Interview with John Kerin, Minister for Primary Industry, Parliament House, Tuesday 18 April, 1989.
Greg McIntosh recorded this interview with John Kerin, Minister for Primary Industry, at Parliament House, on Tuesday 18 April, 1989
G McIntosh: Interview with John Kerin, Minister for Primary Industry, Parliament House, Tuesday April 18th, 1989.
J Kerin: Do you want to ask questions Greg?
G McIntosh: Okay, well, the first area I’d like to talk with you about is just your general attitude to Parliament-Executive relationship. You’ve indicated there that is should be weighted in favour of the Executive, that is the way it is and that is the way it should be. How dominant is the Executive now, what sort of balance should there be between those two arms?
J Kerin: I think the Executive is very dominant in the House of Representatives wherever you have the numbers, because the numbers are used. Every governing party that has the numbers will use them, there is simply no two ways about that. The checks and balances occur in terms of factional splits or Coalition factional splits in the Opposition parties, pressure comes from outside the bureaucracy; the enormous bureaucracy, enormous coordination. The checks and monitors, so they are there within a party dynamic, within the bureaucracy and from the general public and the stuff that is fed in from the media. The parliament itself is rarely an effective check and monitor on the power of the Executive, often it is after the event, via the committee system. Sometimes to the good, but really it’s a question of Senate Committees anticipating where they seem to have some time to get better legislation and that again, becomes amendments, but the power of the Executive is pretty supreme. If you don’t have the numbers in the Senate, this is just straight politics, you really can’t get a lot through. The fact the Democrats now tell us, up to what date they’ll accept legislation really means there is no sense in us putting legislation into the Reps.
The only cure for that is to make the Senate sit longer and I think the Reps should sit longer anyhow, but to what good, it would only mean that the Senate would sit longer again and that’s a real problem in terms of managing government business. I don’t know whether we use the guillotine or gag much. I think we’re letting people speak more down there than they are.
One thing I must say, being in the Executive as well, and part of the reason why I think the Executive has to govern, the Cabinet has to see the lot. I regard myself as a Cabinet Minister, not just pushing my Primary Industries and Energy barrow. The backbenchers only react to various pressures, either electoral or outside pressure, or arguments that on the face are not reasonably rational, that are not considered arguments. I really do think the Executive has that enormous bureaucracy that are coordinating mechanisms, three very strong coordinating departments. Now the super ministries, two industry departments and Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Structural Adjustment Committee being effectively the Economic and Industry Committee of Cabinet and the sort of problems we have, that concentrates a lot of intellectual power, more than any backbencher can marshal.
G McIntosh: A lot of the textbooks talk about parliament government, or parliamentary democracy, how accurate is that, should we perhaps call it party government in Australia?
J Kerin: Yes, I think it’s a rubber stamp. Hawke is not a parliamentarian and he is the dominant person in Australian politics, he and Keating. Keating is a parliamentarian that is if you equate parliamentarians with people who can actually think on their feet and are good debaters. Jim Killen was a great parliamentarian. Gough Whitlam was a great parliamentarian in terms of debating skills, but I think the last great parliamentarian has been Whitlam. He ended up not being a very good politician because he was beaten by a backwoodsman Joe twice and all his reforms didn’t have much staying power, but he was a man that used the parliament who still indexes in Hansard — I know Gough really well, having his seat and that taught me a lot of lessons. I consummate parliamentarian got beaten by the numbers crunchers and with the Labor Party now, the entrenchment of the factions is also very dominant force. As I said.
G McIntosh: How dangerous do you think that is?
J Kerin: The quality of the Ministry will go down. The quality of the Senate will go down. You’re getting party hacks in the Senate of all the major parties. Some are just not doing any bloody work. We have one Senator who also has full-time money from his union and does nothing. I just think you’re going to have people coming from party machines, going into the Senate on factional lines, is very bad. Bad in my party, particularly bad in my party. Well we just picked — this is not for publication, but the right wing picked Gary Punch because he is going to be a New South Wales right-winger, when really you should have been looking for the best right-winger if you’re talking about factions. But it gets down to factions by States and that is just, very, very wrong I think.
G McIntosh: What about party discipline in general? I mean a lot of people I’ve spoken to have said …
J Kerin: Well the factions have given party discipline.
