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Transcript of doorstop interview: St Vincents Private Hospital: 22 March 1991: Disclosure of political donations; advertising ban; Democrats to block policy in the Senate; health seminar; voucher system; national account figures; Hawke/Keating disagreements; interest rates



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Leader of the Opposition 22 March 1991

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP INTERVIEW DR JOHN HEWSON, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION ST VINCENTS PRIVATE HOSPITAL

K & Ο E - PROOF COPY ONLY

SUBJECTS Disclosure of political donations, Advertising ban, Democrats to block policy in Senate, Health Seminar, Voucher system, National account figures,

Hawke/Keating disagreements, Interest rates

Jrnlst:

Dr Hewson, do you still support full disclosure of political donations despite the opposition from your Party?

Hewsoni

Look, as I said the other day, my disposition is always, in all things, to openness and disclosure, but in the case of those donations I've said that I wanted to make sure that it was equitable and what I meant by that is that there can be

inequity between political parties, and of course there's always the possibility of intimidation. So as I said we'll look at the legislation from that point of view. So, my disposition's the same. My position is, I believe, exactly the same as some of the comments that have been attributed to Andrew Robb.

Jrnlst: ,

Why do you believe that full disclosure of the donations is an advantage?

Hewson:

I just think that in our political system - if you had an ideal system, everybody should be fully aware of what happens, whether it's in Government and you're fully accountable for your decisions and the detail of those decisions in terms of

political donations. But, as I say, in the past we've always in the end come down against disclosure because there's been a possibility for inequity or possibility for intimidation so my position is the same as I stated it the other day, and I just

need to see the legislation and to see what the Government has

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Parliament House. Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Phone 77 4022 COMMONWEALTH PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY MICAH

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in mind, and at this stage we don't even know whether the Government's going ahead with the whole package. The ban on political advertising has just been universally scorned by almost anybody who's commented on it in this country and it's

seen as a very short-term expedient device by the Government, which is broke - about $10 million in the whole we're told after the last election campaign. They know they won't attract any money in the next election campaign, so they're

out to make our life as difficult as possible. Now, that should be seen for what it is - the entire exercise is an entirely cynical, politically expedient exercise on the part of the Government - a desperate Government.

Jrnlst:

Have you got any comment about the Constitutionality of the proposal to ban political advertising? '

Hewson:

No, not at this stage. I've set up a task force, headed by Peter Reith and representatives from each of the States to look at a lot of those sorts of questions, because there are a lot of dimensions to the issue that we've got to think

through. But of course, we would be helped greatly if we knew exactly what the Government had in mind. It is no easy thing to decide what is political and you don't have to think too far to see that organisations like the Salvation Army or St Vincent de Paul could be said to be making political comment

in some of the advertisements that they run. Other

organisations, be they business organisations, community groups - you know, it's a very difficult thing to define what is political and I'm naturally suspicious about this. I imagine that the Government will find a way of ensuring that

it can continue to advertise through it's Government departments, that it can continue to have the taxpayer pick up the cost of massive mailouts from Government departments to

individuals. So, in these circumstances, we've just got to see the detail of what they've got in mind. And they're strangely silent on all this detail and I think there should be maximum pressure put on the Government to come out and tell us exactly what they do have in mind. They only have had one

argument that they believe that there was a possibility of corruption. I mean, it's nonsense. I wasn't aware that there was corruption in the Labor Party and I haven't seen any evidence of corruption federally at all. Issues like that

depend on the integrity of the leadership. They depend on the nature of the system and as far as I can see, that was a

furphy argument. They haven't even mounted one substantial argument for what is a monumental breach of free speech and it's really just blatant censorship. So the pressure ought to be on the Government to come clean with what they've got in mind.

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Jrnlst:

Doctor, yesterday the Democrats said if the Coalition gains power it will use its numbers in the Senate to block the Industrial Relations policy. In turn, Mr Howard said he'll call for a double dissolution. Is that feasible?

