Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Prime Minister discusses GST; ACOSS; reconciliation; Jeff Kennett.



Download WordDownload Word

image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 June 1999

 

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

RADIO INTERVIEW WITH HOWARD SATTLER (6PR)

 

SATTLER:

 

Good morning Prime Minister.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Good morning Howard.

 

SATTLER:

 

I thought I might try and scene set a bit. Did I get it right?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Oh largely but I think the thing you didn't acknowledge is that the deal between the Democrats and the Government delivers 85 to 90 per cent of what the public endorsed last October.

 

SATTLER:

 

But it is not the tax package on which we voted your party into office is it?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, it's 85 to 90 per cent. And the only alternative would have been for us to say to the Australian public, because we didn't get the 100 per cent we wanted we are going to ask you to have yet another election. Now, can I tell you the mail I was getting from the Australian public was that it didn't want another election on this issue. That most people I spoke to before and certainly everyone I have spoken to since, without exception, no one exception, and I'd have spoken to hundreds of people since and they’ve all said, we think you are very sensible to reach an agreement with the Australian Democrats.

 

SATTLER:

 

Were they people within your own party?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

No, there wer e people outside it. Loads and loads of people outside my own party. Howard, one of the things you have got to remember is that when people elect people as Prime Minister or Premier or whatever, or party leaders, they do expect them by and large to solve their differences. I would think in the long-term that public esteem for the Leader of the Australian Democrats has gone up as a result of this agreement. Whereas public esteem for the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Beazley, has gone down because he just huffs and puffs and says "no". He never tries to engage us in any kind of debate. He took no notice of the result of the last election. I mean, even if you accept his theory about split mandates you don't do it in the knowledge that we were returned. I mean, he's still in Opposition and I am still Prime Minister.

 

SATTLER:

 

Yeah, but I wonder how the esteems of both of you would sit, and with the Democrats, now with people like small retailers who have got this, sort of, mish-mash and anomalies and all that sort of thing to contend with.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Howard, not everything in this package is acceptable to everybody. I understand that, but nobody gets everything. And we argued uphill and down dale. We put our political bodies on the line and we won the election. We couldn't get it through the Senate because the opposition parties in the Senate would not agree to the plan that we put to the electorate. And I sat down with Senator Lees and I negotiated and I found that I could reach agreement with her on 85 to 90 per cent of our plan. And I thought accepting it on that basis was infinitely better than the two alternatives.

 

SATTLER:

 

Now, you mention 85 to 90 per cent. I have been running a web poll for the last few days and 87 per cent say they want to have another election on it, they'd like to have a vote on it.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I am not for a moment casting aspersions on your web poll, certainly not. But that is not the mail I am getting in my discussions with people all over the country.

 

SATTLER:

 

What about the Premiers? I mean, Richard Court started it and others have picked it up and they are saying that this is not the package on which they signed off. So what is the paper on which they signed off worth now?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, obviously there have been some changes but all of the additional costs, and I say this very carefully, all of the additional cost as a result of the agreement I made with the Democrats is being borne by the Commonwealth. That's $1.4 billion in the year 2000/2001. That is being borne by us. Now, nobody has got everything they wanted. That is always the case with a compromise. But there comes a point in public life where you have got to ask yourself whether the compromise is better than the alternatives. And I came to the conclusion that it was. Now, I don't like it but I am a realist. And I ask the Premiers to be realistic about it. They will still be better off. We will still be abolishing, albeit at a slower rate, most of the unsatisfactory taxes they have at a State level. There will still be a guarantee that they will be not a dollar worse off during the transitional period. We will still be giving them full access to the GST revenue which will over time provide them with more resources to fund government schools and hospitals and police.

 

SATTLER:

 

So there agreement still stands does it? 87 per cent of it does or….

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

The fundamental elements of the agreement with the States, of course it still stands. The changes relate to the need because of the reduced quantum of the GST revenue because basic food has been taken out there will be a delay in the removal of some of the States’ indirect taxes. But their financial position will still over time be much better than it would have been if they had continued under the existing Commonwealth/State financial arrangement. And during the transition period the guarantee that we have given to the States will remain intact, in full. And we are carrying on our account, we are carrying the additional cost of the compensation that's been injected into the taxation plan. We are not asking the States to carry that.

