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Kirribilli House, Sydney: transcript of doorstop interview: election victory, economic management, illegal entries, Cabinet, parliament, retirement, media policy, Trade Practices Act.



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www.pm.gov.au

11 November 2001

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, KIRRIBILLI HOUSE, SYDNEY

Subjects: election victory, economic management, illegal entries, Cabinet, parliament, retirement, media policy, trade practices act

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………………...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, have you got any questions?

JOURNALIST:

You’ve won Government now, what about (inaudible), will there be a major overhaul of the frontbench?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ll be saying something about the future shape of the ministry at the right time. I won’t be announcing it for a day or two at least.

JOURNALIST:

What will be your first priority?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the first priority is obviously to get on with many of the issues that were relevant to the Government before the election. Obviously economic management, we’ve got to deal with the Ansett issue, we’ve got to continue to reinforce our policy in relation to border protection. And I think also from a political point of view we’ve got to disabuse some of the mythology that’s starting to emerge as to why the Government won. I think the Government’s victory lies in a campaign and a number of responses that began months ago. The idea that the victory was entirely due to the impact of border protection and the … the point I want to make is that

PRIME MINISTER

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the government was clearly in a lot of political difficulty seven or eight months ago and we began to address those concerns, I felt that if we could address some of the concerns that people had then the underlying economic strengths of the Government would reassert themselves and that people would begin to see us as preferable economic managers to the Labor Party when the choice finally came. And I felt on the morning of the 15th of July after we’d won the Aston by-election that we were really back in the game. I know that if we could hold Aston in that climate then we could hold our metropolitan seats in Melbourne and if could hold them in Melbourne we could clearly hold them in both Sydney and Brisbane and that was really the key to the Government’s survival and I think from then on we built very strongly. So there are a lot of things that contribute to a victory but the idea that it was all due to the public response to the issue of border protection, important though that was and continues to be, ignores the series of steps the government took to respond to community concerns and to rebuilt its political position from a number of months ago.

JOURNALIST:

Asylum seekers are still coming, will the Government reassess its policy (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ll be continuing the policy, we’re not going to reassess it having fought very strongly on a particular policy. It would be rather hypocritical and dishonest of us to the day after the election to say we’ll we’re now going to have a new policy. Of course we’ll maintain the existing policy but the existing policy involves continuing to seek a greater understanding with Indonesia and others in the region.

JOURNALIST:

What about a higher immigration intake?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well my position on that today is as it was last week and that is I have an open mind about the particular level, I think the level at the present time is right but I don’t have any plans in the immediate future to change it.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) to take more Afghanistani refugees… Have you been approached about any of this and what would be your view?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I haven’t been, the answer is no I have not been and our policy on refugees remains as I’ve stated it.

JOURNALIST:

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If economic management is such a key area the government campaigned on well, will the Government restate its understanding with the Reserve Bank on its independence and its inflation target…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you only need to restate something like that if it’s under question and it’s not under question.

JOURNALIST:

… Monday morning that your priority would be to have talks over the future of Ansett, have you had any discussions arranged and will there…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t have any discussions arranged but I imagine that I’ll get a few phone calls seeing I’ve been re-elected.

JOURNALIST:

When will Parliament resume?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t know Malcolm, maybe not before Christmas.

JOURNALIST:

Speaking of phone calls Prime Minister, what did the President say last night?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the President congratulated me and he gave me an idea of what he was going to say in his speech to the General Assembly in New York. He talked about the recent military events in Afghanistan and we allowed ourselves a quiet reflection, a brief but quiet reflection on the success of two centre-right political leaders.

JOURNALIST:

Did the call come out of the blue?

PRIME MINISTER:

What?

JOURNALIST:

The phone call.

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PRIME MINISTER:

Was I expecting it? Well I was informed during the day that I might get one, yes. I mean I was very pleased to receive it and it was a good opportunity to talk to the President again about what we have in common.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, how does this victory compare with 1996 and 1998 and was there any time at all yesterday when you thought you might not win?

PRIME MINISTER:

