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Prime Minister discusses cricket; industrial relations, workers' entitlements; Warren Entsch; Sydney hailstorm.



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TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

INTERVIEW WITH ALAN JONES - RADIO 2UE

 

18 June 1999

 

JONES:

 

Australia’s number one cricket supporter is on the line, Prime Minister John Howard. Prime Minister, good morning.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Good morning.

 

JONES:

 

What about that?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Fantastic. Can I say, I think the real sort of turning point for the team and the thing that made last night possible in the first instance and really sets us up to win on Sunday was Steve Waugh’ s century in the encounter last weekend against South Africa.

 

JONES:

 

Absolutely.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I think that is the best one-day innings I have seen not only for the circumstances in which he batted but also the pressure that he was under. And I’d like to join I’m sure millions of other Australians in congratulating the team, in wishing them luck for Sunday. I don’t think everybody will be at work first thing on Monday morning and I think everybody will understand that. But this has been an extraordinary series and for sheer excitement you couldn’t beat last night. And you couldn’t, I think, beat - you couldn’t but feel enormous admiration for our team because they were being bucketed, they were being written off and to win all of those games in a row - and only a couple of weeks ago people were talking about them being out of the final six and certainly not in the semi-final.

 

JONES:

 

When Herschelle Gibbs dropped that catch, Steven said to him, because they’d been sledging one another, Steven said to him, you’ve just dropped the World Cup.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

And I agreed with what he just said a moment ago that the ball that bowled Gibbs last night was a fantastic ball and I think psychologically that would have had an enormous impact on the result last night.

 

JONES:

 

So the Prime Minister’s feeling a bit dusty, he’s been up all night too.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I’m very tired.

 

JONES:

 

Very tired. Well look, I’m going to tire you a little bit more because now to the tough stuff. It is a quadrella now in Industrial Relations - Cobar last year, Woodland Lawn, Austel Pacific last year, now Oakdale. How many more companies will go under leaving employees in the lurch before someone tells employers this can’t happen?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I can’t answer that but I can say that we are already discussing with the States changes with to the Corporations Law to deal with companies that arrange their affairs to defeat their obligations to employees. We are, in relation to the latest one, we are asking the Securities Commission to investigate whether there has been a breach of the securities law. I don’t allege that there has but I’m asking, the Government is asking that that be investigated. And you will remember that in relation to Cobar we ended recovering a great bulk of the money that was owing to the men as a result of action being taken by the Securities Commission to chase the company. And, I mean, you are right in saying that in relation to Cobar they were left in the lurch at the beginning but as a result of action taken by the Government 85 to 90 per cent of the money outstanding to them was recovered. And I wouldn’t want your listeners to think that that didn’t occur.

 

JONES:

 

But I just want to make a point to you, because the CFMEU, the union, and often they are quite militant people but on this one...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

[Inaudible]

 

JONES:

 

Quite, well let me just say to you, they’ve been campaigning for some time to develop a structure where worker entitlements are secure in the event of the collapse of a business and they say that coal miners already enjoy protection of their long-service leave entitlements by having a central fund...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

They do.

 

JONES:

 

….to which all coal companies are required to make a contribution. Now, why wouldn’t such a fund be available so that no workers’ entitlements will be lost or all workers’ entitlements are protected?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, we are going to discuss the feasibility of establishing that sort of thing on a wider scale.

 

JONES:

 

But don’t you reckon you’re being a bit slow on this, I mean...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, you can criticise. I mean, I mean I am very sympathetic to what has happened to these men.

 

JONES:

 

But that won’t pay the bills, will it?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

No, no, it won’t pay the bills. I accept that. And one of the things that w e’re seeking to do is to investigate whether we have any, there are any avenues of pursuit against the company. And I’m not saying there are because...

 

JONES:

 

The union tell me that Peter Reith’s Department is trying to dismantle the central long-service leave fund.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well look, can I just say, in relation to that, we’re not going to do things that are going to remove existing security for workers in relation to their basic entitlements. Now, as to the ultimate impact of other changes to the industrial relations law there, of course, is a long running debate between the union movement and the Government and it’s probably not productive to go into that now...

