PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21456

Interview with John Miller Ross Davie Radio 4BC

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: 13/08/2004

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21456

JOURNALIST:

Good morning, Mr Howard.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, how are you Ross?

JOURNALIST:

Very, very well thank you.

JOURNALIST:

Good morning, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, John.

JOURNALIST:

Over the weekend will you be staying around Canberra and watching the Olympics?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'll be watching the Olympics. I have a commitment in Sydney tonight and I therefore will be going back to Sydney tonight to fulfil that commitment but I don't have any announcements to make.

JOURNALIST:

Alright....

PRIME MINISTER:

I should point out in my defence that at no stage have I encouraged speculation about a particular date and I did point out yesterday, not yesterday, a couple of days ago that the third anniversary of the election of the Government is not until the 10th of November this year.

JOURNALIST:

Alright, so not in Canberra this weekend then?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm going back to Sydney tonight fulfil an engagement and I'll be watching the Olympics.

JOURNALIST:

Great big wide screen TV there in the Lodge I believe.

PRIME MINISTER:

Not bigger than normal, no, no. There are a couple of TVs in the Lodge, yes, yes, that's true and I'll be watching the Olympics with great fascination, it's a wonderful sporting event and I wish our team great success and there's a great spirit there. I feel for the host nation, they're obviously going through a bit of anguish with the news about two of their star athletes and drugs suspicions, that's sad. I can feel for them, they would be the great local heroes.

JOURNALIST:

Alright, let's get down to the issue that has dominated the week and that, of course, is the Free Trade Agreement. In the community I sense a deal of unease about this. I think it is mainly down to the fact that many people, myself included are having trouble coming to terms with the full ramifications of just what this Free Trade Agreement with a giant like the United States means.

PRIME MINISTER:

I can understand people feeling that way and it's not been something that I've been insensitive to, but it really is in the long term of enormous benefit to Australia and the one thing I have to repeat is that we have not given away anything in relation to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the Americans pushed on this and I make no bones about that and at one stage I thought the agreement might not come off because they pushed so hard on one aspect of it and I just said no, we are not going to agree and that's why I reject totally the need for the Labor Party's amendment because all the protection that is needed for the PBS is already there. Now, okay, in the end I had to accept the Labor Party's amendment otherwise the enabling legislation wouldn't have gone through and we don't control the numbers in the Senate, but I have pointed out that not only is the amendment unnecessary but it might be in conflict with a couple of provisions of the Free Trade Agreement itself and that might, I hope it doesn't, might cause a difficulty and overnight the special trade representative in Washington has confirmed what I've said in the sense that the Americans are reserving their right to be satisfied that our enabling legislation complies with the FTA. Now, I said that yesterday and unfortunately Mr Latham and Senator Conroy tried to give the impression that they'd got a tick from the Americans about their amendment. Well, the trade representative spokesman has made it very clear he did not give it a tick, he's reserving his rights. Now, I hope everything is okay. I'll certainly be arguing that it should be okay but I have concerns and that's why I wanted the amendment altered but in the end the Labor Party said - no, it wouldn't. Well I accept that because I want the agreement and quite plainly if we hadn't have accepted the Labor's amendment they weren't going to vote for the agreement and there would be no present prospect of it going through and I certainly wasn't take that risk.

JOURNALIST:

