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Prime Minister discusses welcome home parades for troops; taxes; first homeowners grant; flag burning; Greenpeace; superannuation; and leadership.



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TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

INTERVIEW WITH ALAN JONES, RADIO 2GB

 

Subjects: Welcome home parades for troops; taxes; first homeowners grant; burning of the flag; Iraq; Greenpeace protestors; superannuation; leadership

 

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………….

 

JONES:

 

Prime Minister, good morning.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Good morning Alan.

 

JONES:

 

Prime Minister, it’s one of those rare chances to let the listeners have a bit of a word here so I’ll ask just one question of you and then we’ll take questions from our listeners. Give us a call - 13 18 73. PM, it is important, isn’t it, that everybody involved in the Iraqi coalition receives the kind of welcome home that they deserve.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

It is, and I intend that when our forces come home, as well as the more family-centred, personal, immediate welcomes that will happen the day they come back, that in a number of places - probably in Sydney, Brisbane, perhaps also in Perth, I haven’t quite decided exactly where and I’m getting advice and I’ll do what the military suggests - we will have public parades so that the Australian people in the traditional openhearted fashion for which they are famous, will have an opportunity of saluting these people, welcoming them home, saying ‘well done, you did your duty by your country and we’re pleased to have you back safe and sound’.

 

JONES:

 

PM, sometimes these things happen on a Tuesday or Wednesday during the week and I get a lot of letters saying well look, schoolchildren can’t go because they’re at school, or small businesses can’t go. I wonder if it’s not too much to do something like this on a Saturday morning or a Sunday?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well that is worth looking at. That’s a good idea. I’ll see that that is fed into the people who are organising it. I’ll naturally be advised by what the Army, the Navy and the Airforce have to say, but I would like the maximum opportunity made available for people because my sense is that the Australian public want to welcome these people back. I know that there is still a legitimate bitterness entertained by people of the Vietnam generation who were almost secreted back under the cover of darkness. Now that is something to the great shame of everybody.

 

JONES:

 

It was a disgrace, wasn’t it?

 

PRIME MINISTER:  

Everybody, whether you were for or against the war in Vietnam, whoever was responsible for that, it was a disgrace. And I was determined when we made the East Timor commitment that when our troops came back, they would be given a good public welcome, and they were. There was a great parade in Sydney and there was a great parade in Townsville. And I want the same thing to happen.

 

JONES:

 

Good on you. Let’s take some calls. Rosemary is on the line. The Prime Minister is here Rosemary. Away you go. Rosemary, hello? We caught a dud first up. 13 18 73. I don’t know what’s happened to Rosemary. Abigail, hello.

 

CALLER:

 

Hello Alan. Thank you for this chance to speak to our Prime Minister. Good morning Mr Howard.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Good morning Abigail.

 

CALLER:

 

And I hope you’ll take care when you’re travelling, with that SARS virus.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I certainly will. I’ll be very careful. I’ll walk twice as fast in the morning! While I’m getting this earpiece organised too - we’ll be right. Doing well. I’ve got plenty of help. Right.

 

CALLER:

 

Now, I wanted to ask you is there anything the Federal Government and yourself can do to try and force the State Government to do away with some of those taxes and charges and levies that they should have taken off when the GST came in?

 

JONES:  

Okay Abigail, thanks.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well it’s part of the deal that they take those charges off and although there was a bit of an attempt at a backslide by one of the States - not New South Wales, it was Victoria, they tried to get out of the abolition of the bank account debits tax - we’re going to hold them, and the financial institutions duty has been abolished and the bank account debits tax is due to be abolished over the next little while, and then there will be the abolition of certain stamp duties on commercial leasing and other transactions.

 

JONES:

 

The trouble is PM, I think what the callers are talking about is that they pay stamp duty now, then the GST is on top of the stamp duty.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well that was not part of the agreement, and I think she’s got a legitimate complaint when people are in effect paying a tax on a tax. I mean, for example when we doubled the home savings grant to boost the home building industry a couple of years ago, we asked the States to kick in for the cause and reduce stamp duty on conveyancing transactions, and they said no. So every time home prices escalate around the country, States of course collect an absolute bonanza.

 

JONES:

 

Yeah, of course with the first homeowners grant it made buying a home more accessible for everybody, so there was a windfall stamp duty…

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Huge windfall. And everybody wanted to get the home building industry off its back at the time because it was really flattened, and we kicked in. That cost quite a lot of Federal taxpayers' dollars and we asked the States to come to the party, and they said no.

 

JONES:

 

Yeah, just raked in the dough. So Abigail, it’s what I suppose, it’s a matter for ongoing…

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Ongoing pressure.

 

JONES:

 

Ongoing pressure. Rosemary is with us I think. Rosemary.

 

CALLER:

 

Yes I’m here.

 

JONES:

 

Yeah, away you go.

 

CALLER:

 

I don’t have a question. I just want to say thank you for being at the helm. A silent majority do appreciate that you’re there at the top, so thank you again.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Thank you Rosemary. It’s very kind of you.

