Transcript of interview, Australian Agenda
SUN 20 MARCH 2011
Subject(s): Republic; Libya; Middle East; Japan; Uranium; Foreign affairs; Carbon price; Bob Brown; The Greens; Euthanasia; Same-sex marriage; Christmas Island; New South Wales Labor campaign launch; Government advertising
HOST: And without further ado, we’re joined in the studio by the Prime Minister. Julia Gillard, thanks for your company.
PM: Good morning.
HOST: I want to come to Libya in a moment, but just very quickly, Prince William’s in town. Do you hope that by the time he’s King William that Australia’s become a republic?
PM: Well, I had the opportunity to meet Prince William in New Zealand at the memorial service that I attended on Friday. Now, he’s here spreading some comfort to victims of the Queensland floods, so that’s great to see.
I’m not sure when to predict Prince William as king. We’ve got a way to go – our current Queen, and then of course his father, Prince Charles.
Inevitably, we will continue to debate and work through when this nation wants to become a republic. It’s not a debate at the forefront of our national conversations at the moment, but I believe it will return, but I’m not going to make any date predictions on either the ascension to the throne of Prince William or the date of this nation becoming a republic.
HOST: Alright, going straight to Libya, though, the events are moving very quickly. Do you think that the UN Resolution entitles the forces, the coalition forces, to go on the ground in Libya and actually take ground troops in there?
PM: It’s very clear from the UN Security Council Resolution this is not about ground forces, but this is about a broad range of military actions to try and protect the Libyan people.
What is enlivening the action here is the responsibility to protect, and we’ve seen from every statement from Colonel Qaddafi that he intends to wreak more and more violence, more and more bloodshed in Libya, and so the international community has spoken and now is acting with what we’ve seen happening overnight. From Pentagon briefings, we know that cruise missiles are being used to take out defences being used by Colonel Qaddafi to try and stop this gross violence against the Libyan people.
HOST: But the UN Resolution talks about using all necessary measures. Does that rule out, as far as you’re concerned, taking further action beyond just military strikes, extending into forms of ground troops operations?
PM: I believe the Resolution has got breadth in terms of what the international community can do, but I believe the Security Council would meet and deliberate again if there was a question of ground forces. My understanding is that they are looking at options like the option we are seeing being used over night of using force – indeed, a great deal of force. We’re talking about more than 100 cruise missiles in order to limit Colonel Qaddafi’s ability to keep inflicting violence on his people.
HOST: The Australian Government’s taken a very firm position on this issue. The rhetoric from both yourself and the Foreign Minister is very strong. If further Security Council action is required, will Australia back that?
PM: Well, the Foreign Minister and I have been very clear that we wanted the Security Council to consider a no fly zone, to consider measures to try and protect the Libyan people, and they’ve done that.
The task now is to see how these measures work, so Paul, I’m not going to go beyond that today. We are seeing the commencement of military intervention. We are seeing the commencement of the world’s military response. We need to monitor that response and see what happens on the ground in Libya as a result.
What we obviously want to see is Colonel Qaddafi ceasing violence – not pretending to, as he has in the recent few days, where he’s pretended that he’s going to engage in a ceasefire and then actually engaged in violence. We want violence stopped.
HOST: Further afield in the Middle East, something that the Foreign Minister wasn’t as clear on was what the Government’s position was vis-a-vis the Saudi Arabians sending troops to Bahrain to support the royal family there in the face of democratic uprisings. What actually is the Australian Government’s position on that? Are you opposed, for example, to Saudi Arabia sending those troops?
PM: Well, around the world we support people’s peaceful right to make their voices heard, their peaceful right to protest. On events in Yemen and Bahrain, we are monitoring the situation very, very closely, and as we have things to say about the situation on the ground, then we will.
As the Foreign Minister has made clear a little bit earlier today, and he’s made clear in his various conversations with me, our focus, immediately, is on the military intervention that we are seeing in Libya, and we are all hoping that this actually does lead to an end to violence.
HOST: But this situation in Bahrain is a point of tension between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Surely the Australian Government has an attitude to the deployment of Saudi forces to protect the Bahrain Government? What is the Australian Government attitude?
