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Transcript of doorstop interview: Bribie Island: 18 October 2007: Gavan O’Connor; unions; IMF; HIA report; Traveston Dam; nuclear reactors; WorkChoices; chaser program; clinical rraining school.



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PRIME MINISTER

18 October 2007

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW BRIBIE ISLAND

Subjects: Gavan O’Connor; Unions; IMF; HIA Report; Traveston Dam; Nuclear Reactors; WorkChoices; Chaser Program; Clinical Training School

EO&E…………………………………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just make a couple of opening comments. I’d firstly like to comment on Gavan O’Connor’s announcement that he’s going to run as an Independent for the seat of Corio at the next election. This is the latest example of how former trade union officials have muscled aside long-serving Labor Party members. Gavan O’Connor to my understanding, I could be wrong on this, was the only person in the Labor Party that actually had a farming background. And for his pains he’s been kicked out and replaced by somebody who holds a senior position in the ACTU. So, when we say that 70 per cent of the ministry in a Rudd Labor government would be former trade union officials we are not joking. And we’re not running a negative personal campaign to say so. The marks for running a positive campaign ought to go to the Coalition, because we have unveiled a detailed, forward looking taxation plan that will encourage people at both ends of the age spectrum to participate. It will encourage women in particular who’ve had children and who want to re-enter the part-time workforce, because of the way in which - with the progressive changes we have in mind - you will have 65 per cent of women in that situation paying no more than 15 per cent tax, and likewise at the other end of the age spectrum. It will encourage a lot of people to step down from full-time work to part-time work.

You’ve got to remember that a lot of older people now like to remain in the workforce, but they either don’t want to, or can’t remain in the full-time workforce. And if you have lower tax rates for part-time work, it becomes particularly attractive

for them. This is a tax plan for all seasons. It’s a tax plan that provides overall incentive, it’s particularly valuable for people at the lower end because the weighting in the early years is at the lower end, and that will provide incentives for greater

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workforce participation. But it’s also beneficial for older people who may be choosing to step down to a part-time job, or for whatever combination of reasons can’t keep a full-time job and it’s also very beneficial for them.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Joe Hockey this morning said that essentially the time is over for unions. Is that right? Do you agree with it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, he didn’t say that. Unions have a legitimate and proper role in our society and that’s always been the Government’s position. We are not anti-union, we’re anti-union controlling, we’re anti-union domination, we’re anti the unions having a monopoly role in the workplace but the unions have a legitimate place in our society, always have. It’s just that they shouldn’t run the place.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, the IMF has urged Australia to restrain spending because of pressure on inflation and labour shortages. How does that sit with your plan to give $34 billion worth of tax cuts?

PRIME MINISTER:

What the IMF said was that we should maintain our control on expenditure.

JOURNALIST:

Are we doing that though?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes we are. Well taxation the last time I checked was not expenditure...

JOURNALIST:

…the tax cuts…

PRIME MINISTER:

…no, no, I’m sorry taxation is not - in a budget you raise revenue by taxing and you spend money on the other side - but giving relief by way of taxation is a wholly beneficial thing, provided it is moderated, which these tax cuts are, and provided it is directed towards encouraging workforce participation. But I heard what the IMF had to say, the IMF was in effect encouraging us to continue our current policies.

JOURNALIST:

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But you have in the budget papers allocated $4 billion to initiatives taken but not yet announced. There is also further billions of dollars of the surplus that you could spend, so do you commit to not spending that in a way …

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I’m not going to give global commitments of that kind except this: that we will continue to run a strong anti-inflationary policy as we have in the past.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister couldn’t you lessen the union influence in the Labor Party if you amended the Electoral Act to make one vote, one value the norm in political parties elections?

PRIME MINISTER:

For which?

JOURNALIST:

Within political parties internal elections, couldn’t you propose that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am reluctant to use the general law to tell political parties how to run their affairs. I do believe in a democratic process and I think political parties shouldn’t be told by governments how to run their affairs any more than I think clubs should be told by governments too much how to run their own affairs. Look, the facts speak for themselves. It’s not our position that unionists shouldn’t be in Parliament, it’s not our position that there shouldn’t be a number of unionists in the Labor Party. We have a trade unionist running in the seat of Parramatta and he’s very proud of his union membership. So we’re not objecting to that. What we object to, is the unions running the place and Greg Combet made it very clear that it’s about the time the unions resumed control of Australia. Well that’s our objection. It’s union control, union domination that we object to, not union participation commensurate with the support they have in the community. When you have 15 per cent private sector workforce only now belonging to unions, and 70 per cent of Mr Rudd’s ministry would be former trade union officials, that’s unbalanced, that’s unrepresentative, that’s disproportionate. That’s our concern, that will produce control, that will produce domination.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister I believe that you have decided to not to go to Perth for Kim Beazley Senior’s funeral. What was your thinking there?

