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Carmen Lawrence on her way to the Press Conference at her resignation from the front bench
Carmen resigns: ALP's Dr Carmen Lawrence on her way to the Press Conference on December 5 2002, on her resignation from the ALP front bench. With her are staffer Jo Fox, ALP Senator George Campbell & MP Duncan Kerr. But there were many others with her.
Photo: Michael Jones, free sample copy courtesy Newsphotos.

The cry from the heart

Everyone knew it at the time, when Dr Carmen Lawrence, ALP member for Fremantle, resigned from the ALP front bench on December 5 2002.

As she walked through the corridors of Parliament House, she was accompanied by the ALP member for Denison Duncan Kerr and ALP Senator George Campbell (NSW). But others supported her as well. Off the record (and not in the photo) are Julia Irwin (Member for Fowler), Maria Vamvakinou (Member for Calwell) and Kelly Hoare (Member for Charlton).


1 January 2007: The Gifts of Carmen Lawrence - The number of contributions from Carmen to the national debate, also but not only about Australia's treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, has kept growing, also on our website - this was the reason we constructed this page to bring all pages, all gifts from Dr Carmen Lawrence together.

Cry from the heart

Sydney Morning Herald
December 5, 2002

This is the text of the December 5 press conference called by Carmen Lawrence to announce her resignation from the Labor frontbench.

Parliament House
Thursday December 5 2002

Thank you very much for coming here this afternoon. It won't surprise you, I think, that I'm here to announce my resignation from the Shadow Cabinet and the Ministry. It hasn't been a particularly well kept secret.

I informed Simon Crean before question time today, after having a long discussion with him about my reasons. I've obviously discussed it, too, with my family and friends and colleagues. Although there may be speculation to this effect, the decision's not made solely on the basis of the policy decision on asylum seekers today. That clearly has been the trigger for my decision but it's not the only reason that I've decided to move from the Shadow Cabinet and Ministry to the back bench.

And that's what I'm doing - moving to the back bench.

I've found myself increasingly out of step with the majority of my Shadow Cabinet colleagues. That may be me, not them. I don't find my own views and values reflected in a lot of decisions that are made by that Shadow Cabinet, And in fairness to a great many people in the Labor Party, I think that they doesn't always reflect their views either.

The difficulty with the position that I confronted, and it's not a new one - politicians find themselves in this position on many occasions - is that once decisions are made, I'm bound to both support those decisions and defend them in the public arena, and the condition of that is that I cannot then speak against matters about which on some occasions I feel very strongly.

Now I'm not a novice to compromise or mistakes - I've done both and plenty of them.

But I've got to the point with my colleagues in the Shadow Cabinet where I don't believe I can continue to support and defend a range of policies, as well as, if you like, the general disposition and direction of that that Shadow Cabinet, whether you're talking about the current decision on asylum seekers, the lack of clarity in my view, on the position in Iraq, previous decisions such as the complete agreement, initially, with the Private Health Insurance Rebate (although I still have some hopes in that direction), funding for wealthy schools and so on.

My first experience on returning to the Shadow Cabinet over a year ago - nearly two years now - was that it had become incredibly conservative - timid, even. And I'd hoped that after the election that would change. I'm prepared, as I say, to concede that I'm the one who's out of step. But I'm not able to continue to support and defend policies which, in my view are devised with one eye on the polls, and another on media impact.

That's not true, I must say, of all my Shadow Cabinet colleagues or, indeed of all of my Caucus colleagues. My views are not reflected, and I think that's true of a number of others as well, but my vote's captured.

However, it's not fair on my Shadow Cabinet colleagues to seek to be an exception to the rule that you don't speak out and that you don't dissent.

I've simply found that tension too great. As you know, I have, on a few occasions, spoken out - initially on the asylum seekers. At least the policy was then in development. I can no longer do that.

I've spoken strongly against us supporting a war on Iraq - against attacking Iraq - because that's really what's at issue. And I have in many respects, although you may not all have seen it, exceeded the brief of the Shadow Cabinet. I feel very strongly that that's an issue that we're going to confront as a community and I don't believe that we're speaking sufficiently clearly against the possibility that we would sign up with George Bush in some form of unilateral action against Iraq.

In my experience in recent times it's not uncommon in the Shadow Cabinet for issues to be discussed first of all with an eye on what the public reaction is likely to be, rather that whether it's inherently good policy. And I don't believe that we can continue in that direction.

I believe that we need to be telling Australians a story about the sort of country w want this to be - what we hope for them - how their lives can be improved. Certainly we have to listen to the community and be aware of their needs and interests, but we can't continually be responding to what is often the shorter term view of a section of the community who are most audible.

To develop good polices that are consistent with our claims to be progressive we have to start with a set of values and yes - even ideals - to which we aspire as political activists.

Otherwise, why bother?