G McIntosh: Yes, right across the board a lot of people have said, including Labor backbenchers, if party discipline could be lessened. What would be wrong, if on a few issues a few people crossed the floor? Is that a danger for governments? That is always the argument — we can’t have, it’s the think edge of the wedge. As soon as we have a couple do it the rest will do it.
J Kerin: Yes, it’s the power of the media. There is two enormous impediments to government, I believe now. One is that material does not get circulated freely on key economic issues because it will either leak or the heavies will say it will leak. We don’t have effective discussion on the economy anymore in the Cabinet Room. To my mind, because Treasury keeps the Treasurer captive and because Treasury, finance and P&C can keep it all in there together and they, or their Ministers can always use the excuse, or the reason, with some validity, that this material cannot be circulated freely in the bureaucracy, that this cannot be debated because it will leak. So if you want to talk about a broad-based consumption tax, you cannot have a discussion on the pros and cons of that in the present setting. You can’t look at that again, it will just blow. I wanted the Resources Assessment Commission to do what would be a methodological study and that was to investigate public resource use and what charge the public should make for access to public resources, such as fish, petroleum, forest, minerals. A methodological study, but you couldn’t do that, because the moment I went there the allegation would remain, it would remain Kerin’s going to put a resource rent tax and every bloody thing. So there is enormous pressure out there on that.
Now crossing the floor and everyone knows that Joe phenomenon, last federal election, it’s become a bigger and bigger myth — well it’s not a myth. A bigger and bigger view that if there is division in parties that is by far the worst possible thing.
G McIntosh: So one of the Labor backbenchers said to me that the Graeme Campbell one, where he wasn’t disciplined as much as he thought he would have been. He thought that might have been — he hoped that was the thin edge of the wedge and maybe the caucus rule could be relaxed. I mean on those sort of issues where it is very important in their electorates, is that a problem if they occasionally cross the floor?
J Kerin: Ultimately it is, it’s up to his own State branch to discipline if they so choose. You eventually head for a ravel but Campbell got away with that because he’s not in any faction. He’s a loose cannon. He’s in a telephone box faction. He’s got all sorts of problems, with what I’m doing in wheat, but I think this time he will abstain.
But he had a semi-political motivation imposing on wheat deregulation because he says, ‘Look Kerin, unless I oppose you on wheat deregulation I can’t really oppose any further moves by a future Coalition government on wages deregulation’. I said, ‘Graham you’ve got to look at the two different issues’. Graham is a simple man. I don’t mean that patronisingly but he is a simple person and has an electorate where it’s pretty good to be a wild dog.
G McIntosh: Obviously, the problem with the media. The Coalition are copping hammering at the moment about this wheat thing in particular. Do you think it will ever be possible for the media, to acknowledge that occasionally crossing the floor might be a good thing? It’s not going to happen?
J Kerin: No, I can’t see it. I think the Press Gallery is going down in quality. I really believe the Whitlam government had a first class gallery. You’ve got so many young people there …
G McIntosh: It’s very young.
J Kerin: … that don’t know any bloody thing. They are never interested in the issue, they are only interested in the brawl. We have so much print media in this country. I think the pressure on those young journalists and the radio journalists. Radio journalist a story every hour. Print journalist get the mob to read it so people are kept excited about federal politics the whole time. They’re not kept so excited about State politics.
G McIntosh: I know from my dealings. I worked with Macphee for a while and my dealings with the Press Gallery. I’m an ex-politics teacher. It’s just amazing, a twenty-two year old journalist straight from Melbourne or Sydney and they were writing stories and they just had not background whatsoever.
J Kerin: Someone said to me the other day. Journos in the bush are even worse. ‘The removal of the sugar import embargo will stop our exports’. I said ‘How’s that?’ and she says ‘Well that is what the sugar farmers the saying’. I said ‘An import embargo allows sugar to be imported which it pushes out our production, means there will be more exports, can’t you see that’. ‘Oh’, you know. You never know what level to go in.
So the media — and there is a rat pack here as you know which was pretty pro-Labor. I think it is starting to move away from us now, but just a hand full of people. You know Grattan still preserves her integrity because she checks it out and checks it out and what you read there is accurate. Kelly has obviously had a brawl with Keating. Oakes starting to see the main chance. Those three are almost dominant, Steketee, when he is here, a few others of quality but not much, then it just pales away. So all these young people worship the big three or four, or Peter Harvey on tele. A few of the ABC fellas seem to maintain some sort of integrity, but they are always flawed in the eyes of the rest of the business community anyhow.
