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Transcript of interview with Howard Sattler, Radio 6PR



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PRIME MINISTER

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH HOWARD SATTLER, RADIO 6PR - 10 DECEMBER 1991

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

SATTLER: ... Deputy Speaker and he's one of your staunchest supporters. I ' ve been to a function and I know that. They've made it clear your Government is deficient without Paul Keating on the frontbench. Do you agree?

PM: Well obviously Paul had an outstanding talent. The point is that Paul chose to leave the frontbench. No-one forced him to. He chose to leave and said he doesn't want

to come back except as leader. And that's, you know, Paul's choice. Now I have never, you know, even in the tough times of the leadership battle, you've never heard me denigrate Paul Keating's capacities and you'll never hear me doing it. Obviously h e ' s got capacities but that's the choice that

Paul's made.

SATTLER: Okay, but how about this for a deal? Keating comes back as Treasurer with a set time guarantee for him to ascend to the Party leadership. Would you contemplate that?

PM: No, I have a Treasurer now in Ralph Willis who I believe will do an excellent job. You saw his capacities on display yesterday. There was universal approbation of his performance. Ralph Willis is the Treasurer.

SATTLER: Well what about another portfolio, a significant one and -PM: Well there is no vacancy. If there was a vacancy then if Paul decided that he wanted to come back into the Ministry and he stood obviously the Caucus would elect him

to that vacancy but the point is there is no vacancy. If a vacancy arises then it's up to Paul as to whether he would stand for the vacancy ...

SATTLER: Would you make the offer?

PM: I haven't got an offer to make.

SATTLER: No I say if there was a vacancy would you make the offer?

C O .vilviON W E A LTH

P A R L IA M E N T A R Y LIBRARY MICAH

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PM: I can't make the offer. I mean, it is quite clear that if he made the decision that he would stand for the vacancy he would be supported including by me.

SATTLER: Ron Edwards says Keating's your best Parliamentary debater, do you agree with that?

PM: I think he's an outstanding Parliamentary performer. At communications, of course, Parliament is one part of it, and an important part. Even more important, in my

judgement, in the whole period of a government is to the people and outside the Parliament and that's got to be taken into account. But there's no question at all about Paul's capacity on the floor of the Parliament, none at all.

SATTLER: How significant for the Government's future was Willis' performance yesterday?

PM: Well -SATTLER: I mean, if he'd have blown it yesterday you were in trouble weren't you?

PM: Sure, but there was never any question that Ralph would blow it. I mean, there has never been any doubt about Ralph Willis' technical competence. There is no-one and I repeat that, there is no-one in the Government with greater

technical competence than Ralph Willis.

SATTLER: Well why wasn't he Treasurer before Kerin?

PM: Well I've answered that. When I had to look at this issue when Paul left there were two or three who were to be considered, or three or four perhaps. Now it got down, in the end in my mind, between Ralph and John and I made the point, I made it at my Press conference the other day. I

said that if I'd appointed Ralph Treasurer then I would've had the position where the four Parliamentary leaders, that's the two leaders in the Representatives and the two

leaders in the Senate plus the Treasurer would have been Victorians.

SATTLER: Well why does that matter if they're the best people?

PM: Well in the decision making process about, in politics the question of geographical distribution is not irrelevant as far as your Caucus is concerned.

SATTLER: You get people upset, do you ...?

PM: No, I mean, just let me put it this way. Just let me take it to the extreme. Let's say I appointed every Cabinet position from Victoria, every Cabinet position, there would obviously be upsets. I mean, you wouldn't argue about that.

And when you get to the position where the five major positions, that's the four leadership and the Treasurer would have been from there I think there would have been

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some question about that. And that was a factor which was in my mind. But I never at that time had any question in terms of my judgement about the competence of Ralph Willis. Now it has arisen that he is now the Treasurer. I was totally confident, coming back to your first question about how he'd perform. He performed, in my judgement, brilliantly particularly given the fact that he had a monstrous dose of the flu, a head cold and, you know, he got through yesterday and h e '11 be missing the Cabinet this morning because of that. I hope he'll be on deck again this afternoon.

BATTLER: Well they say he's been pretty bland in the past. Is he a changed Ralph Willis?

PM: Yes.

BATTLER: And how can a leopard change its spots at age 52?

