Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Prime Minister discusses Commonwealth Games; interest rates; stock markets; corporate governance; General Cosgrove's comments on Vietnam; Iraq; David Hicks; disability pensions; free trade agreement; petrol excise; medical indemnity; and animal experimentations.



Download PDFDownload PDF

www.pm.gov.au

7 August 2002

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

Subjects: Return of Commonwealth Games athletes; interest rates; world stock markets; corporate governance; General Cosgrove’s comments on Vietnam; Iraq; David Hicks; disability pensions; Free Trade Agreement; petrol excise indexation; medical indemnity; animal experimentations.

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

CORDEAUX:

It’s with a great deal of pleasure that we go to Sydney and the Prime Minister John Howard. Sir, how are are you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m very well Jeremy.

CORDEAUX:

You were in Melbourne this morning to greet the athletes and now you’re in Sydney.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I went down last night to greet the athletes when they arrived at Tullarmarine. It’s great. They’ve done very well. They’ve not only performed very well on the track and in the pool and on the bars, but also in the boxing ring and everywhere, but they’ve also by their demeanour and behaviour represented Australia extremely well.

CORDEAUX:

It’s amazing. Do you think we made it look too easy?

PRIME MINISTER:

PRIME MINISTER

2

Well we did do very well. It’s always important not to get too carried away and I’m sure they aren’t. Other countries are learning some of the methods that we adopted some years ago to do very well, and we can’t always assume that we’ll remain on top. And sport does come and go a bit, but given our size we are a remarkable sporting nation at the moment.

CORDEAUX:

With interest rates, as we just heard, on hold, I guess that would get a Prime Ministerial tick of approval.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I’m sure that it’s the right decision. It would not have been the right decision in current economic circumstances, with uncertainty with the American economy, to have lifted interest rates. Now I’m not speaking for all time and for all months into the future. We just don’t know. But right at the moment, the bank took the decision that most people expected it to take.

CORDEAUX:

Gyrations on the world stock markets. I suppose you keep a fairly, well I won’t say a nervous eye on it, but I guess you do keep an eye on it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I certainly do keep an eye on it. We can’t expect to be completely unaffected, although we do have the advantage of having not gone as high with our stock market as for example the New York Stock Exchange did. We didn’t quite have the dot.com frenzy. We had part of it but we had nothing like what the Americans had. And therefore having not gone up so far, we don’t have quite so far to come down when some process of adjustment is going on. But it can’t be ignored and if it has an effect on the real wealth levels in the United States for any sustained period of time, that could have an effect on investor activity in that country. And in time that will have an effect around the world. So you can’t entirely dismiss it, but you equally shouldn’t assume that what happens in America automatically flows through to Australia or what is relevant in America is automatically relevant in Australia.

CORDEAUX:

I know you feel that we don’t have the same kind of governance problems as they have in America but I take it you’ve got a few things up your sleeve that you might like to introduce?

PRIME MINISTER:

There will certainly be some changes. We are going to respond to the Ramsay Report on auditors and the business community can and should expect some changes. What I endeavoured to say yesterday was that we had to deliver a balanced response. We needed to plug gaps where gaps existed. But we needed to understand some of the differences between Australia and America. In America they tend to fuse the office of company chairman and managing director or CEO. It tends to be one and the same person, and companies tend to become more often than not in America, personal fiefdoms of very strong willed and powerful individuals. Now that also happens in Australia but to a lesser extent. And one of the reasons is that we’ve always preserved a distinction between the office of company

3

chairman and managing director and if a managing director is going off the rails, then you do have the countervailing influence of the chairman and a more independent board to either bring him or her back onto the rails or get rid of them.

CORDEAUX:

Here you are running the whole country and you look at some of the CEOs of our Australian companies, and I know that they keep on saying that they’ve got to compete for talent on the world market and we don’t pay people as much as they do in America. But some of these companies aren’t even successful yet their CEOs are getting huge bonuses and options that don’t figure out on the right side of the balance sheet for that company. Are there sort of excesses?

