around the world.

So the mining tax I concede is an important part of the tax debate. There is a broader debate which is frankly happening before our very eyes which is the erosion of the national tax base through the use of these new digital platforms and tax havens, whether it's Dublin or Luxembourg.

Peter Van Onselen: So, what can you do about it?

KEVIN RUDD: Well I think Treasurer Wayne Swan is doing the right thing. He's taken this to the G20 which is currently meeting in Russia to discuss combined action. I know also that David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, has placed this as one of his top three priorities for the G7 of which the UK is currently the chair.

This, therefore, is, I believe, a centrally important G20 matter. And given that we are hosting the G20 next year in Australia, if I was to put up the top of what I would like to see come out of that, it's some form of international agreement that we do not simply stand idly by while the major economies of this world which run sophisticated economic and social programs through their budgets just watch tax revenue being leaked to tax havens. And that's happening because of the abuse of the definition of location in the Tax Acts by many of these digital firms.

[Commercial Break]

Peter Van Onselen: Mr Rudd, before the break you were talking about you know, in a sense, the tax pressures on a budget. What is the future of this, because you as Prime Minister talked about the importance of elements of fixing the Federation? Tony Abbott has even talked about this issue is his book Battlelines. Not quite so much since then, but there must be important things that need to be done given that it's the States that are facing massive cost burdens in the forward projections? And so is the Commonwealth but the Commonwealth, of course, has the revenue making capacity. What can be done?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, there's one core reform that we bought about through this Government and that's through the area of Health and Hospitals. Remember one of the easiest ways in which Costello and Abbott sought to "balance the budget", was to incrementally walk back from the Commonwealth's historical commitments to the States for the funding of the hospital system. And if you look at the impact of health and hospitals funding on the future financial viability of the States, it will without any policy change totally consume State budgets come about mid-century. That's why we bought about that reform. We now are committed to bringing Commonwealth responsibility for public hospital outlays back to 50 per cent. It eroded down to something close to 40 per cent under Mr Howard's Government and that is a huge slice of money. So when people say what have you been doing? Let me tell you, that is very big.

Peter Van Onselen: What about policy areas, like we've got the NDIS and we're going to get detailed costings before the next election, we're told, on Gonski education reforms. Some of the speculation is that to fund these it is going to come through superannuation tax increases. Is that really a sustainable way to do so when Labor likes to be the party of superannuation?

KEVIN RUDD: Well I think on the question of the future funding arrangements for both NDIS and education reform, let's wait and see what the Treasurer has to say as we approach the Budget. I think that's entirely appropriate. What I do know, however, is that on the overall question of the tax debate again let's just put some facts on the table.


Number one, there have been significant tax reforms under this Government. For example, on personal income tax. If you are earning $100 000 a year under us you're now paying less by about $2150 than what you were paying under the Howard Government. Not a bad reform.

Secondly, when you look at what we've done with the trebling of the tax-free threshold up to $18 500.

Thirdly, in terms of the small business tax write-off arrangements which the Treasurer has bought in.

These are significant.


Then I look on the other side of the ledger; what have we got from Mr Abbott? He's put out there a 1.5 per cent levy on the top 3200 companies in the country to pay for his version of paid parental leave. That is a huge impost. Put together with his other tax proposals in terms of what he would roll back from us, you are looking at what the Commonwealth Treasury has costed as being about a $4-5 billion additional tax impost in the first year of a Coalition Government if he is elected. So the facts in terms of what we have done, the facts in terms of what he is proposing, I think, should cause people to soberly take breath.

Paul Kelly:  Well, as someone who wants a fair tax system, how concerned are you of the news that the mining tax raised only $126 million in the first two quarters?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, as I said the other day, Paul, when asked about this thing; the revenue impact of the tax up until now has been pretty small. As you said the number itself is very modest. But I have also said consistently, let's give this thing a year or two to run to see what it actually generates.

