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Transcript 21039

Interview with Neil Mitchell, Radio 3AW

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: 12/12/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21039

MITCHELL:

Mr Howard, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil.

MITCHELL:

We';ll take calls for the Prime Minister in a moment – 9696 1278. Prime Minister, are Australians guaranteed some sort of tax cut next year?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there will be room for a tax cut. I don';t want to blow it out to a guarantee because I don';t know what might happen between now and then, and I don';t want to be accused of breaking faith with the Australian public. But we do have a very strong surplus. We are in a very strong financial position. We have invested extra money in important areas like health and education, and there are one or two other – more than one or two – but a few other areas where some additional investment will be needed. But I suspect that once that occurs, there will be some room for a measure of tax relief. It';s always our philosophy that after you have spent on the necessaries, whatever is left over should be given back to the people who own it.

MITCHELL:

So what specific areas would you look at for a tax cut, and how would you do it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there are a range, and we haven';t made any decision. What was put up yesterday by some of my backbench colleagues, that';s obviously an area we';ll have a look at.

MITCHELL:

You would consider that? I thought Peter Costello said they didn';t understand.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, no. He made the observation, and it';s a correct observation, that a lot of what was in that, particularly in relation to the increase in the threshold for certain families, that was already being done. But when I say we';ll consider it, it doesn';t mean that';s the only thing we';re going to consider. We';ll look at different ways. We haven';t really got to the stage of doing it. This is December. You put the budget together in what April, May of next year. It';s altogether too early for me to be saying well we';ll look at this, but we won';t look at that.

MITCHELL:

I guess in general terms though, who is most in need of a tax cut?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well people who are on middle and modest incomes and who have the responsibility of looking after others. In other words, people with family responsibilities who have modest incomes are normally those who have the most need. I do share the view of many that the top marginal rate cuts in too early and that acts as a disincentive for extra effort. I have never said, and I don';t think anybody has ever said, that we favour cutting the top rate in preference to anything else. But we have said when looking at the tax system that that top rate does come in too early, but I don';t want that to be construed as expressing a preference for that [inaudible] above other things.

MITCHELL:

Presumably you';d look at a package of things though. You';d try to do it… try to help in different areas.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that also… that is one way of doing it. But Neil, I';m trying to answer your question as directly as I can, but please understand we are months off taking the decision and apart from saying that it is always our objective, where we can, to cut taxes – it is always our objective where we can to cut taxes – we haven';t got to the stage of looking in detail at the various alternatives.

MITCHELL:

Fair enough. I think it would be fair to say you';d be surprised or disappointed if you couldn';t.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the current fiscal outlook suggests that we could be in a position to give some tax relief, but I don';t want to guarantee that because something might happen between now and then that would render that impossible.

MITCHELL:

I imagine there is one thing you';re willing to rule out, which would be indexation of tax rates.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don';t want to rule anything specifically in or out.

MITCHELL:

Does that give me hope for indexation?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, no. I';m answering your question truthfully.

MITCHELL:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

I don';t want to rule anything in or out because we haven';t really looked at things, but equally I don';t want people to get particularly excited because I don';t rule something in or out.

MITCHELL:

Okay. We';ll take calls for the Prime Minister. It is the end of the year – his last time on the program this year – 9696 1278. Brenda, go ahead please Brenda.

CALLER:

Good morning Mr Howard. You';re doing a great job. I will be very brief. What about the disabled person who is travelling to work? It costs me $6,500 by taxi with taxi assistance to get there. What sort of tax cuts can a person on about $30,000 a year expect who has no family, but only themselves to support and who has massive expense like that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you';ve put a fair point to me. I won';t try and respond yes or no, but it is a reasonable proposition, let me think about that. You make a point. I just can';t recall precisely what assistance, if any, is available. But it';s a fair point and let me think about that.

MITCHELL:

Thank you, Brenda. Hello, Anthony. Go ahead please, Anthony. Yes, Anthony. Yes, go ahead, you';re speaking to the Prime Minister.

CALLER:

G';day, Mr Howard. I was wondering if in the near future you';d thought about bringing in income splitting for single wage earners who work very hard and a lot of long hours and our tax seems to go… our overtime goes to tax, but if we were are a company director we';d be just splitting up our pay amongst our wives and family.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Andrew. Andrew, is it?

MITCHELL:

Anthony.

