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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 9237


Photo of Keating, Paul

Keating, Paul

Period of Service: 20/12/1991 to 11/03/1996

More information about Keating, Paul on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 16/05/1994

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 9237

MONDAY 16 MAY, 1994
CT: Now, you were preaching to the converted today, weren't you?
PM: Now, well, I suppose if we are to say that the Queensland education
system is already giving a lead to Australia in the promotion of Asian
languages maybe that's true. Because, the Premier and I had the
pleasure of going to a classroom after the assembly and I must say,
seeing a class full of Australian kids speaking in Chinese with a very
enthusiastic teacher of Chinese, was really a thrill.
CT: Do your children study Asian languages?
PM: No, they don't but as a consequence of this, the Premier bought this
up at the Council of Australian Governments which is, as you know, a
non financial Premiers' meeting and we adopted a policy of developing
a national Asian languages policy. This will focus on the speaking of
Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Indonesian and we announced a $ 48
million dollar program in the Budget for it so we're now starting to see
it move. So, there's a bit of Queensland leadership which has been
very good.
CT: Good to see. On the subject of education still, it appears the
republican debate is set to be rekindled, can you tell us about the
public education campaign which is being designed?
PM: Yes, well, somebody, today, got a story from the bureaucracy about a
matter the Cabinet was considering, or a Cabinet committee, about
some general education about the Constitution. Now, as it turned out,
the Cabinet didn't adopt it that didn't make the story. But, the point
was that one of the things that Malcolm Turnbull's Republican Advisory
Committee found was that the unde rstanding of the Constitution was,
fairly slight. That's in part because it was basically written, as you
know, in the last gasp of the 19th century for the British parliament to

keep an eye on Australia. And, so, they had all of these mechanisms
there like the Executive Council the Cabinet isn't mentioned and
so a reader, today, of the Constitution would hardly understand how
Australia works.
So, you know, the Premier was saying as we were coming in in the car
today that we often despair about the fact that kids sort of lose interest
in public life and in politics and lose faith in it; if they don't
understand at least how the Constitution operates then we're a bit of a
loss. Anyway, this was a proposal to talk about the Constitution, not to
put the ' yes' or ' no' case on the republic. And, we didn't even adopt it,
CT: So, it's not even on the table?
PM: It's not even on the table. But, it may come back because I think,
probably, Constitutional education or education on constitutional
issues is something we should do. It's a bit like the Asian languages.
CT: So, would you be sticking to the timetable for the republican debate to
go ahead?
PM: Well, in a sense we don't have a timetable. I think this is something
that Australians want to think about and as the public debate filters on
and the work of that committee was very good, it was the first real bit
of text that we've ever had about the quantification of powers and
mode of election and all these other things. As it seeps out in the
debate, generally, there will be a better understanding of it. And the
government will be saying more about it as we move through the next,
you know, year or two.
CT: If we could just go back to Asia, you're going to Jakarta next month?
PM: I am.
CT: That's four times since you've become Prime Minister, is there a
special area that you're interested in over there or do you think it's just
a regional issue?
PM: Well, I'm going on this occasion because of the Austral ia-Indonesia
1994 Exhibition which will be the largest trade exhibition we've ever
mounted in any country, or ever mounted outside of Australia. And,
because Indonesia is so significant as an economy and matters so
much to us as a society and it being such a very large exhibition, I
thought the thing to do was to respond to the invitation to open it. And,
secondly, I'll have a chance to see President Soeharto and talk about
the forthcoming APEC leaders' meeting which is on in November so it's
a natural point to have another conversation with him and the

