Subjects: Gaza conflict; Unemployment; $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy; Global Financial Crisis; Second Year in Government; Fair Work Bill
HOST: Israel has been continuing its drive into Gaza with land forces in the face of international calls for an end to its attacks. For Australia’s view on the latest Israeli action and other political issue in the news today, we’re joined by the Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard. She’s speaking with Marius Benson.
BENSON: Julia Gillard, good morning.
GILLARD: Good morning Marius.
BENSON: Now as you heard there, there is a growing number of international voices calling for an immediate end to Israel’s action in Gaza. What’s the Australian Government’s view at this stage?
GILLARD: The escalation of the conflict in Israel and Gaza, the new movement of ground troops by Israel obviously underlines the urgency of getting a diplomatic solution to this problem. We’ve said all along that Australia strongly supports the resolution of the Security Council of the United Nations to see a halt to all violence. We obviously want to see an end to this conflict and a lasting solution for peace in the Middle East.
We strongly support the diplomatic efforts that are happening now to find a path forward. They involve the United States, the European Union, and of course the United Nations Security Council.
BENSON: The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called for an immediate end to the ground assault by Israel. Would Australia support that call?
GILLARD: Well our consistent position has been to support the resolution of the United Nations Security Council, which calls for a halt to all violence. We obviously want to see a lasting and sustainable solution to this conflict. We have condemned in the strongest possible terms the action of Hamas in sending rockets into southern Israel. Obviously, Israel has responded, we’ve now seen a further escalation. We have consistently said we support the United Nations Security Council resolution for a halt to violence, we’re very concerned about casualties amongst civilians caught up in this conflict and we very strongly support the urgent diplomatic efforts that are in train now to find a lasting solution.
BENSON: You condemn the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. Does Australia also condemn Israel’s attacks on Hamas and the Palestinians generally in the Gaza strip?
GILLARD: We’ve always said we recognise Israel’s right to defend itself, but we have urged Israel to be very mindful of the civilians involved, of the prospect of civilian casualties, and obviously we have seen civilian casualties. And we have been strong in our continuing endorsement of the United Nations Security Council resolution for a halt to all violence.
BENSON: You spoke there of the right to defend itself on the part of Israel. Can I just run some figures from the weekend papers past you? Hamas rockets have been fired into Israel over the past eight years. They’ve killed a total, according to a couple of different estimates of perhaps 19, perhaps 21 Israelis in that time. In that same period of eight years, Israeli fire has killed three thousand Palestinians and in the past ten days, 500 more Palestinians have been killed. The Palestinians say that’s disproportionate. Are they right?
GILLARD: What I would say here is those figures would underline in my mind, the need to get a lasting solution so that there is an end to violence. Obviously what we want to work towards, what I believe diplomatic efforts in train, working towards is a lasting and stable solution which ends violence in Gaza and Israel, ends the shelling of southern Israel, ends all violence in these circumstances.
BENSON: Can I turn to domestic matters, unemployment is expected universally to be going up this year. You have been joined by the Treasurer Wayne Swan in appealing to employers to do what they can not to sack people, and there’s also been a re-announcement of a $41 million innovation fund to provide work for particularly disadvantaged groups. Does the Government have anything else up its sleeve, particularly financially in terms of trying to deal with what is expected to be certainly a great increase in unemployment in 2009?
GILLARD: The Government’s been working consistently to protect jobs and to invest in jobs. Our $10.4 billion economic security strategy was about protecting and investing in jobs, about keeping our economy moving in difficult times after the global financial crisis and its impact started being felt around the world. We’ve also moved decisively to support our car manufacturing industry with our $6 billion plan. We’ve moved to inject money into local government, $300 million, because that’s important to local jobs. And we’ve moved quickly on new infrastructure development which is all about jobs too.
We have said that we will keep acting as necessary to protect and invest in Australian jobs. But we’ve been very clear with the Australian community, the global financial crisis is not going to leave this nation untouched. We’re not immune from this huge global event and its impact on economies around the world. But the Government continues to do everything that we can and we will continue to act in the future to protect jobs.
BENSON: Just looking back over the past year, your first in Government. There is a bit of a honeymoon for a new government. It was a year, in to a significant extent a year of promise and review, and looking to programs to be implemented. This year, 2009, there’s an expectation of a year of delivery for the Government and you have to deliver it in dire economic circumstances. A reasonable person would assume that in about 12 months, the public estimation of the Government will not be as high as it is right now.
GILLARD: Well I’ll leave the estimation of the Government to that, to members of the public. Obviously people will make their own individual decisions, whether they think the Government’s performing. What’s our job? Well our job has been to deliver our promises and we’ve been very rigorous about ensuring the Government implements the things that we promised the Australian people. In my own area, that’s been the steps taken in the Education Revolution and of course the introduction into the parliament of fair and balanced workplace relations laws to sweep away Work Choices, but right across all of the portfolios of government, we’ve been meticulous in implementing the promises that we gave the Australian people.
Then of course our job has been to build the foundations of long term reform, and we’ve taken steps in that in a number of areas, across the areas of education and health, and big strides forward were made in ending the blame game through the Council of Australian Governments. And obviously we’ve taken some big steps forward in dealing with climate change with our carbon pollution reduction scheme and the announcements made shortly before Christmas about its design. We’ll continue to be building on those foundations for long term reform. And then the challenge of the global financial crisis has changed so much, you’re right about that. It’s changed the world as we know it. It’s been the biggest shock in financial markets in the modern age. It’s caused many developed countries around the world to go into recession.
In this country, we’ve obviously taken a series of major steps to keep our economy moving and to keep this nation in front and this year of 2009 will be so much about focusing on our economy and focusing on protecting jobs as the full aftermath of the global financial crisis is felt.
BENSON: Okay can I just close on a personal note with your standing in the Government and I don’t know whether you’ve had time to look at page 2 of The Australian today, but there is an article there headed, ‘Stellar year earns Gillard solid respect’, which reads in part ‘More than any other Rudd Government Minister Julia Gillard has had a stellar year without so much as a hiccup, the member for the Melbourne seat of Lalor has transformed from isolated left-winger to the most widely respected and successful member of the Government, leading many to ask whether the current Acting Prime Minister will be the country’s next leader.’ Is that a question we should be addressing?
GILLARD: (laughs) Well you know I would, I would thank The Australian newspaper for those kind words but the circumstances I experience day to day, is I love my job as Deputy Prime Minister and it has been a tremendous privilege to spend twelve months working on implementing the promises we gave in education and workplace relations and building to some big reforms, particularly in education in the future.
2009 is going to be a year where I trust, we will see the Australian parliament pass our Fair Work Bill. We still don’t 100 percent know what the Liberal Party will do to try and stop that. We’ll be working to get fair laws in workplaces around the country and to sweep away what remains of Work Choices and I’m passionate about delivering more of our education reforms because there’s nothing more fundamental to a nation’s future in a sense of fairness than making sure every kid gets a fair chance and the best possible education.
BENSON: Julia Gillard, thank you very much.
GILLARD: Thank you very much Marius.