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Opposition Leader's courtyard, 25 June 1997: transcript of doorstop [Prosser, social security, work for the dole, greenhouse gas emission mandatory targets, unfair dismissals]


JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, given your new relationship with the Democrats, would you hold talks Senator Kernot in terms of setting up a Senate inquiry into Mr Prosser's activities?

BEAZLEY: I think at this stage there is an opportunity for the Government to act to terminate Mr Prosser's position. They should do that forthwith. Mr Prosser has been demonstrated now, for a very long time, to be in breach of more than one aspect of the Code of Conduct that Mr Howard has put down. He revealed again in Question Time today, like extracting teeth from a hen, the fact that he was in breach of that Code of Conduct in relation to his conversations with councillors associated with planning developments of his companies in the Bunbury area even though he has been rejecting that interpretation for some considerable period of time. So, he is in a situation now where he has no other honourable course but to remove himself from it. I see that the Bunbury City Council today has petitioned the Legislative Council of Western Australia for an inquiry...or the Parliament of Western Australia, for an inquiry into these matters which are becoming notorious in Bunbury and indeed have been notorious in Bunbury for some time. We would, I think, await those processes before we determine that particular course of action. We also have other questions we wish to raise with Mr Prosser which we will do tomorrow when Parliament reconvenes. So, that's going to be...this is a process which should have terminated weeks ago. The Government clearly takes no notice of the censure motions we move or the editorials that you write. Therefore more evidence needs to be presented - we will continue to do that.

JOURNALIST: The Government is boasting it saved taxpayers $19 million a week in its review of Social Security crackdown on fraud. Are you going to congratulate them on that?

BEAZLEY: When we were in office we put in place a series of tests in relation to fraudulent behaviour in the Social Security system which caused them to say, when they were in Opposition, as with so many other things, that they believe that those areas had been appropriately handled by the Government of the day. When you look at the simple fact that we have a very low percentage of our GDP in the public sector and that a tight means testing that we put in place associated with Social Security payments, that part of our duty we upheld when we happened to be in office. And the Government has been perfectly churlish about that ever since.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, why was it more important for Labor to stand its ground on the republic issue in the Senate than it was on work-for-the-dole?

BEAZLEY: I think you've got to take a look at what I actually happen to have been saying about work-for-the-dole for some considerable time. Almost from the day it was first announced I have said, 'at the end of day we will pass this'. Now there's ample comments of mine on the public record indicating that. Let me say this, we're not going to spend the next three months discussing, as the Government wanted us to, their Mickey Mouse propositions in relation to this work-for-the-dole scheme. What the public will now recognise is that nobody is going to get jobs through this, nor is it going to be applicable to everybody and nor have they the first idea on how they're going to organise it. That, unfortunately for them, is going to be thoroughly exposed. Unfortunately for the unemployed they're going to find that this Government has no solutions as far as that is concerned. And what we are going to be talking about is real jobs and real opportunities and challenging the Government to meet targets on those issues. And we will be concentrating on those issues which we regard as the number one issues, not Government smokescreens.

JOURNALIST: Well, using your words, why not let the Government have a Mickey Mouse election for delegates to the Constitutional Convention?

BEAZLEY: And overthrow the Australian democratic balloting process. I mean, this at the heart of our democracy - secret ballot and compulsory ballot - is at the heart of our democracy that ensures that Australia gets representative outcomes - probably the best representative outcomes in the world as far as democratic elections are concerned. We will surrender that very, very slowly indeed.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, you've been accused by the Coalition today of a back-flip on your climate change policy, particular in respect of greenhouse targets. What is the Labor greenhouse target policy?

BEAZLEY: We have been opposed to mandatory greenhouse targets, and are opposed to mandatory greenhouse targets. But we're not going to be verballed by the Government. At the same time as we opposed them we defended the Australian position by putting forward a series of voluntary propositions which ensured that Australia played a part in reducing world wide greenhouse gas emissions. And indeed a whole range of our research programs, our RD tax concessions, our Export Market Development grants, was devoted towards both encouraging here, domestically, effective use of fossil fuels to lower emissions, and internationally to promote clean, green Australian product internationally. We regard that as a central feature of a defensive position as far as Australia is concerned. The problem that we have got with the way in which the Government is handling this issue is that they're making us look ridiculous. We've got a Prime Minister up there, sort of not drowning, waving, as far as this issue is concerned, who will not turn up where the serious people are discussing these issues, who finds himself virtually standing at the airport shaking hands with the British Foreign Secretary who has just come in from tipping an almighty bucket on us on the way through and at the venue at which the Prime Minister should have been, given that he was actually over there at the time. And he expects us to stand aside while he verbals us on this. Unlike them we had a sophisticated position which preserved Australian interest. He is acting in a way that does not assist us. We don't think that mandatory targets ought to be there for all the sorts of reasons that are outlined. But we do think that part of a smart defence of that position is making a set of statements about what we will do and what we are doing to control greenhouse gas emissions. This, after all, is not a small problem. If the scientists are right about greenhouse gas emissions it is a substantial problem for the globe. Now, we think the way it's being organised is unfair to Australia but not that the issue is irrelevant. And Australia has a task, along with everybody else, in addressing this sensibly.

