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Prime Minister responds to callers on current issues including tax reform, immigration, drugs and dole payments.



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10 June 1998

 

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON. JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW

WITH STAN ZEMANEK - RADIO 2UE

 

E&OE                                            

 

ZEMANEK:

 

A very good evening indeed. Welcome to the programme on this Wednesday nig ht. Yes, it is the 10th of June 1998 a day when the Prime Minister, John Howard is here to chat with me and then take your calls as well, so if you want to talk to the Prime Minister, and have your say, now is the chance so listeners, your big chance, your opportunity on the Sky Radio Network right around Australia tonight. And whether you want to talk about the GST, Aboriginal Affairs, Immigration, dole bludgers, nursing homes or any aspect of government policy, it doesn’t matter what it is. He’ll even talk to you about the St George Rugby League team as well. Heaps of things to talk about so you can give us a call on 131332. I am pleased to say that I have the Prime Minister here in the studio with me. John, it’s great to have you here.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, it’s very good to be back. I think it’s the first time as Prime Minister and once before in another job, but it’s great to be here. You’ve got a great programme and I’m very happy to appear and to talk to you and answer your listeners.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

I guess when we look at this programme, we look at people who’ve been out there all day, working very hard, want to come home and have their say. They vent their spleens, spit the dummy, do whatever it is that they do and they do it here on the night-time programme and they get very aggravated with some of the politicians, with some of the things that they do.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well that’s fair enough and part of my job is to listen to people and the first responsibility of a political leader is to connect with the people that he aspires to lead to hear what they’ve got to say, to cormnunicate with them and listen to what they’ve got to say, and if he agrees, say so, and if he doesn’t, say why and perhaps go away a little wiser as a result.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Now i s that political leader having a good time?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yes, I am. It’s tough on occasions....

 

ZEMANEK:

 

I mean it’s all very well... .yeah...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

But, it is still a job that gives you a tremendous experience and there is an enormous buzz about the day-to-day responsibility and the opportunity of meeting so many different Australians in so many different parts of our country.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

I mean, when you were running up to the election and things like that, and you’ve aspired to the job for so many years, a lot of people get to that job, finally, after aspiring to it and then it’s a bit of a let down. I have to say that in the first six months or so, it seemed to me it was a bit of a let down to you because you seemed to be, I don’t know, all over the place there.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I’m interested that you say that. I haven’t felt as though it was a let down, or it hasn’t disappointed me. It’s hard on occasions. It’s inspiring on other occasions. It’s frustrating on yet further occasions and exhilarating on still other occasions and you experience all of those emotions but I think I have achieved a number of things but there’s still a lot of other things I want to achieve. The best part of the job is talking to so many different Australians in so many different parts of the country.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Would you rather win the election or see St George win the competition?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

That’s very, very hard. I am of course,

 

ZEMANEK:

 

You’re torn between the two I know.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

As well as being a follower, I’m the patron of that greatest Rugby League club in the

 

world and I of course....

 

ZEMANEK:

 

They’ve done well, haven’t they?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

They have been tremendous this year. I think they’re such a team. I went to Mark Coyne’s testimonial dinner a few weeks ago and the quiet, purposeful teamwork of those blokes is tremendous and they really are in with a great show this year. A bit of an upset last weekend, I’ve got to say, but you need that in sport as in politics occasionally to keep you on the mark.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

I guess you do. I guess everyone today is talking about interest rates. Now, I suppose, I spoke to my bank manager this afternoon and I couldn’t get to him this afternoon because he’d just been deluged with people ringing up about interest rates , are they going to go up, are they going to go down, what is going to happen. Are you going to try and put some pressure on the Reserve Bank, because the Reserve Bank must be starting to wilt tinder the pressure of the dollar going down?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I’m not going to talk about the future direction of interest rates. It may disappoint you and your listeners, but generally speaking it’s unwise for Prime Ministers, particularly at a time when the level of the dollar is in the news, to talk about the future level. I can observe that interest rates now are lower than what they were when we came into office, but I’m not going to talk. I’ll talk about most things tonight and I’ll be as candid as possible but in the current circumstances for me to start expressing views about the future direction of interest rates, or for the Treasurer to do it, or anybody else in senior authority to do it is not wise and I’m not going to do

it. I hope you understand it. It’s just a sense of responsibility and what is appropriate. I’m not going to talk about that and I’m not going to talk about the level of the dollar either. I can talk about the strengths of the economy.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Well, we must talk about the level of the dollar because, I mean, it’s under pressure. Where is it under pressure from? Why is it under pressure? People are sitting home there tonight and saying, well why is the dollar suddenly under pressure?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Stan, I’m in the difficult position that I want to be very candid with you but I also understand that the way the financial markets operate and people never go to bed in the financial markets. They’re operating 24 hours a day all around the world and Prime Ministers make the odd remark - it can be taken out of context, it can be misunderstood, it can be well intentioned and it can then be moulded by the financial markets as indicating something and then transactions can occur off the back of that and this is just not very helpful and I will, therefore, on that issue, have to say, no, I will not comment. I’m sorry.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

No, okay. But are overseas money people putting pressure on the Australian dollar by selling it short or what are they doing?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well that’s just another way of asking the earlier question.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

I know.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Good on you for trying, and you’ll understand if I get the elbow back and just tap the ball back along the wicket in true Geoffrey Boycott style. Okay?

