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AUS: Transcript - Howard Interview

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP RADIO INTERVIEW WITH HOWARD SATTLER (6PR)

SATTLER:

Good morning Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

How are you Howard?

SATTLER:

Not too bad. But petrol pricing is going through the roof here at the moment. I think we are not the only State involved in that.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, you are not the only State. What has happened is that the world price of crude oil has gone up. We have a policy in this country which we have had for more than 20 years of pricing crude oil at import parity, the world price in other words.

SATTLER:

Malcolm Fraser did that didn't he?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes and it was continued by the Labor Government. But, of course, the Fraser Government did it, yes. And it was a sensible measure and it was brought in at a time when crude oil was seen as a wasting resource and to price it at the world level was seen as the most intelligent way of providing continuity of supply and a reasonable degree of price stability. And over the years it's been a remarkably successful policy. So I don't walk away from the fact that it was introduced by a coalition government but it was continued by a Labor Government. It's the only sensible way to go. At the moment the OPEC countries are putting a bit of a squeeze on the price. There's no guarantee, if I can put it that way, that that's going to continue. It is uncomfortable to have a higher price than before but we still have the second or third cheapest petrol in the world. Our petrol is much cheaper than it is in Europe. It's not quite as cheap as it is in the United States but it's very close to that level. So overall we still have, relatively speaking, a better deal. But could I say to the motorists of Perth, it really doesn't cut any ice if the price you are paying now is higher than what it was a couple of weeks ago. I accept that but I have got to say to them that if the world price is higher there's no way we can flatten it out in Australia.

SATTLER:

But didn't the Treasurer say last year when he was talking about de-regulating the system that we could expect prices to be lower and really that's not happened has it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, what he was talking about was the benefits of de-regulation would lead to lower prices, relatively speaking, in some parts of the country, yes. Now, that prediction was made at a time when the world price was lower than what it is now. If the world price were to return to the level it was when that statement was made, that prediction was made, then the benefits of de-regulation would in some areas produce a lower price. But, of course, when the general price has been ratcheted up no matter the benefits of de-regulation it's all dearer everywhere in the country. And it's not much point my saying to people, well, it would have been even dearer in some parts of Australia but for de-regulation even though that is the case.

SATTLER:

All right. But if we are now 70 per cent self-sufficient in supplying the basis of the petrol why don't we now go our own way? Why do we still need the worldà.for what you areà

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, one of the reasons we are 70 per cent self-sufficient is that we have taken the world price. And by taking the world price we encourage investment. If you start artificially suppressing the price you won't have the same amount of investment and you will lose, over a period of time, your self-sufficiency and you will become more dependent on imported crude oil and you will then have to pay, whether you like it or not, the world price for that imported crude. For 20 years we have got the benefit of security of supply by taking the world price. We have encouraged investment in the industry. If we now start, because of a temporary increase, I hope a temporary increase, I can't guarantee that but I hope it's not for a long period of time. If we then start putting and taking on the policy of import parity pricing you'll find a lot of investment that would otherwise be available will dry up. And in some years to come, perhaps sooner than we would like, we find our 70 per cent self-sufficiency falling and us having to pay higher prices anyway. It would be a very short-sighted and foolhardy response to say because of this current problem which still, may I stress, leaves us with relatively cheap petrol we should move away from a policy that has stood us in good stead for 20 years.

SATTLER:

Well, a group like the Motor Trade Association here is saying to you today you should reactivate the controls on the wholesale price of petrol. Any likelihood of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we're not disposed to do that. We think that's a fairly short-sighted response.

SATTLER:

All right. Now, on other issues which are probably a lot less important than petrol prices to most people, all this talk today about an apology to the so-called stolen generation. Now, this thing is shaping up as a major grandstanding exercise particularly for a new Democrat Senator over there. What's your reaction to all of it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, my reaction isàhas always been and it remains that the current generation of Australians can't be held responsible for misdeeds in the past. If it were possible to find some form of words that respected that principle but acknowledged that there were blemishes in our history and there were mistakes made then I have no difficulty with that. And I have never had any difficulty with that. Now, you talk about grandstanding, well, I thinkà.

