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Howard Sattler, Radio 6PR, Perth, 21 August 1996: transcript of interview [Industrial relations legislation, Budget]

E & O E - PROOF ONLY

SATTLER: ... Well, that was the Prime Minister, between 8.30 am and 9.00 am this morning, if you were with us. Welcome, if you weren't. But we spoke with him, naturally, about the Budget, the morning after the night before, and we also, of course, got engaged in conversation about the demonstrations in Canberra against these budget cuts that had already been announced, and, of course, the industrial relations legislation. Well, in the spirit of fairness on the Budget, we now talk with Kim Beazley, Leader of the Opposition, a man who would rather be the Prime Minister and rather be in charge of the Budget. Correct, Kim?

BEAZLEY: Absolutely right, Howard.

SATTLER: OK. Well, do you want to react to what the Prime Minister said? He, to a degree, has blamed you, but directly blamed the ACTU, for those demonstrations in Canberra - the violence during the week.

BEAZLEY: Well, that's an outrageous claim and he knows it. He knows that I absolutely condemned that violence - both in Parliament and in fact well before that, as soon as we became aware of the dimensions of it. And he also knows that those violent activities occurred before I was up on my scrapers speaking at that rally. And so I do reject the implication in what the Prime Minister's had to say as far as that is concerned.

SATTLER: But he does respect you, he said that.

BEAZLEY: Well, I respect him too. I mean, this is about a robust political debate and . . .

SATTLER: Is it also about point scoring?

BEAZLEY: He calls for robust political debate in this community and so we should have it.

SATTLER: Is it also about point scoring?

BEAZLEY: It's about argument, there's no question about that. You've got to have argument in democratic politics. You know, I think the value of democratic politics is through argument, decent policy emerges.

SATTLER: Yeah. Now, you, predictably, as I said - and I'm surprised that when they were in Opposition they bagged every Budget that you brought out, you've got to be specific about these sort of things. Now with two million low income families and middle income families set to see apparently 34 to 50 more dollars in their pay packets every fortnight, are you going to have more trouble telling people this is a bad Budget for most Australians?

BEAZLEY: No, I don't believe so. I think that this is a Budget, the concern of which and it's impact on middle Australia will grow as the days go by and they start to look at the fine print and the consequences. I mean, it's all very well to put in place some tax changes - and it's by no means as good as that for the average type of family on the average type of income. You've got some maxima there in what the benefits are - but, you know, somebody put out the statistics, for example, if you were a family on an income of $30,000 odd with both working, you're gaining about $7.00 or $8.00 a week. But what is going to happen to your child care fees? What is going to happen to your access to public hospitals? What is going to happen to your medical benefits?

SATTLER: Well, you tell me.

BEAZLEY: Well, what is going to happen to all of those? Up. And in the case of the public hospitals - massive cuts. What happens when you want to put your mum into a nursing home? Massive upfront fees now and a considerably increased daily contribution. So, there are lots of little bits and pieces in this Budget which, taken collectively, force middle Australia to pay. I mean, at the end of the day, you can't knock $8 billion out of a budget without hitting middle Australia. There simply aren't enough .... and battlers to go around.

SATTLER: Yeah, but the financial markets are saying that they didn't knock the $8 billion out, in fact, they wimped it. They only went about half as far as they could've.

BEAZLEY: Well, financial markets and the editorialists - the so-called opinion leaders - are being pretty cheerful in relation to the Budget. They may be cheerful but the people who actually have to live with it and operate it and work it on the ground, you know, the average Australian, the average Australian family's going to find life very different indeed over time as a result of the impact of the Budget.

SATTLER: Now, you talked about medical fees and that sort of thing, but as far as medical insurance is concerned, the only people likely to be hit there are the wealthy, aren't they?

BEAZLEY: Well, as far as medical insurance is concerned, well off people. The problem with that and the thing that we really need to think about in relation to it, is none of the money saved by that goes into public hospitals, which is what you'd want to have happen, and the notion that people are going to return for that particular private health insurance benefit, take on a $2000 tax burden in order to receive a $400 rebate, is laughable. That simply isn't going to happen. That's a piece of bad policy. But it's the first slice of the salami. The first slice - and you'll remember when they had health before and our Medicare system was very similar to the old Medibank, six budgets, they sliced the salami regularly until you got to a point where there were some two million Australians uninsured and the health system was basically a manifestation of an element of great unfairness in our society.

