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Transcript of doorstop interview: Newcastle City Hall: 29 July 1993: unemployment; interest rates; republic; Mabo



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Leader of the Opposition

29 July 1993 REF: TRANSCR\SCWH\DT\0018

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP INTERVIEW DR JOHN HEWSON MP NEWCASTLE CITY HALL, NEWCASTLE

E & Ο E - PROOF COPY ONLY

SUBJECTS: UNEMPLOYMENT; INTEREST RATES; REPUBLIC; MABO

Hewson:

I'm very pleased to have come here today to Newcastle with the Shadow Cabinet. It's been a policy of our Shadow Cabinet since I became leader to spend as much time as we can outside Canberra. Getting out and about in Australia, meeting people first hand and in particular visiting major regional centres of Australia. So we are very pleased to be here today in Newcastle to be able not only to meet here but to meet such a wide cross-section of the local community, business people, welfare agencies, local government people, to hear first hand some of the issues in Newcastle, some of the development, some of the prospects.

Jmlst:

...inaudible...

Hewson:

Well we had a very wide spread discussion at lunch about,' I think the thing that sticks most in mind is the enormous potential of Newcastle. A lot of changes of course being made not only a lot changes in the traditional base of activities in Newcastle but projects like the Honeysuckle project, the potential in tourism, the potential in a whole host of other activities, basic manufacturing not only here in Australia but of course as a base into the Asia-Pacific region was all very impressive. We were disturbed of course to hear the detail of the unemployment problem and how much higher unemployment is and particularly youth unemployment is than the national average. And I guess most disturbingly a number of the welfare agencies drew particular attention to the long-term entrenched nature of that unemployment and the way that

Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Rhone 2774022 COMMONWEALTH PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY MICAH

REF: TRANSCR\SCWH\DT\0018 2.

attention to the long-term entrenched nature of that unemployment and the way that it's really starting to impact on families and family relationships which may be very long-term. And as one of the people at lunch said although some of the economic problems may eventually turnaround and unemployment may eventually come doyvn, the impact on families and other social pressures may take a very long time to go away if indeed they go at all.

Jmlst:

...inaudible...

Hewson:

I don't think we're being stalked around the country it just happens by coincidence we're both in this city at the same time. And I think it's a good thing. I mean we're here in a working capacity as Shadow Cabinet in the way I've described. Bronwyn's out there flying the flag and that's all that the Liberal Party's about.

Jmlst:

...inaudible...

Hewson:

I believe it does, I mean Bronwyn is marketing our message to the wider community and we've been working with the heads of various agencies and the local council, business leaders and so on to hear first hand the nature of the problems. Our Shadow Cabinet sessions are always working sessions. We've done this now many times around Australia and equally we all do what Bronwyn does today - from time to time we go out and fly the flag in a much more public way.

Jmlst:

...inaudible...

Hewson:

It's not an issue. There must be important issues here in Newcastle you'd like to talk to me about. {

Jmlst:

...inaudible...

REF: TRANSCR\SCWH\DT\0018 3.

Hewson:

Well I think a bad number was expected and a bad number was received. What disturbs me is that exports are very weak, particularly weak, and the world economy is a long way yet from bottoming out. More than 50 per cent I would guess of the world has now moved into, or is moving into recession and I guess comparing this year's current account deficit to last year, it's about, it's nearly 25 per cent worse this year than it was last year. These are pretty alarming trends and again I guess it exposes the lies of the Prime Minister in the election campaign, I mean exports are not going gangbusters as he suggested.

Jmlst:

...inaudible...

Hewson:

Well there's been a lot of speculation in the last couple of weeks about that. I make a policy of not making those predictions but the markets are certainly expecting that there will be a drop although we've had a significant number of drops now over a very long period of time. They haven't had any effect on economic activity. In fact yesterday I had a lunch with wide cross-section of leading business people in Sydney and they were all drawing attention to the fact that although interest rates have come down they're still very high in real terms. In fact for small business in particular which are the biggest employers, they're very high by world standards, more than double for example the level in the United States. And secondly there's no demand. And I

think, you know, nobody has any confidence, the investment climate in Australia has been destroyed, business confidence is flat, consumer spending is flat and you're just not going to see any pick-up in activity in those circumstances even if the Government does lower interest rates another notch.

Jmlst:

Back on the local scene what would a Hewson Government do for the region that the Keating hasn't or can't do?

