Transcript of press conference, Canberra
MON 27 FEBRUARY 2012
Subject(s): Australian Labor Party
PM: Thank you. I have today received the overwhelming endorsement of my Labor colleagues to continue as Labor Leader and as Prime Minister. I thank them for their support and their faith in my capacity to lead the nation.
The last week has seen us, the women and men of the Labor Party focused inwards, focused on ourselves. At times it's been ugly. I understand that.
I also understand that as a result, Australians have had a gutful of seeing us focus on ourselves. I understand the frustration of Australians in seeing us do that.
So today I want to say to Australians one and all: this issue, the leadership question, is now determined. You, the Australian people, rightly expect government to focus you, for you to be at the centre of everything that government does.
I can assure you that this political drama is over and now you are back at centre stage where you should properly be and you will be the focus of all of our efforts.
In all of the things that have happened over the last few days, I have had the opportunity to explain the circumstances of 2010 and how I became Prime Minister. I accept that I should have explained that at the time.
I have now had the opportunity to do so, but having taken that opportunity, I believe the discussions about 2010 should now be at an end, our focus is on 2012 and all the years that lie beyond for the Australian nation.
I understand many people, many Australians, will have their doubts that after this fight Labor can come together and pull together in a united way. To any who have those doubts, I say this: we have come together before and we will do so now. We will move forward as a united team. I'm absolutely confident of that, because at the end of the day, as Labor people, we are driven by a common purpose.
A common purpose and a common set of values, a common belief in what we want for Australia's future as a stronger and fairer nation, we will unite and focus on that, our Labor vision.
I want to say three things about today and the days that lie beyond.
Firstly, to Kevin Rudd, this is a difficult and disappointing day for him and his family. A very tough day indeed. I want to say to Kevin Rudd for the days that lie beyond, as a nation, as a Labor Party, we must honour his many achievements as Prime Minister.
Kevin Rudd led this nation through the global financial crisis. He delivered the Apology to the Stolen Generations. He's been an amazing advocate of Australia's interest on the world stage, and he has made so many other remarkable achievements besides that.
We honour those achievements, as a nation, as a Labor Party, as a Labor movement, without reservation. In the days that lie ahead, you will see us do that.
As for now Dr Emerson will act as Minister for Foreign Affairs and at the appropriate time I will appoint a minister to fill that vacancy.
Second, about today and the future - many Australians will have read a lot of commentary about opinion polls during this period of time.
I actually believe deep down in their souls Australians don't look at politicians and think we can't read opinion polls. When they look at politicians actually the doubts that they have is that we are in it for a purpose. That we are in it with some courage to get behind a purpose that we believe is right.
I believe my Labor colleagues have demonstrated today that we have that courage, that we have that sense of purpose, and that we are prepared to drive behind that sense of purpose.
Now that doesn't mean that holding the community opinion with you and winning elections isn't important. Of course, holding community opinion and winning elections is important. It's important to the future of our country.
So through this process I can say I have learned some things. As I said last Thursday, I know I have made some mistakes about how I have been an advocate for our policies and programs, our Labor vision in the community.
I intend to be a stronger and more forceful advocate of what we are doing and what we are achieving for the Australian people.
Finally that brings me to the question of the next election. I absolutely believe that united we can win the next election and I am very determined that in the 2013 election we do so.
I will take Labor to that election and I am confident that we can win that election, which will be about competing visions for the future, our Labor vision of a stronger and fairer nation, a modern economy with opportunities, our vision of the nation as having great quality schools and good health care, our vision of the future of the nation, including things like a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
We will put that case to the Australian people in 2013 and I am very confident we will win through.
On occasions like this, people often ask you how you feel. Well I can tell you how I feel today, I feel impatient. Impatient because I want to get on with the job of building this country's future. Impatient with getting on with the work that we need to do so that in the future Australians have the benefit of jobs, their kids have the benefit of great quality schools, they’ve got a health care system they can rely on.
We understand the opportunities coming our nation's way as our global economy changes, our regional economy changes, and our own economy changes.
And as we build great new vehicles of fairness, like a National Disability Insurance Scheme. I'm impatient to get on with that work. I will be getting on with that work today. We haven't got day to lose.
I'm happy to take questions. Matthew.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd in his appeal to colleagues made comments about a few policy areas. He talked about small business, he talked about carbon tax moving to a floating price quickly. He spoke about small business.
You won but do you take on board any of his concerns in that area and is it likely to cause any amendments, changes or discussions within your party about your policy?
