TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP TELEVISION INTERVIEW INSIGHT VIVIAN SCHENKER
Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007
Release Date: 18/02/1999
Release Type: Interview
Transcript ID: 11065
Mr Howard, welcome to our first Insight of the year.
Nice to be here.
Can we talk first about the preamble to the Constitution. Are you
convinced that you can find a form of words that will be acceptable
to the majority of Australians?
Yes I am Vivian. I'm very keen to try and I think I can.
Have you consulted many Aboriginal leaders? I mean there are people
like Ms Dodson who are already threatening to campaign against. Won't
most Aboriginal people want more than you're prepared to say?
I think some of them will and, let's be frank, some of them will
never be satisfied unless we provide words that are in turn unacceptable
to the majority of the rest of the country. So the idea that you can
get everybody in the Aboriginal community in favour of it is just
unrealistic. I will be releasing for public comment the draft that
we have in mind. Once the Government's decided on what it wants
I'll be sending it to the Leader of the Opposition seeking his
comments. And I'll be making it publicly available so leaders
of the Aboriginal community and others can make a comment. But you
can go on, you know, you can go on talking and talking about these
sorts of things forever and this is a great opportunity to put something,
along with the republic proposal, and let's face it, if we put
it off this time it could be years before we approach.
Mr Beazley said this morning that if you get it right you advance
the course of reconciliation but if you get it wrong you set it back
immeasurably. I mean [inaudible] would be disastrous to the course
of reconciliation if the preamble gets knocked back couldn't
it? Or if there a divisive public debate about it?
Yes but there shouldn't be a divisive public debate simply because
some in the community would like it to go further. That to me is an
artificially generated divisive public debate. I mean the simple question
has got to be asked of people who would like to go further. Okay you
might want to further but are you really saying what we are putting
up is objectionable? I mean people who want to go further than say
occupation by the indigenous people can hardly say that at least acknowledging
occupation is objectionable.
No but presumably the argument's the same as it is by the direct
.....now then you've got no chance of getting change further....
Well what the direct election the republicans are saying is that they
would rather the status quo than a Parliamentary election where as
in relation to the preamble it could hardly be better to say: no mention
of the indigenous people at all is preferable to a mention that you
think falls short of what you would desirably want. I think they are
quite different things. But can I suggest that people actually wait
and see because they may in fact find what we put forward acceptable.
Some people won't and I accept that but you've got to play
the test or reasonableness and I'm a reasonable man and I hope
people will see it as reasonable.
The Opposition have also accused you of hubris in wanting to write
it all by yourself. Why do you want to write it all by yourself?
Well I'm not going to write it all by myself. Of course I'm
not. I said yesterday I'd be consulting other people. I mean,
dear me, the Opposition Leader should listen to what I say. I didn't
say that at all.
Okay. Before we leave the republic and the preamble can I just ask
you, I know there's been pressure from within Coalition and also
certainly from the Ethnic Communities Council to get a mention of
cultural development in there. Are you at least leaning that way?
Well once again, people just wait and see. I know what makes up Australia
and what makes up Australia is quite a mixture of people. You have
indigenous people, you have people whose ancestors came predominantly
from Britain and Ireland in the 19th century and the 20th
century. You have that great wave of post war migration.
[inaudible] encouraging for those who want cultural....
Well well, I want to sort of do the right thing by all Australians.
I don't want people to feel as though we don't appreciate
the lovely character of Australia. But if we....
No no no, just wait and see. I just want, want something that people
feel comfortable with, but equally you can't have something that's
too long and if you get into a situation where you're sort of
ticking off each sort of little pressure the whole thing becomes quite
meaningless because we are Australians before we are anything else.
Okay. Can we turn no to the big issue in Parliament today, [inaudible]
Industrial Relations? When you first came to government you promised
that no Australian worker would be worse off under any new system
that you introduced. Are you now saying that that promise is limited
to existing workers and doesn't hold to someone starting a job
for the first time?
No no, I'm not.
There hasn't been a change?
No, no. What I said in 1996, and it remains our policy, is that anybody
that goes into an Australian workplace agreement will not be worse
off than they would otherwise be under the relevant award. That's
our policy. That's been our policy since 1996. It was repeated
in 1998 and it remains our policy now. And I, in fact, made it very
clear in the response to Mr Reith that any new directions we developed
had to honour our commitments. So let me make it pluperfect clear,
that commitment remains.
But when you say any existing worker, that's not significant
in any way.
No, no, no.
You mean any workers, past, present or future.
Well, I'm saying any worker under a workplace agreement, past,
present or future.
Okay. Mr Reith's ideas for further industrial reform are not
yet policy, as you rightly said, but are you in broad agreement with
his suggestion that if the Senate does block the initiative when they
come you should push for reform of the Upper House?
Oh look, we don't have a government position on that. I'm
not going to get into a discussion about what might happen. Look,
I applaud the fact that less than a month after I made him Employment
Minister he's writing to me with 20 pages of new ideas. I mean,
that is what we want. I mean, that is terrific. I think it shows that
he's a Minister committed to reform. And we have a plan, we have
a set of proposals and when you go through them some we'll adopt
and some we'll throw out. And the culling process will be against
the background of those election commitments about workplace agreements.
When will we know what you've got in mind...?
Oh, that will evolve over a period of time. I mean, this is a menu
for the whole term. I mean, that's what you do at the beginning,
you get a new Minister, you get a new bloke in a job and within a
month he's writing to you saying, look, let's do this. That's
That's how a government ought to work.
The most pressing problem the Coalition has with the Senate at the
moment anyway that's all for the future, industrial relations,
at the moment you've got problems with the GST. How would you
rate your chances of getting the tax package through the Senate before
the end of June.
Well, I remain hopeful. Obviously I won't know until the 30th
of June. The Senate will, by then, have had plenty of time to examine
the package. And I say again that the Australian people voted for
us knowing that that's what we wanted to do. And you couldn't
have had a stronger mandate, if the word mandate means anything, and
I hope the Senate will ultimately heed the wishes of the Australian
people. And we'll continue to work and argue and persuade as
best we can but I won't know until the 30th of June
but I remain hopeful.
If you don't know, in fact, until the 30th of June
and they do hold out and they won't pass it before then, would
you consider a quick double dissolution election?
Oh look, Vivian, we've just had an election. Do you remember?
I think the last interview you and I had was during the dying days
of the campaign.
But Vivian, look, you know, I'm not going to get into speculation...
Are you ruling it out?
Oh look, I'm not even contemplating what we might be doing post
failure to get it through by the 30th of June. I have an
optimistic frame of mind. I mean, I'm in the business of trying
to persuade those in the Senate who've got the balance of power
to support the Government's plan. I'm not contemplating
Is Senator Harradine the most likely avenue to get it passed at the
Well, Senator Harradine is obviously an important person and Senator
Harradine is somebody who keeps his counsel and I respect him for
that and I've always found him a reasonable man. I know that
there are certain things he will never support and other things he
might be persuaded to support. And I'm not going to try and verbal
Senator Harradine. I'm not giong to try and suggest he
will decide what he's going to do in the fullness of time and
I wouldn't presume to predict what he might do. That's a
matter for him.
Okay, Prime Minister, we're going to have to leave it there.
Thank you very much.
It was a great pleasure.