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Prime Minister's Courtyard, Parliament House, 25 June 1999: transcript of press conference [GST Bill; Democrats' leadership spill; Constitutional preamble; Oakdale miners; business tax; John Ralph Report]



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PRIME MINISTER

 

25 June 1999

 

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

PRESS CONFERENCE

PRIME MINISTER’S COURTYARD, PARLIAMENT HOUSE

 

Subjects: GST Bill, Democrats’ leadership spill, Constitutional preamble, Oakdale miners, business tax, John Ralph Report,

 

E&OE

 

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve called this news conference to say how very pleased I am that the committee stage of the debate in the Senate relating to the main GST bill has now been completed. And I’m delighted to note that all of the Government amendments supported by the Australian Democrats have been accepted by the Senate, amendments moved by the Labor Party and the Greens have been rejected. This is a major step towards a new taxation system for Australia.

 

I thank the Australian Democrats and most particularly their Leader, Senator Lees, for their support, for her leadership in relation to that support. I also very warmly thank my Senate colleagues, and I’ll have an opportunity of doing so again next week, for their stewardship of what has turned out to be a marathon debate. It’s worth noting that when you add in the Senate Committee hearings, this issue has been under almost continuous debate and discussion now for a period of six or seven months.

 

But the important thing is that today we are a giant step closer to realising the goal the Government has set itself now for almost two years, and that is to achieve a modern, reformed, revitalised taxation system, fairer, more efficient and providing much more incentive for the Australian community. And I look forward to the further votes in the Senate on Monday. And if they go, as we hope they will, the return of that legislation to the House of Representatives on Monday evening for final acceptance by the Parliament of the plan I announced to the people in September of 1998, which will give this nation in the next century a new taxation system.

 

QUESTION:

 

[Inaudible]

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I beg your pardon.

 

QUESTION:

 

Will the next hurdle be the implementation of the GST?

 

QUESTION:

 

Well, we of course will implement it efficiently and fairly. I don’t see that as a hurdle. We will provide resources so that the Australian public can be fully informed about the implementation, about how it will operate. I remain very much of the view that once the legislation is through and the community knows the matter has been resolved that the community will go on to the next issue. I don’t think we’re going to have a third campaign fought on a GST. I know some people around this building have a fond hope that there will be a third GST election campaign. They don’t understand politics or political history. What will happen is when the GST comes into operation the public will see the benefits of the taxation cuts. Traders and small business people will have been fully informed and advised and helped and assisted in relation to implementation and handling any detail of the new taxation system. And as has occurred in other countries where there has been a sensible introduction, in other words you have got rid of an existing old-fashioned indirect tax and introduced personal income tax cuts at the same as you bring in the goods and services tax, where that has happened, as in New Zealand, things have gone very smoothly.

 

QUESTION:

 

Given that this is a plan that you didn’t put up in the first place…

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, it’s 85 per cent of it, Dennis.

 

QUESTION:

 

Is there any chance of trying to move and get the next 15%?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

This is it.

 

QUESTION:

 

Mr Howard, how important is Meg Lees continued leadership of the Democrats to a continuation of your new productive relationship with that party?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, Michelle, I don’t presume and I’ve been around here long enough not to even dream of presuming to give another political party advice about its leadership. That’s not the sort of advice that’s ever welcome. And I can only report that I have found her an honourable, straightforward, decent person with whom to deal. She has expressed great confidence about her position. I certainly believe that she’s given credibility and status and clout to the Australian Democrats in a way that no other leader that party’s had for quite a while has been able to do. And she’s certainly been infinitely more successful in achieving wins for the Australian Democrats and for their values and beliefs than her predecessor. As to what happens, that is entirely a matter for the Australian Democrats and it’s not for me to give any advice. I note, however, her expressions of confidence and she certainly has a proven track record of delivering what she says she can deliver.

 

QUESTION:

 

Is it not destabilising for your Government when the people that you have to rely on to get your legislation through the Senate have got a leadership that is in crisis?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

You didn’t seriously ask that question, Paul, did you? Of course it’s not. Destabilising for our government? Oh yes! I mean, we are on the verge of an historic reform of the Australian taxation system and you’re talking about a destabilised government.

 

QUESTION:

 

Does it cause you difficulties having…

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I thought we’d spent the last five minutes talking about getting every amendment through. No.

