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Transcript 22623

Interview with Neil Mitchell Radio 3AW, Melbourne

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: 08/12/2006

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 22623

MITCHELL:

Mr Howard, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil. No it's very important and we're all very concerned about the threat in Victoria over the weekend and I think all your listeners wanted to hear all that.

MITCHELL:

What will the; what's the Federal Government's role in this? I mean, we're told this could be the worst since 1939?

PRIME MINISTER:

I rang Mr Bracks yesterday and offered him any Commonwealth help that might be needed by Victoria, any Commonwealth help. I know he's already getting some help from army units and he told me he'd be making a request for some further assistance and as soon as that's received we'll respond. We spoke for a few minutes about it and I just want people to know that any assistance Victoria needs it will get from the Commonwealth.

MITCHELL:

It's scary stuff, isn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Very, very, scary stuff. And the terrible combination of circumstances; high temperature, low humidity, all of those things, very bad indeed.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister on other issues, I understand that today there'll be an announcement on new restrictions on what can be carried on to aircraft?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, there will be. The restrictions are going to relate to international flights and we're looking at the domestic side of it. It largely mirrors the, not entirely and Mr Vaile will be making the detailed announcement, it largely mirrors the restrictions that were introduced in the United Kingdom in the aftermath of the foiling of that plot that may have killed thousands of people with mid-air explosions, flights leaving the United Kingdom going to America. And in the circumstances we have no alternative, I know it's a nuisance for people, but we are living in this different era and we have people who don't care about human life and we have to take precautions.

MITCHELL:

So that will affect what is carried on aircraft out of Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

It will and what we do internally is something that's subject to a bit more study because the implications of that are much greater; much, much greater and it affects far more people and it might be assessed that the security risk of that is less. Anyway, we're looking further at that and Mr Vaile will be making a detailed announcement.

MITCHELL:

I assume this is things like liquids and....

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it could be limited and it would need to be in an open, in a clear transparent package.

MITCHELL:

We'll take calls for the Prime Minister today as well, it's the last time I'll speak to him for the year. 9690 0693. Kerry, go ahead please.

CALLER:

Hello, good morning. Prime Minister I'd just like to ask you why you and the Minister decided not to attend the funeral of Captain Mark Bingley today?

MITCHELL:

That's the man killed on the Black Hawk.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the....I'm sorry, go ahead.

CALLER:

Look, I just have to wonder because you went to Jake Kovco's funeral?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Ma'am, the answer is the Minister himself is travelling overseas to attend the AUSMIN talks in the United States with the new Defence Secretary and the Secretary of State. The Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Mr Bruce Billson, and he's also the Assistant Defence Minister, is attending the funeral to represent the Government. For me, I have a meeting of the Prime Minister's Science Council which meets only once every six months and there are scientists and people coming from all over Australia to that meeting. I try to weigh up the competing commitments that I have, and I understand why you asked that question, but that's the explanation.

MITCHELL:

Okay, thank you very much for calling Kerry. Prime Minister, a parliamentary inquiry's suggested tax deductions for childcare, would you consider that, that includes nannies, would you consider it?

PRIME MINISTER:

We will consider the report. I do point out that we effectively have close to full tax deductibility already through the childcare cash rebate for the surplus of childcare expenses over and above the amount you already get through the Government subsidy. That was announced in the last election and under that your out-of-pocket childcare expenses, subject to a cap of $4000 a year per child, is something that attracts a 30 per cent tax rebate. And bearing in mind that more than 80 per cent of Australian taxpayers pay no more than 30 cents in the dollar tax for more than 80 per cent of the population, that is as near as darn it, full tax deductibility already. We'll look at it and we'll look at the other recommendations contained in the report. But at the moment we do already have a very generous system of support for childcare. It's not possible to make childcare completely costless. There has to be some limit, we can't afford to do that.

MITCHELL:

But you accept we've got to do something, I mean the female workforce participation is reported as one of the lowest anywhere, lowest in the world.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but that's not, I mean some of that is undoubtedly due to people being unhappy with the childcare arrangements, I accept that. But some of it is also due to the fact that women may have made the choice, or men, but mainly women, have made the choice when their children are young to stay at home full time.

MITCHELL:

So you're not concerned by that low rate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am concerned to ensure that you have an adequate level of female participation, but I'm also concerned to ensure that people who choose to stay at home while their children are very young, and provide their own childcare, are not totally ignored in this debate. You've got to remember that when somebody drops out of the workforce full time, goes right out of the workforce to care for their children, they give up an entire salary and there has to be some regard paid to their position and some consideration, you've got to strike a balance. Now get the Family Tax Benefit B, which is worth a few thousand dollars a year, that's important and it's valuable. We do provide a childcare cash rebate which subsidises directly to the child care centres the cost of childcare. On top of that we provide this 30 per cent tax rebate for the difference between what you get under the rebate, what you get under the cash payment to the child care centre and what the actual expenses are. Now if we can do more then we will look at the possibility of doing so and I'm very grateful to the committee for the report that it provided to us. But there are a number of reasons why our workforce participation rate is different and not only matters relating to child care. It may well be that incomes and family wealth in this country, well family incomes in this country are sufficiently high for women with young children to exercise more choice about whether they're home full time or part time in the work force.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, a bipartisan American inquiry says Iraq is sliding towards chaos. Is that wrong?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well certainly things in Iraq are going very badly...