PM: We have an attitude towards violence – we abhor violence around the world when it is used against people who are protesting peacefully, and we make that attitude clear in all sorts of circumstances around the world.
HOST: Prime Minister, staying overseas but moving to Japan, Paul Kelly in his editorial talked about some of the ramifications for Australia from what’s happened there, in particular the problems with the nuclear reactors. Is it fair to say that that has had an impact on your thinking about exporting uranium to India? That’s something the Government has opposed. We’ve seen a lot of pressure to try to turn around and do otherwise. Are you sticking to that now? Does this have any impact on that?
PM: What is happening in Japan doesn’t have any impact on my thinking about uranium exports from this country. We do export uranium, and we will continue to export uranium. Countries around the world will make their own choices about how they source their energy.
On uranium exports to India, we’ve had a long-standing policy of not exporting uranium because we’ve got a long-standing policy - which is not aimed at India – but a long-standing policy of not exporting uranium to countries that are not signatories to the non-proliferation treaty. So, not individually aimed at India, but does have the effect that we don’t export uranium to India.
My focus on Japan has not been on those questions. It’s been on the humanitarian circumstance of the Japanese people. It’s been on the work of our consular staff there to help Australians and to identify the number of missing Australians, and I do want to take this opportunity to just say our ambassador and his team have, in my view, worked miracles over the last few days, shown a great deal of fortitude and bravery in very difficult circumstances, and the Australian people should be thanking them for those continuing efforts.
HOST: There’s a lot of international issues in the press at the moment. You once said that foreign affairs wasn’t a passion of yours. Is that fast changing?
PM: Well, I was making a very simple statement about what brings people into politics, and people come into public life from a variety of walkways and for a variety of reasons. The thing that first got me active, the first reason I ever wrote a leaflet, went to a protest, thought about a government decision and sought to change was in the area of education.
I’ve always believed, across my life, that a fair distribution of opportunity, that making sure people from the most humble of circumstances can get a great education and consequently access to a great life is a great moral force and it drives me. It drove me all those years ago when I was a university student; it’s driving me the best part of 30 years later. That was my point.
HOST: But just on this issue, as Prime Minister, do you want to leave your mark on foreign policy, and if so, where?
PM: Well, every Prime Minister leaves some mark on foreign policy, and I believe I will, as Prime Minister, be able to lead this nation’s engagement in the East Asia Summit, which is becoming a much more important part of the way our region comes together and we talk about not just economic questions, but strategic questions and military questions. This is a very important emerging architecture, and I will play a role in that.
HOST: Do you think you’ll ever have a passion for foreign affairs?
PM: Well, I am highly engaged in foreign affairs, and really, I think, Paul, if I can make a point – a lot of this has been overanalysed in a way I think is a little bit melodramatic and bordering on the silly.
I’m sure if I said to you ‘what is the thing you most like doing in your working life/’, you might say ‘well, I most like writing the books, that’s what get’s my creative juices going.’ It would not be fair to then say ‘oh, does that mean you hate appearing here on Sky?’ I mean this is a bit of a nonsense continuum.
HOST: Prime Minister, that’s a positive, whereas you were talking about a negative. You said it’s not a passion. You didn’t simply say ‘education is the passion.’ You said ‘foreign affairs is not a passion.’
PM: This all came from a discussion when I was first overseas at the Asia-Europe meeting about the things that most enliven me and I talked about being in classrooms and I talked about my passion for education. I’m making the very simple point that the fact that it was education that got me into public life, the fact that I drive myself and drive my Government to make sure that we can truly say to each other as a nation we’re extending every Australian child the opportunity of a great education and a great life should not be taken to mean that somehow I’m not engaged and enthusiastic in being a feisty voice for this country on the world stage. I am and I will be. You will see me doing that.
HOST: Just switch to climate change, Ross Garnaut has said that the revenue from pricing carbon, the carbon tax, should be used for substantial tax reform off the back of the Henry review. Are you attracted by that idea?