I was nervous the whole day Phil. I said that and I meant it. I have no idea really until the numbers started to come in how it would pan out. Okay I’ve looked at polls and I’ve got certain advice but it is a long and nervous wait and I sweated on that electoral office computer in my study and it was not until it had been going for about, the figures had been coming in for about an hour that I was completely satisfied that we were going to make it. But of course there were occasions yesterday when I thought we wouldn’t, that’s what I said and I meant it, I didn’t make that up. I never took this result for granted. How does it compare? They’re all different. 1996, plainly the Australian public wanted a change of government, they felt that we offered a stable alternative, they knew what I stood for, they knew I stood for certain things. 1998, it was the political hazard on running on tax reform. This is a very strong and wonderful victory for the Liberal Party and for the Coalition. It is the biggest two party preferred swing since 1996, there are a lot of reasons for it. One of the reasons is that we are getting the dividend of having chosen some excellent candidates in then Labor held marginal seats in 1995. Particularly but not only in New South Wales. People like Jackie Kelly and Danna Vale and Kerry Bartlett and Joanna Gash. Have a look at the way they’ve all, and Jim Lloyd, how they’ve all increased their vote. Quite astonishing. If I may finish, the same thing in relation to Ross Cameron and Pat Farmer. Those results, and it could be extended in Queensland too, those results are a reminder to both sides of politics that you must have people who resonate with their electorates. It’s no good choosing identikit organisational people, you’ve got to choose people who’re got some local resonance. Now take somebody like Jim Lloyd, Central Coast, small businessman, very strong community affiliations. Joanna Gash the same, Danna Vale the same, Jackie Kelly the same. It’s still very important, if not more so that political parties, and this is a message I send to the Liberal Party around Australia, when choosing candidates in marginal seats you’ve got to choose people who connect with the electorate, not people who can marshal their numbers after a factional fight inside their own party.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard you’ve said (inaudible) this was all about border control…

PRIME MINISTER:

I wanted to dispute the notion that it was only about that. I’m not saying that that wasn’t relevant, that would be intellectually dishonest. I want to dispel the myth that it’s all due to that, that the Labor Party really sort of staged an heroic recovery from the time the campaign

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starts. That is Labor’s spin, the reality is that they were a country mile ahead of us in March or April of this year.

JOURNALIST:

… Prime Minister though you did run a full page newspaper ads on the theme we decide who comes, they were your banners at the polling booths. Don’t you (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is the spin that my critics would try and put on it. Of course I don’t accept that but you can put that spin on it if you want to, I’m pretty indifferent now to that sort of spin. I don’t believe it, it’s not right, the Australian people know it’s not right. One of the things that people were predicting that there would be a fall away in the Liberal vote in safe seats, that has not occurred. In fact the Liberal vote in safe seats the primary vote increased. Have a look at what happened in seats like Cook and Mackellar, even my own seat which is not quite as safe as some of the others, Berowra, all of those seats, there is no bleeding away of the Liberal vote in our heartland seats, if there was any bleeding away it was in the Labor heartland seats.

JOURNALIST:

Will you win Warringah?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Warringah was a special situation, can I say how delighted I am with Tony Abbott’s victory and how very pleased I am that despite all the money and all the resources that were hurled at Tony Abbott he was able to repel Peter McDonald who demonstrated when he was in State Parliament a profound pro-Labor bias and was of course one of the independents who I think infamously bought down Nick Greiner.

JOURNALIST:

In two years time will wild horses be able to drag you out (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Sarah you know my position on that. Look those wild horses will have to be very powerful to have any impact on me. Look I’ve said what I have said about my future, I’ve maintained that position throughout the campaign, it hasn’t altered. I’m only focused now on doing a good job for the Australian people, seeing them through, I want to go serving, I feel very fit, I feel very energetic, there’s no doubt in mind there are a lot of things to be done and I’m very keen to get on with it and the idea of retirement couldn’t be further from my mind.

PRIME MINISTER:

…..idea of retirement couldn’t be further from my mind.

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JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] National Party of losing two seats in New South Wales, one in Queensland. Is there a process of attrition to the National Party’s constituency….?

PRIME MINISTER:

Malcolm I’m not certain that the National Party has lost Hinkler if that’s what you’re referring to.

JOURNALIST:

Kennedy.

PRIME MINISTER:

Kennedy yeah. I think Kennedy’s clearly gone and so is New England. There were special circumstances. Well as far as being won by the Liberal Party, the others by independents. People have presaged the demise or decline of the National Party before. I think it would be wrong to do that. Larry Anthony fought an heroic campaign. And give the National Party credit for the role they played in staring down One Nation. I mean Ron Boswell’s courage in Queensland in taking on his own party organisation on that and I’m so delighted that he’s been rewarded and that’s one of the reasons why I made special mention of Ron last night.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, in light of their performance, do you see the National Party holding the same level….?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look the question of the terms and conditions of representation in the Cabinet that’s something I discussed with Mr Anderson. I’m not going to speculate beyond saying that of course Mr Anderson will be the Deputy Prime Minister in the Coalition Government and the Coalition agreement will be renewed and the Coalition is a centrepiece of the Government’s success and a centrepiece of the Government’s future.