PM: He ain't no leopard. I notice that one of the commentators not known for his sympathy towards the Government referred to him earlier as a pussycat. But it is the case in the last few months that, and this is a matter of universal recognition around the Parliament, Howard, that

Ralph has added to his competence an aggression that was previously lacking and a sort of sense of humour. The answer he gave in the Parliament a while back demolishing a pamphlet put out by one of the Senators was generally regarded as the best answer that's been given in the

Parliament, you know, since '83.

BATTLER: Prime Minister, the question that a lot of people, I think most and you've probably been asked before but I'll ask it again on behalf of my listeners. Why has it taken you 19 days to come up with anything like a reasonable attack on this consumption tax?

PM: Well the answer is that that proposition is wrong. Within the first day I had come up with an attack which exposed a great hole in the package which remains there. Perhaps it's been a bit too complicated for some of the commentators but in regard to what Hewson promised in regard to petrol prices and road user charges - I've demolished

that and it remains demolished and unanswered. He can't deliver on a basic promise he made of both a reduction in petrol prices and micro-economic reform in regard to roads, paying for roads, by what he said would be road user charges on all classes of vehicles. He's walked away from that. So that if you're going to get a reduction in petrol prices there must be a massive increase in registration charges which was not disclosed in the package. Now, I did that on the Sunday. It took them two days to come up with an attempted answer and they haven't provided the answer. So a massive hole was put in the package within a matter of the

first two days by Bob Hawke and it remains unanswered. Now what you've got to remember in regard to the more detailed response now is that they have taken years to put this together and we were not going to put ourselves in a

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position, Howard, where we came up with slick, unsubstantiated responses. What you've got to understand in regard to what Ralph Willis did yesterday is that this is the work of the Department of Finance. It hasn't been done

by the Government. It hasn't been done by the Labor Party. Let me put it quite simply to you and your listeners. If, and this is totally hypothetical because it won't happen, but if Dr Hewson were to become Prime Minister it is to this Department of Finance that he would have to go to get the costings done for his proposals, nowhere else, to the Department of Finance and that independent Department of Finance has blown a $2.6 billion hole in the package. And

it simply means that he cannot deliver in regard to the compensation package and the tax cuts in the way that he has said he could.

SATTLER: Alright, well you say that he won't become Prime Minister but the polls are certainly flowing well in his favour at the moment. In fact, the Australian Newspoll today has him leading 43 to 32 over you as preferred Prime Minister. Now obviously you've got to lift your game or

improve your communications with the public, would you agree?

PM: Well let me say this. The election is not tomorrow. The election is towards the middle of '93 and look, you and I play golf, if you look at the Johnny Walker Classic that we watched over the weekend the fact is that Rodger Davis had a four stroke lead, people said it's all over but Peter Senior won. The election will be at the, as I say, towards the middle of '93, by that time I tell you and your

listeners this, that the package, the Hewson package will have been demolished. The public will not buy it. It will be shown to be both grossly unfair and economically insane. Just let me put it this way: what do your listeners think

about a proposition when you have a new tax brought in? I think your listeners, like people around Australia are going to come to understand that they have a test about a new tax. Is it fair? And as they go about thinking this and understand that they and particularly those on low and middle incomes, that they will be paying exactly the same

tax as Bob Hawke, John Hewson, the richest people in the country. They pay not a smaller tax according to their capacity. They pay the same tax and because they pay the

same tax on the necessities of life that Bob Hawke and John Hewson pay it's a much heavier burden on them.

SATTLER: But Prime Minister, what they are saying is at least the other side have got a plan. What's yours?

PM: Well and what I'm saying, they haven't got a plan. What sort of a plan is it which, first of all in regard to tax, Howard, does this: it says that we will impose a 15 per cent tax on the necessities of life which are not now

taxed and reduce the tax on luxuries. If you're going to buy a luxury car you wouldn't pay 30 per cent, you'd pay 15 per cent. So is that a plan? It's a plan for massive protection and propping up of privilege and making the poor,

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the underprivileged, the low and the middle income pay for massive handouts to the rich. That's a plan. Sure it's a plan but it's a bloody awful plan and it's a bloody unfair plan. Secondly, in regard to the economics of it, is it a plan which we will massively increase inflation in this

country and because we would have to have tight fiscal policy and no wages policy, we will have necessarily to deal with inflation, have higher interest rates and close the

economy down. That's a plan but it's a bloody awful plan. It's one which is against the interests of this country. And let me say this; when I'm confronted, as I am, with a hoax, not a plan, a hoax to transfer income from the poor,

the underprivileged, the low and the middle income people of this country, to the rich and the privileged and when I'm confronted with a plan which is going to destroy the inflationary gains that we have in this country, destroy the

