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Transcript of interview with Jana Wendt



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P R IM E M IN IS T E R

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH JANA WENDT, A CURRENT AFFAIR, 13 MAY 1991

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

WENDT: Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time.

PM: Pleasure Jana.

WENDT: Is there any sense in which you feel that you've let Australians down?

PM: Not that I've let them down but I have a great sense of sadness Jana about the current level of unemployment. A great sense of sadness because it's been a matter of pride for me that in the eight years that we've been in Government, until recently, we'd had 1.6 million new jobs which was an enormous achievement and much better than the

rest of the world. But now with this lift in unemployment that's taken the gloss off that and I feel terribly sad for those who are paying that price at the moment. But I do

know Jana that if we hadn't made those tough decisions to tighten monetary policy the world would have imposed a much tougher decision and it would have been a worse price that would've had to be paid and I would then have let Australia

down if I hadn't taken those tough decisions.

WENDT: I know that you'd say that but when we translate those tragic unemployment figures -PM: Yes.

WENDT: It translates into young people with a sense of hopelessness who have just come out of school, it translates to marriages, families breaking down, doesn't it?

PM: It does indeed. That's why I have a profound sense of sadness. But I'm not.just saying .words to you and all your listeners out there when I assure them that if we hadn't

taken these temporary tough decisions which are producing these hardships that you rightly refer to then Australia into the future would've been in a much worse position. We've had to slow the level of activity down so that we can now get lower levels of inflation, a restructuring of the economy which will mean that as we come out of that and we will then jobs are going to be safer and more secure and

this country is going to be more competitive. But to hear me say that I know doesn't help those that are paying the price at the moment and I feel deeply for them. COMMONWEALTH j

PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY \ MiCAM

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WENDT: You give those assurances now and yet you promised us that there would be no recession under your Government - we're in one. You promised unemployment would not reach double figures and you'd have to agree that we're on the tragic brink of 10 per cent.

PM: Very close to it. Very close to it.

WENDT: In view of that weren't they hollow promises?

PM: Not hollow promises. We meant them and the fact is that I've said openly in the Parliament that if we'd had the benefit of hindsight I think that we would have been in a position where we probably would've tightened policy earlier than we did after the crash of '87 and we may, but all I can plead in response to that is that the analysis that we made at that period was the same analysis that would've been made right round the world.

WENDT: Why shouldn't these very sad unemployment figures be seen as a failure on your part to deliver to Australians a very basic human right?

PM: Well why don't we put it in the longer term perspective. I mean, if I'm going to be judged on employment and unemployment, fair enough. If I'm going to be judged on it let it be seen that in the period up until

this recent downturn and still with the loss of employment that's taken place there's 1.4 million new jobs that we've created, that's still a rate of job creation twice as fast as the rest of the world, it's four times faster than the conservatives did in their seven years.

WENDT: Sure, but Prime Minister, a Labor Government, haven't you betrayed those very people to whom you promised so much?

PM: If I've created still 1.4 million new jobs it's hard to say that we've betrayed them.

WENDT: 844,000 Australians out of work.

PM: 844 - out of work. But let me say that in regard to those out of work and those who are disadvantaged we have done these things - whereas before in their period of office the conservatives reduced in real terms the benefits that the community made available to them - we've substantially

increased them, very, rvery...substantially increased them.

WENDT: Do you think that there' s a risk that you may go down in history as a Prime Minister who for all his other achievements brought Australians into the misery of record unemployment?

PM: No, because I think they will make the judgement of the whole period and it's going to be obviously a very long period I've been in office by the time I go - whenever that may be.

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WENDT: Your former finance Minister Peter Walsh says that it may be possible that we're now not just in recession but in depression. What do you think of that?

PM: Well I've seen Peter said that. I mean, I think you'd have to admit that Peter will always put the gloomiest gloss on what's happening.

WENDT: But those words mean more suffering, don't they?

PM: No. The words mean nothing. What means anything for the people out there that I ' m trying to talk to through you is this; does the Prime Minister believe that the decisions

that have been taken now mean that the economy is going to start coming out of the recession in the second half of this year; does it mean that the decisions the Prime Minister and the Government have taken are going to mean that w e ' re going

to have significantly lower inflation and a more competitive economy? And I can say honestly, through you, to your millions of viewers that I sincerely believe that that's what's going to happen.

