Laurie Oakes

KEVIN RUDD AND LAURIE OAKES

LO: I’ve brought the battered old clipboard out of retirement for the occasion. Mr Rudd, welcome to the program.

KR: Good morning Laurie, you don’t look as battered as your clip board.

LO: I’m glad about that. Look can we start with your allegation that it’s again the faceless men who are trying to do you in. Aren’t the people who are leading the pro-Gillard charge actually the most senior ministers, some of the best known political faces in the country?

KR: Look I go back to the events of 2010 Laurie where factions and faceless men were fundamental to what unfolded at that time, and I’ve got to say those factions have remained very powerful and they’ve continued in their determination in relation to myself. Obviously when people vote on Monday they’ll vote for a range of different reasons but I’ve got to say there is a strong factional dimension to this as well. And it is no secret to anybody out there that I’ve never been a creature of the factions, having said that I’m of course - people have legitimate criticisms of aspects of my past performance and I accept responsibility for that.

LO: You say you’ve never been a creature of the factions but the factions put you there. The factions put the Rudd Gillard team together they made you the leadership team, so you owed your Prime Ministership to the factions. Isn’t it fair that he who lives by the factions dies by factions?

KR: Actually Laurie that is not true. I mean for example the AWU faction which Mr Swan belongs to vigorously and viciously campaigned against my elevation to the leadership in 2006. The SDA faction, known affectionately as the ‘shoppies’ did exactly the same. Other particular unions did exactly the same. I’ve just got to say, I mean the fact that I was able to emerge as leader at that time was because of broad-based support from many, many groups within the parliamentary party, and many individuals. But I've got to say, the factional hierarchy has never been pleased with me, and that's because I've consistently refused to bend a knee to them, because I regard my responsibility as ultimately to the broader party, and to the Australian people.

LO: As I said, though, it's senior ministers who are leading the charge against you, whereas on your part, it's Bruce Hawker, a lobbyist, who's out there every day leading your campaign. Isn't he the ultimate faceless man, the unelected faceless man?

KR: Well, can I say on that core accusation, Laurie, I would not regard Chris Bowen as a junior minister. I don't regard Anthony Albanese as a junior minister. I don't regard Martin Ferguson as a junior minister. I don't regard the former attorney-general, and still Cabinet minister, Robert McClelland, as a junior minister. Nor would I regard Kim Carr, the hero of Australian manufacturing, as some minor afterthought in the scheme of things. The truth is that there are different views within the Cabinet. I accept that and I respect that. Just as there are different views within the Caucus. But whatever happens on Monday, we respect the Caucus's views.

LO: But you're dodging the question about Bruce Hawker, aren't you?

KR: Not at all.

LO: Are you paying him?

KR: Of course not. That is an absurd accusation, Laurie. Can I just say, many of us in politics have longstanding friends, and remain loyal. I’ve been a friend of Bruce’s for twenty years, that’s the bottom line and the fact that you’ve got other friends and supporters of other people in politics who pop up from time to time that I presume is all par for the course. I think it is quite wrong to focus on Bruce. I think you would probably agree with me Laurie that Graham Richardson is not exactly a big, big supporter of mine. He seems to have been out there in support of others though, so let’s just be very, very clear about this.

LO: OK, but Bruce Hawker who was out there calling on the Prime Minister to resign, and stand aside on your behalf. I know that that annoyed people in Caucus, didn’t they tell you that that was a bad idea, it went over like a lead balloon?

KR: Look, when you're in the midst of a campaign for the leadership of the Parliamentary Labor Party, people are going to say a whole lot of things out there in the heat of a campaign, and I think there's a whole lot of things that have been said against yours truly which perhaps should not have been said. Of course the question arises as to why I'm running as a candidate for the leadership of the Labor Party at all right now. And the reason for that is that you had senior ministers, led by Minister Crean, who, day after day, week after week, launched public attacks on one of his parliamentary colleagues and ministerial colleagues - that's me - and in fact suggesting the resignation was an appropriate course of action and of course when the Prime Minister refused to repudiate Simon Crean when I was in the United States, the only honourable thing for me to do, Laurie, was to resign and I did so. And having resigned I took the further decision to challenge and the reason for doing that was so that this matter could be settled between now and the next election, which we have to face federally, and on top of that, for the benefit of Anna Bligh and the Queensland election as well.

LO: If you win tomorrow, it’s not going to happen I think, but if you were to win tomorrow, how could you then win an election given the way your reputation has been trashed by your colleagues, and as Martin Ferguson says, they Labor party itself has written the Liberals advertising scripts.

