TRANSCRIPT: Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast
TRANSCRIPTION: Proof copy and E & EO
DATE: 27 February 2012
TOPICS: Labor leadership
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Let's bring into the conversation now the Defence Minister Stephen Smith, a strong supporter of the Prime Minister. Minister, good morning.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: With three hours or so to go, how do you read the numbers?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Prime Minister I think this morning will get a convincing win, and that's a good thing for her, and a good thing for the Government. As you say, I'm a strong supporter of her, but the most important thing after the ballot today is to draw a line under the sand and to move on. We now need to get on with the job of governing of managing the economy and managing our national security interests and the community will judge us on our performance after today's ballot.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: What is a strong victory? There's lots of talk about being a 70/30 split. If Kevin Rudd was limited to 30 votes, would that limit the possibility, of that being a launching pad for any further challenge by him?
STEPHEN SMITH: Irrespective of the number of votes that he gets, I've seen in the course of the last week or so that’s talked in terms of 40 votes and above. But he's also said yesterday that this is it for him, and I think that that's the most important thing.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: And do you believe him?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we take that at face value. But I think that- to go back to an earlier leadership contest, when Kevin became leader in December 2006 - he said there had to be zero tolerance for ill-discipline, and the same rule applies now. And I think my Caucus colleagues, irrespective of who they vote, for will take a very dim view of any ill-discipline.
We can win the next election. We've done, in my view, a good job of running the economy, a good job of protecting our national security interest, but we've done a bad job of protecting our own political interests. A lot of that has had to do with leadership tension, so the task ahead of us now is to prove that we’re political party worth our salt - to put this behind us and just get behind the Prime Minister get behind the Government and discharge our obligation to the nation and run the country.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: You said in an earlier interview, I think it was Lateline earlier this week, that this contest was no different to former leadership battles including the one between Bob Hawke and Paul Keating or no less robust. That was some days ago. Surely we've moved well beyond that, and things have got really out of control and really vitriolic between both camps?
STEPHEN SMITH: A couple of things - firstly I'm not sure that that's right. I've had personal experience in Hawke/Keating and watched Howard/Peacock, and personal experience in Crean/Beazley and the like and they are all very robust.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: But this is a particular level of nastiness-
STEPHEN SMITH: I think the particular level of scarification was Malcolm Fraser on John Gorton, so it's not as if people haven't said these things about each other in the past. Secondly, the community understands when there's a contest on they understand when there is, as Paul Keating would say, a scrap on for political power. But I think how they judge it is once this contest is over they then say to themselves and to us, we’re sick of that now get on with your job get on with discharging or obligations so far as I'm concerned as a member of the Labor Government.
That’s discharging obligation to the millions of people out there who vote for Labor, the thousands of people who are party activists, but it's also discharging obligations to the country. And I’ve always been of the view that if we govern well when it comes to the election in August, September, October 2013, we will be competitive. It is not well recognised, but a couple of polls have been out in the course of the last week which have got us at 47/53, that’s a better position at various stages than the Hawke-Keating or Howard governments, so we are a long way from being politically dead, provided we start doing our jobs.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: There's equally another poll that is out this morning, the Newspoll, which has Labor's primary vote but still has the Prime Ministers satisfaction rating as dropping to 26%. That still underscores the significant problems you have with Julia Gillard and selling her as an electorally saleable contest to voters.
STEPHEN SMITH: There are a couple of reasons why a strong supporter of her. I've made my analysis clear about the end of Kevin's time as Prime Minister, but Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, from a minority government position, has effected some very important long-term enduring reforms. Whether that's putting a means test on private health insurance, whether it's putting a price on carbon, whether it's the structural separation of Telstra and the NBN, and that's at the same time as managing the economy and protecting our national security interests - I think that she's gotten things done, and what she now needs is clear air. What she now needs is potentially a fair go, to continue that reform in the 18 month run-up to the next poll.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Well if Julia Gillard does prevail over Kevin Rudd, Kevin Rudd has already gone to the backbench, the Foreign Minister's job is up for grabs- are you interested again?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I've been Foreign Minister and I am Defence Minister. I'm very happy being Defence Minister. I'm old-fashioned about these things; I do the job that I’m asked to do until such time as the Prime Minister says to me I require you or I’d like you to do a different job. So it's entirely a matter for her, but I’m very happy doing what I'm doing. I’ve been in the national security space all of my time as Minister, and I enjoy that very much. It's a privilege, and it’s a heavy obligation and I like to discharge that but it's entirely matter for her.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Stephen Smith, thanks very much your time this morning.
STEPHEN SMITH: Michael, thank you very much.