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Transcript of news conference, South Burnie Bowls Club, Tasmania



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PRIM E M IN IS TE R

TRANSCRIPT OF NEWS CONFERENCE, SOUTH BURNIE BOWLS CLUB, TASMANIA - 23 AUGUST 1991 ♦ E & Ο E - PROOF ONLY

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Mr Kerin and the Treasury have both watched the response to the Budget ... and they' ve both said that there's no room for an interest rate fall. What's your position now?

PM: They've said there's no room for an interest fall now which is the important point. But now doesn't cover the whole of the future, does it?

JOURNALIST: When might you might say there could be room -PM: Well you see, you know that that's - I mean I don't blame you for asking the question but you know I can' t

answer that. If I were to say, just for example and please understand I'm saying this for example, if I were to say there will be a reduction of interest rates in x number of

days time, that is a totally disruptive thing to say. And I'm not going to say something that's totally disruptive.

JOURNALIST: In the Budget aftermath there's also been some difference over the question of a wage-tax trade-off. Do you see the possibility of that down the line?

PM: I repeat what I said in the Parliament yesterday on that. In the life of this Government now we've had, now it was the ninth Budget, we've had six statements, economic statements, apart from the Budget and usually that's been in

the first part of the calendar year. Now we've made those decisions to have those statements and to have that group of decisions at those times as we assessed that it was necessary or desirable to do so. As I said in the

Parliament yesterday and I repeat here today, if we were to come to the conclusion that it would be desirable for the welfare of the Australian economy to have a group of decisions about that time, we would do it. And we

constantly monitor developments and we would do that if it were necessary.

JOURNALIST: Considering what are reported to be differences between you and Mr Kerin over matters like wage-tax trade-off and interest rates, do you think that the selling of this Budget could have been better handled than it has

COMMONWEALTH

PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY MICAH

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PM: Well don't get carried away by this suggestion of differences between John Kerin and myself. As I made clear in the Parliament yesterday there is no difference between us on the question of a possible, possible wage-tax trade-off. He used the phrase that it was unlikely - because by definition it's more difficult in the sort of

circumstances we're facing now - but he didn't rule it out. Neither do I.

JOURNALIST: You're happy with the selling of the Budget ...

PM: Yes, I guess always whether you're selling a Budget or something else, if you look back with hindsight you may have seen that you could have expected someone perhaps to do it a little bit differently. But by and large I think in difficult circumstances there's been a good selling. It's not an easy Budget to sell in the sense that what we are

saying to the people of Australia is that we've, as a community, had to go through a tough period - and I know particularly that's for a lot of our fellow Australians who are out of work that that is a very, very painful, debilitating situation. But as we have tried to explain before the Budget and at this time, if we had not slowed the economy down then the world would've imposed a much more drastic remedy upon this country. So we've had to do that. But we are now, as a community, reaping the benefits of this discipline. We've now got for the first time in a

generation an inflation rate which is lower than our major trading partners and that is tremendously important. It is in itself reflected in the fact of that very important . statistic of the last 12 months, a 25% increase in the

exports of manufactured goods. And secondly, a very significant reduction in the current account deficit - a 30% reduction in this last year in the current account deficit and with a lowering, a further lowering in this year ahead

in which we evolve. These things are fundamental for making Australia more competitive for ensuring that w e 're going to have more secure jobs in the future.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, if you can't say when on interest rates, can you give us an idea of the sort of indicators you'll be looking at in the short term then?

PM: Well I've said we just want to be watching the way the Budget is settling down. One of the things we had to look at, and are looking at, is the way in which the trade union movement has responded in the wages area, and we've got an

understanding there. These are the sorts of things we'll be taking into account. But I refuse to go into any -further conjecture in the area of interest rates. It's counter­ productive. It's simply against the interests of this country to speculate more on it. I've said before that decisions will be taken when it's appropriate. I've got nothing to add to that. What about the locals? More on the

locals.

JOURNALIST: Is one of the reasons for your visit to bolster the State Government of Michael Field, given that there is a

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lot of conjecture and talk about a possible election by the year's end?

PM: No, I haven't come specifically for that reason but if in fact my visit may do anything to highlight what is the fact - and that is that the Government of Michael Field is a very good Government and deserves the support of the

Tasmanian people - then that is something that I would welcome. He's a very good Premier. He heads a very good Government.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in relation to the pulp mill, you spoke a few months ago of the need for balanced development yet as recently as yesterday we've seen the combined Chambers of Commerce and the pro-development lobby groups say that they are getting rather annoyed at the State Government failing to introduce Resource Security

Legislation. Do you feel that sense of frustration which they are now publicly speaking about?

