Interview on Radio National

PATRICIA KARVELAS: It has been seven years since then Prime Minster Kevin Rudd got to his feet in the house of reps and delivered this apology to the stolen generation. As you heard there, on top of apologising for the law and policies which inflicted loss and suffering on the indigenous people, Mr Rudd set bold new goals to close the gap between health and economic achievement and life expectancy. Yesterday Kevin Rudd returned to the topic giving the ANU’s 2015 Reconciliation Lecture and in the progress report he found the process lacking. Kevin Rudd welcome to RN Drive.

KEVIN RUDD: Thank you for having me on the show.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Last night you said that the National Apology delivered seven years ago was incomplete. Actions have to match our words. What’s missing?

KEVIN RUDD: The apology in itself was right that we came together as a nation to recognise that the 200 years of wrong that had been done to indigenous Australians. And unless you have actually crossed that bridge in any relationship saying that this is what I have done wrong, and apologising for it, it is difficult to make other practical progress. So I think that helped. On the second step however, which was closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, and the strategy and the funded programmes we have since then, it is quite clear that the progress at best has been uneven. Some advances, and I think, some real continuing problems. That is where much of the work still needs to be done.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You said you genuinely fear the loss of national political momentum for constitutional recognition but haven’t we already lost that momentum already? It feels like that at times.

KEVIN RUDD: I think you’re right Patricia, there is a feeling around the country that this might be just getting into the political “too hard” basket. And part of my reason for saying what I said last night at the ANU reconciliation lecture is saying to the country at large that come on guys, we can do this. It as seen as too hard at the time of The Apology but we were able to come together and we were able to bring the country with us, and we were able to do this at a bi-partisan level. I believe that if we can do this with the apology, we can do this with the constitutional recognition given that this is the next stage in the overall process of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You also warned against rigidity though, that holding out for the perfect solution might give in to the potential of political ugliness that could be the divisive referendum. So what kind of compromise should be brokered? Should those that have been pushing for racial discrimination to be banned in the constitution give up on that dream? Is that one compromise that needs to be given up in this process?

KEVIN RUDD: Look Patricia, I’m not going to be in the business of preaching to our aboriginal brothers and sisters what their final negotiating position should be, between themselves, and most critically and the government of the political process. What I am saying however is never let the perfect get in the way of good. I am not in that sense therefore arguing for some minimalist proposition which is just a bit of drapery around the edge. What I am concerned about however is that we don’t allow this process to drag on and on. The key thing in this constitutional recognition, I believe to acknowledge the prior ownership of this continent by indigenous Australians and their continuing close attachment to the land and that waters of this country, and beyond that on the core questions of the existing race clauses of the constitution – to get rid of them. And then the open debate, which you’ve just pointed to about how do we therefore ensure that discrimination does not happen again, and we open the whole can of worms which is about a bill of rights.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Where would you have liked us to be seven years on from The Apology you gave? Seven years on, there was a very big statement which was given that day. It was a very emotional day. Did you think we would have come much further than this by now?

KEVIN RUDD: I think in many respects, attitudinally, the country has come a long way since 2007. The fact that Indigenous Australians now have a sense that historic set of wrongs was at least at the level of symbolic apology dealt with, at least provides us with a bridge for mutual respect to be restored to the Indigenous non-Indigenous relationship. You ask where would have liked to have been seven years on? That question could be looked at from the broader perspective of what is the end point for all of this? And what I sense from my indigenous friends around the country is that people are getting a bit fed up about when all of this is going to be over. Which leads us to the question of what is the point of reconciliation itself? I believe that reconciliation or a reconciled society is the end point, it’s the destination and we need to have a national conversation now about what a reconciled Australia would actually look like? Full of diversity, where people no longer – to paraphrase or quote Martin Luther King – where people no longer judge people by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. That’s the sort of place I think we need to start dreaming about, talking about, describing and marching in that direction and doing the remaining steps along the way.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Kevin Rudd is my guest tonight, he is the former Prime Minister of Australia you might remember him, he delivered a big lecture last night at ANU about reconciliation and I wanted to know more about his thoughts. Paul Keating said that – another Former Labour Prime Minister – that an indigenous treaty should also be on the agenda. What do you make of that suggestion of a treaty?

KEVIN RUDD: Well I respect Paul enormously because of the work he had done on beginning to change national consciousness because of his Redfern speech. I guess where I’m up to on my own participation in this debate is how do we get along across the next hurdle? That first hurdle is constitutional recognition. What happens next after we get past that and onto the next wave of reforms, I’ll leave to others. I am certainly not critical of Paul, but I have got to say that I have not dedicated enough time to wrap my head around what that would precisely mean. Let’s get constitutional recognition done now, and by the day which has been specified which is in the middle of 2017.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: There are reports today that labour has sounded out Adam Goodes to run for labour party next year in the federal election. Is that something you would support?