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Is that a polite way of saying ‘no comment’?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Indeed. It’s a circuiting way of saying ‘no comment’.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

This morning, Peter Castle said that the tax package is still months away, but rumors circulating the business community suggest that the details are going to be available on June 21st. Now B

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I can tell you, there’s no particular date fixed, and we are working on it and it will be ready soon. I’m not going to put weeks or months on it but we are working on it. We need tax reform in this country and we’ll have it out and we’ll have all the details in front of people and they’ll be able to absorb it well before the election.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

All right. You’ve had a lot of pressure on you about the GST. Is there any chance that we won’t have a GST?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well you can’t have f undamental reform in Australia without having a broad-based indirect tax. Some people call that a GST. Some people call it a value added tax. Other people call it something else, which I won’t repeat tonight, but you do need, in this country if you want decent tax reform, if you want a new system, you can’t leave the existing wholesale tax system where it is. You’ve got to grab hold of it and replace it with a new and fairer system that treats everybody equally. The present system treats people unequally. I mean, neither you nor I can afford to buy a Lear Jet but if we could, we wouldn’t pay any wholesale tax on it but we can both afford to buy a family car and we pay 22 per cent wholesale tax on that. You pay 12, 22, 32 on household goods, 32 per cent on videos, 32 per cent on TV cameras, but zero on a lot of other things like caviar, and really expensive nights out in the best restaurants in town, so you need to even all of that up and so you do need a replacement for the existing wholesale tax system.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Six months ago, the polls were saying that yes, Australians would vote for a GST, they thought it was terrific. There seems to be more confusion now, just as much confusion as when John Hewn was trying to sell it years ago. Now, obviously the La bor Party have come in, the Democrats have come in, Pauline Hanson’s come into the picture as well and once again, we find the Australian public is confused about this

GST.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well they won’t be confused about our plan when it comes out. Inevitably, when you get close to releasing something, there’s a bit of a vacuum and I understand that, and we’ll come under questioning and scrutiny over the next few weeks until it comes out, and when it does come out all of that will be blown away and forgotten and people will focus on what is there. It will include the cuts in personal income tax. We would never ever introduce a goods and services tax on top of the existing system. We would only introduce it in replacement. I mean it is not really a new tax, it is a replacement of existing taxes accompanied by reductions in personal income tax.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Are you going to get rid of payroll tax? I know that it is a State issue.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

There are a whole raft of taxes that people would like us to get rid of You’ve got to remember that if you are going to get rid of one tax then the tax that replaces it has to raise an equivalent amount of money. So that is a factor that you have to take into account in determining how many taxes you can get rid of with a new fairer tax.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

All right. Now you are going to take some calls tonight.

 

Okay, first caller, I believe we have Karen Abraham’s there. Karen you are speaking with the Prime Minister.

 

CALLER:

 

Hello with Mr Howard, it is Karen Abraham’s fr om Women’s Action Alliance calling.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yes Karen.

 

CALLER:

 

Just ringing to inquire about whether the Government’s current review of the taxation system has a commitment there to make the taxation system more family friendly than the current system is?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yes it has. One of the five principles that I laid down included a commitment that any reduction in personal income tax would particularly advantage families and those people who fought for a long time for a fairer tax system for families and one that recognised more than in the past, the cost of bringing up children, will not be disappointed when this platform comes out. I can assure you of that.

 

CALLER:

 

Thank you.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

We have another caller Prime Minister, actually it is a bloke that you know pretty well, Keith Williams is on the line. Keith say hello to the Prime Minister.

 

CALLER:

 

Good evening John. How are you?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I’m not bad, how are you battling?

 

CALLER:

 

Oh, battling is the word.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yeah.

 

CALLER:

 

Continuing to battle.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Good on you.

 

CALLER:

 

But after four and a half years.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I know, well you deserve a medal. You have had a lot of obstruction and I know that you have not always agreed with me, or my Government, but at least we gave you a go.

 

CALLER:

 

Yes we’re able to move forward, but I am very interested to know John that if your Government is re-elected, are you going to take any firm action to stop the recurrence of what’s happened to me. Because that just amounts to the fact that properly approved projects are being harassed by a group of fanatics who have no standing in the community and who quite openly take the law into their own hands.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well I can assure you that I will always try and stop fanatics taking the law into their own hands, whether they effect Keith Williams or Stan Zemanek, or anybody else. For the benefit of people who may not know, Keith, and that is probably only a small number of people.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

I think everybody knows Keith Williams.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Particularly in Queensland, this is the bloke who has been battling against the radical greenies for the Hinchinbrook project in Queensland and he was victimised by the former Federal Labor Government that stopped him starting, we did change that. He is not terribly happy with some aspects of the way in which the thing has progressed since then, but I think you would have to agree that we have given him the opportunity, and I know the people of the Calwell district in Queensland are delighted that the project is going ahead and it is because they see job opportunities.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

But he has been victimised though by the environmentalists who have been running riot and it has cost him a fortune.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well they have not been able to run riot, I mean they were able to run riot until the change of Government and then we did allow the project to go ahead, and I can say to you Keith, I mean I suppose we could spend a couple of hours talking about the details of your situation, but whether it is now or after the next election, if you are being, if people are running riot, then of course you have a legitimate cause to complain, and of course the Government will do all in its power to stop that occurring and I admire your tenacity.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Keith, are you being treated fairly by this Government?

