Interview on Lateline

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Kevin Rudd has been making waves in Australia again. This week the former Prime Minister delivered the Rowan Williams Lecture at Trinity College in Melbourne in which he addressed the issue of climate change from a Christian perspective. He levelled severe criticism at one Catholic leader, challenging the ethical, scientific and policy basis of Cardinal George Pell’s opposition to climate change action. The same day, he warned Prime Minister Turnbull to be aware of the nutjobs in his own party. In an extensive interview on Lateline tonight he reveals advice he gave Mr Turnbull ahead of the Paris Climate Conference and also gives advice to Bill Shorten on how to deal with the trade union Royal commission. He joined me in the studio just a short time ago.

Kevin Rudd, thanks for joining us again.

KEVIN RUDD, FORMER PRIME MINISTER: Good to be back in Australia.

TONY JONES: Now, do you expect Malcolm Turnbull to take a leadership role, a new leadership role in the climate change talks in Paris, as you did in Copenhagen?

KEVIN RUDD: The honest answer is, Tony, I don’t know. I have a sense of what Malcolm’s understanding of the climate change imperative is. I also have an understanding of the political realities he faces within his own party.

TONY JONES: Have you spoken to him about what to expect in Paris? I mean, after all, your advice would be relatively useful, one would imagine, given what you went through?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I certainly provide advice to those who ask for it and I’ve certainly spoken to the Government about Paris. But …

TONY JONES: Have you spoken to Malcolm Turnbull?

KEVIN RUDD: I’ve certainly spoken to the Prime Minister as well. But the virtue of those conversations is they remain private, not for broadcast to the Australian people.

TONY JONES: OK. Obviously not. But I imagine one of the issues would’ve been how to deal with China because in Copenhagen you famously came up against the intransigence of the Chinese delegation whom you accused of fornicating with rodents, if I recall correctly.

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I’ll leave the poetry to others. But the whole question that we confronted at Copenhagen was: whatever consensus we could build from the rest of the international community, if you had China, then the second-largest emitter and now the largest emitter, and India, in a period of time again potentially the world’s largest emitter, walking away from the table and not being prepared to forge a globally-binding agreement, then it’s all over, red rover.

TONY JONES: Yes, I was gonna say: will India and China still pose the biggest challenge for any political leader trying to get a consensus in Paris?

KEVIN RUDD: I think with China, there has been 180 degree shift since Copenhagen. Perhaps we needed to go through the collective scar tissue that was Copenhagen in order to get to the point that we are at with Paris. That I think the world needs to sit up and pay attention to. You’ve seen the statements by the Chinese on this, both in terms of setting their own carbon cap vis-a-vis the cap in emissions that they intend to stay within, and secondly, the mechanisms, including their own, dare I say it?, emissions trading scheme. As for India, a bit too early, but I’ve been to Delhi and I’ve spoken to relevant ministers there in my capacity as president of the Asia Society Policy Institute in the US and the Indian Government is changing as well. So, on balance, I’m cautiously optimistic about Paris, but there’s still lots and lots of unresolved questions.

TONY JONES: Particularly in India, you would’ve thought. Narendra Modi’s India is a different beast, I would’ve thought, than China and they are obviously intent on lifting huge numbers of people out of poverty. They think coal-fired power stations is a key to that and they’re building huge mines here in Australia in order to do that. I mean, is that going to be one of the biggest problems this time round?

KEVIN RUDD: I think the core outstanding question stares all of us in the face: how do you get India in particular at its stage of economic development over let’s call it the massive carbon hump which lies ahead? India’s not just gonna turn the lights off. You’ve got a country of 1.1, 1.2 billion people. Within – by 2026, it’ll have more people than China. So how do we assist our Indian friends get across that hump? One, on the energy efficiency side is a big contribution because the amount of line leakage in India is horrendous, and then, waiting for I think the big breakthrough on solar, particularly in terms of long-term solar energy storage.

TONY JONES: Does Australia have any – you talk about ethics a lot in your recent speech on climate change. Does Australia have an ethical duty to not export so much coal to India?

KEVIN RUDD: I think the bottom line with the source of all dirty carbon exports, of which coal, oil and gas descend in that order, is to make sure that there is a very clear global carbon price, and therefore, that it becomes ultimately too expensive to consume these environmentally-corrosive energy sources.

TONY JONES: It raises the obvious question of the emissions trading scheme. Can you ever imagine a circumstance where Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister now, could go back to an emissions trading scheme, given what you said earlier about the opposition from within his own party?

KEVIN RUDD: Well look, I have maintained a reasonable discipline in the last couple of years of not commenting much; in fact, not a lot, on Australian domestic politics. Far be it …

TONY JONES: Well can I say, that’s not entirely true. Just a few days ago …

KEVIN RUDD: I have not been into the internalities of the Liberal Party.

