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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11475

Radio Interview with Michael Clarke, ABC Radio Townsville

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: 17/05/2000

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11475

Subjects: Interfet Parade; Korea; drug strategy; Budget funding; PM's Cup.

E&OE ..............................

CLARKE:

Thanks for your time this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good Morning. Nice to be here again.

CLARKE:

Now in terms of the parade last night, it was a fabulous response from the North Queensland community. Was that something that was very special for you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the important thing was that it was an opportunity for the people of Townsville and surrounding areas to say thank you to the men and women who went to East Timor, to thank the families who were left behind for the support they gave them and also to acknowledge that later this year there could be another unit, 1st RAR which is based at Lavarack Barracks also going to Timor. So it was sort of a triple event. The turn out was magnificent and in turning out in their thousands the people were really speaking for the entire nation. We've had two welcome home parades now. One in Sydney and one in Townsville. We decided to, in a sense, base them on the heavy concentration of forces who went to East Timor. A lot went from the Holsworthy army base near Sydney and a lot of course went from Lavarack Barracks here in Townsville. I thought it was a great parade. They marched very well. But importantly it was an opportunity for the community to say thank you. It is very important when people put their lives on the line that the community in a very unconditional, unrestrained, unambiguous way have the opportunity of saying thank you. And also remembering the families because it was a big strain on them. I spent a lot of time last night talking to service wives and sweethearts and parents and children. They had a very difficult time - a time of enormous strain. When they went we were all very apprehensive. Thank God they have all come back. There were no battle causalities. Sadly we lost one person, not in combat and that's a great relief to all of us because the impact on a community of casualties would have been horrific. There's always the danger when people go abroad bearing arms. There is always the danger that there is going to be casualties and we can't pretend that that wasn't there back in September when they left. I am only grateful that that didn't turn out to be the case.

CLARKE:

You mentioned of course more troops expected to go to East Timor later on this year. How long does the Government anticipate that our commitment to East Timor will continue.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that really is in the hands of the United Nations because the ongoing presence in East Timor is a United Nations supervised effort. We are contributing in the order of 1500 to that and that is an on going commitment. I can't tell you the progress has been steady but inevitably slow. It's a broken community. It was left with very little infrastructure. It needs a lot of international aid and Australia is playing her part in that but other countries should play at their part as well. I hope it's not too long, but it will be there for a while yet.

CLARKE:

Moving on to Sun Metals and as I said in the introduction, you're going to Korea after you leave north and far north Queensland. How positive are you that a refinery project like we see at Sun Metals here will bring other Korean investment to north Queensland and other parts of the country?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Korea is Australia's second best export market. Korea has been a tremendous buyer of Australian raw materials and other products. The fact that one Korean company at Sun Metals has been willing to invest almost $700 million is a sign of a close relationship and a belief on the part of Korean investors that this is a stable growing reliable economy. You don't get that kind of foreign investment if countries think you are running a poor economy. I mean it's a lot of money and it's a great vote of confidence in the strength of the Australian economy. It's also a reflection of the asset that we have in our raw materials. Sensibly used raw material are of enormous benefit to this country. I think it indicates that Korea sees Australia as a go ahead country of the future, a country with which it can do business, a country that it feels very comfortable with. We have a very friendly relationship with Korea. We have some tens of thousands of people of Korean descent living in Australia. We have a close political relationship. I greatly admire President Kim Dae-Jung, the President of Korea. He came to Australia last year. Korea was involved in Interfet in East Timor. It's a very good relationship and it's a relationship that's developed very strongly over the years.

CLARKE:

But certainly one, when we are talking about particular industrial projects takes a lot of negotiation and a lot of sensitivity on the part of the people involved of the major parties. Do you believe that Sun Metals therefore should be an example to not only other Australian businesses but internationally?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's certainly done very well. I mean I can't fault what's happened. There's been a sensitivity to the local community but they have had their eye on the ball. Their aim has been to get the investment going. They've worked with local people. They've got a good work force and all round it's a win win for everybody.

CLARKE:

Now, you are making an announcement after you leave here in relation to the fight against drugs in north Queensland I understand that the Salvation Army, tell us more about that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am announcing a Government grant to the Salvation Army Rehabilitation Services Centre and they're adding a new arm to their services to the community. It's going to target drug addition, particularly amongst women, and the Commonwealth money will, amongst other things, support the employment of an addiction's counsellor who will be particularly skilled in working with women who have a drug problem and this is all part of our 'Tough on Drugs' strategy where do three things.

We give money to the law enforcement bodies, the police and customs to stop as many drugs coming in we can, particularly through identifying them in source countries before they get here.

We secondly provide education for children against them starting taking drugs in the first place. I mean the best thing is still not to start taking drugs. Its much easier to resist starting drug taking than it is to knock it off once you become addicted and finally and this is exemplified by what I am doing today.

We are providing more money to support rehabilitation. That's been a neglected area in this country. No names, no pack drill, but its been pretty well neglected across the board.

And that's why the Federal Government has decided to come in with additional funds and we have said amongst other things that we'll support in partnership with the States, diversionary programmes where if, rather than somebody being caught up in the courts with some kind of penalty for fairly minor drug use, we'll say to them righto, if you're prepared to go into a rehabilitation programme and try and do something about your problem, you won't get charged, you won't get caught up in the criminal justice system.