PRIME MINISTER:

Anthony, sorry. We do have, through the family tax benefit system, we do have for single income families that have one child at least under five, we have the equivalent of income splitting up to about $60,000. Because if you';re a single income earner, a single income household, you effectively get an extra tax threshold and then on top of that you get the family tax benefits depending on the number of children you have. That extra threshold continues whilever one of those children is under five. So whilst we don';t have full income splitting, all the comparisons indicate that up to about $60,000 a year, a single income family with at least two children, one of which is under five, has the equivalent of income splitting.

MITCHELL:

Thank you, Anthony. Hugh, go ahead please.

CALLER:

Morning, Mr Howard.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, Hugh.

CALLER:

I think I';m a probably one of the large, I';d call an average family. We';ve got two kids, possibly $70,000-$75,000 dual income and we';re paying more tax now than we ever did and I know we got relief from the GST with lower income tax. But our tax bill has gone up like everyone else. My question to you is – where';s the assistance for what I call an average family? And if it';s not going to be more than $4 a week, why not put the money back into healthcare?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Hugh, I would dispute that you are paying more than you ever did. If you have a combined income of $75,000, unless one of your incomes is over $50,000, and I don';t know that…

CALLER:

It is, yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, well, the other one would be therefore in the order of, what, $20,000 odd thousand, so the tax on that would be… well, the first $6,000 would be tax free and the rest would be on 17 cents as a result of the changes made with the GST.

MITCHELL:

But if we aren';t paying more in tax, why is there so much more tax money coming in?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, company profits are much higher.

MITCHELL:

But personal income tax is up as well.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well people';s incomes are higher and there are more people in the workforce… if I could just, you know, look, I';m just trying to answer Hugh';s particular position and point out that on top of the tax changes of a few years ago, of course, there are – he says he has a couple of children – there are family tax benefits as well. So, I mean, I';d just be interested to know the exact figures and test the proposition that the tax that he';s paying now is higher than what it was a few years ago. Look, if you give everybody a tax cut, it is axiomatic that the amount you give is less than if you target the tax cut to a particular group. It costs about $2.5 billion a year for the tax cut in the last budget. Some people say – well, $4 or $5 a week is not large. Equally, if there had not been a tax cut given, the Government would have been open to legitimate criticism that it was sitting a very large surplus and it was accumulating that surplus and not doing anything useful with it. We have, incidentally, put a lot of extra money into health. We';ve just unveiled a $2.4 billion over four-year package in health, which involves a very significantly changed safety net, which unfortunately the Labor Party won';t pass, so far. It';s a safety net that means that if you go over $500 in out of hospital, out of pocket expenses, 80% of those are reimbursed – and that';s if you';re a concession card holder or a family tax benefit recipient. And for people who are above those brackets, it';s over $1000. Now this is the first time we';ve ever had that kind of safety net offered. And on top of that, of course, we put extra money into public hospitals that are run by the states. And, could I just say in that department as a result of the GST, the states are better off now than they';ve ever been.

MITCHELL:

We';ll take a break; we';ll come back with other issues for the Prime Minister.

[commercial break]

MITCHELL:

It';s 14 to nine, the Prime Minister in our Sydney studios, a number of issues I';ll try to get through very quickly. Mr Howard I';m intrigued by this Australian pilot, Jon Johanson, down the Antarctic, I don';t know why they won';t give him fuel, they won';t let him have a shower and he';s sleeping on a couch in the fuel shack, it';s all getting a bit out of hand this, what do you think, should they give it to him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the line that Mr Downer';s taken on that is fair enough and he';s trying to sort of handle the situation in the sensible way, I mean I don';t want to get into a public debate with the man, there';s been some observations made about flight plans and so forth and I think Mr Downer is trying to do his best on his behalf.

MITCHELL:

Can you describe Mark Latham to me?

PRIME MINISTER:

He';s my opponent. He wants my job.

MITCHELL:

Is he a bully?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I think he';s a person who in the past, in the very recent past, has deliberately used parliamentary privilege to say some very objectionable things about people, including female journalists. Now that he';s in the Opposition Leader and the alternative Prime Minister he would want us all to believe well that';s all in the past and forget about it, whether he meant it or not is irrelevant. Now nobody has that kind of luxury in public life.

MITCHELL:

But are you targeting, is the Government targeting his character?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are making legitimate political attacks on him, I';ve indicated that there are some areas that I don';t believe should be raised.

MITCHELL:

Such as his first marriage?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course. I don';t think those sorts of things should be raised.

