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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11029

Radio Interview With Jeremy Cordeaux 5DN

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: 13/08/1999

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11029

Subject(s): Unemployment figures, GST, inflation, State health systems & funding, private health insurance, November 6 referendum, preamble, cultural heritage grants, business tax arrangements.

13 August 1999

CORDEAUX:

Prime Minister, good to see you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good to see you Jeremy.

CORDEAUX:

Thank you very much for your time. You must be pleased, sort of all sorts of bits and pieces of news around, but the good news is unemployment figures are down.

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely. The lowest unemployment rate in ten years. Seven per cent and the other really good thing is that since we came to office we’ve cut the youth unemployment rate by 5.8 percentage points. We could have gone a lot further in that area if we’d been able to get our unfair dismissal and youth wage legislation through the Senate. We’ll keep trying. I hope the Labor Party changes its mind on that because we have a great opportunity at the moment with the economy growing so strongly to drive unemployment even lower and if we can keep up economic growth at the rate it is now and get some of these other changes then we can get it lower than seven percent. I mean that is within our reach if only we take a few more steps and I do hope people understand that and everybody gets behind really driving unemployment down a lot further because we’ve got a tremendous opportunity. The economy is still going very strongly but you need some changes in the way the system works in order to get it down a lot further.

CORDEAUX:

I think what you said, and it goes back a couple of months, where you said that we’ve almost reached the stage in Australia where we are able to choose the level of unemployment.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well yes we are. And we can see it now – in seven per cent lowest since ten years. Youth unemployment down a lot. We could get it down a lot further if we can keep up the current rate of economic growth and get rid of things like unfair dismissals entrench youth wages which would protect the jobs of young people, so it is a question of choice rather than something over which we have no control.

CORDEAUX:

You’re not worried about perhaps the GST upsetting the apple cart with inflation and causing a hike in interest rates.

PRIME MINISTER:

No I’m not, I think those concerns are exaggerated. This is the best possible time to introduce a GST because inflation is very low. The economy is very strong. People are optimistic about Australia’s economic future. If you don’t do tax reform then you will never do it.

CORDEAUX:

Financial Review says there’s a Commonwealth Bank study that’s going to be released today that says that the Government has underestimated the GST impact on inflation. Are you aware of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m aware of that report, but I don’t agree with it and it’s not our advice and it’s also contradicted by other independent economic analysis, one of which from a very respectable source, in fact thought we were over estimating the impact of the GST on inflation. You’ve got to remember that sure there’s a GST being introduced, but there are a lot of other taxes like the wholesale sales tax that are being removed and there’s a counter balancing – there’ll be some price affect, and we’ve never disclosed (sic) that but nothing like what that report says – not according to our information no.

CORDEAUX:

Well before we get onto the Republic and the Referendum, I don’t know if you’ve seen the front page of the Advertiser, they talk about …

 PRIME MINISTER:

I have.

CORDEAUX:

…fifty thousand more casualties, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s got to cut outpatient treatments. One doctor has said to me that basically we need two to three hundred thousand, or two to three hundred million to get South Australia’s hospitals and health service back together. I understand what you said to me last time which is that you don’t want to be, you don’t want to treat it like a football being bounced back from the State Government and the Federal Government.

PRIME MINISTER:

No I think health policy has been caught almost permanently caught in the political crossfire of the country. You have a State Liberal government for example being attacked by a state Labor opposition here. In other parts of Australia you have the reverse but the language is the same. I turn on my television set in Sydney, Melbourne Adelaide and I see the same comments being made about hospitals and that. In one State it’s the Liberal Opposition spokesman criticising a Labor government in another state it’s the reverse but the arguments are the same. And then collectively they all down tools and blame the Federal Government. Now I think we should, as a community, stop doing that and I issue that sort of injunction as much to Liberal oppositions around the country as I do to Labor oppositions and remember a few things. The first thing we should remember is that for all its faults we have got about the best health system in the world and if you’re a battler it’s better to get sick in Australia than in Britain or America or Germany or Holland or Japan. I can assure you of that. And the other thing to remember is that we have a divided responsibility in this country for health. States have responsibilities for public hospitals and general health services. We have responsibility for private health insurance and for Medicare. Now I want to talk to the states in an intelligent fashion. Not over talkback radio, not using a political megaphone but rather talk to them intelligently about particular solutions to particular problems. No point in having another inquiry, the public’s sick of inquiries. They want governments to do things not have inquiries. Now we’ve done a lot. I acknowledge that there are still flaws in the system – I do acknowledge that. We are looking at the gap – the problem of the gaps – which remains one of the big complaints that people make about the mix of public and private hospitals. We have put a lot of money into private health insurance – the figures are getting better – they’re only modest, but they are getting better. For the first time since the 1980s you’ve had two months in a row where the number of people in private health insurance has increased. We’ve given the States a lot of extra money for public hospitals.

