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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 9477


Photo of Keating, Paul

Keating, Paul

Period of Service: 20/12/1991 to 11/03/1996

More information about Keating, Paul on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/02/1995

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 9477

RE: I would like to welcome to the 6PR microphone the Prime Minister
Paul Keating. Paul, nice to talk to you.
PM: How are you Ron?
RE: Very well indeed. Paul, you are coming to Perth why are you visiting
PM: Why would you visit anywhere in Australia?
see how things are, to see what they have to
are at the moment, what their concerns are,
routinely. To meet the people, to
say, what their feelings
and I make these trips
RE: Yeah Paul, has it been a concern of yours that in Western Australia
your general standing hasn't been as high as it has been in NSW or
PM: I think it is a concern of anybody you like to think that you're as
approved of or however one wants to describe it wherever you are
in Australia. But it's not something that has overtaken me in the last
week and that is why I'm coming I actually decided to do this trip in
RE: The Premier Richard Court said here today on 6PR with Howard
Sattler that he didn't know about your visit he feels that you should
have let him know that you are coming to Perth.
PM: Oh dreadful. Isn't that shocking? I mean, he must be the only Premier
in the country that insists I tell him when I'm coming. I mean, what is
he? An air-traffic controller, or a Premier?

RE: Would you like to have a meeting with premier Court when you are
PM: I go to Sydney, to Melbourne, to Queensland wherever I go, Premiers
never insist, or even suggest, that I should see them. I'm not coming
into his constituency my constituency is the Commonwealth of
Australia he is a permanent constituent.
RE: There would be issues, for example, like Native Land Title, that he has
taken a strong line on that you might want to talk to him about?
PM: Yes, but as a matter of fact he sent me a letter he is trying to politicise
my visit he sent me a letter which I received 5 minutes ago asking for
a meeting with a whole lot of things to discuss, including inflammatory
talk about Native Title etc. Well look, I have got the itinerary set if I
have got some time I'll see him, if I haven't, I won't.
RE: So at this stage you can't tell him yes or no?
PM: No.
RE: Paul, the question of the carbon tax that was on the agenda that was
put on the agenda in recent times is it the case that the Government
has now dropped a move for a carbon tax?
PM: It wasn't on the agenda it is only on the agenda, Ron you know,
because you have had the experience of it when it comes to the
Revenue Committee of the Cabinet, and the Cabinet agree to it. We
were looking at the response to the greenhouse gas issues, and the
commitments we made under these international conventions, but the
Government has not got any sort of manic determination to be trying to
impose taxes of that particular variety. I think it is important that we
succeed in diminishing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in this
country, whether taxation is the best way to do that, or direct measures
or conservation, is a moot point.
RE: The business community was concerned, because we of course are
very large exporters of carbon-based resources, such as coal, and you
would have taken on board their concerns?
PM: Absolutely. That is one of Australia's strengths is that we are one of
the primary exporters of these basis commodities, and I think we can
mount a fairly strong argument that because of the quality of our lowsulphur
coals etc, and the fact that we can burn them more efficiently
than perhaps in other words, the energy supplied by Australia can be
used more efficiently than energy provided from other sources for
products of other countries that in fact Australia can make a
substantial contribution here to this international problem.

RE: Paul, the response of the environment movement of course was they
believed that a carbon tax was necessary do you share the view that
a lot of people have in the community that the environment movement
have this endless agenda that you can't ever satisfy them be it on the
carbon tax, the woodchipping issue, be it world heritage recognition
that in fact their agenda is almost overwhelming?
PM: Of course, because you never deal with one group at one time this is
part of the problem. For instance, last year Ron, the Government
without any real pressure from the environment movement put away
forever for this country Shoalwater Bay in Queensland, which is one of
the most pristine and beautiful areas of the Queensland coast, Jervis
Bay in NSW where we deferred placing an armament depot and took it
to Victoria, and then made clear that we wouldn't be putting any
developments in that it is pretty much as the day when Cook sailed
past it. We put $ 20 million in the Budget on a dollar-for-dollar basis
with Queensland to buy back what is called the " hole in the heart of the
Daintree Rainforest". So in one year the Daintree, Shoalwater Bay,
Jervis Bay not one word of praise from the environment movement,
and when we get down to the annual renewal of a relatively small area
of forests, we have these claims fallacious claims that we are
desecrating forests, when in fact we have now sought to reserve for
examination the areas likely to have important heritage values.
RE: If you had your way through that woodchipping debate again, would
you have handled it differently?
PM: I don't think..... the answer to that is that none of us would want these
things to be a controversy, but I don't know that you can avoid it with
the Wilderness Society for instance. I mean, I think that part of the
problem here is that I am like most Australians I want to see the best
of our forests kept, and at the same time, I want to see those jobs
which exist in the timber industry be kept on a sustainable basis. Now,
how do we do that? We sought to get that balance right in the
decisions we have taken, but we have to deal with facts and truths, and
the claims which the Wilderness Society have made that 1300 coupes
or compartments of trees are pristine stands of trees, is simply
untrue. The claim that the Commonwealth is desecrating these... and
when people see the film footage on television, Ron, they're not the
same trees, they're not the same areas that we are speaking of. See?
RE: That has been put by some of the protesters who actually live in the
timber areas that they believe that the image created is that every bit
of forest is being woodchipped.
PM: And of the forests that will be woodchipped this year, 800 of those
compartments nominated by the Wilderness Society and others, have
been logged before, logged recently, logged out, and in no way that

