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Prime Minister discusses tax reform; GST; Kirribilli House; Queen’s visit; release of reconciliation report; Sydney Harbour Bridge; mandatory sentencing; National Textile workers; Kim Beazley.



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14 February 2000

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

RADIO INTERVIEW WITH HOWARD SATTLER, 2SM Subjects: Tax reform, GST; Kirribilli House; Queen’s visit; release of reconciliation report; Harbour bridge; mandatory sentencing ; National Textile workers; Beazley hypocrisy

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

SATTLER:

Good morning Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER:

How’s that, is that better?

SATTLER:

That’s good. I’ve now readjusted the satellite.

PRIME MINISTER:

Excellent. Well welcome to your new sojourn on the east coast.

SATTLER:

I’m not far from your house.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s right. You’re in sort of Lavender Bay aren’t you?

SATTLER:

Yeah well we’re around Darling Harbour, the revamped Darling Harbour. Lavender Bay’s on the other side of the harbour.

PRIME MINISTER:

I thought you were…..

SATTLER:

We are, that’s where we used to be over there. We’re building new premises over here.

PRIME MINISTER:

I see. You’ve gone across market have you? I won’t say up market or down market, I’ll just say cross-market.

SATTLER:

Yeah well I got in one of those boats on the weekend, one of those Chinese dragon boats that come across the harbour. There you go.

PRIME MINISTER:

They’re very attractive.

SATTLER:

They are indeed. All right, how are your ratings going? I’m pretty interested in mine.

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t know. The only rating I ever worry about is the one at the time at the next election.

SATTLER:

When might that be?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s scheduled to be at the end of next year and I see no reason to have it any earlier. Why would I?

SATTLER:

Do you fear that the GST’s starting in might reduce your opportunity for re-election?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. Look the tax reform plan of course which is more than a GST that’s going to cut personal tax by $12 billion a year and is going to make fuel in the bush a lot cheaper and make our exports more competitive, and give the States more money for roads and public hospitals and schools, as well as introduce a GST. The tax reform plan is a huge change and we’re obviously willing to help people with the adjustment process. We understand that. But once it is in I believe people will see the enormous merit of it but between now and then it’s easy for the Labor Party to run a scare a day, which they will. I fully expect that.

SATTLER:

And lots of other people too. But I mean would you agree at the moment if an election were to be held now before the GST comes in and all these you beaut things you’re talking about are going to happen that you’d probably get the boot?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look Howard, that is what I call an irrelevant unimportant question because the election’s due at the end of next year.

SATTLER:

No, I’m just asking……

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m not going to speculate because it’s pointless.

SATTLER:

You wouldn’t have a prayer at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER:

Howard, we’re not having an election at the moment. And I don’t … look I don’t accept anything. I don’t ever turn my mind to those things because I know and you know that that’s just a wasted question because there’s election at the end of next year.

SATTLER:

Yeah. All right now, well, the only reason I asked the question is because you talked about petrol in the bush there but at the moment of course it has risen significantly.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but that’s not due to the GST. That’s got absolutely nothing to do with the GST. It’s got to do with the fact that the price of crude oil coming….crude oil in this country has gone up because the world price has gone up.

SATTLER:

Yeah that oil parity pricing which Malcolm Fraser introduced was not a good idea was it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it was supported by both sides of politics. It was a good idea because what it meant was that you gave people an incentive to look for oil in and around Australia, and it’s meant that we’ve maintained a higher degree of self-sufficiency than would otherwise be the case.

SATTLER:

Mmm, all right. But I mean, again, it was a good idea, is it still a good idea?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes it is still a good idea because in the long run we should be realistic enough to price our fuel at world levels. And however unhappy all of us are about having to pay more, the price of petrol in this country is dramatically lower than it is in every other country in the world with exception of the United States.

SATTLER:

Yeah. All right, now I talked about your house. Why does Kirribilli House, or why did need a new staircase and why does it need a coolroom instead of the fridges you’ve got at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well as far as the staircase was concerned that was a recommendation of the, you know, official establishments trust that it ought to…..

SATTLER:

Who are they by the way?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is made up of a group of people including, one of them’s Penelope Seidler who’s a very well qualified architect. Some of them are people appointed by the former government, one or two people appointed by us. But can I just make a point about these official establishments. I’m not Prime Minister forever, nobody is. And when you keep a valuable residence like Kirribilli House in good repair you are preserving an asset for the whole nation. I mean it’s only…it’s of a very limited period for any of us that we get anything out of it, and when I leave, when I cease being Prime Minister whoever my successor is he or she will use that for a period of time and then it will be passed onto the next….

SATTLER:

You don’t get to take the $4,500 chairs……

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course we don’t. They belong to the public.

SATTLER:

That’s a lot for a chair isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well can I tell you the proposal coming from the aficionados on my understanding it would have been even more. I at least opted for something that was Australian made.

SATTLER:

Yeah. All right….

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean, all of these things cost money. I mean it’s easy for either side of politics to have a shot at the incumbent. But just let’s remember that they are public assets. And if you don’t do anything then you end

up having a much bigger bill as you know some time in the future when you have to keep these buildings in repair. And all old buildings need work on them. We have to face that.

