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Transcript 20760

Interview with Neil Mitchell, Radio 3AW

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: 16/04/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20760

MITCHELL:

Mr Howard, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, Neil.

MITCHELL:

Some local issues first, if I may. It's reported that Steve Bracks tried to break another promise by trying to break the deal with you to abolish the bank account debits tax, the BAD tax, which would have cost us to $200 to $300 million. Is that true?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it was obviously, as I understand it was, something that was raised in the context of discussions with the Treasurer. I didn't myself have a discussion with Mr Bracks about it, but I understand it was an issue raised by Mr Brumby with Mr Costello.

MITCHELL:

And that was the idea, to do away with the deal and...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let me put it... I was myself not involved in any such discussions because not surprisingly as we had a written agreement with the states, we weren't going to entertain for a moment the deferral of that. Bear in mind that the abolition of the bank account debits tax is being funded out of the GST.

MITCHELL:

So you wouldn't.... why would your Government not allow him to break the deal?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, because we wanted to get rid of the bank account debits tax. That is a very heavy impost on low-income earners and it was part of the policy that we took to the 1998 election. We had a very well developed policy.

MITCHELL:

But essentially the idea was floated by the Victorian Government to do away...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that is my understanding but it was never directly raised with me.

MITCHELL:

But raised with the Treasurer.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's my understanding.

MITCHELL:

Will we... the other decision by the State Government here that put tolls on the Scoresby Freeway, mean that that Federal funding of that road is cut to Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we're insisting that they stick to the original deal and the line that, you know, we're taking, taking very strongly as the Treasurer outlined yesterday is - look, we offered you $445 million to share the cost of building the Scoresby Freeway and we didn't offer it for a tollway and we didn't offer it for any... for other things. So we're not... I mean, we just want the original deal to be kept.

MITCHELL:

Well, obviously they've said it's not, it's a toll. So, what happens to the $445 million?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we'll have to give thought to that but it's still on the table and we're still staying to Mr Bracks - it's there, keep the deal.

MITCHELL:

And it's not there if this toll's on?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let us deal with that down the track. We're obviously, and our track record indicates, we're not going to treat Victoria unfairly - we never have and we don't try... we don't play favourites amongst the states. We try and treat all of them fairly. We're always criticised of playing favourites, but we've never tried to disadvantage Victoria and we're not going to start doing that in the future. We just think the focus should be on the obligation of Mr Bracks. We have a memorandum of understanding with the Victorian Government about this and he's basically saying - will you let me out of the memorandum of understanding and we're saying no, we won't.

MITCHELL:

Well, he's saying an even similar thing on the bad tax. Is this the way of Victoria now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think in relation to that tax, they tested the water and found that it was pretty boiling.

MITCHELL:

Okay. Just on financial matters - the Federal Budget is close, presumably it will be tough?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it will be framed at a time when we've had to spend more money on defence and security and we're also aiming to keep it in surplus. So budgets are never easy, we don't intend to go into deficit, we're very keen to keep the Budget in the black. But I think it'll be a good Budget for the economy. We do want to keep growth going. The Australian economy, although it's a little softer now than it was a year ago, is still performing extremely well and is holding up very strongly compared with others and we want to do everything in this Budget to keep that process going.

MITCHELL:

We've heard from the Premier here in Victoria wanting to keep the Budget in the black is the reason for his broken promise on tolls. Will you be forced to break promises as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

We're not planning to do that, we're really not planning to do that at all. We're certainly not, no.

MITCHELL:

Will there be any new taxes?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don't want to speculate about what's in the Budget, but I don't want you to infer from that refusal to speculate that I've got any particular nasties in mind.

MITCHELL:

Okay, in general terms it'll be tough, will it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, in general terms, no I think tough has become a hackneyed phrase to describe budgets. I think it'll be a strong Budget, appropriate for the economic circumstances.

