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Transcript 21433

Interview with Theresa Rockley-Hogan ABC Radio, North Queensland

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: 02/08/2004

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21433

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning. Nice to be back in Townsville.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

You do like Townsville is the rumour?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I've visited Townsville regularly, not only as Prime Minister, but in the 30 years I've been in parliament in different other positions I've held in Government, in Opposition, front bench, back bench, I've always come to Townsville probably on average two or three times a year.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Now, did you walk the strand this morning?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I did and it was a great morning.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Now, we've seen pictures of you all over the world in your trackie-dacks and your rugby gear and your t-shirt - how do you rate the strand as far as a walking venue?

PRIME MINISTER:

Pretty good. It's got a beautiful view out to the water and a lot of other people out that early in the morning and there's always a few visitors.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Did you get lots of g'days this morning?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, a lot of g'days and it's a great spot. I, as you say, walk everywhere in the world and it's great to get out at 6.30 and, of course, I'm told it was minus four in Canberra this morning. So there was a vast difference between Townsville and Canberra today.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

We think our weather has got something to do with a lot of politicians being here at this time of the year....we don't really.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, of course, you don't.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Now, you are here. Peter Costello was here last week. We had John Anderson here the week before. Many would say it's an election campaign in everything, but name. Why don't you just put us out of our misery and call an election campaign, call a date?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there a lot of things going on which are the normal course of Government. I am principally here today to participate in the welcome home parade. Now that would happen whether there was an election coming at the end of the year or not. So I am here as Prime Minister on Government business. I obviously will be doing a few things on behalf of Peter Lindsay who is the sitting Member for Herbert, that's very understandable. But there'll be an election and it'll be announced...

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

It's inevitable....

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, of course there is and we don't have elections, we have elections very frequently in this country. It's every three years.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

...many would say.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay, but it's in our constitution and it's the law and the law allows, the law says it's got to be around about three years and it will be.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Will you rule out calling an election date during the Olympics?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look, I'm not going to rule anything in and out. I've been persistently asked this and I really don't have anything to say about that. There'll come a time when I'll have something to say. I'll go and see the Governor-General and I'll advise him to dissolve parliament and the election will be held a particular date but until that happens I'm not going to rule anything in or out.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Oh well. We've got that topic out of the way. That was one that we had to talk about.

I know you've been asked about it a.....

PRIME MINISTER:

Your producer said you had to ask me that.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

I had to ask you that question. Now we do want to celebrate out soldiers and you are here for the welcome home parade. We had announced on the weekend that there would be, not really an extension to our commitment to Iraq but a change over of military personnel. What's your commitment to Townsville's military families about the length of time that our military personnel will stay?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can't, I'd like to be able to say it, I guess anybody previously in my position would like to have been able to say but never could. I can promise you on this precise date, x-months from now that that commitment will end, I can't do that. I can say that we'll keep our forces there until their job is finished. What we're doing with the air traffic controllers is exactly that. They have done their job and Baghdad International Airport was handed over to the Iraqis yesterday and that's what their job was and the 60 air traffic controllers that were doing that, they'll come home very shortly. About six are going to become embedded as they call it, they're going to participate along with American air traffic controllers at a military air field. But separately from that we're going to extend the training component of our contribution for at least another six months and that will mean that over the next six weeks or two months there will be a temporary increase in the total number people in Iraq because there'll be an overlap between the existing training team and the new training team that's going there. But this is very important. Everybody wants Iraq to have a future, everybody wants Iraq to stand on its own feet, everybody wants Iraq to be able to manage its own affairs - well, it can't do that unless it has an effectively trained army and police force and we're playing a very important part in that and that's why we're going to keep that component there for longer.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

So the Christmas deadline that's been touted by your Opposition counterpart, either this Christmas or next Christmas - there was a bit of confusion about that. I mean, it could happen.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there was confusion. The Labor candidate in this area rather facetiously said, Mr Latham, never said which Christmas. Well, Mr Latham did say which Christmas. He meant this coming Christmas and he's made that very clear and she's been pulled into line on that. But our position is that they will stay until the job is finished and we don't think it helps to be setting arbitrary deadlines - that only encourages the people who imagine that we can be knocked off course and we're not going to allow that to happen.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Now, you are here in North Queensland today, you were in Western Australia over the weekend. You've been clocking up the miles both here and overseas and there's reports in Southern media today that, I think, the figure was $5.2 million you've spent in overseas travel in recent years - can you confirm those figures that are around?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it would have been a large figure - I don't know the exact amount, but I have had to do a lot of travel and people who criticise that are really, I'd ask them to point out which trips were unnecessary. Was it unnecessary for me to go to the APEC meeting in Bangkok last year which resulted in the signing of the Free Trade Agreement with Thailand. Was it unnecessary for me to go and see China's new leaders? Was it unnecessary for me to go and visit President Bush on several occasions and including most recently to go to Congress and lobby for the Free Trade Agreement? I mean, the list goes on. It is an unavoidable part of my role as Prime Minister that I have to travel and it's necessary and I think that has to be acknowledged no matter who's in office. I think you can criticise travel by some people but for a Prime Minister who's after all got to represent the country overseas and it did incidentally include a period in which I was Chairman in office of the Commonwealth and that took me on two or three occasions to trips to Africa and London which I otherwise wouldn't have had to undertake. So I think if you go through all of those things they're all defensible. These overseas trips do cost a bit of money because you don't just go yourself, you have to take advisers, I've got to take security and it does add up but I can assure your listeners that every one of those trips was justified and if you look at the extent of our burgeoning trade relations now - America, China, Thailand. - you've got to go there yourself. We would never have go that big natural gas deal with China worth $25 billion for Australia if I hadn't personally involved myself in it and that included personal visits to see the leaders of China. Now, I don't apologise for that and I don't think the Australian public would want me to have done otherwise.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Now, you mentioned the Free Trade Agreement.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

