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Transcript 22866

Interview with Ross Peddleston, ABC Radio, Launceston

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: 11/08/2000

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 22866

Subjects: Unemployment figures; Tasmanian Liberal Party; launch of the Intelligent Island programme; Stolen Generation; Alwyn Johnson; relations with Malaysia; Senator Jocelyn Newman

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

PEDDLESTON:

John Howard good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Ross. Nice to be with you and your listeners.

PEDDLESTON:

Okay and great to have you here in Tasmania. First of all we’ll start with the good news. You must be pleased with the unemployment figures.

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m pleased for the people who’ve got jobs. It is a terrific figure. This is the human dividend, the human side of good economic policy. Good economic policy is not something you should feel satisfied about for its own sake. It’s only useful if it helps people and gives them jobs and gives them hope and gives them opportunity. And that’s what we’re seeing in the labour market. And there’s no reason why that figure can’t remain low where it is or perhaps even go a bit lower if we can keep economic growth on an even keel. If we can have some more changes to industrial relations to make things a bit more flexible particularly to help small business then I think we can get the rate even lower. And that is tremendous news. We’ve got 809,000 more Australians in work over the last four and a half years. And it’s a terrific figure. The participation rate, that’s the measure of people wanting work, actually went up last month.

PEDDLESTON:

By the same token though is it not frustrating to have various chief economists at stock brokers’ firms standing up in front of television cameras and saying oh well this will mean another rise in interest rates, a rise which would hurt people who have mortgages?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s a free country. A chief economist like everybody else have got to justify their wages. They’ve got to stand up and make statements. And you know we live in a communications era where you put a microphone under somebody’s nose and they’ll have something to say. The measure of interest rate performance is that they are now much lower than they used to be.

PEDDLESTON:

But they’re much higher than they were a year ago.

PRIME MINISTER:

They are, they are.

PEDDLESTON:

And for many people that’s wiped out the tax cuts that they got from the GST.

PRIME MINISTER:

It hasn’t wiped out the tax cuts.

PEDDLESTON:

It’s come close.

PRIME MINISTER:

No it hasn’t because if you want to compare tax cuts to interest rate movements you have to take into account the falls in interest rates as well as the increases. And it’s a bit disingenuous to say well because measured from last year interest rates have gone up and you put that against the tax cuts you’ve got to include all the interest rate falls. Now interest rates are a function of a lot of things. I’m not going to make any predictions about future movements but I will make the very firm prediction that unemployment will remain low and go even lower if we keep the economy growing in a steady way. If we can keep growth at over 4% which we’ve now had for 12 successive quarters and for virtually the whole time that this government has been in office, if we can keep that going then we can keep unemployment at least where it is and we can perhaps get it to go lower.

And that really is what our aim, I mean in the end I think your listeners would agree Ross that what matters most is people having jobs and having reasonable wages, fair wages and having some hope that their children will get jobs. Now we have got that kind of economy now a lot more than we’ve had for a number of years and that’s really what we want to keep. Now whatever combination of economic policy is needed to bring that about we’re committed to.

PEDDLESTON:

Okay let’s move onto another issue here. You’re attending the state Liberals’ conference. You’re going to be a keynote speaker there. In that speech will you be addressing the federal Government’s disappointment at a state Liberal Party which is on 28% and doesn’t seem to be able to get any better?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I certainly don’t make speeches from day to day about the latest opinion poll ratings whether they’re state or federal. But whenever a party loses government at a state level people… so it goes into the doldrums and goes through difficult times.

PEDDLESTON:

These are pretty decent old doldrums!

PRIME MINISTER:

Well people said critical things about the Labor Party in Victoria and they upped and won an election last year that nobody expected. Politics is notoriously volatile these days. Yes I’m disappointed we’re in opposition. Yes I’m disappointed that we don’t have any federal seats in the House of Representatives in Tasmania. But I’m also looking to the future. I’m enthusiastic about some of the people who are expressing interest in running as candidates federally. And my main preoccupation over the next 18 months is of course the federal election.

PEDDLESTON:

But you do seem to have bypassed the state party and you’re working specifically and locally in Tasmania to prop up your federal stocks. And in that process you seem to have gone past the state Liberal Party.

PRIME MINISTER:

No I haven’t bypassed the state Liberal Party organisation at all. The Liberal Party organisation here services both the federal parliamentary party and the state parliamentary party. In fact I will meet all the members of the state parliamentary Liberal Party in Tasmania this afternoon. I could hardly be bypassing them. I’m going to have a special session with them.

PEDDLESTON:

Okay but by the same token I mean your people have been offering you to answer the talkback - it’s the only place in Australia that you’re doing it. Clearly you have concerns about the way things are going in Tasmania.

PRIME MINISTER:

You say this is the only place in Australia I’m doing what?

PEDDLESTON:

That you’re being offered specifically to an ABC station for talkback. It has been happening and we’re grateful for it but it is an indication that you’re concerned about Tasmania.

PRIME MINISTER:

Don’t you talk to your colleagues on the mainland? I have regular interviews with your counterparts all around Australia. Have you heard of Phillip Clarke? Have you heard of John Faine?

PEDDLESTON:

I realise that you do interviews…

PRIME MINISTER:

Hang on you, Ross with great respect that is just wrong. You’re implying that the only regional ABC station that I’m willing to have an interview with or talk to is Launceston.

