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Transcript 12116

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTERTHE HON JOHN HOWARD MPINTERVIEW WITH LEON BYNER,RADIO 5AA, ADELAIDE

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: 09/11/2001

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12116

Subjects: illegal immigration
BYNER:
Prime Minister, thank you for joining us this morning.
PRIME MINISTER:
It';s very nice to talk to you again, Leon.
BYNER:
Likewise. Look, a number of people, in fact, my last caller rang in and said, oh look, if the conservatives win tomorrow it will be prejudice over policy, what do you say to those sort of comments?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, they';re wrong. They';re talking about our policy on border protection. They would be right if we were trying to exclude people of a particular race but we';re not. We';re trying to exclude people coming here illegally, irrespective of their race or their religion. We would take the same attitude if they came from Italy or England or America or Japan. It';s not their race or their country of origin which is the basis of our keeping them out, it';s because they seek to come here illegally. I regard this allegation that it';s racially based as quite offensive to the large number of Australians who strongly support the approach we';re taking. But what they';re really saying is, if you believe what they';re saying, they';re saying that the majority of Australians are prejudiced or a lot of Australians are prejudiced. Now, I don';t believe that. I think this self-flagellation of the Australian spirit, this tendency of some people to say, oh we have a dark side and we really are, deep down, very racist, I don';t believe we are. We';ve got our share of bigots and we';re not perfect. So we have got some people who are racially prejudiced but the great bulk of Australians are not and we';ve demonstrated that for the last 40 years by the way we';ve absorbed people from all around the world, we';ve embraced the habits and the attitudes and the cultures of our own mainstream, if I can put it that way, Australian life. I don';t find Australians prejudiced at all.
BYNER:
Are you completely at ease with the 12,000 refugees we take in annually as being the right number given our resources and ethnic mix at the moment?
PRIME MINISTER:
I believe it';s the right figure given current circumstances, I do. It';s quite high by…it';s 12,000 a year, it';s not a static figure. So over…if you left it on that basis over the lifetime of the next government we';d take in, you know, some 36,000 or 37,000 refugees. Now, for a country our size that';s not a bad effort. But in present circumstances I believe it';s the right figure. I do think on the refugee front we have to do more in cooperation with other countries to lift humanitarian efforts in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan. We';ve started to do that but we may well in the next little while have to do more because in many ways the best help you can give refugees is to provide them with better support in the countries to which they first flee. We have 21 million refugees around the world. There are only nine countries that have resettlement programmes, of which Australia is one, therefore the prospects of resettling all of those 21 million is very remote and as a result we have to put greater emphasis on helping them and stabilise their situation where they are.
BYNER:
Yeah, Prime Minister, I';ve just seen this and no doubt you have too. Defence officials say that two women have died and 160 people were rescued after a boat load of asylum seekers was set on fire when intercepted by the Australian Navy and customs. So, obviously what we';re seeing and we';re going to continue to see is acts of absolute desperation on behalf of these people.
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, it is a very difficult issue. I';m just reading from the Naval report and that is that the vessel was, according to the Navy report, was deliberately set on fire when it became apparent it was going to be boarded. What they are doing is disabling and, therefore, sinking a vessel so they can';t be towed back to Indonesian waters. That';s what';s happening. Now, this is all designed, of course, to make Australia take them. Now, it is a difficult issue but we have to see that that is what is involved. I mean, if you deliberately disable a vessel – and I';m not asserting this myself, I';m just drawing on the Navy report because they were there but I have no reason to disbelieve it – what you';re, in effect, saying is that I will do anything so you can';t send me back to Indonesia. Now, we can';t, difficult though it is for them, we can';t conduct an immigration policy on that basis. We can';t have a situation where if people act desperately enough and in a sense intimidate us into taking them then we will take them. I mean, that basically is what is occurring. It presents a very difficult problem for the naval personnel. Those who criticise me, I ask them, what is your alternative? If you abandon the current policy you are sending a signal that we';ve tried but we';ve given up and therefore more and more people endeavour to come to Australia. We will go on trying to negotiate an arrangement with Indonesia but the reluctance of Indonesia to negotiate an arrangement has got nothing to do with the political complexion of the Government in Australia. It';s got to do with Indonesia';s domestic political priorities.
BYNER:
Moving on to more domestic issues. What will you do to guarantee a fair deal for motorists on fuel pricing? Prime Minister, here';s a good example. I mean, we';ve thankfully seen petrol come down to 76 cents, 77 cents a litre and yet diesel is up into the high ‘80s and people are saying, hang on a minute, we';re being had.
