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Transcript 20693

Interview with John Miller and Ross Davie Radio 4BC, Brisbane

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: 23/05/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20693

JOURNALIST:

Good morning Mr Howard.

JOURNALIST:

Good morning Prime Minister, welcome back to Brisbane again. Just before we get into some of the other issues I have to remark that I could you see that you were visibly very emotionally affected greeting the homecoming troops.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I was. I met about half of them in the Gulf a couple of weeks ago. They've done a fantastic job and I just so happy that all of them came back without a scratch, that was the most important thing. I know their families were anxious in a way that nobody else could be but I was just so pleased that they came home unscathed. They've done a great job and their spirit was terrific, they were sent in a just cause and they did their job very effectively and I'm just so happy they're back.

JOURNALIST:

Particularly our SAS.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, the SAS of course are the most superbly trained, they're the very tough end of a very tough professional ADF. But I wouldn't play down the role of other people and I wouldn't play down the role of those people who kept the helicopters and the planes superbly maintained because often these days you have more casualties through the malfunction of equipment than you do sometimes with shooting and everybody played a great part and I think this country can be immensely proud of what they went to do and the way in which they did it and they've certainly won the support of people all around the world.

JOURNALIST:

It's a mammoth task isn't it? I couldn't believe that the helicopters come back in pieces and they'll now rebuild them over the next couple of weeks.

PRIME MINISTER:

And it is, it's an extraordinary exercise and I visited Hunter Aerospace, which is the company that maintains the Blackhawks and the Schinooks, and I told the 70 or 80 men there that they, by maintaining the helicopters in such great conditions, made a huge and absolutely incalculable contribution to saving the lives of our own forces.

JOURNALIST:

Now on that theme, continuing on the theme, the Australian newspaper today is carrying a story today that an elite security and counter-terrorism division, I'm quoting here, has been formed within the top ranks of the Howard Government as what they call a defacto homeland security office. Can you tell us something about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I can, it's a bit of an overwrite or a beat-up or whatever you call it in your trade and I know nobody here is calling it those things. What's happened is that for a long time in my Department there's been an international division which has dealt with foreign affairs and defence and security and those things and we're actually dividing it into two, we're creating a special division of my division to deal with defence, security, intelligence and border protection and we're going to put some extra resources into it. It is in no way a defacto homeland security department, we don't need a homeland security department, our co-ordination arrangements in this area do work very well. We have a very good National Security Committee of Cabinet which meets on a very regular basis and through the whole of the Iraqi issue it met regularly, sometimes daily and it comprises myself, Foreign Minister, Defence Minister, Treasurer, Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney General and Minister for Immigration. And plus the five or six departmental heads, including the Director General of ASIO and the head of the Office of National Assessments. Now they are the people who are meeting on a regular basis provide a very good whole of government approach, this is just a reorganisation in my Department, it will certainly further bolster the co-ordination arrangements and provide even better streams of advice to me, but nobody should see it as a defacto homeland security department, we don't need such an animal, if I can put it that way, in our government arrangements. I think our arrangements have worked better than any alternatives could have and I don't see any need for a new department, it would just be more bureaucracy, unnecessarily...

JOURNALIST:

Aren't we actually creating another level of bureaucracy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no, no all you're doing is you've got one unit in my Department and you're dividing it into two so that you can have a better focus on certain issues. Now it's an enhancement but it's not a new department and it's just a desirable administrative change to reflect the fact that in this day and age you need a greater focus on defence, intelligence, security and border protection.

JOURNALIST:

With that great focus on defence can we elaborate a little on this new forces, these reserves that we're going to be putting in place and you can inform us...

PRIME MINISTER:

Not the reserves, and what we're going to is to train the reserves for a special function in the event of a terrorist threat or a terrorist attack. I think it's a very good use of the reserves and people who are involved with the reserve forces will welcome the decision the government has taken. But it's giving them an adding specific task relevant to the circumstances of today.

