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Crean Lashes Beazley Over Magazine Article

April 23, 2003

Following publication of Kim Beazley's interview with Maxine McKew of The Bulletin magazine, the Opposition Leader, Simon Crean, gave this press conference in Melbourne:

The Bulletin, front cover, April 23, 2003

CREAN:

Yesterday I launched the Tax truck. The tax burden that the Howard-Costello Government has put on Australian families, the highest taxing Government in Australia's history - and no wonder families are under financial pressure.

Today we're drawing attention to one of those hidden taxes and charges. The very things that the Government said they were going to get rid of when the GST was introduced. But, as has become practice with this Government, every time they get into trouble with the budget what do they do? They introduce a new tax. The sugar tax, the dairy tax, and on this occasion the Ansett tax – a tax that was introduced to pay the redundancy payments for the sacked Ansett workers when the Government had another scheme that does just that. Now that they've actually collected enough money they're still keeping the tax on. And what this tax does, together with a whole range of other hidden taxes, it can add up to one third to the cost of a family holiday.

Now one would have thought that in the current circumstances – the wake of September the 11th, the terrorism attacks, the SARS concern – that there would have been a real opportunity to promote, particularly domestic tourism and the jobs that go with it – jobs in the airlines, jobs in the tourism industry. But what does this Government do? It keeps the tax on.

And when Qantas the other day announced that it was retrenching some seventeen hundred workers because of the downturn in its business it cited as one of the reasons the continuation of the Ansett tax. Labor would abolish the Ansett tax. If it did it, it would take some the burden of taxation on families.

But the Government should go further. It should give tax relief in this budget. And significantly, it should save Medicare. But don't hold your breath. This is a Government that won't do it. It's already looking as a bad news budget for Australian families. I want to draw attention to what the Government is doing and hiding – as all it does is continue to talk about the war. What people should be looking for and demanding is pressure on this Government for family tax relief and to save Medicare. It is certainly the focus of attention that I'll be directing my response to.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Crean, if I can just change the subject for a moment. Have you spoken to Mr Beazley, and if so what did you have to say to each other?

CREAN:

I've put in a call to him.

JOURNALIST:

What did that call involve?

CREAN:

Well, we haven't had it yet. It's two hours difference over there, you might be aware.

JOURNALIST:

Well why haven't you had it? I mean, it shouldn't be too difficult to raise one of your back benchers?

CREAN:

Well, I've put in the call and it shouldn't be difficult. But it should have been easy for him to have made the call to me in relation to the article. So, we'll wait and see. I'm a patient person. But, the call is in.

JOURNALIST:

…Caucus urging Beazley to take on a leadership challenge. How do you feel about them?

CREAN:

Look, the Caucus is behind me. I will lead the Party to the next election and the sooner everyone gets that firmly in their mind the better for the Party. The fact that there is this leadership speculation is showing up to the detriment of the Labor Party in the polls. So whatever they think they're doing to me they're dragging the Party down as well. The only people satisfied out of this would be John Howard.

Now it seems to me that the Labor Party's task in life is exposing what John Howard is doing to Australian families. And I'd be more interested in the polls that actually went to the question and asked Australian families: Do you want bulk billing saved? Do you want Medicare saved? Do you want the opportunity for your children to be able to get a university place? Do you want tax relief? Do you want to actually have a better environment? Do you want to have a stronger nation?

These are the questions that matter to the Australian people and they're the issues that the Labor Party has to get behind and get united behind. I've already indicated this will be the direction that I take the Labor Party because I do want to see universal health cover in this country. I do want to see tax relief for struggling Australian families. I do want to see everyone that gets to Year 12 and wants to go on to university the opportunity to get that place. And I do want to see this nation grow stronger in terms of its industry, in terms of its trade and in terms of its environment.

These are the challenges for the Labor Party and they're the challenges that as its leader I will rise to and provide solutions to.

JOURNALIST:

Would you describe Mr Beazley as being actively disloyal?

CREAN:

I would describe him as not having shown me respect. If he was going to do this article he would have known the consequences of the article. He said in that article that he would run on respect. Well he hasn't shown me respect. I showed it to him. I was a fiercely loyal Deputy to him. Even though there were issues we disagreed on if the decision was taken I would back him. That's the role of people, to support the leader. And so, in the circumstances in which he hasn't shown it, I'm disappointed.

And I don't ask of people any more than I'm prepared to give. I give loyalty. I expect it in return. I've taken tough decisions to advance the interests of the Labor Party and to get that agenda up. Tough decisions in terms of reshaping the front bench, tough decisions in terms of making the Party more accountable, more open, more democratic. You make some enemies along the lines if you take some tough decisions. And I'm prepared to wear that. But I won't wear disloyalty.

