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Transcript of Press Conference: The Entrance: 16 January 1992

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Transcript of Press Conference by Hon John Howard MP

The Entrance - Thursday, 16 January, 1992

Today's unemployment figures are the worst since the Great Depression. It is as Nick Greiner called it the Great Recession and I ask the question that's been asked repeatedly in this By-Election - where's Paul Keating?

Bob Can worships the feet of Paul Keating as the Prime Minister who erected the policies that are now wreaking such a havoc of misery on Australia's unemployed and I say again, why won't Keating show his face to the people of The Entrance?

Why won't Keating do in this By-Election what John Hewson has been prepared to do, what I've been prepared to do, and that is come into this By-Election, because unemployment transcends any other issue in any election, State, Federal or By-Election or general which is being held in Australia at the present time or in the

foreseeable future.

1 will say two other things - I call on the Prime Minister, who is today meeting union leaders to seek of the union movement of Australia the deferment of any general national wage increase. There is no case on economic or employment grounds at present

for a general wage increase unrelated to productivity. All that will do is to throw more people out of work.

The second thing the Government should be doing is introducing immediate and dramatic reductions in Australia's migrant intake. There is no case for continuing the present level of immigration while we are adding to the unemployed in Australia. It is a form

of economic lunacy to be bringing people into this country and putting them on to the dole queues and the evidence is that many of the recently arrived people bulk very large in the unemployed lists.

So, there are two issues which Keating ought to take up with the union movement today - deferral of the national wage case on general increase grounds and an immediate and dramatic reduction in Australia’s migrant intake.



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Jrnlst: Mr Howard do you expect the unemployment figures and the anti-Keating feeling might make a difference in this By-Election?

Howard: I would expect it will. I have no doubt that the thing that dominates everybody's thinking at the moment is unemployment - whether it’s a State election, a Federal election or a By-Election. Job security is the reason why nobody's game to do anything at the moment - they’re frightened of losing their job. It’s no good cutting housing interest rates unless you can afford to pay the lower repayment and people who think they're going to lose their job won’t buy a house even if the interest rate's 5% because they're frightened they won't have the brass to repay the mortgage.

Until there is a turnaround in unemployment, until people are confident that unemployment is going down - and at the moment it continues to climb - you are not going to have a pick up in confidence and all of the energies of the Keating Government, all of the energies of the union movement, all of the energies of the business community, should be directed towards a long term solution of the unemployment problem.

Jrnlst: What's your special message to the people of The Entrance?

Howard: My special message to the people of The Entrance is to use it as an opportunity to tell the architect of the greatest unemployment we've had in 60 years, that the people of this part

of New South Wales at The Entrance, hold him more than anybody else responsible. He's the guy who boasted that they would light candles in cathedrals in his honour because of what he's done to

the Australian economy. He's the guy who said 1 alone have the answer; he’s the guy who said I'm the world's greatest Treasurer. Well, he's got the top job now and he ought to be made to be reminded at every available opportunity of just what his policies have done and more than anything else, a thumping vote for Bob Graham at the weekend. A victory here for him will be a reminder to the architect of the 900,000 unemployed that the Australian people do not have short memories.

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Jrnlst: Mr Howard, how much should migrant levels actually drop?

Howard: I think they should go down very sharply. I just think it is quite ridiculous in present economic circumstances to be bringing people in and adding them to the dole queues. There are circumstances I can envisage in the future where we can get back

to a higher level of migrant intake but the evidence is that people, particularly those who have poor English language skills, are going straight onto dole queues and I would like to see our immigration intake cut as far as it is possible to do so in the shortest possible time, having regard to our humanitarian obligations to take some refugees and some other obligations, but the present level of immigration is far too high and whilst I'm not going off the top of my head to put a figure on it, I would like to see it dramatically reduced. There is overwhelming economic need for it to be dramatically reduced and I repeat, it is a form of economic lunacy to be adding to our unemployed to be bringing people into this country who can't get jobs.

Jrnlst: But the Opposition's been pressed for some time to quantify it. Why are you so reluctant to do so?

Howard: I have a figure in mind but it is for Dr Hewson and Phillip Ruddock - the leader and the relevant spokesman - to start putting figures on it. The fact is the present levels are much too high and I know Paul Keating and John Dawkins are in favour of

much lower immigration. They shouldn't be as intimidated by the ethnic lobby as was the former Prime Minister. I think it's one of the issues they ought to take up with the union movement today, but the more important issue to take up with the union movement

today is to do something about that national wage case. It is stupid to pay people across the board increases at a time of record unemployment - it just doesn't make sense. I don’t mind people getting increases if it's justified by productivity but if you're going to pay people increases irrespective of whether there’s been an increase in productivity, all you're going to do is put more people out of work and that is crazy in the present circumstances.

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Jrnlst: Mr Howard do you think there's a case for freezing public service cutbacks until we're out of this recession?

Howard: I think there is a case for pressing ahead as fast and as hard as possible with micro economic reform. You can't look at one sector of the economy in isolation and say look, we’re going to have a moratorium there. If you have a moratorium on reforms

to the public service then you’re going to have an argument for a moratorium on reforms in the motor vehicle industry, or reforms in the textile, clothing and footwear industry, and instead of slowing down the pace of reform in those areas, it should be

speeded up because the sooner we can get through it the sooner we can get into an era where we are through lower costs and lower charges, and we have a more efficiently functioning private sector economy, I am against having moratoria in implementing policies of reform because all that does is to delay the

improvement and the more productive Australian economy that we all want.

Jrnlst: Mr Howard do you think we've seen the worst of Australia’s unemployment figures?

Howard: I would like to be able to say yes to that, but I don't think we have. The Government itself believes it will go over 10,75%. These figures are notoriously erratic month to month. You can have an employment rise in one month followed by an almost equivalent slump in employment the following month. I would be surprised if the figure did not reach 11% at some stage over the next 2-3 months. I hope I am wrong and I will be the

first to applaud a fall in unemployment, because I derive no political, personal or any other kind of joy from seeing so many fellow Australians out of work.

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Jrnlsr: Are you surprised at predictions today that unemployment will still be in double figures by election time next year?

Howard: No, I'm not surprised at that at all. My reading of the Australian economy is that it will be years, on present policies, before we get unemployment significantly lower and it is going to be a very slow grind and the long history of unemployment in this country is once you go to the sort of peak we've gone to, it always

takes a long time for it to go back. It's harder each time - it was harder in the early 1980's to get back to the late 1970's levels and it's going to be harder still on this occasion.

Jrnlst: On immigration - what particular section of the intake would you like to cut - family reunions, skilled migrants...?

Howard: Obviously at a time of high unemployment you have to be more sensitive about still taking in the people who we need and obviously that means that the family reunion category might have to take a relatively greater reduction, but I'm not going to get into the specifics of it. I'm talking about the issue from an

employment point of view - the minutai of it is something for others to talk about but the general proposition is that in the present economic circumstances we are crazy to be taking as many immigrants as we are and we should do something about it.

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