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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 10555

Radio Interview with Geraldine Doogue, Life Matters, ABC Radio

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: 10/11/1997

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 10555

10 November 1997

E&OE..........................................................................................................................

DOOGUE:

Mr Howard, welcome to Life Matters.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning. Very nice to be with you, Geraldine.

DOOGUE:

Look, you wouldn’t say that this has had a good press, would you? What do you put that down to?

PRIME MINISTER:

The press are very hard to please. You know what they’re like.

DOOGUE:

Well, I’ve watched this though. I mean, it was I think a little bit on page two and it was heading on The Australian and headed one other inside page. I mean, you must have been disappointed.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I was, but this is the sort of initiative that will linger on for a very long time. It was the first time that the heads of all of the governments in Australia had come together in a united way to reject domestic violence.

We are adding $25 million over three years but the Commonwealth and the States together at present are already spending about $226 million in programmes that deal with domestic violence. So the idea, which was at the heart of many of the criticisms, that all we’re spending on domestic violence is $25 million over three years is quite wrong.

DOOGUE:

Jeff Kennett, of course, initially said he couldn’t seriously sell it. Then he did change his mind. Kate Carnell, the Liberal Chief Minister from the ACT, said the one hour summit was an insult to women. So it didn’t help.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’d rather - I mean, we can spend, we can waste whatever few minutes we’ve got talking about the political sparring to do with it or perhaps we can talk about the issue which is really of major concern to me. I think governments do have to give a moral lead on this issue. I’m not naive. I don’t believe that anything a government can do, no matter if it throws $100 billion at the problem, there’s nothing a government - no government can get rid of the problem altogether. But we can hope, through a combination of moral leadership and testing new programmes, we can over time educate young men in particular, against domestic violence. We can help the victims of it. We can expose it. We can counsel those who are involved in it. We can extend something of a life raft to those men who have been involved in, perpetrated violence against those in their homes, but who understand they’ve got a problem. In other words, what I might loosely call, the alcoholics anonymous approach.

You need a combination of programmes and it is very important that prime ministers and premiers make it plain that, so far as their governments are concerned, it’s the kind of behaviour which is absolutely unacceptable in a societal and in a moral sense.

DOOGUE:

In fact, you said the other day, you couldn’t have put it better than the slogan - real men don’t hit women.

PRIME MINISTER:

That is the best way, in my own vocabulary, that I can summarise how I feel about it. It’s something that I’ve always found personally very repugnant, very repugnant indeed. It’s one of those things that almost literally makes my flesh creep when I read about it or hear about it.

DOOGUE:

Well, how do you describe the men who do hit women?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, many of them are brutal individuals. Others are people in an incredibly distraught mental state. Others are people who believe that when you get drunk you’re excused from doing anything. I mean, might I say that I join the calls of many others in asking that the law be amended to get rid of the so-called drunks’ defence. I think that is an appalling element in our law. I don’t believe in changing every aspect of our law but that is one aspect of it that probably does need very speedy changes. There’s no one single, simple description. And if you are 100 per cent judgemental and 100 per cent perjorative you won’t be able to extend a helping hand to many people who find it difficult to control their own tempers. I mean, everybody in modern society is placed under stress. None of us are immune from that. Some people handle it better than others. Some people resort to violence more frequently than others. Many are the product of a childhood environment of violence. There are a myriad of reasons why people would resort to violence.

DOOGUE:

A lot of men say that they are stunned when it occurs to them.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, that’s true. That is true and I think they’re the people who should be, providing they can recognise the dilemma, they’re the people who should be embraced by the alcoholics anonymous approach.

There has to be, as part of the response to this programme, a capacity for people to go along, for men to go along to all the organisations and say: look, I have got a problem, I know it is wrong, I try as hard as I can, it happened, what can you do to help me. You have got to have that kind of facility, as well as maintaining the sanctions of the law, because it is a crime. And, as well as making it possible, legitimate, easy for women and children, who are the victims of these crimes, to seek refuge and to seek assistance and help.

