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Transcript of press conference: 7 November 2007: Stamford Plaza, Brisbane: interest rates.



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PRIME MINISTER

7 November 2007

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP PRESS CONFERENCE STAMFORD PLAZA, BRISBANE

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………

Subjects: interest rates

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and gentlemen, as you are aware, the Reserve Bank lifted official interest rates this morning. This decision will have negative consequences for a lot of borrowers. They will be hurt by it, they will be affected by it. I know that, I sympathise with them, I don’t like it and I think we all have to understand that when these adjustments occur, no matter how they might be justified in overall terms, they do have personal and family consequences and I would say to the borrowers of Australia who are affected by this change that I’m sorry about that, and I regret the additional burden that will be put upon them as a result. The Reserve Bank independently sets interest rates in this country, of that there can be little doubt. This is the first time ever to my recollection or certainly for a very long time that interest rates have been adjusted in the middle of an election campaign, so there can be no argument that the Reserve Bank has acted independently according to its charter and according to its assessment of the state of the Australian economy, the causes that have led it to lift interest rates and the various settings of our economic growth. It’s very clear from the Governor’s statement that the reason rates have been lifted is a concern about some inflationary pressures in the Australian economy. That is the simple, succinct explanation of why interest rates have been lifted by the Reserve Bank.

Those pressures are coming from three sources. The general strength of the economy, the very fact that our economy is growing strongly is a predominant cause of this interest rate increase, the fact that our economy is growing very strongly. Another cause of course is

the pressure coming from the drought, with its impact on food prices which is ongoing, and that drought has been with us for a very long time and it is obviously feeding into the underlying inflation rate. I think the third factor quite plainly is the high level of oil

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prices. They’re at either record or near record levels overnight in the American markets. So when you put all of those three things together, they are the principal causes of this increase in interest rates. It is of course necessary, as this chart on my right indicates, to keep interest rates in perspective. They are still lower now, even after making an adjustment for the increase announced today, they are still lower than at any time under the previous Government, and close to two percentage points lower than what we inherited in 1996, and certainly less than half the notorious peak of 17 per cent reached under the former Government. I think it’s also instructive on the question of causation, and particularly having in mind the remarks that have been made by the Opposition over recent months and indeed over recent days, to have a look at the Governor’s statement, and you can see this as a very authentic and credible statement of the economic facts because it has come from the Governor of a central bank who has just demonstrated very powerfully the complete independence of that central bank. So therefore if anybody thinks for a moment something in this statement is designed to serve the interests of the Government, they couldn’t be more wrong, and there are some very interesting statements in Glenn Stevens’ accompanying statement on monetary policy.

First and most importantly he says this: that “Growth in labour costs has been contained so far.” Let me say that again, “Growth in labour costs has been contained so far.” In other words what the Governor is saying is that despite the near record level of growth in the Australian economy, the fact that we’ve had 16 quarters, 16 years rather of continuous economic growth, despite all of that, he says wages are behaving in a proper, orderly fashion. In other words, wage increases are not running ahead of inflation, they are based on productivity gains. The language he uses: “contained so far.” Now that to me is a big tick for the Government’s industrial relations policy, and a big warning sign to any change in that industrial relations policy. I mean, this is not John Howard speaking, this is the independent Glenn Stevens speaking, a man who has certainly asserted his independence and the independence of the institution he leads today. He also says that high levels of investment are adding to productive capacity in some sectors. In other words, the argument being used by the Labor Party that high inflation is all due to capacity constraints in part fuelled by under-investment in infrastructure by both the public and the private sectors couldn’t be more wrong.

In fact, all the signs are that investment in infrastructure has been growing apace, and in fact some people may argue that it is one of the things that is adding to some of the inflationary pressure in the economy. The construction costs for road projects and the like, all of those things do have some impact on inflation and the other observation that I would make from the Governor’s statement is that he does draw attention to the fragility on world markets. Anybody who has followed developments in the United States, the world’s biggest economy, will be aware that there is fragility on world markets but he makes the reassuring observation that Australia’s financial system remains very sound, very sound indeed. That is a fair observation to make and it’s also, might I say, a warning to financial institutions in this country, if they read the Governor’s statement carefully, that there’s not a lot of justification for passing on any increases in borrowing costs over and above increases flowing from the official increase in interest rates.

