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Prime Minister discusses WorkChoices; and anti-terrorism legislation.



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PRIME MINISTER

20 October 2005

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH JON FAINE, ABC RADIO, MELBOURNE

Subjects: WorkChoices; anti-terrorism legislation.

E&OE………………………………………………………………………………………..

FAINE:

Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Jon.

FAINE:

The industrial relations reforms, it’s been revealed overnight by AC Nielsen that they estimate you’ve spent $15 million so far; the bulk of it on television advertising. Is that correct?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t know the exact figure, but it could be like that. But I don’t know.

FAINE:

How much more do you expect to spend?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have got a campaign to run until the legislation is introduced and then there could be some after the legislation is passed. But I can’t say exactly what the total bill will be, except it will be nowhere near the $100 million Mr Beazley said. But we are investing money in this. I’m not denying that, I’m not hiding that. It was challenged in the courts by the Labor Party and the unions and the High Court ruled against them. We don’t normally do this but

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then this is important legislation and we think it’s justified. The character of the advertisements, of course, although they are partisan in the sense that they argue the cause of the reform, they are not partisan in the sense that they are critical in any way of the Labor Party or the trade union movement.

FAINE:

Have you done any evaluation on the ads? Whether they’re working or not?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have had some tracking research done. And we believe that the campaign is doing its job. But…

FAINE:

What does that mean?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m not going into the details of that. But I’m not under any illusions that this is a very challenging piece of advocacy by the Government. It’s easy to run a fear campaign about change. It’s far harder to establish the positive benefits. This is an important reform, it will strengthen our economy and in the end the real test of whether industrial relations reform is good is whether it makes the economy stronger. Because no matter what rules you have, if the economy is not strong unemployment will rise and people’s real wages will stagnate.

FAINE:

If this was a Liberal Party campaign you could spend whatever money you liked in whatever way you wanted to, but this is taxpayer’s money and as the High Court said this is a Government activity. You have to be accountable on how this money is spent. If you’ve done evaluation it’s either telling you that the ads are working or they’re not. If the ads aren’t working why keep spending money on them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we are satisfied, I said a moment ago, we are satisfied that the campaign is doing its job. But I’m not going into the details of individual numbers on particular things.

FAINE:

Well we’re entitled to know, we’re paying for them.

PRIME MINISTER:

You’re entitled to know the general thrust of that, but apart from anything else I don’t have any particular figures in front of me.

FAINE:

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Advertising experts who have been interviewed by radio, television and newspaper outlets all say that after you’ve shown an ad half a dozen times it has no further impact. Why keep showing the ads on such high rotation?

PRIME MINISTER:

You always seem to get that reaction from advertising experts.

FAINE:

They’re making money - you think they’d be happy but in fact…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well maybe it’s the ones who aren’t involved in the ads. You understand what I mean? Look, I’m not being unkind, they’re great blokes all of them, but there is a bit of rivalry you know.

FAINE:

Well they say it’s a waste, are you getting any bang for your buck is the question. It’s our money, if it’s just propaganda the high rotation is just to try and wear down people.

PRIME MINISTER:

We believe the campaign is both appropriate and effective.

FAINE:

The television networks are starting to worry because apparently the shows that have high rotation workplace reform ads are suffering in the ratings, people are turning them off, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let’s just wait and see.

FAINE:

Wait and see?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

FAINE:

Well for how much longer?

PRIME MINISTER:

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Well we’re running the campaign until the legislation is introduced - the exact form of it is something that gets reviewed almost on a daily basis.

FAINE:

Alright. Now at the same time some of the workers featured in the ads are saying that they feel ripped off and dudded, they want the ads withdrawn, they say they were paid two hours overtime and told that it a work safety…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ve actually seen advice about the releases that were signed by one of the workers who complained and who appeared on A Current Affair. And the release that was signed indicated very clearly that it was about workplace reform.

