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AUS: Transcript: Howard Interview On 4BC

4 August 1999

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MIINSTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH JOHN MILLERá RADIO 4BC

MILLER:

Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Hello, John, very nice to be with you again.

MILLER:

ItÆs good to have you on the programme too, sir, particularly in the light of the fact that I think that many Australians get angry about this.á They get angry when they see our primary producers, people producing quality products, being well and truly done over by cheap imports.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I understand that, and itÆs a natural reaction that if an Australian industry is subject to any import competition, the natural reaction is to say, well, keep out the imports.á And that would be easy and that would be the solution if we lived on our own and we werenÆt in need of international trade but the problem is that if we do it other people can do it as well.á And if we get into a trade war in relation to agricultural exports we will suffer far more than we will gain.á ThatÆs the reason why I donÆt favour a tit-for-tat trade war.á We sell 80 per cent of our primary produce abroad.á We export far more, four times more, than we import when it comes to agricultural produce.á So if thereÆs a trade war and other countries do to us what we seek to do to them then we will suffer four times more than we will gain.á We will be penalised four times more than we will gain.á Now, people say to me, why donÆt you help Australian primary producers, well, the best way to help Australian primary producers is to win new export markets for them.á And thatÆs what weÆre trying to do, and we win some and we lose some.á WeÆre now getting Fuji apples from Tasmania into Japan for the first time.á WeÆve won access for Australian beef into Japan and weÆve won access for Australian sugar and beef into countries like Canada.á We lost out on lamb, although I hope that with the measures the Government has taken to help the local producers weÆll be able to hang on to the existing market share.á So, looked at in isolation, yes, put an import barrier on anything that provides any kind of competition but the problem is, other countries can do that too and the rest of the worldÆs bigger than us and if we get into a trade war weÆre going to get killed.

MILLER:

Well, I grant that weÆre an economic minnow swimming aroundà

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean, weÆre doing very well for our size.á WeÆre punching above our weight.

MILLER:

Sure.

PRIME MINISTER:

But when it comes to an all-out fight with, say, the Americans or the European Union weÆre not as big as they are and weÆve just got to be sensible about this.

MILLER:

But given that these other countries, like you cited there, the European Union, the Americans and the Japanese, the Canadians, they all have tariff barriers that protect some of their more vital industries and yet we seem to be the ones who stand up on the world stage and say, please give us another.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, we donÆt do that at all.á We have won a lot of access in recent years to the Japanese market.á Thirty per cent of all beef imports into Japan now come from Australia.á WeÆre exporting beef into Canada.á WeÆre exporting, as I mentioned earlier, Fuji apples for the first time out of Tasmania into Japan.á The Japanese producers complained like crazy about that but we still won the access.á So this sort of debate goes on in those countries as well.á I mean, in many countries people complain about Australian imports.á And, look, the sole criterion for this, the sole measure has got to be what most benefits Australia.á Now, right at the moment the Australian economy is doing very well so the trading policies weÆre following at the present time canÆt be all that bad.á If they were so bad our economy would be a lot weaker than what it is.á Our economy is, in fact, stronger than the economies of countries like Japan and Canada.á And one of the reasons our economy is stronger is that we have been able to open up new markets in Europe and North America, as many of the markets weÆve lost in Asia as result of the downturn have contracted.á And can I just say in relation to that that although we lost out on lamb we actually increased our exports to America last year by 34 per cent.á So we canÆt be doing all that badly in relation to our exports into those countries.

MILLER:

Given all of that, Prime Minister, what about the pork producers, though, who tell me that they are being literally run out of business by [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

The pork producers?

MILLER:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

The pork producers are now exporting, many of them are exporting their heads off.á And the turn around in the pork industry over the last year has been amazing because many of them have now gone into exports.á And I was talking to the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday who indicated that some of the representatives of the pork industry had, in fact, written to him in the last week expressing regrets for much of the criticism that had been directed at the Government less than a year ago.á I met some pork producers in Victoria earlier this week who said that the turnaround, because they had got into exports, had been quite remarkable.á Now, IÆm not saying that that applies to every person in the industry but you canÆt keep everybody happy all of the time and we cannot live in a world where you have no import competition.á That is just not real life.á

MILLER:

Well, IÆll be interested to see what reaction that gets from the callers because maybe IÆm missing something but it was only a couple of weeks ago that I got a call from a pork producer in the south Burnett who said that things were still very, very tough.

PRIME MINISTER:á

Well, for some people things have not improved but for the industry generally, instead of focussing on blocking out imports they have now got into the export market.á They have looked forward.á And that is the long-term hope for this country that we get greater share of larger markets.á We are a small country.á We will never have a big enough domestic market to satisfy all our producers so we have to export.á And if weÆve got to export weÆve got to acknowledge that other countries have a right to export to us.

MILLER:

Well, IÆm going to be in the south Burnett this weekend so IÆll ask around up there and see what sort of reaction I get.

