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Kirribilli House, Sydney, 16 November 1997: transcript of dootstop [Telstra float, Iraq, Indonesia/East Timor]



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K irrib illi H o u se, S y d n ey , 16 N ovem b er 1997: tr a n sc r ip t o f d o o r sto p [T elstra flo a t, Iraq, In d o n esia /E a st Tim or]. John HOWARD, MP. Press release (Prime Minister). 16 Nov. 1997: 5p. Text item: 97-2430 (Online)

The text of this press release has been scanned electronically from the original. Freedom from errors or omissions cannot be guaranteed.

E&OE

The hugely successful Telstra float is a milestone in the economic history of Australia. It's the occasion when the family investors of Australia have grabbed a huge stake in our economic future and also our environmental destiny. Almost 2 million Australians will own shares in Telstra. 81 per cent of the share ownership of Telstra, after the float, will be in Australian hands.

This is the fulfilment of one of the major platforms on which the Coalition fought the last election. It has been an outstanding success in every sense of the word. Not only the tremendous enthusiasm displayed by Australian investors but also the financial dynamism that private ownership will inject into the ownership and m anagement of Telstra. The $1.2 billion that has been released for capital investm ent in the Australian environment, 600,000 of the 1.8 million Australian investors in Telstra are first time investors on the Stock Exchange of Australia and it just demonstrates the

extent to which this mammoth opportunity to own a share of Australia's

telecommunications future has grabbed the imagination of family investors in Australia. And it does represent a real milestone, a watershed in the economic history of Australia that shouldn't be underestimated.

And I am very proud that my Government has brought to fruition this commitment made before the election, tenaciously opposed by the Labor Party and the Australian Democrats but enthusiastically embraced by the family investors of Australia, no less than 2 million of them.

JOURNALIST: How do you think it will go tomorrow?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I would imagine it will go very well. The balance has been struck between giving a fair go to the Australian tax payer and also a fair go to the investor. We have obviously fixed a fair price but by the same token, we haven't gone to the absolute limit. We have struck a balance and in every sense of the word it has been hugely successful but it represents an enormous vote of confidence by the fam ilies of

Australia in Australia's economic future.

And it throws it in the face of those gloom merchants. You've got almost 2 million Australians putting up their hands for Australia's economic future and that is very encouraging and means a lot more than the doomsayings of some economic commentators.

JOURNALIST: Is there any scope to sell more of Telstra?

PRIME MINISTER: What I've said, that if we were to decide to sell any more we would

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seek a specific mandate at a future election. We won't be trying to sell any more between now and the election. If we were to decide, and let me stress we haven't decided, but if we were to decide, we would seek a mandate.

We entered into a bargain with the Australian people at the last election that we would sell a third, that they gave us a tip by electing us. We've fulfilled that promise, we've delivered on that promise magnificently and I am very proud that one of the major promises we took to the election campaign has been fulfilled. Any further movement,

any further sale is something that would be the subject of a specific mandate sought at the next or a subsequent election.

JOURNALIST: Would you rather that shareholders sold out tomorrow, picking up maybe a small profit, or....

PRIME MINISTER: ...I am not going to give generic investm ent advice. I simply am delighted that almost 2 million Australians, 600,000 - and that's what is really exciting about this - you have got 600,000 first time investors on the Australian Stock Exchange and this is just tremendous news and it speaks volumes for the confidence those Australians feel about our economic future.

JOURNALIST: With the current sentiment about it now, do you think public...

PRIME MINISTER: ...I am not here to speculate about whether any more is going to be sold. I have laid down the ground rule that if we decide to do that and we haven't decided to do it, we will seek the mandate of the people at a subsequent election. We deal in good faith with the Australian public on these things. We don't promise not to sell and then sell after the election as our opponents have done. We put our cards on the table before the election and then we will honour that promise, in full, after the election. Even if it has to be in the face of strong opposition from the Labor Party and the Australian Democrats.

JOURNALIST: On the issue of Iraq, what is the possibility of war breaking out?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it is obviously a very tense situation. There's no doubt that the Iraqi Government has defied international opinion. Obviously people w ill want something like this to be resolved, if at all, without resort to force. But Iraq has constantly defied international opinion and Saddam's regime in Iraq is one of the more tyrannical and repressive in the world and it is very difficult to find the language to

accurately describe the sort of tyranny and oppression of human rights that is engraved in that country. And it is self evident that it is a very difficult and very tense situation and I don't know that I can add anything further to what has been said and to what is self evidently at stake.

JOURNALIST: If it were to, would you send off Australian troops?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm sorry?

JOURNALIST: We were asking the same question. Would you be considering sending Australian troops?

PRIME MINISTER: Look I don't think the question of Australian Forces involvement

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arises at this time.

JOURNALIST: If the US were to go in, would Australians join them?

PRIME MINISTER: I've given you the answer to that. I have said the question of Australia's involvement does not arise at this time.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)...if the UN called Australia, would Australia go?

PRIME MINISTER: I can only repeat what I have said.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)...was asking about Senator Minchin this morning about changes to the Wik Legislation. Can you detail any of those changes?

PRIME MINISTER: No, except to describe them genetically and they w ill be changes of a technical (inaudible)..to which confirm the objectives of the Bill and the objectives of the Bill set out in the 10 Point Plan. I've set an amendment, (inaudible) amendment

we would be actually willing to entertain amendments to the Legislation at the periphery, which don't undermine the goals of the Bill and that's what we will be doing. But the principles of the Bill, (inaudible)...is a very fair, balanced non-racial Bill.

JOURNALIST: Do you want an election over the Wik Native Title?

PRIME MINISTER: Look I don't want an election over anything in particular other than the future of Australia. I hope the Senate passes this Legislation but I would say to people who are worried about an election on this issue, tell the Senate to pass the Bill because the Bill is a fair balance. Tell the Senate to get on with the job. We said we would reform the Native Title Act, to make it more workable. We did say that before the election and that is what we are doing and my m essage to the Australian Senate is that if you want this thing off the agenda of Australian politics, pass it before

Christmas and then we can all get on with the future.

JOURNALIST: Did you describe them, the changes as a technical nature, these changes?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes I did.

JOURNALIST: Are we going to be making, will our Government be speaking to the Indonesian Government about the treatment in East Timor preventing the international Red Cross (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, without commenting specifically on that because I am, at present, I am seeking more information about it and I don't want to talk specifically about it but we do have a dialogue with Indonesia about East Timor. E ast Timor was something that I raised with President Soeharto when I was in Jakarta a few weeks

ago. I did tell him that in Australia's view some further gestures on E ast Timor involving a greater understanding of opinion within East Timor would be received very positively by Australia, would be in Indonesia's international interests and would be received very positively by the rest of the world.