Greens Leader Bob Brown and ALP President Jennifer McAllister talk with Hugh Riminton, Lenore Taylor from the Sydney Morning Herald and Simon Benson from The Daily Telegraph.
DISCUSSIONS ABOUT ALP NATIONAL CONFERENCE. SAME-SEX MARRIAGE. URANIUM SALES TO INDIA. THE BUDGET SURPLUS. LABOR'S FUTURE.
HUGH RIMINTON, PRESENTER: Hello and welcome to ‘Meet the Press'. Two and a half years ago, Kevin Rudd dosed the Labor conference with Mogadon - it's a little different under Julia Gillard.
JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER (FRIDAY): We came here for debates. We came here for surprises.
HUGH RIMINTON: With crowds outside, a divided conference voted to change the party platform to support same-sex marriage.
PENNY WONG, FINANCE MINISTER (SATURDAY): This is a deeply personal debate. It is about our most intimate relationships, it is about the people we love.
HUGH RIMINTON: Also after vigorous debate, the party endorsed offshore asylum seeker processing, with a 50% increase in intake. Uranium sales to India get worked over today.
PETER GARRETT, MINISTER FOR SCHOOL EDUCATION (SATURDAY): If we are serious about nuclear disarmament, we shouldn't sell uranium to a country that hasn't signed one of the most important nuclear disarmament treaties.
HUGH RIMINTON: On same-sex marriage, the Prime Minister successfully argued for a conscience vote, effectively without significant drift from Coalition MPs, the current Marriage Act will stand for a while yet.
GAY MARRIAGE SUPPORTER: A conscience vote is bullshit.
JOE DE BRUYN, SHOP, DISTRIBUTIVE AND ALLIED EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION: If the issue comes up before parliament, it will be overwhelmingly rejected in both houses.
BOB BROWN, GREENS LEADER: I don't understand Julia Gillard. How could a 2011 Prime Minister of Australia be stuck in 1911 when it comes to equality in marriage?
HUGH RIMINTON: Greens Leader Senator Bob Brown is our guest today. Later, the President of the Australian Labor Party, Jenny McAllister. But first, Jacqui Maddock has what is making news this Sunday, 4 December.
JACQUI MADDOCK, REPORTING: Thanks Hugh and here are the major stories this morning. The Government's historic bill to legalise gay marriage will be met with fierce Opposition in Parliament. The party reversed its long-held platform at Labor's annual conference, but any same-sex marriage bill will be put to a conscience vote and be doomed without the unlikely support of at least some Coalition MPs. Reports of a Kevin Rudd leadership challenge have been revived - following the omission of the former PM from Julia Gillard's list of past Labor luminaries. Julia Gillard failed to mention Mr Rudd in her conference address, reportedly sending furious Rudd-backers to predict a leadership challenge within months. The 14-year-old Australian boy caught with drugs in Bali is expected to be released today. He was sentenced to two months behind bars for possession of marijuana - with time already served, the teenager could arrive back in NSW this evening. And finally, Labor frontbencher Peter Garrett says he'll oppose the Prime Minister's push to sell uranium to India.
Today she's asking the ALP to overturn the party's ban on exporting uranium to India, which is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That is news up to the minute on 'Meet the Press' - it's back to you, Hugh.
HUGH RIMINTON: Jacqui, thank you. Welcome back to the program, Senator Bob Brown from Hobart. Good morning. Was that, yesterday, a red-letter day for gay rights in Australia?
BOB BROWN: No, it was a step along the way, but it's being held back by the Prime Minister. Without her authority and leadership, as the commentary was just giving us, the change to equal marriage is going to be held up in the Parliament. Where is Tony Abbott - the leader of the great Liberal tradition of voting with conscience and voting for human rights? But trying to stop this progress on block. So a long way to go yet, and the Prime Minister can take full responsibility for holding us back in the Howard era, she's with John Howard on this issue, she's with him on asylum seekers now and she's with him on selling uranium to India. But I can tell you Adam Bandt will have a bill in the House ready. He's hoping and wanting to do that with Labor and Liberal people who want equality in marriage, and of course, we've already had Sarah Hanson-Young's bill in the Senate. It was voted down by both the big parties in 2009, but it's ready to go as soon as Parliament resumes in February.
