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Leader o f the Opposition

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REF: TPT/BO/PBR.OOl

3 December 1991

DR JOHN HBWSON, HP TRANSCRIPT OP MEDIA CONFERENCE PERTH, WA

E & Ο E - PROOF COPY ONLY

Subjects: Coalition "Fightback" Package, Government analysis of the package, Coalition Health Policy,

Jrnlst:

... (inaudible) ... it is a week since you launched your GST package, are Australians buying it?

Hewson:

We believe they are, we don't underestimate, nevertheless, that we need to spend every day between now and the next election explaining ourselves and getting our message across, but there is a mood in Australia for change, people know that what's been done in the past hasn't worked, perhaps some

remain to be convinced that we have got the answers but that is just what we want really, a chance to put our case.

Jrnlst:

What do you think of Mr Howe's comments yesterday?

Hewson:

Well I think it demonstrates the approach of this Government, that is, one of dishonesty. Our document, we think, is the most honest attempt to identify the problems in Australia and deal with them even though that may be politically difficult. We think it is about time the country had that maturity to

face problems with that degree of honesty. I don't think in that circumstance being dishonest, as Mr Howe was and Mr Hawke was last week, is consistent with the mood of the Australian people. They don't want outlandish claims made about figuring which can't be substantiated, they would like to see the

Government debate the issues. In health, everybody knows, there are very real issues about the length of queues at hospitals, about over-servicing by doctors, about the poor

quality of hospital administration in some of our public

Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Phone 277 4022 CO M M O NW EALTH PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY M IC A H

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f hospitals in Australia - they are the issues we have addressed ‘and I think Mr Howe would be well advised to focus on the • issues and tell us what his alternative is.

Jrnlst:

Carmen Lawrence has made much of the claim that over 5 years your program would mean cuts of $1 billion to the State?

liewson:

I don't know where Carmen Lawrence gets those figures from, I think just one benefit to her and to this State would be the abolition of payroll tax which is over $500 million each year, it also would give her access to a revenue base that would

grow, which is really what they have been arguing for in the context of the Special Premiers Conference. Sure, there are some other cuts, but there are also some other benefits in our package - I think the net effect on western Australia is overwhelmingly positive, we are not about making the life of State Premiers difficult, indeed we are trying to set up a

financial structure between the Commonwealth and the States which would be overwhelmingly to Carmen Lawrence's benefit. They have put a very good case for tax sharing, for example, to the Federal Government, Bob Hawke has not been prepared to

take that case, we would. We think that it makes a lot of sense that they get a guaranteed share of federal tax revenue, that they get a stable revenue base. We would include in that the payroll tax decision and in that context, once and for all, we could actually settle a problem that has been the source of dispute between the Commonwealth and the States since Federation - now over 90 years we have debated that

issue. A unique opportunity now to put it straight and to give the States what they really do deserve - so we pro-State we are pro-State.

Jrnlst:

The biggest concern that appears to be coming out of general public response is about the lower income people. Are you going to have to change tack to try and convince lower income earners that your package does look after them?

Hewson:

No, I think it takes time for the benefits of the package that are directed consciously towards low income earners to be recognised. It is not just a question of tax cuts, it is not just a question of pension increases, there are a lot of other

benefits and elements of the package that are targeted in to that low to middle income group, for example, we double family allowances for families with incomes with $30,000, for a two income family that is $1,000 more a year; we give assistance

to get health insurance, in some cases we basically pay for it for the low income earners; we have increases in other benefits; they can save tax free; they can get access to

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'superannuation that they haven't got before - I am not concerned, I just recognise it is a very large package, it is a very detailed package and it will take us quite a lot o f time to get that message across and it's why we are going into this with a series of stages in mind.

Right now, of course, we are doing a fair bit of radio and other forms of media coverage, in January/February we will start a campaign to get the message to every household in Australia either by letterbox drop or by direct mail to every

household in Australia, we have got 300 or 400 public meetings running through from about now until March of next year around Australia, we have a number of other avenues that we have got lined up to get the message across.