PRIME MINISTER:

There have been ,yes there have been. And nothing angers the average person more than people getting huge remuneration when the company they have been running has gone down the chute. And that really sticks in the craw of people a lot more than anything else. Most people who stop and think about it understand that if you are to attract good people to run companies successfully, you have to pay competitive salaries. And I don’t object to that. I support that. I do believe in competitive capitalism and that means that not everybody is paid exactly the same money. You obviously have to pay successful men and women who run companies generous remuneration but when you see people not only get generous remuneration, but they have these option arrangements which they get irrespective of whether the company does well or not. The old-fashioned idea of a bonus visible and clearly related to performance is one thing. But arrangements where you walk away with a pocket full of money whether or not the company has been successful is another thing. And people are entitled to be angry about that and what I said to the gathering I addressed yesterday was that Australians are angry with that. And they have every right to be angry with it, and they are some of the things that we are looking at responding to in a way that doesn’t prevent generous remuneration, competitive remuneration, of people who do an outstanding job for their company.

CORDEAUX:

What can you do?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there are some things. You can require a different accounting treatment of certain option arrangements or the expensing of it. You can make, and we’re looking at this, specifically changes to the law that enables the recovery of unreasonable amounts that have been paid to people. So there are a variety of changes that can be made and they are amongst some of the changes that we have under consideration. But what I don’t want to do is just bring in a whole lot of new regulations which don’t achieve anything except cost people a lot more and occupy the time of company executives who should be out drumming up business for the enterprise and earning profits so they can employ more people. I mean in the end those who call for more regulation must understand that the bulk of people in this country are employed by private enterprise and if you make private enterprise too heavily burdened with regulation, then you are affecting its capacity to employ people.

CORDEAUX:

4

To what extent can you make a comment so far on the HIH hearing?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can’t and I won’t except to say that I’m very pleased the Government established the Royal Commission. It was the right thing to do. I don’t have any comment on the evidence that’s been given. It wouldn’t be appropriate to do so. But a Royal Commission will in due course report to the Government and specifically to me and then and only then will I have something to say.

CORDEAUX:

But I bet you’re following it very closely?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am following it very closely. I certainly am.

CORDEAUX:

Peter Cosgrove… General Cosgrove’s comments - very frank the other day that with hindsight our participation in the Vietnam War was probably a mistake. Did that surprise you? Did it anger you? Do you agree with it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it didn’t anger me. I think that people who fought in that war, above everybody else, have a right to talk about it in any way they see fit. He after all won a military cross in Vietnam. He led a platoon. He had a very distinguished record there and he had a perfect right to talk about it. That didn’t surprise me. Do I agree with it? Well I have in the past been on the record as having supported at the time Australia’s involvement and I haven’t had any reason to alter that. I can understand why with the passage of time people would have doubts. I guess it had something… you really have to ask him whether he was having in mind the original decision or were his comments against the background of whether the right military approach was taken.There are a variety of interpretations that with the benefit of the passage of some 30 years now, a variety of interpretations that people place on the wisdom of the decision that was taken at the time, we’ve moved on from that. And whilst as I say I think it’s eminently appropriate for somebody who served in that war to have whatever view they now wish to express. I don’t know that a great deal is achieved by my going over the detail of it or redebating it.

CORDEAUX:

So he seemed to be saying it in the context of well, while we debate what we might be going to do in the Middle East, that is Iraq, keep in mind that what we decide, what we do now, in 30 years time is going to be analysed and probably criticised. I saw somewhere that you said be prepared for an attack on Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER:

5

Well can I just say in relation to General Cosgrove’s remarks, he’s made it very clear that the remarks he made about Vietnam were not in any way in the context of what may or may not happen in relation to Iraq. He made that very clear during the interview at the weekend. What I said last Friday, and I said very deliberately, was that I thought it more probable than not that the United States would take some action. I don’t want that to happen. Nobody wants further conflict of any kind. And I hope it doesn’t become necessary. I went on to say that if action were taken, I thought it likely that Australia would be asked to play some part - I emphasise some part. And I also said that I wanted the Australian community to start thinking about that issue. I’ve subsequently said that if there were any decision contemplated by the Government to involve Australia [inaudible] a debate on it, but we are a long way from all of that, but we’re not so far away from the possibility of it that we shouldn’t start as a community talking and thinking about it. And I felt that my obligation to take the Australian public into my confidence and say what I thought might happen. Now nobody wants this to occur and if Iraq had observed the resolutions of the Security Council regarding inspections and destruction of weapons of mass destruction, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It should be born in mind that there are standing resolutions of the Security Council, which deal with this issue. Iraq does have weapons of mass destruction. It is believed they have the capacity to develop a nuclear strike capacity within the not too distant future. Now, those are sobering considerations, but it’s a difficult issue. The issue, I don’t - I’m not-some people have accused me of hyping,of hype and rhetoric. I don't think anything I’ve said over the last couple of minutes is particularly rhetorical. I’m just trying to honestly state the situation as I see it.

