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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11035

Questions & Answers at the South Australian State Council Hindley Parkroyal, Adelaide

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: 14/08/1999

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11035

14 August 1999

E&OE………………………………………………………………………………

QUESTION:

Peter Barry - Rural Council.

Sir, the wool industry has probably given more to this nation than any other single industry over the period of history the nation's developed whether from the colonial times to modern times, however as outlined in the McLachlan Taskforce on the wool industry it is in trouble. Much of the restructuring will have to be done by the industry sir, but there is one area where I believe the Government can play a role. It is a small sector that lies in the outback Australia that really has no opportunity to restructure in the conventional sense. It is limited to producing wool and if we take away these people out of this area through the economic circumstances they find in we will find it difficult to manage those vast areas that they now manage and have managed for well a couple of hundred years. Sir would your Government consider favourably helping in the restructure of the wool industry in those areas that really have no other avenue or opportunity?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what we are doing is getting industry reaction to Ian McLachlan's report which on my first assessment appears to have been received very favourable in the industry. It seems to have a lot of common sense about it. I met a lot of people from the industry in Hamilton at the beginning of last week when I had the first experience I've had as Prime Minister indeed in any capacity of opening that marvellous sheepvention which is a great gathering of the industry in Hamilton in Victoria. And I indicated then that we wanted to get the industry's reactions. I won't rule out or rule in the proposition that you've put to me. It will be something that when we have assessed the reaction of the industry to McLachlan's report we will take into account. We understand the difficulty the industry is in. Somebody observed to me the other day that for the first year in a long time the Russian Army's not buying any new greatcoats and it was sort of a metaphor for some of the difficulties that have been faced by the Australian wool industry. It's difficult, it's driven by market forces around the world over which we have no control. I understand very deeply the contribution the industry's made to the wealth of this country and continues to make. We want to help it. We also recognise of course that the great burden of restructuring as in any industry has to be carried by the industry. I won't rule out what you've put to me, I'll take it on board and it will be assessed when we get all the input and responses to Ian's report.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, the Hindmarsh Island Bridge affair has been in the news again this week. Given that this sorry mess was foisted on us by Mr Tickner in the previous Labor Government and that courts have been finding in favour of the developers, wouldn't it be wise if the Federal Government decided to settle out of court rather than further lengthy litigation.

PRIME MINISTER:

That the Federal Government did what?

QUESTION:

To settle out of court.

PRIME MINISTER:

Settle out of court?

QUESTION:

Rather than another lengthy litigation that will only cost taxpayers money.

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think I'll answer that question on the run. I haven't spoken to the lawyers. I'll have to…. I won't answer that question on the grounds it might intimidate me. I'll plead the Fifth Amendment. I'll have to get some advice on that.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, Lyndsay Graham from the Stuart SEC. Prime Minister can we anticipate a reduction or a progressive reduction in sales tax on motor vehicles as has been done with some electrical items? I ask this question not as anybody who's involved in the motor industry, although I have a few friends who are. And the realisation of the importance of the industry to South Australia.

PRIME MINISTER:

At the moment we don't have such a proposal in mind. The idea was to bring the top rates down to 22% which is the current wholesale sales tax rate for motor cars. We are monitoring the motor industry's sales and progress very carefully because we know how price sensitive the industry is. It's fair to say that over the last few years the industry has done very well. There have been record sales and registrations of new vehicles. There has of course been an increase in the number of imported vehicles so not all the benefit of those increased sales is accrued to the local manufacturers. The current proposal is to remove the wholesale sales tax and it certainly will disappear entirely in July of next year and there are some phased arrangements in relation to the credits for import taxing to iron out the bumps but Nick Minchin is keeping an eagle eye on it and if he wants to alert us to any particular difficulties I'm sure he will. But at the moment there's no such proposal.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister you talked about the importance of attracting information technology investment into the country. Before you arrived today this Council overwhelmingly passed a motion insisting that the Federal Government revoke its unworkable Internet censorship legislation. I'd like to emphasise that we are not doing this in the spirit of being anti censorship but we are fearing the unworkable nature of the recent legislation. Could I ask you to personally look into this issue please and respect the decision of the Council.

PRIME MINISTER:

Which Council was that:

QUESTION:

State Council.

PRIME MINISTER:

This Council passed a resolution asking us to revoke the Internet censorship legislation?

QUESTION:

That's correct.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

QUESTION:

LAUGHTER

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I am going to incriminate myself on that one. I…how many people were at the meeting when it was carried? I mean, there’s a very, very powerful argument in favour of the legislation we have enacted. I mean, can I say with very great respect that the argument being advanced against this is a fairly narrow, technical argument and ignores the very deep seated feeling in the Australian community that you ought to be…parents ought to be able to exercise some kind of control.

QUESTION:

We put up an alternative method of control for parents….

PRIME MINISTER:

You are talking about. I mean, the information technology may be right but this technology's. Ah, that's better - would you start again?

QUESTION:

Rather than putting up a motion of opposition to the legislation outright we proposed an alternative method still allows parents to have control over their children’s viewing on the Internet and such things. But doesn’t do the damage to the industry that the Federal Government’s legislation is set to do. It’s very unworkable and despite the fact we would, if we could, do a blanket censor such as we do with television and radio. If it’s unworkable we shouldn’t do that particularly not if it makes Australia an unattractive investment destination.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t accept that it’s as unworkable as the industry is alleging. Any industry that wants something changed always says it’s unworkable. I have never heard an industry yet come to me and say: we want something that’s eminently workable changed. They always say something is very unworkable. We’ll have a look at it.

QUESTION:

Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ll have a look at your resolution. I wasn’t aware of it until you mentioned it but I will have a very careful look at it. But I want to make it very clear that we have no intention of walking away from the decision we’ve taken to have effective…to have an effective capacity for parents and others in this area. There’s very strong community support for it. It is absolutely a matter of elementary logic as far as I am concerned that if something can be, it can be a capacity to block something off in relation to television there should be an equal capacity to do it in relation to the Internet. And I just don’t accept that it’s going to cause the mayhem that people who have particular interest in the area allege that it will.

QUESTION:

Sir, for all your magnificent support for Australia you seem to have got on extremely well with the Democrats in getting them to do the best for the nation. Are we getting up to developing them and getting rid of the ALP?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, no look, I think what we have done. It’s a fair question and let me give it a fair response. The agreements that we have been able to advance, achieve with the Democrats in relation to taxation and last week in relation to the wording of the preamble were very good outcomes for the country. And my attitude as Prime Minister is that I will deal with the Australian Democrats and if we can reach agreement on something that is good for the country and consistent with our philosophy then I will do so. I have found Senator Lees to be forthright and honest and decent to deal with. I don’t agree with her on a lot of things and she doesn’t agree with me on a lot of things. And I don’t think anybody should get carried away with notions of, sort of, tectonic shifts in political alignments in Australia. I think that would be foolish. But I think you have seen a willingness by the Australian Democrats to play themselves into the political equation. And, I mean, it’s very interesting at the weekend…at the beginning of each weekend I always get a report from my Press Secretary as to who is appearing on the three Sunday programmes. And normally you, sort of, have a couple of us and one of them or perhaps one of each. Tomorrow you have got a Liberal and two Democrats and nobody from the Labor Party. It’s interesting isn’t it? I mean, it’s a bit of a metaphor.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, congratulations again on your excellent speech here today and on the week’s legislative work with regard to the two referenda coming up. I wanted to ask about the preamble and that is it would appear, wouldn’t it, that we are now going to have all political parties advocating a ‘yes’ vote for the preamble? Certainly I’ll be not only voting yes on the republic but yes on the preamble. And I wonder then whether your expectation is that, you know, all parts of the country will resoundingly achieve a yes outcome for the preamble. We’ll see what happens. I expect there will also be a yes vote on the other.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think as far as, well I tried cobber but….Baden, I would be surprised if anybody were to mount a credible argument against the preamble. I can’t see how anybody can object to any of the sentiments in it. If it’s carried we’ll be putting into the Constitution not only the first positive non sort of legalistic reference to the indigenous people but a very proper, positive, generous appropriate reference to them. And for the life of me I found the reaction of some of the indigenous leaders just quite extraordinary and out of touch, I think, with the sentiment of a lot of their own people. I think Senator Ridgeway’s displayed an understanding which is far superior to that of many of the other indigenous leaders who seem…who lock themselves into one word. Now, if it was good enough for another political figure in Australia to show a bit of flexibility on one word it ought to be good enough for them to show a little bit of flexibility on one word. In the end, it’s the sentiment or the thought that counts and not just the way you seek to express it. So I would encourage everybody to vote for the preamble. On the other issue, you are aware of my views and given the fact that it’s a free vote within our party, which I think is a very good thing, I will leave it at that. I don’t seek at this forum because it’s a party forum, I don’t seek to at this stage to re-express my very well known view on that subject. But as far as the preamble is concerned I would hope everybody would support the preamble and I would hope that it would win. But referenda in this country are notoriously unpredictable creatures and you never know what happens. But I would be very disappointed indeed if the preamble were not to get majority support because I think it is a decent honourable uncomplicated non-devious attempt to say some basic things about the sort of people we are whatever our political views are and whatever our attitudes are on other Constitutional arrangements. And I hope people will support it.