CORDEAUX:

Yep. Now isn’t that the problem, that if you’re giving the money and the money is not being spent on the cause for which you’ve given it, this is a considerable problem for the…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have certainly increased massively the amount of money we’ve given to the states.

CORDEAUX:

Can’t you earmark that money and say this is exclusively and only for use in health?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well certainly the money that we give the States is meant for use in health. I mean some States over the years, and I don’t in the spirit of what I’ve just said, I don’t want to get into sort of nitpicking over this – but some states over the years have a done a bit of work for the extra money. And also in fairness when on a couple of years of former government Labor Government in Canberra put some extra money into hospitals some of the states reduced their contributions so this is a I guess an observation I make on behalf of the current and the former Federal Government although it was of a different political persuasion. I do think that that has happened but can we just – I’ll be talking to the South Australian Premier later this afternoon and I’ll be bringing to that discussion the sort of things I’m now saying. Let us look at individual things rather than sort of have a headline and a crisis a day which is terrific perhaps for selling newspapers or whatever and might be a great line and a great grab on the evening television bulletin for the opposition spokesman but I don’t think it’s contributing to public support for the system nor is it contributing very much for better policy. Now I do accept that there are flaws. I was talking to a doctor last night who I know very well and he was talking about some of the problems involved in the system. So I’m not pretending there aren’t flaws, but I don’t think we solve them intelligently by just shouting at each other and conducting a sort of a megaphone dialogue on the issue of health.

CORDEAUX:

You don’t think you’re getting caught in the crossfire between perhaps a clash between Dean Brown and John Olsen?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I would hope not. I don’t believe that, no. I, look, Dean was Premier, John is now Premier, I’ve worked closely with Dean, I work closely with John, I worked closely with both of them they’re my colleagues, but I’ll defend what my Government has done – we’ve got a good record on health. We’ve promised to keep Medicare and we’re going to honour that promise. We promised to help private health insurance – we’ve done that. We’re increasing money for public hospitals by seventeen per cent over five years. We’re doubling health and medical research expenditure by the Federal Government, we are looking at the problem, not only looking, we are negotiating with the doctors and the health funds about the problem of the gap. Now, if there are other specific issues consistent with our commitment to Medicare, that the Premiers, either individually or collectively, want to discuss with me, then I am very happy to do that but I’m not going to have an 18 month inquiry that will paralyse decision making on health over that 18 month period. The public is sick to death of inquiries, they just want governments to do things. They want governments to make decision and then move on.

CORDEAUX:

Yes, and fix it. Prime Minister can I get you to put the headphones on and we will take some calls here. This is 5DN, it’s 13 minutes to nine, the Prime Minister is my special guest. Good morning John.

CALLER:

Good morning Jeremy, and good morning Mr Howard.

PRIME MINISTER:

Hello, John.

CALLER:

I’m ringing you because I am very concerned and disappointed with the new wording in the preamble for the voting on the Constitution. And what I’m referring to here is the nation’s first people in reference to Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. You know, and I know this is not true. Because Graham Walsh and Australia’s leading expert and rock artist proved with his expeditions into the Kimberly’s, that there existed at least one other group of people prior to the arrival of the Aborigines. And even some sections of the Aboriginal community have acknowledged this. What can you tell me?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I know there are different theories, but the balance of historical and anthropological evidence that I’ve always seen and accepted that the Aborigines and the Torres Strait Islanders were our first people. And I know that, I don’t suppose there is any fact in the world that will be completely undisputed but I can assure you that this is not designed in any way to be deceptive or dishonest, it’s a genuine desire to recognise what most Australians accept as an historical truth. And I hope that the symbolism of doing it will be supported by the majority of the Australian people.

CORDEAUX:

Morning Henry.