which they represent to those people those conscientious Australians
who believe in looking after the forests. I am sure that most people
are in the same situation that I am in. I mean, it pains me to see an
important area of trees desecrated by logging.
RE: So your eventual goal as Prime Minister would be to have a large area
of plantation timber that we would harvest?
PM: Basically, a sustainable industry built on plantation and regrowth. That
is, native forest which has been logged in the past, substantially
logged in the past, and where we have got a lot of regrowth, and
plantation. And we are very close to getting to that. It is important, I
think, at this late stage to be able to save the important stands of trees,
but we have to agree which stands are significant, important and
pristine, and we can't have some people running around essentially
with fallacies telling people that there are a whole heap of areas that
the Commonwealth is going to allow woodchipping in, which in fact
have been logged over before, and logged over recently.
RE: Are you happy that the States really will have the carriage as they do
constitutionally of the custody of these forest areas, and their forest
management practices are up to the standards that you would set?
PM: One would hope that Ron, but this is what part of the point we do live
in a federation, and the States manage forests. Now, I notice on the
ABC news last night there was a scuffle at a NSW forest, and on
probably the commercial news as well. The people agreeing to the
logging of those areas is the Government of NSW the Government of
John Fahey. And that is where the pressure should be brought to bear
the Commonwealth gets into this only through this external affairs
power which allows it to approve or disapprove of export licences for
woodchips. But that doesn't mean that we in the Commonwealth can
stop a State Forestry Minister from agreeing to cut saw-log major
trees for logs unless that State, or that Minister, has respect for the
forest. Now, if they don't, then the environment movement should be
on their back to get onto the back of the people who have actually got
the chainsaws out, not onto the back of the Commonwealth.
RE: Can you understand why young people want to see a future where
largely, our forests are as pristine as possible?
PM: Not just young people.
RE: Young people certainly say that to me that they kind of worry about
the environment, and they are looking for a promising future?
PM: But Ron have a look at what the Government has done first of all we
put away the Daintree. I was Treasurer at the time, I helped Graham
Richardson get it through it cost us $ 86 million in adjustment

assistance to do it. Since then, the south west forests of Tasmania
same story again. The southern forests of NSW, and then these other
important areas like I mentioned, which are not only to be not logged,
but not touched. Such as Shoalwater Bay; such as Jervis Bay. I
mean, the Commonwealth record in this and of course, before that
the Gordon below Franklin, our advocacy for the turning of Antarctica
into a wilderness park the Commonwealth Labor Government sought
to get the right balance between forestry, the imperatives of the
environment, and keeping the best of our forests and the interests of
the forest industries. But that will never be served by the untruthful
recitation of argument which is not fact. Insisting that certain stands of
trees are pristine, when they have not been for years.
RE: Do you think you can get back to the stage when Graham Richardson
was the Environment Minister when there was an accord with the
environment movement in Australia?
PM: They were given in a sense, there were so many things done in that
period, the environment movement believes it was then so much
easier. And as you know Ron, there was a very big backlash inside
the Commonwealth Government at the time after that period, that the
development ethos was being lost, and too much was given to the
environment. The answer is to come down the middle, and meet all
the imperatives in a sustainable way that is what we are trying to do.
And by putting these 509 areas aside for further assessment, we
believe those areas are the ones that are important. But they're
coupes. they're largely on average about 150 metres square, and
there is 500 of them 150 metres square it's a relatively small part of
the native forests of this country and I think people need to take that
into account. But small or not we will seek to analyse them, classify
them and protect them where necessary. But, we will not protect areas
which are now not worthy of protection just because we have got some
talking head from the Wilderness Society. I think a lot of Australians
have got to understand that the Federal Government will in a practical
way, in an effective way, protect more important areas of forests than
the leadership which they otherwise may take from outfits like the
Wilderness Society who will basically hand them pap good objectives
and good sentiments, but a wholly unprincipled approach to managing
the issue and in the end relying upon information which is not fact.
RE: Paul, on the question of information and its factual basis, the
Opposition has made great play in recent days about what are referred
to as " the leaked documents" from Finance and other departments on
budget projections. These would be worrying you in terms of the
Opposition's use of them.
PM: Well, I think the Opposition is seeking to worry the country, particularly
beneficiaries and pensioners and anybody who relies upon
Commonwealth payments. You see, John Howard has been running