WENDT: Prime Minister, I have to pick you up on the word - you said recession, you obviously reject the word depression.

PM: Yes, I do.

WENDT: Prime Minister, we'll take a break now and we'll be back with Prime Minister Hawke after this.

(ADVERTISEMENT BREAK)

WENDT: Mr Hawke, Western Australia. The Royal Commission in Western Australia is a wound that is bleeding all over the ALP. How are you going to stem the flow?

PM: Well the first thing to say Jana, of course, is that I cannot and would never do anything to attempt to interfere with the Commission. It must run its course and the cards must fall where they will. I have no reason to believe Jana, that any Federal Members have anything to fear from

this Commission. What will happen in regard to Western Australia I simply can't say.

JOURNALIST: Certain allegations about your own conduct have been made by a man who was once a friend of yours. Is Laurie Connell still a friend? ..

PM: No and I would never really have categorised him as a friend. I've had cause to say some things about Mr Connell in the past which I think have stuck in his mind. He has not regarded himself as a friend of mine.

WENDT: When you see those shots of you and Laurie Connell on that fishing boat -PM: Well you know the fact there is as I have put it. I had no knowledge that Mr Connell was going to be there. It was a total surprise to me that he was there. He was not a

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companion of my choosing. It doesn't help the photographs either.

WENDT: No it doesn't because those photographs, as you well know, are now being used as political weapons against you -PM: Yes, sure, sure they are.

WENDT: Even in the NSW election campaign.

PM: Well I can't undo the fact that he was there. Unbeknown to me he turned up, he was there on a fishing trip. I can't undo that fact.

WENDT: Well when you see those photographs what goes through your mind?

PM: I just wish he hadn’t been there.

WENDT: You wish you hadn't been there?

PM: No, I wish he hadn't been there.

WENDT: They are seen, those photographs, by some as a demonstration of a dangerous closeness between you and those people who shone brightest in the world of big business and high finance. How do you see that?

PM: Well it's quite wrong. I mean I have at all times Jana, scrupulously attempted to make sure that my friendships, whether they be with the left, the right, the poor, the wealthy, that they don't interfere with the decisions I have to take.

WENDT: Prime Minister, the image is still there that you gave yourself to these people, if you like, to these suitors in business all too willingly.

PM: I have never given myself Jana, before I was Prime Minister or since I've been Prime Minister, I have never in the sense that you're talking, given myself to anyone.

WENDT: When you see, in a sense, these business ten pins tumble these days do you think that you got some of your judgements wrong?

PM: Well perhaps but I'd say that a group in the community who have been, more .wishing ...they'd-had the benefit of hindsight and may have got their judgements wrong are the banks. The banks made the wrong judgement, didn't they, in

regard to a lot of these people. I think they are the ones more than Bob Hawke who'd like the benefit of hindsight. I mean they really burnt themselves. I didn't.

WENDT: Do you think they were unwise?

PM: Not only do I think they were unwise but you ask them.

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WENDT: Mr Hawke, recently Brian Burke described himself as a man desperately lacking in self confidence and self esteem. Is that the Brian Burke you know?

PM: No, and I've read those interviews and there was a sense of sadness I had when I read them because he got some things just blatantly wrong. I mean he said - and he

explained it afterwards or attempted to explain it afterwards - he said he was getting special treatment. Now if there's one thing that Gareth Evans was ensuring in his

discussions with his Department that didn't happen, it was that. But having said that and going back to your question, is this man different from the past, what you've got to

remember is this - a very remarkable thing - is that Burke said to me in 1983 and he said it to so many people not just to me - he was only going to have five years. Now I've thought about that and I'm wondering whether is that because the man had some concerns about his capacity to go on in handling pressure. What was it? I mean he did have a deep commitment to his family and I know he wanted to spend more time with them.

WENDT: On a personal level, do you regret what's happening to him now?

PM: Yes, and I think any compassionate human being must. I mean there is a relatively young man, a young wife, family, a dedicated, totally dedicated family man who is seeing himself destroyed in front of them. Yes, you're seeing a

life come apart. So I feel sorry for him, yes.

WENDT: You said in a foreword to a biography of Brian Burke that you were proud to count him as a friend.

PM: Yes.

