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CNBC Transcript: Kevin Rudd, President of Asia Society Policy Institute and Former Australian Prime Minister 

Below is the transcript of an interview with Kevin Rudd, President of Asia Policy Institute and Former Australian Prime Minister. The interview will play out in CNBC's latest episode of CNBC Meets: Defining Values on 27 July 2018, 5.00PM SG/HK (in APAC) and 22.00 BST time (in EMEA). If you choose to use anything, please attribute to CNBC and Tania Bryer.

Tania Bryer (T): Kevin Rudd, welcome to CNBC Defining Values. Up until you were 11 years old, you lived in a rural farm in Queensland. Tell me a little bit about your childhood there, and some of the experiences that shaped your later life.

Kevin Rudd (K): Well, I grew up on a little farm, in fact, it wasn't a little farm, it was a large farm, a beef property, dairy property, small crops, and my father was a share farmer. And so my mum and dad were children of the Depression, and neither of them had been to high school, both were in the war and after the war, they went farming after they were married. So that's where I grew up, and it was a wonderful environment to grow up in, but dad was killed in a car accident. And so that changed our lives, and that was the end of farm life. But he did have an influence on me in this sense. I remember sitting on a horse with him one day, he was big, and his horse was big, and I was small, and my horse was tiny. And, he leant over and said, "Have you made up your mind about your future? The fork in the road?" You're 11 years old, you have no idea what your father's talking about. And he said, "You know, the big choice you've got to make in your future." And I said, "Dad, I don't know what you mean." He said, "No, the ultimate choice that you will need to make." I said, "Dad, what do you mean?" He said, "Is it going to be beef cattle or dairy cattle?" That's when I decided to become a diplomat.

T: Kevin, of course, you were just saying that your father was killed when you were 11 years old. What impact did that have on your mother, Margaret, I believe, she went to retrain as a nurse, and brought you and your siblings up.

K: Yeah, well, I was the youngest of four, and so mum had a responsibility, then, to earn an income and then to raise us, and so she did. She had last been a nurse during the Second World War. And I'm talking about the 1970s, so she had to go back and learn from scratch, but she did, and bought a small house, and raised us, and so she was a profound influence. I suppose I grew up in a single parent family, in that sense. But she taught me resilience and she taught me hard work, and I think, because of our circumstances, she instilled in me a sense of justice, as well.

T: Did you witness many inequalities in the area where you were growing up already?

K: Well, it was a reasonably, um, how do I put this delicately? It was a part of Australia, in rural Australia, where education, um, tertiary education was not readily available, and so it was basically a simple farm community. But therefore, as a result, kids of great natural ability, who would normally go on to become whatever had no such opportunities. And so you saw a lot of endemic poverty. But my mum, who had never been to high school, herself, much, she had this dream that I would one day go to university. I didn't know what a university was, I'd never been to one, hadn't met anyone who'd been to one and so, for me, that was part of her vision, for where she wanted her kids to go.

T: What about your own vision? When did you know that you wanted to go in to public office, or public service?

K: As a kid growing up, at high school I began, through my mother's influence, mum would always give us things to read, about the world, and she, for example, would give me newspaper articles about the emergence of China, and she'd say, "You should read this, it's going to affect your future." And so, as a result of that, I just became interested, as a kid, in the world. Uh, so that's what sent me off to university, I decided to do five years of Chinese Language and History, at the Australian National University and by the time I went to university, I'd never met anyone from China because where I grew up it was classic white Australia. There was nobody around. And so, for me, this was a big voyage of discovery.

T: Why did you decide that your focus really was on China, and that was going to be your focus?

K: I think because I had read and I'd been given books by mum. I became fascinated with Chinese aesthetics, just those extraordinary rooves. If you're a kid growing up in rural Australia, there's something quite entrancing about classical Chinese architecture and then, secondly, China, as I began to read about it, was going to be a big force, in the region and the world. So, I felt as if I needed to understand this. I think what my mum taught me is work out what you're passionate about. Work hard with it and do something with it for the world. It doesn't matter what your field is. But then, once you graduate, in the early eighties, what on earth do you do? I mean, no one, in those days, was employing people who had Chinese skills maybe except the Foreign Service, which is where I ended up.

T: Just before that, at university, you met your wife, Thérèse Rein, and, of course, a very formidable woman in her own right, a very successful entrepreneur. What sort of values did you share?

K: I think both Thérèse and I had come from a tradition of faith, um, Christianity was an important part in our respective family lives. We also had, I think, a deep interest in justice, in those days, I'd already affiliated myself with the Australian Labour Party, she had a sense of justice and equality, her father was in a wheelchair. He'd been shot down in the war, he was a fighter pilot and therefore, neither of us had any financial background, so we also shared a view that, if we were going to get anywhere in life, it depended on these two things. You know, our own hands.

T: Well, of course, you mentioned the Foreign Office, and in 1981, you joined, and spent a decade living overseas, including being stationed in Stockholm and Beijing. What sort of experiences did you have there?

