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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11006


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: 12/02/1999

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11006



Mr Howard, heroin. Are there any circumstances under which you would

agree to the legal supply of heroin for rehabilitation.


Well I haven't had any put to me yet. In life you never rule

out such changed circumstances that you might, but I don't see

any prospect in the foreseeable future that I would change my mind

on that, no.


A number of the leading scientists in this city have been critical

today. Professor David Penington who of course ran the State inquiry

and Dr Campbell Aitkens from the MacFarlane-Burnett Centre. Professor

Penington says heroin is now cheaper, more readily available and purer,

stronger on the streets than it was when this inquiry all started.

And he said that...well, he's criticised you for rejecting,

trying a different...


Well, even if that were true, and I'm not saying it is not, I'd

have to get an independent assessment. But even if we accept that

that assessment were true, it doesn't follow from that that if

you adopt as the more permissive, the different approach, that you

would necessarily produce a better outcome, in fact, you may produce

a worse outcome. Now, I respect David Penington, I respect some of

the other people who put forward the other approach. I put against

that the very strongly held views of people in organisations like

the Salvation Army who are involved in picking up the pieces, who

are involved every day in the human misery of the drug traffic, who

are witnessing first hand the impact of it and a vast array of those

people are vehemently opposed to the sort of course of action advocated

by people like professor Penington...


... groups, I mean they are prohibitionists, they come ... with

alcohol as well. I mean they come...


Yes but..




But hang on, but that's scientific. Are you saying that the only

people who are to be listened to on this are scientists? I mean, surely

drug abuse has a lot to do with human behaviour. So if we ever get

to a situation that we only ever listen to the experts in one discipline,

we run the risk of making very major mistakes. We have to listen to

the experts from all disciplines, and the fact that somebody may be

a prohibitionist, doesn't mean to say that on every issue he

or she is wrong.




I mean, at least they have the experience, at least they have the

life's experience of knowing how human beings react and how the

families of human beings react to individual situations. Neil, this

is an horrendously difficult issue, and whereas many people have the

freedom to advocate a course of action without having the responsibility

of deciding whether the circumstances should be potentially changed

for all time, somebody in my position or the Premier's position

and I think, with respect, I think Jeff and I probably have some different

views on this as we do on some issues but that's life. And I

think we are both the better for it but the reality is that I have

ultimately got to make a decision on this and I have got to wear the

consequences of it, I also have to wear the consequences of maintaining

a position that many people criticise. Now, I am not convinced but

the answer to your question is that you never say never in life but

I can't see my view changing.


Do you accept we are probably headed to yet another record level of

fatal heroin overdose?


Well, we could be.....


There's a vast amount on the streets still despite the success

of the police operation.


Yes, but there's no hard evidence around the world that dramatically

changing tack is going to make that situation better. I mean, there's

some evidence says it could make it worse.


Yes, but we are not only talking about dramatically changing tack

but just having a trial, a study, an academic exercise where heroin

is provided to registered addicts in a small group.


But many people argue that that sends exactly the wrong signal. Many

people argue that doing that is the first step towards respectability

of the practice. Many people find it anomalous and strange that day

by day, bit by bit we are making it harder for people to smoke, and

making it progressively less acceptable to the point of attracting

penalties in certain circumstances, yet we want to go in the opposite

direction or so they would seem, or so it would seem to them going

in the opposite direction in relation to heroin.


Do you believe the heroin issue is a health issue as most of the professionals

suggest, are we talking about a health issue here?


Well, we are talking's not just a health issue

it's, of course, as enormous, I mean, it has enormous health

dimensions but like many of these things the causes are not just physical

causes they are family environment causes, they are relationship causes,

there are all sorts of causes. That is why you can't just look

at it from a scientific point of view you have to also look at it

from a human behavioural point of view.


The MacFarlane-Burnett Centre or an official of it is suggesting that

you are, in fact, outside the Ministerial Council on Drugs Strategy.

The national drug strategic framework recommends that evidence based

research be carried out on the recommendation of such professionals

as himself and Dr Penington, and it being overruled by a Prime Minister

is not adequate.


