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Transcript 21060

Interview with Tim Cox, ABC Tasmania

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: 12/02/2004

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21060

COX:

Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Tim.

COX:

Do we find you well today?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am indeed. Very well.

COX:

Excellent. Of course heading to Tasmania this weekend for a look at Bass and Braddon and to meet the new candidates there. What are your expectations of these seats in northern Tasmania?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they';re both seats that are held by the Labor Party – Bass by a rather narrower margin than Braddon. They won';t be easy for us to take from Labor, but we have endorsed two excellent candidates. In Bass we';ve endorsed Michael Ferguson, aged 29, married, three children, a former teacher, a person who has been very active in the community. He';s a member of his local council and he has a strong record at the age of 29 of being already very active in the community. In Braddon, Mark Baker, who is a businessman from Devonport, had a rural background, aged 44, was also formerly a teacher, was originally apprenticed as a carpenter. He';s been president of the Road Trauma Support Team, a member of the Devonport Chamber of Commerce, he';s had a very long involvement in the Devonport Football Club, both playing Australian Rules and a member of the Board of Management. So both men have a strong record of community involvement and community service. They will each face tough opponents. It';s always hard to dig out sitting Members, particularly in regional seats where it is possible for a sitting member over a period of time to develop a stronger local profile than occurs in big metropolitan areas.

COX:

Rusted on, I think is the expression they use.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well dug in, rusted on, part of the furniture – whichever way you want to describe it. Of course that works both ways. In this case it is to the Labor Party';s advantage. In other cases it is of course to our advantage.

COX:

It';s widely held here Prime Minister that you approached an independent Member of the State';s Upper House, Ivan Dean, to seek preselection for the Liberal Party for Bass. Is that right?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don';t talk about conversations that I have with people leading up to preselections.

COX:

But Ivan Dean apparently told you – give him a call in three years time. I think he';s still finding his feet in the Upper House.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well as I say, I don';t comment on conversations I have, which take place with a wide number of people, before preselections.

COX:

We';ll go to calls in just a moment. I';m interested in a story that is in the news press this morning and that is whether or not the Government is going to agree to an inquiry into local assessment of intelligence from the United States and from Britain in the lead up to the war in Iraq. Will there be an inquiry in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I';ve said is we should wait until the parliamentary committee brings down its report. I';m told that will be tabled on the 1st of March, and when we have that then we can analyse at a Government level and also at a parliamentary level what happens next. I think we ought to let that report be tabled before we take the debate any further. That incidentally is the view that has been expressed by the Opposition Leader, although it appears that the view of his parliamentary spokesman on foreign affairs at present, Kevin Rudd, is a little different. But our position is – let the parliament and the public see the report, then let';s decide how we take it further.

COX:

Do you think the Australian public will see a parliamentary inquiry as having the sufficient amount of clarity?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I guess it depends on how they react to the report, and as the report hasn';t been made public, it';s not possible to do that. I point out that about 97 per cent of the intelligence which was assessed by our intelligence agencies in relation to Iraq came from British and American raw intelligence sources. Very little of the intelligence came from local sources because the nature of our intelligence relationship with the United States and Britain is that we share it. Now there are some areas, particularly in our own region, where the raw intelligence emanates from Australia and it goes to the CIA and to the British intelligence services. But in the case of the Middle East, in the case of Iraq and in the case of areas where their raw sources are better than ours, it';s the other way around.

COX:

So would there not be any validity then in conducting an inquiry at this level when so much of the intelligence was sourced elsewhere?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is an argument that a lot of people advance, but I am simply saying – let us get the inquiry tabled so the parliament and the public can see what is in that investigation. Bear in mind that one of the terms of reference of the parliamentary inquiry, and I';m going on recollection but I think my recollection is correct, was the nature, the accuracy and the independence of the intelligence provided to the Government. Now that, some would argue, has already gone to the heart of the matter – has already gone to the heart of the issue. But I';m not ruling things in or out. I';m just saying let us get the inquiry, have it tabled and then see where we go from there.

