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Election 2004: Prime Minister discusses working mothers; budget surplus; employment; pensioners; and The Worm.



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PRIME MINISTER

9 September 2004

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH KEITH CONLON AND TONY PILKINGTON, RADIO 5AA

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

JOURNALIST:

John Howard, good morning. I think I've got you now, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

I can hear you very clearly.

JOURNALIST:

The Sydney Morning Herald today suggest that you may be now considering some sort of child care bonus, which would help get mums back to work, would help obviously with people who are struggling to get the incomes together, is that on the cards?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Keith, we have a number of policies in certain areas that we're going to announce over the next few weeks. I don't want, at this stage, to be responding to particular pieces of speculation. The key point I'd make in relation to whether mothers go back to work or not is that the objective of the Coalition is to give mothers and, indeed, fathers choice about whether they stay at home full-time or part-time when their children are young or whether they go back to the workforce fairly quickly after they've had a child. And the whole design of our policies has been to give people that choice and one of the weaknesses of the Labor plan that was announced two days ago is that it hurts a lot of single income families and it will make a lot of single income families harder to stay like that. Now, I'm not saying what people should do with their child care arrangements. What we believe is that families should make that choice, it’s for parents to decide whether mum is going to stay at home full time with the kids when they’re very young or go back into the workforce (inaudible) it’s not for John Howard

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or Mark Latham to so design the tax system to leave them no alternative but to go back to work.

JOURNALIST:

But at this stage, Prime Minister, the Labor… the Opposition has offered tax cuts to the.. all the people, and that’s most of the people who are under $52,000.

PRIME MINISTER:

They’ve offered an amount of $3.50 for people who are earning under $21,000. And interestingly enough, their plan makes a lot of low income people worse off. I mean, I find it extraordinary that families earning (inaudible) $35,000 are actually going to made worse off…

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) middle Australia…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, well I just think… I think you should be fair. I’m all for middle Australia, in fact middle Australia is in a more secure financial position now than it’s ever been because of the low interest rates and the full employment or the very high employment that we have. But in the end, the greatest thing you can deliver to Australia is low interest rates and employment opportunities and they’re the best things you can do, you can make changes in relation to family payments and make them, improve them, as we did in the last budget. But in the end, the thing that matters most to middle Australia is low interest rates and having a job and if either of those two things are threatened, all the other things are pretty irrelevant.

JOURNALIST:

The figures coming out this week would suggest that the… well either government getting in would have more money up their sleeve. Is there a chance that you will look to tax cuts for people under $52,000?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, what we’ve got to do is wait until the budget figures come out. But I must make the observation that when Labor was last in office they delivered deficits year after year after year. It’s taken the Liberal Government to get the budget back into strong surplus and there’s something opportunistic and almost obscene about a Labor leader talking about what he will responsibly do with a surplus which when his party was last in office they never delivered. I mean, when those figures come out tomorrow and they will certainly show a strong position. I don’t speculate about the precise figures because I don’t know the precise figures, we’re now in caretaker mode. But what I would say is that when Labor was last in office they delivered deficit after deficit after deficit and we inherited a $96 billion accumulation of those deficits. So it’s a little bit rich for the Labor Party to be feigning responsibility as it talks about how it will responsibly deal with the surplus when not only did it not deliver surpluses when it was in Government but when we got into Government they opposed most of our attempts, particularly in the early years, to get the budget back into the black… they were irresponsible both in Government and in Opposition.

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JOURNALIST:

Number of questions at 13 past eight, Prime Minister, and I hope we can…

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

JOURNALIST:

Mark, good morning.

CALLER:

G’day guys. Mr Howard, you know when you’re promising all these ideas at election time, how come you don’t put them through when you’re in office like officially? Why do you always, why do parties always wait until it’s election time? Is it like a…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, that’s a fair question Mark. Well the answer to that is most of the things that I’ll be asking the Australian people to keep in mind when they vote on the 9th of October we have done while in Government. I mean, we have delivered 1.3 million new jobs, we’ve delivered the lowest interest rates in 30 years, we’ve delivered a strong economy, we’ve delivered more apprenticeships. All of those things have been done before the election. I mean, it’s appropriate at an election time to make some new offerings otherwise people would argue rightly that we were taking the public for granted. But I am very happy if people make a judgement on the 9th of October based entirely on what we have done over the last eight and a half years. But I’m not so smug and complacent as to imagine that I can simply ask the Australian people to judge me on the record over the last eight and a half years, but I certainly hope most of them do because I believe it’s a very good record for middle Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Okay, 14 past eight. Anne has given the Prime Minister a call. Hi Anne. Hello Anne, how you doing? You got a question for the Prime Minister? No? Okay. We’ll take it again. We’ll take Cameron. Hi Cameron, how you doing?

