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Prime Minister discusses mandatory sentencing; UN committees; States' rights; business policy; CGT; illegal immigration; and the Olympic torch.



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6 April 2000

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

RADIO INTERVIEW WITH JEREMY CORDEAUX, RADIO 5DN Subjects: Mandatory sentencing; United Nations’ Committees; states’ rights; business in Australia; capital gains tax, illegal immigration; Olympic torch.

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………..

CORDEAUX:

It is with a great deal of pleasure that I introduce the Prime Minister of Australia John Howard. Good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning. How are you Jeremy?

CORDEAUX:

I’ve got to tell you, you know that I can almost here the roar of applause or cheers when you came out with that statement a little while ago that Australians would not be told how to run their country by a committee full of foreigners. I’m sure that touched a very pleasant note with most people of this country.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Jeremy, I agree with you. This Government has cooperated very well with the United Nations and we’re a member in good standing; a model member said the Secretary General. But when it comes to our domestic political affairs you can’t have the situation where a committee of foreigners, of overseas people in effect tries to get us to change and to dictate the direction of domestic policy. It really is just not acceptable and what you’ve had developing is the practice whereby a group of people who lose an argument with the Australian people in Australia then go overseas and persuade UN Committees to their point of view and then that committee point of view is used to justify a change of policy in Australia.

CORDEAUX:

And Prime Minister who is on that committee?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well nominees of all sorts of countries including a number of democratic countries and friendly countries but also nominees of countries whose human rights records are very poor and whose democracy is not really profound. So it’s the principle rather than the countries or the personalities.

The issues of mandatory sentencing, whatever it is, all of these things have got to be resolved in Australia by Australians and I’ve always found that odd in the extreme that thirty years ago we abolished appeals to the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council because we thought that longstanding legal arrangement was an affront to our independence and that the High Court of Australia should be the final court of appeal on all legal matters within this country, we did that thirty years ago. Now, however we are expected by our political opponents and by many in the community to take notice of committees that don’t look at things in a judicial or deliberative way but normally as a result of political lobbying by non government organisations from Australia or indeed other countries and that really just isn’t acceptable. I don’t think it’s acceptable to the great bulk of the Australian community.

CORDEAUX:

Yeah these committees are not democratically elected, they’re not representative and when you think of the things they could be focusing on this university I think it’s South Carolina called the Bob Jones University where the black students are not allowed to fraternise with the white students and there’s a whole list of things.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh well you can go all around the world and you can find abuses of basic rights such as those and look, I mean I’m not pretending that Australia is perfect. I’ve never pretended that. Our past has got blemishes, we make mistakes, we don’t do everything correctly of course. We’re like any other nation but we have a deep democratic tradition here; we have a greater respect for individual liberty; we are racially a very tolerant country; we’ve absorbed people from 140 other nations. It’s therefore a bit galling to read remarks like racially discriminatory. To read that the UN Committee criticised the mandatory sentencing laws of the Northern Territory as being racially based certainly in their impact presumably because a greater proportion of the Aboriginal population are incarcerated than the rest of community. Now that doesn’t mean the law is racially based, it means that because of a combination of social and economic factors unfortunately many indigenous people end up in gaol. Now what we have to do is address the social disadvantage not roll back the law.

CORDEAUX:

They’re saying that you’ve toned down your opposition to mandatory sentencing in the Northern Territory, in the court of public opinion many people would not be able to see too much wrong with warning people three times and then on the third occasion if they damage property or steal property they’ve had fair warning, many people would see going to gaol as perfectly reasonable.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Jeremy as a matter of principle, though I understand the concern about law and order, as a matter of principle I don’t agree with mandatory sentencing, I agree with strong sentencing laws but in the end I do think these matters ought to be determined by judges and magistrates. However it’s for local parliaments to respond to local sentiment generally that these things ought to be decided that’s why we’ve been reluctant to intervene even though we’ve got the power to do so in the Northern Territory. Now you know that I’m having a discussion with the Chief Minister about this and I don’t want to get into the detail of that. I don’t think it’s fair to him and it could be prejudicial to a useful discussion to speculate about what the outcome is. I just want to have a talk with him and we’ll see where we get.

But I think there is a bit of concern even amongst the people who have a strong view about mandatory sentencing that maybe it should only apply to people who are generally regarded as adults in the Australian community, that’s people over the age of eighteen.

CORDEAUX:

Do you believe that you can with the Chief Minister sit down and work a path that is both acceptable from his face saving point of view and acceptable from the political imperative point of view, that there is some middle ground in there that you can achieve?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Jeremy. I’m going to try and get a sensible outcome. I’m a person who is not a fanatical states righter. I generally take a national view about things however I recognise that traditionally the criminal law is something that has been decided by the states.

