PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21934

Interview with Jon Faine ABC Radio, Melbourne

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: 21/09/2005

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21934

FAINE:

Good morning to you Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Hello Jon.

FAINE:

Have you kept a diary during your time in parliament, or as Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

I do write down from time to time some recollections of days and events not of a particularly personnel character, but it's worth recording things that happen, particularly in the time I've been Prime Minister. It's very spasmodic and intermittent but I can assure your listeners it's of a different character than from some diaries that have been serialised recently.

FAINE:

Have your read the Latham diaries?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I haven't read the book. I've only read the press reports. I doubt very much if I will read the entire book.

FAINE:

Why not?

PRIME MINISTER:

I just have more important things to do. I don't mean that in a patronising way but Mr Latham is in the past as far as Australian politics is concerned. I have only two observations to make about his diaries. The first observation is that he's really done a disservice, not only to his own party but to public life generally by trying to depict everything about public life in a negative fashion, to suggest that about everybody involved in public life is dishonourable in some fashion - that's not right. My experience has been that most people who go into politics do so for the best of motives. I disagree with the views of a lot of people on the other side of politics, but I don't dispute their sincerity on a lot of issues. And the idea that the place is full of backstabbing and betrayal and dishonour is inaccurate. There's no greater level of that in public life in politics than there is in other areas of life. The other observation I'd make and it's one that I make very strongly, that this man's character and behaviour was known to his colleagues when they chose him. They can't turn around and say oh he changed completely after we made him leaders, in fact the changes he claimed to have made when he became leader were changes - could I put it this way- for the better rather than for the worse.

FAINE:

Your response though is I suspect typical of people who have read the media extracts rather than the book itself. In fact the book is full of the same observations that you just made. It says he regrets that there aren't more people who strip away what he regards as the hypocrisy of politics. He wants to get back to that pure essence of community service, public good, which he says is...

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes but I don't think... if -that is- your summary is an accurate summary of what is in the rest of the book then that does not dispute what I'm saying.

FAINE:

He says by exposing the hypocrisy he hopes to get back...

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes but my point is that the level of the hypocrisy and bad behaviour in public life is not as bad as Mr Latham depicts. And in any event he's not being a very good practicioner of what he wants, is he? After all if he really believed that the American alliance was so bad, which he clearly did all along, why did he pretend otherwise? I mean I can't think of ranker piece of hypocrisy than that. I mean those of us who observed him closely knew that he was viscerally anti-American. Now if that was his position, why wasn't he honest enough to maintain that position openly and proudly and publicly during the whole time that he was leader. His close colleagues must have known that, Mr Rudd, Mr Beazley, others must have known that. And you can't work closely with somebody in a shadow cabinet room without getting an insight into their real views. I mean I know the real views of my close colleagues. I'm pleased to say that their real views are by and large consistent with their publicly expressed views and I don't find that humbug and hypocrisy. Where I think he's wrong is to say that the place is full of humbug and hypocrisy - there's a certain amount of it, as there is in the media, as there is in entertainment, in business and so forth. But by and large politics in Australia has been, at a national level, has been virtually totally free of corruption, we have a very proud record on that front. Most people who go into public life do so because they want to make a change for the better, now...

FAINE:

But he's talking about things such as just in Victoria in the last week or two, Robert Doyle has said he can't deliver on a promise which was to reverse a promise that Steve Bracks couldn't deliver on, which is a double betrayal to the people of Victoria on tolls on Scoresby. You yourself have made promises that you've had to break, it's not uncommon is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes but look they are discrete issues that I'm perfectly happy to talk to you about but you ask me for my reaction, I'm giving you my reaction and frankly I just conclude my observation on Mr Latham's diaries by saying that the character of the man was known to the Labor Party when it chose him, and it can't now say oh well he's totally different from the person we believed we were choosing.

FAINE:

Since I've raised Mr Doyle's back flip after promising he wouldn't back flip, he now does back flip, where's our $545 million of Victorian road funding that was withheld until you could see whether or not Mr Doyle could deliver on the promise that...

