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THE HON NICOLA ROXON MP ATTORNEY-GENERAL
TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW ON SKY NEWS AM AGENDA ± 24 FEBRUARY 2012 TOPIC: Leadership E&OE ONLY DAVID SPEERS : Thanks very much for that. We're going to go back to Kieran Gilbert. He's talking to the Health Minister - sorry, the Attorney General, Nicola Roxon. KIERAN GILBERT: The former Health Minister, which is interesting because thanks for being with us, Attorney General. NICOLA ROXON: Sure. KIERAN GILBERT: I do want to ask you about Kevin Rudd's suggestion this morning - you heard his comments when he arrived back in Brisbane... NICOLA ROXON: I did. KIERAN GILBERT: ...that - that the Gillard Government and that the health reforms that you oversaw were not submitted through normal Cabinet processes. NICOLA ROXON: Well this is just a complete joke and it's such a joke because we went through a very detailed health reform process with Kevin as Prime Minister and we were able to progress an enormous amount of things that he should be proud of and I am proud of as well. But many of those things, including the biggest proposals that Kevin wanted to act on, he wanted with four days notice on one occasion that I can recollect, to take over the entire health system. Didn't have any materials for Cabinet, didn't have legal advice, thought - I think it was on the Wednesday or Thursday - that we could prepare something that he'd take to Cabinet on Monday to announce on Tuesday. Now this is just a ludicrous way to run a Government. We didn't do that. KIERAN GILBERT: And that was to take over the whole health system? NICOLA ROXON: That's right. We didn't do that because we were able to talk Kevin into some sense, that if you were going to do it you had to have a proper process which he would never agree to do.
He and I did not agree on whether that was a desirable outcome but I don't begrudge that. I think it's quite a reasonable thing for people to have a different view on but he was never prepared to allow me or the Government to do the work to properly assess that. On another occasion he suggested, us actually having a referendum about taking over the health system, having it at the same time as the 2010 election, knowing full well and agreeing that that referendum would be lost but thought it would be a good tool to be able to win the election. So he was prepared to have such a cynical approach to this. I think that would have been a disaster. I used to have to work with Julia and Wayne in particular to call together meetings with Kevin to explain that we didn't agree with that. I asked for it to go to Cabinet on a number of occasions. That wasn't agreed, mostly because he wanted there to be agreed - an agreed position between him and I. Again, that's fair enough but then to come out and say that the deal that actually got done in health did not go to Cabinet is just wrong. It went to - it went to... KIERAN GILBERT: Well okay, let's go to that in a moment but I just want to clarify something. He - Kevin Rudd argued that the Government take all of the cost, all of the rigmarole of a referendum just for a political win? NICOLA ROXON: Absolutely, sat there with Karl Bitar and everybody else to say look this is a really popular thing to do, we would win the election. We said yeah, but we wouldn't win the referendum. You can look at the history of referendums, the States do not agree with us. The campaign would be very heavily opposed to us. Oh, well that's something we could deal with when we win. We said, well we can't do that. This is not a play thing, this is actually a really serious issue and there are lots of people who have different views about how we could best reform our health system. I'm not critical of Kevin having a different view and a very strongly held passion that Canberra could do this better but I actually think if that's what you believe, in Government you then have to work through how you could make that happen. The experts didn't support him. There wasn't any legal advice sought. He wouldn't allow a discussion in Cabinet and that was very, very frustrating and I don't want there to be some pretence out there that this is a good new campaign idea that Kevin has and if he was elected to become Prime Minister again that he would pursue. KIERAN GILBERT: So I guess when - when he criticised you and the Prime Minister for the - your response to the Health and Hospital Commission that you were throwing things at the television this morning? NICOLA ROXON: Well it's good that you sometimes do things in the privacy of your own room. I was frustrated about that because I think we've got a really good outcome and I think a lot of that was courtesy of the passion and drive Kevin had about health. But he wasn't prepared to take advice from people. Use one of the other examples, the elective surgery targets, the emergency department targets. Great idea, fantastic to have something to strive to that the States will be, you know,
clearly measured against but we had to - when Julia became Prime Minister we had to actually get the experts involved so that the health professionals could implement these. And we've got very strong targets that are still reach targets but they were actually designed properly with input from surgeons, from emergency department specialists which Kevin... KIERAN GILBERT: So there was mopping up? NICOLA ROXON: ...which Kevin did not want to do. KIERAN GILBERT: So you had to mop up, after Julia Gillard took over, some of these ill thought out or ill researched policies? NICOLA ROXON: Well absolutely but we did that while Kevin was the Prime Minister as well. Many senior ministers got on with the job of delivering important reforms but it was often against a back drop of being called in the middle of the night, summonsed to The Lodge for Sunday meetings that went for seven hours with no papers, no proper way to make decisions. But I am just really frustrated, I have kept my counsel all this time about those issues, because I didn't think it served any purpose to share that with the public. If Kevin is going to pretend that this is a great new idea that we can deliver, he has to be able to show the public and the colleagues how he would actually work through that properly to deliver it. He couldn't negotiate with the States to get an outcome, he wouldn't get proper legal advice, he wouldn't let officials properly prepare the pros and cons and if you don't do that then you can't actually assess what risks are involved for Government or the public in going down a course that might be populist and politically successful but ultimately will end in tears. KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. Let's bring in David Speers, our political editor. David, any thoughts for the Attorney? DAVID SPEERS: Well I just wanted to ask you about that time as Health Minister when you were travelling around the country visiting a lot of hospitals in the lead up to that big announcement. Is it true that you would be doing press conferences standing next to Kevin Rudd not knowing what he was going to announce? NICOLA ROXON: No, look that's not true for that period. It was certainly true that there were occasions during campaigning and other things where he would surprise me with some of the comments but that actually is not accurate and those comments didn't come from me. DAVID SPEERS: Well...
