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Transcript 9617


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: 07/06/1995

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 9617

JL: And seeking a little democratic treatment, on the line from Canberra is
our Prime Minister Paul Keating. Paul Keating good morning.
PM: Howare you John?
JL: I wonder if Laurie ( Brereton) knows what he has done with this unfair
dismissal thing. Do you think he wakes up at night?
PM: What he is trying to do is protect most Australian workers from being
preyed upon by unscrupulous employers.
JL: You don't really believe that most Australian workers are preyed upon by
unscrupulous employers?
PM: Many are though, many are.
JL: Many are. But the majority aren't, are they?
PM: Well put it this way, if the unfair dismissal provisions weren't there, many
more would be unfairly dismissed.
JL: Yes, but they weren't there before, were they?
PM: Yes I think they were.
JL: Well I mean they were there to a degree, but not to the extent that we
have now got 6,000 cases, waiting to be heard, of unfair dismissal.
PM: Well I mean either people have their rights protected, or not. I mean
these matters are arbitrated.
JL: But don't you have a responsibility in your life to protect your own rights?

PM: Well you can to some extent, but it is like you protecting yourself from
somebody coming into your house, or protecting yourself on the road.
You get protected by the laws of the State.
JL: And the laws of the State have always been in place to protect people.
PM: Exactly, but there wasn't any here.
JL: I mean how can we allow a situation to occur where we have got people
wanting to employ other Australians, those people should be rewarded
for wanting to employ other Australians, then you have a fellow who
resigns of his own volition because he can't physically do the work and
the company is taken to court for unfair dismissal when he resigned? I
mean that is just crazy.
PM: Look I don't know the detail of that case. You will always, with some of
these things, find all sorts of anomalies. The main thing is the principle
and the principle is that there should be, you know, fairness in treatment
of people when they have been put off.
JL: Yes, it seems to me it's very much in favour and it seems to the majority
of Australians, incidentally, that it is very much in favour of the
employee, not the employer, and the employer is the one who really
should be rewarded for wanting to employ other Australians, I would
have thought.
PM: Well they are rewarded by way of the fact that the economy is growing
strongly and the profit share is at the highest it has ever been in history.
I mean you have still got the workforce delivering a low inflation rate and
high productivity. So, by and large, something good's happening out
JL: Oh, yes, a lot of good things are happening, no doubt about that, a lot of
good things are happening. But we would probably have a bigger
workforce if people were brave enough to employ others because many
are frightened by this unfair dismissal thing and other requirements.
Anyway we didn't want to talk about that in particular. What I wanted to
talk about.. I know you didn't get a chance to listen to the Howard
speech because it was delivered to a room full of the Party faithful at a
private function, not in Parliament. But have you looked at a printed
copy of it?
PM: Oh yes I read it. I mean he kept his word. He said there would be
nothing in the speech and there wasn't. It was completely empty. I
mean John Howard is the same person he was in the 1980s and the
interesting thing is when he actually stood up on the election night of
1987 conceding defeat, he said " well there are more things that unite
Australians than divide them". And that was a theme in his television

