Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Prime Minister discusses Federal endorsement of $100 million to support the Darwin to Alice Springs railway; One Nation policies and the Queensland elections.



Download WordDownload Word

image

 

24 June 1998

 

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

RADIO INTERVIEW

5AA - LEIGH McCLUSKY AND TONY PILKINGTON

 

E&OE                                                             

 

McCLUSKY:

 

Here’s Prime Minister John Howard. A very good morning to you.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Good morning, nice to speak to you.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

Prime Minister, can I ask you, your endorsement yesterday of the eastern seaboard plan, a lot of people I think in Adelaide have seen, not quite as a snub, but perhaps don’t understand the rationale behind it. What was your rationale for endorsing it?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I think the reaction particularly from the Adelaide Advertiser this morning is very strange. That paper and others seem to have forgotten that the Federal Government has pledged $100 million to support the Darwin to Alice Springs railway. We haven’t pledged any money to support the inland rail network. That is an entirely private sector-sponsored proposal and it’s been around for quite a long time.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

It has.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

It didn’t suddenly materialised out of thin air over the last few days. In fact the group which includes representatives of people who have had both Labor and Coalition affiliations in the past was put together several years ago. Ultimately these things will be determined by customers and by investors and in any event there’s a complementarity between, the two mesh in together. The Tennant Creek to Darwin leg of the Darwin to Alice Springs railway will be in common with this other network if the latter comes to fruition so, can I just say to anybody who thinks that in some way what the Federal Govermnent has done by, as it were gene rally sponsoring this latest proposal that that’s a snub to South Australia, that is quite wrong. We’ve put dollars into, $100 million, and I’m in fact the first Prime Minister of Australia to pledge Federal Government money and to really deliver on that pledge.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

Mr Howard, can I ask you though in terms of timing, as you say this is not a new proposal. It has been around. We’ve spoken to Everald Compton too over a number of times. But in terms of timing, I mean the Bob Katters of the world and certainly the Opposition is saying that this is simply a matter, a knee jerk reaction to the strengths of the One Nation showing in the recent Queensland State election. Is that a fair comment?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

No it’s not. It’s completely wrong. And I gather from the reaction of Senator Bolkus that Mr Beazley and the Labor Party are opposed to the latest proposal. I mean obviously they are because Mr Bolkus who’s the Shadow Minister, I heard him on the radio slamming the latest proposal saying it was crazy, saying it was wrong, therefore I take it that the Australia Labor Party is against the proposal that was announced yesterday. It is against private sector investors and the Australian public supporting a proposal that would build a rail network right through Australia. Now that’s a very interesting declaration from the Labor Party and they can’t have it both ways.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

Mr Howard, is it therefore coincidental that this does obviously run through those very sensitive seats where One Nation had a very strong showing?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Absolutely because it was always intended that it run through those seats. Well I’m sorry, I mean let’s just get it straight. This proposal has been around for several years.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

It has.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

And you yourself have just admitted that you know that and you acknowledge that and it has always been the case that it would run through these areas. A new route for the railway hasn’t been invented in the ten days that have followed the Queensland election if that is the point that you are getting at.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

Mr Howard, can I ask you then, given that it has been around for a while, is there any reason why you would not endorsed this earlier?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Because the agreement that was signed between the Board that was sponsoring the proposal and the company that is willing to put together the consortium was only signed on Monday, on Friday of last week and that had nothing whatever to do with the timing of the Queensland election. What happened was that the Board reached an agreement and then as Mr Compton said on radio this morning, he then came along and said would I mind announcing it on behalf of the Board and I was quite happy to do so. Now I had absolutely no control, or no influence, over the timing of that agreement.

 

Could I just say that I think it’s a terrific idea and I cannot understand the negative reaction of the Australia Labor Party. I mean here we have the possibility that you will have built through Australia a network that could revitalise regional areas of Australia. It could generate tens of thousands of jobs throughout Australia. And what is the reaction of the Labor Party? It’s against it. Now Mr Beazley cannot have it both ways. He cannot allow Senator Bolkus, the most senior member of the Labor Party from South Australia, a member of his Shadow Cabinet, one of his closest confidants, slamming the proposal and then he himself saying well, if it comes out we’ll be in favour of it. Mr Beazley doesn’t want the jobs that this project might generate in regional Australia. His South Australian henchman, Senator Bolkus, has said so. I’m amazed at that. I mean this project is still subject to a feasibility study. Whether it comes off will depend entirely on the results of that but for the Labor Party to be against it beggars belief.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

Mr Howard, can I ask you though? I mean obviously the crucial question is and very simply, is there room for two rail links? Can both of them be viable and do you have any preference?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well that would be decided by the investors and the public. It won’t be decided by me. Governments aren’t very good at making commercial decisions. Look at what happened in South Australia with your State Bank.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

No doubt about that

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well that is precisely my point and that is where Mr Beazley and Senator Bolkus are wrong because it is for the investors of South Australia, not only South Australia but Australia to make that decision. As far as we’re concerned we have put $100 million into the Darwin to Alice Springs railway. I’m the first Prime Minister to seriously commit myself to building the Darwin to Alice Springs railway, that remains our position. We will continue all of the support that we have pledged in the past. Any suggestion that yesterday’s announcement negates that is wrong. I mean we’ve put $100 million into Darwin...