 

CALLER:

 

Well, I hate to say it, I have never been treated fairly by any Government, and certainly this is has been an improvement.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

There you are, from Keith that’s not bad. That is fantastic. The gold star award.

 

CALLER:

 

This situation, Stan, where a lot of obligations that still remain with me are not there for environmental purposes. They have nothing to do with the environment whatsoever, they are still there strictly for political purposes. And I am also interested to know when the Government is going to stop squandering the taxpayers’ money on funding these fanatics who hide under a thin veil of being conservationists and even so-called reputable conservation organisations like the Conservation Foundation of Australia, blatantly put out brochures containing nothing but blatant lies.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, can I say Keith in relation to not only groups in the conservation area but in a lot of other areas, there has been a massive reduction in funding by this Government of what I might loosely call public advocacy groups. Not only in the environmental area but in a whole lot of other areas including, in particular, the trade unions who were getting millions and millions of dollars from the former Government to make what was none other than political propaganda. But, Keith, come what may I would be, of course, be happy because we have made contact yet again, I would be very very happy to pursue this a bit further, and I will make sure my office speaks to you again in the next couple of days.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Well, Keith that’s not a bad offer and I’m sure you’d like to take that one up.

 

CALLER:

 

Well that’s the best offer I’ve had all night.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, it is only twenty past nine.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Well it’s the best offer and the only offer you’re going to get tonight from the Prime Minister. Keith I thank you for being on the programme.

 

Prime Minister we get calls in here every night from people, people in small business, in big business, and they are always complaining about the unfair dismissal laws.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yeah, well the unfair dismissal laws will get carried if the Labor Party and the Democrats and the Independents in the Senate do their job.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

You said that last time and they won’t agree with you. They don’t want to agree with you and they don’t want to pass the laws, and so we’re stuck with the unfair dismissal law.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

All right but if we have a double dissolution, which is a possibility, and I win, we can present that unfair dismissal law at a joint sitting straight after the double dissolution and we’ve got a majority at that joint sitting which I hope we do, if we don’t, well then we’re all history, well certainly my Government is, then we’ll get that unfair dismissal law passed. That’s the whole purpose of putting up to the Senate twice, putting it up to the Senate twice.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

I understand all that though, but I mean, this is one of the reasons, I mean we’ve still got 8% unemployment and probably a lot more unemployed people out there.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I und erstand.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Bosses will not put on people

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I understand that.

 

ZEMANEK::

 

B .if they can’t sack them. You know, I’m a great believer that if the boss writes the cheque, he raises the money, he pays the wages, he must have the right to be able sack people if he thinks that they’re not doing the job.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I agree with that. But the only way I can change that is to change the law and I can’t change the law except in accordance with the law of Australia, in accordance with the Constitution. And I’m going through that process and I say to all of the small businessmen who are listening to me, I understand your concern, I agree with you, we've put the bill up twice, under the Constitution we cannot make it law unless we first have a double dissolution and then if we get a majority in the two Houses after that double dissolution I can have a joint sitting and I can put it

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Sure.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

[inaudible] . . .that and it will then become law. Now I wish it were otherwise, but like any other Australian citizen I am bound by the Const itution. We do live in a law abiding society and I obey the law and the law says to me, John Howard you cannot change that unfair dismissal without making, going through this process and I’m doing that. I’m sorry it’s taking so long. I didn’t vote against it. The Labor Party, and the Democrats, and the Independents, and the Greens and the others in the Senate voted against it. If we have a double dissolution then I can get it through at a Joint Sitting.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

What are the chances, your chances of havin g just another election or are there more chances of having a double dissolution.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I think it’s fairly evenly balanced at the moment. I think you’d have to say that a double dissolution is tempting in the sense that it is only through a double dissolution that I can get the Native Title mess fixed up, and I can get things like the unfair dismissal law changed. On the other hand, the mathematics are that after a double dissolution I’ll probably have fewer Senators than I would after a half-Senate election and that’s something I’ve got to weigh in the balance but I really do want to get this Native Title mess fixed up. The bill we put up is a very fair compromise and if it doesn’t go through you are going to have untold litigation and you’re going to have constant wrangling between farmers, and Aboriginal people, and miners. Because what our opponents are trying to do with blocking our Native Title Bill, what they are really saying is that you should have one law for one section of the community and another law for others. They want to give a right to negotiate to the Aboriginal people but not to the farmers.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