PM: Carbon pricing, the legislation that's gone through the Parliament will be delivered in full as it's gone through the Parliament.
I am absolutely convinced that the legislation is right, that starting carbon pricing on 1 July this year at a $23 a price per tonne, with all of the money going to families that we have decided should go to families is the right way of our nation seizing a clean energy future.
On engaging with small business, I always believe that we can do more to engage with people who have taken the risk, started their own business, and with Australians who are working people now, but actually see that as a vision for see for their future and so focusing on small business is very important to what we will do in the future.
JOURNALIST: Is there any chance that you will offer Kevin Rudd his old job back as Foreign Minister and what of the other five ministers who backed Kevin Rudd? Will they be returned to their positions?
PM: I think Kevin Rudd today has made it very clear what his vision of his future is as the Member for Griffith. On the question of a reshuffle and filling the vacancy now arising in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, I will make the decisions to do that in coming days.
JOURNALIST: Just on that point are you able - you talked about unity, are you able to guarantee that no existing minister, regardless of who they voted for, if they want to stay in the ministry can stay in the ministry?
PM: As I said during the past few days, my focus will be on having a team based on merit and the ability to take the fight up on behalf of Labor to our conservative opponents.
That's how I will make the selections. Let me be very clear with you about this - I understand that today you will probably ask a million questions in a million different formats about how I will deal with the reshuffle. I'm not answering any of them.
I will announce the reshuffle when I choose to do so.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you said that you should have explained your reasoning back in 2010. For the record, can you say why you didn’t do that? Was there anything else that you did wrong back in 2010 (inaudible)?
PM: Back in 2010 I took the view that I didn't want to, in terms of respect for Kevin Rudd and the Government's achievements, canvass those matters publicly. I now realise that that was an error and it made it very difficult for the Australian public to understand what had happened.
Having canvassed it in recent days it's not my intention to continuously do so.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you’ve said that your (inaudible). It is clear Labor has not been united since late 2009, what is going to change in people’s confidence that you can now deliver (inaudible)?
PM: Well, you’ve seen my determination today, you’ve seen Kevin Rudd’s determination too, and I think you will see the determination of my Labor colleagues on display. We have had fights in the past as a political party, as have our conservative opponents had fights in the past. We have shown after them the ability to come together because at the end of the day the bonds between us in the Labor cause are stronger and more dominant than anything else.
PM: Impatience is what I feel, I’m restless to get on with it.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) kindly about Kevin Rudd today, and about his legacy as Prime Minister, why has it been so difficult to say that in the past (inaudible)?
PM: I have said in the past about Kevin Rudd’s considerable achievements as Prime Minister. I’ve talked in the past about his absolute focus on Australian jobs and getting Australia through the Global Financial Crisis. I certainly in the past have spoken about what a privilege it was to sit in the parliament the day he delivered the Apology to the Stolen Generations. Over the last few days of course there’s been a fast and furious debate, and as I’ve said it has at some times been ugly. As we go from this day into the days that follow, as I said to my Labor colleagues in caucus today, we will do that honouring Kevin Rudd as a former Prime Minister and for us, Labor people, more importantly than anything else, as a former Labor Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minster, the estimates of the vote for Kevin Rudd a week ago was that he had about a third of the caucus in the meantime you had this image of the Labor party outwardly trashing each other publicly which will no doubt feed into the Liberal party’s advertising campaign. Did the (inaudible) achieve, and was it worthwhile doing?
PM: Laura I’m surprised at your question, because I would have thought you read more newspapers than I do, you probably have a bit more time. But I’ve seen estimates in newspapers from Kevin Rudd was very likely to win, Kevin Rudd was going to be supported by half the cabinet, Kevin Rudd was going to get 45 votes and so on and so on and so on.
Estimates here, estimates there, lists here, lists there. What we now know is the truth. Obviously my caucus colleagues have overwhelmingly endorsed me to continue to be Labor leader and Prime Minister. I asked them to give me that endorsement because of my strength and capacity and ability to do this job. I asked them to give me that endorsement so that we stay the course we pursue the purpose that I have outlined for this government and this parliament when I became Prime Minister and certainly in the days after the formation of minority government. It’s not easy for my caucus colleagues to give that endorsement in circumstances where everybody who likes to read the tea leaves of opinion polls is telling them to do something else. They’ve done that because of their sense of passion about the Labor purpose I have outlined for the future.