SATTLER:

Well, he's going to talk to a 600 strong indigenousà

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, can I say of Senator Ridgeway, Senator Ridgeway has adopted what I regard as a very sensible, conciliatory, more positive approach to these issues than many people in the Labor Party, for example. And I think most people thought the approach that he adopted in relation to the wording of the preamble was constructive and it meant that agreement was reached on some words that are going to be put to the people in November. Now, if you like it you'll vote for it, if you don't you won't. I mean, I am going to vote for it. I am going to vote for the preamble.

SATTLER:

At least one yes vote for theà.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I'll be voting no on the other one.

SATTLER:

I know that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. Absolutely. But nobody will be in any doubt about that. But I'll be voting yes to the preamble. Now, if people don't want to, well, that's fine, it's a free country. And I hope the preamble gets up because I think it's a fairly fundamental binding uniting expression of Australian values. Now, these things are not the most important things on the agenda.

SATTLER:

I hope not.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, of course, they are not and as you know, Howard, I spend a great deal more time on other issues. But you have asked me a question about it. I mean, if you don't think it's important you wouldn't ask me a question.

SATTLER:

No, it just seems that Federal Parliament at the moment is totally preoccupiedà

PRIME MINISTER:

No, well that is absolutely wrong. I mean, for example today we have had an incredible breakthrough, the Labor Party has now changed its position in relation to youth wages.

SATTLER:

Yeah I saw that and the union is not too pleased.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the young people of Australia should be pleased. With great respect to the unions, the young people of Australia should be cock-a-hoop with this change.

SATTLER:

What does it all mean?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, what it means is that youth wages will stay and jobs of hundreds of thousands of young people will be better protected. That's what it means and it's the most important piece of news by far coming out of Canberra today. That the Labor Party has finally seen the good sense of our position and has decided to support our position. Now, it's taken a long time but I am not going to criticise them for the past errors now that they have decided to support our position. And we have now got a terrific opportunity to protect the jobs of over 200,000 young people. What's going to happen is that we are going to endorse the commonsense principle that every employer in Australia knows to be true and that is that if you are forced to pay young inexperienced people adult wages you stop employing such large numbers of them.

SATTLER:

All right. Well, how will you stop any exploitation of those young people underà

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there haven't been exploitations in the past. I mean, why on earth do we always when we do something that is generically good somebody says: oh yeah but what about the possibility of exploitation. There will be protections in the system but it stands to reason that if you get the first foot on the ladder you have got to be paid according to your experience and that normally goes hand in club with age. And it's a sensible pragmatic approach. It's worked well in the past so why on earth the Labor Party in Government wanted to get rid of it in the name of some zealous commitment to anti-discrimination which avoids common sense. It was beyond me but they have changed. I thank them for that. They have been pragmatic, they have been sensible and the important message out of all of this is that the young people of Australia have had a big win.

SATTLER:

Okay. Good. We'll take a break, Prime Minister, and back with you in just a few moments.

[Commercial break]

SATTLER:

Now, Prime Minister, just before we go on to the next subject I wanted to just briefly dwell on the petrol pricing. We got a couple of calls off air from people who said, well, if the petrol price remains high what happens when the GST comes in. So, could you justà

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, petrol's not going to, petrol's not going to go through the roof when the GST comes in because what you're going to have is a situation where it doesn't go up at all at the bowser and it, in fact, will be cheaper. Because there's going to be a substitution between the GST and the excise.

SATTLER:

Oh okay, so you're going to drop the excise or are you going to eliminate it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we're going to synchronise it so that there's no increase at the bowser. And because business will be able to rebate the cost of petrol used for business purposes it will, in fact, be cheaper for them.

SATTLER:

Okay. Now, we all know about the brawl, the brawl, the ongoing brawl between our State government and your Government, particularly your Forest Minister, over the Regional Forest Agreement, if that still exists. There's been another one which has hit our front pages today that the Commonwealth could use its external powers to override our sentencing laws, the mandatory laws here. That seems to have the backing of the Labor Party, the Democrats, the Greens and Independent member of Parliament, Peter Andren and, of course, the Human Rights Commission but what about the Government, do you support that?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we don't support it. We think that these things should be determined by State governments. And Daryl Williams, the Commonwealth Attorney General who comes from Western Australia has already stated that and that's mentioned in the article on the front page of The West Australian. This is a Private Members' Bill but it won't be attracting government support.

