ABC: Closing The Gap, AUSMIN & Public Health

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
TELEVISION INTERVIEW

ABC NEWS CHANNEL
AFTERNOON BRIEFING
31 JULY 2020

Patricia Karvelas
My next guest this afternoon is the former prime minister Kevin Rudd. He’s the man that delivered the historic Apology to the stolen generations and launched the original Close the Gap targets. Of course, yesterday, there was a big revamp of the Close the Gap so we thought it was a good idea to talk to the man originally responsible. Kevin Rudd, welcome.

Kevin Rudd
Good to be with you. Patricia.

Patricia Karvelas
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there had been a failure to partner with Indigenous people to develop and deliver the 2008 targets. Is that something you regret?

Kevin Rudd
Oh, Prime Minister Morrison is always out to differentiate himself from what previous Labor governments have done. We worked closely with Indigenous leaders at the time through minister Jenny Macklin in framing those Closing the Gap targets. The bottom line is: we deliver the National Apology; we established a Closing the Gap framework, which we thought should be measurable; and on top of that, Patricia, what we also did was, we negotiated the first-ever commonwealth-state agreement in 2008-9 over the following 10-year period, which had Closing the Gap targets as the basis for the funding commitments by the commonwealth and the states. Those things have been sustained into the future. If the Indigenous leadership of Australia have decided that it’s time to refresh the targets then I support Pat Turner’s leadership and I support what Indigenous leaders have done.

Patricia Karvelas
She’s got a seat at the table though. I remember, you know, I covered it extensively at the time. But she has got a point and they have a point that they now have a seat at the table in a different partnership model than was delivered originally.

Kevin Rudd
Well, as you know, the realities back in 2007 were radically different. Back then there was a huge partisan fight over whether we should have a National Apology. We had people like Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott threatening not to participate in the Apology. So it was a highly partisan environment back then. So these things evolve over time. The Apology remains in place. The national statement each year on the anniversary of the Apology remains in place on progress in achieving Closing the Gap, our successes and our failures. But yes, I welcome any advance that’s been made. But here’s the rub, Patricia: why have there been challenges in delivering on previous Closing the Gap targets? In large part it’s because in the 2014 budget, the first year after the current Coalition government took office, as you know, someone who’s covered the area extensively, they pulled out half a billion dollars worth of funding. Now you’re not going to achieve targets, if simultaneously you gut the funding capacity to act in these areas. That’s what essentially happened over the last five-to-six years.

Patricia Karvelas
That’s absolutely part of the story. But is it all of the story? I mean, if you look at failure to deliver on these targets, it’s been very disappointing for Aboriginal Australians. But I think for Australians who wanted to see the gap closed because it’s the right thing to do; it’s the kind of country they want to live in. There are other reasons aren’t there, that the gap hasn’t been closed? Isn’t one of the reasons that it’s lacked Aboriginal authority and ownership, that it’s been a top-down approach?

Kevin Rudd
Well, I welcome the statement by Pat Turner in bringing Indigenous leadership to the table with these new targets for the future. I’m fully supportive of that. You’re looking at someone who has stood for a lifetime in empowerment of Indigenous organisations. As I said, realities change over time, and I welcome what will happen in the future. But the bottom line is, Patricia, with or without Indigenous leadership from the ground up, nothing will happen in the absence of physical resources as well. And that is a critical part of the equation as I think you’ve just agreed with me. And we can have as many notional targets as we like, but if on day two you, as it were, disembowel the funding arrangements, which is what happened under the current government, guess what: nothing happens. And I note that when these new targets were announced yesterday that Ken Wyatt and the Prime Minister were silent on the question of future funding commitments by the commonwealth. So our Closing the Gap targets, yes, they weren’t all realised. We were on track to achieve two of the six targets that we set. We made some progress on another two. And we were kind of flatlining when it came to the remaining two. But I make no apology for measurement, Patricia, because unless you measure things, guess what? They never happen. And so I’m all for actually an annual report card on success and failure. That’s why I did it in the first place, and without apology.

Patricia Karvelas
I want to move on just to another story that was big this week. What did you make of this week’s AUSMIN talks and the Foreign Minister’s emphasis on Australia taking what is an independent position here, particularly with our relationship with China, was that significant?

Kevin Rudd
Well, whacko! The Australian Foreign Minister says we should have an independent foreign policy! Hold the front page! I mean, for God’s sake.

Patricia Karvelas
Well, it was in the AUSMIN framework. I mean, it wasn’t just a statement to the media, do you think?

Kevin Rudd
Yeah, yeah, but you know, the function of the national government of Australia is to run the foreign policy of Australia, an independent foreign policy. And if the conservatives have recently discovered this principle is a good one, well, I welcome them to the table. That’s been our view for about the last hundred years that the Australian Labor Party has been engaged in the foreign policy debates of this country. But why did she say that? That’s the more important question, I think, Patricia. I think the Australian Government, both Morrison and the Foreign Minister looked at Secretary of State Pompeo’s speech at the Nixon Library a week or so ago when effectively he called for a Second Cold War against China and, within that, called for the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party. Even for the current Australian conservative government, that looked like a bridge too far, and I think they basically took fright at what they were walking into. And my judgment is: it’s very important to separate out our national interests from those the United States; secondly, understand what a combined allied strategy could and should be on China, as opposed to finding yourself wrapped up either in President Trump’s re-election strategy or Secretary of State Pompeo’s interest in securing the Republican nomination in 2024. These are quite separate political matters as opposed to national strategy.

Patricia Karvelas
Just on COVID, before I let you go, the Queensland Government has declared all of Greater Sydney as a COVID-19 hotspot and the state’s border will be closed to people travelling from that region from 1am on Saturday. Is that the right decision?

Kevin Rudd
Well, absolutely right. I mean, Premier Palaszczuk has faced like every premier, Daniel Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian, very hard public policy decisions. But what Premier Palaszczuk has done — and I’ve been here in Queensland for the last three and a half months now, observing this on a daily basis — is that she has taken the Chief Medical Officer’s advice day-in, day-out and acted accordingly. She’s come under enormous attack within Queensland, led initially by the Murdoch media, followed up by Frecklington, the leader of the LNP, saying ‘open the borders’. In fact, I think Frecklington called for the borders to be opened some 60 or 70 separate times, but to give Palaszczuk her due, she’s just stood her ground and said ‘my job is to give effect to the Chief Medical Officer’s advice, despite all the political clamour to the contrary’. So as she did then and as she does now, I think that’s right in terms of the public health and wellbeing of your average Queenslanders, including me.

Patricia Karvelas
Including you. And now you are very much a long-standing Queenslander being there for that long. Kevin Rudd, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon.

Kevin Rudd
Still from Queensland. Here to help. Bye.

Patricia Karvelas
Always. That’s the former prime minister Kevin Rudd, Joining me to talk about yesterday’s Closing the Gap announcement, defending his government’s legacy there but also, of course, talking about the failure as well to deliver on those targets. But particularly pointed comments around the withdrawal of funding in relation to Indigenous affairs which happened under the Abbott Government and he says was responsible for the failure to deliver at the rate that was expected, and it’s been obviously a disappointing journey not quite as planned. Now, a whole bunch of new targets.