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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 15628

Interview with Peter Dick and Ross Davie Radio 4BC, Brisbane

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: 16/04/2007

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 15628

Subject:
Drought; WorkChoices; ANZAC Day; Bennelong.

E&OE...

JOURNALIST:

Good morning, Mr Howard.

PRIME MINISTER:

How are you Peter, Ross?

JOURNALIST:

Very well, thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good to be back.

JOURNALIST:

Is this as brown as you've seen it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Just about, it's bad.

JOURNALIST:

It's pretty terrible.

PRIME MINISTER:

It is really bad and I was out at St Lucia yesterday at Teresa Gambaro's wedding, which was a lovely occasion.....

JOURNALIST:

Marvellous venue, lovely.

PRIME MINISTER:

Even the golf course, oh dear, it was terrible.

JOURNALIST:

Malcolm Turnbull, of course, has put forward a plan whereby some water could come from northern rivers to Queensland, the state governments can't seem to agree on that, that would seem to be a logical answer, it's not a very long distance by comparison to sort of piping water down from way up north.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, it passes the commonsense pub test...

JOURNALIST:

I think so.

PRIME MINISTER:

...provided all the mathematics and everything stack up. But I take a very nationalistic view on things like water. I regard them as assets of the entire nation, I don't think they're assets of Queensland or the assets of New South Wales. I think Australians in the south east part of Queensland are entitled to the best deal to solve their water problems. Now we want to talk to both communities about it, but it is something that's been examined by the Snowy Mountains authority, which is a pretty reputable organisation, and they've produced this feasibility study, and I think it ought to be debated. I know it's a bit unpopular on the Clarence, I understand that, on the other hand it's pretty popular in south east Queensland and it's a question of meeting the need where it's most acutely felt in a manner that's fair to other people. I'm not trying to and I wouldn't support denying people in northern New South Wales adequate water. But if there is a surplus capacity, and it is cheaper to pipe it to south east Queensland, the fact that it crosses a border is of no concern to me at all.

JOURNALIST:

Is it just another drought or is it something....something more happening in this country?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's too early to make that judgement. I'm not saying there is no connection between climate change and drought, I think it would be a brave person who said there was no connection, but we have had droughts as bad as this. The Federation Drought, more than 100 years ago was worse than this one. Many people say the drought immediately after World War II was worse than this one. This is worse than the one in the early 80's, which was a very severe drought, and it's worse than any in the living memory of most Australians, certainly Australians under 50. People who remember the one post World War II will argue that it was as bad, if not worse. But which ever is the worst, this one very bad, and we fortunately are in a good financial position and we can provide drought assistance. I mean there are millions of dollars being provided every day by the Federal Government through the Exceptional Circumstances, and we go on providing that money and thank heaven our budget's in a strong position because the farmers need our help. When there is a drought the rest of the country owes the farmers help and the rest of the country expects that help to be given and it will be given.

JOURNALIST:

Do you feel that you've lost the goodwill of the Australian public because from where we sit the callers to the radio station, the tone has changed in recent years?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I try not to and I'm a person who's made his share of mistakes and I try to listen to the Australian public, and if there are things that I'm now doing that they don't like, and they have grounds for not liking it, well I'm always willing to listen and change, provided the change is for the benefit of Australia. In the end, I guess in my situation, I find out whether I've lost the goodwill of the public when it comes to the election. I look back over the last 10 years, I see an economy which is stronger than it's been at any time since World War II, we have a 32 year low in unemployment, we're able because of our economic strength to help in drought relief, I'm going out to make a big announcement about funding for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which is one of those great iconic Australian institutions, all of these things are possible when you've got a strong budget. I mean they're the human dividend that comes out of the strong economic management. But I have no tickets on myself and if I'm getting things wrong, and people tell me, and I absorb that, and I think it's right in the interests of the country to change, I will. But in the end it's what matters for Australia that drives me and if people want change, and there are certain things that can be changed that are good for Australia, then I do. But on the other hand if I think something is good for Australia I'll continue to advocate it, even though in the short term.....

JOURNALIST:

It's not popular?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's not very popular, I mean because in the end the test has got to be whether you believe something is good for the country.

JOURNALIST:

We take a lot of calls from the ordinary worker who says that he no longer gets time and half or double time on holidays.

PRIME MINISTER:

Do you get a lot of those do you?

JOURNALIST:

We do, we do.

PRIME MINISTER:

Are you sure....I mean, you don't think any of them are....

JOURNALIST:

Put ups or....

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not saying they are, I'm not disputing that, but it has been known for people to do that.

