Kevin Rudd discusses global terrorism, the changing economic and political world, the media, democracy and the future of the ALP.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd joins 7.30 to discuss terrorism, Donald Trump, the threat of South Korea and the current state of the ALP.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: German police are still hunting for the perpetrator of a terrorist attack at a Berlin market yesterday that killed a dozen people.
Terrorism experts are warning that 2017 could be a challenging year and that’s against a backdrop of global uncertainty caused by the Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as United States President.
To discuss some of the big picture issues confronting the world at the moment I’m joined from Brisbane by Australia’s former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Good to have you back Mr Rudd.
KEVIN RUDD: Good to be with you Leigh.
LEIGH SALES: Thinking about this week’s terrorist attacks in Berlin and also the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey.
How is it that with all the resources and effort expended since 9/11 that the world feels less safe?
KEVIN RUDD: I think what we’re dealing with is a phenomenon where most of us in the collective West and elsewhere are dealing with the symptoms of terrorism, whereas dealing with the fundamental underlying causes lie largely beyond our control.
Those things are the huge theological war going on within Islam itself, by and large and secondly the radical problem of increased unemployment for in particular young Arab males and more broadly economic non-development across much of the Middle East.
So these are the two big driving factors and the levers of control we have over those are relatively limited.
And therefor we’re actually dealing with the external manifestation, preventing an attack here. Minimising the impact there and regrettably that’s going to be the way it is for some time.
LEIGH SALES: So because those underlying causes are beyond our control, does that mean we have to get used to just living in a less safe world?
KEVIN RUDD: No there are concrete things we can do about it.
Number one, is in terms of the foreign policy of countries around the world, in particularly in the United States but others as well, we need to support mainstream governments and regimes across the Middle East and beyond which have significant Muslim populations so that we can have a strong stable security relationship with them and maximise their ability to deal with, frankly, what are very significant religious insurgencies within their countries.
Number two, I talked before about economic underdevelopment.
The total focus of our development policy and the activities of the UN and the world development banks should be on the development of economies and jobs across these most fragile economies.
And finally countries like us, Australia, we must have seamless intelligence relationships with countries across the world, in particular with Indonesia, given we’re going to see the return of so many foreign fighters before too much longer from Syria and Iraq.
LEIGH SALES: Speaking of Indonesia you’re the President of the Asia Society Policy Institute which released a report last week looking at how various Asian nations feel about the prospect of a Trump Presidency in the United States.
The report noted that the election of Trump raises more questions than it answers and nobody is sure what to expect next.
How should countries, including Australia, operate in such an environment of uncertainty?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, it is what it is. President Trump will be sworn in very soon. And I think the watchword across not just the West but across South East Asia is one of strategic uncertainty.
We don’t know where the policy pieces are going to lie and where the individual chips are likely to fall.
Having said that, we should not talk ourselves into a position of collective doom, panic and despair.
These are early transition periods for a new administration.
I think where that therefore leaves the future for countries like Australia is to have the strongest possible private diplomatic relationship with this new administration so that we can speak clearly, cogently, directly, where we believe US administration may be going right off the rails in terms of its impact on regional stability and prosperity.
That, I think, is the challenge of the Turnbull Government.
LEIGH SALES: Every time I ask somebody in an official position, whether in government or opposition, about the alliance under Donald Trump, they always say the alliance is stronger than the personalities in it because it’s traditionally been strong and so on.
But how can that be, there’s got to be a limitation to that, surely, at some point, doesn’t there?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, we’ve been around for a long time with this alliance.
I think the first thing we should do Leigh is just not talk ourselves and what I describe as the dumb binary game of China or the United States.
That’s a game for suckers and we shouldn’t play it. Though I see a lot of the commentary still in Australia points us in that direction.
We can walk and chew gum and we should. But the second point is this.
Within the framework of the alliance, we should under no circumstances repeat, I think, the hideous mistake made under Howard Government by simply being a cheer squad for what was then the Bush administration’s determination to invade Iraq.
If we see a repeat of that in any form, either within the Asian hemisphere or more broadly, our responsibility as an ally is not to act as a cheerleader.
Our responsibility as an ally is to say, our friends in Washington, you cannot and must not do this, for the following clear reasons.
We are saying this to you as an allied partner of, in a relationship which goes back to, frankly, Curtin during the war in 1941.
LEIGH SALES: You mention China. What are your contacts in China making of the belligerence that Donald Trump is displaying towards China?
KEVIN RUDD: It’s a varied feast. Remember the US-China relationship has been through lots of ups and downs.
We’ve had Taiwan Straits crises of one form or another going back over the last several decades.
So there’s nothing new under the sun there.
But I think the fair thing to say is that the Chinese have an expectation of strategic stability in its great power relationships. The United States now they believe that, that is now lacking.
I think the challenge for the period ahead is for a channel to be opened up as early as possible but between the two administrations so that the parameters can be set for one China, for North Korea, which is this railway train, sort of freight train rolling down the tracks towards us in terms of its nuclear weapons program and the thing which has got the potential to undermine all of our regional prosperity and frankly, global prosperity, is if we see the emergence of a trade war or a currency war between the United States and China as well.