So if we draw all of this together, where are we? We have a situation where our economy is still growing very strongly, the Government believes it can continue to grow very strongly, we can continue to drive towards our goal of having an even lower unemployment rate of perhaps three per cent during our next term. But through a

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combination of domestic inflationary pressures and some adverse overseas developments, economic management has now become a more complicated, challenging and sophisticated process. Anybody who thought a few months ago, or even when this election campaign started, that the Australian economy was on autopilot, it didn’t really matter who was in charge of it, that you could put anybody in charge of it, no matter how little experience that person or those people had, couldn’t be more wrong. I’m not saying for a moment that the sky is about to fall in, that would be ludicrous, we still have very strong growth prospects because the fundamentals of this economy are so strong and so stable but keeping it that way is going to be much harder, keeping it that way is going to be much harder because of some of these domestic pressures, many of which are the product of our very prosperity and because of some of these adverse developments from abroad and I would say to those in the Australian community who think that the way to preserve that stability and strength and growth is to change the government, I not only draw attention to the lack of experience of the alternative government and the need for experienced people at a time of greater economic challenge, I also ask the rhetorical question, where are the new and different policies? Where are the magic answers?

What is the policy prescription that Mr Rudd has that will squeeze this inflation out of the system so that no more interest rate rises will be necessary, or fewer than might otherwise be the case? I don’t hear them. I don’t see them. The one big policy difference that he’s articulated in this campaign is on industrial relations where his policy would be more inflationary than ours. You have the Governor of the Reserve Bank, the quintessential independent in the whole economic debate in Australia at the present time, saying that wages growth has been contained under this Government. Wages growth will not be contained under a Labor Government because their return to centralised wage fixing will result inevitably in a wages breakout and that will have employment as well as inflationary consequences.

In all other areas, I see no changes articulated. He surely can’t argue that he’ll run a tighter fiscal policy after his party’s record in Government and their record everything that we’ve put up to get the Budget into surplus. He surely isn’t going to argue that he’s going to run a different monetary policy, because monetary policy, he says, has got to be set and determined by the Reserve Bank acting independently. He’s abandoned any credibility on the skills issue by proposing the axing of our 100 new Australian Technical Colleges, which are designed very much to address the skills crisis. He also lacks credibility in relation to the section 457 visas. He may not be calling for the abolition of the section 457 visas but he has certainly endeavoured to stir within the Australian community a great deal of discontent in relation to those 457 visas.

So if I can pull all of that together despite the accompanying musical score, let me simply say that what Australia faces in this election campaign is a situation where economic management has assumed a more challenging dimension and it is more than ever front and centre of this election campaign, and that is how it should be because a strong economy is central to everything.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, all these factors beyond your control that have contributed to this and the independence of the Reserve Bank, why then did you say in the last election that you’d be able to keep rates low, if it’s so beyond your control?

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well I haven’t actually used that expression at any stage in this news conference. I think it’s important that you not - no, that’s your expression. I have just laid out the facts. What I said in the last election campaign, and I think people are interested in the future rather than the past, and I’m quite happy to say what I indicated in the last election campaign was that I believed our policies would keep interest rates lower than Labor policies. Now that is still my view, and if people want to have a debate in this election campaign about the relative impact on interest rates of the industrial relations policy of the Labor Party and the industrial relations policy of the Coalition then I am more than ready to have that debate because you have the Governor of the Reserve Bank, the quintessential

independent, saying that wages have been contained - wages growth has been contained despite this extraordinary growth in our economy and the inevitable overheating in some sectors of the economy that flows from strong growth, wages have been contained. Now, the Labor Party can’t better that, in fact they will do a lot worse because their wages policy will cause a breakout and that would be inflationary and have significant and damaging consequences for interest rates.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, putting aside whatever Kevin Rudd says you said in 2004, hair-splitting about that, on your definition of what you said in 2004, you’re basically saying the same now, aren’t you? That you believe a re-elected Coalition Government would keep interest rates lower than a Labor Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

I certainly am. I say that unashamedly, directly and unconditionally.

