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Prime Minister confirms there will be no further reform to industrial relations; discusses what he told Indian Prime Minister about policy on sale of uranium; and is confident about business opportunities with India.

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Thursday 9 March 2006

Prime Minister confirms there will be no further reform to industrial relations; discusses what he told Indian Prime Minister about policy on sale of uranium; and is confident about business opportunities with India


TONY EASTLEY: The Prime Minister John Howard has given a guarantee that the Government has no other plans to change industrial relations laws and won't take any proposed changes to the next election. 


Yesterday, AM aired comments by Finance Minister Nick Minchin who wants the Government to seek a mandate at the next election for more reforms which would target awards and the Industrial Relations Commission. 


Mr Howard has told AM that further IR reforms are not proposed and he says he's made his own views clear to Nick Minchin. 


Mr Howard's trip wound up last night, his tour dominated by the issue of whether Australia should sell uranium to India.  


At the end of his trip, Mr Howard spoke to Chief Political Correspondent, Catherine McGrath. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Prime Minister, thanks for speaking to AM .  


You've been in India, we'll talk about that in a minute. 


But just firstly, can I ask you about Nick Minchin's comments this week, saying that he wanted to get rid of the award system and the IRC (Industrial Relations Commission)? 


JOHN HOWARD: Well he wasn't articulating Government policy, that's not going to happen. I want to make it very clear that we have undertaken some major reforms. They'll come into operation later this month. And as far as I'm concerned, and as far as the Government is concerned, we don't have any intention of taking any further major changes on industrial relations to the next election. 


I believe that we have struck the right balance. These changes will give a lot more flexibility, but they're fair. 


I do not believe in getting rid of the alternative awards system. I believe that the balance that we have struck in this legislation, after long and very careful debate inside the Cabinet, is the right balance. It gives extra flexibility, it creates a national system… 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: So during your term, during the rest of this term, will there be no major return, or no return to the IR issue? 


JOHN HOWARD: No, there'll be none whatsoever. None whatsoever. I mean this has been a very big change. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Categorically rule it out? 


JOHN HOWARD: Yes, of course. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: There'll be some minor tinkering? 


JOHN HOWARD: Well, I'm not even saying that will happen, but with a big change you might have to very much at the margins, make the odd change, but I'm not saying that's going to happen. But… 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Well if that's the case, didn't it shock you when your Leader of Government Business in the Senate said at a meeting that this is what needed to happen? 


JOHN HOWARD: Well, my reaction personally is irrelevant, I'm just stating on behalf of the Government what… 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Given that you've said the Government's view is not to return to it? 


JOHN HOWARD: … I'm just stating on behalf of the Government what the position is. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: You've told him of your view and that… 


JOHN HOWARD: Oh, he's well aware of my view? 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: And he's not going to raise this again? 


JOHN HOWARD: I don't think he will. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Prime Minister, getting on to your India trip, you've been on the ground here for three days in India. While you were here, very much the issue of Australia's uranium exports dominated the Indian perception of the trip. 


What did Prime Minister Manmohan Singh say to you about their need for uranium? 


JOHN HOWARD: He said that they have a great shortage of energy because of their economic growth, and Australia with up to 40 per cent of the world's uranium and very large supplies of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas), is an obvious source of supply for their energy needs. Now I explained to the Prime Minister, we had a very lengthy… 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: You'd be in favour of that wouldn't you, because they get a lot of their oil from the Middle East, before, they're quite reliant on that. 


JOHN HOWARD: I'd be in favour of what? 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Of them increasing their diversity of their supply of energy. 


JOHN HOWARD: Oh, yes, of LNG. But let's keep LNG separate from uranium. 


We had a discussion about uranium and I explained to him that we had a long-standing policy of only exporting to countries that are adhering to the NPT, Nuclear Non-Proliferation agreement. And I said we don't have any current intention of changing that policy. 


I did say that we would like to get more information about the agreement made with the Americans and we have arranged that our officials will talk about that. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: It does appear that the position you've been taken, which is much more open to looking at the US deal with India and talking about the impact of that internationally is quite different from the position Alexander Downer's been taking publicly in Australia. 


JOHN HOWARD: I don't think so. I've seen what he's said… heard what he's said. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: He's focussed… he's focussed on the signing of the proliferation treaty… 


JOHN HOWARD: I heard what he said on this program… 




JOHN HOWARD: No, of course not. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Prime Minister, you've been talking with the business delegation as you travelled around about India's booming economy, Australia investing more. 


Aren't we a bit late to get on this bandwagon? India's been booming for a long time, Australia hasn't been overly involved, overly invested before. 


JOHN HOWARD: Well Catherine, all of these things are driven by commercial realities. You can't declare participation in a boom, you've got to have something to offer that somebody wants… 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Now's the time? 


JOHN HOWARD: … what is now happening is in a number of areas, in the service sector, in energy, the Indians are looking to Australia as a source of supply. I'm a great believer in the market forces operating in things like this and where there's a need, there will be a response. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Prime Minister, just finally, you finished off your events in India today at the Pace Academy. The announcement was made you were going to bowl, you declined. Was there any fear or concern there? 


(sound of John Howard laughing) 


JOHN HOWARD: Any what?  


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Fear or concern about bowling? 


JOHN HOWARD: No, well I just didn't intend to do other than be a spectator there. People often announce that I'm going to do things when that's not accurate… actually, every day. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Prime Minister thanks for your time. 


JOHN HOWARD: Your welcome.  


TONY EASTLEY: The Prime Minister John Howard speaking there with Catherine McGrath.