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Regent Hotel, Sydney, 18 February 1998: transcript of doorstop [Fiscal policy; Natural Heritage Trust; Iraq; Nursing homes]


JOURNALIST: Talking about the causes of the Asian currency crisis being other than fiscal, and then you went on to suggest that we'd lost the window of opportunity for promoting national savings through production and super contributions and this Government being less transparent than it appears to be, are you saying that we're vulnerable to the same sort of currency shock?

BEAZLEY: What I was doing today was pointing out that the Labor Party, when in office, will run, as we did when we were in office previously, responsible Budget management, and make sure that the budget and the totality of our economic management contributes to national savings - both private and public. Now, in that regard, probably no decision has been taken by this Government that's more damaged national savings in the private area than their decision to abolish the superannuation co-payment. That took by 2020 some $400 billion, effectively, out of what could have been anticipated in private savings. That was a window of opportunity. That was a product of agreements with the Australian workforce at the time which we now have every indication of as being unlikely in future to be forthcoming and, to some extent, confidence was lost in that vehicle as a process of saving, as a result. So, that was a missed window of opportunity.

JOURNALIST: But are you saying that an effect of that is that we are now more vulnerable to a currency shock flowing through into Australia, as it has through the rest of Asia?

BEAZLEY: We just don't any longer have, at least in terms of its dimension, we still, of course, have people making superannuation contributions and using that as a vehicle of saving, but we just don't have any longer that semi-compulsory aspect to it which was part of what was strengthening this country in its capacity to wear the buffets that will come through from the changes that are taking place in our regional economy. It's only one area. There are other areas as well. I don't think our international competitiveness has been assisted by the assaults that are being made on the tax concessions in relation to innovation, research and development, for businesses in this country and I don't think it's been assisted in diminishing what is one of the great Australian competitive advantages, and that is the skills of the Australian workforce which have taken repeated blows by the cuts to TAFE and cuts to universities and cuts to those opportunities.

JOURNALIST: Now, you say that the Government hasn't done enough in terms of the Asian currency crisis. Given the remarks last night of Mr Evans and also the Reserve Bank, don't you think these criticisms are somewhat overstated?

BEAZLEY: Look, we put in place, during the course of the 1980s, the arrangements in relation to our currency in our financial sector which have meant that Australia has sustained, to this point of time, at least been protected to some degree, by the buffeting that we've received. We also believe, and one of the reasons why, and it's not the only reason, but one of the reasons why I said that a future Labor Government would put itself constrained by sound reporting mechanisms and objectives, as far as the budget is concerned, is that it does help in taking the blows that may fall from the changes in the economy in the region around us. But you also have to go to look at the quality of it. What have you actually done in your fiscal management that actually does protect you for the long term? And if what you've done is savage the skilling of your population and the innovation of your businesses, you've not necessarily made a great contribution. And I think that in so far as the previous Budgets have done exactly that, it makes us marginally, but nevertheless measurably, more vulnerable to what has happened in the region around us.

JOURNALIST: So, do you intend to pursue the Coalition over its selectiveness, if you want, of its environmental spending?

BEAZLEY: We absolutely will. We have here a $1.2 billion boondoggle on our hands. And when you actually look at the distribution of it it becomes patently obvious. And they tried to scurry behind their argument - "well the Labor Party holds no rural seats" - as though the only environmental problems in this country related to rural areas, as through the outer metropolitan areas of our cities or the rivers that flow through them have no environmental problems associated with them, or as though I don't, myself, hold a rural seat - which I do. And the contrast between what has gone into my constituency and the rural constituencies around me - and you can see that repeated across the board in Labor constituencies surrounded by Liberal constituencies - you can see the effect of it. It is breathtaking, it is a breathtaking act of total cynicism.

JOURNALIST: So, another sports rorts, almost?

BEAZLEY: No. If you regard the sporting thing as a rort, you are talking $30 million over three years. More than twice that amount has already been committed and that's just a start on $1.2 billion. I mean, sooner or later quantitative differences have to be established and $1.2 billion versus $30 million is quite a quantitative difference.

JOURNALIST: What do you think would be a fairer split?

BEAZLEY: I don't think you'd measure it necessarily in splits but you just sit down and take a look at what they're doing, and when you actually see a sort of nine and a half to one ratio in some places and nine to one overall, you know that what's going on there is rorting. If you take a look at what's happening in our outer metropolitan areas you know there are major environmental problems. But unless it's a Liberal seat, nothing's being done. You know there are problems with rivers going through our cities but unless it's a seat which has a Liberal banner on it, nothing is done. You know, too, that anything that is signed off by two Ministers, Anderson and Hill, at the end of the day and their final approval is needed and the recommendations of independent State authorities, for example, like the NSW State authority, are simply ignored, you have a process which lacks ultimately the accountability and transparency it needs.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, more and more commentators are coming out against the strike against Iraq. Given their comments that it will actually make things worse, Hamas is promising to make an all-out attack on Israel. Any doubts on your part?

BEAZLEY: Look, we think that this has to be solved by diplomacy. And part of the reason why we have supported the Government in giving our approval to the steps that they've taken thus far, has been to assist in putting pressure on Saddam Hussein. And there's no doubt in my mind if there had not been pressure coming in from those who are prepared to be part of a coalition, the energising of the UN Security Council and the energising of a couple of members of the UN Security Council - Russia and France - to try and find solutions, simply wouldn't have occurred. This is not a problem actually that's blown up in the last couple of weeks. This has been an underlying issue for the last six months on which nothing was happening a massive breach of the ceasefire. Now, there are all sorts of concerns that flow from that. I don't want this ultimately to end in a conflict. Nobody wants it ultimately to end in a conflict. But you have to ask yourself the fundamental question: should Saddam Hussein be allowed to get away with a condition that was laid on the ceasefire in '91 which said that he divests himself of weapons of mass destruction? This is not a matter of minor moment, as far as the international community is concerned. And, of course, there'll be a lot of disagreement and dissent from it and concern about the timing of things and the direction which policy is taking. But I don't think there can be any disagreement that removing those weapons from him is an important thing to do.

JOURNALIST: inaudible

BEAZLEY: The extraordinary cynical correspondence of Doug Moran, a major Liberal Party contributor, the other day throws more light on why we now confront a nursing home mess. Quite clearly, he believed himself to have some influence over the policies which have produced that mess and he wishes to have more influence over the policies that the Government produces as it thrashes around to deal with it. The Government must now restore the cuts that it has made if our elderly are going to get the option of nursing home care which they need and the security in the knowledge that they're going to be able to afford it.