PRIME MINISTER:

Clearly that is something that we'll be discussing but I can assure your listeners that the people of Victoria will continue to be very fairly treated by this Government in relation to road funding.

FAINE:

But where's the $545 million that's now overdue for Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the $540 million was committed on a basis which flowed from an agreement we had with the Victorian Government, so let's not suggest... I mean the people who have walked away from agreements in relation to Scoresby do not reside inside the Federal Government.

FAINE:

No they don't.

PRIME MINISTER:

The Federal Government has been utterly consistent and fair dinkum on this and now that the circumstances may be changing in relation to Scoresby, let me tell you and tell you listeners very plainly, we won't be dudding the Victorian public.

FAINE:

Well the only way we can be reassured of that is when we see the money handed over.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can assure you you're not going to be dudded.

FAINE:

Whilst we're talking about roads, can we turn to petrol. Yet again we're hearing from in this instance now the New South Wales NRMA, confirming that their research supports the petrol retailers research that refining costs for crude oil in Australia have tripled in the last four months, whilst we've been told that everybody's doing everything they can to keep retail petrol prices (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Well refining costs all around the world have tripled.

FAINE:

But why should they triple in Australia because of events that are occurring overseas?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well because of the forces of supply and demand.

FAINE:

But that doesn't affect supply and demand for refining in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

This attempt to try and blame the Government or the ACCC for a high price of petrol, which is being suffered by every country in the world. Every county in the world is suffering this problem.

FAINE:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Now if there were a magical domestic solution, don't you imagine that the United States Government, the Japanese Government, the German Government, the British Government, the New Zealand Government, the Canadian Government....

FAINE:

And so on. But Prime Minister the issue is whether or not under the guise of world wide pressure, the refiners are sneaking in.

PRIME MINISTER:

That is not the advice that I have. That is not the experience of countries around the world.

FAINE:

The NRMA say it's happening.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the NRMA of course for reasons I understand, the NRMA is running a campaign to try and force some perhaps reduction in excise by the Federal Government. The NRMA represents its members who are motorists largely in New South Wales.

FAINE:

But they're relying on figures and facts...

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes well I can tell you what the figures...

FAINE:

Are tripling at the margin...

PRIME MINISTER:

But the figures and facts indicate that this is a problem suffered around the world and it is due overwhelmingly to the huge rise in the price of crude oil.

FAINE:

Hence even greater need for government's around the world to keep a close eye on what the petrol companies are doing under the guise of global pressure to make sure they're not...

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, and the ACCC is doing that. But you cannot buck the forces of supply and demand. It's very easy to run a campaign to vilify oil companies, and I'm not going into bat for oil companies, they don't have a very good reputation. But that doesn't alter the brutal facts of supply and demand. There is a greater demand for crude oil around the world because in- amongst other things the enormous growth of China, there's a shortage compounded by underinvestment in refining capacity around the world.

FAINE:

Understandable.

PRIME MINISTER:

[inaudible] if you understand those things, may I say with respect, they are the overwhelming reasons why petrol is now so expensive.

FAINE:

Will you call in the oil companies to check on their margins, the way the Government of France have done? And said we're not prepared....

PRIME MINISTER:

The ACCC has a monitoring role on this and we are in very regular contact. And if that is necessary we will do so.

FAINE:

If it's necessary?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. Well the monitoring role that's been carried by the ACCC to date, and they have certain powers, we believe they're discharging that. But let me say that this is something you never have a static position in relation to something like that and if some further action is needed. But I would be deluding the public, and may I say with respect, the NRMA is deluding the public by saying that the high price of petrol is due to anything other than the overwhelming impact of the high price of crude oil.

FAINE:

But yesterday Peter Costello agreed that he could take a little bit of the pressure off by not increasing the excise as of next year. So you can from time to time [inaudible] try to keep the price down.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I said, of course we can, I said the situation wasn't static. Now here was a position.... I'm glad you raised that... here was the position where we had decided in 2003 that we would implement a tiny increase, 0.06 cents a litre in the excise on petrol in order to fund some environmental measures.

