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Transcript: Howard Radio Interview

23 July 1999

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP RADIO INTERVIEW WITH JODIE MACKAY AND LUKE GRANT RADIO 2HD, NEWCASTLE

SUBJECTS: Visit to Newcastle; BHP closure, Impulse Airlines, Hawk Lead-in fighter, Redbank Power Station, Boeing early warning project, Hunter Valley Research Foundation, St George Rugby team, Mark Taylor, Bob Dylan

GRANT:

The Prime Minister of Australia, Mr John Howard. Good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Hello there.

MACKAY:

Good morning Mr Howard. Now, we should start by talking about why you are actually in Newcastle today.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I was invited last night to give the annual Finnegan Rudd address to the Industrial Relations Society which I was very happy to do and I did that at the Leagues Club last night. And I am opening a new office for the Chamber of Commerce this morning in Newcastle and I'll meet the Newcastle Prime Minister's Taskforce at the AWU office in Mayfield and then go back to Sydney about lunch time.

MACKAY:

Of course that Prime Minister's taskforce is looking at the impact of the BHP closure. Obviously that's what's dominating the news at the moment. Can you understand that people are perhaps concerned that not enough is being done by the Federal Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, that doesn't surprise me that people want more done, that's human nature. And I know that Newcastle does have some particular problems but I think it's important that we don’t get too negative about what's not being done because that causes us to lose sight of a lot of terrific things that have been done. And if you go through the list of Federal Government initiatives, incentives that are helping : the Redbank Power Station to get underway, all of the defence infrastructure that is going into Williamtown, the Early Warning announcement that was made a couple of days ago at the Boeing company, and that's going to end up creating jobs, the Hawk lead-in Fighter, all the smaller announcements, one of which I made last night for a call centre for Impulse Airlines, another commitment of $2.5 million.

Now, when you add all of these things up they do amount to a large number of commitments. Now, I don't pretend that I have got a magic wand and I am not saying to the people of Newcastle that I have solved every problem but what I am saying to them is that we are trying and that we are working in cooperation with everybody. One of the good things about my contact with Newcastle since I have been Prime Minister is that most people have put aside their differences, most people not all, have put aside their differences and have sought to work with the Government. And I have put aside any political differences with the New South Wales Labor Government. Mr Carr and I have talked to each other on a number of occasions and I have never sought to politicise this issue in any way with the New South Wales Government because it's Labor and mine is Liberal.

MACKAY:

I guess the issue is that your own taskforce is estimated around 10,000 jobs will be lost in the Hunter and I know right now there's a BHP economic figure outlook going on, a breakfast going on this morning from the Hunter Research Foundation, and they have estimated around 4,500 jobs. The $10 million that the Federal Government gave, is there any chance that that will be able to fill those jobs?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but our support is not limited to that. I mean, all of the other things that I have annunciated all involve very significant investments and the generations of hundreds of jobs. So it's wrong to see our support is just limited to that discreet individual $10 million amount. When you add the tax incentives that are involved in Redbank, when you understand the hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in the defence infrastructure, all of those things put together amount to a very significant investment. And what I don't want people to get the idea of is that in some way Newcastle is down on its feet, it's not. I mean, there's a tremendous amount of spirit in this city and I find people optimistic, I find people wanting to see the city diversify. I think there are some people around who still, sort of, look at it in backward looking terms and because there's a problem with BHP that's the end of the world. That's a terribly negative foolish mistake and attitude and I think it's out of step with the mood…it's out of step with the mood of a lot of the union people I spoke to last night at the dinner. I mean, they were…sure, they are concerned about the steelworks, they are concerned to put the point of view of the men and women they represent. And I understand that but they are also concerned to send a message that they see other things and other issues as representing Newcastle's future.

MACKAY:

It's interesting you mention that because this report that's being released by the Hunter Valley Research Foundation, they have also found that Newcastle is in a pretty good position to withstand the closure economically….

PRIME MINISTER:

…well, it is.

MACKAY:

…that we have diversified.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it's a very different place than what the stereotype of some would have it be. And it's important that that be said frequently because there are still some people around who see it in those old-fashioned terms.

MACKAY:

We do have some way to go to convince the people outside the Hunter though that that's the case.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that really rests in a way with the people in the area. If you keep representing your area as having a more old-fashioned cast then those outsiders are going to take that view. I don't see it that way. I have visited Newcastle frequently, I would make the claim fairly modestly I have probably visited Newcastle more than any other Prime Minister of either side. I have been here three or four times since I have been Prime Minister and I have had a long connection with the area in the past before I became Prime Minister. So I do understand it well but I also know that it has changed and I also know it's got the capacity to change further and change to adjust to new circumstances.

MACKAY:

Obviously we have got eight weeks to go until BHP's closure of its steelworks so there's no way we are going to get those 10,000 jobs or the 4,500 whichever figure you want to look at. What do you see though as Newcastle's future heading into the new millennium?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it's a mixture of still a significant contribution from manufacturing industry including the defence part of it which is growing; a continued growth in the service sector in education; potential, as all parts of Australia, with a fairly strong knowledge base have of access to information technology; tourism, of course, in the whole area is very strong and growing. I mean, I just go back 20 years this area has transformed itself as a tourist attraction if you look at the broader Hunter Region. I mean, it's just so different and people have discovered the quality and the attraction that it has.

