SUBJECTS: Resignation from Cabinet.
CHRIS BOWEN: Morning everybody. Twenty-five years ago, I joined the Australian Labor Party. Every day since then I've done what I thought is in the best interests of the Labor Party always.
Yesterday was a difficult day for the Labor Party. On that difficult day, I took the decision that the best thing for the Labor Party and for Australia would be for Kevin Rudd to return to the prime ministership. As you know, I've held that view for some time. That's the way I voted last February. Having expressed that view, having worked towards it, last night after discussing the matter with my wife and close friends, I decided to resign from the Gillard Cabinet. I informed the Prime Minister of this earlier this morning.
I want to stress that other ministers will reach their own conclusion. Other ministers who supported Mr Rudd will reach their own decisions. This is what I regard as the appropriate and honourable decision for me and I completely respect the decision that other ministers may reach.
Being a member of the Cabinet, that group of 20 or so people that makes decisions, that guides a nation of more than 22 million, is a huge honour. A huge honour that hardly anybody as a proportion of the population gets to achieve. Even a small proportion of MPs, aspiring MPs get to sit in a Cabinet room of Australia. I thank Kevin Rudd for appointing me to the Cabinet and I thank Julia Gillard for maintaining me in the Cabinet.
If you'll indulge me for a few minutes, I just want to talk about some of the things in my time as a Cabinet minister. I'll always be proud of the fact that while I was Minister for Superannuation I convinced the Government to increase the superannuation guarantee from nine per cent to 12 per cent; implemented and is the law. This will make a difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement income for ordinary, hardworking Australians. It'll boost our economy massively. It builds on the Keating Labor tradition and it's my proudest achievement. If I achieve nothing else in politics, I will have done that.
Of course, for two-and-a-half years, I was Minister for Immigration, what many people would regard as the toughest Cabinet job. Not having done all of them, I'm not going to reach that conclusion but other people have made that observation. I've discussed with many of you the highs and lows. We've had some of those lows in this room. But it's an enormous honour. A controversial job; not many people wake up spontaneously in the morning and say, 'Geez, the Immigration Minister's doing a good job today.' It's not a job which gets you much kudos, but it's an enormous honour to have been tasked with that role in that controversial area. I want to thank my colleagues for their support in that time.
I want to say something about the Labor Party. The Labor Party, a strong Labor Party, is vital to the future of Australia. Labor's the only party that believes in growth and opportunity. The Greens understand opportunity but they don't understand growth. The Liberals understand growth but they don't understand opportunity. We believe in both. We're the party that knows that economic growth lifts people out of poverty. We're the party that knows that opportunity is what means a kid from Western Sydney can make it to university and federal Cabinet. We're the only party which combines growth and opportunity and lifts people and provides for their aspirations to become a reality. If the Labor Party doesn't do it, who else is going to? If the Labor Party isn't strong, who's going to care about the kids from Western Sydney, the kids from Weipa and them getting a fair chance at life and the opportunities of a world best education? The Labor Party is so important. We have to make sure that the Labor Party is strong.
That's why I'm announcing today of course that I will recontest the seat of McMahon at the next election. I intend to fight vigorously and I intend to win it.
My one regret this morning is that a very fine bunch of people are out of work. My staff, there's some of them at the back tearing up, and they are a very fine bunch of people. Again, if you'll just indulge me for just a minute, I want to particularly thank my Chief of Staff James Cullen, who joined me on the day I became a Member of Parliament. He's been my Chief of Staff for the last several years, including almost all the time I was Minister for Immigration. A more loyal friend and a better adviser does not exist on the face of the planet. Ashley Midalia, my Deputy Chief of Staff who's here, always finds a way to lighten the mood, even this morning, with his puns. He's a former journo, perhaps that's why. Ashley has been, again, a great strategic adviser in many complex policy areas. And my Press Secretary, known to many of you, Bill Kyriakopoulos. He's not here today because his wife will be giving birth sometime in the next 24 hours. Not a finer press secretary in this Government, not a finer press secretary in this Government. And we'll all be thinking of Bill and Cinzia over the next day or so as they welcome their little one into the world.
