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Election 2004: Parliament officially prorogued; Opposition Leader campaigns in Sydney; Prime Minister announces $1 billion defence project; Telstra price caps.

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It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.


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Tuesday 31 August 2004

Election 2004: Parliament officially prorogued; Opposition Leader campaigns in Sydney; Prime Minister announces $1 billion defence project; Telstra p rice caps


MARK COLVIN: Prorogued and dissolved - the constitutional mechanism we inherited from Britain took effect today - and the 40th Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia is no more. 


The writs for the October the 9th election were issued beginn
ing at a minute to five this afternoon, and that sets in train a mechanism of its own, which will end at polling booths around the country in 39 days. 


MALCOLM HAZEL: I, Philip Michael Jeffery, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, acting under Section 5 of the Constitution, prorogue the Parliament from 4:59pm on Tuesday the 31st of August, 2004, until Saturday the 9th of October, 2004. 


(sound of gunshots) 


MARK COLVIN: Malcolm Hazel, the Secretary to the Governor-General reading the proclamation there. 


Well, the sampling error of national opinion polls is a couple of per cent either way, so today's latest probably doesn't show much except that it's still going to be very close. 


Today the Prime Minister - now officially a caretaker Prime Minister - made a defence announcement that Australia would buy 12 new troop lift helicopters. Labor announced its plans for improving government accountability. 


The Government claims that Labor's announcements today were simply a re-hash of old policy, while the Opposition suggested the Coalition would allow Telstra to increase the cost of local telephone calls. 


Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The writs have been issued and Prime Minister, John Howard, is now officially the caretaker Prime Minister, and tomorrow the campaign will get underway in earnest when both the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader welcome home Australia's victorious Olympic athletes. 


Today, the Opposition leader was out amongst the people for a very short time, at a shopping centre in the marginal seat of Parramatta, where the Liberal's Ross Cameron is under threat. Mark Latham met some shopkeepers, and there was even the first confrontation of the election, when Mark Latham spoke to a former Iraqi who was a Liberal Party member. 


FORMER IRAQI: I lost my dad through the Iraqi war, okay? And seeing a country like this - a beautiful country - helping Iraq to get rid of the regime was a beautiful thing. And, like not helping, because if you didn't see through America's eyes, it will be something different. Okay? 


MARK LATHAM: Yeah, we're committed to helping through the UN process and helping with the rebuilding of the country. 


FORMER IRAQI: But … it wouldn't help, because they're worried about their own things… 


MARK LATHAM: No, but they're coming into going in now, and we've got a good commitment to help… 


FORMER IRAQI: … because Oil for Food wasn't that good anyway, because children were dying through UN, and they weren't doing nothing. You understand where I'm coming from? 


MARK LATHAM: No, no, I can understand your point. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The Prime Minister was in Canberra, and he ventured over to the Department of Defence for an announcement. 


JOHN HOWARD: The Minister, Acting CDF, ladies and gentlemen, the Minister and I have called this news conference to announce the Government's decision that the Australian Army will be equipped with 12 new troop lift helicopters under $1 billion project approved by the Government. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The helicopters will be based in Townsville from 2007. It's an announcement that usually the Minister for Defence, Robert Hill, would make unaccompanied - but not today. 


IAN MCPHEDRAN: Mr Howard, Ian Mcphedran from News Limited from News Limited. We don't see you at many of these defence contract announcements. Is your presence here got something to do with the election or ...? 


JOHN HOWARD: Oh, I think I've been at these before. I don't come to all of them, but I happened to be in Canberra, and I happened to participate as Chairman of the National Security Committee of Cabinet in the final decision … and so that's the reason I'm here. You can make other observations if you want to, but this is not the first time I've come to Russell in relation to announcements. It's not the first time I've been associated with acquisition announcements either. Not always, but I keep a very keen interest in them. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Earlier in the day Mark Latham announced Labor's plans for clean Government.  


MARK LATHAM: And I think it's an issue that goes beyond party politics. Whether you're Labor, Liberal, Democrat, Green, Independent, or anyone else in the political system - we all have an interest in ensuring that the Australian people are engaged with the political process, that they're confident about their democracy, and they can trust their governments right around the country. 


And I think we need fundamental reform of the way in which we conduct ourselves and we run the structures and administration of Australian politics and government to ensure that that happens. Rebuilding trust is one of the core goals of the future Labor government. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Mark Latham's announcement was a bringing together of themes he's already discussed at length. A new ministerial code of conduct, the appointment of an independent speaker for the House of Representatives, and a pro-disclosure regime for freedom of information requests, along with greater independence for the public service. 


Mark Latham says he wants to stop government advertising being used for political purposes. 


MARK LATHAM: Government advertising will need to comply with the guidelines of the Auditor-General. If a political party doesn't do that, then they'll have the money deducted from their public funding after the election - the party in government will have their money deducted after the election - so that the taxpayers gets back the money they deserve, the money that's been abused on quasi-political advertising at public expense. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Mark Latham is trading on this idea that the Government is dishonest and has manipulated the public service - an idea rejected by John Howard. 


JOHN HOWARD: We've been through all of this before. There is absolutely nothing new in it. And as far as the independence of the public service is concerned, I reject completely the implicit claim in the policy that the public service is not independent. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: In Melbourne, Peter Costello was still fielding questions about why he'd taken so long yesterday to rule out a leadership challenge to the Prime Minister. And he denied he'd called yesterday's press conference only after urging from his cabinet colleagues. 


PETER COSTELLO: No… none whatsoever.  


REPORTER: … between yourself and the PM? 


PETER COSTELLO: No Cabinet discussion whatsoever, absolutely wrong. 


REPORTER: … before that the PM? No? 


PETER COSTELLO: Well we had a discussion in the press conference, as you can see. 


REPORTER: Anything leading up to it? 


PETER COSTELLO: No, No. It was completely false. I read that in The Sydney Morning Herald , completely wrong. But I don't normally go into Cabinet discussions, and I won't adopt that as a principle in the future. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: And on the policy front, the Opposition seized on the fact that the ACCC is examining Telstra's price caps to claim that the Government is going to allow the telco to increase its prices. 


Shadow communications spokesman, Lindsay Tanner. 


LINDSAY TANNER: Labor is going to freeze the line rental fees, make sure that the 22 cent cap on local call prices stays in place, and most importantly of all, we won't privatise Telstra. John Howard is getting rid of all these controls on Telstra, letting it increase its prices, and hit consumers, because he wants to fatten it up for privatisation.  


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Communications Minister, Helen Coonan, is accusing Labor of beating up this issue. 


HELEN COONAN: Well what the Government is doing is guaranteeing three things it already does this. First of all, we're guaranteeing untimed local calls - that's guaranteed in legislation. We're also guaranteeing price controls - the capping - the Government put these in place, Labor opposed them. And the third thing we're guaranteeing is low income services - they're guaranteed as part of Telstra's licence conditions.  


So, the best I can make of it is that it's one of the usual dodgy claims that Labor trots out when it doesn't have a policy. 


MARK COLVIN: Communications Minister, Helen Coonan, ending Catherine McGrath's report.