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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11065


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: 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



No no.

SCHENKER: 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.


I remember.


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

other things.


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.


Transcript 11065