JOURNALIST:

Will one of your first priorities be to go to Jakarta to talk about the boat people issue?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is an issue that I’ve said I’ll continue to give a lot of attention to. I haven’t made any arrangements to go anywhere accept to stay here for a few days and take a bit of a breather and give some thought of the future shape of my Government.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, another $500 million for the defence commitment has been revealed by the

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Department of Finance. Do you think you’ll need to take some steps to repair the budget and ensure that it stays in surplus?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s not quite right Paul to say that that has been revealed. They said zero to $500 million depending on circumstances. So that’s not $500 million. It’s zero to $500 million. The answer at this stage is no.

JOURNALIST:

Who do you think you’ll face as Opposition Leader?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that really is a matter for them. I think it is shall I put it…..

JOURNALIST:

Do you have a preference?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I wouldn’t state it. It would be ridiculous and it’s patronising and almost ??? of me to start making comments and giving advice about who should be the Opposition Leader. I suppose I would allow myself one piece of advice and that is that you really do have to spend your time in Opposition building an alternative view of yourself. I’ve often said in the past that although I thought he was a terrible Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam was a very successful Labor Opposition Leader because he set out to present an alternative program and he built over a period of years an alternative point of view. And that I think is what the Labor Party manifestly failed to do after 1996. It’s very important after every election not to either overestimate or underestimate or misinterpret the reasons for the result. Now I’m not going to make that mistake in relation to this. It’s been a great victory for the Liberal Party, an emphatically strong victory for the Liberal Party. But you never want to allow yourself to indulgently interpret the results. We still have to respond immediately to challenges and in three years time we will be judged according to how we’ve performed over that three year period, not according to some view that history has endowed us with any kind of long term entitlement to be in government. Political parties that imagine that are doomed to suffer the sort of defeats the Labor Party suffered in 1996.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, with the Greens and the Democrats likely to obtain the balance of power in the Senate and opposing the further privatisation of Telstra, even if services do improve to adequate levels does this mean that you won’t pursue the further sale….?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. Our policy is that we won’t sell another share in Telstra until services in the bush are up to scratch.

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JOURNALIST:

Will you announce your Cabinet line up this week before you….?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not making any commitments about when I’m going to announce my Cabinet line up. I will give it a lot of thought. I will talk to the Deputy Prime Minister about it and when I’m ready I’ll make an announcement. I’m not going to speculate when that might be.

JOURNALIST:

Will the Senate be more challenging Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Senate? Well when you’ve got as minority the Senate’s always challenging.

JOURNALIST:

More challenging….?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think it’ll be any more or less Paul.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have a theme for this next term?

PRIME MINISTER:

Good government is always the best theme for any term.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister when you woke up this morning even though obviously tension from the election campaign had faded away, I just wonder whether this is a really major moment in your life how you felt about the fact that you’ve got a third term when every one had written you off several months ago?

PRIME MINISTER:

I felt pleased, I felt grateful that the Australian people had given me that honour. I felt privileged and I felt a renewed sense of commitment. I don’t down play the significance of it. To win three terms is not something that many people achieve. I understand that. But I also understand that you should never get indulgently carried away with your own self importance. You are there as a servant of the people and I continue to see my role in that fashion. And it was a team effort. There were some individual performances, I mentioned a couple last night,

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I’ve mentioned some more today. I think the Liberal Party organisation in New South Wales was splendid. I think it did a very good job in Queensland. The responsibility of the Queensland Liberal Party was to hold all our marginals and make sure Ryan came neatly back and to capture Dickson.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I was a little depressed with the Wallabies losing so when I finally got to bed about 4 o’clock this morning I was a little bit exhausted.

JOURNALIST:

The sweetest victory Prime Minister that you’ve had?

PRIME MINISTER:

I choose different expressions.

JOURNALIST:

Can we expect no Parliament before Christmas, is that right?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. What I’m saying is it may well not meet. I mean you’ve got allow a certain amount of [inaudible] time and so on and it’s now, what, the 11th of November and I think it’s quite possible Parliament won’t sit until the beginning of February.

JOURNALIST:

If Australia sends more troops though would you expect Parliament to resume to debate that as the Democrats….?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t believe that we will be requested to send more troops. I’ve said before that the commitment we’ve made to date is appropriate. It’s within our capability. If we were asked we’d obviously consider a further commitment but at this stage I don’t anticipate that that is going to happen. I really don’t.