Look it just takes time in this business, I was once told by Andrew Peacock that you can say something a thousand times and maybe somebody says, oh I think I heard that, you can say it another thousand and it starts to sink in and then another

thousand, well I might have to say it another 3000 or 4000 times in 3000 or 4000 different ways, but in the end I think the message will get through. When it is a big change, as big as this package is, people will naturally be cautious, they

will naturally take time to make sure that they understand what you are saying and that's why we are very keen to get on and debate the issues.

Sure, there is no problem with the figuring, we got the best people in Australia to design and work on this package, the figuring has been checked dozens of times, sure if you change the assumptions you get a different conclusion, but that’s not what people want. What people want is a debate about the

issues and there are some very big issues that confront Australia at the present time and we are determined to try and get the Government to debate them, it is no good the Prime Minister ducking doorstops, I issue my challenge every day for

the Prime Minister to have a series of television debates on all the issues and there are enough issues in here for us to have a debate a week between now and the next election and probably not have exhausted the issues - now that is what should happen so that people can make an informed choice. In

that process, I would like to see him put up a genuine

alternative. If they don't like our approach, if they don't like our approach, if they don't like an approach that puts financial responsibility back to individuals and reduces the role of Government, if they prefer to argue a case for

Government and for compulsion and things like that, they should do that and that should then be the choice at the next election and he should be prepared to come out and argue the case.

We are seeing already that he is starting to pinch bits of the policy, they announced yesterday that they are going to abolish the coal export levy, finally thank heaven, they have picked up a very good policy decision and I imagine what they will do is look at the goods and services tax and probably

exclude food and something like that just to try and steal our clothes. Well, 1 want a debate about these issues because a lot of their advisers would tell them that if you are going to

have a goods and services tax you better do the lot and in that sense we are very keen to make sure that we get better government and if they pinch our policies and that leads to better government we will be happy.

Jrnlst:

The Federal Government has excused its gaps so far by saying that they are not going to do a final proper analysis until next week.

Hewson;

Look, they have had now 10 days or so to do the analysis, they have had every government department associated with this package working into the midnight hours working on the detail. They have had experts from all over the place analysing, many, many more hours I imagine than people would care to count have been put into it at taxpayers expense and they haven't got

anything to say. There is no doubt that Brian Howe yesterday went off half cocked, he responded before he'd formed a view, or in fact, he probably had formed a view and that was that there was nothing much wrong with it and rather than debate

the issues he tried to frighten people, now that is crazy stuff. People will not be frightened, they want in these circumstances of the worst recession in 60 years to hear substantive argument, to hear the detail debated and it is a

pity that Brian Howe didn't address the issues. His own advisers have been telling him that there are problems with Medicare, he has had public studies done, by the Auditor General and others as well - they have all highlighted problems with the health system, anyone who is standing in a queue knows there is a problem with the health system, anyone who has a seen a doctor over service knows there's a problem with the health system, so why doesn't he debate those issues? And the answer is he doesn't have an alternative.

Jrnlst:

Mr Kerin says the recession is over, is he right?

Hewson:

He has been saying that for 14 or 15 months, he will

ultimately be right because it ultimately will be over but we don't think it is, we think there is a long way to go,

unemployment will still rise, his own bureaucratic advisers are telling him that unemployment will probably rise to about 11.25% and in his own Budget he says that it is still going to rise, now I don't think anyone who is unemployed who sees the unemployment number to continue to rise or he sees the current

account deficit come in at $1.75 billion in the midst of the worst recession in 60 years believes its over - it is a long

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' way from being over and I am not one to talk the country down •but 1 think we should begin with a realistic assessment of - where we are and keeping on telling people Its over when you know its not and where there is no evidence to substantiate

that I think is just part of the dishonesty that they are running as their campaign. It's the old syndrome, we are the lucky country we don't have to try, we don't have to make any changes, it'll come good, it's all over it's all fixed, we're on the mend, on the upward path and so on - that is all

nonsense. We have to make substantial change to get out of these problems and it would be better for Mr Kerin to get on and devote the resources of his Department to developing an alternative. I nevertheless would put to you that most of

his Department would believe in what's in this package.

Jrnlst:

... (inaudible) .. .

Hewson:

He has probably got nothing to say either.

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