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Transcript of doorstop interview: Archer Enterprises, Somersby: 5 November 2007: road funding; practice nurse funding; Peter Garrett; Senator Sherry; interest rates; economic management.



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5 November 2007

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW ARCHER ENTERPRISES, SOMERSBY

Subjects: Road funding; practice nurse funding; Peter Garrett; Senator Sherry; interest rates; economic management

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen, I’d like first of all to thank Stephen Byrne of Archer Enterprises for the opportunity of visiting his business. This business was started by his parents in 1977, and it’s a reminder that Australia can still do extremely well with niche manufacturing operations. This company has been very successful in selling a range of equipment to the mining industry, especially but not only, it’s also been successful in winning export contracts and it is a reminder to those cynics about

Australian manufacturing that if you have the right product, you have the right employment arrangements, you have the right degree of flexibility in those arrangements and you have the right economic settings it is possible to be very, very successful and I thank Steven and his wife and the other people involved with the company for the opportunity of visiting this enterprise here at Somersby today.

Before making some general political comments and taking your questions, I do have two local announcements to make. The first of those is that a re-elected Coalition Government will fully fund the repair or the upgrade of the site of the culvert collapse at Piles Creek on the old Pacific Highway. That collapse resulted in the tragic death of an entire family during the torrential downpour that occurred around the Queen’s Birthday weekend earlier this year. This road of course is not a federal road, the funding and the upgrade of it is the responsibility of the local council, but we have decided that we will fund that upgrade and also of an area of road which is about one kilometre away from here which is judged also to be very much in need of repair. Both of these upgrades will take place once the roads have been released from coronial control which will be sometime in the not-too-distant future and they’ll be funded through a Federal program dealing with natural disaster relief but the point I simply make is that we’ll fully fund it.

The other point I should make while I’m on the Central Coast is that this area will benefit from the changes I announced last week in relation to practice nurses. Under the previous arrangement, only those GPs within the Wyong Council area were entitled, because of the restrictions that existed, were entitled to the subsidy and financial support in relation to practice nurses but as a result of taking away altogether any restrictions on any GPs anywhere in Australia being able to employ practice nurses, GPs within the Gosford City Council area will be able to employ practice

nurses. These changes, and most particularly the introduction of a Medicare item to cover home visits by practice nurses to people over the age of 65 and those under the age of 65 who are too sick to go and see their doctor, this particular initiative has been very widely welcomed. The Gosford City Council area has a significant population over the age of 65 and therefore it will benefit very markedly from this particular reform.

Could I also before concluding make some general remarks. We’ve now had direct confirmation from the broadcaster, Charles Wooley, of a conversation between Peter Garrett and Charles Wooley in September in which Peter Garrett made it perfectly clear to him that the policies enunciated by the Labor Party, particularly in the area of the environment, during the election campaign or the lead up to the election campaign would not necessarily be the same policies that would be pursued in government. So we now have two respected broadcasters who have confirmed what Mr Garrett said. It was clearly no joke, so Mr Rudd now has to tell the Australian public, given this latest evidence that it was no joke, he has to tell the Australian public what he intends to do about a senior member of his team, somebody who was at his elbow for most of last week and who would be negotiating on our behalf at the Bali conference in December if Labor were to win the election later this month, Mr Rudd has to explain how the Australian people should trust him to implement the policies that he’s advocating during this election campaign.

The truth is that Mr Garrett has well and truly blown Labor’s cover on this issue and we have further evidence this morning in relation to the superannuation guarantee about the conflict between what Labor says now and what it might do in the future. The Labor Party’s conference policy position in relation to the superannuation guarantee indicates that it will rise from nine to 15 per cent. When contacted this morning, a staffer on Senator Sherry’s staff indicated that that was still the policy of the Party. Later on Senator Sherry said no, it wasn’t, yet I’m told that it is still in the Party platform. Who are we to believe? Is it going to go from nine to 15 per cent? To increase it from nine to 15 per cent would have a negative impact on small business because small business would see it as an additional impost, as it would be, and it would be a burden that would be carried straight off the bottom line of many small enterprises. But the fact that you can have a platform saying 15 per cent, you can have a staffer of Senator Sherry saying yes it’s going to 15 per cent, and then you have Senator Sherry when he’s flushed out saying no it’s not going to 15 per cent, raises further doubts about the difference between what Labor says in Opposition, what Labor says in an election campaign and what Labor would do in Government. Peter Garrett has blown the cover. Peter Garrett has exposed the duplicity of Labor in this campaign in relation to so many of their promises and the confirmation from Charles Wooley this morning means that it was no joke, he was deadly serious and that’s obvious from the Wooley transcript, he and Mr Rudd have a great deal more explaining to do to the Australian people.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, there’s a lot of things in the Labor platform that never get adopted as policy by Caucus, why this specific, why are you singling out this specific…

