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Transcript of doorstop: Parliament House, Canberra:16 July 2007: rail worker fatalities in Singleton; Haneef case; opinion polls; AusLink II; High Court appointment.



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TRANSCRIPT OF MEDIA DOORSTOP FOLLOWING ADDRESS TO QUEENSLAND NATIONALS' STATE CONFERENCE, BRISBANE

PRESS CONFERENCE - TRANSCRIPT OF MEDIA DOORSTOP

VPC12/2007 16 July 2007

Subjects: Rail worker fatalities in Singleton, Haneef case, opinion polls, AusLink II, High Court appointment

Interviewee: Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Leader of the Nationals, Hon Mark Vaile, MP.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

There has been two fatalities on the Hunter Valley coal line near Singleton where I understand two workers that work for the ARTC maintenance crew on that particular line have been killed in an accident with an empty coal train travelling back up the Hunter Valley line from Newcastle. We extend our sympathies and support to the families and friends of the two men who've been killed in this tragic accident. The investigation that is currently underway is being undertaken by NSW Transport

Officials, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau is obviously taking a very keen interest in events that led to this particular tragic accident although the direct jurisdiction for the investigation rests with the NSW Transport Safety Office notwithstanding that the line is actually operated and managed by the Australian Track and Rail Corporation. But again we extend our sympathies, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the two men who've lost their lives and obviously we'll be providing all the support and counselling necessary for the families of the two men that have been tragically killed at Singleton.

JOURNALIST:

On Dr Haneef he has been released on bail, does that suggest that he is not or never has been a danger to the community?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

Bail arrangements are a matter that the court decides. The AFP have taken their decision in terms of pressing charges and so that bail arrangements are a matter for the court.

JOURNALIST:

Is there anything extraordinary about having Cabinet on a Monday?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

Nothing extraordinary about having Cabinet on any day that the Government decides to meet. Obviously during the winter recess of the Parliament we will meet on a number of occasions. We need to do that to ensure that the business of the nation continues and that's certainly what the Government is all about is ensuring that the broader economy continues to go from strength to strength.

JOURNALIST:

Are you frustrated that that is not being noticed though in the polls. I mean you're talking about the Government working hard and you are but it's not being recognised it appears by the public?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

The reality is if you're in this game long enough you recognise that polls come and go and we've had a set of circumstances in the polling over the last six months that have been fairly consistent but we've always been a Government during our life in Government over the last 11 years of focusing on what's in the national interest and we'll continue to do that and there are obviously a range of issues that we are yet to deal with that of significant importance to the nation. And as we move towards the election later on this year that's the important poll where the people of Australia will decide who is going to manage the affairs of the nation for the next three years and we'll be putting forward our proposals and, if you like, our vision for what we want to do over the next three years.

JOURNALIST:

In the context of today's Cabinet meeting what do you think the Government has to do, what do you have to do to try and turn these polls around?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

It's very very important that any responsible Government doesn't become poll driven. We need to make decisions that we believe are in the best interests of the nation. That's what we've done for the last eleven years, that's what we will continue to do and it's that decision making process that has delivered the nation into the circumstances where it is in today. Now, obviously you get concerned; we're not ignorant of unfazed by the expressed feelings in the community by the public polling but at the end of the day you've got to maintain your focus on what is in the best interest of the nation and that's what we intend to continue to do.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Vaile are you worried that the Government will be turfed out by an electorate that has stopped listening to the Coalition after eleven years?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

Let's just remain focussed on the task at hand and that is maintaining a strong economy, maintaining a steady economy one that's been very stable whilst many of our counterpart countries across the world have not been, that's delivered enormous benefit to the country in terms of low levels of unemployment, new work opportunities for people and a very, very strong economy albeit unevenly distributed across the country you've got to acknowledge that. Our job is to ensure that that prosperity is shared around that we invest it wisely for the future and that we secure the future of Australia. Now they're the underlying principles in which we make all of our decisions and we will continue to do that.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, can you feel a spending binge coming on in light of the polls?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't see a spending binge coming on in light of the polls. What I do see as we have done over those years is continue to be very responsible fiscally. We are in a situation as a nation now where we are blessed with strong economic circumstances with no debt, with significant savings - the country is now a net saver - so we are in a position where we can make strategic investment particularly in much needed infrastructure across the nation that many people have been crying out for for decades but the country has never been able to afford but now we can make some targeted

spending as we did in this year's Budget and last year's Budget and at the same time maintaining a strong budgetary position.

