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Transcript of Dr John Hewson, Leader of the Opposition doorstop press conference 70 Phillip Street, Sydney

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Leader of the Opposition 3 April 1991


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Subjects: Leadership - 1 year anniversary; Coalition unity; Poll figures; Rolling recession; Sallyanne Atkinson; Local/State/Federal election issues; Keating leadership challenge; Donation disclosure;

CAI and labour court; Qantas/Air New Zealand deal


You've been Leader for 12 months. How do you feel about that?


Very pleased with the progress so far. We set out to fix the mistakes of the past and I'm very pleased that we've built a very strong Coalition, a unified team. We've got on to those

difficult policy tasks confronting this country and we've taken some pretty tough decisions. So, I'm reasonably confident.


How have you celebrated today? ^


My staff gave me a cake, congratulating me on one year, and a glass of champagne - it was Australian champagne of course.


Does it seem like 10 years?


It seems like a long time. It's a great job, Leader of the Opposition, as they say - one of the most difficult jobs in the country. But, I saw it as a challenge. I saw it as a

three year job and I only want to be Leader of the Opposition for three years. I look forward to going into Government. But, we've set out on a 3 year agenda and we're working

towards winning Government in 2 years time.

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Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Phone 77 4022




Given the events leading up to your takeover of the Party, how sound do you think your grip on Leadership is now, after all that happened.


Totally sound. I was drafted for the job and I'll be Leader all the way through to the next election. In fact, I think my support level has risen within the Party. So, I'm very pleased. I put a lot of time into managing people as well as managing issues and I think that's very important.

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I think the unity and discipline of the Coalition, which has been very important, and our capacity to take decisions which, in the past, have bedevilled us as a Party. And, the fact that we embrace a broad-based Goods and Services Tax, the decision to go to negligible protection by the year 2000, the decision on telecommunications, are three major areas which in the past have caused the Coalition trouble. We've taken

hardline positions on them and started explaining our position and selling them. I think that's the makes of success.


The latest opinion polls out show that Bob Hawke's popularity has slipped into the pre-Gulf War days. Why do you think that is?


I expected that he would benefit, in a poll sense, from the leadership that he showed during the War. But, I think its important that people focus on the issues at home as well and we've been challenging the Prime Minister to show the same

degree of leadership at home - and he hasn't done that. I think that's why his popularity has fallen off. I don't put a lot of weighty as you know, on polls. They come and go. If I'm where I am today in 2 years time, I'll be delighted.


So you think that while the economy is bad his poll position will continue to decline?


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While he doesn't show leadership his poll performance will reflect it and the country's crying out for the same sort of leadership in domestic issues that he showed during the Gulf War and if he doesn't show that, his polls will reflect that.


...inaudible... figures today showed that housing's down. That's not good as far as the recovery of the economy's concerned, is it.

Hewson: .

We've said for some time that the economy's in a rolling recession. That is, that some quarters will be up and some quarters will be down. Some industries will be up, some will be down. But the economy won't recover until the middle of next year, I don't believe. so, housing data's been bouncing

around a bit, as have a number of other series, and I think that's consistent with where we are. The only way that you'll turn it around is really to put in place the policies that will create an opportunity for lower inflation and sustained

growth. ·


But there are signs that we're coming out of the recession, aren't there. Some of the economic indicators do suggest that.


I don't believe so. I think that we're bumping along in a rolling recession and that will be the case until the middle of next year.


Can you maintain your high popularity over the next 2 years - confidently?


I didn't come "into the job to be popular. A lot of the things that we've supported, for example - some of the policies we will call for, will be politically difficult policies to sell. So, the popularity may well reflect that. But I don't want to be a popular leader - I want to be one that does what he says

he's going to do, and that's turn this country around, and I'll be looking for a mandate at the next election to do just that,




Given that Federal Labor is on the nose, are you disappointed that Sallyanne Atkinson has failed to retain the Mayorship of Brisbane.


I'm disappointed for Sallyanne, of course. But, I don't get involved in State or Local political campaigns. Sally ran her race as she saw it. I think Sally was a great asset to

Australia and a great asset to Brisbane and I was disappointed that she lost.


Did you expect her to win?


I expect Sally to run her own race and to organise her own campaign. As I say, I don't give her gratuitous advice, either before or after the event, on what she should or shouldn't do. I don't expect the same advice to come from others to me. I have to call the Federal scene as I see it

and I'm not really close enough to the situation in Brisbane to know what she did and why she did it. But, I thought she was doing a very good job for the people of Brisbane.

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You don't think it reflects badly on the Federal Liberal Party at all?

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I think it's focused entirely on local issues, as I feel is usually the case in State elections too. We have our own national issues which are the subject of debate and that's what I'm focusing on.


So you won't Jse going to the poll campaigning at all on the dismal Labor Governments in Labor states.


There are certain features of Labor Government administration that are the same at State and Federal level. Labor Inc. is a reality in Australia. You've just seen it come apart in some states - Western Australia, Victoria and most recently South Australia. The same characteristics of those state


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administrations are evident at the federal level - and Labor Inc., yes I can draw a lesson from that. I've seen some involvement of federal politicians in state affairs. What concerns me is, I guess, that they're now looking to the Australian taxpayer to bail out some of those state

administrations. That's another dimension of the problem that affects us, so we'll focus on that. But, generally, state elections are fought on state issues.


Do you think with Hawke's popularity still in the decline, do you think Keating will make a move?