The second point I'd make about the overall economic context in which this occurs is that we have been in Government for arguably the five least stable years in the global economy since the Great Depression. Europe's not out of the woods yet, American recovery is just occurring, China – hopefully reasonable this year – patchy last year. In these overall global circumstances where there has been a global lack of business confidence, this has not been an easy environment in which:

a)         to generate business activity;

b)         to generate, therefore, growth in the normal tax base, quite apart from the structural factors I referred to before.


It's difficult running public finance now.

Paul Kelly: I appreciate that, but don't you think the companies should have been paying more?

KEVIN RUDD: You mean BHP and Rio?

Paul Kelly: Yes.

KEVIN RUDD: Well, the proposal would not have been put forward in the first place, Paul, if we didn't think that tens of billions of super profits being earned by those companies, principally BHP and Rio, should have come back in some form, in some part, to the people who ultimately own the resource.

Remember it costs the taxpayer to fund the infrastructure associated with the these projects and also I'm aware of the fact that it's a capital intensive industry – I'm from Queensland, the biggest coal exporting state or province in the world. These are not easy projects to get going, but when you are generating sustained super profits, and the industry were privately acknowledging this at the time as you well know, then there is a legitimate debate about how you bring back some of that to the public good.

Paul Kelly: Given that answer, is it appropriate for the tax to be reviewed during the next term of a Labor Government if Labor is re-elected?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, Paul as you know, that's not my call, that's the call of the Prime Minister.

Paul Kelly: But what would you like to see?

KEVIN RUDD: That's not my call and I will leave that entirely within their province. As I said the other day: number one - you need to let this thing run for a while in order to ascertain what its precise revenue impact is; and number two - you also need to be consistent with whatever undertakings have been given to the mining industry in the negotiations which have been had. You've got to deal with people on a fair and equitable basis based on the discussions and negotiations which you've had.

Peter Van Onselen: But you must think that, for example, the rebate in any royalties increased by State Governments under the package that was put forward for the second incarnation of the mining tax is just a mistake? It's a virtual blank cheque for State Governments.

KEVIN RUDD: Well, again I'll leave those debates to the relevant Ministers and to the Treasurer.

I think what is interesting, though, about this discussion, and representing something of a national mood at the present, is where we find Mr Abbott, who sees himself quietly sliding into The Lodge in six months’ time, his strategy being to escape any form of scrutiny. What is the last time Mr Abbott was on this program for a half-hour interview? Years ago. When was the last time you saw him in a sustained interview on Lateline or on 7:30 Report? A long time ago. This is not just a small target strategy by the Coalition at present in terms of policy, this is a cotton wool strategy in relation to Mr Abbott himself because we know for a fact that he is not comfortable in the economic debate. Costello has said about him, that the guy is economically illiterate. Hewson says that he's innumerate. These are the people who've worked with the guy in close quarters. And if you're not confident or robust on the question of economic policy leadership in Australia – it is one of the deep qualifications for public office – and he is running a mile.

Peter Van Onselen: You're right, we haven't had him here in the studio since 2011 but not for lack of asking, Mr Rudd.

Now let me ask you this, though, now that we've got your here: this time last year you challenged for the Labor leadership. You're still in Parliament. You're running at the next election. There must be unfinished business for you, policy goals to pursue as a Member of Parliament in the years to come? What are they?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I'm passionate about public life in Australia because my own deep interest for Australia is how do we secure our future? What's the role of political leadership about in whichever form, as a Member of Parliament or as a national political leader?

The future in a highly uncertain world is rolling down the railway tracks towards us. We either shape that future for the Australian national interest or we simply walk away from it and try and redial to the past, which I think is Mr Abbott's approach. And if you're trying to shape our future, the big things which are shaping our future are –

Number one, the fact that we need to avoid conflict between China and the United States in our neighbourhood;

Number two, within a decade China will be the largest economy in the world. The first time it's happened in the world for 200 years that a non-Western, non-European, non-democratic state will be the largest piece of economic real estate in the world.

