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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 31857

Radio Interview with Sally Loane, 2BL

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: 29/10/1999

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 31857

Subject(s): Darwin to Alice Springs rail line; regional transaction centre; SOCOG; Olympic Games; Injecting rooms; Ian Healy;

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

LOANE:

John Howard good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Sally. It’s great out here and it’s a great centre.

LOANE:

Yes. Now tell us a little bit about that centre because this is the first of many as I understand.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s the first of 500 which will be established all around the country. It’ll be funded out of the sale of 16% of Telstra – that $70 million to $80 million commitment. And it was a promise we made in last election campaign. We have a nicely converted Westpac Bank building. It’s got the services you spelt out – the Medicare easy claim facility, the Internet, the copying facilities, basic banking facilities through a credit union, Centrelink. It’s obviously going to be quite a hub for the local town. This is a town of 670 people suffering a fate of so many small country communities. They lose critical mass for basic services. The services go. That affects business activity. The cash flow stops and then begins to decline. And this is a way of bringing services back to the bush and I’m really quite excited and it’s been a great atmosphere. The main street’s been closed and just about everybody in the town has turned up and there’s a sense that this is a real chance to break through, or to fight back for local communities. And I’m very committed to these being opened all over the country and they’re a real partnership between the Government, we provide some of the money, but the energy for them came from the local citizens group. And just by wandering around talking to people it’s obvious that the whole town is very much behind the idea.

LOANE:

Yes. And of course the rural summit which has been on in Canberra all week Prime Minister, that’s been a chance I guess for people, city people to have a look at what is going on in regional Australia. It’s been an important summit hasn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it has. The problems of the bush of regional/rural Australia are quite acute and I understand that. And I’m very much aware that at a time when the whole country at a national level is doing pretty well economically, there are nonetheless a lot of areas that are missing out and when the rest of the country’s doing well and you’re missing out you feel the sense of alienation and exclusion all the more. And I want people to understand that I know that and we want to reach out and help them. We can’t change commodity prices, we can’t reverse irreversible structural change. But we can give people new opportunities, we can soften the blow, and we can provide a way of keeping basic facilities because we cannot allow the bush to die. It’s part of us and it’s tremendously important that we help it in so many different ways and this is one way. And we demonstrated last night with our commitment to the Darwin to Alice Springs railway that we’re ready to support infrastructure investment. There’s 7000 jobs in regional Australia out of that project. 18 months work at least for BHP and Whyalla, and you’ll have a railway line that’s 1400 kilometres long when it’s finished. Now that’s a fantastic project. It’s been a dream for 89 years. It’s finally going to happen next year.

LOANE:

This subject brings me to a point about the involvement of business too in the regions Prime Minister. I mean it can’t be just all government money can it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No it can’t. And what’s good about the rural transaction centres is they provide small businesses in the local areas have the opportunity of participating. And at a broader level of course we’ve established the rural partnerships. This was a proposal that came out of that wonderfully philanthropic Myer family and it’s a proposal where businesses invest in a trust or a foundation and the income from that provides for all sorts of rural and regional activities. Now these are just different ways of people helping. And I sense that the rural summit last night, and John Anderson’s had the same experience, that the nation I think has sort of crossed the rubicon and accepted that there is a big problem and a big challenge in the bush and we’ve got to do something to help otherwise we’re going to lose something that’s very precious and very important to our understanding of ourselves and our sense of identity.

LOANE:

Prime Minister, could I ask you about a couple of issues that happened here today? I don’t know if you heard the media conference this morning with Michael Knight, the Olympics’ Minister, saying he was sorry about what happened and they’re going to offering some refunds to people who missed out on those tickets. But you, I think you said that the community was feeling "white hot anger" about this. Do you think now that the community will go back to sort of backing SOCOG and the games?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the community wants the Games to be a tremendous success. I mean I want them to be a success. This is an opportunity for Australia to showcase itself to the world, and I’m just very sorry this has happened. But it has been a case of straight out misleading conduct, and maybe offering refunds and everything will help a little bit, but it’s just one of those things where I just can’t understand how people could possibly have imagined that you could keep something like that secret. It’s quite surprising. But I’ve taken a fairly constructive view. We tried to work with the New South Wales Government. I’ve not taken any political points on the New South Wales Government, and the Federal Government’s put $500 million of support into the Games. And so we should. These Games belong to the whole country and I want them to work. I don’t want any arguments. But you can’t remain silent when you’re asked how you react.

LOANE:

Your appointee to the SOCOG Board, John Valder didn’t remain silent this week.

PRIME MINISTER:

He rarely remains silent.

LOANE:

That’s true.

PRIME MINISTER:

He’s not a person reluctant to say something.

LOANE:

He was very upset about how the board was being run. Have you been hearing that from him for some time?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we communicate occasionally but I don’t….look, I think a lot of people are upset about how this has been handled. And I don’t want to sort of add to the difficulty by any further comments. But I was expressing when I said what I said yesterday, I was expressing the feeling of the community. And there does have to be a very serious attempt to accept that the community has a right to feel misled because if they had been told at the beginning that there was a situation where you’re effectively cross-

subsidising by selling a block of tickets at a premium, which is what has happened. If that had been explained to the public at the beginning they may not have liked it but they would have understood it.

LOANE:

Should John Valder now just put his head down, keep quiet and get on with it do you think?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’ve never been, in my long experience with John, I have never found him a person that comes to that all that easily.

LOANE:

But should he now? I mean…

PRIME MINISTER:

No. Well, I don’t think the focus of criticism should be on John, I mean, fair go.

