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Transcript of doorstop interview on departure to Kiribati: Pacific Island Forum, Fiji, Senator Crossin, Minister Reith, Business GST survey.



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27 October 2000

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW ON DEPARTURE TO KIRIBATI

Subjects: Pacific Island Forum, Fiji, Senator Crossin, Minister Reith, Business GST Survey

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard the South Pacific Forum Meeting at a time of considerable turmoil in the region, it’s of vital importance to Australian interests obviously this meeting?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes it is. The last year has seen in Fiji and in the Solomon Islands and elsewhere continued turbulence and it’s a very appropriate time for the Forum leaders to be getting together. There is a general view amongst leaders that we should reinforce our commitment to democratic processes, to make it plain that military coups are not the Pacific way and to reinforce the willingness of countries like Australia where appropriate to help. In the end island states have got to work out their own destinies, but Australia is there to assist where it can, recognising of course that countries like to run their own shows and big countries in the region like Australia have to keep that in mind.

JOURNALIST:

Now the Fiji Prime Minister, Mr Qarase will be there, but you have no plans to have discussions with him?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve no doubt in the nature of a gathering like this I’ll have a talk with everybody.

JOURNALIST:

But it won’t be a formal meeting?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we’ll see how things emerge.

JOURNALIST:

But you will obviously indicate . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

Look our position on Fiji is well known. My strong continuing support in a, certainly symbolic sense for Mr Chaudry who was the democratically elected prime minister of Fiji is very well

known. But being realistic, it’s a pretty small place and we’ll talk to each other, whether it’s formal or informal, we’ll have a talk. I’ll be very upfront about our position, but we have links with the people of Fiji, very strong links with the people of Fiji and there’s a lot of affection in Australia for the Fijian people, whether they’re of Indian heritage or Fijian heritage, there’s a lot of affection for the people of that country. But we disagree strongly with military coups, they are against the Australian way.

JOURNALIST:

Do you still, or do you still favour an expanded role for the South Pacific Forum in dealing with hotspots like Fiji?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we have to make it plain that from a governance point of view and from a point of view of our basic principles military coups overthrowing democratic governments are unacceptable. If the Forum can increase the moral and political pressure on countries to avoid military coups and to build a political infrastructure that prevents them occurring then there is an expanded role for the Forum.

JOURNALIST:

Do you see that role taking on, say fact-finding missions, sanctions against . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think we’ve got to preserve a sense of proportion. Many of the island states are very small, they have precious few resources and inevitably much of that kind of role would need to be carried by the larger states. We will play the appropriate role for a country like Australia, but you have to remember in the end that countries have to work out their own destiny. We saw colonialism end in the Pacific because countries wanted to assert their own independence and we must respect that. We can’t adopt a big brother attitude, but we have to adopt a friendly, neighbourly, helpful attitude and that’s what I want Australia’s role to be seen as in this region.

JOURNALIST:

Are you alarmed by reports out of Fiji that the reworked constitution would enshrine the fact that no ethnic-Indian could ever head, or lead a government there?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am always alarmed, concerned, critical of suggestions that you put race into a constitution. Our position is very plain, we are opposed to a constitution which is racially based.

JOURNALIST:

And you’ll be that direct with Mr Qarase?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I have been in the past and I will be again. It’s a fundamental of democracy that no person should be denied the right to elected office by reason of his or her race.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister on another matter, Senator Faulkner said this morning that Trish Crossin had owned up whereas the Government had covered up. Can the Government afford to continually have the Reith matter dragging at its heels for another week?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there has been no cover-up, nothing new has emerged to shake Mr Reith’s story.

JOURNALIST:

Are you softening your defence of Mr Reith?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, there’s also reports this morning of a business survey which show that the GST, businesses don’t want it changed, but it’s still unpopular with them.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I saw that report. That is the business community of Australia saying unqualifiedly, the business community of Australia is saying unqualifiedly that rollback would be an absolute disaster. You’ve got 6,000 businesses screaming no to rollback. This is the central element of Labor’s tax policy, rollback, and the business community of Australia is saying to Labor rollback would be a disaster. This is not a Mickey Mouse Survey, there are 6,000 businesses surveyed by Morgan and Banks and 90% of those businesses are screaming no to rollback and yet that is Mr Beazley’s central tax policy.

JOURNALIST:

Does it alarm you though that there’s still that sentiment that they didn’t want the tax in the first place? That it is unpopular?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t read that into the survey, I read obviously the need for us to be sympathetic and sensitive to the implementation of the new system. But what the survey is saying and what businessmen and women are saying to me as I move around Australia is that the new system has bedded down better than they expected and the last thing they want like a hole in the head is rollback and yet that is Mr Beazley’s only policy. So Mr Beazley is being told by the business community of Australia that rollback is utterly unacceptable and would be a disaster for business if it were introduced.

JOURNALIST:

Just assisting is that where you see Australia’s role in producing stability in the Pacific region?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we can help. As a large country in the region we have capacity that others don’t have. But you’ve always got to remember that you can’t, you can’t have independence but not respect it. It’s not Australia’s role to tell countries what to do, it’s Australia’s role to help them in a democratic way to do what they want to achieve for themselves. In the end though you’ve got to respect their independence and we can’t cure their problems for them, we can help them do so.

Thank you.

[Ends]

Interviews 2000 | Interviews 1999 | Interviews 1998 | Interviews 1997

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