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Transcript 11762

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTERTHE HON JOHN HOWARD MPDOORSTOP, BALLARAT

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: 10/10/2001

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11762

Subjects: illegal immigrants; military strikes; Ansett; Telstra; education
PRIME MINISTER:
Any questions?
JOURNALIST:
Can you tell us how many children were thrown overboard, were they wearing life jackets, what evidence is there [inaudible] children were thrown overboard and can we have access to that evidence?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well I was acting on advice given to me by the Immigration Minister to whom I spoke on Sunday, shortly before I made the statement, the advice I had was that he had been informed they were thrown overboard and there were life jackets. That';s what I was informed. I can';t tell you how many. As to the question of evidence as you put it I';ll make some inquiries and see what evidence can be made available.
JOURNALIST:
Are you still confident Mr Howard of this information because you did make a lot of it at the time it got…
PRIME MINISTER:
I have been provided with no information since then would cause me to doubt it.
JOURNALIST:
Prime Minister has there been a decision made where the people will be processed? And will go they to Christmas Island first?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well that issue is under very close discussion right at the present time and it may be possible for me or somebody else on behalf of the Government to make a statement about it later today. It could very well involve some kind of transiting through Christmas Island but that';s not certain either.
JOURNALIST:
(inaudible).
PRIME MINISTER:
I beg your pardon?
JOURNALIST:
To Papua New Guinea? Is that where…
PRIME MINISTER:
Well I hope to be in a position for something therefore to be said later today. I don';t think I want to say anymore than that at the moment.
JOURNALIST:
Have you had any problem with (inaudible) reporting the incident and any photographic…
PRIME MINISTER:
Well I';ll get some advice from the Navy on that. Whatever is usual I will observe.
JOURNALIST:
Given that it';s become a public issue though and both yourself and Mr Ruddock have talked about the events of the people going overboard. Would it be helpful if people could see the video tape?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well I don';t know, look I';m not going to commit myself to providing anything until I make inquiries as to what the evidence is. I have no reason to doubt what I was told, Mr Ruddock is a very careful person and the information that we were given, that he was given and I relied on is information that seeing that you';ve asked about I will now naturally ask about it but I';m not going to commit myself on the run to doing this or that. I will make inquiries, I don';t have anything more I can say because that was the source of the information, if you go back and have a look at what I';ve said. I didn';t purport to say it with any particular number of, I may have said from recollection that I was relying on information. One always does, I wasn';t there.
JOURNALIST:
Were shots fired Mr Howard?
PRIME MINISTER:
I have been given no direct information to that affect. I have not been told if they were.
JOURNALIST:
Will you find out Mr Howard?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well I';ll have a look at that question.
JOURNALIST:
Prime Minister is the government potentially jeopardising Ansett';s future by demanding that the $150 million from Air New Zealand be given to workers entitlements rather than shoring up Ansett';s future.
PRIME MINISTER:
No this is a complete distortion, deliberate and complete distortion of the government';s original commitment in relation to the entitlements. What we said we would do was to guarantee the workers entitlements. We did not say that we would make a capital injection into Ansett to the tune of almost $400 million. We said we';d guarantee the entitlements. What has happened along the way is that Mr Combet and others have misrepresented the nature of our original commitment. Our original commitment was to guarantee the entitlements. When you guarantee something it means that you pay it, if somebody else doesn';t. That';s what it means. That';s what a guarantee means. We didn';t say we will write a cheque for $3-400 million so you can do what you may. So this is a little bit of rewriting manipulation of the facts by Mr Combet and others.
JOURNALIST:
You';ve bought in a tax to collect money for this purpose.
PRIME MINISTER:
And if we find that we don';t need it all we';re going to give that back in different ways and I made that clear a couple of weeks ago and some the recipients of it will be the tourism industry.
