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Mornings with Madonna King -

View in ParlView

7 July 2006

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

INTERVIEW WITH MADONNA KING

ABC RADIO, BRISBANE

Subjects: North Korea, industrial relations; COAG; Cyclone Larry; Natural Disaster Relief
Arrangements; Commonwealth and state responsibilities; Dianne Brimble; President Bush.

KING:

The clean-up continues in North Queensland where Cyclone Larry destroyed so many homes and lives
but a boost today, Prime Minister John Howard is writing to Premier Peter Beattie with an offer to
fund the clean-up of debris from thousands of homes and businesses. John Howard, welcome again to
612ABC Brisbane. PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Madonna.

KING:

I might come to that in just a moment if that's okay. There's been, I might just start with North
Korea, there's been lot's of discussion again this morning about it's missile testing. Can you give
us some idea of the feeling among world leaders on sanctions, I think George Bush has been lobbying
for collective action against North Korea?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the whole world is concerned. I am certainly concerned and I would like to see the
principal nations involved in this, that's the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia,
Australia, act in concert. President Bush rang me earlier this morning and we had quite a lengthy
talk about the United States attitude, he is speaking to world leaders and is putting the view very
strongly that this is a dangerous time. North Korea is unpredictable, it does need to get a united
message. If it gets a fragmented message, if it thinks the rest of the world is speaking
differently or in several voices, then it is less likely to understand the seriousness of what has
occurred. The difficulty with North Korea Madonna, is it, it's not behaving in any way rationally,
because it's own self interest requires that it come back to the negotiating table, because there
are benefits if North Korea

is to genuinely foreswear a malign use of nuclear power. There are benefits, there are security,
energy security benefits, there are other benefits. And normally an appeal for self interest gets a
hearing, but on this occasion the appeal to self interests does not appear to be getting a hearing,
and it is incumbent on all of the countries that can bring influence to bear on North Korea and
that includes obviously China, to understand their responsibilities. And I think we should also
understand the vulnerability felt by the Japanese. You will have noticed what they have said about
the measures that (inaudible) ought to take, and I can understand that because they are right next
door.

KING:

What will you- as you've said you've spoken to President Bush this morning. What kind of united
message could it involve, the response?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the first thing is to try and utilise the Security Council of the United Nations and that of
course will require the five permanent members of the United Nations, the United States, Britain,
France, Russia and China to act in concert. The Japanese have a resolution in front of the Security
Council and I would hope that that resolution can be agreed. I think that would be a very good
first step. Now there are suggestions at the present time that the Russians and the Chinese are not
as enthusiastic about that resolution as the other countries. I hope over time that they might
alter their view. These things are difficult, they are frustrating and people say well why can't
the world just get together and speak as one voice because nobody wants North Korea to have a
nuclear weapons capacity, it's as simple as that. But politics, international diplomacy is never as
simple as that and we have

to go through a diet of everybody talking to each other and trying to persuade to a particular
course of action. Nobody wants force used. The Americans I know are very committed to a diplomatic
solution, but they're not in the mood to just throw out their arms and say the whole thing is too
difficult and let's move on to something else. Because a country like North Korea which has a
record of behaving in a rogue state fashion is a great worry not only to Japan and South and Korea
but obviously a great worry to a country like Australia

KING:

Well lots of countries are potential targets of North Korean missiles I guess. You say they've been
acting irrationally. Is this something Australia could be a target - should be worried about?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is no special reason why Australia would be a target but there's no reason why Australia
should imagine that her position is radically different from other countries. We are not a special
target, but we don't have any special immunity either. But it's not in our interests to have a
country like North Korea, which is in our region, is adjacent to countries with whom we have very
close relations namely Japan and South Korea and China. It is not in our interests for this issue
to just go through to the wicket keeper so to speak and throw up their hands and say well there is
nothing we can do about it, and we accept that North Korea will develop these weapons. I don't
think that is acceptable and I don't think many Australians think its acceptable.

