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Government underlines need for economic exper -

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Government underlines need for economic experience

Broadcast: 16/08/2007

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello today endorsed the possibility that the
American subprime home loan crisis could adversely impact on interest rates and also took the
opportunity to underline the need for economic experience. The Prime Minister also intensified the
battle with the Queensland Government by introducing legislation to override state laws which
prevent local ballots on council amalgamations.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN: Dominating news again today, the unnerving volatility on the stock market. Shortly,
we'll be talking with Aussie home loans boss John Symonds about the wider money market
implications, but the market anxiety has now filtered through to the political front, where the
still beleaguered Howard Government believes there may be a silver lining.

The Prime Minister and the Treasurer today endorsed the possibility that the current pickle
emanating from America's sub-prime home loan crisis, could impact adversely on interest rates here,
but also used it to underline the need for economic experience.

The not so subliminal message was - Kevin Rudd is a risk.

Facing a big swing in Queensland, the Prime Minister also intensified his battle with the Beattie
Government there today, by introducing legislation in Federal Parliament to over-ride state laws
that prevent local ballots on forced council amalgamations. Mr Beattie says he has advice the law
is illegal, but Federal Labor leader Kevin Rudd is supporting it anyway.

Political Editor Michael Brissenden reports.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Black October, 1987, saw the stock market drop 25 per cent in just one day.
That was a crash. The skittish markets at the moment don't seem too dramatic by comparison, 13.5
per cent over three and a half weeks. But the punters big and small are getting worried and the
scene is entirely unpredictable. Is it the start of a real correction? Even the experts are unsure,
but the Government has moved swiftly to turn this to its political advantage and the argument is
the economy, experience is the safe answer.

JOHN HOWARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: This is just a reminder that economic management is never
predictable. It can never be taken for granted. It always requires experienced vigilance.

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER: Just imagine if we hadn't put our budget in surplus, paid off debt and
reformed our tax system? Imagine where we would be today?

WAYNE SWAN, SHADOW TREASURER: I think it stinks of political desperation to be using movements in
the stock market to score cheap political points. Both sides of politics have a commitment to
strong budget policy and both sides of politics have a strong commitment to the regulators who
supervise and monitor these developments.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Prime Minister and the Treasurer used questions in the Parliament to push
the message of experience harder still. Perhaps, it was inexperience that delivered the Government
this political gift. Kevin Rudd noted with some pleasure the presence in the public gallery of the
former long serving Labor Foreign Minister Gareth Evans.

KEVIN RUDD, OPPOSITION LEADER: Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is good to have Gareth back in the
chamber. A Foreign Minister with experience.

(sound of "hear, hear!" from the floor)

JOHN HOWARD: Mr Speaker, I might preface my question by observing it is interesting the leader of
the Opposition places a premium on experience.

(sound of "hear, hear!" from the floor)

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Political experience is undoubtedly one of John Howard's strengths, while his
lengthy of service in the nation's top job may yet prove to be an electoral liability, he is a
campaign veteran without peer and it's becoming obvious the he will fight this coming election on
many fronts.

From the ramifications to the global economy to the local concerns about council mergers in
Queensland. Peter Beattie's plan to force council amalgamations has provided John Howard with a
golden opportunity.

JOHN HOWARD: The joint parties of the Government met this morning and they have authorised the
introduction into Parliament as soon as possible of a bill to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act
which will be entitled Commonwealth Electoral Democratic Plebiscite Amendment Bill 2007.

This will amend the Electoral Act to give our effect to a commitment to assist local councils to
hold plebiscites on amalgamations if they choose to do so.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Prime Minister has already announced that the Australian Electoral
Commission will over see any plebiscites any individual council wants to run and will fund them.
Today's amendment will override the new Queensland legislation which gives the Government power to
sack any councils that try to hold a local vote on the amalgamations.

It is no coincidence that Kevin Rudd, a Queensland local, is hoping for strong support in his home
State. Labor only holds six of the 29 seats there. The Government will be looking for any chance to
spread the hostility building against Peter Beattie on this issue to the federal Labor Party and by
guaranteeing the AEC will pay for the plebiscites, Australian taxpayers will be helping the
Government do it.

JOHN HOWARD: Let me say to the Leader of the Opposition, we have a simple proposition and that's
let the people of Queensland speak, Mr Speaker.

Don't try and gag them. Let the people speak is a very good injunction.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It's believed the local plebiscites could even be held on the same day as the
federal election if desired. Kevin Rudd is more than aware this is a potentially damaging local
issue with wider ramifications. And, so on this, on a significant list of other government
initiatives, the federal Labor leader says "me too".

KEVIN RUDD: When it comes to the imposition of fines and threat of fines and the making it illegal
for local authorities to test the sentiment of their local voters they so wished, I have disagreed
with those courses of action on the part of Mr Beattie and, therefore, the course of action which
has been outlined by Mr Howard, I'm prepared to support.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It might not look like it, but for his part Peter Beattie is ready for a fight.
He says that he's taking legal advice but he's not aware of any powers under which the Prime
Minister can actually do this and he says if the Federal Government wants a plebiscite on this
issue, it should also seek a vote on a few other local concerns.

PETER BEATTIE, QUEENSLAND PREMIER: If we are going to have some referendums, let's have some
referendums. What I will consider doing with my colleagues is to empower the State Electoral
Commissioner to run referenda at the same time in these council areas to determine whether the
council workforce want to have the industrial relations system that the Prime Minister has brought
on, whether in fact they want WorkChoices or not.

So let's say to the workers in these council areas, let's have a referendum. Do you want to work
under the Government's WorkChoices or don't you? And secondly, the Prime Minister is hell bent on
nuclear power and nuclear reactors, I think a great second question or third question, if you like,
is do these communities want a nuclear power plant in their backyard?

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The same demand was put by his federal colleagues in Question Time today.

JOHN HOWARD: There is nothing to stop under the present law a local government body holding a
plebiscite on a fee for service basis using the Australian Electoral Commission, Mr Speaker. Can I
also inform the Member who sits, can I also inform him that unlike the council amalgamate in
Queensland, where a law has gone through proposing specific council amalgamations, no specific
proposals for nuclear power plants exist anywhere in Australia and the Member knows it.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: This sitting period, at least for the House of Reps, has now come to an end.
The Senate will spend the next day, at least, debating the Indigenous legislation and the water
bill. They could still be here on Saturday. But the faux campaigning will continue as relentlessly
as it has now for months. There will be a three week break that will include the APEC meeting in
Sydney before the House returns for what will almost be certainly be the last sitting period before
the official election campaign finally gets under way.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political Editor Michael Brissenden.