 

SATTLER:

 

Prime Minister, would you agree it got a bit farcical this week with senior Ministers and your opponents arguing over cooked whole and parts of chicken, frozen peas, packaged salads, cakes, plain and cheese-topped bread and even soup? I mean, it almost looked like your worst nightmare was being realised.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, can I say to you, Howard, I think that is ridiculous. But that line of attack was initiated by the Labor Party, by the Opposition. I mean,…can I just say to Mr Beazley, waving a can of soup around in front of a camera is not a tax policy. If the Labor Party had had a serious well thought out alternative to what we have put forward then the public would take them more seriously. The Australian Democrats have demonstrated a commitment to the national interest by sitting down with the Government and working out a compromise. Now, this plan will deliver great economic benefits to Australia. 80 per cent of Australian taxpayers will be on a top marginal rate of 30 cents in the dollar. We will be reducing business costs by about $10.5 billion a year. We will be taking down the cost of diesel. There's a huge benefit for wheat growers in a State like Western Australia because one of the new elements of the package is that diesel excise on rail carriage has been totally removed. Now, that's an enormous benefit to the wheat growers of Western Australia.

 

SATTLER:

 

Sure, but for an outlet like, say, KFC, I know they 're a big multinational to come out and say that 24,000 jobs are at risk because there are anomalies in whether or not a whole or a part of a chicken is going to attract a GST. I mean, surely that's an anomaly that should be cleaned up.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Howard, nobody is totally satisfied about everything, that is the nature of a compromise.

 

SATTLER:

 

But we are talking jobs here….

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I am talking jobs too and the net economic benefit of this package will be to add jobs in Australia not subtract them. I don't believe that that claim is properly based. I believe it is an exaggeration and….

 

SATTLER:

 

…don't agree with the example of the whole or part chicken, one part attracting a GST one not?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Now, look, I have made a compromise deal with the Australian Democrats and what I am saying is that if we are so immature as a community and as a group of people to focus all of our debate on the periphery rather than the heart and soul and the centre of this package and the enormous benefits that it delivers. I mean, I could spend the next half an hour regaling you with examples of anomalies in the wholesale tax system, about the difference between the taxation of toothpaste and a toothbrush, the differential treatment of chocolate biscuits. And I could go on for half an hour…

 

SATTLER:

 

But that is why most people voted, or they voted…

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

And there are still far fewer anomalies, far, far fewer. I mean, to start with, we have one rate. Under the wholesale sales tax there were five.

 

SATTLER:

 

But there weren't going to be any anomalies under your new system?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, that wasn't possible to be achieved, Howard. I mean, I am asking…you can criticise me for doing a compromise deal….

 

SATTLER:

 

No, not just you.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

No, well, I don’t mind if you just, you know,….

 

SATTLER:

 

Well, the Democrats….

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Okay, well you can criticise it but I ask you the alternatives were a) to walk away from tax reform altogether which nobody wanted or have… .

 

SATTLER:

 

…or have another election.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Can I tell you the Australian public wants another election like a hole in the head. They’re fed up with elections in this country. We had one 8 months ago and most Australians to whom I spoke were saying to me: look, if you can get a sensible deal that delivers most of what you want with the Democrats, go for it. That’s what they were saying to me. They were saying it to me in spades. And not just people in my own party, people in the business community. I have been contacted by numerous people in the business community since I made the deal with the Democrats, and can I tell you Howard not one of them said it was a stupid thing to do. They all said good on you. You got most of what you wanted. It’s still a much better package than the present system. Sure we would have liked the lot but we understand the realities of the Senate. Now that’s been the universal reaction. Even might I say from people in industries that will have to assimilate some of the anomalies of which you’ve spoken.

 

SATTLER:

 

Right, the Prime Minister’s here and we’ve opened the lines. If you want to give him a call you can.

 

[ad break]

 

SATTLER:

 

Prime Minister, just before the first caller, we’ve heard from the council which is there they say for the disadvantaged in Australia, ACOSS, today, your package, the package of a compromise package, they say, and I suppose it wouldn’t surprise you, they say is not fair to low-income earners.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well I don’t agree with them and I think ACOSS is going down the same path as the Australian Labor Party. They’re taking themselves right out of the debate.

 

SATTLER:

 

Pretty predictable comment.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well how on Earth can a package which provides a real increase in the pension of 2%, and actually increases the compensation even though basic food is taken out, how can that be regarded as unfair. I just think ACOSS unfortunately has got itself into a hole on this issue and just can’t come to terms with the reality that the agreement we’ve struck with the Democrats is not only fair but also preserves the overwhelming elements of the original plan.