FAINE:

But what does workplace reform mean when someone is told…

PRIME MINISTER:

… to say in the light of all the discussion that has been around that when you’re talking about workplace reform and you’re talking about the Federal Government, and both were referred to in the release, it’s a bit rich to say that the person does not know what’s involved. But…

FAINE:

But you’re assuming a level of sophistication by a bloke working in an engineering factory that he may not have.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think that question is a little, with respect - we shouldn’t be patronising about these people. I think the Australian public is very sophisticated - no matter where they work. I saw the man’s interview and I thought the most telling thing he said was that he’d resigned from the firm not in protest about what had happened, but because he’d been offered a better job at a higher pay. And that’s really what it’s all about. And it just shows that at the end of the day it’s the strength of the economy that matters rather than the precise rules.

FAINE:

There are actors in some of those ads too, aren’t there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

FAINE:

Apparently they were paid as much as $2,000 for a half day call to be on in those ads.

PRIME MINISTER:

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What happened in relation to these ads is no different from what happens when ads like that are made by a whole variety of people, including governments, including state governments, including federal governments. It was all done legitimately, it was all done lawfully, it was all done in an open fashion.

FAINE:

All over legislation that we will haven’t seen, when are we going to see it?

PRIME MINISTER:

The legislation, on my latest advice, will be ready for introduction when the Parliament resumes on the 1st of November.

FAINE:

Which is 10 days away?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

FAINE:

Alright, well we will wait to see. Now we’ll get to callers in just a moment. Another major reform that you didn’t want us to see Prime Minister is the change to the terrorism laws. Why do you need the shoot to kill powers which the Premiers, as we’ve heard in the news, are so agitated over?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there’s nothing new about these, they exist already in state law. In Victoria it’s provided that a person may use such force not disproportionate to the objective that he believes on reasonable grounds to be necessary to prevent the commission, continuance or completion of an indictable offence or to effect the lawful arrest of a person committed or suspected of committing any offence. For centuries, law enforcement officers have had the right at common law to use deadly force if necessary in order to protect life or to prevent serious injury, depending on the circumstances. And what happened a few years ago was a decision was taken to codify the common law to give more precision. And Victoria codified its common law and many of the other states did, and we have done the same thing in the Commonwealth Crimes Act. And all we are proposing in relation to preventative detention, or preventive detention, is to replicate what already exists in Victoria and exists in the Commonwealth Crimes Act in relation to the use of force. We’re not introducing something that’s new. The idea is being put around, I don’t think by Mr Bracks or Mr Beattie, I saw both of them on television last night and I welcome the fact that they will adhere very strongly to the agreement we made, the idea is being put around that what we are proposing is to give the police authority if somebody is running away from them when they’re trying to take them into custody to shoot that person in the back. Now that’s wrong. We’re not trying to do that at all.

FAINE:

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You end up like that young Brazilian killed on the train on the subway in London after the bombings. You can end up with a terrible outcome if you’re not careful…

PRIME MINISTER:

Hang on, let’s, I mean what happened in England happened under English law. But it may well be that somebody in the British police did commit a crime on that occasion. I don’t know and that will depend on the inquiry and any court proceeding. But let’s just keep calm and can I just read to you what we are proposing? Now this is what, it’s a very important issue…

FAINE:

Is it against national security interests for you to tell us what’s in this bill? Because the other day you were saying we shouldn’t know what was in it.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I didn’t say people shouldn’t know what was in it. What I said was that it was fair and legitimate for governments before they decide on the final form of the bill to talk to each other about what that final form should be. I have never said, and I would never say to the Australian public, they have no right to know what is in the legislation. But until we have agreed to legislation between ourselves as governments we don’t have a proposed law to release to the public. And it can be confusing and misleading to release something which doesn’t end up being adopted by all of the parties who are responsible for preparing it. And that is the reason why people including Mr Bracks and Mr Beattie objected to what Mr Stanhope did. There is no desire on my part to hold this back from the public and I want to read out to you what the Commonwealth proposes here.

FAINE:

Please.

PRIME MINISTER:

What it basically says; “…that a member of the AFP must not in the course of taking a person into custody do anything in relation to force unless the AFP member believes on reasonable grounds that doing that thing is necessary to protect life, or to protect serious injury to another person including the AFP officer. And the person has, if practicable, been called upon to surrender and the AFP member believes on reasonable grounds that the person can not be apprehended in any other manner”.

