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PM reflects on major campaign issues -

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Broadcast: 22/09/2004

PM reflects on major campaign issues

Reporter: Kerry O'Brien

KERRY O'BRIEN: And as the Prime Minister edges closer to his critical campaign launch on Sunday and
the final lap of this long election campaign, he joins me now from our Melbourne studio.

PM, I won't invite you to comment on whether the escalator is going up or down because you always
decline to be a political commentator, but before we get to talking about election policy, can we
touched first on James Hardie, the disgraced asbestos company.

Labor's already taken the political donations that it had previously received from Hardies and
given them to asbestos victims, $80,000 I think it was.

You said then that you would wait for the inquiry findings before you'd consider that question.

Now that you've seen that scathing report, will you do the same and hand any money Hardies has
given to the Liberal Party to asbestos victims?

JOHN HOWARD: Yes.

I've had a look at it.

I've discussed it with the party organisation, I had a further discussion with them this afternoon
and we want to be absolutely certain that it goes to the victims and we will have discussions but
it's a very bad report and we intend to see that the company meets its obligations under the law.

It's an unusual situation to return political donations.

They're hard to get I've got to say, but there is an issue of principle involved here and given
that we've had the commission report and Jackson QC is a very eminent lawyer, I respect him a lot,
and whilst ASIC has to go through the process and in fairness it should be said the company does
claim it is going to meet its full obligations but there'll be arrangements made to make a
contribution.

KERRY O'BRIEN: How much will you be giving back?

JOHN HOWARD: Equivalent to what we received in donations.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You don't know?

JOHN HOWARD: I'd have to check that with the various sections of the party.

I can't be absolutely certain.

KERRY O'BRIEN: On terrorism, and national security, there's been a lot said about your policy of
pre-emptive strikes against terrorists in other countries in our region as a last resort, if
Australia is under threat.

Can you flesh out a scenario where such a pre-emptive strike would be justified by Australia?

JOHN HOWARD: Well I can only hypothesise and it doesn't serve any interest to do other than
hypothesise, generally speaking.

To say that if you had a situation where you knew on the basis of intelligence and otherwise that
there was going to be an attack, which would claim the lives of Australians either here or
elsewhere, and you had tried in discussion with the country where the attack was likely to eminate
from to stop it, to cauterize it, and for whatever combination of reasons that were not possible, I
would not hesitate to put the lives of Australians ahead of any other consideration.

I think that is a fairly straight forward proposition.

I would not expect the situation to arise in countries that have strong counter-terrorism
capability, but when I was first asked this I wasn't asked in relation to a particular country, I
was asked as a general proposition, and I frankly find the answer a straight forward one and an
obvious one for any PM recognising his first responsibility to the security of his fellow country
men and women.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You say that you're use of a pre-emptive strike would apply in South-East Asia as a
specific -

JOHN HOWARD: What I say is that in any situation where those eventualities arose but obviously it's
not something that you would do without having exhausted all the other alternatives.

That's why I said when originally asked - is it something that would be done in the last resort?

Of course it is.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But even if that last resort meant that you were going into a country against the
will of that country?

And that therefore you might arguably be in defiance of international law, not to mention relations
with that country?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, international law sanctions action in self-defence.

There's a long established doctrine of international law that does that, but my position is very
simple.

If there were a group of people who were threatening Australian lives and the only way to stop
those Australian lives being taken was for us to take action, I would take that action.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But -

JOHN HOWARD: That's my priority.

There can't be any compromise on that so far as my responsibility to the safety of Australians is
concerned and I'm sure that's the view that most Australians would have, but -

KERRY O'BRIEN: I don't think there's been a situation yet where Australian intelligence or anyone
else's intelligence has uncovered a specific plot which applies a specific threat to Australian
targets, and terrorism simply doesn't operate that way, does it?

It doesn't operate like a war where it's visible, where forces might mass and where an enemy might
show its hand?

JOHN HOWARD: Kerry, terrorism doesn't operate in a conventional military way.