JOURNALIST:

Why do you think you did better than you expected in Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER:

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Why? Because living standards are high. See what people overlook in their simplistic explanations about the result is that the living standards of Australians have gotten stronger under this Government and that is very important for families in suburbs and in the mortgage belts of the major cities. Of all the plethora of poll data that came out during the campaign the result that interested me the most was the one in the Nielsen Poll in answer to the question do you feel better off or worse off than five and a five years ago which was the rhetorical question Kim Beazley posed during the debate. And the majority of people said they felt better off. Now that’s interesting. It’s also true because interest rates are lower, real wages are up, more people are in work. Living standards are higher and I believe that the appreciation of the quality of the Government’s economic management was a stronger factor in those suburban seats in Melbourne and in Sydney, in outer Sydney, and in Brisbane than people perhaps thought might be the case.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, it’s Remembrance Day today, with Australian soldiers going overseas any different thoughts at this end (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes, I reflected particularly during the prayer for the men and women who are overseas, of course, I’m very conscious of that. And on Remembrance Day any year you think of the people who’ve scarified their lives in the past and you always think very hard about the position of the men and women who are overseas and I ask all Australians to do the same.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard what’s your vision for Australia and does it go beyond…

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look you don’t at a doorstop…

JOURNALIST:

… theme, good government…

PRIME MINISTER:

Good Government is a very good theme and serving the Australian people is an admirable personal goal and that’s what I commit myself to.

JOURNALIST:

Beyond that what’s your mandate?

PRIME MINISTER:

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Our mandate is all of the policies we put and those actions of a government consistent with the philosophy its enunciated in the five and a half years that it’s been Government. When you go to the people and you win a comfortable majority and you win an emphatic two party preferred portion of the vote you plainly have a mandate to implement policies and approaches that are consistent with your philosophy. You’re not limited to just being about it do only these things that you mentioned during the campaign, obviously you have an obligation not to do the things you’ve ruled out. But plainly you have a mandate to implement things that are consistent with your philosophy.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister were you relieved to see the demise of One Nation?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am pleased that the One Nation vote was suppressed and appeared to dissipate because I don’t think One Nation offered any logical, viable, believable alternative. I thought it was essentially an irritable, alienated vote, I understood the reason why some people were attracted to One Nation, I never believed that the million Australian who voted for them in 1998 were racist, I thought that was quite ridiculous and offensive, I think there were people who felt as though they were left out. We have endeavoured to address some of those concerns, I do think some of the utterances of One Nation at various stages courted some racist sentiments, I don’t think you should define people according to their race and that’s the reason in the end, more that anything else, why I argued that One Nation should be put last and might I say I argued successfully through the constitution of the Liberal Party that One Nation should be put last.

JOURNALIST:

Will you to the beach next week or on holiday…

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don’t have a chance really to have a holiday before Christmas, I’ve got work to do but I perhaps won’t be giving all of you as much work over the next week as I have over the past five. Perhaps I’ll cut my daily functions in half and...

JOURNALIST:

Is there a need for some sort of review to have a proper look now that the dust has settled.

PRIME MINISTER:

Paul, you fight an election campaign on a particular policy and on the Sunday after and you don’t think oh well we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that different from what we’ve said. You do have some obligation of consistency to these things and I stated our immigration policy, the Labor Party didn’t put one out which I thought was very interesting. I must say that they have suffered I believe from a lack of credibility on that whole issue during the campaign but that is for others I suppose to talk about more. Anything else?

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JOURNALIST:

Next year, how important will your overseas commitments be given that international affairs are so prominent or are you going to be a stay at home…

PRIME MINISTER:

No I’ll have the right balance, it’s important to go overseas on occasions and I've travelled a lot this year because it was in the national interest to do so and I don’t think anybody would suggest that I shouldn’t have, well some people have suggested I shouldn’t have gone to Shanghai but I don’t think many people here did. And the trip to Indonesia was important, the trip to Japan was important, clearly the trip to the United States was important. I will go overseas as necessary in the national interest and I certainly don’t intend to have some fixed policy of staying at home unless it’s absolutely essential I go away. I think the people want their Prime Minister to go abroad when that is in Australia’s interest and I will do that.

JOURNALIST:

How early in the new term will you look at the trade practices review and would you be prepared to look at….?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well our intention is that the review, Paul, be completed by August or September of next year so the answer is we’ll get to work on that very quickly.

JOURNALIST:

Media deregulation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you know our policy on that but unless there’s some indication from the other side that they will support it we’re not going to belt our head against a brick wall. I mean I think the present cross media prohibitions and present laws are anachronistic. I’ve felt that for a long time. I would like to see them changed. But unless we get an indication from the Labor Party or the minor parties that they’ll support change in the Senate I’m not going to bloody my nose on the subject.

JOURNALIST:

If you could characterise this as a cricket match Prime Minister, some people might think it’s been a bodyline series given some of the debate we’ve had. But how would you characterise as a cricket match?

PRIME MINISTER:

A skilful personal century and I think after three times an innings defeat for Labor.

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JOURNALIST:

You thanked your family and friends last night and many of them were at the party. Most of them said to reporters and to anyone else who was listening that they were very happy that you could retire a winner. They’re very keen for you to name a date.

PRIME MINISTER:

They haven’t told me.

[ends]