FAINE:

In any other manner and after calling upon them to surrender.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but in addition to that he must believe on reasonable grounds that using force is necessary to protect his life or the life of another member of the community or to protect himself or another member of the community against serious bodily injury. Now that is codification of what has always been the common law. Now the point I’m simply making is

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that all we’re proposing to do here, and in the end we’ve got to have the agreement with the States because we can’t pass this legislation without the agreement of the states. All we’re proposing to do is to extend the codification of the long standing common law to circumstances that might arise from preventive detention. We are not giving police the right to kill somebody who’s escaping preventive detention. We are merely saying that if there is a risk to somebody else’s life or bodily injury and there is no other way they can use deadly force. Now, with respect, that is not introducing something new and if this doesn’t get passed, there will still be the common law provisions that will apply. The difficulty will be that the police will be less certain as to what their legal position is. And that is not necessarily a fair thing for the police force and it’s not necessarily a just outcome for the public. So sure, I’ll talk to Mr Beattie and Mr Bracks about all of this but we’re not introducing something that hasn’t existed.

FAINE:

And if you have to take it out you’ll take it out…

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not saying finally what my position is in relation to anything until I’ve continued my discussions with the Premiers.

FAINE:

It’s a quarter to nine. John Howard the Prime Minister is taking your calls. 1300 222 774. You’re on 774 ABC Melbourne with John Faine. Simon in Ballarat. Welcome Simon.

CALLER:

Morning John. Morning John.

PRIME MINISTER:

G’day.

CALLER:

I just thought you might like an employer’s perspective on the IR reform. I’d like to congratulate Mr Howard on what he’s trying to do. We employ 25 staff here and of those 25, 3 are full time. The rest are casual. If unfair dismissal was repealed we would probably put on 8 of those back on full time. It’s just simply, you know, it’s just too hard to employ people full time. You’re worried about unfair dismissal the whole time.

FAINE:

How many, have you had unfair dismissal claims against you Simon?

CALLER:

I haven’t had any but…

FAINE:

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Then why are you worried about them?

CALLER:

I’ve had employees work for me John that have turned up under the influence of alcohol.

FAINE:

In a pub? Never.

CALLER:

In a restaurant situation yeah. And you’ve got to be very careful on how you dismiss them. I mean to me that’s unacceptable. You know, and you’ve also got drugs today and those sorts of things and you just can’t say to this guy go home and don’t come back. You know, you don’t know where it will end up.

FAINE:

So you think it will create jobs in Ballarat?

CALLER:

Oh definitely yeah.

FAINE:

Have you got a question from the Prime Minister who’s very pleased to hear your call?

CALLER:

No, I just rang up to congratulate him and hope… I hope that he keeps fighting the fight for small business because eventually I believe it will get through. You know.

FAINE:

You’ve made him smile. Good on you Simon. Tim in Box Hill Good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you. Well done Simon, you’re right.

FAINE:

Morning Tim.

CALLER:

Good morning. Prime Minister Howard I have a question about jobs. Can you expect a certain level of jobs to be created with these new laws?

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PRIME MINISTER:

I believe it will be more jobs for two reasons. These changes will lead to more investment and risk taking, particularly by small business and that will generate jobs. I also believe that the greater flexibility it will bring about will create more jobs. I can’t put figures on that. I haven’t in nine and a half years tried to precisely, accurately and definitively say well by certain months of a certain year we’re going to have a certain level of employment. You can’t do that. All I can predict is a general trend. I believe this general trend will be favourable for some of the reasons that I’ve just mentioned.

FAINE:

All right then.

CALLER:

More jobs must be better for everybody especially the family and their employers.

PRIME MINISTER:

There’s no doubt about that. And as Tony Blair famously said, and he’s a Labour Prime Minister, fairness in the workplace starts with the chance of a job.

FAINE:

Alan in Bendigo. Good morning Alan.

CALLER:

Good morning John. Good morning Mr Howard. Look I’m generally a supporter of your Government and particularly your management of your Government but I’m just wondering if you’re missing the feel and the mood of the nation and particularly with the blind faith in market forces. I believe that things such as the sale of Telstra, the appalling levels of executive remuneration, cost of petrol and pressure on families to earn at very high levels and fear of this workplace legislation. All of these things are combining to create real doubts amongst the family as to whether this philosophy of blind market forces is the right way to go and I would refer particularly to the world’s best practice of our farmers and what’s it got them?

