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Transcript of interview withHoward Sattler: 6PR , Perth: 6 October 1993: Question Time; [Republican Advisory Committee]



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Leader o f the Opposition

6 October 1993 REF: TRANSCR\WH\DT\059

TRANSCRIPT OF RADIO INTERVIEW JOHN HEWSON MP WITH HOWARD SATTLER, 6PR PERTH

E & Ο E - PROOF COPY ONLY

SUBJECTS: Question Time, Republic

Saltier:

And John Hewson is here after the quite incredible scenes in Parliament yesterday in Question Time. Good Morning John.

Good morning Howard. Look don't feel bad mate, he doesn't talk to me very often either.

Well you wouldn't have minded debating him on this on air on our program this morning would you?

No absolutely not. In fact you may know that he's basically closing down the Parliament, he's not allowing us any debate. We can't move a matter of public importance which means we couldn't for example, I couldn't ask him to debate me on unemployment or anything that matters like that because he's removed our right to do that. He's also removed our capacity to censure them or to move a vote of no confidence which are other opportunities for debate.

Hewson:

Saltier:

Hewson:

Saltier:

But how can he do that. I mean isn't this up to the speaker?

Parliament House, Canberra, A C T . 2600 Phone 2774022

REF: TRANSCR\WH\DT\059 2.

Hewson:

No it's up to the Government, it's got the numbers in the lower house and they determine, they determine the outcome and they've got the, they've got the numbers so they've eliminated our power to have any debate so the best we get is Question Time and these days we're getting you know two or three questions.

Sattler:

Well you got 23 minutes yesterday and there were only three questions asked and answered during that time and I think the last one wasn't answered in its fullest form anyway, because Ralph Willis sort of only got half way through it didn't he?

Hewson:

That's right, there were only two questions from our side and you know it's just ridiculous when you think about what happened yesterday, I mean you can, I reckon it's a bit rich for the arch abuser Paul Keating to whinge about a bit of heat in question time. I mean there was no more or less heat yesterday then in any other day, yet he didn't like it because Willis is up there and he couldn't answer. Willis had sort of taken a position that was directly opposite to the one the Prime Minister had just taken, he couldn't hack it so he decided to stand up and walk out. I was amazed that, you should have just looked at the looks on the faces of Kim Beazley and Ralph Willis, in absolute anguish as to what he was doing closing down Question Time and the speaker was so surprised that he asked him three times I think, two or three times, it was as if he didn't hear him, to give him a chance to back down, and of course on each occasion Keating reconfirmed the fact that he was walking and that was it.

Sattler:

But of course Kim Beazley fell into line later in support of his leader didn't he?

Hewson:

Yes he did. I mean he's had a bit of a, Keating's had a bit of a justified pasting I think in the papers today, and ...

Sattler:

... Laura Tingle writing in the Australian, she'll be black banned soon too, has said to borrow some of your vernacular, Paul Keating, you are a dummy, what's more you are a petulant dummy, boy he's going to grate on that one.

REF: TRANSCR\WH\DT\059 3.

Hewson: ..............

I wish you could see the cartoon that they've got in the Sydney Morning ...

Saltier:

Actually I've got it. It's just been dumped on my desk. You can describe it for us.

Hewson:

Well it's Keating throwing a book across the table in the Parliament knocking me completely off my chair and he's yelling : "the scumbag has resorted to abuse and disruptive behaviour". That I think sums up the mood, the people can't understand, to be serious, people cannot understand why Parliament in the middle of the worst

unemployment crisis since the Great Depression, you know with rising international debt and so on, why Parliament doesn't focus on these issues and provide opportunities for real debate. And I think there is going to be a very significant public

reaction against the Parliament. I mean if we are all held in disrespect because of the lowering of standards in recent years, but it is about time Parliament did play the part it ought to play which is really to provide a proper forum for debate, a proper forum for debate, a proper forum for the consideration of legislation, a proper forum for

holding the Government accountable for you know dealing or not dealing or not dealing with the major problems of the day.

Saltier:

But you can goad him can't you. I mean was there a bit of that going on yesterday, because you know that he's near breaking point or near snapping point?

Hewson:

Well it's hard to goad him. Our fellows did interject a bit, I mean to be fair they gave him a very long period of time of uninterrupted... without interruption. But he did answer one question for nearly 15 minutes.

Saltier:

Is there a limit on the time that you are allowed to answer questions? Surely if Question Time only runs for a roughly short period of time there should be limits?

Hewson:

That's right well there's no limit and he took^.15 minutes and instead of, and it had nothing to do with the question. The question was about unemployment. He spent the whole time bagging us reading us quotes of Menzies and everybody else about what's wrong with us and look, Question Time should not be an opportunity for the

REF: TRANSCR\WH\DT\059 4.

arch abuser to abuse us. It's got to be a time where you know..the Government is really expected to answer questions and I can never understand, I mean if a minister is on top of their job, with all the resources they've got, the Public Service behind them and all the staff and so on, Question Time would be a breeze, there shouldn't

be a question they can't answer.

Saltier:

Okay but look isn't it up to the Speaker, he's in charge there to dictate this. What's wrong with the Speaker because the Speaker is a member of one party just a patsy for the Government, and I just wonder whether or not we shouldn't be looking at a system of the kind that operated in England where I think there's some kind sort of

independence of the Speaker isn't there?

Hewson:

Yes that's right. I mean I don't know whether parliament's probably not big enough to have a fully independent Speaker, but we could and we proposed it at the time of the last election to have a Speaker that breaks their links with their party and acts independently.

Saltier:

What they get some sort of guarantee that their seat won't be contested next time if they want to sit, on the basis that they as you say break their link with their party.

Hewson:

But that they don't play an active party role, they don't go to their party meetings, or caucus meetings, they are not a party activist. They have a privileged position as Speaker and that they run an impartial ship. Now in those circumstances we'd be more then happy to support that. The present system, you know, I don't want to comment on our current speaker...

Saltier:

No no but yesterday and we saw this on television, Paul Keating was actually issuing orders to Stephen Martin the Speaker, go on - he's saying, do this to them, do that to them, you know?

Hewson:

He tells him, you know, name them, which means throw them out. He stands up and makes frivolous points of order and ... in order to just instruct the Speaker what he wants done and he puts Steve Martin in a very difficult position. And you've got the Prime Minister standing up there trying to get on and do something on his behalf, but

REF: TRANSCR\WH\DTX059 5.

I mean I think that the real issue here is that the Government has been, Paul Keating has basically been progressively closing down the Parliament, removing our chances for debate and for censure, for now and for questions and demeaning Parliament absolutely, and I think we've really got to step back and say look - the people of Australia aren't going to cop this. This is taxpayers money, it's being wasted on a forum that isn't doing the job it's supposed to be doing.

Saltier:

All right, well I think, I mean back in the Parliament today the same thing is likely to happen all over again if you don't fall into line.

Hewson:

Well that's what he's threatening. I unfortunately won't be in the Parliament today, I've got to go to a funeral in Sydney, but he's threatening if anybody makes any noise he's going to walk out again. I mean it is petulant behaviour and it's totally unjustified.

We... Question Time is supposed to be a situation where the Government answers questions about their management of the of the Government and it's not an opportunity, it's simply an opportunity which has become for the Government a bite at us and abuse me and that's ridiculous.

Saltier:

Okay just while you're there, it's comes from the left field a bit, but I have had Malcolm Turnbull on this morning, and John Howard got called away, I mean is it time for the politicians to, if you like let the people debate the prospect of a republic, rather then just engaging in these continual slanging matches?

Hewson:

Well there hasn't been a lot of slanging over the republic. I mean it's true that the people in the end have to decide, it doesn't really matter what Paul Keating or John Hewson or anybody...

Saltier:

Well it's not Paul Keating republic and no one should be fooled that it is.

Hewson:

No it's the people that decide it and my view is that the people should be given every chance to get informed about the issues and that's what Turnbull's tried to do although, he hasn't answered one basic question and that is exactly why should we change, what is the argument for change. Our constitution has served us well, it's given us a very tolerant multicultural society, it's given us a very stable political system,

REF: TRANSCR\WH\DT\059 6.

now I'm not saying we shouldn't change, but what is the argument for change, what are the benefits of change, how are things going to be different if we do change? That's what the people will need to know in the end before they make a decision and as a second statement, if they can demonstrate a case for change, okay change to what, and that's where Turnbull's piece becomes valuable in the sense that they've delineated a number of the options.

Sattier:

Well you're saying at least they have put those, a reasonable amount of options up there and you know I mean a lot of people are thinking I think that Malcolm Turnbull is just Paul Keating's lackey and I don't think he likes that.

Hewson:

No I don't think Malcolm does like that. I think the key thing is that well see Keating didn't try and answer that first question that I mentioned. He just jumped to the conclusion that well we're going to have one and let's see how we get there. But what his report, what Turnbull's report showed is the minimalist position as they describe it, minimal change position isn't all that minimal. It's over 500 pages talking about minimal change. Most Australians would see these as very significant changes. I mean to change the head of state, to change the powers of the head of state, or you change the link between the Commonwealth and the States or whatever, they are major changes and in order to get the people to vote for that change in a referendum you're going to have to give them the information.

Sattier:

Absolutely, all right well leave that one there. Well talk about that one later. Thanks for your time today.