TONY JONES: The Minister for Foreign Affairs Bob Carr joined me earlier from our Parliament House studio.
Bob Carr, thanks for joining us.
BOB CARR: Pleasure.
TONY JONES: Has the Millennium Development Goal been jettisoned for the greater goal of saving Julia Gillard?
BOB CARR: No, it hasn't. We're increasing the aid budget. The aid budget's going up by $300 million. We're on track to be spending $7.7 billion on aid in 2015. There's only a 12-month delay in reaching that noble goal, that wonderful goal of having 0.5 per cent of all Australia's spends going — spent on aid.
That 0.5 will be reached, but only …
TONY JONES: But you still stripping — evidently still stripping nearly $3 billion out of the money that otherwise would have been going to foreign countries in the form of aid.
BOB CARR: No, we're increasing aid, but the trajectory, if you like, isn't as ambitious as we were able to deliver in more bountiful times.
TONY JONES: But you can't escape the fact that you yourself have said this is a saving of $2.9, nearly $3 billion over the forward estimates. That's actually twice the amount of surplus. So it's a lot of money not going to foreign countries.
BOB CARR: You can't spend money you haven't got. And with revenues down, you've got to have savings. You can't spend what you haven't got, on aid or anything else.
But it is still going up. The aid budget is going up, only it's not going up as dramatically as we had hoped a few years ago.
But, Tony, to put in concrete terms: in the next three years, Australia's giving itself the capacity to sustain 30 million people who might be affected by humanitarian disaster, by floods like those we saw in Fiji or Pakistan, famine in the Horn of Africa or a war like that in Sudan or South Sudan. Thirty million people are capable of being fed and given medical supplies with Australian aid.
Or to put it another way, there'll be 10 million vaccinations of youngsters paid for by Australian taxpayers over the next three years because the generosity, the strength, the robustness of this aid budget.
TONY JONES: It's still — no matter which way you cut it, it's still a broken promise because there was an agreement.
BOB CARR: It's a delayed promise. No, it's not a broken promise; it's a delayed promise. We're getting there …
TONY JONES: The Greens say that Kevin Rudd would not have abandoned this commitment. Do you have a different commitment than he did?
BOB CARR: Well, the commitment couldn't have been kept with the money not there. Five billion dollars out of your revenues because of the international economic situation required some savings. You can't spend money that's not there.
Now this is a big, generous aid budget. Because of the economic circumstances in Australia, we're unable to spend money that's not there. We're going to get to that great goal of 0.5 per cent going to aid out of gross national expenditure a year later than we originally planned. Now that's not a bad thing. That doesn't embarrass me and it shouldn't embarrass any Australian.
TONY JONES: Let's have a looks at the budget more broadly. Do you regard this budget as a chance for the Government to reverse itself electoral fortunes?
BOB CARR: Yes I do because it delineates the gap between the two sides of politics. Australians can see a budget that shares the benefits of the mining boom. And as the Prime Minister says, she speaks to people who say a mining boom that hasn't been a boom for me. This in so many ways shares the benefits of that boom.
Tony Abbott, by contrast, Tony Abbott by vivid contrast, is saying he will give back to the mining companies the proceeds of the mining tax. Now I think that's a sharp contrast. I think Australians ought to think about that sort of contrast.
Here's a government that's making a big investment in assisting families manage real cost-of-living pressures. Our economy is booming in some respects. That's driving up the cost of living. I think the contrast with the sloganeering of the Opposition is very, very real and greatly to the Government's credit.
TONY JONES: Well I've got to ask you this then: are you quietly pleased that a minority government has actually forced your hand on this because were it not for the fact you had a minority government, you would have given this money to corporations in the form of a company tax cut.
Are you quietly pleased it's gone the other way?
BOB CARR: Yes, I am. And those in the corporate sector with a grievance about it can beat a path, if they want to waste their time, to the office of the Green Party or to the Coalition. But the Coalition in its negativity — one thinks of Spiro Agnew's old phrase "nattering nabobs of negativity — negativism" — can complain to the Coalition.
We were dealt that hand and we've invested the money in a different way.
TONY JONES: So, in a way you were forced to deliver a Labor budget or "Labor to the bootstraps" budget, as Wayne Swan says.
BOB CARR: Oh, it's one part of a Labor to the bootstraps budget, but as you know from your reporting and your discussions in the last 24 hours, there are other aspects to that as well. I think it's a very good budget.
TONY JONES: Sure. We're talking about this specific element, though, which is interesting because it's actually been forced on you by the Greens. So, in a way, they've forced you to be more Labor than you were.
BOB CARR: No, not the Greens. If the Coalition — if the Coalition hadn't done something very uncharacteristic and blocked a tax cut for companies, it would have proceeded.
TONY JONES: Let's go to this foreign aid question again. And I'm just wondering, could you make the argument in international fora that Australia is already committed to a big initiative to save the planet at its own expense by introducing the world's biggest carbon tax?
BOB CARR: I've spoken about climate change with 15 nations from the Caribbean and with the nations of the South Pacific, and Australia gets enormous credit because we take climate change seriously.