FAINE:

So you'll cop a $20 million cut to budget to keep the price down. Why not keep an eye on what the refiners are doing?

PRIME MINISTER:

An eye is being kept on them by the ACCC.

FAINE:

You've created a precedent though now haven't you John Howard? Because if you've said you'll dip into the budget to try and keep a lid on petrol prices for that 0.06 cents a litre refining cost, next time the price of petrol's going up everyone's going to say, well you did it last time, now...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well John what we did in relation to that was to put off a future increase. That is very different from cutting excise. Now you raise excise. To cut excise by one cent a litre would cost $380 million. Now given the current price of petrol, to be noticed, the reduction in excise would have to be between 5 and 10 cents a litre. You're looking there at what... $2 to 3 billion. Now I mention these figures to try and give people a sense of proportion about what is involved and the difficulties we have. The amount of excise levied on petrol is fixed. The Federal Government does not reap a windfall revenue gain when the price of petrol goes up. Federal tax, the excise' is fixed. Now what we decided yesterday was to cancel a future increase, not to cut the current level of excise.

FAINE:

So you can cop $20 million but not $2 billion?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we made a decision Jon for the reasons I explained.

FAINE:

A quarter to nine, on 774 ABC Melbourne. Jon Faine with you, John Howard the Prime Minister of Australia is my guest in the studio this morning. Prime Minister yesterday the Bracks Government announced a boost in anti-terror laws which are designed to compliment or in some way match the boost to anti-terror laws that you yourself had announced just a week before. What were the measures from the Wheeler Report that Cabinet considered yesterday about airport security?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well on the announcements made by Mr Bracks, I think they are very sensible in the context of preparations in this city for the Commonwealth Games. I met Mr Bracks yesterday to discuss a variety of things and he indicated he is going to make these announcements. I don't look at these things in a competitive environment, between the Commonwealth and the States. The Commonwealth and the States should be working together on anti-terrorism issues and next week's meeting between myself and the Premiers and Chief Ministers will be conducted in that atmosphere. I'm not trying to score points against the States, I wouldn't expect them to try and do- score points against the Commonwealth. The public wont tolerate any political point scoring on counter terrorism laws. We've put forward a number of proposals. Some of them require the initiative and the action of the states because they have the legal power. Others - we work together- others are entirely within the remit of the Commonwealth. Now you asked me about the Wheeler report

FAINE:

Sir John Wheeler, the British expert on airports...

PRIME MINISTER:

He carried out a security review of Heathrow which is the largest international airport in the world. I'll be releasing his report later today and I will also announce further measures in relation to airport security which will cost just under $200 million. Now a lot of those announcements will be in relation to issues that come out of the Wheeler Report but quite a lot of them will be in relation to matters that we had contemporaneously decided to do. The Wheeler Report overall gives a very positive response to an examination of our airport security although it does highlight some areas that need improvement, that need greater cooperation between government agencies and greater cooperation between the Commonwealth and the States and...

FAINE:

And the private operators of the airports?

PRIME MINISTER:

...and private operators and he's proposing a number of things that will involve once again co-operation between Federal and State police and I will be raising all of those issues with the Premiers when I meet them next week.

FAINE:

Do you expect airfares to rise as you take greater security measures?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can't give a categorical response to that because I don't know how airlines are going to respond, I wouldn't expect that these particular measures would be the basis for further increases in airfares, I wouldn't expect so.

FAINE:

But the airlines have passed on extra fuel costs to passengers, it's a very competitive market to the benefit of consumers, extra costs they could now say well there is going to be a security...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you've asked me. I've given you an answer, I can't, I mean I cannot predict precisely what a whole range of privately run airlines are going to do and that's impossible. All I am saying is that the measures that I will announce later today, do not of themselves form the basis of further increases but I can't rule out that there won't be because I don't control what the airlines do.

FAINE:

But the airlines and airports say if you impose extra security hurdles...

PRIME MINISTER:

I know they say that, but we can't in our...

FAINE:

...[inaudible] to pay for them aren't they?

