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Howard: 10th anniversary; polls; unions; Labor etc

Transcript Of The Prime Minister The Hon John Howard MP Interview With John Laws, Radio 2UE, Sydney

Subject: 10th anniversary of the Government; opinion polls; unions; Labor

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

LAWS:

Good morning Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning John nice to talk to you.

LAWS:

It’s good to talk to you, would a few more years sit well with you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’ll just see what transpires. As I have said before it’s really a matter of my party’s wishes and my party’s interests but thank you for what you said. But can I say it’s a 10 year achievement for a team. I’ve been fortunate to be the captain of the team but I have had a very good team. I’ve had two wonderful opening fast bowlers if I can use a cricket analogy. You have Peter Costello sort of opening the attack and without him we wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful as we have been. He has been a wonderful Treasurer and a great deputy.

LAWS:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

And a very effective advocate of the Government’s economic policies. Alexander Downer, I last week, I think I am changing my metaphors, I likened him to the safety of Bobby Simpson at first slip. He’s been a fantastic player as well. Both of those of course have been in their positions for the whole time the Government’s been in power.

LAWS:

Yes people forget that.

PRIME MINISTER:

And the other part of the equation is of course, is the coalition with the National Party. For a short period of time between 1996 and 1998, it might have been theoretically possible for the Liberal Party to have governed in it’s own right but it never entered my head that I would try and do that because we had gone into the election as a Coalition and we’d been a Coalition together for years and it would have been absurd to have tried. Of course since 98 we haven’t had that position and it really has never been something I have entertained. For people, and there are some in the Liberal Party who somehow or other think we’d be better off on our own, could I just remind them that if you applied that doctrine now it would mean that I’d be leading a minority Government and who on earth would want to do that?

LAWS:

No, nobody.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the Coalition has worked well and I want to place on record my thanks to Tim Fischer, to John Anderson and now Mark Vaile for the loyalty and teamwork that they have all displayed towards the joint interests of our parties and the interests of the Government.

LAWS:

You must be buoyed nonetheless by the suggestion that the Australian voters want you to stay for a few more years?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look everybody is pleased if they think, or they imagine that people think they are doing a reasonable job but I always pinch myself when I read things like that and remind myself it can change very quickly and I don’t take the public’s goodwill or support for granted. I’ve got to earn it every day and I have always adopted the attitude in the time I’ve been Prime Minister that it’s a huge privilege to be Prime Minister of this country, I feel that every day when I come to work and I will go on feeling for as long as I have this position.

LAWS:

When you were first elected, what did you expect? Did you expect one term or had you looked further?

PRIME MINISTER:

I guess I thought given the size of our majority in 1996, that it was reasonable unless we made a right royal mess of it, it was reasonable to expect that we would stay in office for a couple of terms. The reality is that we lost a number of seats in 98 I think my opponents misread the significance of the 1998 election, it was complicated by the almost one million votes that One Nation polled, most of those had come from the Coalition and I think the Labor Party misunderstood that, but anyway that’s part of Australian political history now. The tougher election obviously was 2001 because it was an election where we had a smaller majority and we’d been in quite a bit of difficulty earlier in the year. We had begun to come out of that difficulty by July at the time of the Aston by-election which really the Labor Party in the circumstances at the time should have won and to me that was a great signal that the public would, with all things being equal, would probably stick with us and didn’t see the Labor Party as a strong alternative.

LAWS:

In the poll conducted by The Daily Telegraph it’s been suggested that whilst people felt that Peter Costello is great with the numbers and the finances as you have already said, he is out of touch with ordinary people, I don’t know that I subscribe to that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I tell you that I don’t either?

LAWS:

No, good.

PRIME MINISTER:

And I want to say on Peter’s behalf that I don’t find him to be somebody who is out of touch. He’s very personable, he’s a family man like a lot of us and he’s a bloke who is not somebody who’s had other than to work very hard for what he’s achieved and I am quite certain that Peter could be seen over time by the Australia public as a very warm and engaging person.

LAWS:

Yes, that’s what I have always found him to be with a good sense of humour.

