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Victorian Premier discusses talks held with the Prime Minister about the Wik decision

PETER THOMPSON: Dinner was offered at the Lodge last night for the visiting Premiers and Chief Ministers. We'll talk to the Queensland Premier after the news at eight, but one of those there last night was the Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett. He's talking now to Pru Goward.

PRU GOWARD: Jeff Kennett, welcome to the program.

JEFF KENNETT: It's always a pleasure to do RA, Pru.

PRU GOWARD: Oh well, it's Radio National actually.

JEFF KENNETT: Oh well, Radio National as well. Anything that's not the ABC.

PRU GOWARD: Okay. The Wik decision, Premier: what do you think was resolved as a result of your dinner meeting last night?

JEFF KENNETT: Well, it's not a matter of resolution. I think there is a genuine willingness on the part of all parties, particularly the Prime Minister, to find a solution that will, as best as we can, satisfy all parties. But, as you're aware, that is not easy, but I think every meeting is a step in the right direction and, I've got to say, I think the Prime Minister is bending over backwards to find a solution in the national interest.

PRU GOWARD: There seems to be a suggestion that he's inclined to the codification of native title rights and pastoral rights. Do you have any feel for that?

JEFF KENNETT: Well, it's not for me to put forward what the Prime Minister has in his own mind in terms of a solution. We'll be discussing it further today. All I can reiterate is that this isn't a simple issue to deal with, as we're all aware, and I think the Prime Minister is going out of his way to try and broker an arrangement which will satisfy all parties. Now, to that end, he spent a lot of time at it, and will continue to spend time. I don't think a resolution by today or tomorrow is as important as getting the right solution, and I was, as I said, very pleased to be part of the discussions last night.

PRU GOWARD: Yes. But do you consider, for example, that the NFF has made a significant concession on codification and do you find codification attractive?

JEFF KENNETT: Well, again, as I indicated to you earlier, I'm not going to get into a debate publicly about aspects of potential paths to settlement or issues that might be involved in the settlement itself. The NFF can, quite obviously, put forward its position. They are party to the discussions with the Prime Minister, as is the Aboriginal community, the mining industry and the Premiers. We're all just one path, but I'm not speaking for anyone else but myself, and all I can say on behalf of the Victorian community, we want this issue resolved. It is causing confusion among Victorians, Australians; it is causing confusion among the Aboriginal communities, who I think are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the native title process. They are not getting the benefits of native title and, unless we can broker a deal, I don't think any Aboriginal community will get a genuine benefit for 10 years.

PRU GOWARD: Premier, on the discussions today over funds for the States, do I understand correctly that it's tied grants for hospitals and schools that will be where the arguments are likely?

JEFF KENNETT: Yes, I wouldn't put them down to arguments. There will be some discussions, but again, a lot of work has been done prior to today. The Prime Minister has undertaken, or given an undertaking, that he will honour the agreement he struck with the Premiers at the last Premiers' Conference a year ago. That only leaves SPPs and I'm quite sure that we can again broker an outcome there that will satisfy everyone. I don't think anyone should believe that today's Premiers' Conference is going to be one of confrontation. I think you'll find quite the opposite. There is, again, a lot of agreement to work productively to produce a common outcome.

PRU GOWARD: But you'll accept that there is going to be a further cut in grants, along with the plan announced last year?

JEFF KENNETT: Oh well, there may be. I guess it's like everything else: you've got to go through the discussion first to arrive at the final point. I'm not convinced that anything that you're referring to is going to be substantial. There might be movement at the margins, but I think that's all it will be, Pru.

PRU GOWARD: Right. Now, the fact that you feel that they won't be particularly acrimonious discussions, would you say that's the maturity of the Treasurer?

JEFF KENNETT: No. That's not to say I believe he's immature. I just think the process that has developed over the last three or four years has significantly improved. That's not to say that you can't guarantee that there won't be meetings at which there is disagreement and I might be proven wrong in terms of today's. But the Premiers and Chief Ministers meet on a regular basis. We do it across party lines; we recognise our responsibility to our own Territories and States, but we also recognise our responsibilities to the country. And I think the Federal Government, whether they be Labor or conservative, also recognise that, and therefore we try not to set skittles up just to be knocked down at Premiers' Conference. So I think we've all learnt over the years and, of course, the Federal Government is now a year old rather than a month old and they also are part of that equation in terms of the maturing process.

PRU GOWARD: Right. Now, Premier, just a couple of quick questions on some Federal issues that have State implications - for example, there is now to be two resignations from the High Court within a year. Do you expect the States will have more of a role in nominating a successor, or two successors, than they might have in the past?

JEFF KENNETT: We would certainly, Pru, expect to be playing a much higher role, but the final analysis and the final decision is that of the Attorney-General's recommendation to the Government. But before the Attorney-General - that is the Federal - makes his recommendation, we would expect to be very seriously consulted and a better process in place than we've had in the past. And I think, when we go to what we describe as the 'below the line items' today, that will be one of the issues that is raised by the Premiers and Chief Ministers. But yes, we do expect to be very seriously consulted and that might even mean nominating our own candidates, allowing them to be reviewed, along with Federal Government nominees, by the Attorney-General's counsel, and then agreement on one preferred name, which we hope the Commonwealth would accept, but we would do it in partnership with them, obviously, but it is a very important appointment and, as you say, two, and probably three within three years, so we do expect to be included.

PRU GOWARD: And you've had some indication from the Federal Government that they are prepared to have the process changed like this?

JEFF KENNETT: Well, the Prime Minister has said that he's happy for us to be consulted. Now, whether that expression gives us the input that we would like or not, will be discussed further today. But it is a very important appointment and we've seen how the High Court, in recent times, has really got this country now, in terms of new investment, at an absolute standstill, and that affects us all - not just the Federal Government, it affects the States and Territories - therefore we should be an equal player.

PRU GOWARD: You're saying there High Court native title decisions have affected investment and brought it to a standstill?

JEFF KENNETT: Well, there's no question about that. That on top of Wik and the confusion in terms of application, the delay because of the fact that we've got to work through native tribunals, has not been good for this country. And while people on one hand express concern about the levels of unemployment, the High Court, in its decision-making process, has fundamentally cast a huge black cloud over the country.

PRU GOWARD: Premier, thank you for your time this morning.

JEFF KENNETT: Great pleasure. Have a great day.

PRU GOWARD: Thank you.

PETER THOMPSON: There's the Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett.