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Cottesloe, WA; transcript of doorstop interview, 15 November 2000: mid-year economic review, petrol, APEC, President Wahid, VIP fleet.

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Kim Beazley - Doorstop Interview Subjects: Mid-Year Economic Review, Petrol, APEC, President Wahid, VIP Fleet

Transcript - Cottesloe, WA - 15 November 2000

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BEAZLEY: The Mid-Year statement is out today. And the figures show some extra growth in the economy. It begs the question which is being asked by many people of me: if the economy is going so well, how come me and my family don't benefit? The answer is, basically, because John Howard is governing for the big end of town. We saw it governing for the big end of town yesterday when Peter Costello was out there saying, 'why should we worry about middle-aged unemployed, let them cut grass'. You see it with John Howard and the wealthy schools: 'don't worry about the education of ordinary Australians, just ladle out the dough to the wealthy'. And you see it in the toleration of the establishment of shelf companies that enable businesses to go broke without their employees' entitlements being paid out. Now, we moved amendments for Howard's legislation on that which would have prevented these things happening. But the Howard Government turned it back. Ordinary Australians don't feel they're doing particularly well. Ordinary Australian families feel hard-pressed. And the reason is, John Howard is governing for the big end of town.

JOURNALIST: So, the surplus is…?

BEAZLEY: The surplus is, at least in part, a product of increased receipts in fuel taxes. One thing that the news today confirms is that John Howard can keep his promise. He can get the GST spike impact out of the price of petrol, and he won't do it. We have the clear-cut evidence now with over $400 million available from increased petrol taxes. He could do it. Even the Queensland Liberals in the Queensland Parliament say he should do it. And we don't know what the GST figures on fuel are because these general figures are so early. But we can be absolutely sure there'll be a couple of hundred million more than they expected there for that. There's no doubt at all, John Howard could now keep his promises. The surplus is there, at least in part created by the fuel taxes. He can keep his promise, but he won't.

JOURNALIST: So, you're accusing him of a sleight of hand?

BEAZLEY: The breaking of his election promise is more than a sleight of hand, it's the deceit of the Australian people - that's what it is. He is in a position to keep his promise on the GST and the taxing of petrol. He can do it in the next period when adjustment in fuel excise comes about. But he won't do it. He wants instead to spend it, allow his National Party colleagues to spend it on getting back into office.

JOURNALIST: How else should the surplus be used?

BEAZLEY: The surplus should be used now for investment in the nation's future. We see the

priorities of this Government. They've got plenty of money to spend on education when it comes to spending on the very wealthy, but nothing when it comes to spending on the bulk of kids who happen to be in public schools. Now, we have got to start to invest in our education and innovation deficit. We are running an education and innovation recession in this country - an education and innovation recession. And we need investment in those areas. And if you've got a surplus you can spend on these sorts of things, that's what you should be doing.

JOURNALIST: Have the figures been brought out deliberately early, do you think?

BEAZLEY: Yes, they are being deliberately….these are the earliest the figures have ever been brought out. Certainly the earliest ever brought out by this Government. If they waited until late December or early January, which they could do if they were keeping up with past practice, then they would know how much the GST is actually collecting. I suspect they'd be even more embarrassed by the rewards they've reached from their broken promise on fuel. And that's why they want to keep that concealed. There'll be no doubt at all in the public mind that they could keep their promise on fuel if they knew the full figures. They don't want you to see the full figures, they want to wait on that, hence they're bringing their figures out early.

JOURNALIST: Could they be inaccurate in any way?

BEAZLEY: These figures do not reflect the GST collection, therefore they obviously don't reflect what the Budget surplus is really going to be when they report it next May.

JOURNALIST: Democrat claims that the Government is obsessed with retiring debt, do you go along with that?

BEAZLEY: It is useful to retire debt. I don't criticise the retirement of debt. But the truth is this: when this Government came into office we had the third or fourth lowest public debt in the industrialised world. We now, I think, have the second lowest public debt in the industrialised world. We don't have a debt problem. We do have an investment problem. We have a major investment problem in education and a major investment problem in business innovation. One of the figures shown here in these revised figures, which is not a good figure at all, shows a pretty ordinary business investment prediction in the last Budget of 6 per cent for this year going down to 4 per cent. This is not a nation of the future with investment figures like that. John Howard has got to get to grips with where he has failed in the investment in the new economy. And investment in the new economy is all about education, skills, research and development. That's our main failing at the moment and John Howard is substantially responsible for it because that is the area which has borne the main burden of his past cuts.

JOURNALIST: …fuel tax … couple of hundred million of what Labor said would be needed to freeze the fuel … next February. Would you be dipping into other areas of surplus to fund it…?

