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Transcript 22025

Interview with David Speers Sky News

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: 10/11/2005

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 22025

SPEERS:

Well Prime Minister thanks for your time. There's a few things to get through today but just in the last little while we've seen your industrial relations reforms passed by the Lower House, are you still confident they will get through the Upper House though in a few weeks time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I never take anything for granted but I am optimistic that it will get through but that is a matter for the Senate. There is to be an inquiry and it will report and then the Senate will start debating the legislation in a couple of week's time. In the House of Representatives this has been the longest debate on any measure during my Prime Ministership so I am told. I am also told that if Opposition members had accepted the discipline on their speaking times that Government members accepted, every single one of them would have been able to participate.

SPEERS:

Because they've complained about the guillotine brought down by the Government and many of them not being able to speak on this important debate in the House today. Do you worry about the process being seen as an abuse of the Government's power?

PRIME MINISTER:

How can it be an abuse when it's the longest debate of the nine and a half years that I have been Prime Minister, then how can it be an abuse if I say, which is the case, that if Labor members had accepted the discipline of limiting their speaking times that our members' did, every single one would have had an opportunity of speaking. Now you'd think that the guillotine was invented by this Government. I do remember occasionally when we were in opposition, the Labor Party applying a guillotine, but look the bottom line is, very important measure, the longest debate on any measure in nine and a half years.

SPEERS:

There's still many in the public who are yet to be convinced about these reforms, are you concerned that the Government is still facing an uphill (inaudible...

PRIME MINISTER:

But I understand particularly when misrepresentation occurs on a daily basis that people might have concerns. The latest misrepresentation is about sick leave. Labor is putting around the line that you've got to get a doctor's certificate every day you are off sick, not true. What the new law provides which effectively reproduces the present situation is that an employer can ask for a medical certificate and it ought to be provided as soon as practicable and that can be before, during, or after the period of illness and if there are circumstances beyond the control of the employee that make it impossible for him to provide it, well he doesn't have to. Now that is effectively the current situation, yet out of all of that and you can read page 117 of the Act, out of all of that, this nonsense being put around, this distortion by the Labor Party that you've got to get a certificate every day.

SPEERS:

But Prime Minister when someone does just take one day off...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well most employers don't ask for it.

SPEERS:

No but some now can under this legislation.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, no, but employers can ask for it now if they want to. I mean I know employers who do, not many, not many.

SPEERS:

But you don't always go to the doctor do you, that is what I am saying, you take one day off, or your child...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no well of course you don't and there's nothing, and there's nothing in this provision that is going to alter the current situation. This is just typical of the fear campaign that is being waged by the Labor Party, they go from one issue one day and then it gets answered, they go to another, well we are patient people, we'll deal, issue by issue, day by day, and in a years time when people discover if this legislation goes through that the world has not come to an end and that people are not being disadvantaged, they will look back on this period of distortion and say well the Labor Party did not serve the public interest.

SPEERS:

But the bottom line is that these reforms are primarily aimed at shifting the balance in favour of the employer, isn't that the case?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, that's not right as all, the purpose of these reforms is to boost productivity and create more jobs and a stronger economy. No industrial relations system can protect a person's job if the economy is weak. The guarantor that you give people of jobs and higher real wages is a stronger economy and you've got to judge an industrial relations system on the contribution it makes to a stronger economy.

SPEERS:

But isn't that just another way of saying when you talk about stronger productivity and stronger economy, another way of saying, make labour cheaper in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, make work places more productive and more cooperative and more entrepreneurial that is the foundation of future prosperity.

SPEERS:

Now the other major reforms you want passed by Christmas of course are the anti-terror laws. We've seen some concern expressed by Muslim leaders over the past day or so. Are you prepared to consult with them again on these laws?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Mr Ruddock saw an Islamic leader yesterday. Look we've had a lot of consultation and I have had meetings with the Islamic community. These laws are not directed against the Islamic community, there is not a word, not a portion of this legislation that in any way is targeted at a particular group. These laws will catch people who break them, no more no less, and law abiding Islamic people in Australia, which is 99.99% of the Islamic community should support these laws because terrorism as we've seen as recently as a few hours ago, terrorism strikes at the lives and the safety of people irrespective of their race or nationality and Islamic Australians have as much to gain from strong anti-terrorist laws as does the rest of the community.

SPEERS:

Yes well I'll ask you about what's happened in Jordan in just a moment but how important is it to you to keep the Muslim leaders on side in this process of beefing up the laws and prosecuting the war on terror?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well my responsibility is to govern for the best interests of all of the Australian people. You don't make laws in this country by bargaining with different groups. You listen to people, you then sit down and you decide what is in the best interests of all of the Australian community and Islamic people are part of that community, their views are entitled to the weight that the logic of those views carry and no more, no less. We listen to them, we re-assure them that they are not being targeted, we embrace them as our fellow Australians but if members of their community break the law, they should be punished, just as other Australians who break the law should be punished.

