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Transcript 22595

Interview with Philip Clark Radio 2GB, Sydney

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: 15/11/2006

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 22595

CLARK:

Mr Howard, good afternoon to you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Hello there Philip.

CLARK:

Yesterday's High Court decision, it's been trumpeted in breathless terms as being the death of the states, hardly I would have thought?

PRIME MINISTER:

That's a total over-reaction, that really is very silly.

CLARK:

That's right, but you've got to understand what the headline writers are on about here. On a more serious note though, it does give the Government a chance to control the direction of a whole range of things which currently are with the states. I mean, there are golden opportunities here, we talk a lot about water, climate change and so on, national standards in health and education. I mean it does give the Federal Government opportunities don't you agree?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what's happened is the court has maintained an interpretation of the Corporations Power that began way back in the early 1970s with what was known as the concrete pipes case. It's not as if this case has delivered an entirely new interpretation of the Corporations Power, it's maintained an interpretation that's been there for a very long time and I think we ought to take a deep breath and calm down and I know the states are calling for constitutional conventions and so forth. They lost the appeal, it was always our advice that this legislation was constitutional. This does not mean that I'm going to embark upon some orgy of centralism, I've no desire to do that. I will use the constitutional power available to the Commonwealth when it's in the public good. I have no desire to accrue power to Canberra just for the sake of us having more power and this idea that this is the end of the states; in the end Philip, what the Australian people want is good outcomes, they don't really care who delivers them and there's no inherent virtue in states' rights as such. What really matters is the quality of service delivery and to the extent that people get irritated with the states and indeed the Commonwealth, is when the services they expect are not delivered. And the public is very impatient with blame shifting, the public says to me when something goes wrong, you're the Prime Minister, you've got to be able to fix it and if the states are failing then they want us to step in. If the states are not failing they want us to stay out of the way.

CLARK:

That's always the case isn't it? I spoke with Malcolm Turnbull last week about the water summit and I think there's a lot of exasperation and frustration in the community about the fact that the states endlessly meet about these things and you know, endlessly agree to talk. It's just that the High Court's decision yesterday underlines the fact that the Federal Government has the power if it wants to, to move into areas like this and say well look, rather than knocking heads together we're going to go ahead and do these things whether you like it or not.

PRIME MINISTER:

As long as we understand that in relation to water for example, it's not automatically the case that the Corporations Power can be used to force interstate trading in water entitlements. There has to be the involvement of a financial or trading corporation and the Act must be involved in the regulation of the affairs of that financial or trading corporation. So what's happened is that the decision was so emphatic our way, five to two on every issue, the headline writers have got hold of it and said gee this means the Commonwealth can do anything it likes. Now that is not right.

CLARK:

Well they're not constitutional lawyers I agree with you.

PRIME MINISTER:

And the Commonwealth does not want to do everything. We do have a federation, but we are Australians long before we're a collection of states. I mean, historically it may have been the other way around, but we think as Australians, we have a national economy. In areas like education, parents who move their children from Western Australia to New South Wales and Victoria don't want to be disadvantaged, they don't want their children to have to repeat a year. They want the barriers to the free movement of people removed, they want the history of this country taught to a decent standard in every school. Not necessarily the same book open at the same time in every class, you don't need that kind of uniformity, but there are a lot of commonsense national standards that Australians want and they will demand their governments deliver them. If the states deliver them, well they're happy, if the states don't they'll call on us to use whatever power we can to make sure that they're delivered.

CLARK:

I suppose the point I am making is that you do have the power to do this...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have...

CLARK:

I mean, this endless buck passing between Federal and state governments can now stop.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, Philip, that is where, with respect, you are wrong. This case has not given us extraordinary new powers in...

CLARK:

No, I understand that. It's underlined your....

PRIME MINISTER:

It has underlined Commonwealth power in relation to a number of economic issues but it doesn't mean that our power in relation to things like health and education is necessarily any different because the power that was used in relation to the industrial relations legislation, the Corporations Power, the interpretation, rather, has been there for a long time and what the High Court did was maintain the interpretation applied by earlier High Courts.

CLARK:

Okay. Just, a lot of people want to have their say, we'll try and keep it as brief as possible. Richard on the line from Malabar. G'day Richard.

CALLER:

Hi, how are you?

CLARK:

I am well thanks.

CALLER:

Mr Prime Minister, I have just got two things to make a comment about. As a person who has taken an interest in the Constitution and of our history, we are unique in the world that we have a section called 128. It's a section where a referendum of the people decide for changes. Unfortunately, I don't like what you or any other Federal Government has done. You have now, I believe, undermined the very constitutional process of this country...

CLARK:

Rather than making...Richard, Richard, I don't want you to make a speech, I want you to ask a question.

CALLER:

Well my question is this, if you have so much faith in the Australian people why didn't you go to a referendum on the same issue which was defeated four times in our history?

CLARK:

This is the industrial relations issue. Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what were the four times?