JOURNALIST: Kevin Rudd told the country you can’t beat Tony Abbott, at least one of your frontbenchers has come out and said you can’t beat Tony Abbott. The polls would suggest you can’t beat Tony Abbott. You said you’ve learned a lesson, what are you going to do differently, what can you do to beat Tony Abbott?
PM: Well Fran, I can and I will. And the important thing – everybody votes in 2013 and let’s remember the next election is some 18 months away, when everybody votes in 2013. They will be voting for what kind of nation they want Australia to be. What sort of future they want us to have, and the choice will be absolutely clear.
Do they want us to be a nation that share the proceeds of the mining boom, or to put that in the hands of a few? Do they want us to be a nation that gets up and seizes the opportunities – the amazing opportunities coming our way out of the changes in our region, or do they want us to stand still? Do they want us to be a nation that is building more ways of giving people fairness, and a fair go in life? We built Medicare, the next big challenge is to build the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Do they want to see that? Do they want to see us build the economy we will need for the future? To all of that, Tony Abbott will say no, no, no, no, no. (Inaudible) people can choose.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister a lot of Aboriginal people (inaudible) love Kevin Rudd because of the apology, do you fear that there will be some sort of backlash with the Aboriginal people in Queensland at the next election because of today's decision?
PM: No I don’t. As a government we are very focused on our Closing the Gap strategy, certainly commenced by Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. Commenced as he gave the Apology to the Stolen Generations, being a set of policies and plans to make a measurable difference for Indigenous Australians in their lives, and we are pursuing those policies and plans with absolute determination.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve talk about honouring Mr Rudd’s record in government, but for the last five days your senior Ministers including the Deputy Prime Minister have been out there trashing the record. What role did you have (inaudible) quite deliberate strategy?
PM: I’ve spoken the truth about my perspective in 2010 and the circumstances of the government then. I think it was a truth that needed to be told. I do regret not telling it in 2010, I think it made it harder for Australians to understand why the prime ministership had changed. But it’s not my intention to dwell on the circumstances of 2010 either, I’m about getting done today what we need to do for this country’s future and that will be my focus.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, during this last week you constantly talked about disabilities. Are you going to therefore commit to the National Insurance Disability Scheme and how would you fund it?
PM: Well Latika, you will have to wait on that very pressing policy question. But of course, we are very committed to building a National Disability Insurance Scheme and we are not underestimating the complexity of doing that.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, given that in his speech he thanked the Australian public for their support for him and his family in their journey through public life so far. Are you worried he will spend the next couple of months chipping away at those 31 votes that he’s got and there will be another challenge?
PM: I think anybody who's watched Kevin Rudd's statement to the media today could see the honestly, the candour, the way that he’s approached that press conference, they could see what he said and I absolutely accept it.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister have you spoken privately to Mr Rudd today or do you intend to?
PM: We shook hands in the caucus room and spoke very briefly then.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Mr Rudd hasn’t renounced as you asked him to all future leadership ambitions, he’s only said that he won’t challenge you a second time. Doesn't that mean that his presence as the Member for Griffith into the future is still sitting on the back bench as a reminder he may come forth again?
PM: I don’t think it’s fair for to you to reinterpret Kevin Rudd's words. What he has just said is that I will have his strong support to take our party forward, take this government into an election in 2013 and to fight that election and win. That is what Kevin Rudd has said today.
JOURNALIST: It would be fair to say that the carbon tax has been one of the more difficult policies for your government to sell. This week Kevin Rudd revealed it was you and Wayne Swan that asked him to shelve the CPRS. When did you change your mind and not want to wait for a bipartisan solution, and aren't you a hypocrite moving forward with this now?
PM: I've answered this question many times in recent days, and I don’t think having watched what I achieved in the Australian parliament in the most difficult of circumstances last year to put a price on carbon, when I did that against community opposition around the country, rallies around the country carrying some of the most pointed slogans that have ever been put on a sign against a Prime Minister. When I fronted all of that out, when I fronted in shopping centres where occasionally people would get in my face and get in my space to give me a free character assessment about it, when I’ve done all of that, how can anyone seriously doubt by commitment to this policy? I got it done.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, since the ballot what contact if any have you had with the independents or crossbenchers and what’s been your message to them.
PM: None since the ballot.
JOURNALIST: Your behaviour over the last few days – you actually (inaudible) received a lot more direct, a lot more honest and even in some circumstances a little bit angry. Do you think you might change the way you approach political (inaudible) in the future?
PM: Well I intend to be a very forceful advocate of the government’s policies, so settle in.
Any other questions?