You mention a few of the issues there North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, potential of the trade war. There’s the tensions in the South China Sea, you said in the earlier in the interview about foreign fighters returning to Indonesia.
Among all of those pretty complicated challenges in our region, is there any one that you see as more pressing or concerning than the others?
KEVIN RUDD: Yes I will give you three of them. North Korea, North Korea and North Korea. I’ve been following debate since when Adam was a boy. And the bottom line is, we’re on a technical trajectory here Leigh.
It’s to do with North Korean technical capabilities in terms of missile sophistication, in terms of missile range, the availability of nuclear material and their ability to militarise that into a warhead.
That is on a very rapid time scale. Therefore, the number one priorty in terms of US-China relations, leaving everything else to one side, is to reach an agreement strategically between Xi Jinping and President Trump Elect on how this can be arrested and stopped.
The alternatives are too horrible to talk about.
LEIGH SALES: A study released by the ANU this week finds that here in Australia, Australians satisfaction with democracy has collapsed to its lowest level since the Whitlam dismissal and there’s been a lot of discussion about the mainstream parties and the rise of forces like Nick Xenophon’s team and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, people have put it in the context of what’s happened with the rise of Brexit, the rise of Trump and also Bernie Sanders in the US.
What do you think is going on?
KEVIN RUDD: I think Leigh, it would be wrong of today’s political leaders just to push this to one side as if it’s just some passing trend.
I think we’re looking at something structural here.
There’s a very interesting poll by Lowy here in Australia going back several months now which said that I think 24 – 25 percent of people under the age of 30 thought that under certain circumstances non-democratic forms of government were just as preferable to democratic forms of government.
We begin to see therefore, an erosion into the popular buy-in into what we all thought was a given.
Going to what you then do about it, I think what’s unleashed across so much of the western world at present, are deep challenges to economic growth models, slow growth for a decade now, almost since the crisis.
But critically a rising income gap between rich and poor and the politics of inequality and the politics of marginalisation are now a mainstream political concern.
Unless we redesign a social contract within let’s call it democratic capitalism, I believe this constituency of people are saying, we’re not getting anything out of this anymore, it’s just going to get bigger and bigger.
LEIGH SALES: So do you see evidence that the mainstream parties in Australia and I mean in your own party as well the Labor Party are listening to what people are saying?
KEVIN RUDD: Look Leigh I’m conscious of what I don’t know. I live in the United States, I head an American think-tank and I’m back here in Australia from time to time.
But I think one thing is absolutely clear, frankly, on which there should be some bipartisan consensus in which is what’s the fundamental condition for democracy to function?
The common platform for a national conversation about core policy priorities.
Well, in Australia with the traditional media, with a Murdoch monopoly at 70 percent of print, we don’t really have it there.
Secondly, with the Balkanisation of social media and every tribe just reading its own stuff in the post-fact, post-truth world, the ability to have a common conversation around a common subject is also being eroded.
So frankly for the future, this sounds like a plug for you guys, unless there is a radical continuing investment in what I describe is politically neutral public broadcasting. The very essence of having a democratic conversation falls apart and both political parties should be getting behind that rather than eating away at your resource space, which I notice the current government is doing.
LEIGH SALES: Next year will mark ten years since the election of the Rudd Government. I don’t know if it’s just me but that seems incredible. Feels like about five minutes ago.
KEVIN RUDD: I haven’t aged a bit, I don’t know about you.
LEIGH SALES: What do you think is the key for the ALP to secure its future? Not just to win government again, but to ensure its continuing relevance as a political force?
KEVIN RUDD: Look this is always hard to answer in a single sentence. Let me leave you with two or three thoughts.
One, I think the current team around Shorten are pretty good.
When you look at them, and I know most of them, a combination of Wong and Plibersek and Bowen and Albanese and those sort of folks: these are highly experienced people.
So whatever the debate is about Bill’s leadership skills, he actually has a reasonable team around him. And that’s the first point. And I can trust that with, frankly the other side. I think it’s chalk and cheese.
The second thing more structurally is this. For the future it’s parallel to the conversation we just had, Leigh, about the future structure of the Australian economy, beyond the resources boom.
I remember Costello and Howard lampooning me in 2007 when I had the temerity to say we must prepare for the day when the mining boom is over – OVER. They thought it was an unpatriotic statement, well, guess what it’s over.
So the structure of the Australian economy around population, participation, productivity and through that education, skills, training, infrastructure, the National Broadband Network, which fuels small business start-ups right around the world and is now deficient in this country, that’s the core growth agenda, but parallel to that is the Australian application of the new social contract in regions which are missing out.
I suppose the final point is this. I read recently I think in the Fairfax press here in this country about Labor’s continuing problem with union-based factions.
And unless that is dealt with, root and branch, then it will continue to be a cancer within the Labor Party body politic.
LEIGH SALES: Kevin Rudd, good to have you with us. We’re out of time tonight. But it would be good to get you back on next year in that 10th anniversary year to talk more about your legacy.
Thank you very much and a Merry Christmas to you and yours.
KEVIN RUDD: Happy Christmas to all your viewers, Leigh.