NICOLA ROXON: What is true - what is true, David, is that often on the day before we could not get confirmation from the Prime Minister which hospital or which city he was going to be in and that just wreaked havoc for people, including the very hard working health professionals who often didn't know at what time or on which day we would arrive. And I didn't think that was respectful of them but ultimately they were very pleased that the Prime Minister was interested in their area, they were always very polite about it and, you know, I think we could have got more out of it if we could have planned more than a day ahead where we were going to be including sometimes even in which State we were going to be. DAVID SPEERS: It seems pretty clear to me then that there's no way you would be able to work with Kevin Rudd again as leader now that you've, you know, spoken so openly? NICOLA ROXON: I wouldn't. I wouldn't. Look, I doubt I would be asked but I absolutely wouldn't accept if I was. DAVID SPEERS: All right. So this is the bottom line. For - the message for Caucus here is you put Kevin Rudd back in the chair there's a whole bunch of us who are just going to walk? NICOLA ROXON: Well look that's not - I mean, that's not a message. Ultimately this is not about me. One of the thankfully strong things about the Labor Party is we - we bat very deep, there's a lot of good people and I don't kid myself that if I wasn't a minister that there would be plenty of other good people who would step up and be able to do the job. But, I personally would not put myself through that process again. I wouldn't have confidence in him and I'm sure he wouldn't have confidence in me. KIERAN GILBERT: What about this issue of the trust and confidence that Kevin Rudd raised repeatedly in that news conference? He's obviously trying to tap into what's a perceived weakness of the Prime Minister in the electorate, referring to the events of the night of mid-2010. This was a very, you know, tactical and very clear approach from Mr Rudd there, wasn't it? NICOLA ROXON: Yeah. Well, look I - I wasn't one of the people involved in that. I found out that that challenge was on, on the night it was on. The reason I ultimately made up my mind pretty quickly to support this unprecedented decision for, you know, a sitting Prime Minister was because I had had months and months and months of this process going where it was increasingly impossible to get a sensible outcome. And I am just - I think it's very unfair the way this is being painted for the PM because I sat through so many meetings with the PM, with the Treasurer, with the Prime
Minister nutting through details, often with the three of us with one view and Kevin with another, or genuinely just tossing around how you could resolve the outcome but never with papers, never with any sort of proper preparation and never with any way to resolve decision making. You know the Government is not a play thing, this is much bigger than me or Kevin or Julia, this is about the public getting the best government it can have and I feel very strongly that we now have a strong process and ultimately good policy is good politics and Julia will be able to deliver a better outcome for us. KIERAN GILBERT: Well what about the suggestions by Wayne Swan, by Stephen Conroy and others that Mr Rudd had contempt for his colleagues and was demeaning to the Caucus colleagues? Is that true? NICOLA ROXON: He wasn't always an easy person to get on with. He could be very charming and very funny and he could be very acerbic. I'm big enough and tough enough to look after myself on this. I did witness quite a lot of very bad behaviour to staff and to officials. I don't think that that's a good way to run a government. People I think accept a fair amount when they know that you're under an enormous amount of pressure and Kevin was often under a lot of pressure but in contrast, despite everything that's been thrown at the Prime Minister publicly and in undermining, I've never seen her lose her cool. In fact, everybody keeps saying how does she keep such a, you know, strong, patient demeanour, she must want to throttle people but she never does. So you know I think that really is a very different measure of the two of them and I think we need to think carefully about that because the Prime Ministership of the country is too important. KIERAN GILBERT: The problem here though, isn't it, if Mr Rudd gets - for the Prime Minister and for the - you know, the Gillard camp, if he gets over thirty-five votes in a Caucus of one hundred and three as much as you want to draw a line under this it's just going to simmer away and Kevin Rudd made that pretty clear today. He said I need to be upfront, unlike Julia Gillard in 2010, I'll be upfront about my intentions. NICOLA ROXON: Well I think that both of them are being given a chance to ask the colleagues for their support. I think that whatever happens it has to be final. I don't think - and you know if Kevin succeeds I won't want to serve in his ministry but I will absolutely wish him and the Government the best of luck. I will hope that he has changed and I will be there campaigning for Labor but I feel it's my responsibility, having lived through too much of that too closely, especially now Kevin has put it in question, to make sure people are not misled about those comments. KIERAN GILBERT: Attorney General, Nicola Roxon, thanks for your contribution this morning. I appreciate it. NICOLA ROXON: Thank you.
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