JOURNALIST: The conservationists have asked Mr Howard to set a target at this stage. Would you go along with that?

BEAZLEY: Well, I think that we ought to have voluntary codes that bring us to a particular target, yes. Clearly there is a greenhouse gas problem that the world has to do with. If this Government doesn't happen to be particularly seized of it, everybody else certainly is. And we have got to position ourselves in a way that shows we are making a serious effort and that we don't find ourselves, if mandatory targets get put in place, unnecessarily the subject of some form of victimisation by the rest of the international community. Mr Howard has got to learn, as Prime Minister, to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. He's got to learn that.

JOURNALIST: Should we be putting a target on the table now?

BEAZLEY: I think that we should be at least demonstrating, I mean, obviously we've got to look at what other people are doing in this situation, but we should be at least demonstrating that at the same time as we oppose mandatory targets we actually have a serious effort underway to deal with the problem in so far as we impact on it.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, this means that you would agree with Australia not signing any agreement for mandatory targets?

BEAZLEY: Let us see what targets come out and let us see what we're actually capable of getting through. I would be very reluctant to go down the road, as I said, of committing ourselves to mandatory targets. But I would like a performance from the Prime Minister on this subject that at least preserves some sense of Australian honour instead of standing up there in that no drowning, waving posture as though he's impressing anybody with it.

JOURNALIST: But at the end of the year there is an actual agreement to be signed. If that embraces mandatory targets would you support the Government not signing it?

BEAZLEY: Let's take a look at what the targets are. Let's take a look at what the concessions against meeting those targets are, let's take a look at what the timetables associated with them are, let's take a look at the exemptions that may be being given other people in relation to those targets. Let's take a look at quite a complex set of issues in relation to that which the Government seems particularly loath to address in the formal presentation it puts forward but is nevertheless going to be part of it as it comes out. So, we don't commit ourselves sight unseen to anything.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, aren't there voluntary codes and targets still in place and hasn't industry recently recommitted itself to those voluntary...?

BEAZLEY: The voluntary codes and targets are in place but a lot of the measures that we had, the efficiency measures that we put in place that were part of our process of addressing these have in fact been cut out as the Government has terminated a whole series of programs. And that has been very much to our detriment. We also ought to take a look at this from the point of view of an Australian possibility, which a lot of people don't seem to be thinking through very clearly. One: we actually produce some very, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, efficient coal. We also have developed, though now targeted by the sorts of changes that have taken place on RD concessions and in reducing research budgets, we have also developed the particularly interesting mechanisms as to how you should handle that coal. And our industries are at the forefront in environmentally responsible activity. All sorts of these elements of what was part of our position have gone and none of them are getting any sort of emphasis from the Prime Minister.


BEAZLEY: No, he's not. If we're going to be taken seriously, and it's about time people started asking for more than two lines from him on this subject. If we are actually going to be taken seriously in the halls that are not taking us seriously at the moment as is absolutely evident, we're being patronised on this. We are being belittled on this. We are being made an international joke by the Prime Minister's behaviour on this. We've at least got to start to look a bit serious about where we're going and not, as this Government has done, willy nilly chop out from our system, the mechanisms that we had in place to address it. As I said, the Prime Minister internationally has got to learn to be able to chew gum and walk at the same time. Defend a reasonable position against mandatory propositions but at the same time show that we are actually serious in dealing with what is a major problem - recognised internationally as a major problem on the question of greenhouse gas emissions. We don't get much scientific advice telling us that we ought not to be worried about it.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, in terms of your reference of Mr Howard that he should learn to chew gum and walk at the same time, are you describing him as the Gerald Ford of Australian politics?

BEAZLEY: No, he hasn't bumped into anything yet as far as the...I look upon this more in the context of Billy McMahon. And I like to see Australian analogies in that regard. This is becoming, on so many fronts now, a McMahonesque Government.

JOURNALIST:Mr Beazley, also in the Senate tomorrow the Senate is scheduled to vote on the Democrats disallowance motion in terms of the Government's decision to exempt small business from unfair dismissal law. What would the Labor Party's stance on that?

BEAZLEY: Well, our position on the unfair dismissal changes is the Government told us they had perfection.

JOURNALIST: So, you will vote against...?

BEAZLEY: The Government told us that as far as they were concerned they had a situation in which they'd arrived at a set of conclusions about unfair dismissals which were just the bees knees. And that small business had nothing more to worry about. I think we intend to take the Government at their word.

JOURNALIST: But that means you will vote in favour of the Democrat's disallowance motion, yes or no?

BEAZLEY: You will have plenty of opportunity to see that tomorrow. But let me make this absolutely clear, we're not going to go along with the Government's propositions on unfair dismissal.