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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 10305


Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 16/04/1997

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 10305

Mr Howard good morning and thank you very much for coming in.
Well it's very nice to be here Anna.
Welcome to Queensland.
It's always a pleasure to be here in Queensland.
In Rob Borbidge territory. He was sitting in that chair last week, had some pretty
harsh words to say about you.
I don't think they'd have been too harsh. We get on pretty well. He's got a job to do
for Queensland and he does it very well. We have a very good working relationship. I
appreciated the very courageous support his Government gave me last year on gun
control legislation. I know that wasn't easy for some of his party members and I am
very conscious of that but he took a broad, national view which befits a person who I
think has a very balanced and mature view of important issues.

REYNOLDS: He wants the political payback from you now though.
I don't think he would put it in those terms
REYNOLDS: That's what it is though, isn't it.
And I don't think it should be. He wants what I want and that is a workable solution
that respects native title but delivers certainty to farmers. They're the goals I've set
myself I want a workable solution. I don't want a solution that produces endless
layers of additional litigation. I do respect native title but you've got to understand
that the Wik decision turned on its head the expectations of Australian farmers and the
common belief of everybody, Paul Keating said pastoral leases had extinguished native
title. It was acknowledged by Aboriginal leaders. The farmers believed it. They were
led to believe that by the National Farmers Federation in 1993 so the starting point of
understanding what is a fair outcome is to appreciate the extent to which the Wik
decision defied the expectations of most sections of the Australian community and we
have to understand that you need a workable solution, one that respects native title. I
don't want to throw the Mabo decision out. I want to try and accommodate the
interests of the Aboriginal community but I also want a decision that delivers security
for farmers. It's very hard..
REYNOLDS: I'm just wondering how you are, are you a magician? Are you going to pull this out of
the air magically?
I think it's one of those things where everybody should avoid the cheap shot. It's not
easy and it's very easy for people who don't have the responsibility of trying to get
everybody together to say, it's taking too long. I mean, I notice with respect a couple
of my State Premier colleagues sort of saying, it's all taking too long. I just say to
them, this is not something for cheap rhetoric. It's a question of sitting down and
understanding that in order to reach a fair accommodation time is required. I hope we
can.. REYNOLDS: What is the time table?

Well as soon as I can but surely the right decision is more important than whether it's
today or tomorrow or next week. I mean, this obsession with whether a particular
time table has been reached is really trivialising it. It's not really helping. People have
got to understand that this particular issue poses one of the great threats to the
instability of our land management system that we've had since European settlement in
this country and it can't be lightly dealt with and the debate shouldn't be coloured with
facetious references to racism or things of that kind. We will not have a racist
outcome, we will have a fair outcome.
REYNOLDS: Well in terms of some of the alternatives, codification has been mentioned. Can you
just sort of flesh out some of the possibilities?
Well everybody has a different view. What I am trying to do is to get the parties to
accept a proposal that preserves the fabric intact of the Mabo decision, recognises the
instability created by the Wik decision and tries to address the impact of that instability
so far as the pastoralists and the farmers are concerned.
REYNOLDS: So that's not recognising the outcome of the Wik decision? That's not entrenching
native title?
Well the problem with the Wik decision is it destroyed everybody's understanding of
where they stood but I am going to try and get a fair, a workable outcome and one that
is in all of the circumstances fair to everybody. Now I don't think I've got it at the
moment and I will be the first to acknowledge that it's very difficult and I don't expect
people to sort of have endless patience on it either but I do say to people, this is not an
issue for easy, throwaway lines and it's not an issue for extravagant language.
REYNOLDS: You said just a moment ago you haven't got it at the moment. How confident are you
you will be...
Well I don't know. I will be talking to the Aboriginal leaders again on Friday in
Canberra. I will be talking again to the Western Australian Premier on Friday. I will
probably talk by phone to Mr Borbidge. He's in Japan I think at the present time. I
will probably talk to him by phone today and I will talk to any other Premier. Look, I

