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Prime Minister comments on the Olympic Games, Paralympic Games, aboriginal affairs, exchange rate and the death of David Tonkin.



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5 October 2000

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP RADIO INTERVIEW WITH JEREMY CORDEAUX, 5DN

Subjects: Olympic Games; benefit to Australia of Olympic Games; Paralympic Games; Aboriginal affairs; Australian Dollar; death of Dr David Tonkin.

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

CORDEAUX:

Prime Minister can you hear me okay now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I can hear you fine and I am not getting any feedback.

CORDEAUX:

All right, that will do. Some feedback you want and some feedback you don’t want.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I am always interested in feedback. Even of that kind.

CORDEAUX:

I thought you might give us some tips on crowd surfing. What was that like?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it was a special experience in my political life, I’ve not had anything like that before. It was an exhilarating evening. I spent a lot of time at the Games and my wife and I formed a very close association with members of the team and the officials and we really felt part of it and it was a nice spontaneous gesture that I’ve got to say I enjoyed very much, I hope they did too.

CORDEAUX:

Yes, I heard somebody say that, and in the light of the fact that it didn’t seem to matter that to this particular commentator what you had done, you could bring down unemployment, you could bring the interest rates down you could do all sorts of things, but he ranked that crowd surfing thing as the most significant thing you’ve done in your political life. Do you believe that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t know, it is for others to decide what the most significant thing in my political life is. In the end I guess I believe the good things I do for the country of lasting benefit are more important than anything else, but it was an enjoyable occasion and importantly the Olympic Games were a great unifying event for the whole country and the way in which this country was displayed to enormous advantage around the world is the thing that gave me the greatest satisfaction out of the Olympic Games.

CORDEAUX:

Now how do you think we should be capitalising on this moment, this brief moment in time?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it delivers its own capitalisation, if I can put it that way. I’ve no doubt that more people will visit Australia as a result of the exposure of the Games. I’ve no doubt that more people will see Australia as a modern, technologically sophisticated nation. More people will have confirmed to them the notion that this is a very safe, stable, cohesive country, very friendly people and a great capacity to work together, to pull together for the common good.

CORDEAUX:

Well there’s never any shortage of people who want to give you advice, but there were people like the head of GE and other luminaries around the world who were saying that really what we should be doing is to concentrate our future economic growth and capitalise on the runs that are on the board at the moment by doing something about advancing technology, concentrating on advances in technology in the country, do you believe that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Jeremy you can always do more, but we are already a technologically advanced, sophisticated country, we couldn’t have run the Olympic Games as successfully as we did if we had not been advanced technologically. I mean that is, I mean this idea that Australia is not advanced technologically is absurd, it is wrong. We are a very modern country. Our use of information technology ranks second only to the United States. We are far ahead of many other developed countries in our use of technology and that doesn’t mean to say you can’t do more. That doesn’t mean to say that you shouldn’t invest more but the idea that we are a technological backwater is just factually incorrect. And if anybody comes to this country and makes that claim, and I don’t think the head of GE was actually making that claim, I think he was probably pointing out the importance of continuing the momentum and anybody making that claim doesn’t really understand this country and wanders around Australia with their eyes closed and their ears blocked.

CORDEAUX:

Now of all the things that you saw, and you saw many events at the Games, what did you enjoy most?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can’t single one out, I would think four or five were highlights. I thought the Cathy Freeman race which I saw was great. I the fact that that was coupled with Tatiana Grigorieva - that her and Cathy, that was a great night. I thought the women’s waterpolo was great. There’s a whole range of them.

CORDEAUX:

Have you got a comment on the retirement of Michael Knight?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, not really. He made that decision for personal reasons I guess. I don’t want to evaluate it, that’s a matter for the Labor Party and people deeply involved in New South Wales politics. The Games were well organised and he deserves credit for that. I’ve given him credit. I’ve tried to adopt a very bi-partisan approach to the Olympic Games, I’ve done that all along. It’s ironic that when Sydney won the Games we had a State Liberal Government in New South Wales and you had a Federal Labor Government and by the time the Games had arrived that had been reversed, you had a Federal Liberal Government and a State Labor Government. And always it was important that you kept party politics out of it.

CORDEAUX:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Some people, some people didn’t do very well at keeping party politics out of it, but we certainly did and we tried very hard and I worked with Mr Carr and where credit is due, credit should be given and the Games were well organised and Michael Knight is entitled to his share of credit for that along with 40,000 or 50,000 volunteers.

CORDEAUX:

A great moment for Australia.

PRIME MINISTER:

They were great people and it was a great moment for our country.