FAINE:

So specifically Alan, you’re question is?

CALLER:

Well my question is….

PRIME MINISTER:

No I think I understand. Have I got too much faith in market forces?

CALLER:

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Yes, and are you reading the mood of the nation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Alan, that’s a good question. I don’t have a blind faith in market forces. I believe that market solutions generally produce better outcomes, but I’m not blindly an adherent to market forces. If I were I would not support a minimum wage. The radicals in this industrial relations debate, the pure marketeers say you should have no minimum wage at all. I don’t share that view. You mentioned petrol, well the problem with petrol is that its price is determined by world market forces and whether I like those market forces or not, no one Government has the power to defy them. The United States Government can’t defy them and it’s infinitely more powerful than the Australian Government. The Japanese can’t, the Europeans can’t. I think what we try to do with these things Alan is to strike a balance. I know from long experience that Governments are very bad at running businesses. You may remember in Victoria this State had some very unhappy experiences of that some years ago and it took a long time to get over it.

FAINE:

Measuring the mood of the community?’

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in the end I am the servant of the people and I try my best to measure the mood. I have a responsibility to listen, I also have a responsibility to lead and to advocate change and sometimes it takes a while to achieve the outcome and in the end I’ll be judged by the Australian people according to their assessment over a longer term as to what I’ve done. And I accept their judgement as always.

FAINE:

Good on you Alan. In Colac, morning Len.

CALLER:

Yes, how are you John?

FAINE:

Good.

CALLER:

Mr Howard in relation to aged pensions, now when your IR legislation comes in and wages drop as they undoubtedly will - and if you believe anything else you believe in tooth fairies. The pension which is brought in at 25% of total average wage will naturally fall. Can you give a guarantee that no pensioner, aged pensioner will be worse off under that legislation?

PRIME MINISTER:

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Well I don’t accept the basic premise of your question and that is that wages will fall. I don’t accept that at all.

CALLER:

Well you believe in the tooth fairy.

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don’t. I mean it was nice to believe in it when I was very young, but I stopped believing in it a long time ago. But if you look at what has happened over the last nine and a half years, when we changed the IR laws in ‘96 many people said wages would fall then. Since then they’ve risen by almost 15% in real terms. They’re not going to fall. I believe in fact that real wages will, providing the economy is strong, will continue to rise.

CALLER:

Well exactly if the economy does not stay strong and the wages fall…

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes but the economy won’t be weakened. The economy will not be weakened by these changes; the economy will be strengthened by these changes, there may be external forces…

CALLER:

(inaudible)

FAINE:

Sorry hang on a second Len…

PRIME MINISTER:

There may be, Len, external forces beyond our control that could have an adverse effect on the economy but the IR changes will not weaken the economy, they will strengthen the economy and I just don’t accept that the IR changes are going to lead to a fall in wages and thereby imperil the underpinning of retention of 25% of male average total weekly earnings.

FAINE:

Quickly Len, reply?

CALLER:

Well will you give a guarantee that no aged pensioner will be worse off?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can promise you Len that aged pensioners will continue to be protected by automatic indexation and by the 25% guarantee.

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CALLER:

That’s not what I asked you, what I asked you…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no but you asked me a question which was premised on the assertion which I reject.

CALLER:

What I am asking you…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I know what you are asking me, what I am pointing out to you Len is that it’s based on an assertion which I don’t accept.

CALLER:

Will you give a guarantee that no pensioner, aged pensioner in particular will be worse off?

PRIME MINISTER:

I will give a guarantee that the aged pensioners will continue to be protected by half yearly indexation and a guarantee that they get 25% of male average total weekly earnings.

FAINE:

Good on you Len, Susan (inaudible) good morning Susan.

CALLER:

Hi Mr Howard, I will be brief. I’m just wondering why you’re so happy to guarantee that people will be worse off under Labor with the interest rate scare campaign, and yet you won’t guarantee that the vulnerable are going to be better off or at least not worse off under IR. I am a student and so are my friends and we are worried about people throwing away our penalty rates, our overtime and just telling us to come and go when they want us to work and I just don’t think you’re being fair.

PRIME MINISTER:

Are you employed under an award?

CALLER:

I won’t be.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, no are you now?