G McIntosh: When that Parliament-Executive thing then, you are saying, it is dominant and it should be.
J Kerin: Yes.
G McIntosh: How important is the Press Gallery in that, I mean, because they do report in that way will that mean that is always going to be and it almost has to be?
J Kerin: Yes, and the only — now it’s nearly all Question Time isn’t it. I believe my mob handles Question Time badly but that’s just my view. I reckon the Labor Party is in a lot of trouble for three things. I think one is style, one is communication and the other one is just the basic economic problem we’ve got. I’m sick of Keating slamming. I’m sick of Hawke lecturing and hectoring. We’re not going to be able to — Keating has oversold — Keating to my mind is oversold every time. He is a great salesman and all the rest of it but now he’s got no comeback arguments. Whereas if you involved people in the problems all along, explain what the alternatives were instead of trying to maintain that he is totally on top of things. I think we would have been in a far better position now, but it just doesn’t wash what they say. So staved communication plus the fundamental problem and that is there to be judged, I think, every day in Question Time, that is where the power of the press resides, and that is where the government really has to get its act together.
G McIntosh: Now if we could move on to the second main area I wanted to look at, just briefly. The new parliament house, just your views in general and then maybe how you think the new building might affect this Parliament-Executive thing?
J Kerin: Not much. I find that I wander around talking to backbenchers, or when they come around to me, but the ones I feed, the regional, rural provincial people, they — well I work them the whole time. I’m just heading off now for four days in the Northern Territory, tomorrow. I’ve just been in West Tasmania. I’ve just been in Western Victoria, Queensland, Central Victoria, Jimmy Snow, David Simmons. I get around them all every six months. So we’ve got a very good — and we feed the backbenchers pretty well from here. Just been a rise.
G McIntosh: Do other Ministers do that?
J Kerin: I don’t know, don’t know. I think we’ve got a good reputation for that. So it hasn’t changed. You have to walk further. If people can’t bloody well walk, the problems not big enough, that’s my attitude. But we do it and we’re on the phone the whole time to them. And we do spend a lot of time giving them stuff to handle. In my area, I’ve probably got twelve hundred media outlets just to cover all that is near impossible so we really now got a pretty sophisticated system of finishing Press Releases and all the rest of this. Who we should ring on radio and what we should do. So that has given us this view the whole time. We don’t deal centrally out of all through the press box. We put out far too many bloody media releases but we’ve never seen the central one. Everyone says, Kerin’s a background person, a quiet person, and all the rest of that, but it’s just that the dominant media, the city media is not aware of what we get up to.
G McIntosh: Well in terms of the, obviously, prefer the facilities here to the old one, everyone said that.
J Kerin: Sure. The office I had in the Old Parliament House is as big as this but it didn’t have your own private toilet and washroom. The working facilities for the staff and the rest of it were bloody abominable. The reason I came up one story was to get that light for staff through there because the offices located on the ground floor just didn’t have much light. I want the staff to have decent work environment, which is good now.
G McIntosh: But you don’t think there is any problems in terms of — a lot of people have speculated, and people I’ve spoken who have agreed, that the informal contact, which is so important. You know running into people in the toilets or in the corridors and …
J Kerin: Yes, that’s gone.
G McIntosh: … that’s gone. How important is that informal contact to the functioning of this place?
J Kerin: It was, but then again, if you’re going to say anything, if you’re going to have any deep and meaningful conversations in toilets because you had to check whether the doors are locked or not and who was behind the bloody doors, quite frankly you know. So it was just a friendly thing.
G McIntosh: Yes.
J Kerin: A wink is a good as a nod. I think there was a bit of communication there but I really do think if that’s what it’s got down to, you should be looking at other ways of communicating. But, yes there was more contact. The Caucus Room, the Party Room were just behind the Chamber as you know. People used to go in there and play cards and talk and you could wander in, that’s gone.
G McIntosh: But you wouldn’t place great store on that. You don’t think that’s a major problem for government and how it operates with Parliament, and how it operates?
