PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Howard, John

Radio Interview with Jeremy Cordeaux, 5DN

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: 31858

Subject(s): Alice Springs-Darwin rail link, River Murray, republic referendum, Constitutional preamble, Sir Robert Menzies, injecting rooms, Australia’s troop commitments in East Timor.

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

CORDEAUX:

This is a good day. It is a good day ahead of what I hope is going to be a good weekend. A good reason to celebrate with the confirmation of funding for the Alice Springs-Darwin rail link. The Prime Minister, John Howard, granted an extra $65 million, I think it was, $65 million for the project. And the Prime Minister is with me. Sir, good morning and thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, good morning Jeremy. This is a great day for South Australia and the Northern Territory. This has been a dream of Australians living in that part of Australia now for almost a century and at long last it’s going to happen. We really do now have a deal. It will work, It’s a great partnership between the three governments and the private sector. It will employ 7,000 people - 7,000 jobs during the construction phase. Now, this is the stuff of which regional revitalisation is made and it is a great forward-looking project. It touches all of those things we think about Australia that the size of the country, the need for ongoing national development. I called it the steel Snowy quite deliberately because it does evoke some of the imagery and some of the place in the psyche of the country of the Snowy River Scheme.

CORDEAUX:

The Snowy River Scheme was a vision and a long-term vision. It’s hard to think these days, as I was saying to the Premier earlier, that people don’t seem to think in terms of this project is going to take 25 years to complete but we will embark upon it and we will achieve it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, this, of course, will take only three years to complete and it’s not as big as the Snowy. The Snowy in today’s dollars would be four to five times the size of this. But this is the first of those really big projects that the country has had in the less populated areas for many, many years and that’s why it’s so valuable. Now, we need infrastructure in Australia but we need it to be a partnership between business and government. The Government can’t do it all but the Government has an important role. This project would never have come to fruition if it hadn’t been for the commitment of John Olsen and Shane Stone and then Denis Burke from the Northern Territory and myself to it. And together the three of us have believed that the Government does have an important role in providing this kind of help. But we can’t do it alone and fortunately through the great efforts of Rick Allert who has done a tremendous job as a South Australian businessman in driving the, how should I call it, the overview and getting the project up and making sure that it was all workable from a business point of view. It has been a great partnership between government and business and it sends such a strong, encouraging, optimistic signal to the people of Whyalla. I mean, this is going to provide 18 months work at the very least for the BHP steelworks in Whyalla. And the injection of hope and optimism and pride and workmanship that that will bring to that regional part of Australia is very important. And I am very conscious as somebody who grew up in Sydney and who is aware of the fact that the economic activity of our nation is uneven. And it’s very important that the national Government be sensitive to that and where it can to provide extra help to the regions of Australia and we certainly see this as striking a mighty blow for the optimism of regional Australia.

CORDEAUX:

Well, it’s taken 90 years to get it up, not to rush you immediately off into anything else, but are there other projects of national vision that you would like to consider?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there could be. I don’t have any about to be launched, if I could put it that way. And whilst I am not, sort of, saying we have, you know, we are open for business as far as infrastructure is concerned. What we are acknowledging by this project is that the Government has a proper role consistent with sensible economic management to provide financial help for important infrastructure projects.

CORDEAUX:

One thing that worries us a great deal in South Australia, and it really should weigh the entire country, is the state of the River Murray.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we are putting a lot of money into that out of the Natural Heritage Trust. And we have got the report on salinity which is a very serious analysis, a very credible analysis of the problem. We have already committed a lot of resources there and we may have to commit more because that is very important to the whole future of the agricultural sector in our country. And what we are saying by this announcement last night is that the Government has a proper role in providing infrastructure, it is not wasteful Government expenditure, it is very beneficial Government expenditure. And whilst I am against the Government spending money on unnecessary things I am very much in favour of the Government spending money on something that’s positive and valuable and nation building. And something like this is really in that category.

CORDEAUX:

Well, according to public opinion many people would rather the money that is being spent on this republican debate, perhaps prioritised differently and spent elsewhere.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I can understand that. I do understand that. On the other hand, I made a commitment before I became Prime Minister that although I myself did not support a republic that I would allow the Australian people, facilitate the Australian people expressing a view, casting a vote. And I didn’t feel that I had the right because I held a view against a republic and wanted to preserve a stable Constitution I didn’t think I had the right to deny people a vote. And I have kept my word at every point. I said I’d have a convention and I had it and I said we would have a vote. And we are having a vote on Saturday week. Now, I know it has cost money but it does cost money to allow people to express their democratic will and unfortunately that is unavoidable if we are to give people that option. And I think it’s important that as we come to the end of the century it's important for us to say, do we want to hang onto our present Constitution or do we want to make a change? Now, I respect the views of my fellow Australians who will vote ‘yes’ and whatever the result is we must all embrace it and get on with life together as Australians. But I will be voting ‘no’ very strongly because I don’t believe in tampering with a Constitution that has worked so well. Now, other people have a different view and I respect their view.

CORDEAUX:

I will be voting ‘no’ as well and I agree with all the things that you said the other night in your statement on the subject. But the divisions that are there between you, for example, and Peter Costello will these heal do you believe?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I am certain. Look, we have decided to have a free vote. I announced that at the beginning of last year almost two years ago at the Constitutional Convention. I said that the Liberal Party would allow its members a free vote. And that’s the sign of a mature, intelligent political party. We are not trying to drag everybody into conformity. I mean, there are many people in the Labor Party who are going to vote ‘no’ but they just don’t say so. And look, the polls show that 30 to 40 per cent of Labor voters are disposed to vote ‘no’ and yet they have a rigid party line that says everybody should vote ‘yes’. Now, that’s silly. On something like this which is an unusual referendum, you don’t have them every three years, why shouldn’t every political party be brave enough and have enough self belief in its own capacity to manage a range of views? Why doesn’t every political party allow people to have a free vote?

Look, Peter and I have talked about this and I have talked to my other colleagues about it and I have not the slightest doubt that when the referendum is over we will have put our own views in whatever way we think most appropriate but in a courteous respectful fashion and when it’s over well, we go on whatever the result is. And I have not the slightest doubt that once the referendum is behind us we get on with the business of Government and the people of Australia want us to because they will express their view on the republic. I hope they support the preamble and I hope they vote ‘yes’ for that. I am advocating a ‘yes’ vote on the preamble. But whatever the outcome on the two referendums, once it’s over the public will be saying to all of us: now get on with the job of providing good government for the country. And we’ll certainly do that and Peter and I’ll be working as closely and as harmoniously together on that task as we have over the last three and a half years.

CORDEAUX:

Prime Minister, do you think it’s fair that the republicans are trying to claim Sir Robert Menzies as a republican?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think it is pointless.

CORDEAUX:

Cheeky though isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it is pointless speculating about what a man who died 21 years ago would have to say about something today. I mean, I haven’t the faintest idea at what his views would be. And I noticed his daughter this morning made that same comment from London that she said that it was rather difficult to ascertain his views on the referendum seeing that he’d died 21 years ago. And really…but in the end, and much and all as I respect Menzies, in the end it doesn’t matter what Menzies view might have been. What matters is what the views of your listeners are. That’s far more important to me and because they’ll be casting a vote and my remarks are really addressed directly to them. I don’t need the proxy of the views of somebody else much in all as I respected Sir Robert Menzies and I thought he was Australia’s greatest Prime Minister. But he was a long time ago. He died 21 years ago. I haven’t the faintest idea of what his view would be if he were alive now and frankly it wouldn’t matter because everybody has one vote and as Australia’s current Prime Minister I am putting a case for preserving our present Constitutional arrangements. I like Australia as it is and it works very well and there are a lot of things about Australia that do need changing and I am prepared to campaign vigorously for them like taxation reform and industrial relations reform. But I don’t believe, on the other hand, on changing something that manifestly works so well.

CORDEAUX:

I see that Sir John Gorton has come out in favour of the ‘no’ vote and so has Reg Withers. On a couple of other things, just quickly Prime Minister, you would be happy or in agreement with this announcement that the Pope has stopped the plan by the Sisters of Charity from running this shooting room trial in Sydney?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am against those sorts of experiments. I don’t want to involve myself in a commentary on the internal workings of the Catholic Church. I respect the internal arrangements of the Catholic Church. I am, let me put it this way, I am…I don’t favour injecting rooms. I don’t. And whoever conducts them whether they were to be conducted under the surveillance of the Sisters of Charity or anybody else I do not favour them. And my view on that has been very consistent and if the consequence of this is that those experiments are less likely to go ahead then I will not be sorry about that.

CORDEAUX:

Quite. And also another story that’s floating around this morning is that there may be a special tax levy of between $100 and $200 to pay for Australia’s troop commitments in East Timor. Any truth to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it apparently came up on talkback radio in Melbourne and I was asked about it and I said that I wouldn’t say yea or nay to it but it was an interesting suggestion. And I was interested to hear from the presenter of that programme in Melbourne that there had been quite a positive reaction to the idea. What we are doing at the moment is having a look at, in the context of the mid-year review of our Budget, we are having a look at the cost of East Timor and the cost of other defence commitments. And when we have done all the sums and everything we’ll know exactly where we stand. So I can’t really offer any more comment than that.

CORDEAUX:

Prime Minister, good to talk to you. Have a great weekend.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

Transcript 31858

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

Federation Address "The Australian Way" Presented to The Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry

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: 28/01/1999

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 31856

28 January 1999

 INTRODUCTION

The success or failure of a nation essentially begins in the homes of its people.

And as we stand on the edge of the new millennium, Australia's fortune lies not so much with parliaments or business, or political parties or money markets but with individual Australians - young and old, men and women, Australians by birth or choice.

Each one of us responsible for building our own lives and the life of our nation. All of us accountable to ourselves, to those around us, to the future itself.

It has always been so. A century ago, Sir Henry Parkes - that great hearted champion of federation declared Australia ready for unity, for the dazzling prize of nationhood because of, in his words, the vigour, the industry, the enterprise, the foresight, and the creative skill of its people.

He knew, as I know now, that self confidence and self esteem, that determination and fair play, success itself, can be the characteristics of a nation only while its citizens possess these virtues and hold dear those values.

This does not mean that governments do not have a role in promoting the values of society. Indeed they have an important obligation to encapsulate community aspirations, define objectives and to spell out how to reach them.

So it is that in this address I will define the main domestic goals of the Government in 1999, indicate a significant strengthening of the application of the principle of mutual obligation and announce Commonwealth assistance for a major resource project here in Queensland - a tangible demonstration of our commitment to nation building as we move into the next century.

The Government has five broad goals in the year ahead.

We are resolved to pursue policies that are most likely to maintain our remarkable rate of economic growth and strength.

We are absolutely committed to the implementation in full of our visionary tax plan endorsed by the Australian people at the last election.

Thirdly, we will not tire in our efforts to further reduce unemployment which, although now at an eight year low, remains unacceptably high.

Fourthly, we will further extend our commitment to the principle of mutual obligation in Australian society.

Finally, we will work to create an even stronger social coalition to more effectively remedy areas of disadvantage and underprivilege.

These goals are not mutually exclusive nor are they the sum total of what the Government wants to do over the next twelve months. Rather, they are a mixture of specific policy commitments and broader social goals which collectively remind us of an important truth of public policy. That is that economic growth and economic efficiency are never ends in themselves, rather they are a means by which we can deliver more fulfilling lives for our fellow Australians.

In pursuing our goals for the coming year we build on the strong foundations of what has been achieved over the past three years. These have been years of remarkable consolidation, strengthening and reform of the Australian economy.

Three years of achievement which have seen Australia return to economic strength unknown for three decades.

