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Dubbo: transcript of doorstop interview, 1 February 2000 [East Timor; General Wiranto; services in the bush; Employment National; BHP; David Irving; Badgery's Creek; Telstra]



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PRIME MINISTER

 

1 February 2000

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, DUBBO

SUBJECTS: East Timor, General Wiranto, services in the bush, Employment National, BHP, David Irving, Badgery’s Creek, Telstra.

E&OE

JOURNALIST:

What’s your reaction to the events in Indonesia, Mr Howard?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think the whole world would like to give Indonesia an opportunity of going through an effective examination of what occurred and the signs at this stage are that that is occurring. I can’t prejudge the outcome of that. There were obviously violations of human rights in East Timor. Indonesia has recognised that by establishing their own investigation as to the possible implication of individuals in that I’m not going to pre-empt the outcome of the tribunal examination any more than anyone should but I am pleased, as indeed the whole world is pleased, that Indonesia is applying herself to that issue and it’s to the credit of Indonesia and a credit to the new government in that country that that is occurring.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, Australia [inaudible] provide intelligence material. Would it do that to a domestic Indonesian tribunal and not just the international tribunal?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we’ll examine that. I think Mr Downer has laid down the approach in relation to that and we have tried in the past to adopt a sensible balance between helping the due investigation without wanting to compromise sources and I think that sort of principle can be applied.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, what’s your view of the actual situation now in [inaudible]…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Mr Downer was asked that question this morning and what he stated was not only the Government’s position but the Government’s state of knowledge and state of mind. Indonesia is going through a difficult period of transition and deserves the understanding of the Australian Government and of the Australian community. It’s important that we build the relationship with Indonesia. We see it as a new beginning, with a new leader or a new government and a new embrace of democracy, a more open society and that’s to be encouraged. We should keep in mind just how difficult it is to run a country of that size and what an enormous challenge it is.

JOURNALIST:

What do you think of President’s Wahid’s actions in relation to General Wiranto?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is asking me in effect to comment on the possible implication of an individual and I’m not going to do that. All I do is to encourage the Indonesian authorities to have a transparent, open process and the consensus of the world opinion is that Indonesia should be given an opportunity of doing that and we should not be prematurely critical of the process which is being adopted.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, should the States match your pledge to put a floor under government services in the bush?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the States have responsibilities and there are state services that are being withdrawn from the bush. I’ll get around to saying what I think States ought to be doing in due time. I’m focussing at the moment on the Commonwealth’s responsibilities. One of the things I would like to point out is that we’re not only in the business of ensuring that no further Commonwealth services are taken away but we are also in the business of improving Commonwealth services. For example the recent Job Network tender resulted in an increase of 50% in the number of providers in regional Australia - a 50% increase. So that it is increasing services, that is new services going into the bush, into regional Australia, into country areas and there are 300 towns alone that under the new Job Network tender will have providers that weren’t there before. So not only are we about preventing the withdrawal or the diminution of services, we are also, where possible, in the business of providing additional services. I’m standing in front of one that’s the recipient of it. The Job Network is a live example. The Job Network has outperformed the CES by 50% on the available evidence. There are more services available in the bush under the second Job Network tender. Now, that is very good news.

JOURNALIST:

What about in the case of Employment National? Will you be putting the floor of the withdrawal of government services in an application to Employment National?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Government service is delivered by the Network. You don’t measure the quality of the government service by providing, by looking at the performance of one individual provider because you’ve got to remember that the contracts that are won by the private providers are funded by the Government. So the service provided by the government there is not restricted to the running of Employment National. The service provided by the Government is the entire Job Network and if you want to measure whether the Government service is available you look at the whole Job Network, you don’t just look at the Employment National, that is just quite wrong.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, at the next election, to strengthen you case on the sale of Telstra, are you willing to detail the infrastructure projects that could be financed out of that sale?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Michelle, the next election is not scheduled until the end of next year and I’m certainly not in campaign mode and I don’t intend to anticipate what I might say at the end of next year.

JOURNALIST:

Well, before then.