around saying, for years now the Opposition has been saying, the
Government should cut spending. We should cut, they said, $ 11.5
billion out of the budget through spending. But, what we find now
about John Howard is he is in the job two weeks and he is returning to
the same sort of opportunism he was involved with in the middle
1980s. The opportunism which said when we were struggling, all of us
as a nation to restructure the country rapidly in the 1980s, the times
will suit me. The opportunism which said when no other Australian
politician said race should in any be part of the basis of selection for
migration, he said for reasons of opportunism not of race, but for
opportunism, he said that he thought there were too many Asians
coming here. Now for the same reasons of opportunism he says he
opposes higher interest rates, he opposes higher revenue and he
opposes spending cuts. In other words, here is somebody proposing
themselves to be Prime Minister of Australia, to run seriously the
national economy and the national budget, saying he opposes any of
the elements of variation, the elements of change in national budgets.
RE: However, if the documents fall in John Howard's lap, you couldn't
blame he and Peter Costello for using them?
PM: Yes, you can. You can blame anybody who takes an unprincipled
stand against the things they claim. They claim the Government
should cut spending, now they are saying it is a shocking thing. Let
me just quote perhaps one of the most widely read Australian
commentators on the economy, Ross Gittins in The Sydney Morning
Herald, he wrote yesterday a major column Howard Sabotages
Expenditure Cuts He starts off John Howard's unprincipled
attack on the Government's alleged spending cuts carries a warning to
all those people who want the Budget returned to surplus, but are
implacably opposed to tax increases: their stand the Opposition's
stand is a recipe for fiscal failure And he goes on to say " Mr
Howard's behaviour is unprincipled. It is unprincipled because it is
hypocritical. Here they are as a party and a man who has been
insisting for years that the Government slash its spending, turning all
guns on the Government at the first sign that it may follow their advice
RE: Couldn't John Howard, however, point to The Australian's Newspoll
today saying, look, he's doing all right thank you very much, he might
be accused of sabotaging budgets, but in terms of the electoral
outcome he is travelling all right?
PM: But you remember Ron and I remember that front page in The Bulletin
in 1 988: the picture of John Howard with the front cover saying Mr
18%: Why does this man bother? Do you remember it?
RE: Yes, I do.

PM: Why was he at 18 per cent? Because of this naked opportunism. I
mean, John Howard knows that it is important to get the country's
budget right. He ought to be saying to the Government: " you produce
your budget, we'll see what the result is. But, we believe the
Government's budget should pass through the Houses of Parliament
and that we will take our criticisms or lend our support as the case may
be." Now he has had a reprieve and a second opportunity at national
leadership, for once he should do the right thing.
RE: Well, he says he is remaking himself, he is taking a positive stand on
multicultural ism and the immigration issues, he is going to be more
positive on the Aboriginal Land Fund and he will be a tenacious
character to deal with I would argue.
PM: But Ron, does it look like he is remaking himself. I mean, here he is,
second week out, in an issue of real substance and weight the
national Budget he picks up a leak from the bureaucracy and he
behaves appallingly with it, trying to scare the wits out of anybody who
will come along and that is the very point that Mr Gittins says it is
unprincipled because there is a blatant campaign to scare the
electorate, particularly the most financially vulnerable the elderly, the
sick and the jobless I mean, here is John Howard remaking himself
with these sorts of tactics. I don't believe he is. You see, I said in the
House the other day, John Howard wants to pretend he doesn't have a
past he is the Ronald Biggs of the Liberal Party. He sort of
absconded saying I am not really the same John Howard I used to be,
just like Biggs says, I'm not really a train robber, I'm only a fellow in Rio
with a Rio shirt, with a tropical shirt. I mean, the fact is, John Howard
does have a past. It was to leave Australia as an inward looking, high
tax, high inflation, low growth, high unemployment economy. That is
what this Government inherited from him and when he was Opposition
Leader he brought no more policy certainty to the country than he did
when he was Treasurer and, in fact, he left in such poor state that the
Opposition removed him from the leadership in the Parliament
between 1987 and 1990 in 1989 in fact.
RE: Paul, does it worry you, the electorate's reaction to Parliamentary
behaviour, what they see of question time, has it caused you to rethink
your attitude towards the televising of Parliamentary proceedings?
PM: Well, they are televised Ron and that is a fact of life. I think it has
changed the debate somewhat, but I suppose life is about changes.
There is a lot of information, a lot of mood, a lot of balance, in a sense,
it is the fulcrum of Australian public life as well as the cockpit of
Australian public life and I think the nation has been served well by the
political system. Australia has been through a change in the last 12
years, probably greater than any other OECD country. We have
stripped away the tariff walls, we have opened up the financial
markets, we have now got a high productivity competitive economy

