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Prime Minister discusses federal intervention in NT; CFMEU; and industrial relations.



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PRIME MINISTER

25 June 2007

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH GEOFF HUTCHISON ABC RADIO, PERTH

Subjects: Indigenous emergency; CFMEU; workplace relations.

E&OE………………………………………………………………………………………..

HUTCHISON:

The Prime Minister joins me from Sydney. Good morning to you Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Geoff.

HUTCHISON:

Prime Minister, Federal Police officers are arriving in the Territory this morning. I know you want 10 from each state. Victoria and New South Wales say yes. But it seems you won’t be getting them from Alan Carpenter.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I’m disappointed about that but that’s his decision. I’m very disappointed because his colleagues in New South Wales and Victoria have responded and…in a very positive way, and I thank Mr Bracks and Mr Iemma, and in anticipation I thank other Premiers who might be willing to do the same thing. This is a genuine special case, it’s a one off, there are thousands of police around Australia and let me make the point that ordinary community policing is not generally the responsibility of the Australian Federal Police. In our system of government enforcing the criminal law and providing community law and order is overwhelmingly, on a day to day basis, the responsibility of state and territory governments and the reason we are intervening in the Northern Territory is that the Northern Territory Government hasn’t matched its responsibilities and we find it necessary to do so. So naturally we have to ask the states to provide a bit of help with the police. We’ll be providing additional Federal Police, and we’ll obviously have to get by with the resources that we have. But the point shouldn’t be forgotten that this policing, the ordinary task of protecting people

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from attack and investigating alleged crimes, is never the responsibility of the Australian Federal Police except in the ACT. It’s not the responsibility of the Australian Federal Police to investigate rapes in Perth or remote areas of Western Australia or indeed remote areas of New South Wales or in Sydney, that’s the responsibility of the state police. I mean we do have a sharp division of responsibilities there and clearly you have a special case, an emergency, and the first thing we have to do in these remote communities is to establish law and order because unless you have law and order the women and children are scared to death that if they complain they’ll bashed or further molested.

HUTCHISON:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

And because the whole thing has become so broken down and chaotic that we first of all have got to provide a breathing space to these communities (inaudible) he’s made his decision , I regret that, I do….

HUTCHISON:

Can I just play you some comments that Mr Carpenter made on this program on Friday?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

[Premier Carpenter’s comments]

HUTCHISON:

Mr Howard a lot of people are asking that question, similarly the police deployment for six months, how do you respond to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let me start with the six months. We’re not proposing an alcohol ban only for six months, we’re imposing it at a federal level for six months in the first instance to give the Northern Territory Government an opportunity to get its own liquor laws in order and if they haven’t done so we’ll extend the six month period. So I’d say to both Mr Carpenter and Mr

Beattie who’ve raised that point that it’s not just for six months. He says what have we done for 11 years, what we’ve done for 11 years has been to persevere with the belief that state and territory governments would discharge their responsibilities for maintaining law and order. I mean under our system of government it’s the responsibility of state and territory governments to provide community policing and it’s only when we’re being presented with compelling evidence that the Northern Territory Government has not adequately discharged that responsibility that we’re moving in. We don’t have any power to move into remote communities in Western Australia because states have roles and responsibilities and rights that territories don’t have, and we’re acting where we can, and Mr Carpenter says what have I done for 11 years-well I point out that just after Mr Brough became the Minister, about 18 months ago, he started talking about this problem, he convened a meeting of Ministers, at a state and federal level, responsible and out of that meeting came initiatives of where the

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Federal Government expended an additional $120 million, in many cases providing additional money for responsibilities that ought have been discharged by the states. Now look, I’m not interested in having a tit for tat argument with Mr Carpenter. I make the point that the Labor Party’s response to this issue is beginning to puzzle me. On the one hand Mr Rudd says he

supports it, yet you have Mr Carpenter making these outlandish statements and Mr Beattie not quite as bad as Mr Carpenter but basically trying to run interference on the issue. Now look, I’m not interested in that, the time for talking and the time for reports is over, the Australian

public wants something done about the chronic problem in the Northern Territory. We can do something about the Northern Territory because we have the power and that is why we’re doing it. In relation to Western Australia and Queensland and New South Wales I simply ask that the state governments who are charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order in those communities to make absolutely certain that the problems that exist in the Northern Territory don’t exist to the same degree in their respective jurisdictions. So Mr Carpenter would be better employed looking at this own responsibilities than trying to cast aspersions on my motives or intervening.

HUTCHISON:

Prime Minister Peter Beattie says there should now be an urgent meeting of state Premiers; will you do that?