SATTLER: What election promises, specifically, have been broken? I mean there is that Medicare levy but that only affects the rich. Which other ones have been broken?

BEAZLEY: On higher education, on fees for high education, on fees in the Home and Community Care program, on increases in pharmaceutical benefits co- - payments, on the ABC, on maintaining the labour market programs - that is a $1.8 billion promise knocked over - on maintaining Austudy. I mean, 20 odd, to put it bluntly.

SATTLER: What do you think about the Green Corps? I call them the green army, which they're apparently going to put $42 million into giving young people jobs out in the forest, or somewhere.

BEAZLEY: Well, what the Green Corps is is the rebadged LEAP - Land, Environment and Action Program.

SATTLER: So, it's not new?

BEAZLEY: No, it's not new and it's rebadged at about a tenth of the expenditure that we put into it.

SATTLER: But did it ever get off the ground when you had charge of it?

BEAZLEY: Oh yes. I mean, there are hundreds - no, not hundreds - there were thousands of young people engaged in LEAP programs all over the country. Enormous benefits. I mean, you go along the waterfront, just for example, in my constituency in Brand, and look at a whole lot of facilities with, you know, of very nice arrangements for families who want a picnic pergola under which they can shelter, that sort of thing. They were all done under LEAP programs.

SATTLER: So, at least they've retained it, haven't they?

BEAZLEY: Well, at less than one tenth the expenditure. I mean, there's a whole lot of announcements in here which are rebadging but which we've got to go underneath to get at the truth of. For example, they say what a terrific amount of extra money we're putting into youth training by what they call the MMTS program - the Modern Australia Apprenticeship and Traineeship Scheme - which is our rebadged traineeship.

SATTLER: So, what's in a name?

BEAZLEY: ... what's in a name? But when you actually look at the amount that's there, it's almost exactly coincident with the amount that they're cutting out of vocational education and training.

SATTLER: See, we can't keep up with this.

BEAZLEY: No, you can't. I think that

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SATTLER: We don't know what's new and what isn't.

BEAZLEY: Basically, I think, you can take this point: there is nothing new. What there is is rebadging and rebadging at a minuscule rate compared to what was being done in the old programs, or the old named programs, beforehand. I mean, this is a Budget where - I mean, you talk about a charter of budget honesty - the relationship between Mr Costello's speech last night and what is actually in the budget is virtually negligible.

SATTLER: Yeah, but what is new, Kim? They've attacked the deficit, haven't they? I mean, that's what you're suggesting too savagely?

BEAZLEY: Yeah, well, they've attacked the deficit bridge too far. Obviously, when budgets come around - as we always did when we were in office - we would prune back. There would always be an element of pruning there, I wouldn't deny that. But if you look at our election undertakings, we had a set of prunings in that that could've been picked up, and probably were in most cases, by the Government as they went through the Budget. And when you look at when the Government brings the budget back into balance, it was pretty close to balance on a no policy change basis. So, it's not a question of whether or not you prune back, we pruned back regularly. We were about the only government, until now, that, since the 1970s, that delivered surplus budgets.

SATTLER: OK. But this underlying deficit they told us about, $9.5 billion. Do you disagree with that figure?

BEAZLEY: The underlying deficit swings around all over the place and is extraordinarily difficult to calculate.

SATTLER: Well, what does it all mean? Does it mean that predictably we're $9.6 billion down the tube in the 12 months?

BEAZLEY: Well, what basically happened in the previous Budget - and may well happen to this one - is that calculations are what revenue receipts would produce and what outgoings there'd be on unemployment benefits done by the Treasury all along. It wasn't about being out on programs. It was just a change in calculation. Well, how well Treasury's got this one - we'll see in about another 12 months time. It's not unusual, however, for there to be a shift of a few billion dollars in budget calculations over the course of the year, in all sorts of directions.

