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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 15764

Joint Press Conference with Julia Gillard, Deputy Prime Minister, Hume, ACT

Photo of Rudd, Kevin

Rudd, Kevin

Period of Service: 03/12/2007 to 24/06/2010

More information about Rudd, Kevin on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 18/02/2008

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 15764

PM: Julia and I - the Deputy Prime Minister and I are here today to talk about Workchoices. In Parliament we have introduced legislation to get rid of Workchoices and to get rid of AWAs.

What we have seen from the Liberal Party is their determination in the Senate to slow down, retard and in fact, get in the way of the elimination of Workchoices and AWAs despite the fact that we have a clear cut pre election mandate to do so.

But it is not just their activity in the Senate, to block our legislation or to delay it, by putting off to a Senate committee, it goes beyond that. Today we have had a spokesman from the Liberal Party, going out there publicly proclaiming still the virtues of AWAs.

The Liberal Party seems to have lost touch completely with the Australian community. If there was one thing upon which the last election was a referendum, it was the future of Workchoices and AWAs.

The Australian people have spoken. It's just that the Liberal Party is not listening. And then the granddaddy of them all, today, we have the former minister for employment and workplace relations, Mr Hockey, going out and saying - hold the phone - Cabinet Ministers weren't aware of the fact that Workchoices could possibly lead to a reduction in working family's wages and conditions. It was only after he became a minister that these things became clear.

Well, this wholesale rewriting of the Liberal Party's history on Industrial Relations, on Workchoices and on AWAs, is simply laughable.

We know precisely why the Liberal Party took this position on industrial relations and that's because in their history, they have supported the most extreme approach to industrial relations possible.

We saw that in Workchoices. We saw that in the way in which it dispensed with the independent umpire. We saw that also, in the way in which they have handled the overall conditions enjoyed by working families.

In Parliament, we have had the opposition again active on this question. The Liberal Party, in government, did it's best to make sure that the Australian people had to endure Workchoices.

The Liberal Party now in opposition in the Senate is trying to delay the continuation of Workchoices and it's application to working families across the country.

When it comes to what is happening behind us here today, which is the final pulping of this extraordinary remnant of $122 million worth of taxpayer funded advertising, all to promote the virtues of Workchoices.

What we see behind us today, is clear and living evidence of the Liberal Party, and the Liberal Government's sense of priories. $122 million worth of taxpayer funded advertising, this lot behind us worth a couple of million dollars. Several million already pulped starting just prior to the election and this is another half a million copies being pulped now.

That's where the Liberal Party's priorities lie, preserving Workchoices, preserving AWAs, doing it in the Parliament through their spokesman outside the parliament today and through their continued efforts to frustrate our legislation to get rid of this extreme piece of industrial relations legislation. Over to you Julia.

DPM: Thank you very much. Thank you. As the Prime Minister says, today we are here to see the destruction of the remaining Workchoices propaganda.

When the Howard Government decided to implement Workchoices, it knew it was going to be bad for working families. It knew that it could strip wages and conditions away.

The former minister for employment and workplace relations is now trying to get away with some fiction that the Government didn't know working families could be hurt. But their own propaganda talked about how conditions could be stripped away.

With examples like Billy, who had a minimum wage job and lost all of his conditions like penalty rates and overtime but not one cent of compensation. The government knew workchoices was bad for working families so they decided to go on a propaganda campaign to sell it to working families.

The booklets that we are finally destroying today were part of that propaganda campaign, part of the first $55 million of advertising. There were 6 million of these booklets printed, 6 million of these propaganda booklets printed.

The Government, before the election, decided to pulp 3.5 million of them. By then the propaganda campaign was in a new phase. They had spent the $55 million and they were looking to spend $66 million more. But by then they didn't want to say Workchoices so these booklets in September last year, just before the election were marked for destruction and 3.5 million weredestroyed then.

Today we have got the remainder. The remainder that evaded destruction in September. 436,000 booklets, still here - Workchoices propaganda that are going to the recyclers today. Now we can pulp this propaganda and we will. What should be pulped is the Liberal party's determination to play parliamentary games to defend Workchoices.

As the Prime Minister has said, they are defending Workchoices in the death to the parliament. In opposition they are defending it in the Senate, in Government, they defended through this propaganda.

The Howard Government tried to sell Workchoices with this propaganda. Now the Liberal opposition is trying to protect it with it's numbers in the Senate. Well we know what the Australian people voted for last November. They didn't vote for this propaganda, they didn't vote for Workchoices. They didn't vote for Australian Workplace Agreements and the opposition should honour the mandate of the Australian people and pass Labor's legislation.

