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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 10790


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: 05/08/1998

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 10790



Prime Minister John Howard, welcome to North Queensland once again.


Thank you. Very good to be here.


Actually it's been more frequent, the visits in recent times.

You've been in that seat many, many times. You've taken

open line calls before so it will be interesting to hear who wants

talk to you this morning and what they want to talk about. I'd

like to talk about some local issues. Firstly, why are you up here?


Well, I've come here to open the RAAF Base Scherger which

is near Weipa. And this is the last of the trilogy of northern air

bases which were planned to be established a few years ago. It's

a very large base. It will have a capacity for about 1500 defence

personnel. I'm very happy to say that the base and all the

arrangements for it have been developed in direct and very harmonious

discussion and cooperation with the local Aboriginal community and

no intervention of bureaucratic bodies or anything, there's

just been direct negotiation between the Air Force and the Aboriginal

people and they're very supportive of the Base. It's a

very important link in Australia's northern defences and I'm

very proud to be officiating at it. I think defence remains a very

important thing for Australia and I'll tell the gathering that

it was the one area that was utterly and completely quarantined

from any budget cuts when we came to power in 1996. I put a circle

around it and said former governments have cut defence far enough

and we weren't prepared to go any further.


It's interesting, that decision having been made back in,

what, the late 1980s I presume, what would have then been the Hawke

Government, the conditions that prevail today, as far as our national

security is concerned, would be much different from those days.


Yes, but not in a sense that makes it a bad decision. If anything,

the changed circumstances reinforce the wisdom of having this greater

flexibility in relation to our northern defences.


I want to talk to you about the GST and you've kindly agreed,

off air a few minutes ago, to talk, I suppose, obviously in generic

terms – you can't get into the detail, we won't know

that for another week, a week tomorrow – but in general terms

and, of course, there's the local application which is what

you obviously would want to address today. The tourism industry,

how are you going to appease them? They're very concerned it's

going to have a detrimental impact on the tourist numbers here.


Well, it won't. It won't. I'm not going to talk

specifics but the total plan, which is much more than a GST, will

be of enormous benefit to the tourist industry. I'll tell you

why it will be of enormous benefit to any industry, because it is

going to reduce their input costs. And one of the great virtues

of a big change to the tax system and the introduction of a goods

and services tax and the replacement of existing indirect taxes

is that you can get rebates of tax off your inputs. You can't

do that at the moment. I mean, this is going to be of enormous benefit

to Australian exporters. This is a change that exporters have wanted

for years. And we are going to see in Australia, as a result of

this plan being introduced, the next important building block towards

making the Australian economy stronger and better. It's not

just something out there on its own. And the reason we're doing

it is that it will further strengthen the Australian economy in

a very difficult world environment. We can't, in the face of

what's happening in Asia, we can't sort of say it's

too hard, we'll stop, let me get off, let's put a cocoon

around Australia, let's pretend that we don't live in

a competitive world. You can't do that. You really do have

to keep pushing ahead and offering the Australian people something

better and something that will better secure their future.


It's funny, you've got to speak to the Australian people

still in fundamentals when it comes to a GST. It's very funny.

I saw a survey last week and I think they said 60 per cent of Australians

now would acquiesce to a GST but only if there were concessions.

Well, ever since it was ever mooted back in the 1980s there were

always concessions, there were always tax concessions.


Well, I think some people are a little stung, particularly of the

experience of the former government in 1993 when it campaigned against

John Hewson's tax package. You know what it promised, it said

no GST but we'll give you the personal income tax cuts. When

it won the election it cancelled half the personal income tax cuts

and it increased all of the existing indirect taxes. So, I guess

people still remember that. Now, I ask those people to accept that

it is now a different government. We are open enough and honest

enough and upfront enough to put our plan to them before the election,

not afterward but before, and if they don't like it, well,

they won't support it. But if they have a look at it they'll

see that its overall benefits are good for the country and fair

to them.


With Fightback, of course, I think you had nearly a couple of years,

didn't you, to look at it? How long was Fightback released

before you...?


Well, Fightback was released in November '91 and we had the

election in March '93. So that was a long period of time.


A long period of time and in the early stages, very popular.


Very popular, because it was seen as a plan. Now, what we'll

be unveiling next week won't be Fightback, it will be its own

presentation. But it will be a change to the whole system. It won't

be a new tax, it will be a new tax system. It will be a plan to

further strengthen the Australian economy and it will obviously

contain reductions in personal income tax. I said that a year ago

and I say to the people listening to this programme, look at the

whole plan, don't just look at one thing in isolation, look

at all of it together. Don't just see it as a goods and services

tax, see it as a total plan. Now, it's an honest attempt to

reform a ramshackle system. Now, if we can't persuade the Australian

people to support it, then we have to accept that verdict. But we

will have tried to do something to help Australia. I really do believe

Australia will be a better and stronger country, economically, if

the Australian people vote for this plan. But if they don't,

well, I have to accept that judgement and I will.