CORDEAUX:

And another great moment this morning I believe?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes it was a wonderful morning, a traditional aboriginal ceremony to light the flame in the cauldron and then we lit the Paralympic torch and I gather that all the tickets for the Opening Ceremony have already been sold out and I really think it would be a wonderful opportunity for the people of Australia to demonstrate their support for another team of talented and champion athletes, athletes with disabilities. And it will be the biggest Paralympic Games ever, we’ll have 285 in our own team, there’ll be 130 or a 140 countries competing and more than 4,000 athletes. A great opportunity and I am so pleased for them and for what they

represent that there seems to be a growing level of very strong public support and that is terrific.

CORDEAUX:

And just before we take a call, you don’t mind taking some calls do you Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. No certainly not.

CORDEAUX:

Phillip Ruddock made a statement overseas which was not a comment and I would have thought it was just a simple statement of fact which has resulted in all sorts of people screaming particularly overnight I believe for his resignation.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I won’t be asking him to resign, I’ll be backing him 100%. This episode illustrates how trivial and demeaning much of the debate on indigenous affairs in this country is, surely we can do better than nitpick over whether or not somebody has correctly or incorrectly expressed a view on a historical fact. People can agree with what he said, or disagree but don’t impute impure motives to it. Has the debate on aboriginal affairs got to the stage where you can’t say something that you believe is true?

CORDEAUX:

But this is political correctness Prime Minister, isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, of course it is and I think it is absurd. I mean surely we should put this sort of nonsense behind us. If people really care about the future of indigenous people in this country, they’ll stop wasting time on issues like this and worry about what we can do now in the 21st century to build a better life and better opportunities for people of an indigenous background in Australia. What they want from us is something for their future. I think the public is tired of endless debating about how you describe the past. What they want is some action into the future and that’s why I have an emphasis on practical reconciliation, it is why I think what is important are employment opportunities, education opportunities, health improvements, sporting opportunities, people who rejoice in the success of Aboriginal athletes at the Olympic Games for example, rejoice in the fact that they were there, proud of their background but part of a modern Australian Olympic team. That’s what they wanted and that’s what people want for the future. They’re growing tired of this semantic debate about the past. They really are. I mean everybody will have a different view of the past. We’re all sorry for the mistakes that were made in the past but we’ve got to get on with it, we’ve got to move into the future. I mean Philip Ruddock is the last person in the Parliament who can be criticised for insensitivity towards Aboriginal people. I mean he’s been criticised by the Labor Party this morning yet they had somebody on their front bench who’s still there who’s made the most offensive remark I’ve heard in recent months about Aborigines. You’ll remember at the time Daryl Melham went. It was a very offensive remark and I’m not going to repeat it because your listeners know what it is. And that man is still there, or woman, whoever it was.

CORDEAUX:

Did they find out who it was?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t know. I mean the investigation is still going on. But this is the point I’m making. I mean these same people who are dumping on Philip Ruddock. But look the public’s tired of this nonsense. The public wants the two political parties in Australia to talk about the future they want to build for indigenous people, not a debate about whose description of the past is the more accurate. There comes a point where we’re going to have to agree to disagree about what happened in the past and how we should respond. But what we should try to work to achieve is a better future. Now I think people want increasingly a focus on the future for Aboriginal people, not this constant dwelling on the past.

CORDEAUX:

The Prime Minister is my special guest. Hello Pam.

CALLER:

Good morning. Good morning Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Pam.

CALLER:

I’m very grateful for the opportunity of being able to speak directly to you. As I’m sure you’re aware there’s a World Expo currently running in Hanover. Now my question is that after we had a referendum which decided that Australian should remain in the Commonwealth, on whose authority are represented to the world at the Expo as the republic of Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not aware that we are represented as the Republic of Australia. I’m not aware, speaking to the listeners, I’m not aware that we’re described as a Republic of Australia. If we are then that description is wrong and I’ll find out how and why it happened and stop it. It’s just not accurate. I mean I’ve never heard Australia referred to overseas as the Republic of Australia. I’ve heard it referred to as the Commonwealth of Australia and that’s what we are.

CORDEAUX:

Yeah well it will be interesting to see why…..

PRIME MINISTER:

And Commonwealth is another word for republic incidentally. Historically it’s one of those ironies of that debate.

CORDEAUX:

Oh really. Cathy….

CALLER:

Good morning Mr Howard. How are you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m very well.