remarks interview last night and in his speech. I mean not even the
cliches have changed in eight years.
JL: No, but to be fair to him, it wasn't his intention to deliver specific policies
last night and he said so. Headland is, I suppose, a landmark in terms
of dumping the past, several of the Liberal Party ideologies have gone
and I suppose it is a shift back to middle ground. So I suppose it is a
landmark to a degree.
PM: Well you can't tell what a person's policies are until you see what they
say, you know, and what the Government is always required to do, under
great scrutiny, is deliver every last policy change, and detail them, and
fund them, and say what the trend lines are, and the expenditures. And
to get up with this sort of waffle anyway, I think the commentators sort
of basically I mean Michelle Grattan, in The Age, said " by including a
bit of everything, but not too much of anything, the speech became a
blancmange, lost impact and gave the Government greater scope for
attack" and Mr Kitney, in The Sydney Morning Herald, said " it's
substance could only be assessed when he explains precisely how he
will achieve his goals, with a heading No policy is the best policy". So,
you know, I think honesty and credibility in public life, John, can only
start with policies. In only politics, honesty and credibility is all about
policies. To be going around saying I haven't got any policies is both
dishonest and incredible.
JL: Yes well to me it seems that way and Mr Howard and I differ very
strongly on this issue. I believe that the people want to know what his
policies might be. As I said to him the other day somewhere, it is like
having a fellow who has been pestering you to buy you a drink for years
and finally you say okay you can buy me a drink, I'll have a beer and he
says no, hang on I am not going to tell you what you are going to drink,
you might get poisoned.
PM: Yes, that is exactly right. That is right. And for instance, can I just say
this, just look he had one line in there which I think said it all and this
is about foreign policy. Now you know how over the last couple of years
we have made these much greater bilateral links with Japan, with
Indonesia, how we put together APEC through an Asia Pacific rim
trading body. He says " the next Coalition Government will continue the
pattern". That is it. I mean a backbencher who has been in the
Parliament a year would be ashamed to put a statement like that out.
JL: Well why do you believe the Liberal Party is loath to release any
policies? They must surely have them.
PM: No they don't. You see there is nothing going on. You see, John, it is
no accident when John Howard was Treasurer we ended up with double
digit unemployment, double digit inflation, the biggest Budget deficit in
our history and an appalling lack of international competitiveness. He
didn't have any ideas and he never has had. And when he got the

leadership in the 1980s, it came to nothing. They tipped him out again
for Andrew Peacock.
JL: Yes, anyway that aside, just quickly back to what occurred in this
speech. I called it Cape Fear because he seemed to be terrified, rather
than a headland speech, because he seemed to be terrified to give any
policies. But in fairness I keep saying to myself he did say he wouldn't
give any policies, but he did interestingly say that he wouldn't govern on
behalf of vested interests. Is he having a go at you there, suggesting
that you do?
PM: No he doesn't say who the vested interests are because if he did he
would have to say they are the working men and women of Australia.
I mean that is basically the vested interests that the Government looks
after, the working men and women of Australia. Then he had that line, I
mean it was unbelievable, he said that he had been, wait until I find it,
" after a week of us fighting for the interests of the Australian battler". A
week! The Australian Labor Party has been fighting them for 100 years.
But I mean, John, he kept his word, he said there would be nothing in it
and there wasn't.
JL: The shift to a Republic But, again, in fairness to him he did say he
wouldn't give any policies.
PM: That is right because he represents nothing and he stands for nothing.
JL: The shift to a Republic is inevitable. I mean most people have come to
that conclusion. Do you think you are rushing it?
PM: Oh no, well, you know, I have had Malcolm Turnbull and others
criticising me for being too slow in responding to the Republican
Advisory Committee Report, which was brought down 18 months ago.
But can I just say, just before I leave Mr Howard understand this point
he wouldn't even say last night and I doubt very much whether he will
say tomorrow night, whether he actually believes that Australia should
have an Australian as head of state or not. I mean, it is a simple enough
question. You could say ' look, just leave the modalities to one side, how
we actually make the change'.
JL: Yes.
PM: Do you actually believe that an Australian should be our head of state?
A reasonable enough question. He won't answer it because he doesn't
believe that an Australian should be our head of state. He believes
Queen Elizabeth the Second of Great Britain should be our head of
state. But, he is now afraid to say it because he thinks too many people
believe in a republic, and he'll get off side with them. So, his policy is to
say ' we will have a constitutional convention to discuss the Constitution'.
Frankly John, any silly mug can go and discuss the Constitution.