PRIME MINISTER:

...society have it both ways, we can't demand extra security and then if it costs something say well that's unfair somebody else has got to bear the cost. Now I think by and large the public accepts that there is some additional expense in being safer and they want to be safer even if it costs a bit more but they don't want to be exploited in the name of safety so as in all of these things, it's a question of fairness and balance.

FAINE:

Eleven minutes to nine, 11 degrees in Melbourne, John Howard the Prime Minister of Australia is my guest in the studio this morning. It's a feature of the Bracks anti-terror laws that they have a sunset clause. Are you committed to a sunset clause [inaudible] terrorism?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. I'm not committed to one no. We are not proposing a sunset clause. Some people have raised that issue but we are not committed to it and we note that some people argue for it. I don't think terrorism is going to disappear in three years time.

FAINE:

No but you can review in three years whether it needs to be reviewed again...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well actually the use of the word review is appropriate, I think laws like this should always be the subject of review but unless you know that the need for something is almost certainly going to disappear within a set period of time, the sunset clause is not necessarily a good idea.

FAINE:

It's about balancing...

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes it is about balancing.

FAINE:

Yes [inaudible] against the need for extra security.

PRIME MINISTER:

Agree with all of that. I think a sunset clause particularly of a short duration, the reason for that has to be established and the point I am simply making is that terrorism is not something that we can predict with certainty will disappear in three years time or five years time, I wish I could, I think we all wish that.

FAINE:

But at the very time that you are trying to strike that correct balance, we have the peculiar and so far inexplicable deportation by immigration and ASIO of an exponent of street theatre, Scott Parkin. Are you satisfied with the way that's been handled.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

FAINE:

Why?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because I am privy to the security advice that led to his deportation. The Leader of the Opposition has been briefed on the matter as well. I am satisfied that proper grounds existed for the man's deportation.

FAINE:

If it's so damming, the information that you and very few others are allowed to see, why is it that on his return to the United States he wasn't even questioned by American authorities yet he is regarded as a risk to Australia's national security?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is a matter that has to be pursued with the American authorities, I don't answer for the American authorities, and I don't answer for the American authorities.

FAINE:

You share information, Australian agencies and the Americans.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I don't answer for the American authorities.

FAINE:

But it doesn't stack up (inaudible) to our observations.

PRIME MINISTER:

I answer to all the actions taken by my government. This man was not an Australian citizen, he was here as a foreigner on a visitors visa. We received certain advice and in accordance with a long standing practice of not disclosing the contents of security advice, a decision was taken on advice to deport him and I am satisfied on the basis of what I have been told that that was the correct decision.

FAINE:

I understand Prime Minister that you want to back the work of the agency You don't want this to look like a stuff up or an episode of 'Yes Minister' as some are describing it but we as citizens think so far on the only information available to us on Mr Parkin's own account which he has given us live to air on the account of any number of people who participated in the workshops that he was conducting that this is an abuse of power.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't accept that and I respect your view but I am not going to break for reasons that are important to Australia's long term interests in security, I am not going to break from the convention and disclose the security information I have been given, I am simply not going to do that.

FAINE:

But then this is going to be held up as an example of the balance that you say is so important, not being applied.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look John can I say I know there are some people who are highly critical of this. My sense is that the average person believes from time to time, governments have privy to information and particularly when you are dealing with somebody who is a visitor to this country who has no inalienable right to remain here, he is a foreigner.

FAINE:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

He is not an Australian citizen.

FAINE:

But he is not a terrorist either.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he is a person who on good grounds was deported.

FAINE:

Well we take your word on that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look I understand that but there are conventions that apply here and people in my position have adhered to that convention and they've been on both sides of politics now for many years and I repeat the Opposition Leader has been fully briefed on this issue and if you want his view you can seek it, I don't presume to speak for him.

FAINE:

Six minutes to nine Prime Minister, Telstra, you've now got the power to sell it, when do you think you'll use it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we will sell Telstra when it's in the tax payer's interests and that will obviously be governed by the share price and advice we get about market conditions, whether we sell it in one lump or in stages will depend on the advice that we receive.