 

JONES:

 

Allan, hello.

 

CALLER:

 

G’day Alan, how are you?

 

JONES:

 

Well thanks.

 

CALLER:

 

Good morning Mr Howard, how are you?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

G’day Allan.

 

CALLER:

 

I just wanted to sing your praise as well. You’ve done a terrific job over the last few months. We couldn’t have had a better man at the job.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well that’s very nice of you to say so. Thank you.

 

 

CALLER:

 

Well it’s true.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Thank you. Thank you very much.

 

JONES:

 

Okay Allan, thank you for the call. Ian, hello.

 

CALLER:

 

Yes, good morning Alan. Thank you for taking this question, and good morning Mr Howard.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Good morning Ian.

 

CALLER:

 

Look Prime Minister, firstly I too want to congratulate you on the way you’ve handled the war in Iraq, the terrorism issue and the immigration issue. All this has happened under very difficult conditions. But I do have a question for you. It’s about the Commonwealth Crimes Act. I think it needs to be changed or updated in relation to the defacing or burning of the national flag.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yes, I’ve had this asked before and my answer will probably disappoint you. I love the Australian flag and there is no stronger supporter of the present flag. But I’m not convinced that making it a criminal offence to burn it is necessarily the right way to go. I do believe in the old Voltairean injunction, if I don’t agree with what he says, but I’ll defend to the death his right to say it. And in a way, much and all as you and I and most of our listeners find it repugnant, the burning of a flag is an expression of somebody’s view. It’s offensive to me and to you. Whether that justifies making it a criminal offence, I’m not as persuaded on that. Now that is probably an answer that surprises you. It may surprise many. But it has been my view for a long time and I’m just not sure that’s the right way to handle it.

 

JONES:

 

No, well PM we’re here to hear your views. That’s what we’re here for. We’ll take a break. We’ll be back talking to the Prime Minister. Give us a call - 13 18 73. Fifteen and a half to nine.

 

[break]

 

[commercial break]

 

 

JONES:

 

I’m speaking with the Prime Minister and he’s speaking with you.  131 873, Robyn hello.

 

CALLER:

 

Oh yes, good morning Prime Minister, good morning Alan.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Good morning Robyn.

 

CALLER:

 

What was the legal advice re the boarding of the Navy vessel in Sydney Harbour, was it classed as treason, or what punishment is…

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well Alan raised this with me because I know a number of people have raised it with him on the programme.  And I sought advise as to whether these people should have been charged with sabotage and the advice I got from the Crown law authority was that sabotage in strict legal terms involves among other elements evidence beyond reasonable doubt of destruction, damage or impairment and with the intention of prejudicing the safety or defence of the Commonwealth.  Now the advice I received was that on the facts as publicly known that that would have been a difficult charge to prove given the nature of the activities that occurred and the experts, once again you have to understand that when it comes to prosecution the Prime Minister can’t order a prosecution and he should never have the power to do so, it’s got to be done by the Director of Public Prosecutions on an independent legal assessment.  The judgment was made that the offences with which these people were charged were the right ones.  Now I think it’s difficult for me respecting the separation of powers and our constitution to rely other than on the advice that I receive.  I understand the anger of people about the behaviour of these individuals.  Their organisation has lost a lot of credibility.  I in fact was struck by the significant number of people who quite spontaneously said to me as I moved around Australia the week after that event that they had contributed to Greenpeace up until that event and they no longer tended to do so.

 

JONES:

 

And that’s true of some of the Greenpeace people themselves.  So thank you PM, yes I did write to the PM, he has answered that concerned and has expressed the nature of that answer to you just now Robyn, so thank you for your call.  Joyce, hello?

 

CALLER:

 

Hello.

 

JONES:

 

Yes Joyce.

 

 

CALLER:

 

Good morning Alan, good morning, may I speak Mr Howard?

 

JONES:

 

Yes.

 

CALLER: 

 

Good morning Mr Howard. I just haven’t got any particular question for you but I just want to tell you that are, all your efforts have been very much appreciated by everybody, I’m sure the majority of people.  And I felt when things were going some times (inaudible), I said I wish I could tell Mr Howard what a good job he’s doing.  So now I’ve got the opportunity and I remembered you and your wife, I mean she’s had to bear some of the burden too.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

A great deal, wives and husbands, whatever the case may be certainly do.

 

JONES:

 

Good on you Joyce.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Thank you.

 

JONES:

 

A very good call. 131 873.  Jonathon, hello?

 

CALLER:

 

Yeah hi, how you doing?

 

JONES:

 

Well thanks.

 

CALLER:

 

Hello Prime Minister.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Hello Jonathon.