The exclusion of sugar from the Free Trade Agreement was a pretty bitter....

PRIME MINISTER:

It was, I can understand that.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

But there are some developments in the Free Trade talks at the moment in Geneva - what's the latest on that and is there any good news potentially for sugar? Will they maintain the exclusion of US sugar trade for our farmers?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the early signs are that there has been a change of heart by the Europeans and the Americans regarding subsidies. Now, I say the early signs because I've seen some of these things in the past and they've turned out to be false dawns but there is an agreement to talk in detail about an agreement and it's positive news but I don't think people should get over excited about it because there's still a long way to go. The important thing is that this agreement has demonstrated that Australia committing herself to a free trade agreement with the United States has in no way affected or reduced our capacity to negotiate with the major trading blocks for a multi-lateral agreement and this was one of the criticisms that was made of us by the Labor Party.

They said by talking free trade with the United States we were limiting our capacity to strike some kind of multi-lateral deal. Well, Australia was one of the five principal participants in this discussion in Geneva along with the United States and the European Union and China and so forth. So it puts paid to that idea. Look, there maybe, further down the track there maybe real benefits from this but there is some fine print that causes us to be careful. For example, there's a reference to the exclusion of sensitive items.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

The mind boggles.

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly. Now, as far as sugar is concerned, it was a huge disappointment that the Americans wouldn't give us anything on sugar.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Well, it certainly classifies in the sensitive items....

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, of course....Now, I recognise that and I said at the time that we would deliver a sugar package and we have. We sat down with the industry and we have delivered a package worth $444 million and most fair people in the industry have reacted very favourably to that and I believe in a difficult industry, in a difficult world environment it gives them hope, there is incentive for people to transfer to their children without pension penalties. It's carry-on finance in a sense so that the crop this year can be planted and there are reestablishment grants for people who want to leave the industry and start something else and given the difficulty of this industry I think it's a very fair package and it's one that was discussed in great detail with the industry before we put it down. We didn't say to the industry - look, this is what we're telling you you're going to have - we actually had very extensive discussions and I hope it will help to keep in the industry those people who can make it and I hope also that those who feel they can't make it in sugar will be assisted to go into something else and the reestablishment grants in the early years are much higher than what they have been under earlier sugar packages.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

You're listening to 630 ABC North Queensland. Theresa Rockley-Hogan with you and my special guest in the studio this morning is Prime Minister John Howard. Prime Minister, we'd like to talk to you about some more local issues. News headlines coming up in just a second. But I'll ask you to stay around and we'll get on to some local stuff.

[break]

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Prime Minister, before we get on to those local issues, one more question about the US Free Trade Agreement - is the fact that the Senate Report is due and that this whole discussion is happening in Geneva at the moment, things are moving fairly quickly. Is that putting Labor under pressure to get on side?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the two issues - Geneva and the Free Trade Agreement with America are unrelated except in a very remote sense. The Labor Party should have made its position on the Free Trade Agreement with America known five months ago, I can't understand why they haven't except for reasons of domestic politics. I believe in the end the Labor Party will fold and will support the Agreement and I hope the Labor Party does...