CALLER:

I’m good.

JOURNALIST:

You got a question for the Prime Minister?

CALLER:

I have. Morning Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

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Good morning Cameron.

CALLER:

My question is - (inaudible) interesting to hear from you is - is there plans in the future, we’re a family with two kids…

PRIME MINISTER:

How old are they?

CALLER:

Four and two and a half.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, so they’re both under five, yes.

CALLER:

Yes, say if I earn a fair amount of money, of course we get taxed the top dollars on (inaudible) basically (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

CALLER:

Is there any policy in the future we’re you’d look at treating families as a different tax… because I don’t want to sacrifice my bringing up of my kids…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I share that view. Well, that’s the reason why we have the family tax benefit B, I assume that your wife gets that.

CALLER:

Yeah, but I’m talking about… (inaudible) isn’t there some way that we could look at in the future, having a different threshold or something for families or being able to split income or looking at…

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s always open, I don’t want to forcibly represent to you that we have a particular change in mind. We have looked at a range of options in this area and I looked very carefully at the sort of thing you’re speaking of before the last budget. We worked out that, and I don’t know your particular level of income and I don’t really… I’m not asking you to disclose it publicly, but we worked out the existing plan we have, the existing system we have delivers more than,

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slightly more than the benefits of income splitting on a single income of up to about $65,000 a year. Now, when you take into account the benefits that accrue under Family Tax Benefit B and Family Tax A and certainly you would be presumably entitled to both, and if… on an income of up to $65,000 the benefits of that policy are worth as much, indeed, slightly more than the benefits of income splitting.

JOURNALIST:

Alright. Thank you Cameron for that. Let’s see if we can get Anne back. Hi Anne.

CALLER:

Oh, good morning.

JOURNALIST:

Hi, you got a question for the Prime Minister?

CALLER:

Yes, I have. Mr Howard could you please tell me in what way are the old age pensioners going to benefit by voting for Liberal in this election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think the best thing that we can guarantee them is a continuation of the stable economic conditions we have and, of course, a continuation of the half yearly indexation of pensions and a maintenance of the guarantee underneath that, that pension will never fall below 25 per cent of male total average weekly earnings and that is an additional guarantee that we have inserted in the pension structure since being elected to office. Now that affords a measure of income security and a measure of insurance against cost living increases and that is the greatest guarantee that any government can give. Now that doesn’t mean to say that other policies announced might in different ways have some benefits for people in the older section of the community. But that is the basic guarantee that I give to the pensioners of Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Thanks John Howard, thanks Anne, I should say. Prime Minister, just in parting with the debate coming up on Sunday, is there a danger that you’ve short changed the Australian public by insisting that it go four weeks early so that we don’t for instance about any childcare bonus that’s been leaked, we don’t know a lot of the policies yet. Why are we going so early on the debate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, look, I don’t think that at all. I mean, as a question of… the very first question has really made a very valid point - he was basically saying we should make judgments on somebody’s performance over a number of years, certainly a number of months, rather than what is offered during the frantic pace of an election campaign. And in the end, the Australian public will make a judgement about me largely based on the job I’ve done over the last eight and a half years…

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JOURNALIST:

That automatically cuts the chance for Mark Latham to put his case, doesn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it doesn’t. He’s been leader since December of last year…

JOURNALIST:

But he’s got another four weeks, you’ve got another four weeks.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, but that was his decision, it was his decision to release his tax policy two days ago, he could have released it in May, he originally promised it in May. He cannot now turn around and say I haven’t had enough opportunity to explain my policy because he himself took the decision to delay it for political reasons. I think it is appropriate to have the debate four weeks out. We have the debate, we discuss the issues and then we go off and talk directly to the Australian public.

JOURNALIST:

And why no worm this year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that’s a matter for… look, talk to Channel Nine about it.

JOURNALIST:

But Prime Minister, we understand that it’s actually your decision…

PRIME MINISTER:

We don’t… we think the public should make these judgements and I think they’re going to have a worm afterwards or something I’m not entirely certain.

JOURNALIST:

But you didn’t want the worm?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I think the worm is a distraction.

JOURNALIST:

Is it also because it might be about the way people react in terms of honesty and trust of either leader…

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well, if you want to say that you can, I don’t think (inaudible)…

JOURNALIST:

We don’t know?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, when you say you don’t look, people will make a judgement on that but I think it is a distraction myself, I really do. I think people will make their own judgement. I think it’s almost… it’s trying to replace an individual’s judgement with somebody else’s judgement and I think most Australians are independently minded enough to make their own mind up about these things.

JOURNALIST:

Well, Prime Minister, you will be talking direct to the people in Adelaide more than once in the coming weeks…

PRIME MINISTER:

Most certainly will. Thank you.

[ends]