PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 22912

Doorstop Interview, Parliament House

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: 12/10/2000

Release Type: Doorstop

Transcript ID: 22912

Subjects: Minister Reith; ACT government.

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

JOURNALIST:

Will you be advising Mr Reith to repay the entire $50,000?

PRIME MINISTER:

The position, Allison, is that we’ve sent it to the Solicitor-General. We’ll see what the Solicitor-General has to say. I believe in doing these things one step at a time. The right procedure has been followed. We had a police investigation – it said no prosecutions. We’ve now asked the Solicitor-General to give an opinion. You can interview me again when we have the opinion of the Solicitor-General. The only other point I’d make is this. At no stage has Mr Reith personally benefited from what has occurred. There seems to be a mistaken view in the minds of many that he has got $50,000 that he’s not entitled to. What’s happened is that, in circumstances that I do not know and nobody seems to know fully, this card has been improperly used. Now he’s acknowledged an error in relation to his son. There have been denials made by his son about the disclosure of details to other people. But I do emphasise that at no stage has Mr Reith got a dollar out of this and where there is clear evidence of use in relation to his son he has paid that money. So the idea that he’s pocketed $50,000 and he should repay something he shouldn’t have got is not an accurate reflection.

Having said all of that, I as a taxpayer am angry about it and I understand why Australians are angry that $50,000 one way or another should have been racked up and they’re left with the bill. I understand that. I just ask them to accept that I’m approaching the matter very conscientiously. I’m following the right procedures. I’m trying to get to the bottom of what has occurred. I’m trying to establish whether there is a legal liability in civil law. When I have the answers to those questions I’ll say something further.

JOURNALIST:

When do you expect to get the Solicitor-General’s advice and will you be publicly releasing it when you get it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t know when I’ll get the advice. All I know is that the Solicitor-General is an independent adviser to the Government and I don’t put deadlines on him. It wouldn’t be proper to do so. I imagine that he will prepare the advice as promptly as the circumstances allow but I don’t think it’s right to breath down his neck and I’m not going to do that. I don’t think it’s right to try and set a deadline. He’s an independent adviser. He’s an eminent Queen’s Counsel, widely respected in the legal profession, and I’m quite certain his advice will be worth reading and worth understanding. You asked me what I will do with the advice. Well, I haven’t seen it yet and I don’t know what form it’s going to be delivered in. What I can assure you of is this – I will handle that matter in the appropriate correct fashion.

JOURNALIST:

You acknowledge public concern about the political saga, the episode. How much political damage is being caused to your Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I haven’t sort of sat down and tried to assess that. What you do in something like this Alison is to try and handle it correctly. I want the Australian public to know that I understand their anger that they might be left with a bill for $50,000 which is not their fault. I want them also to accept that Mr Reith hasn’t got that $50,000 – it’s $50,000 of unauthorised use in circumstances we’re not completely aware of. So don’t anybody imagine that I’m not mindful of the public anger about this and I don’t like it either. It’s $50,000 that shouldn’t have been racked up on his bill but he didn’t get the money. It’s not like somebody who’s claimed a benefit to which they’re not entitled, whether they’re a member of Parliament or a member of the public, because they’ve actually been enriched by an amount they are not entitled to. In this case that hasn’t occurred so Mr Reith hasn’t got the $50,000 in his pocket. Nonetheless I understand why people are saying well we don’t quite know what the circumstances are but we shouldn’t have to pay. I understand that people feel that way and I sympathise with them.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, in light of that public concern though, isn’t it time for you to stand down your Minister while the Solicitor-General considers the matter?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, that is not the right thing to do. That has never happened. Normally what occurs is that while something is being investigated, the Minister continues and it’s only if a charge is brought that the Minister stands down. That is a practice that is normally followed on both sides of politics. Oppositions always call for people to be stood down. It’s never appropriate to stand someone down unless a charge has been made. Mr Reith has acknowledged that he shouldn’t have given the details to his son. I don’t think he should have either. That was a foolish thing to do but he did it for the best of parental motives. However, he’s identified expenditure that flowed from that in relation to his son and he’s paid that money. The rest of the money we don’t precisely know at this stage who is responsible for that and, as I say, we will get the Solicitor-General’s advice and I will then have something more to say. Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

Last night you indicated your support for the Chief Minister. Does that mean you also support a government which broke a law and illegally spent millions of taxpayer dollars?

PRIME MINISTER:

I support the present government because it’s been a good government for the ACT. I don’t automatically accept your analysis of what happened in relation to the Bruce Stadium.

JOURNALIST:

I’m sorry, that’s not my analysis. That’s the Auditor-General’s analysis...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there are different people who have different analyses of the Auditor-General’s report. Speaking of the question that we all have to address and that is who will make the better government for the ACT? I believe a Liberal government led by Mrs Carnell will make a better government than a Labor government and that’s why I said what I did last night and I stand by every word of it.

[Ends]

Transcript 22912