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New Opposition Leader describes the Prime Minister as a fast money man and comments on Liberal Party philosophy -

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QUENTIN DEMPSTER: He's only had the job for a day but already the new Federal Opposition Leader, Alexander Downer, has dumped on Paul Keating, accusing the PM of being a fast money man. From Melbourne, Mr Downer is speaking with Paul Lyneham who is in Canberra.

PAUL LYNEHAM: Alexander Downer, welcome again to the program, and congratulations.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Thank you very much, Paul.

PAUL LYNEHAM: Yesterday, you said: 'I am born of the Liberal Party and I am a creature of the Liberal Party'. Now, I know the Libs have been looking for a messiah, but are you really that much of a zealot?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, all of my life, either at the organisational level or more recently at the parliamentary level, I've been involved with or associated with the Liberal Party. But there's more than that, I suppose I'm imbued with the culture of the Liberal Party and its essential values. So I feel, as the leader of the party, I'll be able to encapsulate those things and articulate the aspirations of the Liberal Party.

PAUL LYNEHAM: But behind that affable exterior, is there are political hit-man, is there someone who's prepared to kick and gouge and get his hands dirty?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I'm certainly prepared to take the fight straight up to the Labor Party. I showed, when I was the Shadow Treasurer following the Dawkins' Budget, my capacity to do that, and we eventually saw the demise of Mr Dawkins, but not for that reason alone. Anybody who knows me privately knows that I have I think the required quantity of aggression. But let me make one other point, and that is ...

PAUL LYNEHAM: What about the required quantity of bastardry?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I don't think there's any need in Australian politics for everybody to be as downright offensive as Mr Keating is, and the fact that in Australia nowadays we're measuring a standard for politicians by the yardstick of Mr Keating's mouth, I think is a very sad thing.

PAUL LYNEHAM: But would you play it harder than John Hewson did, for example?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I'm not making comparisons between myself and my predecessors, but certainly the Coalition is determined to take the fight straight up to the Labor Party and we'll do that in an aggressive way, but we won't be sinking to the levels that Mr Keating sinks to and thinks is so productive and clever, because, you know, I think Australians have had enough of that; Australians would like to feel that their children could watch politicians on the news without being frightened off as they are with the likes of Mr Keating appearing.

PAUL LYNEHAM: Well, how personal should it get? I mean, the piggery, for example, that sort of mudslinging. Is that okay?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I don't think we need to get too personal but I notice that Mr Keating, in the last 24 hours, has decided to get very personal about me. He is already running around making, I think, quite derogatory and personal remarks coming from a man, if I may say so, who owns a substantial house on the glittering edge of Sydney Harbour and, at the same time - since you mentioned pigs - has had a very substantial financial investment in a piggery. Now, coming from a man with a great deal of money, I think it's a little bit ironical that he should be sneering and criticising me because of my background.

PAUL LYNEHAM: This is the Downer of the silver-tail image?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I think we're all getting a bit tired of that. I mean, Mr Keating, if you want to turn it back on him, is a fast money man. He's been in Parliament since he was in his mid-20s and appears to have made, through business activities outside of Parliament, a great deal of money in that time, and good luck to him. I wouldn't criticise him for that, but I'd expect him to play the game by the same standards of decency and clean up his act.

PAUL LYNEHAM: Yesterday, you said of your party: 'It is not an ideological party or a frightening party. It is a practical commonsense party'. Why did you feel the need to say that?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, quite definitely because I think over recent years there has been a perception of the Liberal Party being a little ideological. It's not necessarily an accurate perception but that perception has sprung up, and I just want to reinforce to Australians that our approach will be and traditionally always has been the approach of a practical commonsense party. We see a problem; we apply practical commonsense solutions to that problem.

PAUL LYNEHAM: But do you agree that a party must have a bedrock of core principles from which it builds and grows its policies?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Obviously, there wouldn't be a party if that wasn't the case, and we have very profound principles; we're committed ...


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, we're committed to the role of the individual in society rather than the kind of neo-corporatist view of society that the Labor Party has.

PAUL LYNEHAM: What is neo-corporatist mean? It's a word you've used a lot lately.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, it means essentially that the Labor ...

PAUL LYNEHAM: Sound like a disease.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I think it is a disease, as a matter of fact. It's a political party which is prepared to do deals with special interest groups and peak councils, but doesn't show any interest whatsoever in the opinions of the vast majority of Australians. Now, for a party like the Liberal Party committed to the role of the individual in society, then naturally we're more interested in the views, opinions and aspirations of the vast majority of Australians, not just doing deals with special interest groups.

PAUL LYNEHAM: One old Australian belief is that governments can and should try to make the citizen's life easier, happier, more prosperous. Others say, the smaller the government, the better.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, government is about balance, and you have to find an appropriate balance for the role of government. Now, where society works quite happily without the intervention of politicians, then we should leave well alone. But where there are problems in society, what economists sometimes like to call market failures, or where there is a breakdown in law and order or whatever it may be, then there is quite a clear role for government. I'd put it this way - the fundamental role of government in society is to provide protection for Australians, be it in terms of defence or law and order, or the social welfare safety net, that is the fundamental role for a government in our society.

PAUL LYNEHAM: Some say that the party will give you one shot to prove yourself. If you lose the next election, Costello will be after your job.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, we won't lose the next election, and look, I don't want to allow a defeatist mentality to become just welded into the psyche of the Liberal Party. I know we've lost the last five elections and people are very despondent about that, and we wouldn't have had the trouble we've had if that hadn't been the case, but let me say, we, all 79 of us, as members of the Federal parliamentary Liberal Party, are going to work absolutely solidly to win the next Federal election. There is sheer determination to beat Mr Keating and the Labor Party at the next election and we will do everything to make sure we win.

PAUL LYNEHAM: You say that you and Costello are old friends, but does that really mean much in the end? I mean, last Wednesday, you were telling me on this program how totally you and Costello supported Dr Hewson.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: And, indeed, we did. It was Dr Hewson who called the leadership spill, not us who mounted a challenge against him.

PAUL LYNEHAM: But if you totally supported him, surely you'd have been there getting the numbers for him and seeing him right.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Oh no, well, we supported him as the leader at the time and in the context of there being no challenge to the leadership. But when Dr Hewson decided to throw open the leadership, he said he would step down and recontest the position, what he effectively said is that any member of the parliamentary party, whoever that person may be, is entitled to challenge me to a ballot. Now, Peter Costello and I, because we're friends, because we've worked together exceptionally well in the economic portfolios, we got together very quickly and organised ourselves into a team, and as that team we took on John Hewson and we're clearly successful. And it gave the party the opportunity for a fresh start.

PAUL LYNEHAM: Thanks for your time.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: It's a pleasure, Paul.