Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Election '96: election eve interview with the Prime Minister

ELLEN FANNING: Paul Keating awoke for his last day of campaigning in Launceston. Last night, he ended a tough political day by reflecting on matters other than politics. As I've said, he listened to a rehearsal of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra before talking to a high school reception. He spoke to them about the importance of music and education, citing his own experiences. He berated the private sector for not investing in culture, saying they were more than interested in Tupperware boats, and he described Australia as an aesthetically sad place.

Before attending a community breakfast in the northern Tasmanian city, this morning, he spoke to our reporter, Lyndall Curtis, just a few moments ago.

LYNDALL CURTIS: Mr Keating, you spent last night in a somewhat reflective mood, talking about things important to you, music, great composers, Australian design and aesthetics. Does that reflective mood indicate that perhaps, after tomorrow, you think you'll have more time to concentrate on other things?

PAUL KEATING: Oh, no, just that I was talking to an orchestra-as simple as that-an orchestra who we've told we'll give a quarter of the cost of their new building. And I was saying how important it is to get it right-you know, how music lifts the soul and how important it is to a community-and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra who I was speaking to, of course, have proved that point. For a provincial orchestra, they've made a huge national impact.

LYNDALL CURTIS: Why do you deserve to win this election? What's your most potent argument for change?

PAUL KEATING: Because we have a philosophy for Australia. We have put in place a most sophisticated and comprehensive mix of economic policy with high growth, high employment, low inflation, and a very strong social security safety net, a very good social wage and, at the same time, we've grafted onto all of that an international policy which gives Australia a really strong place in the world.

Now, we've never been in that position as a country, not like this, not ever. We've now completed, we're just in the middle of our 17th consecutive quarter of growth where-it's the longest growth phase in Australia's history. And the inflation rate's still low and the portents to stronger growth are very obvious-that is, more investment coming during the year. So I think our basis of appeal to the community is to say to them: Well, look, what we've said we'd do, we'd do. The hardest things for a government to do are to put in place strong growth, strong employment, low inflation.

Three years ago, I said we'd restart the economy and we would focus on employment. We've averaged 4.5 per cent rate of growth in each of the last three years-that's twice the Western world average. We've had the strongest employment growth in the Western world-700,000 jobs in three years-and we've done it with an underlying inflation rate of 3 per cent.

So in other words, we have done the principal things we said we'd do and, as well as that, we've embarked on so many other things such as a basis of proper reconciliation with our indigenes through Mabo, building the primary piece of political architecture in the Asia Pacific with APEC, building these big, bilateral relationships with countries like Indonesia; and at home, extending Medicare, keeping it and extending it, extending the social wage, getting our research and development effort up and keeping that product innovation coming through.

LYNDALL CURTIS: You've spent much of the campaign running on your record but when John Howard runs down his list of the bad things-high unemployment, high youth unemployment, a high current account deficit and high foreign debt-doesn't that show that, on an assessment of your record, the good has to be taken-or the bad has to be taken with the good?

PAUL KEATING: Yes, but that's the case with any government, but it is the good which is so vital to the community, the growth rate, the employment rate. It's all right the Liberal Party talking about high unemployment but how would they have produced these phenomenal rates in employment growth? You know, we set a target for 500,000 jobs three years ago. The Liberal Party said: Oh, it's nonsense. We actually achieved 716,000.

And they talk about the national debt. Five per cent of the debt belongs to the Government. The rest belongs to private industry and individuals and it's been borrowed to advance this country's development. And as I made the point yesterday, we've got $180 billion of national debt but we've already got 320 billion in superannuation fund assets and we're heading towards one thousand billion or a trillion by the year 2010. And the very scheme that's actually going to cover all of those contingencies, cover off our national debt, is the one thing John Howard wants to destroy by pulling away its compulsion.

The thing about the Liberal Party, they've come to this election with no philosophy for Australia. Mr Howard had a chance at his policy speech to actually lay down a road map, some philosophy about where it would take Liberal-Liberal Party would take Australia. They don't believe the Liberal Party has, in itself, any intrinsic worth and merit that would itself get it elected. They think they've got to offer things, they've got to buy votes.

So Mr Howard's gone out with the biggest spending spree that any leader in modern politics has undertaken. He's gone out there as if there's no tomorrow with a seven billion set of expenditures, all on the basis that if they don't buy people, they don't get elected. And what we've established is those seven billion of commitments are largely unfunded.

LYNDALL CURTIS: But have you come back enough in this campaign? Have you got your message across enough in this campaign to win tomorrow?

PAUL KEATING: Well, I think we have. I mean, look at all the things the Liberals are running on-small business, that's unravelled on them. Mr Bastian of COSBOA, the over-arching small business organisation, said that the Liberals had walked away from any commitments to them on this question of unconscionable conduct-that's stopping large companies knocking small companies about. You know, Justice Wilcox coming out to say what he was saying about unfair dismissals had no basis to it.

On the environment, their policy was set up on Telstra, the sale of Telstra. The environment movement has now largely walked away from them. They said they'd have a proposal to knock our socks off with a tax on savings. I mean, that's worth, after we've seen it, somewhere between 5 cents and 20 cents a week to the average person, and their costings-their seven billion of costings has got a $4 billion hole in it. So this is the whole basis of their appeal. This is the whole reason why we should elect a Liberal government.

And I just noticed today, in the Herald-Sun in Melbourne, which is actually editorialised in favour of the Coalition, but this is their punch line. They say this, after a long editorial: 'All we can say is that a vote for the Coalition is unlikely to do Australia any long-term harm, but should do our democracy some good. We wish we could be more positive. Time will tell whether we should have been'. Well, that's hardly a ringing endorsement for a Coalition that's now said that they've got all the answers, from a newspaper that's actually supported them.