I also want to just mention today my family. As you know, politics has an impact on families, the highs and the lows. My wife Rebecca, who puts up with so much, is always there to ground me, gives me a score for my press conferences so we'll see how we go today, she's a pretty hard marker, and is always there to advise and to support. And my little treasures, Grace and Max, who also feel the impact of politics, although they think everybody's dad goes to sit in the green room when they're in Canberra. They don't quite realise that it's a very special thing. They will get to see a little bit more of me. I always say in politics that even though it takes you away from your children and you get to spend less time with them, hopefully they can be proud of what you do and I certainly hope that's the case today.
I have been greatly honoured to serve in the Cabinet and greatly honoured to stand and to parry with you in this room on many occasions and perhaps in some future Labor Government we can do it again.
I'm happy to take questions. Mr Speers, David.
JOURNALIST: Chris Bowen, are you disappointed that Kevin Rudd didn't contest the ballot yesterday? Did the party miss an opportunity and in the end what went wrong?
BOWEN: Well, there's a few questions there, David. Firstly, am I disappointed that Kevin didn't contest? No. He did the right thing. That was based on advice from his key supporters. We advised him that the ballot would be close, potentially very close, and we advised him that we could not guarantee an outcome. He took the view that a divisive ballot which was close would not resolve the issue of the leadership and he didn't want to put the Labor Party through that.
There were caucus members torn as to which way they would vote. He didn't want to make them make that decision if it wasn't going to achieve that result. So I think Kevin did the right and decent thing in not forcing it to a vote. I know that other people have different views, but I'm not going to walk away from the advice that several of us gave him that it was very close, he could come within a few votes of the leadership and he made the right decision not to contest that ballot.
JOURNALIST: Was that in your mind yesterday [inaudible]?
JOURNALIST: So you're not going to continue to agitate from the backbench?
Mark. We'll go to Mark and then we'll go to David.
JOURNALIST: You said there'd be different views and here's one: hasn't Kevin Rudd destroyed so many good careers in the last 24 hours, including yours? Hasn't he taken people, their loyalty for granted, walked them to the edge of a cliff and thrown them and their careers over and then receded himself? And hasn't he played you for a fool?
BOWEN: No, I completely reject that, Mark. Kevin made it clear to everybody who wished to raise it with him, including his supporters, he would only consider a return to the leadership if there was a clear and unmistakeable majority view amongst the caucus that that's what they wanted. And that didn't eventuate yesterday. That was a close ballot. He made it clear to all of us, we all knew the conditions in which he would contest a ballot. We gave him the advice. We're all grown-ups in this building. We all make our calls; I made the call to support Kevin Rudd. I don't apologise for it.
I think Kevin Rudd was a good Prime Minister and I think the Labor Party could have done well to return him to the leadership. The Labor Party took a different view, hence my announcement today.
I did say I'd go to David.
JOURNALIST: If it's the case that there cannot be another leadership move before the election, is there any point in Kevin Rudd staying in Parliament? Is it time for him to move on, given the outcome yesterday?
BOWEN: Well, look at it from Kevin's point of view. He resigned from the Cabinet 12 months ago. That was when he made his announcement. Nothing changed in terms of that announcement yesterday. Kevin will make his own decision in his own good time about what he wants to do with his future. That's entirely a matter for him. He has a lot to contribute, I think, to Australia in any capacity that he chooses, whether it be in this building or another building.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, if, as you say, the numbers were close, why didn't Kevin Rudd pick up the phone between two o'clock and when the ballot was held at four thirty, and try and sway those votes?
BOWEN: Well, Kevin has an old fashioned view about these things, that a draft is a draft and a challenge is a challenge. A challenge involves ringing around; a draft doesn't. That's Kevin's old fashioned view. Now, some would disagree with that but he's a man of his word and that was his approach.
JOURNALIST: You didn't resign from the frontbench at the last ballot and arguably you were more public at the last ballot in the lead up.
BOWEN: I had more time to be, Sam.
JOURNALIST: So do you feel like you were left no other choice but to resign because of what Stephen Smith said and what the Prime Minister -
BOWEN: No, let me make it clear: this is my decision and I don't feel pressured in any way. I made this decision last night, as I say, after having talked it over with Bec and my Chief of Staff and some close friends. I don't feel in any way that this is something I've been forced into. I make this decision. I feel, for me, this is the honourable thing to do.
Andrew and then Phil. Everybody will get a go.
JOURNALIST: Given by your own reckoning that the numbers could have been very tight yesterday, there is an opportunity for it to be revisited. What would you say to those people among Kevin Rudd's supporters who believe that it's still not too late?