Three short years during which we took decisive measures to strengthen our economic foundations, retire government debt by a third, turn a $10.3 billion deficit into surplus and deliver the lowest interest rates and inflation in a generation. And all achieved without new taxes or tax increases.

Years during which we stared down the worst of the Asian economic collapse – our exporters replacing their lost markets with new ones elsewhere. A time of economic growth almost a third more than other industrialised nations and jobs growth more than double the rest of the world because of our early efforts to fortify our base.

Years which have seen productivity growth, the prerequisite for sustainable wages growth, reach double the average of the Labor years. An achievement which has allowed real wages to rise by 10 per cent in less than three years, compared with 6 per cent over the previous 13 years, in tandem with higher profits - allowing lasting jobs and rising living standards to grow together, rather than one being sacrificed for the other.

All achieved peacefully with industrial disputes down to an historically low level and federal unfair dismissals down by nearly half.

Years which have seen privatisation help build a nation of shareholders with almost 4 million Australians directly investing in the share market. In less than four years more than one in ten adult Australians have become shareholders for the first time. Nearly 2 million Australians have purchased shares in Telstra. All of them have a direct stake in the growth industries of the future.

Today’s economic strength and prosperity is the nation’s reward for the economic reforms and sacrifices of earlier years.

How has this been achieved? In my view we have secured these outcomes because we govern with a clear and steady focus on those issues important to people, not on distractions or the whims of pressure groups.

We’ve responded to those issues that affect Australians in their daily lives - their mortgage repayments, their shopping bills, the security of their jobs, their plans for retirement, choices for their family’s health and schooling, the taxes they pay.

And we’ve tackled the most fundamental challenges facing Australians today by drawing on their own strengths and values – individualism, a willingness to take on responsibility, the desire for choice and opportunity.

In conception and practice, our policies have mirrored the Australian character, Australian priorities, in short – the Australian way.

Our approach has had at its core commonsense Australian values – the responsibility to secure the nation’s economic foundations, workplace reforms to allow employers and workers to get on with the job, education for our young people to equip them with skills, projects to empower voluntary organisations and work for the dole to inculcate a work ethic in the young.

We have built upon Australia’s position in the world where we occupy a unique intersection of history, geography, culture and economic circumstances. We draw strength from important bonds with all parts of the world - our language, law, cultural and historical ties with Europe, strategic ties with North America and new economic and people –to- people links with our neighbours in this region.

Where would we be today, if in denial of these ties with the entire world, we had pursued some of the narrow ‘Asia only’ policies of the past?

As Mr Campbell Anderson, the President of the Business Council of Australia wrote earlier this week, "our good fortune has little to do with luck". He’s right - we’ve proved the lesson that economic fortune favours those willing to drive through strong hearted reform.

And just as economic reforms of the past have delivered strength and prosperity now, so it is the reforms of today and tomorrow that will deliver the higher economic growth, employment and living standards of the future.

Let no-one sell Australia short by understating the impressive economic achievements of recent years.

This recent economic success has given us a renewed sense of confidence and optimism not experienced for many years.

Australia’s economic fundamentals are stronger now than at any time since the 1960s. That strength is a marvellous foundation on which to build for the new millenium.

RESOLUTIONS FOR THE MILLENIUM

As 1999 begins we naturally project forward to the new millenium. As always Australians have a choice. We can resolve to maintain the momentum of recent years and move forward to improve the lives of individuals and families, the success of business. Or we can take fright and abandon the challenge of further reform.

 Economic Discipline

The Government will further strengthen our economy.

Guaranteeing our hard won gains - high growth, low inflation and interest rates, falling government debt and unemployment and rising share ownership - is reason why I will forge ahead with overhauling a tax system which, in its current form, can't deliver new growth, or encourage new businesses, or provide new jobs.

Australians should receive the personal tax cuts they deserve with four out of five taxpayers paying no more than 30 cents in the dollar in income tax.

Workers should not be penalised by punitive tax rates on their incomes and savings, punished for working harder or longer or seeking a promotion. Parents should have greater freedom to choose the caring arrangements for their young children which best suit their needs.

Our tax reform will see pensioners keeping more of their pension for extra income earned and being assured that their hard earned pensions will remain ahead of prices. And provisional tax abolished once and for all.

Our reforms will mean that most small businesses will be able to pay all their taxes once a quarter on just one form. Our exporters can take on the world, bringing wealth back to Australia, without the burden of sales and consumption taxes. And those in the bush will face much lower transport costs through the reduction of 25 cents a litre in the diesel fuel excise for heavy transport.

And finally, our States and Territories will have a secure funding base to provide the road and bridges, the schools and hospitals all Australians need.

Failure to pass our plan will keep $10 billion of taxes on business and $4.5 billion of taxes on our exporters. Funds which would otherwise be spent on development, marketing, production, sales, jobs, people.

Failure to pass our plan will keep $13 billion of personal income tax on individuals and deny them another $2 billion in family benefits. And will maintain wholesale sales tax and nine other hidden taxes.

In short, failure to pass our plan will mean we have let pass a chance to make things right.

Further efforts to reduce unemployment

As we look ahead we resolve to continue the fight to further reduce unemployment.

Australia’s prosperity, its social stability, the quality of life enjoyed by individuals and families – all these things rely upon building a nation with jobs in abundance.

Lasting and fulfilling jobs are at the heart of personal and family security. They also reflect our values of self esteem and self-confidence and are the means by which we each demonstrate personal responsibility.

I don't claim that this government, after just under three years in office, has solved the unemployment problem. But we have made significant progress.

The unemployment rate has fallen to 7.5 per cent - the lowest jobless rate in 8 years. In our time, we have created almost 400,000 jobs, over half of them in small business. And in the year to last December, we have created an average of 14,800 new jobs each month.

We have instituted a new Job Network to bring together employers and jobseekers faster, with less cost and less bureaucracy, with a focus on results not process.

Despite the carping criticism of many the new system is superior to the one it replaced. Let me tell you why.

There are now more than four times as many sites to apply for jobs as there were through the Commonwealth Employment Service. And those best qualified to provide services to the unemployed – business, community and charitable organisations such as Drake Australia, The Salvation Army and Mission Australia - are already outperforming the old system.

In December, the Job Network placed 17,600 people into jobs, twice the number placed by the old CES a year earlier. And employers have given a vote of confidence in the new arrangements by listing 34,000 new vacancies with the Job Network in December which is in contrast to only 13,000 listed by the CES in the same month of 1997.

Lower unemployment depends upon strong economic growth, renewed efforts to remove the disincentives which exist in our welfare system and greater labour market flexibility. This greater flexibility should respect the Australian way and the Australian tradition of a social safety net.

A strong job market needs to be flexible and competitive and we have set about building a system based on common interest not on conflict. With co-operation and common purpose there is less need for regulation, red tape and legalistic rituals.

Under the new system some 180 awards have been simplified, and 40,000 Australian Workplace Agreements and 805 non-union agreements covering almost 100,000 employees have been approved.

Consistent with my pledge that no worker would be worse off on an Australian Workplace Agreement compared to their award, we’ll continue to simplify and enhance the new workplace relations system to secure and promote jobs.

And there is much more to do. We will stand by our exemption for small business from unfair dismissal laws to create extra jobs which may number as many as 50,000.

The jobs of 420,000 young Australians on junior wage rates will be protected by retaining age based youth wages.

We will maximise choice at the workplace by encouraging mediation services as an alternative to arbitration and by simplifying the approval of agreements.

And the interests of individual workers will be promoted over union bosses by introducing secret ballots for protected industrial action and preventing victimisation.

In summary, I resolve to elevate individuals, their choices, their responsibilities above the interests of institutions and pressure groups because that is what Australians want.

Comalco Project

The Australian way has also always involved great projects of national development.

The Government’s strategic investment co-ordination function, that Mr Bob Mansfield has been implementing, has continued to make good progress. The Government’s recent announcement on providing financial assistance of $40 million to the Visy Pulp and Paper Mill in Tumut was the first project as a result of these efforts.

Excellent progress has been made in discussions between Mr Mansfield and Comalco in order to encourage them to finalise a decision to build a greenfields alumina refinery in Gladstone. The project will involve an investment of $3 billion in current prices and involve three stages of construction. The first stage would occur from 1999-2001 and involve an investment of $1.4 billion and result in direct employment of 1300 people. It is an investment with undoubted significant long-term benefit to Australia. The Commonwealth Government is prepared to provide financial support exceeding $100 million to enable the project to proceed.

The issue of commercial negotiations between Comalco and potential energy suppliers to the project remains to be settled before support commitments can be finalised. The Government has done all it possibly can to ensure this investment is made in Australia and urges the various parties to finalise energy supply negotiations in order to bring this major project to reality quickly.

Creating a strong, social coalition

Few Australians would deny the proposition that Governments alone cannot solve immense social problems. They need the help and understanding of great community organisations, dedicated individuals and the corporate sector.

In reality we need a social coalition which unites all of those within the nation who seek to address in an effective way poverty and disadvantage – each being encouraged to share responsibility for providing opportunity, each being provided with incentive to offer a fair go to those in need and each being rewarded by playing a greater role in the decision making process.

I am resolved to provide a modern safety net which encourages responsibility and embraces prevention as much as cure. Traditional state-centred welfare has failed to prevent social problems and has perpetuated dependency rather than re-engagement with work and the community.

This does not mean winding back government assistance for those in need or for those who support them. We will enhance the role of community organisations not increase the burdens they carry.

Every day organisations like the Salvation Army and the Society of St Vincent de Paul display their capacity to enhance the welfare of those in need. Each day they address the very personal impact of social problems in ways that governments simply cannot.

I resolve to build on the initiatives of our first term which, for the first time, involved community organisations in the design and implementation of our Tough on Drugs programme and Youth Homelessness pilot projects.

I resolve to build a stronger social coalition, renewing my call to business both large and small to play their part. To give back to the community from which they profit, to follow the example of many genuine Australian philanthropists, to advise, to donate in cash or kind, to mentor.

And I resolve to leave a legacy of this International Year of Older Persons by paying due tribute to older Australians, truly valuing Australia’s wealth for their toil.

We have already extended the Seniors’ Health Card and the Veterans’ Gold Card and provided the farm families assets test concession just as we have recognised the desire of older Australians to be cared for in their own homes through our Staying at Home package.

Building on our Staying at Home package announced last year and our co-ordinated care trials I want to provide better health care for older people in their own homes. I also want to enable them to remain active participants in their local communities consistent with the Australian way of a fair go for all.

I have asked Dr Wooldridge to report to Cabinet on plans to implement these principles and announcements will be made in the months ahead to help care for older Australians particularly those afflicted with chronic and complex illnesses.

Such a goal can only be achieved by involving the health care industry and the medical profession in particular and I look forward to their co-operation.

Mutual Obligation

The dole system that we inherited sent the worst possible message to young Australians. It told them that dropping out of school, out of their communities, escaping personal responsibility, was acceptable and that the taxpayer would foot the bill.

The dole system should be about choice and responsibility - providing young people with the opportunity for training and education but at the same time making them fully responsible for their choices and for themselves.

This principle underpins our youth allowance which encourages those in receipt of government benefits to finish school and better themselves.

And it holds true for my government’s work for the dole scheme.

Under the Government’s Work for the Dole Scheme 2,000 applications have been received for projects, 410 have commenced and over 18,000 young Australians have benefited from their personal involvement in work for the dole.

Young Australians have helped make good damage caused by landslides and flooding after cyclones hit Magnetic Island last January, specialised gardens have been constructed in Parkes for dementia sufferers, specifically designed boats have been built so that people with disabilities can experience the joy of sailing, historic wooden railway carriages restored to their former beauty, walking tracks, tourism projects. Projects to help the frail and aged, the sick, the disabled, projects to help children, other unemployed Australians, the homeless.