 

QUESTION:

 

Prime Minister, how quickly do you move on to business taxation reform after next week and do you expect the Democrats will be as accommodating on that issue?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

On the assumption that the Parliament votes, in the final votes, supports all of our package that we will then turn our attention to business tax. John Ralph has requested an extension of time until the end of July, which is not all that long off, certainly not for me. I’ll be away for a couple of weeks in the early part of July and we’ve got a Federal Council meeting of the Liberal Party so there’s plenty to do while we’re waiting for the final report. But we’ll turn our minds to that very quickly. As far as the Democrats are concerned, I’m not making any assumptions, I’m not taking anything for granted. I hope that on this issue the Labor Party might decide to actually become part of the Australian political contest again instead of throwing mud and throwing saying no, which has been their stock in trade particularly over the last month. I mean we have seen in the last week a dramatic demonstration of the different styles of politics in this country. I can’t think of a week where the Government has done and achieved more solid policy and more gains for the long-term benefit of the country. Taxation, the environment, reaffirmation of the green corps today, youth wages yesterday. It’s been an extraordinary week. The further privatisation of Telstra, all the benefits that flow out of that. And what have we had from the Labor Party? A shaking of heads and a throwing of mud.

 

QUESTION:

 

Why won’t the GST be an issue at the next election?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, some people may try to make it. I make the prediction that the Australian people will move onto something else.

 

QUESTION:

 

What extent would you really deal with the Labor Party over business tax reform?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well our position Dennis is that we are always ready to deal constructively with other political parties and the Labor Party could have dealt itself into the taxation debate a long time ago. And they would have in my view been more highly regarded by the Australian people as a result of it. If the Labor Party shows a willingness to be constructive for a change then we’ll respond. But of course it’s got to be a response against the background of the principles for which we stand.

 

QUESTION:

 

Will you be sending a pamphlet to every household explaining the new changes?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

We will certainly be doing as any government has a right to do, and indeed has a duty to do with a new law, we’ll be making resources available to explain how that new law effects people. Now whether that involves sending a communication to every household, or what combination of household communication plus radio or television advertisements, or information documents to businessmen and women. Whatever combination is needed will be embraced because people have got to know how the new system operates.

 

QUESTION:

 

Will the Government pay for that?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well of course the government will pay for that. It will be the law of the country and nobody will have a right to complain about the responsibility of the government to explain to the Australian people how a new law operates. I mean we’ve been down that road before and the attempt by the Labor Party to denigrate our information campaign last year failed. Here we’re talking about a situation of an information campaign after the law has been passed. I mean they’d be doubly out of court complaining about that.

 

QUESTION:

 

Will the Coalition again promise the full sale of Telstra for the next campaign?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well our policy remains Michelle to achieve, subject to the benchmarking and the inquiry of which we’ve already spoken about the adequacy of the social obligations being met by Telstra, we remain committed. So the answer to that is if it hasn’t happened before then the answer is yes.

 

QUESTION:

 

Prime Minister have you given up any chance of getting your voluntary student unionism through in this session?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well let’s see what time we’ve got left next week. I mean I remain very committed, and the Government remains very committed to voluntary student unionism. It’s been something dear to the hearts of many of us because it’s one of those Liberal principles. Very pure, straightforward, unambiguous Liberal principle that nobody should be compelled to join something, and I hope we can still get it through but we’ll wait and see.

 

QUESTION:

 

Won’t the lamb decision be a difficulty for you on your trip to the United States?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

The lamb decision? Well the lamb issue could be yes, in one way it won’t be. If the decision goes the right way it will make a joyous visit….it’s make the visit even more joyous.

 

QUESTION:

 

Can you make a comment on the passing of Peter Abeles?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Peter Abeles’ death removes a very significant business figure from the Australian scene. Peter Abeles was one of a number of a generation of business men and women in this country who were born in Europe and who left Europe as young people leaving behind a continent devastated by war, and many of them like Peter Abeles fled persecution and came to this country and made an immense contribution to this country. And he of course dominated the transport industry through his positions in both Ansett Transport Industries and TNT for several decades and he’s certainly a very significant figure and I express my condolences to his family and remark upon his great contribution to the Australian business scene.