 

JONES:

 

No, but I mean, isn’t this the business about the difference between the workers and the employer at the end of the day is that the employer makes a big quid, he can drive the Rolls Royce and have the boat on the harbour and the holiday home in the south of France. Now, he can’t then say...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

They’re not all [inaudible]

 

JONES:

 

No, I know they don’t but what I’m saying to you, if you’ll just bear with me, they are now saying that, oh well, we inherited this problem and this was all part of the collapse of Clutha, all those years ago, the Clutha Group in February 1995 and the subsequent funding of a new $2 company to operate the Oakdale mine using employee entitlements and the employees knew about all this. I mean, that’s surely not an employer defence, is it?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

No, I don’t think that’s an employer defence but I also don’t think it’s a correct categorisation of every one of these situations to talk about Rolls Royce’s and the south of France. I mean, many...

 

JONES:

 

Well, we’re speaking metaphorically but I’m simply saying that’s being an owner and employer.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

But it also conveys an image that whenever a business goes broke the proprietor of the business waltzes away with the money. I mean...

 

JONES:

 

Well, this bloke owns other coalmines [inaudible]

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

That is one of t he reasons why we are asking the Securities Commission to have a look at the matter. I make no judgements. And I remind you again, in relation to the Cobar situation, that as a result of action taken it was possible to recover a lot of the money that was owing to the men. Now, I’m not saying that is going to be duplicated in this case.

 

JONES:

 

But see, if you could have a central fund into which long-service leave entitlements are paid, why can’t you have a central fund into which annual leave’s paid and severance pay is paid and retirement pay is paid? It’s so simple.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, that is being examined at the present time. Now, there are pluses and minuses. I know at the moment it sounds all plus but the more money that small businesses are not able to invest in the day-to-day running of their businesses the lesser will be their operations.

 

JONES:

 

Oh yes, but it’s not their money. I mean, your industrial laws, that’s employee money.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I know but the point I’m making, Alan, is that in reality because of cashflow needs many companies, many firms actually use this money for the day-to-day operations of their business...

 

JONES:

 

Shouldn’t, shouldn’t employ people if you can’t pay them.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I understand, I understand that but you often, quite rightly, argue the case of business and commercial reality, I’m saying to you that the business and commercial reality of many small firms is that they need this cash for their day-to-day operations.

 

JONES:

 

But part of employing someone and going into business is knowing that you must pay the wage plus.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

As long as you understand, and those who support such an approach understand, that if you apply that kind of system in relation to all of those entitlements you will have less money for small business to invest in its operations.

 

JONES:

 

People listening to you would say it is not their money to invest.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

No...

 

JONES:

 

They are holding it in trust to the workers.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I understand that but I would say to them in reply, that is correct but in reality w hat happens, because of the cashflow needs of small businesses, they effectively use that in their day-to-day operations.

 

JONES:

 

So I can’t afford to pay my electricity bill so I’ll go and take John Howard’s weekly pay and that will help me pay the electricity bill...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

We’re not talking about weekly pay here because...

 

JONES:

 

Well, the blokes would be better off taking it in one lump than having all these appropriations put aside.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I mean, look Alan, I’m not disagreeing - I mean, you are arguing a very strong case but I am pointing out to you the consequences of it and that is a judgement that we will have to make and the community will have to make.

 

JONES:

 

So what do we say to these miners right now, Prime Minister of Australia, just have a good weekend?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

No, I don’t say that. I don’t say that. I’d point out to them that we are investigating the behaviour of the company. We’ve asked the Securities Commission and I’m not making a judgement that the company’s done anything wrong at this stage. I don’t know enough of the circumstances. And as has happened in other cases it could well be that as a consequence of that investigation something will occur.

 

JONES:

 

When will the miners know?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I can’t tell you that. I may be able to tell you that next time.

 

JONES:

 

Is this urgent?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, it’s certainly urgent...

 

JONES:

 

While these people are being sacked you are having a dogfight in the Parliament over Warren Entsch. I’m not suggesting it’s of your making but can you understand how the public see the misplaced priorities...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I couldn’t agree with you more on that. I mean, while the Labor Party was raising Warren Entsch I was trying to get a decent deal for Australia’s lamb exporters by talking to President Clinton. I mean, I couldn’t agree with you more. That was a complete waste of time. The man’s not done anything dishonest. He’s not taken a penny. He’s not taken the public down. He’s not doing anything wrong. He didn’t try and use his position to win that contract. I mean, it’s an absolute load of nonsense.

