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Transcript of doorstop interview: 4 July 2003: Telstra; people smuggling; Melanie's engagement; David Hicks; sugar; tree clearing; Alby Schultz.



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PRIME MINISTER

4 July 2003

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

Subjects: Telstra; people smuggling; Melanie's engagement; David Hicks; sugar; tree clearing; alby schultz

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………….

PRIME MINISTER:

Righto, you got any questions?

JOURNALIST:

The boat people, the refugees. Do you think the right decision was made in turning them around to Christmas Island?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. Look, we have a very clear policy and that is that people who seek to come to this country illegally will not be allowed to come to the Australian mainland.

JOURNALIST:

How can you justify the expense of sending them all the way back to Christmas Island when they…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, very easily because if we didn't, we would send a message of encouragement for other people to try the same thing. It is perfectly justified and I'm sure will be supported by the Australian people.

JOURNALIST:

Even though they made it to within that 1.5…

www.pm.gov.au

PRIME MINISTER:

It doesn't alter our policy in any way.

JOURNALIST:

We understand David Hicks is facing trial.

PRIME MINISTER:

The question of who may or may not be facing trial in the United States is a matter for the United States to announce because the United States has these people in custody. I am satisfied on the information I have that if any Australians are tried in the United States the basic conditions of a presumption of innocence, of access to a lawyer and so forth, all of the things that are basic to the judicial system as we understand it will be applied.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, on trees. There's nothing you've seen this morning changed your mind or…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, my view is encapsulated by what I said a moment ago that you have to try and find a way through good will and commonsense that achieves environmental objectives but is also fair to the land holders. I'm certainly impressed by the arguments that are put. I'll have a further discussion this afternoon and… but there's nothing beats coming here and meeting the people and having a look with your own eyes at the land and at the vegetation, nothing beats that, it gives you a much better understanding of it than if you, you know, just stay in a cubby hole somewhere else in the country.

JOURNALIST:

Any reaction to Alby Schultz's stance on Telstra.

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, I understand your daughter Melanie's getting married.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I'm very happy to say I'll be announcing tomorrow, I think I'm probably announcing it now. But yes, she is getting married to a great bloke, he's a lovely fellow Rowan and we'd be very very happy to welcome him into our family. And we're very happy for both of them, they're obviously madly in love with each other and that's a pretty good start.

JOURNALIST:

On the Queensland rural matter of sugar, any developments there?

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm still having some discussion with the Queensland Government about that. I put a couple of propositions to the Queensland Premier which are consistent with the MOU we had and he's… they've come back and we've I think made some progress and there are just a couple of other issues I want to put and I think if we keep working we can, once again if you apply some you know G&C, some good will and commonsense to that, I think you can get an outcome. I mean, we want to help the industry but there has to be reform. You can't have open-ended help, there's got to be reform.

JOURNALIST:

On the issue of Telstra, there have been consistent warnings of a voter backlash, particularly against the National Party. Are you confident that you're reading voters correctly on this one?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, what I'm confident about is that there has been a huge investment in lifting the Telstra infrastructure. I mean, we've put something like a billion dollars and the Estens report, I'm very happy to acknowledge the presence on this visit of Mr Dick Estens who shared that report and gave it his name, made 38 recommendations and all of those recommendations are being implemented. And whilst there'll always be some people who will remain opposed to the sale of Telstra, people should understand that ownership does not guarantee service delivery. You can legislate imposing standards on any carrier, you don't need to own shares to do that and from a long term commercial point of view, it does not make sense for something to be half owned by the public through private share ownership and half owned by the Government. It's neither fish nor fowl and nobody's arguing that we should buy back the 49 per cent. The Labor Party's not proposing to renationalise Telstra. So inevitably, you have to face the commercial reality and providing you've upgraded the basic infrastructure, provided you've made the commitments and the investment and provided you have a legislative determination, there's no reason why you can't have the best of both worlds.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] by Alby Schultz's statement...?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I don't believe that there's anything but overwhelming support in the joint party room.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

Just on Telstra, look in the bush when you've got a problem you can either throw up your hands in horror and say we can't do anything about it or we'll leave it the way it is, or you can say we're going to think a way through this problem. The problem is that we've been left behind in the past. We've found a way to close the gap, most importantly we've found a way to keep it closed. The only way this debate will react negatively on the people who have put together a good package is if it's misunderstood, people play up the negatives. Let's switch to the positives, a very strong outcome to closing the gap and even better response to what we call future proofing. And as country people understand that and as we've found even on this

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tour, once you explain it, they're very happy with it. In fact, I even got a few cheers for it even in Kalgoorlie the other day. Just got to explain it.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's a good note on which to think. Thank you.

[ends]