When we — the Prime Minister and the Environment Minister Tony Burke — go to the Rio +20 Summit in the middle of the year, they'll be there with real credibility.
When I was in Washington, I spoke to Senator John Kerry, I spoke about Australia's commitment on carbon and our commitment on oceans, a major enthusiasm of mine, commitment to oceans.
TONY JONES: But we've talked about this before, Bob Carr, but I guess what I'm getting at here is: could you actually make the argument that since Australia is taking the hit that no other country is with such a large price on carbon, such a large carbon tax, it is a form of foreign aid?
BOB CARR: Yes, Tony, I'd put it a different way. I'd say that on this test and on other tests like our big aid budget that I've been promoting, we are a good global citizen. We're a good global citizen. And given our initiative on the green agenda looking after the oceans, taking a stand on climate, we are in a sense a green superpower.
We take our environmental commitments seriously. And I think the old days when Australia's only foreign policy was to boast that it had gone from being a crown colony to a banana republic are well and truly in the past.
We are seen as a creative middle power. That's my vision: Australia as a creative middle power, punching above its weight — sorry to use that cliché — when it comes to good global citizenship.
And what we're doing in funding 10,000 vaccinations around the world or stocking up to assist 30 million people in humanitarian disasters over the next three years, if it's required, or providing that clean drinking water to 8.5 million people who haven't got it, I think that gives us credentials that Australians can be immensely proud of.
TONY JONES: Okay. We were talking about the carbon tax and I guess I'm going to ask you here, do you believe that less well-off Australian families are more likely to accept the carbon tax now that they've been given the benefit of this largesse in the budget?
BOB CARR: I think so. I think so. Support for putting a price on carbon diminished around about early 2010. And I think the inroads of climate change deniers had a great deal to do with it.
I also think there's another factor and that is plain vigorous lobbying from the carbon lobby. In America you've got four carbon lobbyists for every member of Congress and we're getting to the point in Australia where we aren't that different.
TONY JONES: Yes, but I mean, we've just drawn a direct link there between the largesse to less well-off Australian families and the carbon tax and you believe it'll make a difference, do you?
BOB CARR: Yes. Every country that has put a price disadvantage on carbon has compensated households. That's happened wherever this has occurred and …
TONY JONES: But no one is directly saying, as far as I understand it, that's what's at play here. And yet, plainly itseems that it is.
BOB CARR: Oh, you're talking about measures in this budget? As opposed to earlier measures announced to compensate for carbon?
TONY JONES: I'm talking about generally the largesse given to less well-off families throughout a serious of budget initiatives.
BOB CARR: Throughout a series of budgets or in this budget?
TONY JONES: No, in this budget.
BOB CARR: Because I thought you were referring to earlier budgets.
TONY JONES: No, no, I was quite specifically talking about the budget initiatives in this budget for less well-off families. Will it make them more inclined to accept the carbon tax?
BOB CARR: Well I misunderstood your question. That to me is a separate issue. And I don't know the answer to that question. I just know that the measures are justifiable in their own terms.
TONY JONES: Now, given the gravity of the Craig Thomson allegations, do you think Parliament should be able to debate his future?
BOB CARR: Look, Tony, that matter was aired yesterday and today in the House of Representatives. I'm not going to add words of mine to it. The Prime Minister spoke for our side of politics on that. I was in the Senate today where the matter wasn't raised. Let's rest with what was aired in the Parliament and draw a line under it, at least for today.
TONY JONES: Well I mean, the independents are not drawing a line under it. Andrew Wilkie says it should be debated in Parliament. The other two independents are still making up their mind. They're actually going to wait to see what Craig Thomson says when Parliament goes back and sits.
BOB CARR: Yes. Yes, Tony, I don't sit on the green leather. So, it's not up to me to draft parliamentary strategies for the Government for the House of Representatives.
TONY JONES: And finally, the insinuations you made about James Ashby on Twitter, that he was more rehearsed than a Kabuki dancer, I think, or something along those lines.
BOB CARR: Yes, look, the only point I was making there is that sexual harassment is such a serious matter, a serious workplace matter, it deserves to be handled without becoming clouded with politics.
When I hear that any workplace complaint, sexual harassment or anything else, has been formulated in response to three meetings with an opponent of the employer, a political opponent of the employer, with the Deputy Leader of the Party and with the major attack dog of the opposition party, I think things have become a bit clouded.
And I'd prefer to see a workplace complaint served up to the proper authorities without being filtered through a political process. That's all I'd say about it. It can rest there.
TONY JONES: Well it's not quite all you've said about it. I mean, the key point here is: would you have considered saying what you said on Twitter if it had been Jane Ashby rather than James?
BOB CARR: Absolutely. Absolutely. Look, if there's a complaint about a workplace harassment issue, it should go straight and cleanly to the authorities. It shouldn't be a matter of discussion with someone who is the registered political opponent of the employer, someone who is the chief attack dog of the Opposition and someone who's the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
Let's treat sexual harassment in the workplace seriously and see that a complaint goes unfiltered by political considerations to the appropriate source.
TONY JONES: Bob Carr, we'll have to leave you there. We thank you very much for coming in to join us tonight.
BOB CARR: Yes, my pleasure, Tony. Thank you.
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