LYNDALL CURTIS: The Fairfax papers, in their editorials, advocated a vote for the Coalition. Many other papers haven't advocated a vote for either side. Is that indicative of the general mood in the community, that they may not want to re-elect you but the Coalition hasn't made out a case why they should vote for them?

PAUL KEATING: I don't think - the Coalition hasn't made out a case. I mean, basically you see, this idea that you've got to buy people, that you have no intrinsic worth or good, that you don't have a philosophy. Like John Howard said: I'm relaxed and comfortable with the present; I'm relaxed and comfortable with the future. In other words, we can just all nod off.

LYNDALL CURTIS: But do you think people really want to vote for the Government or do you think that maybe they think they've had enough of Labor and are just looking for a reason to change?

PAUL KEATING: I think they think Labor's been in office a long time but, in reality, the Government's three years old. Half this Cabinet wasn't there three years ago. The energy of the Cabinet room: you can't get a word in edgewise in that Cabinet, and the quality of the work-and look at the quality of our teams. I mean, I've got with me Kim Beazley as Deputy Prime Minister, Ralph Willis as the Treasurer, Gareth Evans as the Foreign Minister, Robert Ray as the Defence Minister, Simon Crean doing the DEET job, Laurie Brereton doing the big transport things.

You know, John Howard would have Tim Fischer as his Deputy Prime Minister. He'd have Alexander Downer, a person who does not have the respect of his own party. He'd be the one out there seeking to earn respect for Australia. He'd have Bronwyn Bishop looking after Telstra; Peter Costello, who I don't think has said an interesting or positive word about Australia's future, would be the Treasurer.

LYNDALL CURTIS: You talked yesterday about your government setting new standards for accountability and for truth. Isn't there a perception that Ralph Willis, in dealing with the forged letters, didn't do enough to uphold those standards?

PAUL KEATING: No. I mean, there's no way Ralph would have gone out there and put these things in the public domain if he didn't think they were right. I mean, the fact he made an error of judgment is just that. But look at his long record and the quality of his work.

No. What we've got here is, I think, a Coalition-I mean, they've tried to say, look-they're actually advertising, saying that their policies and ours are the same on Medicare, the same on industrial relations and the same on the environment. Now of course, they are not. They are not. But if they're saying Labor's policies are right on these things, why wouldn't the architects of the policy continue to run Australia?

I mean, why would we have the photocopiers? Why would we have a carbon copy? They've never had a rationale. All they've sought to do is say, look-their subliminal message is to say: We think it's time for a change. And we say: Oh, yes, to what? They say: Look, just like you. We think it's time for a change to look just like the Government. Now, that's about the weakest basis that any party has ever put from Opposition to become the Government, that they'd like to have a change to look just like the Government.

LYNDALL CURTIS: Michael Lavarch, your Attorney-General, is predicting you'll lose around five seats in Queensland. There's also predictions you'll lose seats in New South Wales. Is that the way you think things will go?

PAUL KEATING: I think the Government's in there with a good chance to win the election. I think we can win it and I think when people think about the issues-you know, if they vote for John Howard and they wake up with him on 3 March, they're not going to wake up with him for three months or for six months. They'll be stuck with him. They won't have an accord; they won't have a consensual wage model in the economy; they won't have that co-operation and they won't have low inflation, and they won't have, therefore, low interest rates.

They won't have a universal health insurance scheme because you'll have Medicare but, increasingly, it will only be in name only. You won't have universal superannuation in its present form. They won't give a $9 to $14 a week increase in the safety net because they're going to degrade the awards. You won't have the drive into Asia because basically they don't believe in it. All the other elements of the social wage, the support for families through FAS. They'll have large cuts in government expenditure, and the commitments we've made to education in areas such as TAFE and universities-you won't see that growth commitment in the future. The fact is the Opposition is not a social democratic party. It's a deeply conservative party and it will do its best to chop through all those areas which we think have been important to the community.

LYNDALL CURTIS: You've been in politics around 26 years. You've been in the Government since 1983, Prime Minister since 1991. It's a long time in public life. What do you do if you wake up on Sunday and it's no longer there?

PAUL KEATING: Oh, I've got a stack of interests, but my main interest has been advancing Australia. I mean, I've taken the view that, as a Minister and as Prime Minister, I didn't want to lush out-L U S H-lush out like so many other governments have done in the past; throw all the big issues off; turn your back; kid they're not there; hide from them; sweep them under the carpet. I've taken all the big ones on. Our exchange rate, our competitiveness, the inflation rate, the wage system, the leap into Asia, the strength in education-all the bigguns, all the big ones-and for Australia now to go back to somebody who left us with double-digit inflation and double-digit unemployment, and to hire someone to take us through to the next century, who is really more comfortable with the middle of this century, to start the new century on the back foot would be for me, in Australian terms, unthinkable.

LYNDALL CURTIS: Will you win?

PAUL KEATING: I think we will. I think we'll win and I think we'll win because when people come down to it, they'll say: We'd be turning out the Government that has most effectively repositioned Australia; that's underwritten its future and the strength of its economy and its trading relationships with the rest of the world, and has given us, at the same time, social cohesion of a kind we haven't had. And before they put that asunder, I think people will think very hard.

LYNDALL CURTIS: Mr Keating, thanks for joining A.M.

PAUL KEATING: Thank you, indeed.

ELLEN FANNING: And Lyndall Curtis was speaking, just a few minutes ago, to the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, in Launceston.