DOOGUE:

I noticed in the Victorian model that’s being developed as part of this money, there’s particular emphasis on developing the skills of professionals, especially GPs I noticed, now why has this been highlighted?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, they are often the first people who know about the problem. The family doctor, or the victims doctor, is probably, for all the most obvious of reasons, more likely to find out about the problem, to know about it, than anybody else.

People will tell their doctors things that they don’t tell their husband, their father, their son, their mother, their boyfriend, or whatever. It stands to reason that doctors are uniquely placed and therefore to have training and understanding of this problem and how to handle it and how to advise people is a very desirable thing.

DOOGUE:

But delicate too. Like you’ve come from the era, as have I, when this was regarded as violence that nobody else could involve themselves in. It was in the private domain. It’s only in the ‘80s, when I look through the details of the programme that we started having laws specifically targeted against this. So, I mean, when you look back at where we’ve come from, what do you think about that silence about domestic violence?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I didn’t approve of it. No matter what. There were violent domestic situations forty and fifty years ago. There are now. I don’t know whether the level is any higher now than it was then, or any less. I just don’t know.

DOOGUE:

But the fact that we...

PRIME MINISTER:

Certainly there was a code...

DOOGUE:

Yes, there was.

PRIME MINISTER:

...In many cases a code of silence, I accept that, I certainly accept that.

DOOGUE:

So what do you think the change is to do with when you reflect on the fact that we are now discussing this as openly as we are, what do you think the change is to do with? Something to do with the status of women, do you think?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it has got a lot to do with the status of women in our society, yes. And the disappearance of the notion of any kind of dominant or ownership of men over women - yes, I think that has had a hell of a lot to do with it. I also think that we are a society now that talks more openly about emotional things than was the case twenty five years ago.

DOOGUE:

Do you like that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I do. I think it is a very healthy development, particularly amongst men. For the first time in the last ten/fifteen years, people will talk more openly about their emotions. I think it is one of the pluses of the modern society. I think the two great - if I could put it this way - two of the great human pluses of modern society, is the willingness of people to talk more openly about their emotions and their feelings and also we are, as a society, we are far more understanding and open and embracing of people with disabilities. We don’t put them away and hide them, we integrate them into the community. I think they are two of the more enlightened characteristics of modern society.

DOOGUE:

I don’t want to completely go on a tangent, but it is funny, I wouldn’t of thought you were the person who was happy to talk about their feelings a lot, it’s not the sort of thing that I would associate with you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Really?

DOOGUE:

No.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am just engaged, I guess I have been engaged in a fairly serious profession. I mean, I am not a person who wants to sort of burden other people with my sort of emotional views and all sorts of subjects. But the idea that people will talk a little more openly of their emotions and share their feelings about particular things, and that be regarded as a perfectly normal thing, is good.

The idea of young men in particular, being brought up - boys and young men - being brought up to be open and more communicative and not just conduct conversation with a series of base grunts, when it comes to anything to do with their personality,

I think it is a totally desirable development.

DOOGUE:

What do you say to those who say, in this area, your Government gives with the one hand and takes with other. For instance cuts to legal aid and I will cite one thing: In NSW the $12 million cut per year, in that budget, led directly to a twenty per cent cut in funding to that stated Domestic Violence Advocacy Service and say cuts to the Family Court, causing ever longer delays in settling matters. I mean, it is all interconnected isn’t it, in Government these days?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is all interconnected and I’ll say firstly that the number of successful applications for the apprehended violence orders has not declined, so far as we can see, as a result of the legal aid changes. And, what has happened with the legal aid changes is, the Commonwealth has said that it will fund the entitlements to legal aid under its own laws and the States will fund the entitlement to legal aid under its laws. And we argue, as a Commonwealth, that what was happening under the old system was that the States were using Commonwealth money to meet the obligations they should always have been meeting in relation to their own laws.

Now, that is a separate argument and it is as always, it involves an argument between the Commonwealth and the States, as to who should be paying for what. It is always easy for the States, whenever there is a problem, to say we want more Commonwealth money. I mean they do it in health.

