Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Prime Minister discusses bananas; and workforce participation trial.



Download PDFDownload PDF

PRIME MINISTER

4 September 2006

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH JOHN MACKENZIE, RADIO 4CA, CAIRNS

Subjects: Bananas; workforce participation trial

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………

MACKENZIE:

Prime Minister good morning, thanks for joining me on the programme.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning John, I am in Canberra.

MACKENZIE:

You are in Canberra, you will get over that in time. What is the weather like there, by the way, today?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh it’s actually a very nice day today, I only flew in last night. I was in beautiful Queensland yesterday, but down south a long way from Cairns.

MACKENZIE:

You should be up here a lot more often. Prime Minister let’s talk about this banana pulp, we’ve got to get across the issue, it seems like a storm in the tea cup. Has banana pulp, if this is indeed banana pulp, always been imported?

PRIME MINISTER:

It has been imported for a long time, and the undertaking I gave to the banana growers, as they now acknowledge, was in relation to the importation of fresh

bananas. And there has been no relaxation of any import restrictions in relation to them. Banana pulp and frozen bananas which are the things that have been brought in from Vietnam are in the same category, they have been brought in from time to time. They are subject to all sorts of quarantine requirements, and if people in the banana growers’ organisation wants to, and I know they are wanting to talk to AQIS and

satisfy themselves, then they should do so. And I do acknowledge it wouldn’t have been a bad idea if AQIS had let people know that this bundle of frozen bananas was coming in from Vietnam.

MACKENZIE:

So it’s a larger than normal shipment is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can’t answer that, all I know is that shipments of this kind have come in before. Obviously this doesn’t represent any kind of competition for the fresh bananas, but the point I want to make is that what I promised people, and I remember very clearly, and I am not trying to redefine that promise, I said that we wouldn’t relax the import restrictions, and we haven’t. And we won’t relax the import restrictions on fresh bananas.

MACKENZIE:

The point that has to be made here, Tony Heidrich of the banana growers says that this importation is a direct result of storm-induced shortages.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, whether it is or it isn’t, that is a matter of debate, but you can appreciate that if it has been the custom to import frozen bananas or banana pulp, a continuation of that custom hardly breaches a commitment not to allow the importation of fresh bananas.

The real competition for banana growers is fresh bananas isn’t it?

MACKENZIE:

Now, I just want to quote what the Premier’s had to say about this yesterday. He says I am urging the Prime Minister to stop the imports to allow the north Queensland growers to get back on their feet, these banana growers, he said, have done it tough, they’ve been hit once by the cyclone, now they’ve been hit by the Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Mr Beattie is just scoring a cheap political point because he has a state election next Saturday. Now as you know John, I have gone out of my way to work with Mr Beattie in response to the cyclone which flattened Innisfail. I have not offered any criticism of the Queensland Government, I’ve tried to work with him, and it’s like his cheek to now try to, on the eve of the state election to try and make some cheap political capital out of this issue. He knows that what I was talking about in March of this year was fresh bananas and he knows that the importation of these frozen bananas

does not represent any kind of competitive threat to the banana growers of north Queensland. And could I also make the gentle point that my Government has provided two and half times more financial assistance to the cyclone-affected area of north Queensland and the Queensland Government. I’m not criticising the Queensland Government, but now that Mr Beattie has chosen to break the bipartisan understanding I thought I had with him in response to this cyclone, I will point that out. According to my advice the Federal Government has put $249 million of assistance into Far North Queensland, and the amount contributed by the Queensland Government is no more than a hundred, now I’m not criticising him, I’m not saying they should have put in more...

MACKENZIE:

Well that’s the role of the Federal Government anyway, to put in that amount, in that proportion…

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

MACKENZIE:

Well it is the role of the Federal Government to put in a much greater proportion than the State Government surely?

PRIME MINISTER:

But it’s also the role of the State Premier to play fair and not try and score cheap, political points.

