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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 2126


Photo of Gorton, John

Gorton, John

Period of Service: 10/01/1968 to 10/03/1971

More information about Gorton, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 12/10/1969

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 2126

EMBARGO: 10 p. m. Sunday 12 October 1969
Q. Mr. Prime Minister, judging from the tempo and the
pace of the campaign to date, it would seem that the Government
expects this to be a tougher fight than the 1966 election. Do you
expect it to be a tougher fight?
PM. I don't think the tempo and pace of the campaign are
any harder and tougher than the 1966 campaign was, so since the
tempo is approximately the same, let us hope, as I hope, that the
results will be the same.
Q. There has been already some fairly sharp verbal
exchanges between yourself and the Leader of the Opposition.
PM. Yes, I gather that is thought to be the case, although
when I used the word " meretricious", I was seeking to describe the
speech rather than the man.
Q. Well, isn't it true that the Labor Party has emerged
from its last Federal Conference with at least an appearance of
greater unity, led by a new Leader with a new image, articulating
new policies? Doesn't this represent a greater challenge to the
Government than say the 1966 Labor Party?
PM. I am glad you used the words " appearance of unity",
because, of course, there is not even appearance of unity as far as I
can tell on the significant matters of defence and foreign affairs.
There is an appearance of unity in other fields, although that
appearance is getting a little dented at the moment with the AWU in
New South Wales falling under Left Wing control and making people
wonder whether the New South Wales outside body which dictates to
the Labor Party might not become as powerful as the Victorian
Q. But rightly or wrongly, don't you think more voters
feel more confident about the Labor Party now than they did in 1966?
PM. I will tell you on October 26: .9./ 2

Q. Well, on one issue on which you and the Labor Party
are very distinctly divided on Vietnam isn't it the case that the
Labor Party's policy which is " out of Vietnam by the middle of next
year'" now reflects the public feeling in Australia as reflected by
Public Opinion Polls, whereas your policy to remain there is in
opposition to what most people in Australia feel?
PM. On Public Opinion Polls and on the feelings that most
Australians would have, I would agree that most Australians would
like to have the Vietnam war finished. But I don't think that they would
like us to betray our allies and in fact surrender and not seek to ensure
that a proper and just peace was negotiated and that the South Vietnamese
people had a right of choice. Now there is a difference between
wishing that a proper peace could be achieved and wishing thatthereby
Australians would not have to fight there is a difference
between that and between saying, " Well, whether a peace is achieved
or not, whether our allies are still engaged or not, whether our
objectives have been attained or not, we are going to just unilaterally
withdraw our forces". There is a difference, I think.
Q. Well, on the subject of Vietnam, while the Labor
Party's policy is quite explicit in regard to the middle of next year,
the Government's policy, it seems, is not quite as explicit. I
wonder if I could ask you is there some sort of time scale, however
broad, for an Australian withdrawal?
PM. No, there isn't. We would like there isn't with
a qualification which I will put in later. We believe that the objectives
of the South Vietnamese and of the United States and of Australia
because we think it is of interest to Australia should be attained and
we think that that objective is there should be negotiations which lead
to the people of South Vietnam having a chance to choose their
government free of terrorism and free of attack. This is what we would
like to see happen. Now if there should be a withdrawal of.. a
continuing plan for withdrawal of United States troops and I don't
believe there is, but if there should be then we would certainly
require to be phased in to that withdrawal and not stay there until the
f inish.
Q. You couldn't suggest any point at any American
withdrawal where Australia would withdraw?
PM. Not at this stage, no. Not at this stage. But we would
expect to be phased in with a withdrawal and not to be left there
amongst the last. / 3

Q. On another issue on which the Government and the
Opposiion-are ver-y sharply divided, is this very complex question
of rival -heeit-h schemes. Now it could be, I think, conceded that the
Labor Party has come forward with, if not a winner, at least a much
better framed policy than it has had in the past and it has put it
forward fairly explicitly, very clearly and it could be attractive.
Now I know the big pro~ blem, of course, is costing. Without going
into too many details about the costing, what is it about the
Government's health policy which you would suggest would make it
more attractive than the Labor policy?
PM. Well, in the first place, I believe that it will be
cheaper. The Labor Party's requirements are for a 14 per cent
levy, not on tax paid, but a 141 per cent levy on a person's taxable
income. This is the base from which they s tart with a limit of
$ 100. Now, this is going to cost any single person who is earning
more than $ 40 a week, it is going to cost them more than they are
at present paying. And it is going to cost married people earning
$ 63 a week more than they are at present paying, so it is going to be
more costly fcr the contributor. Secondly, you say it is very explicit.
I am not sure that it is. It covers people to public ward standards.
People might well have a preference to be able to cover themselves
to intermediate standards or private ward standards if they are
prepared to pay a little more. As I read the alleged health plan
of the Opposition, it is intended to pay 85 per cent of doctors' fees.
We are seeking to reach a stage, and we will, where the most that
anybody would have to pay for doctors' fees would be And in the
case of a costly operation or something of that kind, this would mean
that the patient would have to pay only one or two per cent of his fees.
And, of course, the contributor would have the right of choice under
our scheme. He wouldn't have to depend on a Government Department.
He would be able to choose the Fund to which he wishes to go and from
which he thinks he will get best service.
Q. But if the Labor Party scheme is going to cost more,
isn't it also offering more overall, to more people?
PM. I don't believe it is. I can't see how it is offering more
overall. It is offering 85 per cent of doctors' fees to be paid and
accommodation in hospitals up to public ward standard. Now it is
going to cost the contributor more to get that than it is costing him
now, or will cost him to get what we are providing, and he will be
made to pay, and he will be made to pay to a Government Department.
Q. Another linked issue which is also a subject of division
between the Government and the Opposition is Labor's proposal for a
national insurance scheme. Now isn't it true that this scheme was
originally proposed by Sir Robert Menzies, very vigorously? a../ 4

