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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11856

Interview on 2GO Radio Breakfast Show

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: 17/05/2001

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11856

Subjects: Petrol prices; F3 Freeway improvements; GST; airlines

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

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister of Australia good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah nice to talk to you.

JOURNALIST:

Welcome to the central coast via the phone, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'll be in the central coast in person later on this morning.

JOURNALIST:

Yes we're looking forward to that and we do appreciate your time this morning and such an early start to the day. Prime Minister we've had several questions posed to us from our listeners over the last, it would be couple of days Sarah, and if you don't mind we'd like to put them to you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah go right ahead Cameron.
JOURNALIST:

Well the first one is Prime Minister, the situation on fuel prices. We'll get the heavy stuff out of the way first if that's alright with you. Fuel prices, we've just heard in the news, between 10 and 11 cents, gone up again overnight. Yesterday we had fuel in Newcastle at 90.9 to around 105 cents a litre, there's 15-16 cents a litre difference going up from what was 93 here about 48-72 hours ago. The fluctuations, Prime Minister, are unbelievable.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they are unbelievable. They are governed entirely by the world market price and the world supplies. We did what we could within the limits of our budget by cutting excise by 1.5 cents a litre and we've also for the future abolished those six monthly excise increases that have been with us since they were introduced by Mr Hawke in 1983. We can't afford to cut the excise any further. It is very hard to stop price fluctuations without creating a position where you could end up with a permanently higher price. You might be interfering with the operation of the local market. We are having another inquiry into fuel taxation which is going to look at the question of price fluctuations. I know it is aggravating to motorists but it is a feature of a market which is made up of a lot of oil companies which sell directly through their locally owned stations plus other franchise owners plus other suppliers who operate completely independently.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister we really do appreciate what you're saying but can I give it to you from the perspective of our listeners this morning? They say to us it's pension day tomorrow watch the fuel go up. Do you think that's a fair comment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let me tell you this. I think it is an understandable comment, but I don't think it's an accurate reflection of what happens.

JOURNALIST:

Why are oil companies allowed to wholesale and retail petrol, there's no competition.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if you say that somebody can't wholesale and retail something in one area you've got to do it in a whole lot of other areas and a lot of people believe that being able to buy directly from somebody who's in the wholesale end of the market can often give you a better deal. There are a lot of people listening to your program who appreciate the fact that they can buy direct from the wholesaler and cut out the retailer. So if you were going to stop that happening in one area then there'll be pressure for that to stop in other areas and I'm not sure in the end the consumers are going to benefit.

JOURNALIST:

Could you take the Prime Minister hat off and be an Aussie for a tick?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well can I just say to you that I remain an Aussie while I'm Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST:

With all respect, I know that. But how do you see it finishing up in the end. Is this going to keep happening?

PRIME MINISTER:

What are you talking about, sorry?

JOURNALIST:

The fuel prices.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think while the world price of fuel remains high - and that is not something that we can directly control - you are going to have public concern. There have always been fluctuations in the price of fuel. The reason why people are so aggravated about it at the present time is that the overall price of fuel is much higher now than what it was a couple of years ago. When the price of fuel was 65 to 75 cents a litre, people didn't complain as much about the fluctuations as they do now when the price of petrol is 90 to 95 cents a litre, or even higher depending on where you are in Australia.

The problem goes back to the fact that because the world price of oil has gone up a lot over the last 18 months, the domestic price here is much higher and understandably people are far more sensitive to it and a lot more angry and I share their anger. I understand it. But I have to be frank in the answers I give, I'm not holding out for some pie in the sky solution, which I can't deliver. I mean what a Government can do within what it can afford in it's budget the Government can cut the tax on petrol, which we did. And that was 1.5 cents a litre, now you may not say, you may say that is not a lot but the revenue involved in that is $400 to $500 million a year. And on top of that we have abolished the six monthly indexation or increases in the tax on petrol and they were introduced for the first time by the Labor Prime Minister Mr Hawke in 1983. And they've been in existence for 18 years and they've been abolished with effect from August. So there won't be an automatic increase in the excise in petrol as there has been over the last eighteen years every six months.

