PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21862

Doorstop Interview The Lodge, Canberra

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: 14/08/2005

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21862

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen I would like to announce that the Government will contribute $1.3m to assist a group of people, including the man responsible for finding the Bismarck and the Hood to assist in the search for HMAS Sydney II which perished off the West Australian Coast during World War II with the loss of the entire ship's complement of 645. It does represent one of the great unsolved mysteries, if I can put it that way, of disappearance of vessels in World War II. A large number of citizens including but not restricted to people related to those who perished have been involved in raising money and they have a very well developed plan and we are very hopeful in providing this money that the result will be that the ship will be located and we therefore think it's a very important gesture by the Federal Government to assist given the ongoing interest of so many, not only in Australia but around the world, in locating vessels, significant vessels, and of course the Sydney II was held in very high regard within the Royal Australian Navy because of it's very active service in the Mediterranean. And I've very pleased therefore to make this announcement, particularly in conjunction with the commemorations taking place today and tomorrow in connection with the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister can you elaborate how this will work?

PRIME MINISTER: Well there is a group already called, I think, Sydney Search Pty Ltd and it involves a Mr Mearns. He's the partner and he's the man responsible for finding the Hood and the Bismarck and they already have a well developed plan and the area, there's certainly an understanding broadly where the vessel disappeared and in the release that I'm making available, there's a bit more detail about the methodology that's going to be used. I'm not a technician in these things, so don't question me too hard on the technical way it operates. But there has been a great deal of effort put into it. The people who comprise the steering party, if you like, of the company are all skilled naval personnel, all with a Navy background and we are confident after having looked at it very carefully that they are people not only of great substance, but also of great experience in this area. And particularly working with Mr Mearns who has had the success in relation to the Bismarck and the Hood.

JOURNALIST:

There will definitely be a search?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes, very definitely, yes.

JOURNALIST:

What happens should they find it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that's a decision we'll have to take at the time Ian.

JOURNALIST:

How do you rate your chances of success?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well on the information given to us, and given the track record of the partner, pretty good.

JOURNALIST:

It's been described as searching for a needle in a haystack, but we don't actually know where the haystack is.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you could say that about any of these things. There are always fine balances. You can always find a reason not to do something like this. You can take a completely, you know, a totally logical view and say well the prospects are not all that great. But then, on the other hand, given the track record of the people involved, I think the prospects are pretty good.

JOURNALIST:

Do you know if the relatives of the men who lost their lives on there are in favour of this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well a lot of them are, but I mean a lot of them, we're not aware of their views. You don't sort of go around and do an opinion poll on something like this. You try and make a judgement based on the seriousness of the case put forward, the calibre of the people involved and the success that they've had in the past. Now the success that the proposed partner Mearns has had in relation to the Bismarck and the Hood encourages us to believe that this is a very sensible financial commitment.

JOURNALIST:

What is the primary motivation Prime Minister? (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

To provide an answer to something that has been an issue that has constantly come back over the years. This is not the first time this issue's been before an Australian Government. It's one of those issues, because all of the people on the vessel perished, the whole 645, whilst it is known that is was sunk by a German vessel which was previously disguising itself I think as a Dutch vessel. That's known and there's a rough idea where it went down off the West Australian Coast, but because there were no survivors, and because there was so many in one go, it's something that's come back. I can remember in the previous Coalition Government I was in, it was debated at the time and it came up again when we were in Opposition and we think the case that's put forward on this occasion is better developed, and given the people involved, is more likely to be successful. Now you have to strike a balance in these things between spending resources on the things of today, but also having regard to the fact that getting answers to issues like that and events like that are important to the overall service community and to the history of the country. And there is a growing interest in Australia's defence and maritime history and this is part of answering some of the unanswered questions of that very proud history.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, do you have a comment on the death of David Lange?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I'd like to extend my sympathy to his family, to the New Zealand Government and to the New Zealand Labour Party. He led the New Zealand Labour Party in Government for a number of years in the 1980s. He did lead a Government that was very reformist, although it is fair to say that the main driver of that reform was Roger Douglas, the Finance Minister. But David Lange was a person who had a great capacity to communicate with the electorate. I respected him, although I obviously disagreed very strongly with his decision to take New Zealand out of the ANZUS Treaty. I never supported that, but that was a matter for the New Zealand people and the New Zealand Government. But he was a successful political leader. I saw him earlier this year when I last visited New Zealand. He came to a reception put on by the New Zealand Prime Minister for me and I spoke to him. He was obviously struggling with the diabetes that had afflicted him very badly and obviously was a contributing factor in his death. But I express on behalf of the Australian Government and the Australian people my deep sympathy to his family, to the New Zealand people, and particularly to the New Zealand Labour Party.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister the Victorian Premier Steve Bracks has also launched a call for reform this morning of State and Federal relations. I understand you might not have had the chance yet to look at the report that he's going to release. But how confident are you of a reform of those issues, and how important is this to Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I welcome very much Mr Bracks' input to this debate. I won't at this stage for reasons you understand try and respond to the details of it. I've only been briefed on the outline, but any debate which is designed to improve cooperation at a national level between Governments, which is directed towards a further strengthening of the Australian economy, is a good thing. I guess I feel constrained to say though that the one conspicuous omission is any reference to workplace relations reform. I would argue that the best thing the Victorian Government could do would be to persuade the other Labor Government States of the value of a national workplace relations system because we, in the 21st Century live in a national economy. We don't live in state or regional economies and I would think that if you are looking at Australia's economic future, it is impossible to do so without workplace relations reform. That is, if you like, the (inaudible) ghost at any such thing.

