Social Capital, Tolerance, Health Care, Australian Flag, Asylum Seekers, GST, Solomons, David Hicks, Baby Compensation Case, Geoff Clark, Ken Park – Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

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Social Capital, Tolerance, Health Care, Australian Flag, Asylum Seekers, GST, Solomons, David Hicks, Baby Compensation Case, Geoff Clark, Ken Park – Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW



Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

Monday, 21 July 2003

9.15 am

SUBJECTS: Social Capital, Tolerance, Health Care, Australian Flag, Asylum

Seekers, GST, Solomons, David Hicks, Baby Compensation Case, Geoff Clark, Ken



Mr Costello good morning.


Good morning Neil…


It was a little bit of a shock, it wasn’t well received, you got a bit

of a pasting…


…the public response has been terrific. The number of people who are

writing to me with new ideas has been exceptional. Now that means that I think

that we have really touched a nerve here, people are worried about what is going

on in the community…


…what are they worried about? What sort of issues?


Well, what brought this home to me was that as I move around and deal with

a lot of these voluntary groups in the community, particularly in my own electorate

of course, as you go through the Red Cross organisations or the Rotary organisations,

even the sporting organisations, you will hear a common theme about how hard

it is to get people engaged these days…


Engaged, you mean involved in working for charities?


No, not necessarily charity. Charity is one aspect of it, but the local footy

club which is not a charity, or Rotary which is not a charity, or the Church.

Even coming to a Church meeting which is not necessarily a charity. But they

also say to you, it is so hard to get people engaged and we only ever see the

older people, we don’t get the young people engaged in these organisations

any more…


Do you think that they might be too busy trying to make a living?


…well people work hard obviously, but living standards are much higher

than they used to be 40 or 50 years ago, much higher…


So is tax.


Well, people are much better off today than they were 40 or 50 years ago, there

is no doubt about that.


You are right…


Do you want to go back to 40 or 50 years ago when people didn’t have cars

or televisions or videos and…




…so on. You can’t just say that it is an economic thing, or if

it is an economic thing it is caused by improving living standards, not by falling

living standards.


…so what is it? Are we lazy?


Well people always talk to you, they are worried about this run down in society,

and what can be done about it, and that is one of the issues that I have raised

and put squarely on the table and I can tell you thousands, thousands of people

are interested in this topic.


So what are you going to do now? What is the strategy?


Well, we have got to look at those things that actually work and those things

that don’t. One of the things that I would be very interested in looking

at is the way in which the schools are involved in this. A number of schools

have contacted me and said that they are actually trying to arrange volunteer

programs through the schools where kids as part of the school curriculum go

down to this place or that place engage a bit, maybe do a bit some charity work,

but not necessarily. And I am very interested to try and track whether or not

that the kids at school that have been engaged in that kind of thing, maintain

this engagement once they leave school…


Well I know, my daughter has been doing the IB course, and under the IB course

you are required to do a certain number of hours of charity work…


…absolutely, and this is a very interesting, I think it is a fantastic

idea. But what I would be very interested to see is those kids that do the IB

and who engage in that as part of their IB course, what happens once school

is over? Are they going to be more likely to keep that engagement going or not?

And you could even run that in to tertiary education, some of the tertiary institutions

have contacted me now.


…why not make it a requirement of the degree that part of the time be

spent in social work?


Absolutely. So they, you know, you have got the IB, kids as part of their course

in order to get credit have to show that they have been engaged in some activity

outside the school.

Some of the educational institutions are now contacting me and saying, we would

like to set up courses where you could get course credits for some of these





…do you think it is possible? And I say, well I am very interested in

having a look at this for an idea, is it possible? Suppose you are doing an

Arts degree or something, and you are learning in your lecture theatres about

society. What about a course credit for actually engaging in society, a unit

or two? Now, some of the institutions that have already contacted me have said,

well in certain areas they already do this, they do social work placements and

these kinds of things, and they do actually give credit. What I would be very

interested in looking at now, is there any evidence that engagement through

the educational system runs on through the rest of the person’s career.

Now, we just don’t know these things, nobody has actually measured it



9696 1278, the reaction to that or a question or a comment on the idea, which

does appeal, 9696 1278, the Treasurer is with me. So where do you take it from



Well first of all, I am trying to get more information, trying to actually

study those things that have worked and those things that haven’t worked.

And we are putting out a discussion paper this week from our Productivity Commission

which is looking at some of these sorts of ideas, course credits, but to my

way of thinking are likely to help but we don’t actually have the measurement,

we haven’t actually done the studies to prove whether or not that is the

case. But there are a whole range of areas I think which you can renew and refresh

all of this voluntary sector, and you would be surprised at the number of people

who are interested in this as an issue.


OK, we will take some calls for the Treasurer in a moment, 9696 1278. A couple

of other issues that are running, this case of people paying extra to get quick

medical care which seems to be happening more broadly than I realised, are you

comfortable with it?