PM: Certainly, tax cuts is a live option. We’ve got to remember, what’s the purpose here? The purpose is to tax businesses that are creating carbon pollution. At the moment they can put that in the atmosphere for free. We will put a price on it.
It will affect less than 1,000 businesses. They are big polluters, and in relation to that price they will then innovate and respond. They’ll try and reduce the bill their business has to pay. That’s what businesses do every day – seek to reduce their costs and increase their profits.
So, they will respond to the price by innovating and finding ways of doing things that create less carbon pollution.
I’ve always said yes, there will be some price impacts, and we will provide generous assistance to households. Tax cuts are a live option.
We’ve also got to look at-
HOST: -But what about tax reform? It’s one thing to say tax cuts are a live option in the sense of compensating households, but tax reform is qualitatively different. It would be designed a different way. Garnaut’s talking about the interaction of the tax system and welfare to encourage the welfare-to-work transition. Are you interested in that sort of tax reform?
PM: Look, I’ve already said, Paul, separately to the carbon pricing debate, that I believe we need to do more to encourage workforce participation, particularly in this point of our economic development as a country, when we’ve got the benefits of the resources boom. So, the Government is already working on workforce participation measures-
HOST: -But surely this is the opportunity. Look at all the revenue.
PM: Paul, if I can go through it a step at a time, we are already working on workforce participation measures. I’m on the public record as saying I believe in the benefits and dignity of work. I do not believe, if people have the capacity to work, that they should be in some sort of corrosive, aimless life. So, that is already driving me on the Government’s policy agenda.
When it comes to pricing carbon, we want to get assistance to households. Of course, as we get assistance to households we will be looking at doing that in the best possible way for the economy, for communities, and for individuals.
We do need to remember not everybody who is going to be in need of assistance is in the workforce. We’ve got around 4 million pensioners, so we are talking about a balance here across the tax and transfer payment system.
HOST: But do you see advantages for the Government in tying the climate change reform to tax reform?
PM: Well, I see advantages in making sure people can work do work. I see advantages in making sure that we use-
HOST: -You’re still dodging the question.
PM: Well, Paul, you would expect the Government is working on these questions. We’ve been working on them for some time.
Let’s remind ourselves what’s happening here. We are determined to price carbon. We’ve announced the mechanism. We’ve said that we would use the money raised from pricing carbon pollution to assist households, business, and for programs to tackle climate change.
Of course the Government is working on the best way of assisting households.
You’re asking me what drives me, what do I think about when we are looking at policy measures like this one?
Well, I’ve made it clear I’m pro-work. I’ve made that clear across my political life.
I’m also making clear we will design that assistance with the needs of the economy, communities and households in mind.
HOST: Prime Minister, the whole point of pricing carbon is to have a price impact, isn’t it, on people, so that they stop using carbon-intensive products and therefore it has a real impact on climate change. If you’re going to give it all back to people one way or the other, then how is that price impact actually going to achieve climate change action?
PM: I’m glad you’ve asked that question, because I think there is some lack of understanding here and I can understand that people say, ‘well, polluters are paying and then households are getting generous assistance, how does this work to give a price signal to change behaviour?’
Well, firstly, in the businesses there is a clear price signal to change behaviour. They used to do something for free and now they’re paying for it. Any rational business person will think to him or herself ‘how can I reduce that carbon pollution bill?’, and they’ll innovate. So, that’s important.
In the consumer end, where there will be some price impacts, people will be standing there in the supermarket with the household assistance in their hand. As a result of pricing carbon pollution, some products will be relatively more expensive. Products that have less embedded carbon pollution will be relatively cheaper. Now, people can go in and keep on buying the same old products, or they can respond to those price signals, buy the things that are relatively cheaper with less carbon pollution in them and send a signal back to business ‘you know what, consumers like to buy things with less carbon pollution in them’, and businesses will respond to that price signal, too.
HOST: And assuming that that all works, there’s then the issue of what will all this actually achieve? If the argument that Australia’s emissions are only about 1.5 per cent of global emissions, and the 2020 aim is to reduce our emissions by 5 per cent. Now I’m not sure what 5 per cent of 1.5 per cent is, but I’m sure it’s not a lot. What’s the point of this whole thing? That’s what a lot of people are asking.