KING:

Can I move on to the next big issue. I think the Office of Workplace Services is handing down it's
findings about the Cowra Abattoir this morning This follows the introduction of your new
WorkChoices legislation. Have you been briefed on the inquiry?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I have been. I mean obviously the Workplace Services people are going to announce their
findings but I understand that the findings will completely disprove the proposition that these
people, the workers were sacked by the Cowra Abattoir because of new powers under the new
legislation. The finding, I understand will be that the firm was in financial difficulty and that
was the reason for those men being retrenched. Now nobody wants to see men and women ever
retrenched from any firm, but its long been the case, irrespective of the Government's new laws,
that if a firm is losing money, it often has no alternative other than to let staff go.

KING:

There's been a steady stream of complaints about the legislation, true or not. Does this kind of
come under the category of policy with pain? Has it created some pain?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it comes under the heading of trying to blame the new laws for everything that goes
wrong and we've had a steady stream of alleged malevolence under the new legislation, which on
closer examination proves to be nothing of the kind. We had an allegation on Sydney radio this
morning, I guess in Brisbane as well, to the effect that some telstra workers in western Sydney had
been asked to relocate at a different salary level and it comes out that the decision and the
announcement was made last year, long before the coming into of operation of the new law. And what
we are seeing time and time again is that every time there is a retrenchment, every time there is a
problem, the unions and the Labor Party are trying to blame it on the new laws.

KING:

So does that you hurt you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look it's not a question of whether it is or isn't hurting, it's a question of what is the truth.
Now these new laws are necessary for further strengthening Australia's economy, to further reduce
our unemployment, to further boost our productivity. And the Labor Party and the unions are doing
their level best to discredit the laws, often by totally misrepresenting their impact, by blaming
them when they shouldn't be blamed, by alleging that something has been done under the new law when
it could have been done under the old law, just the same, and it could have been done 20 years ago
under the Keating/Hawke industrial relations laws. What I am saying is that the public should take
with a grain of salt, every case of alleged abuse and discrimination under these new laws because
so many of them are demonstrated on further examination to be anything other than a demonstration
that the new law

has worked against the interests of Australian employees.

KING:

It's eighteen minutes to ten, my guest is the Prime Minister John Howard. Moving along Prime
Minister, you are writing to the Premier Peter Beattie today over the cyclone Larry clean up. I
presume this follows on from the Cosgrove taskforce. What are you offering?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what I am indicating to the Premier today is that the Commonwealth Government will allow the
cost of removal of debris from farms in the cyclone-affected areas to be included as eligible
expenditure by Queensland under the Natural Disaster Relief Arrangements. In other words, the cost
involved will be taking into account when we reimburse the state of Queensland. And can I take this
opportunity of saying that to date, the total expenditure incurred by the Commonwealth in response
to the Cyclones has been no less that $222 million.

KING:

Which is a lot of money.

PRIME MINISTER:

It's an enormous amount of money and I think it has all been deservedly spent. It was needed. And I
want to say on behalf of the national government, on behalf of the Commonwealth, that we have
shouldered our share of the cost and the burden, as we should, 'cause the people of Far North
Queensland were very badly affected by this cyclone and they deserve this support. But sometimes
people wrongly claim that Government's ignore the doctrine that charity begins at home and
sometimes people say "Why do we give money to other countries? Why don't we look after our own?"
Now this country is fortunate enough to be able to do both and I am very proud that the Federal
Government has been able to respond and it won't probably stop at $222 million. But I just want the
people of Queensland and the people particularly in Far North Queensland, to know the size of the
contribution that the Commonwealth has made.

KING:

Well the Commonwealth and the State, I think probably have worked quite well in the...

PRIME MINISTER:

We have worked quite well together and I have no complaint at all about the cooperation that I've
had from the Queensland Government.

KING:

Certainly in this area. The Treasurer has been talking in the last week...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let's just finish on the other thing. Now this has been an example of full scale co-operation
and Mr Beattie and I have not had a cross word over this issue, and I don't expect we will and we
should not in the future. And one of the reasons for that of course is that we have done our job. I
think our $222 million will probably be a long way ahead of anything that's being contributed by
the State Government. I am not criticising them and the State Government of course has contributed
a great deal in kind because they've had emergency workers and police doing a lot of overtime; all
of that. I think the cooperation has been first class and I...