HUGH RIMINTON: Labor has already indicated it doesn't want to have a co-sponsored private member's bill with Adam Bandt. This is a Labor action and they'll bring on their own private member's bill. Will this be a race to get a piece of paper on to the floor of the Parliament?
BOB BROWN: No, the Greens have the bill in the Parliament, in the Senate. Adam Bandt is calling for a cross-party sponsorship of the bill, that's the way it should go. It won't be a Government bill, that's the problem. It's got to wait for private members' time, and that takes time in the House, it won't happen in the first week, for example - whereas it's ready to go in the Senate. The problem is it's not a Government-sponsored bill and that's because Julia Gillard is opposed to it. That is potentially an insurmountable problem when it comes to the numbers. We'll encourage -
HUGH RIMINTON: What you will see here potentially is a private member's bill in some form will get to the floor. The Prime Minister, presumably if she's consistent with what she said before, will vote against it. Is that Act on its own, the kind of thing that drives membership, young activists and so on into the arms of the Greens?
BOB BROWN: Yes, it does. Because the Greens - we have a conscience vote on this, but every one of us will vote for it because we are a 21st century party. If Catholic Spain can change the law to equal marriage and South Africa and Canada and Belgium, for example, surely it's time that the Australian body politic, the big parties and their leadership caught up with majority opinion across Australia and that's majority opinion in all the parties. Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are last-century politicians, Hugh. No wonder people do see the Greens as the people who are leading on 21st century policy. It's high time the change was made and is it got through the Parliament.
HUGH RIMINTON: There are some that see it as nothing but a distraction, so I'll go on to other issues, which are in some ways, substantiative ones. There are concerns being expressed at the moment that the entire carbon trading system is on the point of collapse. This is partly due to the fact that where it's being traded in Europe, the price dropped from 30 Euros for CERs down to six Euros. Are you concerned that at $23 as an initial starting price in Australia, we are actually priced way out from where the market now is?
BOB BROWN: No, and that's where the architecture of this legislation which was driven by Christine Milne is so wise - because it gives us two years in which there is a carbon price, but not a trading scheme. It's aimed at where the projections, the best projections possible are for two to three years down the line.
HUGH RIMINTON: Are these projections out of date given the realities of what we are seeing in carbon trading at the moment?
BOB BROWN: Well, they may be too low - we have seen the European price higher than $23 in the past, Hugh.
HUGH RIMINTON: Well, in 2008 it was higher but it has collapsed substantially. It's an important question here, because there's a price that businesses are being told will be the price. Yet right now it is way out of line with what is the international benchmark. You say it will go up - it's a reasonable thing, but is it not time to revise that price, because it is simply out of whack with the market?
BOB BROWN: Well, you know again, Christine Milne ensured that there was a floor price put into the Australian scheme, which is at $15-$16. It has that flexibility - it's a clever, smart and wise scheme with flexibility for the future. But remember this: it is also aimed at reducing carbon pollution in the atmosphere in the world's worst per capita polluting country - Australia. It does moves us to the front line on that.
HUGH RIMINTON: OK, we'll take a break, there are a lot of issues to get through with the panel, which we'll return with in just a minute. We'll leave with you a little bit of vintage TV to prove some arguments have been around for quite a while.
GOLDEN GIRLS CLIP
"Look, I can accept the fact that he's gay, but why does he have to slip a ring on this guy's finger so the whole world will know? Everyone wants someone to grow old with, shouldn't everyone have that chance? I think I see what you're getting at. I don't think you do. Blanche, will you marry me?"
