Kevin Rudd on 730: Speaking on the election, Labor ‘factionalism’ and the Australia-China relationship

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Transcript below:

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Since the Second World War, only three people have led Labor from opposition into government – Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd.

Mr Rudd joined me from Brisbane a short time ago.

Mr Rudd, thank you very much for joining us.

KEVIN RUDD, FORMER PRIME MINISTER: It’s good to be on the program.

LEIGH SALES: A lot of the talk since the federal election has been about Queensland. Your name’s Kevin, you’re from Queensland, hopefully you are here to help shed some light on what happened.

(Kevin Rudd laughs)

Why do you think the Coalition won so comprehensively in Queensland?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, Leigh, I think there are some national answers to that which are applicable to Queensland and maybe a few that are Queensland-specific.

I think at a national level, the Labor Party to succeed has to be about two fundamental propositions: one is fairness; but the other is about the future and carving out a future for the country and the community.

So the fairness for working families, but a future also for aspirational Australians who want to build their own businesses and get on with life and do entrepreneurial things as well.

Here in Queensland, I’ve seen a lot of the commentary from what we up here call ‘down south’ – Quexit and the rest. That’s a whole load of baloney. This place is not hugely different from the rest of Australia.

For those who think it’s unsafe Labor territory, since we and the Goss government got rid of the gerrymandering back in ’89, we have had a Labor State Government for I think 25 of the last 30 years.

So the idea that this place is unwelcoming of centre-left progressive governments is a nonsense.

But I think you have got to get a few things basically right up here:

You have got to understand that it’s a big state, deeply decentralised, where the role of government is important.

It’s also a mining state, where people who support the mining industry are not bad people. It’s a question of managing carbon transition over time.

Then also, it’s a fundamentally small business state and where, if we as the Labor Party and alternative government of Australia don’t have a strong message for those aspiring to build their own businesses, then it won’t resonate.

LEIGH SALES: So what specifically, then, did Labor get wrong with the way it ran its campaign?

KEVIN RUDD: If our small business operators in Queensland don’t think there is a clear message for them, and those who want to move from being someone who is a wage-earner to someone who is building their own business, then we are not going to get a whole slice of people out there in, let’s call it, suburban Brisbane or regional Queensland – or regional Australia for that matter.

I think that’s part of it.

I think also there is another factor I would emphasise as well, which is, there’s been a bit of commentary – perhaps not as much as there should be – about the whole question of people of religious faith.

Queensland, sometimes it’s assumed down south, is much more religious than the rest of the country. I don’t really think that’s the case, but it’s still part and parcel of the fabric here.

And I think we in the centre-left parties have got to understand that in what we say and how we conduct ourselves, and the policies we bring to bear, that this community of faith is out there as well.

LEIGH SALES: Anthony Albanese’s the new leader. When you implemented the new leadership rules in 2013, the idea was to give the rank and file a say.

That hasn’t happened this time. Is that a bad thing, in your view?

KEVIN RUDD: Well I think it’s always good to have a vote, and I’m sure Albo would have welcomed one. I know him very well and those who would have run against him very well in addition.

But the interesting tempering thing about the rule which I brought in – which has given our party stability in leadership terms since 2013 – is that when people are putting themselves forward as a candidate for the leadership of the Labor Party, they also need to be mindful that it won’t just work as a back room factional stitch-up within the caucus.

They have to think very clearly at that point that they have to address 50,000 people out there across the rank and file of the party and every state of the Commonwealth.

And that, I think, cautions against those who just want to do an internal factional stitch-up.

LEIGH SALES: You mentioned…

KEVIN RUDD: So I think Albo would have come home anyway. But I think the discipline of the new rule causes them to think in those terms anyway.

LEIGH SALES: You mentioned the factions. We have seen the factional tensions play out in Labor today as people jockey for frontbench positions, the talented New South Wales MP Mr Husic has made way for Kristina Keneally, the former New South Wales premier.

Why doesn’t Labor just field its best team instead of ticking factional boxes?