It must be very interesting for you to hear the humourous rumours

coming out everyday in the media. I mean, no one knows the detail

yet, obviously you're having a quiet chuckle to yourself, but

the pressure groups are in there already clamouring for concessions,

they don't want the GST applying to food or to rent, and they

haven't seen the fine-print yet.


No, well, that always happens and it indicates the enormous public

interest in the plan and that, in one sense, is good. There's

nothing I can do about the speculation. It is only speculation and

none of it has been put out by us. It's pure speculation. I

won't comment on any element of it but I just make the point

that it's pure speculation.


And you're obviously a lot more confident in this than you

ever were in Fightback!. I mean, you're oozing confidence,

your Ministers came out the other day oozing confidence.


I am confident about this because I believe it is a good plan for

Australia and that's what really matters. If something is good

for Australia and if it's fair to people, then I believe you

can win support for it.


And if it's easy to understand. Is this easy to understand?


Yes. Well, yes, it will be quite easy to understand, quite easy.


All right. I want to take you on to another local issue now and

that's this situation of federation funding. I know, look,

it's very much a local issue and you may not have been briefed

on it. We've got an esplanade...


Yes, I'm aware of the esplanade, yes.


...already $5 million from the previous Government. They also

proffered another

$4 million to be available if they won the election. And the Labor

Party now, well, the Labor Government is talking about not providing

that $4 million. The local Mayor, Tom Pyne, who is, himself, a life

member of the Labor Party, coincidentally, is very angry about that.

He feels that $9 million total should be available from the State

government. And then, on that basis, he was confident of another

$9 million possibly being forthcoming...federation funding from

your Government.


Well, there are a lot of requests on the Federation Fund. The only

thing I can do is to say that it will be considered along with all

the other requests we've got, and we have got hundreds from

all over Australia, hundreds. We will consider it. I don't

want to say and I can't say any more than that.


All right. I don't know if you want to comment on the Local

Government Associations across Australia – he's the Queensland

Chairman of the Local Government Association - very concerned that

the GST would be seen as a tax on a tax, they're seeing it

as a tax on a tax.


Well, I invite them, like everybody else, to hold their fire, have

a look at the whole plan when it's released and then make a

judgement. And if it's looked at fairly people will support

it because it will be the next element in strengthening the Australian

economy. It will be the next logical step to give Australia further

protection and strength against a more difficult world.


Actually, last time you were in the studio we briefly discussed

these proposed reforms to the Child Support Agency system in Australia

too. I've talked to Warren Entsch about this recently. There

have been some modifications, apparently, but the main thrust seems

to have been postponed because he said, obviously with the new change,

the new tax package, the whole thing will have to be revisited anyway

and those reforms that he's been hoping for should be part

of those deliberations, of these changes, the new tax package reform.


Well, without, once again, going into detail, anything of this

kind does need to be looked at against the background of changed

arrangements concerning taxation. Warren has pushed very hard for

reform in this area and relief for people who believe they're

being adversely affected by it. It is a difficult area and it does

arouse tremendous feeling and passion on both sides. It's a

very difficult issue and I don't believe you will ever get

a system that everybody feels happy about. My electorate office

in Sydney gets an enormous number of complaints from my constituents

about how this operates.


More than on anything else I would imagine, similar to this.


It is very....because you're dealing here with personal

feelings, raw emotions, the sense of grievance that people feel

when a marriage breaks down and the sheer financial difficulty of

trying to support two households. I mean, it's very difficult

to support one household on an ordinary income. But if you're

obliged to support two, it's very, very tough and I understand

that. On the other hand, the community's entitled to say that

if people bring children into the world, they have some responsibility

to look after them. And trying to balance those two considerations

is very difficult.


That's only the area of the formula that seems to be the main

concern but we won't go into that now because obviously that

will have to await the release of the tax package. Just while we're

on the tax package for a moment - the Nationals' State Director,

Ken Crook, has said over the weekend that the Senate wouldn't

pass a GST anyway and I thought is that too premature to be saying

that, how do you feel about him having said that?


Well, of course it is. I won't respond specifically, I don't

give running commentaries on what State secretaries of parties say.

But the Government will put the plan before the Australian people

and we will be asking the Australian people at the next election,

whenever it is held, to give the Coalition a mandate, not only in

the House of Representatives but also in the Senate. And we'll

be going flat-out to win very strong public support for the plan.


Just one simple question – will anybody be worse off under

this tax package?


Tax cheats will be worse off.


Nobody else.


I don't believe anybody, when you look at the generality of

the package, will be worse off except tax cheats.


One area that's probably an area of some disdain to you, I

suppose, One Nation and its figures, once again, I think figures

out today showing something like above 25 per cent in Western Australia,

18 per cent in Queensland. It was interesting on 60 Minutes

on Sunday night, they had a representative of Labor, Nationals,

Liberal Party, there and Graham Richardson came out with something

I thought was interesting. He said, look, all of these things that

all of you disaffected voters are upset about can be fixed by government,

whether it be a Labor government or a Coalition government, they

can be addressed, he said, but not by all this, not by all this

shouting and ranting. Is it too difficult for you to find out what

these disaffected voters, for example, in Queensland, are upset

about and go about addressing those concerns one by one?


