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Parliament House, Canberra, 7 November 1997: transcript of press conference [COAG, Native Title Legislation, nursing homes]

EOE

PRIME MINISTER: Well ladies and gentlemen I would like to say a couple of things about the meetings over the last day or so and then I would be happy to answer your questions on those meetings and indeed on any other subject.

There was a meeting of Premiers yesterday to talk about tax reform and it was a good meeting and we didn't finally resolve all the details to be announced next week but, all jokes aside, what we did have was a very, very good discussion. I think everybody wants tax reform.

There is a united view that Australia needed a modern tax system for the next century. There was a united view that we needed to address some of the many problems inherent in Commonwealth/State financial relations. We agreed that any tax package should not involve any increase in the overall level of taxation. We talked about a lot of the fundamental statistics of the Australian taxation system and we have agreed to meet again.

I know you are all used to Prime Ministers and Premiers from time to time using bland, reassuring, anodyne statements about their meetings, but it was a very friendly and constructive gathering and I am very optimistic.

I told the meeting that no head of government in Australia should be in any doubt about the absolute personal commitment of myself and also of the Federal Treasurer to taxation reform. I told them we would be taking a detailed alternative taxation policy to the next election and that we were absolutely committed to reforming Australia's taxation system in a quite fundamental way and before we got into the next century.

Now, this morning the COAG meeting took place, there was a summit on the Heads of Government on domestic violence and also an historic meeting for the first time of the Treaties Council which was established in furtherance of an election undertaking given by the Coalition a few years ago.

The COAG meeting reiterated our support for reformed Native Title Legislation. You'd see in the communique, it deals with illicit drugs, environmental reform, gas reform, marine safety, national standards setting and regulatory action and all those other things that go on at COAG meetings.

There was a discussion on domestic violence and a joint statement was agreed to by the Heads of Government. The Commonwealth is injecting an additional $25 million, largely by way of funding of pilot programmes, testing new initiatives. This will be on top of a total amount of $226 million, currently being spent by both Commonwealth and State Governments.

The most important thing about the domestic violence discussion was that this was the first time in Australia's experience that the heads of all governments had come together to express their combined rejection of an abhorrence for domestic violence. Everybody has a different way of describing their feelings on the subject.

If I could put it, perhaps some may say tritely but very directly, I very much share the sentiments in some publicity I had seen on the subject to the effect that real men don't hit women. And I think it is as good a way as I can find in my vocabulary to describe the feelings that I have on the subject.

I think it is important, as well as putting dollars aside, I think it is important that Governments show some moral leadership on the subject. It is a question of altering attitudes, it's a question of educating young boys, of educating men that violence against women, whether it is your wife, your lover, or whoever it may be, it something that is morally and socially unacceptable in Australia.

You won't wipe it out all together but if you can take a moral lead, if you can inject money into programmes, if you can try new methods, then over a period of time I believe that you can have some success. And that was the purpose of the summit and it was the first time, as coming together on the subject.

I don't know that I have really got anything else to announce, but I am sure you might have the odd question or two and I, either on the meetings of the last few days or indeed on any other subject. And I am therefore open to your interrogation.

JOURNALIST: Are you prepared to .........Dodson back?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes.

JOURNALIST: .....changed your mind.

PRIME MINISTER: Let me talk about Pat Dodson. And I would like to take a moment to tell you what happened. Until the last few days, I had last seen Pat Dodson on the 27th August when he came to see me in my office across the road there with Ian Viner, and John Herron was present and we talked about reconciliation. And although we agreed that there were differences between the Government and the Reconciliation Council on a number of issues, we both thought there was a lot of good will around and we both wanted to go forward. And I spoke to John Herron immediately after that meeting and we agreed that at the appropriate time we would propose the reappointment of both Mr Dodson and Mr Viner.

Mr Dodson later saw Senator Herron and that meeting, I am told, was conducted in an equally amiable vain. And then, without warning to either of us, last week Senator Herron received a letter from Mr Dodson and one from Mr Viner, a shorter one from the latter, saying that for a variety of reasons outlined in the letter, and I have no doubt a lot of people have got it, he no longer wished to be reappointed. Immediately I saw that letter I contacted another member of the Reconciliation Council and arranged through that person to speak to Mr Dodson which I did last weekend. And I told him during that discussion that I wanted him to reconsider his decision. I said that it would be in the interests of the Reconciliation Council and in the interests of the process if he were to reconsider his decision.