MITCHELL:

Okay. If I may, international issues. Any idea yet when our troops will start to come back?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I can't give a date. Obviously now that the hostilities have effectively ceased, we'll be giving consideration, and I hope we'll be able to say a bit more about that further down the track within the next week or two, and clearly the force elements that we'd be looking at are those that were sent over there particularly for the heavy conflict phase - obviously the aircraft and the special forces.

MITCHELL:

Are the special forces still within Iraq? Can you tell us that, or not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'd rather not say where they are. I know it sounds a bit pedantic, but we have a strong rule and I don't like breaking it. It's always better to err on the side of total caution.

MITCHELL:

Can you perhaps tell us are they still in danger?

PRIME MINISTER:

They're in less danger now than they were when the hostilities were going on, but in the post-conflict phase of an operation in a turbulent area, there is always a considerable danger to forces.

MITCHELL:

Things seem to be turning a bit sour within Iraq - 10 dead in Mosul shot by the troops, protests in Baghdad. I was talking to Paul Barry there earlier. Surely there's a need for pretty urgent action here if we're going to win the peace.

PRIME MINISTER:

It was inevitable that when you topple a tyrannical regime and you took the lid off, it was inevitable there was going to be a period of some upheaval. I think that will take a period of time to work through. There will be difficulties. The local police, those that weren't directly involved in the enforcement of the regime's tyranny, they will gradually return. That will help. The Americans are working very hard on that. Their first obligation was obviously to make sure that their own security was as assured as possible, and then now they've turned their attention to security of the population and also of course getting humanitarian supplies into the hospitals in the first instance, and then more generally. But it will take a while. You never have an upheaval like this without, you know, a good deal of friction. It's unavoidable.

MITCHELL:

The Americans also seem to be turning attention to Syria. Do you support that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I certainly support the warnings they've given Syria about not cooperating with terrorism. I don't think what the Americans have said should be construed for a moment as heralding some kind of invasion of Syria. I think there has been a complete overreaction by some people to what they have said. I certainly don't expect for a moment, and would not support, any invasion of Syria. That's not something that's on our agenda.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, on a local issue, the Productivity Commission on the Textile Industry is talking about tariffs can't help the textile industry. The union - Textile, Clothing, Footwear Union - says that there could be 70,000 jobs on the line, or that's how it's reported. Do you believe that? Are there that many jobs on the line here?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the textile industry is under a lot of pressure. It gets a lot of assistance. And I'll examine, like a lot of people, I'll examine the Productivity Commission Report. We want to keep a strong textile industry in Australia, but we've also got to have regard for the levels of assistance that it receives relative to the rest of manufacturing. And like all of these things, you often get dire, disastrous warnings that exaggerate the position and I hope that we can produce in the time ahead a response that balances the need to keep the textile industry going. I'm very conscious of the regional employment consequences for the... particularly in Victoria. It's always been a part of Australia, that in the regional areas has been very important to the textile industry.

MITCHELL:

I know you need to get away, and I thank you for your time. Easter coming up, very much a time for reflection. Will you be reflecting on your future?

PRIME MINISTER:

I always take a bit of time at Easter, Neil, to think about things generally. You shouldn't construe too much into that, but look Neil I'd be less than honest if I didn't say that I find Easter is a time of reflection. But I won't be sort of coming out of Easter with anything specific to say. If you're asking me about my future as Prime Minister, let me simply repeat what I have said before. I haven't made any decision about my medium to longer-term future. I still have a lot of things on my plate, and always try and do the right thing by Australia and by the Party I'm very proud to lead.

MITCHELL:

It is getting to the stage, you said you'd see through the situation in Iraq. We're getting to that stage.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I don't know. I thought some of your questions earlier were sort of based on a slightly different proposition than that.

MITCHELL:

Just finally, you've been invited to George Bush's ranch, which is a pretty big deal. Do you ride a horse?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I haven't done a lot of that Neil.

MITCHELL:

Are you going to have some lessons?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't think in the time available I could get up to sufficient style to do that.

MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay. Thanks.

[ends]

Transcript 20760