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Treasury Place, Melbourne: transcript of press conference: jobs figures; economy; Iraq.



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12 September 2002

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP PRESS CONFERENCE, TREASURY PLACE, MELBOURNE

Subjects: Jobs figures; economy; Iraq

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………………...

Well, ladies and gentlemen, firstly I want to say how delighted I am with today's job numbers. They show that 88,500 new jobs were created last month. Almost all of those were full-time jobs. It means that since this Government's election we have created more than one million jobs in this country. There's no more important economic or social obligation of a government than that of job generation. And after six-and-a-half years in office, to be able to look back and reflect on the creation of so many jobs is a mark of this Government's successful economic policies and also a mark of the entrepreneurial flair of Australian businesses, the productivity improvement and the general health and wellbeing of the Australian economy.

Now, I acknowledge, of course, that the Australian economy faces some challenges, particularly the hesitancy in the American economy and the impact of the drought but when you look at the challenges that we've dealt with over the last six-and-a-half years and be able to see job numbers of this type it is encouraging. They can vary, of course, from month to month but the trend in recent times has been unmistakable. And it's very significant that since the GST was introduced, this tax that was going to destroy the economy and everything that was decent in our society, according to the Labor Party, since the GST was introduced we've had 314,000 new jobs created in Australia.

I'd be happy to take your questions in a moment on this and other matters. Can I just confirm what I've previously said and that is that Mr Downer will make a statement next week to Parliament regarding the general subject of Iraq's non-compliance with the United Nations resolutions. I've always indicated that there would be plenty of parliamentary debate on this issue and this is very much the appropriate thing to be talking about at the moment. It doesn't for a moment preclude subsequent statements by him or me or the Defence Minister as the circumstances arise. Do you have any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Are you prepared to share with the parliament and the Australian public any [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER

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PRIME MINISTER:

I would always be prepared to share additional information with the Australian public consistent obviously with the need to protect intelligence sources. You have to see the parliamentary debate on this whole issue as being a moving feast, as circumstances change. We're making a commitment or a statement from Mr Downer on Iraqi non-compliance. Now, circumstances may develop over the next few days that require the addition to that statement of one or two other things, particularly arising out of what occurs in New York. The point I simply make is that we're not in any way trying to avoid parliamentary debate on this issue. I note with interest that when the Parliament last sat I was there, as I always am at Question Time each day, and I had two questions from the Opposition Leader on Iraq, two questions. We have 20 questions a day, four days a week, that's a lot of scope and I only got two on Iraq. But, I mean, that is a matter for the Opposition Leader, but as far as we're concerned we are in the business of complete transparency on this issue.

Can I just say on the question of evidence, there is an enormous amount of evidence in the public domain already. Go and look at the reports of UNSCOM, look at the evidence that was canvassed in the report of the Institute of Strategic Studies released in London recently. There's plenty of evidence already in the public domain but as far as additional intelligence information, consistent with protecting of sources, we want to be as forthcoming as possible and the Labor Party knows that, they know that.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] Why didn't you make the statement?

PRIME MINISTER:

Why don’t I make it? Well, I think it's appropriate at this stage for a statement on Iraq's non-compliance to be made by the Foreign Minister. Can I be very direct, Fleur, that if any decision was taken by this Government to commit Australian forces abroad anywhere I will be informing Parliament of that and I will regard myself as more accountable and more responsible and more required than anybody else to explain and justify that decision. That was my position in relation to East Timor, it's my position in relation to Afghanistan, although Parliament was not then sitting, and it was the approach that's been taken by previous Australian prime ministers but we have not made any decision and I hope we don't. I don't want this country to get involved in further military conflict and it is entirely appropriate at this time because the main focus is on Iraq's non-compliance, it's entirely appropriate that the statement be made by the Foreign Minister. He's in New York at the moment. I spoke to him on the phone an hour-and-a-half ago. He's just had a meeting with the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to discuss the issue. I mean, he is the person who should be making the statement on the issue I've outlined at this time. Obviously if there's a need for me to be directly involved later on, of course I will be.

JOURNALIST:

Have you been briefed yet on the President’s address to the UN tomorrow ?

PRIME MINISTER:

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No, I don't think the final text of it's been settled yet but I think he will be talking about Iraq's non-compliance. He'll be talking about the role of the United Nations. Beyond that I don't want to speculate.