They shouldn't be for decoration either - these values - they're not just a preamble to the policy statements. They should be embedded in it - both in terms of the decision and the language. And they shouldn't be abandoned either at the faintest whiff of grape shot.

I'll use the asylum seeker policy as an example. First of all, I think the mistake we're making is that we're playing on Howard's turf. We're allowing him to define the territory and the arguments.

Now I don't share the view that Howard is some kind of political genius. He's not. The times suit him. But he's vulnerable. But as long as we try to argue the case on his territory, then he's the one who's dictating the terms about the political contest and the way it's played out. We played along - before the last election with the moral panic surrounding the boat people, instead of getting out there and persuading Australians of a different point of view.

As a lot of you know, I hated our acquiescence on the Tampa. But a lot had gone before that. In a sense it was inevitable after so much acquiescence, month after month. Each small step in a way was barely noticeable. But the end result was that we were pushed well beyond a position that even our own members - members of the ALP - could endorse. This time, with the asylum seeker policy after twelve months, I though it was an opportunity to get it right, to rule a line under the past, as we did with East Timor. After twenty five years of wrong policy we finally got East Timor right and I pay tribute to Laurie Brereton for that.

And I thought this was as similar opportunity. There are improvements and I will concede that. But we're in opposition. This is the time to craft the policy in the best form that we possibly can. Now was the time to signal the we really wanted to head in a new direction, the underpinning principal of which was the recognition of the equal worth of all human beings, not trying to frighten people into some idea that they threaten our territorial integrity and they are a security threat.

It's part of our task in politics to bring the Australian community with us and not to treat them as if they're incapable of changing their views and in fact assuming that they're terminally bigoted. That's not a view I can possibly accept as a member of the Labor Party.

And I guess what I'm trying to say, too, is that the way we talk about issues and people and the values that underpin our actions are often at least as important as the policy details themselves. Because ultimately people will be asking - where will you go if you're confronted by certain decisions in Government, how can we expect you to behave given challenges that you haven't yet thought about. And I don't think we're doing a very good job at outlining those directions and dispositions. So people need to look at the detail of every policy in order to decide where we might be.

The language, in my view, of toughness and of security and of threat, are not an appropriate language to talk about a policy for asylum seekers. These are people who are asking for our help after they've been subject to persecution, and, as we know in most cases that turns out to be the case.

Why should we confuse the very serious question of our own national security and threats to the lives of Australians with the issue of how we manage people who come here when they're seeking asylum. They are not the same issue and yet we are going along with the view that these are somehow all tied in together. And we showed that in the way we put it together.

We're also retaining, for instance, the linking of onshore and off shore refugee programs. We're encouraging the idea that it's reasonable to talk about queues. All we need do is separate them and then you've got the ongoing humanitarian program - managed and predictable - and then at various times an opportunity for a more generous response separate from that when there is need.

This policy clearly treats some asylum seekers as more worthy than others - whatever gloss you put on it. The Christmas Island option is seriously diminished in relation to the onshore option and yet what's the difference between the two groups of people - one get in a leaky boat that doesn't make it and gets as far as Christmas Island, the others get on a slightly less leaky boat and make it, as they have in the past, to Broome?

One gets the offshore processing, one gets onshore processing. One gets legal advice, the other gets none. One gets an independent tribunal - the other gets none. One gets the possibility of review - the other gets none.

And where is Christmas Island? It's a very long way from the mainland. Are you people going to be there, watching what's happening on Christmas Island? Are you people going to be they're when things go wrong? Will the lawyers get there to do pro-bono work?

I'm a former Premier of Western Australia, and I know where Christmas Island is. I've been there and I know how difficult it is to get staff - to get staff to stay, to get people to visit - it takes a week, effectively, unless you're wealthy enough to afford a charter.

Christmas Island is a very long way. Out of sight, out of mind, but the recommendations of our policy have one set of processes for people who go there and one on land. And these are largely matters of accident. They're not matters of priority, they're not matters of one group being more worthy than the other, they're essentially arbitrary and matters of accident.

So they are a few of my reasons. They're by no means all of them and I don't necessarily want to go into a lot of detail about the asylum seekers issue but I will if you wish, in questioning.

I was also very disappointed on this occasion, with the process. And a number of my colleagues were as well.

There has been a lot of consultation in the wider community - true - but we knew down to the last details almost the views of the various state conferences around the country. Labor Party people told us what they wanted. They told us that they wanted to see an end to mandatory detention for the purpose of processing. Not for checking - everyone understands you need to do that. Security checking, health checking, identity checking. And in most countries in Europe that takes around a month. The people around this country that belong to the Labor Party and support it have told us very clearly that that's what they wanted. They told us that they wanted an end to temporary protection visas because again, they're discriminatory. You know you get a Temporary Protection Visa on the basis of how you come here, not on the basis of the merits of your case. We argue against it in the document and then retain it.