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

... in fact aren't there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, well I hope it does, I want Labor to sign this Agreement because that will be good for Australia and I've always wanted this Free Trade Agreement, I'm very passionate about it because I think it will lock Australia into the largest economy the world's ever seen. As America grows, we will grow with it. And why wouldn't you support that? It's not perfect, it doesn't have sugar, we would have liked more in certain areas but we've got appropriate safeguards for culture. This argument I've heard advanced that we have in effect surrendered any right for local content in relation to new media, that's wrong. The Agreement contains not only a preservation of the existing local content rules for free to air television for example and some extension of pay TV, but in relation to the new media we have carved out a reservation that will enable us to adopt local content rules as the forms of the new media become more apparent and I saw a representative of the media, I think somebody from Neighbours, the head of the Victorian chapter of the actors' union, saying yesterday that he said the Government had just given away anything for Australian content in relation to the new media, that is not right, that is just, with respect to his profession, and I don't want to see Australian voices disappear, I hate the idea of just American material, but equally I think most Australians now want a mixture, they want high quality Australian programmes but they're not so narrow- minded that they don't appreciate high quality British and American programmes. I certainly appreciate high quality programmes whether they're Australian, British or American, and I think that is what, certainly I think my experience with ABC viewers, they want a mixture, they don't want low grade British repeats any more than they want poor quality Australians programmes and I think we have achieved a balance. So I really hope the Labor Party does come to its senses, it's used this alibi in relation to the Senate committee; we were told by Mr Latham that he couldn't make up his mind until the Senate committee made up its mind, the Senate committee's apparently said as recently as Friday it can't make up its mind until the Caucus makes up its mind. Now heavens above, I mean this is the alternative Prime Minister of Australia on something that's vital to our future. Now I just want a clear statement so we can get on with our future.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Alright, well let's move on to some local issues, and speaking of the Opposition, the Federal Opposition has announced over the weekend that they would spend $80 million to flood proof the Bruce Highway.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, I'm aware of that.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Any chance that the Government...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have already indicated through the White Paper, the Auslink White Paper, that we do recognise this problem with flooding and...

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

But there was no money in it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no, our advice is that you need a study and we've committed $1.5 million to a study of the best way of handling this and when we get that we'll respond positively.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Local mayors say that there's been enough study done, we need to spend...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we are getting close to an election and...

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Could be another political football....

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, I mean I would expect, was that Tony Mooney?

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

It was the Mayor of Cardwell (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

I think I saw Tony quoted saying something about ...

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Well we all want it...

PRIME MINISTER:

So do we and we are just as sympathetic, it's just that unless you find out precisely what is needed to be done you may have an affect on water levels in parts of the district and that would have a negative spin off which nobody would want. That's the reason why we're adopting the approach that we are.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Alright, another local issue that the Federal Member for Herbert Peter Lindsay's been looking at very closely is the closure of the Reef CRC and Rainforest CRC here and he's been pushing I understand you fairly hard to get some sort of funding re-established for those centres. Any chance that that will be forthcoming?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we're continuing to talk about the matter, if I can put it that way.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Alright. So it may be a bit of, not ruling out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we're continuing. In defence of the process so far there are competitive, there is a competitive tendering process and it wasn't ruled out by the Government, it was ruled out by an independent committee, I mean there's always debate when you have a certain pool of money which is meant to be awarded on a tender basis to competing bids, according to merit of bid, the normal thing is to have an independent committee which makes the decisions. Now those decisions are always applauded by the people who benefit and the people who miss out then come to the Government and say well it may have been independent but that independence was wrongly used so we'd like you to overrule it and etcetera. Now we're not going to take away from people who have been fairly awarded their money in the process, but Peter has put certain views to me and I'm considering them. But I don't want to say any more than that.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Alright. Also you're here today to talk to James Cook University and the push has been on for the vet school to be incorporated into the James Cook University campus, $20 million I think is just the start up seed funding. I know they were pushing you on it today, can you give us any insight into what your thoughts are?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there are a lot of things that I get pushed on where ever I go in Australia, I can't agree to all of them but I'll be talking, I think some people have indicated they want to talk to me briefly about this at the morning tea I'm attending, we have been very supportive of James Cook as you know, in relation to medical and other things and we ...

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

We want more Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

I know, I understand that, everybody wants more, everybody wants more, and you know I would just point that out and I go as you indicated to every part of the country and you have to try and make a balanced set of judgements and I'll try and be fair on this but I can't satisfy every request that people make of me.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Moving onto the fishing industry, and the green zones have been in place now for a couple of weeks now, there's been some criticism from within the Coalition, the Nationals actually, about the process behind that, the science behind it, they said the science. I mean are you confident in the process that was undertaken to put those green zones in place, that has closed the reef, you know a third of the reef, to commercial fishing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well this is one of these things where you're trying to strike a balance between sensible commercial use and the environment and conservation. I've had the new Minister for the Environment, Senator Campbell, travel to the area and ...

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

He was here last week.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, last week, and he's going to give a report on this issue to Cabinet tomorrow and I understand he's got some ideas as to how the matter can be equitably dealt with and I'll be interested to hear. But I asked him to come to North Queensland as one of the first things that he should as the new Minister and he spent as you say a bit of time here, he's listened to everybody, he signalled to me that he wants to bring a report to Cabinet and to make some recommendation and we'll have a look at that tomorrow.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Tomorrow? It's all happening this week. Prime Minister John Howard thank you very much for your time this morning, you're heading off to a morning tea this morning?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I'm going to Ignatius Park, and College, and then...

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

The welcome home parade

PRIME MINISTER:

The welcome home parade this afternoon. And there'll just be people everywhere. Looking forward to it.

ROCKLEY-HOGAN:

Absolutely. Lovely to have you here in North Queensland and thanks for your time this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

Transcript 21433