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Transcript 11633

Radio Interview with Andrew Carroll, 4QR

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: 11/10/2000

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11633

Subjects: Shepherdson Inquiry; Peter Reith telecard.

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

CARROLL:

The Prime Minister, John Howard, came to Queensland yesterday and immediately bought into the State's ALP electoral problems. As you've heard, Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, immediately hit back saying Peter Reith would not have survived if he'd been a Minister in his Government. It seems as though there's plenty of State and National issues to talk about and the Prime Minister has joined us now in the studio and has indicated his willingness to also talk with you, to take some questions from you shortly. Mr Howard, thanks very much for joining us.

PRIME MINISTER:

It's very nice to be with you. Sorry I'm a bit late - a bit of traffic.

CARROLL:

Not at all, it's a growing problem in Brisbane. Can we actually get this stuff with the State Premier out of the way first. Your reaction to what he's been saying?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well my reaction is that there's absolutely no comparison between something that started with the conviction of a member of the Labor Party for criminal electoral fraud and an inquiry that follows that, and the breach of Remuneration Tribunal entitlement by a Minister, the full financial cost of which he's paying, even though he himself has no legal responsibility to do so. If Mr Beattie wants to draw a comparison between those two things, I think he's playing with unreality. I made the legitimate point yesterday that you can't expect people outside a political party to solve factional disputes inside that political party if the leader of that Party hasn't had the capacity to address those issues. Now, that's self-evident. Internal disputes inside the Liberal Party are the concern and the responsibility of the Leader of the Liberal Party, just as they are inside the Labor Party. I think it's a bit disingenuous of the Premier to pretend that somehow or other this difficulty, which is on display before the Criminal Justice Commission, is just the product of factionalism. If it has been, well he was the State Secretary of the Labor Party, he's now the Premier and the Leader of the Parliamentary Party. He's got to accept some of the responsibility.

CARROLL:

Of course the stakes in Queensland are about to get quite high.

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just make the point. The point I sought to make yesterday is you're not talking here about just an argument about branch stacking. You're not talking about that. I mean somebody's been jailed for criminal fraud. So it's a dimension entirely removed from the normal argument about entitlements or the normal argument about factional brawling inside a political party. That was the point I sought to make. Now there's a criminal justice investigation going on and I respect the process that is involved in that but self-evidently this is of a dimension quite different from the issue concerning Mr Reith. Now Mr Reith was in error in giving that telecard detail to his son. He's paying the price for that to the tune of $50,000 in full.

CARROLL:

Is that the only price he should pay?

PRIME MINISTER:

I believe it is. Yes, I believe it is. Because he took that decision back in 1994. He was not then a Minister. I was not then the Leader. I was not then in Government. He's paid that price and he's certainly been the target of a sustained level of attack. Now he has to wear that because he made the first mistake but nothing has emerged in the past two weeks to dent the story he gave to me when he saw me in May of this year and told me for the first time of the details of this issue. And the ruler has been run over his conduct by the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Federal Police and the Solicitor-General and they have found that there is no civil legal liability or criminal exposure on his part. So he's been cleared of any criminal behaviour.

CARROLL:

But this has gone broader than just Peter Reith now and I refer to Laurie Oakes column in The Bulletin magazine this week. Entitled "Requiem for a Head Kicker".

PRIME MINISTER:

That's a political attack on him though. That's not . I mean . I've read that column in The Bulletin. That was just a political attack on Peter Reith.

CARROLL:

Right but he also talks about how you pride yourself on understanding the way ordinary Australians feel.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I do.

CARROLL:

And that in fact you may well have misread the ordinary Australian mood on this.

PRIME MINISTER:

Andrew, in the end, all of us in politics may misread public opinion but in the end we find that out at election time. I don't know whether Laurie Oakes is right or wrong about that. I've tried to look at the merits of this issue and, I haven't found the last couple of weeks positive in relation to this issue - of course it's not - but I had a simple decision to make in May of this year when Mr Reith came to tell me. And he told me that he'd given the details to his son and as a result this bill had been run up.

CARROLL:

But it's gone a lot further than that now. I mean now.

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm sorry, I don't think it has.

CARROLL:

But we're talking about morals. We're talking about moral issues here and the way that Australians, ordinary Australians .

PRIME MINISTER:

And I think Australians, I don't like using the expression ordinary...

CARROLL:

I must admit I picked up Laurie on that one.

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean we are Australians.