COX:

If that parliamentary inquiry finds that the intelligence was flawed or that the local interpretation of that intelligence was flawed, would that be likely to change the footing on which we would accept intelligence from the United States or the United Kingdom?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don';t want to hypothesise about things that are in or out of the report. I mean I have seen the report because it has been sent to me, but it';s not my report and therefore I';m not at liberty to talk about it until it has been tabled. As far as our intelligence relationship is concerned, it is one of the most valuable elements of the alliance we have with the United States and one of the most valuable elements of the relationship we have with Great Britain. I have great confidence in our own intelligence agencies. I want to make that very plain. Intelligence can never be something that is regarded as a precise science. In the end with intelligence, you get a certain amount of information and on that information you have to make judgements. If you waited until you had proof beyond all reasonable doubt from intelligence sources, then you would be risking a situation where you acted when it was too late. The whole idea of intelligence is to give you advance warning of what might happen and necessarily it has to make assumptions. It often has to build a hypothetical case rather than something that is proved beyond all reasonable doubt. That has always been the case and in relation to Iraq, that was no different. And I say again that the intelligence that we had before us a year ago justified the decision the Government took. I have no doubt about that. I remain completely comfortable in the decision that the Government took and also in the very strong belief that the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein.

COX:

Prime Minister John Howard is my guest on the morning show here on ABC Tasmania where it';s 13 past 9. Mr Howard we';ll go to some calls now.

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

COX:

We';re starting in Oatlands where Anne is on the phone. Anne, good morning.

CALLER:

Good morning, Mr Howard. I';d like to ask you about parliamentary question time and the Dorothy Dixer question – in the past two days 100% of the Government side';s of questions have been obvious Dorothy Dixer written by ministerial advisers or Ministers and I wonder isn';t this about time that the Government outlawed Dorothy Dixers and asked truly searching questions and thereby become more accountable to its electors and not use Question Time just as an opportunity for Ministers to make political statements?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Question Time traditionally has involved an opportunity for the Opposition to ask the Government questions and if you';re talking about accountability, the most important evidence of the greater accountability of me as Prime Minister is that when I became Prime Minister, I reverted to the traditional practice of turning up at every Question Time. My predecessor, Mr Keating, introduced this bad practice of having what it called a Prime Minister';s Question Time. In other words, he halved the number of days he turned up to answer questions. Not only did I go back to turning up everyday and going through all of Question Time and on some occasions taking all of the questions from the Opposition. The other thing that I have done is that I have lifted quite dramatically the number of questions that I allow the Opposition to ask at each Question Time.

COX:

What about the level of questions though, as Anne has asked about this morning?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, there have always been questions from the Government and questions from the Opposition and I';m not going in to the process leading up to them. It is a perfectly legitimate thing for governments and all governments have done this, to use Question Time as a means of providing information to the public and also as a means of attacking the Opposition. Let me take this week – almost all of the questions this week from the Government side have been about the issue not only of the week, but I suggest the issue of the next few months, perhaps the whole of this year and that is the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. There is nothing more important in national politics at the moment than the Free Trade Agreement with the United States because that is a once in a generation opportunity for us to lock ourselves in to the strongest economy of the world and of course, we have asked questions about that. If we didn';t ask questions about it, if our Members didn';t. The Labor Party hasn';t asked many, the Labor Party has asked a few, but you see the Labor Party is against the Free Trade Agreement because we';re in favour of it. The Labor Party is engaging in knee jerk Opposition politics, but can I say to the lady, that I have become far more accountable than Mr Keating was. I turn up at every Question Time. Question Time goes longer and there have been more Opposition questions and on those two counts alone, to use the lady';s word, we are far more accountable than were our immediate predecessors.

