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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11858

Doorstop Interview, Mount White

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: 11858

Subjects: F3 Freeway improvements; Budget speculation; HIH insurance.

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

JOURNALIST:

How important is it for the people of the Central Coast to get this road built?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is very important indeed. There is no more pressing ongoing transport requirement or road requirement of the people of the Central Coast than the widening of the F3, starting with the stretch between the Hawkesbury and Mount White which is where we are now. And we're putting $80 million on the table, it's there now. The New South Wales Government of course is the constructing authority and we'll ask them to get the thing moving as quickly as possible. It can be completed, I'm told within eighteen months of the work starting. There are 40,000 vehicles a day that go over this stretch. This is an important national highway. It's our funding responsibility, we accept that, but of course we don't construct it, that's done by the Road Traffic Authority of New South Wales. And we're making the money available, it's there now. It's come out of the $1.6 billion additional road money that Mr Anderson and I announced before Christmas so it's very good news for the people of the Central Coast and it's a tribute to the persistent hard work of Jim Lloyd, the Member for Robertson and Senator John Tierney both of whom have advocated this cause for some time and it is important and I know it will be very warmly welcomed by commuters and people generally from the Central Coast area.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, Carl Scully says this is the stingey, cheaper option. Does that disappoint you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it's disappointing but it's also contrary to what Mr Scully told Mr Anderson only a few months ago. He actually said the figure of $80 million was appropriate and he wrote to Mr Anderson and we've got a copy of his letter if you want to have a look at it. But that is just pathetic, cheap, Carr-government politics. I mean can't they just occasionally think of the people instead of the political pointscoring? The people of the Central Coast want money spent on this road. They're not interested in Carl Scully trying to score points off us or vice versa. We're putting up the money, instead of nitpicking and trying to score political points, Mr Scully should today be giving an undertaking that the work will start immediately. That's what Mr Scully should be doing, instead of playing his cheap, political stunt, Acquilina style.

JOURNALIST:

It's not that far off. Aren't you scoring political points .

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we're responding to a community need. I mean everybody agrees that the road should be widened. Everybody agrees that the two lanes should become three. And we've got the additional money and we're making it available. And I say again to the New South Wales Government, stop the politics, get on with the work.

JOURNALIST:

Have you been caught in the traffic jam there yourself Prime Minister, how bad did it get?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look over the years, I have as you know travelled to the Central Coast on innumerable occasions and it is a busy congested area, particularly at peak times. And it's getting worse because there's more commuters coming from Sydney to the Central Coast. It is getting worse.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

There's an ant on your shirt.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well don't show that, I am sure you will now. You've got the grab - Yes, John Howard rescued by journalist - wonderful.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister how long will it be before the rest of the F3 Highway has to be widened though? I mean there are lots of locals, you know the Gosford Council and so on saying that the traffic congestion goes as far as Ourimbah. How long will it take before it can be .?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what we're doing is we're dealing with the most congested area first. And all of the studies and all of the locals tell us that the thing, the area you've got to fix first is the stretch between the Hawkesbury and Calga and of that stretch, the stretch between Hawkesbury and Mount White is the most critical. Now when we've dealt with that, we'll move onto something else.

JOURNALIST:

But you don't agree you're underfunding the project by ..

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don't agree and the figure of $80 million is the figure that Mr Scully canvassed and acknowledged in his correspondence with Mr Anderson to be appropriate. And I've got the letter so you can all have a copy of it.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, petrol prices [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we said we'd have an inquiry into fuel taxation and we are going to do that. But the price of petrol is a function of the world price of oil. We've done our bit by cutting excise by 1.5 cents a litre and abolishing Bob Hawke's six monthly automatic indexation of excise which he introduced in 1983.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is a feature of the present oil market that you have these fluctuations and it's a matter of enormous concern to the public because the basic price of crude oil around the world is that much higher than it was a couple of years ago. I think if you had an ongoing price of about 65 - 70 cents a litre there wouldn't be quite the level of community concern and anger about the fluctuation. I can understand why people get angry about those fluctuations but their anger is all the greater because the basic price is that much higher.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] speculation that there is good news for pensioners and self-funded retirees. What do they have to look forward to?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look I am not going to comment at all on pre-Budget speculation. I've seen a lot of wild claims about huge windfalls. I have to say this, that there is not some unanticipated mountain of money available. That really is quite exaggerated. Our fiscal position remains strong but we're not swimming in dollars, I can assure you of that. We'll deliver a Budget that is good for the Australian economy but also a Budget that is very fair to the Australian people. Beyond that I am simply not going to respond to speculation.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I don't know where that story came from, it didn't come from me or the Treasurer. Well I said I don't know where it came from, it didn't come from me or the Treasurer.

JOURNALIST:

Just briefly Mr Howard, the National Audit Office report [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven't seen it. I don't comment on things I haven't seen.

JOURNALIST:

Do you intend to see it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I see everything.

JOURNALIST:

Do you intend to see it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that's right. I haven't seen it yet. Alright?