PRIME MINISTER:

No well I don’t think we need another meeting. We know what the problem is, everybody knows what the problem is, everybody. Mr Beattie knows what the problem is. The problem is that there is not enough law and order in these communities. I mean let me, there is a community in the Territory, Galiwinku, which was the first - it’s on the Gulf - it’s the first community that Mal Brough visited 18 months ago; 3000 people, not one police officer. Now that is the sort of problem you’ve got. And we’ve had reports, there have been reports in New South Wales, there have been reports in Western Australia. Alan Carpenter mentioned the Gordon Report. Sue Gordon is a marvellous person. She is going to join our taskforce, she’s Chairman of the National Indigenous Council, a highly respected indigenous leader, very talented woman. We all know what the problem is. We don’t need more meetings, we actually want something done. Now I am not saying the states haven’t done anything. I am not going to make the sort of allegations against the states that Mr Carpenter has made against me. I mean what you just played me was the most political comment that has been made by anybody since this whole thing started.

HUTCHISON:

The problem Mr Howard, of course, is that these events do become very politicised.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well who is politicising them? I am not; I mean I didn’t start off by attacking Mr Carpenter. I mean look, I am not trying to politicise this.

HUTCHISON:

No, but the criticism of you sir is that in the six months before the run up to an election after 11 years we are hearing of a national emergency in Aboriginal…

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PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but hang on, there’s a reason for that. We have a report about conditions in the Northern Territory. A report that was provoked by the concern of my Minister, but an inquiry established by the Northern Territory Government called ‘Little Children are Sacred’ and it revealed the most appalling state of affairs in the Northern Territory. And we at a federal level can do something about the Northern Territory.

HUTCHISON:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

There have been similar reports at state levels. We don’t have the same capacity to intervene at a state level and we are doing something in an area where we can do something. Now there is nothing political about that.

HUTCHISON:

Okay, I guess it’s the timing of the announcement that contributes of notions of a politicisation.

PRIME MINISTER:

With respect Geoff, the timing of the announcement has been driven by the timing of the report. Let me finish this. Would you expect us to leave the report to gather dust until after the federal election through fear that somebody like Alan Carpenter would accuse us of being political?

HUTCHISON:

Then let’s leave the politics aside because…

PRIME MINISTER:

Alright well I’d invite…I certainly want that to occur. But this suggestion that we are only doing this because its in the run-up to the election, can I just remind your listeners again, we are doing this in response to that particular report which was commissioned by the Labor Government of the Northern Territory and it wouldn’t have been commissioned if it hadn’t have been for the action taken by Mr Brough. So this idea that our actions are tied to the election is outrageous and not based on fact.

HUTCHISON:

Prime Minister the police are moving in, the troops will be there. A lot of people…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well hang on, don’t say the troops. That is suggesting that the troops will be maintaining law and order; they’re not.

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HUTCHISON:

No, no, the question I am going to ask Prime Minister really is, firstly with the police, is it general policing? Is it investigating work? Are they there to secure the situation first and foremost?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they will be, well the first thing you have got to do is establish some basic law and order and in some of these communities there are no police at all. And they obviously, at an operational level, they will work out where they should go first, and I am not a policeman, I am not going to start telling policemen and women what they ought to do. But the purpose of having police there is to carry out normal community policing roles and that involves maintaining ordinary law and order. It involves investigation; it involves doing a whole range of things. But until you can communicate to these communities the sense that they have a bit of security and a bit of safety, you have no hope of dealing with things like medical examinations and compulsory school attendance because what we have to understand is in some of these communities the ordinary elements of a civil society have broken down and you need to give people a sense of calm and stability and assurance before you can start doing just ordinary things. Now it’s going to take time I plead with people not to expect that it’s going to happen in a few weeks, and I know that my critics will be ready to pounce that if we haven’t seen an instantaneous improvement within a couple of weeks, they will be ready to brand it as a failure. Well they can do that. This is going to take quite a while and the first thing to do is to get a greater sense of law and order, a greater sense of security and to stabilise the place. And then when you have done that, you can go forward on other things. But it will take time and there will be difficulties along the way and there will be criticism along the way. But the responsibility is overwhelming. I mean I’ve heard a lot of debate in the last few days about this, that and the other and various theories. I’d simply to say to all of my critics, what is more important, protecting vulnerable children or debating political theory?

HUTCHISON:

You are not going to lose the political argument on that subject. That is…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s an argument of community values. There is not a political argument. I mean it is just ridiculous that notions relating to political theory are brought into all of this and (inaudible)…

HUTCHISON:

Yep, I understand the issue…

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s a clear case of government responsibility.