I always believe Mr Keating will make a move. His only

problem has been getting the numbers. I've no doubt that Paul Keating is sitting there on a daily basis, checking numbers, doing deals, trying to get himself up. The Labor Government

right now is in a shambles. Just look at the issue of

uranium. How many senior Ministers have breached Cabinet solidarity, taking public positions on each other's portfolios. It's time for leadership and the Prime Minister isn't showing it. So, in those circumstances, undoubtedly

Paul Keating will run.


So, Keating's mind's obviously very sharp at the moment. When will he make his move?


We've been led to believe, in the last range ^of rumours, that he'd do it by the middle of the year, and I imagine that he's still working on that basis. You guys know more about those rumours than I do, but his ambitions were alive and well the

last time I saw him in action.


Are you concerned that you might still be something of a mystery man to many voters, and there is still a certain amount of work to be done in promoting yourself as the

alternative leader/Prime Minister?


I've been Leader for a year. I've been in politics for about three and a half years. So, sure, a lot of people have yet to know a lot of the detail about me. I think if you take

somebody like Bob Hawke by comparison - he was Leader of the

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ACTU for about 11 or 12 years before he entered Federal Parliament. He'd done almost everything on television, so everybody could identify with him in one way or another. I don't think his personal popularity was all that high as he became Leader, but he was well-known. Now, I haven't been around for 15 years, so I'm less well-known. But people get a chance in this job to see you in all sorts of circumstances

and over time they form a view about you. It doesn't surprise me that there's a percentage of people in the polls who don't know me. Part of what I've got to do, obviously, is become better known to people. I'll only do that by doing my job.

I'm not going to turn up pulling stunts in different places just to become known. This job provides me with ample

opportunity over a 3 year period to see you, hear you,

challenge you, cross-examine you and in that sense, I've got a couple of years to go, but I'm not worried about it.


So, is that something you're going to be working on in the coming year.


No, we don't sort of run an image operation. We don't set out to change me. I'm what I am and as I say, the opportunities are there for people to get to know me and to see me, and to hear me. I've been making myself as available as possible, not only to the media, but getting around Australia almost every day that I'm not in Canberra to give people the

opportunity to see you first hand, and in all sorts of

circumstances, whether it's down a mine, or in a factory, or at a public meeting, or at a sporting event, or playing sports sometimes, which is usually quite embarrassing. Sure, you give people every chance you can to get to know you.


Dr Hewson, what's your position on the disclosure of donations to political parties, in the light of recent discussions on advertising?


I've put the position quite clearly at the Press Club

recently, and I've reiterated it a number of times. My disposition is naturally in favour of disclosure. But, I've been concerned, as others have, of possible inequities in

that, and the possible accusations of intimidation and so on, so I've said we'll have a look at the legislation. But, my disposition is towards disclosure.

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So, is that full disclosure or disclosure with reservations?


No, I'm in favour of disclosure. It's usually under some sort of limits. They usually put some guidelines as to the size of donation or whatever# but as a general principle I'm in favour of disclosure.


One of your strongest platforms is microeconomic reform. Are you concerned about the ,CAI and John Howard supposedly at odds over a central labour court.


No, I think John Howard is dead right on that and I gather the CAI's been reconsidering their position. John's provided a very strong lead in recent days on industrial relations

matters generally, and on that one in particular.


Were you surprised at the CAI for going this way? Wouldn't you think that it would be benefiting the unions rather than the employers to have a central labour court?

Hews on;

I was a bit surprised. As I say, I think John Howard's got the right position, so I totally support him. But, I welcome public debate on things like that. I think it's a very

important suggestion and it needs debate and as I say, I totally support John.


Do you see anything improper in Qantas buying Air New Zealand?


I'm having a very close look at the nature of the transaction as we can find it out. There's a lot of press speculation about what it was and how it was done. It's too early,

really, to comment on the detail. I'm very concerned about the losses that Qantas has reportedly made and according to one story today, is likely to make about double that size loss next year. I think it's time for pretty decisive action by

the Government in relation to Qantas. It should have been privatised quite some time ago and they ought to move as a


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matter of urgency, I believe, to privatise Qantas and that might involve putting in a private sector management team to determine the true value of Qantas and to get it out of the public sector. But obviously, you can't run an airline in the

Government sector and its about time they did something about it. .


But, it's not really worth selling in the state it's in, is it? Wouldn't that be an appalling decision to make?

Hews on:

It would be even more appalling to let this crowd run it for another year. It's important that Qantas be taken out of the Government controls and be given private sector discipline and management and that should be done as a matter of urgency.

Sure, it's a lot harder to sell than it was a few years ago because of the losses that are now involved. All I'm saying is, we should be given a full account of the true position in relation to Qantas as a matter of urgency and Mr Beazley

should do that immediately. And, there should be an effort made to determine the true value of Qantas and its

marketability and to get it privatised as fast as possible. It's not an argument to say, well let's not do it today

because it doesn't look too good, because by all reports, it will look worse tomorrow, and in those circumstances you must act, and you must act decisively. So, Mr Beazley should be

called to account, particularly if some of these deals, like the Air New Zealand deal, haven't been declared in the accounts, haven't been put as important contingencies in the

accounts - then I think it's important that those matters be cleared up as a matter of urgency. /


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John Hewson Leader of the Opposition M e d i a R e l e a s e

Attached is Dr Hewson's reply to Mr Hawke's letter on 4 year Parliamentary Terms.

Canberra 3 April 1991