CORDEAUX:

If you wanted to get involved in state’s law, I don’t know whether you saw the story but in NSW they’ve changed the law there so that children can carry up to twelve marijuana joints without getting a criminal conviction. There’s one that probably needs changing.

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean there’s heroin injecting rooms. I don’t agree with them but I don’t find people calling on me to intervene and overturn that because presumably a lot of people particularly in sections of the community that is… well sections of the community generally who are attacking me on mandatory sentencing support… 

CORDEAUX:

Absolutely.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s all a question of your personal view on these issues rather than any consistent principle. It’s very hard on something like this to say in all circumstances and on all occasions we will always leave issues to be resolved at a local level but generally speaking particularly with the criminal law I think that’s the best approach.

CORDEAUX:

Yeah, well what you say about being attacked for one thing and not supported on the other is right. I mean watching the ABC, I just think it’s an absolute scandal the way in which they have attacked the Government on this issue relentlessly but fail to understand the logic of your position on something like safe injecting or so called safe injecting.

PRIME MINISTER:

It is the same principal. I mean I am told that because I have a personal view on that I should use the federal Government’s power to overturn yet the same position pertains in relation to injecting rooms. Anyway I’m going to have a talk with Mr Burke and we’ll see where we get.

CORDEAUX:

The… I know… the Financial Review this morning has got a front page story where you talk about some fears that you have for regional instability or fears about potential regional instability. What’s worrying you

exactly?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what I was answering was a question as to what I thought of the stability of the region and I said that I didn’t want to sound alarmist and I wasn’t alarmist but it’s clear that there is perhaps more instability in the region, and I’d define the region very broadly, than there would have been perhaps ten or twenty years ago and there are potentially difficult areas not just immediately to our north but further into the region. It’s just an observation that one of the consequences of the end of the cold war a decade or more ago is that there is more potential for instability in the region and that’s one of the reasons why we have to keep a pretty vigilant eye on our defence and other arrangements.

CORDEAUX:

And in that same newspaper I was somewhat gob smacked to see an attack on, not you but on the Government with regard to policy towards business. I mean what more… this whole story about these high flying business people, what do they expect the Government to do that the Government hasn’t done for business? What do they want?

PRIME MINISTER:

I was rather surprised to read that survey as well. Once again we’re not claiming we’ve done everything that people have wanted.

CORDEAUX:

Well a 30% tax rate ain’t bad.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s not bad and governments don’t just exist for the business community, they exist for the whole community. We have created the best business conditions in this country for thirty to forty years and all of the main reform items that have been on the agenda as the business community over the last few years have really been delivered by this Government; tax reform, industrial relations reform, competition law, a budget surplus, reforms in a whole lot of other areas that have been in the too hard basket for twelve or thirteen years have been tackled by this Government. Now OK I don’t expect automatic praise for that but I think it’s reasonable for me to point that out to spokesmen for the business community because I think if they have been correctly reported I think they are being quite unrealistic and to suggest that there’s something odd about a political leader having an eye to his electoral position is akin to a managing director saying he doesn’t have to worry about the shareholders.

CORDEAUX:

Prime Minister, would you mind taking a couple of calls?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

CORDEAUX:

Thank you. Lorraine, good morning.

CALLER:

Hello Mr Howard.

CORDEAUX:

Just go ahead Lorraine.

CALLER:

Oh right. I would like to say first that I am a John Howard supporter and I think he is basically a very fair man, I am a Liberal. I have always voted Liberal. Till now anyway and I probably will continue but I am very irate about this business of boat people being whisked into Adelaide one morning recently, very early before social security opened and given benefits. I’m a disability pensioner myself. Also given an extra $2,500 to enable them if they were challenged to have to leave to help them fight the system. Also I disagree with giving these people this money when our own people are disadvantaged because I, at the moment am on a waiting list. My false teeth are 14 years old.

CORDEAUX:

I don’t know if the Prime Minister is aware of this particular story. Are you across that Sir?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well not all the detail of it. Please tell me.

CORDEAUX:

Well it would seem according to Today Tonight, the local a current affairs program on Channel Seven.

PRIME MINISTER:

I didn’t see that I am sorry.

CORDEAUX:

No, no. A group of people from Western Australia, illegal immigrants were spirited into the city under the cover of darkness and were processed at a local social security centre and it was alleged in the program that they were given cash money, Medicare cards and priority over ordinary Australians.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t know the background and I will have a look at that and I will talk to both the Immigration Minister and the Community Services Minister and until I know more detail, there is not much point in commenting except to acknowledge that the problem of illegal immigration is a big one. We are an attractive country. In the past our laws I think perhaps have been too beckoning. We have tightened them but it will take time for that tightening to ripple through and be understood in other parts of the world and we have to deal with that effectively and quickly but also humanly.