MACKAY:

I know last night too when you gave that address you spoke about Newcastle and the region helping itself. If there…

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't say that dismissively or disinterestedly but I say that realistically because overcoming problems now is really the question of the Government making some contribution but also the community and business and everybody else also putting something in.

MACKAY:

If we were to come up with the solutions that were needed to solve this problem we could see that $10 million spent and perhaps jobs as a result of the closure, we could see that occur?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that $10 million, a great bulk of it has been allocated already to things that are creating jobs.

MACKAY:

Obviously not the 10,000 or the 4,500….

PRIME MINISTER:

But the defence infrastructure that is coming into there that is going to create hundreds of jobs. The power station is going to create jobs. If you have better infrastructure you attract new investments and new jobs into the area. But we are always ready to examine proposals but they have to be good proposals and they have to be proposals that can be supported consistent with our obligations to other parts of Australia as well.

MACKAY:

Now, you mention that you do come here a lot, Newcastle has a special place in your heart?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, over the years I have come here a lot, yes.

MACKAY:

You actually holiday at Hawks Nest as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I holidayed at Hawks Nest with my family for about 20 years until the beginning of this year.

MACKAY:

Yeah, so you like this area?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I do and my wife's family came from this area and she still has a lot of family and other connections in Newcastle. So we do have a special family affinity with the area.

GRANT:

And we know you are a big fan of the dragons.

PRIME MINISTER:

I am indeed. Yes, I hope to get out of the station alive having made that statement.

GRANT:

Sorry to do that to you.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's all right.

GRANT:

You think they’re a chance I mean they are really up there….

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I think they are a real show. I am very cautious in making too extravagant a claim because that probably doesn't help them, it could stir the pressure on them.

GRANT:

Do you get to watch them much?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, occasionally. I have only seen them once this year I regret to say. But by the time you sort of spread around your other commitments and other sporting commitments…I'd like to get to see them once more in the ordinary competition and then hopefully in the Final, the Grand Final.

GRANT:

Exactly. And you saw Pat Rafter.

PRIME MINISTER:

I did. I was in Boston last Friday at the end of my trip to the United States and I saw the first day of the Davis Cup and it was a fantastic experience. Lleyton Hewitt did us all proud. It was a tremendously gutsy performance from an 18 year old. I saw him in the change rooms before the game, both he and Pat, and they welcomed the Australian support. It was small but vocal in Boston. It was about 100 degrees in the shade, using the old language. It was a very hot day and the Americans are very parochial when it comes to backing their sporting idols. I guess we sound parochial too to visitors.

GRANT:

Yeah. Pat Rafter goes to number one, I think, next Monday in the world. That was a terrific fightback don't you think?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, in the [inaudible] singles match, yes it was. To be down in the first four sets and then to be 3-0 down in the fifth set was an extraordinary performance.

GRANT:

Can I ask you just quickly about Mark Taylor - I am a sport nut, sorry Prime Minister - I know you and Mark Taylor have a close relationship. What is it about Mark Taylor, what made him the Captain that he was?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, he's quite bright. He's a very bright intelligent person. He really is a very intelligent quick thinking person who remains very calm under pressure. And he's also very determined and can handle himself in adversity as well as in success. When you take all of those things together you have the ingredients of a first-class captain. I wouldn't, however, want to take anything away from Steve Waugh. Steve has done a very good job as Captain. And that steel and determination he displayed in the World Cup was quite remarkable.

GRANT:

Can you see Mark Taylor one day entering the world of politics?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I don't know, I have no idea. I think you'd have to ask him that. I just wouldn't know.

GRANT:

He hasn't dropped it during a conversation….

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, I like talking about cricket to him and I suppose he likes occasionally talking about other things to me and to other people. But I wouldn't have a clue as to whether he has any ambition in that direction.

MACKAY:

Now, Mr Howard, you mentioned earlier, we saw you in the States last week talking to President Clinton about the lamb tariff. We always see you, particularly when you are overseas, out walking early in the morning. How do you start your day?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I normally start it by walking. I have a very fast walk for about half an hour wherever I am at about 6:30 in the morning. And I try and do that no matter where I am. Sometimes it proves impossible if I have a very early morning radio interview. The combination of the early morning walk, particularly in the winter and getting ready and getting to the radio station in time can cause difficulties. But I end up walking just about every day of the year.

MACKAY:

So you haven't walked this morning?

PRIME MINISTER:

I couldn't do it this morning because of this.

MACKAY:

We are in trouble Luke.

PRIME MINISTER:

I'll do it twice tomorrow.

GRANT:

We do apologise but we also thank you very much for your time. Lovely to see you in Newcastle and the Hunter. We hope you enjoy the rest of your day and thanks for being here this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay. Thanks a lot.

MACKAY:

Now, we believe you have got a favourite song, well a favourite singer - Bob Dylan?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I, amongst a lot of things, I suppose I am betraying my age a little bit but I am quite a fan of his yes despite the fact that some of his lyrics were rather more radical than my politics.

MACKAY:

Well, we thought we might play a Bob Dylan song as well.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that's very kind of you. Thank you.

[ends]


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