But the perception out there is though, that while they’re doing the blocking your the one that’s sort of making the decisions and unfortunately the perception by a lot of people out there in Australia, is that it’s John Howard’s fault. That it’s not getting through, that it’s not getting passed, that the job is not getting done. Now look at it, say yes well it’s terribly unfair...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I’m not asking, I’m not pleading for fairness or unfairness in a judgement of me. I understand that what happens in a country like Australia is that if your elected people you fix it. I understand that. All I can offer is an expla nation as to why it hasn’t been fixed until now. It hasn’t been fixed until now because I do not, my Government does not control the Senate. We have a huge majority in the House of Representatives, we don’t control the Senate, we are not likely to control the Senate no matter what happens after the next election, and the only way we can get these laws through is to pass them twice, then have a double dissolution and then put them to a joint sitting because that is what the Constitution of Australia says. Now I am bound by that, I am sorry, I regret it in many ways that the Constitution is not otherwise, but I’m bound by it like any other citizen and we are all equal in this country, that’s one of the great things about living in Australia that everybody’s treated equally.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Well a lot of people out there think we are not treated equally but however we are going to take a break and we’ll come back with more after this.

 

Now we often get calls to this programme from people complaining about dole bludgers. The switchboard went into meltdown when we spoke to a fella from Canberra, Prime Minister. Now, I have a tape of a conversation I had with this fella who is currently earning the equivalent of 860,000 a year on welfare. Now I know, I just looked at the Prime Minister’s face and I’ve got to tell you, he just, I thought all the blood was going to drain out of his head. 860,000 a year on social security benefits. Now at the height of the conversation I asked him what he spends his money on.

 

CALLER:

 

Well, that's what we can ‘t work out, where the money was going. That's what...you know, like, we pay this, we pay that and we do things and the kids will be fed well, not dressed well, you know, we were living on St Vinnies and everything like that. But, like I said, a lot of people think $700, and it seems a lot of money, but if they can understand the circumstances with four kids and, you know, well, more or less five kids. What we were going through, they probably will never know.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Okay, but what have you spent your money on? Do you go down to the club, do you spend it on poker machines, do you   ?

 

CALLER:

 

I go down the club, yes. I’ll put my $30 or $40 in the poker machines and then I come home. We ‘d never had that much mone y to put in the poker machines for a start. The main thing... the first thing was we ‘d have to pay this and my kids would come up and say: Dad, how come they're doing this, how come they're doing that, can we go down the coast? And I’d go. no, no, no, we can ‘t. And then all of a sudden...all right, I’ll take you down the coast. And we’d have to go and hire a bus out to go down the coast for one day, which they would enjoy it, but then we're back to square one again where we started from.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

You hired a bus to go down the coast.

 

CALLER:

 

Well, how else would we get down the coast?

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Well, a lot of people would say, well, you wouldn‘t go down the coast, you ‘d stay at home and save the money.

 

CALLER:

 

Save the money? 0h, that ‘s p robably trite too, yeah. That ‘s probably true.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

So you go out to the club and you spend $30 or $40 at the poker machines. How many times do you go out a week and do that?

 

  CALLER:

 

  That's probably only once a week that’ll be.

 

  ZEMANEK:

 

  Only once a week. And then you hired a bus and went down the coast.

 

  CALLER:

 

  That's once every blue moon that is. That ‘s not every week or every month or anything like that. That's once in a blue moon.

 

  ZEMANEK:

 

  Do you realise that a lot of p eople out there who have three, six jobs haven ‘t even had a holiday for three years?

 

CALLER:

 

Are they paying off a house?

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Yes.

 

CALLER:

 

So that means they ‘re probably living a little bit comfortable like we ‘re living.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Ther e you are, Prime Minister. Now, this man was on national television. He’s been on my programme and other radio programmes around the country. $780 a week -he’s getting $60,000 a year off welfare. He takes his family on holidays and a bus trip. He goes and spend $40 and $50 in the club on smokes and booze and cigarettes. Can you understand why people are getting fed-up?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yes, I can. I can. He must have a large number of children.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

He has four kids. Four kids.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I’m very interested in the mathematics of that. I haven’t got a pencil and paper with me and I’ll do it off air. It doesn’t quite add up...

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Well, can I tell you, I assure you we’ve had the Social Security Minister on here and she’s added it up and she agrees with it. It is being paid to him - $780. I actually organised him a job with Hughes Hire Cars down in Canberra, as a matter of fact, and he didn’t even turn up for that but he’s still on the dole.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, you do know that we have introduced a work-for-the-dole scheme.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Well, this bloke should be on it. This bloke should be on it.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, maybe he should be. I don’t know what age he is. We’re starting off with younger people.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

This blokes in his f orties, mid forties.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, we are, at the moment, focussing on young people. But it’s an opportunity to say that we have introduced a work-for-the-dole scheme and that work-for-the-dole scheme is based on the principle that if you provide support for people who can’t get work then you’ve got a right to ask them to do some work in return for that support. If they’re not willing to do it, well their dole is at risk.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Well, this bloke’s earning.. .I mean, how does a bloke earn $60,000 a year on welfare.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I am surprised at the size of the figure. I’ll have a word with Jocelyn Newman. You say you’ve had her on this programme.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