KR: Well Laurie can I just strongly suggest you might put that question to a couple of the ministerial colleagues. The onslaught of public attacks regrettably lead by Mr Swan and Minister Burke, and Minister Conroy, and Minister Crean, I think are virtually unprecedented in Australian political history. I think though in the full wash up of events what the Australian public will also conclude is that when leadership contests are on, whether they are in the Liberal Party or the Labor Party, a lot of things are said in the heat of those campaigns which are seen as being within the heat of those campaigns. We then dust ourselves off and get onto the core business of governing the country. If Julia is returned on Monday, then she will have my unequivocal support between now and the next election, because we have interests way beyond individuals here, and they are the millions of Australians who depend on us to form a Labor Government and to prevent Mr Abbott from inflicting on Australia the ravages of the most extreme right-wing government the country will have ever seen.

LO: You say that if you lose, Julia Gillard will have your support. But Paul Keating, of course, when he lost the first time 'round against Bob Hawke, said he only had one shot in the locker. Now he was telling porkies. Why should anyone believe that you won't have another go?

KR: I've been very explicit about what I've said, and I will adhere to what I have said. And the reason is we've got far bigger fish to fry here. It goes way beyond the individual standing of people like myself, or for that matter, Julia Gillard or anybody else. What I'd say, though, to other people within the parliamentary party, Laurie, is this - if Julia is returned, or if I'm elected, then I think it's time for various of the faceless men to lay down the cudgels. Because there is a fear, on the part of many, that other folk will line up and have a go at whoever the leader is who emerges from Monday, now be it myself or Julia. And I would be very concerned if that were to happen. We're 18 months out from an election. It's important that the party unify and have a clear message to the Australian people. Remember, I think one of the great contributions of Albo to the public debate yesterday, in his comments about what grieved him most about the current debate, was when you step back from it all, the things that unite us as a Labor party and a Labor movement are far, far greater from those that divide us. And you have a whole bunch of people out there in the community who often cannot speak for themselves who depend on us alone, the Australian Labor movement and the Australian Labor Party, the organised trade unions of this country, and the political party, which is the ALP, to lift their interests. Pensioners otherwise do not have a voice. The unemployed otherwise do not have a voice. Those suffering from disabilities do not otherwise have a voice. We have been, for more than 100 years, their proud voice, and I believe we must maintain ourselves in government credibly in order to make sure their interests are guaranteed in the future.

LO: You talk about putting down the cudgels, but it's pretty clear now that if you did become Prime Minister again tomorrow, half a dozen of the top ministers would not serve with you. They've said as much, including Health Minister Nicola Roxon. Now how do you put a Cabinet together when such prominent people would turn their backs on you?

KR: Well what I've learned from the Australian Labor Party, Laurie, is that there is a whole bunch of talented people there whose individual talents and collective talents rise above any individual, including yours truly, by the way. You mentioned just before, Nicola. One of the sad things about Nicola's intervention in this debate - and I've got a lot of time for her - is that just after the leadership coup in 2010, I remember Therese and I sitting in the airport lounge at Canberra Airport where Nicola made a point of coming up and saying the following to both of us, "You know, a lot of people have said that they couldn't work with Kevin - that's what they're saying now. That has never been my experience," said Nicola. "He always supported me through the health policy reforms." I think we need to take a bit of a wider view of some of the things which have been said, somewhat outrageously, in recent times. And I think everyone needs to step back, calm down, and listen carefully, I think, to what Labor's new elder statesman, Anthony Albanese, had to say yesterday.

LO: But Nicola Roxon has said that she has now found it impossible to work for you. She talked about your cynical approach, wanting a referendum to take over all health powers from the states even though you knew that would fail that referendum, and she said she never knew what you were going to say about health. Now, does that indicate that the accusations you ran a chaotic government were true?

