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Transcript: PM Intrview

2 August 1999

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW - HAMILTON SHOWGROUNDS HAMILTON, VICTORIA

JOURNALIST:

Mr ReithÆs announcement yesterday that he is going to support the ænoÆ case becauseà[inaudible] àa popularly elected President. Do you think that it is dangerous thinking or supporting the idea of a popularly elected President?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you should go and talk to Mr Reith about that. Look, I made a promise to the Australian people before the last election that there would be a referendum on this issue. I have always made it plain myself that I am against change. I have never disguised that from the Australian people but I also said that the issue was theirÆs to decide and I am handing it over to the Australian people to decide because it belongs to them. It doesnÆt belong to the politicians or to elite interest groups. It belongs to all of the Australian people and as far as I am concerned that remains my position. And I am not going to give a running commentary on the contributions of my colleagues. We have a free vote within the Government on the issue and Mr Reith is entitled to his view as I am to mine and Senator Hill is to his and Mr Costello is to his. We are an open, free, democratic party and everybody has got a view and the Australian people will decide the issue.

JOURNALIST:

Do you still have reservations though about a popularly elected President?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I am not going to get into a running commentary. My position is clear. I am against change and I certainly have expressed views about a popularly elected presidency in the past. But, look, if you want to ask questions on behalf of Mr Turnbull go to some other forum.

JOURNALIST:

Do you still hold the view that you expressed at the convention last year?

PRIME MINISTER:

My views have not altered.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, whatÆs your response to Mr CourtÆs claims in WA that you are not providing the support that he was owed over forestry issues?

PRIME MINISTER:

ThatÆs nonsense. Mr Court, and Mr Court couldnÆt possibly be seriously saying that.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think youàI would be very surprised if Mr Court seriously à[interruption]à Look, I have just spent three days in Western Australia and at no stage did Mr Court suggest to me that we werenÆt providing the support we said weÆd provide. We are honouring that agreement in full and I think the Western Australian Government should honour the original agreement in full. And if that were to happen the jobs of more than 1,000 forestry workers would be a lot more secure than they are today.

JOURNALIST:

So what reasons have your lawyers to call for Mr BarrettÆs sacking?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not going to talk about the case; itÆs not appropriate to do so.

JOURNALIST:

Just back on the republic. Do you think Mr ReithÆs change of stance will have a significant impact on the debate - he is a rather senior minister of yours?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, I am not a commentator. YouÆre the commentators. I am the Prime Minister. I promised thereÆd be a vote. I have stated my own position. My position has not changed. I think we have about the most stable political system in the world and I canÆt for the life of me see why weÆd want to change it. We are a completely independent country, we have got a very good system, why muck around with it? But other people have a different view and the Australian people will decide it - not me, not Mr Reith, not Mr Turnbull but the Australian people. And I have always said that IÆd hand it over to the Australian people. I have always made plain my own position both in relation to the present system and in relation to the alternative. And what I said at the convention has not altered, that is my view and it will remain my view. But it has not been my desire to give a running commentary on everybody elseÆs contribution because I am not a commentator, the last time I checked I thought I was a participant.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Turnbull said over the weekend that he feared the Government had rigged the referendum.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the Governmentàhow can you be rigging something when you are doing what you promised the people you said you would do? I said that I would give people a vote and thatÆs whatÆs happening. And we are putting a question to them that faithfully and truthfully reflects the proposition. The proposition that has been put to the Australian people is that this country should become a republic with a President chosen by two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives on the nomination of the Prime Minister and with the support of the Leader of the Opposition. Now, thatÆs what the convention voted for, thatÆs Mr TurnbullÆs model, thatÆs what we are putting. I donÆt know what the man is complaining about.

JOURNALIST:

On an unrelated subjectà.

PRIME MINISTER:

àthank heavenÆs for that.

JOURNALIST:

àalcohol has officially replaced speed as the worst killer on [inaudible]à

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that doesnÆt surprise me at all. The application of an atom of common sense would tell the Australian public that the abuse of alcohol still remains a major cause of road deaths. And fortunately, as a result of random breath testing introduced almost 20 years ago, the death toll around Australia has come down quite dramatically and that is a great thing. But there are still too many people of all ages who drive when they shouldnÆt do so. And I support every campaign including the very dramatic advertisements that have been run here in Victoria and around Australia to drive home the terrible consequences, the tragedy and the human misery when people drink and then go out and drive. They should never do that and it should be the constant responsibility of parents to drive that lesson home to their teenage children because youth does have a capacity to behave irresponsibly. We all know that and I think it should be the responsibility of every parent in Australia to remind their kids when they go out at night if they are going to have a drink for heavenÆs sake get one their mates to drive them home.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, you said when you spoke earlier that in the Ralph Report, the findings of that, rural people and farmers and wool producers wouldnÆt be disadvantaged. How are you going to ensure that they wonÆt be disadvantaged?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, what I said was that the Government would not hurt rural people in the decisions it makes on business taxation. Now, I am not going to go into the details of how that outcome will be achieved but I wanted to send a message to the Australian bush today that it will not be disadvantaged by the GovernmentÆs decisions on business taxation. We have greatly advantaged the bush through our cuts in fuel prices and the other benefits of the GST and in relation to business taxation I have the same message, we are not going to hurt the bush, the bush needs help not penalties. The bush needs understanding not indifference. And in our decisions on business taxation we will make sure that none of those decisions disadvantage the bush.

JOURNALIST:

How quickly will the Government be responding to the Ralph Report?

PRIME MINISTER:

We will respond with appropriate speed having regard to all of the circumstances including the reactions of the public. Thank you.

[ends]

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