We’ve had her on the programme. She was going to investigate the whole thing. But it’s a fact, he g ets $780 a week. And with all the other side benefits as well, bus and travel and goodness knows what, every other grant. I mean, he’s not rorting the system. He’s taking what is entitled to him. My question is and a lot of people out there ask that the entitlements, there is too many entitlements to people. They’ve got too many options not to work. If we take away some of those options then maybe we’re going to bring down the dole queue.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, that is one of the reasons why we’ve introduced work-for-the-dole. And we introduced it in the face of opposition from the Labor Party and the trade unions and I’m sure if there were a change of government, an incoming Labor government would abolish the work-for-the-dole scheme. And it’s one of the reasons why we are, through welfare crackdowns, we’re saving about $28 million a week. And this work-for-the-dole scheme is an answer to the community concerned about that sort of thing. I understand why people get angry about that. There are a lot of people out there who are earning $300, $400 a week, and trying to support a family on that, and at the moment there is not a lot of incentive for them to improve themselves because of the way the tax system operates and if can go to an earlier question, that is another reason why you need a changed tax system, because the present tax system contains too many, its interaction with the welfare system contains too many disincentives for people to work. But the answer to the frustration that people feel about something like that is to have a work-for-the-dole approach to instill in the community....

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Why don’t we just have work for the dole right across the board? Let’s not worry about age groups, just right across the board?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, Stan, from a practical point of view you’ve got to start with one group and gradually build on it and we have doubled the number of people involved in work for the dole and near and doubled it in less than a year. And it has been very successful, and I can say that it is going to be further expanded into the future because we are very very committed to it, and we think it is a very sound principle and our opponents of course will throw it out if they ever got the opportunity.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

All right we have another caller on line 13, and his name is Sam Miranda from the very famous wine company in Griffith, and Sam, say hello to the Prime Minister.

 

CALLER:

 

Good evening Mr Prime Minister.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

How are you Sam?

 

CALLER:

 

And congratulations on tax reform. I’m certainly looking forward to that.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

You’ll love it.

 

CALLER:

 

For the next election, it’s certainly wonderful. But the question I have is with GST. What effect will it have on wine, and for example, a bottle of ocean cove that now retails for $11.99, what effect will it have on that under the GST?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Sam, we haven’t announced any rates yet, and therefore I can’t give you a specific answer to that question. I can give you a general answer, and when the policy comes out I’ll give you a very specific answer. It will fairly treat alcoholic beverages.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Fairly treat. In other words, it will go down?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Look, I’m not going to start talking about, I’m sorry, I’m not trying to avoid your question but it stands to reason that if we haven’t announced any rates, if we haven’t announced any details for me to say well this is going to happen, that’s going to happen. I can’t say that at the moment. When the whole policy comes out I will be able to do so, I’ll try and answer your questions about bottles of wine, and casks of wine, and even birthday cakes. I think somebody asked me...

 

ZEMANEK:

 

The icing as well?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

The icing as well, I’ll deal with all of that, but we are obviously not in the business of creating a new tax system that unfairly discriminates against something that Australians like.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Sam, as a wine grower, do you think you’ve been fairly looked after by this government as opposed to the previous one?

 

CALLER:

 

Well, of course the problem that not only the wine growers have and the viticulturalists, the farmers, as you know, we have a 41% tax which is a fair burden on the consumer, which has a huge bearing on the industry and obviously we are very concerned about....

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I’m very aware of that argument. I’ve had a lot of discussions with people in the industry and, I can’t be more specific at the moment than to say that I believe that when you see the approach that we’re going to adopt in that general area you’ll think it’s fair.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Okay, Sam I thank you for being on the program. Let’s go to some other calls now. From Lane Cove, line 3 it is, and Angus. Angus, say hello to the Prime Minister.

 

CALLER:

 

Mr Prime Minister, how are you?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Very well Angus.

 

CALLER:

 

That’s good. I’ve just got a question for you. I spoke to Stan earlier tonight in regards to superannuation and pension payments that are made to either retiring or resigning Politicians. The most recent example being John Sharp. When he resigned after approximately 10 years of service, he’s now going to get a pension of 857,000 per year for the rest of his life which equates to let’s say, he lives to approximately 80 years of age, that equates to about $2 million dollars. I presume that’s indexed to inflation etcetera.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yes it is.

 

CALLER:

 

Is he paying any sort of tax on that?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yes, he pays ordinary tax.