gains we've made on interest rates and turn this country around from a competitive country to one which will not be competitive, I don't find it necessary in regard to that hoax and that sort of plan to say I ’ve got to match it. Because the fact is that we are matching it. The fact is

that as a result of the policies which I have brought in, we now have in this country an economy which is more competitive than it's ever been. We've got a better performance in the export of manufactured goods than any other country in the OECD. We're beating them and those are

the statistics of the OECD. Secondly, according to what we've done, we've produced the lowest inflation rate in memory and we have now lower inflation rates than our major

competitors. Thirdly, we've brought down, having had to have high interest rates, I've now bought them down to an extraordinary low point.

SATTLER: Well is there more to go with interest rates? Can you see more opportunity there to reduce interest rates in the near future?

PM: I am not making any comment about the near future because as soon as the Prime Minister of this country made any comment about what might happen to interest rates in the near future, that of itself, is against the interests of the people -

SATTLER: Sure, but have they gone as low as they can go under Hawke?

PM: Well I'm simply saying this, because I'm not going to be irresponsible, I'm simply saying this; that I will continue with my Treasurer to monitor the economic situation. Remember this, that since we bought the Budget

down there have been two further reductions in interest rates. Now that has come not because I stood up on Howard's program or someone else's and said look I'll bring them down. What I've said in the period since the Budget when

I've been asked these questions, I said I will look, I will monitor, if there is room for it, it'll be done. And I say the same to Howard Battler. I say Howard, when you ask me that question, I will continue with the Treasury and with

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the Reserve Bank, we'll continue to monitor the economic situation and if there is room, if it is economically responsible, it will be done.

BATTLER: You would agree, I think, that some of your backbench have been reasonably restless in the past couple of weeks, lamenting the performance in matching Dr Hewson?

PM: There's been - sure there's been some unrest and I'm not surprised. I mean what you've got to remember is that we have been facing - my Government and my backbenchers have been used to facing an Opposition which had produced nothing

in terms of some sort of policy package for nine years. Now they have produced this glossy 6-700 page package and it was inevitable that there was going to be a positive response in those circumstances. Look, I simply say that I've faced uncertainty and unrest in the period leading up to the '87 election. I said to my Caucus and I was almost one out, I

said we will win the '87 election. And I told them this when they were downcast and dispirited. Hawke was right. We won. In the period up to the 1990 election - the same

sort of thing. I was just about one out in the period leading up to the '90 election Howard. I said to them, hold your confidence, we will win.

BATTLER: Is that what you're saying to them now?

PM: I ’m saying more than that. I ’m saying this: that by the time we go to the next election I will have, with my colleagues, demolished the Hewson package. I seriously doubt whether it will still exist. I seriously doubt, in those circumstances, if the Liberal and the National Party give the package away, that John Hewson will be there because he has tied his political future to the acceptance of this package. And when they walk away from the package they'll walk away from Hewson. We will not only win the next election, we will win it with an increased majority.

BATTLER: You believe that, an increased majority?

PM: Yes, with an increased majority.

BATTLER: If your own polls were showing that you hadn't made ground up on him and that you're still well behind coming up to the next election, would you pull the pin and let someone else go in there and perhaps do a -

PM: I have said this before. If I believed that Paul Keating or anyone else had a better chance of leading the Government to victory, I wouldn't need any Caucus

resolution, I wouldn't need anyone coming to see me. I would go and hand over. But I say this not with any egotism, not with any bravado; I've been in public life now since 1958, I assert that I understand the politics of this country better than anyone else in it. I assert that my judgement on major political events has been impeccable.

I've been right against the overwhelming majority of my colleagues. I've certainly been right against the

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overwhelming majority of the media. I have lost count of the times that they have written either me or the Government off. I could take you back and put the headlines in front of you prior to previous elections where they have written us off. I have said they are wrong. I have been proved right. I will be proved right again on this occasion because I know the people of Australia. After all, I've worked with and for the Australian people since 1958 as

research officer and advocate for the trade union movement. It was Bob Hawke who was the man who got them improved wages, working conditions. I haven't been working for Bob Hawke, I've been working for the people of this country. I

know them, I understand them, I have been right on every occasion in my major political judgements. I will be proved right again.

BATTLER: Well Prime Minister, you are 62 and happy birthday for yesterday.

PM: Thanks very much. I'm looking forward to having that game of golf with you mate.