PM: No, no I believe that Michael Field and his Government are going about this admittedly difficult situation in a very responsible way. I mean it's all very easy for armchair commentators to say, oh, why don't you do this, why

don't you do that? What you've got to understand is not only in this country and in this State but around the world we are facing up to quite fundamental problems, dilemmas if you like, about development and the responsibility for the environment. And may I say this. I was talking in there earlier about developments overseas. If you look at one of the real revealed tragedies of Eastern Europe with the

falling down of the Berlin Wall and the opening up of that area, we see the devastation that's been caused in Eastern Europe by development which hasn't taken account of environmental responsibilities. We've seen the soil poisoned. We've seen rivers destroyed virtually, forests decimated because there's been development without a proper accounting of the responsibility we have for the environment

now and into the future. And one of the real issues for Eastern Europe now is how they are going to handle the question of development against the way in which their energy sources have been prepared. I mean they have nuclear

stations there which are in a state of, well let me put it this way, in a dangerous condition. They are going to have to look at all these issues. So around the world, this is the point I'm making, you've got the realisation that decisions about development are not something you can just do like that. You've got to take account of the fact that

society needs development. You've got to have growth if you're going to have the basis for looking after your people, providing them with jobs, of providing a strong basis for social security for those who are not in

employment. So you've got to have growth. And you've got to take account of your responsibility to the future. Now it follows from those facts that you just can't just go like that, say there's the quick and easy and correct answer. But what Michael Field is, in my judgement, doing is to say

yes, we are going to have development, we're going to do it

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in a way which is responsible, we're going to do it in a way which is cooperative with the Commonwealth Government. I'm confident that out of those processes w e ’ll get a sensible outcome.

JOURNALIST: Resource Security's looming as the big issue. What can you do to help encourage the Field Government to push on?

PM: Well we do more than encourage them. What we've done is to, out of correspondence, now get a process of actual cooperation between our officials in the processes of assessing relevant areas of resources. We're cooperating in that work, we'll continue to do it so that there can be a responsible acceleration of the processes of assessment and then if there is a specific project that is put forward, which is not the case yet, then both the Government of Michael Field and our own will be in a position to make the judgements that are necessary to discharge our

responsibilities of the sort that I've just referred to. So it's not a question of encouraging the Government of Tasmania, we are in fact working with them.

JOURNALIST: The Burnie area seems to be the most likely site if there is a future billion dollar pulp mill built in Australia. Is your visit here an indication of your support for that project?

PM: Well there's no project before us. I am aware - obviously I'm not trying to be funny about this - I'm aware of the interest by a particular company as to possible developments of the sort you're talking about, the size you're talking about. But there is no specific proposal yet. They haven't committed themselves to it. Now the question of the siting of it is not for me. I mean they haven't proposed a particular site and I'm not here to

advocate one site or another. That's something that they've got to put up and that will be very much in the initial stages certainly a matter for the proposer and the State Government.

JOURNALIST: How strongly do you support the development of a pulp mill in Northern Tasmania?

PM: I, and I made it clear before when the other proposal was before us, I support the concept of the development of a mill provided that the relevant and necessary environmental considerations can be properly satisfied, and those come

into two categories. One, it has to deal with the resource and that a resource can be provided in a way which is environmentally sustainable. Secondly, there is the set of environmental considerations which actually apply to the operation of the mill itself provided you can get

satisfactory outcomes in regard to both those sets of environmental considerations. Then I favour the concept.

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JOURNALIST: Mr Hawke, this area ... pretty high unemployment ... made aware of. Can the Federal Government do anything to alleviate it?

PM: Well, the best thing that the Government can do is to create the overall economic environment in which enterprises can prosper and I've referred to that. The best thing we can do is to get low inflation. We've now got inflation lower than the rest of the world on average. We've brought down interest rates by 7% percentage points since January of

1990 and we are attempting to create the environment in which they can come down further, as I have indicated before. We are making serious decisions and allocating large amounts of money for the training and retraining of our young people in our workforce so that the workforce can become increasingly skilled. So these are the sorts of things that we can do. For instance, where I have just been

today, as I say, in Elphinstone, they pointed out to me there that there is much of their development which would not have been possible, particularly in the area of export markets, if it were not for the specific legislative decisions we've made to provide assistance in that area.

These are the sorts of things we can do. I would hope, for instance in regard to Tasmania, I've always thought that tourism is the big, not just actual employer, but I think it has a very large potential to do even more. So we've made a range of decisions to assist in that area. In particular,

let me say, that the decision of my Government to deregulate the airline industry and end the two-airline agreement, which had been created by and nurtured by the Conservatives, the people who are supposed to be about creating a decent

business environment, they kept the two airline system going, we deregulated it. As a result of that you are benefiting in this State from those decisions. Those are the sorts of things that we can do. In the end, after my

Government has created those sorts of environment, its up to entrepreneurs and workers to combine to take advantage of that sort of environment.

JOURNALIST: If I could just change the subject for the moment. Will any pensioners be worse off under changes to Medicare?

PM: No. All the people who, there is 4% million of the people, provided they've got their cards, 4% million of them will not pay a cent more.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, back to unemployment for a moment, what's your response to the Liberals and the campaign policy "Labor isn't working, neither are one million Australians"?