PRIME MINISTER:

Or even before then. Well, what I might say I will say at the appropriate time but I don’t have at this stage anything to add to what I’ve been saying over recent days and that is that it is ludicrous to have tens of billions of public dollars tied up in a telecommunications company when that money could be more effectively used for a lot of other things over and above what we might otherwise be able to do in normal Government spending.

JOURNALIST:

But rural people might be a bit sceptical of the generality of that undertaking.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think rural people will understand that I’m developing an argument about the application of public investment and then in time if we think it’s appropriate to be more specific we will but I’m not foreshadowing at this stage at what point I might be more specific.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, would you envisage putting in the Telstra sale contract an obligation on the owners, the private owners to continue to provide community service …

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’ll legislate. I mean, legislation is far more effective than having something in a contract.

JOURNALIST:

So that would be specific…

PRIME MINISTER:

We will legislate, of course we will. We will require community performance of community obligations. It’s a matter of legislation, not a matter of contract.

JOURNALIST:

What’s your response to Meg Lees’ comments that you’re obliged to try and link infrastructure [inaudible]…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s certainly not [inaudible].. It’s a statement of the obvious. Look we have ongoing responsibilities. There is a certain amount that we will be able to do in relation to infrastructure out of future budgets and it should be made clear that it’s not necessary to sell the rest of Telstra to have some infrastructure spending. The point I’m making is that you can do more sooner if you get rid of Telstra and what I’m confronting the Australian community with is the choice. Do you want to have tens of billions of dollars invested in a telecommunications company or do you want more upgrading of infrastructure including in the regions at an earlier date to a greater extent? That is not a bribe, it is a statement of the obvious and what I’ve initiated is a debate in the country about what our priorities are. Is a priority for the next ten years to keep tens of billions of public dollars tied up in a telecommunications company or is it a priority to use that money to pay off national debt and to invest more rapidly and more comprehensively in public infrastructure around the country including in the bush. Now there’s no bribe in that, it is a statement of the obvious and it is my obligation to lay out these choices and to seek to persuade the Australian community to the wisdom of our position.

JOURNALIST:

Do you plan to approach the Australian Democrats?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t flag when I talk to the Democrats or indeed anybody else at news conferences. I talk to the Democrats on a regular basis so if I have a particular reason to talk to them I will but I won’t be flagging it here.

JOURNALIST:

BHP lost the Federal Court case against providing individual contracts in the Pilbara region - a set back for industrial relations reform? Well it’s too early to make that judgement. What’s happened is that an injunction’s been granted. The thing hasn’t been finally resolved. It’s not for me to give a running commentary on litigation between companies and unions…

JOURNLIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s a court case that was granted an injunction. I’m not going to start putting degrees of outcome on it. I’m not going to put any particular spin on it. It was an interlocutory, it was an application for an injunction and as to what the final outcome is, you never know with these things.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]…

PRIME MINISTER :

No I don’t, he is entitled to take his own counsel. I’m not going to start commenting on every single thing that is in the newspapers.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, the Australian dollar took a bit of a tumble over the weekend and some commentators attributed that to interest rates…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they were very uninformed, ignorant, ill-advised commentators.

JOURALIST:

Mr Howard, on the issue of the historian, David Irving, he’s proposing to come back into Australia. What do you think about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we have a view that because of his record he shouldn’t come to Australia.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]..

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

So he will not be able to come even though…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Michelle, we took a decision and we will give effect to that decision in a lawful manner.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, Badgery’s Creek - if it goes before the Cabinet when it sits later this month [inaudible]…

PRIME MINISTER:

You are asking me to reveal a Cabinet agenda? Heaven’s above. I thought you normally had your ways of obtaining it but you are asking me to reveal it. I think we have now got towards the terminal phase - one more question.

JOURNALIST:

On Telstra, on the timeframe, do you envisage…when would you expect to introduce legislation for the further sale of it? Do you have a, sort of, a timeframe…

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ve laid it down. I mean, the policy is that we have this benchmarking exercise and that is being established and being underway. And then if that turns up okay we will then introduce legislation. Now, that will be presumably during this term, exactly when I don’t know. It depends on how long the benchmarking study takes. Thanks.

[ends]

 

 

jy  2000-02-03  12:11