PRIME MINISTER:

YouÆll find some of them donÆt agree with me because not all of them are getting the benefits but the industry as a whole has now shifted very significantly into export and is doing much better than anybody predicted a year ago and that is the direct result of government policy because instead of imposing further import barriers we helped them get into export and their markets have grown a great deal as a result.

MILLER:

All right, letÆs get back to the salmon for one moment and the big argument that has been placed there is that imported salmon could contain diseases that will get into waterways and destroy a billion dollar industry.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the finding made by AQIS was a finding by an independent committee of scientific experts.á Now, IÆm not an expert.á I donÆt understand the fine detail of diseases, I do know that after a very exhaustive process thatÆs gone on for several years and has involved, I understand, several million dollars, a finding has been made by AQIS according to the rules applied by quarantine organisations around the world that the dangers involved are quite minimal and according to those principles the quarantine ban should be lifted.á

Now this domestic industry, the salmon industry, has had the benefit of a total prohibition on imports for 25 years.á Now, there arenÆt many Australian industries that have had that.á Now I think it has to be said in fairness to the quarantine service for 25 years the domestic industry has had the total benefit of the total prohibition of any influence.á Now, that is absolute protection for a generation. Naturally the industry in Australia has benefited from that and itÆs had an opportunity to build its marketing and its domestic strength.á So I donÆt think that it can be said that itÆs being unfairly exposed to competition when itÆs had no competition from imports for 25 years.

MILLER:

Okay.á LetÆs move away from the trade issue for just a moment because we are going to run out of time in a second and I know you have a busy schedule today too.á The Financial Review this morning is saying the Federal Government has moved to cool expectations of the second tranche of Telstra being sold at a large discount.á ItÆs saying the entitlements for AustraliaÆs largest ever share sale will be moderate.á Is that true?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, this is the sort of thing where if the Government has a particular announcement to make it will be made by the relevant Minister or by those responsible for the issue.á All I can say is that buying into Telstra 2 as buying into Telstra 1 will be an extremely good deal for those who get involved.á We would like there to be a further expansion of the shareholder base in this country.á We now have the second largest percentage of shareholders after only the United States in the world and itÆs a marvellous opportunity for more of the mums and dads of Australia to buy shares in this great enterprise.á But as for the details of it IÆd rather leave that to the formal statement.

MILLER:

Okay.á Prime Minister, The Australian again this morning saying the republican cause was boosted yesterday with that all party parliamentary committee urging the replacement of the question in the referendum with one that includes direct mention of the Queen and the Governor-General.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I have read those stories.á I havenÆt seen the committeeÆs report.á What will happen is that the committeeÆs report will be tabled on Monday in the Parliament.á We as a Government will have a look at the report.á My position in relation to the wording of the question is that the wording of the question should truthfully reflect what is being put to the Australian people.á The question itself should not be a vehicle for advancing one or other side of the proposition.á In a referendum the referendum proposes a change to the existing position and it should truthfully reflect in a short summary form, because you donÆt want it too big, it should truthfully reflect precisely what is being proposed.

I thought the question that was put in the Bill did that.á I donÆt think anybody could argue that what is being proposed is that we become a republic and that we have a President chosen by a two-thirds vote of the members of the Federal Parliament.á I mean, that is what is being proposed and it seems odd to me that people should want in any way to disguise that fact by omitting reference to those things in the question.á Now, the committee, according to the reports, I donÆt know how unanimous the recommendation is, thatÆs a bit unclear this morning, there seem to be some people who were on the committee who donÆt agree with the recommendation.á But weÆll get the report on Monday and the Government will have a look at it and then it will make its mind up as to whether it believes any change is necessary.

I just simply want to make the point that I donÆt think the question should become the battleground for the debate.á The question should be a flat truthful statement of what is being proposed.á It shouldnÆt contain words that in a sense prejudge the issue.á It shouldnÆt contain words that give some kind of slant one way or another to what is being sought or what is being proposed.á Remembering always that in a referendum the very purpose of the referendum is to bring about change to the status quo and therefore the first requirement in the proposition thatÆs put to the people is that the character of the change, not the arguments in favour of change, but the character of the change proposed to the Australian people should be included in the question.á But weÆll have a look at it.á I think quite plainly the words that we originally proposed, the Government proposed, that we felt were an accurate reflection of what was involved in the proposition.á But weÆll have a look at what the committeeÆs had to say when we actually see the report.á But we are not interested in something that seeks to tilt the argument either way in relation to the question.

MILLER:

Okay.á Prime Minister John Howard, we are going to have to leave it there this morning.á IÆll let you know what they say to me up in Kingaroy this weekend.

PRIME MINISTER:

Will you give them my regards.á You wonÆt find all of them agreeing with me but I think you will find that a lot of people in small [inaudible] are doing a lot better.

MILLER:

Prime Minister John Howard, thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

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