COX:

On the FTA, Prime Minister – we heard on the World Today yesterday on ABC radio, a gentleman from the Centre for International Economics suggesting that the $4 billion a year bottom line from FTA is not accurate – do you see that figure as being immoveable?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, that $4 billion figure was calculated on a particular basis before the final agreement was negotiated and some of the things that were part of that calculation have not been included in the Free Trade Agreement, but some things that weren';t have. Obviously, further calculations will be done but, Tim, the benefits are clear - in individual industries 66% of agriculture is duty free, 97% of manufacturing, access to the $280 billion Federal Government procurement market for the first time. The benefits are overwhelming. There will always be argument amongst economists as to whether it';s $2billion, $3billion, 4.5, 3.5, 6.5 – there';ll always be arguments amongst economists about that. But when you have a Free Trade Agreement, where in agriculture alone we gain great advantages. Sure, sugar missed out. But sugar didn';t lose anything, it';s just that sugar didn';t gain access and of course we';re going to talk to the sugar industry about providing that industry with some additional assistance on a reasonable basis.

COX:

But will that involve ethanol?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it';s too early for me to say what it will and won';t involve. Let me simply say that we are willing to assist the industry. We feel for them we are sympathetic to their position and the assistance will be provided not in the form of money for sustaining an uneconomic activity, but rather in the form of assisting, restructuring amalgamations, people leaving the industry who can longer make a go of it and also an examination of alternative uses of the cane and not seeing it entirely just as the sugar industry.

COX:

Let';s go to William at Exeter. It';s nineteen past nine on ABC Tasmania and, of course, John Howard my guest this morning. William go ahead.

CALLER:

Mr Howard, thank you for the opportunity. Not many people would disagree that if you';re living on a basic aged pension payment, you';re living in poverty – is there an possibility in the upcoming budget that you could consider lifting the basic aged pension to lift them out of the poverty.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Sir, we have two things about the aged pension and I don';t suggest for a moment that it';s a king ransom. I understand that. Sir, I';m always aware of that. We do have automatic indexation every six months and then on top of that for the first time this Government legislated to ensure that the pension never fell below 25% male average total weekly earnings. That was a change that we were the first Government to make. I am not going to make promises at this stage. It';s too early in the budget process.

COX:

Is it a consideration for you though?

PRIME MINISTER:

We try, in putting a budget together, to be fair to people. We try to give incentives to people who are trying to improve themselves. We try and recognise the burden of the cost of raising children and we also want to have measures that encourage business in business investment because that is the engine room of economic activity. We have a very strong economy at the moment. We have unemployment below six per cent, we have inflation below three per cent. We';ve got a strong budget. We';ve got strong investment. We really do have a very strong economy. But I';m not blind to the fact that there are people out there doing it hard. I understand that and they are obviously part of what we try and do.

COX:

Let';s go to Pamela who';s in Launceston, are you going to be singing to be Prime Minister today Pamela?

CALLER:

No, I won';t. Good morning Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Pamela.

CALLER:

And welcome. I have been a very staunch fan of yours for many years, I';ve been a member of the Liberal Party for over 50 years now so I';m getting a bit long in the tooth.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no don';t say it. Don';t you dare say that…

COX:

Have you been a member that long John Howard?

PRIME MINISTER:

… I think that is fantastic, you';ve been a member of our party for 50 years?

CALLER:

Just over 50 years now yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Fantastic.

CALLER:

The point is this, having said that I';m most upset this morning when I pick up my paper, when there';s a conservative government running this country I have a feeling of security, well this morning I don';t have a feeling of security, I am in an aged care home and they are wonderful but Tyler House in Launceston is to be sold and another complex (inaudible) and it said over there, there were 25,000 aged care homes all over Australia, not just…

PRIME MINISTER:

This is the Salvation Army is it?

