Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Aston: transcript of doorstop interview: economy, Scoresby Freeway, Andrew Thompson, Kyoto Protocol.



Download PDFDownload PDF

News Room | Government Report Card | Australia in Focus | Your PM & His Team | Email Your PM

11 July 2001

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW WTIH ASTON CANDIDATE CHRIS PEARCE

Subjects: Economy; Scoresby Freeway; Andrew Thompson; Kyoto Protocol

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

Ladies and Gentlemen I just want to add one thing to what I said in there and that is to say how great are the housing finance figures that have come out today. They show a huge rise and they show a particularly big rise of over 20%, I think it’s something like 21 to 23% in new dwelling construction approvals and these figures demonstrate the emphatic recovery of the housing construction industry in Australia. As a direct result of the home savings grant doubling that I announced earlier this year and also as a result of the lower interest rates that are now percolating through the Australian economy. I think what these figures plus the consumer confidence figures demonstrate, I mean we’ve had an absolutely dramatic rise in consumer confidence since March, is that this country is back in the big growth league. Mr Beazley relies very heavily on the Economist. Well let me, equally rely very heavily on the Economist to point out in it’s latest issue it not only forecasts that for this year, this calendar year we’ll be up near the top, in fact there’s only one country above us in growth. But in 2002 we’re going to be markedly ahead of any other country of the sixteen countries surveyed.

In June Mr Beazley said that Asia was fine, Europe was fine, everything was fine except for Australia and the implication in the process of talking down the Australian economy was that if anything went wrong in this country then it would all be our own fault. And not only of course was he being wrong in his gloomy prognostications but he’s also inaccurate in claiming that we are different from the rest of the world and worse than the rest of the world. The reality is the reverse. This country’s economy is very strong. We did have an interruption with growth in the December quarter last year, there were reasons for that, they were explained at the time and we’ve come out of that and whilst I don’t pretend for a moment that everything is perfect, we are well and truly back as a very strong growth economy and that ought to be good news and it ought to be something that people very warmly welcome and I certainly hope it is a factor that the people of Aston take into account on Saturday when they cast their votes.

Now, having said that I’d be very happy to answer any questions.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister in your ’97 industry statement “Investing for Growth”, the Government committed to a target upgrade of 4% on average over a ten year period if I recall. Growth is forecast at 3.25% I think this financial year. Do you think that Australia is capable of achieving that 4% growth rate, is that something you would like…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think we are capable of doing it. I’m not going to make the mistake of trying to give a guarantee in blood that if I win the next election I am going to… we are going to achieve it. I think we are capable of it and we are more capable of it with our policies, with tax reform, with industrial relations reform, with all of those pro-growth policies than we would be if we hadn’t introduced them. And we were achieving those rates of growth for a period. Now I’m optimistic that we can return to them, just when I’m not going to hazard, it would only be a reasonably educated guess and I’m not going to do that but the message of the last few years is that this country can grow above the historic average and thereby reduce unemployment, provided it undertakes reform. And we are the Government of economic reform. I mean compared with the Labor Party we are a country mile ahead on economic reform. We may not reform as much as some journalists in this country would hark at us to do but we are certainly a long way in front of others in the area of reform and that is more likely to produce a strong growth environment.

JOURNALIST:

… written to all the electors of Aston saying that the Labor governments here is committed to the Scoresby Freeway you say he’s not… how do you…

PRIME MINISTER:

What I say is that he said one thing in December 1999 and a completely different thing now.

JOURNALIST:

But he’s given verbal commitment, that’s all you’ve done as well isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve done more than that. I wrote to Mr Bracks and I got a reply, a very warm reply too. The point I’m making is that… and the other point I make is that the Labor Party federally is being very very slow and reluctant and muted in it’s commitment.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister on the Scoresby Freeway I’ve got one of your pamphlets here, Liberal pamphlets, that says Mr Beazley under the Labor Party is still not prepared to give a guaranteed commitment to build the Scoresby Freeway because they’ve done a special deal with the Greens for preference, now the Greens are not giving them their preferences, will you withdraw this…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that was put out, Laurie, that pamphlet was distributed at a time when Mr Crean’s

statement that he would look at a reasonable request from the Greens in relation to the Scoresby Freeway was still current.