HUTCHISON:

You are talking about, as you say, tender, vulnerable children, and there is no argument on that level. But what about sustainability issues? These are communities without work, or prospects.

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PRIME MINISTER:

Of course they are, and that flows from the fundamentally dysfunctional nature of the communities. How can you hope, if you don’t have any semblance of law and order, how can you hope to…

HUTCHISON:

So what’s the plan beyond…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the first thing to do is to establish some semblance of law and order, to clean up many of these communities in a physical sense. You then have to look at the educational and health considerations and when you start to get a community functioning in a more normal fashion, it is possible, even in the more remote communities, for there to be the growth of some elements of economic activity. Now economic activity follows supply and demand no matter where the society may be located and some of these communities will do well, some of them will not do well. But the fact that a community is not doing well economically is no reason why its women and children should be exploited and why they should be left exposed to violent crime and sexual abuse. That is to completely mistake the responsibilities of our society.

HUTCHISON:

Is there a plan beyond securing these communities and making women and children safe?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there is certainly a plan to make sure that their children go to school. There is a plan to establish the basic elements of a civil society and that is tremendously important. It goes beyond law and order and providing security but that is the first essential step because without that, you can’t do anything.

HUTCHISON:

Prime Minister, briefly, the CFMEU has come out swinging over the release of that new videotape showing conflict on a Perth construction site. Two things, the union says the Joe Hockey shouldn’t be pre-empting a police inquiry by making political capital out of it, and secondly the union says that three foreign workers have been killed on construction sites recently and that this is just a union bashing campaign?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s not a union bashing campaign. I mean there is a very simple issue at stake here. There is only one body which is standing against union thuggery on building sites and that is the construction authority which we established out of the Cole Royal Commission and which the Labor Party voted against in Federal Parliament every inch of the way and which Mr Rudd will abolish if he becomes Prime Minister. That is the issue. The issue here is the law

and whether you’re going to have a decent law protecting people against union thuggery. Now I am not saying every; there are hundreds of thousands of decent unionists in this

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country. We may disagree on some things, we may agree on a lot of thing, but I don’t suggest for a moment…the average unionist is an ordinary person like you and me. That is not the issue. The issue is thuggery and why on earth shouldn’t we have a strong law against thuggery on building sites. And the laws that we have brought in have delivered unprecedented peace and calm in the building and construction industry in Australia. The strikes are at a record low. Strikes generally are lower than they have been since before World War I and we are living in a wonderful era of industrial peace. Why does the Labor Party want to change that by gutting the building industry authority? I mean that is the issue. It’s not so much whether x, y, or z belongs to the Labor Party. Throwing people of the Labor Party as Mr Rudd’s talking about is a meaningless stunt. What matters in the law. Is he going to uphold a law that protects people against union thuggery or is he going to gut it? And his record to date indicates he’s going to gut it because he voted against it. Every time it came before the Parliament he voted against its establishment.

HUTCHISON:

Prime Minister you are still under great scrutiny over your own WorkChoices legislation.

PRIME MINISTER:

I deserve, all Prime Ministers deserve to be under scrutiny and we are accountable to the Australian public. I don’t object to that at all.

HUTCHISON:

Okay. You still have to convince employees that you’re on their side as well as their bosses don’t you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you always have an obligation to persuade the majority of people that you are doing the right thing and I point to the evidence. I point to the fact that we have the lowest unemployment in 33 years, we have real wages growing at close to 21 per cent over the 11.5 years we’ve been in office. We see the lowest level of strikes since 1913. We see a state like Western Australia getting enormous benefits from not only the resources boom but from economic conditions generally. Now that is the argument I put to Australian employees. They are part of it. They need the flexibility of Australian Workplace Agreements. If you get rid of Australian Workplace Agreements you will cause chaos in sections of the Western Australian economy. There is a very powerful case that can be made. I am not saying that everybody, every single person in Australia is enjoying every aspect of our economic strength. Of course some people are still doing it tough and I am very sensitive to that, but if you look at the generality of the economy there is a very powerful case that can be made. And this is largely, not entirely, but largely a consequence of reforms that this Government has introduced, all of which have been opposed by Mr Rudd and his colleagues.

HUTCHISON:

We could have another discussion about people arguing that a lot of it is driven by the export dollars coming out of Western Australia but for now Prime Minister, thank you for your time this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

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Well I think those export dollars come out of Western Australia because we have good industrial relations laws which Mr Rudd would change and therefore threaten the dollars coming out.

HUTCHISON:

I look forward to talking to you again. The Prime Minister, John Howard.

[ends]

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