These are the issues that I think confront us as a party, and our members told us what they wanted and we haven't listened to them. I want to move to the back bench so that I can work assiduously as a member of the Labor Party, which is a party that I joined up with a great many years ago and I'm not giving up on, to try and change direction on some of these issues.

So that I'm not silent when the decisions are made or even before they're made.

So that I can act with colleagues - of whom there are many - to take back the heart and the soul of the Labor Party - away from those people for whom it's good enough to get up in the morning just to think that we're going to be slightly better managed on that day.

Most of the people that I know won't sign up to political activism in order to get better managers. Why would we be in politics? Go and join the bureaucracy.

So my plea to the young members of the Labor Party - to the members of the party who've kept the faith - is that mine is not a decision to abandon the Labor Party. It's a decision to move into a different phase of my life, to work with activists to encourage young people to join up to this great party and to try with many others - because it isn't something that anyone could do alone, to re-capture the values that I think underpin the Labor Party.

It's an appropriate time, on the thirtieth anniversary of Whitlam' election.

There was a generation of the sixties of whom I was one - forgive the nostalgia - who joined the Labor Party. Not because of the details of Whitlam's policies, but because of what he and his colleagues stood for - because of the excitement they generated about the sort of Australia we could be - after years and years of the stuffiness and the war, by the way, that took place under the conservatives.

There are people out there with similar passion. At the moment we're not speaking to them adequately. So part of what I'm trying to do is, with others - particularly young people - to try and capture them.

The Greens can't do it. The Greens aren't the solution. The Greens are a third party - a minor party. It's about the Labor Party. The Labor Party taking stock of the future, grabbing that new generation and asking serious questions about human values, about sustainability for the environment and a range of other issues that I know that they all care abut.

So I thank you all very much for your time and I want to thank a few people before I conclude. I am very sorry in many respects for my colleagues - not because my going is necessarily going to make a huge difference to them, but it may appear that I'm reflecting on them. I'm not.

This is a personal decision and I know there are plenty of people within the party who agonise every day over similar things. And some people may suggest that my position is selfish and self-interested. That will be a judgment that they make, but I really do thank my colleagues who've supported me today and in the past.

I've had the best and the worst of the Labor Party, the best and the worst of politics, and a lot of people have stood beside me. That's not a resignation speech from the party, by the way, or the Parliament, but I want to thank them for the faith they've shown me in getting me into the Shadow Cabinet again after a difficult period of time.

I want to thank Jo Fox from my staff. One of the things that happens when you step aside - and Jo has had this experience before and she's not a jinx, she's a fantastic young woman with lots of energy and commitment to Indigenous people - I know that she will find a place for herself either with another Shadow Minister or in other employment if that's what she chooses to do. And I want to publicly thank Jo, particularly for her commitment to Indigenous people.

And they're the other group of people to whom I want to apologise. But I will continue to work incredibly hard to influence the policy of the Labor Party now and into the future. We are not doing nearly enough on that front either. Part of the success of John Howard has been to make it extremely difficult to talk about the principles that should underpin Indigenous policy in this country. And we need a renewal of energy on that front - not just mine but everybody's.

Because these are the most disadvantaged people and it's not just about health and housing. It's easy for Howard and others to point at that and say we need to do better. It's about, again, respecting the capacity of Indigenous leadership and Indigenous people.

I get thoroughly sick of people telling us in a sense how down and out they are. The Indigenous people that I meet are powerful, potent and they want to take control of their lives. Sure there are lots of people who are damaged because of what's happened to them over the last two hundred years, but it's time in this community that we don't share his views about Indigenous people, that talking about their disadvantage is not a black-arm view of history. It's fact.

And remedying that disadvantage is a task for all of us - not just for the Labor Party, but also for every single person here and every single person in the community. So I do apologise to them for not being the shadow minister. They have been incredibly generous to me and in a sense it's a great tragedy that there has been such a high turnover.

But I'll continue on every issue - education, health, rights - plant breeders' rights for God's sake we've got involved in - to look at the interests of Indigenous people. It doesn't happen often enough in Australia. There are too many stereotypes about them and it's time we turned it around. So that basically is what I wanted to say and please feel free to ask any questions. Sorry if I've taken a while but it's important.

* * * * * *

Question: Dr Lawrence, as a person of influence you haven't been able to influence the party. Why isn't this a resignation speech from the Labor Party under Simon Crean?

Lawrence: Well I know the Labor Party pretty well and the Labor Party is essentially about a tug of war that goes on all the time, among party membership, between the various unions, with public opinion.

I find the views that I've expressed to you today reflected in the Labor Party among the rank and file members, so called - amongst the branches and all the state conferences that I've talked to you about. I actually feel more comfortable with the Labor Party and it's values than I do at the moment with the Shadow Cabinet.

