Republic, illegal immigration, employment, water, oil, economic policy – Interview with Chris Smith, 2GB Radio

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August 30, 2004

Republic, illegal immigration, employment, water, oil, economic policy – Interview with Chris Smith, 2GB Radio




Interview with Chris Smith


Thursday, 26 August 2004
7.15 am

SUBJECTS: Republic, illegal immigration, employment, water, oil, economic



Well for the moment we have Mr Costello, and the Federal Treasurer has

joined me in the studio, thank you for your time.


Great to be with you Chris.


Apologies for Alan not being here, he was all fired up for the interview,

but the croaky frog has returned.


I am sure that he is listening in so we send him our best wishes.


Now, let’s get the predictable questions out of the way first, when

is the election going to be called?


I don’t know, I don’t think it has been decided yet, the day

John Howard decides to call the election is the day that he will make an

announcement and he hasn’t done that, suffice to say that I think

the three years are up on the 10th of November, so it is a pretty

informed bet that it will be soon. The time between calling an election

and holding an election has to be at least five weeks, so if you were to

call an election sometime in late August-September, it would be in October,

and if you left it later than that, it would be in November.


But you wouldn’t have much on, on the 16th or 23rd

of October would you? You wouldn’t be planning a family picnic or



Look, when I sat down a couple of months ago and put the programme together

for the latter part of this year, I made sure I kept most Saturdays free.


What about the leadership, how much does it annoy you to have people asking

you about your ambitions every time you open your mouth?


Well, I think it has been a bit silly recently, as you said, I gave an

interview on Monday, I think it was, spoke a lot about non-economic issues,

which I like doing, I don’t get asked enough about that, and then

half the journalists went out and said, ‘deep and mysterious, this

means something,’ and the other half said, ‘why is he so silent.’

And as I said yesterday, they have got you coming and they have got you

going, you cannot beat the media. If you talk out, it means something and

if you don’t talk out it means something more.


I don’t know why they say that, but you do have a Prime Ministerial

tie on there and I don’t know why. One quick question in terms of

all of that, you can’t stay Treasurer for the next 30 years, can you?


No, I don’t think I would stay Treasurer for the next 30 years, I

think that is a safe bet.


What about 25?


I don’t think it would be 25 either.




I don’t know where this is going but, I have got no ambitions to

do 20 years in the job of Treasurer, absolutely.


You delivered this so-called, ‘vision speech’ the other day,

one of your subjects was a Republic, you maintained you weren’t saying

anything you haven’t said for the last five years…




…is it really an issue though, aren’t there more important

things on the agenda?


No, I don’t think it is a big issue in the public’s mind. I

was asked, when did I think people would embrace a Republic, and I said,

well, one day, Australians I think will probably convince themselves, it

might be a long time off, but I don’t feel any great agitation for

it at the moment. We had a referendum, I took part in the referendum, there

was a clear outcome, you accept the verdict. But I was just asked what I

think will happen eventually, I think eventually, the public will come to

the view that this is something that should be dealt with, but there is

no great hurry.


With a better question to deal with hopefully.


Well I think that is the critical question here, how do you get a good

system of Government out of all of this, and I think that bears a lot of

thinking about, the devil here is going to be in the detail. The thing about

constitutions is they last for hundreds of years, generally.


You have spoken about children in detention, if that is your view, that

they shouldn’t be there, what are you doing to try and bring about

a change to the current Government’s stance on this?


Well, a lot of people don’t know this, but the number of children

in detention, who are children of people who have come in unauthorised to

Australia, is two, is two, in Australia, two.


Some would argue that is two too many.


OK, but a number of the ones that were in detention are now in what we

call an alternative, which is out in the community, and the bulk of those

that are in detention, are not people who have come into the country unauthorised,

but people who have come into the country authorised with visas and have

overstayed their visas, so it is two in relation to those that have arrived

unauthorised, and I think in relation to those the alternative detention

arrangements, if the families will agree, then you could have a situation

where there were no children of unauthorised arrivals in detention.


Well clearly after the election if you are back in power, you need to round

up Amanda Vanstone and John Howard and say, enough of this, don’t



Well, the Government as a whole has been putting in place this alternative

arrangement, which I think is better so that the kids can go to school and

be in the community, but I do make this other point, the reason why it is

so low Chris, is that the number of unauthorised arrivals is low. Ever since

the Government put in place the measures which it did, we had thousands

coming in a month, but those measures have been very successful…


You have scared them off.


…well, the message is this: if you are a genuine refugee and you

want to come to Australia, apply offshore and get a visa. Don’t find

a people smuggler, and pay them $10,000 to get in a leaky boat. Genuine

refugees can come in under Australia’s genuine humanitarian program,

come in with a visa. Don’t waste your money on these crooks and smugglers

in leaky boats and risk your life because that is not the way to do it and

that is the message.


Twenty-two minutes after seven, we are with the Treasurer, Peter Costello,

one last aspect of that speech you gave, you spoke about immigration, particularly

the need for an increase on the skilled front. What about the strain that

additional people, regardless of where they come from, puts on resources,

particularly water considering our predicament at the moment?


For the overall immigration program?