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah well I mean that’s a very, that’s a very, very interesting sort of proposition. Apparently it’s alright to have a platform which represents a whole lot of things to the people, but if you press on say don’t worry that doesn’t mean anything we won’t necessarily adopt it in Government, I mean what sort of approach is that? I mean I mention this because it arose on a radio program this morning and the confusion in Senator Sherry’s office is for all the world to see. I mean you’ve got a staff person saying yes it’s going to 15 per cent, that poor person probably believed the platform and that’s the whole point, then you have Senator Sherry saying no it’s not going to happen. I mean my point is that in an election campaign if you say something to the

Australian people, they are entitled to believe that you’re going to implement it.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, doesn’t, isn’t what’s important what the Leader of the Labor Party says rather than what a staffer says?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don’t. Well I think I think, I think what’s important is that there’s the consistency between what you say in the election campaign and what you do in Government. Now the big issue here is that you’ve got a senior member of the Labor team saying to two journalists now, not joking, he’s saying to two journalists, look what we say is not necessarily what we’re going to do in Government. Now for an electorate that has been bemused on occasions by the apparent similarity on some issues between the Labor Party and us, this is a very relevant thing, because what Mr Garrett is really saying to the faithful is don’t worry we’ll do the radical thing having conned our way into office with all this moderation we’ll do the radical thing once we’re there.

JOURNALIST:

But given that Mr Rudd has never been Prime Minister before, and says that he will absolutely deliver on his promises, doesn’t this say more about Peter Garrett and his discipline as a politician than it says about whether Kevin Rudd can be trusted to implement his policies?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, but you see, you see I actually believe, Mr Garrett is not joking, he was being very candid. I mean I think it says, I’m not alleging that Mr Garrett was not telling the truth, I in fact believe that, you know I believe what Mr Garrett is saying, I mean that is the concern.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, you talked at length yesterday about the US sub-prime mortgage market…

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah well I talked about it, I don’t know that I talked at length, but it was one of the issues yes.

JOURNALIST:

There’s reports today in the Financial Review that our major banks here in Australia are considering if the Reserve Bank raises interest rates this Wednesday, that they’ll tack a little bit extra on because their margins have suffered. Have you got any message to the bank? We have David Morgan I think from Westpac saying things like we have made no decisions yet and the market is volatile.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m not going to talk about what the Reserve Bank might do. In relation to market interest rates the point that both the Treasurer and I have made is that these are things that have to be directly related to the cost of funds and no bank has a right, in our view, to take advantage of a general change in climate in relation to something like the sub-prime to justify an increase in rates. And my advice to the banks, and the Treasurer’s advice to the banks, is that what you charge is something that has to be determined entirely by the cost of your funds. Australian banks are very profitable and increases in interest rates not related to increases in official interest rates would need to be very carefully justified to the Australian public. But I think what this, what your question illustrates and what I think this discussion illustrates is that we are entering a more difficult and challenging period of economic management. And economic management is now front and centre of this election campaign like never before. We have a strong economy, we can maintain a strong economy, we can continue to grow, we can continue to have low interest rates by historical standards in Australia provided we have the right policies. And my view to the Australian people, my proposition to the Australian people is that in this new and more challenging environment, now is not the time to replace an experienced Government on economic issues with an inexperienced Government, with a Government that might do very different things in Government from what it says it will do trying to get into Government, and not to replace a Treasurer and a Prime Minister who have seen 11 and a half years of steady economic growth in this country and very low unemployment.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you’ve got go for growth behind you and you’re also warning of difficult times ahead.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes there’s no inconsistency with that. I mean look, what I’m saying is you can have growth, continued growth under this Government, we’ve demonstrated a capacity to deal with difficult issues in the past. I mean if you go back over the last 11 and a half years, many people predicted in the 1998 election that the Asian economic downturn would engulf Australia, yet we were able to work our way through that. There was the tech bubble, as it was described, we were able to work our way through that.