FAINE:

It's not worth selling now is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we will get value for the Australian taxpayer.

FAINE:

You wouldn't at the moment would you?

PRIME MINISTER:

John, we will get value for the Australian taxpayer.

FAINE:

You are all but conceding. At the moment it is in a trough and it's going to go down further because if there's a dividend payout due...

PRIME MINISTER:

That's commentary. You have the luxury of indulging in commentary. I don't and I intend to do the right thing by the Australian taxpayer.

FAINE:

Would you recommend Telstra shares to your mother?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't give investment advice but I would say this, that Telstra is a very big company, it's a very good company and it will now that it is looking to be free of the yolk of majority government ownership, it will become an even stronger company and it will contribute to a far more competitive communications market in Australia.

FAINE:

Telstra management are discovering and telling us that its infrastructure is in a far more ruinous or a state of disrepair such that we were never told. Now where are they on the one hand going to have enough money to maintain a dividend float to stop the share price dipping even further, whilst having the capital to invest intensively in the infrastructure whilst maintaining minimum standards in the bush as you've absolutely bottom line demanded of them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I could make...

FAINE:

Doesn't stack up does it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am not an investment adviser.

FAINE:

No but you half own a telecommunications company.

PRIME MINISTER:

I know but I am also not an expert in the internal workings of Telstra and what you are illustrating and I know the debate in Parliament is now over, but what you are illustrating again is the absurdity of the current position. Because we are the majority owner, I'm expected to have a detailed knowledge of the internal workings of a company on whose board I do not sit, and who in accordance with corporate governance regulations, I am really not responsible for or entitled to have intimate knowledge of and yet I am meant to be able to answer all these questions. All I can say is that we appointed a board, the board has chosen a managing director, and he is highly remunerated and he's got a lot of senior executives who are highly paid and I expect them to do a good job and I expect them to get on with the job of running the company well and I will to the extent that it is within my capacity to do so, I will work in a productive positive way with the management of Telstra. But I am not going to set myself up as a day to day commentator on the financial workings of Telstra, I am just not able to do that.

FAINE:

Does Sol Trujillo have your full support?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am very happy to work with him, it's not for me to say he has - look I am very happy to work with the managing director chosen by the board.

FAINE:

When are we going to see the details of your industrial relations bill?

PRIME MINISTER:

I expect it will be introduced next month, towards the end of next month and it's a very detailed piece of legislation, it's a substantial re-writing of the current Act because the constitutional power on which this Act is based is the Corporations power and therefore we have had to go back and substantially re-write the Act, that's why it's taking some time. But given the complexity, it's not taken any greater time than any other complicated pieces of legislation.

FAINE:

It's going to be a signature piece for you John Howard. Who is going to win the Grand Final on Saturday?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't claim to be an expert on this, certainly not.I would've thought on balance, the West Coast.

FAINE:

West Coast?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

FAINE:

But you're a Sydney man through and through.

PRIME MINISTER:

No I am an Australian and I am not -no,no, you shouldn't assume that just because I come from Sydney I automatically, I don't automatically barrack for Sydney in everything, certainly not. But I think there is a lot of support for the Swans in Sydney and I think, how shall I put it the enthusiasm for the game in Sydney is wonderful and the way in which Australian rules has won the hearts of a lot of people in Sydney is fantastic. I just, that's my feeling. I am not saying I want West Coast win, I don't have a particularly strong view, my own team is doing very well in the rugby league competition and I will certainly be barracking furiously for them because I have had an identification with St George, but having not had a particular identification with either of the teams in the AFL grand final I am rather more detached but I think there is great enthusiasm in spirit and sentiment for the Swans in Sydney.

FAINE:

Well given that Barry Hall can play, I think we will see...we will see a much better contest .

PRIME MINISTER:

I think we will se a wonderful...I will be there and I'll look forward the game very very much and I think it will be a fantastic spectacle as always.

FAINE:

We've covered a lot of turf as always and we've barely scratched the surface, it's a busy day and thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 21934