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Howard reflects on 2006 -

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Howard reflects on 2006

Prime Minister John Howard has a lot to reflect on after an end-of-year change to the Labor Party
leadership. There will be a whole new political dynamic going into the new year - an election year.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And now to our program guest, the Prime Minister. Parliament is now up for the
summer break but a lot to reflect on after the end of a year, a change to the Labor Party
leadership, and, as Paul Kelly says, a whole new political dynamic going into the new year, an
election year.

Prime Minister, good morning, welcome.

JOHN HOWARD: Good morning, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Can I start by asking you about the bushfires in Victoria? There are some 3,000 or
so firefighters out there today. It's going to be a long hot summer.

JOHN HOWARD: Well, it is. I've been, during the week, in touch with Steve Bracks, the Victorian
Premier, and our thoughts are very much with those 3,000 firefighters. If there's any further help
that the Commonwealth can provide for Victoria, Mr Bracks only has to ask.

BARRIE CASSIDY: So there is some level of cooperation between the Commonwealth and the states?

JOHN HOWARD: A lot of cooperation. In fact, the arrangements in the emergency disaster relief area
are well established. They really go like clockwise. The military is already providing some
assistance. I rang Mr Bracks during the week and said, "If there is anything further in any
Victoria might stand in need, well, the Commonwealth would be willing to provide it."

These arrangements do work very cooperatively, they have for a long time, when it comes to
disasters of this kind We all work together and do it very well.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay. Do you feel as if you have a handle on Kevin Rudd? There wasn't a lot more to
be known on Kim Beazley but now a whole new ball game.

JOHN HOWARD: Well, obviously, when you have a new leader, you look at him carefully. I don't take
anybody lightly. I have treated all the Labor leaders, all six of them, that I have opposed very
carefully and systematically, and you won't get any complacency from me. I've been saying for the
last 18 months that winning the next election will be quite hard for the coalition, and I will not
be taking my new opponent lightly and I will naturally be engaging him on policy issues and
particularly the criticisms he's making of me and the government.

BARRIE CASSIDY: He does seem to be both socially and economically conservative. You wonder whether
the sort of traditional attacks on Labor Party leaders will work with him.

JOHN HOWARD: We get a bit mixed up here with labels. I'm a social conservative and economic
liberal. An economic liberal is somebody who believes in reform. An economic conservative is
somebody who doesn't believe in reform.

One of the things I've sought to do over the last 10-and-a-half years is preserve a sense of
balance in our community. One of the great things about this country is that we do have a sense of
balance. You take something like social security. We have avoided the harshness of the American
social security system, that bumps people off unemployment benefits after a certain period of time.
Equally, we have avoided the overindulgence and paternalism of the European approach. We have a
uniquely balanced Australian approach. I think this sense of balance is to be found in all of our
policies. We believe in the market very strongly, but we don't believe in rampant market
fundamentalism. I think we need a sense of balance in all of the policies that we approach.

BARRIE CASSIDY: You mentioned labels. Are you going to dust off the L plate you put around Mark
Latham's neck and apply that to Kevin Rudd?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, clearly, when it comes to the decision next year, relative experience will be an
issue. It's too early to be speculating about the nuances of an election campaign but, obviously, I
lead a very experienced team. Peter Costello's not only been the longest serving treasurer in
Australia's history but he has had an outstanding record. Alexander Downer is now the longest
serving Foreign Minister in Australia's history, and I'm the second longest serving Prime Minister.
Now, they are not, of themselves, virtues but they do build a story of experience and
responsibility with difficult issues over a period of years.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, Kim Beazley probably gave you a free kick on that score, didn't he, by
emphasising his experience in the run up to the leadership challenge?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, he did, but, I mean, that's now behind us. Like everybody else, I feel sorry for
Kim Beazley, the double blow of losing the leadership and his brother on the one day, and, no
matter how fierce was our rivalry, I respected his contribution to Australian public life. I wish
him well. And it's a reminder of how brutal and abrupt politics can be.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now, Kevin Rudd is coming at industrial relations from an interesting angle, I
think. His emphasis is not so much on the money, or lack of it, but time, that these changes are a
threat to people's lifestyles.

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I've noticed that. It's a very weak argument. The requirement that some people
work at weekends did not arrive with our WorkChoices legislation. People have been working at
weekends for decades. And we now live in an environment where everybody expects shops to be open
during the weekend. They don't expect to pay any more, and they would resent paying any more, for
the goods and services they buy during the weekend. And this idea that somehow or other you can
turn back the clock on that is nonsense.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But your changes, though, have surely made the system even more flexible for the

JOHN HOWARD: Well, no, I think it's made it more flexible for both sides. And, therefore, I would
argue our changes have enhanced opportunities for families.

One of the problems with the old system that Mr Rudd wants to go back to is that the award system
is too rigid, and you can't do deals that suit both you and your boss. And that's the great virtue
of Australian workplace agreements. And we'll have a million of them in operation by the time of
the next election. And there will be wholesale chaos for those people if the Labor Party tries to
overturn them.

