Monday, March 05, 2007

Interviewing at its worst

2UE's John Laws with the Labor Party Leader Kevin Rudd later this morning.

LAWS: Will you tell me what was the purpose of your meeting Brian Burke three times in 2005? I mean, it can’t be anything, you weren’t planning a bank robbery...

LAWS: I’ve got to tell you that we’ve had literally hundreds of emails this morning. I’ve tried to read as many as I could. But more people have supported you than the Prime Minister because they can see through this Ian Campbell sacking...

LAWS: The Leader of the Opposition, the Federal Opposition, Kevin Rudd. And there it is. You’ve got the story. It’s up to you whether you choose to believe it or not. I, frankly, do.

The whole thing is over the fold.

If the ABC interviewed like this it would be in deep trouble, and rightly so.

LAWS: Kevin Rudd is, as you know, Federal Opposition Leader, and he’s on the line. Good morning, Kevin.

RUDD: Good morning, John. How are you?

LAWS: Good thank you, probably better than you. You’re under a bit of pressure, aren’t you?

RUDD: Well, these things happen in politics and I always knew that we were going to go through a negative phase between now and the election and I think we’re in the middle of one.

LAWS: You sure are. Will you tell me what was the purpose of your meeting Brian Burke three times in 2005? I mean, it can’t be anything … you weren’t planning a bank robbery.

RUDD: Absolutely not. I have a good friend in Western Australia. He’s a WA Member of Parliament whose name is Graham Edwards. You may have met Graham over the years –

LAWS: Yes, I have.

RUDD: And Graham has known Brian Burke for a long time. I often stay with Graham when I’m in Perth and Graham asked me in 2005 to meet with Mr Burke. That happened over breakfast at Graham’s house. And after that there was a coffee, I think, and then after that there was, or at another point during the year, there was this dinner which has been the subject of some debate in recent times.

LAWS: Yeah well, you were the guest of honour, virtually, at the dinner.

RUDD: Well, Graham invited me to this dinner. And as he’s indicated in his statement the other day, what happened was he then of course told Mr Burke that I was coming. Mr Burke, it now seems, circulated this email to his contacts from the business community inviting them along. But when I went to this dinner I was completely unaware of the email or its contents. I knew that I was going to a dinner which Mr Burke would be at and where business people would be at. That’s the beginning and the end of it.

LAWS: Did you, at any time, talk to Mr Burke about the Labor leadership?

RUDD: On the question of the Labor leadership, can I just be absolutely clear cut about this.

LAWS: Please.

RUDD: This goes to the core of what Mr Howard’s been saying on your program and elsewhere today, I think. And that is at no time had I ever asked Mr Burke to support me to remove Kim Beazley and be replaced by me – never, ever, ever, ever – and that’s just an absurd allegation for Mr Howard to make. I think what Mr Howard is doing is simply trying to engage in a general campaign of political smear against myself. But on the facts of it, I’ve got to say it’s exactly as I described it.

And can I just add one thing to that, John, listening to what Mr Howard was saying this morning? It’s very important for people to know that Mr Burke has always been a lifelong supporter of Mr Beazley. Secondly, Mr Edwards, the person who I was staying with in Perth, is also a lifelong supporter of Mr Beazley. Does anyone think that at a dinner like that I’m going to go and declare publicly to a room like that that I am asking for their support to remove Mr Beazley and to replace him as Leader of the Labor Party? It’s absolutely absurd. And apart from all that, it’s simply not the way in which I operate. And all this, by the way, John, occurs I think some almost one and a half years before the ballot on the Labor Party leadership at the end of last year. I think we just need to nail Mr Howard’s false accusation at me for what it is – and that’s just negative smear.

LAWS: OK. My understanding is that the West Australian caucus went against you anyway – seven to two – or something so even if you did talk –

RUDD: It was worse than that. You can put that down to my lack of charisma in the West. I got two out of nine votes. So, that’s my understanding anyway. So, I just think we need to put this into some context. The other thing Mr Howard’s been saying is that he says that I therefore have some debt of obligation to Mr Burke. Well, if I didn’t ask for Mr Burke’s support to remove Mr Beazley as leader and for me to replace him as leader, how can there be any debt of obligation? That’s the first point. And secondly, what does he mean by debt of obligation? Is he saying that I asked Mr Burke for money? Did I ask him for fundraising support? Did I deal with him on some financial transaction? These are very wild accusations by Mr Howard. And the answer to all those things is no, no, no, and no. (inaudible) for Mr Howard to say these things.

LAWS: And can you tell me what you did say to Brian Burke about, just out of interest?