understand the Queensland Premier's concern about this. The area of Australia
potentially claimable, I use the words potentially claimable post Wik is something like
78%. Of course that's the vacant Crown land plus pastoral leaseholds. Now that is a
breathtaking figure and people have to understand that and when they're addressing it
you can't look at it in terms at sort of some emotional, rhetorical responses.
REYNOLDS: All right. I'd like to move onto another issue now the Senator Mal Colston affair.
Do you like him?
Well I don't know him very well and it's irrelevant whether I like him or I dislike him.
The little contact I've had with him and can I say, I've probably only had three or four
conversations with him in my life and I've certainly not had any conversations with him
in the last six or nine months. I've, I don't have a strong view either way. I've no
reason to personally dislike him but look, that's not the issue. The issue is that until
January of this year I was not aware personally, I had no recollection until January of
this year of any allegations about him having rorted his travel allowance. Now that
makes me very different from Mr Beazley. I just want to make this point, that Mr
Beazley and Mr Evans knew 13 years ago that there were allegations about him rorting
travel allowances. I knew in January of this year and it's a very big difference. Mr
Beazley is running around at the moment saying that in 1983 he behaved no differently
than Kevin Newman in the Fraser Government had behaved in 1982. What Kevin
Newman according to the files did, I didn't know about it at the time, because I
wouldn't of necessity be involved, what he did, he wanted to send it off to the police
then and he was advised by his Department there was insufficient justification for doing
so. He then wrote off to the Acting Attorney General. He behaved impeccably,
Beazley and Evans decided to reject legal advice to send it to the police so therefore
they have no credibility at all in attacking us.
When we found out about it I said that anybody accused of doing these things should
be treated in the same way as another citizen. They shouldn't be given an unfair trial
but equally they should face the full rigour of the law and we have now sent the thing
off to the Australian Federal Police. We are doing the correct thing and I think this
attempt by Mr Beazley to say, you know, really both of us 1 3 or 14 years ago did
things badly. I didn't know anything about his behaviour 13 or 14 years ago. It was in
January to my recollection that I first heard of any allegations and of course they are
the allegations which are now the subject of investigation by the Federal Police.
REYNOLDS: We are getting a lot of feedback from people saying that he really should resign as
Deputy President.

Now I said that last week and I have also said that, and let me repeat it again, that if
Senator Colston has not resigned as Deputy President by the time the Parliament meets
again then our numbers are there to vote him out. I said that last week. There should
be no doubt, I noticed one of our papers this morning, the Sydney Morning Herald had
this peculiar editorial suggesting that I still hadn't made it clear where we stood on the
question of his resignation.
REYNOLDS: All right. Just in relation to the Senate Privileges Committee, why shouldn't they have
a look at it'? Wouldn't that be reasonable in the circumstances?
Senator Hill's view on that as Leader of the Government in the Senate, I think it has
some substance, is that you've got a police investigation going on at the present time.
To use the old saying, it's a bit like having a dog and barking, but can I just say one
thing further, we discussed this matter yesterday in Brisbane at our Cabinet meeting at
very great lengths and I'm making it clear this morning that in all of the circumstances
if Senator Colston remains a member of the Senate we will not in future accept his
vote. REYNOLDS: Is that right?
We won't. We have decided that in the future, if he remains a Member, if he purports
to vote with us we will arrange for one of our Senators to absent himself or herself
from the division and we've taken that decision because we think that is the right
response in all of the circumstances. The Senate has no power to expel a Senator and
frankly I don't think either house of Parliament should have the power to expel
somebody. In the whole history of federation, to my understanding only one person
has ever been expelled and that was in 1920. A Labor Member for Kalgoorlie was
expelled at the height of the Anglo Irish argument over Irish home rule and there were
great overtones of sectarianism at the time of that and ever since then, people have
shied away from the notion that Parliament should be able to expel its own members
and in fact in 1987 the former Government put forward a bill to take the power of
expulsion away from the Senate so the question of whether he stays in the Senate or
not is ultimately a matter for him and the operation of the law but for so long as stays
there and until this matter is resolved we won't accept his vote in the future.
REYNOLDS: So from when the Senate sits again..