J Kerin: No, but the thing that has knocked me around is the Super Ministry, that’s my big problem because, just the learning curve I’ve been on. I really am — well last night I had four hours sleep. I normally get by on five hours sleep. I go to bed at midnight and get up at 5 am. I don’t know how long I can keep that up for, but sometimes I just crash on weekends, but I’ve had about five weekends off this year, that’s all. So it is that enormous work on the key Ministers. The portfolio Ministers that has changed my perceptions of the way the whole world goes because you’ve got thirty bloody Ministers. Some of them have got departments of twenty nine …
G McIntosh: Well should there be more Ministers?
J Kerin: No, you’ve got twenty-two Ministers, you’ve got a small Cabinet. That’s a factional thing, you’ve got — couldn’t resist, so it went from twenty-seven to thirty. It’s bloody nonsense.
G McIntosh: Well if we can move on to the last one, which probably covers a lot of what we’ve done anyway. Parliamentary reform, or reform within this building and how it operates and so on. I listed some on that survey and there is a few there that you did agree with.
J Kerin: Whereabouts is it?
G McIntosh: It’s towards the end, it starts from question, statement twenty-three on. You’ve mentioned Parliament should longer each year …
J Kerin: Yes.
G McIntosh: … is that basically for the reasons you’ve mentioned about the Senate?
J Kerin: Yes, I just think — and I also …
G McIntosh: A lot of people argue that the Senate is the example of the revival of parliament. The Senate Committee system that Murphy and Odgers set up. It’s the place where actually the Ministry and the government can be called to account.
J Kerin: Yes, I can see that. Murphy apparently transformed the Senate with his Senate Committees and all the rest of it. First of all. I think the Parliament should sit longer, because I think there just simply needs to be more deliberative debates in an ideal world. You don’t you have set piece speeches down there. There is no notion of debate in that place. I think there is more notion of debate in the Senate. You get more political thuggery there. You get more political philosophies, very big and very common, more philosophies articulated in the Senate. But what worries me about the Senate Committee System and I think I refer to it. Because Brian Archer was wound up by either four fishermen on the west coast, who are appealing to me, or through Robin Gray, a fisheries regulation had to be held up and I eventually had to go before the committee because officials couldn’t handle it. I went before them twice. First time in ignorance and the second time they just couldn’t handle the stupidity of the politics of it. Now that’s not a — I don’t mind …
G McIntosh: He was doing that on his own, without any party, he hadn’t gone to a party.
J Kerin: Yes, but anyone can get a bloody committee now. You just persuade the Democrats and then you’ve got it. There is a committee now on agri-chemicals. I won’t go into the background of that, it will bore you. That is causing me great aggravation, and I don’t actually mind, but how that comes up is just a few people get to the Democrats.
Boswell sees great politics in kicking shit out of me on sugar and he just keeps on running this story that it’s going to cost three hundred million. Which really means that Australian market, seventy percent of the Australian market is going to be taken over by imports and we’re going to throw that into the sea. That is how his figure comes up, it’s just stupid. But he’s got this right-wing bloody committee and it’s wandering around the sugar areas, and it’s for politics, just straight politics. It’s got nothing to do with inquiry into the functioning of the parliament legislation. They’ve become — I know it’s a fine dividing line, but there comes a time when, if the Senate is going to behave like the hoons they call them, I think they are starting to beat the Senate committee system down.
I actually do read Senate Committee reports, summaries and recommendations for a kick-off, and then I think, there is something in this, so I flick it to one of the staff people and make sure we actually take it on board. I don’t know whether other Ministers do that, but I think most of the time the central bureaucracies just ignore committee reports except they’ve got to do it formally, but I just don’t think, they just wash over it. So I don’t know whether parliament is improving as a result of it. I don’t deny, but I am worried when they are becoming more and more political, and sort of, defiling the coinage whatever the word is.
More free votes wouldn’t hurt.
G McIntosh: Someone suggested to me, again it was another Labor backbencher, who said in London where they have first, second, third line whips. It is only on the third line whip that you really are committed to vote for your party. On quite a few issues they cross the floor over there. Maggie Thatcher hasn’t fallen as a result. They are saying, well why couldn’t that happen here?
J Kerin: It would be seen, as what I said, because — I think smaller numbers …
G McIntosh: The media gain.
