Gillard dismisses Communist link claims
TranscriptTONY JONES: Now for the first of our campaign mid-week guests, the deputy Labor leader Julia Gillard finds herself in the strange position tonight of having to justify her past association with a group known as the Socialist Forum, which the Treasurer and Deputy Liberal Leader Peter Costello describes as a radical left-wing group linked to the Communist Party.
Well, Mr Costello took the gloves off today at an unusual event to launch what he describes a new information campaign. Well, perhaps he's confusing the Coalition's new generation of attack ads with the tens of millions of taxpayer-funds spent recently on information campaigns about the Government's industrial relations reforms and climate change measures.
Nonetheless, if Labor was in any doubt that as the Prime Minister puts it, they are in a very willing contest for the Government of Australia, today's information campaign will dispel any doubt. The Coalition is clearly in Blitzkrieg mode with its $35 billion tax cuts and its plan for a one-off debate for this Sunday. So, can Labor counter the tax cuts? Is the debate an offer that can't be refused and will Labor's own campaign go dark or try to stay above the fray?
Julia Gillard joins us now in our Melbourne studio. Thanks for being there.
JULIA GILLARD: Good evening, Tony.
TONY JONES: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?
JULIA GILLARD: (Laughs) Tony, I think that question shows how silly all of this is getting, though I suspect in this interview, probably the Howard Government would think you're the dangerous radical. After all, I'm only from the Labor Party, you're from the ABC.
TONY JONES: Well look, seriously, Peter Costello has thrown this out. Let's deal with it properly. What's the Socialist Forum? Were you an organiser for it? And when did that happen, if you were?
JULIA GILLARD: Tony, it's 2007 and I'm a 46-year-old woman. What Peter Costello is referring to is more than 20 years ago when I was in my 20s. I was a full-time university student and I had a part-time job for an organisation called Socialist Forum, which was a sort of debating society. It ultimately amalgamated with the Fabian society, which of course is a long-running ideas and debating group in Australian politics and indeed in British politics before Australian politics. I've worked in the cleric and administrative work.
TONY JONES: It wasn't a front organisation for Communists?
JULIA GILLARD: Certainly not. It was an organisation where people who identified themselves as progressives, some in the Labor Party, some outside the Labor Party, would come together and would talk about ideas. I did clerical and administrative work, Tony. This is so long ago. It's the days before modern computers and the internet, in the days where if you wanted to put out a meeting notice to people you wouldn't send an email, you'd get out an envelope and put it in your IBM electric typewriter and type up the address and then get the next one. That's the sort of thing I used to do.
TONY JONES: So what are you saying? As a young woman you flirted with a radical fringe group, you then joined the left-wing of the Labor Party. Before you knew it, you were the deputy leader of the Labor Party and now you want to be deputy prime minister?
JULIA GILLARD: Tony, it's been a fair old journey since my 20s. Yes, you know in the years in between, what have I done? I completed my law degree, I completed my economics degree.
I completed the course you did instead of being an article clerk, I was a lawyer for eight years, I was a partner of a law firm for five years. I worked for John Brumby as his chief of staff and ultimately I went into federal politics. I've been in federal politics for eight years now since 1998, and I would be more than happy to be judged on any part of that record.
TONY JONES: It does point out a sort of vulnerability, though, that you - that Kevin Rudd even - and the whole frontbench with the possible exception of Peter Garrett has, and that is that many voters don't really know that much about you all, and your pasts.
JULIA GILLARD: Well, I think Australian voters know this about Kevin and they know it about me and the rest of Labor. We're out there putting fresh thinking and ideas for Australia's future. I mean, just contrast what happened today in the election campaign, Tony. Kevin Rudd launched a major policy about more nurses for this country. I went out to a small business and launched a policy about assisting small business to help them and their employees balance work and family life. A very vexed question in the modern age.
Peter Costello launched a negative advertisement for the Liberal Party. Now, I think that tells you all you need to know about this election campaign. We're actually talking to Australians about things that matter to them - whether there'll be a nurse at their local hospital when they need one, whether their working life can be improved. Peter Costello is talking about the Liberal Party and its campaign tactics, and thinks it's a good thing to spend a whole day launching a negative attack ad. You couldn't get more desperate.
TONY JONES: I'll come back to that in a minute. But let me ask you another question. Are you now or have or have you ever been a fiscal conservative?
JULIA GILLARD: (Laughs) Tony, I am certainly a conservative person when it comes to government finances and accounting.
TONY JONES: You weren't always, though, were you? I mean, 'Medicare Gold' was hardly a fiscally conservative measure, was it? It was Whitlamesque to say the very least.
JULIA GILLARD: Well, Tony, let's think about the problems in health care and the aged care acute care divide. And the problem there is of course is that frail Australians who need an aged care bed end up in acute public hospital beds because there's nowhere else for them to go. That under the Howard Government wastes hundreds of millions of dollars of health money each year. Well, that's not fiscally conservative. That's not prudent. And that's why Kevin Rudd with his $2 billion health plan is determined to fix it.
