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Transcript of doorstop interview: Belgenny Farm, Camden: Tourism White Paper; Guantanamo Bay detainees; CHOGM; MedicarePlus.



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PRIME MINISTER

20 November 2003

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, BELGENNY FARM, CAMDEN

Subjects: Tourism White Paper; Guantanamo Bay detainees; CHOGM; MedicarePlus.

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………….

JOURNALIST:

Isn’t it the case that the tourism industry has already taken the hit and that it’s on its knees in a way this is too late?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it’s not too late. That’s not the reaction of the tourist industry. And in fact sections of the tourist industry in Australia are doing very well. I’ve just spoken to the head of Tourism Tasmania and he just told me, three minutes ago, there’s been a 31 per cent increase in tourist activity in his state over the last 12 months. So this idea that this is too little, I mean to start with it is not too little, it is the largest injection of additional funds into tourism in Australia for decades so there can be no suggestion that it’s anything other than a major injection of funds. And importantly it comes at the end of a long process of consultation. We haven’t just sat away in Canberra and worked out where we think it ought to go, we’ve gone out, Mr Hockey has importantly on behalf of the Government gone out and talked to people and we have therefore been able to assemble the money and direct it in the places where it’s going to give us the greatest dividend.

JOURNALIST:

How will the brand Australia concept work so that it doesn’t discriminate between companies that are trying to sell overseas, one getting government backing for promotion and another perhaps not?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ll ask Mr Hockey to answer that.

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HOCKEY:

Well I will be saying a bit more about the brand development early next year. But we believe that it’s not just about selling Australia to the world, it’s about selling Australians to the world and we’ve got great evidence to suggest that not only is the world enamoured with our great country but it’s importantly enamoured with our people. And that’s how we can leverage it up.

JOURNALIST:

How is it going to work? Are we going to see government…

HOCKEY:

You have to watch this space.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the restructuring (inaudible) that in the future you don’t need to put in vast sums of money into tourism ….?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we’re not using this as some device to walk away in the future from our responsibilities but it makes more sense to assemble all of those bodies in the one grouping, it always makes more sense if you’ve got a co-ordinated marketing and promotional effort and you also have available to that body, research and statistics and the like. It’s not some kind of device for the Government to walk away from its responsibilities.

JOURNALIST:

What’s your message to the states in terms of their funding? Should they not be tempted to lower their funding?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look my message to the states is do your job, do your job, that’s my message to the states in every area, not just tourism, it’s my message to the states in health and education and the states have now got an increasing revenue stream with the GST, they’ll all be better off in a few years time, some of them are already better off and there will be no excuse for any of the states to lessen their effort. Indeed, we want to work with them and as we have put more money in we could encourage the states to do the same.

JOURNALIST:

Have any states been lessening their efforts?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ll leave that for Mr Hockey to talk about.

JOURNALIST:

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You say this package will better prepare the industry for future shocks. In what way? Just restructuring from Government authority?

PRIME MINISTER:

But an industry that is stronger is always able to withstand future shock better.

JOURNALIST:

On another issue Prime Minister, there are reports out of Britain this morning that President Bush may be indicating that he would be prepared, should Tony Blair ask, to release British prisoners of Guantanamo Bay. Would you, if such an offer was made, expect to ask for a similar option?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no such offer has been made to Australia. The situation is that if the Australian people concerned were to be returned to Australia it is unlikely, on the advice I have, that any prosecution could be brought against them successfully. The reality is that these people appear to be in breach of laws for which they can be prosecuted in the United States. There is no automatic right to repatriate an Australian to this country who is charged with an offence in another country. Let me put it the other way around - if a foreigner comes to this country and commits an offence against Australian law that person has no automatic right to escape the consequences of Australian law and be returned to the country of his or her birth.

JOURNALIST:

So this wouldn’t be an outcome you would necessarily be seeking?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t have anything to say beyond that I have just said, except to repeat what I’ve previously said on a number of occasions and that is that we are working with the Americans to ensure that any military commission trial of these two people is conducted in a way that guarantees that justice will be done. The Americans have already agreed to most of the conditions that we have sought, we’ve made a lot of progress and I would expect that if Hicks and Habib are tried before a military commission in the United States the circumstances of that trial will ensure that justice is delivered.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, will you attend CHOGM in Nigeria if Robert Mugabe attends?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s a hypothetical question, his attendance. My understanding as of now is that he will not be invited.

JOURNALIST:

Is the Abrahams tank a more attractive option…

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PRIME MINISTER:

There are a number of options are there, we’re a long way off making a decision on that. I think we’re getting into the sort of more trivial stage of the….

JOURNALIST:

Does the New South Wales government…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think that is a total beat up, there is nothing in the airport plan developed that is going to increase the noise, it looks very much like a domestic political diversion for the Carr Labor Government that seems to be under siege on quite a number of fronts.

JOURNALIST:

On Medicare, what guarantees can you give to the Democrats that MedicarePlus will increase bulk billing rates? Do you want to see the package passed by Christmas?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I certainly do want to see the package passed by Christmas. I think what you have now in the open, you have a policy from the Government that will for the first time guarantee a safety net which has never been guaranteed before. So far as bulk billing is concerned our opponents in the Labor Party keep saying that their plan to deal with bulk billing is better than our safety net, they offer the hope that bulk billing rates might change, we offer the guarantee of a safety net and from the point of view of Australian families that’s far better.

Thank you.

[ends]