J Kerin: … smaller numbers, media, and more traditional view of parliament there. I don’t think the British press is quite as thuggish as ours.
Speaker should have a more independent role, yes, but first get stronger Speakers. I reckon that is one of the biggest problems Parliament has got, privately.
G McIntosh: A few people have said that privately.
J Kerin: I think we’ve had — Gordon Scholes, the last good speaker, Snedden wasn’t too bad.
G McIntosh: So it’s not really a matter of the procedures and the backup for the Speaker there, its personality?
J Kerin: Yes, I think the Parliament is too small to have an independent Speaker. I think the politics in Australia are too, too much interest based politics to allow a Speaker to survive unscathed in their electorate. I think that would require a great deal of negotiation by the major parties. But I — it wouldn’t worry me if we did have an independent Speaker totally, but — the best Speaker I suppose presently is Clarrie Millar, he was about the best but Deputies. But we’ve got some Deputy Speakers who are absolutely bloody painful. I shouldn’t reflect on Joan but she shouldn’t let Tuckey get away with what he does, and shouldn’t let our people get away with what they do. But I think Hawke and Keating buggered Joan a bit by pushing their luck with her too much too and she wasn’t game to take them on. Once you get that — once you’ve got an ounce of weakness you just get exploited down, down, down.
G McIntosh: That also creates the other problem where, I mean Question Time is what the media concentrate on, that is what the public tend to see and hear and they highlight all the points of order and the arguing and whatever.
J Kerin: The best Speaker we could put up would be Clyde Holding. Clyde is a bastard, prepared to be a bastard. I think he could be a fair bastard and I think that would be wonders for the Parliament.
G McIntosh: And it’s outside image.
J Kerin: Yes, tremendous. Question Time should be extended. Yes, you’ve got to change the Standing Orders I reckon because I give answers are too long but bloody hell there are other people worse than me. I think — I’d push it out to an hour, allow supplementaries but really change the Standing Orders to be able to chop down the answers when they’re becoming irrelevant.
G McIntosh: Have you discussed that with other Ministers? Do you think there would be a view on that?
J Kerin: No, I’ve not discussed it.
G McIntosh: I mean it would make life a bit harder for Ministers wouldn’t it?
J Kerin: Yes, that doesn’t matter. We’ve [INAUDIBLE].
Electronic voting, yes look it doesn’t have to be seen by the public. I get a bit worried, when you were asking a while ago about the House, there is one think I must say, the Chamber itself is too much of this atrium. I guess my eyes are going a bit now. I can’t see the back of the Galleries. There is this anonymous audience there. It’s very hard to see people at the back of the Chamber. The direction of speakers mean that ….
G McIntosh: You have to face straight along.
J Kerin: Yes, there’s just no feeling there anymore.
G McIntosh: Well Steele Hall very strongly put the view that he said, they’d been no orators come out of Parliament with this new Chamber.
J Kerin: Yes, it’s bloody terrible. It just feels enormous. I just feel as if I have to get down there in the public square and come back. It’s really funny. It doesn’t hurt to be seen with the public. You’ve got a really big Gallery now and none of them can understand why we’re not there all the time.
Parliament should be televised — yes on an edited basis. I see what they are doing in the United States debates, there is plenty happening there. I think, who would edit it would be a real problem but I just don’t think — you would resist that eventually.
G McIntosh: They’ve experimented with televising parts of the committee system there, that drugs in sport one, for example, a lot of people have said, that’s a good thing, but from what you’ve said about committees — maybe, would you see that as a danger? I mean some people like carving out …
J Kerin: Oh yes, it depends. There are dangers with lots of things but there is also the question of responsibility. I think that people have to understand that if committees are going to be televised that we don’t want bloody film stars posturing. It’s going to be hard. See the media have got enormous responsibility. I keep on putting it to them. I’ve just had Sunday following me around for three bloody weeks and they say they can’t peel away the veneer, you see, and all the rest of it [ten minutes Jim] they can’t get down the real Kerin and I said, alright you know, you’re not going to get it because most of the time we’ll act responsibly. I take a lot on trust. I get a big grinning picture of myself and then I see the rural media, television out there, five thousand cattle to kill today by anthrax and the Minister for Primary Ministry Industry, he is just ha ha. What they can do to you, you know Hawke is going bad temporarily when they run the bad pictures in the media. So there is a responsibility of the media. There is the responsibility of the committees if you’re going to go that far. That has got to be thumped into them.
