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Prime Minister discusses Darwin races; Land Rights Act; Medicare; same sex relationships; NT politics; cricket; Cape York; indigenous issues; statehood; and North Korea.



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PRIME MINISTER

5 August 2003

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH DARYL MANZIE, TOP FM DARWIN

Subjects: Darwin races; Land Rights Act; Medicare; same-sex relationships; Northern Territory politics; cricket; visit to Cape York; indigenous issues; statehood; North Korea.

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………….

MANZIE:

Good morning to you Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Daryl. Nice to talk to you again.

MANZIE:

No, it’s great to catch up and I certainly hope you had a good day at the races yesterday.

PRIME MINISTER:

It was a very enjoyable day. A modest investment and a modest loss.

MANZIE:

Sounds like me at the races. Now in relation to… there’s a number of issues of course going on in this part of the world, but I suppose one of the ones that we’re dealing with all the time is the issue of land rights and the Land Rights Act and I suppose there has been a number of undesirable outcomes from that Act, and today’s Northern Territory News has got a story regarding a film director who has published a picture that he took 15 years ago of the Olgas and then we’ve recently had Alan and Patricia Campbell’s book ‘Bromley the Bear climbs Ayers Rock’. Those sorts of things have created big problems and the focus has sort of shifted from the problems in Aboriginal communities to fining those people for taking those pictures. Do you think that there is a need for government to review the Land Rights Act and look at the sorts of problems that are coming now which were certainly unintended when that legislation was first introduced and passed?

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well I guess legislation like that always needs to be kept under constant review. That’s not to say that I’m proposing major changes. There is always… it’s always desirable to make sure legislation of that type operates effectively. In the last year or two I have not had, as Prime Minister, a lot of representations to me from either side of the debate, if I may put it like that, that the legislation should be changed. It’s not an issue that is, in my dealings with people in the Territory, quite as top of the mind as it was a few years ago. Now what that suggests, I’m not sure, but you will appreciate that in public life if people feel strongly about things, they do as Australians express their views very directly and very consistently, and where as a few years ago, both in relation to the native title legislation and the Northern Territory Land Rights Act, we had a lot of representations about change. That is not as frequent now as it was then.

MANZIE:

I think there’s a lot of understanding now in this part of the world about how people can work together. I mean, housing prices escalating around the country is an example where in a lot of regional areas the native title legislation has certainly slowed down the process, but in the top end here, the previous CLP government came into an arrangement with the Larikia people and the Northern Land Council which enabled a joint approach to opening up land which had previously been locked up. Do you think there is a need for more working together rather than…

PRIME MINISTER:

There is always a need to do that. Everybody who has got commonsense knows that it is much better to try and enter into [inaudible] arrangements which are fair to everybody, than to go to court and to have long protracted battles. It may be that what we as a nation in relation to these issues have learned to do better over the last few years is to work together and produce better outcomes.

MANZIE:

Now, Medicare. I’d just like to change the subject a little bit Prime Minister. Medicare is certainly one that has had a few changes over the years. There is more changes now occurring. But in the Territory we have a situation where 56 per cent of services in the NT are bulk billed, compared to about 80 per cent in the Sydney region. Do you think the changes that you are proposing are going to make it better for regional Australians?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the changes are designed, above everything else, to get more doctors into areas of Australia where there is a shortage. Bulk billing levels are very much a direct result, a direct product of the supply of doctors. Those areas of Australia that have a lot of doctors have more competition for the patients, therefore there is more bulk billing. In those parts of Australia that have fewer doctors, there is less competition for patients and therefore there is less pressure to bulk bill. And what we want is to get more doctors, and we in our latest package which is designed to strengthen Medicare, we’re going to increase the number of places at medical schools, we’re going to make a large number of practice nurses available to help in medical practices, particularly in regional and outer metropolitan areas, and all of those

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measures are designed to increase the supply of services and over time that will create more competition for patients. And when you have more competition for patients, you always get a rise or a stabilisation in the levels of bulk billing. It was never intended when Medicare was introduced 20 years ago by the then Labor Government, it was never intended or guaranteed that every service would be bulk billed, but it was always thought desirable to have a high level of bulk billing, particularly amongst people who might be regarded as in some way less well off or disadvantaged.

MANZIE:

And of course in remote areas, especially I know in the remote areas of the Territory, a lot of indigenous communities don’t have access to GP services and it does put extra strain on the system. Do you see the day coming when those things will change, that people will have access to doctors right around the country?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think you’ll ever have a situation where every remote community has exactly the same degree of access or level of access to services. There will always be some gap between the availability of services in remote communities compared with those in built-up communities, just as there are certain expenses for people in remote communities that are less than for people in built-up communities. You can never have total uniformity and it’s a very foolish public figure who tries to promise total uniformity, because I can’t deliver it. What I do hope is that we provide reasonably accessible services to people in remote areas at an affordable cost. That has to be the aim.

MANZIE:

And in another situation, changing subjects again, we’ve got moves by churches now to bring a gay bishop - I think this is America - endorse a gay bishop. But are you concerned that churches and governments are moving towards recognising gay relationships, same-sex relationships, and do you think that’s necessarily a good thing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ve expressed a view in relation to gay marriages. As to what happens inside individual churches, well that really is a matter for the members of those individual churches and I don’t intend to buy into that. But I was asked only yesterday about my views regarding gay marriages, and I’m opposed to changing the law in Australia to give them the same status as marriage that we all understand in our society and in our communities. That’s not an expression of discrimination. It’s just an expression that marriage, as we understand it, is one of the bedrock institutions of our society. It’s very much about the raising of children, the having of children, and the continuation of our species. And the idea that you can treat a gay relationship in precisely the same way as you do a marriage as we understand it, is not a view that I support and I certainly would not be initiating any moves to change the law to that effect.