Well, in the end the Federal Government will decide what the Federal

Government supports. I mean, what I have made clear is that the Federal

Government does not support these trials and we won't have any

assets and resources of the Federal Government used in it and that's

what I have said.


The Olympics, Sydney Olympics. Is there a possibility of any more

public money for the Olympics? I see Holden in particular seems to

be making pretty nervous noises about sponsorship.


Oh look, I don't know what you mean, any more public money?


Well, I mean, we are $200 million short, some of the sponsors that

are already there are getting nervous about it. How much public money

will go in and will it be increased if necessary?


Well, we would hope that the sponsorship will come good and I think

it's a little premature to be saying that there is a serious

threat to sponsorship. The publicity in the last couple of months

has been very bad, we all recognise that. But the preparations to

the Games are excellent and they will be a huge success and they will

bring enormous credit to Australia and my hope and expectation is

that by the time they come along the memories of the last, the events

of the last couple of months well and truly will have receded. As

far as the Commonwealth is concerned, we have already given very generously

and I don't see the circumstances in which we should be expected

to give more. I mean, after all, the problems have not been generated

by the Commonwealth Government. Those responsible for organising the

Games particularly at an international level must look to themselves

and their affiliates in Australia for the first line of responsibility

as far as these difficulties are concerned. I mean, the Federal Government

and State governments, generally speaking, but certainly the federal

Government in relation to the Olympic Games does not run them. I mean,

it has been made very clear that the Games in Australia are being

run by SOCOG. We are keen to help [inaudible] Australian event and

we have given very generously but I don't think anybody should

assume that any sponsorship shortfall is going to be automatically

picked up by the Federal Government. But let's not start talking

about sponsorship shortfalls at this stage.


Do you think the image has been tarnished by what's gone on particularly

with Phil Coles having stepped down?


Well, give the man a fair trial. I mean, he has made a response. I

didn't think he helped himself by his blatantly partisan political

comment earlier this week, I thought that was a very foolish remark.

But in relation to the allegation, there has been allegations made,

he has emphatically denied them. He is at least entitled to his day

in court before I make any judgement on that.


What about the Commonwealth Games for Melbourne?


Well, terrific if it looks as though Melbourne will get them. Wellington

has pulled out, I can't see anybody else. Congratulations again

to Ron Walker for his success again in getting a major event to Melbourne,

I think it's fantastic.


Mr Howard, why were you not a banker?


A banker?


Bob Joss from Westpac. He is here six years, he is going home with

bonuses worth, well you can believe, somewhere between $36 and $45

million in bonuses. This is in the era when we are all screaming about

bank fees and bank costs but it's a bit over the top isn't



I mean, you ask me why I wasn't a banker, well I guess because

I prefer to go into politics in the public service. But they certainly

are well paid. It's always hard for somebody in my position to

make a definitive judgement on something like this. On the one hand,

when people are handling billions of dollars a year you need the best

talent around. And Bob Joss has been a very good Managing Director

for Westpac. He has pulled it around. Westpac had a lot of troubles

when Bob Joss took over and it is now doing a lot better. So leaving

aside the exact amount he's got he has had a very good track

record at that bank and I think that ought to be acknowledged. By

the standards that you and I are used to it is big money. By the standards

that the average person is used to it's huge money. But where

do you draw the line?


Well, it's $1.4 million salary and he is going home with $6 million

a year bonuses. It's very generous.


I agree with that. I agree it is very generous. I suppose all I can

say to you in that situation is that the more competition you have

in the financial sector the more likely you are to have greater transparency

and greater scrutiny of those sorts of things. But you will never

have a world in which there are some people whose remuneration is

not looked upon with a degree of envy and a degree of, "gee,

that sounds too much".


Yeah, you'd be a bit crook if your Westpac fees had gone up though

wouldn't you?


Well, you would be but your Westpac interest rates have gone down

a lot. And if you were a Westpac shareholder you would say thank you

to our Chief Executive who has turned the fortunes of the bank around.