CLARK:

Well there weren't four times, I think there has been a referendum, I think, on one occasion.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think, way back in 1920s there was an attempt to refer all the industrial relations power back to the states which is the reverse of what we tried to do and it resulted in the defeat of the then prime minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce. That's what happened and I think that was in 1929 or 1930. But look, we didn't have a referendum because we didn't need one, we enacted a law which we believed was constitutional and the High Court agreed with us. I mean, we do that every day, Commonwealth governments do that every day, I mean with respect Richard, you are saying that every time there's a controversial issue we should have a vote. I don't think the Australian people would appreciate that.

CLARKE:

Kate's on the line. Hello Kate.

CALLER:

Regardless of this particular decision, Prime Minister, is there any mechanism to ensure that adequate dental health services are provided including things like root canal treatment which is virtually impossible in New South Wales and which Amanda Vanstone apparently had today, privately.

CLARK:

A bit of buck passing has gone on over this, Prime Minister, is it a chance for the Federal Government to step in and do something about this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the Federal Government could step in and do everything, then you would have no states. I mean, people can't, and I am not saying the lady who has asked me the question is in this category, but the states can't have it both ways. They can't fail to discharge responsibilities for which they have been historically fixed, but complain if the Commonwealth does things that they don't like the Commonwealth doing. Public dental health services have always been a responsibility of the states. They are plainly not putting enough money into it and they should. And in my view the remedy for that lies in the hands of the voting publics of the various states. They should require of their state governments and, I might say, of their state Oppositions, that a greater priority be given to this. But if you get a situation where every time there is a failure by a state government to do something, it should be the Commonwealth then comes in and does it, then you might as well wind up the states because the states are no longer discharging any of their responsibilities.

CALLER:

Prime Minister, given that you give funds to the states, is there any mechanism that you can, as it were, compel them to use them for the purposes for which they ought to be used such as...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you can attach conditions but we have taken the view in the past that you are virtually making states branch-offices of the Commonwealth if you require that every single dollar you give them should be expended in a particular way. And I do have some sympathy for that view and once again it's a question of whether you really believe in a Federal system. If you believe in a Federal system, then you can accept that some things are clearly our responsibility, some things are clearly state responsibilities and others are mixed responsibilities. And at the political level, you exact a price on governments that fail to meet their responsibilities and that applies to both sides of politics. I am not saying this is exclusively a problem for the states because they all happen to be Labor at the present time.

CLARK:

Just back on that Prime Minister, there's been a lot of frustration, I think, here in New South Wales about the state of play here. I mean a former Minister Milton Orkopoulos has tried to commit suicide after facing 30 serious drug and sex charges, some of them involving children, that's the allegation. It's the latest in a long line of dramas at the Ministerial level before the Labor Government here. Are they electorally terminal here in New South Wales do you think?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I hope they lose the next election. They deserve to. I can't comment on the Orkopoulos case. He's entitled a presumption of innocence and I offer no view at all on that. But I do say that there's been a long list of ministerial failures. Mr Scully, Mr Hickey, the rather appalling state of public transport services and some deficiencies in the public hospitals system. I do believe the New South Wales Government has been found wanting on so many issues. Whether it is terminal or not, well that is a matter for the people of New South Wales and this is how it should be. The people of New South Wales should make a judgement about the quality of its state government compared with the alternative offered by the Opposition. And I will be certainly doing everything I can as a Liberal to help Mr Debnam, but I obviously, as Prime Minister, I will work with the elected premiers of the various states. I have done that over the last 10 years. Most of the time I have worked with Labor premiers because most of the time during that 10 year period, the voting public in the various states have elected Labor premiers. And I work with whoever is elected, that's my responsibility.

CLARK:

You're off to APEC tomorrow.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

CLARK:

And I think this will be the first time you've spoken to, certainly seen President Bush since the US mid-term elections.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I haven't spoken to him since the elections.

CLARK:

He lost control of Congress.

PRIME MINISTER:

I knew that I would be seeing him at APEC. I will be having lunch with him on Friday.

CLARK:

What will you be saying to him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we'll be talking about, as fellow political leaders, we'll be talking about the changed domestic political scene, we'll talk about Iraq.

CLARK:

Do you accept, by the way, that some of that result was due to America's Iraq policy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, there's no doubt some of it was. That wasn't the only explanation. They had a number of very damaging scandals. There was a lot of unhappiness by some of their supporters about the fact that the budget was in deficit and the Administration did not run a very disciplined fiscal policy. But Iraq was a significant factor. Of course, I accept that.

CLARK:

Okay, some might say that you have had a sudden road to Damascus conversion on the climate change issue Prime Minister. I was listening to your comments with Alan this morning about that issue. Is that the case or have you suddenly been convinced? You've had a viewing of the Al Gore movie.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I have seen the Al Gore movie and it didn't really move me a great deal.

