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Paul Keating on "Good Morning Australia" 10 Network, 13 February 1996: transcript


NEW: It's a pleasure to welcome to Good Morning Australia, our Prime Minister, Paul Keating.

KEATING: How are you, Bert?

NEWTON: Prime Minister, good to see you.

KEATING: Thank you.

NEWTON: Well, let's put the debate from Sunday night to rest for a start. How did you reckon it went?

KEATING: I think it went well, because I think the community liked the chance to see the Leaders up front - no filtering, no tape editing, no segments dropped, no re-writing - just to themselves. I think that was the value of it, and I enjoyed that opportunity.

NEWTON: Did you fancy standing up?

KEATING: No, I prefer the sit-down format, because you are standing like you're standing at a bus stop in a sense - but that was the agreed thing.

NEWTON: Who asked for that, to stand up?

KEATING: Mr Howard and the Liberal Party wanted to stand up, and I said: well, I'm for sitting down, because normally if you do an interview you sit down.

NEWTON: Yes, sure.

KEATING: You don't go in and stand up. I mean, there's three people standing up, but anyway.

NEWTON: Did you have a chat before or after the debate, you and John Howard?

KEATING: No, we all have our seconds you see, Bert. You've got to go back and get rubbed down again - towelled down again - you know what I mean? They towel you down when you go in, and towel you down when you come out. They towel you up if you don't do well.

NEWTON: Exactly. I would imagine your mind must be reasonably happy with your performance?

KEATING: Yes, pretty happy. I think the Liberal Party have got a 'Billy Snedden' defence on - you know we didn't win, but we didn't lose - this sort of stuff.

NEWTON: What has to be said though. A racing mate of mine told me over the weekend in talking about you, said: don't underestimate this bloke because he's a distance performer and he's pretty quick over the last furlong. But do you feel this time around as against 1993, you might be just a little too far behind?

KEATING: I don't think so. The economy's been strong and growth, employment's been strong and people are saying: well, things are not too bad, let's sit back here and have a little think about all this in a more relaxed setting. I think the main point is that if the Government were to change, all of that would basically change - we'd go back to a slower growth, slower

employment, higher inflation country - so there's no tweedledee,

tweedledum decision here. This didn't all happen. We are like we are now, not by accident but by design. So, I think as the issues come on in the election, people will understand that more - this is not simply a freebie - there's a real matter to be decided here.

NEWTON: Would you like to have it decided in the House? Because I think even your enemies would have to concede that you're one of the best Parliamentary performers this country's ever seen?

KEATING: Well, I like the cut and thrust of the debate. Just take an issue like Medicare and health, which we're discussing at the moment. These things have been fought over and have been debated in Parliament, and that's where you go protecting your interests. That's where I go protecting the interests of the people I represent. So, one hopes one does it cleverly and does it with some aplomb and that sort of thing.

NEWTON: Do you enjoy the cut and thrust though really?

KEATING: I do, but you see what happens in the television news, the real argument gets cut out, and what gets left in are all the feisty bits. I'm sure the public thinks: well this is what it is, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg is basically the weight of the argument.

NEWTON: It just seems to me that you're a much better performer, politically, when you're ad-libbing. With the greatest of respect, there's a different Paul Keating when all of a sudden it's to the prepared script. You're happier when you can run your own race, aren't you?

KEATING: Oh yes, but some things you need to write. Some things are for the record, like a policy speech or for a Budget for instance. But otherwise I do most of my things ex-temperoneously.

NEWTON: Yes. You mentioned that you're going to do Johnny over, slowly?

KEATING: Oh, that was his predecessor.

NEWTON: Oh was it,indeed? Was it Alexander Downer?

KEATING: No, no - the one before that. There's been a number of them.

NEWTON: A number of John Howards, you mean?

KEATING: No, there's been a number of Opposition Leaders in this Parliament. There was John Hewson, there was Alexander Downer and there's John Howard. Well, I think yes, you have to do them all slowly basically.

NEWTON: Are you then surprised that John Howard for this election campaign, is not the John Howard of old? You'd have to concede he's a little harder to catch than you would have imagined?

KEATING: The Liberal Party said: look, last time we made a mistake, we went in there with a policy and we shouldn't have done that - the public rejected us. So this time we'll go in - we'll pretend the policy is the same as the Government's, and when we get into Office we'll go back to the things we really believe. That's why I say to people when John Howard says he'll

keep Medicare - he won't. He's always opposed it and the Liberal Party have always opposed it. His policies on industrial relations and security at work are not the same as the Government's and they won't be. All the Award protections will go, they've never supported the environment - they're only saying so as a tactic to sell Telstra - and in this election campaign to look like the Labor Party.

NEWTON: Have you never considered selling Telstra?