K: Well, if you're a young career diplomat and you join with reasonable Chinese language skills, then, of course, the natural place the Foreign Service will send you is Sweden

T: Yes, exactly

K: So why? But you know the great thing about going to our embassy in Stockholm in those days is that it was a small embassy, we covered both Norway, Sweden and Finland and so, as a young kid, and I'm only 24 years old, at this stage – 23,24 - we'd just got married like the day before we went on posting. New country, new wife, new husband, depending on your perspective, new language, new job. It's a recipe for divorce. 37 years later, we're still married, so, uh.

T: Phew. It's okay. Good.

K: And, uh, my wife, Thérèse, is a very patient lady. She understands life. But one thing that we learned is that if you are, in those days, in a foreign country, albeit a western country, uh, you learned self-reliance. And secondly, in a diplomatic mission like that, which was small, you learned the entire craft. Like, at the age of 24, I was chargé d'affaires. In charge of the mission, for several weeks on end, so you have to run the place, as well. And so, you quickly learn how to handle things. I think by the time I went in to politics, much later in my life, nothing ever surprised me anymore. You just learn how to deal with change.

T: You became Prime Minister in 2007, you defeated John Howard, what was that moment like for you?

K: The first feeling I had was, uh, one of just deep responsibility. Um, the elation lasted about 35 seconds, you know Like, "Yay!" And then-,

T: "Now I've gotta do it!"

K: Well, I also knew enough about the economy and was sufficiently financially literate, to understand what was beginning to unfold in markets. And, already, with the emergence of subprime in the United States, I thought, "This is going to be a challenging time." But, so it was a great sense of responsibility, as you do feel, if you're elected to high office, because suddenly, the hopes and aspirations of an entire nation rest on your shoulders. And the other thing I think about the exercise of political power is this. If you approach it soberly, the exercise of political power, in whichever country you're from, is a very sobering thing. In fact, it's a very frightening thing because what you decide matters. It affects people's lives, the next day. It's not a game, it's not a theory, it's not a plaything. And you change people's opportunities in a big way through what you decide. So, for me, it was a sobering experience.

T: So what skills, then, do you call upon, to have, to withhold that kind of pressure and responsibility? As you say, you're changing people's lives.

K: First and foremost is a sense of humour. If you don't have a sense of humour in political life, you die. Seriously. There's just too much going on that you can't control. I think the second thing is, when you're looking at proposals for change in a country, be very sober about it. You don't just assume that a change for its own sake is good. You've got to look at careful proposals for change, whether it's on the economy, on education, or the environment. And then act. For example, the changes we brought in on climate change. We brought in a mandatory renewable energy target of 20% of Australia's energy needs by 2020 to be renewable energy. When we were elected, it was 3%. Now it's about 18%, we're nearly there. But to look at that as a decision is a complex business. You've got to read and understand where each decision takes you, over three, five, seven, ten years. And I think the last, sort of, reserve you draw upon is perseverance.

T: Well, of course, you pushed through a number of ground-breaking measures, as Prime Minister, including, you were just talking about climate change, ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, officially apologising to Australia's indigenous people about the abuses that they had suffered, and also gender equality. Why were these such important issues for you, Kevin?

K: Well, the National Apology to Aboriginal Australians, it was the right thing to do, because Australian white people had treated Australian black people appallingly, for 200 years. So, for me, that was a basic and elemental exercise in social justice, it's a product of a reflection on who we are as human beings. You mentioned gender equality. If you've grown up in a family full of strong women. I had a strong mother, a very strong older sister, I married a strong woman. Our first child is a very strong woman, our daughter, Jessica. And she's given birth to a little girl, who's Josephine, a wonderful young Chinese-Australian kid, she's six, and by god is she strong. For me, it is normal to be with strong women. And so I find it incomprehensible in those parts of the world where women are regarded as second-class citizens.

T: What more can be done, though, Kevin, do you think, around the world, to close that gap for women?

K: You know, as I've looked around the world, I mean, there are three big drivers of inequality for women, one is the absence of universal healthcare for basic things, like safe childbirth. And we're working hard on that, through various development programmes around the world. The second is inequality of educational opportunity, because without the tools to know where you can take yourself and your family, and your community then you can't get there. And the third is inadequate access to finance. For women to be able to build their own enterprises, and to build their own businesses. There's another factor, as well, and that involves my gender, which is the appalling incidence of domestic violence. And violence against women is obnoxious, it's obscene and it's criminal, when Mao said, "Women hold up half the earth" it's not just a slogan. It actually is reflected in the reality, and we become a better humanity, as a result.

T: Another pivotal moment, of course, in your premiership, was the financial crisis, 2007/2008. What was it like to be a world leader at that time, and how did you know that your stimulus measures would work?