JOURNALIST:
Mr Howard the Ansett administrator has asked the government to clarify its position in respect of the $150…
PRIME MINISTER:
Well there';s nothing to clarify because I had a meeting with the administrator and it was made perfectly clear what, ….Mr Costello, Mr Anderson and I had a meeting with the adminstrator and the status of that commitment has always been that of a guarantee.
JOURNALIST:
Have you had any further contact with the White House or are you planning any further contact in the next couple of days?
PRIME MINISTER:
No I';m not. I';m not and I have…I expect to see President Bush in Shanghai in about 10 days time. Although each of us will only be there for a brief period of time I think he';ll only be there for a day or so and I';ll be there for just under two days, I';m sure we';ll have an opportunity somehow or other to have a talk there, either a formal meeting or some kind of pull aside during the discussion. But we';ll certainly have an opportunity to talk.
JOURNALIST:
Prime Minister the aerial bombardment has reportedely claimed innocent lives. How do you think that will affect the popularity of the campaign, how do you perceive that?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well everybody regrets the loss of innocent lives. I regret the loss of almost 7,000 innocent lives in the World Trade Centre and in Washington. Of course I regret the loss of innocent lives. Everybody does. There will continue to be very strong public support for the American led campaign. Of course we all have an obligation to deal with terrorism, it won';t go away, it won';t go away if you don';t take strong action.
JOURNALIST:
.. of your comments over the last few days and your ministers on the actions of these people (inaudible) don';t you think the number of children involved is relevant?
PRIME MINISTER:
I don';t know that I said it wasn';t.
JOURNALIST:
Well you did say you don';t know how many.
PRIME MINISTER:
No I don';t but that doesn';t mean to say I don';t think the number is relevant, I just said I didn';t know of how many that';s all.
JOURNALIST:
Has the UN representative asked for clarification?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well I read something to that affect.
JOURNALIST:
Have you had a formal request though?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well I haven';t had a formal request no. It would not come in the first instance to me, I assume it would go to our representative in Geneva. But I haven';t seen it, but look I just want to make the point we were provided with information and I have no reason to doubt it. And as a result of your inquiries I will make some further inquiries.
JOURNALIST:
[inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
I';m not going to get into that you';re asking me to hypothesise.
JOURNALIST:
On the issue of workers entitlements, is the Government considering a package to help the 350 Optus workers who';ve lost their jobs.
PRIME MINISTER:
My information as I speak, according to the sources I';ve been given, are that there won';t be any problems, that there';s money there to look after their entitlements.
JOURNALIST: Mr Howard on the Ansett [inaudible] New Zealand are we given to understand that that $150 million, the Government';s position is that should go first of all to paying the workers entitlements…
PRIME MINISTER:
Well I don';t know if the arrangement was concluded between the administrators and Air New Zealand and it';s got to be sanctioned by the federal court and the government itself is not a direct party to that. I can only speak in relation to the government';s commitment, and the government';s commitment that I announced when I came back from the United States on whatever it was, the 14 September, the government';s commitment after that Cabinet meeting was that we would provide a guarantee in relation to the entitlements. Now a guarantee, you all know what a guarantee means, we did not say we';d provide a cheque for $3-400 million. We said that we would provide a guarantee, and what has happened along the way is that we have been verballed on this, it';s as simple as that, we have been verballed on this by the ACTU and some others and I just make the point again that we said we would provide a guarantee and at that particular stage the information we had was that Ansett had no resources at all to meet the workers entitlements.
JOURNALIST:
Isn';t it a case that the administrator is now asking the government to consider…
PRIME MINISTER:
I have not seen the precise request that the administrator has made, I don';t know of that. I will get some more advice about that later. But can I just, irrespective of what the administrator may have asked, the point I';m making is that our commitment was to guarantee the workers entitlements and that remains the position.
JOURNALIST:
Mr Howard what evidence do you have that our policy on illegal boat arrivals is working?