Now that is the limit in the financial sense of what we can do, now that hasn't made a huge impact but it's made some impact. But the overall price that people pay at the bowser is ultimately determined by the world price of fuel and the world price of fuel is very high now. And it is painfully high in other countries even more so than Australia, I mean in Britain they're paying the equivalent of $2.30 a litre and that's no comfort to your listeners because they don't live in Britain they live in Australia. But I draw the comparison to make the point that it's not something that's isolated to our country.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, a change of the subject now. Pretty well a (inaudible) our road the F3 one of our major highways here bound for Sydney and up to Newcastle. There's always been a bone of contention, it doesn't seem to be able to handle the traffic, but we do have, anyway, a question from one of our listeners for you. This is Chris from Bensville.

CALLER:

Prime Minister, good morning. This is Chris from Bensville
.
PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning.

CALLER:

.on the F3 on my way to North Sydney. And my question to you this morning - if you're planning to upgrade the F3, I'd be delighted to hear that, but can you personally guarantee that you will not put a toll on this road as the State Labor government has done in so many cases when they've upgraded other roads around Sydney?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, can I say, Chris, that we do intend to make $80 million available immediately to widen the F3 between Hawkesbury and Calga. The F3 carries about 40,000 vehicles a day and I know it experiences regular delays associated with the congestion, accidents and the very high usage. The construction will entail widening the number of lanes from two to three. The initial emphasis will be in the areas of very high accident rates and congestion, that is between the Hawkesbury River and Mount White. We're ready. The money's available. It can be, I understand, completed within 18 months of the start date. And we'll be pushing the New South Wales Government, which is the constructing authority, to commence the work as soon as practicable. Toll are imposed by State governments, not by Federal governments and there is no proposal for a toll associated with this $80 million, none whatsoever.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, we have an earlier recorded question for you from one of our listeners. Please listen to this.

CALLER:

Hi, my name is Vicky from Jilliby and I'd like to ask you, Mr Howard, do you play golf? If you do, what is your handicap because hopefully mine is lower than yours?

PRIME MINISTER:

Vicky, I think just about everybody's handicap is lower than mine. I do play golf. I have what I euphemistically call a 20-something handicap. It's in the mid-20s rather than the low 20s. I do enjoy it. It's very slowly improving and I'll bet your handicap is considerably lower. But it's a very enjoyable game and I have found increasingly over the last couple of years, now that I have no children at school and I don't have weekend sporting commitments with them, I am finding a little more time to play golf and it's a marvellous relaxation. I enjoy the walk involved and I enjoy the game immensely. I'm sure you do and it's a great passion of a lot of Australians.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, it's Sarah and it's just great to have you on the radio this morning with us. It's such an honour. And respected by the calls we took this morning from all age groups, from kids, we had children phone up so excited that you were going to be here. I guess everybody wants to know just a little bit more about you, like things like, do you play golf and how good are you. But I've got a couple of little questions that I'd like to ask you if that's all right.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, go right ahead, Sarah.

JOURNALIST:

All right then. What's your favourite movie, John Howard?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I suppose, in recent years Four Weddings and a Funeral would be.in recent years. I mean, I've been watching the movies for a very long time and just in recent years that's one that's really, really quite a great movie.

JOURNALIST:

Yeah, it's funny, isn't it? I like that myself. Of course, here in Australia, our movie industry's just booming now, which is so good to see and it's so good to see a lot of our Aussies overseas making big statements and huge impacts. Can you tell me what your favourite lollies are then, if you were going to go to the movies?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh golly.

JOURNALIST:

Come on.

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not a great lolly eater.

JOURNALIST:

You're kidding.

