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Parliament House, Canberra, 19 September 1996: transcript of doorstop

BEAZLEY: John Howard in Tokyo censored his own speech. His own speech, in its original form, revealed the truth. As a result of his Government's policies there would be less job growth and more strikes. He should have, if he was going to present a totally honest picture to the Japanese businessmen that he was talking to, included those elements of it.

JOURNALIST: Well, what about the MUA, Mr Beazley, what's your view in the MUA's action against the Indonesian cargo ship?

BEAZLEY: I'm not familiar with that. You'll have to brief me up on that a bit more. But the fact of the matter is John Howard went further, I think, in his remarks than he should in this area. He inherited an economy better than good and accepted that, admitted it to bankers. What he should be doing in Japan is, if he is going to present an image of this country in that area, he should be devoting himself to a strong presentation of our strengths. He chose, however, to go down a different road. And in going down that different road he should have been as completely honest as his speech writer tried to make him.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, what do you think these revelations, in terms of the, withdrawal of the effective withdrawal, of the words will mean in terms of perceptions by Japanese investors and businessmen about doing business with the new Government?

BEAZLEY: You know, I think that they will start to believe that - because they will find out about it - they will start to believe that are dealing with people who don't know, fully, their direction and are not prepared to level with them. You've got to go back to what the situation was before the election. The Japanese were cheerful doing business with this country. The Japanese believed they were dealing with an industrial relations system that, as far as they were concerned, delivered them the goods whether they

happened to be importers of Australian product or whether they happened to be investors in Australia producing goods. They were happy with that. They were also happy that they had a Government on track as far as the economy was concerned. Good growth, good control on inflation, a very useful picture as far as good business climate for investment was concerned. It is the new Government has been putting query after query over what was a reasonable perception of the Australian economy. And now they've added a further query. Will this Government actually reveal the totality of their hand to them when they're talking about their plans for the Australian economy and the direction they see it going in. I think that they will be, having had a reason to put question marks over this Government in a whole lot of other areas, they'll simply add this one to it.

JOURNALIST: So do you think Mr Howard's position, or behaviour will severely damage Australia's business relationships with Japanese investors?

BEAZLEY: I think that it will cause them to put a question mark over the willingness of this Government to level with them. And they will put that in their back pocket. They'll put it away in their philosophical computer banks, if you like, and it will make it just that little bit harder to, as we press them on the many things over the years, that we will need to do, including at forums like APEC later in the year, as to the extent to which this is a Government which can be wholly relied upon.

JOURNALIST: So, it would have been better in your view for him to have been upfront and said that we're going to have strikes, we're going to have damage in the short term so don't invest with us?

BEAZLEY: If he is going to go through a detailed analysis of the Australian economy then it is up to him to present that total picture. And that total picture was presented with integrity by his speech writer and that speech was distributed. So having distributed that speech, so it is obviously there, available for everybody to deal with, then it is the speech he ought to have delivered because what he has now on is hands, in relation to the Japanese, is that this man has some bad news around. And I might say it's totally unnecessary bad news, this man has some bad news around, he was prepared to put it up to us but he chopped it out. He said that he wanted to present to us a total picture of the direction of his Government's policy, as well as the situation in the economy, and he did not do so.

JOURNALIST: How would you assess John Howard's performance on the world stage?

BEAZLEY: Well, I think that his performance on the world stage has been timorous. I mean he has, both in Indonesia, and now apparently, in Japan, he has presented no new initiative. He has presented no philosophy of engagement, he has been constantly reasserting a defensive position about a straw man that never existed in any public policy discourse in

Australia, that is Australians are not Asians. That was never a suggestion by the previous Government. He reiterated it something like 16 times, one of my assistants counted up, while he was in Indonesia. He insisted upon it to the point where it could conceivably, that statement of the bleeding obvious repeated, become offensive itself. And I think that his overseas trip, given the message that he had to take, that was one that we could have done without.

JOURNALIST: But Mr Beazley, in relation to the action taken by the MUA, Mark Patterson of the ACCI said today that it's not in the national interest, but it's also not in the MUA's interest to carry out that sort of action. I mean what's your response to that?

BEAZLEY: Well, our position is we would always rather see any situation that has an industrial component to it resolved without industrial disputation. And that would go for the sorts of circumstances that you're talking about or any others. But you need to know the totality of any particular picture before you make a final pronunciation on it, and I'll go back and have a look at that.

JOURNALIST: Going back to the question of possible damage to the bilateral relations. Are you saying that Mr Howard's statement will make it harder for Canberra to work with the Japanese Government?

BEAZLEY: I think that what it will do, as I said before, is cause Japanese business to put a bit of a query over the straightforwardness of this Government in dealing with them. The Japanese are quite accustomed to a blunt and forthright message and are always able to live with that. They will put, having had that original document now placed in their hands, they will really wonder what the strategy of this Government is, both in terms of domestically in Australia and in terms of their dealings with them. It was a bad mistake.