I am not comfortable with the idea that if two patients turn up each with the

same needs that one gets pushed in front another, no I am not.


Well it’s happening?


But if, it depends how it happens. If it is a voluntary appointment and somebody

says you know, I want to make a voluntary appointment, well I can see some sense

in that, but I am not comfortable with doctors that try and prioritise clients

according to fees, no I am not…




…and you know frankly, it is there in the paper and if that is the doctors

that are doing it, I think a lot of people will take their decisions accordingly.


There is quite a few doing it. If you are bulk billing, you wait three days,

if you are willing to pay a fee you get in that day, if you pay an extra fee

you get in immediately.


Which is why we are actually trying to introduce a system where you will get

paid more for bulk billing. The Government is introducing a system which will

give doctors more if they are bulk billing those people who are in the category

of health card holders, and will pay them quicker. Now you have got to remember

that at the end of the day, this is a system which the Government underwrites

an appointment fee for everybody. Doctors can charge on top of that but if you

can make sure that those fees are limited for those that are pensioners and

health card cardholders, I think it will be a big step forward.


Well do you think that the Government should try and stop this situation?


Well look, it is not up to me, I would like to have a close look at it, but

if two people are walking in I hope that the doctors are treating those that

need urgent medical care frankly.


Oh yes, they say are doing that.


…well I want to be very sure about that.


The other thing that is in discussion today is the flag, a private members

bill suggesting fines up to $11,000 for burning of the Australian flag. Would

you support it?


I hate to see anybody burning the flag, I really do, I think it is a most destructive

thing to do. What worries me Neil, is that if somebody does it and you then

try to put them in jail or fine them, they will try and make a martyr out of

themselves, and it is very difficult to police that.


So would you vote for it or not? It is going to be a conscience vote we are



I am not persuaded that it will work actually. I think what it will do is you

will get all these radicals who will just decide that they are going to burn

flags and challenge the legal system to put them in jail, and at the end of

the day I am not sure that that will stop them doing it. I think the public

should express its disapproval but at the end of the day I think that you will

find it hard to put people in jail. See what they will do is that they will

refuse to pay the fines.


This is a worry, I agree with you.


Well you will fine them, and they will refuse to pay the fines, then are you

going to put them in jail, and then they will go to jail and say “we are

great martyrs” and they will make heroes out of themselves and frankly

you will give them a lot more coverage than they deserve in my view.


Would you mind putting the headphones on, we have a few callers on the issue

of charity work and how it can be, well it is not just charity, its social,

its social work, social capital. Hello Sharon, go ahead Sharon.


Hi Neil, I am 45 years of age, when I was a young girl at school we certainly

went out to the needy people, we went to people who had Multiple Sclerosis,

and had children and helped them out, we went to (inaudible) House and helped

them out, and I continued that later on when I left school in to the (inaudible)

St Vincent de Paul through the city and (inaudible), and I think school is definitely

the place to take something like this up.


Do you think, this is Peter Costello here asking a question, do you think the

fact that…


Go ahead.


…you did that at school gave you a taste for it which you wouldn’t

have, or an experience of it which you wouldn’t have had otherwise, which

influenced you for the rest of your life?


Yes I definitely do. I actually, I have a priest who I go and visit still at

Nazareth House, and I take my children, and my children love going in and mixing

in with these older people and when we do, well I do a bread run now with St

Vincent de Paul and they come along on that and they love that giving, that

feeling of giving, and I think my children are lucky because they have me to

guide them, and a lot of kids don’t have someone who might be able to

give them that and they need it at school.


Did you do it as a student yourself?


Oh yes, we used to call it social service in those days and you had to do social

service every week.


It almost needs a new, a new description.


A very old term of course, and this is not a new thing, a lot of schools have

been doing it, you said earlier, it has even got to the stage that it is coursework

in the schools, but I was very interested in that comment because this is an

experience that has kept that lady going through her life. I suspect there are

a lot of kids who’ll do it for the coursework and then it ends…


You have also referred to tolerance, what do you mean by tolerance, we need

to be a more tolerant society?


I think tolerance is a question of respecting people’s views and…


Are we sufficiently tolerant to asylum seekers?


…well look Neil, the fact that a lot of asylum seekers come to Australia

tells you, you are by world standards a very tolerant society…


But are we tolerant enough by our standards?


..let me make this point. Australia is one of those destinations that refugees

come to because it is one of the most tolerant societies on earth? Nobody was

ever trying to get asylum in Afghanistan or Iraq or those sorts of countries.

Now, I think that we have got to make sure that we speed up the process as much

as possible, but I don’t agree with those people who say you should just

open your borders. If you open your borders to everyone who wants to arrive

in Australia, you will have a real problem.


But do you accept that we are treating them badly within detention?


Look I think the conditions in detention centres should be as good as they

possibly can be…


Are they?