PM: Over to you folks.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: Well I think the Liberal party are playing with fire here. They should just reflect on this. Just reflect on it, what do the Australian say?

The Australian people said, ‘get rid of Workchoices'. Get rid of AWAs. How loud do you have to be for the Liberals to sit up and take notice. And I think the Liberal Party should reflect on their own future when it comes to this extraordinary act of contempt towards working families and what the Australian people said at the ballot box last year.

JOURNALIST: Why don't you accept the distinction they make between Workchoices AWAs and 1996 AWAs?

PM: It's quite plain that we went to the Australian people, that we stood for the abolition of Workchoices, the abolition of AWAs period. There was no distinction in what we said, AWAs period.

And therefore, that's the mandate that we have from the Australian people. As I said before I think the Liberals are playing with fire if they think that they can just arrogantly brush to one side the voice of the Australian people, stated with absolute clarity at the ballot box last year, and only a few months ago.

JOURNALIST: Are they likely to get burnt?

PM: Well that's a matter for them. I mean, I think the Liberal Party are in grave danger of just losing their way. I mean they are so internally divided on a whole range of policy questions, whether it's Kyoto, whether it's the future of Workchoices, Indigenous policy, that it is very difficult to see what the future course of action is for the Liberal Party at present.

I would simply appeal to the Liberal Party and say, ‘listen to what the Australian people have said, do not treat the voice of the Australian people with contempt, because I think you are playing with fire, real fire'.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

PM: Our legislative mandate is absolutely clear, on the prosecution of legislation through the House, I will turn to the minister.

DPM: We introduced the bill last week. Our timetable for dealing with the bill provided for proper scrutiny and a Senate inquiry. All we asked the Liberal party to do was apply their standards to themselves. We asked the Liberal Party to deal with this legislation in the same timeframe that parliament dealt with the last industrial relations legislation from the Howard Government. Now the Liberal Party didn't apply their own standards to themselves and that's because this isn't about an inquiry, this isn't about more information. It certainly isn't about listening to the views of Australians. This is about delaying in Parliament, the end of Workchoices. This is just a process to make sure Workchoices lasts as long as humanly possible.

Because the Liberal Party support Workchoices. Our bill delivers the policy we took to the last election, it delivers on what we said we would be in the Transition Bill, it's got the mandate of the Australian people, and they should pass it.

JOURNALIST: Just on another issue, just a couple of days before the election, you said at the National Press Club that you wanted to take a meat axe to the bloated bureaucracy. Can I ask you whether you are in a position to tell us what percentage of job losses there will be? And, is it fair to say that if you're a public servant you've got something to fear in this next Budget?

PM: Well, first and foremost, we have an inflation problem. We inherited that from our predecessors when we took over Government from our Liberal predecessors, they handed us an inflation rate in this country which is the highest it's been in 16 years.

Secondly, if you look at the Reserve Bank's statement on monetary policy a week or so ago, it projects ahead for the next two years and says that on those policy settings that we inherited, that we are on target to have inflation beyond the three per cent range for two years out. This is a serious inflation challenge.

The question we face as the Government of Australia is what do we do about it.

Part of the five point plan I articulated in Perth to fight inflation, is producing a very solid Budget surplus, and I've indicated what our target for that is.

Part of that means being very disciplined on Government spending. Going to your question about bloating, what I've said to Ministers and our many discussions before the Budget committee of the Cabinet, is that we must look hard and target the administrative expenses of Government departments.

I'm not in the business of cutting programmes willy nilly. But I am in the business of trimming back fundamentally into any bloating of administrative expenses.

JOURNALIST: Cutting jobs?

PM: Cutting administrative expenses.

And so, when we complete the ERC process which will be in the lead up to the Budget and in the Budget itself you'll have a very clear idea about where those cuts will fall.

I believe that we can achieve our Budget outcome by targeting those administrative expenses. I'm not in the business of simply taking the axe to public servants for the sake of doing so.

JOURNALIST: On the Brian Burke issue, you have said you felt, you started to feel a bit uncomfortable about the relationship that became and that you decided against going to the journalist's dinner. Why didn't you just say that to him that it was simply not a good idea rather than delaying it until the next year? And secondly, was part of your discomfort due to your belief that he might be grooming you as some sort of Labor operative?

PM: Look, it's not terribly complicated here. I just felt progressively uncomfortable. When I started to really focus on the proposed event in Perth in December of that year, and looked at it's detail, I progressively became uncomfortable. And once I got the feeling that this was not the right thing to proceed with, then I communicated that in the way in which you've seen described in the emails.

