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Transcript of press conference: Grand Hyatt Hotel, Melbourne: 9 March 1993



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PRIME MINISTER

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER, THE HON P.J. KEATING MP, PRESS CONFERENCE, GRAND HYATT HOTEL, MELBOURNE, 9 MARCH 1993

E&OE PROOF COPY

J: Prime Minister, do you believe the Senate has the right to frustrate the progress of an incoming government?

PM: No, governments don't secure mandates in the terms that are being proposed, intimated in the question. They never have, they probably never will.

J: But why does the major plank of the Opposition ...

PM: Let me ask you this; why did the Opposition vote against the Government's legislation for years in the Senate, or about changes, for years?

J: Was it justified though?

PM: They did it, it doesn't matter whether it was justified. You have got to argue your case in this country.

J: Mr Keating, how likely is it that a Labor Opposition, should that happen, would block the IR legislation of a Coalition government?

PM: First thing I say to you Peter (Harvey) is that the Government expects to win the election and we are in the land of the hypotheticals and hypothetically I'd say to you that the Liberals have been monkey cunning with industrial legislation. They have sweat-shop legislation up their sleeve which John Howard has kept a secret and if they think they can claim for their things, mandates upon election, think they are misleading themselves and certainly no Opposition that exists in the Senate of whatever variety would accept that a Coalition had such a mandate.

J . So you would toss it out?

PM: We would toss it out.

COMMONWEALTH PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY MICAH

J: Prime Minister, what's the difference between the GST legislation and the industrial relations legislation, neither are supply bills?

PM: The GST is so large, this is not just a mere tax change it is an amount of half the income tax and of course, need I say added onto the income tax and for that the nation understands. I think in this campaign we have succeeded in getting the GST understood; that is at least the broad electorate now understands that a 15 per cent Goods and Services Tax will be levied. Therefore I think, the Liberals would be entitled to say we secured support for the policy apart from the fact that it is a money bill. But the key point I was making and I'll make it again, that we are getting to the point where people will have to decide about this question of a GST and if they want a Coalition Government they will get a GST because they can't vote for Dr Hewson and not get a GST because shenanigans in the Senate won't save them from the GST.

J: So you won't promise to throw it out at any later date even though it's the worst possible thing?

PM: The thing is and let's be very clear about this. The Government obviously doesn't support a GST and that's why we are campaigning against one. But again, once one is in, it is in forever, that's the point I made the other day about Dr Hewson. He had this crack 'what could be worse than three years of Labor?' and I said, as you recall, 'Well, a GST forever'. Now the public could return the Government and decide in three years time they didn't like us, but if they get a GST they are stuck with it forever. Forever.

J: Mr Keating, is it true that the convention actually applies to appropriation Bills not taxation Bills?

PM: They are money Bills essentially.

So therefore the Labor Party would never at any stage block any tax Bill or tax change?

PM: Money bills of this dimension and with this amount of authority in a public debate are totally different to just minor tax amendments.

J: Mr Keating, you have been talking hypothetically about Opposition, does this mean if the hypothetical happened you would be Opposition Leader?

PM: You are always after a new angle Michelle (Grattan), that's what I like about you.

J: The answer?

PM: We can't help but like you.

J: Mr Keating, the hypothetical?

PM: The answer is I expect to win the election and people are entitled to ask us about this question about the GST, but beyond that I expect that the Government will be returned.

J: But you were speaking for a Labor Opposition in what you were saying about PM: I know, but I don't have to speak about its composition, obviously.

J: What's the possibility of Coalition government being forced to go to another election in 1993 if its Senate program is frustrated?

PM: That is too hypothetical for me to give serious comment about Malcolm (Farr).

J: Why will the breech with Britain make Australia a better country?

PM: But what breech?

J: The referendum you are promising on a republic ...

PM: A change in our constitutional arrangements I think is the way to put it.

J: I thought you spoke more vocally about it?

PM: And I think that the aspirations of Australians to manage their own affairs absolutely is a very clear one, even if the path to it is not as clear or as obvious and will take time and understanding and of course, refenda.

J: Prime Minister, are you going to appear at the Press Club on Thursday?

PM: Yes, I think I will but I do so, I must tell you it rankles me that the media have let Dr Hewson off the convention that Opposition Leaders appear and explain their policies. Now I am the record holder at the Press Club, I've had more appearances than any other person in public life and I secured that record at the time of my last appearance. But Dr Hewson has thumbed his nose at the people of Australia, he has told them he doesn't need to explain, he doesn't need to answer the hard questions, the close in detail that the media will put to him and to this point the media have accepted the rebuke without demur.

J: If that is the case Mr Keating, why didn't you ask Dr Hewson a question in the debate the other night?

PM: I did. I thought I did more than ask him questions.

What's your response to the economic statistics coming out today?

PM: I think again, we've had a run of very good statistics in the course of the election campaign and today there are two more; the job vacancy series, the ANZ's long standing job vacancy series is up 5.1 per cent in January and is up 13,8 per cent over the course of the year which is again another indication that the economy is picking up. Retail sales are also up 4.2 per cent in January and this

of course, follows the very strong export figures of a week or so ago, the revisions to the growth estimates to 2.4 per cent by the Statistician and of course, the announcement by the Statistician of a 9 per cent increase in investment. Now these are quite significant indices in the course of the campaign.

J: ... do you think those jobs stats are considering that we have had rises before and it hasn't really come through into it?

PM: I think most people would say the series has been there long enough to be a reliable one, it has been there many, many years.

Do they have any implications for Thursday's labour force figures?

PM: I don't know that they do, they may have.

J: Do you expect they'll drop Prime Minister?

PM: One thing that will he clear about Thursday no matter what the number is there will be too many people out of work.

J: Prime Minister, what is your reaction to the fact that your opponent has lost his voice and was using it ... if you lost yours Mr Keating ...

PM: The thing is he hasn't lost it apparently for a rally and that's why he should do at least the doorstops that he does, quick and slippery as they are, he obviously if he has the energy for a public rally, he has got the energy for a doorstop and again you shouldn't take his non-appearance without rebuke.

J: Mr Keating, just going back to the Thursday figures. do you expect unemployment to go up?

PM: I am not going to be making any forecast about it Peter (Harvey). Simply to say whatever is in the Thursday figures, we know that unemployment is going to be too high. But again can I just again make the point I think Max Walsh made today in the Sydney Morning Herald and that is there is a world phenomena now

around where we are seeing a lot more growth with fewer people. In other words higher levels of unemployment in the company of higher growth and that's because there is a world wide break out of productivity. Now I think we've seen a lot of that in Australia, I'm hoping actually we are putting a fair bit of it behind its and we start to see employment re-emerging.

J: Mr Keating, you caused a flurry yesterday with your (comments?) on interest rates, could you clarify exactly what your position is on that?

PM: I think interest rate reductions are a possibility after the election, but again, we need a more contemporary assessment then. That is a conversation with the Central Bank. an examination of international interest rates and also the domestic economic settings.

J: Does this mean you are at least hopeful than you were a couple of weeks ago

PM: As I say I think it is a possibility. I think the Reserve Bank has said as much itself, but it does require a look and the time to have it is after the election not now.

J: Has Mr Dawkins been too up-beat on this?

PM: Mr Dawkins and I are saying one in the same thing.

J . Mr Keating, we've seen one of the major banks, the National Australia Bank reduce interest rates last week. Does that suggest that bank interest rates are too high?

PM: We have a free market in finance in this country and banks of disparate rates of interest.

ends