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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11985

Interview with Peta Donald, Triple J Radio

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: 26/03/2001

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11985

Subjects: National Drugs Campaign; Ryan by-election; environment

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

DONALD:

Prime Minister welcome to Triple J.

PRIME MINISTER:

Very nice to be with you Peta.

DONALD:

The TV ad that's part of your campaign is very shocking, but is it a realistic picture of what will happen with you if you experiment with drugs?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes.

DONALD:

What .

PRIME MINISTER:

Look people die if they overdose. People's lives can be absolutely destroyed if they become addicted to drugs. I think it's utterly realistic, and it's meant to be, and it's meant to be very direct. I mean we are constantly encouraged in relation to other things, to be explicit, to be real, to tell it how it is and that is what these ads endeavour to do. Anybody who pretends that addiction to illicit drugs can't result in the sort of outcomes depicted in those ads is not, not real and has just got no contact with what's happening.

DONALD:

So you don't think young people will dismiss it as something that won't happen to me?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don't think so. Some of them will and these campaigns are incremental in their effect, there's no one great blockbuster, breakthrough advertising or education strategy that's going to kill the drug problem. If there were it would have been tried years ago and we wouldn't have a problem. But we have demonstrated in Australia that these hard-hitting, direct, public education campaigns on health issues can have beneficial results. We demonstrated that with AIDS, I mean they were very, very explicit in what they talked about. Some people recoiled from that, but I thought by and large that was effective. Same thing with tobacco and the same thing with some of the drink driving campaigns and advertisements. Now this is only one part of it, I am not suggesting that spending $27 million on a public education campaign is the answer to the drug problem. The Federal Government set aside about $500 million and that covers a whole lot of things, it covers education, it covers law enforcement and it covers importantly rehabilitation, and this campaign is one element. But what it seeks to do is to encourage parents, who are the great available resource, to talk more to their children. The booklet is realistic, it uses the street names of the drugs, it endeavours to give warning signs, danger signals. Now some parents know all of this and some parents indeed, probably most parents know all of this and are doing a lot of these things already but if this booklet and this campaign can make a difference and save some lives well it is money well spent.

DONALD:

As you say you are targeting parents and the booklet mailed to every household .

PRIME MINISTER:

Encouraging parents. We're not singling them out .

DONALD:

You are encouraging parents. Why do you think that kids will listen to their parents? Aren't sometimes parents the last people who young people will listen to?

PRIME MINISTER:

Depends .

DONALD:

Aren't they more interested in listening to their friends?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the research once again, and you have to do these things systematically, the research shows that 70% of the young people surveyed can be influenced, might be influenced by what their families, and that normally means, but not exclusively, their parents tell them. Now it depends a lot on how they're approached. I mean, you sort of say to your children 'now sit down I'm going to talk about drugs' that's hardly likely to work. But if over a period of time in the normal communication that takes place between parents and children the positive messages and helpful attitudes are imparted in relation to illicit drugs, then that can be of advantage. Now this is not easy, I don't pretend that as a parent myself that communication on every subject in the world with your children is easy but what I'm saying to parents is the more you try and the more you are able to establish effective communication with your children, the greater opportunity you will have to get some positive messages over.

DONALD:

And what about young people that some from families that aren't supportive and who have parents who aren't willing to sit down and talk to them? What will happen to them? And in fact aren't those a lot of the people who then develop problems with drugs because they have troubles with their family?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well not always, not always. That's one of the causes. But I don't have the naive view that you only get drug abuse problems in so-called dysfunctional families, you can get them in families that aren't dysfunctional, so everybody has to be on the guard against the problem. You say what happens to the kids that don't have families, well there are great organisations and all sorts of organisations, all sorts of groups that are available to help those people and they're not abandoned, they're not ignored. But just because you can't reach 100% of the children, because not 100% of children have parents available and willing to help doesn't mean to say you ignore the 70, 80 or 90% who do. I mean that's plainly ridiculous.

DONALD:

Mr Howard on the issue of treatment, this campaign is aimed at stopping young people from trying drugs, in the first place .

PRIME MINISTER:

Stopping them from starting, it's unashamedly, let's use the direct description I mean it is designed to dissuade young people from starting with illicit drugs.

DONALD:

Yes that's right, but the reality is that people will use drugs .

PRIME MINISTER:

No the reality is not, I am sorry, the reality is not that people will use drugs.

DONALD:

But the reality is that some people will use drugs.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well exactly, but I mean there's a big difference between saying the reality is that people will use drugs and some will.

DONALD:

Okay well for those people who do use drugs .

PRIME MINISTER:

Part of this campaign is designed to break the mindset that it is the normal, automatic thing to do. And I think it's very important that I make that point. No I am sorry, I think it's, can I just persist with that for a moment?