Work for the dole has not only provided young Australians with training and skills, social contact and restored the links with their communities. For so many, it has ignited the work ethic fundamental to sustaining lasting work and broken forever the cycle of boredom and despair that was the bane of the young unemployed.

Nearly a third of scheme participants have gone on to fulfilling jobs.

During the election campaign, I announced a further 25 per cent expansion of work for the dole by requiring all year 12 school leavers on the full rate of Youth Allowance to join one of the scheme’s projects once they have been unemployed for three months.

Overall, this means up to 124,000 places will be provided over four years.

Where some would scrap work for the dole I remain passionately committed to extending the principle of asking people to give back something to the community in return for assistance in times of need. Work for the dole is an important part of our focus on boosting jobs.

Exactly a year ago – in my first Federation Address – I announced a major extension of my Government’s mutual obligation initiative. Now that we have the benefit of another year’s experience, we propose further improvements.

The first area we are going to change is the obligation to improve literacy and numeracy skills. We know that a school child without basic reading and writing skills will not be able to realise his or her full potential.

That is why I commit my Government to requiring unemployed young people who fail basic literacy and numeracy tests to undertake appropriate remedial courses if they are to continue to receive their full dole.

Previously, young people on the dole were able to satisfy their obligation by taking up one of a number of options. But I believe, and most Australians would agree, that reading and writing properly are the most fundamental prerequisites for getting a job.

So to enhance our mutual obligation policies this Government will require young people who lack basic literacy and numeracy skills to undertake training in those areas as a condition of receiving their full unemployment benefit. Refusing to learn how to read and write will deny young unemployed the full dole.

Further work is being undertaken on improving compliance and extending the coverage of mutual obligation.

CONCLUSION

Ladies and gentlemen, as this century nears its conclusion, let us reflect on a nation which has remained true to its spirit. Mistakes have been made, tragedies borne, unspeakable sacrifice endured but, at the end of the century Australians remain the enterprising, vigorous and creative people of whom Parkes spoke so lovingly.

We retain an echo within us of the yearning for a better life which drove our ancestors to build this country. That spirit was captured very well by the eminent journalist, Henry Gullett in his description written many years ago. He marveled at their courage and ability which he ascribed to the fact that all were pioneers, or the children of pioneers, the children of the most restless, adventurous and the most virile individuals.

As federation fervour ran through the country Gullett also wrote "Seldom in the world’s history, have a people entered into possession of their heritage under circumstances so auspicious and with an outlook so full of dazzling promise".

When I consider the talent, the energy, the potential amongst us, when I think of how the whole world will turn its focus upon us next year at the change of the millennium, I can’t help but conclude that Gullett’s words are even truer today - that seldom in the history of the world will a people enter into possession of the new millenium under circumstances so auspicious and with an outlook so full of dazzling promise.

Transcript 31856

Radio Interview with Alan Jones, Radio 2UE

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: 14/10/1997

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 31855

14 October 1997

E&OE..........................................................................................................................

JONES:

Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, Alan.

JONES:

Racist scum - how do you react to that language?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that’s very unhelpful, inflammatory language. And I just say to all people who have used that language in this debate, for the sake of Australia and sensible debate, they should curb their tongues and behave sensibly.

JONES:

If you’d use that language you would have been shot to pieces.

PRIME MINISTER:

I would have been criticised from one end of the country to the other. I would never use that language. It’s irresponsible, counterproductive language in every sense of the word. And too often people resort to the smear of calling somebody a racist or sexist or something else when they don’t have a logical argument to pit against that person. Now, I certainly would have been condemned about as comprehensively as anybody could be condemned.

JONES:

But the man using the language was party to all of the negotiations over the Native Title Act in which pastoral leases were to extinguish native title. He was one of the chief negotiators of that agreement.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, he certainly was. And, moreover, after the 1993 Act was passed he made a number of public statements including one in Queensland, I think, when he said that there was no way that native title claimants were going to lodge claims over pastoral leases because the belief under which people operated was, as Graham Richardson said, that the grant of a pastoral lease had extinguished native title. And what happened was that the Wik decision came along and heavily qualified that and talked about co-existence and tried to set out what it thought the common law was. And what we have tried to do is respond to this, which Graham Richardson calls and Kim Beazley acknowledges is a mess, to produce a piece of legislation which is a compromise which does not provide blanket extinguishment of native title on pastoral leases. That’s why I was criticised by some of the pastoralists when I was preparing the legislation, and by some members of the Queensland National Party.

It is, in fact, a compromise. It falls short of what Keating stated repeated - Mr Keating stated repeatedly - to be the law in 1993. And what my legislation does is to give certainty of land usage to pastoralists, allows them, guarantees them the capacity to run their properties and to protect the right to run their properties but, at the same time, respects native title by not providing for blanket extinguishment.

JONES:

Can I just interrupt you there and say perhaps what - and I know your father was a suburban bloke, my old man was a bushie - what he would say to that. And just repeating what you said, it respects their pastoral title but also respects the right of Aboriginal people to access.

Just take Queensland, which I know a bit about. The majority of leases in Queensland are small, one family living area units. Just parents and their kids. And the landholders there have bought the land and they’ve established business enterprises on them and they’ve made a lot of expenditure - half a million to three million. They’ve enjoyed exclusive occupation of that land and no community group has ever been able to interfere with the management of the business enterprise. Aboriginal people have been absent from these lands for a generation or more. What is going to happen there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, if the land in question is subject to what is called in the law an exclusive tenure, in other words, if it’s a freehold or it’s a kind of tenure that’s short of freehold but nonetheless clearly conferred in the lease itself, exclusive possession, well, nobody can claim any other kind of right. But if it’s not a holding that confers, by its own terms, exclusive possession, then it would be possible for a native title claim to be made.

JONES:

That’s right. So all our land management practices - because much of this land, Prime Minister, you do understand, in it’s pre-European state couldn’t support permanent life because there was no water.

PRIME MINISTER:

I do understand that and the point of all of this is that we are being very, very sensitive to the Aboriginal position on this issue and that is why so many of the attacks that have been made on me and on my Government are just outrageous and completely run in the face of all of the facts. And I have laboured for months to put together a code, which I asked the Senate to put into law, which will enable pastoralists to continue unhindered and with great security in their operations. If there is a native...

JONES:

They’re not doing that now. They’re not doing that now. You see, many of these...

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course they’re not because the present law allows, effectively allows a capacity to make ambit claims...

JONES:

Yes, challenge and access. Challenge and access.

PRIME MINISTER:

Now, we are bringing order to that. We’re not going to allow people to get away with claims without any substance. If people have exercised access, which in many communities in cooperation between pastoralists and Aborigines, this has occurred. And I’ve spoken to many - people all over the country have said: look, we’ve had arrangements with local Aboriginal groups, they’ve come on to our properties, they’ve exercised traditional rights, we are perfectly happy for that to continue. And, in fact, the law will say that if you’ve got an access right at the present time, that access right will be guaranteed. And why shouldn’t it?

JONES:

Yes, quite. But could I just take a simple [inaudible] that doesn’t apply. Now these people are telling me that Aboriginal people have made demands that they be included in the development of property management plans. Now, they don’t want to do any work. They don’t want to contribute funds. They just want to be involved in management. Now, no urban business could cope with that, why should rural business, especially when...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Alan, the answer is, whether you’re dealing with Aboriginals or not, the answer is no. And under the legislation there will be a proper procedure established to make claims.

If you’ve got a genuine claim in accordance with the Mabo principle, and bear in mind this all started with the Mabo case, where there had been a clear continuity of ownership and occupation of land and nobody in those circumstances can deny people title rights, we are not talking about that and I fully support that. We are talking here about having a sensible procedure whereby, if you believe you have got a title right you have got to pass a test to get registered and then you have got to go on and establish, before the Federal Court, your title right.

Now, in the meantime, pastoralists should be protected from any irresponsible ambit claims, and that essentially - and be allowed and guaranteed the right to carry on their pastoral lease...

JONES:

What that’s saying...

PRIME MINISTER:

That is what my legislation has done. My legislation has sought to preserve the right of Aborigines to make legitimate native title claims, on the one hand, but in the meantime to guarantee uninterrupted conduct of pastoral businesses by farmers. Now that is the balance I have tried to strike and fair minded Australians will not see that as racist, they’ll see it as a genuine attempt to strike a balance, in a horrendously difficult position.

JONES:

In all of that the farmer will say that somehow or other Aboriginal people have a capacity to successfully fund any legal battle and subsequent appeal. A landholder has got no guarantee that his costs could be met and he is facing bankruptcy, fighting for what’s been his for God knows how long.

PRIME MINISTER:

Alan, the answer to that is that he will, because part of the arrangements we have promised is legal aid funding for the pastoralists where that is necessary.

JONES:

And just one final thing...

PRIME MINISTER:

So there’s a balance, they’ll get funded as well.

JONES:

You’re obviously on top of the subject, I might add, infinitely more so than you are given credit for, but if I can just add one thing, the Century Zinc mine in Queensland. Now they are the best negotiating - that’s what everyone says, you must negotiate, the farmer must negotiate, the mining company must negotiate - now Century Zinc have the best negotiating talent money can buy. They have got Bill Hayden, the former Governor General. Thousands of dollars in expenditure. Many months of work. No agreement. I mean, if they can’t reach agreement, how does the loan leaseholder, how does the farmer with a wife and three kids?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the answer is that in most cases the negotiation will in fact take place between the State Government, if there is to be a negotiation, and the native title claimant. And we will be making provision for legal assistance, legal assistance funding.

JONES:

How much is it going to cost the taxpayer?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it depends on how many...after the Bill is passed, which the Bill imposes a much stronger registration test. In other words the hurdle you have got to get over at the beginning is appropriately higher. It was too low before. It encouraged people to put in all sorts of claims and even somebody, like the Vice-President of ATSIC, Ray Robinson, said there were a ridiculous number of claims being made. So, the hurdle will be higher and that’s appropriate and by the same token there will be funding for pastoralists. So the image of a lonely pastoralist, with no money, fighting an army of lawyers, publicly funded, that will not happen.

JONES:

Just one final thing, your job as Prime Minister is to represent Australia around the world. There is a persistent attempt to discredit all Australians by suggesting that our indigenous Australians are landless in their own country. Do you think that Australians understand that prior to the Wik decision Aborigines held title to 109 million hectares of land in this country, that per capita, they hold more land than any other group of Australians?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think there is a proper appreciation of the extent to which, under the Northern Territory Land Rights, that land has been granted. I don’t think there is any idea of that. I think there is still a mistaken notion that nothing has been done at all to help. And this is tragic, because most Australians have good will towards Aboriginal people. Most Australians recognise that they have poor standards of health and education and employment opportunities than the rest of us, and they want to help. But they find it hard to help when what has been done in the past is so arbitrarily dismissed as irrelevant and inadequate and they also find it very hard to help when whatever is done is labelled as racist and inadequate and an attack on the rights of indigenous people. And worse still, some leaders go overseas and attack this country abroad.

JONES:

Absolutely. Thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[Ends]

Transcript 31855

Doorstop Interview, Oxford Falls, Sydney, NSW

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: 08/08/1999

Release Type: Doorstop

Transcript ID: 30447

Subject(s): Mark Taylor; referendum; East Timor

8 August 1999

E&OE…………………………………………………………………

 JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister is it true, have you asked the former Australian cricket captain to help with the "no" case?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

The Sun-Herald has put out a press release saying that it stands by the story, it says that there has been talk between your office and the ACM about recruiting him.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look there’s been no talk between me, or anybody on my behalf, and Mark Taylor. Can I say that if I get the opportunity to talk to Mark Taylor I don’t waste time talking about the republic. We tend to talk about cricket, and I’ve had no discussions with him about the issue at all, any view he might have on the subject would be entirely his own.