That is true.

But we're living in completely unchartered waters and whilst it is right that we haven't had such
information to date, we don't know what might happen in the future and I can only say again that
having been asked to state a principle I unequivocally say that as a last resort, no alternative, I
would always put the safety of Australians and the security of Australians ahead of any other
consideration.

KERRY O'BRIEN: On Monday you announced a very detailed plan to deploy two new Australian
counter-terrorism teams in high priority regional countries, they're being referred to as the
'police flying squads'.

But which high priority regional countries have actually agreed to accept them?

JOHN HOWARD: Well Kerry, what we do know on the basis of our past associations and ongoing
association with the police services of various countries is that this kind of joint activity would
be welcome.

I, of course, in a caretaker period have to merely propose something on the basis of being
re-elected, but if I am re-elected, one of the first things I will do is ask Alexander Downer and
Chris Ellison to go to a number of countries, I don't want to name them at this stage, to discuss
this proposal, and given the history of cooperation between Australia and Indonesia, Australia and
Malaysia, Australia and Singapore, for example, I believe that this proposal will be well received.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Two countries which you might think would be high priorities because of terrorist
connections would be Malaysia and the Philippines, but both have said they will not host your
so-called flying squads.

Shouldn't you have got their agreement before you announced the plan?

It's not going to have credibility unless these other countries are prepared to cooperate?

JOHN HOWARD: I think we have to recognise that it's one of those things that will be discussed at
an agency level and I am optimistic on the basis of past experience and the knowledge of the
working relationship between the agencies that when the implications of it are understood there
will be a very positive view.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But how responsible is it and how credible is it to outline these things as if
they're, you know, a fait accompli virtually when you haven't discussed them with the leaders of
other countries and when already at least two of those countries have said they won't have a bar of
it?

JOHN HOWARD: I think it's perfectly credible to put forward the sort of proposal we have put
forward, given the background of our cooperation.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But is the way you do it diplomatically, that you make an announcement about it and
then you go and see them afterwards?

JOHN HOWARD: No, with for example Indonesia, we cooperated very closely with Indonesia and we have
a group of Australian Federal Police, very similar to the two additional groups that I spoke of on
Monday, actually stationed in Indonesia and working very closely with the Indonesians at the
present time.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Are you sure that the flying squads and the pre-emption policy hasn't been driven
more by your desire to paint Mr Latham in this campaign as a wuss on terrorism, and trying to pit
yourself by comparison as a rather Rambo tough guy?

JOHN HOWARD: The pre-emption issue as you describe it was first raised with me in December of 2002.

I haven't raised it for the first time in this election campaign.

I was commenting on the fact that Mr Latham's response on the issue was different from mine and
that was the reason why I mentioned it but it's not been raised by me for the first time in this
election campaign.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And when you did raise it in 2002, your neighbours expressed serious concerns about
it and they've expressed concerns about it again?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I understand that there was some comment in 2002, but I just repeat again that
if there were a group of people - I'm not talking about a country - I'm talking about a group of
people who were threatening Australian lives and there was -

KERRY O'BRIEN: In another country.

JOHN HOWARD: Yes, but Kerry - threatening Australian lives.

My first responsibility is Australian lives.

It transcends any other responsibility that I have in this office.

That is why I've stated what I have.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Whether it's 1 life, 5 lives, 10 lives, you would breach international law, you
would breach national sovereignties of other nations?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, Kerry, you're adding all of those descriptions, I'm stating the principle.

KERRY O'BRIEN: They're obvious questions to ask, I would have thought.

It's a very serious proposition?

JOHN HOWARD: I would have thought it was an obvious responsibility of an Australian PM to put the
safety of Australian lives ahead of any other consideration.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And as you know in the harsh reality of global politics there are all kinds of
things that prime ministers and governments have to balance when they're making tough decisions?

JOHN HOWARD: Of course they do but one of them has to always be a clear-sighted preference for the
for the Australian national interest ahead of any other consideration.

