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Howard on Boeing workers; Hicks; anti-terror leg.

Transcript of the Prime Minister the Hon John Howard MP Doorstop Interview, Tomaree Education Centre, Salamander Bay

Subject: Boeing workers; industrial relations; David Hicks; anti-terrorism legislation

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

JOURNALIST:

What are you doing in Paterson today?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have a couple of functions before heading back to Sydney but Paterson is an electorate I visit on a very regular basis and I’ll continue to do that.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard you met a couple of Boeing workers today, can you tell me how that went?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I met two of the Boeing workers, they spoke to me on behalf of all of those who are on strike. We agreed that their dispute with Boeing has nothing to do with the new workplace relations laws. I also told them that I would like the dispute to be resolved, I’d like them to go back to work, but ultimately that was a matter between the company and the workers, it’s not something that should involve the Government or should involve any other body. It is not a question, really as I understand it, of pay and conditions, it’s really an argument about what legal form their employment should take. The company has a policy, which it’s entitled to have, they don’t like that policy and they are on strike. But I emphasise it has nothing to do with the workplace relations laws that are before the Parliament. We had a very cordial discussion, they were nice men, and we had a very pleasant talk. We obviously have some areas of difference but it’s got nothing to do with the new laws, it’s a dispute about the legal form that their employment should take and ultimately that is a matter that has to be resolved between the company and the workforce. It can’t be and should not be resolved by the Government.

JOURNALIST:

Doesn’t the dispute show that the idea of choices for workers is fiction?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it doesn’t show that at all. What the Boeing dispute is about is something that has been around for a very long time and that is that sometimes there will be an argument about the legal form that people’s employment should take. It’s not about pay, they could back to their jobs tomorrow and the people who are employed on common law contracts by Boeing are paid very well so it’s not really about that. It’s a gesture…

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

…no, no, it’s a gesture by the unions to make its political point about the legal form that the employment should take. Now this is not about grinding down conditions, it’s got nothing to do with that all.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard will you be speaking with Boeing to try and …

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no it’s not the Government’s role to intervene in every debate between a workforce and a company. That is not, we expect the company to obey the law, we expect the workforce to obey the law, we expect workers and companies to solve these things themselves and that is the way in which the dispute will be resolved. The rest of the workers of the company seem very happy with the common law contracts and a company like Boeing is acting within its rights.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, do you think it’s fair that two workers with the same qualifications, the same skills and the same attitude towards their work, are paid differently when they are doing the same job?

PRIME MINISTER:

You’re asking me a hypothetical question which is clearly related though to this company and this dispute and I don’t intend to answer hypothetical questions without having full possession of the facts.

JOURNALIST:

Are you sympathetic to their plight though?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am in favour of disputes being resolved in a commonsense fashion and that can only happen by the workers and the company resolving the dispute. This is not a dispute about our new workplace relations laws. It is not a dispute about pay, it is a dispute about the legal framework of their employment. That’s what it’s a dispute about and the union has a certain view about that, the AWU, and the company has another view and they have to put their respective cases into the forum of public opinion. But these men could go back to their jobs tomorrow and they would not suffer any penalty, now that is the situation, now I can’t really say any more than that. This is about, this is a political debate about the form of, the legal form of a workplace arrangement, it is not an argument about the fairness or otherwise of our industrial relations proposals.

JOURNALIST:

The state industrial relations ministers are in Canberra today speaking with the Senate inquiry, they’re saying that the IR changes are unconstitutional, how do you react to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well our advice is that they are perfectly constitutional and in the end that matter will probably be resolved by the High Court, but our advice all along has been that these laws have been quite constitutional, we wouldn’t be putting them up otherwise.

JOURNALIST:

The State Premiers, Steve Bracks and Peter Beattie, are also concerned about the sedition provisions in the counter-terrorism legislation, would you consider having that removed from the main bill to be considered separately?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. I am surprised that Mr Bracks and Mr Beattie are raising that issue now. In all the previous discussions we had, there was not even a passing reference to the sedition provisions, not even a passing reference. We won’t be taking those provisions out. What we are doing is modernising the language of the law of sedition. We have had provisions about the law of sedition in the laws of Australia for many, many years and there is no case to take them out. Journalists, cartoonists, actors and all other sundry critics of the Government have nothing to fear from these new proposals. People can still attack me and Mr Beazley and lampoon us as I am sure they will without any fear of being put into the slammer.

JOURNALIST:

You will not tighten the wording to make sure, take away the…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we don’t believe the wording needs tightening.

JOURNALIST:

Just on terrorism, what can you tell us about the anonymity of the people who report suspicious behaviour?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is meant to be respected.

JOURNALIST:

So how are things getting out then?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t know whether things have got out, I understand that there is an allegation that things have got out, but that will be investigated in the appropriate way, I obviously can’t answer for the thousands of calls that are made but clearly it would be a matter of concern if calls were not treated in an anonymous fashion.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, on the weekend you said it would be wrong to change the law in respect of David Hicks because no offence was created at the time (inaudible) actions, is it not a greater offence to leave an Australian in a prison overseas for something that wasn’t an offence (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

It wasn’t an offence under Australian law, but it may have been an offence under the laws of another country.

JOURNALIST:

Was it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is a matter that will be resolved by the Military Commission. You see, there seems to be the view still around and it is implicit in your question that if an Australian goes overseas and does something, he is still covered by Australian law, that is not the case. If people come to Australia and commit offences, we expect them to be judged by Australian law, not by the laws of the country from which they originated. Thank you.

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