JOURNALIST:

What would you say to Kevin Rudd and Simon Crean saying that we need to do this now because we're further up the list as far the target is concerned after Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I would say that that is opportunistic, I would say it is a bit of political pointscoring. Australia is a terrorist target because Australia is a western country. We were identified as a terrorist target long before we became involved in Iraq. I want to say that very emphatically. Way back in 2001 we were identified as a terrorist target and the first time that Osama bin Laden specifically referred to Australia was to criticise our role in East Timor. Now is Simon Crean and Kevin Rudd saying we shouldn't have been involved in East Timor? You know you can't, it's a very very important point. I mean clearly what they are doing, they're just saying that any terrorist attack that was anywhere in the world after the Iraq war is because of our involvement, or America's involvement in Iraq. I mean that's an easy thing to say, impossible to prove, illogical and only sustainable if there'd be no terrorist attacks or no terrorist threats before the war in Iraq. But this country has been a terrorist threat, there's been a terrorist target because of who we are and we're a western country and if we hadn't involved ourselves in Iraq it wouldn't have altered the fact that we are a western country. Can I say another thing about that tape that was broadcast a few days ago...

JOURNALIST:

...raise that with you because (inaudible) concern?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well can I say one interesting thing about it, it included in the nominated countries the country that wasn't involved in Iraq, Norway. I mean you know, so what's (inaudible) Norway do, I mean the whole thing is illogical. I mean I have never tried to say that this country is immune from a terrorist attack, I mean I can't guarantee that, it could happen in Australia and I've been saying that since the 11th of September 2001. But the reason why it could happen here is because of who we are, not because of what we have done. We are a western country and what these terrorists hate is western civilisation, they hate the equality of women and men, they hate the freedom that people have, they hate the manifestations of western civilisation which are to be found in holiday resorts in places like Bali, sadly, and other parts of the world. And if you look at the victims of these terrorist attacks there are as many victims amongst the westerners who came from countries that were not involved in Iraq, or even more than from countries that were involved.

JOURNALIST:

Well I mean I do know that there's a level of community, a great level of community concern out there that we were named as one of the four countries in attack. On that subject again as well, US forces, reports this week that we would be asked to accommodate a greater US military presence in Australia. Would that be looked at?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. no there's been no request. There's been no request of me, it wasn't raised during my hours of discussion with President Bush a few weeks ago, it hasn't been raised by the Secretary of State with Mr Downer, it's not been raised by Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Hill.

JOURNALIST:

It's been raised by page one of the Australian today saying (inaudible) military officials (inaudible) discussing plans...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I mean there are a lot of US military officials, they are very big of the ground, that Pentagon is the biggest building you've ever seen and if you spend enough time there as a journalist you'll find somebody who's prepared to say something and that basically is what has happened. But it's no more than that and obviously if it were more than that I'd tell the Australian public.

JOURNALIST:

Onto another subject, we've been sent a copy of a letter reported to be in, it does appear to be authentic, from the stood aside Governor General to Philip Aspinall, the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, and copied onto the parents of a child involved in an incident and I'm going to have to be a little vague here because we did undertake that we would not compromise the family name or even the name of the school. But in this letter, it's dated the 16th of May it says that, "Dear Philip, a further allegation is about to appear in the Courier Mail following up a story in the Daily Telegraph involving the [blank] family." Now he then goes onto say that the child involved started a relationship with a teacher some years ago. Now saying that could be interpreted, I think, quite easily as being that he's putting the onus once again back on a child who's been sexually molested.

PRIME MINISTER:

John, I'm not going to start giving a commentary on correspondence that I haven't seen which is passed between two other people. I know nothing other than what I've seen in the paper of that correspondence and I'm really not going to get drawn into that.

JOURNALIST:

Okay, well I think it's going to be more haunting for the former, or the stood aside Governor General I suppose.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they're your views, but I'm not going to get involved in a dissection of correspondence, I'm not in a position to do so and I don't intend to.

JOURNALIST:

Okay, let's move onto golden handshakes shall we? And BHP Billiton announcing that they'll give their CEO Brian Gilbertson about $10.8 million I think.

JOURNALIST:

Well a figure bandied around this morning is $12 million.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think 12 is the figure. I understand why people get cranky about these things. It does sound an extraordinary amount of money for 27 weeks. But the reason he has been paid it is that BHP promised in a contract to pay it to him. And they haven't done it involuntarily. I mean, what you've got to understand is that when these payouts, they are the result of negotiations when a bloke is engaged. Now that is how they happen, and this is a dilemma because I can understand why the average person thinks it's too much. I've got to say I think it's too much as well. But on the other hand, the community doesn't blanch when very, very high paid entertainers walk away through performances and everything, walk away... and I know you're going to say they entertain and make a lot of people happy.

JOURNALIST:

They make an awful lot of money for their employers.