And it's not just about Simon Crean, by the way, I'm not pointing at Simon. It's a collective - of which I was a part. I just think we've lost our sense of direction in teams of those values that I've talked bout. It's not terminal - it's just that I don't feel as if I can continue for the moment in that role and I want to play a different role in the Party.

There's a lot of incredibly good people - energetic and faithful people - in the Labor Party. I'm not resigning from the Labor Party. The Labor Party doesn't belong either to Gough Whitlam or to anyone else. The Labor Party is the views of its members. It's the passion of its members and ultimately it's the members. It's not mine; it's not Simon Creans, it's not anyone else's to play with.

Question: Really what you're saying today is that the Shadow Cabinet under the leadership of Simon Crean - that the Shadow Cabinet as a collective is not reflecting Labor Party values, is not standing for Labor Party values.

Lawrence: That's my view. Bluntly, that's my view.

Question: (inaudible) take on Simon Crean's leadership?

Lawrence: Obviously that's something I've thought about very carefully - not just Simon but about my colleagues. As I said, at one level it would have been easy for me to succumbed to the view that I should stay in there because I represent a certain strand of thought, that I can have a certain impact, but my experience in the last couple of years has been that that's not true. Not that I've failed to make the arguments, but that it's not possible to have that effect. In many cases the decisions are made before it even gets -

Question: Simon Crean as leader after taking (inaudible.)-

Lawrence: No, because it was true under Kim Beazley, too. And it's not, I think, it's not a function of an individual leader. Leaders in many respects are only as good as the people that they lead. I think that we get that wrong in Ausralian politics. I think it's a collective responsibility.

It's about the Labor Party at very senior level, a Labor Party that I think can do a lot better. The individual members of the Shadow Cabinet - many of them I like and respect. I'm not trying to poke a finger in the eye of Simon Crean or Kim Beazley for that matter, I just think that we've stepped - we've been taking steps to the right probably for more time than I've been aware of.

But it's become, in my view, extremely difficult to sustain positions that I regard as Labor positions, and I can't go out - I couldn't go out there tomorrow and argue in favour of the policy that we've passed this morning. I can't go out tomorrow as a Shadow Cabinet minister and argue in favour of supporting the United States if they take pre-emptive action against Iraq. I cannot do that and I shouldn't put my colleagues in the position pretending that I can, of dissembling, of nudging the edges of getting special permission. That's not fair on them either.

Question: Could Labor win an election with what you describe as the incredibly conservative, timid managerial style?

Lawrence: They may well. As I say, it may be me who's out of step. I'm prepared to concede that. This may be the future of politics in Australia. As I say, you can look around and see that you're out of step, and sometimes you've got to concede it could be you.

But I don't think so. I'm hopeful enough that there are still arguments to be made in favour of a different kind of Australia where we don't regard asylum seekers as a threat to our very existence, where we do understand the need to make good the damage that's been done to Indigenous people, where contemplating bombing innocent civilians in Iraq is not actually taken as given.

I mean, what's happened in Australia - I think in some of the debate about this stuff we're prepared to accept as normal horrifying prospects, like killing fifty thousand people in Iraq, which is a possible scenario. For what purpose does that serves any interest that most of us would hold valuable?

Question: You seem to be having purer view of Cabinet solidarity than Simon Crean, who this morning said it would be OK for you to argue in public party platforms your case for change of the policy. Did he put that case to you before?

Lawrence: He did, and very generously, but I don't think that's sustainable and don't think it's fair on my colleagues if I were to go out there and say, "Well look I've got special permission to say that yes there's the policy and I voted for it but I actually don't really think it's a fine policy I'm going to continue to argue against it." I'm one of his inner group of shadow ministers, that's not fair, I couldn't do that. I mean, as I say I've played it as far as I could without breaking Cabinet solidarity, Simon generously offered that to me but I don't think that's sustainable and I think that ultimately neither does he.

Question: (inaudible)

Lawrence: How many colleagues overall? I haven't counted but I'm certainly not alone. I've never been very good at counting in fact, as I'm sure some people will tell you.

Question: The Labor Party has backed you through some pretty tough times over many years and some people wanted you to resign seven years ago.

Lawrence: And I told Keating he'd have it, too, at the time.

Question: You've spent twenty minutes on blistering criticism of Crean, and did you take that into account how they've backed you in the past and -

Lawrence: Absolutely

Question: And many of your colleagues will think that you're being a traitor by -

Lawrence: They may think that. A year ago when the Tampa decision was made, if I can just give you a feeling for this, I wasn't alone amongst my colleagues in teetering on the brink.

When I walked into Parliament at Question Time that day, I'd actually been having lunch, which I rarely do, with one of the embassy staff - with the Irish Ambassador, because the Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland was here - a woman with responsibilities for similar areas as I had at the time. So I did a rare thing and I went out for lunch.