BOWEN: I don't accept that there's an opportunity for it to be revisited, Andrew. I really don't. I mean, the Labor Party's had two opportunities now to ask Kevin Rudd to return to the leadership. They haven't taken them up. Now, yesterday there were, you know, a few votes in it, a few votes in it. Different counts will exist and of course there's always people in the ballot who say different things to different people. And there were some Members of Parliament not in the country, which was a factor as well.
But look, this matter is resolved, clear and I say to everybody, I say to everybody, that this matter is finished and I believe that to be the view of all of those of us who supported Kevin and I believe it to be Kevin's view as well.
JOURNALIST: Are you then swearing allegiance to Julia Gillard until the next election?
BOWEN: Yes, yes.
JOURNALIST: When you had your conversation with the Prime Minister today, did she ask you to stay in the ministry and what was the nature of the conversation?
BOWEN: It was a very cordial conversation. I told her of my decision. She indicated to me that she thought that was a very honourable action and in that spirit she accepted the resignation.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, wasn't your decision and the decision apparently of almost half the caucus to back Kevin Rudd before they went in an expression that they believe, that you believe Julia Gillard either can't win the September election or is highly unlikely to and therefore can you now credibly say that you think Julia Gillard's got a reasonable chance?
BOWEN: I'll say this: I took the view and a number of other people took the view that Kevin Rudd stood the best chance at leading Labor to victory. I believe that. I also believe that this is a very tough election and it the odds are against us, we're the underdogs. But no election is unwinnable or unlosable. People have thought that of elections in the past and been proven very sadly wrong.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, what was your foreknowledge of Simon Crean's tactics? Were you involved in talks with him about calling on that spill?
BOWEN: Look, I'm not going to go into private conversations. I'm not going to do that here and don't bother ringing me afterwards for off the record chats because there won't be any and I'm never going to write about it because that would be to breach confidences.
I will say this: Simon made clear to several of us his despair at the way things were panning out and the prospects of the Government, and he indicated a possible course of action that he would be wanting to undertake. I'm not going to, again, go through the ins and outs of private conversations other than to say his decision was his own, his decision to hold the press conference was his own. He's a well respected, senior member of the Party, a former leader, and you know, he's big enough to make his own decisions about the course of action.
I will say this about Simon: Simon yesterday did what he thought was the right thing for the Labor Party. He took a big risk and paid a big sacrifice, and he deserves the Labor Party's thanks for doing that as well.
JOURNALIST: Was he encouraged not to do that?
BOWEN: I'm not going to go through private conversations that I or anybody else had. There would have been, you could guess, lots of them yesterday all over the building, all sorts of people.
JOURNALIST: Did Simon blow up Kevin Rudd by going too early?
BOWEN: Ah, look, you know, that's a matter for you to determine, Bill. But there are fundamentals to ballot results, you know, there's a situation where somebody's going to vote one way or another, and that's the fundamentals and you know, you can do your permutations of timing and what would have changed here and what would have changed there; you guys can do that. I'm going to concentrate on being a very good Member for McMahon.
JOURNALIST: Was there any moment yesterday when you still thought that Kevin Rudd, you could have woken up today with Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister? Or did you know that you were always going to -
BOWEN: Oh no, look, I believed the numbers would be tight and I believed that, you know, that any number of outcomes were possible, yes.
JOURNALIST: And at what point did you make that judgement call? What time of day?
BOWEN: Oh Sam, you know, yesterday was a fast moving day. I'm not going to go through the ins and outs of it.
JOURNALIST: You said that Simon Crean expressed his despair. How widespread is that sense within the Labor Party? Simon Crean said a lot [inaudible]. How wide is that sense of despair?
BOWEN: We're in a tough situation, we're the underdogs in this election, you can expect. And there have been, you know, some controversial decisions made and you can expect people to be expressing those sorts of views. That's what happens in a government making decisions. That's what happens in a government making a difference. This Government is making a difference: a good and positive difference for Australia, and that's the record we need to sell to win this election.
I'll give you another go, Hugh.
JOURNALIST: He was particularly concerned around processes, essentially about competence in getting things done; the media laws obviously were germane to that. Is that a widely held view, that the Labor Party, whatever its high ideals in what it's aiming to do, is just pretty bad at getting things done?
BOWEN: It's not my view Hugh, not my view.
JOURNALIST: Just getting back to the earlier question about Kevin Rudd's future in Parliament: do you think Labor can ever present a show of unity, convince voters that it's unified while these two personalities are in the Parliament?
