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Prime Minister discusses Gippsland visit; ageing; economy; US free trade agreement; Russell Broadbent; and organ donation.



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PRIME MINISTER

23 February 2004

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH RON LOCK, 3GG

Subjects: Gippsland visit; ageing; economy; US free trade agreement; Russell Broadbent; organ donation.

E&OE………………………………………………………………………………

LOCK:

Prime Minister, a very good morning and welcome to not only 3GG but to Gippsland Sir.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, thank you very much. I am very much looking forward to the area today.

LOCK:

McMillan is much like Flinders, and also La Trobe, and Gippsland - very important to the Coalition is it not, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it is, of course, I don’t only visit parts of Australia with that in mind but I’ve been a regular visitor to the district over the years going right back to the time that I first entered parliament. I can remember in my early years as a Minister going to a big gathering at Traralgon one weekend with Peter Nixon, so I know the area very well. But clearly from an electoral point of view it is important. So everything’s important in that context.

LOCK:

I think we’ll see vintage John Howard, we will not, this year seeing as it’s an election year, Sir?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m a very committed grass roots campaigner. I’ve done that all my political career. Last year was a period of time when it was in Australia’s interest that I travel overseas a lot. And whist, there will be some overseas trips that are necessary this year it will be far more limited for obvious reasons that there isn’t the (inaudible) and there’s no denying. I hope to spend as I always have, a great deal of time listening to people. I’ve already spent four days in Western Australia, and a couple of days in North Tasmania and some time in Western Sydney last Friday and it is very much of a piece of what I’ve done. But my whole political career I’ve spent travelling around Australia, I don’t just do it in the context of election campaigns.

LOCK:

Prime Minister, the Government will announce this week, will it now a commitment to deal with the ageing population - something that not only you, but of course a lot of us are aware that we’re getting older, Sir?

PRIME MINISTER:

Like all western countries, the Australian population is ageing. A couple of years ago the Treasurer brought down an inter-generational report as part of the budget and it’s sparked a very intensive debate about the changes we need to make in order to ensure that we can afford to live in those days when there will be fewer people in the workforce and more people out of the workforce being supported by those who are in the workforce and you need a number of responses to that. You need to encourage people to remain in the workforce longer. You need to make certain that your health and aged care facilities are sustainable for an ageing and a healthier older population. And on Wednesday the Treasurer will be making a major statement dealing with quite a number of these issues because it is a big challenge for all countries like Australia. We’re more fortunate than some, such as Japan and some of the European countries, but perhaps not as fortunate as others because our fertility rate is somewhere in the middle and we have to face this issue and all of us have to recognise that as the population ages and people live longer and live healthier lives and that is a very good thing, but we need to ensure that we can afford facilities that we want to give them.

LOCK:

Mr Prime Minister, on Wednesday you’ll address the Committee for Economic Development of Australia in Melbourne and you’ll deliver a report card on national issues and challenges. Obviously, all your candidates have been briefed on just what is before the Australian people and yourself of course heading the Government are looking at these issues seriously, are you not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the biggest challenge we have as a nation is always national security, but on the economic front the biggest challenge we have is to preserve the strongest economic conditions we now have. There is a dangerous complacency developing which

suggests that no matter what we do, the economic prosperity we now have will continue. Well that’s not the case, because if the wrong policies were applied, if we started heavy handedly re-regulating the labour market and handing power back to trade unions, if we started to spend beyond our means and we went back into debt, then the prosperity we now have would pretty quickly be dissipated. And one of the things I will be stressing on Wednesday is that you can’t take our continued economic strength for granted and that if the wrong policies are applied, it could disappear very quickly. We are where we are now because of hard work and good policy. We’re not there through some kind of divine intervention that has given Australia good economic conditions. It’s the result of good policy and hard work. But if that good policy and hard work dissipates, then the prosperity will dissipate.

LOCK:

Prime Minister, is one of the cornerstones the recent trade agreement you’ve forged with the United States?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the trade agreement is one of those things very much for the future. It does offer great benefits. It’s a once in a generation opportunity to lock the Australian economy into the biggest economy in the world, and an economy that will only get stronger as the years go by, and we can’t afford to pass it up. And I can’t believe that any major political party in Australia would contemplate, as the Labor Party has apparently been contemplating, opposing the free trade agreement. It doesn’t give us everything we asked for, but it gives us a lot more than we now have, and that is the ultimate test.

LOCK:

Prime Minister, I know you’re short of time. Russell Broadbent, your candidate for the seat of Pakenham you’ll be with him, and also Senator Judith Troeth today?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ll be with Russell, who is our candidate for McMillan. Russell of course was the Member earlier. Russell has had a great small business background, which is very important to us. He’s very much a local. He’s extremely energetic and the combination of his previous experience, his local community contacts and his small business experience - you put all those together, and he does represent an excellent candidate. But it will be a very tough fight. All seats that are held by small margins, or have small margins either way, are always very tough. Incumbency confers an advantage on sitting Members, and we recognise that, and it’s going to be a fight from now until whenever the election is held. But I have a lot of confidence in Russell and I’ll be giving him very strong support.

LOCK:

One final question Sir. You may or may not have caught Kerry Packer, Sam Chisholm, John Hartigan and Alan Jones and John Singleton’s comments last night regarding the David Hookes Foundation and to inspire more Australians to register as

organ donors. I’m certainly going to do that. How do you feel about that Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it’s an absolutely magnificent thing and I thought the leadership that was shown and the compassion that they expressed was absolutely marvellous.

LOCK:

Prime Minister, enjoy your trip to Gippsland and we hope to see you down here again.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much Ron. Bye, bye.

[ends]