Doorstop interview with the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, Frankston, Victoria

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Doorstop interview with the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, Frankston, Victoria







9 September 2004



Well, you’ve heard the policy announcement – any questions about

this or anything else?


Prime Minister, is there going to be more funding for programs such as

the one we’ve just heard about today, so people who want to take advantage

of the top cap…


Well, I think it’s fair to say that as the election campaign unfolds there

will be announcements made in a number of areas. I don’t want to be more

specific than that.


Prime Minister, what sort of principle will you adopt to ensure that any

further spending measures don’t have an inflationary effect?


Well, the overall economic settings determine whether individual initiatives

have an inflationary effect and the extent to which they contribute. But

look, the best evidence I can give on that is our record. We have the lowest

inflation for years. For the first time since 1968 we have the golden double

of inflation below 3% and unemployment below 6% – the latter confirmed 40

minutes ago. The unemployment rate stays at 5.7% – what, 13 months now of

unemployment below 6%. I mean, you’ve got to look at the track record. This

idea that you can be a born-again-believer in budget surpluses in the space

of an election campaign but when you last had your hand on the tiller, you

left the place broke, is a little bit rich.


But [inaudible] golden trifecta…surplus of billions of dollars, doesn’t

it create a whole new challenge?


Well, I think it’s a wonderful challenge. I mean, isn’t success a terrible

burden – that is essentially what you’re saying. I’ll tell you what,

only a Coalition government, only a Howard-Costello team could have delivered

that surplus and I find it hypocritical, almost politically obscene, that

we should be getting lectures from Mr Latham and Senator…well, Mr

McMullan, I’m sorry, about fiscal rectitude. When they last had a go they

violated every principle of fiscal rectitude.


Mr Costello [inaudible]…


You look pretty good.


Yes, you scrub up quite well.


Yeah, I wouldn’t feel bad about it.


[Inaudible] clarity…remember your [inaudible] a couple of years ago

and you made the point, we all had to tighten ourselves…[inaudible]…what’s

that doing for our future?


Well, I made the point that we had to address those areas of Commonwealth

expenditure which were going to expand the fastest. We started with the

Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Which I see the Labor Party after rejecting

our measures for two years, have now agreed to. I made the point that we

had to encourage participation for people from working age and who were

not in the workforce. And we still have our Australians ‘Working Together’

package and I’ve been making the point, increasingly so, with the paper

I released earlier this year, that we have to encourage other cohorts that

are not engaging in the workforce to lift their engagement, and one of those

is mature age workers. When you benchmark Australia against the OECD, one

of the areas where our participation rates are low by comparison, is with

people over 55, particularly men over 55. And that’s why this announcement

today is an absolutely targeted measure for an area where Australia has

been underperforming to do something which will confront the participation

and which will deal with the ageing of the population.


Could I just make a small, respectfully, make a correction. You talked

about this measure as though it were a spending measure. It’s a tax cut.

And you seem to have, in the last little while, we seem to have this interchange

ability of terms. I hear the Labor Party talking about savings to fund certain

things and those savings are tax increases. And my elementary understanding

of these things is that when you give a tax break that is not expenditure,

it’s in fact reducing tax. And I always thought it was a good virtue to

try and reduce tax expenditures where we could, and particularly in a targeted

fashion that gave people both rewards and incentives.


Treasurer, are there any mature age workers you’d like to see out of the



No, I am the person that has encouraged mature age workers to stay in the

workforce and, in fact, did I not announce earlier this year a proposal

to do that and we want to give people additional choices because their engagement

in the workforce will grow the economy. All ages, all ages.




Well, we announced a measure, did we not, which said that people could

work part-time and draw down on their superannuation.


You don’t want to be out too late, Annabelle.




Yes, yes. Unemployment, I believe, is probably at the lower end of the

cycle, that is the cyclical factors with the growth that we’ve had in the

Australian economy, this is probably almost as low as it can get but we

can punch through this if we have structural change. If we were to reform

industrial relations in this country, if we were to get our Australian Working

Together packages through, if we were to get welfare reform, which we have

stalled in the Senate, we could improve, we could improve.


And if we had got those unfair dismissal laws through, those changes that

would further reduce unemployment but if we have a new industrial relations

system that gives power back to the unions, unemployment will rise.


How low can we go?


I have never tried to put an exact figure on it. I think that is very,

very difficult to do. But I know, given the strength of the economy, if

we could remove some of the remaining structural barriers to further reductions

in unemployment, particularly in the small business area, we could go lower

but I’m not going to put a figure on it.


Prime Minister, [inaudible] new Prime Minister that Australia is not at

greater risk or Australians are at a lot greater risk because of our involvement

in Iraq?


I hold to the views I’ve expressed before.


The reason I asked that question is because there are reports that the

New South Wales Police, after discussions with ASIO and the AFP, are moving

certain anti-terror or emergency squads to various parts of capital cities.