CALLER:

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No.

PRIME MINISTER:

You are not employed under an award, what are you employed under?

CALLER:

Well we have an arrangement which has been worked out for us by a negotiator.

PRIME MINISTER:

By a union?

CALLER:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes well that’s fine well that will continue.

CALLER:

No.

PRIME MINISTER:

No I am sorry, it will continue and the reason I asked you that question was that what you said about throwing away penalty rates and loadings is the sort of thing that is being said unreasonably by people when in so many cases it is untrue. You will still be able to have your conditions negotiated for you by a union as you should (that is guaranteed under the legislation) and going back to your question, the reason why I made the comment about interest rates in the Labor party was that when Labor was last in office, the interest rates were much higher than they are now. And since we have been in government, they’ve been much lower and I have frequently said that my guarantee on wages is my record and if you look at the way in which wages have gone up under the time, during the time I have been Prime Minister that is a fair comment to make. They have gone much better than they did when Mr Hawke and Mr Keating were Prime Minister.

FAINE:

(inaudible)

CALLER:

…(inaudible) thanks to you Mr Howard - that’s because you haven’t had the power in the Senate and that’s because of the Industrial Relations Commission. That’s not something that you wanted. Every time there is low wage claim you’ve always tried to fight it and you haven’t gotten away with it. So the record that you’re relying on is not a record that you can

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be proud of; it’s a record that the Industrial Relations Commission and the Labor Party can be proud of.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t agree with that for the reason that the wages have risen strongly over the last nine and half years because the economy has been strong and I think we should all remember that, at the end of the day, no matter how complicated an industrial relations system we might have, if we don’t have a strong economy, real wages can’t keep rising and unemployment will start rising again so, so far from my not being in any way responsible for the improvement in real wages, I would argue with respect, that the strength of the economy has delivered the real wage increases and it’s our aggregate policies over the last nine and a half years that have contributed to the strength of the economy.

FAINE:

Good on Susan for raising it, Shane in Box Hill good morning.

CALLER:

Good morning John, hi. I just had a question in regards to industrial relations where if I’m in a position where I am a furniture maker and I am running my own business and I can actually take on the opportunity to do a full time teaching course from this point now, my concern is that if I left that till after the legislation is passed, will I have the same rights as my colleagues where at the present moment what can happen is that I could take on the position right now and be in par with my colleagues, whereas if I sign a contract next year after once the legislation is passed, I won’t be on the same…

JOURNALIST:

What you are thinking of rushing your career to get in under the old IR system?

CALLER:

That’s right, yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if you’d signed an agreement under the old system it continues for the duration of the agreement.

CALLER:

A sort of a contract type…

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes of course, well whatever it says it continues. The introduction of the new legislation doesn’t cancel agreements that still have some years to run.

CALLER:

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If someone’s on a contract say till the end of this year, can have it be changed and altered next year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it depends on what all the terms and conditions are. I mean that person may go under an award - they will still exist. And I mean clearly, if contracts run out before the new legislation comes in to force, well there’ll be an application of the new law to that new set of

circumstances but it will vary in accordance with every case but if there is an existing contractual arrangement that is not going to be interrupted by the introduction of the new law except to the extent in some cases where the new law might confer greater benefits than exists under the existing law and in some cases that will be the case.

FAINE:

Prime Minister we are just about of time, every call has been about industrial relations, there are some applauding you but the majority of them are expressing anxiety if not more, what about…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think there were one or two scripted comments - particularly the lady who talked about the contribution that the Labor Party and others had made to our great prosperity. I accept that - people have their views. I think there was a fairly limited poll. Look, there are different views on this issue and I have never been somebody who’s taken the view that you only introduce reforms that everybody agrees with - if you did that you would do nothing.

FAINE:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course it’s not and I am not that sort of Prime Minister. I believe in these reforms and I think they are going to be good for the country and I will go on arguing the cause of them and I say to working people in this country, look at what has happened over the last nine and a half years, look at the lower interests rates, look at the higher wages, look at the lower unemployment, look at the strength of the country - not too bad is it?

FAINE:

Prime Minister John Howard taking your calls, you get your chance on talk back after the news to draw your own conclusions, thank you Prime Minister.

[ends]