PRIME MINISTER:
Without going into too much detail about the sources of the information there is quite a deal of information being sent to us which indicates that the people smugglers are getting, are increasingly apprehensive about sending people to Australia. That a lot of people who have either paid or wanting to pay money to come are becoming anxious that the arrangements are not being made. There were even some suggestions in some quarters that people were saying we';re not going to pay our money until we get to Australia.
JOURNALIST:
Prime Minister do you see it any differently in the situation of people going overboard if it happened just after shots were fired in their direction?
PRIME MINISTER:
I';m not even going to try and answer that question Louise. You';re asking me to hypothesise, I wasn';t there, I';m not going to hypothesise, I';m not going to sort of make remarks. But if you';re suggesting that the Navy in some way behaved improperly which I think that question was open to interpretation, I want to say, I think the Navy has behaved magnificently in very difficult circumstances.
JOURNALIST:
Will they be leaving the boat to be processed in Christmas Island?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well I don';t want to say anything more about the handling of those people just at the moment. I will be in a position or somebody on behalf of the Government I hope will be in a position to say something more about that shortly. But until then I don';t think I can usefully add anything, it will only be misunderstood.
JOURNALIST:
[inaudible]… networking the nation, is full privatisation of Telstra part of your third term agenda.
PRIME MINISTER:
Well our position on that is we won';t proceed with further privatisation until we are satisfied with the communication amenities of the bush, or country Australia, I think that the expression is better preferred in Victoria, country Australia, we won‘t proceed to do that until those amenities are satisfactory. We';ve made a lot of progress but we are not satisfied as yet. We';ve got to implement all of the recommendations of the Besley report. When we are, and only when we are, would we look at further privatisation.
JOURNALIST:
[inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
Well you';re asking me to a little bit of, engage in a little bit of political astrology. I won';t do that I';ll just make the point that the conditioned precedent to further action on that front is getting things in even better shape in country Australia.
JOURNALIST:
Can I ask you a question about education. Labor sees it as one of election trump cards if you like, do you think the policy you';ve announced today, the $40 million package, will be enough to try and blunt…
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, I don';t see Labor as being in a trump card position on education. I';m sorry, have you not finished your question.
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
You sure? Sorry. I don';t think they are in a trump card position because if you look back over the last five-and-a-half years there are several things we can point to. And we have significantly lifted the standards of literacy and numeracy quite significantly and we';re very proud of that, and David Kemp is the person who';s done that. If he hadn';t driven the campaign with the States it never would have occurred. And Labor is really trying to run an old-fashioned envy argument. This rich elite school argument falls down when you analyse the schools that are in the old category one. And when you bear in mind that the burden of that policy will fall disproportionately on many people in rural Australia, when you bear in mind the self-evident fact that there is really, in the end, no such thing as too many schools that can be categorised as rich, it';s really the relevant affluence of parents that matters. And one of the advantages of our new funding formula is that it better measures the economic capacity of parents than did the old system. And a lot of parents, even at schools like Kings and Scotch, to use the examples that are bandied around so frequently, a lot of parents even at those schools make enormous sacrifices in order to send their children to those schools. The other point you';ve got to remember is that the amount of government assistance going to a school, or going to a school, like Scotch, on a per capita basis is only, what, about 21% David, of the total cost…21% of the total cost of educating a child at a government school. So, I think this argument is, I think it';s a divisive argument and I think it';s really the politics of envy.
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, the figures that are coming out in a week or two';s time are really in the hands of the Secretary of the Treasury. I think you ought to ask Mr Henry and Dr Boxall about that. We don';t compile those figures.
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
Yes, yes. Well, I mean, I would see…I mean, you know, I';m being careful but I would expect the same treatment as is in the budget but I don';t know.
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
I won';t speculate about that. I won';t speculate about that. It could be shortly, it may be a little longer. I just really don';t know. I think it';s a bit too early. I don';t, frankly, think the Americans would necessarily know at this stage when any ground action or any action that might involve the refuellers would take place.