BOWEN: Well, we have to, we have to. Look, you know, there are strong personalities in every political party, it goes with the territory. You don't get into politics if you're a wallflower. The Liberal Party's got their fair share of people with a healthy regard for their own abilities. Every political party does: that's why we get into politics, because we think we can do it and do it well. The Labor Party, just like every other party, has to unite and has to accept the decisions of the majority.
Up the back.
JOURNALIST: If you think Kevin Rudd was your best chance to win, do you think that Julia Gillard can win the next election?
BOWEN: I thought I answered that before. The answer is yes.
JOURNALIST: There was no vote yesterday, there was no vote. Julia Gillard remains the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd remains in Parliament, but yet everyone in Labor is telling us this is all now resolved. How is anything resolved?
BOWEN: Well, because the party had a chance yesterday to turn to Kevin. The party declined that chance.
JOURNALIST: Yet we know from what you've said, and others have said, that Caucus was roughly split halfway?
BOWEN: Well, you know, again, people will have a different, people will have different counts. Our view was it was a reasonably close ballot. Kevin would have gone into that ballot, perhaps as the underdog, but it was close. So, but Kevin accepted that unless -
JOURNALIST: But there is no resolution.
BOWEN: Because Kevin has said that he will only return with a clear and unmistakeable draft: that is not going to happen.
JOURNALIST: Which he said last week.
BOWEN: That is not going to happen, Tim. I mean, the election is approaching and the party has made its choice.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, in the past you have been an advocate for Labor Party reform, direct election of the Labor leader. After the next election is this still a big deal, or is this a second order item?
BOWEN: Well, I still believe in party reform, and perhaps now, as a backbencher, I might, you know, say the odd thing or two about it. I believe in opening up the party to a broader cross-section of the community. I believe in giving more say to branch members in key decisions, including leadership ballots. I believe in a role for the caucus and a role for party members.
The party members work hard. They get very frustrated at these periods. They just want to get on with the job of leafleting and pamphleting and letterboxing and doorknocking and developing policy ideas at branch meetings. They really don't like these sets of arrangements and they deserve to be remembered in this whole process.
And I think, for that reason, the Labor Party needs to reform, to grow. The world has changed: our organisation model is based on an old world of highly unionised, industrialised workforce, pre-social media, and we need to adapt and I will continue to advocate for that.
JOURNALIST: On that point, are you comfortable with the Labor Party using language in relation to 457 visas of Australians being at the 'front of the queue' and foreigners -
BOWEN: Well, everybody will use their own language, Phil.
JOURNALIST: Are you comfortable with that?
BOWEN: Everybody will use their own language. I was Immigration Minister for two-and-a -half years -
JOURNALIST: You didn't use that language.
BOWEN: I, you know, expressed myself in plenty of places, in plenty of ways. I think the important thing here is that the policy change that has been made is an appropriate one. It gives the Department of Immigration a tool to deal with rorters and what's wrong with that?
I'll take a couple more. Mark.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, I'm still trying to work out why you feel that this is the honourable decision, given that you didn't resign -
BOWEN: Well look, every circumstance is different -
JOURNALIST: Is it a vote of no confidence?
BOWEN: No, not at all. No, no, no, and I did consider whether it would be perceived that way. Every leadership ballot is different; having voted once against the Prime Minister I thought it was appropriate to continue to serve. Having effectively done it twice even though there was no ballot, I took the view - as I say, my view, other Ministers will reach different conclusions working through the issues with their families and how they feel best - for me, I didn't think I could sustainably continue to serve in the Cabinet. I didn't think I could sustainably do that and that's the decision I have reached.
Last question goes to David.
JOURNALIST: With yourself, Kevin Rudd, Simon Crean and others all now sitting and potentially more sitting on the backbench, does Labor really have its best frontbench on the frontbench? Or is there a Shadow Cabinet sitting on the backbench?
BOWEN: Oh, don't be silly, David. The Prime Minister, I'm sure, will appoint a very good team. There's plenty of talent: we bat very deep in our caucus. I mean, I'm not going to name people because I'll forget somebody, but there's a lot of talented policy brains in the Labor caucus, a mixture of energy and experience. The Prime Minister will have plenty to choose from in replacing those of us who leave Cabinet or the ministry, and I wish the new ministers, on that note, very well.
Thank you very much.
Media contacts: Mr Bowen's office 02 6277 7580