KR: Let me go to the specific and then the general if that's OK. I've just said to you what Nicola said to Therese's face two days after the coup last time. And had never been anything which Nicola had ever raised with me. On the question specifically of a referendum on health and taking the matter to the people through plebiscite or referendum, can I ask that you have a very close look at what the health policy document released in both Nicola's name and my name had to say about that way back when? In fact, we canvassed there the possibility of a plebiscite. Can I just say, it's very important that people take a long, hard look at what underpins some of the more impassioned statements which have been said recently. On your general question, Laurie, about the Cabinet, as I've said, I think to you or to other journalists who've asked me about this recent times – the bottom line is this - we can always all do better. I'd be a mug if I didn't learn from the experiences of having served as Prime Minister of this country for going on three years. And I think our predecessors, for example, who have been Prime Minister and then come back or Liberal leaders and then come back - you know, Menzies, Howard, they've all learnt from these experiences and built on them. But on the question about what I got wrong, plainly, I think as Prime Minister of the country, you need to be focused on four or five core issues, and second, you need to delegate to the others, and I probably could have done that a whole lot better. In my defense I’d say at that time we were running two major, frankly, government challenges. One was to keep the economy afloat through the global financial crisis, which was a full-time job in itself, and virtually unprecedented in modern Labor history. The last government who had to confront that was the Scullin government in 1929. Then the second was newly elected Labor government had to implement all our pre-election commitments. It was a very tough time. But yes, could I have been more focused on core challenges facing the government, yes. Could I have delegated more? Yes. And could I have also made sure that for example I got a decent night's sleep in order to be fully charged up and energy levels running to handle the process of government better? Well of course. But these were very challenging times when my number one objective was to prevent this country going into recession and mass unemployment.

LO: But there was more than that involved. We now have quite a lot of allegations of you putting staff and advisors in the freezer, as it was put, because you didn't like their advice. You didn't talk to the head of your own government for the last few months of your government. Wayne Swan says you treated people in a demeaning way. I mean, it is quite clear from the way people are responding in the Caucus to the possibility of your return, that there's widespread dislike, almost loathing. How do you overcome that? How do you turn that perception around?

KR: Can I say, Laurie, there's a couple of elements to that. As I've just said before, I don't claim to have got all of these things right, and I've been through fairly clearly some of the things that I've got wrong. On a few of the facts that you've just gone through, I think you'll find the turnover in my own office as Prime Minister has probably been far less than it has been in Julia's office, or somewhat less anyway. But these are highly pressured jobs and people come and go quite rapidly. I've had virtually no turnover in my office as the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Very few people have left at all, even though it's an office where people often go on postings for the department. Speak to my secretary of my department now, Denis Richardson, about how I have interacted with the department and the senior executive - they're a fine professional bunch of people. But you know something - we all learn from past mistakes and I certainly could improve, but part of the business, Laurie, of actually binding this party and binding therefore the Government back together, is as follows - for folks like me to recognise what I've got wrong, pretty clearly, but also for other folks to recognise – you now - that they might have got a few things wrong as well. It takes two to tango with these things, and I think the underlying –

LO: Should it Cabinet have knocked on your door and said "Kevin, you're running a paralysed, chaotic government. You have got to do something about it or you're out"? Did any ministers say that to you?

KR: Well that is the core point, Laurie. I was doing my absolute best to run the country and to bring us through the global recession, totally focused on that. None of my colleagues in Cabinet meetings or privately, including Mr Swan, who is now most vocal in his opposition, ever said that to me. I had very long and direct conversations with Mr Swan in the lead-up to the events of the coup on the 23rd and 24th of June that year. And at no time - at no time - did he reflect to me that there was any fundamental concern or any significant problem that would cause me or require me to change course, do something radically different, in order to retain the position of Prime Minister. In fact, the only time I found out that Mr Swan had changed his position on this was when I rang him after the coup had been launched, where he said to me simply, "Oh. I'm backing change." That was it. No prior warning. No nothing.

LO: On that kind of subject, Maxine McKew, in an article in 'The Age' today - she is the former member, she says that Julia Gillard wanted to stop you having an emissions trading system and, in the end, that turned to a threat. Did Julia Gillard threaten you over that issue?

KR: Oh, look, I'm not going to go to the absolute specifics of that, Laurie. I don't think it's going to help the future of the Government all that much. I've been on the record already to say that she – that is Julia - and Wayne, argued very strongly, very strongly to me in multiple discussions way outside the Cabinet room, I've got to say, as to why we could not continue in the emissions trading scheme. They were very strong in their arguments, Julia particularly so, saying that she could not support the continuation of that policy. Now she advocated an alternative policy which she called the bipartisan solution, the bipartisan solution was along these lines that the government should wait until Mr Abbot returned to traditional Liberal Party policy of embracing a price on carbon through an emissions trading scheme. I wasn't prepared to accept that. These are the facts of what happened. The more important thing now is that we focus on the fact that we have a price on carbon and we need to see that transition to emissions trading scheme as early as possible. That has been made possible, by the way, by an election which delivered a new Senate.

LO: Time is getting away from us unfortunately. There are a couple of things I really need to cover quickly.

KR: Sure.

LO: Firstly, there are allegations in today's News Limited tabloids that at Adelaide Stag Hotel in February last year, in front of witnesses, you referred to the Prime Minister as a "childless, atheist ex-communist." True?