QUESTION:
Mr Howard have you asked for a rull report of this incident with the Adelaide and if not why not….[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, I have received various reports. I have not…I mean, obviously these questions arise from suggestions made by – I read some suggestion this morning that the Democrats had questioned it. I don';t know whether that';s the source of your questioning. Whatever the source of your questioning is, I';ve had no reason until it';s been raised to specifically inquire into that. I have no reason to disbelieve the information I';ve been given. I still haven';t been given any information that would cause me to disbelieve what I was told by the Immigration Minister on…
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, I haven';t spoken to him, Michelle, I';ve been launching a policy and talking to people and addressing students and attending a press conference. When I';m free of those responsibilities I';ll certainly make some more inquiries.
QUESTION:
…biological weapon attack…[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, we don';t have any information in front of us to suggest that there';s any credible threat of that kind of attack.
QUESTION:
This morning Mr Beazley said that if you were as tough as the Liberal Party';s advertising claims you';d commit to a full term as Prime Minister and you';d debate him [Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
I mean, I';ve heard all of that before. I remain fascinated that his main preoccupation in this election campaign is that I won';t be around forever. None of us are around forever.
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
Look, the reality is that Mr Beazley has had five-and-a-half years to define himself. He';s run an utterly cynical, negative campaign and approach to politics over that last five-and-a-half years. You all know that he wanted to surf into office off the back of perceived voter discontent with the GST. But we get into an election campaign and he feels that he may not have enough opportunity to define himself so he starts trying to shift the responsibility for that to me. We had one debate last time. I';ve been an Opposition Leader on one occasion where the then Prime Minister wouldn';t debate me even once. And he';s got plenty of opportunity to put his case. The debate between the leaders is not the only way, that';s not the only element of a campaign. People expose themselves to press conferences, to interviews, to all sorts of opportunities to explain their policies. I mean, look, I can understand that he would be arguing this. I mean, I understand that. I know that he';s reading from a script, I do understand that, but the reality is that if he';s got a difficulty defining himself in the remaining four-and-a-half weeks of this campaign that';s his fault, it';s not mine.
QUESTION:
After a few days campaigning in the marginal electorates in Victoria, do you have any sense of the mood…[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, I';m encouraged without being in any way super confident. I think we have a prospect of hanging on to our marginals in Victoria but it';s going to be quite tough. It';s always tough when you';ve…I mean, so many of them are on small majorities. In this electorate we have a new candidate, an excellent candidate in Charles Collins but we previously had somebody who';d been there since 1990. It';s a thin margin. The seats I was involved with yesterday, they';re all thin margins. So there';s a lot of enthusiasm and people are certainly more positive than they were six months ago. Aston was a great boost to us psychologically and that, of course, came in July. But I really, sincerely say to you, I don';t take any of these seats for granted. I think it is still going to be quite tough. And we';ve still got four-and-a-half weeks to go and nobody on our side of politics should imagine that this is going to be any cake walk, quite the reverse, I think it';s going to be very difficult.
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
Beginning of what?
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
Tony, I';d have to check this but my understanding is that the measure – that';s the one hour and those sorts of things – those measures are more or less in line with internationally accepted approaches. That';s my understanding but I';d stand corrected on further inquiry. Unemployment is a lot lower now than it was when we came to office. Obviously if the economy contracts, that has some impact on the labour market. There are some contra items though. One of the contra items that';s been pointed out to me by the housing and construction industry and that is that you still haven';t got the full employment impact of the response to the increase in the first home owners scheme. You';ve seen a lot of very good figures for approvals but a lot of those approvals are yet to be reflected in activity. That could put a bit of an underpinning into the labour market. I would think unemployment, which is always an issue in an election campaign, I can';t see that the Labor Party has any dramatic new policy in relation to employment that can be unveiled that';s going to dramatically alter the character of the debate on that issue.
Most people see a government that has superior economic credentials as being better able, in the long-term, to handle issues of employment than an alternative government that hasn';t. So I don';t dismiss it. I think unemployment is always an important issue, as it should be, but I can';t see it dramatically moving in the scale of factors that';s going to influence the outcome but you';ve got me doing something I said I wouldn';t do and that is be a commentator.