JL Well, it happens around dinner tables almost every night.
PM: Exactly. But I mean, as a political leader, at least in response to a
speech where tonight I am saying we should have an Australian
republic, an Australian person should be our head of state and saying
how we will get there. He gets a reply on the ABC tomorrow night, but I
bet pounds to peanuts he fudges the issue about whether he actually
believes in a republic or not. You see, because in the end, this man is
completely indecisive.
JL It seems to me that one of the problems that you confront, not you as an
individual, but is confronted by republicans is that there is a very strong
desire by the public to have a say in choosing the figure head leader of
this yet to be determined republic. How do you get around that?
PM: Well, I think, tonight we'll explain where we are coming from on the
issue. I think the main thing is that the Government is not interested in a
major change to our system of government. The Australian system of
government works very well, in my opinion. If you look at the policy
changes of the last 12 years, there would not be a country in the OECD
that has gone through greater policy changes or a community which has
so willingly participated in and accepted them. So, whatever we do, we
don't want to in any way alter that. But, what we do want, we can't, I
don't think, summon the sense of ourselves or our role in the world by
saying ' oh, just by the way our head of state is the Monarch of Great
JL Yes, incidentally, when was the last time the Queen countermanded any
decision made by any Australian Prime Minister, do you know?
PM: I think, probably, I don't know whether I could tell you what that is, but I
think, the issue is worse than that. And that is, by having a deputy the
Governor-General who the Queen makes very clear, she will not
remove or chastise, you have got somebody taking liberties that even
she wouldn't take. I think that was very obvious with Sir John Kerr in
1975. After he did what he did, she didn't remove him. So, where one
could rely upon, if you like, the common sense, the reserve, the
judgement of the Queen in relating to a constitutional issue, say as she
does in Britain, as she would do here if she was the direct head of state,
by having a deputy who takes all responsibility and if they choose, no
care, it seems to me we end up with the worst of both of worlds. You
lose the experience and reserve that the Queen herself has and you pick
up whatever is the whim and caprice of the incumbent Governor-
JL You can understand the general public being a little reticent to allow
politicians to elect their head of state can't you. I suppose you can, I'm
assuming that?

PM: Let me just say this. Tonight all will be revealed. But, let me just say
this John, what you have got in Australia is a representative democracy.
You have got each MP coming from their constituency to Parliament and
you can see how the Parliamentary system responds to public opinion.
It is a diffuse parliamentary system in which no person is elected ( at
large). For instance, I was not elected Prime Minister. I was elected a
member of my Party. My Party appointed me as Leader and the
Governor-General appointed me as Prime Minister. I am not standing
here speaking to you as the elected Prime Minister. Nor are any
Ministers elected. The obvious point in that is if one doesn't remain
relevant, one changes. The same with Opposition Leaders. Just take
the Opposition. They have had now three leaders in this term of
Parliament because the other two were no longer relevant or they
thought useful. The same goes for the Government. You saw in the last
Parliament, Mr Hawke removed by the Caucus where I was installed. I
could be removed myself.
In other words, there is a healthy assessment by a large group
representing the community in a representative way from each
constituency which gives a real living feel to our democracy day in and
day out.
JL: Yes, but the general public and you can't blame them, I suppose, for the
cynicism, tend to feel that there is room for manipulation within the
PM: Well John, just take for instance a couple of issues of the recent past.
Take the woodchip decision of last Christmas. A lot of people thought it
was unjustified. The Government was subject to pressure over it. Public
opinion changed over it. So, the Government remedied the policy. In
other words, the Parliamentary system of government responds. Take
an issue like Aboriginal health. People think it is appalling to find
Aborigines having a shorter life span than non-Aboriginal Australians.
That seeps into public opinion. It then comes into the Parliament. But if
one person is sitting in a position of popular election for a long period of
time, then they are impervious to opinion.
JL: Yes, I agree with what you are saying and I understand the theory of it
and the examples that you have given are very clear, but you can still
understand right or wrong it is all about perception. We have talked
about it often, it is perceived that there is room for manipulation if it is
going to be politicians who don't rate very highly in the minds of the
populous are going to have a say in who is going to be this figure head
PM: But John, just have a look at the effort in the last dozen years. I mean, a
per cent improvement in national competitiveness. An inflation rate
of 2 to 3 per cent.
JL: Yes, all this is terrific, I was talking about..

PM: But I'm making this point
JL: I don't quite know what it has got to do with the figure head leader of a
PM: What I'm saying, is the system is responsive. It actually works. Here is
a country which needed a major remedial surgery on its economy and
got it out of its system. I mean, I don't think anyone should have any
doubt, should be cynical about the system. The system works and the
other thing about it, can I say, and I'd say this for the Coalition and the
National Party and the Labor Party, I don't know of one corrupt person in
years in public life of the Federal Parliament. That is a remark John
Howard made the other day too. I don't.
JL: Yes, well I suppose all those things are to be taken into account. Prime
Minister I have got to leave you and I know you have got a commitment
as well. Thank you very much for spending some time with us.
PM: It is a pleasure, John.
JL: Good to talk to you.

Transcript 9617