 

QUESTION:

 

Do you think that too close to the Labor government?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I don’t want to talk about that. People are entitled to have business associations and associates who are in business. I’m not going to comment on that.

 

QUESTION:

 

… rejection reintroduced legislation on youth wages and what would you now do to get that through?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Oh look I’m feeling very warm about the Democrats at the moment.

 

QUESTION:

 

Did you advise Mr Entsch to resign his secretaryship of his companies?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Look decisions are ultimately taken by people taking into account a whole lot of considerations and a whole lot of factors and if you want to talk to Mr Entsch about that you do so.

 

QUESTION:

 

[Inaudible]… your own stand in support of Mr Entsch?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

My own stand in support in of Mr Entsch, yes.

 

QUESTION:

 

[Inaudible] now resigned those directorships, does that alter your defence of Mr Entsch?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

No, no. Not the slightest. Why would it?

 

QUESTION:

 

[Inaudible] by pulling out of those directorships, he acknowledges that there is some question about …..

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

No, it doesn’t acknowledge of any admission of anything. I mean you can talk to him but I imagine that one of the reasons why it’s occurred is that, you know, he has been subjected to an enormous amount of unfair criticism and abuse from the Labor Party. Why would anybody want to go through that again. That doesn’t mean to say that it’s any admission of guilt and I don’t retract or recant or go back on anything I’ve said. I’ve regarded the whole thing as a ridiculous beat-up over something that did not involve any dishonesty on his part. I mean the Labor Party has extended an enormous amount of energy this week throwing dirt, and I don’t think it’s helped them and I think they’ve made a very big mistake doing so. If there was any real evidence of dishonesty or corruption or fraud it would be a different matter. He would’ve been out on his ear. But there’s been no evidence of that and it I think he’s taken the view that, you know, what’s the point of going through all that again, particularly as that company would continue to carry on business and there’s just no point, presumably, in going through that again.

 

QUESTION:

 

Mr Howard [inaudible] back to preambles and other issues for the rest of the year, what is your plan now to try and get that firstly through the Senate, how much…?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I haven’t really given the preamble a great deal of thought, Michelle. I’ll have a think about it over the next week or two but it’s not - whilst I would like to have a preamble to put, whilst I think we have got a good opportunity if people are sensible and see the wisdom of agreeing on what is common ground, if people hold out for something they know that one of the other political parties won’t agree to and we end up not having a preamble, well, it won’t be because I haven’t tried. I mean, that’s my position.

 

QUESTION:

 

Prime Minister, does the Government [inaudible] termination payments with Patricks, is it valid to say that that’s a precedent which might assist the Oakdale miners?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, there is a difference of course - the redundancies in the waterfront industry were funded by the companies as part of an overall plan put forward in large measure by the companies themselves to rationalise the size of the workforce.

 

QUESTION:

 

But the Government assisted [inaudible].

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yes, but we didn’t fund it. We didn’t fund the redundancies on the waterfront. Those redundancies were paid for by a levy on the companies. We provided a guarantee but we didn’t fund them. The costs of those redundancies are borne by P&O and by Patricks and by the smaller stevedores. So, there are some similarities, Malcolm, but they’re not on all fores. One the issue of the miners, Mr Reith and Senator Minchin had a talk to them and we are very sympathetic to their plight. I feel very sorry for those men and we are looking at the whole situation. It’s not an easy issue as the former government found because they didn’t do anything about it. And it’s an issue that we are studying very closely. I remind you we are encouraging the Securities Commission to look to see whether any avenue for recovery against the companies or their affiliates is available. I’m not saying there is but we’ve certainly encouraged them to do so and they’ll do that very comprehensively I’m sure. And Mr Reith and Senator Minchin will be talking to the Cabinet about the issue more broadly over the next week or two. But we are particularly sympathetic and it does a raise a very difficult issue and we’ll try and get a balanced response to it.

 

QUESTION:

 

Prime Minister, can I ask you about the Democrats’ proposal for a minimum company tax, I was wondering what you think of that idea, do you think that’s a good way to get business to pay an adequate amount of company tax or do you think it’s too complicated a structure?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, that’s been referred to the Ralph Committee. That’s re ally all I have to say about it at this stage. It’s been referred to the Ralph Committee to be examined. I don’t really care to say anything more about it at the moment. Thank you.

 

[ends]

 

dd  1999-06-29  10:33