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, that';s a very interesting question but who said when in years to come I leave politics I';m going to retire?
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, you don';t have to commit forever to remain in the same job. I thought one of the great advantages of the new, more flexible labour market that this Government has created is that people are encouraged to have several careers. And I wouldn';t regard, well, I mean, you know, in 10 years time, in 10 years time I might become a commentator and I might even get a column in the Financial Review occasionally.
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
I';m not getting into that and, in fact, you can be a cricket commentator and a Prime Minister at the same time. You see, I';m prepared to be a commentator on cricket. It';s politics I won';t be a commentator on.
Any more questions. I don';t want to cut you short. I mean, you';ve come a long way.
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
No, it amounts to more than that. It amounts to seeing through the implementations of many of the new policies that were announced in the budget. It will mean seeing through a number of initiatives that are going to be announced during the course of this election campaign. It certainly involves responding effectively to the challenges that Australia unexpectedly faces as a result of the changed world environment. But any third term agenda of either a government or an alternative government – well, alternative governments don';t have third term agendas – but any future agenda of either a government or an alternative government involves, most importantly of all, providing security, stability and steadiness. They';re all important things. I sometimes hear people talking about third term or second term or first term agendas in terms of if unless you';re turning the world upside down you';re not doing your job. I think what people want is a combination of strength and steadiness on certain issues but the resolution to reform and to tackle difficult problems in other areas.
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]…media ownership laws.
PRIME MINISTER:
Look, I';ve had a view…look, I';ve got a simple view about cross media and foreign ownership and so forth. I think they are anachronistic but that';s been my view for a long time. The Labor Party and the Democrats have a different view. I don';t regard it so importantly that I';m sort of going to engage in bloody hand-to-hand combat on the subject over the years ahead. It doesn';t rank that highly. I don';t think the state of mankind is going to be so thoroughly improved by the change of the media laws or so thoroughly stunted by the retention of the existing ones. It';s nowhere near as important as something like tax reform, industrial relations reform, getting a better balance between work and family, tackling the impact of the ageing population. It is there, I think the present laws are silly, they';re anachronistic and I';ve stated my view but I';m certainly not going to put that right at the top of the list. It';s not that important.
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
Well look, I don';t know how many more times I can say it. Look, we think those laws ought to be changed but unless we get control of the Senate – I think that';s going to be hard, I don';t rule anything out but I think that';s going to be very hard. I mean, it';s going to be hard to win control of the House of Representatives let alone the Senate. But if we don';t have control of the Senate – let';s assume that we win the election and we don';t have control of the Senate, the only way we can get changes through would be with the support of the Democrats or the Labor Party. Now, while ever they remain in opposition to those changes, well, there';s nothing we can do about it and I';m certainly not going to, sort of, so elevate those changes as to make that the most important thing in our third term.
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
I beg your pardon?
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, I will make some further inquiries in the light of your questions and I will then, if appropriate, make further comments.
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
How what?
QUESTION:
How bad was the campaign derailed by the decision by Russell Mark to [Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
We';ve moved on from that, we have moved on from that completely. We have a new and magnificent candidate in Charles Collins and he';s my man in Ballarat. And the point I';m simply making to you is that not only here but in many other seats I can';t be re-elected as Prime Minister unless we have candidates winning marginal seats. And I was making…
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
I beg your pardon?
QUESTION:
[Inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER:
No, but this is very important and you never know, it might be the seat that decides the election, you never know. And whenever you hold a marginal seat, or you';re a candidate in a marginal seat, it could be the one that right on the death knock makes the difference. So everything I said was entirely appropriate, it wasn';t in any way exaggerating the importance of winning a seat like Ballarat. Is there really any more or have I exhausted you.
Thank you.
[Ends] Thank you.
[Ends]

Transcript 11762