PRIME MINISTER:

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Well when you say I have decided not to, well I had not planned to go. I mean I greatly respected the older Kim Beazley. I was in parliament with him, but it’s just not possible for me to go to Perth for his funeral and there’ll be somebody representing the Government.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard the HIA has released a report saying that housing stress has worsened, how do you feel about that report and what are you planning to do about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I haven’t read the HIA report, but this expression “housing stress” is sometimes used by different people in different ways. Look, I understand there’s a problem with housing affordability. I do understand that and it’s a problem that’s been produced by the fact that the cost and the price of housing has risen very sharply in recent years and it’s risen very sharply because we’ve had very low interest rates. And as a result of the low interest rates people have been able to borrow a lot more and buy more

expensive houses and that bid up the cost of those houses. And that’s OK if you happen to have a house, it’s very difficult if you don’t. But that is the fundamental cause of this problem and you won’t solve it by talking about releasing for housing, the High Court or the Parliament which are two buildings that were included in the Leader of the Opposition’s $6 billion of Commonwealth housing. I mean really, if you’re going to start talking about housing affordability you should at least work out what’s in that $6 billion of Commonwealth land.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, you went for a walk this morning with the Liberal candidate for Griffith and then you actually visited the seat. Are you actually hopeful that you could, maybe, unseat Mr Rudd?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it’s always interesting, and Craig is a good candidate. Craig’s got a lot of local connections. It won’t be easy but I believe in giving the member for Griffith a run for his money.

JOURNALIST:

You’ve beaten him in the seat once before, sir, in ’96?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, his first time, he failed on his first attempt. Look, I’m not making exaggerated claims but Craig is a very good candidate and he’s got good local connections and it’ll be very interesting and we’ll certainly perhaps focus Mr Rudd’s mind.

JOURNALIST:

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The EIS has effectively given the Traveston Dam the green-light, do you think this dam should be built?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’d like to get a bit more advice on the EIS. I’d heard that it’s come out today. I haven’t read it, I haven’t read any briefing on it and until I’ve done that I’m not going to comment.

JOURNALIST:

…over nuclear reactors in this area. There’s been some concern among the community here…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there needn’t be.

JOURNALIST:

Can you rule out that there won’t be nuclear reactors here?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I can do is talk sense, and come on Daniel, don’t run those sort of silly questions on things like that. The position with nuclear power is that there’s no way that there’ll be an economic demand for nuclear power in this country for at least 10 or 15 years. And what I’ve said then is that the location of any nuclear power station would be determined by the economics of it and by environmental and safety considerations. And I’ve also said that we are prepared to have local plebiscites. Now you can’t be fairer than that. I mean, if you want to solve this problem you’ve got to have every option on the table but we’re not going to ram nuclear power plants down the throats of local communities. Now I know the Labor Party is running around saying that, but don’t take too much notice.

JOURNALIST:

John Brumby is using the WorkChoices laws to stop nurses striking. What do you think of that and do you think it blunts the ACTU and the Labor Party’s campaign…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the ACTU and the Labor are completely at sixes and sevens. I have got a lot of sympathy for nurses. I think they’re a section of the community that work extremely hard, we need more of them, we can’t live without them as they’re wonderful slogan goes and I just hope that that dispute can be settled as quickly as possible. But the fact that you have this situation shows the hypocrisy of the Labor Party and the Union movement on this issue.

JOURALIST:

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There was an item on the Chaser last night which was poking fun at deceased celebrities.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, I heard about that.

JOURNALIST:

What’s your reaction?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it is just totally distasteful and despicable. Look, there’s some aspects of the Chaser program that are highly amusing. I’ve had some interesting interactions with them, particularly in the great state of Queensland. But heavens above, I mean that sort of distasteful stuff about Don Bradman and Steve Irwin is contemptible and they’ve basically blotted their copy book. I mean, why don’t they stick to decent dirt-free humour and have something that we can all laugh at. But there’s nothing to be achieved by poking fun at people like that who are dead. Nothing at all.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, the school you unveiled at Greenslopes this morning, is that model just appropriate for one private hospital or is that a model that you intend to roll out in others.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I would hope, Catherine, that it’s a model that could be spread. It is an Australian first, it’s another way of getting more doctors trained and of course, Greenslopes will not only use it for clinical training of doctors they’ll also use it to train enrolled nurses under our new plan. Greenslopes was very keen to do it and we were very happy to provide the funding, but I would hope that could be repeated in other parts of the country. It’s a real breakthrough and I don’t see any difficulty in getting the cooperation of the Queensland Government. Peter Beattie indicated to me at the COAG meeting, which he left declaring that “these COAG meeting keep getting better and better.” That was when the states were wanting to cooperate with me because it was sufficiently far away from the next Federal election.

JOURNALIST:

What about other states? Have you raised it with other states? Do you believe they’d support it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it was particularly supported at that meeting by Peter Beattie. If other states are interested in doing the same thing, I would be willing to give equivalent support. We

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have got to break down the residual divide between public and private hospitals. We do this very well, having public and private, just as we do very well with education, we’ve got to do the same thing with health.

JOURNALIST:

Do you they get indentured to the particular hospital that they train in?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the nurses, are you talking about the nurses or the doctors?

JOURNALIST:

Well both.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’ll just be a clinical training course in the same way as they do at a public hospital. What will happen with the nurses, is, that the hospital will form a partnership with a training provider and they will be trained for a period of 18 months and they

will get the certificate for an enrolled nurse and then if they want to go on and become a registered nurse, they can do so, if they don’t, they can just work as an enrolled nurse. And as I said this morning, we’re not trying to undermine the university pathway towards a nursing qualification, we’re just trying to provide greater opportunities for people to become enrolled nurses whilst working in a hospital. You can become an enrolled nurse now, but the opportunity to have intensive in-hospital experience doesn’t exist.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, what do you think about these maps that Labor says illustrates that your broadband plan won’t have the reach that you say?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I haven’t seen those maps. They’re probably like other Labor maps, full of propaganda.

Thank you.

[ends]

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