CT: Do you see Indonesia becoming increasingly important to Australia?
PM: I think it is the country of greatest significance to us in terms of our
foreign, commercial and trade policies. And, therefore, understanding
it, getting to know it better, building trust and confidence between us is
central to Australia's best interests.
CT: Well, with that focus in that particular region and countries like
Indonesia how do you view sending Australian troops to Rwanda?
PM: This falls into the general humanitarian category and our general
support for the United Nations as an institution. I think the UN has
asked a number of countries if they'd be willing to provide military
assistance to assure delivery of humanitarian assistance. They're not
saying, " Come over here and separate the warring parties." But, at
this stage there is no formal Security Council decision about the nature
of the operation and while we've been generally sympathetic to these
sorts of operations in the past, we'll want to see exactly what is being
CT: Would you support it without a truce of some sort being in place?
PM: Well, I think I'd let that one go until we see exactly what the UN
intends, itself. And, even after it decides something it doesn't mean to
say that we will necessarily agree, though, on occasions we have.
CT: Alright, on to something else, last week's Budget set aside $ 500
million for Aboriginal health over five years, the AMA doesn't quite
agree with those figures, what's the real picture here?
PM: Well, the AMA, this Brendon Nelson character, this is an organisation
whose general policy is to do Medicare in. I mean, this is an
organisation which is about tramping all over the one health system
that provides lower to middle income Australians with security in
health. And, they're now going on, taking up the cause of Aboriginal
health as a cause celebre for which you would believe they were the
principal protagonists. They never have been. And, we don't believe
that with a massive increment in funding proposed by the government
that you could actually spend more than that and spend it wisely. So,
you know, this is
CT: Is it really a massive increase, though?
PM: Oh, it is, it's a big increase.
CT: To what extent?
PM: Well, it's, I think, at the limits of what we can sensibly program to
spend. And that's, I think, the important point. But, the idea that this is
a betrayal of Aboriginals, if you said to Mr Nelson, " Listen, what about

we start reviewing the common fees for some specialist consultations
and we provide some of those savings for Aboriginal health?", you'd
hear the shout and the hue and cry from AMA headquarters. So, we
could treat a lot of these general protestations with the scepticism,
healthy scepticism, I think they deserve.
CT: There's been a fair bit of discussion about the Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Commission ( ATSIC) having control of those funds as
well. Do you feel that that is really the right decision, to leave those
funds in the control of ATSIC?
PM: Well, health, in respect of Aboriginals, has never been exclusively with
ATSIC. The Commonwealth Department of Health and general
national health delivery has found its way to support of Aboriginal
people. There's always this question of a trade between so-called self
determination in the management of Aboriginal affairs, including
health, and the other general programs of the Commonwealth. I think
we've got the balance pretty right and the notion that we should take it
away from ATSIC and just dispense it all departmentally I don't agree
with. The main thing here is to make sure that Aboriginal people, that
their health environment and the direct help for health in acute terms,
is more effective. That's what has to happen here and we think these
programs can be made to be delivered effectively. But, once you start
pushing the envelope out where you can't be certain you can really
wind the programs up, you've got to wonder about the point of all that.
CT: You must be reasonably pleased, just to finish off, reasonably pleased
with the sort of reception the White Paper and the Budget have had
out there in the community? Jeff Kennett seems to think you could win
another election in the near future, would you give it a go?
PM: Well, I said the other day, elections are too hard to win to give the time
away for nothing. I mean, it's just fifteen months since the last election
and I don't think the public want nor appreciate anyone sort of, at this
point, looking around for an electoral opportunity. They want you to do
what you said you'd do. Now, in the election campaign, we said that
one of the things one of the things I made very clear is we would
pick the unemployed up, we'd bring them along with the rest of us, that
we wouldn't leave them behind. And the White Paper is a serious
attempt, not just in Australian terms but in world terms, to do
something innovative and new in terms of the labour market to
personally case manage and next year we'll be personally case
managing 509,000 Australians to understand their personality, to
understand their aptitudes, their educational standards, their work
experience and to try and design training for them and then place them
into a job with a job subsidy. In doing that, what the White Paper says
is we will remain a society that cares about one another and we will
remain an inclusive society. That is, one where we move along
together and we don't develop an underclass. Now, I think Australians
expected the government to do that, we said we'd do it in the election

and that's the nature of the Paper and, I think, Australians have felt
good about that. They've said, " Good, that's what we think, that's what
we think you should do."
CT: Has business said that?
PM: By and large, yes. The White Paper got a very good response from
I've got some of them with me from the Metal Trades Industry
Association, from the Business Council, from various other, if you like,
business bodies. Because, in this recovery skills formation which
we always have problems with in recoveries, shortages of skills
normally we have recourse to the migration program, on this occasion
we won't be able to have the recourse to it in the volume we've had in
the last recovery phase. So, the skills will have to come from our
domestic labour market, from new entrants to the workforce from
school and by training those three to four hundred thousand people
who've been unemployed for 12 months or more. So, I think business
has said, " Look, we will face some skills bottlenecks here; it's a good
thing the government is doing here." Basically, if we can get these
people and train them and place them and get them back into the
mainstream, not only is it an equitable and decent and fair thing to do,
it's also an efficient thing to do.
CT: Alright, I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave it there once again,
we've run out of time if I want to include anything else in the program
today. Thankyou very much for coming in. Good to see you.
PM: Good Caroline. Thanks for the opportunity.

Transcript 9237