CLARK:

You didn't think it was persuading in some respects?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, not really no. Well most of what was in it I'd heard before. It did have a lot of political overtone to it. If you go back two-and-a-half years when we put out an energy white paper, we laid out a program of investing in clean coal technologies, we laid out a program of establishing a fund to help clean coal technology and solar power investments and we've announced quite a number of those things over the last few weeks. My position is that I accept that there is global warming.

CLARK:

Do you think it's man made? I mean that appears to be the key issue doesn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think men and women have made a contribution. How much, I don't know. How fast the atmosphere is deteriorating, I think all of these things are arguable. But I accept that there is a weight of evidence that we have got too many greenhouse gas emissions, we should, on the good insurance principle, act in a prudent fashion in case the worst predictions might be close to being right. But we have to do it in a way that doesn't damage our economy and we have to include every energy source in the solution including nuclear power because if we do act to clean up coal, we will make it dearer to use. And as we make coal dearer to use, we make nuclear power relatively cheaper to use. And that is how it is impossible to keep nuclear power out of this equation.

CLARK:

Australia stands to benefit a lot from this though doesn't it? I mean it's already a world leader in a lot of these technologies, particularly clean coal and solar technologies in particular. I mean there are opportunities for Australia as well as losses here aren't there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course, and we need sensibly to balance them. Australia has got to play her part. I accept that and I will argue for it, but we have to act in a way that it doesn't disadvantage us and we have to remember that other countries, particularly the Europeans, approach this issue from a different standpoint. They don't export large amounts of fossil fuel, and therefore their solutions are different from our solutions. I would be very happy to consider an emissions trading system of which Australia were part, provided other countries are in it as well. But I am not attracted to the idea that we should unilaterally adopt one because there's a risk that that could disadvantage some of our industries, especially those that are very valuable to us.

CLARK:

We're heading that way and we've already seen it in some energy, in some of the energy arrangements we have with a bit of carbon trading and emissions trading going on. We're going to see more and more of that though aren't we?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what I have done is announce the establishment; and I will be saying more about this soon, of a joint task group between the Government and the business community to examine what shape a world emissions trading scheme might take and what steps along the path to that might be taken here in Australia. I had a meeting today with senior executives of resource companies. They included Don Argus, the Chairman of BHP Billiton and Michael Chaney, the Chairman of the Business Council of Australia, and representatives of oil companies and major coal exporters and the aluminium industry, and there's a high level of agreement about the need for the Government and the business community to work together. It was a very productive meeting. But people want to deal with this in a balanced and sensible way. We have to make a contribution, but we only account for 1.4 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and I am not going to see this country's economic advantages thrown away in some panicky response to something that may not turn out to be as bad as many people are predicting.

CLARK:

But in short you do accept that the Earth has warmed and that human beings may have contributed to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I accept that the earth has warmed, how much historically, I guess, can be measured. We've had warm and cold periods in the past. How much it will warm in the future is a matter of debate. I accept there has been some contribution by mankind, I also accept that we need to, on the good insurance principle, take prudent steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But what Australia will do in this area has to be influenced by Australia's natural advantages and I am not going to throw away those natural advantages.

CLARK:

Rita hello.

CALLER:

Oh hi. Thank you for being there Phillip. Mr Howard, would you be able to find in the next election, to allow young people to take a percentage of their super funds to get into the first home buyers market? You are never so poor as not having a home to call your own and it's a great motivator when you have a place to belong to. And it's a nation building thing I think, home ownership.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I agree with that. Whether letting them have super, and bearing in mind that at the age of say 30, the amount of super a lot of young people might have accumulated would not be enormous, and therefore allowing access to it for the purpose of buying a home might not make an enormous contribution to buying the home, but it will deplete the pool of savings which is meant for a person's retirement is a factor I'd take into account. We have looked at this in the past Rita, and... is it Rita? Yes...

CLARK:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

We have looked at it in the past and decided for those and other reasons not to do it. But I'm not saying we're going to do it, but they're the sort of things you always keep on the table for examination.

CLARK:

Just on the petrol issue, I mean a number of people reporting around Sydney today that it's gone below a dollar. That's got to have a beneficial effect on inflation and in turn on interest rates doesn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

The most important thing is that it will help Australian families. That's terrific, if it has gone below a dollar. I remember a few months ago I was foolish enough to theorise, romanticise, that it might go to $1.15 and some of my friends said what on earth did you say that for? Now it was a bit of romanticising, but clearly there's been a fall in demand and also an increase in supply and that's why around the world the price has come down. That will help people. The impact it has on inflation, and through inflation, interest rates will depend on how long it stays at that level.

CLARK:

Alright. Prime Minister good to talk to you and good luck on your trip to APEC. And by the way, you will be visiting the site of the Long Tan Battle as well.

PRIME MINISTER:

I will, after I've been to the meeting in Hanoi, I will go down to what was the old Saigon, or Ho Chi Min City, and then I will visit the site of the Long Tan Battle.

CLARK:

Good to talk with you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 22595