Well, on the subject - The Sydney Morning Herald this morning is quoting an American trade lobbyist Anne Wexler that he's not aware of any clause of the agreement that could possibly nullify the deal. To quote from the article, it says now that it's passed by the US Congress, signed by the President it's the law of the land. The only way to junk it would be to pass another law saying you've junked it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, with great respect to Anne that is not quite right. What now has to happen is for there to be exchange of notes between the United States Government and the Australian Government and the President before signing his note needs a certification that the enabling legislation passed in Australia is fully consistent with the Free Trade Agreement. So that is the next step and it's at that point that there might be some concern and that's what I pointed out yesterday and I know it's complicated, I know it's technical but my obligation is to get the Free Trade Agreement and however slight the possibilities may be I've got to point them out and I actually hope that my fears are groundless but I have pointed them out and I just go back to my starting point and that is that this was an unnecessary amendment because the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme was not undermined by the Free Trade Agreement. It was not undermined. I mean, no Prime Minister in his right mind would agree to undermine the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. I mean, I've been in politics in this country long enough to know how precious that is to Australians and it's one of our fundamental social security social nets and I haven't undermined it, I've strengthened it. Okay, Mr Latham decided to play a political game on this which he's entitled to do but let's separate the politics from the substance. The substance is that the Free Trade Agreement did not undermine Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the Free Trade Agreement contains enormous long term benefits for the Australian economy and could never have been negotiated by a Labor Government led by Mr Latham.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, just refresh my memory also on the other concern that Mr Latham had and that was protection of our Australian film and television industry and performers etcetera. What's happened with that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well all that's happened is that the existing law is going to be put into formal regulations. There's no change on what we negotiated, what we negotiated was a very good deal and all that the Senate committee recommended and so indeed did the treaties committee recommend that instead of those rules being there simply at the behest of the broadcasting authority we're going to put them into legislative form. But the actual rules are no different, the local content rules have not been changed and the Labor Party has not as it were won any new protections for local content. We readily agreed to put it into legislation because all it was doing was putting into legislative form what was already there in administrative form and if people wanted that then we had no quarrel with it. And we fought hard there to get a good deal and we got a far better deal than many people in the media and entertainment industry thought we would. And I thought it was quite significant after the Free Trade Agreement came out that although there was some criticism a lot of people who criticised it before did enjoy that criticism because they realised that we had preserved the existing local content rules for free to air television, we'd obtained some extension for subscription television and we'd also had an effective card out to introduce local content rules if they were needed in the future in relation to new media forms. So we got quite a good deal on that front, a very good deal.

JOURNALIST:

Okay, well, let's draw a line under this before we move onto a couple of other issues and say, you can assure the business community of Queensland and you can assure our massive primary industry sector that they will not be disadvantaged, that this won't turn out to be a case of "we'll all be rooned"?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we're certain now we'll all be better off. We won't "be rooned", I can certainly assure them of that and I might on this occasion point out that the Premier of Queensland, who's on the opposite side of politics from me, very strongly supports the Free Trade Agreement. I mean he was a long way ahead of Mr Latham on this. All the Labor Premiers around Australia have supported that this Free Trade Agreement for months and this amendment that was put up by Mr Latham, this is all part of the trade off inside his own party because many of his colleagues in Canberra are bitterly opposed to the Free Trade Agreement. I don't know why, other than their ideological hang ups about many things to do with the United States. But my sole aim all along has been to get a Free Trade Agreement that will give benefits for Australian industry right across the board, years into the future, but also contain protection for things like the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Now that is what we negotiated in February of this year, I would never have agreed to it in February of this year if it didn't fulfil those two conditions. We didn't get everything we wanted, we didn't get a deal for sugar, and you'll recall of course that we gave a very significant package of support for the sugar industry, about $444 million, and I promised immediately after the Free Trade negotiations failed to yield additional benefits for the sugar industry that we would give them an assistance package and I have delivered on that commitment in full. And even my critics in the industry would have to acknowledge that it's a very fair and generous and comprehensive package. And I've kept my word to the people of Queensland and to the sugar industry especially in relation to these negotiations, I was disappointed we wouldn't get something on sugar and I said immediately after that that we do something special for the sugar industry and we have done that.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister Howard let's move onto another couple of matters. A few stories hanging around about your formula for schools funding...

PRIME MINISTER:

My formula?

JOURNALIST:

Well, the formula that's been in use since the year 2000 shall we say. And of course the Kings School....

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh this is the SES...

JOURNALIST:

Well yes, that's right, the Kings School being used as a bit of an emotional scapegoat.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh well of course it's being used by the Labor Party to sort of give the impression the Kings School is representative of all independent schools. I mean this is an old-fashioned class driven hate campaign from the Labor Party, their real agenda is anti-parental choice. I mean the growth in independent schools over the last eight years has not been in areas covered by the Kings School, the growth in the independent sector over the last eight years has been in the low fee schools. Since we came to office about 300 new independent schools have opened and most of them charge fees of about $2-3,000 a year. Now that's where the growth is, it's not in schools like Kings and Scots and Wesley and Southport Grammar, The Southport School rather, it's not schools like that, they've always been there and they always will be there. But the real growth is in the low fee area and that was made possible by our change of the new schools policy in 1996 which Labor opposed and they're still deep down they don't like parental choice and there are many people in the Labor Party who are strongly opposed to the independent schools sector and they'd be very happy to pull them down a peg or two. They'll start with Scots and Kings and Wesley but that's the thin end of the wedge.