JOURNALIST:

Would you like to see him enter the debate?

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s a matter for him. I respect Mark Taylor enormously for what he’s done for Australian cricket and because he’s Australian of the Year. The question of his entering any political debate is entirely a matter for him. I don’t recall ever having discussed the issue with Mark at any time. I’m surprised that the story was written and I repeat that I’ve not discussed it with him and nobody on my behalf has discussed it with him, and in those circumstances I think it’s an extraordinary story. That’s not the only extraordinary story the Sun-Herald had today. I’ve had something to say about another one.

JOURNALIST:

They also say in their press statement that the decision was to be announced within a month or so but that Mr Taylor hadn’t made up his mind.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I don’t know. You go and talk to them and talk to Mr Taylor. I just repeat that I’ve had no discussion with him and nobody at my request or on my behalf has had any discussion with him. I repeat that when I talk to him I don’t talk about the republic, I talk about something a little more interesting to me, namely cricket.

JOURNALIST:

He’d be handy to have on side though.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, what he does is a matter for him, and I regard somebody who’s been the Australian cricket captain as in a sense being somebody that the entire community identifies with. The question of what he does on individual issues is a matter for him but I have not asked him to do anything in relation to any political issue and I don’t intend to.

JOURNALIST:

You mention another Sun-Herald report. Are you talking about these reports that your wife opposed the appointment of someone to the ABC board?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. It’s self-evident what I’m talking about and I’ve made a statement about it and I’ve got nothing further to add.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister at the Cabinet meeting this week, is there likely to be a decision on the wording of the referendum question?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it will come up.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think it will change from the current question?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’ll have a look at it, but the proposed question is a truthful, accurate reflection of what the Australian public will be invited to decide on and any suggestion that that question is loaded is one that I reject. The idea that you should have a question that doesn’t mention the method of election of the president seems quite extraordinary to me, yet that seems to be the view of some.

JOURNALIST:

Neither does it mention The Queen and yet she’s the one facing removal as our head of state.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if you say you’re going to have a republic of course you are removing The Queen.

JOURNALIST:

Are you open to changing the question?

PRIME MINISTER:

Am I open to change? Well you only change something if what you’ve got at the moment is defective. And what we have at the moment as far as the question is concerned is not defective. The Cabinet will, like all of these things have a look at it, and I’m not going to pre-empt what Cabinet does, I’d never do that.

JOURNALIST:

It seems the question of negotiations on the preamble, you’ve already been speaking to Aden Ridgeway this week, is there the possibility of that making the referendum?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’re continuing to talk.

JOURNALIST:

Any movement on the words mateship, stewardship, custodianship?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you know how fond I am of mateship.

JOURNALIST:

Aden Ridgeway says that there has to be either reference to traditional ownership, stewardship or custodianship. Are they in, are they likely be in?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t write preambles on the slopes of Oxford Falls.

JOURNALISTS:

What about the suggestion from Kim Beazley of a second referendum to boost the yes vote?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well why would I agree to that?

JOURNALIST:

Well what are your thoughts about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Just for the purpose of boosting one side or the other? Well what an extraordinary proposition. I thought the whole idea was to get a decision as to whether this country wanted to become a republic. Now that’s the question, I can’t see the point of having another question. Look can I just make the observation that we went to a Convention and the understanding was that whatever came out of the Convention the government would put to the people and that’s what we’re doing. It seems as though the supporters of the yes case because they are troubled about their prospects are now casting around for people to blame. I’m doing everything I told the Australian people I would do. I’m having a referendum, I’m having a vote. I’m expressing my view, I’m holding to my opinion, I’ve not changed it and I won’t be changing it, and it’s a matter for the Australian people not for me or Kim Beazley or anybody else to decide.

JOURNALIST:

East Timor, Prime Minister. What strategy does the government have in case the UN pulls out of East Timor?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t accept that that is going to happen. Australia wants a free and open vote and then we want everybody to respect and support the outcome of that vote and that means that if the people of East Timor vote for independence then that should be respected and supported in an orderly way by the Indonesian government. There should be an orderly transfer of power, there should be no precipitive withdrawal by Indonesia, but the rest of the world must understand that if there is a vote for independence then Indonesia will quickly lose interest in the territory and the rest of the world, particularly Australia, will be obliged to provide help and we’ll be ready to do that.

It’s not very productive to be talking in doomsday terms about what may or may not happen if a particular scenario transpires. The important thing is that we’re going to have a free vote and in a free vote everybody who supports having the free vote should respect and support the outcome and that’s what we’re going to do and we’ll continue to play a very constructive and supportive role and I ask the rest of the world to also understand that if the vote goes in favour of independence Australia alone can’t look after East Timor, we’ll want help from other countries. We’ll play a role, we’ll play a major role but we can’t play the only role. And those who’ve been yelling loudest for independence for East Timor must be willing to play a role alongside Australia in helping what will be a very weak, fragile and vulnerable country. Fewer than a million people – it’s going to be pretty difficult, pretty tough and the people of that area will need a lot of help.

Thank you.

Transcript 30447

Radio Interview with Neil Mitchell, Radio 3AW

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: 20/08/1999

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 30446

Subject(s): tax cuts; commencement of new tax package; business tax reform; republic referendum; Queen’s visit; Defence Secretary; Jesse Martin; free-to-air cricket; tuna; Kosovar refugees; German Nazis, Turkey; banks.

20 August 1999

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

MITCHELL:

Mr Howard good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil.

MITCHELL:

Mr Howard, I’m almost speechless with delight. The Treasurer’s reported as saying there’ll be further income tax cuts. What’s on, what’s planned?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I saw the report. We always like to hold out the prospect of further taxation relief. We don’t have anything specific to commit ourselves to at the moment. There’s a huge tax cut coming into force on the 1st of July next year when the GST comes into operation. That is the biggest personal income tax cut in our history.

MITCHELL:

Well the Treasurer says he’s an income tax cut man.

PRIME MINISTER:

He’s an income tax man is he?

MITCHELL:

Income tax….

PRIME MINISTER:

Cut it out. All Treasurers are accused of that.

MITCHELL:

Are you an income tax cut man as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I want the lowest tax we have consistent with economic responsibility. The country’s running very well at the moment. Workers are better off because their mortgages are down and their real wages are up, and their tax will go down on the 1st of July next year. But beyond that, if we do well economically, well there can be more relief. But neither of us can be any more specific than that.

MITCHELL:

You agree with this principle though that you don’t build surpluses if your debt is zero, you give it back in tax cuts?

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly. That’s the advantage of getting rid of debt because if you get rid of debt you’ve got a capacity to give back in tax cuts. You can provide some more services, and there are areas where more services are desirable. But I think most people beyond a certain level of services want the surpluses returned to them. And when we pay off our debt, and we’ll be able to pay all of our federal government debt off in net terms by the year 2002 if we can sell the remaining half of Telstra. But I say to those who don’t want the remaining half of Telstra, one of the real advantages of getting rid of it is that we’ll then have enough money to pay off the remainder of our net federal debt, and after that more capacity for tax reductions.

MITCHELL:

What’s a fair tax rate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well a fair tax rate is that 80% of the Australian community pays no more than 30 cents in the dollar at the margin, and that’s what the Australian public will have from the 1st of July next year. As we get closer to the implementation of tax reform I think there’s going to be a much greater focus swing away from the GST and to the value of the personal tax cuts. Up until now most of the debate has been about the GST. That will change as we get closer to implementation day, then people will begin to realise that you could perhaps now be earning $20,000 a year and you could lift that income to $50,000 a year, that’s double it…increase it by two-and-a-half times without going into a higher tax bracket. Now that will give to middle-Australia, to 80% of the Australian community a tremendous additional incentive to work and that is what a taxation system should be about – giving people incentive to work harder without an increasing amount being taken by the taxman.

MITCHELL:

Okay. But the principle is there, if Telstra’s sold and all goes well and we can perhaps look at future tax cuts?

PRIME MINISTER:

Indeed.

MITCHELL:

On the Ralph Report, a couple of weeks ago I spoke to you, you were going to read it over the weekend.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ve done that.

MITCHELL:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve read it over several weekends. It’s big and complicated, but very good. Cabinet has started to discuss it. We’ve had several discussions. We’ll have another one next week. Mr Ralph is going to talk to a number of my colleagues about it. I don’t disguise the fact that we’re not in a position yet to make announcements. We want to get the collective Cabinet head around it. It’s a very big issue. We want to get it right. We’re not going to delay decision making but we’re not going to just pick the recommendations up and run with them without giving them a lot of thought.

MITCHELL:

How significant will it be?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it will change the way we tax our business activities for the better. We will make changes. We haven’t decided on what all those changes are. The aim is to make this country as attractive as possible as a place in which to invest, and also the aim is to encourage Australians to invest more. We do need to make some changes to our capital gains tax system. One of the debates that is central to the Ralph Report is whether you opt for a lower general company tax rate, say 30%, paid for in part by taking away special concessions which are now available for things like accelerated depreciation. Now some companies like that. If you’re a service company, if you’re a bank, or you’re an advertising agency or if you’re a recruitment agency you think that’s a good idea because you don’t have much to depreciate in an accelerated way. On the other hand if you are a mining company where you need to make large acquisitions of capital equipment and depreciate that over a period of time, different consideration.

MITCHELL:

Have you made a decision on that yet?

PRIME MINISTER:

No not yet but it’s one of the issues that’s central to the debate and I’m asking the business community to keep in mind that when you’re looking at the impact of business tax don’t just look at the impact of the Ralph recommendations. Look at the impact on your business of the GST. Some businesses do much better out of the GST than others. I think it’s fair to say that manufacturers have done better out of the GST than service industries because under the current wholesale tax system manufacturers pay wholesale sales tax, or the wholesale sales tax on manufactured items but not on services.

MITCHELL:

Okay. Now onto something else, the republic debate. Your position is very well know known there. But let’s take it forward a step – do you believe if we become a republic there will then be pressure to change the flag?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think some people want that. Now I’m not….well I’m against changing the flag. But, look, historically what happened was the two things were debated together and now people have sort of just focused on the republic. I am against changing the flag. Neil, can I say this, totally against it. And I think some people will pressure for change in the flag, yes. But I’m not suggesting for a moment that that issue is being voted on in November. I mean it’s not.

MITCHELL:

But the republicans are avoiding talking about it because they know it could frighten the horses. It worries me. I mean there’s a secret agenda there. If you become a republic then we change the flag.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you should ask them. Don’t ask me, I’m not a republican.

MITCHELL:

Well Peter Costello’s writing about symbols in the….his speech about symbols and how important the symbols were. Well there’s no more important symbol than the flag.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there is no more important symbol than the Australian flag, and I don’t want to see it changed and I don’t think the great majority of Australians want to see it changed. Could I just say one other thing about this republican issue – everybody knows my view. I will, particularly as we get closer to the event, I’ll be making some considered statements explaining in a positive way why I support the present system. But I’m not going to sort of get into a day to day response on what this or that person says about the detail of the debate. There are other issues that I have to deal with as Prime Minister. But people will have a very clear understanding from me as a result of a number of considered statements as to exactly why I support the current system.

MITCHELL:

Well that means you’ll be playing a pretty active role then as Prime Minister in the debate.

PRIME MINISTER:

The public’s entitled to know why their Prime Minister does not support change. It seems to me I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t. There’s a suggestion from some that I should really say nothing at all while everybody else makes a contribution. There are others who are saying that, you know, I’ve got to intervene and let my position be known. I mean it’s a very unusual situation.

MITCHELL:

But you will get involved?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I will explain to the Australian people in detail and in a positive way why I support the current system. I’m not going to respond to comments made by every person, be they on one side or the other during the course of the debate. I don’t want to get involved in the trivia of it.