Hewson:

What I've said all along is that we are absolutely dedicated to our legislative package, and part of that package would be Industrial Relations Bills of the type that we've already put in the Parliament by way of Private Members' Bills. Now, if

we don't have control of both Houses of Parliament and I think we will, but if we didn't at the next election, we'd put the package through. If it got knocked out we'd put it through again and if they knocked it out we'd call a general election to get the mandate in both Houses of Parliament to make the

reforms that are required. That's been our position all the way through. I don't however believe that it will happen in the sense that on recent polls we would win control of both

Houses of Parliament and our aim is to have a 1975-style victory where we get control of both the Lower House and the Upper House so that we have a mandate to put in place the policies that we believe are necessary. And that is why we are going to unusual lengths to put out the detail of our policies so that we have a clear-cut mandate as a result of that election. So, if the Democrats are threatening to block

it in the Senate they'll have to worry about their own future. I don't think they'll be there as a political force after the next election.

Jrnlst:

Can you tell me if the Coalition supports, to any degree, a ban on political advertising or any further regulation of electronic political advertising?

Hewson:

Look, we're totally opposed to bans on free speech. Totally opposed to that sort of blatant censorship.

Jrnlst:

...Any limitation at all...regulations?

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Hewsoni -

Thera may need to be some regulations from time to time. I'd have to look at the detail of particular proposals, but as a general principal you start from support of free speech, from no censorship. I mean, we have a democracy. The central

element of that democracy is a capacity for people to express their views, whoever they are, whatever way they choose to express them. And when you get one group who happens to be in Government, happens to be desperate, happens to be losing

their political standing and their financial support, deciding to bend the rules in their favour, I think everybody in a democracy ought to get out in the streets and march against

them, because that's precisely the sort of behaviour that brings the worst sorts of constraints on an otherwise free society:

Jrnlst:

If full disclosure legislation was passed, could your party still afford to run the kind of campaign that you've run in the past?

Hewson:

Look, we'd have to look at it. I don't know the legislation's going to be. As I say, I've got to look at the legislation. Obviously, some people will fear intimidation. Some people will be very concerned that the public nature of their donations might lead to various sorts of pressure and

intimidation and therefore will feel constrained in making donations, so it obviously would be a constraint. But, as I say, let's look at the legislation before we know what they've got in mind.

Jrnlst:

Is Mr Reith an appropriate representative for your views? After all, doesn't he oppose full disclosure?

Hewson:

Peter Reith has said exactly the same thing yesterday as I've said for the last several days. We've said almost exactly the same words. There isn't any division of opinion. There has been a history of course, in our party of being suspect of

full disclosure and being opposed to it because of the inequity and because of the possible intimidation and until you get evidence that that's not going to happen again, we remain to be convinced and that's really the position that I put. I have a natural disposition always to tell you more, to

release more, to disclose more - in all things, whether it's

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policy or whether it's political donations, but if there is scope for intimidation and scope for inequity you've got to be very careful what you're doing and so both Peter and Andrew Robb and myself have all said the same thing - let's have a

look at the legislation.

Jrnlst$

Can you tell us anything about your Health Seminar yesterday in terms of indications for your Health Policy?

Hewson;

No, we didn't have the seminar to come to a particular point of view. We actually brought a very wide range, if you look at the list, a wide range of opinion to have them tell us what they think the problems of the health system are, from their perspective, whether they're from a fund or public hospital or·

private hospital, a doctor, an academic, and to look at some of the alternatives for change. The idea was educational, principally, to give everybody the opportunity to get up to speed in terms of the current state of the debate before we

start to debate the detail of the health policy and from that point of view it was a very, very useful day. The

presentations were excellent. The discussion was first class and the questioning was very close and detailed, so I was delighted. I thought it was a very successful exercise.

We're doing this in a lot of things, not just in health. We've done one the consumption tax, we'll be having one on transport - all areas of major policy concern will be subject to seminars and information-gathering exercises as we decide

on our final position.

