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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Prime Minister the Hon John Howard : Berwick, Melbourne: 24 September: Broadband announcement; public schools; Iraqi Prime Minister; old-growth logging.\n



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PRIME MINISTER

24 September 2004

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, BERWICK, MELBOURNE

Subjects: Broadband announcement; public schools; Iraqi Prime Minister; old-growth logging;

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

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen, I’d first of all like to thank Mr and Mrs Moore for allowing me the opportunity to make this important announcement about broadband. Their highly successful business, it’s a wonderful example of the way in which small businesses can expand in a climate of strong economic growth, low interest rates, and great business confidence. It’s a very good demonstration also of the remarkable flexibility that the growth of information technology has given to the business world. And I welcome of course Jason Wood who is the Liberal candidate for Latrobe and my colleague and the retiring Member for Latrobe, Bob Charles. I think all of you are aware that in a knowledge based economy access to high speed internet or broadband services is critical to continued increases in productivity and the ongoing viability of businesses all around Australia. And of course from a community point of view the availability of broadband is important for families, for schools, and for the entire community. There’s been a great deal invested in broadband, both commercially and through government support programmes and the principal government programme, of course, was the Higher Bandwidth Incentive Scheme which involved an expenditure of $107.8 million, which has been particularly important for the availability of broadband services in regional Australia. And one of the core features of the scheme is that the Government’s funding is being used in a way that actually promotes competitive outcomes. We actually have 15 subscribers registered to deliver HiBIS subsidised broadband services. But we are particularly keen that no part of the community misses out and as a result of that I’m announcing today that a re-elected Coalition Government will establish a $50 million metropolitan broadband blackspots programme to help fill in the areas where affordable services remain out of reach when commercial roll-outs are completed. The programme will bring to metropolitan areas the kind of benefits that the HiBIS is bringing to regional areas. The programme will provide funding support to assist individuals or communities to get access to an affordable broadband services in cases where market driven solutions are not available. Like HiBIS the programme will be available to small businesses,

www.pm.gov.au

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as well as residential consumers and approximately 30 per cent of Australia’s more than 1 million broadband subscribers already are small businesses. This programme is the latest element in the Coalition’s national broadband strategy. And while supporting the development of a competitive market we recognise the need on occasions for targeted government intervention and this is one of those occasions because the wide availability of broadband is important to small business and their future prospects of being competitive.

With this programme we’ll make sure that all Australians who want broadband services can get them and we’ll make sure that Australian businesses and families have access to the modern communication tools that they need in the 21st century to live and work smarter. I again thank Mr and Mrs Moore for making their business premises available. I congratulate them on the evident success that they’ve had in taking advantage in the extraordinary benefits that information technology has brought and the way in which it has transformed business opportunities, particularly business opportunities which involve working from home. Mrs Moore has explained to me that as part of her activity she does most of her work from home and it’s another example of just how much flexibility has been brought to the operations of small businesses and how the capacity of small businesses to adjust their arrangements with their staff, to reach agreements with their staff that are in the interests of the business and the interests of the staff, how much that is part and parcel of the strong growth small business sector of the Australian economy at the present time and why a return to a more rigid centralised industrial relations system would do grievous damage to small businesses in Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Surely it’s the role of Telstra as the national carrier to ensure that there are not broadband blackspots, particularly in metropolitan areas. And isn’t this announcement today essentially substantiate Labor’s argument that Telstra should remain in majority public ownership and be

charged with meeting these sorts of infrastructure requirements?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

Why not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because there’s never been in the whole of recorded history evidence that publicly owned institutions fully or partly provide superior services to a combination of a competitive market and intervention by the government where there’s some evidence that the competitive market is not providing the service needed.

JOURNALIST:

Speaking of publicly owned institutions, do you agree with Kay Hull Prime Minister when she says that public schools should be able to charge fees to rich parents who send their kids to government schools?

PRIME MINISTER:

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I haven’t seen what she’s said but it’s certainly not Coalition policy to do that and such a proposition would not be supported by the Government.

JOURNALIST:

But she’s suggesting that parents who earn $100,000+, and 49 per cent of those parents apparently are sending their children to government schools, should be making more of a contribution.

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t agree with that.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, what do you make of the speech that the Iraqi PM gave to the US Congress and will you be inviting him to Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I heard a bit of it on the radio this morning, it sounded a good speech. I don’t have any current plans but I wouldn’t rule it out. He seems a very impressive strong person but I haven’t extended any invitation to him, but I would not rule it out.