JOURNALIST:

And it’s the same…

PRIME MINISTER:

I am looking forward - if Labor wins this election, interest rates will be higher than if the Coalition wins, that’s what I’m saying. They have been in the past, and they will be in the future. What do I base that on? I base that on their industrial relations policy, I base it on past experience and practice speaks louder than words. In practice, Labor was a much higher interest rate party than the Coalition. And I also base it on the fact that in Government, they were not fiscally responsible. They ran Budget deficits, we have run Budget surpluses, and they’ll be joining State Labor Governments which in three years’ time will have racked up cumulated debt of about $80 billion. Just remember that you’ll have at every level of government, high debt specialists in charge. You’ve got them at a State level now and you’re going to have them at a Federal level. You say, what’s my evidence? My evidence is the past and my evidence is also an analysis of their policies, and they are in favour of an industrial relations policy that far from linking wages growth to productivity which ours has done, whilst real wages have continued to grow, will in

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fact lead inevitably to a wages breakout with all the implications that has for inflation and interest rates.

JOURNALIST:

But they challenge that, don’t they? They say that their wage increase would be based on productivity. Can you explain why you both maintain opposite views…?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can just tell you what the facts are. The facts are according to the Governor of the Reserve Bank who is a quintessential independent commentator, the Governor of the Reserve Bank − not John Howard, not Peter Costello, not Alexander Downer, Glenn Stevens, Mr Independence himself − has said that wages growth has been contained under our policies. Hang on, let me finish. He asked a very good question and I think that really demonstrates the veracity and effectiveness of our policy. You only have to look at some other comments that have been made by both Glenn Stevens and his predecessor about how in this resources boom wages have behaved well and there hasn’t been a breakout whereas in earlier booms, there was, because we had a different wage fixing system under both a former Coalition Government and a former Labor Government. We are now in a new era of wage fixation where wage increases are linked to productivity. Labor will destroy that with pattern bargaining and recentralisation of the wage-fixing system. And unaffordable wage increases in some sectors of the economy will produce both breakouts and higher unemployment.

JOURNALIST:

They’ve ruled out pattern bargaining and Glenn Stevens doesn’t say there that the IR policy would cause a blow-out in wages.

PRIME MINISTER:

Kieran, I didn’t say Glenn Stevens said that. What I said that was that Glenn Stevens said our wages policy had produced contained outcomes, and that is a remarkable thing, that despite 16 years of continuous economic growth and powerful growth conditions the like

of which this country hasn’t seen before, despite all of that, wages have behaved in an orderly fashion, they’ve been linked to productivity, that’s produced a 33-year low in unemployment, it’s produced an enhanced profit share for Australian business and it’s quite a remarkable achievement, and the observation I’m making is that if you go through the Governor’s statement, you will find that it really does support so much of what the Government has been arguing. Now in relation to the Opposition, they were talking about capacity constraints, Glenn Stevens has addressed that. They’re talking about skills, well Mr Rudd has skittled himself on skills. He’s going to abolish our 100 Australian Technical Colleges. How can you believe in skills when you’re going to get rid of 100 Australian Technical Colleges?

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, given that this quintessential independent Governor has sent this message and has also said that headline and underlying inflation, in his statement, were heading

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above three per cent by the March quarter, do you see that as a sign that you should moderate your election campaign spending and are there any areas in which you can see you could make savings?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, our fiscal policy has been incredibly restrained and responsible, we have produced surplus after surplus after surplus and I don’t see anything in the Governor’s statement which is critical of our fiscal policy. I looked for that, and I couldn’t find anything in the statement that said that fiscal policy has become too loose. If you are putting away surpluses of at least one per cent of GDP, I don’t think you can regard that as being a permissive fiscal policy. We are not going into debt, unlike State Labor, we are not going into debt. State Labor excuses going into debt to fund infrastructure, says oh, that’s all right. We don’t go into debt to buy tanks and warships and aircraft for the Australian Defence Force. They are long life assets, too, they’re the defence infrastructure of this country. I find this excuse trotted out by State Labor Governments and blindly accepted by most of the media commentators at a State-based level that it’s perfectly OK to go into debt to fund infrastructure. That’s good economics, there’s nothing inflationary about it. That’s a bit of old-fashioned Keynesian nonsense. A borrowing is a borrowing because you put pressure on financial markets, and I say to people who think Mr Rudd’s going to be an economic conservative, have a look at his State mates. In three years’ time there’ll be $80 billion of state debt.