Meanwhile, and because time was running out for the appointment of the Chairman, and the Deputy Chairman, I had spoken to Senator Herron about putting in hand the process of replacement, because at that stage we had two vacancies. And Senator Herron had spoke to Mrs Evelyn Scott but had told her that in the event of Mr Dodson reconsidering his position he might not go ahead with the invitation and she accepted and understood that, but indicated her willingness to fill the position. He'd also spoken to Sir Gustav Nossal to fill the position of Deputy Chairman and Gus Nossal accepted that position. And given that Guss had sat on the AMA Committee on Aboriginal Health it seemed to be an eminently appropriate appointment for a whole variety of reasons.

I had an hour and a half discussion with Pat Dodson at the Lodge last Sunday evening during which we canvassed a number of things. He brought along his own agenda and in fact this document here are the items that he wanted to discuss with me. And we went through all of those items and in fact the gap between us on most issues was not as wide as some people would imagine. But obviously we had fundamental differences on Wik. And at the end of what I thought was a very amiable and good discussion he said to me: well I am sorry Prime Minister we will just have to agree to disagree I can't accept appointment as Chairman of the Council. We walked out to the front door, he walked away and then came back and we shook hands again and he said if there is anything I can do in the future to help, please don't hesitate to ring me. He unequivocally and without any qualification made it plain to me that he was not prepared to reconsider his position. Now that was the situation.

Now because time was running out I spoke to Senator Herron on Monday and I said to Senator Herron on Monday: look Pat won't take the job. So he immediately got in touch with Mrs Scott and said we offer you the position without qualification. She accepted and in fact has spent a couple of hours discussing her new position with Senator Herron, and indeed her name along with that of Sir Gustav Nossal was included in the letter that was sent to Mr Beazley and to Senator Lees, I think on Monday or Tuesday of this week.

Subsequently, I am sorry to take a bit of time but I have read some absolute nonsense on this subject, absolute nonsense on this subject over the past few days and I insist on telling the full story in the hope that it will be properly reported. I have bent over backwards to secure this man's reappointment. But his opportunity to accept reappointment was last Sunday night. We offered the position to her, she has accepted it. Subsequently I was told by somebody that he might, after all, reconsider appointment. I received a letter from him today saying that subject to certain conditions, including commitments from me, he would be prepared to reconsider his position. Now I have to say, after what has happened, and after the fact that we had offered the job to another person of eminent qualifications it is too late. And nobody has a right to bargain indefinitely with the Government on anything. I bent over backwards, I tried, I wanted him in, but he said no last Sunday night and naturally I had to go ahead and make alternative arrangements. Now I am sorry that he knocked me back last night, but he did. And the person we have chosen we have every confidence in. We had to communicate with Beazley and Lees earlier this week because his term of office, I think runs out on 6 December and there is a Cabinet process. I don't think anybody in any other position would rightly say: I don't want to be reappointed, say some critical things about the Government, then spend an hour and a half with the Prime Minister, again say, no, at the end of an amiable discussion, know that a successor was then approached and appointed and then five days later expect, subject to conditions, the Government to reconsider his position. Now I respect him a lot, I like him a lot, I have not had a cross word with him in all the dealings that we have had, but I gave him every opportunity and I think he passed up the chance of reappointment and frankly I am not prepared to insult Mrs Scott. I am not prepared to treat a very gracious person of ability with disdain and indifference because of the particular circumstances of this matter.

Now that is what has happened and I hope that is correctly reflected. We had at all times tried to keep him in, Margo. Nobody could deny that last Sunday night I tried quite hard to get him to change his mind and at the end of the discussion he said, no. Now in those circumstances no self-respecting Prime Minister would do other than what I did and I am confident Mrs Scott, if acceptable in accordance with the processes laid down under the Reconciliation Act, I am confident that she will do a very good job.

JOURNALIST: So even if he put an unconditional offer up?