Jrnlst;

Can you say anything about the future of the proposed voucher system for health insurance?

Hewson;

Well, you have an absolutely voucher system right now. The Government did a very good job of misleading all you people. The Medicare card is a 100% voucher. It's a little green and gold card that you put in your pocket and you turn up to the doctor and there's your voucher. So, that was all a pile of nonsense the way the Government ran on about vouchers. We

were looking at a Commonwealth-State funding issue in that speech and I raised a range of options that are on the table. They're on the table in the Prime Minister's series of Premier's Conferences, whether he wants to admit it or not. They're on the table in the general debate and it's about time we just had a mature and rational debate about some of these

things, instead of the usual sort of scare-mongering you get from a desperate Government.

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Jrnlst: :

Can I ask you one final question? That is, the Treasurer seems to have played down somewhat the national account figures. Can you say anything further this morning on those figures and what they show.

Hewson:

And so he should. The figures really just were about zero. They had a very unusual movement in gold exports because the gold tax came in at the beginning of the year and there are heavy exports prior to that tax upgrading and exports so that they overstated the export figures. We're still in recession,

still in a rolling recession. Some quarters will be up, some will be down, some industries will be up, some will be down. But you won't see early signs of a sustained recovered until’ the second half of next year. If I was the Treasurer I'd be

very cautious. The big issue yesterday that the media seems to have missed in a way, is the fact that the Treasurer

totally disagreed with the Prime Minister about inflation. The Prime Minister embraces a 4% objective for inflation and the Treasurer laughs at it. That is the story yesterday. That is a fundamental difference of opinion within the Government over one of the key targets of economic policy and it just reflects the fact that there is no unity in the ALP. Mr Keating takes every opportunity to distance himself from the Prime Minister

and create the circumstances for a challenge. And we hear from the rumour mill that that challenge will take place within the next three months. Every time he opens his mouth he differentiates his product.

Jrnlst:

How vast is the difference between their opinions?

Hewson:

I think that when the Prime Minister was prepared for the first time in his life to acknowledge the problem of inflation and to give it a target, it's rather novel that the Treasurer then scoffs about it and tries to create the impression that it's unachievable. Surely they've got that degree of agreement in Government on one of the fundamental objects of Government.

Jrnlst:

If you were the Treasurer, would you tell the Banks to lower interest rates?

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Hewson:

I have the view that decisions on interest rates are basically those for the banks themselves. The Treasurer creates the environment in which the banks make those decisions. if he believes interest rates could be lower, as he always says, why hasn't he put the Commonwealth Bank's interest rates down. After all, he runs that bank. The answer is because he

doesn't really do that. The banks themselves make commercial judgements and that's the only way the system can operate. So he, as is usual, tries to have both sides of the argument.

Jrnlst:

If they differ on inflation, wouldn't you expect a party such as the Labor Party to keep it under wraps.

Hewson: -

Well, they haven't been able to keep anything under wraps. The distinguishing feature of the Industry Statement was that everything leaked prior to the Statement being brought down. There's been massive breaches of Cabinet solidarity, massive

leaks from Cabinet, massive differences of opinion and it just shows an appalling shambles inside the ALP. As the Prime Minister correctly said at the last election campaign, if you

can't govern yourselves, you can't govern the country. And he's proved that, in spades, since the last election campaign. The Prime Minister has shown an appalling lack of leadership at being unable to deal with Mr Keating who just takes a daily

pot shot at him. He can't deal with differences of opinion, public squabbles between Ministers on issues like Resource Security Legislation or the direction of the Industry Statement or whatever, and he is running a shambles of a

Government and it's about time he showed a bit of leadership and took control and settled his difference of opinion with Mr Keating, Either Keating shuts up or he goes, as far as I'm

concerned.

Thank you.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: DAVID McLACHLAN 02-251 8915