SPEERS:

Well the weight of views of the Labor Party and some on your back bench is that the sedition element of these new laws goes too far, is that going to be negotiable at all?

PRIME MINISTER:

We've already had very lengthy discussions. Mr Ruddock has spent hours and hours in his very praiseworthy manner, listening to people, discussing, compromising in certain areas, but preserving the substance of what we want and the laws that we have presented, we believe are good laws. As far as sedition is concerned, we've had sedition laws in this country for a hundred years or thereabouts and the thrust of the new sedition laws is essentially no different from what's already there. Expressed in a somewhat more contemporary form.

SPEERS:

Some of your colleagues have also started talking in the last day or so about citizenship and whether terrorists with dual citizenship should lose their Australian citizenship. You haven't exactly welcomed that but you've signalled you may be willing to look at some areas in relation to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I said that some months ago and it remains under consideration, it's not right at the top of our list, there are arguments for and against and I am listening to those arguments but we are not about to make a decision on that.

SPEERS:

Isn't the practicality of it though, if someone is a terrorist, they're in jail, what other country is going to take them back anyway?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that's one of the arguments to be taken into account. There are other arguments that once a person has served the sentence, if they have another nationality and they've proved they're not a very good Australian citizen, perhaps they should be returned. We return the citizens of other countries after they've completed jail terms -if we can. There are arguments for and against and we're not about to make a decision on that.

SPEERS:

Now you mentioned earlier of course the devastation in Amman, Jordon, overnight with a series of coordinated attacks, this does appear to have the hallmarks of Al Qaeda. How worried are you about the continued threat and ability of this organisation to carry out such deadly attacks?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't know the responsibility for the attack. Yet one has to say it, it's got a lot of the hallmarks of earlier attacks. Everybody should be worried - it's not a question of how I'm worried. We have to again remind ourselves that terrorism is the enemy of all civilised societies. This was carried out in an Islamic country. The target albeit, three western, or hotels frequented by westerners. I don't know the nationality of the 57 people who've died - we can assume it's a mixture. It's indiscriminate. It just shows that nobody can assume that they are immune. And people should not imagine they can buy immunity by adjusting their foreign policy or by adjusting their attitude. And people have to understand that it is the goal of terrorists to create fear and to unsettle populations and to intimidate and cower them. And it's a grim reality but we have to live with it. We have to take all of the preventive measures we legitimately can in our own country to make sure we have best protections.

SPEERS:

Do you fear though that the war on terrorism has been lost?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don't. I mean the news if it is finally confirmed about Azahari is very good news. It doesn't mean that JI is crippled but it does mean that somebody who is believed to have been behind the two Bali attacks, the Marriott attack and the attack on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta may well have been taken out of the equation. Now if that is confirmed then that is a huge advance. But we're going to be embroiled in this struggle for years into the future. We can't allow it to interrupt our normal lives but we have to accept, we have to change our lives in some respects and we have to have laws and constraints that we don't normally like in order to protect ourselves as best we can.

SPEERS:

Is there a concern though with Azahari that we may now see some revenge attacks by Jemaah Islamiah?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that isn't really the point. I mean if I may say so, that sort of thinking is the last way to win a fight against terrorism. That implies that somehow or other if we don't anything the problem will all go away. The world wasn't doing anything on the day of the... the evening of the 10th of September 2001 - that was an unprovoked, unjustified criminal attack which took 3,000 lives. And this idea that you buy immunity by doing nothing and pleading for a compromise... terrorists have contempt for that sort of attitude and I can't say that what's going to happen in relation to future terrorist attacks. But in the end we have to understand that they are evil, unbalanced, prejudiced people who don't think the way we do. Their values are fundamentally different and they are the enemy of all civilised societies - Islamic, Christian, Judaic, whatever you like.

SPEERS:

Is that the biggest threat that Australians face in the form of terrorism, those JI operatives in Indonesia and across the region. Do you consider that to be the biggest threat that Australians face?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's the most physically close, proximate threat and because a lot of Australians visit Indonesia and other countries the possibility of Australians being caught up in terrorist attacks in those parts of the world does remain high. But you can't rule out the possibility of something happening here. It's less likely but it's still quite feasible - as ASIO has said. And it's something that we need new laws to try and prevent and pre-empt. I mean prevention is not only better than cure because there's no cure once a terrorism.... a terrorist event occurs. Prevention is the only affective weapon against terrorism.

SPEERS:

Prime Minister thanks for your time.

[ends]

Transcript 22025