PM. Yes it is. How long ago Twenty-three...
twenty-four years ago, since when very close studies have shown that
it is virtually unworkable and not in the interests of the ordinary person.
It is very interesting that the Labor Party are proposing this scheme
of national insurance, but not putting any proposals before the people
at all as to what it would cost them. There has only been one costing
of this that I know of, and it was done by a professor, arid originally
the Labor scheme was said to be based on that. That would require
$ 1300 million a year in contributions, a 6 per cent levy on payroll
tax and an increase of a number of dollars a week on people earning
incomes of up to $ 90 a week. Of course, a self-employed man would
have to pay both. Now it is interesting that this has been dropped at
least for the purposes of argument during this election.
Q. Isn't it true that despite the complex problems of costing
which understandably could go over the heads of many voters, perhaps
it is only an economist who could really grasp these very complicated
issues, that the proposal for a national insurance scheme could be
very attractive to many voters?
PM. It could be attractive to a number of voters but would it
be attractive to people who are at present in superannuation schemes
and taking care of their future needs, particularly since we have
brought in a tapered means test which allows such people to get
pensions until they are receiving $ 80 a week? Would it be attractive
to a self-employed man who would have this money taken from him
instead of being allowed to invest it in insurance, if he wished to or
some other means of caring for himself? Would it be really of such
attraction to a worker to have to pay $ 3 or $ 4 a week more, in effect,
in tax, taken from him compulsorily. I doubt if it would. And because
I think it wouldn't, I think that is why the L-abor Party aren't costing
it for the Australian public.
Q. Your continuing criticism of most of the Labor proposals
in this election has been the rhetorical question: All right, where
does the money co~ me from? Couldn't Mr. Whitlam reply equally
rhetorically: The money would come from the same place as the
money to finance the, in many cases, quite expensive promises
that you have offered in your campaign speech?
PM. No, I don't think the promises that we have offered in
our campaign speech come within cooee of the promises that Mr.
Whitlam has made in his campaign speech. Nor do I think you could
justify the suggestion that they did. Would you care to try?
Q. Well, it is going to cost the Australian Government
more than had been budgeted for in the last Budget to implement the
schemes that you have promoted in the Policy Speech, isn't it, Sir?
Taxation...... 0.

PM. In the next Budgets, yes.
Q. $ 200 million, for example, in tax relief
PM. $ 200 million at the end of three years in tax relief;
$ 16 million from the Commonwealth on our health proposals as
regards to doctors; $ 100 million over six or seven years for atomic
Q. These are substantial amounts, aren't they?
PM. But nothing like the $ 800-odd million a year which the
Labor proposals which can be costed propose..
Q. They challenge this costing, of course.
PM. Well, they can challenge it, but I can sustain that, and
that costing leaves out of account their proposals for a national
insurance scheme for which they give no cost at all but which the
professor suggested would be $ 1300 million a year. There is no.
costing for an unspecified grant for education. There is no costing for an
unspecified amount provided to buy land around cities. I am just
talking of the things that have actually been specifically said and can
be specifically costed.
Q. If we can move out of this complicated field of costing
and economics, Sir, and on to a probably equally complex subject of
foreign affairs. Now in your policy statement you seemed to ignore
completely the tone and emphasis in the now famous August 14
statement by External Affairs Minister, Mr. Freeth, and shift back
to a hard anti-communist line in regard to a Soviet presence in the
Indian Ocean. Do you concede that this can be interpreted as a
back-down under DLP threat?
PM. Yes, I think it could be interpreted that way but it isn't
that way, and I think the only reason it could be interpreted that way
was because Mr. Freeth's original statement was misinterpreted. He
never, for one moment, suggested that we might have a military
alliance with Russia, or that we would like to see Russian bases in
our North, or that we would like to see a Russian military alliance
with the countries in our North. Never for one second did he suggest
it, and therefore whatever interpretation may be placed upon what
I have said, I think it is due to a misinterpretation of what Mr.
Freeth said.
Q. Would you concede that in your policy statement,
however, you did ignore the subtle and sophisticated diplomatic
tone of Mr. Freeth's earlier statement? / 6