MITCHELL:

Does that include David Elliott, your former adviser who’s today talking about…..

PRIME MINISTER:

It includes comments made from time to time on both sides of the debate. I mean I have got more important things to do then to comment upon each and every individual remark made by activists on both sides of the argument.

MITCHELL:

I can understand that but….

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean….

MITCHELL:

…..but we aren’t heading to a Nazi dictatorship….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well nobody….I have never used extreme language in this debate and I never will. But I naturally, as a citizen, and as Prime Minister, I have sponsored the referendum. I kept my word. I told the public we’d have a vote. A lot of people said I wouldn’t have a vote. A lot of my critics in the lead up to the ’96 campaign said one way or another if he becomes Prime Minister he’ll stop it happening. Now I haven’t tried to do that.

I’ve allowed the debate to go ahead, I’ve promoted the referendum and the Government is equally funding both sides of the argument. But I have a right to express my view and I don’t think it’s reasonable of people, including some journalists, to run around and basically say, well look, John Howard should stay out of it. I mean, I’m not going to get involved in it on a day-to-day basis but, of course, if journalists keep asking me questions, as you are, it’s very difficult to stay out of it.

MITCHELL:

Will it be a speech to the nation or something like that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I will make a number of considered statements explaining why I support the present system and I will transmit my views to the Australian people in that way rather than giving a running commentary every day on do you agree with what so and so said.

MITCHELL:

Fair enough. There’s just one thing that worries me, in my mind, about the Queen’s visit next March. If the republican referendum doesn’t get up, I wonder if it’s the right environment for her to come to this country because there could almost be protests about that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I don’t think either way Australians will be other than immensely courteous, whether you like her or don’t, agree with her or not. If people are not interested they just take no notice. I mean, it’s a free country and we’re a very sophisticated people about those things. We don’t display bad manners but equally those of us who are not interested in her, won’t take any interest in the visit. And those who want to welcome her, whether republican or not, as a person who we respect then that will happen too. I’m not the least bit concerned about that.

MITCHELL:

We’ll take some calls for the Prime Minister, of course, 9696 1278. Hello, Tony, go ahead please.

CALLER:

Good morning, Neil. Good morning, Prime Minister, how are we this morning?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m pretty good, Neil. Is it, Neil, is it?

MITCHELL:

No, it’s Tony.

PRIME MINISTER:

Tony, sorry. No, you’re, Neil.

MITCHELL:

You’re the Prime Minister.

CALLER:

I’m a voter.

PRIME MINISTER:

You’re a voter, even better, a very important bloke.

CALLER:

Could you clear something up for me, Prime Minister, friends of ours were in Coober Pedy about a month ago and there’s all these dogs around the street. They inquired as to why all the dogs were roaming the street and apparently the Aboriginal people up there get paid $10 to feed the dogs. Firstly, is this true and if it is so, why would they be paid $10 to feed the dogs?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’ve never heard of that. It sounds very strange to me and I’d be surprised if things like that were operated on the basis if you’re an Aborigine or not an Aborigine. I can’t believe that.

MITCHELL:

I don’t know if it’s an urban myth or not, Tony, it’s been suggested here before. We’ll check it out with Coober Pedy.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, look, I just don’t know and, I’m sorry, I can’t help you on that.

MITCHELL:

Okay, Ian, go ahead please, Ian.

CALLER:

Good morning, Neil, good morning, Mr Howard. I’ve worked for Paul Barratt in the Department of Primary Industries and Energy and found him to be a very capable person. Now, I was just wondering, you recruited him to the public service, do you not have confidence in his ability any more?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you know as well as I do that there’s been a court case and you also know that he’s put his case, the Government put its case. I don’t bear Mr Barratt any ill will.

MITCHELL:

Will he still be sacked?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m not going to comment on his future.

MITCHELL:

Will it be decided today?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not making any comment on that. I don’t think that’s appropriate. I repeat, I don’t bear the man any personal ill will and I don’t have anything further to say at the present time because that’s not appropriate. He took the matter to court, he put his case the Judge made a finding. The finding of the Judge didn’t surprise me in the slightest. I thought it was a common-sense finding and we will naturally follow the law of the country as declared by the Judge.

MITCHELL:

[Inaudible]…you hired him didn’t you, I mean, Mr Barratt said that himself last night.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the sequence of events was that he indicated a willingness to return to the public service and he was offered a job by my Government. That was the sequence of events which is somewhat different from the emphasis that’s been placed in the newspapers. I’ve read some reports suggesting that we’d sort of been close friends for 20 years. Now, I have nothing against him personally but I think there’s just been a little bit of embellishment at the edges as far as the character of the relationship is concerned.

MITCHELL:

Do you regret hiring him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m not going to talk about that because it’s not appropriate for me to do so. I can only repeat, I bear him no personal ill will or malice. The Judge confirmed the basis on which a relationship should exist between the Government and its senior bureaucrats. It required procedural fairness, to put it one way, be followed. Naturally the Government accepts that because it’s the law as declared by the court.

MITCHELL:

So does the Prime Minister have the power to dismiss if he wishes a head of a department?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Judge declared the circumstances in which that can occur, yes.

MITCHELL:

Are you happy with that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I accept it completely. In the end, we’re all bound by the law and if we don’t like the law we change it. Now, the Judge clarified the law or confirmed the law yesterday. His decision, which I’ve read, did not surprise me in the slightest. I thought that would be his decision. I thank the Commonwealth legal team. Naturally, nobody likes court cases of this kind to arise but Mr Barratt had a right to take his case to court. I don’t think the situation’s been helped by the deliberate courting of publicity that’s occurred.

MITCHELL:

By Mr Barratt.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I leave it at that. I don’t think the situation’s been aided by that. I don’t think that helps anybody. But he has a right, and as I say, I don’t bear him any personal ill will of any kind.

[COMMERCIAL BREAK]

MITCHELL:

The Prime Minister is in our Sydney studio. Mr Howard, Jesse Martin, the young Melbourne man sailing around the world solo. I talked to him earlier in the week. Now, you have sent him an e-mail.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. I sent him a message yesterday wishing him the best of luck and saying what a great matter of national pride when an Australia achieves something out of the ordinary. And he’s saying he’s been nine months alone on a boat, relied on himself, across the world’s most dangerous waters and that presents both a tremendous example and a tremendous challenge to the young people of this country. And whatever the outcome is we hope it’s very, very positive and successful. He’ll have the admiration and a sharing in the spirit of adventure of his fellow Australians and we wish him Godspeed and a safe return home very soon.

MITCHELL:

An extraordinary young man.

PRIME MINISTER:

An amazing young man and he will actually beat the record if he does succeed in his goals of another Australian. David Dickson, Western Australia, who was 18 years and 41 days when he completed his unassisted circumnavigation. So to break that record Jesse, I think, has to complete the remainder of the voyage within seven weeks.

MITCHELL:

The Geelong road. Now, the State government said they’ll pay for half of it and they’re expecting the other half in Federal funding. Will it be there?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’re looking at it. I saw Mr Kennett in Melbourne earlier this week. We discussed a number of matters including that and we are looking at it. I don’t think I can say any more than that at present.

MITCHELL:

It’s been suggested it’ll be timed for the State election….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well,….

MITCHELL:

….suggested?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you should never be cynical. If there’s merit in supporting it given the other demands and priorities we have, I mean, if you look at it in isolation of course there’s a case for funding it but, from the Federal point of view, but we can never look at these things in isolation. And it’s not as if we don’t fund other roads of national importance in Victoria and we announced some during the Federal election campaign. But, Neil, we are looking at it and if we have something further to say you will hear.

MITCHELL:

Very well. David, go ahead please.

CALLER:

Yes. Good morning Neil. Good morning Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes David.

CALLER:

Um, as an ardent cricket fan, the anti-siphoning laws. Why do we as free-to-air people miss out on the tour of Sri Lanka and the one-day internationals and Zimbabwe test? Can you please intervene so that we can free-to-air see it on the picture?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’ll check this out but my understanding is that the anti-siphoning laws haven’t been breached. It's just that commercial decisions have been made by the channels. I mean, what the anti-siphoning laws require, as I understand, is that they should be offered to the free-to-airs. But if the free-to-airs don’t want them the original acquirer of the rights is entitled to have them used on pay TV. But I’ll check that out. You have raised an understandably heart felt plea.

MITCHELL:

Thanks David. Mr Howard, tuna. Now, it seems that we are of the battle with Japan…

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. We have taken the Japanese to court and no less than the Attorney-General has been over there fighting it out on our behalf. We’re getting down to boost supporting the Australian case before the relevant tribunal.

MITCHELL:

How important is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Very important because this is a valuable resource and the Japanese, in our view, are doing the wrong thing.

MITCHELL:

Okay. Are you aware the Romanian Junior Wrestling Team wants asylum?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. I read it in the papers this morning.

MITCHELL:

So there’s no reaction yet?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. I don’t know any more than that. The first I knew of it was when I read it in one of the Sydney papers this morning before coming here. And I’ll find out during the day what the Immigration Department is doing about it. They’ll be dealt with in accordance with the normal processes. I don’t know whether they have got a case or not and I can’t really give a comment on the run.

MITCHELL:

There’s also a report today that 900 Kosovars now want to stay in the country and some of them will just refuse to leave. What do we do about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ll try and handle it sensibly bearing in mind that we always said from the beginning that they were meant to be here in a safe haven and not permanently. The whole exercise has really gone very well and most of them go back to Europe with lovely memories of this country and feeling great goodwill towards Australia now. We will handle the remaining cases in a sensible way. I can’t rule out the odd difficulty here and there with individuals, that always occurs. But you are dealing with 4,000 people and in the main the whole thing has gone very well and I want to thank the Australian people.

MITCHELL:

Will any be allowed to stay over?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we’ll make decisions on that according to particular circumstances. We are disinclined to allow any because the rest of the people who want to come to this country and who are waiting in queues and that have abided by the rules will then be entitled to say: well, they took advantage of being here, we’ve abided by the rules and we, in effect, are being penalised.

MITCHELL:

Mr Howard, the Fairfax papers have been running a lot of detail about a number of German citizens and Nazis, members of the Nazi party [inaudible] to this country. And they have named people who are members of the Nazi party while admitting they thought that they didn’t know why they were, whether they were forced into it. Do you think that’s been fair? Is that relevant? Is there still anything to be done there or is it history?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I can understand the sensitivities of people who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. They’ll go to their graves, you know, with very very understandable feelings about what was done to their people by the Nazis and you can never forget that. On the other hand, it is a very long time ago. You may remember that 10 years ago we established some laws in this country for war criminals to be dealt with and it proved very difficult to have satisfactory prosecutions. And those activities were discontinued not because there wasn’t a willingness on the part of both sides of politics in Australia to bring war criminals to justice but simply through the passage of time we couldn’t guarantee fair trial. Now, while that’s not directly analagous to this situation it does, sort of, throw light on the distance in time that is now represented by these situations. And, I mean, I read those stories. I can understand sensitivities of some in our community about them and I respect those sensitivities very deeply. But it is a long time ago and I am not certain as to what a current government can be expected, with the passage of all that time, to do about those particular decisions.

MITCHELL:

Turkey. Awful, awful situation.

PRIME MINISTER:

Appalling.

MITCHELL:

Anything we can do about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we have made a contribution of a million dollars. We are considering more. The Foreign Ministry has been in touch with the Turkish authorities. I am very conscious that there are tens of thousands of Australians of Turkish descent and there’s certainly a lot of them in Melbourne, in the suburbs of Melbourne. And I know of some families who have lost, Australian families, who have lost relatives. And we’ll continue to be in touch with the United Nations and if more assistance is needed and can be given we’ll provide it because we are a very lucky country in so many ways including in relation to these things. And you really are greatly moved. It’s just an appalling disaster and I just and many of us can’t begin to contemplate the horror of being there.