CALLER:

Oh, good morning. Good morning Prime Minister. I think you are doing a good job and you are certainly seen as a man of integrity. However, on the republican question, as a monarchist, could you answer, well I’ve got four questions so I don’t suppose you can answer them all. But first of all, why are you so intent in keeping the head of another country as the Australian head of state. And, shall I go on?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I think you can, I’ll answer that question. The reason why I’m going to vote no is that the present system works extremely well. The effective head of state of Australia is the Governor General, the formal head of state is the Queen. Effectively you saw last week the Governor General represent Australia magnificently at that memorial service in Switzerland. I think the system we have at the moment is incredibly stable. And my philosophy in life is that if you have something that works effectively, you don’t get rid of it. And the present system works effectively. Anyway, that’s my position, you have another view, that’s fine, I respect your point of view, and this is one of those issues where the Liberal Party is allowing its members a free vote. I’m not trying to dragoon every person who votes Liberal into supporting my point of view any more than I would hope the Leader of the Labor Party would try and dragoon every person who votes Labor into supporting his point of view, although they do appear to be running a sort of a Labor for the republic campaign.

CALLER:

Yes, but would you not agree that having our own head of State is a natural evolutionary step, following federation and foreclosure of Britain having the right to have a say in the affairs of our country.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Britain hasn’t had an a say in the affairs of our country for decades.

CALLER:

Well, that’s true.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it hasn’t. So there’s no question, Australia is an utterly indepdenant country. Not even the most fanatical republicans in the country argue that Australia is other than a totally independent nation. Of course we are.

CORDEAUX:

Henry, listen I am not going to give you…

PRIME MINISTER:

Anyway, I respect your point of view, Henry, but mine is different and you have heard some of the reasons why.

CORDEAUX:

So you got one question in, I am going to try and get to as many people as possible, I can’t give you four questions. Max.

CALLER:

Good morning Mr Prime Minister. Just one thing, you could have saved a lot of money on this referendum. Because in my (inaudible) we are practically a republic as it is now. Because once we were classed as Commonwealth of Australia, then we had Prince Phillip come in and say we couldn’t use this for the Queen and all of that, hence we lost all our Commonwealth status, and we lost the Commonwealth passport, we got Australian passport, all our currency is in Australian.

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve never heard of anything other than an Australian passport.

CALLER:

Yes, so therefore we are practically a republic as it is now, aren’t we? Figure of speech?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I mean, technically we are not, and that’s what the vote is about. I mean, if you think the present system is alright, well vote no.

CALLER:

I will.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good, okay.

CALLER:

Good, thank you.

CORDEAUX:

Well, the thing that sort of sent alarm bells ringing to me was the way in which they didn’t, the republicans didn’t want that question asked in an explicit way which set out clearly what people were being asked to vote for.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, well I must say, I dug my heels in on that.

CORDEAUX:

Well, god bless you.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the idea that you would have a question on a republic that doesn’t describe that the President is going to be chosen by two thirds of the Members of Parliament when there is clearly in the community a debate that if we were to become a republic should the president be directly elected, which I don’t support, but, or chosen by the Parliament. Now, what we have come up with is something that I think has a bit on each side and is therefore balanced. It refers to the fact that the Queen and the Governor General will be replaced by a President, but it also refers to the fact that that President will be chosen by two thirds of the Members of Parliament. Now, I initially thought that if you say in the question, we are to become a republic automatically that means that the Queen and the Governor General goes, because that in a sense is what the definition of what a republic is. But even though it is repetitious, I agree that so that there is no appearance of imbalance, there should be a reference to the Queen and the Governor General being replaced by the President. But there must also be a reference to the way in which the President is to be chosen. Now it is quite obvious that many people on the republican side didn’t want that to appear, because they are frightened that some people who might otherwise vote for their proposition won’t vote for it if they think the Parliament is going to choose the president. Now, whether they like it or not this is for real…

CORDEAUX:

That’s the question.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s the question. I mean, the public is entitled to know what sort of republic it’s getting. It’s more than just a question of process. They are entitled to know the kind of republic they are going to get. And the kind of republic they are going to get is one where the president is appointed by the two-thirds of the Parliament on the nomination of the Prime Minister with the support of the leader of the Opposition. And in reality you won’t have a president, if this gets up, you won’t have a president who is not, in effect, endorsed and chosen by the Prime Minister of the day. Now, people should be open about that, I mean, that’s their model. And just as the Governor-General is now appointed by the Prime Minister of the day, I mean, I don’t disguise that fact. Paul Keating recommended the appointment of the last…of the current Governor-General to the Queen. I mean, I incidentally supported his recommendation. I think he was a good appointment. And the next, if we have another Governor-General then the Prime Minister of the day will make a recommendation about that person’s appointment. So, I mean, we are quite open, I am quite open about what the present system is. I think if people want to change the present system they should at least come clean about what we are changing to so that we can then have a free analysis. And I think the present question is very balanced.