G McIntosh: You mention there about the committee system in general. Now a lot of people have said they are good and there should be more of them. They should be given more power, but other people have also mentioned that they are — the talent’s getting spread very thinly, it is hard to staff them and you get the numbers.
J Kerin: Well, you know we’ve got these party committees and I’ve got bloody people who are party Chairman, and this is all part of the patronage which is now put out in a factional system; absolutely hopeless. They’re coming to me all the time wanting references. I know what we’re doing with forestry, the industry committee, whatever it is. I forget who Chairs it — Beddall, he’s come into some forest. For God’s sake, we’ve got the resources assessment commission setting up, we’re trying to get the forest inventory together with the state government, we’ve got the forest accord being negotiated. We’ve got every bloody forestry issue in the country alive and you want to set up a Parliamentary Committee to look at forests. I said, ‘You’ll just jam the department down doing nothing else’ in the whole resource management area.
G McIntosh: That would also be self-defeating. There would be so many reports, the government can’t respond to anyway, and they’ll just sit and gather dust.
J Kerin: Yes. All the time they carry dust for bloody references. I’m quite surprised about that.
backbenchers, I reckon we’ve got enough. I reckon most of them are engaged in political work most of the time.
Private Members, well, the Keith Wrights of this world.
G McIntosh: Yes.
J Kerin: Do you want to go through the other ones at all, or do you reckon we’ve got enough?
G McIntosh: Well is there anything else you’d like to add to that, anything about — any other reforms or?
J Kerin: No, this — I really do get upset by the Congress, God I reckon that is terrible.
G McIntosh: Yes. I’ll just ask you a general question about it. The Parliament — I mean just how effective should it be in monitoring and scrutinizing the Executive or we now rely on Auditor Generals and Administrative Appeal Tribunals and the outside ….
J Kerin: See what Taylor is doing, but we’ve got Finance and Government Operations in the Senate. We’ve got Public Accounts. We’ve got Public Works and we’ve got another finance committee. I think there are three or four main committees now. I think — my time on the Public Accounts Committee I formed strong views about the capacity of the Auditor to respond to us and departments. Having being a public servant, knowing where some of the skeletons were buried. I also knew that they never got right to the bottom of it, all the Senate Estimates Committees don’t get to the bottom of it. So I realize there is room for more but I think you’d be better off building up more powerful staff on those key accountability committees. Within our department we’re putting, with a Statutory Marketing Authority reform, Research Council reform, we’re putting in accountability mechanisms which require, in my department a measure of accountability, and also just putting fraud control measures, because we handle so much money. So there is an enormous amount of accountability outside of the Parliamentary system, in terms of the overall running of government.
G McIntosh: Do you find as a Minister in your area that the spotlight is on you enough to check things that you’re doing or do you think there are areas where they miss?
J Kerin: I think there are areas that are missed because every now and then I find out something in my department seems [INAUDIBLE]. We’ve gone through the exercise so many times, now there is no fat left and there really isn’t. But every now and then you’ll find that there is a single line that covers a few things you never knew about. But by enlarge its pretty well purged now. I’m really convinced. I’m supper sensitive in terms of administration. I spend a hell of a lot of time on administration in the department and following up because it’s my …… [tape finishes mid-sentence].
Greg McIntosh recorded part 2 of this interview with John Kerin, Minister for Primary Industry, at Parliament House, on Tuesday 18 April, 1989
J Kerin: I mean to say, if I start looking for the big disasters that we can be hit by, one is a breakdown in quarantine, one is an exotic disease outbreak, another one is misuse of funds, misapplication of funds, because we invest funds. So areas that you can anticipate, I go through the executive department down there so we are really putting that scrutiny on. A report has just come down by Pete Moeck[?], I think it was, on Fisheries and they’ve picked up all the allegations of the corporate sector of the fisheries industry, not the cottage sector of the fisheries industry. I can predict who they’ve been talking to. They’ve made all sorts of wild allegations. Now Brown is onto that. I have a person in the Fisheries Department, a young fella who was photocopying at night and selling stuff in the courts. So I realize just a small incident, comes on pretty quickly and all sorts of allegations have been made but we check and counter-check and cross-check. Geoff Miller’s Secretary of Department went through the whole meat substitution scandal. So it should answer your question. I’m trying to spread it out. The short answer is yes, I think I’m pretty well in the spotlight and B. I think it’s the duty of a Minister to administer a department and also to make sure the department constantly tries to anticipate; tries to work out where the blank spots are.