PM: Well, the point of this whole thing is to say to ourselves the truth, which is we are big emitters of carbon pollution by world standards. Per capita, per head of population, we are the biggest emitters of carbon pollution in the developed world.
HOST: That’s true, but we’re a small a country in terms of population.
PM: But the rest of the world is moving. Many countries are moving to make their economies clean-energy economies. Look at what President Obama set – a very ambitious goal, about 80 per cent of electricity coming from clean energy sources.
China is changing. India is changing. Economies around the world are looking and making their economies cleaner.
Now, the choice for us is, do we just sit with our high carbon pollution economy, the rest of the world moves, we’ve got an economy that is behind the pace because it’s still a high-pollution economy, and then do we say to ourselves in some unseemly scramble ‘gee, we’ve got to quickly catch up’, with all of the disruption that that would mean for our economy, or do we say to ourselves the rational thing – the world is moving. We need to move, too. Let’s get started now and let’s get that clean energy economy we need for the future.
We want to cut carbon pollution for the environment. I want to cut carbon pollution so we’ve got economic prosperity and the jobs of the future. I don’t want this country left behind.
HOST: If you want to cut carbon pollution, petrol is a critical area. The Greens want the price of petrol increased at the bowser. What’s your view?
PM: Well, we are obviously concerned about impacts for families. We’ve said all along I understand that families are struggling with cost of living pressures. That’s why, as a Government, we do things like we’ve provided tax cuts for three years. We provide the Education Tax Rebate to help with the kids and the cost of getting the kids to school. We provide relief for childcare, and the list goes on.
HOST: So you’ll do a deal on petrol?
PM: I understand that there are cost of living issues, and I understand the price of petrol is something that people do worry about, because many people, with our current public transport system, don’t really have that much alternative to jumping in the car.
In those circumstances, we will work through and make some decisions about petrol.
HOST: Will you offset petrol, given the raw concern about families and household pressures?
PM: Well, you’d be aware, Paul, that in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme design that we did have a mechanism for offsetting-
HOST: -That’s what I’m asking.
PM: Those decisions haven’t been taken yet, but I am indicating to you a very clear concern about cost of living pressures for families, including those arising from petrol prices.
HOST: Prime Minister, I wanted to put a quote to you and see if you agree with it. “Bob Brown is pretty much the most calculating politician in Canberra. He’s not an archangel of moral force. He’s a bloke who wakes up every day and days ‘how can I chisel a bit of political advantage today?’”
Do you agree with those words?
PM: That’s a good quote. It’s mine.
HOST: But do you still agree with it? You said it in 2005. Now you’re in alliance with Bob Brown. Do you still think that he’s somebody who’s pretty much the most calculating politician in Canberra?
PM: I think Bob Brown’s a very smart politician, and he’s a calculating politician and he’s basically created a political party in his own image where that political party didn’t used to exit on the stage. If we go back 20 or 30 years, when I was in university there were no Australian Greens. There were plenty of protest parties, but there weren’t the Australian Greens as we know them now.
HOST: This was in 2005, and you’re-
PM: -I’m not in any way resiling from one word in that statement - not one word. What that means is if we look at the Australian political spectrum, and I would have said this any day I was in politics – I know there’s some commentary to suggest I’ve only recently discovered a difference between the Labor Party and the Greens, what a load of old cobblers – any day I’ve been in politics, any day I’ve had an interest in politics, which is across my adult life, I would have said the Labor Party is a party of government. We’re a party of getting the balance right. We’re a party of reform. That’s what we seek to do.
To our right, we have the Liberal Party. In the modern age, climate change deniers and in denial about the power of markets.
To our left, we have the Greens, who do not have an economic philosophy about reform or about growth.
We drive mainstream change. That will play out in the climate change debate. Look at the CPRS. That didn’t go through the parliament because the Coalition under Tony Abbott didn’t care about climate change and because the Greens didn’t sufficiently care about jobs.