 

CALLER:

 

Yeah, I was in New York on September 11 th and I understand you were in Washington and I just wondering if that had any bearing on your decision to support the war in Iraq?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Jonathon, it didn’t have a direct impact no.  And I don’t think it’s even fair to say it had an indirect impact.  What I think it did help me though to understand and that is the reality of the change in American thinking as a result of the 11 th of September because what I think we all have to understand here is that they were attacked, I mean there’s no other way of describing it.  It wasn’t just a terrorist attack, it was an attack, I mean it was an act of terrorism.  And it’s the sort of thing in a way was much worse, in a psychological sense, worse in a sense than Pearl Harbor, although Pearl Harbor precipitated America’s entry into World War II, it was an attack upon a military installation.  This was an attack upon a huge office building, certainly the Pentagon was in an administrative sense an administrative installation.  So what I think it helps me to understand was the profound change that was to come over America’s attitude and her absolute determination to do everything she could in the future to prevent a repetition of that attack.  Now whether you agree or disagree with the motives of the United States it’s very important, given the pre-eminent position of power the American’s occupy, it’s very important to understand America’s thinking, it’s very important to understand the reasons why America feels as she does and therefore why America acts as she does and in that sense it was very valuable.

 

JONES:

 

Thanks Prime Minister.  Thank you Jonathon for your call.  Alexandra, hello?

 

CALLER:

 

Hello Alan.

 

JONES:

 

Yep, away you go.

 

CALLER:

 

Good morning Mr Howard.  I just want to say that I think you are, Mr Howard, you’re doing a wonderful job and I have complete faith in everything you do.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, that’s very kind of you.

 

JONES:

 

Even the Prime Minister might concede (inaudible) sometimes.  But there we are, it’s a nice sentiment.  131 873.  Merryn, hello?

 

CALLER:

 

Oh good morning Alan, good morning Mr Prime Minister.  And I agree with that girl just before me, and I’m very proud to me an Australian under you.

 

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Thank you.

 

CALLER:

 

The other thing I have is about superannuation, self-funded retirees.  I want you to look at being, the money being government guaranteed, people are going without so they can’t be a burden on society when they get older and they have some of them have no say at all where their money goes and the bottom’s just falling out of superannuation.

 

JONES:

 

Not a bad point Merryn, I think many people see, PM what they’re saying is that this legislatively ordained super and yet it doesn’t have any kind legislative protection.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

That’s a very, I mean it’s a fair point but it also would be a huge step for t he Government to guarantee and you’d be guaranteeing not, it’s your money, it’s the taxpayers money because if you’ve got to pay up under such a guarantee you’re drawing on taxpayers' funds.  I know at a time when return from super funds have gone down and what has happened is there are lot of investments were made overseas by superannuation funds because the returns appeared high during the dot com boom in the United States and now the stockmarket’s come off, as a result of the collapse of that, and then some people are getting hit with a double whammy of the exchange rate appreciation and our dollar now is stronger and that’s good in some respects.  I think it would be very difficult for a government to guarantee all superannuation funds.

 

JONES:

 

Pretty tough for people retiring now.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

It is, but the point I’ve got make there is there is some, although you’ve got to contribute we have been trying to get effective choice of fund legislation through the parliament and we’re still running into difficulty in the Senate on that but we certainly agree that people should be given a lot more choice in the funds that they have contributed to.

 

JONES:

 

Okay, thanks Merryn, thanks PM.  Let’s check Sydney traffic, here’s Ian.

 

[traffic break]

 

JONES:

 

Elaine, good morning.

 

CALLER:

 

Good morning, hello, good morning Prime Minister.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Elaine.

 

CALLER:

 

Lovely to be able to speak to you.  Thank you for what you’ve done for us and I want to let you know that I pray for you and your Government and may God continue to bless and guide you.

 

JONES:

 

That’s nice Elaine, lovely sentiments.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Thank you.

 

JONES:

 

Alice, good morning.

 

CALLER:

 

Good morning, good morning Mr Prime Minister.  What a privilege to be able to speak to you and personally thank you for your integrity, your strength of character and your nobility when you appear in public and there’s no wrangling or going against the opposition.  Thank you, and thank you Alan for giving us this privilege.

 

JONES:

 

Not at all Alice, thank you for ringing.  There you PM.  Gloria hello.

 

CALLER:

 

Hi Alan.  Congratulations on the fantastic job that you’re doing Mr Howard and we are very proud to have you as our great leader.  And please stay on forever because we need you.

 

JONES:

 

Alright, well thank you Gloria.  Well PM that brings me to the question, I can ask the last I suppose, because you did say you’d see the Iraqi war through.  I don’t want to reinvent this issue about when you’re going to leave the prime ministership but can we say that we’ll be seeing you leading the Coalition to the next election?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well Alan, that requires me, you know, to answer that I have to get to that, I have said that I’ll have something to say about that and I’m not quite ready to say it at the moment.  But let me, I don’t really want to say any more. I’ll be saying something about my medium and longer term future in the not too distant future.  But perhaps we can talk again.

 

JONES:

 

I hope so.  Thank you PM and thank you for your time. 

 

[ends]