BARRIE CASSIDY: It's not a bad line, though, when he says a father can't commit to take the kids to
the footy or take the family to church.

JOHN HOWARD: Well, that is a false argument. It's a false line, because those sorts of constraints
for some people have been there for a long time, but my reply to that is that, if you have a
flexible arrangement with your boss, you're more likely to be able to harmonise the two - your job
responsibilities and your family responsibilities - than if you're stuck with a rigid award
approach. That's my reply to those who do have to work at weekends.

JOHN HOWARD: And, as I understand it, he's going to be talking a lot about responsibility over the
next 10 days during this road show and saying that you never take responsibility for anything.

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I take responsibility ultimately for everything. If something goes wrong, the
Prime Minister gets blamed. One of my most frequent experiences on talkback radio is that, if
somebody rings me up and says "Why don't you do this about the road in my suburb?", I say that's a
matter for the council or the state government, the reply, normally, from earthy, direct speaking
Australians is "You're the Prime Minister. Fix it." And this idea that I don't accept
responsibility is nonsense.

BARRIE CASSIDY: No, but that's saying the people are accusing you or saying that you should take
the blame. It's another question as to whether you do accept that responsibility. If you look at
Amanda Vanstone's performance on The 7.30 Report the other night on responsibility for repeated
mistakes in her department, she accepted none of that.

JOHN HOWARD: Well, to be fair to Amanda, a couple of hours later the Ombudsman, who'd been
appointed by me to look at all of these cases, said that none of the failures were as a result of
political intervention.

BARRIE CASSIDY: No, but that wasn't the point, though. It's about system failures, and Amanda
Vanstone admitted herself that there is inadequate culture. Now, surely, that's something that the
Minister has to take responsibility for, if a culture develops.

JOHN HOWARD: We took the responsibility - well, yes, but we've taken the responsibility to change
the culture.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But who created it?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, over a period of time, a number of things can create a culture but, according to
the Ombudsman in the case of individuals who were affected by it, it wasn't as a result of
political pressure.

BARRIE CASSIDY: No, but perhaps the pressure should've come on to ensure that this culture didn't
develop over the last 10 or 11 years,

JOHN HOWARD: You can apply that in relation to any case in which there is some kind of failure,
but, Barrie, responsibility in a democratic system is meted out at election time, and, if Mr Rudd's
argument is correct, then the Australian people will vote accordingly. If it's not correct, they

BARRIE CASSIDY: But there has to be a responsibility between elections.

JOHN HOWARD: Well, of course there has to be responsibility. We have it every day. I mean, we were
accused of lying, we were accused of turning a blind eye, we were accused of encouraging bribery
and corruption in relation to the Cole Inquiry, and Mr Cole found that none of those charges were
valid. And Mr Rudd and Mr Beazley, who'd led the attack against us, were demonstrated to be wrong.

BARRIE CASSIDY: What about his suggestion on reforms to federalism and an end to the blame game? He
might be on to something there.

JOHN HOWARD: Well, Peter Beattie says that the level of cooperation between the Commonwealth and
the states at the present time is the best since Federation, and Steve Bracks is not far behind
him. I believe in cooperative federalism, and I'm practising it. The blame game cliché was taken
from a speech that Kim Beazley delivered early in November to an economic conference in Melbourne.
There is nothing new about that, but, look, Barrie, I have no argument with the desirability of
cooperative federalism, and we are practising it, so much so that Labor premiers fall over
themselves at COAG meetings to praise the level of cooperation between the Commonwealth and the
states. I mean, you have to look at the facts, you have to look at the outcomes and you have to
look at the attitudes, and the attitudes of Labor Premiers at these meetings is, "We've never had
anything like this before."

BARRIE CASSIDY: Why are you so opposed, though, to a federal takeover of public hospitals when
clearly there is some waste and inefficiency?

JOHN HOWARD: I'm not , Barrie, convinced that a federal bureaucracy would run state hospitals any
more efficiently than a state bureaucracy. And I'm also of the view that, with all of its failings,
and the Australian health system has a lot of failings, it's a better health system than just about
any in comparable countries around the world. And you have to ask yourself, if the Federal
Government takes over public hospitals, why shouldn't it take over public schools or government
schools, and, in the end, you might question the long term need to have states.

Now, I don't know that we want to open up a debate on that. If we were starting this country all
over again, I'm sure we wouldn't have the current system but we have got to make the current system
work, and the best way to it work in an area like health is for the Commonwealth to fully fund its
areas of responsibility, and run them well, and that's Medicare and private health insurance. And
you don't hear as many complaints about Medicare as you did a couple of years ago. I'm not saying
it's perfect, but the Medicare Safety Net, for example, which, incidentally, Labor wants to
abolish, has done an enormous amount to take the grief out of life for average families when it
comes to out of pocket expenses. On the other hand, you need public hospitals properly run by the
States, and there are shared responsibilities in the middle, and that is where, increasingly, over
the last 18 months, the Commonwealth and the states have cooperated very closely.