 

CALLER:

 

Okay, okay that’s fine. But just...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

And he made a contribution of 11% out of his income which is a higher than average personal contribution. Look can I sort of short-circuit this by acknowledging that the Parliamentary Superannuation Scheme is generous. I accept that.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

A lot of people would say it’s very over-generous.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yes, well, I hear that criticism and I won’t, I won’t totally resist it. I wil l say several things. Firstly the personal contribution rate of 11% is higher than most people personally contribute to their super schemes. Many superannuation schemes for company executives involve no personal contribution at all and when you bear in mind that Mr Sharp was a senior Minister in the Government and carried a level of responsibility in excess of that of many senior company executives. His salary as a Minister was less than $200,000 a year. Now that’s a big amount for the average citizen, I acknowledge that. But equally if you compare it with people who are Managing Directors of large companies....

 

ZEMANEK:

 

It does seem out of kilter though with the ordinary person in the street who, whose...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I, I can understand...

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Even with a bloke earning the same sort of money as a Minister these days, their superannuation is no where near...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I think the argument often is that if Ministers were paid in relation to the responsibility that they carry in the same way that Managing Directors were, they’d have a much higher salary.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Can it be changed and made equal right across the board with everybody in Australia? The same sort of superannuation scheme?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well you could do that but in theory...

 

ZEMANEK:

 

But the politicians would have to vote on it and they’d never do that.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

No, no, but in theory you could do that, but in practice of course, people would argue, I’m not just talking about politicians, but superannuation, generally people would argue well if your going to do something like that you ought to put salaries according to people’s responsibilities. Look it is a generous part of it but on the other hand Ministers of the Crown in particular carry very heavy responsibilities and their pay compared with Managing Directors is no where near in their league.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

All right, okay Angus we’ll just leave it there and I thank you. Let’s go to line 8 now and it’s across to Picnic Point. Jamie, hello.

 

CALLER:

 

Yeah, good evening Prime Minister, good evening Stan.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Yes.

 

CALLER:

 

Firstly as a business student I’d like to congratulate the Government on an economic stand point. My question to the Prime Minister though is does he agree that the legalisation of some drugs, for example heroin, that are highly a ddictive will see a substantial decrease in crime?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Do I believe the legalisation of heroin will see a substantial decrease in crime?

 

ZEMANEK:

 

A lot of people are talking about legalisation, decriminalisation, and you know, decriminalisation of marijuana. Where do you stand on that?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I am against it. I am a zero tolerance man. Now some people may criticise me, some people may say that that is out of touch. I don’t think it is. I am totally opposed to the decriminalisation of drugs. I the idea that decriminalising marijuana is an easy sensible thing to do, is crazy. The medical effect of marijuana is quite significant, it’s effect on the mental process, the fact that it leads to drugs of greater addiction. All of those things militate against it. I find it amazing that you’ve simultaneously got in the community a pressure to make it ever more difficult.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

But those pressures are coming from politicians, from the AMA, from the legal fraternity and I just find it absurd.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, so do I. And I don’t care how much pressure is put on me or my Government, I will never ever support the legalisation of heroin, ever.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

All right, we’ll leave it there, and we’ll take another break and earn some money for this radio station.

 

I have on the line Mr Neville Roach. Neville, say hello to the Prime Minister.

 

CALLER:

 

Good evening Prime Minister, it is Neville Roach here.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Very nice to speak to you. How are things?

 

CALLER:

 

Pretty goo d thanks.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Neville I understand you are also chairman of Fujitsu. Is that correct?

 

CALLER:

 

Yes, I am the chairman and Chief Executive of Fujitsu Australia.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

And he’s also doing a terrific job as Chairman of the Government’s multicultural advisory committee.

 

CALLER:

 

Is that right? Well I think he’s got a question for you tonight.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Okay, I’m sure he has.

 

CALLER:

 

Prime Minister the question is on immigration, another area where I work with the Minister. A number of business groups including the committee for Sydney and the Business Council have called for a significantly higher migrant intake, arguing that it will help economic growth and provide valuable skills that are in short supply. What is the government’s response to such a position and would you be willing to consider an increase?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, we are ready to consider views put to us about levels of immigration in either direction and I have had discussions with a number of businessmen and women about this. Our current policy is to hold a migrant intake about where it has been for the last couple of years and also to change the composition towards a lesser emphasis on family reunion and a greater emphasis on people with skills. Now, there is a very keenly fought debate in the community, as you know, Neville, about the economic benefits of immigration. Some people argue in present circumstances with the nature of our economy and a still relatively high level of unemployment, the contribution is not as great as it may have been in the 1950s and 60s. I think we should have a debate on it. I’ve always argued that we should have a very open and informed debate on immigration and to the extent that business people want to contribute to that, we’d welcome it, but our position at the moment is that the present intake is about right. We are not in favour of increasing it. We are in favour of altering it so that you have a greater emphasis on getting people with skills who can make an immediate contribution to the country.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

What do you say to those people who say, you know, we should have zero immigration, and so if 30 000 go out, only 30 000 come in. Because I sit here every night and here people say yes we’ve got to bring in 500 000 people and Jim Soorley the Lord Mayor of Brisbane last week said yes, we’ve got to bring more people in and that’s going to help the economy. Now, they’ve been talking about that, they’ve been doing that for the last thirteen years, but it hasn’t helped the economy. We’ve still got high unemployment.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