JOURNALIST:

But there was no deal was there Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Mr Oakes, when you get the Greens saying that and then almost on tune you get Mr Crean saying what he said, I thought it was a reasonable claim.

JOURNALIST:

Is that pamphlet still being distributed?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t know.

JOURNALIST:

Should it be?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that particular statement has clearly been overtaken by the decision of the Greens not to allocate preferences. But the point I’m making, heavens above, is that when you make a statement, you make a statement based on the facts available to you at the time of the statement. Of course, what has now happened…

JOURNALIST:

….withdrawn?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m not aware whether it’s being distributed but I’m perfectly happy to acknowledge that the Greens are not allocating preferences to the Labor Party. But I will repeat what I said earlier, and that is that at the time that statement was made it was a reasonable claim based on Crean’s response to what the Greens had said.

JOURNALIST:

Are you saying there was a deal…

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m saying it was a reasonable claim based on the statements that Crean made at the time.

JOURNALIST:

Was it a statement or a claim?

PRIME MINISTER:

You’re asking me a question and I’m giving you an answer.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, in terms of, I’ll just go back the question, what further economic reforms do you think will be undertaken, this is obviously towards your third term agenda by a Howard Government to try and achieve those economic levels?

PRIME MINISTER:

Steve, can I say that I’m not going to use this press conference, important though it is, to talk in a long reflective fashion about the next few years. But there will be an opportunity, there will be an opportunity….well you talk about alternative third term agendas. I mean you ask me about a third term agenda. The first part of the third term agenda is to implement all the long range policies that have been announced over the last couple of years, and I mean funding’s been provided for in the most recent budgets. I mean half the third term agenda has already been laid down. Now there is more and I will have an opportunity in the weeks ahead to say something about that. But let me simply, as a down payment, just remind you that there are still benefits as the Governor of the Reserve Bank said last night flowing through the future growth prospects of the changes that have been undertaken over the last few years, particularly taxation reform.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] somewhat of a humble note when you addressed the people in there today saying yes you’d made mistakes, no prime minister is perfect. But how humble does it look when one of your former ministers, Andrew Thomson, gets dis-endorsed, takes off out of the country and goes to Georgetown University in Washington and intends staying there and studying law?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I expect any Member of Parliament on either side to fulfil his or her duties to the people who elect him or her until they cease to be a Member of Parliament. And for my part I expect him to be back in Parliament and doing his job when Parliament resumes.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well hang on. I expect him to do that and that is the advice that I’ve conveyed to him.

JOURNALIST:

How did you convey that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s been conveyed in a number of ways Michelle.

JOURNALIST:

Have you heard any word back?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I didn’t say order. I mean I’m not a military commander.

JOURNALIST:

I said have you had any word back?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m sorry I didn’t catch you. Have I had any word back? Well I’ve been in a state of aerial suspension for a large part of this morning. I don’t really know. But we are….let me put it this way, there are communications, lines of communication being established. Look, he lost his seat in the preselection and I don’t want to comment on that except the only thing I want to add is that I’ve, through his career, encouraged him on many occasions. I know he was probably disappointed at not being included in the Ministry after ’98. I understand all of that but you’ve got a duty to your constituents even if you’ve been dis-endorsed and that’s a view that’s been put to him not only on my behalf but also put to him very forcefully by the Government Whip and we’re working on it.

JOURNALIST:

Did you or the Whip give him permission for being away so long?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I haven’t given him permission to be absent from Parliament.

JOURNALIST:

Was the Whip consulted before, was your office consulted.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look I’d have to take that on notice Michelle and get all the information.

JOURNALIST:

On the question of contractors tax treatment, are you open to further changes and how do you respond to the claim by Neil Mitchell who says he’s lead the campaign against it that has all morality of a rapist with a knife?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well just on the question of further changes Michael, the comment that I made yesterday about fine tuning was a general comment about the totality of tax reform. It was not specifically targeted to the contractors legislation. And I make it again that when you have a big reform like that you do need over a long period of time to fine tune it and the idea that you can’t fine tune something without it sort of being dramatised into a huge shift is ridiculous. I mean we have shifted in a big way on some issues. I acknowledge that and the descriptions that have been used on that are probably justified, things like petrol where we said no and then in the light of circumstances we changed our position. I accept that. But when you’re talking about something which has really got to do with the administration and the ease of administration of complicated tax legislation you have to reserve the right to fine tune and perhaps even on a frequent basis. I mean that’s the nature of the beast and it’s silly to pretend otherwise. And I would put things like the contractors and the BAS form and so forth very much in that category. I thought that was an inaccurate description by Mr Mitchell, an interviewer incidentally for whom I have some regard and I joust with him regularly and I think he’s a good interviewer but I think that was an inaccurate, unreasonable, exaggerated