 

SATTLER:

 

Okay John’s your first caller, to John. Hello John how are you?

 

CALLER:

 

[inaudible]

 

SATTLER:

 

The Prime Minister’ s listening.

 

CALLER:

 

Prime Minister, I believed when we voted, I thought that the petrol, and all these taxes are going to be eliminated like excise, and those sorts of things.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well there’s been no changes in relation to petrol. The price of petrol doesn’t rise. For business purposes the prices of petrol will effectively fall by 7 cents a litre.

 

CALLER:

 

When we first heard the GST came out it was, to me, we were getting rid of all these hidden taxes.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well you’re getting rid of the wholesale sales tax in full, and that will go on the 1st of July in the year 2000. The financial institutions duty will go a year later. The stamp duty on share transfers will go as announced. There’s been some delay in relation to some of the State taxes, bank account debits and stamp duty on mortgages and hire purchase agreements and so forth.

 

SATTLER:

 

 

But petrol stays the same?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

But the petrol stays exactly the same.

 

SATTLER:

 

All right thanks John for your call. And Craig’s next Prime Minister. Good morning Craig.

 

CALLER:

 

Good morning Howard. Good morning Prime Minister, how are you?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Very well indeed.

 

CALLER:

 

Mr Howard I would just like to congratulate you on your negotiations of an amicable agre ement between you and the Democrats. Well done.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Thank you. I appreciate that very much.

 

CALLER:

 

My pleasure. I just think that people have to realise that people are getting older. Someone’s got to pay the taxes. I only would assume that income tax rates go higher if we don’t this income coming by taxing everybody if you like, which is a fast area tax. And I find it hard to believe that businesses are going to lose turnover and have to put off people because of this tax. I think people will still get their bottom line if you know what I’m saying.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well they will, and the reason they’ll get their bottom lines is that families will be better off, they will be significantly better off. Many families will be $40 to $50 a week better off because of the very sizeable income tax cuts, the increase in family benefits. And now that food, basic food is GST free, with the removal of the hidden taxes the prices of some food items will actually come down.

 

SATTLER:

 

Thanks for your call Craig. And Arvo joins us now. Hello Arvo.

 

CALLER:

 

Howard how are you?

 

SATTLER:

 

I’m good. And the Prime Minister wants to hear what you have to say.

 

CALLER:

 

Hello Mr Howard. Listen, mate, why don’t you have another election?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I don’t think the public wants another election.

 

CALLER:

 

Well I’m part of the public and I do.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yeah, all right, well I respect your view. But you’ll respect the views of your fellow Australians. And the reaction I’ve had from people is that they don’t want another election.

 

CALLER:

 

The reaction I’ve had from a lot of people I speak to is they’d like….they would vote for this GST legislation now coming in.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well there’s a lot of people who voted Labor didn’t vote for it. No that’s true.

 

CALLER:

 

True true, I agree.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yeah sure. They’re not going to change their position.

 

CALLER:

 

Well why don’t you have another one?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Because it think when you can 85 to 90% of what was endorsed, it’s a failure of good government, a failure of leadership, and really an unfair imposition on the public only 8 months after you’ve had an election to go back to the public.

 

SATTLER:

 

Prime Minister, does it now mean too that tax reform will not be an issue at the next election.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well I would think it will be far less of an issue because….

 

SATTLER:

 

Because once in it can’t be reversed can it?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well I don’t believe so.

 

SATTLER:

 

Well that’s what Kim Beazley said.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well I don’t know. I mean I don’t know what his position is. I mean he just waves cans around.

 

SATTLER:

 

No but he said before this was introduced, he said if you allow a GST in that’s it, we can’t reverse it.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well that’s his position because that’s having two bob each way. He’s saying "it’s a shocking, outrageous, obscene thing, but of course I can’t reverse it. I’m happy to have the benefit of it". I mean that’s a pathetic excuse for a tax policy. I mean the Labor Party’s had over three years to develop some policies. They have no policies, they have no ideas. They’re just a party bereft of policy and totally dependent on stunts.