PRIME MINISTER:

But hang on. But if you run a company successfully, you can earn an enormous amount of export income for the nation, you can employ a lot of people and you can add a lot of value to shareholders. I think the message I get listening to people around Australia is that they don't mind it when the company has been successful. What they really resent is people walking away with a pile of money when the company has been unsuccessful.

JOURNALIST:

That's exactly right.

PRIME MINISTER:

Now that's the key thing. Now what I am saying to the Boards of Directors of companies in Australia - it's your responsibility [inaudible] apostles of the capitalist system, you want to keep the capitalist system free of too much Government regulation, well you've got to deliver. The one thing you've got to do is stop entering into absurdly generous payout arrangements in the first place, and very definitely it's got to be geared to performance. If a person does not deliver, they should not get anything more than their ordinary salary and entitlements. That applies to you. I mean, if you fellows don't deliver, you don't walk away with a golden handshake. I certainly... if I don't deliver, the public will throw me out, which is fair enough. That's my contract. It's renewable every three years. And I think companies have got to adopt that because there is a lot of community impatience with this situation. But I don't think we should throw out the baby with the bathwater. I don't think we should have a situation where people of exceptional ability in the corporate world should not be very well rewarded if they do well.

JOURNALIST:

Don't you think it should be capped though?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think in a market that's impossible.

JOURNALIST:

Obscene amounts of money though are payed...

PRIME MINISTER:

Whether it's obscene is relative to the performance of the company. I mean, if you build a $1 billion company to a $300 billion company and you get two or three of those billions, I mean all of it sounds an enormous amount of money to all of us, but relatively speaking that is not a huge contribution. On the other hand, if you degrade the share price from $5 to $1.40 and then you walk away with a couple of million...

JOURNALIST:

Which happens.

PRIME MINISTER:

Which does happen and I'm very critical of that - very, very critical of that, and I think the public is rightly critical of it.

JOURNALIST:

Well in the case of Mr Gilbertson, he was actually sacked after about six months at the helm and still gets $12 million.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well presumably, I mean I don't know, this is a private company remember - it's not the Government, it's a private company - and what what we're saying is that company boards should not enter into those kind of arrangements. Presumably the BHP Billiton Board signed a contract which entitled him to this payment when he left. Now I don't think companies should be that generous, and I think shareholders should get onto directors who are that generous.

JOURNALIST:

Well they offer a contract, it's a very enticing one, but unfortunately [inaudible] it turns around and bites them on the behind when [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

But one of the reasons why they have to offer an enticing contract to get the person they want is that presumably the market will take him to another employer if they don't give it to him. So if you believe in the system, you would want to allow for the fact that market forces will produce people who are very, very well remunerated. And I don't think you should lose the quality of sort of the market. But there should be differences in approach by Boards of Directors, and along the lines and I've talked about. It's got to be geared to performance.

JOURNALIST:

Okay. Ball back in their court fairly and squarely. Now let's move on again. I believe there are some changes to medical indemnity insurance coming out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I'm announcing this morning that two of the issues that the doctors remain concerned about - one of them is covering the situation of claims made after doctors retired, and also the possibility of doctors having to meet huge settlements or huge verdicts over and above the amount to which they're insured - they call it the blue skies claims - and I'm announcing that the Government is going to help out in both of those areas, not through the use of taxpayers' money in relation to blue skies claims, but to provide some kind of what I might call interim indemnity until over a period of time the additional resources are recouped. They're the two remaining issues where we think the doctors have got legitimate concerns, and we don't want people prematurely retiring, particularly in the higher risk specialities such as obstetrics. This is a very difficult issue and our hands are a little... one of our hands is tied behind our back, because the thing that is driving these large verdicts and therefore the concern of the doctors, are the very high awards, and you can only do something about that at a State level. We don't control tort law in this country, and what I would say to the States is that we are now doing our part to reform. Some of the States have been very good. I'm not singling people out or having a grizzle. I'm just saying that, we having come to the party and having provided the support we can at a national level, it's now incumbent on all of the States to make sure tort law reform is up to speed so that unreasonably large verdicts don't occur in the future.