TONY JONES: Just a few days ago you warned Malcolm Turnbull to watch out for the nut jobs of the lunar right in his own party. Were you referring to climate denial?

KEVIN RUDD: Oh, a bunch of nut jobs on the lunar right in his party. Of course I won’t name them. I think they self-define themselves in the Australian political debate. But also by the way in that debate I was asked about how Malcolm Turnbull was performing; I’d balanced it by saying we in the Labor Party have our serious problems with factional thugs coming out of elements of the trade union movement. In other words, every political leader has their challenges and forging the consensus necessary. I hope over time, I genuinely hope over time that Prime Minister Turnbull is able to bring that consensus around within his own party.

TONY JONES: I’ll come back to those factional thugs on your own side of politics in a moment. But in your lecture you addressed climate change from a Christian perspective and you said your purpose is to, “… challenge the ethical, scientific and policy basis of Cardinal George Pell’s consistent opposition to climate change action.” Why focus on Pell?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, the first thing you didn’t mention is I was doing the Rowan Williams Lecture at Trinity College University of Melbourne, so God gets a guernsey by definition, OK?

TONY JONES: Yes, but Catholicism not so much.

KEVIN RUDD: The reason I’ve actually engaged this debate in relation to Cardinal Pell’s position is twofold. Number one, given that we still have fractured public opinion in countries like this and elsewhere on the need for climate change action, when you have such a significant figure in this country as Cardinal Pell saying it’s all nonsense and to say most directly about his observations that the science is without foundation and therefore policy action is unnecessary, that’s a problem for Australia. But now he’s been elevated to the position of Prefect for the Economy and a very senior Prelate in Rome, when he comes out barely a month after the Pope’s encyclical on climate change and the environment more broadly, the encyclical called Laudato Si’ in June of this year, and Cardinal Pell comes out in July of this year and says, “Well, the Church can’t speak with authority on questions of science, therefore we shouldn’t pay too much attention to it,” in effect, that’s what he meant.

TONY JONES: In effect, the Pope is wrong, don’t listen to him.

KEVIN RUDD: Well that’s I think any reasonable man’s conclusion or woman’s conclusion from the language used by Cardinal Pell in his quoted remarks in the Financial Times of I think July and the encyclical came out in June. So what does all this add up to? It’s not an arcane theological debate. It’s saying to bring about global action on climate change, you need a consensus of community opinion. The Church’s influence within various communities around the world is significant. It is, for example, in the United States still. And therefore when you have one of the senior princes of the Church, a cardinal of the Church in such a senior position now in Rome basically saying to the Pope, “You don’t know what you’re talking about on climate change,” I think there’s a responsibility for all of us to engage. And what I’ve said is that the Pope’s encyclical fundamentally contradicts everything that Cardinal Pell has said and for reasons of ethics and for reasons of the science and for reasons of policy, I’m backing Francis.

TONY JONES: Yeah. Let’s go back to the Australian context briefly because you do set out where Cardinal Pell intervened in the Australian debate at a critical time when you were trying to get through an intransigent Senate, if we can put it that way, your own Emissions Trading Scheme. Are you suggesting in that speech a kind of conspiracy of interests, and in this case, I would suggest, you might be suggesting one between Tony Abbott and his old friend Cardinal Pell?

KEVIN RUDD: Well look, all I’m doing is addressing the facts. 1.) The former Prime Minister’s position on climate change science was that it was, quote, “absolute crap” – not a particularly refined theological statement, but I don’t blame him for that. And second, Cardinal Pell at the same period of time basically describes the science as it relates to climate change as a new fad. He equates it – and the – he equates it to some of the medieval Church’s practices of selling indulgences. I mean, it’s quite a full-on, very direct attack on the scientific underpinnings of the action we would describe as (inaudible)

TONY JONES: So just a coincidence or a conspiracy of interests?

KEVIN RUDD: Um, I usually have a view that conspiracies are far too complex to arrange, so it’s probably an accident of circumstances. But the bottom line is the two positions were opposed. They were in the midst of a very protracted national debate here as we legislated or sought to legislate twice for an emissions trading scheme. And therefore, it is – it was not helpful then. I did not engage Cardinal Pell then. But why I’m engaging him now through the Rowan Williams Lecture and what I’ve said in it is that the consequences are global and Pell is a global figure with global authority.

TONY JONES: On subject of unions and these factional thugs you referred to again on The Project a couple of days ago, do you think the trade union Royal commission has done more good than harm in exposing some of this thuggery?

KEVIN RUDD: Yeah, that’s a really hard question, so I can’t give you a precise answer on that. But number one is the trade union Royal commission was a piece of politics designed by Mr Abbott. We all know that. We’ve also seen the subsequent I could just say politically partisan behaviour of Dyson Heydon.