We were a little late getting back and I heard the stuff about the boarding of the Tampa by the SAS on the radio two o'clock news. And I walked straight into the Chamber just in time to hear our leader endorse that position.

Now on that day I didn't actually get my bum on the seat. I walked out and I didn't go back for two days. At that moment, like lot of other people, I was very close to pulling the pin and I decided, precisely for the reasons that you've described, that that would have been destructive of my colleagues, it would have damaged people who would have had nothing to do with me or my conscience.

Some people obviously don't share those views, but I pledged at that time to myself and to others that I would do whatever I could to try and change some of those directions, not just in relation to asylum seekers.

So that's, I hope, how I hope to pay back those people in the party . I'm not trying to destroy the party. We're two years out from an election. But I do want the party to improve its capacity to distinguish itself from the Liberals, to play on different territory, to respect our own members for God's sake. That's, I think, a way for me to repay the very many people who've supported me.

* * * * * *

Question: Dr Lawrence do you think Simon Crean will be the person to lead the Labor Party at the next election?

Lawrence: I do. I do. I don't see -

Question: For what reason given your twenty minutes of (inaudible)?

Lawrence: There are occasionally rare people in politics and in public life who have characteristics that are so compelling that you say. "That's the one". That's the one we want to lead us, whether it's in the board room or in politics or wherever it may be.

But most of the rest of the time it's a compromise. Most of the rest of the time it's the next best. You know, if you like, the person that we can all work and live with.

I actually hate the trend in Australian politics towards the presidential style. The Labor Party leadership, as I said before, is ultimately only as good as its members. So it could be Simon Crean, it could be anybody, in my view. As long as they were reflecting the views and values of the Labor Party and did so convincingly.

So I haven't given up on Simon Crean or anyone else for that matter. I think they're all capable of showing the way.

John Howard, as I say, is the most deeply ordinary person that I've ever confronted in Australian politics and for God's sake he's leading the Liberal Party and everyone thinks he's a political genius.

So without wanting to damn Simon with faint praise by making that comparison, I don't believe that that's the issue. I know the media love to speculate about this or that leader. Simon may or may not survive until the next election. I don't know that , you don't know that. Simon probably doesn't know that. John Howard didn't know that he was going to end up leader of the Liberal Party when he did but Simon is a decent human being and I think he's capable of listening. He's shown a willingness to change but we've still got a long way to go.

I don't want to belong to a Labor Party as I say that's just sort of marginally different from the Libs. If you want the original go for it - why would you want a facsimile?

Question: Which category Simon Crean fall into - natural leader or next best?

Lawrence: No I think I've made it pretty clear. I don't think Simon's one of those people who stands out head and shoulders above the crowd, but neither does John Howard. I don't look around and see anyone like that at the moment.

Question: But Dr Lawrence doesn't the leader have to seek the - and get the party to crystallise the values of the party and follow those values? Obviously in your view Simon Crean has not done that - has not been able to do that.

Lawrence: I won't dissemble. I think it's clear from what I've said that that's the case. It doesn't mean to say he's not capable of doing it. I think what Simon needs to do is to get a wider range of advice on issues, he needs to listen to more people within his own Caucus who have different views. It's always easy to get agreement when you only ask the people who agree with you. You've actually got to get a wider range of advice, so I think Simon's perfectly capable of transforming himself and the party as long as people are willing to give him a go to do that.

But I think a lot of people will not find it a very entrancing prospect if what we're leading toward is more of the same.

Question: Why do you believe he's suddenly capable of transforming himself now?

Lawrence: I said he's capable of it. I don't know whether he will or not.

Question: Aren't you saying that as long as the group beneath him aren't - you're saying that there is not the personnel in the Labor Front Bench at the moment to make a good Labor leader representing Labor values because they're not doing that?

Lawrence: We need a lot more courage, and it's not to say that they're not capable of courage. We need a lot more courage. We need a wider range of opinions reflected in the decision. We need less interest, especially now, in developing these principles and policies in how you guys are going to react the next day. We need more willingness to persuade - all of those things.

There are intelligent people in the Labor Party. I think there are too many of them who have come up through the school of forelock tugging, too few who are independent of mind, but there are enough independent thinkers, creative thinkers and people of energy to transform the party in the way that I've described. And that's my plea.

It's not that the party's incapable of transformation. But at the moment the people who are pushing the show are the ones who don't like to take risks and they don't like to put their heads above the parapet and they're not willing to risk your ire.

Question: (inaudible)

Lawrence: Well that's a possibility. I mean I agonised over that, I went to the people of Fremantle before the last election and I didn't publicly disassociate myself with the asylum seeker policy at that time. I didn't. I should l have but had I done so I would have been doing precisely what Matt Price (Australian journalist) alluded to, and that is blowing up a whole lot of people for reasons of my own views and values. We're one year into a three year cycle now. Frankly by Monday you guys are going to have forgotten all of this and I'll get on with my job.