JOURNALIST:

Alright now another important, I found rather disturbing, was on Nine Network last night, some residents of nursing homes, serviced apartments etcetera, are saying that they may face GST on services. Will that be looked at?

PRIME MINISTER:

It has already been looked at and fixed. Mal Brough the Queensland based new Assistant Treasurer and Member for Longman put out a statement last night saying in order to remove any doubt about a future possible ruling by the tax office we're going to legislate to make it absolutely certain that people receiving equivalent services whether they're in a nursing home or a retirement village will be GST free.

JOURNALIST:

Alright.

PRIME MINISTER:

And he's put that statement out and before the statement went out there were discussions with people involved in the industry and I can assure any residence who were concerned about that that we will honour the commitment we made back in 1999 when the new tax system was introduced, it was always meant to be like this, the tax office was preparing a ruling which is their responsibility, and I'm not criticising the tax office, but we sensed that there may have been some doubts emerging from that ruling so we've decided in order to put that beyond doubt to pass a law that confirms what was always our understanding of the original law.

JOURNALIST:

Okay. Two subjects that intertwine a little bit here now, compensation for Bali victims which you have ruled out in the past, will you be having another look at that. And also in the same breath I guess the travel advisories that were issued prior to the Bali bombing and we once again see Alexander Downer...

JOURNALIST:

...all these things criticised in the Senate report.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well bear in mind the Senate report compromised a majority of Labor and non-Government Senators and there is a highly political motive about it. But even the combination of that plus the Government Senators acknowledged that there had been no specific warning of the Bali attack. Now there was a debate about what should or should not have been in the travel advisories and you can have endless debates about that but the point is that there was no intelligence specifically warning of an attack in Bali. And we've had a lot of debate about this and I accept it, it's understandable there should be debate about this because 88 of our fellow Australians died in that terrible event. But I just want to say again even a Labor and Democrat and Green dominated Senate committee has acknowledged that there was no specific warning of a Bali attack. I have not in the past supported the notion of compensation and I don't see any reason to change my position on that. We did of course provide an enormous amount of assistance by way of financial support for travel to and medical expenses and all sorts of other support services to the relatives and the victims and we continue in different ways to do that but this was an event that happened in another country, and the people responsible are being dealt with in accordance with Indonesian law, and I hope that the full rigour of the Indonesian criminal justice system bears down on them to the full extent but I don't believe that it is a case that appropriately brings compensation from the Australian Government.

JOURNALIST:

In another matter relating to foreign affairs, your Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has told a Sydney radio station this morning on the eve of his trip for diplomatic negotiations to Pyongyang in North Korea that he believes that North Korea's long range missiles have the capacity for example to directly hit Sydney and that we are ill equipped for any kind of nuclear attack like this.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I haven't seen the full text of what he said, so I don't want to particularly comment on it. But I do know that North Korea continues to be quite a worry, it is a country with great nuclear ambitions and capacities and that's the cause of the problem and we are working hard with the Chinese, with the Japanese, with the Americans and with the South Koreans to try and bring about a more sensible attitude. And the fact that Mr Downer is going to Pyongyang is an indication of the influence that many feel that Australia can bring to bear, it's a difficult issue but he has very great standing amongst the countries of Asia and his is a very important mission because this is a difficult issue. North Korea is a rogue state, although progress has been made and we welcome the responses of the North Koreans to that.

JOURNALIST:

I see stories like this a little as being fear mongering. North Korea, is it posturing or are they a real worry?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, North Korea has breached its obligations under the international agreements covering the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I don't think anybody suggests that North Korea is just behaving in a completely benign fashion, no I don't think what we're saying is fear mongering and we're not the only ones who are saying it. If you go to Korea, if you go to China, you go to Japan, they all have an apprehension and in fact, China has played a very constructive role because China has a lot of influence on North Korea in getting talks going and getting people together. I mean, I'm not suggesting that something terrible is going to happen tomorrow, but I'm making the point that North Korea remains a very difficult country.