JOURNALIST:

Sure, but surely it can't all be folklore, surely there are people out there that are suffering, that aren't getting their time and half.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the overall figures don't indicate that. The overall figures do indicate that over the last year real wages have continued to grow, and there seems to be anecdotal evidence on the other side. I saw something in the paper this morning suggesting that these AWAs that the local councils are going to adopt would lead to significant wage increases and, I mean, sometimes what occurs is, instead of people being paid penalty rates, what they get paid is higher wage.

JOURNALIST:

Sure.

PRIME MINISTER:

And that provides much more flexibility. Now in my opinion, if you're paid a higher wage and some of it's not specifically attributed to a penalty rate then that's not making you worse off, you still, at the end of the day, get the same amount of money, or perhaps an even increased amount of money, and that's the advantage of some of the AWAs.

JOURNALIST:

Sure. Whether it's fact or folklore, it's knocking you around, it's a perception.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, there is a very big campaign being run and we are opposed by the Labor Party, federally, by eight state and territory Labor governments, by probably up to $100 million of advertising, when you throw in the union movement. See the union movement is doing its level best to destroy these workplace reforms because what these reforms do amongst other things is to take away the union's monopoly over the bargaining position. The unions are really fighting the cause of the union bosses, they're not fighting the workers cause, they say they are, but why if they're fighting the workers' cause, are there only 15 per cent of Australian workers in the private sector, members of unions? Why is it that at a time when there's meant to be worker outrage, according to the unions, about our workplace reforms, so few people bothered to join the union? And union membership has continued to decline, despite the allegations of union bosses that these laws hurt workers. They certainly don't hurt workers' job prospects.

JOURNALIST:

But they're winning the PR war, because that's the perception we're getting.....

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in the end....

JOURNALIST:

...they feel like they've been done over?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in the end, whether they win the PR war will be determined at the time of the election. I can only deal in facts and I can only argue what I believe to be in the interests of Australia and the facts are that since WorkChoices was introduced, unemployment has continued to fall, it's a full half a per cent lower than what it was a year ago, 263,000 jobs in the last year, real wages have risen by 19.7 per cent since this Government's been in power, they fell in the 13 years of Mr Hawke and Mr Keating and we have industrial disputes at a 13 year low, not a 13 year low, I'm sorry, you have to go back to 1913, I got my 13's wrong, you have to go back to 1913, the year before World War I to get strikes as low as what they are now. Are we being blitzed with propaganda from the unions? Yes. Is it is fair? No. I mean I saw the teacher's union the other day running an ad.....

JOURNALIST:

Shows you driving past....

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes that's right, now that is as dishonest as you can get. Sixty seven per cent of Australian school children go to government schools, yet government schools get 75 per cent of all government funding. Now that's not driving past government schools, that's stopping and saying hello to the children and, you know, I say this with some feeling, I'm a government school boy myself. I'm very grateful for the education I got from the government education system in New South Wales, I believe in government schools, but I also believe in parental choice and I think that governments should support both schools. And I think what you've got with education is a good cop, bad cop routine. The unions will bash the Federal Government for allegedly favouring independent schools, and political Labor will pretend they believe in independent schools, but they're really all part of the one movement, they don't really trust independent schools and they deep down have a hostility to the choice that parents exercise.

JOURNALIST:

We'll need to take a break, we've got the Prime Minister with us in the studio this morning. The time is 13 to nine at 4BC.

[commercial break]

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister Mr Howard's with us in the studio this morning. What do you make of this Sunrise and Kevin Rudd fake dawn service scandal? I mean you can't get away from it. It's in all of the papers.

JOURNALIST:

It's growing and growing and growing.

PRIME MINISTER:

My view is ANZAC Day is a very sacred day and I don't think anybody should be into trying to give it any kind of political spin. It's pretty obvious that, from what's come out, that the original denial that came from Mr Rudd was wrong. I mean his outfit dumped on the newspapers and said they'd got it wrong and were demanding all sorts of apologies which seemed to be a bit over the top. And now, of course, it's been revealed that the newspapers were right and Mr Rudd and his protestations were wrong. I think the facts speak for themselves and I'll leave it to the Australian public to make their judgement.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think it's right that Joe Hockey has a regular spot on that program in light of the fact they're saying if Kevin were to become leader, would that regular spot keep going? The producers of the program...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that ultimately is a matter for the television station. I am not going to tell television networks how to run their affairs, but clearly this doesn't look good. I mean this whole dawn service thing.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have a regular media schedule, and scheduled appearances?