CALLER:

I think we’ll probably take five minutes. I grew up with Aboriginal people and none of us were treated any differently. Nobody realised there was a class distinction until these last few years. Now at one time I went to get Austudy for one of my children and they said to me are you Aboriginal? And I said no. Have you got Aboriginal blood in you? And I said well I could have said I was related to one of them but I said no. I said anyhow what’s the difference? And they said well if you’re Aboriginal you can get more money on Abstudy. Now I can’t understand why all this division has come about because the more people say about the colours the bigger the division, the bigger the wedge. And I cannot understand why the United Nations say that we do not treat our Aboriginal people properly when now days everybody is given money from the government.

CORDEAUX:

Cathy can I get you to the point that you’re trying to make, or the question you’re going to ask.

CALLER:

I just wanted to make that statement that we are….if they were a stolen generation how did they learn they were a stolen generation if they did not have the education. And it is not real Aboriginal people but part Aboriginal people who are saying they were stolen on the whole.

CORDEAUX:

All right Cathy.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Jeremy, in a sense that question illustrates the point I was making earlier. So much of this debate is about what happened in the past rather than what we can do in the future. I thought the starting point of the ladies question, of Cathy’s question was absolutely right, that we’re all together and we want an equal degree of opportunity for people. And we should focus on building that in the future rather than being totally preoccupied with the past. Can I say the reason why there was a margin in favour of indigenous people with Abstudy was the belief that they as a group, and I believe they still remain as a group the most disadvantaged in the Australian community.

Those differences have been narrowed and I can understand why others in the community feel there should be absolutely no difference. I can also understand why governments in the past may have though in order to help Aboriginal people catch up there should be some additional help given. But increasingly I understand it’s the desire of everybody including the more progressive Aboriginal leaders who have people treated completely equally as part of the community, respecting of course that they have a cultural history that is different from the rest of the Australian community and that should be part of our acceptance of them as fully equal and participating members of our society. But increasingly what we have to do is focus on now and on the future. We’re never going to agree on exactly what occurred in the past. We’re

never going to agree on how we should in language address the past. But we can hope to agree on what we can do now to help people have a better future.

CORDEAUX:

Hello Carl. Here’s the Prime Minister.

CALLER:

Good morning Mr Prime Minister. You must be [inaudible] this morning I suspect from the Olympic Games spending $8000 plus taxpayers’ money and so would I. Sir, the view out of Parliament House must be much brighter in there this morning when you open your new $30,000 curtains Mr Prime Minister. And further you Mr Prime Minister….$8,000 of taxpayers’ money on having a consultant telling you which wine to drink. [inaudible]. What about cleaning up our health system in South Australia [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Carl, I don’t think I’ll have much success persuading you of anything. Just for your interest we’re not going ahead with those $30,000 curtains, but you know that’s just a bit of a footnote. Every head of government around the world has I guess, well most of us have official residences. There’s a certain amount of money that needs to be spent on them. But I don’t think anything is going to be achieved by my trying to argue the point with you on that.

I did my duty to Australia by going to the Olympic Games regularly and I don’t for a moment regret having done that and I think that’s what most of the Australian people wanted me to do and I’m quite certain that if Mr Beazley had been Prime Minister he would have done exactly the same thing. And I would not as Opposition Leader have criticised him if I had been in his position.

CORDEAUX:

We’ve got a bit of a breather I guess now that the Reserve Bank has held the interest rate line but ultimately that’s had a devastating effect on the Australian dollar. I mean how long can we live with this dollar going down like this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the one thing you don’t do is you don’t react to the level of it from day to day. You have to take a long view of the Australian dollar. You don’t take a short term view. I don’t make predictions about where the dollar will move to, any more than I make predictions about where interest rates will move to, because if I do that can have an influence on market behaviour. But I will make an observation about how we should react to a floating exchange rate. By definition if you have a floating exchange rate you allow it find the level on a day to day basis that the market suggests it ought to have. And we are living through an era where everything American is fashionable with international investment and that is resulting in our dollar falling against the American dollar. Not because our dollar is weak. It’s because the American dollar is ultra strong. Now these things come and go and having a flexible exchange rate is one of the reasons why we sailed through the Asian economic downturn.

CORDEAUX:

So we just have to hold our nerve?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you certainly have to hold your nerve. Absolutely.

CORDEAUX:

Prime Minister, will you be attending David Tonkin’s memorial service:

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I will. I knew David very well. I liked him immensely and he and I formed a good political friendship. And he and his wife were very kind to me in the 1980s after an ear operation I had in South Australia and I spent some time with them recuperating and he really was a first class person. He was a good Premier, a good friend, and I’m very sorry that he died and extend my sympathy to Pru and his children. He was a lovely man and I will certainly be there.

CORDEAUX:

Prime Minister again thank you for your valuable time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Interviews 2000 | Interviews 1999 | Interviews 1998 | Interviews 1997

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