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Parliament House, Canberra, 3 March 1998: transcript of doorstop interview [Environment rorts, Cobar miners, current account figures, polls, private health insurance, Wik]


JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, will Labor be pursuing the environment rort story today?

BEAZLEY: We will be pursuing the environment rort story for a long time. We will be going through all of this with a fine tooth comb. We will be going through the failures as well as those that succeeded. I mean, quite clearly the Liberal Party is using $1.2 billion of taxpayers' funds, at least partially, to advance their electoral interests. That's not good enough.

JOURNALIST: But hasn't some of this money been spent in Labor seats?

BEAZLEY: Well, sure. Some of the money has been spent in Labor seats, about what, 5-6 per cent of it. I mean, that happens to be the case. But I think of my electorate which has got a very small grant in it but is a rural and regional electorate - a very big rural and regional electorate with very little coming to it and with a truly excellent environmental program protecting probably the oldest species extant on earth, dating back 3 billion years. And that project missed out. I wonder why?

JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied with Robert Hill's defence of last night?

BEAZLEY: No. Robert Hill is in the gun - so is John Anderson. You know, it's interesting we've had three months away from Parliament and John Anderson, one of the two Ministers in the sights, and where is he headed? Off the moment Parliament has an opportunity to question him.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it is heading towards political corruption of the kind that saw Ros Kelly go down?

BEAZLEY: Well, let's take proportionality of the first thing that we might examine in that regard. Now, we had our defence in relation to those sports grants - $30 million they were. What we're talking about here is $1.2 billion. Now, that's not to say that it's all been ill spent. But what there is to say about it is not being spent with an appropriate arm's length procedure or one without political interference. The political interference has been obvious from day one and to put the two Ministers at the cap of an operation that is spending $1.2 billion on piecemeal programs, essentially piecemeal programs, is absolutely a formula for extraordinary difficulty. And all the sorts of things that you might have imagined would flow from that have done so.

JOURNALIST: So, are you saying there's no way that the Government wouldn't have known that the Balillieus were involved in this Woodhouse company?

BEAZLEY: Well, it does beggar belief that they wouldn't. And it seems passing strange that of 199 failed projects that happens to be one of three brought in. You know, and whatever else might be said of the Balillieu family, and I don't want to mount an attack on them, but I don't think there's a single person in Victoria who would not believe they couldn't afford $50,000 for a fence.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, is the Victorian Government undermining Australia's strong stand on gun laws by it's moves to wind back restrictions?

BEAZLEY: Sorry, I'm not aware of any thing they may have done on that. I'll have to pass on that one.

JOURNALIST: What would you say to the Cobar miners who have been camped here overnight?

BEAZLEY: Well, they are part of a struggle of many ordinary Australians now facing major threats to their job security and the problems that flow from that in the economic life of their communities and themselves. The Cobar miners stand with the Newcastle steel workers as people who are victims of a Government that fundamentally targets the ordinary citizens' rights. Now, I think that the Prime Minister would be well advised to heed what they have to say and take seriously their concerns. Quite clearly it's something that we have to take on board as well as prepare our packages for security for the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: But what can be done immediately, though, to help these people who have basically lost about $12 million in entitlements?

BEAZLEY: Well, firstly, you have to do one thing which the Government is doing in working out whether or not there is something that needs to be done about directors under the laws that we established which do make directors responsible in these sorts of areas for the decisions that they take. But I also think that the Government has to give very serious consideration to the way in which, and the procedures by which resources from bankrupt companies are handed out. And they represent a very good starting point.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, what are you expecting to see in today's current account figures?

BEAZLEY: Well, what we've seen over the last couple of months is a set of very bad trade figures. Normally those bad trade figures, and we don't know if they are exceptions or one-offs, would translate into substantial current account difficulties. Normally that would be the case. We'll just have to wait and see.

JOURNALIST: Polls out today?

BEAZLEY: You know my views on polls. They're volatile and soft and we'll see the polls dance around a bit before the next election. We'll go down, as well, as we hope, up at the point of time when we want that to happen. But I do notice this about the polls; they obviously have inspired the Government to mount some fairly substantial attacks me, and my credibility, substantial in volume, insubstantial in content. And they do it on a day that, if he is to be believed, their Health Minister comes out and says, 'well, I never believed that my $1.5 billion health rebate would work. Now, a Government that sets about trying to attack the credibility of other people when one of their senior Ministers comes out with one of their two or three major programs to date and says he never believed it would work, well, I do think a big question mark goes over them.

JOURNALIST: Where do you think private health insurance is going today?

BEAZLEY: Well, when the Government put in $1.5 billion they said, and assured us, and Dr Wooldridge at the time assured us in the papers that he put out, is that that would cure the problem by reversing the trend. The issue that is most potent in relation to private health insurance is the impact of people on services in public hospitals. I don't think anyone can now say, anyone at all with any knowledge of this area, can now say that what was done by this Government was better than what a simpler process of putting a proportion, if not all, of those resources into improving services in public hospitals would have done.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, will Labor be supporting calls to delay the Wik debate in the Senate until May?

BEAZLEY: Well, we have always said that we will pursue the Wik legislation expeditiously. It's the Government that has prevented a solution, it's the Government rejected what the Senate did last time. We had a solution come of the Senate in December and the Government rejected it. We will continue to take the view that we have that this requires some expeditious consideration but I notice the Government doesn't seem to be particularly fast tracking it at the moment. I would have thought we'd have been debating it this week, but evidently we're not going to. And I understand the Government has got a fair few amendments that they want to move to it themselves. We'll be moving our amendments, that will obviously take a bit of time and we will probably have as a result of discussion we've been having, additional or at least different amendments in some areas from those that we moved previously. That all takes a bit of time but our motive in this is to pursue a conclusion to it expeditiously. And if the Government pulls an election on it, well, we'll just simply stand up and say at the beginning of that election campaign, 'you're five weeks away from a solution'. And that is a solution produced by me as Prime Minister sitting down with the various parties and not getting up until we're finished.