CORDEAUX:

Don’t you think though perhaps we should know what the proposed cost might be or the estimated cost of changing the system might be? Because here in the court of public opinion it comes up time and time again when people say there’s only so much money, we should prioritise that money and if we have got health problems, if we have got homeless people, we’ve got…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I guess in the course of the debate that will come out. I have to be fair and say that I don’t that in the long run is going to be [inaudible]. I mean, there are obviously some transitional costs involved but I don’t think they are enormous. This is a cost in holding a referendum. We are a free country, there’s a cost in having an election. But we are a democracy. There are certain things you have to bear the cost of.

CORDEAUX:

Okay. It’s five minutes to nine, the Prime Minister’s my guest. John. Are you there John? John’s gone. Denka. Hi.

CALLER:

Hi Jeremy.

CORDEAUX:

Here’s the Prime Minister.

CALLER:

Mr Howard, your trip to United States. I couldn’t help it but noticing every time you were doing speeches it was written Asia behind your back instead of Australia. I wonder whether that was your idea or United Nations idea because…

PRIME MINISTER:

It had nothing to do with the United Nations. Denka, I can tell you, Denka, how it happened. I spoke to two organisations that were involved in promoting relations between Asia and America or Asia and America and Australia and that’s why the word Asia appeared. It was the name of the association. I think you’d have to acknowledge, Donka, when most people see me speaking on a platform in this country there’s a very identifiable flag behind me and that’s the flag of Australia. So I don’t think I, sort of, appear in front of somebody else’s emblem.

CORDEAUX:

Shades of, what could you call it, I suppose the whiteboard scandal a little while ago. Lindsay Tanner is saying here, I think he said to the ABC this morning, that the Federal Government or the Federal Opposition says that the Government must release details of 16 cultural heritage grants approved before last October’s election if it wants to prove they weren’t politically motivated. Can you clear that up?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, they weren’t and the question is whether we release things. Well, I’ll get some advice on that. I said in the Parliament yesterday we’ll follow the normal procedure in relation to releasing material. But, all of these grants I was told by the two Ministers had been decided in accordance with the Auditor-General’s principles. They were all pretty worthy things, some of them in this State. Intrinsically there was nothing in any of them that…I mean, they were all good things. I think what the argument is, he’s saying: well look, there were too many in Liberal electorates and too few in Labor electorates. I am told that of the total number 60 per cent went to Liberal electorates and again 62 per cent of Coalition held seats at the time and a rough equivalence to Labor electorates. You have got to remember before 1998 we held a very large number of the seats so by definition the bulk of the grants would go. But there’s nothing to hide here and we’ll follow normal procedures and if we need to release anything we will.

CORDEAUX:

And speaking of good things, I believe you here, apart from kindly sparing some time to join us on the programme, you are going to make an announcement later today?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. I’d be delighted to announce later today a very large South Australian base resource company is going to endow a chair and establish a school at the university in relation to the resource area. And it’s a remarkable example of corporate philanthropy, something that I have been very keen to encourage. The Federal Government will also be making a contribution but the company, which is a well known South Australian company, will, I reckon, get a lot of kudos from this and they will get a lot of thanks from the Government from the university involved.

CORDEAUX:

Maybe set an example for other big companies. Speaking of companies, when are you going to be telling us exactly what the business tax arrangements are going to be? They were saying this morning that you have decided on 30 per cent corporate rate.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I heard that and I read that in the Financial Review. And I have got to say, without commenting in detail on those reports, that gee, there’s a lot of speculation.

CORDEAUX:

You could understand that….

PRIME MINISTER:

And I encourage everybody to cool down for a few more weeks. It’s a huge report and we’ll make decisions on it and announce it just as soon as we humanly can.

CORDEAUX:

But a 30 per cent corporate and 30 per cent personal rate and a 10 per cent GST might just set this country up for life?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we’ll see.

CORDEAUX:

Good to see you. The Prime Minister of Australia. We shall return right after this.

[ends]

Transcript 11029