From when the Senate sits I give notice that we will not accept his vote and the way
that we will not accept his vote is that we will arrange that if he does decide to support
the Government on an issue, we will arrange for one of our number to drop out of the
division so that his vote is not in effect counted. Now...
REYNOLDS: And is this recognition of the really serious damage this is doing your Government in
the electorate?
It's a recognition in the mind of the Government that it's the right thing to do to assert
standards and to assert the perception of the importance of standards. Now I still
believe that like any other citizen he is entitled to his day in court. I don't know the full
ramifications of all of the allegations. I only know what is on the public record and
however strongly people may feel about him, my responsibility is to support the rule of
law and to say that Mal Colston, like any other citizen, is entitled to a day in court.
He's entitled to a fair trial, all the other generic descriptions we use to describe our
system of the presumption of innocence. Now the presumption of innocence...
REYNOLDS: So he's innocent until proven guilty but you won't accept his vote?
Well we are entitled to do that. I mean, that's not making a judgement about him. It's
making, it's making...
What is it saying about him?
Well it is saying that in the circumstances and until these allegations are resolved, we
don't think it is appropriate to accept his vote. Now what the Labor Party does, the
Labor Party really should adopt the same attitude but let me make it clear, our
declaration is not conditional on the Labor Party, ours is unilateral, it is not
conditional. I mean, I can't believe that the Labor Party will accept his vote. I assume
of course that if Senator Colston had still been a member of the Labor Party and these
allegations had come up but after what I've heard from Senator Ray and Mr Beazley
and Mr Evans they would of course have adopted the same approach that I am
announcing this morning but I don't really care what they do. For the Government's
point of view when the Senate sits, we won't accept his vote.

REYNOLDS: What do you expect him to do?
I don't know. I mean, I really don't know.
REYNOLDS: You haven't talked to him on this?
No I haven't and that is a matter for him. I have no idea what he is going to do.
REYNOLDS: What do you think of his behaviour over the years?
Look, as I say, to the best of my recollection, the first I knew about these allegations
was in January and...
REYNOLDS: But you've been reading the papers like everybody else. You've heard the stories
about what has been coming up.
Well look, the allegations, I mean, if the allegations are true then it's very, very poor
behaviour, obviously, to say the least. But I am quite serious in saying that everybody
in our system is entitled to a presumption of innocence and when a Prime Minister gets
to a situation of accepting somebody a being guilty until he or she is proven guilty then
I think you are behaving in an irresponsible fashion. Now what we have done has been
measured, responsible, correct. What I am announcing this morning is a very, very
cle ar message to the people of Australia that until this matter is cleared up we are not
going to accept his vote. Now he may choose to do what he will. That's his right.
REYNOLDS: Is there much point him staying in the Senate?
That is a matter for him to decide. I mean, a lot of people would think not but that is
entirely a matter for him at the end of the day but I am making it clear that until the

matter is resolved then we won't accept his vote and I have explained how we will do
it. Now I would imagine that he would behave in the same, I imagine the Labor Party
would reciprocate but that's a matter for the Labor Party.
REYNOLDS: We'd better take some calls now. I mean I've got lots more questions for you but
people are interested, really interested in having a chat so if you could put those
headphones on, Liz, good morning.
Welcome Mr Howard to Queensland.
Hello Liz.
CALLER: You've answered some of my questions in your discussion there. I think we should
believe in the presumption of innocence until proven guilty too. But I'm quite curious
with this Colston affair how far back we're going to look at these travel rorts and
given Mr Colston's alleged previous misdemeanour in this matter that you're looking
back at that, are you also going to look back at our previous Prime Minister's history
and why action wasn't taken against him?
Well, my view would be that if any substantial evidence is distinct from insubstantial
allegation were presented in writing to anybody it would be investigated. I don't have
any particular desire to persecute my predecessor. I think the Australian people did a
good job on him 14 months ago. And I'm not particularly into witch hunts because he
was a former Labor Prime Minister. But we're all in the same boat. If anybody's got
any evidence as distinct from scuttlebutt about anybody, well, they're entitled to bring
it forward to the authorities.
REYNOLDS: Alan, good morning.
CALLER: Good morning Mr Howard.
Good morning.