PRIME MINISTER:

No. It may sound peculiar but as I've got older I've gone off eating sweets.

JOURNALIST:

More the savoury now.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, I just have gone right off them.

JOURNALIST:

All right, well that's something that I do look forward to.

PRIME MINISTER:

I used to like chocolate when I was a kid but what kid didn't.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, can I apologise for Sarah's line of questioning.

JOURNALIST:

I've got another one.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, provocative, provocative and penetrating.

JOURNALIST:

Exactly. Do you ever go grocery shopping and if you do, is it late at night and you've got to whip down and grab some soap or, I don't know, some Palmolive? Do you whack a funny hat on so no one knows who you are? No, seriously, I want to know.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, before I was Prime Minister I used to periodically, of course I used to go to supermarkets from time to time. I haven't been so much recently. I don't put on funny hats. I don't try and disguise my identity. I went for a walk in the streets of Newcastle this morning as I do every day, no matter where I am. I never try and remain incognito, obviously, and you get, generally speaking, you get a courteous reception, even people who don't agree with you. Australians are fundamentally, they're very direct but they're also very courteous people. And I have found in the time I've been Prime Minister a very, very small number of people who behave in an aggressive fashion.

JOURNALIST:

Oh, that's good.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, I just think that's a reflection on them, a reflection on the courtesy and the friendliness of the Australian people.

JOURNALIST:

It does intrude in your life, though. When was the last time you can remember that you weren't recognised? Obviously before you were PM but.

PRIME MINISTER:

When I was last overseas in a remote village in rural somewhere or other.

JOURNALIST:

Oh, I bet it's a joy though, it would be a joy to go on a walk.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it makes a difference. It makes a huge difference.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, do you.I know it must be so hard with your entourage because obviously being Prime Minister you have to have these people around you, that goes without saying, and certainly security must be at a premium, but I mean, at the Lodge, do you get the Victa out, you watch the.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, you know, I sweep the leaves up every morning before I leave for work.

JOURNALIST:

Do you do the doggy do, do you have to do that job or is that.you don't go there.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh no, I don't have one.

JOURNALIST:

Oh really, you don't have a dog.

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

I thought you did.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no.

JOURNALIST:

You have a cat.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's right.

JOURNALIST:

Can we go back to another earlier recorded question for you, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes please.

JOURNALIST:

Yes, good morning Prime Minister. Firstly I'd like to say hello to your wife, Mrs Howard, she was my English teacher at [inaudible] Heights High School.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, what was your name?

JOURNALIST:

.couldn't have had a nicer lady. And my question to you this morning is, how many hours do you actually work a week?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I would have thought.I would think I'd probably work 90 hours a week, when you add it all up, when you throw in the weekend things I think I'd be into that.

JOURNALIST:

Right, well I think what you said before about always being recognised in public, you work that many hours but than it just doesn't stop does it? It's always there.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's not just the work you do behind a desk or doing radio interviews. It's also at weekends you have a lot of paperwork and you have a lot of meetings to go to and engagements to keep. But a lot of people in our community who have very responsible jobs work 80 or 90 hours a week.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister I know you have your own aircraft of course for travelling around the world and around our wonderful country. But how do you feel about 767's and our airline industry at the moment? Is that all pretty safe and sound now?

PRIME MINISTER:

I've got a lot of confidence in our airline industry. I was a regular passenger of Ansett airlines before I became Prime Minister. I always found it a very courteous, efficient and safe airline. Here I am talking to you so it was obviously pretty safe and I think Ansett is a great airline. I think clearly they've had some problems but they set about fixing those problems. And I commend them for that and I believe the aviation regulator did the right thing in insisting on planes being grounded until the problems were dealt with. But the problems were tackled and I'm very pleased about that. And we have a very safe airline system in this country. We have very few accidents and we have rigorous safety standards and that's a credit to regulators over the years. It's also a credit to the airlines.