Well, I haven’t seen those reports but I have not received any advice,

which alters the previous views that I have expressed in relation to that

issue and I would repeat what I’ve previously said, that this country has

been in the target sights for terrorism for quite a long time and the first

occasion that we got a particular mention from Bin Laden and, therefore,

from Al Qaeda, was related to our involvement in East Timor. And I’ve said

before in the Parliament that we had information that Australia was a potential

terrorist target before the 11th of September 2001. This idea

that Australia has only recently become a potential terrorist target is

false. We are a target because of who we are, not because of what we have



Mr Howard, now that your adult children have left home…


I beg your pardon?


Now that your adult children have left home…


Well, they never entirely leave home, can I tell you.




I am not giving any commitments or any indications in relation to altered

living arrangements. The Australian people are interested in how I do the

job and the Australian people understand full well that there are sunk costs

involved in having two official residences and they vary very little according

to the balance of usage of those two residences and I don’t intend to give

any different undertakings.


Mr Howard…today there have been reports that you are planning to

increase benefits for child care. Can you outline what the Government might

have in mind?


No. I’d simply note the reports. There’ll be a lot of reports. As we have

announcements to make we will make those announcements but those announcements

will be clear, they will not be fudged, we will not try and rig the tables,

we will not say that something that people are receiving is not real.


It doesn’t exist.


It doesn’t exist. I mean, those $600 payments are being credited as we

speak. They are happening right now. I mean, it’s not virtual. I mean, it’s



… seem to be able to buy goods and services with those payments too,

they actually have the same effect as money, surprisingly…






Go to the Centrelink site and it has the per fortnightly and then right

underneath in addition $600 per annum. Now, can I say to you – this

is the weakest excuse I’ve ever heard from Mr Latham – oh, I rigged

the table, oh I tried to pull the wool over the public’s eyes, oh I was

caught out but, it’s not my fault. He designed tables to try and show what

the Coalition package is worth and to try and show how his was better and

he omitted significant amounts of the Coalition package. You try that one

on, you try and rig a table, you get caught and you’re embarrassed, but

don’t come round here and say – oh, I don’t take responsibility for

my own tables. I’ve got to say another thing, and I think it’s very important

that the press of Australia ask Mr Latham to give worked examples of his

cameos. This is a very important point – stop him, give him the number

of children, the income levels and ask him to make up the benefits which

he’s claiming in those tables because I don’t think anybody’s asked him

to do that and it’s very important that you start checking the full accuracies

of these tables because I am unaware of anyone who can actually replicate

his tables. Now, I’m going to make one other point – he said in his

press conference that he would be releasing the NATSEM modelling. We have

been asking NATSEM to release that modelling so that we can replicate those

tables. To date, NATSEM has not released that information. Now, I call on

Mark Latham today to instruct NATSEM to release that modelling so that we

can look at his tables because as of now, nobody has been able to explain

how they work.


And could I just add to that that one of your own number, and not a member

of the Government, namely Brian Toohey is writing in the Financial Review

has this morning, based on his calculations, made the assertion that either

the benefits as he calculates and result in a $5 loss to families or alternatively

the calculations are billions of dollars out. Now, that’s his assertion.

I draw your attention to it and it underlines the point that the Treasurer

made. He promised to make those NATSEM figures available. We need some worked

examples to properly check the veracity of what he’s putting forward.




No, but I have lived longer than 20 years, Matt. Look…




Oh, Matt, Matt, you know, you’re really getting too much into the inner

man in getting that… I mean, of course I have, through my life, I’ve

had periods of self doubt, of course that’s life. But I’ve certainly not

entertaining any at the moment.


(inaudible) reaction to Mark Latham yesterday?


Look, I don’t make any comment on it.




Yes, Narda?




Oh, really, I mean, Mr Latham can run his campaign, I will run mine. I

mean, it’s the oldest stunt in the game. You’re not really taking that sort

of thing serious.




No, no, what’s happened is that I agreed to do that before the election

was called and what I’m doing is I’ve brought my commitment forward for

the Friday evening, I’ll be speaking to a lot of people in Queensland on

the Friday evening, but I’m coming back to Sydney for debate preparations.




Oh, no, it happens all the time (inaudible) I mean, they’re voting for

the Federal Government or the alternative led by the Australian Labor Party,

I’m not the least bit interested in that sort of static.


(inaudible) on lower income (inaudible) but isn’t it true that the bipartisan

agreement that it is necessary for those people on welfare into work (inaudible)


I don’t think there is a bipartisan agreement because the Labor Party opposed

Work for the Dole, they said it was mickey mouse, they were very critical

of it, they opposed our reforms to the disability support pension scheme.

They still opposed those despite the fact that Mark Latham said when he

was in the nether nether that he thought it was a terrific idea to do something

about it. And the other thing that they opposed was that we had some extremely

modest measures, requiring sole parents as their children reached the age

of 16 to go for some interviews and it took us ages to reach an agreement

with the Labor Party to get that through the Senate. I don’t believe they

are genuinely converted to the cause of getting people off welfare into

work. I don’t believe that at all. So I reject the proposition that there’s

some kind of bipartisan agreement.