CALLER: Welcome to Brisbane.
Thank you.
CALLER: Mr Howard, I'm not racist or radical. I hold conservative views. But for many years
I've been concerned with the state of Aboriginals in the Kimberleys and outback
Queensland and through the Territory. Years ago I used to work around those areas
and I you know and what I want to draw attention to firstly is the fact that we've
spent billions of dollars over the last I mean, I hear the figure $ 13 billion over the last
13 years bandied around quite frequently. I have no way of checking if it's true or not
What's your question Alan?
CALLER: ( inaudible) lost lots of money and it's never got to a source, you know, where it was
needed to be spent. But my question is really about Pauline Hanson. And, you know,
we've got to admit she's got a lot of courage and she's drawing attention to a problem
that does exist and about which very little has been done for a long, long time.
What's your question though?
CALLER: I really want to know why is she been pilloried by Labor, Aborigines, various
politicians, press and the media people? The Mayor of Brisbane this morning called
her an evil woman.
Well, I saw that outburst by the Mayor of Brisbane. I've got to say that is one of the
most unintelligent, uninformed comments I've heard in politics for quite a while. To
liken Pauline Hanson to Adolf Hitler is to betray an absolutely abysmal understanding
of history. It is also that kind of extreme comment which diminishes the quality of
objective criticism of what she has done and what she stands for. I mean, one way to
sort of lose an argument with somebody is to go over the top. And I think the Mayor
of Brisbane went right over the top and in the process has actually done the cause of
legitimate dissent from what the Member for Oxley is putting forward a great deal of

damage. I mean, my view about the Member for Oxley is that there has been a massive
over preoccupation with her by the press, I'm sorry to say, more heavily in some areas
of the press than others. But I won't be any more detailed than that this morning. And
I just think I mean, I've come back from China recently and the issue was certainly
not on top of mind over there. I think this whole business of preoccupation of some
sections of the Australian media was ridiculous. There was a four paragraph report
sourced from AAP on page 7 of the Str-aits Times in Singapore and that was the basis
of four or five questions at a press conference by the Australian media. Now, I really
think the whole thing has got out of proportion.
Well you can say that but that doesn't take account of the talkback we're getting. I
mean, we get lots of calls about... ( inaudible)...
I know you get a lot, I know you get a lot of the calls but...
REYNOLDS: ( inaudible) and people are interested and people are...
Well look, I'm happy to talk about the issues that are involved. And I've said before
that the Australian community has gone through an enormous amount of change and
there's been a lot of strain put on people and put on rural people as a result of that
change over the last few years. And to some extent it is easy to tap discontent, and if
you use fairly simplistic language. Now, as in every, all things, there are some things
that everybody says at various stages that I might agree with. I mean, obviously we
can't have unlimited immigration to Australia. Obviously we need to respect the
traditions and the cultures of this country but we also need to be a very tolerant
country. And one of the great things about Australia is that we are tolerant. And one
of the things that I resent about the tide of political correctness of recent years is that it
has endeavoured to paint Australians as a bigoted, racist, intolerant group of people
when plainly we are not.
REYNOLDS: Do you think Pauline Hanson's a racist?
I wouldn't use that expression, no. I think the expression racist is used altogether too
freely in this country. All together too freely. Oh look, I think her criticisms last year
in two particular respects were quite inaccurate. I mean, the Aboriginal community
remains, as a group, the most underprivileged in Australia. And it Is as the gentlemen,
Alan, just said, a scandal that we have spent large amounts of money over the years

and the standard of Aboriginal health has not risen. Now, it's a very difficult issue and
will take...
REYNOLDS: So we should still maintain special funding to Aboriginal groups?
Well of course you should maintain some special funding but you have a right to
redirect it towards health, education and housing. And you have a right to assert that
throwing money after a problem is not the only response. And you have a right to
point out, without being criticised as a racist, you have a right to point out that there
are attitudinal reasons and within both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities
as to why some of these difficulties continue.
REYNOLDS: Okay. We should move on to a couple of other calls now. Henry, good morning. Yes
Henry. Yes you're on.
CALLER: Oh, I beg your pardon, an aircraft was just flying over. Good morning Mr Prime
Good morning Henry.
CALLER: I have a few little questions for you John. Why have you got into the pensioners?
Why have a I got into the pensioners?
CALLER: You cut off the home equity loan and all those
I haven't got into the pensioners at all. That is I mean, we give good things, for
example, for...