MITCHELL:

What about his incident with the taxi driver?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that';s been talked about a lot, it';s a matter of public record and I don';t think anything said about that by any of my colleagues is unreasonable, I really don';t. But I';m not, I mean we';re not running a particular campaign of just harping on these things, but you can';t put yourself forward as the alternative Prime Minister and say well the fact that I may have used parliamentary privilege to make objectionable comments about a female journalist, the fact that I may have used parliamentary privilege to attack a whole lot of other people, you';re not allowed to mention that or it';s irrelevant, and what my colleagues have done is to draw attention to those things, but obviously the most important areas of comparison will be how are they going to run the economy better than we are, how is Labor going to give the same assurances the Government does on issues of defence and national security and of course in those areas I have no idea and I don';t think the Australian public has any idea of where the new Leader of the Opposition stands, any more than we had any idea of where either of his two predecessors stood. But the reality is that it';s now seven and a half years since we were elected, or more than seven and a half years and the Labor Party has communicated no clearer picture to the Australian electorate of the different direction in which it would take this country over that seven and a half year period and nothing so far has been any different, albeit he';s only been in the job a couple of weeks, I have to be reasonable about that but I don';t have any idea of how he';s going to run the economy better, I mean we';ve just got the lowest unemployment level in 22 years, we';ve got very low interest rates, we';ve got a very strong budget position, we have the highest company profits, perhaps on record in this country. Now how is the Labor Party going to do a better job on that front than the Coalition? I mean that';s what the Australian public wants to know and has been wanting to know for some years from the Labor Party.

MITCHELL:

But would you deny it';s a bit of a tactic here? Let Abbott and to a lesser extent Costello throw some dirt while you rise above it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look it';s not a question of letting, I mean I haven';t been reluctant to attack Mr Latham';s comments in relation to the Americans, I haven';t been reluctant, just a moment ago I drew attention to his tactic of using parliamentary privilege. I mean he did, under the coverage of privilege, I mean he said some extraordinary things about a lot of people. Now I think it';s perfectly legitimate for Mr Abbott and Mr Costello and others to draw attention to that.

MITCHELL:

How well do you know Mark Latham?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not very well at all.

MITCHELL:

Is there a bit of a booze culture in Canberra?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don';t think so. I don';t think, in fact the level of, I don';t think it';s any worse, certainly no worse than the rest of the community and I think this idea that people are sort of out partying every night, it';s wrong. My experience frankly is that members of parliament are more conscientious on that front now than perhaps they were 10 or 20 years ago.

MITCHELL:

So you';ve seen a change in your time then?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think so, but I think that';s true of the whole community, people don';t drink as much at lunch time now do they?

MITCHELL:

No.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it';s changed and I think we mirror that. This idea that members of parliament are different, they';re not really. You know, they';re a representative group of men and women, perhaps there';s a bit of narrowing of the gene pool as far as the experiences of people, we';re getting too many people now coming into parliament…

MITCHELL:

Many lawyers and unionists.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I was going to say, well actually I think there are numerically fewer lawyers now than there used to be. I think we';re getting too many who are coming into parliament whose only life experience has been working in politics. That';s certainly the case with the Labor Party at a federal level, and it';s becoming increasingly the case at a state level for our party and it';s a danger for both parties should that happen. Now I';m not saying there isn';t a place for some, but if you look at the pedigree of particularly Labor Senators over the last few years you see almost all of them have either been party aficionados or union aficionados, worked in a politician';s office, leave university, go to the union office, onto the politician';s staff, who';ve had no sort of life experience. I mean the old style Labor blokes, at least people like Clyde Cameron and the late Mick Young had shorn a few sheep.

MITCHELL:

How long did you practice law before..

PRIME MINISTER:

12 years.

MITCHELL:

12 years. Another issue, Geoff Clark, are we close to a decision on his future?

PRIME MINISTER:

I imagine so, that is a matter for Amanda Vanstone.

MITCHELL:

Any input from you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Only if she requests it.

MITCHELL:

And she hasn';t?

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven';t talked to her about it since the court verdict, no.

MITCHELL:

A Zimbabwe spokesman';s called you the butcher of Baghdad – what';s your reaction to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think I said yesterday that I was not troubled by it or very untroubled by it and that remains my position this morning. I don';t think anybody takes any notice of that.

MITCHELL:

Port Nepean, the Bracks Government is threatening all sorts of legal action over the Port Nepean – will you fight it through?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think we';ll work through the position we';ve put down. It';s a bit interesting that the Victorian Government should take this view because it was offered in relation of the federation fund package and the offer was made to the State Government and it was rejected and my recollection is that in the last state election certain commitments were made by Mr Bracks which had not been delivered on.