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, one of the reasons that petrol has come down, of course, is, the main reason is the world price has fallen but there was also, let me remind you, a cut of one-and-a-half cents a litre in the excise by the Government. Then we also abandoned the half-yearly increases in petrol excise, so that probably saved a little bit more. I can';t guarantee that there will be a uniform, non-fluctuating fuel price around Australia, that';s impossible and the price of diesel is affected by forces of supply and demand for the different weights and densities of oil and types of oil around the world. We are inquiring at present into taxation systems so far as it effects fuel and there may well be something useful that comes out of that but, ultimately, the driver of all fuel prices, be it diesel or petroleum, is the world price. I';ve been saying that now the whole time I';ve been Prime Minister and it remains true and we are seeing that now at the bowser where petrol is cheaper than it';s been for several years.
BYNER:
Yeah. Prime Minister, Ansett';s been sold, as you know, overnight to Mr Lew and Mr Fox and we';re told that workers will receive full entitlements if the $195 million, paid by Air New Zealand, is not taken from Ansett by the Government. Where do we stand with the $10 ticket levy as of now?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, the $10 ticket levy will be required to meet any financial obligation the Government has to meet under its entitlements guarantee. See, we have become the guarantor of last resort in relation to those entitlements and if other arrangements mean that the entitlements are picked up by the company or by other people and the government doesn';t have to pay anything on its guarantee then we won';t need the ticket levy money, we';ll cancel the ticket levy and we';ll refund the money we';ve already collected and we';ll find various ways of refunding it. We probably can';t refund it for each individual passenger. We';ll, perhaps, refund it by making some grants to the tourist industry, which has been quite badly affected by the Ansett downturn.
BYNER:
So is it, Prime Minister, your understanding that the Government will then seek to recoup the $195 million which was paid in from Air New Zealand originally?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well look, we';re having discussions with the administrator about that. I mean, we provided a guarantee in that we said that if all else fails we';d look after the workers. That remains our position and until we';ve had further discussions with the administrator it';s a bit hard to determine what ultimately that will involve. But I can say this, that we will, one way or another the workers will be guaranteed their entitlements, all of their holiday pay, all of their long service leave, all of their pay in lieu of notice and, from our point of view, up to eight weeks of their redundancy. Their redundancy beyond that, well, we';re not guaranteeing that. That was never part of the original guarantee. As to how much of that guarantee will be called upon, well, that';s something we need to further discuss with the administrator. I';ve said that we';ll have a look, if we';re re-elected, we';ll have a look on Monday at the proposal that';s been put forward by Lew and Fox, which we obviously can';t look at today because we';re still in a caretaker mode but we';ll have a look at it on Monday, if we';re re-elected.
BYNER:
Now, I want to talk just quickly about primary education because there are some problems in that area, particularly for slow or gifted students. There is also a huge gender imbalance in the primary education system, as you would know. Do you have solutions that you propose to use to fix this should you be re-elected tomorrow?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, we will continue to have solutions in relation to standards in primary education. Numeracy and literacy are things that we have driven very, very hard. The gender imbalance and the day-to-day running of schools, of course, we don';t have any control over. I mean, schools are run by State governments. It';s like asking a State Premier what he';s going to do about the readiness of the Army. He';s interested in and he';s got ideas on it but in the end it';s not his call, it';s our call. The same thing applies with – I';m talking here about the day-to-day running of schools and schools in South Australia on a day-to-day basis are run entirely by the State government, we have no control. But we can, by our supplementary funding, try and push them in certain directions but States resent the Federal Government trying to tell them how to run their schools and, in the end, because they own the buildings, they employ the teachers, they pay the teachers, they set the curriculum, they do run those schools. And, I mean, I';m intensely interested in it, my kids are now out of school but education remains a matter of intense interest to me but the actual day-to-day running of those things is not something that we can influence, we';ve only got views on them.
BYNER:
Sure. And, of course, the point is also the public versus private education, I think, has seen a lot of parents get caught up in the political firing…
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, I regret that the Labor Party has tried to bring envy into this debate. Can I just remind your listeners that 69% of all Australian children are educated in government schools and those government schools get 78%, 78% of all the government funding. That doesn';t indicate that there';s an imbalance against government schools. And in the five-and-a-half years I';ve been Prime Minister we have increased Federal Government funding for government schools by 43% but the enrolment in government schools over that time has only risen by 1.8%. Once again, that hardly indicates that we are discriminating against government schools. We believe in both. We believe that you should have high quality schools in both the public and the private sectors and I don';t think it really helps the community for envy and division and talk about elite schools and rich schools. Many of the schools on Mr Beazley';s hit list are by no means elite or rich.
BYNER:
Prime Minister, Australia, as you know, has one of the most casualised workforces in the world. This, as you would understand, has a devastating effect on people's ability to buy a home or get a loan, takes away a sense of financial security. There is really a big issue here about upskilling our workforce. TAFE, for example, for many is very or too expensive, andyet we bring in skilled migrants leaving many sitting here without a future.
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, I agree with the sentiments of most of that. I'm not absolutely sure that I totally agree with you about the casualisation of the workforce. The casualisation of the workforce has been brought about by a combination of reasons. One of the reasons is that the rigidity of the award system is a disincentive for certain people in some industries to take on more staff on a permanent basis. Therefore, they do it on a casual basis because that's the only way they can afford it. Look, on the question of skills, one of the things we have achieved over the last five and a half years is a doubling of the number of apprenticeships and traineeships and you're talking about skilling, the most basic skilling of people in their post-school years is either going to university or getting other tertiary qualifications. 70% of young men and women who leave school do not go to university. Most of the talk in the media about higher education is at the university level, yet 70% of young people don't go to university and therefore, the fact that we have doubled the number of apprenticeships and traineeships over the last five and a half years, have gone from about 130,000 to more than 310, includes a vast increase in the number of women in apprenticeships. A lot of indigenous people now are in apprenticeships. That is skilling the workforce in a very fundamental and lasting way andthat is one of the Government's huge achievements in this area.
BYNER:
Prime Minister, there are a lot of stories we get on this program, and no doubt you've heard from other places as well, where there are significant numbers of young people who get to work on traineeships, but really they're doing not much more than making sandwiches. And, I'm not suggesting for one moment that making sandwiches is not a worthwhile job at some point in time in life, but the fact is though there seems to be a lack of accountability for the system.
PRIME MINISTER:
I don't get a lot of those stories. I'm interested to hear that. I get positive stories about apprenticeships and traineeships. There may be some negative ones, I'm not saying that there aren't, but the change that's come over this area is that we've expanded the opportunities. There are more people now who are able to do apprenticeships and traineeships in differentfields. We're not just seeing an apprenticeship in terms of a bloke becoming a fitter and turner and a young women becoming a hairdresser. It's gone far beyond that now and I think that's a very good thing. Not that those two pursuits aren't very worthwhile.
BYNER:
A couple of other things I'd like to ask you quickly. Why do we pay Medicare, private health, and still get a bill when we've been to the specialist or the hospital? This has been a...
PRIME MINISTER:
You mean the gap?
BYNER:
...Yeah, this has been a bone of contention for a lot of people.
PRIME MINISTER:
Yeah, I know, well, that's why we have set about trying to reduce it and we have progressively eliminated the gap. It hasn't gone altogether, but we have negotiated a lot of arrangements with private health funds and with private hospitals and doctors to eliminate the gap and it is now no longer there in relation to a large number of procedures in hospitals. It still hasn't been totally eliminated, but we are making progress.
BYNER:
Do you see an increase in the Medicare levy in the reasonably near future, or will it stay as it is?
PRIME MINISTER:
No, I don't, and one of the reasons I don't is that we are going to continue to take pressure off the public hospital system by keeping, subsidising private health insurance - something that Mr Beazley voted against when it went through Parliament after the last election.
BYNER:
When are we going to have anti-trust legislation to give what many believe is real teeth to competition law in Australia, Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, we do have what the Americans call anti-trust, but we call it trade practices law. The American economy is a very big economy and some of the descriptions and some of the laws that work in a big economy are sledge-hammer in a smaller economy like Australia's. I';ve promised that if I'm re-elected I'll have the first review in about a quarter of a century of theoperation of our trade practices and competition laws to ensure whether the balance between big and small is right and also whether our large companies have enough freedom of movement in a globalised world economy.
BYNER:
Prime Minister, what will you be doing tomorrow, after you vote?
PRIME MINISTER:
After I vote, I will be going around the polling booths in my own electorate, thanking people who are standing there either in the wind or the sun or the rain, I hope it's the warm sun, handing out how to vote cards forme.
BYNER:
(LAUGHS)
PRIME MINISTER:
I've got to get elected too!
BYNER:
Yes, of course you do? So, do you believe that you're going to win tomorrow, or are you still not in the business of predicting the outcome?
PRIME MINISTER:
I have no more than cautious hope. I onc>I have no more than cautious hope. I once said if I had a racehorse in the Melbourne Cup I'd call it 'cautious hope'.
BYNER:
Okay, Prime Minister, if you've got this cautious hope and no more than that, and yet you're saying: 're-elect us on our record', why wouldn't you be more confident of winning?
PRIME MINISTER:
Because you never take anybody for granted in the Australian community. You always strive to the very last minute to win their support and their respect.
BYNER:
Prime Minister, thanks for joining us.
PRIME MINISTER:
Thank you.
[Ends]

Transcript 12116