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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 22808

Interview with Dave Harrison 4TO, Townsville

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: 17/05/2000

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 22808

Subjects: Interest rates; GST; childcare; Budget spending.

E&OE ………………………………………………………………………

HARRISON:

Prime Minister, welcome to Paradise as your local member calls it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, Peter Lindsay is always telling me that he is the member for Paradise.

HARRISON:

And you’re going to Heaven a little later on in the day.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Warren Entsch says that further north there is heaven, yes there you are. I won’t get into that. A bit like the State of Origin – I’m neutral.

HARRISON:

That’s a good idea, we could get you to referee the way things are going.

HARRISON:

Do you like the surrounds? They’ve got the (inaudible) as we affectionately call it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, it is very, very attractive.

HARRISON:

We’re all dressed in blue, it could be a Liberal Party Convention to all intents and purposes.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, you are going to give me a tough time.

HARRISON:

No I am not. Quickly if we can go onto things that we share – our audience are very concerned about interest rates and the move last night in the States.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the future of interest rates in Australia, immediately should be decided by the Reserve Bank, it controls official interest rates.

HARRISON:

But can’t you have a say in that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the actual control of interest rates is handled by the central bank, the Government allows the central bank independence in that.

HARRISON:

It’s saying that aren’t we, someone suggested this morning, a colony in terms of our . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I was very interested in a speech made yesterday by the Secretary of the Treasury, Ted Evans and I agree with him that Australia has a lot of independence of movement as far as our interest rates and other things are concerned. But that is a matter that the bank will have to take into account when it next meets. And I don’t want to make a judgement at this stage as to what it might do. All I can point to is that there are some differences between the American economy and the Australian. And the rate of growth in the United States is somewhat stronger than it is in Australia although it is very strong in Australia. Interest rates now are much lower than what they were, even allowing for the recent increases than what they were four years ago.

HARRISON:

New Zealand 6.5, the States 6.5 – obviously there is some concern out there within the financial circles and I suppose in saying that we’ve got the GST coming in, we’ve got a currency that’s great for exports, terrific, wages growth which you’ve acknowledged and an oil . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the wages growth is actually very comfortably within the Reserve Bank’s range. I mean wages growth in Australia is not a problem, inflation is not a problem either. There will be a one off, cost of living increase as a result of the introduction of the GST. That will be in the September quarter, it will go up and then it will come down. You’ll have that one off effect and the Reserve Bank’s acknowledged that, the Treasury Secretary acknowledged that yesterday. I mean all of the indicators are good. It’s always hard for a prime minister to talk about the currency and interest rates because you have these people pouring over their screens and they analyse words and they often misinterpret them , so I am pretty wary, I’ve always been very wary and I’ve always chosen my words very carefully on these issues and anything I’ve said has always been on the very careful, conservative side. We are part of the world economy, we can’t separate ourselves from the world economy, but that doesn’t mean to say that we have to in a knee jerk fashion, follow everything that happens overseas. Now that judgement will ultimately have to be made by the Reserve Bank, because we do like every other industrialised country now – the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany – we allow the central bank to set the level of interest rates in a non-political environment. Now that’s the decision that was taken by the Government when it came to office and we have to go along with that. We thought it was a good idea in the early years, and we still have to accept the discipline of that. That doesn’t mean to say that you don’t have views on how the economy is performing. I think the Australian economy is still very low inflation, wages growth is quite comfortable, our interest rates now, even allowing for the recent increases, are massively below what they were – the 17/18/20% we had with Keating I mean it’s a world of difference….. . .

HARRISON:

So there is no J-curve and there’s no Banana Republic?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there is no J-curve and there is no Banana Republic, in fact it’s a very prosperous economy.

HARRISON:

Howard’s way

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, certainly prosperity is Howard’s way, yes. Very much so.

HARRISON:

We’ll come back and take more in a moment.

Prime Minister John Howard joins us, let’s take some calls. Good morning Mike. Sylvia sorry, good morning.

CALLER:

Good morning. I just have a little question about whether the Prime Minister will be looking into native land title within Australia and Queensland?

PRIME MINISTER:

What’s the question Sylvia?

CALLER:

About, where something will be done about native land title.

PRIME MINISTER:

In what direction?

CALLER:

In what direction? You know, releasing more ground for mining, that type of thing.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you want fewer native title claims and fewer restrictions on mining – is that it?

