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While the Prime Minister claims the support of the Pope on industrial relations, the Opposition claims the support of the survey conducted by the Economist on the economy

MONICA ATTARD: Prime Minister, Paul Keating, has returned to the messages of the 1993 election campaign in order to fight the next poll. In Perth today, he has been warning that the Coalition won't only rip away at the wages of workers, it will divide Australia's cohesive society. And the Prime Minister has been claiming the support of an unusual ally for Australian politics - Pope John Paul II. As Lyndall Curtis reports, Mr Keating's use of the Catholic leader has been called 'tasteless' and 'disturbing' by the Opposition Leader.

LYNDALL CURTIS: Paul Keating is not exactly claiming to have God on his side but he is claiming to be in step with a higher authority - Pope John Paul II. The Pope has been dragged into the Australian pre-election campaign after reports suggested he'd refused to meet the United States Republican Party leadership because of their policies. They are policies Mr Keating believes mirror what the Coalition has in store for Australia. And on ABC radio in Perth the Prime Minister played his papal card.

PAUL KEATING: And the Pope's made a strong statement, I think, saying: 'I've not come to America to cuddle up to people who are trying to, essentially, push working people asunder, divide the country, I have no compassion about them.'

Now, when John Howard said last night that changes to Australian industrial relations system were key to solving the problems of unemployment and debt, he was a believer in capitalism and the profit motive. Let me quote him: 'We should be talking about reducing the cost of doing business.' What Howard's talking about is reducing .. in reducing the cost of doing business, it's just code for ripping wages down. This sort of hard-hearted view that the strong take the wealth and the devil take the hindmost, which is the Gingrich-Dole view of the world. The Pope said 'not for me, I am not going to glorify this view by meeting you.' This is a view that Howard has.

UNIDENTIFIED: Well, perhaps, you might need to get the Pope to Australia, perhaps, because I suppose one of the problems is that you're facing is you've been in power for what? - 13 years now, and there's a .. don't you think that's your biggest handicap?

PAUL KEATING: Yes, but one problem we're not facing, and that is an immoral position on society - a position about dividing society. I mean, this party believes in a good social wage. Australia is a cohesive, good, society.

LYNDALL CURTIS: Opposition Leader, John Howard, has been clearly unimpressed by Mr Keating's comments and told journalists in Adelaide he was sure the Australian public would share his sentiment.

JOHN HOWARD: Australians will be very disturbed that the Prime Minister has sought to involve His Holiness in a domestic political debate. They will reject it, they won't like it and they will see it as quite contemptible.

UNIDENTIFIED: Are your policies going to be hardline like Mr Keating is alleging?

JOHN HOWARD: Our policies will be sympathetic and compassionate. But this desperate attempt to involve His Holiness in a domestic political debate, will be rejected by Australians as quite contemptible.

LYNDALL CURTIS: While the use of the Pope to back his arguments is drawing fire, it was just a small part of what the Prime Minister was trying to do. And his broad message today has been reminiscent of the one he used in the 1993 election campaign, that the Opposition's policies would change the cohesive nature of Australian society. Mr Keating started warming up his message on the ABC in the morning, claiming Mr Howard's industrial relations policies would leave people engaged in a dog-eat-dog struggle. In the middle of the day, at a Nurses Federation conference, he told the audience the Coalition's IR policy reflected deep-seated prejudices against the idea of an egalitarian and inclusive Australian ethic and ideal. By the afternoon, on commercial radio 6PR, the message was refined.

UNIDENTIFIED: Is industrial relations going to be for you this time, what the GST was last time, that is, the clear dividing line between yourself and the Opposition?

PAUL KEATING: Again, there's a lot of re-writing of policy here, Ron, not by you but by commentators. The last election was won by the Government because we believed in a broad inclusive Australian society. The GST was just an example of the unfairness. It wasn't won on the GST, it was won across the board. And across the board it will be won again. You see, I think that when people say that industrial relations will be the major issue in the next election campaign, in fact they understate the case because what we think about industrial relations defines our ideas of Australia, that is, what sort of people we are, what sort of society we should become. It's just not about pay rates. It's the sort of values we have. I think they measure how much we actually believe in the ties that bind us as Australians. In other words, the right to a job, the right to decent rates of pay, the relationship between employers and employees, is part of the bindings of Australia. It's not just a narrow thing about the money and wages. And, of course, this .. the Coalition do not understand.

LYNDALL CURTIS: Mr Howard's office does believe Mr Keating has gone back to the arguments of 1993, but the Opposition Leader was on another theme. And while he wasn't claiming any religious support, the Coalition Leader has been claiming the support of a magazine favoured by the Prime Minister - the Economist, which Mr Howard says has backed his view: Australia has high interest rates because of its high debt.

JOHN HOWARD: If one wanted any evidence of the link between foreign debt and interest rates, the latest issue of the Economist - a magazine on which Mr Keating frequently relies - contains a survey of the international economy and it draws attention to some analysis by the OECD, which pinpoints very accurately and very effectively, the clear link between the high level of interest rates, the size of budget deficits, the size of current account deficits and the level of inflation. Now that completely blows away the criticism of the link that we sought to draw between foreign debt and interest rates. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer were talking economic nonsense when they disputed that link and now you have this reputable economic magazine, relied upon by the Prime Minister time and time again, completely dismantling his theory.