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Transcript of media conference Hobart Sheraton



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Leader of the Opposition

1 October 1991 Transcri/bmca

TRANSCRIPT OF MEDIA CONFERENCE DR JOHN HEWSON, MP HOBART SHERATON, TASMANIA

E & E 0 - PROOF COPY ONLY

Subjects: Balance of Payment figures; Resource Security Legislation

JOURNALIST;

I suppose we could start on the balance of payments out today and quite a lot better figure than we've seen for a number of years. What's your reaction to it?

Well the reaction is it just shows how weak the economy and hew wrong the Government is to claim there's a recovery under way We've all been looking for a recovery and they've been arguin, the case that it'a quite a strong recovery that's already

started, yet those numbers just show a collapse of imports which suggests there isn't any recovery and in particular there won't be until business investment picks up.

JOURNALIST:

Do you see that number going down now as a trend or this is just purely imports driven?

Well the numbers bounce around a lot and I think people were assuming that imports would start to pick up as the economy recovered and of course the fact that they've been so weak suggested the economy's very flat - we don't know. Our view is that the economy is still in the recession and still bumping along the bottom, if you like, so some quarters look better, some

statistics come in and they look better and the next month they look worse. And that's where we are and I don't think we'll see any sustained recovery from that until business investment picks up.

HEWSON:

HEWSON:

Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Phone 277 4022

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JOURNALIST:

Do you see any reason for optimism now that exports were greater than imports?

HEWSON:

The export movement has been good and it's been stronger than expected, there's no doubt about that, but it's slowing down because the world economy is slowing down. See this is a very unusual recession for us in that we went into the recession

first, ahead of the rest of the world, and now the world is still slowing down. Your major European countries are slowing down. Japan's gross number collapsed in the last quarter and there's concern that the US will double-dip, that although they showed

some signs of recovery they are now slowing down again. Now that's all bad news from our trade point of view. Exports,

nevertheless, have been stronger than expected, but they are weakening as the world economy slows down. Our trade numbers start to look good only because of the depth of the recession,

not because of the outcome of Government policies. So if the economy were to pick up, the numbers would just look as bad as they used to look because they've made no fundamental adjustments to policy and that's what concerns us. Here's an opportunity

to make the changes, to ensure that the good numbers are

sustained, but of course they haven't done anything so that if the economy does pick up imports will blow out and you'll have pressure on your balance of payments almost immediately.

JOURNALIST:

You said there was an improvement in investment but it all went into the wrong area - into shiny buildings, I think were the words you used.

HEWSON:

Well, Mr Keating claimed that the biggest investment boom in the post-War period occurred through the to about 1989 and all that happened basically was we got a lot of shiny buildings and new computers. We didn't get investment in the traded goods sector, we didn't get investment into export capacity and so we didn't

get much of a benefit from that investment and there weren't very many significant projects that went ahead in that period and if you want to boost your jobs capacity and really rejuvenate the business community you've got to have an investment in major

projects around Australia - you've got to have investment in manufacturing sector, in the tourist industry and in those areas the investments been fairly weak.

JOURNALIST:

Why did you say that you thought there was a prospect of the

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strike by capitalism in Australia?

HEWSON:

Well, the business community that I ’ve spoken to, and I've spoken to groups like the Business Council and a lot of other individual major players and I've looked at the data and I don't think

they’ll invest for the next couple of years. They have no

confidence in the Hawke/Keating/Kerin Government. They've been badly hurt by it. They don't see any prospect of the Government changing its attitude. The Government's in fact getting more anti-business, with each decision. The superannuation decision

is an anti-business decision which is going to cost about 100,000 jobs and it certainly won't encourage the business community to invest.

JOURNALIST:

.... (inaudible) strike by capital, what is it?

HEWSON:

What I mean by 'strike' is that they just won't invest. They won't invest until there's a substantial reason to do so - either there's a major change in our industrial relations system or there's a major pick-up in the economy that encourages them that

it's worth investing. At this point, they're basically

foreshadowing further cutbacks and I think investments to fall by 21 per cent this year in real terms.