We were there in the mainstream. We’ll continue to drive the change this country needs for its future. That’s Labor heritage, Labor tradition. That’s how I govern as a Labor Prime Minister.
HOST: OK, you’ve talked about a Labor heritage and Labor tradition. How significant then are the overall policy differences between Labor and the Greens? I ask because some of your colleagues, in private, are concerned that it looks as though Labor is following the Greens.
PM: Well, what area did you want to talk about, Paul, and I’ll calibrate the differences.
HOST: How significant are the difference s between Labor and the Greens, Prime Minister?
PM: Well, highly, a great deal of difference.
PM: There are some areas we agree on and some we sharply disagree on. The plans for the economy, we tend to sharply disagree.
In my own portfolio of education when I was deputy prime minister I had some epic struggles with the Greens. I wanted parents to have information about schools through My School; they didn’t. Around the country, including here in New South Wales, they were always passing resolutions in the parliament, helped by Mr O’Farrell, interestingly, to try and stop parents having that information.
But let’s go through any area you choose to name: health, there’s a difference; education, there’s a difference; the economy, there’s a difference; foreign affairs, there’s a difference – do we want to keep going? – agriculture, there’s a difference; mandatory detention, there’s a difference.
HOST: (inaudible) if we can just go to another of Bob Brown’s initiatives, he told us last week on this program that he will press ahead with his euthanasia bill to over-ride the effect of the Andrews bill in relation to the Territories, allowing them to legislate for euthanasia. What’s your personal view on euthanasia?
PM: Well, personally I can understand that people in the end stage of life may want that choice, but I have never been able to satisfy myself that the policy proposals that are advocated for by pro-euthanasia advocates have sufficient safeguards in them. I’ve always been concerned that this would open a door that would lead, ultimately, not to people having choices, but open the door to exploitation and perhaps callousness towards people in the end stage of life. That’s my concern.
HOST: Can I ask you about another issue – gay marriage. It strikes me that it’s an odd position, from my perspective, for you as Australia’s first female prime minister, in a de facto relationship, an open atheist, you’ve had gay people on your staff, you’re the leader of a progressive political party. I understand that you’ve said that you believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that’s why you’re not pro-gay marriage. My question is why? Why do you believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman?
PM: Well, Peter, I’m glad you find me an interesting mix. You wouldn’t want boring politicians, would you?
HOST: Definitely not.
PM: Definitely not.
For all of that analysis from you, I do find myself on the conservative side in this question, and I find myself on the conservative side because of the way our society is and how we got here.
I think that there are some important things from our past that need to continue to be part of our present and part of our future.
HOST: Is that for you personally, Prime Minister, or is that because as the leader of the nation you think that that’s where a lot of people are and you want to reflect those views?
PM: It’s for me. If I was in a different walk of life, if I’d continued in the law and was partner of a law firm now I would express the same view, that I think for our culture, for our heritage, the Marriage Act and marriage being between a mad and a woman has a special status.
Now, I know people might look at me and think that’s something that they wouldn’t necessarily expect me to say, but that is what I believe, and you know, I’m on the record as saying things like I think it’s important for people to understand their Bible stories, not because I’m an advocate of religion – clearly, I’m not – but once again, what comes from the Bible has formed such an important part of our culture. It’s impossible to understand Western literature without having that key of understanding the Bible stories and how Western literature builds on them and reflects them and deconstructs them and brings them back together.
HOST: You sound a traditionalist. You sound very much a traditionalist, talking now. A cultural traditionalist.
PM: Well, I think in many ways that’s right, Paul. I had a pro-union, pro-Labor upbringing in a quite conservative family, in the sense of personal values. I mean, we believed in lots of things that are old-fashioned in the modern age. We believed in politeness and thrift and fortitude and doing duty and discipline. These are things that were part of my upbringing. They’re part of who I am today.
HOST: OK, I think we need to ask you about Christmas Island. We’ve seen in recent days more than 200 detainees confront AFP with improvised weapons, engage in property destruction. What’s your response as Prime Minister to this activity?