description.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister on that subject, what’s your response to Kelvin Thompson’s claim, the Acting Shadow Treasurer that if you lose Aston you’re likely to dump the GST.

PRIME MINISTER:

Laurie, I won’t say Laurie, Laurie, but I just say Laurie, it really is a ridiculous comment. We are very strongly committed. If we lose Aston we are not going to dump the GST or walk away from tax reform in any way. If I’m unsuccessful at the next election which I hope is not the case, I won’t be at any time in my future life disavowing tax reform. All of the major things that I’ve done over the last five-and-a-half years I have believed in and I’m not ashamed of them and I won’t be in 10 or 15 years readjusting my position in order to perhaps get a more favourable historical view. I believe in tax reform. I’ve fought hard for it. There have been some transitional difficulties but I have no doubt that it’s good for the Australian economy, I have no doubt the benefits to the Australian economy will become more apparent in the months ahead. But we are coming out of some of the temporary difficulties that may in part have been due to the transitional impact of the GST. I mean Macfarlane clearly said that last night. The figures have demonstrated it. I mean the economy is roaring back. Now if the economy had been mugged by the GST that would not be the case. I mean I know Mr Beazley wanted that to happen. I know he hoped and prayed that he’d surf in on the back of discontent and I hope he’s denied that negative opportunistic path to victory. Let him get out there and argue an alternative plan, let him win the hearts and minds of the Australian people in a positive way, not try and exploit the inevitable difficulty that any government undertaking a major reform must pass through on the journey towards not only the completion of that reform but also the benefits flowing through to the Australian people. So Kelvin Thompson is showing the wear and tear of a campaign and I think that’s one of the more ridiculous, stupid political statements I’ve heard in a long time. JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard on another matter Christopher Skase seems to have been given another reprieve. Is it time for the Australian Government to give up?

PRIME MINISTER:

We will never give up. It’s hard but we will never give up trying to get him back to justice.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard you promised Denise Drysdale this morning that Honeycomb would meet Fluffy Duck. Will you stand by that comment? Your cat Honeycomb…

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes.

JOURNALIST:

…promised to meet Fluffy Duck. Will you stand by that promise.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ll consult Honeycomb …. a well loved, cared-for, relaxed and comfortable cat.

Honeycomb has been going for a long time and I reckon he’ll see not only a third term but a fourth term.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard Fluffy Duck has described Honeycomb as mean and tricky, what are your...

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think he knows the true side of his loving, caring nature.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think relations can be restored there?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m sure they can. I’ll work very hard on them.

JOURNALIST:

What’s the next step on Mr Skase, what do you do now?

PRIME MINISTER:

I will have to get some advice on that. I was just quickly informed of some of the setbacks. But look, we are working very hard in pursuit. We will get our man. Eventually, I hope. I mean, really, very seriously, Australians remain collectively outraged at his behaviour and they want him back.

JOURNALIST:

How important is Saturday in setting the tone in the morale?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’d rather win than loose obviously and so would this wonderful man beside me. I believe he’ll make the best candidate and I think Chris Pearce will make the best Member. Clearly he’s the best candidate and I think the people of Aston will be better represented if he wins. But, it’s tough. I mean you now believe me when I said please, last week, that we were behind and you’d better believe us. And that was the indications we were internally getting. And it’s very hard to predict - there are a lot of independents. You’ve always got to worry about a protest vote. But there’s no point in trying to fool an audience like this that it isn’t close. Of course it’s close. We’ll just have to see what happens. Well obviously, there’s no point in my saying, well, this’ll be my response if we lose, this will be my response if we win. I’ll give a response on Sunday whatever the result is. I’m hoping for a double… I’m hoping for a Wallaby victory against the Lions and I’m hoping for Chris Pearce winning Aston. And I’ll be out there at Stadium Australia with one eye on the Wallabies and the good ear on the mobile.