Look, I am not here to answer for Westpac. I don't control it

and heaven forbid that the Federal Government should try and control

wages and remuneration of people be it in the banks, in the media

or anywhere else. But it does sound a lot of money and I don't

think you can bring in a system where those things are controlled,

I really don't.


I think [inaudible] Federal Government does attempt to argue the wages

of people and wage cuts.


Yes but you are talking there about awards and you are talking there

about minimum wages, you are not talking about anything over and above

it if they are negotiated at the enterprise level.


Sure. Now, the GST. I notice the welfare lobby suggesting – we're

right down the other end of the scale here – suggesting that

they would trade-off some of the tax breaks if you would lift the

GST on food. Is that worth negotiating?


No, I don't. We've been down this track before. It's

very interesting that ACOSS, in particular, is finding...really

taking a slightly different tack. But in the end our position has

always been that you put it across the board and then you provide

compensation for low-income earners. And the problem with just taking

some items of food out, for example, is that everybody gets the benefit

of that. Bob Joss and Neil Mitchell and John Howard get the benefit

of that as much as the lowest paid person, if I may put it like that.


Is there any room for that sort of shuffling?


Not if it involves breaking down the sort of unified application of

the GST on food. I mean, we thought long and hard about this in the

months leading up to releasing the policy. We talked to ACOSS for

months. We heard all the arguments and we decided that the best and

fairest thing to do was to apply it across the board and then give

special weighted additional compensation to low-income groups and

that's what we've done.



We're taking calls for the Prime Minister. Let's be quick

– there's several issues that have to be raised. Simon,

go ahead please.


Yes. I'd like to talk about the heroin situation. I'm a

patient at Dr Cosmenski...


I should tell Mr Howard he's a GP in Melbourne who specialises

in treating drug problems.




Now, I get medication and...


What, are you an addict?


I was. I've been clean for about eight days now and I'm

still a little bit...not at the best of health. But anyway, the

medication is $200 a bottle for 30 tablets. Now, why is it so much?


Is that Naltrexone?




You're asking me why is it so much – I guess...


It's been in the country, it's been in the world for 15

years and we have to pay...I'm struggling, I don't have

a job...


Well that's certainly...that's a fair question. I can't

give you all the reasons off-hand as to why it is that expensive.

It's obviously related, I guess, to the unavoidable fact that

relatively new drugs in this country are often expensive. I will get

some further information about that and convey it back through the

programme. I don't have it at my fingertips, I'm sorry.

I hope you continue to be successful and supported in your treatment.

And I think that's a fair question of somebody in your situation

to ask.


Thank you very much.


Simon, could I just ask you quickly – we were talking earlier

about legalised supplies for addicts, what's your view of that?


I think it should be given a go because at the moment it's totally

out of hand. The newspaper reports saying that they've got it

under control, that the police are doing a good job, is a load of



How much were you paying for heroin?


Well, it depended whether you scored it off the street or you got

it through a dealer, as in like...


Is it more expensive than the medication?


Well, it's different when you're on drugs because you manage

to do things like...I turned into a maniac and I did anything to

get my hit for the day and I'd steal and do anything for it.

Whereas, when you're not on it, you're a totally different

person. I've changed in the last seven days. I've changed

to a...I'm a different person. I think that it should be given

a go because what you're doing at the moment's not working.


Simon, thanks for calling. Mr Howard, thanks for that. I mean, to

me that's one of the best things that any leader can do is talk

directly to the people...I mean, a heroin addict – you don't

bump into heroin addicts everyday in your role in life, do you?


No, I've bumped into quite a number of people who've had

big problems with drugs and I've certainly spent a lot of time

with parents whose children have died as a result of drug abuse. I've

spent a lot of time with quite a number of parents over the years,

including my time as Prime Minister, and even with them you get vastly

different attitudes. I mean, some of them I've spoken to are

vehemently opposed to any kind of heroin trial, others have a different

view. It reflects the divide in the community. I don't imagine

that everybody associated with the sort of heroin abuse and drug addiction

has the view that what I might loosely call the ‘let's give

it a try' view.


Simon, thanks for calling. Keep in touch and let us know how you go.


Yes, good luck.


Transcript 11006