MITCHELL:

It’s going to be a problem for a long, long time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Very, very long time. And the death toll is truly staggering when you bear in mind that you are looking now at thousands. It’s an appalling tragedy.

MITCHELL:

Okay. Just one last quick one. The Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs is meeting today and considering, amongst other things, banks…fining banks for bad service. Could you see that working?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I, you know, look, I understand that. It sounds a little bit far fetched. I mean, how do you measure it? I’ll see what they have got to say but I am not going to put my hand up for it just on the run. Banks are pretty conscious that there are some concerns in the community. On the other hand, they’re not guilty of every single charge that is laid against them. And I think we have to have a sense of proportion.

MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for your time again.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay.

[ends] 

Transcript 30446

Sir Allen Brown - former Secretary to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet

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: 03/08/1999

Release Type: Media Release

Transcript ID: 30445

Sir Allen Brown, former Secretary to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, died very recently in Melbourne.

Sir Allen had a distinguished career in the service of Australia especially in the post-war period.

He was Secretary under Prime Minister Robert Menzies between 25 August 1949 and 31 December 1958. He was previously Director-General of the Department of Post-War Reconstruction.

From 1959 – 1965 he was Deputy High Commissioner in London, and then Ambassador to Japan from 1965 – 1970. He was then appointed Australian Commissioner of the British Phosphate Commission and the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission from 1970-1976. Sir Allen was awarded a CBE in 1953 and made a Knight Bachelor in 1956.

I extend the sincere condolences of the Government of Australia to the family of this distinguished Australian.

3 August 1999

Transcript 30445

Joint Prime Ministerial Task Force on Australia New Zealand Bilateral Economic Relations; Joint Prime Ministerial Communique

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: 04/08/1999

Release Type: Communique

Transcript ID: 30444

As part of our discussions in February 1999, we established a Joint Prime Ministerial Task Force on Bilateral Economic Relations. This reflected our mutual desire to further develop the bilateral economic relationship, address a small number of specific bilateral issues, and examine ways of building on the strong economic foundation that already exists through CER. We consider that the Task Force has played a useful and facilitative role in examining and developing different strands of the bilateral relationship.

Closer Economic Relations (CER)

The bilateral economic relationship is in excellent health. CER, which is at the heart of our relationship, has been a remarkable success in its fifteen years of existence. It has produced benefits to both countries far beyond what were imagined at the time it was established. Trans-Tasman trade, for example, has increased by over 400% since CER’s inception – faster growth than with any of either country’s other major trading partners. CER has also facilitated a high degree of trans-Tasman economic integration, focusing at the outset on free trade in goods and services, and moving to include a deeper integration of labour and capital markets, and regulatory regimes.

CER remains an exemplary template for free trade agreements – open, comprehensive, simple and dynamic.

The main focus of both our nations’ trade policies is currently on securing further trade liberalisation through a new WTO round and we are working cooperatively to promote its launch at the WTO Ministerial meeting to be held in November in Seattle.

New Zealand and Australia are willing to consider free trade arrangements with other significant individual economies or regional groupings, where they would deliver faster and deeper liberalisation than the multilateral process, with the objective of gaining better market access for our exporters, faster economic growth and stronger employment growth. Such arrangements would need to reflect the principles underpinning CER, including WTO consistency.

Investment

Trans-Tasman investment is a significant integrating force between the two economies. The regime for that investment is already open by international standards but it is in both nations’ interest to lower compliance costs for trans-Tasman, as well as all other, investors.

Australia has reviewed its foreign investment requirements in line with its APEC Individual Action Plan and will liberalise its foreign investment regime. The changes will lower compliance costs for all foreign investors and provide benefits for New Zealand.

Australia will:

  • increase its existing foreign investment business acquisition threshold from $A5 million ($A3 million for rural) to $A50 million on a multilateral basis;
  • remove foreign investment approval requirements for New Zealanders who hold or are entitled to hold a special category visa and invest in Australian residential real estate through Australian registered companies and trusts; and
  • provide simplified processing arrangements for proposals to invest in businesses, valued at less than $A100 million, on a multilateral basis.

These initiatives will remove screening requirements for more than half of New Zealand investment proposals based on past activity.

For its part, New Zealand will raise the threshold at which consent for non-land foreign investment is required from $NZ10 million to $NZ50 million, on a multilateral basis. The criteria for land-related foreign investment will remain unchanged.

Australia and New Zealand will consult each other on our respective foreign investment policies in the context of any specific review of those policies under our international obligations.

Social security

Australia and New Zealand benefit greatly from the free flow of people across the Tasman, including through the development of wider and more efficient labour markets. We reaffirm the very positive and important role freedom of trans-Tasman movement and a single Australia-New Zealand labour market play in the development of CER and in the bilateral relationship.

There are many more New Zealanders living in Australia than there are Australians living in New Zealand, with Australia bearing increased social security costs. Neither country is satisfied with the adequacy of current bilateral social security arrangements, which are in addition inordinately complex and increasingly unworkable.

New Zealand and Australia both want more stable and durable social security arrangements that will provide a better strategic fit for our wider CER relationship, both now and as it develops in future years. As part of this, Australia and New Zealand:

  • will undertake a full review of social security arrangements, with a view to developing a sustainable long-term solution to current problems. We expect that terms of reference will be settled before our next meeting, in February 2000. We further expect to start putting in place the changes in arrangements stemming from the review before the Prime Ministerial meeting in February 2001; and
  • will implement an interim arrangement for 2 years that will markedly simplify the current complex and overly cumbersome administrative arrangements by simply agreeing the reimbursement track in advance, and provide for a higher level of reimbursement of the social security costs incurred by Australia over that period than that provided for under the current Agreement. Specifically, we have agreed that New Zealand will reimburse Australia $A125m for the year 1999/2000 and $A135m for the year 2000/2001 for the costs of providing social security to New Zealand citizens in Australia. This interim agreement, including increased reimbursement, will continue until it can be replaced by a new Social Security Agreement.

Child Support

Australia and New Zealand have been developing a draft Child Support Agreement (CSA) to promote more equitable payment arrangements for New Zealand and Australian parents. We have agreed that the CSA should be implemented at the earliest opportunity, with operation commencing from 1 July 2000.

Business law

Differences in our business law regimes can act as impediments to investment and trade. The Memorandum of Understanding on the Harmonisation of Business Laws signed between Australia and New Zealand in July 1988 has resulted in good progress in a number of fields, including competition law, company accounting standards, consumer protection and mutual assistance in business regulation.

We have agreed to explore the scope for further regulatory coordination of our respective regimes and have agreed that any further reform would need to take account not just of CER but also of the broader regional and global environments, including the emergence of global standards.

A study has been commissioned by New Zealand on possible approaches to further trans-Tasman business law reform, having regard to our objective of positioning Australian and New Zealand business on the world stage. Officials will hold discussions on the study in August, with a view to identifying possible areas for further regulatory coordination.

As part of this process, New Zealand and Australia will give specific consideration to:

  • cross-recognising trans-Tasman companies through a simplified registration mechanism;
  • issues related to the regulation of overseas financial products markets which are adequately supervised; and
  • cross-border insolvency, in particular, the adoption of the UNCITRAL Model Law

Australia recently announced that it would reform its disclosure requirements for financial products (other than securities). These reforms are similar in approach to New Zealand’s existing regime. In implementing the reforms, Australia will harmonise its requirements with New Zealand’s, to the greatest extent possible consistent with its policy framework, to reduce compliance costs and help facilitate the offering of common products in both countries.

Customs

Our respective Customs agencies have been addressing harmonisation and simplification issues within CER for some time, and have made considerable progress. This work will be accelerated, with the objective of: improving facilitation of trans-Tasman trade by streamlining customs regulatory procedures; reducing customs compliance costs for trans-Tasman business; and introducing ‘one-stop shop’ on-line customs clearance procedures for agreed trans-Tasman exporters. Officials will implement an agreed work programme which includes specific milestones for the next year.

Australian and New Zealand customs agencies will also look closely at the information presently required from importers and exporters, with a view to investigating ways of appropriately reducing business compliance costs.

Oceans management

The vast ocean which divides New Zealand and Australia can also be a factor in uniting our two nations. Coordination and cooperation in the field of oceans policy has the potential to further strengthen the trans-Tasman relationship.

One of the most immediate issues to be addressed in coordinating oceans policy is the delimitation of the New Zealand and Australian continental shelves and exclusive economic zones. New Zealand and Australia will conclude an agreement on the delimitation of the Australian and New Zealand maritime zones by no later than 2003 – one to three years ahead of our respective deadlines for submissions on the limits of our continental shelves to the United Nations. This will provide jurisdictional security for both countries, as well as certainty for industry on both sides of the Tasman.

New Zealand and Australia will continue to work cooperatively in the development of the Trans-Tasman Understanding on Oceans Policy to ensure it results in mutual and complementary approaches to the protection and development or our marine resources. Australia will also involve New Zealand in the development of a Regional Marine Plan for the South-eastern region of Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in relation to issues of joint interest.

Review of Implementation

We are pleased with the successful conclusion today of the Joint Prime Ministerial Task Force. To ensure this programme of work is implemented efficiently, our respective Foreign Ministries, in consultation with our Prime Ministers’ departments, will provide us with a joint report on progress in implementing the measures announced in this communique before our next meeting.

Transcript 30444

Taskforce to Develop Practical Assistance for Youth

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: 26/09/1999

Release Type: Media Release

Transcript ID: 30443

 I am pleased to announce the membership of the Commonwealth Government’s Youth Pathways Action Plan Taskforce.

The Taskforce will be chaired by Captain David Eldridge of the Salvation Army. I am especially pleased that Captain Eldridge has agreed to take on the role of Chairman, following his outstanding leadership of the Youth Homelessness Taskforce.

The Taskforce includes members drawn from the community, academic and business sectors along with Commonwealth and State governments. A list of members and the terms of reference are attached.

Importantly, the Taskforce will continue the work of building a social coalition with government, the business community, individuals and the non-government sector all playing important roles.

From within the social coalition framework, the Taskforce will contribute to the development of youth policy, especially in the areas of:-

  • employment opportunities;
  • education and training;
  • supporting all young people to gain basic and workplace skills;
  • homelessness and family breakdown;
  • prevention of youth suicide;
  • access to services;
  • financial and economic difficulties; and
  • other social problems such as drug use.

The Youth Pathways Taskforce will focus on strengthening community support for young people and their families. It will examine ways that government, community organisations and business can help young Australians as they approach adulthood and assume productive and independent lives of their own.

The establishment of the Taskforce reflects the Government’s belief that this country's most important resource is it’s young people.

It also reflects the belief that a strong and stable family life is an essential source of support and security for them as they make choices about their future.

The expertise of the Taskforce will be directed at setting out new approaches to tackling disadvantage and social problems that impede the progress of young people, as they move to becoming young adults who value, and are valued by, their community. In particular, it will consider new approaches based on prevention and early intervention.

The Taskforce will report to the Ministers for Education, Training and Youth Affairs and Family and Community Services on the development of a Youth Pathways Action Plan. The broad objectives of the action plan will be to improve outcomes for young people by:-

  • strengthening existing pathways for young people;
  • improving early assistance for young people at risk;
  • strengthening and supporting the capacity of families’ and communities’ to help young people; and
  • finding innovative ways of expanding opportunities for young people to fully participate in the economic and social life of their communities.

The Taskforce secretariat will be jointly provided by the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs and the Department of Family and Community Services.

The first meeting will be held at Parliament House from 12 to 14 October 1999.