PRIME MINISTER: I am sorry. The time for that was. I mean, I have spoken to this other person. I mean how would you feel if you were approached and you were told: look we would like you to do this job, the Prime Minister is having a discussion with Pat Dodson and if he changes his mind it won't be available. And then you are rung up and you are told that the Prime Minister has had his hour and a half with Pat Dodson and Pat still said no, we would like you to do it. And then five days later you are told, no we are going to get rid of you. I mean what you are basically saying to that lady is, we are prepared to use you for our own political purposes. Well I am not willing to do that and I think his opportunity was last Sunday night. I am sorry he passed that up and so are a lot of other people but that is the truth. You can't, no matter who you are or what you represent or who is in government, you can't bargain indefinitely on positions like this.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, do you think the events since Sunday surrounding Mr Dodson, indicate that there are some other political forces or people in the Aboriginal community, trying to manipulate the situation for their own political ends?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't want to make accusations so that would reflect poorly on Mr Dodson or indeed on anybody accept to say that I find the whole thing extraordinary. I mean, it is beyond my comprehension that he could say no on Sunday night yet be willing, on a conditional basis, to say yes five days later. That is quite beyond my comprehension. We had a very lengthy conversation, we talked about the Reconciliation Convention in May. We talked about a possible document of reconciliation. We talked about the Human Rights Commission Report. We talked about the whole process of council appointments in the three year strategic plan. It was, as always my discussions with him have been, it was eminently reasonable.

And the fact - I don't know what factors he's taking into account or what pressures are being exerted and I make no claims or allegations, I simply don't know. But I went into that discussion on Sunday night in complete good faith. I wanted to persuade him to change his mind. After a very civil discussion, over an hour and a half, he said no. In those circumstances, of course I had to make other arrangements and no self respecting Prime Minister would now in a grovelling way go to this other lady and say sorry, we've used you but it doesn't suit our political purposes now to take up your offer because our political purposes go in another direction. Well, I am not going to do that and I don't care what criticism I incur from other people. I am not prepared to treat people like that. I think it would be quite insulting to her and I think insulting to the whole process of Cabinet appointment.

JOURNALIST: Do you share the Governor General's concern on the process of reconciliation?

PRIME MINISTER: I don't want to comment on the Governor General's speech for the reason that I thought it was disgracefully and improperly injected into the debate on Native Title last night on ABC news. I respect the Governor General's position. I have confidence in the Governor General. I believe that he holds strongly to the Westminster principles regarding his office and I am therefore not going to get into a qualitative assessment.

Let me simply say that our position on Native Title changes remains rock solid. We will not accept any changes of substance to the Native Title Legislation. We believe it is fair legislation. It represents the end process of a tortuous negotiation inside the Coalition. The people holding placards at Longreach were not representatives of the indigenous people of Australia.

JOURNALIST: What position did Premier of NSW, Premier Bob Carr, take today, in relation to your discussions on Wik Legislation?

PRIME MINISTER: Well the Premier of NSW reminded us that he was a member, as he called it, of the great Australian Labor Party, and I think Bob Carr's position can always, of course, best be summarised by Bob Carr. But since you have given me the opportunity I think he sort of sees the common sense of our position but can't say much because of his federal counterparts.

JOURNALIST: Is it fair to say that without the sunset clause, that he would be quite comfortable with the legislation?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think the reality is Bob Carr, like any other Premier, realises this thing has got to get fixed and that the only way that you will get it fixed is to get this legislation through. He certainly didn't say that it was a piece of racist legislation.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard can you (inaudible) a position over Wik and (inaudible) enhance reconciliation. Are you interested in perhaps, a document of reconciliation or do you have any other ideas to get the reconciliation process back on track in the (inaudible) Wik?

PRIME MINISTER: Well reconciliation to us is primarily about improving the living standards and the hopes and the aspirations of the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people. We have a different approach to indigenous affairs from that of our predecessors. And I think one of the difficulties in this whole debate is that people have resented the fact that a new Government has adopted a new approach and that some of those, who were an extension of the old order and the old arrangements, have found it very difficult themselves to come to terms with that different approach.