JOURNALIST:

There seems to be a difference between you and the State Liberals on resource security or the need for it.

HEWSON:

No, there isn't any difference at all. I've said that at the State level they support the idea of resource security and that's right for them to do at the State level. I was really talking at the Federal level where I remain to be convinced that we ought

to give Roe Kelly another role in relationship to the environment development approval process and I'm very concerned that they don't really understand the nature of the problem. They created the problem by being very cynical and manipulating the

environment voter in the last few years, trying to buy their way back into Government. They've shocked the business community and frightened their bankers and nobody wants to invest. I don't think a piece of legislation is necessarily going to make

it an environment to invest.

Look as a banker, if I see that the Government still has powers to block projects over and above what the resource security

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legislation relates to, I've got to have my doubts and that's basically the problem that the Federal Government's getting into - that if we're shadowing a piece of legislation to provide resource security, but they're keeping certain powers like the export power, the foreign investment review board powers which

they've used in the past to block projects. So why would you have any more confidence under a new piece of legislation than you have under the existing system? It's the Government that's

the problem and it's their dishonesty and it's their manipulation of the environment vote that's the problem.

JOURNALIST:

Well what would you do then to ensure projects, like the pulp mill for example, went ahead?

HEWSON:

Well I think that if the Hawke Government came out and said that they actually made a mistake in the past and they should have facilitated that process and they'd encourage the development of proposals along the lines of the previous project, you'd get a

completely different business reaction. And if you'd

simultaneously reverse the position on Coronation Hill and scrap the three mines uranium policy and build the third runway, people would start to believe you were serious. But while they keep blocking everything, there's no reason why anyone will believe

they're serious. In fact, anybody who's started on a project starts to get nervous as to whether the Government isn't going to try and claw part of it back by changing the rules after the game has been started.

JOURNALIST:

Would you entertain resource security legislation devoid o f .... (inaudible) and external affairs powers?

HEWSON:

Well, what we've said is that we will wait to see the legislation and we will judge that legislation on it's merits and in that sense I started, if you like, with a view that we remain to be convinced that it's necessary, that it'll do the job. Now, I've

maintained that position right from the very beginning. I'm interested to see that in recent correspondence from the forest industry they seem to have come to that view. They seem to have taken a somewhat different view than they put to me originally. They are now concerned and I think in those circumstances we just have to wait at the Federal level to see what the Government

comes up with and we have nothing yet in what they've said to give us any idea.

JOURNALIST:

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Would you agree then that State resource security is pretty useless without comparable Federal resource security?

HEWSON:

Well, I think the way to go in the whole environment area is to look at a Federal EPA and we're looking at that to see whether that can be supported. By federal, I don't mean Commonwealth - I mean federal by way of an explicit agreement, if you like, between the Commonwealth and the States and an understanding as to how that process will work. We've got to simplify the

process, we've got to almost get to a one-stop shop from your point of view of the assessment of environmental requirements. In that sort of process, you could have the States - the

Commonwealth could set minimum standards and make those quite public - the States could, if they wanted to, have tougher

standards, that would be their choice under that sort of

arrangement, but you'd start to get some certainty and quickness if you like, some streamlining at a process that's there. Now we're looking at that quite objectively.

Fred Chaney has had meetings recently with his counterparts around the States to see whether in fact we can't come to a

viable approach on that and I think that's the way it ought to be pursued, and in that context issues like resource security may become less significant. 1 don't know, maybe they will just be part of that negotiating process. We're still looking at it.

So I don't want to rule out these options, I've taken a very objective view that I remain to be convinced about resource security legislation per say and you know, at the same time we have pursued the idea of a Federal EPA.