The truth is that the Commonwealth has increased its funding on large areas of the health system, while the States have reduced theirs and yet every time, for example, Andrew Refshauge, goes on television news of an evening he says there’s is a crisis in such a such a hospital because John Howard has cut the funding. The reality is quite the reverse. But that is going off on a tangent and I don’t want to do that.

DOOGUE:

But the Family Court isn’t.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, well we respect our responsibilities under the Family Court, but a lot of the funding in relation to domestic violence matters concerns the operation of State law. I mean, the actual crime, the physical violence and crime involved is a matter of State criminal law.

DOOGUE:

Yes, but the family court stresses, are the very things that isolate these very men you are talking about.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes, there is no doubt about that, that’s one of them. Broken relationships, broken marriages, all both cause domestic violence but of course violence causes them to break down. It’s a circular process. The chicken and the egg, one doesn’t know which comes first and there’s no one simple cause of domestic violence in a relationship.

DOOGUE:

Well, indeed, can I just take you on - because I know we don’t have you forever - but it’s not, I suppose you can argue, it’s not an easy time to be in government, is it, when people like Will Hutton, for instance, the visiting British social commentator and now

The Observer editor, just said last week loneliness is emerging as a hot political issue.

PRIME MINISTER:

A very, very big issue.

DOOGUE:

You agree with this, do you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think loneliness in cities is one of the sort of depressing social conditions which is on the rise.

DOOGUE:

What can governments do about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

There’s no one simple thing governments can do about that. I mean, loneliness is a product of the decline of the extended family. It’s a product of the sharp increase in the breakdown of relationships, a sharp increase in the divorce rate. It is, in part, perhaps an unthought of or unintended consequence of financial independence.

DOOGUE:

I’m thinking whether governments have to be watchful for whether they contribute to breaking down this social fabric where governments have stepped in and taken over rolls that, say, families did do, whether in unravelling that for the sake of, say, fiscal competence, they play right into this very problem you’re diagnosing.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the best thing that governments can do is to pursue policies that keep families together. I always think the first priority of a government should be to hold a family together. Because emotionally as well as economically, and the economic part of it’s far less important, emotionally it’s much better to hold a grouping together and to pick up the pieces afterwards, although picking up pieces afterwards is a very necessary element of the process. We have put a very great emphasis on policies that keep families together rather than assume that they are going to break up and then move around and pick up the pieces.

DOOGUE:

It’s just that I heard, for instance, Kim Beazley say on Friday something that I thought you would like to have said. He said a Labor government would restore a sense of community and reciprocal obligation between the government and the people. Now, watching you over the all the years as I have, I thought that’s the sort of thing you would like to have been able to say.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, with great respect to Mr Beazley, the doctrine of mutual obligation is something that is an expression and a notion and a concept that I’ve been arguing in relation to our social policies ever since I came into power. Of course I like to use that expression. I think it expresses very much that as a society we have an obligation to help those in the community who genuinely need help and that in appropriate circumstances...

DOOGUE:

Do you think that we should redefine who they are, though? Do you think that that has become too wide a definition?

PRIME MINISTER:

Who needs help?

DOOGUE:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t think you can ever have a precise definition of it and different governments will have different views. I mean, what we have endeavoured to do is at the margin to ensure that the welfare dollar goes to the most needy. I mean, the changes that are made in welfare support programmes from government to government, when you look at the aggregate, tend to be marginal. I mean, nobody, for example, in Australia ever argues now against the entitlement to an indexed old age or invalid pension. Nobody now argues about the desirability of having other basic social welfare benefits. I’m not arguing that unemployment benefits shouldn’t be available for people who are genuinely out of work. I am arguing in contrast to Mr Beazley and at the application of the mutual obligation principle that if the public supports somebody financially who’s out of work it’s only reasonable that person be requested to work out the value of the dole in appropriate circumstances. Now, that’s mutual obligation at work. We have an obligation to support that person. And that person in return, if he or she is physically able, has an obligation to work out the value of that dole. Now, that is a beautiful example of what I call mutual obligation and what Mr Beazley and Mr Tony Blair would call reciprocal obligation. Reciprocal obligation is Tony Blair’s expression evidently. The Australian version is mutual obligation.

