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Transcript of Interview with John Harker: Radio 2GB; 6 October 1993: Termination of Question Time; Budget bills; Republican Advisory Committee Report



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Leader of the Opposition is*,

6 October 1993 REF: TRANSCR\SC\DT\0033

TRANSCRIPT OF RADIO INTERVIEW DR JOHN HEWSON MR JOHN HARKER, RADIO 2GB

E & Ο E - PROOF COPY ONLY

SUBJECTS: Termination of Question Time; Budget bills; Republican Advisory Committee Report

Harker:

John Hewson joins us. Thanks for your time this morning.

Hewson:

Good morning John, how are you?

Harker:

I'm all right Doctor. Tell me, you were in the pits on Sunday, I would suggest that you're probably still there?

Hewson:

Yes. Look I agree with your comments about Question Time and it was one of the reasons why at the last election we had a proposal for parliamentary reform which would make Question Time work as it's supposed to work. And I think you're dead right that the average Australian looking at Parliament is appalled that ministers dont

answer questions and that it doesn't provide the information and doesn't underlie the debate that it should. And it has been reduced to a farce and in fact right now as an Opposition we've lost nearly every avenue we have, or we had I should say for debate. We're not allowed to move any matters of public importance, we cant censure a bad

minister like Dawkins in the last couple of weeks. We cant move a motion of no confidence. And in recent days the number of questions has been cut down and as yesterday, you saw yesterday Question Time was terminated because as you say the Minister Ralph Willis was in trouble relative to the argument that Paul Keating has been " putting.

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

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Marker:

I mentioned earlier Mike Seccombe's column from the Gallery this morning in the Herald where he does of course point out that the things like a vote for no confidence and as you just said then the censure motion are not available to you at the moment. We are supposed to be in a democracy. We are supposed to have democratic

debate about these issues. Have we got to the stage where Parliament simply isn't working?

Hewson:

Well it certainly isn't working. I think it is worth it, we should make it work. It's always up to the Government to do that. And this was the essence of the proposal that I took to the last election. You see I think we should have a more independent Speaker, somebody who dissociates themselves from the party politics if you like and does a genuine independent job.

Harker:

I would have thought though that the current Speaker is doing a better job than Leo McLeay. I mean having Leo McLeay as a mediator is like complaining to your mother- in-law about your wife.

Hewson:

He's trying. I wouldn't stick with your analogy but he's certainly trying to do that. But I think we can go further and equally there should be a minimum number of questions and or a minimum time period. And I think something like a minimum of twenty questions would be reasonable. See I don't see how a minister who's doing their job properly and with all the resources of the government departments behind them and all the public servants and so on, I don't see how and all the information, I d o nt see how they cant do a job as a minister and answer any questions put before them. And so Question Time really ought to work as it was designed to work. It shouldnt be, you know, a circus or a theatre or a pit in which where the gallery look down and as you say score points on who performs the best. The public's not interested in

performance, the public's interested in actually seeing Parliament being an essential part of good government which it's not today.

Harker:

Yes one would think. And we'll take some calls on 269 0669 later, but one would think that the public are truly interested in what's happening to unemployment and the security of their future and the future for their children more than they are on who is funniest in Parliament. And I've said before, and I w ont harp on this because I said

it yesterday with Alexander Downer that I do believe that the Press Gallery have something to answer for this as well. But apart from that there is a growing concern

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and it will be hard for you to divorce yourself from the obvious chance to score some points. But there is a growing concern that we have a leader, a leader who once again has refused to come on this program but a leader who has been promoted above his capabilities, who was a great 2IC but is not handling the job that he's got at the moment too well.

Hewson:

Yes I think any objective assessment of Paul Keating would have to come to that conclusion because, look he ran on the issue of leadership. You might remember when he launched his campaign for the leadership at a Press Club dinner, he talked about the fact that Australia had never had a decent and substantial leader and he was going to be, as he described himself the Placido Domingo of Australian politics. Well in fairness to him any assessment of his period as Prime Minister, he's shown

absolutely no leadership. And right now we've not only got the major economic problems of debt and unemployment and now rising inflation and so on but also we've got Mabo, we've got his attempts to change the constitution, we've got the industrial relations back-down yesterday. All the areas in which you would have expected him to show leadership and he's shown none.

Marker:

What did you make of the Republican Advisory Committee's report, the ...inaudible... page report they handed down yesterday?

Hewson:

Well I'm still reading the detailed report but I think it's in lines with the terms of reference that were given to them. The one point that I've been making from the beginning though is that I think they've gone one step down the road before they've answered the crucial question, and that is why do we need to change? You know I'm not against change but I think the people of Australia in the end who will have to vote

for change want to know why we should change from a constitution which has given us a very stable political system and has underwritten I think the development which is now a very tolerant multicultural society. If you're going to change the constitution, are you in any sense putting those two things at risk? Are you going to change the processes of government? If so, what are the benefits of that change? Now that case is yet to be argued, that case is there for the Prime Minister to argue if he wants to proceed down any of the options really that Turnbull has identified.

Marker:

And what's ahead for the budget? In your estimate do you think that we will have the tax cuts in November or not?

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Hewson:

Well you should because, and we've moved a motion last week in the Senate to try and accelerate the consideration in the Parliament of the bills. I mean the Government has been delaying them. I know they've been saying we have but we moved a motion last week to get them to bring them on. They should break any linkage between the bills and allow us to vote on each bill on its merit. And on that basis we'd certainly be voting for the tax cuts and the rebate which would start as they've promised it in

November. And we hope that that process will take place in the Senate anyway. If the Government w ont split the bills we might get the support of the other parties to do it. So those bills can go through. The other ones that we've said that we would oppose which is the four tax increases for which they have no mandate that they can be considered too as a matter of urgency and the Government can know where they stand. And at this stage the Democrats and the Greens have said they'll vote against the wine tax. The Democrats, sorry the Greens have also said that they w ont support further increases in sales tax beyond this year. But that can clarify the position very quickly if the Government wants to bring those bills on for debate. There are a couple of other elements that are subject to Senate hearings, Senate Committee hearings on the fringe benefits tax for example on hotel rooms, which the public basically are demanding an opportunity to put an argument. Well they're having that hearing. And that w ont take long either. I mean to be, just to put the matter in perspective, we

havent delayed the process at all and in fact if you look at what's happened in previous years we're still a bit ahead of schedule in terms of the normal consideration of tax bills in a budget and we hope that we can get the matter resolved as fast as possible. But the balls in the Government's court. I mean a couple of the bills are still probably unconstitutional. They should take them back.

Marker:

What can you do from here though to try and enable yourself to have the right type of debate? Well I mean we've discussed that on top of this that most of those avenues are being denied.

Hewson:

Well it's at the discretion of the Government in the Lower House and they've just said we will not allow you to move a matter of public importance. And what that means is if I think unemployment and the people of Australia think unemployment is a major issue and I want to force the Prime Minister to debate me about unemployment, I cant

do that in the Parliament today. He does not need to take that debate, indeed even when I had the power he never used to turn up.

Marker:

Is the Prime Minister hiding?

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Hewson:

Sorry.

Marker:

Is the Prime Minister hiding?

Hewson:

Yes I think he's running away from the debate. I mean, and you know you were saying before he can dish it out but he cant take it. Well to use another boxing analogy he can run but he cant hide. We are actually going to, you know, chase him to get these debates and to get these issues focussed on. See you know, we sort of get caught up in it down here and you step out of it and look at it from somebody in the electorate. They cant understand why there isnt a major debate on unemployment or on international debt or on any of the other problems, economic or social problems, that bedevil Australia today. But the Parliament doesnt allow us to do that. And indeed on key bills the Government tends to guillotine these through the Parliament which means that they don't allow any more than a very limited amount of time, maybe half an hour, maybe an hour, maybe an hour and a half for the debate

of very complex pieces of legislation which is a crazy way to try and run a country. Major legislation which needs a public hearing, which needs public scrutiny, which needs public debate, that debate is denied in the Lower House, that's why the Senate is taking on an expanded role because they can get some debate in the Senate.

Marker:

But we need debate we don't need this continued name calling of who drives what sort of car and who does this and who does that. I mean I don't think that does any of us any favours.

Hewson:

I'd agree.

Marker:

Dr Hewson I've got to go. Got to call it quits there but I must say seeing you on Sunday, you seemed to be enjoying yourself far more than you were yesterday. Although being interview by Joanna Griggs, whose a good friend of mine, it's a bit more of a pleasure than Laurie Oakes probably.

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Hewson:

She was, she got a bit confused at the start. She's learning the business of doing a very good job.

Marker:

She sure is. Thanks Dr Hewson.

Hewson:

Thanks.