CALLER: ( Inaudible)
self funded retirees and we delivered in full, on time in relation to our commitment to
them. I haven't got into the pensioners at all.
My sister in Rockhampton, 82, and I had to go down and get a home equity loan from
A home equity loan?
But is that something the Government provides?
CALLER: Yes it is. It would help you. It was done through a State Bank down there.
The State Bank.
Well look, if you'd like to speak to my... write to me about that, I will investigate it.
But I'm puzzled at your allegation.
CALLER: Look, as soon as you got into power, elected in March, and at June, the 28th of June
last year it was just taken off.

Well I'd like to investigate it. I don't recall the decision that I took that affected your
sister. But I will be very happy to investigate it. I can't imagine I'd have done that.
CALLER: Well that's what happened...
It's just not out of character.
REYNOLDS: All right Henry, the Prime Minister's agreed to take that one up for you. Thank you.
Joining us next is Tina, good morning.
What do you think of the social countries where the government takes the guns, the
land and they abolish freedom and implement total control?
Well I'm against it. I'm completely against it.
CALLER: Right. What do you have to say to Australians, the vast minority, who know that only
the worst governments take the guns off the people?
Well if you're talking about the laws that I was responsible for last year, and I think
you may be, then I don't agree with you. I think what I did last year expanded
peoples' freedom because it meant that a large section of the population felt freer to go
about their daily lives without the threat of being the subject of unwanted violence with
automatic and semi-automatic weapons. See, when people talk about freedom they
forget that one of the strongest freedoms, the greatest freedoms you can have is
freedom from fear. And I think in a peaceful democratic society the right to walk
around on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, the right to go about your daily lives, the right
to go out at night without fear of violence, is one of the most precious things that can
be given by any government and any steps taken by any government to improve the
physical safety and security of citizens is something that I very strongly support.

REYNOLDS: Grahame, good morning.
CALLER: Oh, good morning John.
Good morning.
CALLER: I recently had to have a hernia operation for which I had to wait six months. During
this time I talked with other people on the waiting lists, some serious and some not so
serious. Now, it seems to me that during this time there are people who are waiting
and the impression I have is that there are more people who had serious problems,
dying and incapacitated, every month than were killed or injured at the problems we
had in Tasmania. Now the reason I could not afford attention sooner is because I was
involved in a fraud. Now this fraud occurred in New South Wales. But I approached
the New South Wales Fraud Squad and also the Australian Securities Commission in
New South Wales...
REYNOLDS: Hang on a tick Grahame, let's cut to the question here.
What's the question?
CALLER: The question is regarding Mal Colston etc. You can involve the police to investigate
this matter but for a private citizen to have something investigated of a very serious
nature like a million dollars or $ 200 000, you can't get a response.
Have you spoken to your local member of Parliament about this? I think you should.
I think you ought to talk both to your local State and Federal member of Parliament
about it and if there's substance in it I'm sure those members will pursue on your
behalf. REYNOLDS: All right. Thank you for that. Joining us next is Ted, good morning.

CALLER: Good morning Anna. Thank you for your time Prime Minister.
Good morning Ted.
CALLER: I believe our Premier, Rob Borbidge, is jumping on the Hanson, One Nation,
bandwagon and I think..
Well I don't... I1th ink that's grossly unfair to say that.
CALLER: Well I justify that statement by saying that the National Party President ( sic) in the last
couple of days, Ken Crooke, said as much by saying that their policies were similar and
Well look I look, I remember Rob Borbidge actually making quite a strong statement
about this issue last year. And I think it's quite-and all of my dealings with Rob
Borbidge suggests that he's got, of course, intelligently conservative values on lots of
issues as I hope I have. But he's a very tolerant person and I think you're trying to
make a bit of a political point..
REYNOLDS: All right, thanks for that Ted. Well there's still people waiting.
I don't mind.
REYNOLDS: Are you right to take a couple more?
Yeah, unless my minders tell me.