Well, what you do John is, incidentally, you don't do what

those three people did and engage in that sort of thing on 60

Minutes. I wouldn't have done that but that's their

decision. I think that's quite counterproductive. What you

do in response to One Nation – and I'm speaking on behalf

of the Coalition Government which I lead – what you do in response

to One Nation is not search around for some magic formula to knock

it out of the ring. What you do is, you just offer the Australian

public something better. My response to my political opponents,

and I've got two opponents, I've got Kim Beazley and I've

got Pauline Hanson and I've got others who are against me,

and my response is to offer the Australian public something better.

And could I also, while on the subject of One Nation, say that

people who engage in violent demonstrations against One Nation are

doing One Nation an enormous service. Let me repeat that, you could

almost imagine that those demonstrators in Ipswich last night were

being paid by One Nation. I thought it was the most ridiculous demonstration

in a long line of ridiculous demonstrations. And those people are,

themselves, doing violence to the democratic process when they engage

in violence and I think the sight of elderly people being obstructed

and bashed and prevented from attending meetings is wrong, it is

anti-democratic and it plays into the hands of the simplistic nostrums

of the One Nation Party. So, can I just say, as an individual Australian

as well as Prime Minister, violent demonstrations have no part in

Australian democratic life. People who engage in them are helping

the people against whom the demonstrations are directed and they

are doing their own cause immense disservice. And I can only believe

that many of the people involved in those demonstrations, that their

purpose is really to do damage to the Government by bolstering the

stocks of One Nation.


Interesting to hear Liberal MP, Tony Abbott, over the weekend,

virtually echoing the words of former Premier, Rob Borbidge, before

that last disastrous election for him, he said One Nation will deliver

government to Labor if it holds that 15 per cent support level,

well, in fact, today it's up around 18 per cent in Queensland,

between 25 per cent and 30 per cent in Western Australia. Is that

how you see it, they are virtually delivering government to Labor?


I believe the Coalition will win the next election. I believe it

will. I have a very confident view about the next election but not

a smug or complacent view. I don't underestimate the challenge

but I am very confident that we are going to win. But the answer

to Labor, the answer to One Nation, the answer to all of our political

opponents is that the Liberal and National parties have to offer

the Australian public something better. And what we will be offering

in the tax plan will be something better. We'll be offering

people a better tax system, a stronger economy, a fairer tax system.

Now, that is what the public wants. We shouldn't engage in

endless debate about the role of One Nation or the role of any political

party. They have a right, she has a right to go around the country

putting her point of view, like I have. That's not an issue

as far as I'm concerned, it's what she says and what she

stands for. It's what I stand for and what my Government stands

for that really matters.


Prime Minister, could you put the headphones on for a moment. We're

going to take some open-line calls now. All the lines are jammed

at the moment so if you could just hold off for a few moments. Go





Hello there.


Yes, I was wondering, in the new tax plan, what will happen for

people who are working overtime or are working a second job in order

to help their families out?


Well, the only answer I can give you at this stage is that there

will be reductions in personal income tax under the plan, reductions

in personal income tax. I can't really give a more precise

answer to your question without going into detail of that that I

can't, at this stage, disclose. But I can assure you that the

overall impact of the changes in personal income tax will be to

give greater incentive to people who want to work harder.


Good. Because when I left high school I worked in a job where guys

worked 12-hour days and they got crib and tea money for doing that,

their four hours overtime, but their four hours overtime just went

to tax and they ended up with...


Well, you have a look at the plan when it comes out next week.


Okay. Thanks a lot.


Next call. Go ahead.


Oh hello, John.




It's Robyn.


Yes, Robyn.


I'm interesting in tax deductions for students at university.

I mean, up here we don't have a lot of choice. My son can do

first year here but he has to go away next year.


You realise that under the – I don't know what your income

is and I don't want to ask you, it's your business –

but under the new Youth Allowance scheme he gets a much higher rate

if he has to go away and live away from home as part of his study.

Are you aware of that?


Well, who do I see about that.


Well, you ring Warren Entsch about that and he'll give you

all the details. But one of the features of the new Youth Allowance

is that we have significantly increased the rate of the allowance,

this is a common allowance now. It takes away the incentive that

used to exist for people to go on the dole rather than study. And

under this new allowance you can get a higher amount

if you have to live away from home.


But what...because the cut-off point for AUSTUDY's $36,000.

I mean, you can hardly survive on $36,000.


As I say, I don't...well, it's a matter for you whether

you disclose your income, I'm just making the observation,

if you were entitled to the Youth Allowance then you would be...


...but you can't claim any of your fees or anything as

a tax...


No, that is true, that is true.


...and yet if I choose to go the Northern Territory for a holiday,

I can claim a zone allowance up there because you

Transcript 10790