CALLER:

Well the two I mentioned are Salvation Army, I';ve got an idea that the 25,000 were Salvation Army. And it';s rather frightening Prime Minister because our security is being taken away from us because after all, oh well I don';t know, am I going to be chucked out of here…

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely not, absolutely not. Let me put your mind at rest Pamela, there is no way that your security will be at risk, you are not going to be chucked out as you put it, nobody else will. What has happened is that the Salvation Army who owns these…

CALLER:

I';m not in a Salvation Army home by the way.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no (inaudible).

CALLER:

Yes, exactly.

PRIME MINISTER:

They have decided as a matter of policy to sell their existing homes, or a vast number of them, not all of them and to focus on what they see as the really disadvantaged needy people in the aged care sector but they to in implementing that policy, let me say I have enormous admiration for the Salvation Army…

CALLER:

Oh so do I.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think everybody does, they are the most wonderful exemplars of practical Christian charity you can find anywhere in the world.

CALLER:

Oh absolutely.

PRIME MINISTER:

They have to in selling these homes be absolutely certain that the interests of the existing residents will be given priority and they';ll be protected, they won';t be at risk, they are all seeking assurances from the people who buy the homes that existing employees are going to be looked after. The Aged Care Minister, Minister for the Ageing Julie Bishop has already been in touch with the Salvation Army, she';s already made a public statement about this matter saying that in implementing the sale, which of course the Salvation Army is perfectly entitled to do because they own and operate the homes, they have to comply with the Aged Care Act. So let me say speaking for the Federal Government that we will be ensuring, not that I think we need to when you';re dealing with the Salvation Army, we';ll be ensuring that the interests of residents are fully protected, there is no interruption to their care and that they should feel no sense of insecurity.

CALLER:

Prime Minister you see apart from the Salvation Army there was a letter in the paper from the director of nursing of one of the Presbyterian homes who was here and he';s an excellent person and he was also mentioned in the place where the article is the editor agreed with his letter that he';d sent and so it';s not just the Salvation Army and I know where I am here the nurses are not paid enough and after all the nurses have a very big job and I think it';s really rather cruel, can';t you shift the money around Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can shift a lot of things around, and some things I can';t but what I can assure you of Pamela is, quite apart from the Salvation Army issue, we will have from Professor Hogan a final report in relation to the nursing home issue quite soon and I know there some concerns about salary differences between hospitals and nursing homes, I';m aware of that, and that is an issue the Government will look at. But let me assure you in relation to the Salvation Army issue that I';m sure there';ll be no interruption to the care of those people.

COX:

I';ll arrange for Pamela to meet you at the airport as well Prime Minister when you arrive. 25 past nine, thanks Pamela for the call. Question that';s raising a far bit of concern in the north of the state Mr Howard is the rumoured closure of the Bureau of Metrology';s office here. I spoke earlier this morning to the former senior forecaster who retired in July last year, his position has not been filled and he told me that the bureau here in Launceston receives 13,000 phone inquiries a year, 13,000 and that';s on the phone let alone the internet and of course the fax service they operate. Can you give us a guarantee that the bureau in Launceston will continue to provide the service to regional and rural (inaudible) in this part of the state?

PRIME MINISTER:

Tim, I';m not across the detail of this, I don';t know where there is any foundation to the rumour. Can I make some inquiries and have something to say about it when I come to Launceston.

COX:

That would be tremendous, I';m sure the people here who are…

PRIME MINISTER:

I';m just not across it so it';s better not run off on the subject but just find out what the score is.

COX:

Alright, now you';re covering the north of the state when you come down this weekend, do you have an interest in seeing the southern forest, the old growth forest as Mark Latham is doing, he';ll be taking up Bob Brown';s invitation and Rene Hidding and the parliamentary Liberal Party went and had a look at a working forest, also a preservation area last Friday. Do you have an interest in doing that yourself?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let me say about my Tasmania visit, I';m coming to Launceston over the weekend, as to what I do in the future in Tasmania let';s wait and see.