PRIME MINISTER:

Very good sense of humour. He’s got better one liners than I have but then we all have our limitations don’t we.

LAWS:

Well maybe he’s got a bit more time to rehearse them.

PRIME MINISTER:

Perhaps he has.

LAWS:

I’ve also found him to have a very decent social conscience too.

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely. In fact we in the Liberal Party worry about the social issues a lot more than we’re given credit for. That just seems one of the stereotypes of Australian politics, that the Liberal Party is only interested in economic management. I mean a lot of what we have done over the last 10 years is firmly rooted in a strong philosophy, I think the philosophy of encouraging small business, for example, which has been a constant theme of what we have done over the last 10 years is very very important. There is nothing materialistic about it because the idea of encouraging people to have a go and achieve something and to build something they didn’t have when their life began is something that keeps a nation going. I’m immensely proud of the fact that there are now more small entrepreneurs, self-employed people in Australia than there are members of trade unions, not because I object to people being a member of a trade union.

LAWS:

They can do good things.

PRIME MINISTER:

They can do very good things and it has to be acknowledged that if you look at the history of this in similar countries, trade unions have achieved a lot of valuable social advances and many working people would not be as well off if it hadn’t have been for what unions have done. I’ve never suggested that unions are wholly bad it is just that the world has moved on and many unions have not moved on with the world and they are still chanting the mantras of earlier class conflict. If there is one thing that distinguishes Australia of 2006 and that is it’s less and less a nation defined by class, it’s less and less a nation defined by social background, it’s less and less a nation defined by inherited views of superiority.

LAWS:

I was very interested in the comments you made about the head covering worn by Muslim women, the burqa, you described it and I thought very well, as confronting.

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t mind the head, not the head scarf but it’s really the whole outfit.

LAWS:

The whole outfit.

PRIME MINISTER:

The whole outfit, I think most Australians do find that somewhat confronting.

LAWS:

Yes, would you rather it wasn’t worn?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no, look I don’t believe you can pass laws, it is very hard to pass laws on things like that. But oddly enough one of the few countries in the world apart from France recently that has passed a law like that is Turkey, so much so that you have the rather unusual situation that the wife of the Prime Minster of Turkey who is a devout Muslim lady will accompany him to an official function in a non-Government building but can’t accompany him to an official function in a Government building.

LAWS:

Why?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because of the law of that country and I learnt this when I was in Turkey at the time of Anzac Day last year, we had a reception, a very nice reception that the Prime Minister attended, gave for the visiting Australians in Chanakkale the night before Anzac Day and she came along, she’s a lovely lady. But it’s just goes back to the Ataturk days when Turkey was secularised by legislation, if I can put it that way, and I think these are things, it’s very hard to lay down legislation. I mean the French have passed the law and it’s caused a bit of grief and there seems to be a bit of a loophole in the law which suggests that religious symbols that aren’t too big can worn. Now some people might argue that that’s preferential to some religions over another, but I mean that is a matter for France. I don’t believe that you should ban wearing of headscarves but I do think the full garb is confronting and it is how most people feel. I mean that is not meant disrespectfully to Muslims.

LAWS:

No I know.

PRIME MINISTER:

Because most Muslim women, well the great majority of them in Australia don’t even wear head scarves but very few of them wear the full garb. Now I am just expressing a view that most Australians feel.

LAWS:

Yes well I think you are probably right there. You grew up in the Earlwood area and as a kid you did what I did, you pumped petrol into your dad’s car at your father’s service station. My dad didn’t have a service station but I used to pump petrol every Saturday.

PRIME MINISTER:

You probably got paid.

LAWS:

I did, I got…

PRIME MINISTER:

I didn’t which is fair enough I mean given that my parents had brought me into the world, I didn’t really expect to get paid. But I enjoyed that I enjoyed the interaction with the motorists.

LAWS:

So did I, I loved it. 10 bob Saturday morning and 10 bob Sunday morning and I thought it was terrific, but you’d remember those times of your life as I do, wouldn’t you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I do, that was in the early 1950s my dad had a service station near Dulwich Hill Station and I used to serve petrol.