Yes well I think we have got to deal with water, I think that we waste

a lot of water in this country, we waste it with the uses we put to it,

we waste it in bad infrastructure, we waste it in recycling and I think

we have to deal with that if we are going to have to deal with that if we

are going to support our public. But the point I was making is this, we

actually have skilled tradesmen shortages in Australia at the moment, and

I think this is a wonderful opportunity for young people. I would say to

young people, please consider trade qualifications, whether it be in electrics

or plumbing or any of the trades, there are shortages at the moment, and

the pay is good. And I think a lot of our young people have been told, you

have got to go into University or whatever, tertiary education, well that

is good for some kids, but the trade qualifications will set you up for

life and we have these shortages. And I was saying if we can’t fill

those shortages, we are going to have to bring in skilled tradesmen, so

if there are any kids out there that are listening and they are 14 or 15,

let me remind them that these are great careers and very profitable.


For many of our older listeners, it sounds like a flash-back to the sixties,

populate or perish. But this is where we can use immigration in a better

way. Can I talk about water?




Isn’t it time the Federal Government said, hey listen, the States

can’t get this right. We have got water restrictions that none of

us believe in, we don’t think anything is being done in the long-term

sense to store water, catch water, why can’t we have, and I know this

has been tried with tax, etc, etc, but have some kind of summit, led by

the Federal Government, led by your Budgetary people, sitting down and saying,

hang on, let’s coordinate something here together?


Well I think we are going to have to do more, I think you are right at

the Federal level, there was a summit called COAG, Council Of Australian

Governments, quite recently. The Prime Minister met with all of the State

Premiers and said, the system of water allocation in rural Australia, particularly

the Murray-Darling Basin which covers Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria,

is no good. And we have come to a new agreement and I think the Commonwealth

is increasingly going to have to take the lead because these rivers cross

state borders and the State Premiers lose interest in a river once it is

outside their state. But that shouldn’t let these State Premiers off

the hook for their responsibility of building dams for metropolitan use.

And I think that is where a lot of these State Governments have fallen behind

recently, they have not been making the investments in the right place.


But you need to get them back into Canberra, don’t you, and head

a meeting, similar to the one you had over the Murray-Darling Basin, and

say, hang on, this is what we need to do, this is how much I am prepared

to throw into it.


Well we need to crash their heads on water issues that cross state boundaries.


When will you do this? Because I tell you…


Well, there are always…


…I asked this question because when Alan brings up this…


..we are crashing their heads all of the time, but the only point I am

making is, we can’t take responsibility for something that is within

a State and controlled by a State. Mr Carr will say, well I am the Premier

of New South Wales, that is my responsibility, to which we say, good, do



But he not going to refuse to front up to a meeting chaired by you or the

Prime Minister.


But we have a very big role in relation to water and agricultural areas

across state borders, better use and better recycling and we are working

on those issues as we speak.


OK, twenty-six minutes after seven, I wanted to talk about another dwindling

resource, oil, we have seen world prices at record levels, although some

dipping of that in the last couple of days, will any of this has an impact

on our overall economy, in particular interest rates, do you foresee?


Well if the world oil price stays up at around $40 or $50 a barrel US,

or higher, ultimately it will affect the world economy, the world economy

will grow slower, and if the world economy grows slower that will affect

back into Australia. A high oil price is not good for a growing economy,

and I think the Americans are starting to get quite worried about that,

they are the heaviest user of oil. So, if it were this high or higher for

a long and sustained period, it will have an effect on world growth, yes.


Including interest rates?


Well, it think it is a mistake to draw a direct connection between oil

prices and interest rates, but you can draw a connection between oil prices

and economic growth, and economic growth is one of the factors you take

into account in interest rates.


Have you got pancreatitis?


Not so far.


How is he going? How is he going to shape up to a tough election do you

think, Mark Latham?


He has got to have a policy, you know, this is the great joke. You put

yourself forward to be Prime Minister but you don’t have a policy.

He promised he was going to have a tax policy in the week of the Budget,

middle of May. We go all through May, all through June, all through July,

all through August – no tax policy. And Crean comes out yesterday

and make the extraordinary statement that it is costed and it is funded,

but nobody is allowed to look at it. I mean this is the great secret of

Australian politics, and if Mr Latham wants to be taken seriously he has

got to get a policy and it has got to be a serious policy because he is

running for a serious job. No more stunts, you are running for a serious

job, you want to get into the big league, this is not the Liverpool Council

anymore, you are not going for Mayor of the Liverpool Council, you are now

running for Prime Minister of Australia and you ought to have the decency

to show the public some policy and until such time as he shows some policy,

the public can’t seriously assess him.


With the Prime Minister replying to this document or dossier of lies, is

there a feeling here that the Party is now looking over its shoulder and

not concentrating on what it should have in front of itself rather than

looking too much on what Mark Latham is doing?


Look I think it would be a mistake if we fall for the distractions of Latham.

Latham wants to run these things as distractions to keep the election off

policy, and I think it is very important that we stay on policy because

it is very important that the public demand policy from Latham. He is untried,

he is untested, he has got no experience in the big business of politics

and he hasn’t got a policy, so how are you going to assess a guy like

that. And he promised the Australian people in May of this year that he

would have a tax policy, well where is it, bring it out, let’s have

a discussion.


Thank you for coming in this morning, we will get Jonesy back next time

you come in.


Well it is very searching coming up with you Chris, he is probably shaking

in his bed, hoping he gets better soon.


Thank you, Treasurer, Peter Costello.