JOURNALIST:

You've got billions in the AusLink II fund. When can we start to see some of that designated?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

I'm in the process at the moment of negotiating with my state colleagues in terms of the specific projects in the identified corridors as well as in the other categories. We're negotiating the structure of how we're going to manage that partnership if you like in AusLink II and hopefully, in the next month or so, I'll take a submission back to Cabinet that outlines the proposed program - an outline of the

program for AusLink II - across Australia. But of course we need to work constructively with our colleagues at a state and local government level to achieve the best outcomes.

JOURNALIST:

Do you expect that to be constructive work, are they going to [interrupts]

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

I've had a couple of good meetings already obviously with the NSW Minister and the Queensland Minister and I've got more to come. But yeah, those meetings are always frank as you'd expect but they certainly are constructive because it's an opportunity that this country has not had before to see this level of investment in our road transport infrastructure.

JOURNALIST:

Given the strengths in the Australian economy and other areas that you've mentioned you must be very frustrated that the electorate has simply stopped listening to you?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

Politics is an interesting art form if you like and you know the way you put that question has the electorate stopped listening, well, the important thing is for governments to continue to listen and that's what we are doing both at a senior level and amongst all of our backbenchers. That's why we are spending this time during the winter recess in our electorates talking to people on the street and, you know, listening to their concerns notwithstanding the strength of the economy, that's the important work that we need to do.

JOURNALIST:

Back on the anti-terror laws there is presumption in the laws against bail. The fact the magistrate has granted bail is that a setback both for the anti-terror laws and federal police case against Mohamed Haneef?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I don't think the workings of the legal system in Australia can be classed as a setback. The reality is that our law enforcement agencies and intelligence collecting agencies have been able to gather the information for the AFP to lay charges in this case. The suspect has been put before the courts, that process rightfully is yet to take place. The courts have made a decision with regards to bail and it's not up to us to pass comment on the decisions that the court takes.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Vaile you said the Government was listening to the electorate; on the issue of housing affordability what can the Government do on this particular issue?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

Given that home ownership in Australia is one of those issues that is nearest and dearest to the hearts of all Australians regardless of age. You want to see your children in a position to be able to get into the housing market and own their own home. Expectations in recent years in terms of first

home buyers have risen, first home buyers are looking at more expensive homes today than they did say ten, fifteen or twenty years ago but the other thing that arose over the weekend of interest was a story I saw that in my home state of NSW where the State Government seems to be sitting on 34-thousand blocks of land that could be released and from my past history in the property industry if they were released that would put downward pressure on prices. There are lots of things all levels of government can do obviously most of that responsibility has historically rested with state governments and local authorities but certainly we need to look as a national government at what we can responsibly do that will assist in that area. Now whether that be in the area of planning; whether it be in the area of infrastructure investment remains to be seen but this is a significant issue confronting many Australians at the moment and it is incumbent upon all levels of government that we tackle this issue.

JOURNALIST:

Given the tight monetary policy the Government's facing, there's not really much room to move on fiscal policy is there?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

If it's managed properly yes there is. Obviously you're not going to rush out and do anything that is going to provide significant and quick stimulus to the economy that might put upward pressure on monetary policy but as we've seen appropriately targeted investments for example in infrastructure don't have that effect and it may just alleviate some pressure in one quarter.

JOURNALIST:

A big decision for the Government is the appointment of a High Court judge by September 1, I think it is, to replace Ian Callinan QC. Should the replacement have a capital C conservative bent?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

My view is we need to ensure that we appoint the most appropriately qualified Australian to fill this vacancy on the High Court bearing in mind that the High Court in recent years has been very very balanced in their judgements and certainly has reflected the majority view of Australians on a number of different cases. Now, obviously there will be a number of contenders for that. We need to bear in mind the diversity of the federal structure of Australia when we take that decision and also the increasing numbers of female judges in senior levels in the judiciary [interrupts]

JOURNALIST:

So you'd like to see a woman on the High Court?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to pre-empt any decision the Government makes but they're the factors that need to be taken into consideration and certainly the Government, you know the Attorney-General, will make a recommendation to the Government and we'll reflect on what is going to be in the best interest of the management of the judiciary from that side of things.

JOURNALIST:

But you wouldn't mind seeing somebody because there's no, of course, there's no woman on the High Court after Mary Gaudron's resignation some time ago?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

I think we need to recognise the expertise and the qualifications of all our senior judges that may be qualified to fill this position in assessing their attributes for the job.