JOURNALIST: You delayed it as opposed to saying (inaudible)

PM: Well, most of us - well not all of us, but sometimes - we reach decisions over a period of days as opposed to a flash of insight. As I've said before, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I would have handled these matters in the course of 2005 differently. But I don't think anybody at that time had any understanding of the matters which were subsequently to become the focus of public discussion through the CCC Inquiry. I certainly did not.

But with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I would have handled it differently.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, you talked about China this morning. When are you planning on going and broadly, how do you hope to improve relationships with China (inaudible)

PM: Yeah, I hope to go to China very soon, in the course of the next few months, and I'll be making an announcement to that effect before too much longer. I'm trying to nail down some final details.

But, what's the objective? China, and India, are core parts of Australia's economic future. Look at the trajectory and the growth of our exports to the People's Republic and the growth and trajectory of our exports to India. This is such an important part of the nation's future, but not just in resources. Look at the amount of manufactures we sell into China. Look at the possibilities which exist in agriculture as well. And, what I'm most keen about, is what we can do in the sale of services into the Chinese market as well. Most particularly, financial services where we have enormous expertise.

On the resources sector front, and this is the subject of my comments this morning on ABC radio current affairs, I believe it's a good thing to sit down with our friends in the Chinese leadership and try and think through some strategic horizons for the next 10 to 20 years on China's long term resource and energy needs and what this country has to offer.

Principally, the decision makers in this process, of course, will be our large resource companies. I understand that. And China's corporate sector as well.

But there is a role for Government in mapping out longer term strategic approaches so that we know where the Chinese Government is coming from, and they'll know where the Australian Government is coming from. And I think that's very important in a context of ensuring that our national interests are appropriately advanced.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Chinese Government owned entities are operating from arms length from the Chinese Government?

PM: The problem we face on that is that - I make no reference to the matters that are currently before the FIRB (Foreign Investment Review Board) and the Treasurer because they'll be assessed on their merits - the problem we have, whether it's with China or other sovereign wealth funds, for example, whether they come from Singapore, the United Arab Emirates or other state owned enterprises from around the world, is that it's not a case of one size fits all. Each of these entities is different in its structure.

There is a difference, for example, between a Chinese state owned enterprise - which may or may not be publicly listed, one that is publicly listed, there is a difference between those in turn and the Chinese sovereign wealth funds such as the China investment corporation. These are all different entities.

Therefore, assessing each proposal requires the application of the criteria which the Treasurer has released and the definition of the national interest, against the particular factual circumstances of that firm. You can't make a broad generalisation. This Government, under the leadership of myself, is determined to send a clear cut message to the rest of the world that we are open to investment. But, consistent with the tradition of the Foreign Investment Review Board process, we will always assess major investment proposals based on the national interest. The purpose of the Treasurer's appropriate release of these guidelines in the last 24 hours is to give definition to the national interest, as some, particularly in the corporate sector, have asked for.

JOURNALIST: For Joe Hockey to be claiming that he didn't know about the core details of WorkChoices (inaudible) in Cabinet, and even though as you say, it's pretty much outlined in that brochure, he's got to be lying, doesn't he?

PM: Well, what Joe had in mind is a matter for Joe. You probably see more of that this evening I gather. But I find it remarkable that you have this re-writing by the Liberal Party of their most recent history on Kyoto and climate change, and on WorkChoices. This is the Liberal Government who stood up, faced the Australian people, and said if you ratify Kyoto the sky will fall in. That if you get rid of WorkChoices and AWAs then, there'll be a general implosion. I mean, for goodness sake.

But going to the core of whether the Liberal Party has been fair dinkum about its recent record, can I say, if you read this through, which relates to that set of WorkChoices which existed prior to the introduction of the so-called Fairness Test, it doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to work out from that and other associated documents released publicly at that time that you could strip away wages and conditions, so long as they were publicly notified through the AWA process.

Now, for a Cabinet Minister to sit there in the Cabinet Room and say, ‘oh, I wonder what that's all about?' I don't really think it passes muster.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, we're lead to believe that these pamphlets will be recycled into - among other things - toilet rolls. Is that an appropriate end and (inaudible)

PM: I think it's very important that documentation of this nature is treated with the respect it deserves, but I'll hand over to the Deputy Prime Minister to provide a more tasteful response.

GILLARD: I think I'll just have to endorse those comments.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) diplomatic experience (inaudible)

PM: Well the fact is, I didn't go. That's the reality. To the function which was concerned. And remember, by that stage, I think I'd ended up in Perth that day and that night. I could have gone. But, if you've initially accepted an invitation to go - which I had - and then you've become uncomfortable about it, then what many folk do - I'm not alone on this - is you find a diplomatic way to get out of it. But my intention was not to go, my intention was not to go, I didn't go, I wasn't about to go the following year either.

JOURNALIST: Why did you postpone the dinner to the next year? You weren't telling the truth.

PM: I had no intention of attending that dinner, or any reincarnation of it, because I felt uncomfortable about it.

JOURNALIST: It was a white lie?

PM: Well, I felt uncomfortable about having accepted it, then saying, this actually isn't quite right. And then communicating that. And as I've said before, as I've said before, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight I could have handled this differently, but I didn't, but I've got to be up front about that and say, I got it wrong, and cop it on the chin.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: Oh I think it just felt as if it was getting too much. That's all. Just felt as if it was getting too much.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) You're a senior figure in the Labor Party, he's Brian Burke. Why not just say to him, sorry mate, this is a bad look for me, I am not coming to dinner. Why the need to -

PM: Well there's a lot of ‘could have, ‘should have' and as I have said on more than one occasion, this, with the benefit of 20 - 20 hindsight, I could have handled this a lot better.

I didn't, but the key thing here is, I decided not to attend. I didn't attend. I explained it in a way in which you are all familiar with and even though it was physically possible for me to be there - I happened to be in Perth on that evening.

JOURNALIST: Do you now regret all of your contact with Mr Burke and (inaudible)

PM: I think, Dennis if you look back to 2005, as I have said before, that I was unaware of the matters which were about to become subject to investigation and then obviously public reporting through the Triple C inquiry. I think most people at the time were unaware of that. I certainly was. And as I said with the benefit of hindsight, I could have handled it better.

But I didn't. That's history and I have accepted responsibility for it.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: It would have been a few calls and the emails you all have and the meetings as I described in the press conference of March last year in terms of ones that I did have.

JOURNALIST: Just on Workchoices, the previous government justified spending all this money on pamphlets and advertising because it was such a complex system. Can you give an iron clad guarantee now that when your new system comes there wont be public expenditure on similarly explaining to people what their rights are.

PM: I will hand to the Minister on this, but can I just say this. The reason the previous government spent $122 million worth of taxpayers' money - ill come back to that in one minute - advertising this unfair and extreme set of laws because they were trying to con people into believing it wasn't an unfair and extreme set of laws. It was. They were trying to say that black is white and white is black. That's the problem. And on the $122 million dollars figure, Julia and I have been sitting in on expenditure review committee processes. You know, to think that you have $122 million dollars easy, to pull off the shelf to expend on hospitals, schools, key priorities of public administration, rather than being thrown to the propaganda unit here, is for me obscene.

We believe that we will come up with a simple, manageable set of industrial relations laws. But I will turn to the minister.

DPM: Can I just echo the Prime Minister's comments, this is propaganda. This isn't an information booklet. Let's remind ourselves more of these went to be pulped than ever went into the hands of Australians. We of course will want to inform people about our new system but through proper training.

We understand that employers organisations, unions, employers themselves, employees - all want something that explains to them what their rights are but it won't be glossy booklets. It won't be TV advertising. It will be the kinds of communication you genuinely do when you are trying to explain a new system to people. So for example, Fair Worker Australia, our industrial umpire, will take people's calls and explain things to them.

That's what you do when you are tyring to give people information. This is happy snap propaganda. That's all it was ever designed to be.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

DPM: Well, can I say to that, we're concerned on behalf of Australian working families. I have made it perfectly clear that in adopting this strategy the Liberal opposition is not treating the Labor party with contempt, it is treating Australian working families with contempt.

Australian working families voted to end Workchoices. They voted to get rid of Australian Workplace Agreements. That's what they want done and that's what the Liberal party is standing in the way of.

PM: And I conclude on this, we've got to zip to get back to the House - is, the Liberal Party, are really playing with fire here. I don't think they get it. If they do, they are not giving any evidence of it. The Australian people were consulted, at length across the entire Commonwealth. Practically every meeting I went to about Workchoices, we consulted extensively with industry groups. We copped a belting and a caning from various industry groups in terms of our position on various aspects of the industrial relations legislation.

You couldn't have had a more complete debate that you had on IR and it's subsets. The people voted for us to get rid of Workchoices and to get rid of AWAs. It's as simple as that.

And the Liberal party are going to continue to play with fire on this. And let them suffer the consequences. I have got to zip.

Transcript 15764