KEATING: No. There was a story around a week ago that I wanted to sell it, but I've never proposed that to the Cabinet, ever - mainly because we are living in the fastest growing part of the world, in East Asia. The first time Australia's ever been part of the fastest growing part. It was always in North America or Europe. Now, we're actually in the middle of it, and we've got the one telecommunication business that can actually be the

principal East Asian carrier - if we work it property - but to vandalise it and split bits off of it, is a very silly thing to be doing.

NEWTON: But is a third going to do any harm?

KEATING: What a third does, it means that the private shareholders basically run the business. When we sold a quarter of the Commonwealth Bank.- even though the Government owned three-quarters of it - it was then a public company. The directors had to behave as directors of a public-company.

All the responsibilities of the directors were such that the Commonwealth had to give regard to the rights of the private directors. So, once you sell a quarter or a third, it's essentially a public company. It becomes - in a sense, the policy is the policy of the private directors, so we would lose - that's why I say we'd be into timed local calls, we'd be into full costs. If you're on a farm and you're out of town, you'd pay the full cost of the line, not the subsidised cost, all of these sorts of things.

NEWTON: Yes, but they're in competition though, aren't they?

KEATING: Yes, which has kept prices down.

NEWTON: Wouldn't it continue to do so, though?

KEATING: It'll keep prices down, but no phone company will not maximise its profits, if it's a profit-making business - and nobody is going to allow someone to sit on the phone - for the price of one local phone call - sit on the phone for 60 minutes. You know, often Mum will talk to her daughter for 40 minutes - well you'll pay for 40 minutes worth. It won't be just one local

call price. You'll get charged per 10 seconds.

NEWTON: Speaking of money. Where are you going to find your money for your promises?

KEATING: Well, I'm the only one in this election at this point, that's actually said where the money's coming from. On Sunday, Ralph Willis and I stood up and said we will raise $7 billion in the next four years and we'll spend $3.5 billion. So what's unique about this election, is that this is the first election I can remember where the Government's actually improved the Budget in the course of the campaign. Normally what happens, the Budget runs down - people make commitments and they cost the Budget. This time we've actually topped it up.

NEWTON: Would it worry you though, if the Treasury were to release the situation at this moment? Why would you dodge that?

KEATING:It's not a matter of dodging it. What John Howard has said, he's worried about next year's Budget surplus, but next year's Budget surplus is forecast by us to be $3.4 billion. He attempted to knock that out in the Senate, in fact he knocked out $2.5 billion. He's knocked two-thirds of the surplus out already by refusing to pass the airport sale program for Mascot

and Tullamarine etc. So he's feigning all this indignation: "I'm very worried about the surplus", but he's actually punched two-thirds of it out already. So you've got to say, don't expect us to take you seriously. Secondly, the Budget's in August, so we won't have the December Quarter- those three months, October, November, December- and we won't have the half year to June until late July. We won't know until late July what the Budget even looks like in prospect.

NEWTON: But you have a state of play, that you could call upon, wouldn't you?

KEATING: Well, you get the year's figures in July - you get the full year. The full year finishes on 30 June, so you get the tax numbers and you get the growth numbers - and it's only then you can bring on a Budget and that's been the position always. But I think the thing of most interest at the moment is actually health.

NEWTON: What did you think of the release yesterday of John Howard?

KEATING: Well, what he's done is what he's always done - and that is to support the private health industry. What Labor has said under our policy, 80% of families get helped. Under John Howard's, it's 30% of families, and the reason for that is he's only helping people who have got private insurance. He says he'll give people $450, but you've got to spend $2,300 to get it.

You've got to buy private health plus ancillaries, dental etc. that cost $2,300 for the year, and he gives you back $450. So, in other words if you're a family and you're not privately insured, you get nothing under John Howard. What the Government has said is we'll give to a family with two children, for instance, we'll give you $500 - and you don't have to be in

private insurance. You can go and buy the dental, or you can buy the orthodontics, or you can buy the chiropractic, or the physiotherapy, whatever it is - and we'll give you 50% back over a Medicare counter in cash. In other words, we're not forcing you to spend $2,300 and go into private insurance.

NEWTON: I'm sure that a number of politicians including yourself, think the health issue is a key one and certainly it is. But I'm not too sure whether it's going to win or lose an election though. I've got a feeling that what we were just talking about - just prior to the health thing - is the one concern that people had coming out of the debate on Sunday night, and that is where is the money going to be found? Is there anything about our

financial situation in this country that you know that we don't know?