KERRY O'BRIEN: On domestic issues, you referred in your policy today to - in your speech today, to
the politics of envy and division.

Were you referring to Mr Latham's plan to take some of the money you've given to Australia's
richest schools and distribute it to public schools and the less well off private schools?

JOHN HOWARD: I was certainly referring to that.

I was also referring to his industrial relations policy but very particularly to his policy on
independent schools.

I think what he's doing is breaching a very important principle of parental choice.

Every time a parent sends children to independent schools, they save the taxpayer an enormous
amount of money.

We've heard a lot, for example, about the Kings School.

The amount of per capita assistance the Kings School receives, or parents receive, is 20 per cent
of the cost of educating a child at a Government school.

That's the amount they receive from the Commonwealth Government.

So, every time - even in the case of the so-called elite schools that parents send their children,
to independent school, they save the taxpayer money and I believe very strongly that every parent
who sends a child to an independent school has a right as a taxpayer to receive some recognition of
that decision and the quantum of that recognition should be graduated according to the comparative
position and the comparative circumstances of the school and that is exactly what our current
policy is.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Was it the politics of envy by Labor to point out also that under your Medicare
safety net, as they put it, patients in your Health Minister Tony Abbott's very prosperous
electorate have received more safety net payments than the whole of Tasmania, that patients in your
Education Minister Brendan Nelson's very prosperous electorate, have received more in safety net
payments than the whole of South Australia?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, that was an attempt by the Labor Party to denigrate a policy which they're going
to abolish.

The idea that people living in those electorates you've named don't have any right to the safety
net, irrespective of their circumstances, they're a well off people.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I suppose they're talking about the imbalance, Mr Howard.

JOHN HOWARD: Hang on.

They're a well off people and not so well off people living in every electorate.

The idea that everybody who lives in Bradfield is rich is wrong.

Just as it's wrong to say that everybody who lives in Werriwa is poor.

There are a whole range of incomes in a whole lot of electorates.

And this idea that politics now automatically follows affluence has been demonstrated time and time
again to be wrong.

KERRY O'BRIEN: It's been fascinating to watch you throwing money around this year, particularly
since the Budget - a bit like the proverbial drunken sailor, $50 million here and $100 million
there, tens of billions of dollars in new money since the Budget, a huge weight of money that you
only seem to be able to find in election years.

How do you explain that pattern over your eight years of government that you inevitably spend far
more money in election years, the three election years that you've had as a Government, than you do
in the out years?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, Kerry, all of the things that we have spent money on are justifiable policy
decisions in investments and they've been based on the fact that - they've been made possible
rather, by the fact that we have run a very, very strong economy, but the levels of spending are
not the dominant economic issue in this election campaign.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But so many of them have fallen in election years, Mr Howard, is that mere
coincidence?

JOHN HOWARD: But, Kerry, the thing that dominates everything economic in this election campaign is
the threat of higher interest rates if a Labor government is elected.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But there are economists that are now saying that your spending is also going to
contribute to upward pressure on interest rates?

JOHN HOWARD: Kerry, there's a huge gulf between us and the Labor Party on interest rates for two
reasons.

Firstly, look at the record, not the rhetoric, the record is that when Labor was last in
government, in their last five Budgets they were in deficit.

They left with us $96 billion, $70 billion of that alone in the last five Budgets.

Added to that, of course, is the fact that their industrial relations policy will take productivity
out of the equation, inevitably, wage rises will be inflationary, without productivity base, and
therefore the Reserve Bank will be compelled over time to lift interest rates.

This is not a piece of fable or sophistry.

Nothing is more destabilising to family security, nothing is more threatening to family stability
and security, financial security that is, than the threat of higher interest rates and that issue
dominates the economic debate like no other issue and the choice between the two sides of politics,
both on the basis of policy and also on the basis of performance is quite stark.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Mr Howard, thanks for talking with us and hopefully we'll have another go before the
end of the election.

Thank you.

JOHN HOWARD: A pleasure.

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