LAWS:

Wipe the windscreen.

PRIME MINISTER:

Wipe the windscreen, change the oil, pump the tyres and occasionally sell some spark plugs and they didn’t have, the additives weren’t in the petrol then. You used to put the petrol in, then you’d squirt in some additive to give it an extra boost.

LAWS:

So we thought.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes so we thought. But it was a great lesson in making sure that the customers were happy so maybe I learnt some of my early political, if anything I have learnt, (inaudible) in politics, perhaps I learnt some of them in those days.

LAWS:

Well you may have learnt some industrial relations policies.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I certainly never believed or found out that my father was sort of paid to open his garage on Saturday morning or Sunday morning, sometimes he would have opened it and probably made very little but he had to because it was part and parcel of running a small business. Now whilst I respect fully the right of people to seek penalty rates and so forth for extra work over the weekend and so forth, I think it also has to be remembered that if you run a small business you can be open all day on Sunday and all day on Saturday and not make a cracker after you’ve paid the wages of the people you employ.

LAWS:

Tell me about the issues that you wish you’d hadn’t done or you wish you’d done differently.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I have made a lot of, I’ve made errors and no doubt my opponents will point them out. I think I’ve said earlier I think I took too long over the Wik issue, I reproached myself for having appeared to have lost my temper at the reconciliation gathering in 1997. Obviously there are many other mistakes that I have made, it’s not in, I don’t suppose it’s in one’s nature to sit down and enumerate them knowing quite well that the other crowd, which is fair enough, are going to get stuck into you and list them.

LAWS:

What do you think of the other crowd?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I never take them lightly. I would counsel any Liberal or National Party member listening to this program who thinks that just because we’re marking an important event, 10 years being in office, that the next election is a forgone conclusion, forget it. The Labor Party is always very competitive in this country, the Labor Party has existed longer than any other political party in Australian history and in 1961, if I can reach back into history, I know it’s a long time ago, but Sir Robert Menzies appeared at the height of his powers, the Labor Party was still reeling from the 1955 split. It was led by a thoroughly decent man in Arthur Calwell but not somebody who people instinctively saw as an alternative Prime Minister, he was a thoroughly decent man though, Arthur Calwell. Yet Menzies went within a whisker of…

LAWS:

…of losing it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Of losing it. He ended up after, appointing a speaker with a majority of one and the fact that he’d been Prime Minister for what twelve years, and the fact that the Labor Party was still hopelessly split and led by someone who a lot of Labor people didn’t have a lot of confidence in, he went within a whisker. Now there were circumstances, he ran a bad campaign so I would just say to all of my colleagues, there is no such thing as an unlosable election and there’s no such thing as an unwinnable one and I think the Labor Party is highly competitive and I will not take them lightly.

LAWS:

Is there one particular person in the Labor Party that you think possibly could upset the apple cart at the next election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I believe Mr Beazley will lead the Labor Party to the next election.

LAWS:

Could he upset you at the next election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it follows from what I said a moment ago, it’s quite possible for Mr Beazley to win the next election.

LAWS:

Really? Well I suppose it’s a possibility.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the point I am making, and I make it again very strongly, any Liberal or National Party supporter who romances with the idea that all we’ve got to do is turn up and win the next election and that the public would not vote for Labor or not vote for Mr Beazley, I think they’re wrong. This was the arrogance to which people in the Labor Party succumbed before the 1996 election.

LAWS:

Well I imagine you’ve got a busy week ahead of you, is it any different to another week just because it’s the 10th anniversary?

PRIME MINISTER:

No it’s not. I mean there are a number of events and functions but it will be very much about rededicating ourselves as a team to the future, it won’t be about glorying in any way. I mean it is nice to have been in power and I am very very grateful for the privilege they have given us and given me but I’ve tried very hard to keep in touch with them, I hope I’ve been reasonably successful and one of the things I am always reminded of is that Australians are very generous people, but they are also very sceptical of anybody who gets a bit carried away with themself as well.

LAWS:

They sure are. Okay, Prime Minister thank you very much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

LAWS:

Nice to talk to you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Nice to talk to you.

[ends]

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