JOURNALIST:

Do you agree that elections can still be hold in January?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

JOURNALIST:

Do you agree that elections can still be held in January?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, one of your Ministers, Joe Hockey, has called for an end to clear felling. Do you agree with that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ve indicated that there are a lot of people who would like to see old-growth logging end and I’ll be making a statement on the Government’s policy on that issue during the campaign.

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JOURNALIST:

Do you think it is possible to end old-growth logging to a large extent in Tasmania but also ensure that jobs are not lost and communities aren’t…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I have no intention of throwing communities on the scrapheap in a particular part of Australia to serve an objective in the environmental area. My position is as I explained it when I first referred to this matter a few weeks ago and I’ll be making a further statement during the campaign.

JOURNALIST:

Can the two objectives be met?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ll be making a further statement during the campaign.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] area say northern Sydney.

PRIME MINISTER:

My party’s standing in northern Sydney? Well, we don’t take any seat in Australia for granted. No seat should ever be taken for granted. We don’t take those seats for granted anymore than the Labor Party takes seats like Grayndler in Sydney for granted. The principal reason why Peter Garrett was recruited to run in Kingsford Smith was to sure up the Labor Party’s position in seats like Grayndler and Sydney. Major political parties should never take any seat for granted these days. It’s very foolish to do so.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, are you particular worried about the seat of Parramatta?

PRIME MINISTER:

Parramatta is always a tough fight, but Ross is a very good member and my message to the people of Parramatta is if they want to keep their interest rates low the bloke to vote for is Ross Cameron.

JOURNALIST:

Do you [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I won’t have any comment on that, Alison, none whatsoever.

JOURNALIST:

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Mr Howard, if you were to invite the Iraqi PM, would it be before their election or would you be happy for…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I haven’t given any thought to when I might invite him. You asked me, have I invited him - no. Would I rule out inviting him - no I wouldn’t rule it out. But I have not given any thought to when it might be.

JOURNALIST:

What sort of symbol does that send to Australia to have him here?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t think there’s any point in hypothesising about symbols when the invitation to the symbol hasn’t been extended. I think it’s a bit academic to be talking about symbols.

Could I just take the opportunity while I have you all gathered, and I have your attention, to the media that is, to draw your attention to the pamphlet that’s been issued by the CFMEU, which makes it very clear that the Labor Party does have a secret deal with the union movement to give the union movement preference in industrial relations. Mr Latham trumpeted on the front page of The Australian yesterday the fact that everybody would be treated, or the day before, everybody would be treated equally and the unions would not get a special deal. Yet his cover has been blown by the General President and the General Secretary of the CFMEU mining and energy division circulating a pamphlet which says that as a consequence of the Labor Party’s commitment to abolish the award simplification provisions in the Workplace Relations Act once again the unions would be pressing for preference for union membership in industrial awards. That, of course, is the secret agenda of the Labor Party. They will favour union membership, we will go back to the days when Australians were divided between unionists and non-unionists and at the time when only 17.5 per cent of the private sector workforce choses to join a union, this kind of preference, which Labor has promised the unions, is an outrageous pay-off to the union movement at a time when the workers themselves increasingly chose to make their own decisions about their futures. We do not for a moment contest their right and we support their right to join unions but we are totally opposed to bringing back preference clauses to union membership and the CFMEU has obligingly blown Mr Latham’s cover on this issue.

JOURNALIST:

Doesn’t it say that the CFMEU would be pressing for that…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Alex, as night follows day, as night follows day - you change the law, you change the system, you bring back preference for trade unions.

JOURNALIST:

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Isn’t it the case, Prime Minister that certainly in the city of Melbourne with all this construction going up, every one seems to wear ‘no ticket, no start’ hats. What’s the Government going to…?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ve done an enormous amount, we’ve had…

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] in Victoria.

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ve done an enormous amount in relation to that. We’ve had an inquiry into the building and construction industry, the Cole Royal Commission. We’ve endeavoured to get legislation through the Parliament. We’ve imposed conditions on the spending of federal money, have you forgotten the exchanges between the Victorian and Federal Governments over the Melbourne Cricket Ground where the Victorian Government threw away $90 million for this state because it would rather leave Victoria short of money than stand up to the union movement.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, when will…?