The Taskforce will provide a report to the Government by March 2000. I wish them well with the task ahead of them and look forward to their report.

26 September 1999

 

Youth Pathways Action Plan Taskforce – Membership

 Chairman:

Captain David Eldridge, Salvation Army

 

Community, academic and business members:

David Abfalter, CEO, Services to Youth Council (SYC) Inc.

Jan Carter, Executive Director, Employment Works

Nicola Haswell, Member, National Youth Roundtable

Patrick McClure, Chief Executive Officer, Mission Australia

Dr Phillip McKenzie, Acting Director, Australian Council for Educational Research

Ian Spicer, Chair, Australian Student Traineeship Foundation

Tammy Williams, Member, Australian Youth Foundation

 

State government members:

Dr Gillian Parmenter, Assistant Director, Department of Human Services, Victoria

Ken Smith, Director-General, Department of Families, Youth and Community Care, Queensland

Geoff Spring, Chief Executive, Department of Education, Training and Employment,

South Australia

 

Commonwealth government members:

Jane Halton, Deputy Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Wayne Jackson, Deputy Secretary, Department of Family and Community Services

Steve Sedgwick, Secretary, Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs

 

Youth Pathways Action Plan Taskforce - Terms Of Reference

1. The Taskforce will provide advice to government on the scope and direction of a youth pathways action plan aimed at:

a) improving support for young people and their families during young people’s transition to independence; and

b) strengthening pathways for those young people who do not, or are not likely to, go straight from school to further education and training or full-time employment and those who are not fully engaged with their community.

2. The Taskforce should:

a) examine the scope and direction of a youth pathways action plan;

b) identify best practice and major gaps or shortcomings in existing support for young people and their families; and

c) consider possible initiatives for improving services and introducing innovative approaches to prevention, early intervention and community-based initiatives.

3. The scoping report should take account of the broad objectives of a youth pathways action plan to improve outcomes for young people by:

a) strengthening existing pathways for young people with a particular focus on assisting those young people at risk;

b) improving early assistance for young people, before they reach crisis point;

c) reducing the duration/extremity of crisis by quickly helping young people to move out of crisis situations;

d) strengthening and supporting families’ and communities’ capacity to help young people; and

e) finding innovative ways of expanding opportunities for young people to participate in the economic and social life of their communities.

4. The Taskforce should report to government by March 2000 with recommendations for action, including proposed mechanisms for taking these recommendations forward. This should include a draft Taskforce workplan if continuation of the Taskforce is recommended.

Transcript 30443

Speech to Parliament - East Timor

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: 21/09/1999

Release Type:

Transcript ID: 30442

Extract From The CURRENT HOUSE HANSARD

Date: 21 September 1999 (14:00)

Mr HOWARD (Bennelong--Prime Minister) (2.00 p.m.)--I move:

That this House:

(1) notes the overwhelming choice for independence exercised by the East Timorese people on 30 August;

(2) welcomes United Nations Security Council Resolution 1264 authorising a multinational force to restore peace and security in East Timor, protect the United Nations' mission in East Timor and facilitate humanitarian assistance;

(3) endorses Australia's agreement to the United Nations Secretary General's request that Australia contribute to and lead the multinational force;

(4) expresses its full support for the Australians serving with the multinational force and its full confidence in them; and

(5) looks forward to their safe return home.

Mr Speaker, it is appropriate that the parliament at the first opportunity have the chance to debate this motion, because there is no more serious decision that any government takes than to commit Australian military forces abroad. It is therefore essential that the reasons for that decision be made plain to the parliament of Australia and that the representatives of the Australian public have a full opportunity to debate those reasons.

Yesterday the first contingent of Australian forces was deployed in East Timor. We are deploying those forces as part of a multinational force which Australia is leading and that has been sponsored by a United Nations resolution. As of this morning, there were about 1,500 troops from Australia and other countries on East Timor. By tomorrow morning there will be about 2,500.

On Sunday and Monday, accompanied by the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Australian Democrats, I had the opportunity of meeting and farewelling many of the men and women who are now in, or about to be deployed in, East Timor. It is fair to say that we were all tremendously impressed by their state of readiness, their eagerness, their understanding of the importance of the mission and their commitment to the goals and values of the Australian community which underpins the decision taken by the government to commit Australian forces. It was appropriate that they be seen and farewelled not only by the Prime Minister but also by the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Australian Democrats, because we should remember that when Australians go abroad as an armed force, they do not go in the name of the government of the day, they go in the name of Australia. It is therefore important that all of them understand that.

Sharing dinner with many of them in Townsville on Sunday evening, my wife and I were struck by their cheerfulness, their professionalism and their commitment to their task. I was also very deeply warmed by the characteristic Australian responses. One of them looked at me as we ate and said, `Well, John, now I've got you, let me tell you what's wrong with the Army.' It was so Australian; it was so reassuring; and it was a reminder of the sorts of values that are important to the Australian community.

I now report to the parliament therefore on the reasons for their deployment, what their task is and what the decision means for Australian defence and foreign policy. In the course of doing that, may I record my deep appreciation to my two colleagues, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence, both of whom throughout this entire episode have behaved with impeccable professionalism. They have played a major role in bringing about a state of affairs where I believe the overwhelming majority of the Australian community is immensely proud of the role that Australia has played on this issue.

It is important as we analyse this commitment to understand that Australia carries on this occasion the special burden of leadership of this group. We have participated in the past in peacekeeping, peace enforcement and other operations, but on this occasion we carry the special responsibility and the special burden of leadership. As the House will know, on 15 September the United Nations Security Council unanimously authorised the establishment of a multinational force in Timor. The resolution gives the force three tasks for its mandate: first, to restore peace and security to East Timor; second to protect and support the United Nations Mission in East Timor and; third, to facilitate within force capabilities humanitarian assistance operations in East Timor.

The multinational force has been authorised by the United Nations Security Council, under chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, to use all necessary measures to achieve its mandate. The multinational force will prepare the ground for the United Nations to complete its task of managing East Timor's transition to independence. This will involve the arrival as soon as possible of a fully-fledged blue helmet UN peacekeeping operation and the establishment of a UN transitional administration.

The Australian government will be doing everything it can to ensure that the UN transitional administration is ready to take over when the Indonesian parliament ratifies East Timor's independence. The government's expectation is that the multinational force will be about 7,500 strong. Australia is initially deploying 2,000 troops, increasing up to 4,500 if necessary. Australia will provide the force commander, Major General Cosgrove and Thailand will provide the deputy force commander, Major General Songkitti.

We estimate that the cost of Australia's contribution will be in the order of $500 million in the financial year 1999-2000. Under the terms of the Security Council resolution, costs will be borne by participating states or met from voluntary contributions to a special trust fund that has been established by the United Nations.

We have firm commitments to participate from more than 12 countries. These include Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, from within ASEAN, and New Zealand, Britain and Canada are making valuable contributions. The United States will provide significant support, including airlift capability, communications, intelligence, engineering support and helicopters. There are many other contributions, including from Korea and China. The defence minister will provide details separately. Some countries that are not contributing troops will contribute financially to the UN trust fund, and I welcome Japan's offer of a substantial contribution.

I want to take the opportunity to express my deep appreciation to the leaders of all of the nations that are contributing troops or financial assistance. I would like in particular to thank my regional colleague the Prime Minister of Thailand, Mr Chuan, who so promptly responded to my request for assistance in providing a substantial military contingent as well as the Deputy Force Commander. I also draw the attention of the House to the very strong support offered by President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea during his recent visit and, likewise, President Estrada of the Philippines and other regional leaders have given strong support to the UN multinational force.

Australia is not alone in this venture. The region has responded readily and promptly in creating this force with us under the umbrella of the United Nations. The government has every confidence in the professionalism of the Australian Defence Force and its preparedness for this operation. The units have inspired confidence by the speed with which they have got themselves ready and the proficiency with which they are being deployed. I congratulate the Defence Force and their commanding officers on this excellent response.

The tasks that our men and women face will not be easy. We hope it will be accomplished soon, but we have to be prepared for the possibility that it will be long and protracted. The risk of casualties is a serious one; this is a dangerous operation. The rules of engagement for Australia's forces will allow them to use lethal force to achieve their mandate to restore peace and security. Our troops will not be sent into danger with one hand tied behind their back.

It is important to insert here the recognition that the rules of engagement are broader, fuller and more robust than was the case in rules of engagement in other peacekeeping operations that produced the agonisingly frustrating situation of heavily armed peacekeepers literally having to stand by and see atrocities committed before their very eyes. I think all of us in Townsville and Darwin were encouraged by the detailed knowledge of the rules of engagement of all of the serving personnel and their satisfaction that the rules of engagement were adequate and appropriate to all of the possibilities and all of the tasks that might lie ahead.

Indonesia has undertaken to cooperate with the multinational force. I welcome the fact that the force commander has been able to report that he has enjoyed good cooperation on the ground from the Indonesian commander in East Timor. However, the multinational force could be a target of attack from the pro-integration militias. It would be foolhardy of us to plan on any other basis. In the past the militias have been supported by elements in the Indonesian armed forces. We hope that all parts of the Indonesian armed forces understand that it would not be in the interests of their country to continue that support.

The formation of the multinational force is a result of strenuous efforts on the part of many, including the UN Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, for whom I would like to express my highest regard. Throughout the recent negotiations to establish the peacekeeping force he has displayed great diplomatic skill, patience, determination and a clear understanding of the issues at stake. The speed of the international community's response is due in no small measure to his commitment and skill.

Australia's leadership of the multinational force is the most recent step in a sustained effort by the government to help resolve the East Timor issue. Apart from the human toll from the conflict in East Timor during nearly 25 years, the issue has held Indonesia back internationally and has been a cause of tension in Australia's relationship with Indonesia.

The resignation of President Suharto and the moves towards democracy last year in Indonesia opened the door to a possible resolution in East Timor. Moreover, as members will know, the conflict in East Timor was worsening. I therefore wrote to President Habibie in December last year, encouraging him to take a different approach to East Timor. I suggested to him that he negotiate directly with the East Timorese and consider the option of autonomy for East Timor with an act of self-determination after a substantial period of autonomy.

It has to be recognised frankly that, for a quarter of a century, governments of both political persuasions in Australia had reluctantly acquiesced in Indonesia's policy towards East Timor. Although the issue was raised from time to time, Australian governments were not prepared to see the relationship with Indonesia put under strain for the sake of making progress with East Timor. My letter and the policy changes embodied in it therefore represented a significant change, after a quarter of a century, in the policy approach of this government towards Indonesia in relation to East Timor.

Subsequently, in January of this year, President Habibie took the bold and principled step of agreeing to a UN-supervised ballot on independence for East Timor. I indicated at the time that Australia would have preferred a longer period of substantial autonomy for East Timor before a ballot was held. We recognised, however, that once the decision had been taken to hold a ballot, the dynamics in East Timor and internationally had changed forever. The best and only realistic course of action was to help the United Nations ensure as safe a ballot as was possible. If we had argued for a delay, the opportunity could well have been lost entirely. Australia was not a party to the agreement between Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations on the holding of the ballot and subsequent transition arrangements. This agreement was based on a promise by the Indonesian government that it would secure conditions in East Timor throughout the process.

The Australian government, well aware of the links between the Indonesian armed forces and the East Timorese militias, mounted a sustained international campaign to press Indonesia to adhere to the commitment to provide security which it had made to the United Nations. In order to secure an environment as free as possible of violence and intimidation, the Australian government argued for and insisted upon an increase in civilian police advisers, to some 300, before the ballot. We insisted that these numbers be again increased for the period immediately after the ballot, which we were aware was potentially dangerous.