PM: Well you want me to repeat what I said earlier on that when I was asked on a local radio program. It is the greatest load of hypocrisy that has ever been inflicted upon this country. Dr Hewson, the major economic adviser to the

Fraser Government, who brought the worst recession that this country has seen since the Great Depression in 1982-83, he

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was the adviser who did that. But look at the character of the recession that he brought. There was not only double digit inflation, but they left, they walked out of Government with inflation at about 11%%. Never been done before by any Government, simultaneous double digit unemployment and double digit inflation. Who was the major economic adviser - one Dr Hewson. Now this same gentleman,

... he's had a conversion on the road to Damascus - he now has he got a new capacity, a new philosophy? The answer? No. Because what he's proposing is a set of concepts and proposals which would drastically increase unemployment. He

attacked me in January 1990 for lowering interest rates. He said interest rates should be higher for longer. Secondly, he is now saying that there should be a $3 billion slashing in expenditure in the Commonwealth Government. Now these

things would produce significantly higher unemployment. The same gentleman who was saying he would impose a 15% broad based consumption tax, which would itself increase inflation significantly, wreck our competitive position and further

increase unemployment. But he's the same fellow who not only would increase unemployment, but he's the same bloke, the same adviser to the Fraser Government, which presided over a significant real cut in unemployment benefits. And he's about it again. So he would increase unemployment and

after nine months he would throw the unemployed off the dole. No support at all. And this is the man who's going to put up the billboard. Good on him, because we'll expose the massive hypocrisy of this Ferrari driving Dr Hewson.

The worst results, the least compassion when he advised . Government, and now he would purport to head a Government which would do even worse than they did before.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hawke, you talk of your dream for a clever country. I'm a student on work experience and my first choice was in the areas of science. I could not get a placing at any place. If we are to become the clever country we need scientists and nobody is willing to give me

a place.

PM: Well you didn't get a place. But let me point out that in fact since we've been in office there has been under the decisions we've made a 45% increase, that's in this period, 45% increase in the number of places in higher education. So don't let's talk about whether you got a place or not. I know that's important to you. But the aggregate figure is a

rate of increase in the number of places in tertiary education, the like of which has never before been seen in this country - point one. Point two - the science profession in this country has recognised the initiatives

that we've taken to make this a clever country and to advance the cause of science. We have not only increased the number of places, increased the status of science, but of course we have undertaken this historic new initiative in creating the cooperative research centres. And, I may say,

there'll be 50 of those which will involve an outlay of $100 million over the next five years. Fifteen of those have already been created and I 'm very pleased to say that two of them are associated with Tasmania. So there's never

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been a period in which there's been such a massive increase in the funds allocated into the university system to enormously increase the number of places. But beyond that, not just there but in the funds have been made available for research generally and in regard to the cooperative research centres in particular, in this Budget again, we have made

funds available for the creation of the first three centres of engineering excellence, which in another area of scientific development will mark a further chapter in the commitment of this Government to advancing science and technology in this country. So the fact is, of course, that with the massive increase in retention rates in schools, which has been doubled under this Government because of what we've done there, there are still some people who can't get

into the university system. But we are gradually increasing the amount of funds available in real terms, increasing the number of places. In time we will pick up that lag. But there's never been a period in which so much has been done

for the advancement of education and in general the scientific area in particular, as has happened under this Government.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hawke, back to the pulp mills, the CSIRO says that guidelines - environmental guidelines for pulp mills only exists for new pulp mills. How reassuring is that for the community, given the fact that for the next pulp mills the CSIRO admits the long term effects are not known at all at this stage and won't be known for many years.

PM: Well what you've got to do in any community, whether it's in regard to pulp mills or whatever it is you're dealing with, you've got to try and get the best advice you can in regard to the conditions that you do know at the

present time. You've got to try and get the best sort of predictions you can about the future and make your judgements according to that. I mean the fact of life is if you took the view that you could never do anything unless you were certain about the future, we'd still be living in the caves. I mean you've got to be prepared to do the very best you can with your existing knowledge base to try and get a projection of the future and the likely conditions in

that future situation and make the decision which is best calculated to deal with those circumstances. If you held back from decisions because you could never be certain about every future circumstance, as I say, we'd be living in the

caves still.

JOURNALIST: But do the federal guidelines have enough teeth, because the CSIRO says that once a pulp mill is built if they find that there is environmental damage caused by organochlorines or whatever it is that the federal guidelines doesn't have the teeth to make present mills upgrade.

PM: What we have done with our approach on guidelines is to try and get the best available scientific advice that we can get because we are not going to adopt an attitude which is

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based upon a proposition if you are not sure about every element of what may happen in the future you don't do anything. We don't approach it that way. We will get the best advice we can. The guidelines are drawn up on that basis so that we can do the greatest amount within our power to discharge the obligations we've got. We are not going to be a Government either in regard to that area of activity or any other which says you don't act if you haven't got every conceivable situation that might occur in the future covered, you'd never get anywhere on that basis.

JOURNALIST: Just briefly along those lines Prime Minister that you've just alluded to then, we are now looking down the barrel of another two years or so of researching the process in Tasmania before we can even consider that pulp mill -

PM: I don't accept that. There is no evidence to support that proposition at all from anything that's put before me by my own people or from within Tasmania and I've also, you know, been in discussions with the industry as well and I've got no reason to believe on anything that's put before me that that sort of timescale is involved. Thank you very much.

ends