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard you said that [inaudible] Kim Beazley calling for a royal commission into HIH. And you said after all it was the Labor Party that let Christopher Skase escape from Australia. Isn't there a couple of issues there, one that what Skase did is nowhere near the magnitude of what happened at HIH and two, that .

PRIME MINISTER:

You're going into bat for Christopher Skase are you? You've got to be joking.

JOURNALIST:

Well no, no I'm not. What I'm saying is that the HIH collapse is much greater in magnitude, effects more Australians and do the sins of the past necessarily [inaudible] the sins of today.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well to start with a proper investigating machinery is already under way in relation to HIH. What people to seem to have forgotten is that the Australian Securities and Investment Commission has enormously wide investigative powers. It has powers that are very similar to the powers of a royal commission. And that body has already begun working. It's in fact been working for weeks. It's engaged lawyers and accountants all around the world and is going to mount the biggest ever corporate investigation that that body has undertaken. So any suggestion from Mr Beazley or anybody else that no action has been taken to pursue wrongdoing and to punish people who've been found to have done wrong things or criminal things is completely false. And it was that kind of hypocrisy on his part that I was drawing attention to in my reference to Mr Skase. But Mr Skase's departure from Australia occurred on Mr Beazley's watch and nothing can absolve him from his collective responsibility for that.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

You haven't ruled out a royal commission?

PRIME MINISTER:

No what I've said and I invite all of you to carefully look at what I said yesterday. That we are determined that there will be those inquiries or inquiry, that inquiry or those inquires that are necessary to find out what happened and to punish any wrongdoing on the part of any of the directors or officers of the company or indeed anybody else. What I also said yesterday was that if you just willy-nilly plonked a royal commission on top of the existing inquiries without having regard to the statutory responsibilities of bodies like ASIC you might end up frustrating them in the performance of their duties. I'm discussing this matter with the Attorney General. Those discussions are ongoing. It is a difficult intricate situation but I want to make it very plain to the Australian public that we won't be protecting anybody. We won't be seeking to hide anybody from a full investigation. We have an unambiguous duty to the Australian public to get to the bottom of this, to find out who is to blame, to punish the wrongdoers, to protect the consumers in hardship cases, and to minimise the economic impact of the collapse. Now I make that very plain to the Australian public, that's my commitment to them. Whatever inquiry or inquiries plural are needed to achieve that goal will be established by the Government.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

David, what was your question?

JOURNALIST:

What do you make of the criticism that some members of ASIC are also members of APRA and that [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look I've seen those things and the question of any potential conflict of interest because of the common membership of those bodies is something the Government will take into account in addressing the issue of the need for any additional inquiry over and above the ASIC investigation. That is an issue that we will take into account. The main area of investigation is of course the conduct of the company, the conduct of its directors, the conduct of its other office bearers. The issue of any real or apparent conflict of interest is something that we have sought advice on and I'm not going to give a, no pun intended, kerbside opinion on that. I'd like to get some proper advice. But that is one of the issues that we'll take into account. Look people should understand that the correct way of handling a situation like this is not something that is determined on the run overnight. We are assessing it. We had a very good meeting last night between Mr Hockey and the insurance council. I've had some discussions with the Attorney General, I'll be having further discussions with the Attorney General in the next day or so. But I repeat the assurance I gave a moment ago to the Australian people that we will leave no stone unturned, we will not hesitate to establish whatever inquiry through whatever mechanism is needed to ensure that we get to the bottom of this. But we want to do it in a way that is effective and skilful and not in a knee-jerk fashion in response to populist calls by people like Opposition Leaders.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, does the Government have concerns about APRA's role? Is an inquiry looking at their role appropriate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I have nothing before me that suggests that APRA has done anything wrong. But like any other body in a situation like this it has to be in the normal course of events made accountable for what it's done. I mean everybody's accountable. I'm accountable. APRA's accountable. I want to say in relation to the government at a political level all the evidence in my hands at the moment suggests that Mr Hockey was very active in seeking explanations from APRA. And at every stage he's done his job and done it very well.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister what other issues do you regard as being important in an election year on the Central Coast?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I haven't come here as part of an election campaign. I've come here to make a roads announcement and I've come here to visit the people of the Central Coast with my friend and colleague Jim Lloyd. I think it's far too early to start talking about elections. I don't know what all this talk of early elections is all about. Hasn't come from me and I've got a lot of governing left in me for the remainder of this term and I would expect to go to the people towards the end of the year at the normal time.

JOURNALIST:

What sort of things will you be doing today? You're talking to.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we're going to wander around the shopping centre, and I'm addressing a community forum at the Central Coast Leagues Club and then going to a retirement village and I'll do some other work and then we're going to have a cocktail party and then I'll go home and collapse in a heap.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

No I can never give that assurance.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister are you hoping not to get caught up in a traffic jam on the F3 on the way home?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm just like any other member of the public. If I get caught up in a traffic jam I get caught up in a traffic jam. And it will just remind me what a good local member the people of the Central Coast have in Jim Lloyd because he's been twisting my arm on this F3 for a hell of a long time.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 11858