And I would see a truly reconciled Australia as one in which primarily the opportunities for people of indigenous background were exactly the same as all of us. And that means their health, their employment, their education, the respect for their culture, a proper understanding of their history and proper respect of the fact that above every thing else we are united together as Australians, living under one body of law, that to which we are equally accountable but from which we are all entitled to an equal dispensation of justice. Now, that is how I see, in a nutshell, the reconciliation process.

Wik is something, that of course there are different views on and naturally, I reject the allegations of racism that have been flung around recklessly, carelessly and I think with some damage to the people who have used the labels. I mean you can't expect to carelessly run around the country insulting your fellow Australians with absolutely no basis at all. And you can't. I mean some of the language that has been used over the last few days has been intemperate, immoderate and if the temperature of the debate is gone up over the past week or so, it has not been as a result of anything that I have done.

I have adopted a very restrained approach to many of the things that have been said about me and have been said about many of my colleagues.

JOURNALIST: What about the comments of Gatjil Djerrkura, he was suppose to be a representative of your ...[inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: No, no you see I am sorry. Gatjil Djerrkura was appointed as his own man, you say he is representative of my, I mean he didn't go there as my delegate. I mean perhaps other people have gone to positions as other people's delegates but he has not gone as my delegate. And he is entitled to express a view but I must say in all the private and other discussions that I have had Gatjil Djerrkura has always said that he disagrees with the government on some things. But I don't want somebody in that position who merely echoes everything that the government says. There is not a problem between myself and Patrick Dodson but he disagreed with us on the Native Title legislation, that wasn't a problem for me. And it apparently, until very recently, wasn't a problem for him. Everybody new, as far back as May of this year the path we were taking on the Native Title legislation and it seems as though people are beginning to take sides. And you have to ask yourself is it something to do with the merits of the legislation or is it something else.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned at all about his comments given that he's your....[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: No, I am not concerned about his comments in the sense that it doesn't indicate any inability on his part or my part to continue communication with the government. I understand why there are views in the Aboriginal community about the Native Title legislation. If a court decision is made which unexpectedly confers upon you a right that you didn't think you had then naturally if a parliament comes along and says we are going to effect that right in some way, you don't agree. I haven't met a person in Australia who, put in that situation, would behave any differently and that is understandable. But it is our responsibility to set the tone and to strike the balance.

Now I have got to say to you all again, that our Native Title legislation falls short of what Paul Keating promised the Australian people in 1993. I was attacked by people who have been the life long supporters of my party for not delivering on what they believe Keating had promised in 1993. We have fallen short of that and that is what caused so much of the argument and debate inside my own party room. But I have now reached a situation, which in the eyes of many in my party is a compromise and I am not prepared to compromise any further because I don't believe it is in Australia's interest to do so.

I think we have to deal with this matter, we have to face it, we have to get it out of the way in the sense of delivering certainty to native title claimants, to farmers and to miners and to overseas investors and that is in the collective national interest. It is not easy, it has been a very difficult and politically painful exercise. I could have just arbitrarily decided in January of this year a response and not consulted the Aboriginal community at all, or not consulted anybody and the thing may well have been behind us by now. But I spent hours in negotiation with the Aboriginal community. They now say I had no intention of agreeing to any of their demands, that is not true. I have reached a compromise which is a fair, decent balance, it is not racist legislation and that is a charge which is unjustified, unfair and I think will ultimately rebound to the discredit of those who make it.

JOURNALIST: When are you going to annunciate your changes to the nursing home up front fees to ameliorate some of the confusion that seems to be [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: As we speak Warwick Smith and his advisers and others are working on that and when shortly those responses are ready they will be announced.

JOURNALIST: What do you have to say to 78 elderly Australians who have paid their accommodation bond?

PRIME MINISTER: I understand that the Baptist Church Homes are already making arrangements to unpick those arrangements in relation to some of those people. I would urge others to do so. Those arrangements were made under the law as it then exists. And I hope that the spirit of the changes is interpreted in relation to all of those people.

JOURNALIST: I appreciate that most of the intemperate statements of the last week have been generated by indigenous leaders, I am just wondering whether you think Australia could stand the stress of a double dissolution election on the Wik legislation?

PRIME MINISTER: Well that, with respect Michael, is sort of one of those you sort of can't win no matter what answer you give kind of questions. To start with it hasn't be rejected by the Senate and what you have just said is one of the most eloquent exhortations I can think of if that is what you believe for the Senate to pass the legislation. I think the Australian people are the people of Australia, as distinct from some people who grab the headlines from time-to-time are a lot more tolerant and understanding and smart and sensible than they are given credit. This idea that the Australian people can't handle it, can I tell you people said at the time of the Gulf War that the people of Middle East extraction who were involved in that war and on different sides and so forth, that that would cause intolerable ...... The Australian community sailed through that with flying colours. People said at the time of the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia that there would be incredible tension, people sailed through that with flying colours.

Despite what we foolishly say about ourselves from time-to-time, and despite the fact that we needlessly from time-to-time apologise to the rest of the world for being less than 100 per cent when it comes to a lot of these things, we are a very tolerant, understanding, inclusive people. We don't give ourselves enough credit for just how tolerant we are. And I think if you did, at the end of the day have an election in which the Native Title legislation were a principal issue, that the Australian people would take no notice of extreme statements no matter what side they came from, they would not be deterred by or intimidated by those statements. They would look at the merits of the argument and that they would make an appropriate decision. I think we allow ourselves to be treated in to timid a fashion. I think the Australian community is mature enough, tolerant enough, reasonable enough if it comes to this, and I hope it doesn't because I hope the Senate passes the legislation, to see the Native Title Act to give certainty where there is now potential chaos, not a racial issue, because it is not a racial issue. It is a land management, investment, security, welfare of Australia issue.

JOURNALIST: What about the criticisms by the church leaders though, they are hardly radical or extreme?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I haven't used the generic description radical; in relation to every comment that has been made on this. And what you have got to understand about people who speak for the church is, that the church has, not only many denominations but many positions within denominations and it has many spokesmen and women and committees. And you can't assume that, for example, Archbishop Carnley speaks for the entire Anglican Church, he speaks essentially for himself and some body of opinion within the Anglican Church. I have heard comments from sections of the Catholic Church, Father Brennan does not speak for the National Council for the Collective Catholic Bishops, any more than Tim Costello speaks for the entire membership of the Baptist Union, or that Harry Herbert talks for the entire membership of the Uniting Church. I know lots of men and women in all of those churches who hold completely different views and at no stage, as I understand it, has the National Synod of the Anglican Church met and embraced a position on Wik, nor indeed have the Catholic Bishops collectively met and embraced a combined position. I think what you have got to say, I mean the reality is that individual church men and women have expressed views, obviously those are the views of many church goers but equally there are other church goers who hold completely different views. And I don't think you can collectively say, unless there is a due process of taking a position that the churches, as such, are all on one side.

But even if they were, which they are not, that doesn't mean that the government or other people in the community must automatically agree. I can remember an issue not so long ago where there was a united, with the exception I think of the Uniting Church, there was a united church view on a particular issue yet it was out of step with 75 per cent of the views of people who expressed through opinion polls, certainly out of step with much editorial opinion in Australia although in line with what was ultimately decided by the Parliament. And I am referring to the euthanasia debate.

At the end of the day nobody owns the moral conscience of this nation. At the end of the day each of us has got to make our own individual moral judgement. And the idea that because the churches, and I have great respect for the role of the churches in the Australian community as many of you would know. But at the end of the day we all make our own moral judgements, they don't have a superior ownership of moral issues.

JOURNALIST: Given some of the raucous scenes we have seen at rallies to oppose Pauline Hanson, for instance, do you think that an election fought on race grounds could see the same sort of scenes on a much greater scale?

PRIME MINISTER: No. Can I say I don't believe that. I am a supreme optimist about the Australian people. I think you are too pessimistic, you take the timid view of the capacity of the Australian people to debate these things maturely.

JOURNALIST: John Anderson says today that things are already getting ugly in the bush, warning that a double dissolution on Wik would be terrible...?

PRIME MINISTER: You know, hang on, I will wait till I see exactly what he said.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the subject of domestic violence, ACT Chief Minister, Kate Carnell pointed out that one in four women are victims of domestic violence that a great number of children are victims of domestic violence. Isn't really $12.5 million for the States and $25 million overall really insufficient for a problem of that magnitude?

