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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 10676


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: 16/02/1998

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 10676



First though to the Prime Minister, who said that while he was moved

by the Constitutional Convention the Government was now back dealing

with the issues that the public really cared about, tax, jobs and

industrial reform. And at the conclusion of the weekend meeting Mr

Howard told our chief political correspondent, Matt Peacock, the Government

would support an $8 a week pay rise for low paid workers at the National

Wage Case which begins tomorrow.


We will be arguing that there should be an $8 a week increase for

each of the next two years for the very low paid. That will represent

for them a real increase, given the current rate of inflation, of

1.2 per cent. This fulfils the promise we made before the last election

that we would argue for reasonable and fair living wage increases

for the low paid. You have got to remember that we are now in a very

low inflationary environment and this represents a real increase for

the low paid. When you add to it the massive reductions in housing

interest rates worth around $250 a month for people with average loans,

together they are real, tangible dollars in the pocket gains for low

income earners. And it does keep our word to the battlers of Australia.


Course some companies have done better than that, some executives

have done better than that, should they be sharing around some of

their wealth?


They, of course, are accountable to their shareholders and I do think

company executives have got community and moral responsibilities in

these matters. I am a believer in market forces, but I am also a believer

that people who preach restraint on the rest of the community should

be willing to apply it to themselves. Now we have got to be realistic

and recognise that if you want the best people in Australia to run

your company you have got to pay them otherwise they will go somewhere

else, and that applies to us as a nation. But some of those people

might occasionally look at the example they set and the impression

they create, particularly against the rhetoric that is sometimes used

by business organisations to berate people who want a bit of an increase

when they are further down the scale. It is a question of what is

fair and what is just and occasionally some of these executive salary

increases rub a little roughly against the sensitivities.


Well of course on that subject, a couple of weeks ago I asked you

about the situation of the workers at Cobar in the mine there and

you said you had some sympathy for companies trying to make ends meet.

But since then, of course, even your Minister Newman has indicated

that she thinks that workers who have been abandoned by a multi-national

mining company like this should have first call to get their back

pay, their redundancy pay, their sick pay, those kinds of things rather

than the secured creditors. How do you feel about that?


Well I think what Senator Newman had to say was right. What I said

a little while ago on that issue was that, you asked me against the

background of the Government's decision to help fund the redundancies

on the waterfront, the understanding there is that ultimately the

cost of those redundancies will be met by the industry and not by

the taxpayer. So therefore it wasn't an analogous situation.

But my office saw some representatives of the union last week and

we are looking at what is being put to us. We are in sympathy with

the position of people who are made redundant and they find themselves

ranked in order behind other claimants on the assets of the company

that has pulled out. And there is obviously a case for reviewing those

priorities, and we are doing that at the present time.


Is it possible to change the law in that regard do you think?


Well it is always possible to change the law if you can get it through

the Parliament, it is a question of whether it is sensible to do so

and we are examining that right at the moment.


Mr Howard, the Treasurer at the weekend has unveiled a bit more of

the campaign for tax reform, the ‘great adventure' as you

once called it and you have been gee-ing up the troops here at Thredbo,

just exactly how can you be so optimistic that you can get through

a scare campaign against the GST?


Well in a sense that would be precisely what any opposition to tax

reform would be. It would be nothing other than a cheap scare campaign

utterly indifferent to the long-term interests of this country.


But it has worked politically in the past, hasn't it?


In the past attempts at tax reform has failed. We are determined those

attempts will not have failed on this occasion, and the reasons we

are determined is that it is in Australia's interests, it is

for Australia's sake that we have embarked upon this adventure

of tax reform. We need a new, modern, up to date lower tax regime

for the 21st Century. We cannot have a situation where average wage

earners are paying 43, 47 cents in the dollar on every additional

dollar they earn. We cannot have a tax system which puts no tax on

caviar but taxes biscuits, we can't have a tax system that makes

us uncompetitive around the world. And what we are doing now is to

argue the case for tax reform by demonstrating the unfairness, the

old fashioned character and the irrelevance of the present tax system

which is, after all Labor's system. I mean Labor did nothing

for 13 years to fix the tax system and now they are pretending it

doesn't need repair.


Do you think you will be able to restrain yourself though from dipping

in to what looks like being a healthy surplus to fund some of these

income tax cuts?


Matt I can assure you that in contrast to the Labor Party whatever

we do in the area will be utterly sound and utterly responsible. After

all we are the people who inherited a $10.5 billion Beazley deficit

and will, in a few months, turn it into a more than $2 billion Howard



Now here at Thredbo you have been hearing from a man who walked through

the snow to the Antarctic, is that an analogy, do you think, to the

next campaign in the election?


Well Peter Tressider gave us a fascinating account on Saturday night

of his journey. It was a physical achievement of a different and a

higher order and we admire him greatly, and he demonstrated great

Australian grit and great Australian spirit.


And the mood amongst the back-bench?


Very optimistic. There was a mood that the last two or three months

had been months of solid achievement for the Government. There is

a greater recognition out there that if we hadn't been in charge

of the economy over the last two years with what has happened in Asia

we would now be in a real mess.


There is a lot of concern though about elderly people, nursing homes

is there anyway that you might be able to fine tune your policy a

bit more?


We are always in the business of keeping policies under review and

keeping policies fine tuned. I have no doubt that when we go to the

next election that the retired people of Australia will feel that

their interests are best served in supporting the Government.


Now that sounds like these fees that are due to come in, despite the

fact that there has been a bit of a delay there still might be some

more changes?


Look I am not going to say anything other than what I have said before

on this. The proposal is that it comes in.


Now you really enjoyed the Constitutional Convention judging from

your comments afterwards, how emotional an experience was it as a

die hard monarchist such as yourself?


It was a great experience, it did bring Australians of diverse backgrounds

and attitudes together and there was a unifying spirit despite the

differences of view. And it gave me a great source of hope and optimism

about the future national unity of this country. And I have no doubt

that when this debate comes, after the next election, and frankly

from now on it is back to what really matters in the immediate term

and that is jobs, taxation, industrial relations reform. They are

the things that people stop you in the street to talk about. Nobody

stops me in Pitt Street or Collins Street, grabs me by the arms and

saying we have got to be a republic or we have got to stay a monarchy,

but they do stop me and say thank God you are doing something about

the waterfront. They do stop me and say please will you fix the tax

system. They do stop me and say, thank heavens you are running economy

because with what is happening in Asia we would now be in a real mess

if the other mob was still there.


Prime Minister, thanks very much.




Transcript 10676