JOURNALIST:

Will today’s decision hurt your electoral chances?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I am not going to comment on my electoral chances. I don’t like interest rates going up, I’ve said that very plainly. Nobody should think for a moment I like the fact that interest rates have gone up, I do not. But the Reserve Bank has a responsibility, according to its charter, independently to set interest rates. It has explained the reason rates have gone up is to contain some inflationary pressures in the system and in the long run it is in everybody’s interest that inflation be contained because low inflation is the foundation of continued prosperity, low inflation is the foundation of continued job security, low inflation is the foundation of continued growth in the Australian economy. So I understand, although I don’t like the immediate decision and I can feel for people who are affected by it, I nonetheless understand why the bank has taken its decision and I do say again that I am sorry for the impact on people.

JOURNALIST:

In 2004, the 7th of October, was that quote you said you would keep interest rates at record lows. Why did you mislead the Australian people when you said that in 2004?

PRIME MINISTER:

Clinton, in an election campaign there are a lot of things said and not everybody listens to every interview, not even somebody as attentive as you would listen to every interview

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and read every newspaper article. The collective impression people would have taken out of the last election campaign, the clear impression they’d have been entitled to take out of the election campaign, was that I campaigned very strongly on interest rates. I campaigned very strongly with the argument that we were a better bet to keep interest

rates lower than the Labor Party. Now, of course I did that, and I’ve never sought to evade that, and I believe that that was the case then. I believe that if Mr Latham had been elected, interest rates would have gone up a lot more because he would have run a very permissive fiscal policy and he would have implemented the industrial relations policy Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard want to implement and I believe very strongly now that if Labor is elected then the upward pressure on both inflation and interest rates will be much greater than if we are re-elected. We have reached that stage where economic management is front and centre, and will remain so in this election campaign.

JOURNALIST:

Do you feel let down by Cameron Thompson?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. And I think he should feel let down by your misrepresentation of him.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think voters - would you understand if voters felt betrayed by your comments at the last election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’ve already indicated what I said at the last election and the impression that I conveyed and I don’t walk away from that, but I think you’re asking me to engage in a bit of political commentary and I don’t intend to do that.

JOURNALIST:

Shouldn’t you apologise to those families that you promised at the last election to keep interest rates low, given there have been six rises since then?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well interest rates have gone up by one and a half per cent, official interest rates have gone up by one and a half per cent since the last election, they are still just under two per cent lower than they were when we came into office. They are still lower than at any time under the former Government and of course, less than half of the notorious peak of 17 per cent.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, given the current challenging times that you say we’re facing and the inflationary pressures both here and abroad, are we going to see a trend of upward interest rates for some time to come? Can you contain that, or not?

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PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think it serves any purpose for me to speculate about specific movements. I can speculate about the impact of policy, because that is something over which I have more direct control. But I can speculate about the impact of different policies but I think just as interest rate movements in the past few months have been determined by what’s happened in areas like the drought and from overseas, both of which are beyond our immediate control, and oil prices, I don’t really want to get into that sort of speculation.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, are you proposing in this election campaign anything new to try and combat inflation or just a continuation of what you have been doing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well certainly we’re investing a great deal more in skills, and I think getting the skills base of this country further entrenched and expanded in the long term will make a contribution, that’s the first thing. We’re certainly proposing a continuation of the industrial relations policy, which according to the Governor of the Reserve Bank has acted to contain wages growth, and that is a mighty important thing and a mighty important difference. We’ll continue of course to run a very disciplined fiscal policy,

unlike Labor we’ll continue to have Budget surpluses so those three things alone are very important commitments.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, could you explain how Cameron Thompson was misrepresented?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I heard what he had to say and I didn’t interpret that in any way as claiming that an increase in interest rates would be a political plus. All he said, and I don’t think you can interpret it in any other way, all he said was that the decision in relation to interest rates

would focus people’s attention on economic management and the Government was always seen as having superior credentials in economic management but you have represented it and Mr Rudd did, rather, you didn’t, Mr Rudd represented it as Mr Thompson welcoming an increase in interest rates. He did no such thing and I certainly don’t. I don’t like the increase that’s occurred today, I want to make that very clear.