[Looking through question sheet] The problem is the factions.
The Front Bench needs to work harder — I get a bit worried about the Bench. I used to work like buggery. I was on three parliamentary committees and in a marginal seat. I see these young fellas wandering around not doing bloody much. Strangely enough maybe their Electorate Secretaries do it all, but I just don’t think …
G McIntosh: The calibre of the ordinary backbencher has declined over the years?
J Kerin: No, I think it’s gone up, I think they’re better educated but I just don’t think — you see Gary Punch, has never done anything else in his life besides politics. He’s the classic example of the young apparatchik — you are getting in, better educated and all the rest of it, but there is no real world experience and no idea of what parliaments, or the history is all about. I’ve got some pretty old conservative notions of parliaments and the responsibility. I’m Burkean to some degree, a bit of Burke, a bit of John Stuart Mill, a bit of Rousseau. But I just think that a lot of them need to be more conceptual and identify principles more rather than just swing on every each way. I’m having a bit of a brawl, I’ve had a bit of a brawl with my junior minister. I really believe unless you get a conceptual base to politics, unless you really — to policy making I’m sorry. Unless you identify principles you can’t have a separate approach to export controls for iron ore to coal when you’re dealing with the same people in Japan but Peter can’t quite see that. He’s negotiating away on iron ore. I’m negotiating away on coal and I said, ‘Look Peter we’re going to have to get an Export Control Policy for this bloody department’, he can’t see that. Now, he’s bright, he’s young, he’s astute, leaves me for dead in negotiating skills but just simply doesn’t know much and that’s without any — I’m not trying to insult him but there is a lot he doesn’t know and he would be the first to admit it. But even that he hasn’t got any sort of depth of understand, as far as I can see it, about the whole nature of being a Minister in a government in a parliamentary system. I think there are lots and lots of younger people like that. They’re better educated and in many other ways they’re better.
But I used to think it was no bad thing that you had a few characters in parliament as long as they had some real understanding of government and Opposition and the role of Parliament and all the rest of it. I think you saw some of these old people who we now regard as old fools but there was a little bit of depth there to some of those old people. It’s a very young Parliament now.
Yes, that’s the [INAUDIBLE] the one about Brian Archer, largely rubber stamp, yes.
If anything has gone too far …
G McIntosh: Do you think the backbenchers, in particular, have got plenty of staff? There are plenty of resources for the Parliament to monitor the Executive?
J Kerin: Yes, I’ve got three — most of my work is in Immigration and Social Security but Immigration is going. I don’t have my staff on purely political work but it is all political work in a way, so how you going to define that.
Okay, what’s changed — nothing has changed. Nothing has much changed for me. I suppose on question thirteen I might say that people who come down now from the electorate who I don’t know well, who might have once upon a time said, ‘Look can we find our Member’. I suspect they are a bit intimidated by the size of the bloody place and that doesn’t happen. That might be a qualification for question thirteen.
G McIntosh: It appears most of the public are happy with the building. They see the big wide open spaces and so on but certainly most people I’ve spoken to don’t find it user friendly.
J Kerin: Yes — less contact with Members, number sixteen. I must point out, I just don’t know in some senses. There’s twelve in the state and I deal with the buggers all over the place but we’re never very much aware of the Senate. I just think it’s a bit worse now there is more. Again, I think it’s the busyness factor with me with this bloody Super Ministry.
G McIntosh: Yes.
J Kerin: Seventeen, eighteen, not in my case now because I am a Minister.
Yes, I don’t use the Library much at all now. I wouldn’t expect. The distance is too great. Yes, you do a lot of walking.
Use the recreation facilities. I’ve had one or two games of tennis. I might get in on that fitness program but time constraints are enormous.
G McIntosh: Yes, well Minister thanks very much for your time I appreciate that.
J Kerin: Not at all.