TONY JONES: I'm just reminding you of your credentials for fiscal conservatism. They are a little open to question when you came before us in the last election with an open-ended funding commitment for free health care for everyone over the age of 75 when we all knew that that group of people was going to double over the next 20 years.
JULIA GILLARD: Well, in our health system there is a reform issue. There's not one way of fixing that reform issue. But the issue is there and it's been left unattended for 11 years under the Howard Government. And that issue is that we waste hundreds of millions of dollars each year because of a systemic underfunding of aged care and consequently frail elderly Australians ending up in hospital beds when they should be somewhere else. Now, it's dreadful for them, nothing worse than being in an acute hospital bed when you don't need to be there. Shocking for the system.
Yes, I've been involved in talking about reforms to try and resolve that and Kevin now has a $2 billion health plan and that would be one of the issues which he would seek to resolve.
TONY JONES: Well done for staying on message there.
JULIA GILLARD: Can I put the question the other way, Tony? Is it fiscally conservative, is it fiscally conservative for Mr Costello to have been Treasurer all these years and watch that money bleed out of the system, hundred of millions of dollars each year, and done absolutely nothing about it? Is that the action of a fiscal conservative? Our treasurer who prides himself on these things?
TONY JONES: Let's go back to the Treasurer and the Government ads that he put out today. Are you at all worried this stamping of virtually every member of your Cabinet as being a former union official or associated closely associated with the unions, it all being evidently anti-business according to the ads. Are you worried that that will actually home?
JULIA GILLARD: Well, obviously the Government's doing it for a reason, and the reason they're doing it is they haven't got any positive plans. We always knew that they were going to run the mother of all fear campaigns during this election. Now, you know, advertising, people buy it because they think it's going to work, and I'm sure the Government's researched these ads and they think they're going to have some effect. We'll watch and see how that plays out. But I would hope, Tony, that Australians watching those ads would think to themselves, 'Well, is this government actually saying anything to me about the future? Why are they asking me to vote for them?' And none of these negative ads are ever going to answer that question about the Howard Government because in truth, Tony, it can't be answered. They haven't got any forward vision. They're stale, they're out of ideas, lost touch, and consequently we're just going to see these negative ads - you know, red scary voices, all of the things, that come out of the republican campaign manual.
TONY JONES: Mr Howard says 'grow up, it's not dirty or negatives it's just the truth'
JULIA GILLARD: I was astonished when I saw John Howard say that today. I mean, here's a man who's been in public life for well over 30 years. He's been Prime Minister for more than 11. And is his reaction is something that you would expect a primary school student to say in a playground spat. Well, I think John Howard ought to be doing a bit better than that frankly, Tony. I think John Howard ought to be acknowledging to Australians that he's only on this negative campaign because he hasn't got anything else left to say.
TONY JONES: Speaking of things to say, Julia Gillard, are voters going to see all or part of Labor's tax policy in the debate next Sunday?
JULIA GILLARD: Well, we are in the process of studying all of the economic information that came out with the mid-year fiscal and economic outlook. Tony, we pride ourselves on making sure we are prudent and measured about these matters. It's more than 200 pages of information, much of it quite different from the estimates that were given to us with the Budget. So we will study it and in due season, Tony, we will announce our tax policies and plans.
TONY JONES: You're going have to come up with something from that tax policy to reveal at the debate, are you not?
JULIA GILLARD: Well, on the question of the debate, clearly the political parties are still at odds about debating numbers and debating format. Mr Howard of course is saying one debate on his terms, no worm, I mean, he hates the worm. I think the worm hates him and he hates the worm. We're saying three debates at various stages of the campaign so that there can be proper exposure of policies, as they're launched. There is no agreement as yet and our national secretary will keep pursuing a better arrangement for the Australian people with the secretary of the Liberal Party.
TONY JONES: The debate is an offer you can't refuse, isn't it, in reality?
JULIA GILLARD: Well, I don't think Mr Howard can afford to refuse our challenge to three debates.
TONY JONES: Well, he can. He's the incumbent. That's his right. He doesn't have to appear at any debate. He's going to have a debate on Sunday. Kevin Rudd will either be there or not be there. Will he be there?
JULIA GILLARD: Well, Mr Howard, I think, has to consider what Australians are going to think if he dogs out of debates because he doesn't want to have them, and in particular dogs out of them in circumstances where he's too afraid of the worm to turn up at the same time that the worm does.
I mean, this is a man who is apparently seeking a mandate because he says he's got more to do. Well, what is it that he's got more to do? He's got more negative ads to launch? He's got more anti-union slogans to parrot? What is it that he wants to do for this country? Why isn't he prepared to have that exposed and tested in a debate on more than one occasion?
TONY JONES: But that debate, and by the logic of what you just said, if Kevin Rudd does not turn up at the debate on Sunday, that will be dogging a debate no matter how you spin it, won't it?