That’s true. I’m not in favour of zero immigration. I’m certainly though in favour of the pretty modest level that we have at the present time.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Family reunions. Is that out of control?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, it is far less out of control now than it used to be.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

You do admit though that it is out of control?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

In the past it was out of control. I don’t believe it is fair to say that it is out of control. We have reduced the emphasis on family reunion and we are now bringing in far more people from different parts of the world who have skills and who can make a contribution. Now, it is one of those issues where you have people of good will who hold strong views on both sides about the economic contribution. We do have a different economy now than we had in the 5Os and 60s, and I’m not certain that immigration of the levels of the 5Os and 60s, if brought in now, would necessarily have the same impact as it had 30 or 40 years ago.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

But we have a lot of people that come to this country also that overstay their visa, overstay their time here. Which country, which people come to this country that are overstaying their time the most?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I can’t answer that. I think it varies a bit.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Well, I can tell you, it’s the Chinese students. That’s according to Government records.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, you probably looked at that record more recently than I have but, look, there are obviously people who do overstay their welcome and nobody supports that and one of the worst things that can happen to an immigration programme is to arbitrarily change the rules to advantage people who’ve abused the system and it angers the rest of them. But we’ve done a number of things to change the system. We have put a greater emphasis on skills and we’ve also of course introduced a two year waiting period for people who’ve recently come here before they get welfare benefits.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Why can’t you just chop out the family reunion scheme?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I wouldn’t be in favour of chopping it out entirely overnight, but I am in favour of reducing it and we’ve done that and we have a far better balance. I mean there are, look, if your mate goes overseas and he marries, meets a girl somewhere in China or England or the United States and he wants to bring her back here, I mean, you’re surely not saying...

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Well that’s fine. No, that’s fine. But what we’re worried about I suppose is Mum and Dad and the kids all coming out here.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

We ll, it has been very very significantly limited. Very very significantly limited and it’s much much harder now, but you’ve got to pay some regard to the sensitivities and the feelings of decent Australian people who’ve come to this country and then they want to bring some members of their family to look after them. I mean, it’s a question of balance and I think providing you have a balance and you don’t have one part of the programme getting out of control, you can strike the right chord.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Okay we have another call. And this time it is the leader of the One Nation Party in

 

Queensland, Heather Hill. Heather, say hello to the Prime Minister.

CALLER:

 

Hello, Mr Howard, how are you?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I’m very well, Mrs. Hill.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Yes, Mrs. Hill, okay, away you go.

 

CALLER:

 

Okay the question I have, if Mr Howard could explain to us why have the major political parties signed so many international treaties without offering the public an opportunity to discuss, debate and comment on the contents and ramifications of those treaties? The ones that spring to mind for me is the financial services investment agreement which has resulted in the loss of about 40,000 banking jobs and also resulted in many branches closing down each week in Australia. Things like the MM, which we believe will impact on jobs and job security, even down to things like the LIMA agreement, which seemed to be the development of the so-called level playing field.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I won’t answer for former governments because I think former governments slavishly pursue treaty obligations in order to change the domestic law of this country. I’ll speak for my Government. My Government changed the approach to treaties when it came into office. It does require public discussion. It does require parliamentary approval. It does require the public investigation of which you speak. And to the extent that you or any of your supporters or, indeed, anybody else in Australia is angry about the notion that we should go running off to international for a, commit ourselves and then say to the rest of the population: because we’ve signed a treaty, you’ve got to change the law of Australia and you’ve got to toe the line in accordance with that treaty. To the extent that you are angry about that, I’m angry about it too. In fact, I got angrier about it long before you did and so did my Government and that’s why we changed the procedure when we came into office. So I agree with you on that. I have to say, that figure of yours of 40,000 jobs being lost as a result of that financial services agreement, can I say, with the very greatest of respect, that is not right.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

But a lot of jobs have been lost in that sector.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yes I know.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

I mean, they’ve closed hundreds of branches around Australia so the figure wouldn’t be far short.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Stan, but hang on, what the lady said w as it was because we’d signed the treaty. Now, that is just not right.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

No, I know, I’m not disputing that fact with you.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

No, no, but I think it’s very important...

 

ZEMANEK:

 

But the jobs have been lost, though.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Stan, there are fewer jobs in the banking industry now because of branch closures and that is not because we have signed a treaty. It is because it is less economical for branches to be maintained by the banks in the remoter areas of Australia. Now, I regret that, of course I do. But the lady who asked me the question is leading a political party in a State election campaign. And to say that that is because we signed a treaty, to say that 40,000 jobs were lost because we signed a treaty, now, we’ve got to deal in facts and when you’re running for office you’re accountable. And one of the criticisms that is made of the major parties is that we’re not accountable. That lady made a statement which is demonstrably inaccurate.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

All right. Heather, do you agree with that?

 

CALLER:

 

No, I don’t and I think that Mr Howard’s really made a comment when he talks about things being economically viable. I think when we’re looking at many of these positions and particularly banks, we’re also looking at socially viable...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

You’re not really answering the question, with great respect, Heather.