Question: What's your opinion of Julia Gillard?

Lawrence: Julia's an incredibly hard worker, she's smart and she took this policy a lot further than others might have done. So I don't have any antipathy toward Julia.

Question: Do you have any criticism of the way she's conducted this process though?

Lawrence: No, I think in fairness it's not Julia. The process was again one of not taking enough varied advice internally. Simon knew that there were dissenters on this policy. And yet those of us he knew were likely to be critics didn't get to see the policy until Sunday - in my case I was lucky, it was a privilege for me. Sunday in my case, and in the case of a couple of other Shadow Ministers with strong views they didn't get to see it until Question Time on Monday, a seventy five page document that we then debated at four o'clock.

Now the Caucus rightly said, "Well bugger that, we're not going to do that", and insisted on it being delayed, but by then those of us in Shadow Cabinet had been locked into it. So that wasn't Julia's doing. That's the sort of thing that has to change. We cannot go developing a whole lot of policies in that way. Howard runs his Cabinet like that, but they're in Government so they're content to live with it. Our troops are a lot more bolshie than that, I'm pleased to say.

Question: Mr Crean's doing though, Dr Lawrence.

Lawrence: Well I don't know who decided to handle it that way. I really don't know whose decision it was, but it's part of the fear that if we show people it will leak and if it leaks somehow the arguments will be corroded having discussed it for two weeks instead of having to discuss it for two days. It's part of the dumbing down of Australian politics.

Why can't we have a debate about the details in public, especially in Opposition? I know that the division is death stuff is out there, and you'll probably construct even these events in those terms. Yes, says Matt Price, he will. But I think it's time in Australian politics to say "Come on, come on, we cannot afford to have second-rate debates which focus on whether someone supports the leader or not".

And Howard gets away with murder basically because his colleagues are now so totally intimidated very hard to get them to speak publicity about anything at all, even when you know that they're totally against what he's proposing.

Question: What changes in Mr Crean's office would make the process better?

Lawrence: Well I think I said to you a wide range of advice is necessary - of his colleagues, not necessarily his staff. And I think that it's important that the party more broadly - when views are known as they are in this case - is brought into the process. I mean we had Labor for Refugees represented on the initial working group but they were told basically that their views really weren't important.

The reality is that a failure to get this right now will simply mean we'll have to do it all again in the middle of next year. So I didn't understand the political strategy either, I'd have to say, of not incorporating their views in the final document. Because it just means they'll be out there campaigning every day to try and get it right in six months time instead of having it locked away. This afternoon we could have all said, "Done and dusted, terrific, principled Labor policy, finished, all our branches are happy, it's sensible, it's humane and it's workable". Instead we've got three or four key holes in it and those holes are going to leak.

Question: Do you accept that (inaudible)?

Lawrence: Well it's hard to say I mean we hold Government in every state in the country and I'm always conscious of that when I make these observations. Every state and territory government is a Labor Government, although it was clear in Victoria that there was a substantial Green vote in certain seats. So it may be that if we continue to be less than clear and less than emphatic on these things that we will lose votes to the Greens.

And I'm aware of the fact that a lot of good Labor people the last time round, including some former Labor members of Parliament, didn't vote for us. That's a pretty shocking thing when you discover it. And some of them have been quite open in telling anyone who'll listen that that's what they did. And I guess what I'm saying is that that was a wake up call then, but we don't seem to have quite got the message yet and we're a year into the electoral cycle. We've got to get the message and move on and clearly.

Question: Jenny Macklin (from) your faction is in that Shadow Cabinet room. Is she not doing enough to put the concerns that you've been talking about today?

Lawrence: Jenny's incredibly hard working and loyal. I mean one of the problems with the way we operate our system is that the person who's the deputy invariably gets, once the decisions are made within the leadership group, to defend those positions. One of the difficulties is that it's not always possible to be clear about what her own views are. And I don't know how you'd get around that with a deputy.

Question: (inaudible) the baddies?

Lawrence: Wouldn't you love to know. You can figure it out, I think. I don't want to name names because it's not the same on every issue either And it's not just the people in the Shadow Cabinet, it's some in the Ministry and some outside. In some respects you may say this is a plea from the Left of the Labor Party that you're hearing here. But I haven't always been in the Left of the Labor Party. It's not an ideological position. It's about clarity of conviction and courage and a willingness to take risks as much as anything.

Question: Will you be campaigning on this and talking publicly?

Lawrence: Yes I will. I'll be doing that and I'll be encouraging the many members of the Labor Party who are here and in state parliaments and the members of the branches to regain control of the Labor Party - not to let it slip.

Question: Not to be (inaudible) what went through today and not to be out there doing that?