SATTLER:

So what do you think of the Carr State Government acceding to the request of various Aboriginal industry people to close the Sydney Harbour Bridge on May the 28th for nine hours to celebrate I guess a report coming out on reconciliation? They reckon it’s going to put a bit of pressure on you. I don’t know how. Are you planning to drive across the bridge…

PRIME MINISTER:

No I’m not. I mean I just saw some reference to this and you know, I’ll wait and see whether they finally decide to close the Harbour Bridge and so forth. I mean that’s a matter for them to decide. But in the end we decide these things on the merits and just because you do that that doesn’t of itself put any more or less pressure on me. We are committed to a process of reconciliation, but reconciliation to me is improving the day to day opportunities of Aboriginal Australians, their health, their education, their employment.

SATTLER:

They’re closing the bridge so people can march across it to celebrate that report is not going to help them is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m not expressing a view whether it helps or hinders. All I’m saying is there’s not going…..it’s not going to of itself alter.

SATTLER:

No, that’s what I’m saying.

PRIME MINISTER:

And some people may find that inconvenient.

SATTLER:

Are you also going to feel, or do you feel any pressure, will you react to the call to override the Northern Territory’s detention laws because of the death of that 15 year old boy the other day?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Howard, right at the moment there’s a Senate committee looking at that issue. Normally matters of sentencing and criminal law are the responsibility of the States and Territories. The Senate is having a look at the thing at the moment and I guess that we’ll have a talk about this issue in Cabinet later today.

SATTLER:

What, about that case?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I’m sure it will come up. I mean it’s very tragic. Any death in custody is tragic.

SATTLER:

Of course it’s tragic but are they blaming the right people for it? I mean what about his family, [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Hang on hang on. All I’m saying to you is that the death of any young person is an awful tragedy, and he was a boy of only 15 and I feel deeply sorry for his family and for all those people associated with him. These things are difficult. I can understand why some people who are affected by crime want mandatory sentencing and you have hard cases on both sides of the argument.

SATTLER:

All right. The Queen’s coming next month I think. Is that right?

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s right. On the 17 th of March.

SATTLER:

Are we going to get a total breakdown of the cost of that to the Australian taxpayers?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ll no doubt be asking. We’ll provide it in the normal way if we’re asked.

SATTLER:

I’m asking now.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it will cost money. The precise amount I don’t have in mind, I’d have to check that. I haven’t brought that with me. I don’t deny that. I would defend that. I mean, running a system of government costs money. If we had a president, that president would want to go overseas probably far more than the Governor-General does and that would cost us money. You would still have Yarralumla. You would still have the cost of maintaining the office of head of state. So…

SATTLER:

I didn’t even mention the republic.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, but I know deep down that’s what you are really getting at. I think I understand you.

SATTLER:

Do you now? All right. Now, just finally too, would you have handled the National Textiles issue any differently had you had your time over?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I wouldn’t have Howard. I think this is an incredibly hypocritical performance by the Labor Party. What I have done, and my Government has done, is to help 330 battlers in a depressed regional area of Australia…

SATTLER:

342 I think.

PRIME MINISTER:

342. And, you know, what’s more…I have done exactly what Mr Beazley implored me to do. The very day that we took the decision Mr Beazley was on the picket line at Rutherford demanding that these men and women get their full entitlements. He wasn’t then saying that his request was addressed to Mr Anderson, that I should stand aside. He was not saying John Anderson should see they get their full entitlements, he was saying John Howard should. And he only raised this question of a conflict of interest after the media raised it. Mr Beazley did not lead on the issue of conflict of interest, he followed, because he thought it might be a cheap line after we looked after the workers to have a go at me. I mean, I have got in front of me now a letter, a fascinating letter, written to me on the 25 th of January and it’s signed by five Labor members both federal and State in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales imploring me to honour my commitment to protect workers entitlements by guaranteeing sacked workers at National Textiles receive every dollar they are legally entitled to. Now, that letter made no reference to a conflict of interest. That letter was not addressed to John Anderson, it was addressed to me. And what they were begging me to do in this letter is what I did. Having done it they are now attacking me for having helped the workers.

SATTLER:

Well, that’s, you know, that’s politics isn’t it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I know, but it is politics and this attack that is now being mounted and this questioning about whether I should or should not have been involved is…

SATTLER:

All right.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, let’s make the other point and that is this, that none of the money that has gone to these workers goes to the company or any of the shareholders or any of the directors. The directors of the company, and in particular the Chairman who everyone knows is my brother, I mean, everybody has known that for weeks, it’s been on the front page of the paper, he gets absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing out of this.

SATTLER:

Doesn’t he get off the hook?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, he doesn’t because he is subject to an investigation by the Securities Commission and they have very extensive powers of prosecution, of fining and so forth. He doesn’t get off any hook. He’s like any other

citizen he is subject to the law and I have got to make this, you know, quietly but very firmly plain to you and your listeners, he gets nothing out of this. He’s not being protected, he’s exposed to a full investigation along with the other directors. I mean, I don’t personally believe he has done anything wrong but that is a matter that has to be investigated in the normal way. But this monumental hypocrisy of Labor. They hammer me, they, in fact, use the family connection to try and embarrass me into providing help and help having been provided they now try and use the family connection retrospectively to suggest that I have behaved in some way improperly. I mean, that is rank hypocrisy and I don’t think it washes. I think people out there understand one thing and that is we helped the workers because I felt sorry for them and the Government felt sorry for them.

SATTLER:

All right. We’ll probably find out in October next year the end result of that. Prime Minister thanks for joining us first up here with the Sattler file on the eastern seaboard and I look forward to having you as a regular guest in the future.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks a lot.

SATTLER:

Thanks for joining us.

[ends]