DONALD:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

It is quite important to make that point because part of the reason why people at certain ages take, begin drug taking is because they believe it's the normal thing to do. Now the reality is that it's not, it's not as, you know the great bulk of the population does not have a drug problem and there's a high percentage of young people don't experiment with drugs at all. Now I am not naive, I know that there's a significant percentage who do and this campaign is aimed both at dissuading people from starting and also it's aimed at people who have started, persuading them to give it up.

DONALD:

Okay well for those drug users out there, there is a shortage of treatment and the Opposition says that there's $18 million that you've allocated for methadone treatment that hasn't been spent. Are you going to be boosting spending on treatment for drug users.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look we have. We have put..I mean I don't know where that figure came from, I'll investigate that. But look this is a huge .

DONALD:

I think it was from ..

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean this is huge problem, I mean instead of nit-picking the Opposition should be backing this. I mean I .

DONALD:

But they are backing you, but they're saying there's a shortage in treatment.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, no they're not, they're nitpicking. I mean, the first thing you throw up to me is a bit of nitpicking from Jenny Macklin. Look, I have signed diversion agreements on this whole drugs thing with three Labor Premiers. I'm not interested in party politics on this. I will work with Bob Carr and Peter Beattie and Steve Bracks, the Labor Premiers of Australia. I will work with all of them to make this campaign effective. We have put $500 million into a strategy. I'm not interested in political point scoring on it and I'm only too happy to work closely with them.

DONALD:

But on the issue of treatment, even the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia has called for a major boost in spending on treatment facilities.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we've had a huge.I mean, you can always spend more but, I mean, governments have other priorities as well and no Federal Government has devoted anywhere near the resources this Government has devoted towards the campaign against drugs. And, bear in mind, of course, that the primary responsibility for many of the programmes that deal with drugs are at a State level and what we're doing is coming in in a massive way to supplement. Now, if you're saying to me, can you spend more money? Yes, you can spend more money on a lot of things but, equally, governments have other priorities. But if you look at what we've done compared with other people then it's an extremely good record.

DONALD:

That's true but do you think there needs to be more of an emphasis on treatment?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think you need a balance. I think you need education - and this programme we started talking about is part of that. You need crime prevention, you need law enforcement and you need rehabilitation. Now, the whole diversion programme - and the diversion programme simply says to people who are caught up with drug taking and have their first brush with the criminal justice system, it says to them, look, you've got an option, you can either go into a treatment rehabilitation programme or you can run the risk of being caught up in the criminal justice system. And we're giving those people the option. And we are very significantly increasing, under this $500 million programme, we are significantly increasing the amount of money that is going towards treatment. Now, there is a need for more resources in treatment. Some of the states in the past have been quite negligent and had not done enough in relation to treatment. But with the extra money that we are putting in - and I hope extra money coming from the States as well - you will see a significant increase in the number of treatment facilities. So, we think you've got to put an emphasis on three things. You've got to have education. You've got to have law enforcement and you've got to have treatment and rehabilitation. And they're all very important.

DONALD:

Mr Howard, the TV ad shows the most extreme result of drug use with the boy being zipped into a body bag.

PRIME MINISTER:

And that does happen, sadly, too often.

DONALD:

Yes, but you oppose safe injecting rooms and heroin trials which are aimed at stopping people from dying.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that's one view. The other view is that.

DONALD:

And it's a view of most of the experts.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, no, it's not the view of most of the experts and it's certainly not the view of the majority of the Australian public and they have an interest in this. They have a right to be heard. It is not the view of the majority of parents in Australia. And they have a right to be heard.

DONALD:

It is the view of the majority of the people who are working in the field.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, no, I don't accept that. I mean, that is a view that is put frequently in the media but it is not.the reason why I'm against heroin injecting rooms and heroin trials is they give a degree of advance.they imply an acceptance of something that can have that devastating result.

DONALD:

Isn't it more important to take a pragmatic approach and.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes it is very important.

DONALD:

.acknowledge that people are dying and do something to try and keep people alive.

PRIME MINISTER:

It is very important. Well, one way is to communicate to people from the very beginning the folly, the stupidity and the tragedy of starting drug taking in the first place. That will be far more effective in keeping people alive than heroin injecting rooms.

DONALD:

Well, can I move on to another issue, Prime Minister. After the Ryan by-election, where Labor won with the help of Green preferences, you said you were greenish, what did you mean by that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I meant that we had a balance. I meant that as a party we were not either a slave to the extreme environmental point of view nor were we a slave to the development at all costs view. I meant that we were nicely in the middle. That's what I meant by greenish.

DONALD:

Will you be trying to get Green preferences at the next Federal election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we'll be trying to follow sensible policies in relation to the environment. We produced the Natural Heritage Trust, which is the biggest single investment in environmental regeneration this country's had at a national level. Last year I announced a programme, $700 million from the Federal Government, $700 million from the States to begin the process of tackling the problem of salinity which, long-term, is the biggest environmental threat in Australia.

