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Tough day at the office for the PM -

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Tough day at the office for the PM

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

KERRY O'BRIEN: John Howard may well reflect that he's had better days during his long career, than
this one. First, he woke to the news that one newspaper poll showed 75% of voters thought his
Government's response to rising petrol prices was inadequate and then he had to bow to the most
serious backbench revolt of his prime ministership. His response to both, though, was that of a
practised and seasoned pragmatist. His Migration Bill amendments have now been scrapped to avoid an
embarrassing defeat in the Senate, and this afternoon, Mr Howard announced a $1.5 billion energy
package that included a $2,000 grant to help motorists convert to LPG, plus more incentives for
ethanol. Well be talking to the Prime Minister in a moment, but first here's Political Editor
Michael Brissenden.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: Ah good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, I've called this news
conference to announce that the Government will not proceed with its migration legislation.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It was a matter of fact announcement, but this is new territory for a Prime
Minister who rewrote the rules on Liberal Party unity in 1996 and until now, has largely had the
authority to enforce them. John Howard has been forced to back down after the biggest internal
revolt he's ever faced. In the end, he had no choice. The writing was on the wall and some were
even urging it from the air. This was an embarrassing but pragmatic cut and run.

JOHN HOWARD: It was made very clear to me this morning that a Government Senator would cross the
floor and vote against the legislation. The intention of that Government Senator was communicated
directly to me in a one-on-one discussion that we had. It was also plain to me that one other
Government Senator, having circulated an amendment that was both unworkable and unacceptable to the
Government, would abstain in the event that that amendment was not supported. In those
circumstances, given the arithmetic of the parties in the Senate, it was clear that the legislation
was going to be defeated.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Nationals' Barnaby Joyce, of course, was the Senator who offered up the
unacceptable amendment, but the rogue Liberal who threatened to walk was the Victorian Judith
Troeth.

JUDITH TROETH, LIBERAL SENATOR: Yes I have made up my mind, but I'll be making it clear in the
chamber tomorrow.

REPORTER: If Barnaby Joyce and Steve Fielding have declared themselves, will you?

JUDITH TROETH:Well I resent that. Every Senator has the right to reserve their decision.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: That's if they get the chance. Judith Troeth had her's, face-to-face out of the
public glare. It was different last week in the House of Reps where her moderate colleagues
forcefully expressed their opposition to a bill that would have seen all asylum seekers that
arrived by boat processed offshore. They did so in a series of emotional and provocative speeches.
This time, there was no public show of defiance, well not for the Liberals anyway.

SENATOR STEVE FIELDING, FAMILY FIRST: This legislation was bad legislation based on a bad
principle.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: For much of last week, Senator Fielding teased us all with his deliberations. A
visit to the Indonesian ambassador and another to the West Papuan asylum seekers. Eventually, he
showed his hand. He wouldn't support the bill, he said, because it was designed to appease another
country - a line Labor's immigration spokesman Tony Burke has been prosecuting all along.

TONY BURKE, OPPOSITION IMMIGRATION SPOKESMAN:The only pressure for it had been coming from
Indonesia. You don't protect Australia's borders by surrendering them. That's what this bill did.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Prime Minister says Indonesia's concerns were a secondary consideration.
But the fact remains these amendments were only considered after the Indonesian uproar over the
granting of asylum to 43 West Papuans in January. Some months after he'd struck a deal with his
internal critics to get the first bill passed. Now, we're told, the amendments are about border
security. So we have to assume the first bill wasn't good enough, and by opposing this one, Labor
and some Liberals of course, are therefore soft on border security.

JOHN HOWARD: Australia has very strong border protection laws. This bill would have made those
strong border protection laws even stronger.

TONY BURKE: This was never, never about border protection. This was about pretending that Australia
had no border at all. The Prime Minister's attempts to appease Indonesia were the opposite of
border protection. They were border surrender.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But the old border protection regime is still in place and still very much part
of our border security arrangements, as was displayed yet again this afternoon. It seems the
nuances of the political debate have had little impact on one group of determined asylum seekers.

SENATOR AMANDA VANSTONE, MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION:There are eight unlawful arrivals on Ashmore
Reef, apparently dumped by people-smugglers. The arrival of these people confirms the need for
strong border protection, and it's worth noting today that had these people arrived on the
mainland, they would if they were found not to be genuine refugees, able to stay here for years on
end contesting that decision.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But it was security of a different kind that was dominating the politics of the
Lower House today. Energy security, the Immigration Bill is a once-off embarrassment that can be
killed off. Petrol on the other hand, is a long-term and potentially explosive political issue.
With a Neilsen poll in the Fairfax newspapers today showing 75% of people were dissatisfied with
the Government's response to rising prices at the bowser, the Prime Minister needed to do
something, and this is it.

JOHN HOWARD: I wish to provide the House with the Government's assessment of some key energy
challenges and to announce a number of measures to assist hard-pressed motorists to better cope
with very high petrol prices.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: There was much about our underlying economic strength amidst the backdrop of
geopolitical instability and the market fundamentals of high world oil prices. The Prime Minister's
address to the Parliament was long on rhetoric but short on solutions.

JOHN HOWARD: The simple if unpalatable truth is that the Government's capacity to alleviate the
impact of high petrol prices on consumers is necessarily limited.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Among the solutions that were offered were a $2,000 grant to help with the cost
of converting cars to LPG. Plans for increased oil exploration, grants for petrol stations to
install more ethanol pumps, and a proposal for a dedicated fund for gas to liquids research. Too
little, too late says the Opposition.

KIM BEAZLEY, OPPOSITION LEADER: There is too little Mr Speaker in these measures to uncouple us
from the tyranny of overseas oil. There's no vision for the fuel industry we need, an independent
Australian fuel industry. So we're not forever at the mercy of foreign oil cartels, so overnight
price spikes in Saudi Arabian oil doesn't spark a fault line in the family budget and the national
economy.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And given that motorists will first need to fund the full $3,500 cost for LPG
conversion and then claim their rebate, Labor says those who are hit hardest by the petrol price
rise still won't be able to afford the change. That is if they can get someone to do it for them.
LPG conversion is already a boom industry. Workshops like this in suburban Melbourne are struggling
to keep up with demand already, and waiting lists stretch out till November at the earliest.

LPG CONVERSION OPERATOR: Oh, it's unbelievable, just gone out of proportion at the moment. So yeah,
we'll be moving to bigger and better premises very shortly and hopefully we can keep up with
demand.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Relief could be some way off, even those who want to go to an LPG conversion.
But the Government had to do something. The polls tell the story. A backbench revolt is one thing,
a voter revolt is quite another.