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Transcript of doorstop interview: Perth: 29 September 2005: Industrial Relations; terrorism; higher education.



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PRIME MINISTER

29 September 2005

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Subjects: Industrial Relations; terrorism; higher education

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

JOURNALIST:

You had a win today in the High Court on the advertising of the IR. I just wanted to know how much are you going to spend taxpayers money on (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am very pleased about the High Court decision. We always believed this advertising was both proper and lawful and the High Court has ruled in our favour. I can’t tell you the exact amount, it will be more than the $5million that’s been expended to date. But this is very important legislation and the expenditure is justified and it’s necessary.

JOURNALIST:

You must have a ball park figure? Tens of millions of dollars?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ve said it will be a number of times the $5m that’s already been expended but I can’t give you, without getting further advice, the exact amount.

JOURNALIST:

What about the costs in the first year of this $4,000 you’re planning to offer in legal aid to people who are sacked?

www.pm.gov.au

PRIME MINISTER:

This is to help people who qualify under a means test who have been unlawfully sacked, not the unfair dismissal laws; they’re going altogether for firms employing fewer than 100 people. But if you are sacked on the grounds of your race or your gender, your membership of a union and the like - up to $4,000 a person. You have to establish a prima facie case and we’ll also be establishing a system to help small employers understand how the unlawful termination laws work so that there is fair treatment on both sides.

The reason I can’t give you an exact figure at the moment is that we would have to make assumptions about how many unlawful termination cases there would be and there are not a large number of these because very few people these days would be so foolish as to sack somebody on the grounds of their race or their background or their membership of an industrial organisation.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard is the $4000 a sweetener or a concession to try and get the legislation through?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it’s just an acknowledgement by us that in some cases people who do have a genuine case need a bit of help.

JOURNALIST:

This is a difference between unlawful and unfair?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, absolutely. The unfair dismissal changes I’ve already announced are in no way affected by this. We’ve always said that while we’re getting rid of the unfair dismissal laws for firms employing fewer than 100 people, we’re keeping the unlawful termination provisions; that is somebody can’t be sacked on the grounds of their race or their gender or their family responsibilities or their membership of a trade union. Now we’re not going to alter that and in addition we’re going to provide this limited amount of help for people who really need it, who have a genuine case. And I think it’s a very fair provision.

JOURNALIST:

Do you agree then that people should be excluded from defence contracts by their race or their (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m getting some advice on that and until I have it I’m not going to comment.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister do you think it is too hard for employers to sack people?

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PRIME MINISTER:

Under the existing unfair dismissal laws it is hard for employers to get rid of people who are not doing the right thing either by their employer or by their workmates. And that is why we are moving in relation to the unfair dismissal laws.

JOURNALIST:

Are we doing enough to address the skills shortage? The Opposition suggested we (inaudible) Pacific Island workers?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that last bit.

JOURNALIST:

The Opposition’s suggesting that we use Pacific Island workers to address the skills shortage.

PRIME MINISTER:

What guest workers? That is what is being suggested? Guest workers? Well I’d have to really know exactly what he’s suggested. It’s too sensitive an issue to give a comment on until I know exactly what Mr Beazley is suggesting. I notice what he is suggesting this morning is that we need more emphasis on technical training at school level. I welcome the fact that Mr Beazley is saying that, that was of course the centrepiece of our election campaign last year - the 24 Australian technical colleges and to the extent that Mr Beazley agrees with the Government on that then that is a welcome thing. We made a huge mistake in this country a generation ago when we moved away from the old system of having technical schools and selective high schools and in the process of that we weakened the state education system and that was a big mistake and I have been saying that now for some years and I welcome the fact that Mr Beazley is also saying that now, maybe this is an area where there can be some bipartisan agreement. And wouldn’t that be a good thing?

JOURNALIST:

Is that why Brendan Nelson keeps talking down the Australian education system?

PRIME MINISTER:

He’s not talking it down, he’s just talking up standards. And look we should never be frightened to debate standards in our schools. I want a school’s system where people have more choice, I want a school’s system where high standards are the norm for both government and non-government schools and you can only have that if you’re willing to nominate the standards and benchmark schools as to whether or not they’re reaching those standards.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Beazley’s saying the system as it stands now is making it too hard for kids that aren’t academically gifted to try and get ahead? Is that a problem that kids that would normally not go to university are falling through the gaps in the system?

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well it would help enormously if we had more choice. And up until now Mr Beazley unfortunately has opposed choice and he’s not been as supportive of choice as has the Coalition. But many of the things that I heard him saying this morning on radio are similar to what we’ve been talking about over the last couple of years. And I think that’s a good thing.

JOURNALIST:

He’s saying since 1997, the number of students going on from year 12 to university has fallen by 20%, the number going on to Tafe(inaudible). Am I competing with the rain?

PRIME MINISTER:

You are very welcome for somebody who’s spent the last few weeks in Eastern Australia, so don’t knock it, it’s fantastic.

JOURNALIST:

Since 1997, the number of students going on from year 12 to university has fallen by 20% and the number going on to Tafe has fallen by 14%. Does that indicate that your Government’s coming to power (inaudible) there are problems arising…

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don’t think it indicates that at all, I think of the reasons why both groups have fallen is that the economy has got stronger and the alternative job opportunities have been greater. There’s often a correlation between people going onto university and the labour market. The

stronger the labour market is the greater the alternatives are to university. One more question.

JOURNALIST:

On the terror issue Prime Minister, we saw the Indonesian boats that are being caught, there’s one in Darwin Harbour yesterday. The State Government here says there’s about 8000 (inaudible) that got close to the Australian coast. Is this (inaudible) that’s been overlooking in terms of a terrorism threat? The WA Government’s suggesting that we could have terrorists land in Australia via these Indonesian boats.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, the answer is no it’s not being overlooked. I think what’s happened in the last little while indicates that the protective system is working. We have put more resources into Customs, we announced in the election campaign last year that we’d have patrol boats with specific responsibilities in relation to the northern part of Western Australia and it’s an area that remains under constant review. But it certainly doesn’t indicate that there are gaps, what it indicates is that the system is working.

Thank you.

[ends]