Kevin Rudd on Lateline, ABC Australia.


MATT WORDSWORTH, PRESENTER: For his reaction to the US election result and what it might mean for Australia, I’m joined by former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd in Brisbane.

Mr Rudd, welcome.

You were prime minister when Barack Obama assumed office in 2008 so you know about dealing with new presidents but how would you deal with this new president?

KEVIN RUDD, FORMER PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course, these two individuals are chalk and cheese.

But I think the principles of dealing with incoming US administration are much the same.

I think it’s important that Prime Minister Turnbull has spoken to President-elect Trump today.

I think a useful thing which I was able to do back in 2008, and I’m sure Prime Minister Turnbull will consider the same, is writing a longish handwritten note to the incoming president.

And there’s a reason for that, to explain what specific areas, major policy challenges, do we wish to be in close dialogue with him on so that he begins to develop patterns of consultation with his closer allies.

And when you look at some of the more extreme policy positions he’s taken during the campaign there’s an opportunity and I’d argue a responsibility for the Australian Government to seek to moderate those, whether it’s on climate change, whether it’s on particularly the policies in Asia and on trade.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Just on a broad sense though, under Donald Trump does the US become more involved in the world or does it retreat?

KEVIN RUDD: The bottom line is we actually don’t know. If you look carefully at Mr Trump’s language, and I’ve been living in America now for the last three years, he evokes so much of the language of what used to be called the America first movement of the pre-World War II period and that had a lot of isolationism associated with it.

Now there’s a strand of that very much in Mr Trump’s support base. Which way will he go in office? We don’t know.

But what I do know is it never serves Australia’s alliance interests with the United States well to simply become a doormat.

In the period of Mr Howard’s prime ministership, for example, the worst example of that was the Iraq War and our decision almost uniquely together with the United Kingdom to go with the Americans into the invasion of Iraq to remove weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussain.

Completely wrong. That was a doormat approach to an alliance.

We don’t want to see that in terms of President Trump. So therefore I think it’s important to carve out the space now where we wish to be not just heard, not just consulted but our views taken seriously into account.

MATT WORDSWORTH: So, you’re echoing some of the things that Paul Keating was getting at earlier tonight on 7.30 where he said, “What we need to do is make our way in Asia ourselves with an independent foreign policy”.

Is that what you’re saying, we need to do that sort of thing?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I have always said since I’ve been in public life that we in Australia can walk and chew gum.

We have had an alliance with the United States which Labor actually initiated during the darkest days of World War II when John Curtin unapologetically turned from Britain to America, and it’s continued since then.

And in the period since then we have done two things. We have endured some pretty unusual US presidents in terms of some of their foreign policy predispositions whether it was Nixon in Vietnam or whether it was George Bush in Iraq.

But at the same time, the same time we’re able to sustain also a policy of independent engagement in Asia.

That, of course, has been possible in policies since Whitlam through Hawke, particularly through Paul Keating and which I sought to sustain in office as well.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Can I ask about China. Donald Trump says China is raping the US economy and is threatening 45 per cent tariffs. How do you expect China is going to respond?

KEVIN RUDD: I think there’s a more basic question to ask about Mr Trump’s pre-election commitments. How many of them will survive into actual government policy. We don’t know.

But if you read some of the statements associated with the Trump campaign they’ve said there’s campaign language on the one hand and then there’s what we do in government or administration on the other.

What I find interesting, though, to take your question further, is that when Mr Trump over a long period of time, has discussed China, he’s identified economic leverage at his principal means by which to obtain a more open ear in Beijing in terms of American interests ranging from North Korea through to the content of Chinese economic policy and what he describes as unfair Chinese trade policy.

So I think you’re right to point to difficulties in this area but I wouldn’t just take 45 per cent as gospel because he said it once.

MATT WORDSWORTH: But he’s promised to do something, it’s not like he hasn’t been clear. He says if they don’t stop devaluing their currency we’re gonna have to charge them a tax on the goods coming in.

Surely that means there’ll be retaliation from China?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I think this is worth pursuing. As I said, I’m just not putting 1,000 per cent on what he said in terms of a specific number of 45 per cent.