DONALD:

What about Greens preferences, will you be trying to get them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, no, hang on, I mean, you're asking me political questions.I mean, this surely, to an audience such as yours, which is interested in environmental issues, aren't they interested in what my Government is doing for the environment rather than the political bobbing and weaving?

DONALD:

Well, one of the things that your Government is doing, or at least Cabinet Ministers, Alexander Downer and Nick Minchin, is backing the US in its latest stance on greenhouse gas emissions and it's backing away from the Kyoto protocol. Do you support what those Ministers have been saying?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Americans will follow the policy they want to follow and we'll follow ours. Our policy on the environment is not driven by the United States. We put a very responsible position at those international meetings and we'll continue to make our own policy. There will be areas of agreement with the United States and there may be areas of disagreement. Australia has particular challenges of her own in relation to the environment. We are a net exporter of energy amongst the industrialised countries and that puts us in a particularly difficult position. It is important if you're going to make any impact on greenhouse gas emissions to get the developing countries involved and that is what President Bush is talking about, and I can understand that. And it's also reasonable to say that the principles that were laid down at the Kyoto Summit were of particular advantage to the European countries because the calculations started at a particular time which conveniently took account of the closure of coal mines in the United Kingdom and the massive deindustrialisation that occurred in Eastern Europe after the collapse of communism. If you'd started the calculations at an earlier point the Europeans would have been in a quite different position. I think some of the reservations of the American administration flow out of those two things. But we'll make our own position on this. We'll listen to the Americans, we'll listen to everybody else. But in the end we're not slaves to any particular point of view of another country.

DONALD:

So you don't necessarily back what Mr Downer and Senator Minchin are saying?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't necessarily accept the gloss that you've put on what they've said.

DONALD:

After the Western Australian election you were critical of Richard Court for being if you like too green and you said that timber workers abandoned him because of his positions on the forest. And you indicated that you would perhaps be less green than Richard Court had been. Is that going to leave you in a difficult position if you are trying to attract a green vote?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well do you want me to answer that? I mean that's a very interesting political analysis. It's not really a question. What I said after the Western Australian election was that I thought it had been a mistake by the Western Australian Premier to have repudiated the agreement he made with the federal government. We sat down and negotiated an agreement which gave a balance. It protected forests but it also protected jobs. And the ink was barely dry on that agreement and he walked away from it and I thought that was a mistake because I thought it sent a message to the blue collar workers, the timber workers in Western Australia that they didn't have any friends. And it's all very well for people to be concerned about the environment when their job is not at stake. If you are an IT employee in Sydney your view of the environment is very different then if you are a timber worker in an economically struggling country town.

DONALD:

So does that mean...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, what I think that means is we've got to try and accommodate both points of view and you can't be prepared to throw people's livelihoods and their jobs on the scrap heap.

DONALD:

So that means you won't be going out and taking..trying to get the green vote in that area?

PRIME MINISTER:

No no. What we'll be trying to do is to have a fair balance. See unfortunately in this debate there are some people who take the view that the green position no matter how extreme it may be is always right and no matter how costly it may be to jobs. You cannot pursue some environmental policies without destroying jobs. And you know, unless people are prepared to look after the people who are thrown out of work then no responsible government can willy nilly listen to either point of view exclusively. You've got to have a balance. And I'm going to have to go in a minute. I've got a meeting.

DONALD:

Briefly, Democrat Senator Aden Ridgeway's in Geneva today speaking to the UN Human Rights Commission saying that racism will continue in Australia until mandatory sentencing is abolished and there's an apology to the stolen generation. Are you concerned about this given particularly that you had a very cooperative relationship with Aden Ridgeway in the past?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't know whether that is a fair summary of what he is going to say, but let me deal with each of the issues. I don't think Australia is a racist country. I think some people in Australia are racist as some people in the United States are and some people in every country in the world. But overwhelmingly Australians are quite open and tolerant and we have absorbed more races in this country more successfully than any country in the world. So I don't agree that we're racist. Mandatory sentencing is something that is in the laws of one or two states. It's supported by the new Western Australian Labor Government in Western Australia, it's supported by a Coalition Government in the Northern Territory. We think that is ultimately a matter for state and territory governments. And as to the question of a formal apology, well my view is that it is not appropriate to apologise for things for which you were not personally responsible. I've been asked this question on numerous occasions. I respect the fact that other people have a different view but my firm view and that of the government remains that a formal apology is not appropriate in relation to the actions of earlier generations, that were sanctioned by law at the time and in which current generations did not participate.

DONALD:

All right. One more question Mr Howard. Research by the Institute of Family Studies are showing that Australian teenagers aren't interested in politics. What do you think needs to change to get young people more engaged with what's going on?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think people should be...well I mean I haven't seen that research so I don't know whether that isn't too broad...

DONALD:

What do you.how do you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well hang on. Please can I just answer the question. I think it may not be a broad brush, an accurate broad-brush summary of it. But I don't think young people have been intensely interested in..[Line Break]

[Ends]

Transcript 11985