CARROLL:

How many ordinary Australians do we know - not many.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, that's right. We're Australians. Australians have a commonsense reaction to these things. I believe that the Australian reaction in relation to the telecard is that he was a fool and he was breaching entitlements to give it. He was foolish to have done it and he was wrong but he's paying the bill in full - even though he's not technically liable to do so. In relation to his wife's use of the mobile phone, I do believe that this thing has gone out of all proportion.

CARROLL:

But she's not on the payroll.

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

CARROLL:

Why should she be using Commonwealth property at our expense - at taxpayers expense?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the entitlement allows her to do so.

CARROLL:

Yeh, but despite the guidelines and despite ..

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me put this to you. The wives of Ministers do a great number of things to help their husbands perform their duties, at no cost to the taxpayer. None at all. I mean I couldn't do my job without my wife's help. I couldn't. I couldn't possibly do it effectively. Nor could Peter Reith, nor could Paul Keating when he was Prime Minister have done his job effectively.

CARROLL:

Effectively you're saying we should be putting your wives on the payroll?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, no, no I'm not saying that. You're saying that. I'm not saying that. I've never said that. I'm just asking for people to exercise a commonsense judgement. The fact that his wife - I mean I don't know how many times she's used it perhaps once or twice whatever - given the extent to which she is involved in helping him do his job, and given that under the rules applying to that phone she is entitled to do so, there's no restriction on her doing so, I just think the reaction to that is quite unreasonable. I can understand the criticism in relation to the giving of the details to his son. That is a separate issue. I understand the criticism and he's paying for that - $50,000. He's going to get a mortgage on his property, as I would if I suddenly had to find $50,000 as most of our listeners would. But I think in relation to the use of the phone and I notice, incidentally, that Mr Beazley has taken the same attitude. He's not pursuing this. He's not saying that it's wrong. John Faulkner's trying to make some technical point but Mr Beazley is not because perhaps he understands the commonsense of what I'm saying or perhaps he's aware that this sort of thing has obviously happened on a number of occasions - legitimately.

CARROLL:

Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think we've just got to keep a sense of proportion about this. When I heard that stuff about his wife and the phone I thought gee this really is getting out of proportion.

CARROLL:

Right Prime Minister. Of course you are a prodigious user of talkback and you know very much how it works.

PRIME MINISTER:

I do know how it works.

CARROLL:

Well from that point of view, let's talk to some people who are in our audience. Hello Gary.

GARY:

Good morning. Good morning Mr Howard.

PRIME MINISTER:

How are you?

GARY:

I know there's more important things going on in the world than Mr Reith's telephone but I am a true blue Liberal supporter and one of the things that concerns me about this whole episode is that whilst it might not be a hanging offence and Mr Reith doesn't deserve to be put on the backbench, why can we justify he should have also contributed to the cost of the Federal Police inquiry, DPP and all the other things that have happened because of, using your words "his foolishness and his error".

PRIME MINISTER:

Well nobody who is subject to investigation as I understand it in the normal course of events contributes to the costs of that investigation, despite their level of culpability. He's not being treated any more favourably in that sense than any citizen.

GARY:

Would that expense not have been incurred if he hadn't have made the mistake in the firstplace?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you could say the same thing though in relation to somebody who's investigated by the police and the charge doesn't proceed although the investigation was triggered by some behaviour of that person which although not ultimately judged to be criminal was nonetheless in error and foolish. In that way Mr Reith is not being given favourable treatment.

CARROLL:

Right Gary, thank you very much. Hello Paul.

PAUL:

Mr Howard. Thank you for the opportunity. Who paid for Carmen Lawrence's bill?

PRIME MINISTER:

The taxpayer.

PAUL:

Why?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well because the former Government entered into an agreement to pay those expenses and despite our view that they weren't legitimately to the cost of the taxpayer the courts held that because the former Labor Government had entered into a legal contract to pay the bill, we had to honour that and we had no alternative because like everybody else we're subject to the rule of law. And the amount involved there was hundreds of thousands of dollars.

PAUL:

I'm sorry. It would have been more than $50,000 then?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh about 12 times more.

PAUL:

My God (inaudible). I would like to know (inaudible) still have been on the frontbench?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well she remained on the frontbench until the Keating Government was defeated.

CARROLL:

Right Paul. Thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER:

With the support I might say of Mr Beazley who's now the Leader of the Opposition.

CARROLL:

Right Paul. Thank you very much for that. Hello George.

GEORGE:

Good morning Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning George.

GEORGE:

I was very interested to listen to you yesterday on the news when you had criticised the Queensland Labor Government and their rorts and in my eyes at least you have convicted and judged those people before Mr Shepherdson has a chance to do that. Previously I presume you were a lawyer and I was wondering if that was a foolhearted way of interfering in Queensland when you have yourself have had five Ministers before and two senior staffers who had to resign.