PRIME MINISTER:

People are aware around Australia and I talk regularly to businessmen and women and they repeatedly tell me that because of the union control of the building and construction industry in this state, it is less agreeable to do business in Victoria than in a number of other states.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, when we will see the Coalition’s response to the inquiry into James Hardie?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’ve indicated the response already, that it’s being examined by ASIC and..

JOURNALIST:

What about corporate law?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the examination of whether there are any changes needed to corporate law I do not think will be completed in the next few weeks.

JOURNALIST:

Not before the election?

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PRIME MINISTER:

I doubt it very much.

JOURNALIST:

Will you be counselling Kay Hull on her comments about…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I haven’t even seen them. I don’t even know they’ve been faithfully represented to me, but I’m stating my position and the Government’s position.

JOURNALIST:

Do you want to have a chat to her to sort it out to see if it is…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Nigel, I’ve stated the Government’s position…

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] particularly [inaudible] PM, it’s quite prominent there, and would you have a word to her to check whether…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Nigel, I will read everything that is written, but I haven’t done so yet. But I’ve indicated my position and what the Government’s position is.

JOURNALIST:

Is that the kind of help you need from your party during the campaign, from your Coalition partner during the campaign Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve indicated my position.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Dr Hugh Saddler, an adviser to the Australian Greenhouse Office says within five years, unless there’s a change, Australia will exceed its greenhouse gas emissions which we committed to… which you said Australia will meet its Kyoto target?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that advice is at odds with the advice the Government has received.

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JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you’re trying to run a scare campaign about Labor and industrial relations. Isn’t it a reality that Latham, if he wins on October 9, would not be beholden to the union movement and that in fact he doesn’t, unlike a lot of other Labor leaders, he really doesn’t have a union power base...

PRIME MINISTER:

Is that a statement or a question?

JOURNALIST:

Well, it’s a question…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it sounds like a statement to me. But let me treat it courteously as a question. I don’t agree with that. Anybody who commits to a return to the industrial relations system of earlier years will be beholden to the union movement. They will want their party back and there is

no doubt that of all of the different economic policies we take to this campaign none represents a greater divide than that of industrial relations and it’s not a scare campaign, it’s a statement of reality. It is not a scare campaign to state the truth. It is not a scare campaign to say that with 17.5% of the private sector workforce only belonging to unions it’s a terrible contradiction to offer effectively 100% control of industrial relations to the union movement. It’s not a scare campaign to point out that if Labor wins the Trade Practices Act will treat secondary boycotts by trade unions preferentially to secondary boycotts by businesses. It’s not a scare campaign to point out that AWAs will be abolished. It’s not a scare campaign to point out that preference for unionists will come back. These are realities and I’ll go on pointing out realities right through the election campaign, just as it’s a reality that interest rates would always be higher under a Labor government than under a Coalition government.

JOURNALIST:

Just one more on greenhouse - Dr Saddler also says that geo-sequestration won’t make a big difference for at least 30 years.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I haven’t, once again, read everything he’s said but geo-sequestration, according to a lot of advice that I have, is one of the great technological hopes of the future, as far as the energy sector is concerned. I believe it is very much in Australia’s interests to accelerate technology research in the energy sector. We have an enormous natural advantage in traditional sources of energy such as coal and natural gas. We would be foolish in the extreme if we didn’t try and exploit those advantages and the best way of exploiting those advantages is to accelerate investment in technologies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and it’s a very brave person, in an areas like this, who sets a definite time limit on particular activities that might produce outcomes, because those sorts of time limits have been set in the past and they’ve been demonstrated to be wrong.

JOURNALIST:

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Is that advice based on advice to you from the Chief...?

PRIME MINISTER:

There are various sources, including the Chief Scientist if you want me to be specific, including but not only the Chief Scientist.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, which scarf will you be wearing to the football tomorrow?

PRIME MINISTER:

I won’t be wearing any. I thought it was appropriate to wear the Western Bulldogs scarf yesterday because I was a guest at their club.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, of course I would.

JOURNALIST:

You were at the Footscray Markets this morning and Western Bulldogs yesterday, do you really think you can win Gellibrand?