JOURNALIST:

Is it tough because of the GST, is it a tough fight for the Liberals because of it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Any by-election on 4.2 when you’ve been in office for 5 years is tough by definition. It’s very

tough. You’ve got to remember in 1988 we won the seat of Adelaide with a swing of 8% to 9%, we got a swing of 13% in Oxley, and we got a swing of 11% in Port Adelaide. That was 1988 and Labor stayed in power for another 8 years. Everything is different for every by-election there is a different season. And I think it will be …. I acknowledge that undertaking a big reform like tax reform does involve transition flak and difficulty and criticism. The alternative is to do nothing. We weren’t willing to do that. We took a big risk. I don’t regret it. I’d have done it again if I had my time over again. I do not regret undertaking tax reform. I never will regret undertaking tax reform.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think in retrospect the Government puts too much faith in the Tax Office and the bureaucracy…. PRIME MINISTER:

Look I don’t have ….Look, I accept responsibility. I’m the Prime Minister, I’ve got to accept responsibility for everything and I do.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Pearce can I ask for your understand of the Liberal Party’s position on the Kyoto Protocol?

CHRIS PEARCE:

Well as you know the Liberal Party has supported the Kyoto Protocol. They’ve signed the Kyoto Protocol and have made undertakings. And in fact have now invested and are now projected to spend more than $2b for us to reach our targets. So this Government has a very clear focus. A very strong priority to meeting those targets. And again, the money’s on the table and there in the forward estimates to be able to do that.

JOURNALIST:

What’s the main difference between the Liberal position on Kyoto and the Labor position on Kyoto, ‘cause I’m finding it difficult to find…

PRIME MINISTER:

He knows his party’s position - that’s the difference.

PEARCE:

I think that’s the fundamental difference - yes , it is. But I think there’s quite a substantial difference. It was us that signed the Kyoto Protocol. We’ve done something about it.

JOURNALIST:

The Protocol hasn’t actually been signed yet.

PEARCE:

We have committed to the Kyoto Protocol. We are committed to levels … going forward from 2008 through to 2012 and this Government has established things like the Natural Heritage Trust etc and many, many programmes in order to support it. What we’ve done is put in place the commitment. Put in place the programmes. But most importantly, the funding.

JOURNALIST:

Will Australia sign the Protocol despite the fact that the US has pulled out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Our position, and I mean you’re asking me about a Government position, I’m entitled to speak on behalf of the Government. I mean we’ve indicated that you’re not going to get a totally satisfactory outcome unless you get developing countries involved. We have some understanding of and sympathy for the American position, but our position is not identical to the Americans and I think the point Chris was making is that the commitments we made following the meeting in Kyoto, we intend to honor. All of the things that we said we would do we’ve got to continue doing irrespective of what happens in relation to ratification. We’re going to continue to work on that.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)..say that the Government has signed the Kyoto Protocol, that was wrong wasn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that was a way of describing a commitment to implement the things that were in it. I mean I heard what he said and you’re asking me to describe what he said and I described what he said. What he said was that we are committed to the things that were agreed to in Kyotoa and we are.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, on the contractors, people have been calling for a 12 month moratorium on them because there’s still some confusion. Would you rule that out today?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think there’s any need for a 12 month, no, I do rule that out. I think what’s happened is a very, very satisfactory fine tuning of the implementation of what is fundamentally fair legislation. Can I just make one other point about it. That is, when this legislation was debated in the Parliament, Mr Beazley and Mr Crean said it was too weak, they actually wanted tougher legislation. I think you’ve got a miracle haven’t you?

JOURNALIST:

… referred to Australia as the second best country in the world, what was the other country, the best country?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve never said that Australia’s the second best country in the world.

JOURNALIST:

I’m talking to your candidate…

PRIME MINISTER:

I was referring to that UN survey.

JOURNALIST:

Norway?

PRIME MINISTER:

Norway, you remember? The UN said that. I don’t always agree with the UN.

[ends]

Interviews 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998 | 1997

top

Home | Links | Search | Help | Site Map | Copyright | Privacy  

Send comments about this site to the Webmaster

Quick Find: