Press conference, Big Blue Sky book launch

Peter Garrett
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney 13 November 2015
Transcript of press conference
E&OE proof only

Garrett: … I’ve had a big life and this is a big book. And not withstanding my comments about leadership and the many other yarns in Big Blue Sky, I’ve got a fantastically enduring hope about our country.

In the many things I’ve done whether it is about music, or activism, or politics I believe in Australia and Australians, and I hope that is something which people will take away from my memoir.

Journalist: Mr Garrett, are you worried about the fact that you have had to issue this clarification might damage your integrity and the integrity of the book?

Garrett: Not at all. I think you have got to be upfront about things and be honest about them and that is what I have tried to do at all times.

And this is a big book. It spans some 40 years of public life and there are many, many stories in this book, and there are many reflections. So I’m happy to set a thing straight and get on with life. And I think people understand that.

Journalist: Could you explain a little bit more about how your memory could have failed you in that way?

Garrett: I think it is something that can easily happen, and it did easily happen. But the important thing is to understand once you know what has happened and make sure that you do correct the record. And that’s what I have done, and what is the important thing to do in the situation.

Journalist: … Macarthur River Mine continues to be a .., for traditional owners. I was wondering how you reflect on your decision-making in respect to that project.

Garrett: I do actually refer to the fact that when I came into government as Environment Minister and I found a number of decisions had been poorly made by previous ministers, in effect requiring the re-making of a decision. I always tried to put strong conditions on any decisions I made as Environment Minister – and I made a whole heap of them under the Act in ways that other ministers haven’t. But it was a really interesting illustration of the fact that when you arrive in government you inherit some of the things that the previous government had already put in place. And then you have to manage them as best as you can.

Journalist: But just to be clear. Are you comfortable, in retrospect, with the solutions that your government came up …

Garrett: If the conditions are properly observed by the parties and properly monitored by the agencies then yes I am confident with the decisions that I have made.

Journalist: Mr Rudd … some of the accusations that you made in the book … what do you say to that?

Garrett: I think it is important to read this book and understand the context in which I have made any comments about anything. If you read through you will see that I reflect on leadership at the time when Mr Rudd came back to lead the Labor Party for the second time. And it is that reflection that led me to the conclusion that I draw in the book. And I completely stand by it. There’s enough on the public record for people to make a judgement about this matter. This is a story which includes my reflections about leadership.

But it is not just about politics this book. It is about a whole lot of other things. For me, it has been a case of writing it as clearly and as openly as I can knowing that there are many Australians who maybe don’t follow politics every day but who are kind of interested in what has happened through the course of my life.

Journalist: Mr Garrett, you said you have no regrets about your decision to go into party politics. And despite your leadership criticisms you have faith in the institutions but you thought changes could be made to them. Could you elaborate on that? What are those changes?

Garrett: My takeaway from 10 years in politics is that politics is important and I would do it again. Whatever criticisms I have and reflections, they don’t lessen the great hope and optimism I have for our country, and the fact that our institutions have served us well.

Of course, everybody can do better but I have no regrets at all. I have lived a rich and privileged life and the fact that I have been able to do so much is not only a reflection on me as a person, it is a reflection on the country that has enabled me to have these different careers and to participate at the highest levels of government. That is a great privilege for any person, whatever party they are in, whatever they bring into the parliament, that is a privilege, and I consider it to be such.

Journalist: Mr Garrett can I ask you about leadership. Do you think, in retrospect, the Labor Party has made a mistake in making it harder to change leaders?

Garrett: I think the last 10 years have seen more turns in leadership than we have experienced as a nation for a very long time. And it is important for parties and those people involved to think through what that means in the long term, for the body politic. It is up to the Labor Party to determine whether it wants to look at the way in which it chooses a leader, or not. And of course it won’t do that at the moment. Bill Shorten is the leader and he will serve in that role as he should do.

I think what we saw happen during the period of time that I was in government, is that it was easy for leadership crises to be fermented, partly because there were people who wanted that to happen and partly because the media was willing to go along with it. And whilst we should have openness and transparency to the extent that we can in politics, it is important for people to back in behind a leader and to stay with them. I would have stayed in the parliament if Julia Gillard had remained as Labor leader, if the electors of Kingsford Smith would have had me again. But once that change was made for the second time, then I decided to go.

Journalist: Do you think Bill Shorten can win the next election or should Labor be looking at changing its leader?

Garrett: Labor, under Bill Shorten, can win the next election, of course. Mr Turnbull hasn’t changed the policies of the Liberal National Party. They’ve changed leaders but they haven’t changed policies. And there are a number of important threshold issues for Mr Turnbull to address. He needs to get into the policy debate and he needs to debate those things with the leader of the opposition, Mr Shorten. And there are some very good policies out there that Labor is bringing forward.

Journalist: Looking back on your experience of politics. Do you think it is possible for someone from your background, outside the party machine and the factions, to be treated fairly and to be successful in the Labor Party?

Garrett: I end by simply saying that if I look at the things that we got done as a government, and I was able to get done as a minister. Whether it was the first introduction of a carbon pollution tax to deal with climate change, whether it was the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Gonski reform on fair funding for schools, making sure that we had a world-class marine reserve system, rolling out solar panels right around the country, starting the NBN and getting that underway. These things were major, nation-changing reforms that the government I was a member of, was part of, and anyone would have been proud to have been in government at that time.

I conclude this press conference with you by saying that I called my book Big Blue Sky because I believe positively in our future and I reckon there is a lot of blue sky around us.

Thanks very much.