JOURNALIST:

His address overnight seemed to stress the importance of regime change [inaudible] committed atrocities. That does not seem to follow on necessarily from UN involvement, how do you see that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, in my view and in Australia's view the most important thing is to remove the threat and the threat is constituted by Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction, that's the main threat. The two are intertwined. It's hard to conceive that you could have a total dismantling of those weapons and a full enforcement of the UN resolutions without the regime changing. But the main issue, and I don't like the regime, I think the people of Iraq would be better off without it and I'm sure if they we allowed to vote, they'd vote it out, but the main objective is to remove the threat.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, we just had [inaudible] Turkish Defence Minister. He said his government was against any unilateral attack on Iraq. [inaudible] was to be such an attack with UN backing [inaudible]. Your stance?

PRIME MINISTER:

No our position is that we want the United Nations involved to the maximum extent possible and we'll just work our way through that process. And I hope something very positive emerges from it.

JOURNALIST:

The Opposition suggests that a statement by Mr Downer on non-compliance will be old news [inaudible] three or four years [inaudible]…?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think from the statements they've made, they've known about it for the last three or four years.

JOURNALIST:

Tony Blair's going to be briefing his Opposition [inaudible]. Would you consider briefing [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have extended every courtesy to Mr Crean on this. He has access to intelligence briefings. He had them; they're available to him. And I notified him and briefed him on my telephone conversation with President Bush last Saturday morning before I made it public. I will

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continue to involve Mr Crean in the most appropriate and complete way, as is required by something of this character. That has been my position on earlier occasions and it will continue to be my position on this occasion. There will be no discourtesies displayed towards the Opposition on this. This is too important and I would expect a reciprocally responsible approach from the Opposition as well.

JOURNALIST:

Will there be a vote in the house next week?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, there's nothing to vote on. I mean, I noticed some of the bulletins ran that this morning as though it was an amazement that you don't have a vote on a statement. You don't vote on a statement, you vote on a resolution. And you only have a resolution if you've got to do something. We're not proposing any action next week. We're not proposing to go to war. We are merely involving the Parliament in a debate on this issue. We're allowing people through the vehicle of the statement, not only to talk about what is in the substance of the statement, but indeed to range over the whole subject. I mean, I don't know how more transparent you can be? We have not made any decision. I hope we don't have to. We have not received any requests, but we do think the Parliament should have the opportunity of talking about this issue and I think a lot of members would benefit from the detailed laying out of the case in relation to non-compliance. And I think a lot of members on both sides would be very interested to hear it.

JOURNALIST:

How much hope do you have that Iraq will grant access to UN weapons inspectors and should there be a deadline imposed?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don't want to speculate about possible Security Council resolutions. Iraq's record to date is not encouraging when it comes to future compliance, but there is a far greater sense of urgency and focus on this issue now and I'm hopeful, but I don't want to be overly optimistic.

JOURNALIST:

Before the last election, you said that health funds wouldn't be able to raise their premiums without permission from the Government, [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

The announcement that's been made is in relation to the CPI. And it's been made clear by the Health Minister that announcements or increases beyond that will need Government approval.

JOURNALIST:

Given the importance of bipartisanship in this debate, will you see some value in yourself meeting with Mr Crean to try and ensure that [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

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Look, I'm very happy to talk to him about any tie, if there's anything he wants to know…I've spoken to him, as I say, I rang him last Saturday morning after I'd spoken to President Bush to tell him of the discussion and give him an indication of what was canvassed. And I'll continue to extend those courtesies and I'm very happy to talk to him. And I could imagine that over the next few weeks, depending on how things unfold, that I will talk to him and I'd be very happy to talk to him on a one-on-one basis about this matter. I believe that when you are dealing with serious issues and possible, and it can't be anything more than that because I hope it doesn't occur and we've not been requested, any possible involvement of Australian forces, it's very necessary for the Opposition to be fully briefed. And can I repeat, intelligence briefings are available to the Leader of the Opposition and they have been taken advantage of and I repeat, they remain available and they'll continue to be fully available.

JOURNALIST:

Just on a local issue, the sugar cane farmers and the rebate for ethanol [Inaudible] can they expect an announcement on that shortly?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I saw something in the paper about that this morning. I don't have anything to say at this stage about that speculation.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] tax rebate on locally produced ethanol?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't have anything to say about the story.

JOURNALIST:

Not going to get [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't have anything to say about the story.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, about these job figures, are you concerned that they're [inaudible] indication that the economy is overheating?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think the economy is overheating. I think if you look at the stream of economic statistics, you see an economy that's humming along nicely, not overheating. And there are, as a finely tuned engine carries the car down the highway, there are some clouds there and you may have to put the hood up and the clouds are the American hesitancy and the drought. It's sort of a mixed metaphor, I know.

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JOURNALIST:

If you don’t have anything to say about the ethanol production rebates, who should the sugar farmers be looking to for an answer ?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm just repeating what I said.

Thank you.

[ends]