PM: Well, violence is wrong. Violence is wrong whether it’s happening on Christmas Island or whether it was happening on the streets of Sydney last night, on Saturday night.
Violence is wrong, and my message to anybody on Christmas Island would be that they cannot and will not profit from this violence. Indeed, there is a direct detriment to them.
First direct detriment is processing of claims cannot happen in circumstances of instability in the detention centre. Immigration staff cannot go about the proper work that they need to do to process claims, so if their complaint is that they want to see claims processed, well, violence slows that down.
And then, of course, second, as the Minister has made clear, the Minister does have a discretion when it comes to giving visas to take into account character questions.
HOST: But are you prepared to have such people accepted into this country as refugees?
PM: That comes to the Minister’s discretion on character questions.
HOST: But what’s your view on that? You must have a view, as Prime Minister?
PM: Well, I have an understanding of the legal backdrop, Paul, and the legal backdrop is that the Minister has to exercise this discretion about character-
HOST: -But your his boss. You can tell him what to do.
PM: Well, that’s a misunderstanding of the Migration Act and a misunderstanding of the way in which decisions need to be made in individual cases.
He will look at individual cases and exercise his discretion, which of course there’s a whole legal backdrop here about character questions.
HOST: But what does that mean? Does that mean, in fact, that people who engage in violence, on character grounds will not be deemed to be refugees?
PM: If I had a representative here from the Attorney-General’s Department, Paul, the one thing they would say to me is don’t make sweeping generalisations about the use of a discretion in individual cases.
HOST: (inaudible) I think the Australian public would like to know, given the magnitude of this incident, I think the Australian public would like to know what your view is in terms of the refugee claims of these people?
PM: Well, I’ve just made my view very clear – violence is wrong, and people will not profit from it. Indeed, there is things that can happen to people to their great cost if they engage in violence.
HOST: Prime Minister, you’ve been very generous with your time. I’ve just got two very quick questions before we let you go.
I know you have to run to the New South Wales Labor launch, which is why I’ve got to be quick. Why was it only yesterday morning that it was confirmed that you were going to be attending the New South Wales Labor launch? My understanding that that was the point that that happened. Was that because Kristina Keneally didn’t want you there, or was that because you didn’t want to go there, or was there another factor?
PM: Oh, look, as soon as we were asked we said yes. I mean, as you would imagine, Kristina’s been making the arrangements for her launch. I’ve always said if you want me there, I’ll be there. How they want to do the launch is a matter for the New South Wales ALP.
HOST: Took them a long time, though.
PM: Well, look, I don’t know how much you’ve been involved in political campaigning, but let me assure you you necessarily make arrangements, you know, often you’re making the final decisions about how you want things to go quite late. Campaigning requires fortitude, which Kristina’s showing. It also requires flexibility. I’ve always been happy to come to the launch if New South Wales ALP wanted me at the launch. It depends, obviously, on the style of launch they want.
As it is, I’m going, and I’m looking forward to it.
HOST: OK, and one very quick, final question - is it the case that next month an advertising campaign, a Government, taxpayer-funded advertising campaign is to be started up on climate change and on the carbon tax, and is it also that case that you’ve commissioned an ad agency already to run and organise that?
PM: Well, a final decision hasn’t been taken about an advertising campaign, but I’m going to say what I’ve said on this before. I think it is proper, if you are bringing in a big change which will impact on Australians, to get information to them about it.
If I was contemplating a big change to Medicare, then I would think it’s appropriate to get information to people about that. Pricing carbon will be a big change. It will change the way our economy works. Households, individuals, will want to know how this all happens and what it means for them.
It’s appropriate to get information to people, and really, when we’ve got Tony Abbott, climate change denial, out there stoking a fear campaign, and then he says gee, he’s anti government advertising, having revelled in the biggest advertising campaign the nation’s ever seen on Work Choices, I’m not going to listen to too much of that.
HOST: You’re going to get an argument from me on that front, either. Prime Minister, you’ve been very generous with your time. I appreciate you coming here on Australian Agenda.
PM: Thank you.