And then, on top of that, Australia, making sure that beyond the mining boom, and I've been saying this for five years, that we have a sufficiently diversified economy driven by a productivity revolution which is capable of securing its future when we're simply not seen as the world's quarry.

So, you want to know what I'm passionate about? It's those big picture items. And one other, by the way, qualification of being Prime Minister of this country, going back to Mr Abbott, if you're not comfortable in the economic policy brief, you do have to be comfortable in the foreign policy brief. And when I read Battlelines before, the book you referred to, Paul, or you did, Peter, you know how many of those 65 000 words gets a mention for foreign policy? Four or five pages. Four of them on the United States, one mention of China. None of Japan. I've got to say he's not comfortable in that space either.

Peter Van Onselen: And I notice that you've got a forthcoming article coming out in Foreign Affairs and you've got a strong interest in that. But the biggest way as a Member of Parliament to have an impact on the policy debate, whether it's foreign policy or anything else, is on the front bench or indeed leader. I am sure we'll get to that. But I haven't heard anyone ask you this: Julia Gillard had a pretty significant reshuffle when she had two senior Ministers step down. If you had been asked to fill a position, would you consider it?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I think that's what you'd describe, Peter, as a hypothetical question.

Peter Van Onselen: Well, it's a fair question.

KEVIN RUDD: It's a hypothetical question. I wasn't asked. That's just the bottom line. And I've said I am very happy arguing the case for Labor on programs like this and, frankly, on the ground with our candidates and Members around the country. And the pick of the Cabinet is a matter for the Prime Minister.

Paul Kelly: Mr Rudd, if you're invited by the Party to return to the leadership over the next few months, would you accept?

KEVIN RUDD: Paul, number one, I'm not the candidate. Number two, the Party and all its Parliamentary Members including myself have expressed support for the Prime Minister remaining in that position until the next election.

Paul Kelly: What if the leadership is declared vacant? Would you be a candidate?

KEVIN RUDD: Paul, I can say to you that the Parliamentary Party has expressed its confidence in the Prime Minister's leadership, therefore the notion of the draft, as I think you're putting it, simply does not come into play. And you know something? I'm pretty happy being where I am.

On this stuff, which I know entertains the journalists every day of every week and a whole bunch of other people as well, a couple of weeks ago I said everyone should take a cold shower, last Friday I said everyone should have an ice bath. It's time this debate was put in cryogenic storage. Frankly, it ain't happening.

Peter Van Onselen: You must know that even though you've ruled out a challenge and even though plenty of us don't think you will challenge, there is a big difference between ruling out a challenge versus ruling out putting yourself forward or being drafted if there's a vacancy which, yes there's not now, but if that happens, that's a different thing. You haven't ruled that out.

KEVIN RUDD: What I've just said is that because everyone in the Party publicly states as I do, the Prime Minister is leading us to the next election, the idea that you're putting forward actually doesn't even arise. The bottom line, Peter, is it's not happening. I am very happy doing what I am doing – arguing the case for Labor in whatever forum I can and trying and bring some accountability around the guy who refuses to come on this program and entertain in these discussions on policy or anything else.

Peter Van Onselen: It is awkward isn't it? We have the time on this program to do what we've done and have spent a lot of time talking about policy but most media appearances or most media interest, it’s in sound bites and, when it is, no matter how much you might be genuinely pushing the Labor cause, because you are a former Prime Minister who the current Prime Minister removed from the position through a leadership coup, these questions always get asked. It must be frustrating because it makes it hard to do what you say you genuinely want to do, which is simply campaign for Labor.

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I will continue to campaign for the Labor cause because it is the right thing to do.

I've been a member of this show for 31 years. I believe deeply in its values and I will disagree from time to time with its policy as most members of the Party do. We're a pretty robust outfit. But, you know, it’s not a bad cause.