K: The honest answer is, for those of us who were in office at the time, it was bloody frightening. I think the thing which benefited me is, by instinct, I'm an historian. I read history. I knew enough about the history of the twenties and the thirties and of the history of recent recessions, in the global economy, in the early eighties and the early nineties to know, not just what to look for, but what measures not to adopt in response to it. Like in the thirties, and the measures that you could adopt to deal with it, and to lessen the blow. So, when we met as a cabinet, after Black Friday, in October of 2008, we spent the whole weekend in a cabinet meeting, brought in all the Treasury officials, and we went through the data, but we spent the first half of the first day going through economic history. And that's when we decided to act on financial confidence, provided a guarantee for all Australian savings deposits, a guarantee for all Australian inter-bank lending, and then began a very massive stimulus, for the real economy, of 5% of GDP equivalent, over the next 18 months. And thank god it worked.

T: In 2010, that was a real rollercoaster year and there were political backstabbing, there were leadership coups. How did you keep your own moral compass during those times?

K: I'm made of reasonably stern stuff, given how I was brought up. And you've been through a few tough things in your life, so you dust yourself off, and off you go again, I'm kind of a person of faith. I am grounded in a set of deep beliefs, and therefore, you enter in to a zone whereby that, becomes part of your resilience, that these things ultimately have a purpose, and you can work through both the highs and the lows of life.

T: You are the inaugural President of the Asia Society Policy Institute, you're on a number of boards, so many different roles, but when you left public office, did you hesitate? Did you think, "Actually, I'm not going to do anything"? Or you thought, "No, I have to now get on to the global stage"?

K: For me, it's part of a sense of vocation. It's not a job, it's what you feel you're actually called to do. And in my case, it's trying to act as some sort of intelligent, you know, bridge, where I can, and I don't overestimate the importance of this at all, between, I won't say east and west, But maybe China and the United States, uh, where we're being ripped apart rather than being brought closer together.

T: With hindsight, do you think you would have gone in to politics?

K: Ah, yes. I mean, you've got to be true to yourself, and for me going into political life was like a duck going to water. You know, it's what you do. So, I'd always had a sense of mission, a sense of purpose. Part of that purpose, for me, was on the home front, because I am a Social Democrat, was to try and maximise equality of opportunity for poorer people, like the person I was when I grew up. Everyone should have a first-class education, everyone should have access to decent healthcare. What you make of your life, then, depending on your hard work, or enterprise, or lack thereof, that's up to you. But everyone should have a decent start in life. And I think the other part of my vision and mission for politics was, a country like Australia, basically a bunch of white folks, at the other end of the world, how do we carve out a future for a country like that, in this extraordinary, dynamic, unfolding story called Asia?

T: I want to just take you back to the advice that you gave in your autobiography, to prospective politicians, is to know what you believe in. What are the values that your beliefs, give rise to?

K: You refer there to a course I taught at Harvard, I left the Prime Ministership, and then chose to, pursue political exile in the United States. If you're at Harvard, you're teaching all these young kids, uh, in the Institute of Politics, the course that I chose was called Politics and Purpose. So, I said, "Look. What you need to do at university is a few things. Number one. Work out what you believe in. Two, why do you believe that?" And why do you believe that? What values does that give rise to?" Then, what are you passionate about doing? What really lights up your lights? And how do you put together your beliefs and your passions, in to a mission for life?

For me, the core values which are most fundamental for me, are compassion. I can't claim that that's any virtue of mine, it's just that's how my mother brought me up. If you see someone in pain, that's not a natural way to be, you must, as a human being, respond to that. Solidarity, which is, even if I don't know people in another country, I should be doing something about it. But also, the freedom to choose. That's an important value. And I think, on top of all those, again, what I now would describe as, um, the ecology of the planet, which is a respect for all living things, and the natural environment. And the reason I said that to the Harvard kids is, "Guys and girls, none of you are going to have a smooth career. None of you. There are times in life where you're going to go BANG into a brick wall. Either your business is about to go bust, or the global economy's about to go bust, or your political career's about to go bust, or whatever. Or you're going to get sick." So what that requires is a resilience in life which, uh, draws its strength from essential values, um, and I'm, uh, fortunate enough to have imbibed many of those from my mum.

T: And have you instilled those same values, Kevin, to your own children, and to your grandchildren, to the next generations now?

K: Well, I hope so. That's what we've sought to do. I hope our kids, through having grown up with us, and been in political life, lived in Prime Ministerial residences, been on the most fantastic family holidays in Europe, but also been in a tent down the beach, with their father cooking for them, badly, that the values I spoke about before, of a natural empathy, a natural compassion, a natural sense of solidarity, but a passion about freedom, and respect for others, I hope that they take root, as well, and with our little ones, as well, a two-year-old and a six-year-old. Life's a wonderful thing. And I hope, however long I live, we've-, I've been able to make some difference, to improve people's conditions in life.

T: Kevin Rudd, thank you so much for joining us on CNBC Meets: Defining Values.

K: Thank you


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