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Prime Minister discusses NT; Darwin; US Army; his childhood; child support; his schedule; 1996 election; NT visit; and indigenous communities.



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PRIME MINISTER

5 August 2003

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH PETE DAVIES & LISA RIDGLEY, MIX 104.9

Subjects: Northern Territory; Darwin; US Army;PM's childhood; child support; Pm's schedule; 1996 election; Northern Territory visit; indigenous communities.

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………….

[tape begins] in all my life, the way people responded in the wake of that tragedy.

DAVIES:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean…

PRIME MINISTER:

Darwin's like that.

DAVIES:

It is.

PRIME MINISTER:

It's at the frontline. It is, of course, part of Australia that does for all sorts of reasons have a frontier spirit about it and it has got a capacity to absorb and handle shock and change and disaster, it's had plenty of it in its history and this is just but the latest chapter of its great capacity to do that.

DAVIES:

Yeah, there's something unique about the Northern Territory psyche. I know on a couple of occasions here when we've run things like… we had to a get a young girl Jess to the US and in three hours this radio station raised $10,000 to get Jess on the plane. And then a number of months later we ran a similar campaign to raise some money for the cancer council of the Northern Territory and we raised another $10,000 in three hours. There is this wonderful

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sense of mateship and the fact that when the chips are down, Territorians will just dig deep and keep on helping.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, it's very strong here and one of the reasons obviously it's strong is that it is an isolated community, people in this part of Australia feel a long way from the rest of the country.

DAVIES:

It's a good thing sometimes.

PRIME MINISTER:

It has its pluses and its minuses. Mind you, modern communications means that you can travel around very quickly and it's always a reminder to me when I was out walking this morning along the bay and it's just extraordinary to… you know, it reminds you of the vastness of Australia and how rapidly it changes over those enormous distances.

RIDGLEY:

You mentioned our isolation, but there are many projects such as the Bayu-Undan gas project, the Ghan Railway and events to like the cricket now that are definitely putting Darwin on the map. How significant do you feel that the contribution Darwin will be able to make in the future?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the more of those things the better. I think it's fantastic that international cricket has come to Darwin, to Cairns. It's an opportunity for the players to interact with the local community. You've seen the players go out to Bathurst Island, you've seen interaction in Cairns with the local communities as well. Gas has an enormous part to play in the future of Darwin and, of course, the future of Australia. Now how all of those projects play out and develop will ultimately be a matter for the commercial decisions of the countries involved. But it's a pretty bright future and what I like about Darwin is that people are optimistic about the future, they want to develop and build, they're not grizzling about development, they want more of it. There's some parts of Australia you go to and people are cautious, almost frightened of development, not so in Darwin. They can't have enough of it.

RIDGLEY:

As far as development goes, do you think… is there the slightest chance that the US Army could set up base here?

PRIME MINISTER:

We haven't been approached yet. I say yet because I suspect that what's happening at the moment in the wake of the American military victory in Iraq and all that it reveals about modern military techniques and how you can achieve objectives with smaller numbers but highly technically proficient forces. The Americans are undertaking a review of their basing requirements around the world, out of that they may possibly approach Australia, they may not. We haven't said anything in advance and I don't give blank cheques. If they have a

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proposal to put to us, well we'll have to consider it and there shouldn't be any assumptions made that we automatically agree or disagree, we'll have a look at it. It's possible.

RIDGLEY:

[Inaudible] households at dinnertime, particularly here in the Territory, I know most people will definitely be able to relate to this one. Probably considered a little bit like Question Time in Parliament, you know, dinner at household around about six o'clock. What is dinner time in the Howard household like?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it's like any other household where there are a few young adult members of the family boarding with their parents and they're sort of coming and going, sometimes Janette and I just eat together, often I'm out, other times we have one or two of our three children with us. We've got one of our children overseas at present although he's hoping to come home soon. And right at the moment, of course, we're talking a lot about my daughter's future - she just got herself engaged, so she's planning to get married soon. So that's, as you can imagine, is consuming quite a bit of a discussion around the household dinner table.

RIDGLEY:

Absolutely. Kids dream of being teachers, they dream of being police officers, you know, hairdressers, lawyers, whatever it might be. Was there a time when you were a kid when you said I want to be the Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, some people accuse me of having once said that when I was at school, maybe I did. I was always quite interested in politics from a fairly early age and I guess at the back of my mind I romanticised about the idea of going into Parliament, I used to listen to Parliament on the radio when I was a kid at home in Sydney and as to whether I sort of… I didn't go through this caper of getting photographs outside 10 Downing Street, as some people do, or the White House, or the Old Parliament House in Canberra, didn't quite go through that. But I certainly at an early age thought about the idea of getting elected to Parliament, but I guess put it out of my mind thinking it was never going to happen.