KEATING: No, but I think there's something that I think the public should know - that we have just about the lowest Government debt in the western world, that we're the second lowest tax country in the western world, and that this

Government is the first Government ever to produce a Budget surplus. When I was Treasurer, we produced four of them - the first in our history. Ralph Willis produced one this year again and we have surpluses in prospect for the next three years. So, having John Howard come out crying crocodile tears about what the surplus will be, when he and Peter Costello did their absolute best to wreck the surplus in the Senate - and as I said earlier, punched two-thirds of it out - you've got to say: well, listen

how disingenuous is this, how insincere is this? Yet to tell people that there is a problem - if there was any problem - it's of your own creation. And you say to him: well why did you refuse the sale of Tullamarine and Sydney airports?, and he said: oh, because of the flight paths over Bennelong - this is over his own electorate. So, in other words, he's so interested in the nation's finances, that for caprice, you know - on a whim - he's used the numbers in the Senate to block the sales.

NEWTON: But you would know though, if you happen to win this election, even if you don't win the election, and there is something that all of a sudden we discovered that wasn't owned by the Government - I'm thinking of 1983 when they held back on figures that they had - it would be very difficult then for another Labor Government to be elected or re-elected for a hell of a long time?

KEATING: Well, the thing about - when I followed John Howard in 1983, he knew that the Budget deficit was just on $10 billion. It was then 4.5% of the-size of the economy. Today, 4.5% of the size of the economy is a Budget deficit of $22 billion. That was a problem that got dropped onto me,-in today's dollars. What we have is not a deficit, but a surplus - and he's arguing about what the size of the surplus will be next year - when he's done he's best to actually reduce it. Because the sale program for proceeds were not in this year's Budget, they were actually slated for next year's Budget.

NEWTON: Are we in the black at this moment?

KEATING: We are. We just published the mid-year review. We're the only Government that publishes a mid-year review of the Budget. We published that in January, and the mid-year review put us again in surplus.

NEWTON: Speaking of money, just a personal question. One would imagine that you would be the wealthiest Labor Prime Minister this country has ever had?

KEATING: Yes, I've had Tony Staley running around blackguarding me all over the place.

NEWTON: Well, you'd have to be though, wouldn't you?


NEWTON: Well, Mr Chifley and Mr Curtin weren't exactly running around with a lot of money?

KEATING: Well, that maybe true - but we're all a bit wealthier than everyone was in those days.

NEWTON: But you're wealthier than Bob Hawke?

KEATING: Oh, no - Bob would clean me right up in the wealth stakes, absolutely. Bob's out there making hay while the sun shines.

NEWTON: Yes. But I still think that you'd be the wealthiest Labor Prime Minister in Office. I don't think he was quite as wealthy when he was in Office, was he? My point is, is it a millstone of any kind - given the history of the Labor Party?

KEATING: My assets extend to one house in Sydney and one I have in prospect to settle on - but when I settle on that, I'll sell the other one. So, I'll end up with one house, and it's not a ritzy Sydney waterfront, it's one house. So, to the extent yes, I'm a Prime Minister with one house - well, I'll own up to

that, that's no problem. But it's one house - it'll be one house with a substantial mortgage to go with it.

NEWTON: Don't worry, I'm not going to bite you.

KEATING: No, I'm sure you won't.

NEWTON: Thanks for your time this morning.

KEATING: All right.

NEWTON: Beneath the exterior, are you really confident? Can you do it again?

KEATING: Oh, I think so.

NEWTON: Everything depends really on you, you know that?

KEATING: I think I can. I say I'm in the election campaign being me. John Howard's pretending to be someone else - not the person he was all these years in public life. He's not running around saying: look, my whole life has been mistaken, I've believed in all the wrong things for 20 years and I've now seen the light. He's not saying that at all, because when he gets into Office he'll be the same person he always was. That's why he's always

under pressure in this election campaign - he's pretending to be someone other than he actually is.

NEWTON: But he seems to worry you more than other Opposition Leaders that you've come across?

KEATING: Well, if there was somebody who was saying: I'm Bert Newton, you'd say: no you're not, you're not Bert Newton. And if someone said to you: no, I am. I am Bert Newton, and you're saying: no, you're not- I'm Bert Newton. That's what he's saying. I'm saying I'm the Labor Prime Minister, not you, and he's saying: No, no, no. I've got the same policies as you. But I say: but John, you've never had those policies. It's disconcerting

having someone trying to say they're you, it's a bit of a problem.

NEWTON: Okay, well, once again, thanks for your time. I've got something here which I'd like to present to you because I learnt - in the excellent series that was done by Paul Bongiorno - that you're very much into Tom Jones. I suppose you're allowed to accept a gift, aren't you? I mean it's well- meaning, it's a personal gift- it's the complete work of Tom Jones. We hope to have Mr Howard with us next week, so I wonder what sort of music he would enjoy?

KEATING: I think if you got the Seekers out, he'll probably enjoy that - give him a Seekers CD, he'll be very pleased with that, I think.

NEWTON: Thanks for coming in. The Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating. I think one thing that needs to be said once again - harking back to political enemies - and even those in the community who wouldn't vote for this bloke, things are never dull whilst he's around.