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Election 2004: Prime Minister delivers National Press Club address in Canberra.

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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.


It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.


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Thursday 7 October 2004

Election 2004: Prime Minister delivers National Press Club address in Canberra


MARK COLVIN: With no more TV and radio advertising allowed, John How ard and Mark Latham have now got another 36 hours of furious campaigning in person, on the news bulletins and in the printed media to persuade Australians one way or the other. 


It's not long after six weeks of official campaigning and many months of positioning and manoeuvring, but it could still be crucial. 


The indications are that this time there are more undecided voters than usual, and the way they jump could decide Saturday night's result. 


First to John Howard, who put his case for re-election in an address to the national press club today, arguing that the nation would change for the worse if there's a change of government. 


But as he set out his credentials, the Prime Minister had to defend his decision to send troops to Iraq. 


Louise Yaxley reports. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: The Prime Minister sprinkled his speech with appeals to the voters who haven't yet made up their minds. He argues the nation would change if the government changes. 


JOHN HOWARD: In my argument, it will change for the worse. Policies will change, importantly, in the area of industrial relations. The clock will be turned back, perhaps 20 years, to an industrial relations era that is no longer relevant to the modern, globally connected Australia. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Both sides of politics believe there are plenty of people who haven't yet decided. Mr Howard's trying to sway them by emphasising his record and contrasting it with the previous Labor government. 


JOHN HOWARD: We have presided over the lowest interest rates in 30 years, and many of our viewers will recall the 17 per cent housing interest rates and the 21 per cent small business interest rates and farmers rates of the Hawke and Keating years. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: He argues, he's defied the doubters on the foreign affairs. 


JOHN HOWARD: The predictions made that the region would not deal with a Howard Government have proved dismally wrong, and nothing better symbolised that than that great moment in October last year, when on successive days the President of the United States and the President of China addressed a joint sitting of the National Parliament. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: But it's foreign affairs and defence, in particular Mr Howard's decision to go to war against Iraq, that's troubling some of those undecided voters. 


Labor argued against going to war, and today the UN weapons inspector's report to the US Senate's Armed Services Committee has undermined the central reason for going war, putting the controversial issue of Iraq back in the spotlight as the Prime Minister finalises this election campaign. 


MEMBER OF THE AUDIENCE: On the basis of what the Iraq Survey Group has reported today it… wasn't Kofi Annan right, even on your reckoning, that the war in Iraq was illegal under international law? 


JOHN HOWARD: Well, I don't accept it was illegal, and we provided legal advice at the time, saying that the action that we took was valid and proper based on the serial non-compliance of Iraq with Security Council resolutions. I mean, that was the legal basis of the war, that Iraq had not complied with the Security Council resolutions. 


PAUL: Will you now admit that you were mistaken, and like Tony Blair will you now apologise to the Australian people for your mistake? 


JOHN HOWARD: Well, Paul, the advice that we were given at the time was the basis of the decision, and that decision was taken in good faith. It is true that on the basis of the work and the surveys carried out to date stockpiles of WMD have not been discovered, but it is also true that Duelfer and many others have certified to both the capacity and the intention of Iraq to resume its WMD ambitions once the United Nations sanctions and the United Nations pressure had disappeared. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: He's unwavering on Iraq. Such doggedness has been a feature of his long political career.  


Labor's campaign has featured plenty of suggestions Mr Howard intends retiring and bringing that career to an end, although he seems to be indicating he wants to stick around. 


Today he was asked how he'll judge when his party no longer wants him around. 


JOHN HOWARD: I've been leader of the party for a long time. I understand my party. I love it. It's given me a lot. The success I've achieved in public life is in no small measure due to the generosity of the spirit of the Liberal Party to me through thick and thin over a long period of time. I think I know its mind, I think I know its heart, and I think I will know its mood towards me. I don't need to be more specific than that. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Howard argues the differences between the two main political parties should never be underestimated. He says Labor has a view of the Australian community that is more grudging and less confident than the Coalition. 


JOHN HOWARD: There is a very strong philosophical difference that has opened up, and it surrounds really the question of the Coalition's commitment to choice against what I would describe as a preferred model of behaviour that would be rewarded and alternatives punished under a future Labor government led by Mr Latham. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: And to Mr Howard, the biggest policy difference of all is industrial relations. 


JOHN HOWARD: None points a dagger at the throat of the future productivity of the Australian economy more directly than Labor's proposals concerning industrial relations. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: If voters decide to stick with him, Mr Howard says his fourth term would feature, as promised, a focus on technical education and building up skills, creating a more entrepreneurial culture and building more trade links in the region. 


JOHN HOWARD: And the fourth of the major goals that I would like to set myself, and I don't limit the goals before, but these are the major ones, is in the next term to tackle the great conservation challenge of our age, and that is the shortage of water in this the driest continent on Earth. 


MARK COLVIN: Prime Minister John Howard ending that report from Louise Yaxley in Canberra.