Greens Leader, Bob Brown with Hugh, Lenore Taylor (SMH) and Simon Benson. (The Daily Telegraph)
HUGH RIMINTON: Welcome back, this is 'Meet the Press'. Our guest is Leader of the Greens, Bob Brown. Welcome to the panel, Lenore Taylor, from 'The Sydney Morning Herald', and Simon Benson from 'The Daily Telegraph'.
LENORE TAYLOR, 'THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD': Senator Brown, Labor is likely to support uranium sales to India, the motion is on the take right about now. Isn't it fair enough given that other countries sell uranium to India, given that we sell to China -aren't we just taking a stand on principle on our lonesome and what is the point of that?
BOB BROWN: We shouldn't sell uranium to China. It has nuclear weapons, no doubt fuelled by that uranium and replacements, which can now reach Sydney and Melbourne. India is one of three countries in the world that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is to make the world safe from nuclear weapons and therefore can't expect to be sold uranium. Like John Howard and Tony Abbott, we now have Gillard and the Labor Party moving to do just that. This will make for a much less safe planet as we go into difficult regional and potential international conflicts over resources in the coming century.
LENORE TAYLOR: How does it make difference to the planet - us not selling uranium to India given that everyone else does? Given the reality of international uranium sales, how does our stance make a difference at all in practical terms?
BOB BROWN: That's the heroin-seller's lament, "If we don't do it someone else will." We have signed up to an international treaty to safeguard against nuclear weapons. We had President Obama in Canberra a few weeks ago, saying that one of the big threats to the region was the proliferation of the nuclear weapons in our region. No doubt selling uranium to India would foster nuclear weapons ambitions, ditto for Pakistan, which will get its uranium if neccesary from China, which Australia is then going to replace with uranium from here. This is a small gain for Australia. These uranium sales will profit people largely overseas. We don't have a Mining Tax on uranium, yet we are putting future generations at risk. I agree with Peter Garrett - I hope he's heeded at the debate in the Labor Party forum today.
LENORE TAYLOR: Given that he's probably not going to be and given that the major parties agreed on this, is there anything you can do? I have seen legal questions raised about the legality of us resuming these sales, do you have any avenue to pursue your views?
BOB BROWN: It is my belief that it's illegal. It breaches our signature on the keeping the Pacific and the Southern Hemisphere free of nuclear weapons, let alone the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty. The treaties are signed by Governments so it's hard for individuals to interject morality or legality into that field. Our job as politicians, as Greens is going to be argued very strongly for Australia's future safety, rather than the lining of pockets for a small number of overseas mining interests which are wanting to exploit Australian uranium.
HUGH RIMINTON: Senator, on an economic matter we are familiar with the line, "There'll be no Carbon Tax under a Government I lead" - you are claiming there was a bigger lie to emerge from the last election, this one from the Coalition. This is what you said a couple of days ago.
SENATOR BOB BROWN, GREENS LEADER (THURSDAY): The biggest lie of the last election turns out to be an Abbott/Hockey lie that their expenses were audited.
SIMON BENSON, 'THE DAILY TELEGRAPH': Good morning, Senator. Clearly the Coalition has been embarrassed by this latest revelation. You have called it the Great Lie. Considering they are not in Government, isn't it a bit of an overstatement?
BOB BROWN: Why? Does it make a difference if somebody is not in Government but wants to be and tells the nation a lie on the run to election on a fundamental that they had their policy costs audited when, in fact, they hadn't? It's a terrible deception of the Australian people by Hockey and Abbott in the run to the last election. How can we trust them in statements like that in the run to the next election? We really deserve better than that from political leaders in this country. No wonder Australians feel they are cheated by the leadership of both the big parties at the moment.
SIMON BENSON: On that basis, we are talking about creative accounting - what do you think about the Government's move to surplus next year? They used creative accounting to move the numbers around, what do you make of that - do you agree with Senator Doug Cameron's views to having a fetish with surpluses?