PRIME MINISTER:

Now hang on George. None of those people have been convicted of a criminal offence and none of those people were accused of fraud.

GEORGE:

Only we have one or two here.

PRIME MINISTER:

I know but that was my point. This inquiry started because somebody was convicted of a criminal fraud and in order of magnitude it's just dramatically different. What the Labor Party has endeavoured to do in Queensland is to say oh this is just sort of an internal branch stacking row, you shouldn't get too excited about it. It's quite different from that. Quite different.

GEORGE:

But don't you think that there's maybe somebody still who could be convicted but because of your views and openly in the public have judged these people who are still .

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I haven't made comment about any of the individuals - you notice that.

CARROLL:

Alright George. Thank you very much for that point. Hello Eve. You're talking with the Prime Minister.

EVE:

Prime Minister welcome to Queensland.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

EVE:

Mr Prime Minister as far as Peter Reith is concerned I just wish it would go away now. On 6am the other morning I heard that in Australia at the present time 40 Australian men commit suicide. As someone said if it would be whales we'd probably be more upset about it. So as you said we have to get our priorities right. Now Mr Howard, I'd like to speak to you about deregulation as in the banking industry and the dairy farmers deregulation industry. In the banking industry there's talk of 40,000 jobs being lost or have been already lost. In the diary industry in Queensland and New South Wales there's about 3,000 in both States dairy farmers that will be paid compensation to give up their livelihood. Now my question to you is why are all politicians hell bent on deregulation and privatisation when Australians just seem to, we all feel that it's all about job losses and people walking off their properties. And I've spoken to other politicians from the Labor Party and the National Party and the attitude is oh this is the way we go, we have to go this way. But.

CARROLL:

Eve, sorry can I interrupt there and maybe let the Prime Minister answer you because it was a good question.

PRIME MINISTER:

I understand the question and I understand why it is regularly asked. I'm not in favour of deregulation because quote it's the way to go or because I have some ideological commitment to it. You mentioned the banking industry and you mentioned dairy farming. The reason that a lot of people have left the dairy industry is that it has become unprofitable as a regulated industry. There seems to be a view in some sections of the community that if only you maintain high levels of regulation then you will maintain high levels of employment. But actually when you look at many industries they lose employment despite high levels of protection and high levels of regulation and it's not the answer to keep them regulated. Yes, there are fewer people in dairying and banking - in sections of banking than there were 20 years ago but there are more people in other industries than there were 20 years ago and there are many hundreds of thousands of people employed in industries that didn't exist 20 years ago. As far as I'm concerned the way to go, if I can borrow your expression Eve is to have a climate where the industries that do best are the ones that we encourage.

EVE:

Very briefly. I've heard Mr Costello say that we need more competition in the banking industry. Well if you look at the banking industry, every time one bank puts up the fees, the whole lot of them all follow.

PRIME MINISTER:

Eve, I don't think there's enough competition in the banking industry yet and that's why I'm against allowing the major trading banks to merge. But we've got more competition than we had five years ago and one of the reasons our housing interest rates are lower now than five years ago is that we have had more competition from new lenders such as Aussie and Rams and that extra competition has helped quite a lot.

CARROLL:

Alright Eve thank you very much. Look I'm afraid that's where we have to leave our calls for today. One final question to you Prime Minister. Early next month when the Business Activity money starts coming through, Queensland and all the States are going to be getting hundreds of millions of dollars coming out of the GST, aren't they. Do you think issues that seem to be forcing you and the Queensland Government apart in terms of the environment, in tree clearing, hospitals, education and things like this that Queensland then has the opportunity to start spending the money that you say they should be spending - on tree clearing for instance.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Andrew on the calculations we have at the moment, the State in Australia that will benefit the most, the first, if I can put it that way, under the GST is Queensland. Because Queensland will, even on the conservative estimates in the Budget, will be in a positive position relative to what it would have been, under the GST after only two years. So Queensland is a greater beneficiary of the GST than any State. And in addition, because it's predominantly a non-metropolitan State, the reductions in excise on diesel of 24 cents a litre are of marginally or relatively greater benefit to the people of non-metropolitan Queensland than any other part of our country. So Queensland is a real winner out of the GST. That's incidentally why Mr Beattie signed up in private even though he continues to attack it in public.

CARROLL:

Alright. Prime Minister John Howard thank you very much for joining us and our listeners this morning and we hope to see you again.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.
(Ends)

Transcript 11633