JOURNALIST:

Okay, Mark Latham has said that the $650,000 plus payout to Richard Butler, and I know this is strictly a matter for the Tasmanian Government, disgusts him. How does it sit with you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I would never have appointed Mr Butler in the first place. I mean, I thought it was an extraordinary appointment.

JOURNALIST:

Alright. On the same subject...

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean, you've asked me, it's not really my direct responsibility but I'm not going to remain silent, less people think that I supported Mr Butler and there would never have been a problem but he was an entirely inappropriate choice in the first instance. I never said anything at the time because I didn't feel I had a right to, but now that this has happened, I mean...

JOURNALIST:

Well...

PRIME MINISTER:

... appointment. I mean, particularly somebody who was so avowedly and passionately republican in his views, I mean, I'm not suggesting somebody who's just a mild republican should not occupy a vice regal position, I mean he was strident in his views and it seemed an odd personal choice by him.

JOURNALIST:

Well, on the subject of large amounts of money, the National Australian Bank has announced that they will appoint three executives to get them back on track and are likely to spend $70 million in salaries over the coming four years - that's an obscene amount of money, isn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it does sound an enormous amount of money, but where do you draw the line on these things? Of course it sounds, I mean it's an amount of money that you and I, and I say that without fear of contradiction, you and I is seen of course as vastly, you and I probably get paid more than a lot of people who are listening to your programme. So I mean, all these things are relative, but it does seem an enormous amount. But on the other hand, you've got to recognise that when you're dealing with very large companies and you're in a globalised world economy, you have to pay what is needed to get the right people.

JOURNALIST:

Nice work if you can get it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, of course, but you carry very heavy responsibilities. But it does sound, I mean, I'm not defending it, but I'm just pointing out the market realities and once you start introducing rules on these things and you start losing people to similar sized companies in other parts of the world and then the bank doesn't perform as well and the share holders complain and then the board says well we weren't allowed to pay what was needed to get the right men to run the company, you're back to square one - that's the difficulty.

JOURNALIST:

Alright. Mr Howard, just finally, your comments on Mr Turnbull's comments, Malcolm Turnbull of course saying that history will judge the Iraq war as a mistake.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, he didn't say that according to Mr Turnbull. What he said, so I'm told by him and put out in this statement was, it may, he didn't say will, that was my understanding and he said he supported the Government's position. No I don't myself believe history will judge it as having been a mistake, I don't think it was a mistake, I'll never believe it was a mistake. But I don't really think in the cold light of day there's any particular reason for a hoo-ha about what Malcolm said. I mean, it's perfectly possible in the heat of a meeting to accept that history might judge something that you support as being wrong and you can still support that. I don't believe it will. I don't, but I can accept that people who support the action could take a slightly different view.

JOURNALIST:

Time is getting away from us. But one final thing, Ross.

JOURNALIST:

Yes, I do have one final question for you, it would be remiss of me if I didn't ask you this - we have a petition which is being pushed along here locally by a listener of this radio station to have the Rugby League Grand Final played on Sunday afternoon not Sunday night, would you lend your signature to that petition?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sunday afternoon, what's the reason?

JOURNALIST:

Well, Rugby League, you see, the Grand Final is played once again in New South Wales on a Sunday night. In New South Wales, there is a holiday on the Monday...

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah...

JOURNALIST:

Queensland there isn't. We are pushing very very heavily here in Queensland to have..

PRIME MINISTER:

I think I'll remain neutral on that. I'm neutral of State of Origin. I've never barracked for New South Wales in the State of Origin since I've been Prime Minister and I don't know that I did before that, but look I can see the point of view, I have to say in defence of having gone to the Grand Final of course in the three or four years it's been on the Sunday evening, it's certainly a great atmosphere and a great event. But I can also, I don't think Sydney should have a mortgage on the finals, I'm certainly happy to say that, I believe that very strongly. But I don't know that I want to buy into that argument, let me simply say I respect both points of view.

JOURNALIST:

Alright, very diplomatic of you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

Time has gotten away on us, we will have to leave it there. Prime Minister, thank you very much. We look forward to speaking to you again soon.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

Transcript 21456