PRIME MINISTER:

I appear on a regular basis, every two weeks, I appear on the Neil Mitchell program, radio program in Melbourne. As to other programs I don't have a fixed time, but I appear regularly. I try and appear on this program as regularly as I can and I'd like to do it even more regularly. But I was approached by Mr Mitchell and by that radio station some years ago and they have the same facility for the Premier of Victoria, Mr Bracks and before him Mr Kennett. And I think that is a reasonable thing for somebody who is in office. I'm not going to pass an observation about the arrangements that Sunrise makes for its program scheduling. That is a matter for it. I do, having read the stuff in the newspapers and that is essentially my knowledge of it, it doesn't look as though Mr Rudd's original protestations were correct. I mean he apparently rang people and complained very heavily and issued all sorts of threats and in the end he was found to be wrong and the newspaper was found to be correct. Well as I say, the facts speak for themselves, but I think it will leave a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people.

JOURNALIST:

Okay, is Kevin Rudd your greatest challenge as Prime Minister, is this the greatest challenge you've ever had?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh this will be a very tough election partly because it's the fifth occasion that we're asking the people to vote for a Howard-led Coalition. And that's tough.

JOURNALIST:

It is because a lot of people don't know any other Government, they don't know any...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no and one of the dangers is that people will take for granted the economic prosperity we now have and they say it doesn't matter who's in power, we'll continue to be...

JOURNALIST:

Exactly.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's not right because if, Peter Costello pointed out, Labor gets in and it changes our industrial relations policy and brings back a centralised wage fixing policy well then if you give a wage increase in the Pilbarra where it can be afforded and it flows through everywhere that will put upward pressure on wages and that in turn will put upward pressure on interest rates. So you have to worry and people must understand, if I can put it that way, that our policies will not automatically be followed by a Labor Government. There's an idea that the economy is now on autopilot. Well it isn't on autopilot. We had to bring in a lot of reforms to get the economy where it is now. We had to fight very hard to get our changes through Parliament and we got no help from the Labor Party. The opposed every major reform, tax reform, waterfront reform, industrial relations reform, privatisation of Telstra, all of those things; they opposed them. Now they want to help themselves to the benefits of them. Now people might say that's politics, yes, but it is appropriate for me and my colleagues to remind the Australian public of that.

JOURNALIST:

I think they're on the money when they start attacking Australia's internet, the speed of it, the system we've got in place...

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes, oh look I think, that is not the issue. We believe in maximum speed broadband. It's a question of whether it should be the result of a commercial investment or whether the taxpayer should fund it and particularly by raiding the Future Fund. I mean I see a story in The Courier Mail this morning, lead story, about employers in some cases not meeting the super obligations, not making provision. Now isn't it interesting, we think a private sector employer should make provision for his future superannuation liabilities, shouldn't governments do the same thing? Now the Queensland Government does that, both sides of politics in Queensland through the QIC have provided for the funding of superannuation in this state for public servants for decades, or for years. We're doing it for the first time federally through the Future Fund and that's the fund Mr Rudd wants to raid to pay for broadband, so he's in effect picking the superannuation pocket of Commonwealth public servants.

JOURNALIST:

Your age will be a big issue in this election.

PRIME MINISTER:

My age?

JOURNALIST:

Your age will be I think, yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh well maybe. I think people pay on results. I mean I don't mind, I don't disguise my age, it's a pretty hard thing to do.

JOURNALIST:

Yeah I know, for any of us.

PRIME MINISTER:

Remorseless reality. Well some people will look at it that way, other people will say my experience is a plus. You need a lot of experience to run a trillion dollar economy. You need a lot of experience in Government and the combination of my experience and Peter Costello's and Alexander Downer, and we're the three blokes who've been in exactly the same positions, we're the only three over the last 11 years; that experience does help. Now I am not saying it's the only thing, but I think people pay on performance and I am happy to compare my fitness for the job at 67 and my experience against that of any body's, but in the end my masters are the men and women of Australia and they always get it right and they will make a judgement. And I've got to work hard, I think it's a tough fight, I think we're behind, we're the underdogs no doubt about that. But I'll go on fighting for what I think is good for the country.

JOURNALIST:

At your, at a local level and in your own seat of Bennelong, Maxine McKew, we haven't seen much publicity about Maxine at the moment, do you see her as a bit of a sideshow or do you think that she'll be a formidable opponent?

PRIME MINISTER:

Bennelong is always a tough ask and it's been made a bit tougher. The redistribution cut a bit off me. I am sitting on only four per cent. Four per cent is not a big margin. I never take my seat for granted. I've always worked hard. It's got progressively worse through redistribution over the years and I will continue to work very hard.

JOURNALIST:

Alright, Prime Minister it's been a pleasure having you in the studio and we will catch up again soon.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks a lot.

[ends]

Transcript 15628