COX:

Would it assist you though in the formation of policy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well a lot of things assist me in the formation of a lot of policies and I';m a much travelled around Australia Prime Minister, I spent four days in Western Australia last week, I';m coming to Tasmania for two days this weekend, I get around Australia a lot, the best part of the job enables you to talk to a lot of people, get their views. But as to where I';m going in particular in Tasmania in the future we';ll wait and see.

COX:

Okay, here';s Judith Watson who';s a northern rep on the divisions of general practice, but I don';t think ringing about (inaudible) this morning, Judith g';day.

CALLER:

Hello Mr Howard.

PRIME MINISTER:

Hello.

CALLER:

I';d just like to ask you a question as to whether you';re aware of the proposed Elphin sports precinct and aquatic centre project that';s planned for Launceston?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I had heard of it but, I';ve heard of it.

CALLER:

I';ll quickly get you up to speed shall I?

PRIME MINISTER:

Bring me up to speed.

COX:

It needs to be quick Judith.

CALLER:

As you';re aware obesity and inactivity are extreme big health issues.

PRIME MINISTER:

Big problem.

CALLER:

With reports I think coming out in the news today that obesity in the elderly is at three times the level it was 20 years ago and Launceston as the rest of Tasmania has a rapidly ageing population and there';s a lack in any all year round facility suitable for all ages and ability, particularly in terms of an aquatic centre and this is desperately needed. The Council and local community have worked very hard towards all of this and are all committed and have allocated funds along with the state government for the project and we';re asking the Federal Government to look favourably at this project and provide some funding. Is this going to be possible?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I';ll get some more details about that without at this stage trying to reply. I think those sort of facilities are wonderful. Can I make the point that you don';t need to build a new facility to tackle the problem of obesity, if people themselves in relation to their diet and…

CALLER:

Excuse me Mr Howard, as a GP I';m well aware of that and we do the utmost to promote health in all aspects.

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just finish, I did listen politely to your question, I just would like to finish my answer if I may. I do have the make the point that in the end personal discipline in relation to diet and also a certain amount of personal discipline in relation to exercise, simple inexpensive exercise involving only yourself - such as walking - is very, very valuable. Now having said that I acknowledge of course that some people can';t do that because of their age or fragility and you do need other centres including aquatic centres. There are varying degrees of facilities that provide varying things. Now let me have a look at the details of it, I mean the Federal Government provides the states with growing revenue from the GST and obviously states have growing capacities as a result of that. But let me get the details of it, I';m not saying yes or no to something like that, I';m aware of it but I';m certainly not in a position to say yes or no to something like that.

COX:

Judith we';ll need to leave it there and Prime Minister I';m sure Senator Guy Barnett would be happy to bring you up to speed on that, I know you have another appointment to get to so I thank you indeed for your time this morning and I';ll give you the opportunity, I know you';d like to, to give us the scoop on when you think an election might be held.

PRIME MINISTER:

I don';t know except in the range of first of July through I guess to what is normally sort of early December? You don';t normally these days have elections much later than very early in December, they';ve usually been a bit before that, don';t want to have it too close to Christmas. But I don';t know, it';s too early. It';s due at the end of this year because the three years will be up and unless there';s some dramatic event that intervenes which justifies in the public interest, not our interest, but justifies in the public interest going to an early election it';s not going to happen.

COX:

What sort of event might that be?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don';t know, I have no idea. I';m just allowing for the possibility of it so that if it does happen you won';t turn around and say well you told me it was going to be end of the year and you know I get everybody on my hammer for having said one thing and done another. But I just provide that explanation in case something like that comes along.

COX:

Well this is the problem with only having 25 minutes to talk to you this morning, you don';t have time to warm up the crystal ball. So perhaps next time a little longer and…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I';m always happy to go a bit longer if you are, you want to go 15 rounds instead of 10.

COX:

We';ll talk again soon John Howard, thanks indeed for your time this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

Transcript 21060