There was the downturn in the United States and elsewhere associated with 2001, we were able to work our way through that. We were able to work our way through many other economic challenges and the point I’m making is that, that happened because of skilful economic management and experience. We are facing some more challenges, there is some inflation in the system, it’s coming in part from the drought, it’s coming in part from overseas commodity price pressures and also from the buoyancy of a strongly growing economy now these things if managed carefully can be accommodated within an overall growth path. If they pass into inexperienced hands, bearing in mind that for all this debate about interest rates, right now housing interest rates are lower than at any time under the former government and they are less than half of the notorious peak of 17 per cent. Now, we just have to keep that in perspective and the Australian people will have the choice on the 24th of November in this rather more challenging economic environment of whether it’s a good idea to stay with the people who have helped deliver 11 and a half years of growth and prosperity and the lowest unemployment rate in 33 years or try a new experiment which, if Mr Garrett is to be believed, will be a lot more radical than we have been led to believe during this election campaign.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, if the economy is so central now, so important…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s always been important. A strong economy is central to everything.

JOURNALIST:

…why then, are the voters not entitled to know who the Treasurer will be when you depart, in the next Coalition Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

The voters know this, Phil, that if we are returned I will be the Prime Minister and Mr Costello will be the Treasurer.

JOURNALIST:

You’re running hard on experience and the need for this not to fall to inexperienced hands, so shouldn’t people know who would be the Treasurer under…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Peter Costello, remember this that when we came into government in 1996, although Peter Costello had not been Treasurer before and had not been a Minister before, I had and I’d been Treasurer for five years and I’d been a Minister for seven and a half years during the Fraser Government so I did have quite a lot of experience and so it will be that well into the next term when there’s a transition to the second most experienced man in Australian public life, Peter Costello, he will have all that

experience at his fingertips of 11 and a half years or it’ll be a lot more by then, as Treasurer.

JOURNALIST:

Joe Hockey has made a promise this morning to stand down if there are substantial changes to WorkChoices. Are you prepared to offer a similar guarantee?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, I have already given a guarantee in relation to there being no further changes and look, Joe means what he says. Joe knows in his heart, I know, everybody knows that there aren’t going to be further changes. I mean, that is an old Labor

furphy that is simply isn’t going to run. If I can mix my metaphors, that furphy has no legs.

JOURNALIST:

Are you worried about the situation in Pakistan?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I am.

JOURNALIST:

Have you got any more information?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am concerned. What has happened is of concern to the Australian Government. I do have considerable respect for the strong stand that General Musharraf has taken against terrorism and the way in which he has stood shoulder to shoulder with the Coalition in relation to that but Australia can never condone or support extra-constitutional behaviour. We can’t support the state of emergency. We can’t support setting aside the views and the deliberations of the judiciary, the rule of law is fundamental to our view of government. As it happens I had a telephone conversation with President Musharraf last night and I took the opportunity of conveying my feelings as I have just described them. I indicated to him that whilst I retain

considerable respect and admiration for the strong stand he has taken against terrorism, that Australia could not support in any way any extra-constitutional behaviour, that the rule of law had to prevail and that I hoped that there would be an early return to a more democratic path. That I hoped there would be restraint exercised in this difficult situation. I know and we’ve discussed it on a number of occasions that he is in daily fear, often of assassination attempts and he has had to walk a very difficult path and the history of that country has been a very troubled one and I have some sympathy for that country and I do respect the tough stand that he has taken but that respect can’t justify and excuse extra-constitutional behaviour.

JOURNALIST:

Would you regard ruling out further changes to WorkChoices as a core promise?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I have made my comment on that. I’m not getting into that sort of trivia.

JOURNALIST:

Labor’s announced a homelessness policy to try to reduce the number of homeless people. What’s your view of that and what’s the…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ll analyse it, I haven’t seen it. I’ve just heard a report and I always like to analyse policies before I make comment and I’ve indicated before that the Coalition will release a policy on housing affordability well before the election.

Thank you.

[ends]

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