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Parliament House, Canberra, 24 June 1997: transcript of doorstop [work-for-the-dole, Wik, Prosser, Yasser Arafat, Howard speech, Constitutional Convention]

EOE

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, how do you explain Labor's backdown on work-for-the-dole?

BEAZLEY: Well, you know very well from the fact that you've been

interviewing me here for a considerable period of time that, at the end of day, we always said we'd pass it. Now the challenge is up to this Minister. There are 800,000 unemployed - ask him every month how many are in it. [There are] 800,000

- ask him every month how many are in it. What you'll find very quickly is that the Mickey Mouse character of this is not going to provide a single real job. And that's of a piece with this Government's performance.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, you've criticised the Government for being driven by opinion polls. Haven't you done just the same on this?

BEAZLEY: We want this Government to have the opportunity to implement its employment policies so that it has no excuses. It has not created one job in this country and this scheme of theirs will create none either. And ask them every month when 800,000 people come up on the unemployed list, ask them how many have got a job through this.

JOURNALIST: So, don't you want an election on youth unemployment?

BEAZLEY: We'll go to an election on unemployment - don't you worry about that. We are going to be out there on employment and job security issues every day. That is going to be the centrepiece of our election campaign.

JOURNALIST: But it was just yesterday that you were talking about the BHP retrenched workers getting caught up in this scheme because there's no age limit. You've let the scheme go through without that age limit.

BEAZLEY: Let the Government explain to the BHP workers that's what they have in mind for them. Let them take it on. See what happens.

JOURNALIST: Are you going to adopt that policy with other approaches of the Coalition to different problems like the 10 Point Plan, etc?

BEAZLEY: Sometimes we're going to take that view on some of their propositions - propositions which they have touted which are bound to fail. We will take that view on just to let the public see what an absolutely threadbare Government this is. On the other hand, there are other concerns which are, of course, very considerable and we will operate in the Senate as we see fit on each particular issue.

JOURNALIST: It's something of a cop-out, though, isn't it really, that you're not going to take a stand on the issues that are, I guess, going against public opinion?

BEAZLEY: Not a bit. We've already stated what our position is going to be on Wik. We've already stated where we're going to take it. You've seen our seven point set of propositions. We've seen the Government's ten. We think there are problems with the Government's ten. We've already indicated that. We will deal with those circumstances when they arrive in the Senate.

JOURNALIST: ...sunset clause that came around at the end of last night?

BEAZLEY: Well, this Government wants, unfettered, its opportunity to provide opportunities for jobs through work-for-the-dole. We want no excuses. We said from the outset we'd put up our propositions, we'd tell them what would make this scheme work, we pointed out that we ran work-for-the-dole schemes which did succeed, schemes which Tony Blair, I might say, is now picking up. Now, what we want this Government to do is to get out there and demonstrate that its scheme works.

JOURNALIST: Have you got enough hard evidence against Geoff Prosser?

BEAZLEY: Well, I would have thought all heavens, he's out. I would have thought it absolute clarity the fact that he came in and virtually confessed to having misled the House last night. He pointed out that he had had a conversation with one of the Directors of Coles-Myer that involved properties in which he was the major investor and owner, and created precisely those circumstances that the Code of Conduct was meant to avoid, and that is the appearance of the interest as a Minister in influencing people in a particular direction. The conversation is the influence, and he had the conversation. Any other Government that was led by somebody other than a very weak Prime Minister would have dealt with this Minister ages ago.

JOURNALIST: With John Howard in London it's unlikely that he's going to go until next week, and that takes him into the recess.

BEAZLEY: Well, he should have gone before John Howard went [overseas]. Just one of the pieces of unfinished business that John Howard left behind. But in London they do have things called telephones and faxes. And it is quite possible for the Prime Minister to be fully advised of the fact that his Minister has now virtually confessed to misleading the House. His Minister is now, with absolute clarity, in breach of John Howard's Code of Conduct. It's now John Howard on the line as much as this Minister.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Govemment was right to withdraw an invitation to Yasser Arafat to visit Australia?

BEAZLEY: What a mess. If they weren't going to follow up on it, why issue it? The problem that you've got with this Government is it sleepwalks on foreign policy. That's one of the problems you've got with this Government. It does not know that if you issue an invitation and then withdraw it, it's deeply insulting. If you thought the circumstances were not propitious for a visit from Mr Arafat, he shouldn't have issued the invitation in the first place. He did. That's just another strike against the Government - absolutely incapable of handling Australia's foreign relations which is, after all, one of the two or three top functions of the Federal Government.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard seems to have withdrawn his references to Pauline Hanson from his Menzies speech last night. What do you think that means?

BEAZLEY: Well, what a cop-out. What a cop-out. He's out there with the gallery about three or four days ago saying he's going to really take this on. He's going to point out to these people that all that Mrs Hanson is is of a piece with the Ku Klux Klan and Le Pen in France and, 'don't you worry, I'm going to get out there and point this out to everybody'. But he walks away. I do not think that this is a man taken seriously internationally. And behaviour like that just enhances a very low reputation for not being able to confront the issues.

JOURNALIST: Labor said that it would let the Constitutional Convention go ahead as well. So, are you going to stand in the way of that?

BEAZLEY: We have put our propositions up on the Constitutional Convention related to how the ballot is going to be conducted. We've said that the Constitutional Convention should proceed but, as far as we're concerned, and there are other parties in the Senate on this, we are not going to stand aside and let the Australian secret ballot be knocked over cynically by this Government, as it seeks to gain advantage out of this Constitutional process instead of it being a genuine seeking of Australian opinion. So, we'll keep pressing our point on that matter.