QUESTION:

Alex Smith, Young Liberals. Given that I asked you a question last year Mr Prime Minister about gun legislation, I didn't think I could let the opportunity of asking you a question about another difficult and possibly controversial issue slip by this year. In the last week no doubt everyone would be aware of the disastrous figures that were made public about the state of aboriginal health in this country at this point in time. Given that we've actually been power now for three years I was actually wondering if you could outline to State Council some of the initiatives that the Government has engaged in to try and rectify this problem. And also if possible perhaps give us some indication ….

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm sorry I just can't … I don't know what's wrong with the microphone. I can't….

QUESTION:

Should I try without the microphone?

PRIME MINISTER:

Is your question in summary what are we doing for aboriginal health?

QUESTION:

Yes, and in addition when we might start seeing some results reversing this trend because a lot of governments have spoken about trying to fix it in the past but no-one seems to have done so, so far. So I think the community would like to see some results soon and I'm hoping that our Government will be able to deliver on that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the answer to that is that we've actually done a great deal. We have put a new emphasis in our funding on health. There has been, despite some of the press reports, there has been a significant improvement in things such as the mortality rate amongst children, the infantile mortality rate. We have done a number of very basic things in relation to aboriginal health. We have achieved through Michael Wooldridge's work as Health Minister, an agreement between Commonwealth and State Ministers regarding the benchmarking of health outcomes for indigenous people and that won very wide praise from all sections of the indigenous community. We have initiated a programme of providing basic facilities such as clean running water in a number of aboriginal settlements using the Defence Force and that's been an extremely successful programme. When I was in the Northern Territory last year I announced a programme for the rapid distribution through remote communities of a new treatment for trachoma which involved taking of pills rather than the smearing of ointment on the eyes which has the effect of ensuring that people who might suffer that disease adhere more easily to - the problem obviously being in remote communities that people are given a prescription and they use it for a short period of time and then they get out of the habit or never acquire the habit and the treatment's not effective. There's been a new treatment that's been devised and we announced a special programme in relation to that. We have I think begun to see a number of improvements. We still have a long way to go. But I think it would be unfair of anybody to expect that in three years you would turn around what is I guess a long period of time in some cases it's fair to say 150 to 200 years of indifference to many of the health problems of aboriginal people. But we are making progress we are getting more doctors, we are getting more paramedics into aboriginal settlements and aboriginal communities and we're putting a far greater emphasis on what's being achieved in that area. Now we still have a distance to go but we've got a Health Minister who's very dedicated and we've got an Aboriginal Affairs Minister who's very dedicated and also is himself as is Dr Wooldridge, a medical practitioner. Both of them put as I do an enormous emphasis on doing something about health education housing and employment and that is where the real strides are going to be made as far as the aboriginal people are concerned.

[Ends]

Transcript 11035