MITCHELL:

There are reports today that Labor Senator Peter Cook may quit the Senate early. Now, what convention will you follow if that happens?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, we follow the normal the normal convention.

MITCHELL:

A Labor Senator?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes, oh yes.

MITCHELL:

No more (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

We';ve been through all of that. I mean if he resigns because he had his throat cut in the preselection by another union official in Western Australia, incidentally his new leader asked the Federal Executive of the Labor Party to intervene on Senator Cook';s behalf and Mr Latham was rebuffed by 14 to 7, that';s an interesting vote isn';t it?

MITCHELL:

Oh heaven forbid there';s vitriol in preselection – what about Malcolm Turnbull? Are you backing Malcolm Turnbull?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I';m neutral. Absolutely neutral. I will, as I do to all to all sitting Members, provide a reference to the incumbent Peter King, as I do to all sitting colleagues. I believe that you know that sort of thing, quality flows in both directions, but I am not taking an active role. I have respect for both of them; it';d be rather good if both, well both can';t be accommodated in one seat. It';s quite a preselection battle, it certainly is.

MITCHELL:

A Free Trade deal with the United States supposedly be sorted this year – will it be?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it';ll come to finality either this year or very early next year.

MITCHELL:

Will we bid for reconstruction work in Iraq? Now the Americans are saying that only members, really, of the Coalition can bid for it which puts us in a strong position, although some are arguing that';s unfair – will we bid?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, individual companies will decide that.

MITCHELL:

Would you be encouraging?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes. Oh, very much so. I think Australia, particularly in the area of construction and perhaps there maybe in the resource sector some real opportunities and of course if there';s anything in the nature of those two areas, in particular, I think we';d have very strong prospects. A lot of Australian companies would. But yes, I would encourage Australian companies to bid.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, after our discussion on tax a number of pensioners have called in – is there any room for an additional increase in pensions next year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it';s a question of the decisions that the Government takes. We';ll look at everything. I was trying to answer questions on tax and that';s not strictly a tax cut. But look, we will try and do it in a balanced way. We are a good position financially and we want to give back what we have over after that essential spending in the fairest way possible.

MITCHELL:

Just finally on that, you didn';t mention middle income area. What is middle area in your perspective?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the bloke, was it Hugh who rang earlier?

MITCHELL:

Yep.

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean he is, he had what?

MITCHELL:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, obviously one and half incomes. And I';ve spoken what of the policeman and the part time sales assistant as being the new sort or mainstream paradigm, that';s a bit of a mixed metaphor but a typical family grouping. If you';ve got one and a half, one bloke';s.. person';s earning sort of 45 to 50,000 and the other perhaps 20, I mean that';s in a family sense, that';s a middle income household but it';s very hard to put a precise parameter on it, it really is. A lot of people who have a high income think they';re middle.

MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time. Thank you for your time right through the year. Just to summarise the year – how do you assess it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well on a number of levels, Neil. Economically it';s been another strong year for Australia. I mean the best thing is that we finish with such a low level of unemployment. I mean, that after all is what good economic policy is all about – giving Australians jobs. It';s been a very tough year internationally. The hardest decision I';ve been involved in as Prime Minister is Iraq. I continue to give thanks, as all Australians do that we haven';t taken any casualties, but we can';t be at all certain that that';s going to continue to be the case. I think on a foreign policy front history will probably say that the changed policy in the Pacific was a very, very important decision and we';ve seen the latest manifestation of that with the long-term investment in restoring law and order in Papua New Guinea. Now, I know some Australians will say, “gee $800 million is a lot to spend propping up another country” – but it';s a country next door to us and from the long term perspective intervening now to help Papua New Guinea continue in a viable, strong, expanding fashion is very much in Australia';s long term interests. I think one of the other big decisions of the year was the agreement for which John Anderson can take most of the credit on water rights that was reached at the COAG meeting a couple of months ago before my colleagues, the Premiers walked out on other matters. I think that water agreement will return long term dividends to this country and as I say, John Anderson, it';s a credit.

MITCHELL:

Is there a personal highlight?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh no, not particularly. I tend to look back on the year in terms of what it';s meant for the country. I mean, I continue to be a very lucky bloke, I';ve got a great family and that';s something that continues for the whole year.

MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you. Merry Christmas to you, Neil. It';s always been a pleasure to talk to you.

MITCHELL:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 21039