KEVIN RUDD: Well A, I don’t know if the reports are accurate because last time I looked I’m not leader of the labour party anymore. But if there is something to the reports, all I would say is that we in the Australian labour party but also more broadly for all political parties in the country, have to become more diverse in the representation we send to Canberra and frankly, indigenous Australians must have a greater and greater role in the parliaments of Australia. And I’ve certainly not bought into any of the criticisms of Adam Goodes that has occurred in recent times. And I think all indigenous Australians who of ability, we should be encouraging them to put their best foot forward to be part of the nation’s future.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Julia Gillard had a captain’s pick of Nova Peris, you were critical of that at the time. She tried to get more indigenous people into parliament. Wasn’t that important?

KEVIN RUDD: Well to be frank that is a question about how to handle the preselection process of the labour party I believe when it comes to including indigenous representation in the party, you can do so without unilaterally just throwing someone else out of the parliament. In the case of Victoria of course they may be a pending vacancy in one of the seats and certainly I believe that on Goodes from what I’ve observed, is a person of ability. But in terms of whether he is a candidate or not, I’m the wrong person to ask these days.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I’m not asking…

KEVIN RUDD: I’m president of the Asia Society Policy Institute in a distant province called New York.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yes, I know. I was asking more on your views of whether you think it’s a good idea, not to confirm the story. You said that when it comes to closing the gap, we need to keep the bastards honest. The ‘bastards’ being the Australian government of the day I imagine. And to that end you are donating $100 000 of your own money to help establish a permanent chair at the ANU to help analyse data associated with closing the gap targets. Are you saying that the government isn’t on top of that data, that it is losing its way?

KEVIN RUDD: Well let me say this in a bipartisan way. It’s whoever the bastards happen to be in the future, our mob of bastards or theirs in the liberal party, I just want to ensure that we have a second independent source of analysis grounded in one of our great national universities on the data on whether the gap is being closed on education, in health, in housing, in employment and in longevity.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Next week Malcolm Turnbull will attend the East Asia Summit. That meeting will discuss a draft communicate to make the EAS the peak body to deal with problems like people smuggling and terrorism. Would you be happy to see that proposal accepted? I know you put a lot of time and effort into expanding this summit.

KEVIN RUDD: Yes, I have long argued since probably around 2008 that we should evolve the East Asia Summit to what I have long called the ‘Asia Pacfic Community’. I’m heartened by the drafting that has taken place within the ASEANs and certainly by the Malaysian Chair. And I have certainly spoken myself with governments in South East Asia about this as well. And if that’s what’s on the table then I would certainly encourage Prime Minister Turnbull in that direction and the reason is pretty basic. In East Asia where we have such a host of unresolves security questions, we need to develop regional institutions which can at least take the edge of some of these institutions and encourage processes and real dialogue and problem solving rather than just having everything bi-lateralised by one country to another.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: And Malcolm Turnbull has just arrived in Indonesia today. Where do you suggest he turns his attention to in order to keep our relationship strong and to rebuild it?

KEVIN RUDD: I think precisely whether Prime Minister Turnbull he has now gone, Jakarta. Having observed these things from the US where I now live, how the relationship has progressively become unstuck in recent times, as we know those reasons. All I’m saying is that this this is a deep complex broad relationship between Australia and Indonesia and frankly, it’s always had its difficulties but frankly if you look at it in the broad, the common interests, and I believe, common values, are also much wider and broader than the things that we don’t share. So it’s far better for Prime Minister Turnbull to and the Indonesia president to spend time and get to know each other and the lines of diplomatic and political communication are opened up again.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Are you enjoying life after politics?

KEVIN RUDD: Yeah, I’ve just spent the last day or so in Canberra.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Was that like Post Traumatic Stress..? Sorry but what happens in that space? Is it like totally traumatic?

KEVIN RUDD: Actually going back to Canberra is kind of interesting for me as I have not been there since I came second at the last elections. That means I lost by the way. And it was interesting catching up with folks and to see how much things might have changed a bit and how certain things haven’t. I’m just very glad to have made whatever contribution I’ve made to national political life but frankly now I’ll be moving on to other things on an international scale certainly the work I do with the Asia Society in New York.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So you still haven’t branched out to Tony Abbott?

KEVIN RUDD: Actually I ran into Mr Abbott at the Remembrance Day Ceremony at the war memorial in Canberra the other day and I certainly asked after his well-being as because – how do I put this delicately – public decapitations are never pleasant. Particularly for the one who has just been decapitated.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you think he should stay on the back bench though?

KEVIN RUDD: Here you go into a realm where it would be foolish for me to comment further. Mr Abbott and I have never been bosom buddies so I wouldn’t have walked up to him and said Tone, this is what I think you should be doing. All I can reflect on is my own experience which is that there comes a time in your political life where you say I’ve made the best contribution that I can at this stage and it’s time now to do something else.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Kevin Rudd it has been a pleasure to talk to you again.

KEVIN RUDD: Thanks Patricia, go well.