KR: That's not true, Laurie. On that particular occasion, which you somewhat evocatively describe as the Stag Hotel as if it's a place of ill repute - it's was the place...

LO: That’s it’s name.

KR: Hang on. You know what you're talking about here. It sounds as if it's a terrible place. It's the place in Adelaide where the Premier and his wife invite guests to review a parade for the Adelaide Fringe Festival. I was there with a guest of Mr and Mrs Rann, I was there with my media advisor, Dan Street, who used to work for you, mate. And they were with me the whole time. Neither of them, nor do I, have any recollection of having said anything of the sort. That is not my style. Other people have said that about the Prime Minister. I've made a point of not focusing on anyone's religious beliefs or otherwise. What other people may choose to reflect on in those conversations is a matter for them.

LO: Julia Gillard says she's pulled this ballot on because you were disloyal to her. Can I ask you - isn't it true that, during the ALP National Conference on the night of the Prime Minister's speech, you went to a bar and spoke to six or eight journalists mocking the Prime Minister's speech, including the phrase, the memorable phrase, "We are us"? You called it I think ‘the Toys 'R' Us speech’. Is that true, and was that disloyal?

KR: I think what you'll find Laurie on that occasion when I walked, I think along the concourse there not far from the Entertainment Centre, or the Convention Centre in Sydney, is that a whole bunch of your colleagues - journalists - waved at me and beckoned me over the table as I walked by. I think if they were to honestly reflect on what occurred that evening, it was not of that nature. A number of them - in fact, one of them said "We've just been talking about the 'We are Us' speech’, the ‘We are Us’ speech and then they were highly critical of it. Now I'm not going to say that I necessarily would have given the speech a huge, ringing endorsement, but can I just say that, as described - including other more colourful descriptions of that encounter with journalists - it's somewhat more complex than that, I've got to say. Can I add one thing to that, Laurie, given that you said our time is short - I've answered a lot of the charges which you've put to me this morning, and you're entirely right to ask me any question you like, but if I do not prevail tomorrow in this leadership ballot, what I already sense is the emergence of round two of a campaign. The process of character assassination of yours truly hopped into full gear straight after the coup of 2010 in order to retrospectively justify what occurred. I'm concerned that that will start again if I was to lose on Monday. I would be concerned that they would start running an argument up the public flag pole which says, "Well look, the only reason the Labor Party continues to do badly in the polls is because of Kevin Rudd." That's been a convenient excuse for 12 months, by the way. Or furthermore, that whatever the outcome in the Queensland election is because of Kevin Rudd. I think it's time people actually accepted responsibility for their own actions. By the way, I didn't draft that speech to the National Conference. I didn't go out there and make a promise to Andrew Wilkie. I didn't do a whole lot of those things which were done by others, but I seem to be blamed for the consequence fairly consistently. But to echo Albo's spirit yesterday - let me just finish this because you've rightly asked a whole series of questions which are out there in the public debate, but I want to conclude by echoing what Albo had to say yesterday - there's things bigger than all of us. If I get mown down by a bus tomorrow, then - political or physical - the bottom line is this - the party and the Government and the country is much bigger than me, because we're defending the interests and wellbeing of working people right across the country, and we've done so through history and we need to do so into the future. It's time for us to unite rather than to divide. And whatever the outcome tomorrow, and I'd say to all my supporters, we unite behind a Government because our key objective is to prevent all that we've achieved being shredded by Mr Abbott.

LO: Let me finish on this note. If, as you claim, the electorate won't vote for Julia Gillard, and if tomorrow demonstrates that the Caucus won't vote for you, hadn't Labor better find a third candidate pretty damn quickly?

KR: Well, I go back to what I said earlier in this interview, Laurie - I think this ballot is at a timing not of my choosing, at all. It was brought on because of sustained public political attacks by Minister Crean and others on me, which the Prime Minister did not repudiate, leaving me in a position where I had to resign. And one thing followed another from those dramatic events of several days ago. My view is very clear though. Having come to this, it should be resolved and the business of Government should return to normality. And I’d say to all others who are carrying leadership batons in their backpack, real or imagined, that it would then be time to unite behind the Prime Minister should I lose. Similarly, if the result goes the other way, I would expect the same unity as well - the country is bigger than the Australian Labor Party. The nation is bigger than the Australian Labor Party. And the people watching this program making sure their businesses have a bottom line, that they can pay the pay cheques tomorrow, employ people, find a hospital bed, or a school with decent facilities - they depend on us putting all this to bed.

LO: Mr Rudd, we're out of time. We thank you.

KR: Thanks very much, Laurie.

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