BOB BROWN: Yes, I do. The Greens have been saying we believe while you need to balance the books over the economic cycle, you don't do it for the sake of a political tick, because it hurts a lot of people. We know there may be 3,000 public service jobs lost as a result of this latest cut-back by this Labour Government. Certainly there'll be hardship passed on to people in the community, which is unnecessary and fancy cutting 400 million from funding from maths and science at university if we are going be a clever country.
LENORE TAYLOR: One way to check costings is the proposed Parliamentary Budget Office. The Coalition doesn't like the proposition that's before the Parliament at the moment. You said you were going to try to negotiate with Joe Hockey about that, have you got anywhere on the subject?
BOB BROWN: I haven't yet. It's yet to be dealt with fully but this is a Greens initiative - we put it into the arrangement which saw the Gillard Government established, but of course back then, the Coalition was supporting it too. It gives the people assurance that there will be a check against cheating when it comes to Policy costings in the run to the next election. What is the Coalition wanting to hide from the Australian people? It should support an independent Parliamentary Budget Office as other nations have, so that people can be informed very accurately and independently about the costing of policies that are put forward by the competing parties in the run to a future election.
HUGH RIMINTON: One quick question on asylum seekers, a platform that the Labor Party has now shifted to increase refugee intake to 20,000. Part of the deal of course, is offshore processing - is that an acceptable arrangement?
BOB BROWN: Well, the 20,000 is Greens's policy. We have had that for some time - Sarah Hanson-Young has been promoting that. We have the ability certainly to take more asylum seekers into Australia for the benefit of this country and also the asylum seekers. But to use that as a ransom, to have offshore processing - and it's an even harsher policy, the Malaysian option than John Howard had in. It cements effectively the John Howard option of not allowing asylum seekers to be processed decently, humanely and according to international law, in our own country. It's very, very wrong. The Greens will fight this tooth and nail in the national Parliament where we believe increasingly Australians want decent processing of asylum seeker on our own territory as every other country in the world does.
HUGH RIMINTON: Bob Brown, we are out of time, thanks for joining us today on 'Meet the Press'. Coming up Jenny McAllister. Cartoonist Jon Kudelka from 'The Australian' takes on Labor's gay marriage debate. "Something in the closet you say - no, nothing to see here."
Guest - ALP President, Jennifer McAllister with Hugh, Lenore Taylor (SMH) and Simon Benson. (The Daily Telegraph)
HUGH RIMINTON: Welcome back, this is 'Meet the Press'. Good morning and welcome to the program the President of the ALP, Jenny McAllister. Good morning. There's been compassionate debate on a lot of issues, some of the most compassionate debate over the arcane internal thing of rules within the Labor Party, here is some from a young delegate.
ADAM CLARKE, TASMANIAN LEFT DELEGATE (SATURDAY): Will we be a diminished and dishevelled political course with no genuine rank and file members, because we refused to give them a say, time and time again. Or will we be a mass membership party - a party of growth, a party that includes our millions of supporters around the country who want progressive change, who want a say? Or will we squib it.
HUGH RIMINTON: He put the question, have you squibbed it?
JENNIFER MCALLISTER, ALP NATIONAL PRESIDENT: I don't think we have. I went into the conference having been through a ballot process with all the members that Adam was talking about just then. The three things I hoped for was more opportunity for members to be involved in policy, more opportunities for members and supporters to be involved in campaigns - not just electoral campaigns, but campaigns they care about - and opportunities for more direct involvement of members in the biggest decision-making forums of our party, including the National Conference. We made quite substantial progress on all of those things. Whilst we didn't go as far as some members would have liked or, indeed, as far as I would like, we certainly went a long way - the furthest we have gone down this path. I was very happy with it.
SIMON BENSON: One member that wouldn't have been entirely happy with the outcome of the reform debate is Senator John Faulkner. I'd like to quote what he said on Friday, "We are at a critical point, the situation is dire, our party is in decline." Is he right?