MITCHELL:

Is it sliding towards chaos?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think things are going very badly.

MITCHELL:

The other important thing they've done is recommend preparation for a pull out in 2008, so just over a year. Is that achievable? Would Australia go along with that as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they're talking about American forces and we've got to remember in this situation that the Americans have got 100 times more troops in Iraq than we have.

MITCHELL:

Would you hope to be out before then?

PRIME MINISTER:

I would like to be out of Iraq as soon as possible, but...

MITCHELL:

Before 2008?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to make myself, in any way, a hostage to a particular date and bear in mind that President Bush has not made himself hostage to a particular date. There will be changes in American policy, of that I'm certain, after the discussions I had with President Bush in Hanoi and later on in Ho Chi Minh City.

MITCHELL:

What type of changes?

PRIME MINISTER:

I believe the biggest single change will be that they will require the Iraqis to do a lot more and that is a good thing. I believe that...

MITCHELL:

Was George Bush talking about when he wants to be out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he would like to be out as soon as it is responsible to leave.

MITCHELL:

So he's not putting a date on it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No he's not putting a date on it and in none of the discussion I had with him and I had two separate discussions with him in Vietnam, did he commit to a date. Look, everybody would like to be out as soon as possible, we all know it's going badly, but we all know and Baker and Hamilton underlined this, that a precipitate American withdrawal would create a real bloodbath and total chaos and Baker and Hamilton made that perfectly clear and George Bush is not going to embrace that approach, but they will make changes.

MITCHELL:

So do we have an exit strategy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the exit strategy is to go when the coalition is satisfied that the country can reasonably look after itself.

MITCHELL:

So it's really the call of the coalition?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's governed by the conditions in the country and the idea that...

MITCHELL:

Who assess it? Is it the coalition, the Iraqi government, is it you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's a combination. A combination, these things are done through discussion with the Iraqi government and bear in mind that the Iraqis have three times braved the most horrific intimidation in order to establish a democracy. It's governed by the Iraqi government, it's governed by the Americans, the British obviously is the next largest contributor but still, a force that's less than one twentieth of the American contribution. We've got to understand that the sort of circumstances under which the Americans are fighting are different from the circumstances affecting us and to some extent also the British. That's not to say that all of them aren't in very dangerous situations and therefore whilst there is an incredibly large amount of consultation and discussion, in the end the greatest burden is being carried by the Americans and, of course, the Americans are suffering the highest number of casualties as well.

[Commercial break]

PRIME MINISTER:

The Prime Minister is with us, we'll take another call, Peter go ahead please.

CALLER:

Thank you. Prime Minister, we have, Australia has troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have troops in, I believe, still, in East Timor, the Solomons. We've had them New Guinea and I think Tonga...

PRIME MINISTER:

Not all at the same time.

CALLER:

With a military coup imminent...

MITCHELL:

Military coup...

CALLER:

...and the request from their Prime Minister, why didn't we send any troops to Fiji?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well because I didn't want the horror of Australian and Fijian troops firing at each other in the streets of Suva. The Fijian military is quite well trained, it's some thousands strong. This is an internal dispute and the country was not being attacked, it was being subject to a military coup. There have been military coups in the past and we haven't sent troops.

MITCHELL:

Arguably, all that applies to Timor though?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well yes, but Timor was something for which we historically had a particular link and responsibility. We'd sent troops as part of the United Nations sanctioned intervention in 1999 so there was an ample precedent.

MITCHELL:

Would you rule out sending troops to Fiji at some stage? Or do you think that you won't need to?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you don't speculate and hypothesise about sending troops, you deal with a particular situation. Can I make also the other observation that if you were going to respond to a request for military intervention in a situation like Fiji, it is something that would have been carefully planned. I mean I got this request right at the last minute from the Prime Minister. Now I understand his position and I have a lot of regard and respect for him. From a logistic point of view to have mounted some kind of military operation against a resistant Fijian military, and we never contemplated doing that I want to make that very clear to your listeners; but I just want to extend my answer to deal with the logistic difficulties. To have done that at the last minute without preparation would have guaranteed very significant Australian causalities and I am not prepared to risk the lives of Australian men and women needlessly.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister you once described Pauline Hanson as a flash in the pan, she's trying to make a comeback, will she succeed?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think so, but that will be for the voters. I don't believe that people are very interested in what she is saying now, but...

MITCHELL:

What do you think about her comments on black Africans bringing AIDS into the country and Muslims undermining Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't think particular groups should be targeted. You know the strength and my feeling about a cohesive Australian culture and my belief that when people come to this country they should become Australians and I've always been very critical of zealous multiculturalism as you know over the years. But I don't think it really helps to target people by reference to their race or their religion. I'd like to believe that we treat people according to how they behave and if they behave like Australians and are good Australians, the fact that they are black, or of a different religion from what I might be, it doesn't matter.