 

McCLUSKY:

 

We appreciate that.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

.and we haven’t put anything into the other one yet Mr Beazley and Senator Bolkus and others are running around you know, with their doom saying, we don’t like this. I mean, they really should be a bit more positive about Australia’s future.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

Mr Howard, can I ask you though, does it rankle with you that now every move you make, every announcement you make will somehow be thrown or discussed in the light of a reaction to One Nation? Is that the position you now find yourself in?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well that is the attitude that some people in the media have taken. I watched the ABC television news last night for example, and the reaction from that was just quite extraordinary. I don’t think it’s the reaction of the Australian Public. The Australian public has a deep hunger for national development projects. There is a deep yearning in the hearts of all Australians to see this vast nation of ours developed.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

So at the moment you’re a bit damned if you do and damned if you don’t by the sounds of it.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well I don’t really care in the end what the reaction of some sections of the media is. I know what is good for Australia. I believe in the Darwin to Alice Springs railway. That’s why the Government that I lead committed SIOO million towards it, something that no other Government since Federation has been willing to do and I am also encouraging this other project. Now whether it comes off will be determined by the investing public of Australia. It will be determined by the feasibility study but let’s have a go. Let’s not be so negative. Let’s not, like Mr Beazley and Senator Bolkus, throw a bucket of cold water on every idea that comes up from visionary Australians to try and develop the regional areas of this country.

 

PILKINGTON:

 

Prime Minister, any election date as yet? I know you get asked the question 150 times a day...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

You won’t do any better than anybody else I am sorry.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

Well I suppose we can try. Mr Howard, as you say, I suppose the big difference here is it is simply a matter of....

 

PILKINGTON:

 

No, the Prime Minister is saying no, he hasn’t made up his mind on an election date yet.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

Of course they have. The big difference here, of course, is that you have made a financial commitment to the Adelaide-to-Darwin link. There is not at this stage a financial commitment from the Federal Government. Is there likely to be a financial commitment to the other project?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well we haven’t been asked for one. I have made a financial commitment on behalf of the Government to Darwin-to-Alice Springs and it is very well advanced and I hope it comes off but that is ultimately for the groups. It’s ultimately for those who are going to make the investment decisions but nobody will be able to say that the Government, the Coalition Government wasn’t willing to put its money where its mouth has been and where the mouths of many other Federal politicians have been. We’ve put the money up. No Prime Minister before me was willing to do that.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

Mr Howard, I know you are very busy

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

No, it’s all right.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

And I know our time is limited. Can I ask you though have you been surprised by the strength of this reaction to Pauline Hanson and that one name that I am sure must haunt just about every politician of the two major parties?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Their vote in Queensland was bigger than I expected. I understand the reasons why it has happened and I sympathise with the concerns of many of the people who have voted for the One Nation Party. I don’t agree with One Nation’s policies. I don’t agree with the way in which on some issues they play to bigotry and prejudice and that is wrong and I will oppose that very strongly. And I don’t believe that their economic solutions will help, they will make things worse. The idea that you would print money, for example, would send inflation up and if you have high inflation the value of savings held by retired people in particular will be reduced. So I say to retired Australians who might be seduced by some of One Nation’s policies, that particular policy will destroy the value of your savings.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

Mr Howard, does it concern you though because it seems that this very strong swing to Pauline Hanson and One Nation really rides on the back of a concern that the Australian public is saying our politicians aren’t listening to us, they don’t understand us. Do you think that’s fair? I mean the perception is that our politicians are not sympathetic to the average working man and woman.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

There is some element of truth in the proposition that the strong support One Nation got was a reaction against existing political parties. I accept that. Of course in time One Nation will be seen as it is, as another political party and the novelty of One Nation will wear off and the transient appeal of them being so called non-politicians, which they are not, will also wear off. I think there is a message and 1 accept that and there are some of the things about the conduct of Federal politics that the public doesn’t like. I think the confrontational style turns a lot of people off.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

They see it as arrogance too, I think.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well the perception is important. I am not an arrogant person and I don’t believe a lot of people in Federal politics are arrogant. And I say that in all charity on both sides but of course I, as Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party, I listen. I also stand by what I believe in. And the worst thing to do in the wake of the Queensland election is to change all of your policies because that will only strengthen the hand of One Nation. You’ve got to have the willingness and the strength to say: yes, I’ll listen on this, I’ll change that but I am not going to alter the course that I believe is good for Australia. And that is the response that I have given and I’ll continue to give.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

So Mr Howard, in a nutshell I suppose, the headline ‘PM on the Wrong Track’ is not right then?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Absolutely. The Prime Minister is absolutely on track in respect of both of these great projects and I finish by saying that I am the first Prime Minister since Federation to commit the dollars of the Australian tax payer to the construction of the Darwin-toAlice Springs railway and that commitment remains rock solid. But I am also, unlike Mr Beazley, willing to entertain other visionary projects that would bring tens of thousands of jobs to rural and regional Australia.

 

PILKINGION:

 

All right Prime Minister, nice to have you on the number one morning talk show in Adelaide. Thank you for your time.

 

McCLUSKY:

 

And hopefully we will chat again.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Thanks a lot.

 

 

END