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Comments on Prime Minister's latest opinion poll rating; John Kerin as Treasurer; Coronation Hill; the ALP leadership; Australian aid to the ANC

PRU GOWARD: Joining me is John Howard, the Federal Opposition spokesman on Industrial Relations and our regular commentator on Daybreak. John Howard, this morning, is speaking to us from Austria.

Well, I know that the 200th anniversary of the death of Mozart is a big thing in Austria, but how could you bear to be away from all this?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, the marvels of modern communication are such, Pru, that the fax machine has totally revolutionised overseas travel for politicians. You can get a regular sort of fix every morning under your door if you want to, and you want to keep up with what's happening back home. And I feel, really, the best of both worlds over here, but at the same time being kept very well informed of the shenanigans in the Labor Party.

PRU GOWARD: All right. Well, the polls - this won't please you so much - the polls in the Bulletin today, the Morgan Gallop Poll, shows that support for the Government has actually gone up 6 per cent to 38 and that Mr Hawke has pulled ahead as preferred Prime Minister over John Hewson. Now 48 per cent of people prefer him as Prime Minister. How do you explain how a man can pull this sort of poll figure out of the air with this sort of instability?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I think the only thing I can say, Pru, that poll, I guess, was taken at the height of the leadership contest, and I suppose it was taken a week or ten days ago. And if that is the case, it's just too early to see it as anything other than a possibly aberrant reading. You'll have to wait for the dust to settle. Sometimes polls taken at the height of a row inside a party show the party doing better than you would expect, simply because people are focusing on that party to the exclusion of the other party. And when things settle down, and the impact of the internal ructions seep through into the community, there's a different attitude. I wouldn't .. if I were either a Liberal or a Labor supporter in Australia I wouldn't, sort of, get carried away either way with the poll. I'd wait for a few weeks and see what they say then.

PRU GOWARD: Well, the other poll is the poll in the financial markets, and they seem to be steadying. And John Kerin has now said that he'll be sticking to that 4 per cent inflation target; there'll be no pump-priming in this Budget. In fact, the deficit's going to come in at less than four billion. Would you agree that they're the sorts of signals he has to send to the financial markets to keep them off the back?

JOHN HOWARD: ..... the reality of being Treasurer in Australia these days is that if you say other than those sorts of things, and behave other than according to those sorts of beliefs, then the financial markets will walk away from you, particularly when there's been a change form somebody who's been Treasurer for eight years. The way Kerin performs will be very critical to the Prime Minister's own position over the next few weeks and the next few months. In many ways Hawke's future is in Kerin's hands. If he performs very well, and beyond expectations in the minds of many people in the Labor Party, then that will obviously strengthen the Prime Minister's position because the people who feel that they can't get on without Keating will be seen to be wrong.

PRU GOWARD: And would you feel that John Kerin will perform well?

JOHN HOWARD: I've always thought he's one of the best Ministers in the Government, and whether he's got the, you know, the fortitude to fight and win battles inside a government where the Left will have a lot more say and will be riding high because they will see themselves as having saved Hawke and will be demanding their policy pound of flesh, whatever they may say publicly - that will be the real test. And I guess decisions on things like Coronation Hill, decisions on the Budget, and the general policy direction as time goes by, will tell us whether John Kerin is as good as some people think he is.

PRU GOWARD: And of course, there's the issue of Coronation Hill that now looks as if it will be debated at the Federal Conference of the ALP, and John Kerin has described it as a totem issue for Australian business. But really, for Australian business to survive, we've got to have a base that doesn't focus quite so much on manufacturing, on mining, don't we?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, yes, but there's more to it than that, Pru. The real significance is that what basically was a solemn agreement between a government and the nation's largest company was torn up on the eve of an election to placate a pressure group. And it's that kind of capricious, insensitive approach towards business making by the Government, that this is - decision making by business from the Government - that it is worrying people in Australia business. I mean, it's the reliability, predictability, and confidence factor, rather than the size of the mine and whether it's mining or manufacturing. If governments can't keep their word on things like that and bow down towards pressure groups on the eve of elections, it's that sort of thing that is so worrying, and rightly so, to the Australian business community. That was a disgraceful election eve decision on Coronation Hill, and nothing that has been said since can really relieve the Government of the odium of having welshed on a solemn promise to a company that had committed millions of dollars to development, and they deserve all the bad marks they have got from the Australian business community on the subject.

PRU GOWARD: Well, Mr Howard, looking at the other promise that wasn't lived up to, and that was the promise that Mr Hawke gave Paul Keating on the leadership. Now you've said, in print, that Paul Keating is as bad as the Prime Minister; they've both dissembled. But let me put this to you: that it's actually very unfair to keep that sort of pressure on anybody, for the press to keep that sort of pressure on anybody - when will you go, when will you go? That is always going to be in the gift of circumstance, isn't it?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, it is, but the fact is, in the point that I made in my own column was that both of them misled the Australian public, and it seems to me, from what I gather, that the press has taken very much a double standard. It has taken the view that it was the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister alone, who misled the public. Now I'm not making any apologia for him; he deserves all the odium that he's rightly copped for lying to the Australian public. But to put it bluntly, both of them lied, and it suited both of them to lie.

PRU GOWARD: Yes, I wonder whether the upshot of this is that questions on leadership will be off bounds for both parties; that in future, you'll always just say: I'm not prepared to discuss the future leadership.

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I don't think any party is ever going to be allowed to do that. The thing that has to be said is that people just tell the truth about leadership. People haven't always lied about leadership; some people have.

PRU GOWARD: Yes. Well, he's now said that he'll stay there until 1993, and will give his intentions during the election campaign.

JOHN HOWARD: Well, he really, given what's happened, he really has no alternative but to say that. I mean, the question is obviously asked and whether he'll still be there at the time of the next election and whether anybody will believe what he or what Mr Keating ever says in the future about leadership. And my point is that I don't think either should be believed, and that the odium for having misled us should fall equally, with equal impact on both of them.

PRU GOWARD: Now, just a very quick one. We've announced, or the Government's announced, a $2 million aid package to the ANC for economic management skills in South Africa. Your response, very quickly.

JOHN HOWARD: Well, a surprising priority, to say the least. I don't know the background to it. I would have thought the most sensible thing the Government can do about South Africa is to lead the way to lift economic sanctions. If you really want to help the black people in South Africa, that would be a very sensible thing to do.