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Transcript of interview: "AM" ABC Radio: 17 February 1993

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THOMPSON. The Labor Party will step up its campaign drive today, with the release of adve rt isements attacking what is seen as the Opposition's most vulnerable area - the GST. On the eve of the advertising launch, Labor supporters have seized on remarks by the Opposition frontbencher, John Howard. Mr Howard reportedly told a Liberal Party fundraiser in Perth that the GST couldn't be explained to voters even if the Liberals spent $100 million try ing. Well, John Howard joins us now on a car telephone from Brisbane and he's talking to Marius Benson.

BENSON: Mr Howard, good morning.

HOWARD: Good morning.

BENSON: Mr Howard, you have appeared to have suggested that the GST is hard to sell and impossible to explain? You are, in fact, quoted as saying: even if you spent $100 million between now and the election, a lot of people would still remain utterly and completely confused?

HOWARD: Yeah, well can I just say that at no stage did I say it was impossible to explain. I did say that no matter what resources you put in there would always be some people with a complicated but very necessa ry detailed reform, who would have questions to ask about it. That's something that John Hewson and many others have said over and over again. Unlike other Oppositions, this Opposition has been courageous enough to put up an alternative plan to get this count ry moving again, including a major reform to the taxation system. I think it was right and courageous for the Opposition to do that, I equally however believe that the major issue in this election campaign is the economic record of the Government.

BENSON: But on your own platform, Mr Howard, do a lot of people remain utterly and completely confused?

HOWARD: Well, it's very interesting that you should use those words, because the questioner who asked me the question at this breakfast yesterday morning, he was asking for information about one aspect of the tax. And then he turned around to the audience and he said: now how many people in this room really understand how the GST works? And something like 75% or 80% of the audience immediately put up their hands. In other words, the person who was being a bit critical of me about the issue was rather surprised at the wide

understanding within that audience.

BENSON: That was an audience ... OkF'OWEA , TI, 1

HOWARD: ... hang on, yes, I know that ... l^Al`LI, MEI4 i i^ i

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BENSON: ... at a Liberal fundraiser?

HOWARD: Yes, I know but they weren't all Liberal Party supporters. That's pretty obvious because you based your, your sister program based its report of my remarks on the remarks of somebody who'd put out a media release. He was a guest at the breakfast after


I'd made by speech. But the situation is self-evident, that when you propose an alternative reform which is detailed because we have complex problems, obviously there are going to be some people who will continue to ask questions about it. I regard what I said as totally unexceptionable - it's the kind of thing that I and I guess many other people have said over and over again. I said to the breakfast that the main focus of the Opposition's campaign has been and will naturally be on the appalling economic record of this Government, that after 10 years you have I million people out of work, $160 billion of overseas debt and you have the

deepest recession in 60 years. But I also said ...

BENSON: ... and in fact you told the fundraiser, I understand ...

HOWARD: ... I also said, I also said,

BENSON: ... if I could interrupt Mr Howard?

HOWARD: No, I'd like to finish my answer first. I also made the point that we should also in our campaign explain and put forward out alternative policies. It had to be a balance of the two. I wasn't suggesting that as report last night inferred that in some way we shouldn't fully explain our alternative policies.

BENSON: But you're reported as telling the fundraiser that you'd rather people thought about the Government's record, than what you'll do with the GST?

HOWARD: No, I didn't say that. I didn't say that. I've heard the tape of what I've said and I didn't say that. That's what somebody who spoke to your program said I said, but I think it's rather amazing that ABC Current Affairs should base a program like this, not on the basis of what's its own reporter - and there wasn't one of yours at the breakfast, now I'm not saying there should have been but there wasn't - you based it on what somebody who was at the

breakfast said I said.

BENSON: Well, we're checking that report with you now Mr Howard. Another aspect of it was that you suggested that you weren't as confident of success if the ALP concentrated on the GST?

HOWARD: No, I didn't say that either. What's your next question.