Lawrence: Yes in some respects that's true, but we are yet to have a conference decision on this matter, and as I said it's not going to go away. But there are other issues as well. On Iraq I intend to campaign very strongly against the Government getting involved, let alone the Opposition endorsing it.

Question: Dr Lawrence, will you be standing at the next election?

Lawrence: Yes I am.

Question: On Mr Crean and the value of leadership. Do you see that value reflected in the Parliamentary Labor Party today?

Lawrence: You can gather from what I said that it's certainly not enough. Simon has a more consultative style than many leaders and I do give him credit for that. What I suggested about the asylum seeker policy is that it wasn't really enough to include the critics the day before it was about to be confirmed by the Shadow Ministry.

Like others I didn't even know what was in it. I didn't know what sort of movement there had been. I didn't know what issues had been decided within the strategy group, I didn't know precisely what it was that was intended. Now I reckon if you've got someone that you know is going to be a critic that the time to include them is well before that. So I'd say in this case it didn't work entirely well. But compared with other leaders, Simon has got an inclusive style. He's a generous man, Simon Crean. I'm not having a go at his character at all. It's a process that we've collectively devised which is not working well in Opposition in our third term.

Question: Are you prepared to be expelled from the Party over your stand from now on? That's the first one, and the opposite question is do you still harbour ambitions to be a minister in a Labor Government?

Lawrence: Expelled from the party? I don't see why that would be the case because what I'm enunciating is fair and it's consistent with the Labor Party platform - so that would be very odd I think.

Question: Has there been a Caucus vote?

Lawrence: There has been a Caucus vote, but as Simon said this morning the members of the Caucus and indeed he said the Shadow Cabinet- and I thought that was unfair - but the members of the Caucus are entitled - as members of the party - to seek to persuade its national conference to a platform which may, for instance, include the position that there would be no mandatory detention on while processes are taking place to check the status of asylum seekers. So I don't see why that would be a problem. I'm not going to go out there every day - and you're not listening anyway - but I'll be talking to people within the party and the wider community. This won't be on every radio station every day. In terms of expulsion from the party as well, if people find me so unpleasant they want to sort of extrude me from the process that's their business, but I doubt it. Sorry, what was the other question?

Question: Ambitions to be a minister in a Labor government?

Lawrence: Look there's no reason why at a future time I or anyone else wouldn't be in a position to put their hands up. Whether people would on the basis of my action today say, "We're not going to cop that, she's already been in and out a couple of times, it's time for someone else", I'd fully understand that. I don't particularly harbour an ambition for a ministerial post if it's in a Government where nothing much happens.

Question: But you you said that earlier - how would you describe this phase that you're coming into? Is this the end phase of your political career?

Lawrence: Phase to me suggests in out, up down, it's a momentum. I haven't made a decision to leave politics, Fran.

Question: Who do you expect will get the portfolio of Aboriginal Affairs?

Lawrence: I have no idea what Simon plans to do on that. But I'll continue to work very hard on that. One of the things that I feel pleased about having done in the short period I've had that portfolio is that I've nagged every Shadow Minister into taking seriously whatever Indigenous issues exist within their portfolios. So if we're doing a health piece of legislation or policy I am insistent that we first check the impact on Aboriginal people and how it may adversely or positively effect them and in indeed trying to encourage colleagues to take a bigger step.

In the past ministers for indigenous affairs have typically looked at rights questions, discrimination etcetera, native title and ATSIC, and haven't really had much involvement in those other areas. Now I intend as a back bencher to keep those questions coming. Every time someone gets up and goes through a piece legislation the question will be, "Have you thought about the impact on Indigenous people, what is it exactly and what are we proposing to do in policy terms?"

Question: Your outspoken, devastating criticisms of the Labor Party - do you expect this to be a sort of starter gun for criticism from others to gather momentum now?

Lawrence: I hope it will cause people to actually look at what needs to be done and I've tried to suggest what that will be. And I hope I haven't just been destructive because that's not my intention. My intention is to say I can't continue in this process the way it's going.

I do see alternatives and I spent a lot of time outlining what they might be. I have hope for the Labor party and it's members. I want the Labor Party to succeed because Howard and his mob are very destructive and it's precisely because they're so destructive that I feel it's important for the Labor Party to get up off the matt and really take him on.

And I don't mean the day to day nit picking the Question Time in politics. I mean really take him on - contest the territory - the language, the values, John Howard's Australia is not one that I recognise as the one I value. He has diminished all of us, John Howard and I think we should be saying that - often.

Question: Dr Lawrence if that loses votes rather than gain votes, in other words if moving to the Left would lose votes, do you still think the Labor Party should do it?

