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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11942

Interview with Sky News

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: 23/05/2001

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11942

Subjects: Federal Budget.

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

JOURNALIST:

Joining me now from the Lodge is Prime Minister John Howard. Mr Howard, what is the single most important element to you in this budget?

PRIME MINISTER:

That through prudent and careful economic management in the past the nation, through this budget, now has the wherewithal and the money and the resources to invest in its future across a wide area of government activities. That's the most important message. We are delivering a huge social bonus in this budget because we have been careful in the past and because we no longer have to pay as much interest on all of the debt that we inherited from the former Labor government. Having repaid all of that debt we save interest and we can use that interest saving and other resources to invest in building a stronger Australia in the future.

JOURNALIST:

You have dipped into the surplus to give a boost, particularly to pensioners and retirees, is that recognition that they have been very hard hit by the GST?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it is a recognition that they have a right, by reason of their past contribution to building the Australia we have today, to proper support and additional support. It's a recognition of what we owe them. It's not a recognition of any error, it's a recognition of what we owe them. They are entitled to be given additional assistance. The country can afford it because of our careful economic management. I mean, irresponsible budgeting and blatant electioneering budgeting occurs when you go into debt in order to provide benefits. We have not gone into debt to provide benefits. We're able to provide benefits because we have repaid debt accumulated in the past.

JOURNALIST:

Older Australians have been crying out for help, though. They are your core constituency. Will this win them back?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the question of who's effected in a political sense is a matter for the Australian people when the election is held to make a judgement. But budgets are about building the economic infrastructure, they're also about delivering social justice and social fairness. What this budget does is to recognise the contribution of older Australians and it also invests in areas like the environment, in education, in health. There are a huge number of new health measures in this budget. We have further strengthened the Medicare system by putting more resources into fighting mental illness, cancer, diabetes and asthma. Now, they are things that touch, in one way or another at some stage in their lives, just about every Australian family. And they are things that are very important to the country's future health and future strength.

JOURNALIST:

Although, Prime Minister, critics say there's really nothing in this budget for middle Australia or for small business, what do you say?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that's wrong on both counts. Middle Australia has health problems. The older section of the community is a part of middle Australia. This idea that they're some kind of group out on the side is quite wrong and, indeed, it's offensive. And as far as small business is concerned, the greatest thing about this budget for small business is that it will reinforce the low interest rate climate that we have. When you repay debt and you reduce deficits you contribute to the climate for lower interest rates. And the greatest gift, by far, that this Government has given to small business in Australia is to give them low interest rates. I'm sure that small business doesn't want to go back to the 17% interest rates that were there when Mr Beazley was last in government. I mean, his great trilogy was 17% interest rates, 11% unemployment and $96 billion of government debt. Nobody in small business wants to go back to that trilogy.

JOURNALIST:

In this budget, unemployment steady, growth to bounce slightly, but are these fundamentals dependent on global economic conditions and how confident are you about those?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, in putting it together the Treasury has taken account of global economic conditions. As always our economy is influenced by what happens in the rest of the world but if you run good policies at home you can often cushion the impact of what happens elsewhere. That was the case four years ago when we avoided the Asian economic collapse because of the way in which we had managed the economy in Australia. And so it will be the case that if there is adversity from abroad over the next year the low inflation, the low interest rates, a government with a budget in balance and having repaid so much debt, a government having reformed the tax system, reformed the industrial relations system, delivered a more productive economy, all of these things will enable us to weather international economic storms a little better. We can't remain unaffected by what happens around the world but we can reduce the impact if we do the right thing here in Australia.

JOURNALIST:

A $1.5 billion surplus, does this leave you enough in the fighting fund for the next election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the important thing, Susan, is that it's the right and it's the respectable balance that we should have and what we said we would have. There is no point in running up a huge surplus at present because we have repaid so much debt. But, equally, it would be wrong and irresponsible to go into the red and we don't intend to do that and we made that clear all along. It's the right balance. It's bigger than many economists expected but it is not so big as for people to be entitled to say, well, why are you needlessly running up surpluses when you could be reinvesting more of our money in our future.

JOURNALIST:

Even before this budget was handed down new polls showed that the Liberals are now neck and neck with Labor. Are you confident the electorate has been turned around and when are you looking for an election now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Susan, I don't take any real notice of just one poll. Polls are useful for the trends they give you over a period of time. We're behind, there is no doubt about it, at the present time. But, in the end, the public has got to make a choice and that choice, on my current thinking, would be towards the end of the year because that's when it's due. But in the end the public will make a choice and one of the things that they've got to ask themselves is do they want to re-elect a government that gave us 17% interest rates, took unemployment to 11% - that's a post depression high - and left us with $96 billion of government debt. I mean, that's one of the questions the Australian people will increasingly ask themselves as the election approaches but that's some months off yet.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, thanks for joining us on Sky this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

You're very welcome.

[ends]

Transcript 11942