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Parliament House, Canberra, 10 November 1998: transcript of doorstop interview [GST; Neil Andrew; Dr Mahathir; Reserve Bank]



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

 

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA, 10 NOVEMBER 1998

 

E&OE-PROOF ONLY

 

Subjects: GST, Neil Andrew, Dr Mahathir, Reserve Bank

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Beazley, what do you make of this ACOSS survey showing that 68 per cent of people don’t want a GST on food?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, most Australian people don’t want a GST: period. They know that it’s going to be a tax which will be massively avoided, they know it’s going to be an unfair tax, they know it’s going to be a challenge to their capacity to afford the basic necessities of life. It’s more than just food, it’s other necessities like the power, it’s necessary services. And people don’t want it.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

How are you going to get the Senate to agree to an inquiry to show people that?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

We have only 28 votes in the Senate and we’ll be in a minority in the Senate before the middle of next year, and after the middle of next year. So, all we can do is to stand firm in our opposition to this tax and hope that the other minor parties conduct themselves sensibly. There needs to be a thorough going inquiry into this and I think there is a mood in the Senate for that.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

The Government is still playing hardball over food and the GST. Do you believe there’s any chance of the tax package getting though the Senate if food is not exempt?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

This is a Government of optimal arrogance. John Howard said he wanted a change in the previous Parliament. Well, what we’ve seen of him so far is that instead of being timid he’s now going to be rigid. Neither is a very good attitude for the rest of the Australian people and sensible way of getting things through the Senate.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Do you think there’ll be much change with Neil Andrew in the Chair now?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, we’ll see. He understands, I think, firmly, that there is a desire amongst the Australian people to see a Speaker operate independently and Parliament operate in good order. It’s a challenge for him.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Do you have much faith in his hope for an independent Speaker?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

He will have the Prime Minister’s predilections to overcome. That much as been clear as far as the previous Parliament is concerned. But everybody deserves a fair go when they’re newly arrived in the position: and we’ll give him one.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Have you had any discussions with any of the Independents?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Not at this stage as far as I’m aware. Obviously, there is always informal chatter around the corridors. And I’m sure that that is going on. But there’s no sort of formal sit down as far as I’m aware of in these matters.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Are you getting any whispers about division within the Liberal ranks over whether or not a GST should be included on food?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, I think that there are very many people in the Liberal Party, and certainly a large number of Liberal supporters who think there should be no GST at all and are worried about the GST on the essentials of life. Remember this from the last election: the Liberal Party got 48½ per cent of the vote. But in the Senate, that’s not a very good performance, but in the Senate they got 10 per cent less. They’re down to about 38½ per cent. Now, what does that mean? That means that a very large number of Liberals were prepared to take their querying of the GST beyond simply an expression of concern to the Liberal member. They took it to a vote against the Liberal Party in the Senate. The Senate produced a totally different outcome from the House of Representatives. And their outcome in the House of Representatives wasn’t much chop.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Beazley, the Prime Minister seems to be keen to meet with Dr Mahathir during this month’s APEC meeting, even though the United States President won’t talk with him because of the treatment of Anwar Ibrahim. What kind of message does that send to the rest of the world about Australia’s attitude towards democracy?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, two things. Firstly, we do need to have a strategy for the region around us. The neglect that the Government has displayed to the economic circumstances of our region for the bulk of the period of the last 18 months, the ‘scarcely measurable’ impact that Peter Costello used to talk about has to come to an end. And it does seem now as though Mr Howard was picking up the sort of agenda being pursued by the G7, and Tony Blair and Bill Clinton in particular, about some degree of regulatory environment in international financial markets. That’s a good thing, it’s a thing that has to, now more than ever be sold to his colleagues in APEC. I would think, however, at this point of time it would be wise for Mr Howard to keep Dr Mahathir at arms’ length. There’s a great deal of dissatisfaction with Dr Mahathir in the community, not just in the United States, but in the Asian community generally. And Mr Howard ought to be cautious about giving them a cache.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

So, Australia’s standing could be damaged if that meeting goes ahead?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, I don’t know that Australia’s standing would be damaged. But the capacity to put a little pressure on Prime Minister Mahathir over the treatment of his former deputy would, to some degree, I think, be reduced.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Does Labor share the Reserve Bank’s rosy assessment of the economy?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

We never thought it was going to go into recession. We’ve always been enormously proud of the Australian economy. Now, let’s face facts, when Mr Howard came into office he said that he inherited an economy ‘better than good in parts’: and he did. The reason why we have weathered, to this point, a great deal of the storm in the region around us has been for these reasons. Firstly, John Howard’s managed exchange rate was abolished by us, so we did not confront a devaluation crisis. Secondly, the previous Labor Government broadened our export markets, both in their content and in their locations, and in that process gave us options beyond the Asian region. And, thirdly, we went through the process of strengthening our financial sector during the course of the late 80s. It is these three things which have meant that the Australian economy has been able to sustain some level of growth. Not as much as it might have been if the Government hadn’t taken a baseball bat to it in its first and second years.

 

ends

 

 

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