And I simply say to those people they haven't got the numbers, get used to the fact that I'm going to lead the Party to the next election, but more importantly, get behind the agenda that I've been mapping out. Because that's what the Australian people want. They are not interested in individuals promoting themselves. They want individuals within the Labor Party promoting an agenda that advances the cause of Australian families and their interests. And that's what I will do.

JOURNALIST:

Is this deliberate destabilisation or innocent self-indulgence by Mr Beazley?

CREAN:

Well, knowing Kim it was probably the latter. But, nevertheless I have to live with it. I would have thought that as a leader of the Party over the last seven years he would have fully understood the consequences of the article. I must say, these seem like dangerous luncheons that Labor Party people get themselves into with Maxine McKew. I don't know what she does at these lunches but she seems to get things out of people, including the US Ambassador. So, I think the solution is just don't go to lunch with her.

JOURNALIST:

What most concerns you about his comments. I mean, on one level they could be taken as just the opinion of a long-serving MP with experience in foreign policy.

CREAN:

Okay, and if I took them that way I would be accused of being naοve. I'd like to think that was the gist of the comments. This is a person that is saying he's not prepared to run for the leadership but shows all the signs of putting forward the job application.

I would dearly have loved Kim Beazley to have been the Prime Minister now. I did everything I could to ensure that that was the case leading up the last election. But the fact of the matter is we lost. And that's why he's not Prime Minister.

And it's all very well wanting to be Prime Minister – you've got to earn it. You've got to earn it through hard work and commitment to policies. Policies that are going to change the country for the better. That's what I'm interested in and I would love to put these circumstances of leadership challenge behind me but I know that you won't.

But I tell you this – go out and ask those people in the street. The last thing on their mind in terms of `top of the pop' issues is who is going to lead the Labor Party. What they want is a Labor Party offering a serious alternative to John Howard because he's turning this country into a place we will not recognise – a country in which you can't afford to go to the doctor, a country in which you can't afford to have education for your kids, a country in which you can't afford to go on holidays even though you've worked really hard and you need one.

That's not the sort of country this place should be and I want to change it, change it for the better. I want to give people those opportunities. It won't happen if this Government continues in power and the only ones who are going to change it are the Labor Party and a Labor Party committed to policies that bring about that change. That's what I'm committed to because that's what I want for this country.

JOURNALIST:

You just said you won't tolerate any disloyalty and that Kim Beazley has been fiercely disloyal. What's the next step for you now to put this behind you?

CREAN:

I didn't say the second point, that's putting words into my mouth, but I'm used to that. Have a look at the answer to the question and take your lead from it. I've indicated that what I want is all members of the parliamentary Labor Party to get behind, in a united way, an agenda to take this nation forward, to do good things for families, to do good things for the environment, to do good things for the nation.

We're going backwards as a nation. We don't walk tall in the international environment, we're not the neighbour that our region wants us to be, we're not fulfilling the best of our ambitions, we're denying young people the opportunity to get an education, to get skills, to advance themselves. And once you get to a position in which families have to think twice about taking their kids to a doctor because they can't afford it, that's a disgrace for a country that's prided itself with offering universal health coverage.

We still haven't heard what the Prime Minister's got in store for Medicare but we know it will be bad. A two-tiered system. Means tested Medicare. Co-payments that mean that patients will have to pay more and that will deter them going to the doctor.

Just think about the circumstances at the moment, if you get a cough or a cold and you think you've got SARS and you think the family's got it, how can a family of four turn up to a doctor unless they've got $160 to put on the table. That's not what Medicare offered them, that's not what the 1.5% Medicare levy promises them. It promises them free health care, that's what it promises them and it's not being delivered. John Howard promised to keep it at the last election but he's dudded people, he's dudded them by allowing Medicare to be run down.

Well, if this Government gets re-elected it will be out the back door, we won't have Medicare and we'll have nation three years from now saying `what do we need to do to get universal health care coverage back?' Well I tell you what we can do, we can get behind Labor's policies that are going to restore bulk billing and save Medicare because if we get elected at the next election we will ensure that bulk billing is restored.

JOURNALIST:

Have you spoken to any of your other colleagues about this morning's article?

CREAN:

I've had a number of conversations with people, many of them ringing up angrily about the Bulletin article and sick of the, what they see as the constant destabilisation. They want unity and they're entitled to it. It's not a big request, it ought to come normally and naturally to people.

So I'd say to people who might get a rush of blood to the head – take a cold shower. I've been down in the surf in Tasmania over the weekend, I had plenty of opportunity to take the chill. But, think through, think through the opportunity and the challenge, the challenge isn't driven by self-promotion. It's got to be driven by what's promotable in the best interests of the Australian people. That's what real leadership is about and that's what I stand for.

JOURNALIST:

But isn't it a natural thing that, like in football if the Captain doesn't come up with a few wins he has to go? And that's a similar situation?

CREAN:

I tell you what. There are plenty of circumstances in which football teams have a couple of bad results and there's all sorts of gnashing of the teeth. That all disappears when a result, a satisfactory result is achieved. I'm never going to be driven by the opinion polls from a fortnight to another fortnight because in politics you've got to have a longer term perspective of the timetable over which you get your agenda up.

If it's true that people don't think the Labor Party has stood for enough over the last seven years to get it re-elected, then we're not going to turn that around overnight. But I tell you what, I've made a decent start at turning it round. I've also had to run into the circumstances where continuing to get that domestic agenda up has run into significant interference, interference from the Bali, the tragic circumstances of Bali – no one, you can't predict that, but of course you've got to deal with it, it's preoccupation in people's minds – the war in Iraq. But, those issues out, those issues taken out, the issues that matter are the ones that I've identified. I know that because I travel this country frequently. I know, in talking to people, what matters to them. My task is to deliver an outcome that meets their concerns and their aspirations and that I will do.

JOURNALIST:

How much longer can withstand this destabilisation though, Mr Crean?

CREAN:

I'm a very resilient character.

JOURNALIST:

But when will it stop and how will it stop?

CREAN:

Well it should stop, it should stop and I think that people understand that if it doesn't stop it's not just doing damage to me, it's doing damage to the Party. And it's handing the Liberals a golden opportunity to not only choose when an election is held but to have confidence that they'll win it. They don't deserve to win it. But neither do we if we're divided. Because the one lesson in politics is a house divided is not supported.

The message to my colleagues is to understand the fundamental of unity, loyalty and commitment, and the two should come naturally. It's a great disappointment to me that they haven't because they are the firm building blocks in terms of putting a solid policy platform forward. But it's the platform, it's the policy, it's the initiatives that we take forward that will matter.

And here I am today talking about taxation, the highest taxing Government in Australia's history and the Government still can't afford to save Medicare, where is the money going? If it's taxing more and cutting services, where's it going? Now they're legitimate questions to be asking of the Government. Budgets are about choices and opportunities. We're making the wrong choices and we're losing opportunities. I want to reverse that. And I have initiatives that will reverse it. But it is very difficult if going out to talk about them all I have to do is to fend questions about leadership.

JOURNALIST:

Is that frustrating?

CREAN:

It is frustrating and I say it's frustrating to the Australian people because they're not interested in it, not interested in it one bit. They are interested in whether they can get a doctor that bulk bills, they are interested in whether their kid is going to get a university or TAFE place, they are interested in whether they're going to get a tax cut, they are interested as to whether or not we're going to save the environment, whether we are going to have healthy rivers and land that self sustains. They're the issues that matter to the Australian people and they're the issues that I'll focus on. I won't be deterred.

And people can run as much static as they like but it won't deter me. Some people might call it stubbornness, I don't. I call it perseverance, I call it dedication and commitment and I have great self-belief. Belief that these issues will cut through eventually.

But, the Party needs the opportunity for them to be presented static free. That's the message to my colleagues – cut the static and let's get on with making a change for the better in this country.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Crean, you said yesterday that you would always put the Party first before personal ambition. If this disunity continues would you stand aside and fall in for the good of the Party?

CREAN:

I tell you what I'll always put first and that's the interests of the Australian people. I've never held positions in public life to advance myself. It's been done to advance the interests of the people that I represent. And whether it's the trade union movement or whether it's parliament I have fought for the interests of working people all my life and I'll never give up. And if that means that I have to be tough with my colleagues I will be. I'd prefer that I didn't have to be. I'd prefer to divert all of my energies to looking after the interests of the people that I've always represented.

That's why I've wanted to be part of the leadership, of the trade union movement and the Labor Party. It's never been a goal in its right, it's been a goal to achieve other objectives, the interests of working people, looking after them, doing good things for the nation. I've great belief in this country and its people and I want to do the right thing by them and that's who I'll put first every time and I'll never give up in that regard.

JOURNALIST:

When does the Caucus next meet and will you be giving them this same message in that forum?

CREAN:

I've given this message on a number of occasions in different forums and I'll continue to give it. The Caucus of course meets as it's scheduled to meet on the 12th of May, the day before the budget.

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