CALLER:

Yes, that’s right.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I certainly favour the removal of any unnecessary restrictions on mining. We tried to reform the Native Title Act we inherited further than we were able to do, but we were blocked by the Democrats and the Labor Party in the Senate on that. We ended up getting a compromise ten-point plan through the Senate which Senator Harradine supported, but the Labor Party and the Democrats voted against. And the big question now is what happens to the Queensland arrangement that Mr Beattie has put together if as I believe it will probably be, and I expect if it’s okay it will be approved by the Federal Government it’s then a question of whether the Labor Party and the Democrats vote against more mining in Queensland or in favour of more mining. It will be quite a crucial test for the Labor Party, because see what happened was when the Northern Territory put forward its regime that was knocked over by the Labor Party and the Democrats. And I want to know whether they are going to do the same to the mining industry in Queensland. It will be a very interesting test of how serious they are about jobs in North Queensland.

Our ten-point plan was a fair deal for everybody. It took account of the aboriginal claims, but it also respected the fact that the mining industry in Queensland employs a lot of Australians, indigenous Australians and other Australians as well. And I am in favour of development and sensible balanced mining and I want to know whether the Labor Party in Canberra is in favour of that or against it. It will be a very interesting test of their commitment to jobs in regional Australia.

HARRISON:

Sylvia, thanks for your call, leave it there. Mark good morning. Hello Mark?

CALLER:

Yes.

HARRISON:

Go ahead.

CALLER:

Mr Prime Minister, this is Mark William Bailey here.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes Mark?

CALLER:

You know that I am Satan the Devil made (inaudible), you know that I am God? You know the evidence is the 14th of elleventh, 1997 the case before (inaudible) in the Magistrates Court? Ok.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

CALLER:
I have written to youse, I have told youse and youse are committing treason against me mate. So please stop committing treason invite me down there and listen to my opinion please.

HARRISON:

Ok Mark we’ll leave it there. Or do you want to continue on with that Prime Minister? Are you there Mark?

CALLER:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, well I have taken note, yes, thank you.

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HARRISON:

That is the number if you would like to talk to the PM. And now the next caller is Peter. Go ahead Pete.

CALLER:

Hello? Is that the Prime Minister there now is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes Peter.

CALLER:

Right, just a query on ex-servicemen. Number one, there would appear to be a discrimination in people that save their money in relation to servicemen with the same particulars and service and that type of thing. In other words, the Government’s encouraging us to be self-funded. Now any self-funded servicemen has to be 100% disabled in order to get the gold card. Whereas a pensioner, even if he is receiving one dollar only has to be 50% disabled to get the gold card. I’ve often wondered why all service personnel, serving and ex, who have done twenty years can’t be issued with the gold card automatically.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Peter, can I . . . I am not sure that is the position, I am really not. I am not aware of discrimination. I mean we made the gold card available to people over a certain age who’d had a certain level of service.

CALLER:

For World War II, once they hit seventy-five or eighty. And there’s not too many of them left.

PRIME MINISTER:

Seventy . . . well that was the gold card principle that applied in relation to people from World War I. We followed the same rule and as people from the Korean War and so forth move into that age bracket, the same thing will happen to them. I am not aware, I’ll investigate it as a result of what you said.

CALLER:

Well if you could.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am not aware of any discrimination against self-funded people. But if you leave your address with the station, I’ll have that checked out and somebody will write to you. Ok?

CALLER:

Well, Mr Prime Minister I hope it doesn’t take thirty-five years as it did to recognise areas of South East Asia.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I wasn’t Prime Minister thirty-five years ago . . .

CALLER:

Well Bob Hawke came over, promised us the world, but he went for a swim, didn’t he?

HARRISON:

Peter, I suggest what you do is contact . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

I will respond to your query, but can I say that I’m, I don’t accept without investigation that your claim of discrimination is accurate. I am not aware of that and I will check it out and I will let you know.

CALLER:

Thanks very much.

HARRISON:

Okay, let’s take our next call. Hello Gus? Go ahead.

CALLER:

Yes John.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes Gus.

CALLER:

Yes, look just ringing in to say look, just (inaudible) and really appreciate what you’re doing and what you’re trying to do and don’t let all the knockers get in the way.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh well you always have knockers in this game. But thanks very much. I appreciate your words of support, they’re welcome.

CALLER:

Good on you, just keep doing a good job.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ok mate, thanks a lot.

HARRISON:

Let’s take more calls with the Prime Minister and Mike, go ahead mate.