TONY JONES: But do you think, as many in Labor and the union movement are saying, Dyson Heydon’s partisan behaviour, as they put it, has rendered anything that he says subsequently about the union movement to be null and void before he even makes his conclusions?

KEVIN RUDD: That’s why my answer is actually complex. You accept that it was politically established for utterly partisan reasons and Dyson Heydon’s performance in terms of his – let’s call it happiness to accept the after-dinner speaking role at Liberal Party fundraisers is one thing, but you would have to be blind, you’d have to be blind not to conclude that some of the internal practices of various trade unions, but not all deserve fundamental change, fundamental reform. In the case of certain individuals, I’m sure there will be legal processes as well. So there ain’t a neat answer to this. It’s kind of both. And I think we’ve got to have the broad enough shoulders as the labour movement to say, “Look, this stuff actually cannot go on. Honest union members don’t want that.” But I’ve got to say, knowing a number of the unions around the country who’ve run a pretty clean ship, a very clean ship and genuinely service their members, it ain’t one-size-fit-all.

TONY JONES: But do you include the AWU in that regard, the AWU under Bill Shorten, because although there’ve been – there will be no findings of criminal wrongdoing from – against Bill Shorten, it appears there’s been damage to his leadership as a result of all of this?

KEVIN RUDD: Well I have some sympathy for Mr Shorten on this question because having put Mr Shorten through Torquemada’s inquisition on the trade union Royal commission and having found that in fact there were no charges which could be laid against him …

TONY JONES: No criminal charges.

KEVIN RUDD: But what I’m saying is to then allow that to slide out at the most politically manipulative timing of a Friday night when we know that your good colleagues in the media are already off at the pub having a beer and therefore it’s not gonna hit the newspapers, present company excluded, that is a further hallmark of politicisation. I think Mr Shorten’s challenge is not in terms of his personal ethics. Mr Shorten’s challenge is: how does the Labor Party deal with the problem of the trade unions which have been investigated and through factual analysis established to have deep need for reform. And secondly, to ensure that at the same time we’re reforming the Labor Party, so that it is not simply the subject of faceless men, factional thugs who have this internal power base within certain of the trade unions.

TONY JONES: You’ve obviously been reading the newspapers. So Julie Bishop, you would’ve seen, is under fire today for sending her chief-of-staff to a meeting of MPs plotting the downfall of Tony Abbott, a loyal deputy switching sides. Does that ring any bells?

KEVIN RUDD: Look, um, … (Laughs) I’m not gonna go there, mate. The …

TONY JONES: Well you don’t have to talk about Julia Gillard in this case. You could talk about Julie Bishop.

KEVIN RUDD: No, no. What I was gonna say is, look, the entrails of what happened in relation to the Liberal Party leadership spill is probably a matter best addressed by the Liberal Party. In terms of staffers being present at meetings, for goodness’ sake, I mean, the people who wield numbers in leadership disputes, whether it’s in the Labor Party or the Liberal Party, are MPs. I think staffers in my experience are very much at the margins of the actual core business of where the numbers are.

TONY JONES: I know you must have – you’ve actually expressed a certain amount of sympathy for Tony Abbott having gone through something similar to what you did: not being able to go to an election after winning one. Can you imagine him sitting quietly on the crossbenches – or not on the crossbenches, on the backbench and doing nothing about that?

KEVIN RUDD: I had a bit of a chat with Mr Abbott the other day, a private one, at the Remembrance Day events at the War Memorial in Canberra. And we talked a bit about basically the human impact of these things. And I’m quite genuine in what I’m saying: one’s public execution is not a pretty thing to experience. That’s just a human thing. I radically disagree with Mr Abbott on practically everything the guy stands for. But you’d be a pretty heartless soul if you were to deny that these things are not painful. They are. In terms of Mr Abbott’s future, well, I think Tony’ll be sorting that one out and not for me to provide external advice. I’m 12,000 miles away.

TONY JONES: Yes, I know that. Finally, is your self-imposed exile from Australia likely to be a permanent one?

KEVIN RUDD: Ah, I’m Australian. I like this country. I’ve only been back a few days. And, you know, we can talk this country down a bit too much. It’s got some great things going for it and I like coming back.

TONY JONES: Kevin Rudd, I’m not gonna ask you about the UN Secretary-General’s role because I know for sure you’re not gonna give me an answer on that, but we will …

KEVIN RUDD: I’ll give you an answer, which is that I’m not a candidate. It’s Eastern Europe’s turn.

TONY JONES: Yes, that is the way it works, isn’t it, sort of rotated between different regions, isn’t it? So perhaps somewhere down the track, is that what you’re saying?

KEVIN RUDD: Um, no, what I’m saying is that it’s Eastern Europe’s turn and I’m not a candidate.

TONY JONES: Kevin Rudd, we thank you very much for coming in to join us. We’ll see you when you’re back here next time.

KEVIN RUDD: Thank you very much.