 

SATTLER:

 

All right. Now today, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation is launching, if it hasn’t already, its draft declaration for reconciliation. Now as I understand it, this needs Parliamentary approval before it can become the centrepiece of centenary, or a centrepiece they’re saying of federation celebrations in January 2001. Are you, for start, you’re still not going to give it Parliamentary approval?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well we are going to have a look at the document. There are a lot of things in it that we can easily embrace. There are however some things in it that we would want expressed differently. This is just the beginning of the process. The document is now going to be subject to a lot of consultation and comment around the country. And we’ll have a careful look at it. We’re not going to respond immediately. I notice people in the Opposition are running around saying I should endorse it immediately. I mean this is ridiculous knee-jerk politics. This is a significant document. Quite plainly not everybody in the country is going to agree with everything in it.

 

SATTLER:

 

You won’t agree with the fact that it refers to custodianship again will you?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Look, I’m not going to get into the detail. I think that is the wrong…..

 

SATTLER:

 

But you’ve already done that.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

No, well, come on, let me finish. I’m not going to get into the detail of responding to each paragraph. I make the observation. I welcome the release of the document. I encourage people to be engaged in consultation and response. There are many things in the document that I and other members of the Government and most Australians will readily and warmly embrace. But there are other things that we would naturally want to see expressed differently. The other comment I’d make is that reconciliation is not just bound up with a document. Reconciliation is very much about delivering better outcomes for indigenous people, and I think long run what you do in areas like employment, and housing, and health, and education, are infinitely more important.

 

SATTLER:

 

In other words, why do we need this document?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well it is part of the law of the country. There was a reconciliation process established by the former government, and there’s an act of Parliament, and we are engaging in the most positive way we can with that process, and it’s the law of the country. But along the way there are going to be differences of view, and nobody is going to get everything they want. And I say that to the indigenous people, and I say that to the Opposition, and I say that to other people who are interested. Once again, as sensible people we need to sit down and discuss where we agree and also where we disagree.

 

SATTLER:

 

Okay. Just back to the tax package, I’ve heard that the Government’s preparing to spend up to $28 million to promote it. Is that right?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well we haven’t decided on any program except in principle.

 

SATTLER:

 

There will be a program?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

There will, of course. We will have an obligation to explain in detail how the new system works and I will make no apology for doing that. As to an amount, I don’t know where that amount came from.

 

SATTLER:

 

Well you’ll need to strike a budget for it.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well there may be some general provision but I’m not quite sure of the basis of that. But let me make it clear, lest there be any misunderstanding, whilst this passes into law there will be an obligation on the Government to explain how the new system works, to explain not only to people in business, but also to the public how the new system works. And that will be our obligation and we will certainly be discharging that obligation quite comprehensively.

 

SATTLER:

 

Have you received some documentation from Jeff Kennett today about a 5% GST on all foods?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well I saw him say something about that in his interview with you. I raised that with the Democrats in our discussions, and we had quite a comprehensive discussion about it and they wouldn’t agree to it.

 

SATTLER:

 

Your idea’s not new Jeff.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well they’re your words not mine. Jeff can write to the Democrats if he wants to, that’s fine. We put that proposition, but in the course of our discussions, and we talked about it at length, that was a proposition we argued for but the Democrats would not agree.

 

SATTLER:

 

How’s your 16% sale of Telstra looking, another 16%?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well we’re working on it. That’s all I can say.

 

SATTLER:

 

Working on Brian Harradine?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well we’re working on it. I hope we can get it up because it will retire debt, and it will also make it possible for us to increase communications facilities in the bush because the social bonus includes spending quite a bit of money on improving communications in the bush, and that’s tremendously important [inaudible].

 

SATTLER:

 

[inaudible] pressure on lowering interest rates.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well it wouldn’t be a bad idea, you know, if some of these Labor Senators who claim to represent the whole of Western Australia had a look at their position. I mean there’s all this focus on Harradine. Harradine is only relevant because Labor is so negative. If Labor were more cooperative, and extended its vision beyond waving around cans of tomato soup, then people like Brian Harradine wouldn’t hold the balance of power.

 

SATTLER:

 

I received 6 cans of soup today as a result of that so I’m happy.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, it shows how much money there is for people, they can afford to buy you soup you see.

 

SATTLER:

 

Thanks for your time today.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Okay.

 

SATTLER:

 

Talk to you again soon.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

It’s a booming economy.

 

SATTLER:

 

Yeah, it is, it apparently is. And it’s winter too, it’s good. See you later.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Cheerio.

 

[ends]

 

 

------------------------------------------------ ------------------------

 

 

Return to Media Interviews