MITCHELL:

David Hicks, five years tomorrow.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

MITCHELL:

How can long can this drag on now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am not happy about it having taken so long and we are on a very regular basis, pressing the Americans for a commitment that he be formerly charged under the new military commission and Mr Ruddock spoke to his counterpart Mr Gonzales earlier this week and we are very hopeful that there will be formal charges bought against him early in the New Year. Five years is a long time and we want him tried under the new rules established after the Supreme Court decision. I raised the matter with President Bush when I saw him in Vietnam and Mr Ruddock has spoken to Gonzales about it and when Dr Nelson sees his counterpart in the United States in the next few days and Alexander Downer joins him, they will raise the matter again. I discussed it with both of them yesterday.

MITCHELL:

Have they really got any reason, I mean what reason do they give?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well one of the reasons is that Hicks' lawyers have appealed against the legality of the process and one of the explanations for the five years is that probably up to 18 months to two years of that period of time has been accounted for by the legal process that's trying to stop the military commission going ahead.

MITCHELL:

So it's his fault he's been...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm...

MITCHELL:

He's not even charged at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER:

And that is not a good situation and I am nonetheless constrained to point out that the constant appeals have accounted for a lot of the delay.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister there has been a bit of a campaign running in this town about a disease called EB where sufferers need bandages, in fact $3,000 a month it costs them, it's a fatal disease, it's a dreadful thing, it hits a lot kids. The sufferers tell me and tell the newspapers that the Government just won't subsidise those bandages.

PRIME MINISTER:

The Federal Government?

MITCHELL:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Under what program, what, under the...?

MITCHELL:

Well under the PBS or anything.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah well...

MITCHELL:

I mean look I know you won't be aware of it, I wondered just if you could look at it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I will, I won't make any promises, and I don't know all the details of it but I will look at it.

MITCHELL:

Can we get those details to your office. Have you a reshuffle coming up?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't normally speculate about those things. If I decide to have A reshuffle I'll say so, if I don't you won't hear anything from me, you won't hear a squeak out of me. I can say this, that there is, of all the Cabinet Ministers I have, they are all performing well, the Cabinet ministers.

MITCHELL:

What about those outside the Cabinet?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think they are doing well too. I mean one of the dilemmas I have is I have a lot of good ministers and I've got quite a handful of people outside the ministry who could be very good ministers and I only have one colleague, and everybody knows that's Rod Kemp, who's indicated he won't be standing for re-election. So, you know, anyway, I simply make the point that people should not assume that there's going to be a reshuffle, I haven't made any decisions in relation to that that would cause me to say anything about it.

MITCHELL:

Are Kevin Rudd's family shareholdings an issue?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not for me.

MITCHELL:

No? Doesn't matter?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I am not going to be getting into any of that. She's entitled to have her business interests. I think this sort of thing is, you know, something that we should keep away from. I thought the attack on Ted Baillieu was outrageous, absolutely outrageous. And providing people behave ethically in relation to conflicts of interests, I don't really think people should be sneered at for owning shares. But it will be fascinating in the light of all of this to see how the Labor Party behaves in the future. I noticed Mr Bracks found himself unable to comment, given what he and his colleagues had said about Ted Baillieu and his wife. I thought that attack on Ted Baillieu was absolutely ridiculous.

MITCHELL:

Do you think perhaps Julia Gillard's hair is a bit more important?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'll stay right away from that.

MITCHELL:

On a more serious...

PRIME MINISTER:

Right away from that.

MITCHELL:

On a more serious note, have you spoken to Kim Beazley?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have message-banked each other. I rang him on a couple of occasions. I left a message on his mobile, he then rang back and left a message with my Principal Private Secretary saying look he just...thank you very much for calling John, but I just want to be left alone for a few days and we'll have a yarn later on. I felt terribly sorry for him and as you know we helped to get him back to Perth as quickly as possible after the death of his brother. And I feel very sorry for his parents, they are very elderly and they are lovely people and I wish them all well and bare him no ill will at all.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister just to review the year quickly, highs and lows. High for you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I think the successful implementation, speaking politically, the successful implementation and the subsequent validation of its legality by the High Court of the WorkChoices legislation. It's a huge step forward and I think part of this very strong labour market now is due a little bit to WorkChoices and certainly I can say that all the prophecies of mass sackings and everything have been proved completely wrong. So I think that has been the significant political development, policy development during the year.

MITCHELL:

Are you going to have a holiday?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes I will have a holiday through most of January and I, like everybody else, I need a break and I certainly look forward to doing so.

MITCHELL:

Well thanks for your time, and thanks for your help again through the year.

PRIME MINISTER:

Always and a Merry Christmas to you Neil and your family and all of your listeners and I look forward to resuming the acquaintance early in the New Year.

MITCHELL:

I thought you were going to say resuming hostilities.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, no, no, no, never hostility. No, sometimes when I am in trouble there are, which is fair enough.

MITCHELL:

Thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay.

[ends]

Transcript 22623