BEAZLEY: Oh, no it doesn't because you don't know what the GST collection is, that's the point. We don't know what the GST, the additional element of the GST impact on fuel is. The GST and the reduced excise related to the GST would pan out in equilibrium at a price for petrol of 74 cents a litre. Hands up all those who remember petrol being 74 cents a litre. Now, anything above 74 cents a litre if an additional collection. In getting these figures

early, what we're seeing is that element of the increased receipts from taxes on fuel that are GST related. But I would have said $400 million is enough to indicate that our estimates of $500 million plus is probably right.

JOURNALIST: Peter Costello was talking about the unemployment rate falling below 6 per cent. Surely that's good news?

BEAZLEY: Peter Costello was out there yesterday saying to middle aged men, 'let them cut grass'. I can tell you, in my constituency, and you've got to handle it gently for the reasons of privacy, but I had, in the last week, two men come into my office who tried to set up a lawn mowing business and had gone out and leafleted, spent their time leafleting the area to try and drum up business for themselves. Guess what happened to them? They got cut off their unemployment benefits. That's what happened to them. These were two blokes trying to make their own way in the way that Costello recommended. But more than that, this is so much the big end of town government. 'Let them cut grass' is their 'let them eat cake' equivalent. This Government is not going to invest in re-skilling a workforce whose skills have for one reason or other become redundant. That's all part of investment in the new economy. Now, it's no good saying to folk 'go and cut grass'. There's a limited amount of grass to cut. What he has got to do is to accept his responsibilities to get out there an ensure that people who are rendered redundant in their 40s and 50s have a retraining opportunity.

JOURNALIST: Is the GST is killing small business, given that people have to pay tax on their incomes quarterly but then they can't claim until the end of this year?

BEAZLEY: You'll see figures yesterday, the Dun and Bradstreet survey, which say that there is an unprecedented level of lack of confidence amongst business at the moment. And the reason for that is not that the economy is in recession but because they are suffering major cash flow problems as a result of the operation of the GST. Now, business is feeling like business feels like in a recession, even though a recession isn't there. Why? Because of the GST. That's why. And that lack of business confidence is probably reflecting itself in those poor business investment figures.

JOURNALIST: What message is John Howard … President Wahid…?

BEAZLEY: Yesterday John Howard was saying, 'APEC is in the slow lane now'. APEC is in the slow lane because of no Australian leadership. There's been no leadership from John Howard in APEC in his entire time of his Prime Ministership. Even though he had his trainer wheels on when he first became Prime Minister, you're trained as a Prime Minister in 6 months flat. It's been three and a half years since his training period was over. But still we see nothing from Australia worthwhile on APEC. Firstly, John Howard should have been meeting Wahid, not tomorrow, but months and months ago when President Wahid offered him a magnificent opportunity to settle affairs in Timor by a tripartite meeting with the Timorese and himself. That's an invitation John Howard still hasn't taken up. What John Howard should say to President Wahid tomorrow is, 'look, I've been a bit recalcitrant over the course of the last 12 months. Recalcitrance is out the window. Now I want to sit down with you in that tripartite discussion that you wanted so many months ago because we have common interests in the successful outcome in East Timor and we actually have common interests in the economic development of Eastern Indonesia'. If he came and said that to President Wahid, all sorts of things I think would change in the relationship between out countries.

JOURNALIST: And the issue of West Paua should be on the agenda?

BEAZLEY: West Paua is first and foremost the business of Indonesia. West Irian is part of Indonesia. It's recognised globally as part of Indonesia. It is a reasonable thing for Australians, and for the rest of the world, for that matter, to be constantly concerned about what is happening in relation to human rights and to have those conversations with the Indonesians on the human rights issues. The Indonesians are looking at some form of autonomy for West Irian, as they are for one or two of their other provinces as well. And while certainly it should feature in Mr Howard's conversations, a more appropriate discussion would be about Labor's idea for an Arafura council, which is an extension of President Wahid's idea which would provide an opportunity for Australia to contribute to the economic stability of that area which is so important for the political stability.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, our aging VIP Boeing 707 fleet. Should it be replaced, given what happened yesterday with Mr Howard's delay in Darwin?

BEAZLEY: Well, I saw Mark Vaile and Tim Fischer today saying it's a prestige matter, that we should have an equivalent of Luftwaffe One with spas and double beds in the plane. It's not about one upmanship, or about luxury. It's about arriving on time in one piece. It's a reasonable thing for Australia to have a fleet that it can use, for among other purposes, the transportation of the Prime Minister overseas. That's a reasonable thing. But it ought to be safe, and it ought to be reliable. And at the moment now there's a question mark over all of that so it's a reasonable thing to address it.

JOURNALIST: You'd support the replacement of the fleet?

BEAZLEY: Yes, I would. But not by luxury aircraft. By aircraft which turn up on time and in one piece.


Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.