DAVIES:

Just on another note, on another particular topic, Prime Minister - Child support, fathers who won't pay. Now under the current child support set up, if a father has a judgement or a parent has a judgement against them that basically just refusing to pay, and then there are also fathers setting up their business in such a way where their threshold… they don't reach the threshold. And then even when they have a judgement in place, they are refusing to pay. The question I put to you is that if you owe the tax office money, the tax office will chase you. It would appear at this point in time that the child support system is not chasing parents who have a responsibility.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I'm sure there are some people who are getting away with it. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who aren't. I don't accept that the child support agency doesn't try to

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recover. I get plenty of people who tell me that they do because they are on the receiving end of the child support agency's activity. Can I say that this a terribly difficult area. As a local member, I would get more agonised complaints in this area from both men and women on both sides of the debate than I do on just about anything else. The problem is that when a marriage breaks up, or a couple who have been living together separate, there's always a sense of I guess grievance and let down, look there's often a sense… that's not quite to say there's always, a lot of people do it in a very sensible, friendly, mature fashion, but a lot don't. And everybody takes a very strong view if they feel they've been hard done by and right at the moment we have an inquiry underway which I announced a few weeks ago that's going to examine the operation of the child support agency, it's also going to examine this question of whether there should be a presumption of joint custody when people separate and also the role and the rights of grandparents when separations occur. I think every effort should be made by the child support agency, and it's meant to be made by the child support agency, to collect arrears and the mechanisms are there. And I in fact had a case in my own electorate only a couple of weeks ago of a women whose husband had left her and she got an order against him and all the sort of things you're describing had happened, and I can't go into the individual details of it, but I wrote back to her and said that the child support agency had in fact commenced legal proceedings against this fellow to get the money in the way the tax office does. So it's not right to say that they don't try, maybe their efforts are not always successful and I don't want anybody listening to get any ideas, but the tax office efforts against certain people are not always successful, but though in the interest of all of us they should be because…

DAVIES:

Don't look at me like that.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no… [inaudible] straight out the window, straight over Lisa's shoulder.

RIDGLEY:

When we see you every evening on the TV, practically in every newspaper, this is a job that is 24/7. Is there a time when you just think stop?

PRIME MINISTER:

In the sense of giving it away…?

RIDGLEY:

…[inaudible I mean, I know myself, everyone in there…

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh everybody… there are times when I'd like a bit more hours to myself, but that happens in any position. I still find the job very challenging and stimulating and there are some weeks in which the schedule is crazy and you travel around a lot. I mean, I was in Perth on Friday of last week and then back to the East and then up here, and then I'm going to Tasmania at the end of this week, and then back to Canberra for Parliament. So, you do travel around a lot. I get relaxation, I read, I enjoy watching television when I've got time…

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RIDGLEY:

What do you like watching on TV?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I tend to watch current affairs programmes, movies…

DAVIES:

Re-runs of Kerry O'Brien interviews?

PRIME MINISTER:

Mate. No, we get on well now, we talk to each other a lot now.

RIDGLEY:

You feel like you've done a lot. Is there a moment, a particular moment in time of during your time of Prime Minister that you won't forget?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, there's quite a few I guess. It's very hard to just off the top… say what is… but I guess the most, in a personal political sense, the night we won in '96. I'll never forget that, 2nd of March 1996, that was a great night.

DAVIES:

Yeah. We've got a little gift for the Prime Minister, haven't we?

RIDGLEY:

We do.

DAVIES:

Now it's something… it's uniquely territorian and we can't let you leave our fair city [inaudible]….

RIDGLEY:

Pete, I told you to take the price tag off. Now you know what we spent our extra $4 a week on.

DAVIES:

Goes to to show how far it goes around. Mr Howard, they're a pair of genuine Noonamah Pub double pluggers. Now you'll notice they're black and white so it means that any government function you have to go to…

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PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

DAVIES:

You're done, you're fine.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you, very much. Thank you.

RIDGLEY:

We thought that you would enjoy those. We've autographed them and everything.

PRIME MINISTER:

You're very kind Lisa and Pete, thank you,

RIDGLEY:

We didn't think you could leave the territory without a pair.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's very good of you.

DAVIES:

We have no doubt that you will wear them with pride.

And you are not to use them for slapping Mark Latham around the ears, okay?

RIDGLEY:

You have a fantastic stay while you are here in Darwin. I know, too, that you are off to our communities later this afternoon.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I'm going down to Adelaide River now to talk to the indigenous people who worked on the railway, that great project which is nearing completion.

DAVIES:

Fantastic, we're excited, we can't wait…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we should be. I think this will absolutely grip the country's interest. There are a lot people miles away from Darwin who are very interested in this railway and who've believed

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in it for a long time and they'll be very pleased when it's finished. It's one of those nation-building things that a lot of Australians support very strongly. So, that will be interesting and then I'm going to come back to the hospital to thank people for what they did and then we're off to Weipa and to the Cape communities, and that will be a very interesting experience.

RIDGLEY:

Will you be discussing the alcohol related…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, very much so. I have a great interest in what they're doing there and the efforts they're making in places like Aurukun to restrict the availability of alcohol. It seems to be working, it's what the local people want and where the local people want it, state governments should do whatever is necessary to give effect to their wishes. We can't afford to be hung up with theory in areas like this, we've got to do things that work and this appears to be working. And there's a very strong link between alcohol abuse and violence, very strong link and the level of violence against women in aboriginal communities is massively higher than the rest of the community, that's not to say it doesn't happen in the general community, I wouldn't want anybody to think I have that view, it does. And it's to be condemned wherever it occurs, it's sort of 30-40 times worse in indigenous communities and it has to be addressed. And many aboriginal leaders are now saying the answer is to do something about alcohol consumption. If that's their view, they should be supported by every level of government in Australia and let's not get hung up with theories about the entitlements. I mean, there's no greater entitlement in an indigenous community for indigenous women to live a life free of physical violence, that is a far greater entitlement than the right of people to consume alcohol.

DAVIES:

Thanks Mr Howard, thank you so much for your time, we know you're busy. Please enjoy the rest of your stay in the top end and always it's been a delight to have you here.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]