JOURNALIST:

Premier Peter Beattie on this program earlier this morning was saying very nice things about you actually, and in fact made mention of a love-in going on.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Are you happy with him coming to the party finally on tree clearing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think we're making progress on that. I don't want to say that it's finalised. And I want to hear what the farmers have got to say. I am very sensitive to the farmers' position. They will be adequately compensated as far as we are concerned, and I understand that to be the view of the Queensland Government as well, and I'm prepared to deal in good faith with the Queensland Government. There was a meeting yesterday between farm representatives and a number of my Ministers, and I'm getting a further report on that today when I see one or two of the Ministers here in Brisbane. So, so far we're making progress. I know that there will be a few things about the proposal that the rural people won't like, and I'll listen to them. I always do. I have great respect for Australia's farmers. They mean a lot to us and I don't want to treat them unfairly, but if everybody accepts that we have to do something about tree clearing and if we can and if it can be compensated in the right way and in the fair way, then it can be a win-win for everybody, and particularly for the environment.

JOURNALIST:

Is it coincidental that this environmental issue has come to the fore after Simon Crean dealt with an environment issue, being the Murray River?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. We've been on the tree-clearing trail for quite a long time and I mean he sort of added that in a bit of a sentence at the end of his speech.

JOURNALIST:

Alright. Now, on the subject of matters environmental, we're also discussing the new plans for the Barrier Reef management as well.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we're making some progress on that too I think. I mean we all want to preserve the Barrier Reef. It's one of the greatest national icons this nation has, and nobody wants it to spoil, and everybody wants it properly cared for. Once again, you've got to worry about the impact on canegrowers and the impact on that industry, which is in a pretty fragile state, largely because of world prices. And again, it's a question of trying to have sensible cooperation with the state authorities and appealing to everybody's proper sense of pride in the Barrier Reef, but also recognising that it's all very well for all of us to want the Barrier Reef preserved in a pristine condition, but if in the process of doing that, one section of the community is unfairly penalised, then we've got to look at some kind of help for them.

JOURNALIST:

We're getting out of time here, so I just want to raise quickly three issues with you. Bob Carr's medicinal trial of cannabis. Do you support that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in principle, providing it's prescribed and people aren't allowed to grow it. I don't agree with that. In other words, it it's a spray or a tablet of some description, I would in-principle see merit in it for cases where there are no other conventional medicines available to reduce pain and to provide greater comfort. Now, they are the conditions. I certainly don't see it as the thin end of the wedge. I am totally opposed to decriminalisation of marijuana. The evidence is greater now than it was a few years ago that marijuana leads to depression and schizophrenia, and anybody who thinks that it's smart to generally decriminalise marijuana is crazy.

JOURNALIST:

Let me try and roll a few questions into one. Our embassy still open in Saudi Arabia, despite the closure of two others, we've got evidence of terrorism in Iran - should we be on high alert like the US?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think everybody is... how you classify quote 'high alert', everybody is more conscious of it now. I think we are on high alert with a small 'h'.

JOURNALIST:

Okay. Does it concern you that no weapons of mass destruction have yet been found?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think we've made quite a bit of progress already on that. I'm not sure that it's quite right to say that. It's too early yet, but some of those trailers, some of those trailers were found, and all of the evidence so far is that they couldn't possibly have been used for anything else. I think the Americans and the British are rightly keeping their counsel until they have further material, but I think it's wrong to say that there has been absolutely no evidence found. I don't agree with that. I think the evidence is already there in relation to things like these trailers, and we did get plenty of indications to what the Iraqis did immediately before the war started, was to break some of this stuff up and scatter it around the country and hide it. I think it will take some time to put it all together.

JOURNALIST:

Yes, it seems a bit odd that some of those trailers have military paint jobs I suppose.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well and they were cleaned out with ammonium, and I mean, you know, it doesn't look all that sort of innocent to me. I mean, why else do you have those things? Give me the other explanation.

JOURNALIST:

Alrighty. Well just finally now, do you have any idea how long we will have effectively two Governor Generals I guess?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is a court case and I indicated that the Governor General stood aside until that was resolved, and when that court case was resolved, he can then give position to the longer-term tenure in the office. And he said that he will give priority to the strength of the office in reaching his decision. I don't have anything to add to that and I'm not going to speculate about time.

JOURNALIST:

Okay. Mr Howard thank you.

JOURNALIST:

Now just very quickly too, the Australian cricketers behaviour in the West Indies.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think we could have done without some of those incidents. I really do. On the face of it, they didn't look good. I mean I say that sort of certainly far more in sorrow than anger.

JOURNALIST:

Fair enough.

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean they're a great team and Glenn McGrath is a great bowler, but I suppose we all do our block occasionally, but it's better if it doesn't happen.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister of Australia John Howard. Thank you for your time this morning.

[ends]

Transcript 20693