Australians can be immensely proud of the performance of our Federal Police, ably led by the United Nations civilian police commander, Alan Mills. Australian military liaison officers, the staff of the Australian Consulate, and many Australians, including from the Australian Electoral Commission, helped ensure a fair ballot. On behalf of the government, I want to acknowledge their dedication and their bravery in such difficult conditions.

In the end, on a day that passed without major disruption, the outcome was decisive. The East Timorese voted by a margin of four to one for independence. The turnout--with 98.6 per cent of those registered casting a vote--and the integrity of the process vindicated the United Nations' judgment to proceed with the ballot despite threats from the pro-integration militias. The conduct of the ballot was a tribute to the work of UNAMET and the leadership of its head, Ian Martin.

After the ballot, however, Indonesia's armed forces proved unwilling or unable to maintain security in East Timor. We have all been horrified by the violence against the people of East Timor, the mass flight of people within the territory and from it, and by the scale of the destruction of property and infrastructure. This was the background to Australia's efforts to establish a multinational peacekeeping force under the United Nations and to convince Indonesia to invite one in.

In numerous telephone conversations with the UN Secretary-General, President Clinton, President Habibie and other leaders before, during and after the APEC meeting in Auckland, I emphasised the need for decisive international action to restore peace to East Timor, to deal with the looming humanitarian disaster, and to create the conditions for the transition to independence for East Timor. It is to the great credit of President Habibie that he agreed to invite in international peacekeepers. It would not have been an easy domestic political decision for him, either personally or otherwise. Ours has been the correct and only responsible course of action. Some have argued that Australia should have insisted--

Opposition members interjecting--

Mr HOWARD--I will say that again. Some have argued that Australia should have insisted on a United Nations peacekeeping force before the ballot or should have argued for a delay in the ballot. Let me emphasise that there was never any prospect that Indonesia would have accepted a peacekeeping force before the ballot. I raised it directly with President Habibie in Bali when I met him earlier this year. He made it clear in the discussions we had that any such proposal was totally and completely unacceptable to him and to the Indonesian government.

I think it is also worth while my informing the House that, on three other occasions, I raised with the President of Indonesia the question of the intervention of international peacekeepers. On 29 August, which was the day before the ballot result was announced, I rang President Habibie to discuss what might happen when the announcement of the ballot was made. I sought assurances from him as to the safety of Australian personnel in East Timor and generally of the security situation. We discussed the possibility of peacekeepers. He made it clear that he would only be prepared to contemplate peacekeepers going in after the transition to independence had taken place--in other words, after the Indonesian National Assembly had voted in favour of the separation of East Timor from the rest of Indonesia. I rang him again over the weekend after the ballot result had been announced, and he again made it clear that peacekeepers were simply not possible until after the National Assembly vote and the UN transitional administration was in place.

On 6 September I rang him again to discuss the deteriorating situation in East Timor. He indicated then--and this was after contact had been made by the Secretary-General with me and also between the Secretary-General and Dr Habibie--that he would declare martial law in East Timor and if that did not work he would consider inviting in a peacekeeping force. And it so transpires that that is precisely the course of events that were subsequently followed. It is therefore clear that any suggestion that peacekeepers could have been inserted before the ballot was held had no contact at all with the reality of the situation.

Insisting on a peacekeeping force would have meant no ballot. Insisting on a delay in the ballot could well have meant no ballot. Many in President Habibie's government and much of the Indonesian leadership opposed the ballot. Indonesia had resisted any change in East Timor for nearly 25 years. Nor would the international community have been ready to form a peacekeeping force. An international peacekeeping force has only now become possible because the world has seen 78.5 per cent of East Timorese vote for independence and is not prepared to see them denied the independence they so clearly voted for. The United Nations made the decision that the ballot should go ahead on schedule. As the United Nations Secretary-General has said, if the UN had not accepted a ballot in the circumstances available the ballot probably would never have happened. We did not have the right to take that away from the people of East Timor.

In the face of the violence after the ballot a few people in this country called for Australia to send in troops to East Timor without the consent of Indonesia. That would have been tantamount to declaring war. It was an option no responsible government could have contemplated, despite the distress that we, along with all Australians, felt about the terrible events in East Timor. I think that this has been recognised by the Australian people. Nevertheless, the international community has moved faster than in any other case I am aware of to form a peacekeeping force. This has happened because of the leadership that Australia has shown in forming a coalition of countries under the United Nations umbrella. It has also happened only because the government, aware of the potential risks, took the precaution early this year of bringing an extra brigade of the Australian Army to a higher level of readiness in order to respond to any peacekeeping needs. If we had not done so, Australia would not have been able to respond immediately to the request of the United Nations not only to participate in the peacekeeping force but also to lead that force.

Developments in East Timor reaffirm some of the home truths about Australia's place in the region to which we pointed when we came into office in 1996. The first truth is that foreign policy needs to be based on a clear sense of the national interest and on our values. As Palmerston famously observed, `Nations do not have permanent friends but only permanent interests.' This government has from the beginning put a clear sense of the national interest at the core of the government's approach to foreign and trade policy. We should not delude ourselves that relations between countries turn on the personnel rapport of leaders, the sentiments of governments or so-called special relationships. Our relationships are most productive when they are realistic, concentrating on mutual interests, building on those areas where cooperation is possible and openly recognising, where they exist, differences in values and political systems.

The second truth is that in occupying what I have called a unique intersection--a Western nation next to Asia with strong links to the United States and Europe--Australia deploys unique assets in our relationship with the Asian region. These links in our history are not an embarrassment to be lived down--quite the contrary. We have stopped worrying about whether we are Asian, in Asia, enmeshed in Asia or part of the a mythical East-Asian hemisphere. We have got on with the job of being ourselves in the region. In turn, the region has recognised that we are an asset and have a constructive role to play in it. Australia's global links have enabled us to work with the United Nations, the United States and others to persuade Indonesia that its best interests would be met by inviting in a multinational force. Moreover, our defence links with all these countries through ANZUS, the five power defence arrangements and our bilateral defence cooperation programs provide us with the capacity to cooperate effectively with them and lead a multinational force.

The third truth is that Australia's alliance with the United States clearly works very effectively. The results reflect the effort the government has put into strengthening the alliance since we came into office. Neither Australia nor the region looks to the United States to solve the East Timor problem for us, but the alliance relationship has underpinned a visible and operationally significant US contribution to the peacekeeping force. We are completely satisfied with the scale of the US contribution.

Fourthly, the government has been right to exempt defence spending from the necessary budget cuts of our first term. The defence reforms we have pursued have put more resources into the combat capability of the Australian Defence Force. I have already foreshadowed the need to examine an increase in defence spending. Australia faces an uncertain regional security situation; the resource and force structure implications of this will be significant. The government's next white paper on defence will examine the likely demands on the ADF for regional peacekeeping, the evacuation of Australian nationals under difficult conditions and the capacity to participate in coalition operations. While the Defence Force must be equipped to defend Australia from direct attack, it must also be able to respond to other more likely contingencies. In other words, the Australian community must face the need for a significant increase in defence commitment in the years ahead.

Finally, national interest cannot be pursued without regard to the values of the Australian community. Australia has no quarrel with the Indonesian nation. Both countries have an interest in getting on with the other. We share important common interests; we are neighbours. Indonesia is the largest country in South-East Asia. How it develops and behaves will influence the strategic balance in our region. It is a significant economic partner for Australia.

Australian policy approaches need to take account of the changes that are taking place in Indonesia. We welcome the transition towards democracy that is occurring in that country. In time this will strengthen Indonesia and our capacity to work with it. We recognise the enormous difficulties that Indonesia faces as it responds to the most serious economic crisis in decades and traverses this political transition. Indeed, my government has been in the forefront in helping Indonesia manage those difficulties and in garnering greater international support and understanding for Indonesia's problems. We also recognise the complexities of governing a nation of over 200 million people spread over thousands of islands. Successful economic and political management by Indonesia of a united but diverse nation is important for Indonesia's own future stability and prosperity. It is also in the interests of Australia and the region.

But none of this means that Australia's objective can be to maintain a good relationship with Indonesia at all costs or at the expense of doing the right thing according to our own values. We seek a relationship of mutual respect and mutual benefit with Indonesia. On that basis, we look forward to working closely with the new, democratically elected government of that country to be formed in the near future.

Events in East Timor have put our relationship with Indonesia under great strain. It would be foolish to imagine that things could have been otherwise, given the stance of Australian foreign policy on East Timor over the last 25 years. Some resent Australia's efforts to help in East Timor or seek to use us as a scapegoat. But we should keep this in perspective. The criticisms of Australian foreign policy that we have seen and heard in Indonesia are not the only Indonesian voices. There are many people in Indonesia who identify with democracy and support the steps that Indonesia is taking in this direction. They are also appalled at the total breakdown of security in East Timor. They will understand and sympathise with the response from Australia and the rest of the international community.

In this context, I ask those in Australia who exercise their legitimate right of protest to refrain from violence against people and property and not to impede people going about their normal business. Such behaviour is unlawful and will be treated as such. It damages the interests of our citizens and has a counterproductive effect on Indonesian attitudes.

The government is encouraged by the commitment of so many of Indonesia's political leaders to respect the vote cast by East Timorese. We look forward to the new Indonesian parliament formally deciding to allow East Timor to separate from Indonesia. I was greatly encouraged by the remarks made by President Habibie in his address to the Indonesian parliament only a few hours ago when he recommitted the government of his country to accept the outcome of the ballot that was conducted in East Timor.

When this government came into office, some commentators said that Asia would not accept us. The comment was revealing in its assumption that Australia had to be invited into a regional framework. It was a view of Australia that underestimated the strengths of Australia's institutions, our economy, our capacity and our will to achieve national goals. Our safe passage through the Asian economic storm makes that view even more dated, irrelevant and erroneous. The truth is that our economic, military and other credentials are respected and give us a capacity to help and constructively participate in the region. Just as we were in a position to assist our neighbours during the Asian economic crisis, so also on East Timor we have shown that we have the capacity under the United Nations to work with our regional partners in putting together a multinational peacekeeping force. It is an example of both our commitment to the region and our capacity to make a constructive and practical contribution to its affairs.

The deployment of Australian troops to East Timor meets the test of national interest in two respects. First, in the spirit of Australia's military tradition, our troops are going to defend what this society believes to be right. They are not going to occupy territory, to impose the will of Australia on others or to act against the legitimate interests of another country. They are going at the request of the United Nations and with the agreement of the Indonesian government. They are going to defend the choice of East Timorese who have exercised that choice in favour of independence in a free vote granted to them by their government with the blessing of the whole international community. They are going to facilitate the humanitarian relief that is so desperately needed for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people in East Timor. No-one who has met the East Timorese evacuees in Darwin, as I did at a moving occasion in Darwin yesterday, could help but be deeply touched by their plight.

Second, our troops are going to East Timor to put an end to the sort of violence that we have seen in recent days. Apart from the human cost, this scale of violence undermines Australia's own interest in a stable region. Our troops will prepare the way for the United Nations to undertake the vital task of developing a transitional political and administrative framework for East Timor. For East Timorese, this offers the hope of reconciliation among groups that have fought each other for decades and the opportunity to create their own future. They have a responsibility to come to grips with these issues. For Indonesia, it will more readily be able to concentrate on its nation building task, with the full support of the international community.

Australia's contribution to the peacekeeping force in East Timor is the biggest commitment of Australian military forces in over 30 years. Our men and women go well-trained, well-led, and in a just cause. At this time our thoughts and prayers are with those in the field, as they go to help restore peace and security to a people who themselves once helped Australian soldiers at a time of need and who have suffered so much in recent times. At home we undertake to give them our support and to watch over their families while they are away. We wish them safety and a safe and early return home. I commend the motion to the House.

 

(See full days Hansard on Australian Parliament House website)


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