And, frankly, against what else is on offer with Tony Abbott trying to slide through on the outside absent any scrutiny and the fact that he doesn't know the first thing about the economy and will run a mile on any debate on the economy. He didn't even know anything about health policy when I debated him as Prime Minister at the National Press Club on health policy and he'd been Health Minister for x years.

And on foreign policy, what's his prescription for the future? I, Tony Abbott, declare in Battlelines the modern world has been invented in English. I mean, his view of the future is Britannia still ruling the waves. For God’s sake, it's the boys’ own annual, it's Biggles. Think about this, both of you, next year the G20 is going to be held here. Can you picture Tony Abbott chairing that meeting? Can you picture Tony Abbott addressing the UN Security Council?

Peter Van Onselen: Well, I can picture him doing it if you don't come back as leader because the polls tell us it's going to happen.

KEVIN RUDD: Imagine him, given his unfamiliarity, discomfort with the economic policy agenda presiding over the nation's response to a further version of the global financial crisis. It's not in his DNA and the Liberal Party machine are hiding him from the public and any level of scrutiny on this. My job, in part, together with everyone else in the show, is to bring that forward. Despite what other questions you might choose to ask me.

Paul Kelly: Let's just talk again about you rather than Tony Abbott. Now there's a not insignificant section of the caucus that wants to see you as leader – that believes that it's in the interests of the Labor Party in terms of winning the election to have a leadership change. What do you say to those people?

KEVIN RUDD: Not interested. Go away.

Paul Kelly: And what do they say?

KEVIN RUDD: No, I'm saying that to you, to your question. The truth is that anyone who is concerned about Labor's prospects at the moment should do the following:
One, get out there support the Prime Minister;
Two, ensure that we are taking the Labor message up about our record of policy achievement in government; and
Three, bring the focus back to, frankly, what an alternate Australia will be looking like under Mr Abbott.

That's what I'm doing, that's what all caucus members should be doing as well. Because, remember, and I go back to Mr Abbott, this is not just some change in personalities, this is the guy who said that Work Choices was the finest achievement of the Howard government; this is the guy who said that you'd have paid maternity leave over his dead body; this is the guy who says that climate change is complete crap; this is the guy, this is what you're looking at and this is the guy who refuses to come on programs like this. That is the number one political issue of this country at the moment. No scrutiny for the alternative Prime Minister of this country six months before an election.

Paul Kelly: Well, can I just ask the same question a different way? Are you trying to tell us, are you trying to tell the Australian people that you have no ambition at some point in the future to return to the Labor leadership?

KEVIN RUDD: That's correct.

Paul Kelly: You think that's credible? You think that people will actually believe you?

KEVIN RUDD: Well it's a matter for what people choose to believe. The bottom line is there was something called a ballot for the Labor Party leadership in February last year, which you referred to. That occurred after the Prime Minister did not express confidence in my position as Foreign Minister. I did the appropriate Westminster thing to do which is to resign that office. I returned from abroad. The Prime Minister declared the position vacant. I then nominated for that ballot and I was soundly defeated. These matters were resolved then.

As for today, the position is as I've just described; I, together with the other members of the caucus support the Prime Minister through the election. What's our core objective? To cause the Australian people to measure our performance in office in keeping this economy strong, with 5.4 per cent unemployment, half that of Europe, to reinforce the fact that our economy did not go into recession while the rest of the world did. That we're on interest rates now that means your average mortgage of $300 000, you're paying $100 a mortgage payment less.

Peter Van Onselen: Can I ask this though, Mr Rudd ...

KEVIN RUDD: These are big comparisons, around all the euphrema of leadership this, leadership that, then the core message of what we've achieved is against the economic policy script of Mr Abbott at the time and the Liberals, which was to do nothing. Then we would have been in the middle of a recession, we'd have mass unemployment, we'd probably have financial institutions go to the wall for this reason as they opposed also elements of our bank guarantee. And the budget would have plunged into deficit because business activity would have collapsed and unemployment benefits would be double what they are now.