I think most Australians agree with that approach, they don't want people put in the slammer for very minor offences but they do want something done about people who are starting down the slippery slide and that is really what this is all about - diversionary programmes. And it's got the support of the States where I'm going to make an announcement soon with the New South Wales Premier. We've had a joint announcement made in Tasmania and I hope the same thing will happen in Queensland. I know Mr Beattie's publicly said he supports it so I expect there will be total cooperation between our officials to get a joint approach. This is something that ought to transcend party politics. Everybody's interested in fighting against drugs.

CLARKE:

You've been very, I guess strong in your own personal view against the fight against drugs. Do you think. . .

PRIME MINISTER:

In favour of the fight against drugs.

CLARKE:

Yeah that's right. Do you think that regional Australia has been neglected a little bit when it comes to implementing programmes to fight the drug problem?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, not under our 'Tough on Drugs' strategy. It may have been in the past but I haven't come here to bag the past, I've come here to talk about the now and the future, and under this new programme and we're putting $500 million into the 'Tough on Drugs' strategy. It's an unprecedented level of Federal Government spending. Up until now the view's been taken that the Federal Government's responsibility in relation to drugs has really been at the border through customs and stopping drugs coming into the country. The view's been taken that after they are here really that's a matter for States. Now clearly that hasn't worked effectively and that's why we've come in with more money and more programmes and more support because we think it is a national need and something where the Federal Government has a legitimate role to play.

CLARKE:

Talking about the future and the present and the issue of more money. In the recent Budget there was some hope in North Queensland, that we would see a lot of money announced for road funding and infrastructure in the North. We've just had a very difficult wet season which has cut the Bruce Highway a number of times in a number of places. When are we going to see that money?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it would be wrong not to see the Budget as having brought specific capital spending to the area. I mean, in this coming year and the year after this, significant further expenditure on upgrading of the barracks and also some spending in relation to the RAAF Base. We of course have a very strong commitment in the Budget, tackling the problems of rural health.

Now, that may not directly affect the city of Townsville and I would remind you, of course, that the Medical School at James Cook has been supported very effectively by the Government and it has begun to operate. And this fulfils a long held dream of people in this part of Australia and I pay particular tribute to Peter Lindsay, the Member for Herbert, for his persistent advocacy of this particular programme. I mean he was very, very persistent and that persistence was rewarded, it's a very good programme and this morning I met one of the first students to be enrolled and she said to me that she wanted to become a flying doctor. Now that is exactly what we need to do, to cater for the desire of people.

Now, health is one part of the challenge of regional Australia. There are other challenges and there are other opportunities for governments to respond to those challenges, but we took the view that rather than try and touch a number of areas in an inevitably superficial way, that the most intelligent thing was to address in a big way, a comprehensive way, one of the really big problems in country Australia and that is the shortage of doctors and the inadequacy of medical facilities.

Now, as I say, it doesn't affect the city of Townsville so much, but it does affect areas in the whole region of North Queensland and we'll have for example, 85 new regional health centres where you sort of have a multi-purpose facility providing a whole lot of things. There'll be special bonded scholarships for people to practice medicine in country areas. They'll get treated preferentially if they're prepared to stay in the country for a period of years. This is the biggest single assault on the problem of inadequate rural health facilities and shortage of doctors ever attempted by any Government.

CLARKE:

So in next year's Budget will we see any road funding?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm not, one issue at a time. But importantly, we take these issues seriously.

CLARKE:

But you understand that's an important issue . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, there are a lot of important issues but no more important issue has emerged to me in all the discussions I've had as I move around country Australia than the issue of health. It's at the top of everybody's list and people have said every Australian has a right to accessible, affordable health services. You have it in the cities, you have it in Sydney, you have it in the big regional cities, why can't we have it in country areas and that's only fair enough. And that's what we've tried to really fix in this Budget.

CLARKE:

On the National spotlight, I understand that Federal Liberal backbencher, Alby Schultz is threatening to stand against Finance Minister and colleague, John Fahey. Are you planning to intervene in that or do you have any view on that issue?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, what's happened is that there's been a change in the electoral boundaries and at the moment, John has a seat he comfortably holds, the seat of MacArthur. And Alby has a seat he comfortably holds, the seat of Hume. And they've mixed the two areas up so that there is one, rather more marginal seat and there is one still very comfortable seat and each of them have got a large chunk of their old areas in the new comfortable seat. You always get a little bit of tension. We will just see what emerges and these things inevitably happen when you have a redistribution and I am sure it will sort itself out.

CLARKE:

So you are not planning to play any personal role?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't normally sort of break forth on air about any role I might play in matters like that except to make the obvious comment that whenever you have a redistribution that alters boundaries like this you always get a little bit of tension and I am sure it will sort itself out.

CLARKE:

Just on a lighter issue, the PM's cup is being run on the Gold Coast today. Have you got any tip?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can't get there this year. I was there last year and had the great pleasure of personally presenting it but for obvious reasons I won't be going back to the Gold Coast today, I've got to go on to Cairns and then on to Korea so I wish them all well.

CLARKE:

You are not backing any horses?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I am not backing any horse no.

CLARKE:

Ok, so no tip there from the Prime Minister..

PRIME MINISTER:

No I can't give you a tip on that.

CLARKE:

Prime Minister John Howard, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Great pleasure, thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 11475