 

JONES:

 

And can I also just say to you, and I know that you and Jenny Shipley were doing excellent work in relation to the lamb issue...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I hope so, I’m not sure yet.

 

JONES:

 

Well, you don’t know. I mean, they are putting...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

We don’t know the outcome yet.

 

JONES:

 

Well, they are putting American business and American farmers first and perhaps we have to think some time down the future about doing that as well. But could I even say something to you, that as all this was going on are you aware, and I’m sure you’re not, that there could be up to 20,000 homes in hailstorm damaged Sydney that will not have a roof over their heads before Christmas and when they get a roof over them they will not then have a house underneath them because what is underneath is unliveable? I’m just wondering if the Prime Minister of Australia is aware of the appalling trauma that these people are suffering and no one, not a person from Federal Government, not a person from the New South Wales Government, has actually stepped foot inside one of these homes.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, that’s not right, I have.

 

JONES:

 

How, you couldn’t possibly have set foot inside those homes.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, Alan, I’m sorry, I mean, I’m not making a big deal of it but I actually visited the area the weekend after it occurred. I know the area very well.

 

JONES:

 

Do you know these people won’t have a home to live in until after Christmas?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yeah I know, but I mean, let’s just...

 

JONES:

 

Okay, well you’ve been there.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I’m not saying I’ve got the answer to every one of the nation’s problems. But I mean don’t say to me that I haven’t - nobody’s set foot and the Prime Minister has. I mean, I’m not saying that’s the answer...

 

JONES:

 

Then I can’t believe you wouldn’t have been...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

[Inaudible].. .in proportion.

 

JONES:

 

I can’t believe you wouldn’t have been moved.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I was and I was also...

 

JONES:

 

To do what?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I was also treme ndously, I was impressed by the, as always in these situations, by the resilience and co-operative spirit of the people that were involved.

 

JONES:

 

But they don’t have a house, can you believe this, they don’t have a house until after Christmas? They won’t have a roof until Christmas if they’re lucky. Now, under the roof there’s no home. These are Australians. This is not Kosovo or Macedonia.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I understand that Alan but I can’t, I mean, no individual in public office is responsible for natural disasters but what we are responsible for...

 

JONES:

 

For the response.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, the response - and I’m not trying to evade our responsibilities - but the response is primarily at a State level as you know. We offered the resources of t he army from the very beginning and they weren’t taken up. And I’m not trying to score a political point on that but I have to say in defence of the Government that we were willing to do that. And all of the ordinary natural disaster relief arrangements that come into operation on an occasion like this were available and in operation. I am very much aware of the difficulty in which those people are living. I’ve spoken to people who’ve lived in that area. I’m very familiar with that area and as I said earlier, I’ve visited it and I’m personally very conscious...

 

JONES:

 

That’s the rhetoric, where’s the action? What are we doing, what are we doing?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, in the great bulk of cases, as I am told, insurance claims are being processed. There are some where are there are disputes and some of those disputes arise from the fact that some people elected not to take out insurance.

 

JONES:

 

Because they can’t afford it.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, in some cases that’s true, in other cases they decided to spend their premiums on, the money that would otherwise go to premiums, on something else. Are you saying to me that, I mean, you have a situation where - I mean, every single natural disaster that happens in this country, there has to be, at a national level, an instantaneous response that completely replaces the role of insurers, that’s not possible.

 

JONES:

 

I’m just saying, Prime Minister, no Australian should have to live like these people are living, I’m telling you, not for today and tomorrow or next month and the month after but this year and the year after that, no Australian.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

No, I understand that but I also ask you to understand that it’s not within the capacity of any Prime Minister or any government to guard against every eventuality of a natural disaster.

 

JONES:

 

Okay, will you keep us posted on what’s happening in relation to miners?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I certainly will.

 

JONES:

 

Thank you. And if you can see your way clear to at least raise this matter in the Cabinet as to how thousands, 20,000 there are, can be provided some relief and some haste. I know out there they’d appreciate it.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Okay, Alan.

 

JONES:

 

Thank you, Prime Minister Howard.

 

[ends]