SATTLER:

So that's the end of it, is it, because it won't get your help?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it won't be attracting government support so it can't become law.

SATTLER:

They are whistling in the wind there. Good. Okay, let's talk about what's happening now with the forest. How real is the threat from Federal Forest Minister, Wilson Tuckey, to withhold funds to the State under the Regional Forest Agreement?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, the Minister is sticking up for the workers and we're not going to do anything in relation to the agreement which violates the agreement or withholds any funds that are going to be beneficial to the industry or beneficial to the workers. I think Wilson's position has always been that because of the changed position of the Western Australian Government that may have some impact on the disposition of the money but I've made it clear, and I repeat it again today, that we have no intention of reneging on our side of the agreement.

SATTLER:

That's about $20 million.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, we made a commitment and every last cent of that will be delivered but it may be that because of the changed positions of the WA Government it has to be delivered in a slightly different fashion.

SATTLER:

Does that mean your side would decide how it's distributed [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I mean, it is our money and weà

SATTLER:

It's our money actually.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, when I say our money I mean it's your money, all of our money.

SATTLER:

That's right.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, we all own it but we have the responsibility of deciding the best way of spending it. And look, although I disagree with what the Western Australian Government has done I'm perfectly happy to talk sensibly to them about the expenditure of the money but you've got to understand that there was a decision taken by the Western Australian Government not to go ahead with certain commitments that have been made. Now, we're not going to walk away from our part of the agreement.

SATTLER:

So the agreement is still alive.

PRIME MINISTER:

As far as I'm concerned the agreement is still alive but there has been a breach of it by the Western Australian Government but that doesn't mean we' re going to behave foolishly or capriciously but it does mean that we will be making it perfectly clear that we're not responsible for people in rural areas of Western Australia being thrown out of work. That's not our decision. We are very unhappy that that decision has been taken but having said that we want to be constructive and sensible about the expenditure of our money.

SATTLER:

Well, it seems thatà

PRIME MINISTER:

The money, your money.

SATTLER:

That's right. But Mr Tuckey, it seems, and our government can't sit down and talk about it. All they do is slag off at each other then telling him to grow up. So, I meanà

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don't, well, I thinkà

SATTLER:

That's what they said.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, he is very grown up on this and I think if you went around rural Western Australia you'd find a greater identification with his point of view on this than any other person's point of view. And what he's doing is sticking up for the industry and he's sticking up for the men and women in the industry. I mean, you're talking here about a lot of people who are going to lose their jobs.

SATTLER:

I know.

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly, and that is tragic and that's what he's upset about. And people are entitled to feel passionate about unemployment.

SATTLER:

But is it going to take you to get involved in this again because it seems that they won't talk with each other?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, I'm certain that, in relation to discussions, there will be proper communication but you've got to understand that it takes both sides to be sensible and I'm sure they will be but recognising the fact that there are differences of view.

SATTLER:

We have a talkback caller on the line. His name is Brian. Other can call if they want in the few minutes left with the Prime Minister û 9221 1233. Hello, Brian.

CALLER:

Oh good morning, Howard, good morning, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

How are you, Brian?

CALLER:

Prime Minister, do you recall when the GST was first mooted by Fraser and yourself that fuel was going to drop by 28 cents a litre commercially to the trade people and 19 cents a litre at the pump for the Mr and Mrs Average. Now, what the hell has happened to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don't remember that at all.

CALLER:

You don't.

PRIME MINISTER:

No. What I remember, well, to start with, Malcolm Fraser and I never proposed a GST. I tried to persuade him to propose one but I failed.

CALLER:

Yeah, well that was part of the deal that was coming outà

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I mean, the premise of your question is fundamentally wrong. Malcolm Fraser and I never proposed a GST. The reality is that I tried unsuccessfully on two occasions as Treasurer to persuade the former Coalition government that was defeated in 1983 to introduce a broad-based indirect tax. It wasn't in the form of a GST but it was a broadening of the indirect tax base and I was unsuccessful in relation to that.