KEVIN RUDD: Well again, I don’t know all the internals of these machinations, and I think people who know me well enough through this program and more broadly, would know that I’m probably one of the biggest opponents of the factional dimension of Labor politics – always have been, always will be.

These should be playing a decreasing role in the future.

Ed Husic, for example, is a fine, highly intelligent and effective Parliamentary performer. There should be room for the likes of both him and people like Kristina Keneally as well.

So I think the future lies in, frankly, that dimension of internal Labor politics to play less and less and less of a role. And frankly, those factions we see now today in the Liberal Party, which have given us six years of leadership instability on their side, need to play less and less of a role as well for the national interest.

LEIGH SALES: Does Anthony Albanese need to watch out for Bill Shorten?

KEVIN RUDD: Not at all. I mean, Albo is a remarkable human being. I mean, it’s a good cocktail of talents there.

I think we all have reached a view about Albo many years ago, that he’s a man with a big heart and what you see is what you get.

LEIGH SALES: I want to ask you about some of the bigger questions facing the re-elected Morrison government.

How significant do you think is the risk that we are about to hit an economic downturn in Australia?

KEVIN RUDD: I think it is a real and growing risk.

If you look carefully at the reports, not just by the IMF but reading between the lines about what the Reserve Bank Governor of Australia had to say in the course of the last week, the risks are there and there are lots of downside risks going forward.

The big one which stares us in the face, of course, is the US-China trade war.

Having just spent two or three weeks in Beijing myself, I’ve never seen that US-China relationship in such disarray as it currently is.

The geopolitical factors are bearing down big time on both the trade relationship, investment relationship and technology relationship – and it’s, for me, quite uncertain where this is going to unfold to, other than it could spell significant downside risks for Australia into 2020.

LEIGH SALES: And how might that relationship between the US and China being so fractious impact Australia?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I’ve always had the view as Prime Minister and as Foreign Minister of this country in the past that Australia’s strategy for navigating our relationship with the United States as our strong, close ally and our deep relationship with China – political relationship, a strong economic relationship and cultural relationship – that we Australians have always been able to walk and chew gum.

I think when Mr Turnbull was in office, starting from the very end of 2017, it began to spin right out of control.

That’s in terms of self-inflicted wounds on Australia’s part; and then we’ve had the new dynamic of the Trump presidency and the trade war, and the proposition in the United States now that it’s time for America to engage in a new era of strategic competition against China, rather than strategic engagement.

So these two factors – one generated itself by this Conservative government in Australia, but the second, frankly, through no fault of Mr Morrison or anybody else, is the new dynamic of the US-China relationship.

It’s going to require very delicate handling in the years ahead in case we end up becoming genuinely the economic meat in the sandwich.

LEIGH SALES: As you’ve mentioned, you’ve just been in China. During the election campaign, Prime Minister Scott Morrison referred to China as a customer of Australia’s.

How was that received?

KEVIN RUDD: It was mentioned to me quite a number of times. I was in China for the last couple of weeks of the election campaign here in Australia, and I think even Mr Morrison would now conclude that was probably an ill-advised choice of words.

To juxtapose the relationship as being America friend, China being customer, is frankly quite wrong.

We in Australia, at all levels of our society, our people, the people engagement, as well as the companies which work with each other on a daily basis, and those of us who know Chinese political leaders, there are friendships of great depth there as well.

Sure, China will never be our ally; the United States will be our ally.

So I think we need to be choosing our words very carefully into the future.

I would wish Mr Morrison well in that, because he’s been re-elected, I congratulate him for that.

But given he is our Prime Minister, this period ahead, this next, frankly, 12 months, will be one of profound significance for whether we in Australia get the balance right in our relationship with China and the United States.

It’s going to require skill and diplomacy; It’s going to require discipline in language; And it’s going to require thinking through very carefully our own policy line as well, rather than shooting from the hip.

LEIGH SALES: Mr Rudd, thank you for sharing your insights and experience tonight.

KEVIN RUDD: Good to be with you, Leigh.