WENDT: Does that still stand?

PM: It must do. I mean you must however, make judgements about friends and I have publicly made the judgement that he's acted unwisely and to some extent improperly.

WENDT: You say they were baying for Brian Burke's blood. Well, some are now baying for yours because they say that you've lost your judgement, that you should have got rid of Brian Burke much earlier on. What do you say to that?

PM: Well Jthey'.re_.wrong. - I.-mean-when you're in this job you've got to make a whole range of decisions, some easy, some tough. And in regard to many of the decisions you take I accept that other people sitting there could, with

integrity, make another decision. But provided, in my judgement Jana, that we were acting properly and in accordance with advice which we didn't feel in the circumstances we needed to override, then I didn't think

there was a need to do more, even though it would've been easier for me to have dumped him earlier.

WENDT: Prime Minister, when the Opposition aimed its guns at you in Parliament on the issue of WA Inc, you defended

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yourself and your Government, you got crucial facts wrong twice. Why did it happen?

PM: I didn't say it at the time but it has come out and it has been said because my staff fouled up on those two occasions. I'm not a dumper on my staff, but they've

publicly acknowledged that. It was very unfortunate. It hurt me a great deal, obviously.

WENDT: Did you feel like a fool?

PM: Yes, a bit. I did. I felt hurt because I think everyone knows Hawke values his integrity enormously. I mean I just do. It's terribly important to me. And to have misled the Parliament, albeit totally unintentionally, is

something that hurts me. Yes, I felt a fool and I felt hurt.

WENDT: Your deputy, Paul Keating, is widely seen as having saved you from an even worse mauling by the Opposition in that instance. Do you credit him with that?

PM: He did a tremendous job. He had very strong feelings about these matters and he not only defended, he went on the attack and exposed a lot of the hypocritical double standards of those opposite. He did it very well.

WENDT: Did you in your own mind make a comparison between your Parliamentary performance and that of Paul Keating?

PM: No, I didn't. I mean I knew as a fact that I'd fouled up, as we've talked about, made these mistakes and that certainly made a comparison obvious. Paul is a very good attacking Parliamentary performer and he did it very, very well. I and the whole of the Government and the Party

appreciated the way in which he did it.

WENDT: Do you think he's a better Parliamentary performer than you are?

PM: In some respects he is. In others, no. But in terms of delivering tough attacks on the Opposition I think he probably does that better than I do. And he likes it more

than, I do. I am not one who by nature basically likes attacking. It's a necessary part of politics and I've done it and I'll continue to do it. The part of me which I, of political life that I like most is trying to sort of get things .together, get .things-going,getting results. Now I'm not saying that plus for me or negatively about Paul. He

loves the attack and he does it very, very well. I think he does that sort of thing better than I do.

WENDT: Comparisons were made by others about your respective Parliamentary performances and it fuelled the speculation yet again that maybe it was time for a change of leadership. Do you ever sit back and say maybe it's time to go?

PM: No. When the question of leadership has arisen I've, in those circumstances, I've said not just to myself but

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I've said to some others, if I ever believed that there was someone, whether it was Paul or anyone else, who had a better chance of winning the next election than I did, then people wouldn't have to knock on my door. I happen to believe that I'm the best to do that.

WENDT: Still?

PM: Still, yes certainly.

WENDT: There are commentators who would say that Paul Keating's naked ambition is pushing him further and further forward to a challenge. Do you admit that possibility?

PM: No. Because Paul has said publicly and privately the opposite. I don't think Paul Keating's a liar. I know he's not.

WENDT: Do you think he's ambitious?

PM: Yes, and legitimately so. I've said that before.

WENDT: Prime Minister, let me take you back to that leadership issue. If, speculating, a group of your colleagues came to you in a month's time, two months' time and said we think it's time for you to go in the interests of the Party, what would you say?

PM: I'd say that's very interesting, but I'm not going.

WENDT: Because you still believe that it's in the Party's best interests for you to lead it?

PM: Mmmm, and so does the clear majority of the Party.

WENDT: You're confident of that?

PM: I know it.

WENDT: Can I ask you how you know it?

PM: Oh well there are many ways in which you know these things. But I know it.

WENDT: Prime Minister we'll leave it there. Thank you for your time.

PM: Thanks very much Jana. ___ -

ends