Peter Van Onselen: Can I ask you this, though: if the polls are right, and they've been consistently bad for the Government, and the Government loses the next election, are you in politics for the long haul, even in Opposition? To fight on the sort of policy battles you talk about but also, I think, on something like Labor party reform which you have been very vocal about?

KEVIN RUDD: Look, I'm a creature of public policy. I am deeply interested in public policy. How long have I known you, Paul?

Paul Kelly: A long time.

KEVIN RUDD: A long time. Ok, neither of us have changed one bit, I mean you were probably in short pants when we first got to know each other and I have always been engaged in the nation's public policy debate, I always will be. That's me.

Peter Van Onselen: And even in Parliament?

KEVIN RUDD: Yeah, and as a Member of the Australian Parliament you have a platform through which to engage in these debates. I do. Whether it's on Indigenous policy, on economic policy, on foreign policy, and I engage on the China question around the world, because these are important to me, they are important about our vision for the country's future and critically the policy steps to get there and how you fund them. It's all very good, again, for Mr Abbott to say, I've got a vision for this, a few dams in the Northern Territory there. Wat are the policy steps? How much does it cost? And why didn't you do it for the twelve years you were in office?

Paul Kelly: Well, I think what you're saying there is that you do see a future for yourself, a long term future for yourself in politics. Is that, essentially, the position?

KEVIN RUDD: That's true. And it's because I’m old fashioned enough to believe that you can make a difference in public life and for the nation through the political process. It's a much maligned process, and for legitimate reasons, I understand those. But what we need is women and men of good will on both sides of the political divide up there in the Australian national political process finding, as I said before, shaping our future rather than running away from it, which I fear is the current default position of Mr Abbott. You know, we have a big interest in having people of talent and ability and of ethics and commitment, whichever side of the divide, in the Parliament, engaged in the big debates about the country’s future. The aging of the population, the impact of climate change, the extreme weather events, the productivity revolution, China, Indonesia, which will soon be much larger than the Australian economy. These are massive shifts. And yet we spend most of our time dancing around the edges of it in debates about cold showers and cryogenic storage.

Peter Van Onselen: Mr Rudd, one final question, and I respect that you don't want to go into leadership issues, I'm interested in just in a bit of a reflective look back. Do you have regrets about any of the major approaches that you took either policy or personal when you were Prime Minister? Things you would have done differently?

KEVIN RUDD: Look, any honest answer to that question will always answer it in the affirmative. I’ve said it before maybe on this program or elsewhere, I can't remember now, I know the lantern-jawed classical response from your politician who never makes a mistake is your "I have no regrets". For God’s sake, give us a break, of course you make mistakes. I'm sure you've written the odd poor article in the newspapers once or twice, Paul, and been proven to be wrong. Ok, it happens to us all, we're human. Obviously, what I've said before in public debates is that I made a great error of judgement in terms of the deferral of the emissions trading scheme. I accept responsibility for that. It was my call. Long debates, large debates about the underpinning factors, but I believe if you're the leader of the show it's your call and the big debate about the mining tax, ultimately that was my call, I was the Prime Minister. Sure, other Ministers, including the Treasurer, had central roles, but it was ultimately my call. So you accept responsibility for these things. And we'd all wish in politics we'd have the gift of 2020 hindsight. We don't, we simply put things together as best we can, work out what our values are for the future. Work out what policies can make that vision happen for the country, like the infrastructure revolution we're engaged in at the moment. Can you imagine an Australia without the National Broadband Network in the economies of the 21st Century? The other mob sort of dance around the edge and say the sky will fall in, it costs too much. In five years’ time we'll say why the hell didn't we have it ten years ago.

Peter Van Onselen: Mr Rudd, you've been generous with your time, we really do appreciate having you on Australian Agenda. Thanks very much.

KEVIN RUDD: Always happy. I look forward to Mr Abbott being here soon.

Peter Van Onselen: So do we. Let's stay and hope.

 

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