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Transcript 15658

Interview with David Speers, Sky News, Parliament House

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: 23/05/2007

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 15658

Subject:
Opinion polls.

E&OE...

SPEERS:

Prime Minister good morning. You had a fairly frank assessment of your Government's current position in the Party Room yesterday. Do you really think you're heading for annihilation or was this just a tactic to jolt voters to their senses?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it wasn't a tactic, I was telling the truth. If the current polling, opinion polling were reflected in an election we would be emphatically thrown out and I see no point in deluding myself or deluding my colleagues or giving a signal to the Australian people that I don't understand that they are at the moment contemplating a change of government. Now, will I fight to retain government? You bet. Am I still optimistic about our prospects? Of course I am but it will need a mammoth effort by me and my colleagues and it will need a total focus on the economic risk to this country of a change of government because what Labor is trying to do, and with some success to date, is to create the impression that if there's a change of government the economy will hum on regardless. Now that is completely wrong. The Labor Party in Opposition has opposed every major measure to get the economy in the shape that it is today and you can be certain a Rudd Labor Government would not manage the economy as well as the Coalition.

SPEERS:

You also acknowledged the fact that you, Peter Costello and Alexander Downer have held the same positions for the full 11 years of the Government is both a strength and a weakness. What did you mean by that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I simply meant that the fact that those three people have been in the same positions is I guess a symbol of the longevity and the continuity and strength and experience of the Government, but by the same token it's easy for people who want a change of government to say oh they've been there for a long time because you don't need to argue that proposition because the same personnel have been in the positions for that length of time. Now that's the point I was making, there was no hidden meaning or, you know, sort of some dark message that I was trying to convey, it was statement of fact. But David, we can win this election, but it will be a mammoth effort required, but I do want to spend the time between now and the election making it very plain that if you change the government you change economic policy. I mean, you have Labor state governments already going into deficit and putting upward pressure on interest rates. We can be certain that a Rudd Labor government would do the same because that's what they did when they were last in government and they haven't changed in Opposition. I mean, if they'd taken the pledge and reformed themselves after they went into Opposition then my argument would be less convincing. But for 11 years of Opposition they have opposed everything we have done to get the economy in order. They opposed getting the Budget back into surplus, they opposed paying off the $96 billion of debt; they opposed waterfront reform; they opposed tax reform; they opposed industrial relations reform; the opposed Welfare to Work reform; I mean, all of these actions have happened recently. They're not things that happened 11 and 15 years ago. So don't listen to what they say, have a look at what they've done.

SPEERS:

But still, your comments are being interpreted in many ways and one of them is to suggest that you're trying to send a signal that you will hand over to Peter Costello in the next term.

PRIME MINISTER:

It's got nothing to do with sending signals. My position with the Party's always been and it will remain that I'll continue to lead the Liberal Party as long as the Party wants me to and it's in the Party's best interests that I do. So far as Peter is concerned, of course if I went under a bus Peter would be my logical successor. He's made a tremendous contribution as the economic spokesman and Treasurer over of the last 11 years and we are working together in very close and personal and professional harmony in order to sell the achievements of the Government, to carry our forward agenda to the Australian people but to remind the Australian people respectfully but emphatically of the dangers of electing a Rudd Labor government dominated by the trade union movement. You'd have Labor governments everywhere. The frontbench of a Labor Government choc-a-bloc with former trade union officials; can you imagine the field day that they would have?

SPEERS:

Well the problem is I suppose voters are still giving Labor a very big tick in the polls. Would the Government be in a better shape now if you had gone last year?

PRIME MINISTER:

David, I made a decision last year and that's it. I don't regret it. I'm focussed on the future. The Party wanted me to stay, I stayed, I'm focussed on the future, that's it. Forget about last year, it's irrelevant. I don't think about it and I suggest that you don't think about it because it's entirely irrelevant. It's ancient history. What I'm focussed on is the future of the Australian people. And this is not about me; this is about the country's future. I genuinely and deeply believe that the economic prosperity we now have will be at risk under a Labor Government because they haven't changed their spots. They might run a slick advertising campaign, Mr Rudd may say he's a fiscal conservative, but he hasn't behaved like one. And you've got state Labor Governments going into deficit, putting upward pressure on interest rates; federal Labor Governments would be the same. And there would be no checks and balances. You will have Labor Governments everywhere and you'll have the ACTU mob running the show. I mean they're pouring into these Labor seats; they're everywhere. There's Combet and there's Shorten and there's Doug Cameron and there's Marles, the list goes on and on. Seventy per cent of their front bench are former trade union officials. Now this will be the biggest takeover by union bosses this country has seen. Now I think all of that is bad news for the economy and the prosperity we are now starting to take for granted will be at risk.

SPEERS:

And for the record, is it too late for you to go before the election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, David I have no desire to do anything other than remain Prime Minister of my country and leader of my Party for as long as my Party wants me to and the Australian people want that to be the case. Like any other leader of a democratic Party in a democracy, I am at the disposal of the Australian people. Whatever they decide will be right.

SPEERS:

But if your Party Room decides?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well my Party has made a decision. That is not an issue. You're really, with respect, you're going down entirely the wrong track. If you think there was some sort of hidden signal, some sort of coded message on that subject, David you're wrong.

SPEERS:

I am just wondering if panic sets in, if the polls don't improve in the coming months?

PRIME MINISTER:

You are wrong and I think we have a fight. I wanted my colleagues to know that and I believe they do know that, they do understand the magnitude of the fight, but I don't enter that fight without any sense of despair or defeatism. I enter it with a steely determination to communicate to the Australian public what is at stake. And what is at stake is the continued prosperity of the country, you cannot guarantee that under a Labor Government and the main reason why you can't is that they haven't changed in 11 years of Opposition. If they'd become fiscally conservative in 1996 then they might be credible, but you can't go to the public saying you're a fiscal conservative when for 11 years you've behaved, fiscally, in a reckless fashion.

SPEERS:

If your longevity is at least part of the problem that the Government is currently facing, why not do what Tony Blair did, come clean with voters and say I will hand over to some fresh blood next term?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I will stay as long as my Party wants me to and it's in the Party's best interests that I do. The point about longevity is that when you are in power for a long time it is understandable that the public might think well maybe it's time for a change. I understand that, I acknowledge that and I am sure some people watching this program are saying yes, that is what I am thinking. But then they say well let's have a look at what the consequences of that change are. The consequences of that change are that the economy would be run less well, a Federal Labor Government would start behaving like the state Labor Governments are now; going in to deficit, putting upward pressure on interest rates, and if they haven't reformed themselves in Opposition, what makes you believe they will reform themselves in Government?

SPEERS:

But PM, you have been saying this for months about Labor wrecking the economy, about the unions taking control and still we're seeing no improvement for the Government in the polls?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well David, I can only do what I believe. Don't ask me to argue something I don't believe. I have been saying this for months and I will go on saying it for months. And in the end, of course, the Australian people in their wisdom will make a decision and whatever decision they make I will accept because I believe in the commonsense of the Australian people. But the fact that I have been saying it for months and we're still behind in the polls is a reason for me to keep on saying it with renewed passion and renewed vigour because it is correct. I mean this Opposition on every relevant occasion could have voted for the future, could have voted for reform. They have voted for the past and they're promising if they win to roll back one of the biggest economic reforms of the last 25 years; that's our industrial relations changes. Changes that have seen another 270,000 jobs created, a continued rise in wages and the lowest number of strikes since 1913. And yet they want to roll all of that back. Why, because the unions are telling them to do so. I mean that's the sort of thing that we're facing if there is a change of Government.

SPEERS:

Prime Minister, thanks for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 15658