CORDEAUX:

Are you contemplating a harder line if the situation deteriorates, more people here?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have tightened the situation a great deal and you will see over the months ahead, recognition in the source countries of illegal immigration that it is no longer as easy or as attractive to come to Australia. But as to the particulars of that Channel Seven report, I will have that investigated and if there is any more information I can give your program I will have it provided.

CORDEAUX:

Thank you sir. Beverly has got a question. Hi.

CALLER:

Good morning Prime Minister. I am getting right away from the boat people indigenous people and the illegal immigrants. I am just annoyed why didn’t the Queen come to Adelaide?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it was indicated to us that she wouldn’t be able to visit every state and the decision was taken that she would visit four states and the Northern Territory on this occasion and next year she will come again to Australia. Principally but not only to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Brisbane. She will visit Queensland on that occasion. She did not go to Queensland on this occasion and she will also visit South Australia including of course Adelaide on that occasion. So it was a question of not leaving South Australia out because the next time she comes, she won’t go to Victoria or Western Australia or Tasmania or NSW, but will only go to Queensland and South Australia, the two states she did not visit on this occasion.

CORDEAUX:

Right Beverly, thank you. Who have we got? Robert. What is your question Robert?

CALLER:

Prime Minister I built a little factory some 25 years ago and since then or in this last few years, they have devalued it three times by a total of 45 thousand dollars. Now I am not, because of this what is upsetting me, I learnt the other day on the radio that you were going to impose a tax on any profit made over and above the valuation of that property. What do you have to say about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Robert, is it, when you say they’ve devalued your property presumably you are talking about the local authorities and I don’t have any control over valuations but I’m mystified at your reference to imposing a tax. And there’s a tax on capital gain, which was introduced by Mr Keating when he was Treasurer in 1985, and we are effectively halving capital gains tax as part of our tax reform. Halving it effectively. So I am at a loss to understand what tax you are talking about. There may be some local measure either in your council area or the state that I am not aware of but as far as we are concerned at a Federal level we don’t control property valuations, they’re done by state authority and as far as the capital gains tax is concerned, we are in fact reducing it by almost half.

CORDEAUX:

Now Robert, what tax, what is the tax called.

CALLER:

I understood it was capital gains tax that had just been re-imposed. It was, it used to be a capital gains tax then they cut it out many years ago.

CORDEAUX:

And it was imposed on I think it was 1986. It was imposed by the Keating Government or the Hawke Government. Now the Howard government has decided to cut it in half.

CALLER:

Well that is better news than I thought. But its still not very good when they... this was my retirement.

CORDEAUX:

So you want to sell the property and you have to give some of the profit in tax. I think everyone is on the same boat. Capital gains tax.

PRIME MINISTER:

If they say its fallen in value, depending on the base date, you may not pay much capital gains tax. But its certainly the rate of capital gains tax we are going to cut by a half.

CORDEAUX:

Prime Minister I have read that you are not going to carry the torch at the Olympics. They offered you a run did they?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they did. I took the view that there should be as many members of the Australian community as possible. I believe that preference should be given on every occasion to Australians who’ve been Olympians, people whose life’s activity and work is perhaps at a volunteer level with local sports organisations. I don’t think it’s the sort of thing where people in my position should be crowding out ordinary Australians. It’s not that I am disinterested, but I thought about it and if I don’t do it then that is one more slot that is available for some person who has spent all his life running the local soccer club or the local Aussie rules club or the local cricket club to do it. I just think. I mean get opportunity to go to the games and see all the events and everything. There are thousands of people who want to carry the Olympic Torch and I don’t think I should be bumping one of them off the list.

CORDEAUX:

It’s ten minutes to nine. Just quickly Prime Minister. I know you hold, Major General Peter Cosgrove in high regard and he is over in the United States at the moment. Future Governor General do you think?

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven’t thought about that.

CORDEAUX:

When do you have to start thinking about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sometime in the second half of the year but look I don’t get in to any speculation to anybody about that … they will understand that it’s not appropriate for me to do that. I have great regard for General Cosgrove, he’s quite rightly being acclaimed and questioned in the United States because the efficiency of the Military operation in East Timor has really won for the Australian Defence Force, justifiable acclaim in the United States and Europe. They really do see it as being quite a Tour de Force as far as military efficiency but also the sympathetic response he evoked from the local community. I found when I was in Dili that there was a real warmth in the relationship between the men and women of the ADF and the local population. It was visible for anybody to see and it made me very proud. But not only were they doing their job as soldiers, but they were doing their job as humanitarians.

CORDEAUX:

Prime Minister again, thank you for all this time, very grateful.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

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