DOOGUE:

It’s a matter of degree, isn’t it, and it goes to that essence of values which is a murky area, wouldn’t you agree, in the ‘90s, I mean, and a murky area in which to be fighting an election too?

PRIME MINISTER:

It oughtn’t to be a murky area. I mean, there are fundamental enduring human values. They include compassion for people who are genuinely in need of assistance. They include the right of the government to expect people who can help themselves to make adequate provision for themselves.

I mean, this is one of the issues that’s been highlighted in the debate about nursing homes. True it is that the methodology that we chose proved to be very unpopular and quite unsaleable and it was therefore changed, but the principle of saying to people who can afford to do so to make some contribution is a reasonable principle. I mean, even after all the changes we’ve brought in in relation to nursing homes, the Government will still be providing 70 per cent of the cost of the personal care of every individual in a nursing home. It was a principle that Mr Beazley’s government applied without any demur from us when we were in opposition in relation to hostels. The accommodation bond system applied to hostels. Anyway, the principle is that one of the values of society is that you do look after people who are genuinely need of help.

DOOGUE:

Yes, it’s just when you look at that nursing home thing, that to even get up to sort of basic requirements all that money that you were going to raise through the accommodation bonds, that could have been put right back into capital, as opposed to reducing the deficit, and we would have actually got to a sort of base level...

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m sorry, which deficit?

DOOGUE:

The financial, the national deficit basically. Bob Gregory four years ago said that we needed to put $500 million in to...

PRIME MINISTER:

Over four years.

DOOGUE:

Over four years, indeed, to get people up to a sort of resident...a bed, one room per resident and instead this money was being seen not to do that but being seen to basically reduce an overall national budget deficit.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, hang on. I think we’ve crossed purposes. The accommodation bond system and now the annually average $4000 a year capital charge system will, according to our calculations, raise the amount of money that Gregory was talking about. That’s the whole basis of it.

DOOGUE:

But is it actually going to go back in fully to...

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course it’s going to go into the nursing homes. It’s not going to come to us. This $4000 a year charge, of course they’re going to go into nursing homes.

DOOGUE:

No, I’m talking about the original plan.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, but the original accommodation bond money wasn’t going to the Government.

DOOGUE:

From what I’ve been reading it was basically designed...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, Geraldine, hang on. How the accommodation bond, which we’ve now abandoned, was to work was the bond was deposited and the interest out of the fund was to go to the nursing home. And each year, in addition to the interest, there’d be draw down out of the capital of the bond of $2600. Now, we have replaced that with something that will require people to pay $4000 a year to the nursing home on average. I mean, in some cases it will be lower and in other cases, in particularly expensive areas, it will be somewhat higher. Now, that money will go into the nursing homes. That’s the whole idea of the system.

DOOGUE:

Well, it’s just that the whole feeling of it was that in terms of trying to...

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m surprised that something as fundamental as that has been misunderstood.

DOOGUE:

Well, the Australia Health Care Association wants the Government to overhaul the new income tested nursing home fees due to take effect.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s going off for something...

DOOGUE:

Well, what I’m trying to get at...

PRIME MINISTER:

As long as your listeners understand that money...look, I really mustn’t have, you know, a hare running on this. Your listeners must understand that at no stage was that money expected to go to the Government.

DOOGUE:

Oh well, they say instead the Government plans to use it to cut budget outlays. If this government decided to use this for capital funding there would be no need for the upfront fees announcement by the Prime Minister. That’s what I’ve got. Francis Sullivan said this.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Francis Sullivan’s not always 100 per cent accurate. I’m just making it perfectly clear, Geraldine, that capital money is going to the nursing homes and the money from the bonds was always intended to go into the nursing homes.

DOOGUE:

All right. I mean, I suppose we should end on - the messages that are coming down in this climate, Mr Howard, are not easy to pitch in terms of the common good. That’s what I really trying to get at.

