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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21763

Interview with Louise Yaxley AM Programme, ABC Radio

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: 20/05/2005

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21763

YAXLEY:

Prime Minister, you're visiting some drought stricken areas today. What can you offer the farmers that you're going to visit?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can offer them a very sympathetic ear and a very sympathetic Prime Minister. I have come here to listen and to learn. I will talk to people, I'll hear their concerns, I'll ask them how they believe the Federal Government can further assist because we are already helping a great deal through Exceptional Circumstances Assistance, which has run into hundreds of millions of dollars over recent years, and also other assistance. Having gathered all of that information, I'll then discuss the issue with my colleagues in Cabinet next Monday.

YAXLEY:

There are already though some calls for assistance that could be delivered. Can you give of any hope on something like allowing people to do more off-farm work to keep themselves going without cutting into the Centrelink payment?

PRIME MINISTER:

There are a range of suggestions that are coming through - that is one of them - rolling over the Exceptional Circumstances conditions, some changes in interest rate subsidies, some assistance in the counselling area (further assistance), there are a whole range of suggestions that have been made. I'm not going to announce things today. Today is a listening and learning exercise. When I have the information, we'll talk about it early next week. We do understand how severe this drought is, for some poor people it's gone on for years and years, not just two or three in some cases, many more than that. And it is heart breaking and I want people to know and to understand that I am aware of that and their fellow Australians feel for them and want within reason-it always has to be within reason, us to provide appropriate additional assistance.

YAXLEY:

When you say within reason - there are cuts that were announced for some on disability or single mothers in the Budget last week. Is there a danger that some who feel that in future they may get less in their welfare payments are seeing farmers get more?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think most Australians understand that farmers need help in times of drought - I don't find many Australians thinking otherwise. And your reference to cutting people on pensions; we're not cutting anybody who is currently on the disability support pension any more than we are cutting anybody whose currently on the sole parent benefit. In relation to the latter, we are imposing a work obligation once the youngest child reaches six, but if you are currently on the sole parent benefit, you continue to retain the same benefit until your youngest child reaches the age of sixteen....sorry but I did have to correct that.

YAXLEY:

In the Budget we also had some predictions that there'd be farm product growth of up to 5%. Does that look like it was too optimistic?

PRIME MINISTER:

Too early to make a judgement - the Budget's not two weeks old. The best estimates are made and I say in defence of the Treasury, over the last few years their forecasts in the main have turned out to be fairly conservative. I don't think people can accuse the Treasury over recent years of having made wildly optimistic forecasts and it's good to have a Treasury that's conservative in its forecasts.

YAXLEY:

And yet the people that you'll see today would say to you that they can't see that happening, that this is a widespread drought across much of Australia's productive areas?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I appreciate that but could I also make the point that the principle way of helping farmers in drought from the Federal Government is the Exceptional Circumstances system and that is demand driven. If the drought goes on longer and is more widespread, it will cost more-there's no cap on it, there's no artificial limit. If the drought is double what the Treasury has forecast, well double the money will be paid out of the Budget to help people.

YAXLEY:

But the drought does have that flip side that it can cut into GDP?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course it can and we're aware of all of that and all of those things have been taken into account by the Treasury. But to start talking about forecasts being too optimistic less than two weeks from the Budget is unrealistic.

YAXLEY:

But your Deputy Prime Minister did raise the possibility that growth could be cut by as much as 1%...

PRIME MINISTER:

He was talking more in the much longer term.

YAXLEY:

And Prime Minister, water generally is a significant issue. We've got big towns in Australia like Goulburn in danger of running out of water. Are there other things that the Government is looking at?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well have a $2 billion National Water Trust. And I announced three programmes in Queensland yesterday to help recycling in Mackay, ground water proposals in Bundaberg and pressure management for the water supply for the Gold Coast city area. Those sorts of programmes in partnership with local communities and State Governments all around Australia are what that $2 billion National Water Trust I announced in the last election is all about. It is up and running, it's fully funded and it's working already overtime to deal with applications from different parts of the country.

[ends]

Transcript 21763