Hewson:

Well in simple terms solve the economic problems. I mean the Keating Government is drifting badly. They've shown no capacity to either recognise the significance of these problems or do anything about them. And in fact what you're hearing now on the main issue of unemployment is generally rationalisation, a lot of rationalisation for why unemployment is so high and how we've got to get used to living with it that high

and how long-term unemployment's going to go up and how, you know, we might all have to accept part-time work rather than full-time. I mean that is a defeatist attitude in circumstances where you don't need to be defeatist. As the mayor said at lunch

REF: TRANSCR\SCWH\DT\0018 4.

today, it is a problem that can be solved and should be solved, and I believe that there are policies you can put in place to turn that circumstance around. I personally don't see any reason why a country that is as wealthy as Australia and this region is a damn good example of how wealthy we are and how well placed we are, how many opportunities we have if we want to use them in terms of wealth, I mean in terms of the industrial base, the industrial capacity, the tourist potential, manufacturing

potential. There is enormous potential wealth here, if we want to put the right policies in place and you know there is no excuse in a country like Australia or a region like this with the opportunities we have, to accept anything less then full employment. That should be our principle focus.

Jmlst:

....inaudible....

Hewson:

Well I haven't seen Wayne Swan's proposal. We did take a proposal to the last election which did offer people the opportunity of working in part for the dole and particularly for community based organisations who've found it very hard to sustain their volunteer base in these very difficult circumstances. But look the basic point is as many people have said in here it's a question of costs. We can be internationally competitive in Australia and many industries we've moved, it's true a bit towards that but we've got a long way to go in terms of add on costs, the labour market inflexibility, inefficiencies of our ports, and transport infrastructure. A whole host of areas where the government can do an awful lot more then its doing but at this stage they seem sort of petrified about the consequences of doing anything. In part I guess because they didn't expect to win and they had no plan and no sense of direction. I think they are also apprehensive about the Senate and whether they will be able to get anything through the Senate now with a shift in the balance of power further towards independence including the greens. So I think we're going into a period where this government is going to be particularly moribund. It's been pretty bad for the last ten years, I don't think you'll see any government out of the Keating government at all. We hear words in Canberra around the Public Service that they've been told not to bring forward any legislation unless it's particularly necessary and the place is drifting and it's drifting very badly.

Jmlst:

...inaudible...

Hewson:

I would respond by telling Malcolm Turnbull to get back and do his job. I mean I didn't know Malcolm Turnbull was hired as an apologist for Paul Keating. I didn't know Malcolm Turnbull was the one who was going to go out and do the bidding of the

REF: TRANSCR\SCWH\DT\0018 5.

government in a political sense, and in a very political sense threatening to run candidates and so on. The Liberal Party is in this debate in a very constructive way. I think Malcolm Turnbull is feeling the pressure and the pressure we've put on them is to demonstrate a case or present a case for a change to a Republic. We're not saying that we oppose change in any sense but the case for change hasn't been made and that's where I suggest that he spend a lot more of his time developing the case to convince Australia that we ought to change to a Republic. What are the advantages of doing that? How much better off will we be? What economic and social problems that are there today can we solve better with a Republic? Or what are the benefits of the change and then the details of that change, yes we'll be happy to debate all of that. But that's his principle focus not to run a political agenda on

behalf of Paul Keating and the government.

Jmlst:

...inaudible...

Hewson:

Well there was a big question mark over our investment climate in Australia yesterday as the result of Mabo and that question mark is there today. In fact that question mark is bigger. The Prime Minister has blown it one more time. He's failed to do what

we've said for months he should be doing which is to go around and build a consensus between the Commonwealth and the States about how to deal with the issue of Mabo. Most importantly to secure existing titles as a matter of urgency and

then there’s a second stage to debate the detail of how you deal with native title in the future in relation to future allocations of land. He's got no concept of consensus, I mean that was one thing you'd have to say about Bob Hawke and people used to mock him to some extent but he did understand consensus and he did build a

consensus. But this guys got no understanding of consensus. He makes no effort and so today what have we got? More uncertainty, a more divided nation. Not only black against black and black against white but now some states against other states and all states against the Commonwealth. And that is the worst possible outcome at a time where we desperately need certainty in our investment climate and I see today Robert Decrespigny, who's not only a distinguished miner as head of one of our major mining companies but he's also a head of the mining committee of the council for reconciliation. And he said today that he's very concerned that we are now, that we carry a very high sovereign risk in Australia compered to other countries in Asia. We are not an attractive investment climate, we're not a place where people are going to want to put their money, and it all goes back to the Prime Minister. To solve the

problem of Mabo as with all the other problems we've talked about, he's just letting them drift or he's going in there in a pig-headed way trying to ram his ideas through rather then build the consensus that's necessary when you've got a federation you've

got to get the Commonwealth and the states to work together.