RUDD: Well, Mr Burke has obviously a big interest in politics and as I said in my statement the other day in Canberra, there was a general discussion about national politics, a general discussion about State politics, and I have no recollection whatsoever myself of any discussion of Mr Beazley’s leadership. It’s a large dinner and I can’t rule out the possibility that others may have discussed it. But on the core question of Mr Howard’s accusation – which is that I am there in Perth to ask for Mr Burke’s support for the removal of Kim Beazley and the replacement of Mr Beazley by me – that’s an absolute untruth. And Mr Howard should hang his head in shame for saying that sort of thing.

LAWS: Can I ask you your opinion on the dismissal or the walking away of Senator Campbell?

RUDD: Well, I think as one of my colleagues said yesterday or the day before, it’s difficult to find someone who smiles on the day that they are sacked and Mr Campbell had a smile, Senator Campbell had a smile all over his face. The reason for that obviously is this: Senator Campbell says he’s done nothing wrong. Mr Howard says he’s done nothing that would cause him not to be reappointed in the future, so what this is all about is simply Mr Campbell, or Senator Campbell, falling on a false sword, some sort of rubber sword, for six months. Why? To justify Mr Howard running on a continuing, negative smear campaign against myself.

On the question … the other accusation by the way concerning all of that which Mr Howard has been making on the radio programs this morning while I’ve been in the air is this: he’s saying that I’m engaged in some sort of cover-up. John I think your listeners need to know, when I was first asked about whether I’d ever met with Mr Burke, this was in November last year, I said to The Australian newspaper that I had on a couple of occasions, it turns out to have been three. That’s in black and white in The Australian in November last year. And did Mr Costello jump up and demand explanations then? Did Mr Howard jump up and demand explanations? No, not at all. What’s happened three months later is that Labor is actually doing OK in the opinion polls. I think the Government’s concerned about a shift in the national mood across Australia. And what they’ve done therefore is turn immediately into the direction of a negative, personal smear campaign against myself in order to take some paint off.

I admit, and I’ll say this to your listeners quite clearly, that in 2005 I obviously got it wrong. Had I 20:20 hindsight, had I known what was actually going on in relation to the activities which are now subsequently before the Commission of Inquiry in Western Australia, of course I wouldn’t have met with Mr Burke. I understand that and I accept responsibility for it and I think admitting that you’ve got something wrong is important in leadership and that’s not something I’ve ever heard Mr Howard ever do, admit that he’s got anything wrong.

LAWS: I’ve got to tell you that we’ve had literally hundreds of emails this morning. I’ve tried to read as many as I could. But more people have supported you than the Prime Minister because they can see through this Ian Campbell sacking. I mean, how the man could do as something as obvious as that, I don’t know. It’s to me not politically clever.

RUDD: Well, I think Mr Howard is basically just trying to create a platform on which to run a negative campaign against yours truly into the future. I’d much rather debate Mr Howard on the positive policy plans for Australia’s future when it comes to working families under financial pressure; when it comes to climate change; when it comes to my proposal for an Education Revolution; what we’re doing on water, and how we end the blame game between Canberra and the States – things that matter to working families across this country. Instead, what I have to put up with in the last four days is this personal, negative smear campaign. And I as I said, John, before, if they were really serious about this why didn’t they raise this three month ago when I put all this on the public record – that I’d met with Mr Burke a couple of time back then.

LAWS: I’ve got to say, I don’t quite understand for a moment why you wouldn’t offer a detailed, unqualified explanation about the conversation you had with him. You’ve now done that to me. Wouldn’t it have been easier if you did that originally and you wouldn’t have had such a tough three days?

RUDD: When Mr Costello raised this in Parliament last Thursday, I went straight out of the Chamber into my office and said the best thing to do is to respond to the questions of the national Press Gallery and then I went into the press room and stood there for nearly an hour and took ever incoming question from the Press Gallery. And what then emerged … and that went on for, as I said, nearly an hour and all sorts of questions, and I stayed there until those questions had been exhausted. Since then, two subsequent questions have emerged about, one, the whole matter of whether I had asked Mr Burke to support me in some attempt, according to Mr Howard, of removing Mr Beazley from the leadership and to be replaced by me. And secondly, this question of the emailed invitation concerning whether or not I was a guest of honour, I think I’ve dealt with both those today on your program.

LAWS: You have. I appreciate your time, Kevin. Thank you very much for talking to us. I think it was a good thing to do because people were wondering why you weren’t talking. But you said you were in the air, or something. Are you flying?

RUDD: I was flying from Brisbane to Melbourne this morning and let me tell you, that takes a while.

LAWS: It does.

RUDD: So, I came into the office here and got the message from my office that you’d been trying to track us down so I put some meetings to one side just to ring you back in order to be able to speak to your listeners.

LAWS: I appreciate it very much, Kevin. Thank you.

RUDD: Thanks for having me on the program, John.

LAWS: Pleasure. Bye. The Leader of the Opposition, the Federal Opposition, Kevin Rudd. And there it is. You’ve got the story. It’s up to you whether you choose to believe it or not. I, frankly, do. And really, that should put an end to the whole non-event.