REYNOLDS: They're getting a bit restless.
Well they can they'll have to wait. I've got to go and launch the Green Corps. The
Green Corps I mean, there are projects in that for Queensland so I don't want to keep
it waiting too long. But if you've got a couple more question I'll be happy...
REYNOLDS: All right, okay. Neville, good morning.
CALLER: Good morning Mr Howard. I commend you Prime Minister on your stand for decency
and the concern for the families of Australia. But may I say that my question
( inaudible) around the concern that I and my wife and many of my friends have, and
we're grandparents, about a discussion paper which just recently we've been aware of
that's come from the Federal Attorney-General's office. One other thing Mr Howard,
that proposal of sexual activity be recognised, authorised, made lawful between people
who are as young as 10 years of age and decriminalising the offence of incest. It goes
further. But Mr Howard, are you aware of this?
Well I'm aware of debate about the attempts to have a uniform age of consent and that
involves bringing in to line the age of consent involving homosexual and heterosexual
activity. I have to say that I myself am not in favour of lowering the age of consent
from any of the existing levels. If there's a bit of disuniformity well, so be it. I'm not
in favour of lowering the age of consent. I haven't heard it suggested that incest be
decriminalised. That's a new you're the first person that's ever mentioned... I'm not
saying I mean, I recognise that you're strongly against it and I respect your view on
that fully and I might say I agree with it very strongly. But I'm not aware of that. I'll
check it out.
REYNOLDS: All right. Jim, unemployment. Very quickly.
CALLER: Mr Howard I'm in a position of work where I come across a great cross section of the
community from CEOs, as you call them, to cleaners. And the overriding message that
I'm getting is that everyone, almost ( inaudible) are worried about their job, their
current position. First question is, do you think that's a reasonable response from
them considering what's happening with, you know, companies shedding workers and,
you know, thousands going from here and thousands going from there? That's the

first question. The other question is, do you really think that changing the status of the
unfair dismissal laws and also the situation with collective bargaining and things, do
you really think that's having an improvement in our society because the word that I
get is unbelievably in the other direction?
Well, if I can take those in reverse. I do believe that the Workplace Relations Act,
which is the, you call, collective bargaining it's not quite that, but anyway that's wh * at
you have in mind and the unfair dismissal changes are good changes. The old unfair
dismissal law that we're trying to get rid of completely and in order to rid it, rid
Queensland of it in full, we need the help of the Queensland government. And I hope
that they will come into line with what we've proposed federally. I've spoken to the
Minister about it. I hope he will. But the problem with the old law was that it actually
frightened a lot of small firms out of taking on new staff. They felt that if they had got
somebody who was no good they couldn't get rid of them. And, I mean, you've got to
be realistic about this. If you're running a small business and you've got one disruptive
employee that person can wreck the operation of your business and if you can't get rid
of them then the whole thing can grind to a halt. And I have seen this happen. I mean,
it's all very well to talk about the brutal boss but you've also got to recognise that
there can be a maverick, disruptive employee. And people in that situation running a
small business, you can't afford to settle out of court an unfair dismissal claim because
it might the whole of your year's profits. So I think that is a good change. I
understand that some people feel a degree of uncertainty and I understand that. And I
think the causes of it will diminish over time because the general economic outlook is
very good. We are growing quite strongly. Business investment is good. Inflation is
low. Interest rates have come down. The trade account is a little better. So when you
add all of those things together some of that uncertainty and insecurity will disappear.
But I do understand it and I'm not dismissive of some of the concerns that you've
expressed. REYNOLDS: Jim thank you for your call. Mr Howard thank you very much for coming in. Good
luck with the launch of the Green Corp. And will you come back next time you're in
I'd be delighted to.
REYNOLDS: Thank you very much, Prime Minister John Howard.

Transcript 10305