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Australia day, Australian flag, immigration, rural community



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C O M M O N W EA LTH PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY M IC A H

Leader of the Opposition

26 January 1992 REF: TRANSCR\0001\BQ

DR JOHN HEWSON, HP

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP PRESS CONFERENCE INGLEWOOD TOWN HALL, VICTORIA

E & Ο E - PROOF COPY ONLY

SUBJECTS: Australia Day, Australian Flag, immigration, rural community.

Jrnlst:

... (inaudible) ...

Hewson:

I am delighted with the flag we have got. I think most

Australians are. But as we mature as a nation inevitably people want to debate these issues. I hope they don't distract us though from what really matters, a sense of national purpose today to solve our problems would be more valuable than a new

flag.

Jrnlst:

Do you think there is support within the community to change the flag?

Hewson: .

I don't know, it is not raised with me very often. It's one of those issues, it's a perennial political issue in Australia, it comes and goes. I am inclined to put much less weight on

symbolism and much more weight on substance when it comes to Australia. On Australia Day I think we should focus on the substance and that's the problems we have got and how we can get together because we have got unlimited opportunities in Australia. If we have got the courage^to grab those

opportunities our potential is unlimited. I get a bit disturbed when we hear debates like that or like constitutional reform which end up being an excuse for not doing what should be done. So I don't mind the debates but let's not lose sight of what

really matters on Australia Day.

REF: TRANSCR\0001\BQ

Jrnlst:

Personally, how do you feel about the Australian flag?

Hewson:

Well my personal view is I like the flag we have got. It is a symbol of what I have grown up under, of course, and what most Australians have identified with or fought under or fought for and in that sense I personally don't see any need to change

something that works particularly well.

Jrnlst:

Looking at the immigration debate on Australia day, what sort of level of immigration should Australia have?

Hewson:

Well we have said there should be a substantial cut in

immigration and that is a position that, in a sense, has been forced on us by two things. One, a lot fewer immigrants want to come to Australia in the midst of a recession. Second, a lot of them have ended up on, those that have come in recent years, ended up on unemployment benefits or other benefits. I think about 35% of those who have arrived in the last two years have ended up on some government benefit. It is not doing them any good, it is not doing us any good. We don't have the capacity to absorb them in a recession and a lot of them don't want to come. So, in the near term we must cut immigration

substantially and we would do that as an early priority in government. We haven't put a number on it but we think there should be a substantial reduction. To the extent that we then take immigrants over and above those we take on humanitarian or refugee grounds we should put a greater emphasis on skills.

Jrnlst: _

Should they be forced to become Australian citizens?

' Hewson:

Well we are looking at the issue of citizenship and the

requirements and responsibilities of citizenship as well as the privileges. We will be making a detailed statement about that. I personally think there ought to be more emphasife. on citizenship and on the value of citizenship and ... (inaudible) ... more

important decision. In that sense we will be saying quite a lot about it in the course of the next few months.

REF: TRANSCR\0001\BQ 3.

Jrnlst: *

In a speech this morning Paul Keating said Australia should become less a part of Europe and more a part of Asia. How do you feel about that?

Hewson:

Well given that I embraced as our Party's objective the day I became Leader to make Australia a major economic and political player in the Asia-Pacific Region by the Year 2000 and given that I have spent more time in Asia than most politicians and

advocated that our future is there and called to have a Year of Asia in Australia to focus attention on it, I am delighted that the Prime Minister finally discovered Asia. He will have a lot of trouble finding French Empire Clocks in Asia but as a nation

it is the place where our future lies.

Jrnlst:

Are we still battling apathy with our national spirit?

Hewson:

I beli'eve there is a tendency in Australia to be laid back. There is a tendency to lose hope, to lose faith and one of the principle points of my address today is to call on people really to try and rekindle the pioneering spirit that built towns like

Inglewood, which are the backbone of Australia and recognise that our potential is unlimited. It is about time we saw Australia as unlimited, forget the inferiority complex that has been carried through the years and got on and made our mark in the world, which we can do if we have the courage to grab the

opportunities that are there.

Jrnlst:

You mentioned, especially bush people, battling bureaucracy. How would you change that if you got into government?

Hewson:

Well a lot of our Fightback package is designed to reduce the size and influence and role of bureaucracy. I think one of the great surprises when you look at an issue like that is just how far you can go. Just how much there is unnecessary regulation, unnecessary intervention in the lives of average Australians. As I said, one of the real messages of the Gold Rush Era which

is so important to Inglewood, was the triumph of common sense and the people of Australia and the stupidity of government. And right now we have more stupidity in government in terms of the

size and influence of bureaucracy, which is preventing, to a large extent the recovery that ought to be there in Australia.

;S:

REF: TRANSCR\0001\BQ 4 .

Jrnlst:

Dr Hewson you spoke about the grim time farmers are facing at the moment particularly in this area where there is such high unemployment. Is there light at the end of the tunnel for them?

Hewson:

Well we believe there is. Our farmers are among the most

efficient in the world, of course. They aren't subsidised, they aren't mollycoddled as are the farmers of other countries, but they still do suffer some pretty significant cost disadvantages. Some of the things that we have in our Fightback package are designed to help farmers in particular. Things like the

abolition of excise on petrol and diesel will save farmers about 26 cents per litre. Abolition of sales tax, cuts in protection, reforms to telecommunications, other parts of transport - all to the benefit of the rural sector.

Over and above that we have a number of specific measures in the health policy in relation to regional hospitals and regional nurses and so on, so there is a reasonable element to the

policies, there is a basic thrust to the policies whether it is lowering interest rates or a more competitive exchange rate or elimination of costs - they are all to the advantage of farmers. It makes it easier for them to survive in difficult time,

although we don't want to play down the significance of the difficult times. ;

It is very rare in our history, I guess, that products like wool and wheat have seen the markets collapse at the same time. They have had to try and fight it with a domestic recession, very high interest rates, higher levels of debt. Farmers have been hit to

leg for several reasons in the last few years. So we have to turn that situation around as fast as possible so that at the same that we make sure when we make changes that they get lasting benefits out of it. That will only come from eliminating all the cost disadvantages under* which they operate.

Jrnlst:

... (inaudible) ... tariffs?

Hewson:

Well our policy on tariffs is to abolish tariffs by the Year 2000. The farming community pays for some of those industry groups, really to take the ... (inaudible ) ... tariff

protection. I have forgotten the number now, maybe $8,000 or $9,000 per farmer ... (inaudible) ... cost of protection in

recent years. I could check the exact number for you, it is not our estimate.

REF: TRANSCR\0001\BQ 5.

But it shows you the cost disadvantage under which they have been forced to operate because industry, other parts'of industry have been protected. The fanners are expected to stand on their own feet in a very difficult international environment. So arguments

for protection would be arguing for a further disadvantage to farmers. So for a lot of reasons we have to eliminate tariff protection and in the context of eliminating the major cost disadvantages under which all industries operate. Then, of course, we can have a vibrant agricultural sector or mining sector or manufacturing sector ... (inaudible) ...

Thank you I

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