MANZIE:

Recently we saw a lot of infighting with the Federal ALP and the leadership battle certainly didn’t do them any good politically. In the Territory there has been political party infighting

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on the conservative side. We’ve been reading about it in the newspapers. What sort of advice would you have for the conservatives in the Territory regarding where this may send them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Daryl if I had any advice, I wouldn’t be giving it publicly.

MANZIE:

Well said Prime Minister. Now you’ve been… obviously you’re enjoying the Prime Minister’s role. You’ve certainly been the most successful conservative PM in recent times. Can you see yourself still there at the helm in five years time?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look, I don’t get into those sort of time things. I said a few weeks ago when I told my colleagues that I intended to continue, that I’d continue while ever it’s in the interests of the Liberal Party and my colleagues want me to. I don’t intend in those circumstances to start talking about time.

MANZIE:

Okay. And lastly Prime Minister, you’ve enjoyed our Darwin Cup. We’ve got the cricket against Bangladesh, again a one-day match, here tomorrow. You’re not tempted to stay an extra day?

PRIME MINISTER:

Much and all as I like cricket, I can’t get into a situation where I see every cricket match that takes place. I’d like to, but I have some very important commitments in the Cape York area. I want to meet the people in the Cape York Land Council, I want to learn something of the programs they have there involving restrictions on the consumption of alcohol and the very big link between alcohol consumption and violence against women. And I’ll have to give this one a miss.

MANZIE:

Okay. Look, just on that subject of course. A third of the Northern Territory population are indigenous people. The majority of them live in semi-traditional lifestyles in remote areas. There is a whole number of issues - school attendances, very poor educational achievement levels, very poor health and housing circumstances, very very poor. Opportunities for young indigenous Australians in those circumstances to achieve the Australian dream is virtually impossible. What do you think needs to be done over the next 20 odd years to bring about the changes that we just haven’t been able to achieve over the last 30?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’ve got to do everything we can to give individual Aboriginal people a sense of their own self-worth, to give them opportunities to achieve in the way that the rest of the community has opportunities to achieve. And that involves the usual mix of rights and responsibilities. They have the rights of Australian citizens, but they also have responsibilities to themselves and their own communities to address abuses that are occurring in their own

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communities, to try and break the welfare dependency mentality that exists in their communities as it does in some other communities throughout our country. The solution lies really in individual self-fulfilment. It doesn’t lie in some symbolic act that is going to somehow or other sweep away all of the ills that are affecting the communities.

MANZIE:

There is no easy solution for sure.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s not an easy solution, but what impresses me about a lot of communities now is that they recognise that the solution is in their hands and that there is nothing to be achieved by saying that it’s somebody else’s fault because of something that happened a long time ago. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be legitimate debate about what happened in the past. I’m not suggesting otherwise. But what I think most Australians want done is the problems of today addressed in a practical way. I mean, I’m on my way now to Adelaide River to meet some indigenous people who have been working on the railway, and this part of our indigenous employment program, and they’re learning great skills. And when their work on the railway finishes, I hope that their skills will transfer them to other jobs. Now, that is what I call practical reconciliation. That is what we need to do in spades because if they have jobs, they have aspirations, they have a sense of personal achievement and responsibility. That’s what we’ve got to try and do.

MANZIE:

I think there would be no argument about that approach. Another issue that used to be a burning issue and the Territory, and I’m just wondering whether you have been approached during your visit - that’s the statehood issue.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it hasn’t been raised yet. It’s still around. I think it’s still around. Our view is that eventually there should be statehood. That’s been our policy for a long time but the pace of everything is really in the hands of people who live here. We’ve had a policy on that at a national level for a long time. As to the timing of it, well it really is a matter for the people of the Territory.

MANZIE:

And lastly Prime Minister, defence. This part of Australia is really the only part I suppose that has seen war, the face of war, on a daily basis - 63 armed attacks, bombing attacks, during the second World War. North Korea is believed to have long-range nuclear missile capacity with the ability to reach northern Australia now. What sort of efforts is the Australian Government making to try and bring about stability in that part of the world?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’re certainly doing a great deal and we’re making a bit of progress. The North Koreans have apparently agreed to discussions involving the North and South of Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States. That’s a very big step forward. We have been working very comprehensively at a diplomatic level now for a long time and we’ll continue to

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do that. It’s a difficult issue because the North Koreans are maverick in their behaviour, but the fact that China is now heavily involved is a good sign because the Chinese exert a lot of influence on the North Koreans. On the question of missile capacity, they don’t quite according to our information have, how should one put it, useable missiles that quite have that capacity. There is always a danger they could develop them.

MANZIE:

It’s a worry for us I suppose in some ways.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s a worry for all of the countries of the region, and countries are working together very closely to try and solve the problem.

MANZIE:

Well Prime Minister, I certainly hope you enjoy the rest of your stay here. It’s great to have you in this part of the world.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

MANZIE:

And the Territory network would like to thank you for talking to us this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay Daryl, thanks.

[ends]