MACKENZIE:

Now the point you are making here though, you do concede that AQIS could have at least paid the courtesy of ringing the Banana Growers’ Council and saying this is the situation, there is 10,868 kilograms coming in of this pulp and this issue would not have arisen I presume.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t know, I don’t think that would have stopped Mr Beattie because Mr Beattie was intent on making a political point. But could I read from the release put out by the banana growers, what it says is that the volume of fresh banana, the frozen bananas rather, brought into Australia from Vietnam has taken the council by surprise, but it does not believe this is a breach of the commitment given by the Prime Minister

regarding fresh green banana imports. Now that’s what the banana growers have said and they are right, they are absolutely right. And I think it would be a good idea if the council did get all of the information, and I think it would be a good idea, even though there is a state election next Saturday, it would be a good idea if Mr Beattie didn’t try and score a cheap political point on this, and stick to the facts.

MACKENZIE:

John Howard, let’s just talk about the $5000 too, that you are extending now to people in parts of Australia of high unemployment to encourage them to go to areas where they are desperately needed, for example their skills or their labour might be needed in Innisfail, this $5000 incentive. Talk to me about how you hope it will work, admittedly it is only a pilot scheme at this stage, is there any opportunity of bringing it forward so we would see a genuine and urgently needed increase of this labour force for Innisfail?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if the scheme works effectively, and I will have a look at whether we mightn’t be able to see it operate in Far North Queensland. I am not making a promise about that, can everybody write that down, I will do my best to see if the scheme could be made to operate for the benefit of Far North Queensland, but the idea simply is to pilot ways and means of encouraging people, particularly people who don’t have family commitments, in areas of relatively high unemployment to go to areas where there is a desperate shortage of both skilled and unskilled labour. There’s no special rocket science in it, it’s just a way of trying to match surplus people in one area with a shortage of people in other areas.

MACKENZIE:

You know that area has copped it again over the weekend, another eight to 10 inches, I don’t know if you’ve heard, the highway is blocked once again.

PRIME MINISTER:

I wish we could sort of bucket it and send it somewhere else in Australia because the rest of Australia is still very, very dry. I have heard that it did get some heavy rain again. I will examine whether there is any way in which this pilot might be made to operate to the advantage of Innisfail…

MACKENZIE:

The reason I’ve been…

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t want to raise any expectations.

MACKENZIE:

But John the reason I bring it up is that 7,500 homes are desperately in need of work, desperately in need of work, roofs most of them, they’ve got to get those roofs intact before the wet season. Here we are, I mean to say it’s almost perhaps days or weeks until the wet season again, and we’ve still got thousands of these homes, I mean it calls for the most urgent of action.

PRIME MINISTER:

I understand that, but there is a limit to the resources that are available at any given time. I can only repeat again that the Government, my Government, working with the Queensland Government and the local authorities is doing everything it can to help, and I don’t think it can be said that we have been dragging our feet.

MACKENZIE:

And you did fulfil your promise to come back and see those recovery efforts, and I hope that you will be back again before the end of the year, is that a possibility?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t know, I am not going to promise whether I can come back again, I did come back, I was here what three or four weeks ago. I came in March, I came again three or four weeks ago, now I can’t promise whether I can come again before the end of the year, I will try, but Australia is a big country and I do have to travel to all different parts of the country.

MACKENZIE:

Crisis number two, though, may well be this coming wet season with those homes still without adequate roofing, but I am sure you will be keeping your finger on the pulse.

PRIME MINISTER:

I certainly will and I think everybody can be assisted if we continue, and we were succeeding until Mr Beattie’s lapse a few days ago, to keep politics out of it. I think it was very good that a Liberal Prime Minister and a Labor Premier could work together so very closely to help the people, and I think we ought to keep it that way, and let’s not score cheap points about bananas when there is no point to be scored.

MACKENZIE:

Prime Minister John Howard thanks for talking to me and north Queensland today.

[ends]