JOURNALIST:

I'll tell you what, I like these $55 airfares. Can you keep them down there Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that in the end is something for the market to decide. You've always got a conflict between affordability and low fares. If a company can maintain fares at that level well that's fine. But if it can't then there are financial consequences. I don't want to get into making comments about what's happened in the industry recently. But I think everybody likes low fares, I think everybody likes regular maintenance of aircraft so they stay in the air.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister there's word around the end of next month there'll the announcement of an election.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't know where's that's come from. I said yesterday when that was raised with me that my current intention was to have the election at the end of the year and I take the opportunity as you've raised it with me to emphasise that again. There is no reason why we should have an election before the end of the year when it's due. No reason at all.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister we watch parliament obviously on the ABC, flick over and it's just there and sometimes there's something interesting on. And a lot of time obviously it can be the hard hitting things and other times it looks like you guys are having a great time down there. You need a fairly good sense of humour to be a politician to be begin with and let alone the Prime Minister of Australia. We have our Cactus Island here on 2GO. Have you heard Cactus? How Green was my Cactus?

PRIME MINISTER:

Over the years yes.

JOURNALIST:

How do you take to all that? I mean obviously we have a great time listening to it and a lot of comments here from listeners saying they really enjoy it. Is it something that you can have a cackle at yourself?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm fairly inured to that kind of thing over the years. I've had a lot of it. And you've got to have not only a good sense of humour but a thick hide. I believe I've got both. It just goes with the territory. And you do get amused on occasions and other occasions it sort of just goes over your shoulder and other occasions it hardly registers. And on some occasions you think it's unreasonable but you don't say anything about it because that's part of a democratic process. Particularly in Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister do you pay GST?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course I do.

JOURNALIST:

Right.

JOURNALIST:

You've got that off your chest now.

PRIME MINISTER:

Are you suggesting that there's some kind of exemption?

JOURNALIST:

No.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh good heavens. If I buy something that's subject to the GST of course I pay it. Just like anybody else. Good heavens above. What a ridiculous question.

JOURNALIST:

Shame on you two. I've got a follow up question.

JOURNALIST:

Alright then. Go on.

PRIME MINISTER:

What's the next blooper?

JOURNALIST:

How do you feel about the GST?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the new tax system is very good. It's not just a GST, it's a lower income tax. You know that 80% of Australian taxpayers have a top marginal rate now of no more than 30 cents in the dollar. That on the first of July this year that Financial Institutions Duty that keeps popping up on your bank statements is going to be abolished. We have got rid of a very old fashioned indirect tax system, the wholesale sales tax system. We have now a much fairer one. I think the new tax system when it's all bedded down, I know there have been some transitional problems but once it's all bedded down people will look back and say I'm glad the Government had the courage to bring it in.

JOURNALIST:

Yeah but I'm always at the accountant. I'm always at my accountant now. I never was before.

PRIME MINISTER:

You must be making too much money then.

JOURNALIST:

Oh right Prime Minister. That's what I keep telling her.

JOURNALIST:

We want to know a bit about your music knowledge and songs you like. After 9 I do a show called the Classic Nine at 9. And I'm wondering if we could choose some of your favourites and play them for you after 9 just to get you in a good mood while you're here on the Central Coast.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah.

JOURNALIST:

Will that be alright?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, go for your life.

JOURNALIST:

Give us a clue. What do you like Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh well I used to like Bob Dylan. I like Dire Straits.

JOURNALIST:

Let me write this down. Bob, Dire Straits.

JOURNALIST:

Who will play these?

JOURNALIST:

I will. At no charge sir.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you know you can sort of settle for those.

JOURNALIST:

Alright then.

JOURNALIST:

Righto then.

JOURNALIST:

We'll mix it up a little bit for you then.

PRIME MINISTER:

You do that.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister thank you very much for you time and thanks for having some fun with us. We do appreciate it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Nice talking to both of you and good luck.

JOURNALIST:

All the very best.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 11856