N. -6-
PM. Well, I don'tknow wlieV= a it was a subtle and
sophisticated dip lmtic Wile. Jx seemed to me to be a statement
which wartskel put of context and completely blown up and completely
Q. We will come to the Liberal Party itself now, Sir.
There have in the twenty months or so that you have been in office
been some strains in Cabinet, between the back bench and Cabinet
and between yourself and other members of the Party, inside
Parliament and outside. Do you think these strains and problems are
likely to damage the vote for the Government in the coming election?
PM. I wouldn't think so and I can't recall strains in Cabinet.
I can only recall newspaper people reporting that there were strains
in Cabinet, alleged strains between Mr. Hasluck and myself, which
never existed, or between Mr. Fairhall and myself which never
existed. But there have been new proposals put forward, new thoughts
suggested, suggestions of examining what previously were taken as
dogmas and this has, in the Branches of the Liberal Party which is
examining these things, caused what I think is a very satisfactory
dialogue, a very useful dialogue of examination of the pros and cons
of something which previously were taken to be sacred cows. I
think this is good rather than bad.
Q. Has this also caused some tension, though?
PM. I don't know that it has caused tension. It has caused
dialogue and discussion, and in some extreme cases, perhaps, it
might have caused some tension but that would be from the
ultra cons ervat ive.
Q. You referred to some of the reports, and there have
been widespread reports of conflict in Cabinet, and you have denied
these reports, but the fact that there has been such widespread
reporting of conflict within the Liberal Party, could this reporting in
itself have created an impression in the public mind that there is
disunity in the Liberal Party which could react against
PM. It might have because people don't know. They only
read what they read in the papers and they assume it is true, but so
it might have had that effect but if it did, thern it is an unjustified effect.
Q. Now, in your campaign speech, you seem conspicuously
to avoid reference to what in the Liberal Party is also the subject of
some disagreement, particularly between the Premiers and yourself,
and that is the thorny question of Commonwealth/ State finances. Why
did you deliberately sidestep this issue in your campaign speech?

PM. I don't know that I sidestepped it as much as my
opponent did. I did point out, if you remember, in the policy speech
that all the promises made by the Labor Party, running into these
hundreds of millions made no provision whatsoever for such things
as defence, for such things as development and, specifically, for
such things as the increasing requirements of the States. And those
other promises didn't, so I did mention the need to think of the
increasing requirements of the States. Now the present arrangement
between the Commonwealth and the States on reimbursement grants
is running out and we will be meeting in February as the Prime
Minister and the Premiers we will be meeting in February to
negotiate a new agreement, a new arrangement for a period of time
ahead. That will be coming up and the work will be being done on that
quite soon. And in other areas, the Liberal Party itself is examining
the workings of the Constitution, and the power divisions under the
Constitution and both these things are in train. I don't know how that
would enable one to come into a policy speech on these matters, but
at least I did point out in my speech that the States would have
increasing needs, which needed to be taken into consideration and I
might remind you that our opponents didn't.
Q. Allow me to ask you to make a prediction about the
result of the coming election can I ask you how do you react to the
again widespread reports I don't argue that they are more than that
but the widespread reports that the Government is going to lose between
six and ten seats in the coming election? Has this affected Party
morale, or your morale?
PM. It hasn't affected mine and it hasn't affected the morale
of the people in the seats concerned. We have had a number of seats
which have been damaged as a result o~ f redistribution in Western
Australia, in Queensland, in Tasmania, in Victoria a number of
seats which have been made harder to win as a result of redistribution,
but I hope and expect that we shall win them.
Q. Do you think that the redistribution has worked against
the Government or against Labor?
PM. Not overall. I would think it was fairly even overall,
perhaps with a shade of disadvantage to the Government. But W~ erall
is one thing. Picking a number of seats is another, and there were at
least six seats quite severely of ours quite severely damaged by
Q. If you were to lose several seats overall in the election,
would you blame redistribution?

PM. Oh, it would depend on the general level of the vote
overall. If, for example, we dropped very much on the vote that we
had in 1966, one would say well, this is not entirely due to
redistribution. It is also due to a lowering in the general vote. I
couldn't answer that question until we had all the figures in.
Q. Well, if you dropped say, six or eight seats, as is,
I say, widely predicted, would this cause you to re-examine or alter
any of the policies that your Government has been so far pursuing?
PM. No, I don't think it would. I don't think it would cause
us to re-examine any because, we have, I believe, brought Australia
to its greatest peak of prosperity it has known, we have provided
completely full employment, we have provided unprecedented growth,
we have provided a situation where inflation is kept in check. When
I say we have provided we have provided the conditions under which
the Australian people can do this, and this, after all, is the end and
ultimate aim of government.
Q. Well, this is your first election as Prime Minister
and it has been widely seen as a test of your personal leadership.
If you do drop seats, do you think this might encourage any critics
within your Party, within Parliament, to try to replace you as Leader?
PM. I don't think so. But the position of Leader is always
in the hands of the Parliamentary Party as a whole. But I am not
worried about it.
Q. Thank you very much, Sir.
Note: This transcript has been released in Canberra only.

Transcript 2126