SATTLER:

Thank you, Brian. Thanks for your call. I must talk about East Timor because I won't get to talk to you about it before the vote which is on next Monday. Now, we've got reports today and I'm sure you've got them too that thousands of people are fleeing the province to escape militias, orchestrated violence and after the poll we might have to take some refugees from the country depending on the result. Now, what's your response to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, my response to that comment is to say that we have put in place arrangements that will deal with all sorts of contingencies. We've been planning for some time now against all sorts of possibilities and contingencies arising out of the ballot and the aftermath of the ballot.

SATTLER:

Part of that, evacuation toà

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we have covered a lot of contingencies and we'll continue to do that. I choose my words carefully and deliberately because I don't want to give rise to speculation about this or that outcome. It is still our hope that there will be a relatively peaceful ballot, that the result of that ballot will be accepted. If it is a vote for independence then our plea to the Indonesian Government will be to allow an orderly transition. If it is a vote for continued association with Indonesia then we would hope that those who want independence will respect that outcome. It is difficult. It's a volatile situation. You are still dealing with the sovereign territory of our largest neighbour, Indonesia. People still talk about East Timor as though every person in the world has a right to come and go to that country irrespective of the views of the Government of Indonesia. And people talk about sending peacekeepers. You can only send peacekeepers if you have the authority of the government of the country or part of whose country whose peace your trying to keep. Now, we have put care and attention into preparing for a number of contingencies. I hope that there will be a peaceful and conciliatory aftermath to the ballot when it takes place next week.

SATTLER:

Now, the United Nations' observers up there report the arrival of what they describe as several hundred thugs who they denied observer status. Now, that must be a worry.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it is a very tense and difficult situation. Everyone knows that. But it doesn't sort of help for people, I'm not saying you're doing this but some are running around saying, well, you should have a peacekeeping force here and there when they know darn well that if the Indonesian Government says no to a peacekeeping force the only way you can impose it is by invasion and surely nobody's suggesting that.

SATTLER:

All right, the Prime Minister's got to go in a minute or so but just take John's call before you do, if you could, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Hi John.

CALLER:

Good morning, Howard.

SATTLER:

Yes, John, the Prime Minister's listening.

CALLER:

Good morning, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, John.

CALLER:

Prime Minister, I'm a pensioner. I pay no tax.

PRIME MINISTER:

You pay no tax.

CALLER:

No tax. HIF costs me $848 a year, that's with the thing, why should I pay Medicare? It costs me $324 or somethingà

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you don't pay any tax.

CALLER:

I don't pay any tax.

PRIME MINISTER:

If you don't pay any tax, how do you pay the Medicare levy?

CALLER:

You tell me. I'm asking the question.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, but you don't. You don't.

CALLER:

I do.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there's something wrong somewhere. Will you give Howard the details and I'll check it out.

SATTLER:

Yeah, that doesn't gel with me, John.

CALLER:

I have paid it year after year and I do not pay any tax.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, mate, give us the details.

SATTLER:

Okay, John, stay there and we'llà

PRIME MINISTER:

It's your lucky day.

SATTLER:

Oh dear. Anyway, you've got to go.

PRIME MINISTER:

And there's one thing I've got to say before I go and that is because he's a great Western Australian as well as a great Australia but I think Geoff Marsh has done a fantastic job.

SATTLER:

Hasn't he. It's sad that he's going but he's going with an almost impeccable recordà

PRIME MINISTER:

He's absolutely fantastic and he has been a terrific coach for the Australian team and, Geoff, you've really done an enormous power of good for Australian cricket and I don't want the opportunity to go by without recording my respect for the great job you've done as coach of the Australian team.

SATTLER:

Yeah, anyway, we'll pass it on because he's currently probably standing on a cricket field in Sri Lanka somewhere trying to rev the boys up. They're going well. Two out of two ain't bad, as they say.

PRIME MINISTER:

It ain't bad.

SATTLER:

Yeah. Thanks Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay.


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