JENNIFER MCALLISTER: I think John has taken the temperature of members and he understands that our membership is looking for real leadership on these issues. My own view is that we are now well placed to take up that challenge. I obviously have a leadership role. But I think the thing that heartened me over the last six months is we have seen the Prime Minister repeatedly step out in favour of members and members involvement. She called for a big conference, she called for a growing party, she opened up debate over the processes over the last couple of days and stepped in personally yesterday to ensure that there'll be a component of directly-elected members. I think the task is not done, there's plenty to do, but we are on a pathway that may see us address the problems Faulkner identified.
SIMON BENSON: You mentioned leadership and your role. Yet one of the votes yesterday was on giving the President a vote on the National executive and that was lost. You were robbed of a vote yourself - is that the reform you are talking about? You must be disappointed about that.
JENNIFER MCALLISTER: I have a bit of skin in the game on that one - your viewers may take this answer with a grain of salt. Stepping away from my own interest, I think members are entitled to expect that the President they elect directly has a vote on the national executive. I think members will be disappointed that that didn't get up. But it doesn't take away from the big opportunities we have to build new institutions and forums and models for involving people in the party.
LENORE TAYLOR: Wasn't this conference the opportunity to get direct election of delegates to conference and that was seen as the big change that would open up the party and let members have more of a say. It's been referred to a committee. Nothing happened. This whole review said you need to protect the stranglehold of the factional bosses and the union leaders - but they are the ones determining the review. How can that work?
JENNIFER MCALLISTER: I'll say a couple of things - we have a new national policy forum in place, that will include 20 members from the rank and file, directly eletced sitting at a table as equals with 20 members from the Parliamentary Party and 20 members from the affiliated unions. I think that's really exciting - we have started down that path in NSW and I'm optimistic about how it will work in NSW and what it will mean for our national culture of debate, ideas and policy. The second thing is that we saw yesterday a commitment to ensure that at the next conference, there is a component of the conference that is directly elected. It shouldn't be surprising, but it takes a little time to pull that together and make sure that we get those rules right.
HUGH RIMINTON: Right now your numbers are bleeding terribly - (Senator) John Faulkner made that plain - the loss of 15,000 members. The Prime Minister set you the task of finding 8,000 new members - is that achievable?
JENNIFER MCALLISTER: I think it's great that she set the task - you want a leader to come out and say, "I don't accept this, I want us to move forward". I believe it is achievable. Adam Clarke who you saw earlier spoke in the same speech about what happened in Tasmania over the last six months.
HUGH RIMINTON: It had a lot more individual involvement - that was his point. Tasmania gives power to members and you haven't replicated that on a national level. So isn't that where the failure lies? There's not enough reason to join?
JENNIFER MCALLISTER: I think we will see the reforms coming through yesterday providing an opportunity to involve more members. It's something I'm very personally focused on. You see the Prime Minister putting her shoulder to the wheel on this issue as well.
LENORE TAYLOR: Speaking of the Prime Minister, do you think she made a mistake to mention Curtin, Chifley, Whitlam and Keating in her speech and not Kevin Rudd?
JENNIFER MCALLISTER: I think we all reflect and the Prime Minister also on the great heroes of Labor's past. It's a great burden placed on all of us to live up to those standards.
HUGH RIMINTON: Is Kevin Rudd not one of them?
JENNIFER MCALLISTER: No, he most certainly is. Everyone at the conference yesterday and certainly the Prime Minister acknowledges the things that Kevin did - and you saw in the video the recognition, for example, of Kevin's apology to the stolen generation, something that moved all of us to tears when we saw it. But it is also the case that Labor has a sense of its history. Kevin is part of our contemporary story, not our past.
HUGH RIMINTON: Thank you for being with us today, Jenny McAllister. I know you are probably racing back to the conference to wrap it up. Thank you to the panel, Lenore Taylor and Simon Benson. That is our last show for the year. We'll be back in February with a new look, I'm told. Thanks for watching, have a great summer break.
[TRANSCRIPT COURTESY OF CHANNEL TEN]