KING:

No one doubts that. I mean this is one of the examples where the State and the Commonwealth have
worked really close together but your Treasurer this week has put on the table the issue of
Commonwealth and State responsibilities. I know you have strong concerns about many States'
education curricula. There is constant fights between our Health Minister and Tony Abbott over
health responsibilities, on roads between the States and the Commonwealth. Is there an argument now
to re-look at exactly what the Commonwealth is responsible for, and what the States should deliver?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think what the Australian public wants is outcomes. What Australians say to me, all over the
country, whether it's Queensland or Western Australia is "we don't mind who does it, as long as it
gets done." They want an outcome and increasingly they look for an outcome that is broadly the same
all over Australia. In relation to education, more and more Australians move interstate because of
work, and they therefore, if they've got a child at the age of ten in a school in Queensland, if
they go to Victoria, they don't want a situation where the child has to start all over again that
year. They want to be moved seamlessly from one state education system to another and that is why a
certain amount of uniformity in education is essential.

Now the problem with sitting down and having some grand rewriting, that's going to take years and
years and years. I mean it took, what, more than a decade to put Federation together and the
rumblings for it started even earlier than that, the formal part of it. So whilst I don't rule out
the idea at some stage of having some grand pow-wow I'm more interested in immediate solutions and
we've got a meeting next week. And at that meeting, I hope we get sensible co-operation.

But we can't have a situation where the states say they don't have enough money. We give them,
through the GST, access to a growth tax, and they still say they don't have enough money. There
comes a point at which the Commonwealth is entitled to say "we have given you riches undreamt of
through the GST and you should therefore meet your responsibilities in areas like public hospitals
and government schools and police services. We don't ask the states to help us fund the army, and
therefore, the states, having been given a fair amount of money under the GST and through other
devices have to carry out there responsibilities.

Federalism, no matter who the responsibilities rest with, will never work unless each level of the
instrument of government accepts its own responsibilities. And that is really the problem. I guess
what Mr Costello was objecting to, and I do on a number of occasions, is that when something goes
wrong, the Commonwealth is always blamed for not providing enough money, even though, through the
GST we have provided the states with access to a growth tax, something they have for generations
been calling for.

KING:

All right, moving on to another topic that I haven't heard you comment on. It's the case of Dianne
Brimble, this Brisbane mum who died aboard that P&O Cruiser and her former husband has outlined
various things he'd like to change and given it to your Government, in terms of policing, law
enforcement, a whole range of things. You would have had to have been fairly shocked at some of the
things coming out of this inquiry. Do you think it's time we did look at international cruises
perhaps falling through the cracks of national and international laws?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I have to be careful what I say about the particular case because it is the subject of formal
legal adjudication and while other people may have the liberty of making all sorts of statements,
I'm rather restricted. I think though I can say that like most Australians I have been, generally
speaking, quite appalled at the evidence that's come out. Let's not assume of course that that is
something that only occurs on a cruise ship. And let's be realistic, that kind of behaviour can
occur anywhere if people are so disposed to behave in that fashion. You asked me what is our
response, well if there are ways in which the states would like to work with us to sensibly
(inaudible) current arrangements to tighten things up, the Commonwealth is prepared to have a look
at it. General policing things are state responsibilities. I mean it's not normally the role of the
Federal Police to deal with

what you might call community crime, or allegations of community crime. But if there are things
that the Commonwealth can do to help the states then we're obviously ready to have a look at that.

KING:

Before you go, I think it's President George Bush's 60th Birthday isn't it? Did you sing him happy
birthday?

PRIME MINISTER:

I would not inflict such misery on even my worst enemies, let alone a very good friend. But I did
wish him happy birthday and he had a very enjoyable time with his family, and in fact he was
speaking to me from his aircraft, he was on his way to Chicago to meet a commitment when we spoke.
But he's turned 60 and obviously enjoyed the day.

KING:

Good talking to you. Thanks for your time this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]