CORDEAUX:

If you sensed that public opinion on this and international public opinion as well as local public opinion was definitely against any involvement, would that change your mind?

PRIME MINSITER:

Well in all of these things you take a whole range of things into account including public opinion. In the end you do what you think is in the best interests of Australia. I’m interested in people’s views. I think public opinion would probably be quite varied and divided on something like this and I can understand it. I think all of us start with the proposition that we’d rather not be talking or thinking about it.

CORDEAUX:

Prime Minister, would you take some calls?

PRIME MINSITER:

Yes, certainly.

CORDEAUX:

Hello, Terry.

CALLER 1:

Hello.

6

CORDEAUX:

Yes, here’s the Prime Minister.

CALLER 1:

Oh, thank you.

CORDEAUX:

Go right ahead.

CALLER 1:

Mr Howard.

PRIME MINSITER:

Yes.

CALLER 1:

Now, it’s Terry Hicks speaking.

PRIME MINSITER:

Yes, Terry.

CALLER 1:

I'm the father of David.

PRIME MINSITER:

Yes,Terry I’m sorry.

CALLER 1:

What I need to know is what is the Government doing in regards to trying to get him back here to Australia?

PRIME MINSITER:

Well our view is, and I appreciate you getting in touch with me, our view is that it is not unreasonable in current circumstances that he stay were he is. I’m not going to make any statements about his legal position or reasons, which listeners will understand. He has not in our view been taken by the Americans unlawfully and therefore we do not accept that what the Americans are doing is unlawful. And the question of whether or not, in those circumstances, we have an obligation above every other consideration to bring him back to Australia is an arguable proposition.

CALLER 1:

7

If Americans haven’t charged with him with anything, surely the Australian Government can make a push to get him back.

PRIME MINSITER:

Well we have, as you know, been in touch and he’s been spoken to. As difficult though the circumstances of detention and incarceration will be in this particular situation, we are satisfied on the information I’ve been given about his physical well being. And you must understand that he was taken into custody during a military operation and a military operation, which we supported. A military operation that we believe was totally justified and we are satisfied that according to the laws of war, what the Americans did was correct.

CALLER 1:

Yeah, but the problem is that there was no war declared.

PRIME MINSITER:

Well that doesn’t altar the fact that there were circumstances of military conflict which justifies what the Americans did.

CORDEAUX:

Thanks Terry. Hello Glen.

CALLER 2:

Oh hello Jeremy. Hello John. You don’t mind me calling you John?

PRIME MINSITER:

Go right ahead.

CALLER 2:

It’s a wonderful country that we live in where we can actually ring up our leader and call him by his first name. It’s just great.

PRIME MINSITER:

And it’s a wonderful thing for that leader occasionally to be called by his first name. Sometimes he’s called all sorts of things.

CALLER 2:

Look, it’s taken enormous amount of courage, more than you can possibly know, to actually ring you and talk to you. But I have a question and I don’t mean it to be facetious in any way. I want to ask you a question about the disability pension [inaudible] distant yourself from it. I want to ask you about the disability games. Under the new criteria of being able to work 20 hours a week. Does that mean that the people who have taken part in the disability games

8

(inauidible) actually ineligible and does it mean that, how will we actually -how will people (inaudible) in the new games?

PRIME MINSITER:

What we are proposing has no bearing of itself on the entitlements of people participating in games. The rules for participation in relation to disabled people are determined by the organisations that run the disabled games. They're not determined by the government.

CORDEAUX:

Thanks Lynn. Beryl.

CALLER 3:

Yes. Mr Howard I'm very much opposed to Mr Bush wanting to take us into another war when his own father couldn't even get rid of Saddam last time and if wants to have another war let him go himself and fight. It's our people that will have to die just to please him and I don't think we should.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can only remark that he hasn't decided to take military action against Iraq. I can understand that you're expressing the views of a number of Australians and it's a view that's part of the debate and I thank you for expressing it.But he hasn't taken any decision and I don't think one is imminent.