…well I think it is better now that the numbers are down. One of the

reasons Neil, why Woomera was pressed in to action was that there were so many

people, we didn’t have the facilities to receive them. But the fact that

the Government has now got control over the number of people entering, I think

has allowed us to run a much better system. Let me give you one example, I have

been trying to get refugee status for a lady in Burma whose husband fell foul

of the military and came to Australia. And the husband and wife have been separated

I think for about five years. Now she will, I hope, shortly receive humanitarian

refugee status in Australia under our program which grants it offshore. One

of the reasons why people who have applied offshore now have the opportunity

to get into the program is that the places are not being filled and taken by

those who have taken matters into their own hands. And there is a whole lot

of people who have been doing the right thing all around the world and now have

that opportunity.


We only have a couple of minutes until the Treasurer has to leave us unfortunately,

because I would like to take a lot of calls, perhaps we can do that another

day, the Age reports today GST crime, 10 per cent they estimate being lost through

crime and fraud, is GST crime (inaudible)…?


Look I can’t confirm the figure, I have spoken to the Tax Office this

morning, but the Tax Office itself is identifying scams, and apparently a lot

of this material, is material that has been identified where the Tax Office

is well on its way to prosecution.


So do you think it is a huge problem?


Oh no, no, what the Tax Office is now saying is this, after 3 years where the

benefit of the doubt was always given to business or the applicant, for educational

reasons, the focus is now switching very clearly to prosecution and the Tax

Office is now deploying its resources in enforcement and they are identifying

a lot of these things, and you would expect the full force of the law to be

brought down on them.


The Manoora is leaving for the Solomons today. Do we have to accept that Australian

lives are at risk here?


No one wants any Australian casualties, but every time a soldier, an armed

soldier, is given a task, in this case a task to quell armed rebels, you have

got to accept that there are going to be risks.


How do you feel about the state of the world? We have got the Solomons, Australia’s

involvement, North Korea which looks very dodgy, Iraq which goes on. If you

put all those together it is a pretty fragile world.


It is a very difficult international situation, as you look around our own

area of engagement you have got Aceh, rebellion in Aceh, you have got the Solomons,

you have got a very scary economic decline in Papua New Guinea, it is a pretty

fragile area of the world.


Robert Hicks, should we bring him back?


Well, Robert Hicks, Robert Hicks? David Hicks.


David, I’m sorry. Robert Hicks is from the (inaudible). David Hicks,

(inaudible). But David Hicks, I mean the serious point with David Hicks, is

he going to get a fair trial, should we bring him back?


Well David Hicks should be charged in the United States, if there is a charge,

if he has committed an offence then he should be tried there. But those charges

will have to be brought. I am not sure what the charges are, but the charges

are essentially if you engage in war-like activity, hostile activity against

American troops and you are captured, you can be put on charges.


We have got about one minute left, I would like to run a couple of quick things

past you, Geoff Clarke is fighting, he says the Government is trying to cover

up its own inadequacies in the area by targeting him, do you think that he should



Look this is a huge budget, this is about, this is above $1 billion, and you

know, the public is entitled to know that it is being administered properly,

and if Mr Clarke can’t show that it is being administered properly then

he will have misled the Minister and that’s up to him.


Baby compensation case. A hundred thousand dollars for a healthy baby born

as an accident. Is that justified?


I don’t think people should see the birth of children as penalties frankly,

you know the idea that somehow this is a penalty and I need to be compensated.

By the same token, let me make this point, if you go to a doctor and you say

to a doctor, was it a tubal ligation, I want a tubal ligation, I think you are

entitled to expect that you will get one. Don’t get me wrong about that.

But the idea that, the idea that somehow a baby is something that, a healthy

baby is something that, you have to be compensated for is hard to understand,

isn’t it?


Ken Park the movie, should it be banned?


Well I haven’t seen it, but the classification board thinks it is pretty

bad and I am prepared to accept their view on it.


OK, well we are out of time, so perhaps when you have more time I would like

to pursue a philosophical discussion because the audience is very interested

and we just haven’t got time.


Sure, there is enormous interest, I can tell you from the amount of correspondence

I have had, and can I just say to people who have written to me thank you for

the letters, I don’t know if I can respond to them all, but anybody who

has got better ideas and more ideas, I am willing to hear from them.


John Howard’s birthday soon, what are you going to get him?


I will send him a card I think.


Oh that’s a bit mean, what about a present, a bottle of Grange?


I don’t know that we are allowed to do that, you are only allowed to

give presents up to a certain value.


Five hundred bucks. Speaking of that, Melbourne Essendon this weekend.




What odds?




Oh come on.


You are a Melbourne supporter. You are not showing much confidence.


You are a hard man. Thank you for your time.


What’s the answer, yes or no?




Thank you.


$20 on the nose, Melbourne Essendon. The Treasurer Peter Costello.