Lawrence: I don't see why it's moving to the left. It's about clear values enunciated and acted upon. We have to, I guess, convince the Australian community that we're capable of having as different kind of society. We're actually capable of transforming ourselves and our social world. That's always been the objective of left of centre political parties. If we think we're just going to make a minor difference, I don't know why I'd get up in the morning and frankly I'm finding it harder and harder to do so.

Question: (inaudible)

Lawrence: Look I know you want to see it that way but it's not. It's actually a cry from the heart for the Labor Party as a whole to gather its resources, its intelligence, its energy and it's passion and to take on that man who pretends to lead this country.

Question: At the last election on the Tampa, did you tell lies to your electorate or did you just avoid the truth?

Lawrence: I avoided the truth. I didn't speak about it. I told as many people as I could in my constituency who asked me that I would do everything within my power from that day forward to undo what I saw as an unconscionable position. So whenever I was asked I did tell them what I would do.

I didn't put it in my newsletters, my advertising, I didn't endorse the party position publicly, but neither did I say that I didn't support it except when asked, when I did say that I didn't support it. Now that didn't reach the media but it was very clear. Anyone who wrote to me, spoke to me, emailed me - I told them clearly. And in fact that's why I'm here today in a way, because I feel as if I haven't kept the pledge that I made to those people at that time.

Question: Dr Lawrence would you be comfortable going to the next election as a Labor candidate if the asylum seeker policy remains unchanged.

Lawrence: That would be very difficult but I have confidence in the national conference of turning it around, you know, to think that the members of the Labor Party are going to say no to this.

Question: What do you say to the many Labor voters who actually supported Labor and on two party preferred votes it was quite close - at the last election - who actually supported the policy that Kim Beazley put forward.

Lawrence: Well as I say, in my electorate I didn't campaign on that basis and people in my electorate - because I'm quite outspoken in local newspapers and radio - know that I don't support it. So it may not have hit the headlines, but it's pretty clear that most people would understand my position. If they didn't, I apologise to them, but the reality is that most people most of the time would know my views on these issues. They've been consistent for a long time. I'd argued against many of the moves that the Howard Government had made before the Tampa - I didn't endorse the policy but I do apologise to those people who feel as if they've been misled about my real views. And that's part of the problem that you face in politics. I mean sometimes you swallow it and sometimes you choke on it.

Question: What's your response to the main argument of Julia Gillard, as I understand it, for the two tiered system, which is that there needs to be a deterrent to people and people smugglers and people getting into leaky boats risking their lives.

Lawrence: Well it's not even consistent on that point, because if you get on a leaky boat that reaches Christmas Island then you get one system, and if you get on a leaky boat that reaches Darwin you get the onshore system with some degree of a review - not ideal - but some review - an independent tribunal.

Question: (inaudible) a deterrent in a leaky boat.

Lawrence: I don't see why. Lots of leaky boats used to get to the coast of Western Australia before they started to go to Christmas Island. The logic is not compelling in my view, and if it's really about deterring who would you be deterring - the people smugglers or the people who get on the boat? Why punish the people who've already had the misfortune to fall into the hands of those bastards?

Question: (inaudible)

Lawrence: When I read the policy on Sunday. That was the trigger but as I say it's not he only reason and colleagues who know me have known that I've been worried for some time. I've not kept it a secret from anybody.

Thank you very much.

* * * * * *

Lawrence may soften refugees stance

The Australian
By Sophie Morris
January 13, 2004

CARMEN Lawrence has signalled she is prepared for compromises on Labor's refugee policy but warned she was elected president of the party because of broad support for softening the ALP's stance.

If the ALP's national conference later this month resulted in a refugee policy that was "simply a series of accommodations and trade-offs" it would not convince voters, she said.

However, Dr Lawrence, who quit the front bench because she considered the party's refugee policy too hardline, acknowledged there would be trade-offs.

"The Labor Party is a big party. There are going to be compromises, there are going to be accommodations, because first and foremost we want to get rid of this Government," Dr Lawrence said.

She saw her election as president late last year as a sign of broad support for reforms proposed by Labor for Refugees.

These reforms included abolishing mandatory detention, giving all refugees permanent rather than temporary visas and overturning the excision of islands from Australia's migration zone, she said.

The ALP is committed to reviewing its policy on temporary protection visas. Dr Lawrence said the visas were "totally unsatisfactory" because they left people in limbo.

However, one proposal said to be under consideration is to reduce the visas from three to two years, offering permanent protection after this, rather than abolishing them.

"My own disposition is to have a clear, principled stand, capable of being presented to the Australian community," Dr Lawrence said.

"I will continue to argue for that, but I'm enough of a political realist to know it's rare in a conference to come out with results quite as clear-cut as that."

She said Opposition Leader Mark Latham and immigration spokesman Stephen Smith should use the conference to develop a policy that provided a clear alternative to the Howard Government's hard line.

This article, sourced from The Australian at the time it was written, is no longer available online.

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