BATTLER: OK. And Hazel hasn't been too well lately. What's the upside of you two staying in The Lodge? I mean -PM: Well look I made this point. If it was a question of Bob and Hazel Hawke's self interest, I would've got out. I would - look, just let's put it quite frankly. I would be

infinitely better off financially if I was out of this job.

BATTLER: But you've got to go one day.

PM: Wait a minute. Let me complete the answer to your question Howard. You've asked me a question, it's an important one and I would like to answer it fully.

Financially I'd be much better off out of this job. I would make much more money and make it much more easily and honourably, I would make it honourably, out of this job.

Secondly, I would have a much easier life. I'd have more time to play golf, to do the sorts of things I wanted to do, to be with my wife, to be with my children, to be with my grandchildren. I simply say what I've said before. I

firmly believe that the '93 election is going to be the most important in the post war period. It's going to be the starkest choice that the people of this country have been faced with in the post war period. We have an Opposition now which is starkly, ideologically hard right wing, which

is unabashedly, unashamedly committing to propping up privilege in this country, to making the poor, the underprivileged, the low and the middle income people of

this country transfer income and wealth to the already privileged and to set this economy back on its feet. And I believe that I am the best person capable of beating them. I am only staying because I know that to be true and that I

believe the future of Australia demands that these Tories be defeated. I've got the best chance of doing it.

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SATTLER: Do you feel guilty about having chosen Mr Kerin as Treasurer, given what happened to him and the way he's had to go out?

PM: Not guilty. I have explained earlier Howard, that why I made that choice. I am very, very sad for John Kerin because he's one of the most decent, honourable persons that I have met in politics. One day, one day, I'll be able to tell the story of my meeting with John Kerin last Friday morning. When I am able to tell it fully, the people of Australia will understand what a giant of a man John Kerin

is. So I am hurt that I had to hurt him. But the point had been reached, as John accepted and understood, that there was this sort of crisis of confidence almost in communication. Not about his competence but in terms of his communication. He accepted that and I'm sad that it

happened. But that is politics and he has accepted an important portfolio responsibility which I believe he will discharge well. I have total confidence in Ralph Willis. Remember this, Ralph Willis started working for me at the beginning of 1960. He was my research assistant when I was

at the ACTU so he worked for me for a decade then h e 's been Parliament. He is universally respected not only in the Party but across the Parliament for his technical competence. And he, as now, as I say, he's got added to his technical competence a new touch of aggression.

SATTLER: Well I have to say there was a certain amount of irony in the Governor-General, Bill Hayden, yesterday giving him the nod, if you like officially, because it was Bill Hayden -PM: Who dumped him.

SATTLER: Yes.

PM: There was a lot of irony about yesterday. I mean I suppose for those of us with a sense of history Howard, as you certainly have, there were lots of quirks of historical quaintness about yesterday. I don't think it escaped Bill,

it didn't escape me.

SATTLER: Dr Hewson has challenged you to a public debate and a game of golf I understand. Are you going to take part in the debate or the golf?

PM: Well what I'd like Dr Hewson to do is what he hasn't been prepared to do with his golf club. He's a member there at the Australian Golf Club where I'm an honorary member and I ask them what's his handicap and they said well he hasn't

got one up. See it's like the package. He doesn't reveal everything. So I'd like to know what his real handicap is and I mean you wouldn't play with me without knowing what

the real handicap was and I've got to watch you like a, you know, like a hawk, if I might say so, because you're a burglar and I 'd have to make sure that you were telling me the absolute truth. Wouldn't I Howard?

SATTLER: Yes, absolutely.

PM: Absolutely.

SATTLER: Yes.

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PM: So when Dr Howard -SATTLER: Dr Hewson.

PM: Dr Hewson, I'm sorry. Dr Hewson -SATTLER: inaudible

PM: No, no. When Dr Hewson sort of comes clean on both the package and his golf, well we can talk about it. I mean he hasn't come clean about his package. It is a hoax, absolute

hoax and will be exposed to such. And if he'll tell us what his official handicap is, his official handicap, then at some stage we might be able to have not a public but a

private contest. But he won't come clean about his package and he hasn't come publicly clean about his handicap so when he does, we perhaps can negotiate.

SATTLER: Prime Minister, thanks for joining us on the program today.

PM: It's been beaut Howard. Thanks very much and Howard, I may not have a chance before then of being on your program but could I take this opportunity of wishing not only you

but all your listeners a very, very happy Christmas.

SATTLER: To you and your family as well.

PM: Thank you very much indeed.

ends