PRIME MINISTER: It would be if that were all that we were spending. We are spending together $226 million. I have never pretended that the money that we announced today sort of represents the only financial contribution, it is just that we had some new programs to essentially pilot and to trial and this is the investment that is made in them. It is a down payment in relation to those sorts of trials, into those sorts of activities, but if that were the only money being spent you are right, but it is not.

JOURNALIST: It is not to say that the Cabinet funding for things like legal aid?

PRIME MINISTER: Well the legal aid reductions have not effected the amount of assistance granted for apprehended violence orders which is directly related to domestic violence.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the Queensland and NSW opposition to a broad-based indirect tax are temporary positions?....

PRIME MINISTER: It is not for me to reflect upon the strategies and the attitudes of other governments. Let me merely say that tax reform is more than just a broad-based indirect tax. Tax reform is about personal tax reduction, it is about reforming the business tax system, but it is also about reforming the indirect tax system and you can't really have genuine dinky di tax reform without having some kind of broad-based indirect tax to replace existing indirect taxes.

JOURNALIST: What would the impact be of their persistent opposition?

PRIME MINISTER: I remain not only resolutely committed to tax reform but supremely confident that it will be achieved.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister are you confident that your new approach to nursing homes will deliver enough capital to improve the level, the quality and standards of nursing homes that is seen to be required.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, why didn't you have the details of your nursing home policy worked out before you announced it? And on the subject of the people who have bonds, given that they acted in good faith and the nursing homes acted in good faith, is it not incumbent upon the government to sort that out, not to leave it up to the individual?

PRIME MINISTER: Well the answer Karen to the first question is, that when I decided that a change was needed I knew, and I think you will understand, that it was quite impossible to have worked out all of those details without having extensive discussions with people in the sector, or some discussions with them. And once you start having discussions with people who are involved in the industry word gets out.

JOURNALIST: How is that a bad thing?

PRIME MINISTER: Well except that then people would have said what are you going to do and I could hardly have said well I am not going to say anything until we have got all these details worked out. I then would have been accused by a lot of you of leaving elderly people worried about whether or not they might have to sell their family home. Look Karen, whenever something like this happens and you decide to change and you decide to give a clear message to the community that you are going to make a change, of course you have got to announce the change and it takes a few days to clarify some of the details, that has always been the case.

Now in the answer to the second part of your question. Well we are working on that and we have already seen the Baptist Church take a magnificent, admirable, praise worthy, commendable lead and we would expect others in a similar position to do like wise.

JOURNALIST: The changes started yesterday for nursing homes. What advice did you give to someone who wants to go into a nursing home on Monday? How much did they pay and in what form?

PRIME MINISTER: I was asked a similar question to this a moment ago and I said that as we spoke Warwick and his colleagues were working on this and until, which won't be too long, he has got a consolidated statement to make about this, I am not going to add to what I said a couple of nights ago.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to people who have actually sold their family home to finance payment of an accommodation bond, or people who have actually signed contracts for the sale of their family home in anticipation of paying the bond? And will you have talks with the Finance Minister in terms of using his powers for ex gracia payments to compensate those people?

PRIME MINISTER: I think I could just note that last suggestion I don't think I could give any undertaking to do that. John, you know as well as I do that from time to time governments take decisions which operate from a particular date and that there are some people that have taken decisions on the basis of what was the law before then who can't take advantage of the change. Now this is not the first time that that kind of thing has occurred and frankly I think as the situation evolves you will see a lot of the positions to which you have drawn attention attended to by the voluntary deeds of others.

JOURNALIST: Are you attracted to the idea of a reconciliation document? And secondly,

do you think that the government's response to the Stolen Children report,

which I understand is expected in a month, could play a significant role in

the reconciliation process?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I told Mr Dodson on Sunday night, as I have told others who have asked me, that the Government's response to the Human Rights Commission report

will be quite generous. There are obviously some differences in relation to the formal national apology and compensation, but in relation to most of the other issues I don't think we will have much difficulty in responding, certainly substantively in a very positive way to them. And I would hope and expect and believe that it was reasonable for people to react in a very positive way towards that. I mean, we have always been committed to the reconciliation process but we have a different view as to what is more important in the area of reconciliation than others.

