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Transcript 20928

Interview with Steve Liebmann The Today Show, Channel Nine

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: 30/09/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20928

LIEBMANN:

The Prime Minister is in our studios in Canberra this morning. Prime Minister, good morning to you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, Steve.

LIEBMANN:

Why now? Four months ago, you said any Cabinet changes would be at the margin. Now, one Minister says he wants to retire and you';ve changed one third of your Ministry.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I felt the time was right for further renewal and regeneration and to make some alterations that enabled me to maximise the talent available, to put people into portfolios where their special abilities would come through. A good example of that is health, which is a very important portfolio. Tony Abbott is more than just a strong communicator, he';s also a highly intelligent man with a very well developed sense of social justice and a very strong social conscience. I think he';ll do that well. I think he';ll promote the Government';s goals of protecting and strengthening Medicare. And importantly, and unlike the Labor Party, hanging on to the private health insurance rebate because we know that if Labor wins the next election they';ll take an axe to the private health insurance rebate.

LIEBMANN:

Is it also acknowledgment that the former Ministry was starting to look tired and complacent and in fact that some had failed to produce the goods?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Steve, I think it';s always important for governments to avoid complacency and inertia. I don';t plead guilty to that, but I certainly acknowledge that when you';ve been in office for seven and a half years you must avoid the merest appearance of that. We have to work every day between now and the next election to retain and continue to earn the trust of the Australian people. I do not take their support for granted. I regard it as a daily privilege to be Prime Minister of this country and I intend to serve to the best of my ability the responsibilities I have to the Australian people and that includes, on occasions, making personnel decisions which are difficult for some but are in the long-term interests of the Government and the long-term interest of the country.

LIEBMANN:

You wouldn';t want to take the electorate for granted when you take a look at the latest Newspoll.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, and that really demonstrates my point. I have been saying for weeks now that only eight seats separates this Government from electoral oblivion. We are not a shoe-in at the next election. We';re not an unbackable favourite and all those sorts of things that people have been saying, and I';ve been reminding my colleagues. And I just say to them again, and I say to Liberal Party supporters all around Australia – national elections in this country are always close. In my 29 years, they';ve only been four that haven';t been close, most of them are very close and it always come down to a one or two percentage points on a two party preferred basis and therefore the quality of the team, the quality of the colleagues and the quality of the campaign is very important.

LIEBMANN:

Do acknowledge though that you are vulnerable on health and education, in particular?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I acknowledge that they are very important issues. On health, we support a two-pillar health policy. We strongly support Medicare. We want to make it even better and more affordable and more accessible. But we also, unlike Labor, strongly support private health insurance, 45 per cent of the Australian population have private health insurance and whenever a Labor spokesman, and Wayne Swan was the latest last night on Lateline, is asked will you keep the private health insurance if you win government, they don';t answer. They bob and weave and duck and it';s a reminder to the Australian people and to those millions of people who have private health insurance that if you get a Crean Labor Government, an axe will be taken to that private health insurance rebate.

LIEBMANN:

Sounds like an election speech.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, it';s a fact – why won';t Labor guarantee lock stock and barrel the maintenance of the private health insurance rebate? Reason – because they want to take an axe to it.

LIEBMANN:

It sounds like an election speech.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you';re wrong if you think I';m going to call an election in the next little while. My position on that has not changed, Steve. The Parliament runs out towards the end of next year, the absence some special event involving a strong issue of public policy, I wouldn';t expect to go to the polls until the second half of next year and any election held after July of next year could hardly be regarded as an early election.

LIEBMANN:

Prime Minister, just finally on another issue – The Australian newspaper is reporting this morning that Malcolm Turnbull is branch stacking to win the seat of Wentworth from Peter King. What';s your position on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, my position is that the pre-selection of candidates belongs to the party organisation and provided people behave within the rules they are entitled to compete for pre-selection. I don';t want to get involved. I know both of the men. Peter';s been a good and loyal member of the team. Malcolm Turnbull';s got an enormous amount of ability. I';m going to stay out of the pre-selection. In accordance with the party';s constitution, I will nominate one person to sit on that pre-selection as my representative, I haven';t decided who that person is. The pre-selection is months off yet, but I repeat, provided people behave within the rules then they are entitled to compete for pre-selection.

LIEBMANN:

But are you getting a sniff that maybe some people are not playing within the rules?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have had no suggestion that anybody is playing outside the rules and I know that the state director in New South Wales, Scott Morrison, will keep an eagle eye on that, anybody steps out of line he';ll bang them on the head.

LIEBMANN:

Okay, thanks for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay.

[ends]

Transcript 20928