SATTLER: Now, Kim, the Prime Minister this morning was paying very close attention to comments made by Senator Mal Colston, who's now the Deputy President of the Senate, a former Labor member who's defected in the last 24 hours. He's very interested in how he might stand on some of those key bills, the Budget bills, and also the industrial relations legislation. Do you think that the Government's done a deal with your former colleague to support the Budget, in return for the Deputy Presidency?

BEAZLEY: Well, we'll see. Mr Colston was elected on the Labor Party ticket. He didn't have any personal following in Queensland. He was elected with the set of obligations which he signed up to. He was supported by the Liberal Party for the Deputy Presidency, they nominated him. It remains to be seen what, if any, price was paid for that.

SATTLER: Have you sought to find out?

BEAZLEY: Not specifically, no. I mean, Mr Colston has made certain announcements in that regard.

SATTLER: I mean, the Prime Minister was hanging on Senator Colston's every word today.

BEAZLEY: Yeah, well, I guess, as with all the independents now and the Greens and the Democrats, we do hang on their words.

SATTLER: Yeah, but I mean, if he goes with them and so does Senator Harradine, all these bills will get through untouched, won't they?

BEAZLEY: Oh yes, and if the Greens vote with them and the Democrats vote with them, they'll all go through untouched as we-

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SATTLER: Well, the Greens and the Democrats won't, you know that.

BEAZLEY: Well, I'm not absolutely certain what the Greens and Democrats will do on these things. And we, ourselves, of course, on many of these Budget measures, have to work out what our tactic is going to be towards them - whether it's outright opposition or amendments to create better equity - these things. You know, a budget is announced but it's actually four or five months before a budget actually goes through.

SATTLER: So would you oppose the core of the Budget or just some of the peripheral areas?

BEAZLEY: Look, we have to face the fact that the vast bulk of the cuts they've made and therefore to all intents and purposes the substantial proportion of their Budget's objective, are not there in what you might call entitlement programs, like HECS, which is an entitlement program, which the Senate can actually seek to amend. In the case of the bulk of these cuts, they've come in programs that are grants to the States or in outlays generally, and unless you're prepared to induce the sort of crisis, which we are not, that was the basis of that supply crisis back in 1975, then you can't actually, at the end of the day, prevent them.

SATTLER: So the core of the Budget will go through?

BEAZLEY: Basically, the bulk of the Budget will go through. That's not really an issue. ... the debate over the equity and those elements of it that can actually be amended and the reasons for amending them. That's what we're going to be devoting our attention to.

SATTLER: Are you pretty dirty on Senator Colston?

BEAZLEY: Oh, what do you think?

SATTLER: I think you're filthy about it.

BEAZLEY: The guy's been elected by the Labor Party for 20 years, I mean, ironically defending Mal Colston is what brought Albert Field into the

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SATTLER: inaudible

BEAZLEY: ... that in the end defeated the Whitlam Government in '75.

SATTLER: Bert - the buffoon - Field.

BEAZLEY: That's right. The Labor Party has, if you like, outlayed on Mal Colston 20 years of loyalty for him.

SATTLER: Did you get any warning of it?

BEAZLEY: Oh yes. I mean, we've been having a discussion with Mal about this for the best part of three months now. And, you know, at the end of the day, you cannot, in politics, operate on the basis of being stood over. I mean, at the end of the day, you've got your internal processes, somebody comes in and says to you, 'look, unless I'm a minister or unless I'm deputy president, or something like that, I'm simply not going to maintain my obligations to the Labor Party'. What do you do as a Party Leader on that? Say, 'oh, that's terrific'.

SATTLER: Oh, you'd have a queue outside the door.

BEAZLEY: You'd have a queue very quickly outside the door once that happened. I mean, it's not unusual for people to, as we know from our experience in Western Australia, for people to leave political parties. What is unusual in this case is that it's not actually a matter of principle or expulsion. It's a matter of access to a candidacy for the Deputy Presidency.

SATTLER: Yeah, but in the numbers game it's a very important defection, isn't it?

BEAZLEY: It's an important defection in the numbers game, there's no question about that.

SATTLER: Yep. OK. Thanks for your time, Kim.

BEAZLEY: Bye now.

ends