PRIME MINISTER:

Do you think I can win Gellibrand? Well, no seat is a guarantee any more. I mean you can’t take anything for granted but I think it’s a fairly tall order that one.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, [inaudible] advertisement warning [inaudible] apparently Labor has agreed.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, well they haven’t. They’re nitpicking on the scheduling of it and we’re having correspondence.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, as soon as I get agreement from the Labor Party we can see them. They have not finally agreed, they’ve imposed certain conditions in relation to the timing and the intensity of them.

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JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] those conditions are reasonable?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don’t.

JOURNALIST:

Why do you think we need to see those ads again?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, why? - well, you’re not seeing the same ads again, they’re new ads.

JOURNALIST:

And why do we need them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Why do we need them? Because it’s the advice of the experts that information from the public has in the past, and can in the future, help to provide valuable information. That’s the reason.

JOURNALIST:

And have you been getting less information from the public, has there been a drop-off in interest?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, obviously if you don’t advertise people will, over time, lose consciousness of who to ring with relevant information.

JOURNALIST:

But has anything sparked [inaudible] campaign?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have been told that it would be a very good idea to do it.

JOURNALIST:

By whom?

PRIME MINISTER:

By whom? By the Federal Police.

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JOURNALIST:

What sort of information are you anticipating the public will be [inaudible] that the AFP or other intelligence agencies are unable to otherwise pick up?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s impossible to say but I do know this, that when you make the public aware of a place to which they can take their concerns and information, according to the advice I’ve received, that invariably produces information that turns out to be valuable.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] run before the end of the election campaign?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s important, when you get advice from independent, respected sources, to act on that advice irrespective of what else is happening.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] crucial that they run before the end of the campaign?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, therefore, you’re imposing a judgment if you don’t - imposing a judgment dictated by the electoral calendar rather than the advice you’re receiving from the police.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] that Australia has become a bigger target because of our support for the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

Why the need for this sort of campaign then?

PRIME MINISTER:

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Well, the need is based upon the advice.

JOURNALIST:

Are people ring triple 000, instead of the [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t know the answer to that.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, have you spoken at all with Tony Blair about the hostage situation in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I haven’t.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Why would I? Why would I? I don’t…I mean, I know…

JOURNALIST:

Would you show support for him…

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to ring the Prime Ministers of other countries on every issue. I mean, we talk from time to time. My views on these issues are well known. I certainly feel for Mr Blair and I feel, of course, very deeply for the family of that poor man. My contempt for these barbarians is at boiling point. I think what we have seen over the past few days is about the most disgusting performance of brutality and indifference and contempt

and sheer disdain for humanity that I’ve seen in many years and anybody who had any kind of equivocation about fighting terrorism would have to be outraged by what they have seen in recent days. I mean, it is just cruelty and sadistic behaviour beyond description and beneath contempt.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, given your position on [inaudible] what do you think about the suggestion that Iraq [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that is a matter for the Iraqi Government.

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JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you’ve rejected Mr Latham’s call that the October 9 election will be a referendum on Medicare. Are you scared to take Labor on in health?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s not a question of being scared to take anybody on. I just believe very strongly that the most dominant issue in the election campaign is economic management and that the issue of economic management is symbolized, encapsulated by the question of who will keep interest rates lower. That nothing threatens the financial security and stability of Australian families more than the prospect of higher interest rates. Nothing threatens it more than that. Interest rates dominate everything else. You can think you might be a few dollars a week better off as a result of a tax cut or a family benefit but that can be more than devoured by just a small increase in interest rates.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, I’m sorry, back on Iraq - I mean, you were quite outspoken about the Philippines Government [inaudible] why have you not been so [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because there is no evidence of a direct connection.

JOURNALIST:

Well, but the whole reason that these people are being held [inaudible] we are told is because they’ve been [inaudible] women prisoners released. Now, the Iraqi Government is saying, [inaudible] two women, why are you not speaking out against it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because my understanding is that that idea was already in train before the hostages were taken.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] see that as some kind of [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you have to deal in facts and not impressions.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, what do you most admire about the Iraqi Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

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He’s tough, and he articulates and communicates a spirit of hope and optimism for his country in a very difficult situation. I mean, it’s very easy to be critical of the situation in Iraq but it has made remarkable progress in a very, very difficult situation.

I think we’ve probably had enough, we might have one more.

JOURNALIST:

Is there really a spirit of optimism in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Optimism comes from those who are leading countries and even in the most difficult situations, if you have the right leader and a person who’s prepared to confront the realities of the country he’s leading, he can provide a great sense of hope and optimism. Thank you.

[Ends]