PEDDLESTON:

No I’m talking about talkback. I’m talking about regular talkback.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m talking about talkback as well because I do that regularly with ABC regionals all around the country. I do it in Sydney. I do it in Melbourne. I did it in Melbourne only two nights ago. I was interviewed by Virginia Trioli who’s just joined your drive time. Ross, don’t, I mean you know I’m very happy to have the opportunity to talk to your listeners but you know you shouldn’t try and turn that into some kind of criticism by me of my Tasmanian colleagues. Look I’m disappointed that we lost the last election but we work together. We’re one Liberal Party and I will give an appropriate speech tomorrow morning about the aims and the goals of the federal government. I mean this morning in about ten minutes I’m launching Intelligent Island. Now this will give a dramatic prospect of an IT future for Tasmania totally funded, every last cent coming from the federal government, no money from the state government. Something that was voted against by every Labor senator and every Labor member of the House of Representatives from Tasmania. So I hope in the years ahead we don’t get any Labor members from Tasmania saying what a great initiative Intelligent Island is because they voted against it.

PEDDLESTON:

All right let’s move on to another important issue which will happen today. This afternoon in Darwin the stolen generations’ decision will be given. It’s a watershed for this divisive debate. How will you react to a decision in favour of the complainants?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m not going to comment. I don’t think it’s appropriate or me to comment about the case particularly on the eve of the judgement. And I’m not going to hypothesise. I don’t know what the court’s decision is. We live under the rule of law in this country. It’s a matter for the court and until the judgement is delivered I’m not going to speculate in any way as to what might be in the judgement or how I might react given either alternative.

PEDDLESTON:

But wouldn’t a decision in favour of the complainants make your decision to not apologise because it might have implications for compensation look a bit sick because compensation would then flow from a positive decision?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m going to withhold any comment of any kind until the decision has been handed down. I don’t know what is in the decision. I have no idea which way the court is going to go. And I will wait and hear the decision like everybody else and then if it’s appropriate I’ll have something to say. On the broader issue of a national apology my position on that is known. I keep hearing as late as this morning, people like Lowitja O’Donohue saying that I won’t utter the word sorry. I utter the word sorry on numerous occasions, it’s just that I have a firm view which many Australians share, not all, a lot of people agree with me, a lot of people don’t agree with me that a formal apology in relation to past deeds sanctioned by law of the time is not appropriate. Now that doesn’t mean that I’m not personally very sorry for any injustices that people may have suffered under earlier policies, that doesn’t mean that I believe that they’re policies that should be in vogue today. I don’t believe that at all. But as to the particulars of individual cases which is really what is involved in the judgement that’s to come down this afternoon I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment or hypothesise in any way particularly on the…..either the judgement - as I say I don’t know what’s in it and I’m not going to say anything about it until I have the opportunity of looking at it.

PEDDLESTON:

Okay. Let’s come back to a local issue and one in which you involved yourself. You supported Alwyn Johnson’s call for a State inquiry into [inaudible] case.

PRIME MINISTER:

I did. yes I still do.

PEDDLESTON:

Peter Patmore yesterday rejected that call. What’s your response to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think they’re being miserable on this. I took an interest in this case I think eight or nine years ago, before I returned to the leadership of the Liberal Party when I was spokesman on industrial relations. I think it was 1991 or 1992. I thought the man had been shabbily treated, I still do, and I believe a further inquiry is desirable and I think the Tasmanian government is being unreasonable and unfair in the way it’s reacted. And I’ll continue to pursue the matter.

PEDDLESTON:

Okay. One international issue which I must raise – Malaysia is very much in the news after your comments about the Anwar Ibrahim decision. Why intervene, why say anything and antagonise the Malaysian government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because there are some things that touch the way countries behave and there are some issues that involve what Australians see in simple English as justice and fair treatment that require a Prime Minister, even though it may be resented in another country to say something. You can’t run international relations simply according to the bottom line or the dollars and cents of a situation. I mean people say look don’t offend anybody, don’t ever say anything about anything because you might lose a trade deal or you might lose a bit of investment here and there. I mean of course I’m sensitive to those things but I’m also sensitive to ordinary notions of fair treatment and justice and I think the Australian people expect me to speak on their behalf on occasions like this and I believe that I was speaking on behalf of most Australians when I made those remarks. They were very careful, they were measured. I’m disturbed about what’s occurring. I think it’s a great pity because we have a lot of links with Malaysia. There are 130,000 Malaysians who are graduates of Australian universities. We’ve given a lot in training and helping and educating and we have very close links with the people of Malaysia. We have some difficulties with the government from time to time. I’ve been attacked, my predecessor Mr Keating was attacked by the current Malaysian Prime Minister, and I think the remarks that I made were very careful and measured and entirely appropriate and reasonable in the circumstances.

PEDDLESTON:

Okay, one final question – how disappointed would you be if Jocelyn Newman retired soon?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the question of what Jocelyn does with her future is a matter for her. I simply want to say that she is a great colleague, a good friend, and a first class minister.

PEDDLESTON:

Would she make a first class Governor General?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can’t speculate about things like that. Jocelyn’s a great person. She’s really a very good minister and what she does with her future is entirely a matter for her. And she’s been a great Senator from Tasmania and she makes a powerful and very vigorous contribution to Cabinet debate. You always know Jocelyn’s there and you always know what here view is on something. She never leaves you in any doubt. I like people like that, I like to know where people stand on things and you always know that with her and that’s terrific.

PEDDLESTON:

John Howard, thank you and enjoy the rest of your stay Tasmania.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay then.

[ends]

Transcript 22866