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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 22873

Interview With Steve Liebmann, Today Show, Channel Nine

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: 02/08/2000

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 22873

Subjects: Sex Discrimination Laws; interest rates

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

LIEBMANN:

The Prime Minister is with us in the studio this morning. Good morning to you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Steve.

LIEBMANN:

Why now? What’s the urgency? And why no public consultation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well because there was a court decision on Friday, that’s why now. We didn’t determine the timing of the court decision. And the Government considered the matter yesterday at Cabinet. And this is one of those things where it’s the Government’s responsibility as the elected representatives of the people to take a decision. And we took the matter around Cabinet and I have to say that there was overwhelming support to what I announced yesterday, overwhelming.

And what we’re doing is to give the states the right to have legislation of the type that operates in Victoria. It’s up to them to decide whether they’re going to do it or not. We don’t have the constitutional power to directly legislate for these matters but the states do. And we propose to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to allow them to do so if they wish.

And we are motivated by a belief that in our society children do have the right to expect, other things being equal, and I stress that, other things being equal, to have the care and affection of both a mother and a father. Now that is a view about the rights of children. It’s the rights of children that are the dominant rights in an issue like this. And I believe that society would share that view generally, not everybody but you don’t win everybody on any one issue.

But the timing of it is utterly unexceptional. I mean the court decision was last Friday. I had the matter considered yesterday. We had legal advice in front of us. We were ready to take the decision. Why wouldn’t we take the decision? That’s what governments are elected to do. We’re not elected to engage in endless consultation we’re actually elected to make decisions.

LIEBMANN:

No public consultation though. You didn’t talk to your Sexual Discrimination Commissioner, Steve Bracks?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look we are the Government and Mr Bracks is complaining we didn’t talk to him. As I understand it the Labor Party in Opposition in Victoria supported the Victorian Act, which our decision will in effect revalidate. But he doesn’t consult us every time he takes a decision any more than any other premier does. I mean it’s a federal sex discrimination act. This funny idea that the last thing governments should ever do is take a decision is not one that I share.

LIEBMANN:

But you did listen to Brian Harradine?

PRIME MINISTER:

I spoke to Brian Harradine on Friday. Yes, he got in touch with me. He communicated to me. But look this is not driven by Brian Harradine. Brian Harradine and I disagree on a whole raft of things including industrial relations policy and he didn’t support our tax package in the end. So don’t anyone run the line that this is a Brian Harradine act. I mean Brian Harradine often attacks the Government. Sometimes he supports it, sometimes he doesn’t. But this is a view that we as a Government, the people in the Cabinet, we are the Government and we took the view that states should have the right to legislate to this effect because of the view we take about the rights of children. Now let’s debate the issues not the process, we’re too process driven in this country.

LIEBMANN:

Okay I’ll get to the debate about the issue in just a moment. What did the women in the Ministry think about the decision?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t disclose what individuals say in a Cabinet meeting, that is not fair to them. But let me tell you that there was overwhelming support. I’ll go no further than that because it’s not fair but there was overwhelming support.

LIEBMANN:

What’s the point of it all though? Labor and the Democrats have indicated they’re going to block the legislation in the Senate and the woman who prompted all of this, Lisa Meldrum says she’ll fight you in the High Court.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well when you say what’s the point of it, I mean to say just because somebody opposes something is not a reason to not do it. I mean the Labor Party opposed our tax plan didn’t they, they once did and now they’ve back flipped on their rollback or something or rather, I’m not quite sure.

But in the end we have to do what we think is right not do what we think might muster the numbers in the Senate. I mean that’s what we’re elected to do. And if the Senate decides to vote against our legislation well let the members of the Labor Party and the Australian Democrats explain that to the Australian people. But we have taken in our view the overwhelmingly right decision. And the thing that motivated us most are the fundamental right of children, other things being equal, to have the care and attention of both a mother and a father.

LIEBMANN:

The reality is though that even if the legislation gets up Victorians and Western Australians will still be able to travel interstate to NSW to receive IVF or artificial insemination. It’s not going to stop women seeking children - single women and lesbians.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, you can’t change the individual desires and views of individuals in our community but you can as a government express a community view as you see it. And what we have done is to say that we believe that those states who want to legislate in the way Victoria and Western Australia have, should have the right to do so and they shouldn’t be prevented from legislating in favour of the rights of children by federal legislation. Now what individual states do are matters for them but we are saying to them that we will remove the federal impediment for you legislating for the rights of children.

LIEBMANN:

Lisa Meldrum has a question. She says there are a lot of people who responsibly raise children on their own and she wants you to tell her why she wouldn’t be a good mother or a better mother than a lot of young girls who run around producing children, living off welfare. So why wouldn’t she be a good mother?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look I don’t know the person and I’m not going to make an individual judgement on somebody but what governments do is to express community attitudes and community standards. Now this has got nothing to do with…

LIEBMANN:

How do you…

PRIME MINISTER:

Hang on. Hang on. Well look all you can do Steve is your best. All you can do is… I’m an ordinary person like you and everybody else in the community. I get elected to a position of responsibility. In good faith I legislate in a way that I think is good for the community. Now the public will judge me on that, nobody else. I’m answerable to the public. I’m not answerable to appointed officials. I’m answerable to the Australian people. And we have made an honest decision in our belief that the signal we should be sending is that other things being equal kids should have the reasonable expectation of the care of a mother and a father.

It’s not an attack on single motherhood. There are a lot of single mums out there who started out in loving relationships, they’d like to still be in them and I admire the job they do. That’s not the issue. That is a complete red herring. This is about whether in our society people should have the reasonable expectation of the care and love of both parents.

And in the situations we’re talking about you know and everybody else knows that by deliberate choice, that opportunity and that expectation has been denied and that’s why we think it’s different and that each state should have the right to legislate if they want to. And I hope the legislation gets through but that’s a matter for the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Democrats. But we’ve taken our stand. We have a view and I think there’ll be a lot of people out there in the general community who will agree with the stand the Government’s taking.

LIEBMANN:

I’ve got to, I know what your answer is going to be now. But last question - interest rates?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t comment about the movements in interest rates.

LIEBMANN:

I know you don’t. The Reserve Bank meets today?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it often meets.

LIEBMANN:

Yes and you have an expectation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t comment about the movements in interest rates either way.

LIEBMANN:

All right. Prime Minister thanks for coming in.

[ends]

Transcript 22873