 

CALLER:

 

No, I will answer the question. I will certainly go back and prove those figures.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, do so, please.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Why don’t you prove that to the Prime Minister at a later time because we are a bit short on time and I’d like you to prove that to me as well.

 

Prime Minister, Heather Hill. She is in the elections this Saturday in Queensland. How do you think she’s going to go?

 

PRIM E MINISTER:

 

Well, I don’t know. She has a right, like anybody else, to run for office in this country and that’s the nature of the democratic process. I don’t know what will happen.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

But the popularity polls out there are saying that, you know, these people have got a big swing on, there’s a big swing to One Nation. Do you think that’s going to transfer into votes on polling day?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I don’t know, Stan. I do know this, though, that on Saturday in Queensland there are only two possible results and that is you either have a Coalition government led by Rob Borbidge or you have a Labor government led by Peter Beattie.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Or you have a government led by both and the One Nation or maybe an Independent, being the deciding factor.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, you’ve still got to have a government whether there are...

 

ZEMANEK:

 

But if you’ve got a government, though, led by or strangled by a One Nation Party making the deciding votes on where the decisions go, I mean, then you’ve got a problem, haven’t you?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I think it’s always undesirable to have minority governments supported by Independents. But the point I was making is that - and I say this very directly to Queenslanders and there are many listening to this programme - that you really have to make up your mind, at the end of the day, whether you have Borbidge or you have Beattie. Now, if you feel that you can’t vote for Borbidge, you want to vote for some other party but you’d still prefer that he be the Premier, then make certain that you give your preference to him.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Why do you think so many people are moving over to the One Nation Party? Are they fed-up with mainstream politics, are they fed-up with you, Mr Beazley, Labor, Liberal, Coalition, what? I mean, it’s just a big swing.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, leave aside how big the swing is. But I accept that there are quite a number of people who are thinking in this direction. Why do I think it’s happening? A number of reasons. Whenever you get long periods of economic change some people are affected by it and I think many of the people that are attracted to One Nation are people who’ve been affected by economic change. And many of the policies of that party sound all right on the surface. I mean, they have a policy of offering two per cent interest rates. Now, that’s great if you’re a borrower...

 

ZEMANEK:

 

But with all due respect, Mr Howard, most of these people are saying the reason why they’re going to the One Nation Party and those sort of parties is because they’re not getting the change out of the mainstream governments. They’re not making t he change that they want in this country. People want change. That’s why they voted you in for that last election. You promised change...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

And I’ve delivered a lot.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Well, a lot of people out there are saying: well, we haven’t go t much change.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I think a lot of the people who are attracted to One Nation don’t want change. And I understand why. And my responsibility is to talk to them, to understand why they have these views, to listen to their point of view. If I agree with them on something, as I did a moment ago, I say so. If I don’t, I also say so. And I’m engaging, as a political leader, as Prime Minister, in a process of talking to these people. And I don’t write them all off as some people do and I don’t brand them all with one particular label. If you brand people with one particular label they’ll stop listening to you. You’ve got to understand it. But I do think a lot of them are people who’ve been affected by economic change.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

But you did call Pauline Hanson’s speech deranged.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

The particular remarks in that speech I did call that, yes. I did because what was in that particular speech was a claim that my Government’s policies on Native Title, my Government’s policies, were designed to create independent Aboriginal communities within B .States within Australia. Now, that is wrong. And she must have known that was wrong when that statement was made. Now, equally, the remark about 40,000 people being put out of work by us signing an international treaty, now, that is also wrong. And it’s my responsibility, with the greatest of goodwill towards the people who may be attracted to One Nation, that where I hear something that’s incorrect and something that is playing on fear and unease and insecurity, it’s my responsibility to say something about it.

But can I just return to the Queensland election. There’s only two possible outcomes. You have Rob Borbidge leading the Coalition, Peter Beattie leading Labor. And I just say to people who, at the end of the day, would prefer Borbidge to Beattie, make certain that you, if you can’t vote for the Coalition first, make certain you give your preference to the Coalition.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

All right. On that note we’ll take a commercial break and be right back.

 

Whoever said politicians don’t work hard, you’ve certainly put paid to that. I mean, here you are, l0.00pm tonight, and you are still working.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yes, I could go for another hour but I know that it would be outliving the friendship a bit, but it’s very good to be here.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

You shouldn’t put offers like that to me, I’m likely to take you up on that. Listen, besides going out and watching St George play football, do you get any recreation time to do things?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, in the summer of course, I watch a lot of cricket, that’s my even greater sporting passion. I play golf occasionally.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Seeing as we sail past Kirribilli on our boat, we should pick you up on the wharf there..

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

You should do that.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

And you can come out sailing with us one Sunday, and then you could get away from everybody, you wouldn’t have to worry. No phones, security agents, everybody...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

They’d find me on the harbour, they would. They’d probably sor t of send me special naval messages about taxation, or unfair dismissal in international treaties.

 

ZEMANEK:

 

Prime Minister, I thank you for being on the show and I thank you for giving us so much time.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

It’s a great pleasure.