JOURNALIST:

Do you appreciate the focus it’s put on the economy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m not going to get into commentary. I have said all along in this election campaign that a strong economy is central to everything, and I think economic management is the biggest issue and what this series of developments in this debate

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indicates is that economic management has now become more challenging. That’s the key, the world isn’t going to come to an end, the sky’s not about to fall in. We can still have three per cent unemployment provided we have the right policies but these developments have meant that economic management is that much more challenging and difficult and requiring more experience, and you need experienced people to protect our living standards.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, on the issue of correct representation, you said earlier a couple of times I think that Kevin Rudd wants to get rid of your 100 Australian Technical Colleges. Actually you’ve only 21, are you representing him fairly? You’ve got a proposal for…

PRIME MINISTER:

He’s against it and he’s - but he’s against my proposals so therefore he’s going to, if you elect Kevin Rudd, you won’t have 100 extra Australian Technical Colleges.

JOURNALIST:

That doesn’t mean that he’s given up the game on skills, he’s got his own skills proposal.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think his skills proposal is any good. He’s basically saying you have an oven or a lathe in each school. I don’t think that’s anywhere near as good as having dedicated technical schools, and those in the room who went to school when you had dedicated technical schools will know that it was a much better system.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, if your Government had invested more in skills earlier would we be in the inflation and interest rate position we’re in today?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I think we have invested in skills over a very long period of time. I don’t accept that we’ve under-invested in skills.

JOURNALIST:

Just on this inflationary argument, Labor proposes enterprise bargaining at a firm level based on productivity. It’s not uncommon under WorkChoices for an employer to put all his or his employees on an AWA, that same AWA backed by the fairness test. What’s the difference? How can one be more inflationary than…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, because the other part of Labor’s policy that they never acknowledge is that you can have a firm where only one person is a unionist or wants to be represented by a union

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and as a result, even if the employer and the other 99 agree on what the wage outcome can be, the union can in effect require the matter finally be settled by Fair Work Australia and Fair Work Australia can impose, in effect, an arbitrated outcome.

JOURNALIST:

How does that spread to other workers?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well very easily because if one does it a whole lot of others will do it and the unions will, I mean, it’s pretty easy to find one person out of 100. That is the unspoken part of Labor’s industrial relations policy. Just think about it for a moment. You’re the employer and you’ve got 99 employees and you agree on a deal, and the 100th person says no, I don’t like that and I’ve got the AWU representing me. Well that’s fair enough, I don’t object to that, they can do that under our policy but the AWU rep says well look, I’m not happy with that and under their policy, if you can’t resolve it then Fair Work Australia resolves it, and Fair Work Australia will in effect impose an arbitrated outcome and that arbitrated outcome will not reflect the wishes of the majority of people in the workplace and if that happens in one place, Bob’s your uncle, that’ll spread right through the rest of the economy. That’s the argument and it’s very, very simple, very clear. I mean, all this talk about enterprise bargaining and everything disguises the fact that in the end one person alone can procure an arbitrated outcome imposed by Fair Work Australia, and Julia Gillard has admitted it under heavy questioning.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, given that the economy has been booming under your stewardship, is this the interest rate rise we had to have?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, the interest rate rise is on account of the reasons outlined in the Governor’s statement.

JOURNALIST:

You said earlier this year that Australian families have never been better off. Do you still stand by that comment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Australian families have enjoyed as a group very significant wage increases, lower levels, have endured lower levels of unemployment for more than a generation and significant increases in real incomes. However, there are cost of living pressures that all families suffer from and all families are affected by, some more than others, and that is one of the reasons why tax relief in five successive budgets has been given. People who are critical of tax relief, and there are some, seem to forget that it’s the taxpayer’s money that is being given back. I mean, if you can’t at a time of great prosperity provide some tax relief to the Australian public then there’s something wrong with your economic

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management. I don’t accept this theory that to give tax cuts that still leaves a very healthy budget surplus is inflationary or irresponsible.

JOURNALIST:

But do you still stand by that comment though? Do you still stand by that comment?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve answered your question.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, in recent days you’ve talked about these uncertain economic times. It’s quite reminiscent of the phrase you used, these uncertain times in 2001 to describe the security threat. Do you think there’s any comparison between these threats?

PRIME MINISTER:

Denis, don’t get me into, I’m not into any commentary, Denis, Denis, come on. You know me better.

JOURNALIST:

Are you using the Reserve Bank Governor’s statement to push your own political line?

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Are you using the Reserve Bank Governor’s statement to push your own political line on interest rates and do you think that’s, they’d be happy about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, everybody is accountable for their own statements.