It doesn't mean to say that you aren't committed to reconciliation. We are very committed to it. But we have a different view and a different way of going about it. And we're not going to be bullied out of that different way by intimidatory rhetoric. We're going to stick to our course. We are, certainly, very committed to having a greater emphasis in areas like health and housing and education. And I think you will find with the qualifications I have mentioned, I think you'll find that our response to the Human Rights Report will be quite generous.

I am very keen, personally, that it be generous.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard are you supportive of the States wanting a fixed share of the income tax that the Federal Government collects? And what is the number on the [inaudible] that you want to get...[inaudible]...

PRIME MINISTER: Well, in answer to the first question is that the states have not put a consolidated position to us. So, it's a hypothetical question.

The answer to the second question, my greatest priority is lower personal income tax.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, what ...(inaudible)...Reconciliation's actual charter because achieving a document of reconciliation is one of its statutory obligations....[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: No, I don't recall having [inaudible]. that.

JOURNALIST: What is your attitude ...

PRIME MINISTER: I don't think I've been asked about it.

I'm sorry, I've been asked what?

JOURNALIST: ...(inaudible)...

PRIME MINISTER: No, I haven't been asked about that.

JOURNALIST: ...(inaudible)...

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it depends what's in it.

JOURNALIST: Do you support the process of trying to construct [inaudible]...

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it would depend, Margo, entirely on what was in the document.

JOURNALIST: ...(inaudible)...

PRIME MINISTER: Well, if the process of, if the present process of reconciliation produces a document or calls for consideration of a document, then no self respecting, sensible Government would say no, they won't even look at it.

When, obviously, people have different views about what ought to be in it. If it's a document that starts from the point of view that all negotiations between the two sovereign groups are ...(inaudible)... well, no I would never entertain such a document. We are one nation and I will never accept any process that involves the division of the Australian nation, never.

But if, and equally if the document starts talking about different laws for different sections of the community, I won't agree to that either. Because I believe in the indivisibility of the law in this country. I know it should be sensitive to different groups within the community but if we are talking about something that documents our shared aspirations, that recognises historical facts, that connects this nation again as it has done in the past to racial equality tolerance and fair treatment of all and equal opportunity for all, then that's a different matter. It all depends on the contents.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: No, no. I think we'll take, this question here and that's it.

JOURNALIST: What were Mr Dodson's conditions?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, he wanted something to do with probably the Deputy Chairman, I think he wanted Mr Viner back, although that hadn't featured very prominently in our discussion on Sunday night and there are two other conditions. But can I say it really has become a bit academic after the rejection on Sunday night. But the real thing is that you don't bargain, you don't bargain in this. I mean, I was willing to have him as Chairman on Sunday night, I asked him to reconsider, I explained, he was well aware that we'd approached somebody else. He said no and five days later, whether there were conditions attached or not, it's a bit rough on the other person to say, sorry ma'm, we no longer have any use for you, we've decided to re-appoint the other person despite the fact that he knocked us back twice. No self respecting government can do that and if it then gets around that a government can be treated with that kind of indifference then I think the process suffers.

Now, I'm sorry about this but just let me finish on this note. I went out of my way to give him last weekend to reconsider. I spent some time on the phone to people, I spent an hour and half with him. It was a very amiable discussion. I asked him, he said no.

And quite properly we approached somebody else. She's very good, she'll do the job magnificently I'm sure and regrettably it was too late, conditions or not.

JOURNALIST: What happened to the earlier news conference?

PRIME MINISTER: Beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST: What happened to the earlier news conference?

PRIME MINISTER: Which one, I'm here?

JOURNALIST: ... yesterday, that you were having a joint news conference ...

PRIME MINISTER: What happened was that there was a view from a number of the Premiers that they wanted to, I think they were going to be finished before lunch and they wondered if ...

JOURNALIST: It was not that they wanted to give you a pat on the back...(inaudible)..?

PRIME MINISTER: No, no, Premiers give me a pat on the back? When did that happen?

JOURNALIST: It certainly didn't happen today.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they haven't, it's happened on some occasions. But look, the reason that they didn't have a news conference in the middle of the morning was there was a majority view and they wanted to get on with everything else.

I think they wanted to finish by lunch time, they made that very plain.

Thank you.