LOANE:

Do you think he was right in saying that the board was run by a small group of four?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, I’d have to have a further conversation with him before I was in a position to say yes or no to that question. I don’t talk to John everyday. You have go to understand that I have got two appointments, John and Donald McDonald, the Chairman of the ABC. I don’t, sort of, talk to them every day about what’s happening on SOCOG. They are both very capable self-possessed men in their own right and they are quite capable of forming their own views. I appointed them because I thought they represented the interests of the community and they would make a contribution from different aspects and they certainly have. But they don’t go there, as it were, as my proxy. From time to time we talk about what’s happening but they are quite capable of making up their own minds and looking after themselves in their own right.

LOANE:

Prime Minister, the referendum. You came out, of course, and put your case very firmly for the no vote. Now, other Minister, senior Ministers, have come out as well. Peter Costello has come out for yes. Peter Reith has come out for no even though he wants the republic by direct election. Now, could you just clear this up once and for all, I think there’s been a bit of misunderstanding about if you as Prime Minister will allow another referendum if there’s a no vote on November 6th?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what I have said, Sally, and I chose my words very carefully and some people have tried to distort it. What I have said is two things, that if the referendum is carried, that’s if there’s a yes vote, I don’t believe that there will ever be another referendum to give people the option of converting to a directly elected presidency. Now, that’s the first thing I have said. The second thing I have said is that if there’s a no vote I wouldn’t think there’d be another referendum in a hurry. Now, they’re the words I have used.

LOANE:

They were carefully chosen Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

They were carefully chosen and I stick by them and I don’t intend to add to them or subtract from them and I meant what I said that I didn’t think there’d be another referendum in a hurry. Now,…

LOANE:

Does that mean the term of your Prime Ministership?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it just means really what is says. I mean, I am not intending to resign tomorrow or the next week or the next year so I am going to be around for quite a while. But you can understand I don’t want to start relating things to if unless it’s absolutely necessary to the term of my Prime Ministership. I am just trying to convey a sense to public that I think they will want a rest from referendums whatever the result may be. But if you say to me can I say for certain there will never be another referendum if the no vote is carried, I can’t say that. How can I? I mean, how can anybody in my position? I am not trying to be…you see, my position is that I don’t favour either this republic or an elected presidency. I don’t favour either of them. Whereas some of the people who are voting no are voting no because they favour an elected president.

LOANE:

That’s right and I think they are taking some comfort from your words because you haven’t ruled it out.

PRIME MINISTER:

I can only say what I believe. I mean, what the ‘yes’ people want me to say is that they, sort of, want me to say words which they can then use to persuade direct election people to vote ‘yes’. And because I refuse to do that I am, sort of, verballed or misrepresented by people like Malcolm Turnbull. I am telling you as plainly and honestly how I feel. I am against a republic. I always have been. I support the present system. I am just as opposed to a directly elected presidency as I am to this model.

LOANE:

Has it been difficult having your Deputy, Peter Costello, come out and refute you on this issue?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, because I decided 18 months ago that we would allow a free vote. I said 18 months ago at the time of the Constitutional Convention that once the legislation establishing the referendum was passed members of the parliamentary Liberal Party would be allowed a free vote. And it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I think the Labor Party should have a free vote. In fact, Daryl Melham is having a free vote on the preamble. I mean, you have got the extraordinary spectacle of the Aboriginal Affairs spokesman for the Labor Party asking people to vote no to the first attempt in 100 years to write something positive about the Aboriginal people into the Constitution via the preamble.

LOANE:

Prime Minister, you have got the State Liberal Party here in New South Wales opening its conference tonight. You have sent in Tony Staley to try and sort things out in the State branch. Things haven’t been running to your expectations?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t want to pre-empt discussion of matters that belongs to the party organisation, the State Executive. I have read the reports. I am obviously as a member of the New South Wales Division of the party, I have been so for almost 40 years. I am very interested in the health of the Division.

LOANE:

And it’s not healthy at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it owes a lot of money and it had a bad State election result. I think Kerry Chikarovski has soldiered on extremely well in difficult circumstances and she has my total support and encouragement and I think she has weathered it with great good cheer in very difficult circumstances. And I think there are a lot of Liberals in New South Wales who have a variety of views on a lot of other subjects who are keen to see the organisation stronger and are keen to see the debt liquidated and are keen to see the State parliamentary party be a strong Opposition.

LOANE:

Prime Minister, if I could just interrupt there, I just wanted to ask you a couple more things before we finish. The Vatican intervention to stop the Sisters of Charity setting up the legal heroin room. Your view just quickly.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t have a view on the internal workings of the Catholic Church. The Vatican has got a perfect right to exercise the authority it has in the Catholic Church and it’s not for the Prime Minister to do other than say, well I respect the role of the Vatican in the Catholic Church. As to the result, I, of course, am against injecting rooms so I am not sorry that they may be delayed or perhaps even not take place. But the church has its own system, its own hierarchy and I respect it and it’s not really for me to say whether the Vatican should or should not intervene. That’s a matter for it.

LOANE:

Okay. Just very quickly, finally Prime Minister, if you were an Australian cricket selector would you let Ian Healy play in that last Test at the Gabba?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I love cricket but I don’t think it’s fair on the selectors to heavy them by the Prime Minister giving a running commentary on what they should do.

LOANE:

It’d be nice to see him up there though wouldn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, I understand that but it is heavying them a bit and I don’t think that’s fair to them. But Heals has been a great cricketer, a great ambassador of the game and somebody who just so self-evidently enjoys every minute of it and I wish him well.

LOANE:

Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time this morning.

Transcript 31857