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t accept that. I mean, in fact, I really do reject that. I think that is a very, with respect, a quite unfair, unbalanced observation on the social policies of my Government. I mean, it is the common good, you know, not to leave the next generations of Australians with a huge debt burden. It is the common good to reduce interest rates for people who are trying to buy a home. It is the common good to give a sense of price stability, particularly to older people. It is the common good to see that this country can pay its way and it is the common good to try and build national savings so that we have a faster rate of economic growth.

Now balancing these things out in decisions in individual areas is always hard and will attract criticism. But to sort of sweepingly dismiss what we are doing in the social area as being against the common good is unfair. I mean it wasn’t against the common good to bring in the family tax initiative. I don’t think it is against the common good to have a work-for-the-dole system, I think it is for the common good because it strongly enforces the principal of mutual obligation and mutual obligation is something that people can understand. We look after you in your hour of need, in return when it is reasonable we ask that you put something back into society. I think most Australians agree with that.

DOOGUE:

It is not the relaxed and comfortable Australia you, I presume, were dreaming on. Really your comments on the community, the community is always making comments about you but how do you read the community at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER:

The comment I made about being relaxed and comfortable was in the context of a positive view about our history and a positive view about our future. I mean, I do have a positive view about Australia’s future and most Australians I talk to have a very positive view about our future.

DOOGUE:

Do they, do they say that?

PRIME MINISTER:

They do, very positive. I have a supremely optimistic view about the future of this country. We are at a remarkable historical, cultural and geographic intersection in the world. We are a country which is a projection of Western European civilisation in an Asia-Pacific region with strong strategic links with North America. We have a collage of cultures, we have opportunities to use that unique situation we have that no other country has. I am a tremendous optimist about the future of this country, I can’t understand how anybody could be otherwise.

DOOGUE:

Well when they are, when they talk to you and when you get that back from your internal polling...

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t get that. I am sorry, I don’t get that.

DOOGUE:

You don’t get that back?

PRIME MINISTER:

I get that from talking to thousands of Australians.

DOOGUE:

Gosh I wish you could read the letters that come to us.

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course you get letters. I suppose if they listen to some of things that are said, occasionally with respect on your programmes why else would they write those things.

DOOGUE:

Poverty has, inequality has increased under your government?

PRIME MINISTER:

But Geraldine are you suggesting to me that...I mean of course there is social depravation in some parts of Australia but it didn’t all start in March of 1996.

DOOGUE:

No, no I am not suggesting that, but for instance...

PRIME MINISTER:

And this idea that we have set about, which if I may say so is the theme, the undercurrent in your questioning, in your observation, that somewhere or other we have set about dismantling the structure of social welfare in Australia is quite wrong. We have done nothing of the kind. We have tried to implement some reforms in sensitive areas and run into political trouble, like nursing homes. But no government in the history of this country has ever been able to bring in reform in areas like that without running into some difficulty. Now I think we have got the balance right. I think people accept we have got to get more money into nursing homes, and even with the new system, I repeat, 70 per cent of the cost of looking after a person in a nursing home will be born by the taxpayer. But those things are always difficult. I remember the problems the Hawke Government had with the assets test, those things are always difficult but they are part and parcel of the process.

DOOGUE:

It is just governing at a time of such rapid social change posses particular problems, doesn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Always has and that applies no matter what the political complexion of the government may be.

DOOGUE:

Do you think the community is unusually hostile to governments generally?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the community is more volatile in its political views because politics has become less clearly ideological than it used to be 20 or 30 years ago and therefore you have greater voter mobility in the middle. Politics is less tribal now, it is less possible to say he will always vote Labor because his father did or vice-versa. That is true, that is a view that I have held for a very long time and therefore you will get enormous fluctuations in voter opinion on particular issues in between elections. Of course that situation......

DOOGUE:

But that puts a lot more pressure on individuals, like the leader?

PRIME MINISTER:

It applies no matter who is in office.

DOOGUE:

Well Mr Howard thank you very much for joining us, I think your first time as
Prime Minister, so thank you again.

PRIME MINISTER:

It is a pleasure.

[Ends]

Transcript 10555