CALLER:

Morning Mr Prime Minister, congratulations on a good job so far.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

CALLER:

Mr Prime Minister, I would like to talk about the latest news on (inaudible). I am not totally au fait with it, so excuse me if I make a couple of mistakes on it. But the thing where we’re taking nannies for politicians to be with their parents whilst their parents are down in Canberra or wherever. Now I think that’s a fantastic idea but really the way I look at it is if we are talking about bringing family units together, I mean why isn’t that . . . why can’t people who are living away from home do the same thing as well and use it as a tax deduction? Is childcare going to be a tax deduction from now on? Or . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what we’ve done in and you will see the benefits of this on the 1st of July, we have increased the benefits payable to all families who have the eligible level of income for the cost of caring, or raising children. We don’t have a straight tax deduction and this, for the cost of childcare in the ordinary sense of that. What we do is we subsidise the cost of childcare for people up to a certain level of income and that’s quite generous and then we have a limited tax subsidy, we have had a limited tax subsidy, irrespective of income. And all of those things, or most of them have been rolled into one simplified family benefit that is going to be payable through the family tax assistance office after the 1st of July.

The thing about the nannies and the politicians, that wasn’t a tax proposal. That was a limited entitlement for people to have their nanny or carer travel with them to certain destinations if they were on official duties. It’s actually somewhat more limited, it’s a recommendation of the Remuneration Tribunal. It was not a decision of the Government, but was a recommendation of the Remuneration Tribunal,has a rather more limited application than people have suggested.

CALLER:

Mr Prime Minister I do ask though that if I’m going away on a two week excursion or work trip – shouldn’t I be entitled to do the same thing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that would be a matter. That’s a matter, I mean I stress the politician is not getting a tax benefit. What they’re being entitled to do is to get support in the cost of bringing the carer with them. Now the question of whether that applies to other people would be a matter of individual discussion between employers and employees.

CALLER:

Right, so that . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean it is not something that could be provided by the Government. It’s something that would have to be determined as a matter of individual negotiations with your employer. I mean some people do this, some people don’t. It depends. It depends a lot on what your caring arrangements are.

CALLER:

Right ok. So it’s a benefit that can be applied to the, their associated package then?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no, its a matter of individual negotiation, it’s not something that the Government can say to an employer, you provide this, or you don’t provide it. That’s a matter for the individual employer.

CALLER:

Mr Prime Minister, thank you very much and good luck with the GST.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks a lot.

HARRISON:

I like that guy. “Good luck with the GST” – I think we’ll probably all need that. Let’s take another call.

PRIME MINISTER:

You will find it is very good. Once it has been in for . . .

HARRISON:

Someone called it the grand scale theft. Is that a fair comment?

PRIME MINISTER:

That sounds like . . . what – does he belong to the ALP?

HARRISON:

Look I am not going to make any more comments. Ron good morning.

CALLER:

Good morning John, how are you going?

PRIME MINISTER:

Very well thanks.

CALLER:

You always sound on top of the world to me.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I try to, it’s a struggle.

CALLER:

It’s a bugger of a job, isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

You could put it that way. But I tell you what it’s interesting, you wouldn’t miss it.

CALLER:

That’s right. Hey mate, there is one thing – I am a Townsvillian through and through, I am getting to that stage in life where I am almost retired type of thing you know. But I have always had one dream being a port city, you know with shipping, all that sort of stuff. And that’s the lifeblood of the city and you probably heard at that Korean thing yesterday.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I did.

CALLER:

There’s been a lot of talk about increasing traffic through the [inaudible] into the port road, rail traffic, and all that sort of thing. And I’ve been privileged to attend a few meetings, committees, pertaining to that around the town. And we get something in the pipeline, you are probably well aware of it from Peter Lindsay here, regarding the . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he is sitting next to me here, I am very well aware of it.

CALLER:

Well he’d know about the Eastern Corridor Road, you know. And we’re just working on a system – how is the Budget going for funding.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I have had a number of people, including your Federal Member, Peter Lindsay, put to me this proposition and I had another submission put to me yesterday afternoon by representatives of the city and it’s something that we will take on board and think about. I am not making any promises on the run. Nonetheless I am aware of the importance of this to the city. We have been very supportive of Townsville – Townsville Medical School, the extra spending in the barracks, and many other benefits that have come to this region. We will listen very carefully to what people put to us and at the appropriate time we will consider whether it is something that can be included or not. I mean I am aware of it, I know how importance it is as you can appreciate as I go around the country I get similar proposals put to me by every local community I visit.