CORDEAUX:

It's interesting Prime Minister our web poll question is should Australia send troops to Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein. We have 9% of something like 20,000 hits on that website saying yes, and 91% say no.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I would expect that to be the case at present.

CORDEAUX:

Prime Minister what about with the Americans. We seem to have moved pleasantly closer to a free trade arrangement overnight.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we've got to a first stage and that is we've got lawful authority now for the President to negotiate free trade agreements with any country or any group of countries and that is a huge step forward. It now means that negotiations can commence because until the Congress gave the Administration authority they really had no legal mandate to talk to us. It will be very difficult though and it's very important that we all understand how difficult it will be because in order to get a free trade agreement that means anything, is worth anything for Australia we need to get things like agriculture as part of it and that's going to be incredibly sensitive for the Americans because they have a heavily protected farm sector, far more heavily protected

9

than our own, and they will have to make concessions in relation to that high level of protection in order for the negotiation to be of value to us. Clearly negotiations of this kind are two sided and they're not going to sign up unless there's something in it for them and we're not going to sign up unless there's something in it for us. But we have got to the stage where we can both as honest men so to speak sit down and talk to each other about it because we have legal authority on the part of the Americans. But it was going to take quite a while and I think it's important we don't raise expectations about can we get it finished by such and such a date. I think that is fairly unproductive. We should simply now be pleased that we've got the authority in the hands of the American Administration and we will begin the process but it will take a very long time I suspect and it will be very difficult.

CORDEAUX:

I heard speculation Prime Minister this morning that there may be some government consideration of reintroducing petrol excise indexation.

PRIME MINISTER:

No it hasn't come from me and that's not going to happen.

CORDEAUX:

That's a prime ministerial promise?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is our policy. We're just not going to reintroduce it. I don't know who's suggesting that. It wasn't anybody with my authority.

CORDEAUX:

Appareantly it was somebody on the AM Program reporting that he had put forward an independent assessment of the situation to government…...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that's fair enough. I mean, people can recommend it, but it’s not under consideration.

CORDEAUX:

And medical indemnity insurance and that whole mess where pony clubs are in trouble and public liability insurance. What can we do to sort that out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we are making quite a bit progress. It varies a bit from state to state. I suspect that it’s gone further in New South Wales and Queensland than in some of the other states. It is a subject of State law. We can’t change the law to exempt pony clubs, I wish we could. If we did have the power to do so, we would have done so by now. It is in the hands of the states. We will facilitate any action taken by a state government to allow people who engage in a recreational activity, which has some kind of inherent danger, for example bungie jumping, to wave their legal right to compensation. And the New South Wales Government has already

10

legislated to that effect and we’ve proposed a complimentary chain to the Trade Practices Act to make sure what New South Wales Government has done will work. I have suggested to the states that they completely exempt organisations like pony clubs from the operation of the law of negligence. It’s up to them to do it. We don’ have legal power to do it.

CORDEAUX:

A quick call from Marie- Anne. Marie-Anne, hi.

CALLER 4:

Oh good morning Jeremy. Good morning John. I recently saw some film about the treatment of pigs in an intensive pig farm. And it made me ashamed to be an Australian, I’m afraid. I’m ashamed that in our country it’s legal to keep animals for their entire life in a cage the size of a coffin, swimming in their own manure and urine. And that it’s also legal in this country to operate on animals for example spaying and castration, without anaesthetics and without medical training. And I think it’s high time we had some real animal welfare boards in this country.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I didn’t see the particular film you’re referring to and certainly I don’t condone unjustified experiments on animals. And I certainly believe that where experiments do take place the suffering involved should be kept to an absolute minimum and were humanly possible, completely eliminated. I think we all recognise that in the interests of preserving and saving human life, the use of animals in experiments is necessary, but it should always be done in the most humane way possible. As to some of the further detail of what you’ve said I don’t have enough at my fingertips to say much more except to express a general agreement with the sentiment of your remarks.

CORDEAUX:

Prime Minister, again thank you so much for your valuable time. I hope you have a good day. Thank you again.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]