It was that cooperation in that area, the 150 extra doctors, for example, at our meeting in July,
that led Peter Beattie to make the comment that the level of cooperation is the best he has
observed since Federation. Now, you can't get it any better than that, and that's coming from the
Labor Premier, incidentally, of Mr Rudd's own state of Queensland.

BARRIE CASSIDY: I just want to move on to Iraq and the study group's report, that the situation is
deteriorating, and the policy is not working. Has that been clear to you for some time?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, clearly, it's not going well. I don't think anybody pretends otherwise. However,
you have to deal with present day alternatives. Now, there are three alternatives: you can make no
change at all; you can effectively leave as soon as possible; or you can adjust, and that approach
lies somewhere in between. I have no doubt the Americans will do that. I have no doubt that there
will be a change in tactics and approach announced by President Bush, but it will not represent a
precipitate withdrawal, because Baker and Hamilton made it clear that that a precipitate withdrawal
would be disastrous and have widespread ramifications for American authority, and give an enormous
boost to the cause of terrorism.

BARRIE CASSIDY: What about this suggestion of embedding troops with the Iraqi forces? That would
seem to be a dangerous outcome, without the sort of substantial back up of considerable troops. Can
you see that happening and would Australia ever be involved in that sort of exercise?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, given the size of our force, which, in relation to the army, is only some
hundreds, and, of course, we have some naval personnel and a smaller number of airmen, it's not a
realistic thing, and we don't have any current proposals to increase the size of our commitment. I
think the best thing we can do is to go on, for the time being, doing what we've already done, and
that is help with training and have an over watch role in those southern areas of Iraq where we've
been located now for almost two years, since we first went there at the beginning of last year to
help the Japanese. We have done a great deal with training, and I'm sure that the Americans will
increase their effort in that respect.

You've got to always remember, when you're talking about Iraq, that America's troop commitment is
100 times ours, and it's more than 20 times that of the British, which is the next largest
commitment. So, in the end, when you're talking about changes of tactics, you are very much talking
about changes of American tactics. That's not to say - - -

BARRIE CASSIDY: We get a lot of goodwill out of America for something that, when you give those
figures, is rather stark, when you compare the commitment of Australia and the United States, and
yet a lot of goodwill.

JOHN HOWARD: I'm not looking at it in terms of goodwill, I'm looking at it in terms of what was the
right thing to have done, and also loyalty to an alliance which is of overwhelming, enduring and
permanent importance to Australia. I think what this country has done is to demonstrate it's a good
ally and friend. Being a good ally and friend means, in an understanding and, if necessary critical
way, sticking with your mates when the going gets tough, and not walking away from them.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now, Prime Minister, I understand that later on today you will be announcing the
task force to look at Australia's role in a global emissions trading system.

JOHN HOWARD: Yes, I will. This is a joint government industry task force. It will be chaired by
Peter Shergold, the head of my department, and it will include the secretaries of the Departments
of Industry, Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Treasury, and the Department of Environment, and it
will have leading business figures, such as Margaret Jackson of Qantas, John Stewart of the
National Bank, Peter Coates of Xstrata, which is one of Australia's major coal exporters, and
others representing the industry. And its sole remit will be to tell us what the shape of a global
emissions trading system might take, and it will be looked at against the background of preserving
the natural advantages Australia has in areas like fossil fuels and uranium. They will be very
simple terms of reference and it will make the point that we have these natural advantages, we
intend to keep them but we need to look at what a global emissions trading system might look like
and how adjustments in Australia might be required if such a system were brought in.

BARRIE CASSIDY: So, in effect, you're saying you don't want any recommendations that will disturb
Australia's natural advantage with fossil fuels?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I don't want recommendations, and we don't intend to do things, that are going
to hurt this country's economy. It's possible to make changes that reduce greenhouse gas emissions
that preserve our comparative advantage. The trick, of course, is to make sure that the adjustments
are worldwide, so that the relative advantage is not destroyed. The problem with Kyoto is that it
would've undermined our comparative advantage, and that is why we didn't sign it - not that we
objected to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but we objected to reducing them in circumstances
where others would get the drop on us, and we're not going to do that.

BARRIE CASSIDY: All business people and bureaucrats. Where are the environmental experts?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, we're talking here about an emissions trading system, and I want to involve the
I want to involve the the industry, but bear in mind that from the bureaucratic side we have the
head of the Department of Environment, and there's a whole range of government interests
represented, not just the industry department. There will be a treasury economic viewpoint, there
will be a foreign affairs and trade viewpoint and there will be an environmental viewpoint, and not
all of the business people who are on the panel are in the resource sector. Some will be in the
power generation race sector as well.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Any final thoughts on a reshuffle?

JOHN HOWARD: My view is, Barrie, if I have a reshuffle, I'll announce it. If I don't, you won't
hear from me.

BARRIE CASSIDY: We should stay tuned between now and Christmas, though?

JOHN HOWARD: You should always stay tuned but that doesn't mean I'm necessarily going to have a
reshuffle. There's always things coming out of the Government.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning and through the year, appreciate it. Thank you.