with a low inflation rate, we are exporting half as much again as we
were 10 years ago and by and large the public system, I think, has
served the country well. I think, the Parliament is reflection of this.
RE: Can we turn around the current account deficit?
PM: Well, we will only turn that around in an absolute way when we save
more. But, the reason we are not saving as much these days is
because of two decades of double digit inflation. I mean, Australian's
have had inculcated into them, the notion that if they put their money in
the bank or put it into a fixed interest security, within 10 years it will be
worth much less. So what you do is you buy a flat or you buy a holiday
house or a second property and we have now had tremendous inflation
performance for three years, but three years doesn't change the
psyche and the propensity to save after 20 years of lessons that you
can't trust cash.
RE: Wouldn't it help people to save if they were able to deposit, let's say
$ 5000 or $ 10,000 in a bank using their tax file numbers so companies
couldn't do it and that that sum of money, the interest on that would be
quarantined for tax and social security purposes. Wouldn't we get
back to the day when you and I went to school where we were
encouraged each week to go and put a penny in your Commonwealth
bank book?
PM: Well, it is the after tax treatment that is the problem in the past. I
mean, it is high inflation and the after you see, let's say Ron, you
have got a real rate of interest of 3 per cent and you've got inflation of
say 10 per cent. You are picking up 13 per cent interest on your
deposit. This is the form in the 1970s and 1 980s. You are taxed on the
13 roughly for most people, a third of that goes, say 4 per cent goes.
But remember, that 11 per cent of it was actually fairy floss, it was
inflation. So, you are actually paying tax on the inflation, so the after
tax income of the saver was very poor. You will only really repair this
problem with low inflation, and who delivered low inflation to Australia?
This Labor Government. I mean, we have got a 2 to 2.5 per cent
inflation rate and where did it come from? It came from this
RE: Right. Would you deliver, if you have delivered the low inflation which
is on the record, would you deliver something like that really
encouraging people to save because, obviously, superannuation is
helping the national savings..
PM: We introduced that. That is the thing we did to encourage people. We
introduced award superannuation I did with the ACTU in 1985/ 86 and
on 1 July 1995 and again only because of this Government the tax
meter turns over on 6 per cent. We go over one more percentage
point on 1 July. So, as of 1 July this year the whole of the nation is

saving 6 per cent and as a consequence we have now got $ 330 billion
in superannuation savings that is $ 330,000 million. That is the
vehicle the Government has chosen. But, if we give tax relief in one
place, often you are giving tax relief for savings which will be made
anyway and it just encourages there and discourages saving
somewhere else. So, these are not easy questions. You have got to
get a net addition to savings. I contend, Ron, you won't get that net
addition, it only comes from two places a better inflation performance
in the long run and the Government moving the budget back into
surplus so we have what we call public savings.
RE: Right. Just finally Paul, the debate about the republic, it moved ahead
and then it slackened off, are you happy with the way it is going at this
stage, will we see a republic by the time we have the Olympics in
PM: I think so. I hope so and I am sure many Australians now believe that
we can't go on forever without being represented by an Australian
head of state. But again, this is a debate. People are warming to the
issues, they are discussing them. It takes time, there is a certain
chemistry about it, there is a certain sort of flow to it and the
Government will be responding, this year, to the Turnbull Committee's
report which was the report of the Republic Advisory Committee and
the recommendations which were made there. So, there will be some
material additions to the debate, but the real debate will be in the
hearts and minds of Australians and, of course, any changes to an
Australian republic can only come by way of referenda. That is, a
majority of electors in a majority of States.
RE: At the same time, do you think we will see a change to Australian flag
flying in Sydney for the 2000 Olympics?
PM: Well, I think that is still, in a sense, a subordinate matter to the
principal things, that is the principal issue, that is whether Australians
can be fully represented by somebody who is not an Australian person.
RE: So, Paul, we look forward to you joining us here in Perth this week. A
lot of issues will continue to be debated. I thank you for joining us
today on 6PR.
PM: Thank you, Ron, I'm looking forward to coming.

Transcript 9477