JOURNALIST:

Hasn't, though, any Federal Government got obligations under existing international treaties to .... (inaudible)/

HEWSON:

Well, there are a lot of treaties and circumstances where the Federal Government might need to take a particular view. I've used the example recently that if somebody came along and wanted to mine right through the coral in the Barrier Reef and the State Government was happy to let that go ahead, there'd be no doubt we'd get involved. But generally, you don't have those extreme

cases and you are in a position we're assessing things on a case by case basis and the circumstances can dictate the outcome to some extent. I've been quite impressed recently by the example of Shark Bay in Western Australia where there was an explicit

Commonwealth-State management agreement that satisfies the requirements of world heritage listing but reasonably protects the interests of the industries that were there and the

activities that can take place in Shark Bay.

Now, I've satisfied myself about that by going out there and having a range of meetings with all the local groups, the

business people, the local government people, environment people and so on. And that seems to me a workable approach and it's

one that, more generally, probably can be applied and in most cases it would do the job. You wouldn't have the stand-off

mentality that you've had in the past or that you could get in an extreme case like the Barrier Reef in the future. And in

general, that seems the way to go and that co-operation is much better than everyone standing their ground and saying we're going to do this, than and the other thing. I mean, they are mostly issues that arise in a case by case basis and it's not a bad

model to look at that type of Commonwealth-St ate agreement to say well, as a first cut why don't we go that route?

It might do the job and you may never have the problem of one

having to take a view over the other. Most people, Commonwealth or State, have a similar concern about the environment. What's happened in the past is that politics have got involved. Where people have not taken a decision based on its merits and on

what's in the best interests of the people of Australia all protecting the environment and getting a reasonable balance between the environment and development. They've taken a

decision for political reasons. Can we carry this State? Can we get some seats, some marginal seats and votes in some of the marginal seats by blocking this or you know.

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That's what destroyed the process and all I'm saying is get the politics out of the environment development debate and we'll make real progress in this country. And I don't think that any of that politicking in the past - I mean while they might have

stitched up some votes in the last election campaign - I would be quite happy as a leader to take my chances not doing any of those deals and running on the merits of the case because

overwhelmingly the merits of the case predominate if you fight them on the issue.

JOURNALIST: .

Do you think the greens are a declining force? You said so in the speech there.

HEWSON:

'Greens' is a difficult term. You've got to be careful, I'm really talking the sort of extreme leadership if you like, the extreme 'green' movement where it's no development at all costs sort of thing. And they see themselves as major political

players and they focus on the politics of the 'green' movement and the environment movement. I'm not really talking about the great bulk of people who, say, in the conservation foundation who are very genuinely concerned about achieving a reasonable balance

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between the environment and development. But that extreme group, I think, is more than a spent force because people are tired of - you know, in the midst of the worst recession in 60 years they're starting to ask some pretty fundamental questions

like why was I lied to about Coronation Hill.

I mean Coronation Hill actually isn't in Yellow Waters. It's not in the major tourist part of Kakadu National Park; it's in some of the worst looking sickness country you've ever seen if your life. As one Federal Minister, who I don't normally agree with, said, it's clapped out buffalo country at beat. Grossly misrepresented. Now people are starting to say well, you know,

that's not protecting the environment. That's not an

environmental issue, and neither have been a lot of the others that have been trumped up as environmental issues, so I think what you're seeing is a quest for honesty and openness and

objectivity in this debate and some of those past proponents of extreme based on dishonesty are going to suffer in that. I'm not downplaying the significance of 'green' issues.

I think as somewhat different focus today, while there is always going to be the larger issue in relation to something like world heritage listing, I think there's a much greater focus now at the

community level where people are very concerned about their local community and are developing and sponsoring 'green' groups at that level which affect their daily lives - the trees in the street, designs of buildings, traffic problems, all local environmental issues as much as the continuing concern for some of the national and international environmental issues and I've

seen in my own electorate some very active groups in that regard and I think people are more directly involved in that than they are arguing the case about the ozone layer or world heritage listing.

Thankyou.

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