JULIA GILLARD: Well, we're seeking three debates across the course of the campaign. Kevin's made it very clear he's happy to meet John Howard in those debates, he's happy to meet the worm at the same time.
TONY JONES: He wouldn't be happy to see John Howard standing there, not in fact like a jilted bridegroom, but a self righteous Prime Minister who's got no-one to debate with because the Opposition Leader dogged it. He's going to have to be there, isn't he, you have to admit that.
JULIA GILLARD: Well, it would be a pretty sad sight wouldn't it, John Howard by himself, not even a worm for company. Tony, I agree with that, it would be a bit pitiful.
TONY JONES: So he'll be there, will he? We presume.
JULIA GILLARD: Our national secretary will keep negotiating and arguing for three debates.
TONY JONES: You couldn't possibly expect us to believe that right now Kevin Rudd is not prepping for a debate on Sunday, are you seriously telling me he is not prepping for a debate on Sunday?
JULIA GILLARD: Kevin's doing what he always does, which is he's travelling around the country. He's obviously out there with policies, he's been out there with a major one today. The question of the debates is still being worked through by the political parties.
TONY JONES: Is he prepping, one way or the other? I mean, he's - surely not just sort of taking and sending text messages. At some point he's going to have to sit down and prep for a debate.
JULIA GILLARD: At some point, Tony, I hope he hit sits down and he preps for three debates and that's what he's trying to do.
TONY JONES: Well, this brings us back to what Labor will have to counter in one or three debates, and that is the Government's giant tax cuts, which must be a surely be right now a philosophical debate inside your party. Do we go along with the Government's tax cut, do we reshape tax cuts in our own image, or do we use these billions of dollars to spend on the services we say, as the Labor party, you say as the Labor Party, are not sufficient at the present moment? Is that debate happening right now?
JULIA GILLARD: We're looking obviously at the Government's proposals. We're looking at MYEFO as well. Tony, we've always said that we thought we needed to be increasing the participation rate, that there were disincentives at the lower end in our tax system. There's been this ongoing problem with the very high effective marginal tax rates faced by people as they try to make welfare to work transitions.
Wayne Swan, of course, is on the record about these matters going back a number of years now. Not only in his capacity as shadow treasurer but formerly in his capacity as shadow minister for family and community services. So our principles here are well known, the sort of criteria we judge by. But we are going to look at that, the tax package of the Government in light of that criteria. And of course in light of the new economic information which is in MYEFO.
TONY JONES: This is probably the most money you're ever going to see available to spend on public services in your lifetimes. Are you seriously saying that the Labor Party is not debating now whether to spend a large percentage of that on services you say are lacking in the community, as opposed to just giving it away to people in tax cuts?
JULIA GILLARD: Well, Tony, we've already made a substantial number of promises on the services side. And unlike the Government we've gone on a hunt for savings. We haven't just said "spend and take it off the surplus". We've actually gone through the Government's books and said that there are savings to be found -
TONY JONES: Now you know there's $34 billion over three years, which could be used for tax cuts or could be used for services. Is there a debate going on now in the inner sanctum of the Labor Party on how to use that money?
JULIA GILLARD: Well, Tony, frankly I don't think it's that sort of stark either or choice. What do we want to see in this country? Of course we want to see quality services. That's why we're putting forward various proposals to improve them, including Kevin Rudd's education revolution and our $2 billion health plan. And we want to see tax rates at a level that are as low as possible, given that we need to finance quality services. We want to see a boost in participation. We want people in the work force, we want to smooth out those transitions from welfare to work. We don't want people to face high effective marginal tax rates at lower incomes. So we're looking at the balance in all of these issues. We're looking at the Government's proposal, we're looking at the economic information in MYEFO and we will make these judgements in due season, Tony.
TONY JONES: Have you considered anything as radical as tax-free child care?
JULIA GILLARD: We've certainly talked about child care, we've already promised 260 new child care centres.
TONY JONES: I mean a tax rebate for child care?
JULIA GILLARD: Well, there's the current benefit system of course. We've said we would add to the child care supply in this country with 260 new child care centres. We've also said we'd add to the child care work force with some preferential arrangements there in terms of training cost and HECS.
TONY JONES: But hang on. You'd be not considering making child care tax deductible, that's my point?
JULIA GILLARD: Well, we have and will consider measures to make child care more affordability. Obviously -
TONY JONES: Tax deductibility was the question.
JULIA GILLARD: Well, I know tax deductibility was your question, Tony, and we are considering a range of measures that could make child care more affordable. We understand that whether or not people can get access to affordable, quality child care makes a big difference to the participation agenda. As I should say, Tony, does the question of family friendly working practices, which is why I was at a small business today announcing a $12 million plan to try and help small businesses with family friendly arrangements that would certainly increase their ability to hold and retain staff.
TONY JONES: Julia Gillard, we'll have to leave you there. I'm sorry we're out of time. We thank you very much for coming to join us on what is the first edition of our campaign midweek.
JULIA GILLARD: A pleasure, Tony, Thank you.
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