JOURNALIST:

And what's your reaction to the reforms in WA (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well apparently there's some reference there to unfair dismissals. Well unfair dismissal reform has been Coalition policy for ten years. There's nothing extreme, there's nothing new, there's nothing radical about getting rid of the difficulties in the unfair dismissal laws and our proposal to get rid of them for firms employing fewer than 100 merely reflects very much the policy that the Liberal and National Parties have had at a federal level since 1995. I mean, we always opposed the introduction of these things, and the reason we oppose them is that they scare small business out of putting on more staff and are therefore job destroying. That's why we're against them. There's nothing extreme or radical about that.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) It jumped to 100 employees after the election (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well our policy during the election campaign if you read it was in fact silent on the number. I think 100 is a good level because it's the outer limit of a definition of a small business. It's the definition of a small manufacturing business. But let's just go back to the merits. We are against unfair dismissal laws because they frighten small firms out of taking on more staff. That's the reason why we're against them. The simple reason has always been the case and we believe that when these changes go through, more people will be employed by small business. I mean I keep getting told that by small employers and I'm sure it's true.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) IR is not a priority. That (inaudible) better cooperation between federal and states of (inaudible) health and education are a greater priority than IR?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think all of the things you mention are important, but to have no reference to IR at all means that it is an incomplete package and I would simply say to Mr Bracks, with whom I will work closely in the genuine reform cause, that the best contribution he could make would be to talk to his Labor colleagues in other states and persuade them of the virtue that Victorian Governments on both sides of the political fence have seen in having a national system. Mr Kennett supported a national system and when Mr Bracks became Premier he supported it as well. And I think what Mr Bracks should do is to pick up the phone and talk to Mr Beattie and Mr Iemma and say look fellas, this is the way to go. We found that and we think you ought to have the same view. I think that really is a gaping hole in the package.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the Treasurer gave a speech on Friday with some fairly loaded historical references that you could have hardly failed to miss about the passage of the Liberal Party leadership from Menzies to Harold Holt. Do you regard it as disloyalty on the part of the Treasurer to make such a speech.

PRIME MINISTER:

No! I thought it was an excellent speech. I thought Peter correctly recalled the contribution that Harold Holt had made to the Liberal Party. I think he was quite right to remind the Australian people as many have done that a lot of the things that Whitlam claimed credit for, like getting rid of the White Australia Policy, were in fact reforms inaugurated by Harold Holt. I thought it was a very good historical analysis and a very valuable contribution to getting political history in this country into perspective.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard were you surprised by the small crowds that turned out in Sydney yesterday for the VP State parade? Do you think the community is becoming a little jaded with commemorative activities?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't think the community is. I certainly, from what I've been told there is a lot of enthusiasm here in Canberra for the programme that's been organised at the weekend. My most recent experience of commemorative activities was at Gallipoli on the 25th of April this year and that seems to get stronger and stronger every year. My experience is to the contrary.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister how much should the Government be spending on the upgrade of telecommunications in the bush prior to the sale of Telstra?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I'm not going to engage in any running commentary on that issue. We are getting all of the input that's being provided and the Cabinet will look at the matter and when the Government has reached a position, an announcement will be made. But until then, I am simply not going to provide a running commentary on each and every idea and each and every proposal.

JOURNALIST:

Not as much as $7b though Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to comment on any figures.

JOURNALIST:

Do you share Mark Vaile's concerns though that less money would be required in those funds if Telstra invested more in the bush? And what do you also make of Mr Vaile's comments that regional universities are yet to make a case that they will be worse off under the VSU legislation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I'm not going to respond to a whole lot of comments made by people. We are looking at both of these issues and from my vantage point, the most intelligent thing to do is to listen to people's ideas and then take a decision?

JOURNALIST:

Do you hope to introduce the Telstra sale legislation this week?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to speculate about the timetable.

JOURNALIST:

Is there a risk that the sale may not proceed at this stage given (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can't really add to anything I've said. We're looking at all the ideas, I'm listening to everybody, they're all making a contribution, they're all good blokes and you know, I just listen to it all.

JOURNALIST:

And Mr Howard, just on China. Do you share the concerns..

PRIME MINISTER:

China?

JOURNALIST:

Raised by Taiwan that China is being less than transparent about its defence expenditure?

PRIME MINISTER:

My view about China and Taiwan is that both of them should exercise maximum restraint and maximum caution in dealing with each other. It's in everybody's interests that they continue to talk. It's in everybody's interest that the long term relationship between Taiwan and the mainland be resolved in an intelligent, peaceful fashion and it's Australia's view that that ought to be achieved within the overall embrace of our One China policy.

Thank you .

[ends]

Transcript 21862