CALLER:

For sure.

PRIME MINISTER:

You can’t support them all. You try and list them according to their national interest priority and support those that will bring the most benefit for the country and certainly the port here is very important, not only to Townsville and North Queensland, but also to Australia because of its contribution to our export income. I am aware of all of those things and we’ll give it very conscientious consideration.

CALLER:

Really appreciate that mate because I think (inaudible) really hinges on the…..

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there is a number of things that it hinges on, it also on the hinges on the pipeline as well.

CALLER:

Oh sure.

HARRISON:

Industrial harmony I would suggest..

PRIME MINISTER:

Industrial harmony and the GST will help because exports are cheaper with the GST.

HARRISON:

(inaudible) Finally PM before you go, road funding. The Bruce holeway as we affectionately call it. Can we fix that up?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can’t on the run give a promise about a particular part of the National Highway. I am aware of the importance attached to road funding.In the last Budget we decided to give an absolute priority to fixing the biggest single problem in country Australia. Not so much in a city like Townsville, but in the outlying areas, and that is the inadequacy of doctors and health services. And rather than spray money around on a number of areas we decided to put quite a lot of money into one area and really try and fix it. And that is what I believe we have done with the health issue. The programme we announced is comprehensive, it does more than any other single act of a Federal Government for fifty years to tackle the problem of health services in the country areas of Australia.

Now there is a time we can can turn I hope to other issues. That depends on resources, it depends on other priorities, including defence. I have indicated in the past that we have a commitment that we will spend more money on defence. And not- we are spending a little bit more money this year, but particularly next year and the following. That’s very important to Townsville because this is a great garrison city of Australia if I can put it that way. There is no city in Australia where the defence establishment is more at its heart than Townsville.

So there are a lot of things that will compete for the funds available. You can’t in an orderly way do other than sort of take a decision on what your priority is. We decided this year, the big priority was fixing rural health. And we have put a lot of money, a lot of effort and a lot of new policies into that and I think people in the country areas appreciate that. Having done that, well we will then see what we’ve got available for other things including roads, including you know a number of infrastructure areas. I mean we will obviously have to spend money on infrastructure in the next few years. We will be able to spend a lot more money earlier if we could sell the rest of Telstra. We could because I mean we in five budgets, we will have reduced from 80 billion dollars to 30 billion dollars the debt that labor ran up in its last five budgets. Now if we could sell Telstra by the year 2004, we would be completely free of net commonwealth debt and that would enable us to spend more money at an earlier date on infrastructure than would otherwise be the case. I mean what is the point of having 50 billion dollars tied up in a phone company rather than having it invested in public infrastructure like roads and so forth, I mean what’s the point?

HARRISON:

And finally, obviously rural Australia, regional Australia is fairly important to you and important to all governments. You will go the full term and will the election we won and lost in the bush?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the election is won or lost in the entire country. You can’t just sort just say its only going to matter in the bush. I mean that is an insult to people who live in the cities. Everywhere matters. As far as when the election will be, I see no reason to have the election earlier than the due date which is about the end of next year. We only have three years and it’s a bit silly to cut that short. Three years is a very short period of time and it’s a bit silly to cut that short when you don’t have to. And I see absolutely no reason to go earlier than the end of next year and there is no reason to do that. As far as country Australia is concerned, can I just make one comment about the debate in the last few days and I know Mr Beazley is playing around with this Country Labor. Country people are...

HARRISON:

Its rebranding …

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look the country people are not interested in that kind of branding. Country people are interested in substance, not gimmicks with names. You’ve got to do more than rebadge yourself or rename yourself , you’ve got to change yourself and change your attitude towards regional Australia and I think in the long run, people will judge us, and I make no assumptions. I don’t take anything for granted in politics. I think you have to win every inch of the way by your performance. I don’t assume that people have always voted for me are going to do so in the future any more than do I assume that people have always voted Labor, again are going to vote Labor in the future either. I mean I am always interested in trying to win people over from the other side, as my opponent is. But can I just say that you need more than playing around with names. You have to offer substance and in the budget we addressed something of substance and that is the health issue [inaudible]. Some months for it all to come through but I believe in a years time, people will look back on that budget and say well those blokes really got hold of the problem and they addressed it in a big way and that is what country people want there. They are down to earth, interested in substance people, not people who are deluded by flashy name changes which mean nothing in reality.

HARRISON:

Prime Minister, John Howard, thanks for your time.

ends

Transcript 22808