JOURNALIST:

In the last election they seemed to, they weren’t happy with your line on interest rates.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, you can ask them anything you like. I mean, let’s just, hang on, hang on. The Reserve Bank Governor is independent, he makes a statement. I’m entitled as Prime Minister and anybody’s entitled to look at that statement, it’s a public statement, to read it

and to draw my own conclusions. There is nobody in this country who has a right to

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object to somebody drawing conclusions from a public statement that he or she makes. I mean, nobody is in that special category.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)…Governor of the Reserve Bank is endorsing WorkChoices and I think you’ve said it a couple of times…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I didn’t, I didn’t say that.

JOURNALIST:

Well supported your industrial relations policy…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, he supported our wages.

JOURNALIST:

Your wages?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, well I believe, well what he says is this, he says it very clearly that growth in labour costs has been contained so far. Now, you know, Reserve Bank Governors speak in restrained ways but that’s a pretty strong statement. I mean, if in fact he thought wages were contributing to inflation he would not have said that, would he?

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, you say everybody’s accountable for their own statements but earlier you seemed to suggest that an interview you’d given in the last campaign where you said interest rates would be at record lows was not important because it was more, it was an impression that people took away, that you’d be keeping interest rates low was more important. Are you not accountable for every word you say in an election campaign?

PRIME MINISTER:

But the impression people take away is drawn from a whole lot of statements people make. In an election campaign you do multiple interviews, you get asked innumerable questions and it’s no one statement that totally, well very rarely, is it one statement that totally sort of, adumbrates the whole thing. It’s the aggregate impression and look I campaigned hard on interest rates at the last election and I don’t apologise for that because I believe what I said, that interest rates would always be lower under the Coalition than under Labor, and I say that again, and the evidence now is just as strong.

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JOURNALIST:

Where is Peter Costello today? Wouldn’t this be an appropriate day for the team to step forward?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the best thing the team can do on a day like this is to speak in different parts of the nation.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, your graph over there benefits Labor equally as the Coalition. There’s almost five per cent lobbed off the bottom of the graph but it does show that interest rates under the Coalition, if you’re just looking at those bars are a lot, lot lower than under Labor when actually if you read the numbers it’s about half the level. Are you happy with the way that’s represented? It’s not slightly…

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I am. You can look at the, your eyesight’s ordinary so you can read it. Look, I stand by this graph and I’m glad you’re reading it.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, I don’t know if you heard ABC AM program today but there’s a family there talking about interest rates hurting them, tomato prices going up, groceries, petrol prices are looming higher. This is like a triple assault on families, what’s your message to those people who feel like it’s coming at them from all sides?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, I feel for families that are under cost of living pressures, very much so and the most important thing that I can do for them if I’m re-elected is to make sure that mum and dad, if they both want jobs, have jobs, or if dad wants a full-time job and mum a part-

time job that’s how it is, because in the end the greatest threat to living standards is job insecurity and you ask me what is my greatest achievement economically is to have seen unemployment in this country fall to a 33-year low. Sometimes the comments that are made about, in an antiseptic way about monetary policy and so forth, lose sight of the fact that the end goal, the end human dividend of good economic policy has got to be people having a job and having job security, and in 33 years we haven’t seen the measure of job security and job opportunities we have at the present time and that still remains my greatest goal, is to keep unemployment down and to drive it lower and I would say to people feeling cost of living pressure that the worst cost of living pressure can be to lose your job.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, two and a half weeks to go in the campaign, how are you feeling?

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PRIME MINISTER:

I’m feeling great, but don’t think I’m going to get into any commentary.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, just with this uncertain economic times, can I ask you again that given it’s your pitch, could you even have a stab at who you’d like to see be Treasurer once you depart and Peter steps up?

PRIME MINISTER:

Forget it, Phil. Forget it.

JOURNALIST:

But why should people…

PRIME MINISTER:

People know that I’m going to, no, no, no, no, no, Phil, forget it.

JOURNALIST:

Are you going to go to the first Test, PM?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’d like to but I think it might be difficult.

JOURNALIST:

How do you feel about the fact that this is the first time interest rates have gone up during an election campaign?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to do anything other than observe that that is a true statement.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, do you regret not having called the election a few weeks earlier?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have no regrets about the timing of the election. All right, you’re all exhausted are you?

[ends]

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