But plainly he has strong views on this, plainly he seeks to use economic leverage with the Chinese and plainly he believes current trading arrangements are unfair but you are right to point out what then happens once you start engaging in one form or another of a trade war.

What happens in a trade war is that nobody wins and everyone loses.

In fact, in the difficult economic circumstances of the 1930s, starting with the Smoot Hawley Act in the United States, it just got progressively worse, taking the recession of the early ’30s into a Great Depression. Now we can’t afford to see that happen again.

I hope common sense prevails and that’s where again the Australian Government can intelligently engage President-elect Trump.

MATT WORDSWORTH: What he’s been really clear about is the Trans Pacific Partnership. Once again uses that word, it’s raping the US economy as well.

It hasn’t been ratified by US Congress yet. Do you think it will get slipped through in this lame duck session before he’s inaugurated or do you think it’s just dead in the water?

KEVIN RUDD: It’s pretty difficult for Mr Trump to say that particular arrangement, the TPP, is already having a bad effect in America when it’s not in force but we’ll just leave that to one side.

I think the real problem that he will face with the TPP is this, if he proceeds with his policy of dropping it stone dead, what he’s going to do is politically isolate a key American ally in the region, namely Japan.

Prime Minister, Abe has gone out on a political limb seeking to negotiate and agree the Trans Pacific Partnership with the United States and to do so as a way of opening up the Japanese economy to a much more open set of market forces.

So if Abe having done all of that is just left out in the cold, I think there are political consequences to flow from that as well.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Can I talk to you about asylum seeker policy. In July 2013 when you resumed the prime ministership you said that anyone who arrives here by will not be settled in Australia. They’ll be sent to Manus Island.

Three years on, many are still there. Do you take responsibility in part for that?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, the bottom line is this. The agreement that I announced in July of ’13 was a one-year agreement. You read the text of it, that’s exactly what it says.

MATT WORDSWORTH: But it wasn’t legislated for a one-year processing time though, was it?

KEVIN RUDD: I’m just saying it’s a one-year agreement and it’s clear in black and white, and the signed statement between two prime ministers actually underpins the legality of the arrangement which was then by the way upheld by the Australian High Court under challenge the following year. That’s the first point.

MATT WORDSWORTH: But it was, sorry just to pick you up on the first point though …

KEVIN RUDD: The second is this, in the operationalisation of the actual agreement …

MATT WORDSWORTH: You said it’s a one year agreement but wasn’t it reviewed after one year?

KEVIN RUDD: … in the operationalisation of the agreement and it’s implementation …

MATT WORDSWORTH: Mr Rudd, wasn’t it reviewed after 12 months not …

KEVIN RUDD: … that was taken on six weeks later and for the subsequent three years plus by Abbott, by Morrison, by Dutton.

And what we have seen is one set of protections as far as asylum seekers undermined after another.

Had that occurred and we were still in office, at the 12 month point when it came for renewal it would not have been renewed.

This mob have turned a 12 month arrangement into a permanent arrangement. Rather than resettling refugees, for example, with the offer from New Zealand, they’ve simply turned their back on that, was completely open to do that under the original arrangement and furthermore on top of that they failed to actually implement the human rights standards outlined in the agreement.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Before we run out of time if you intended it to be a 12-month limit on the processing time, it wasn’t legislated.

Even though the idea was already out there, for limits on processing times, the Greens for instance tried to attach that amendment to the Gillard legislation of only a year earlier.

So if that’s what you intended why didn’t you legislate it that way?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I think you’ve confused several things there. One is the re-opening of Manus and of Nauru occurred under prime minister Gillard back in 2012 and in fact I wasn’t even in the Cabinet at the time.

Secondly, the agreement we were talking about that. was for 12 months duration, that’s the July ’13 agreement.

On processing time, the time that we discussed with PNG at the time was six to 12 months.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Alright, I’m sorry Mr Rudd, we’re out of time.

KEVIN RUDD: Nothing longer than than.

MATT WORDSWORTH: I’d love to continue this discussion with you because there’s lot to talk.

Unfortunately we are out of time. I thank you for joining us.