Visit to Leichhardt, Economy, Family Court, Ross Garnaut, Sugar industry, Tourism industry – Muddy’€™s Playground, Cairns Esplanade Foreshore, Cairns

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Visit to Leichhardt, Economy, Family Court, Ross Garnaut, Sugar industry, Tourism industry – Muddy’€™s Playground, Cairns Esplanade Foreshore, Cairns


Doorstop Interview
Muddy’s Playground, Cairns Esplanade Foreshore, Cairns

Thursday 29 July 2004
10.50 am

SUBJECTS: Visit to Leichhardt; Economy; Family Court; Ross Garnaut;

Sugar industry; Tourism industry


Well, it is a great pleasure to be here in Cairns today in the Federal seat

of Leichhardt with my good friend Warren Entsch and to meet the Mayor and to

have a look at the progress that has been made on the foreshore here including

Muddy’s Playground and to discuss plans that the Mayor and Warren have

for extending this wonderful natural attraction down here on the foreshore and

to meet people who are obviously enjoying it. And to be here at a time when

there are local groups that we can talk to about economic development, the issues

that are confronting Australia in the future, and to take soundings from the

community on those issues which are important to the people of Cairns is very

important for me.


How would you compare what you have seen here to I guess your previous visits

and other areas?


Well, I am amazed frankly at this project, it is a fabulous project, it is

certainly one of the most extensive playgrounds that I have ever seen in my

life and I only wish they had them when I was a kid, I would have had a lot

more fun that I can have today.


Treasurer, Ross Garnaut reckons the economy is heading towards a slump, what

do you think of that?


Well, I think that the Australian economy is today much stronger than it has

been at any period over the last 10 years. We had a very severe recession in

Australia in 1990-1991. We had unemployment at 11.3 per cent, our mortgage interest

rates were in double digit figures, and business profitability was shot. And,

over the course of the last eight years, by balancing the budget, by reducing

Commonwealth debt by $70billion, by reforming Australia’s taxation system,

by reforming the industrial relations system, we have managed to reduce unemployment

nationally to 5.6 per cent, which is the lowest in 22 years. Now, we cannot

afford to be complacent. We have to continue working hard at economic management.

But I believe the Australian economy today is much stronger than it has been

at any period during those last 10years.


So is he wrong?


Well, Mr Garnaut is entitled to his view, and during the period of the Hawke

Government he was actually intimately involved in economic policy. But we obviously

consider everybody’s views, and look to see what we can learn from them,

but my assessment of the Australian economy is, it is today much stronger than

it has been in the last 10 years.


When can we expect an election date to be announced?


Well, I will give you a tip: I think there will be an election this year. And

since we are now at the end of July, and it takes 35 days between the calling

and the holding of the election, that means that it will be in September, October,

November or December. But I cannot say any more than that.


And what’s the Party sentiment at the moment? How confident are you feeling?


Well, I have travelled around Australia, I have been in a lot of marginal seats

over the last two weeks. I think that people realise that the election is going

to be an important time for deciding the future of our country. They know that

there are big issues on the economic front and on the security defence front,

and I think there is a lot of concern as to whether or not the Labor leader,

Mr Latham, is up to being a Prime Minister. And his record on the Liverpool

Council is such as to cause a lot of people concern. As I always say, if you

cannot govern a council, you cannot govern a country.


And specifically the Leichhardt seat – how do you view that one?


Well, the Leichhardt seat is going to be close. Warren is running for re-election.

He is an outstanding Member and an outstanding candidate. He is as big as Leichhardt

itself in his views, in his vigour and his enthusiasm. And I think he will put

up a good showing here, but we do not take it for granted. A few votes could

change the whole outcome and could change the Government.


The family law arrangements. Has the Government taken a cheap option with those?


No. We are putting forward a proposal which will allow for shopfronts where

people can go when their marriages break down, where they can seek advice and

hopefully come to an agreement. And if they can come to an agreement early on,

in a low cost alternative, then maybe they do not have to see a lawyer, maybe

they do not get caught up in the courts for years. Now, rolling that out will

take additional resources, but we think if you could get some of the litigation,

some of the adversarial system out of the situation, then you might resolve

disputes quicker. So we are putting out some proposals which we think will do



And what will the review of the child support payments involve?


Well again, it is a question of ensuring that you can be fair as between both

parents and the taxpayer. And there are many people that complain that the child

support formula means that, at the end of the day, people

do not have enough to live on. So we are going to review that to make sure that

is fair.


What is your message for local business up here?


My message for local business is this: that local business will only be strong

if consumer sentiment is high, if interest rates are low, if businesses are

able to be flexible with their industrial relations policies. And all of that

is at risk if there were a change of government at the next election. That is

my message.


So you will be telling people, obviously …


I will be telling them all that, in extended form.


There’s been a lot of suffering by primary industries in this region.

Do you expect a backlash from the primary industries voters?


Well, we are aware, obviously, of the difficulty in the sugar industry, for

example, and we have announced a very substantial package to help with adjustment

in the sugar industry. Over $400 million. Now, it has been a difficult period

for the sugar industry but we think the right thing for the Government to do

is to provide income support and structural re-adjustment. And that will try

and get those farmers that want to continue, income support whilst they can

actually get back onto a longer-term sustainable basis. We think that is the

right thing to do.


And what about the fishing industry?


And in addition to that, I know that Senator Ian Campbell is engaging in discussions

with the fishing industry to ensure that there is an adequate and balanced workout

of those issues. He is the new Environment Minister. He was up here recently,

and he is talking to the industry about those issues.


Treasurer, Ross Garnaut says interest rates need to rise to dampen consumer

spending. What do you think of that?


Well, Ross believes there should be higher interest rates and, when Ross was

a Government adviser to the Labor Party, they were much higher. In fact, I think

Ross was there when the Labor Party got home mortgage interest rates up to 17

per cent, but you shouldn’t blame Ross for that, it was the Labor Government

that got the home mortgage interest rate up to 17 per cent. Was that good for

the Australian economy? No, it put Australia into the deepest recession in 60

years and those people that tell you that somehow a recession can help an economy,

don’t believe it, recessions destroy economies, they damage economies.

It takes you years to overcome a recession, I believe that we are only now shrugging

off the worst of that recession of 1990 and 1991. So, you can always argue about

the level of interest rates, but my belief is that we ought to aim for a low

interest rate policy off the back of low inflation because that is what will

keep homebuyers in their houses and business men and women in the businesses.

Thank you.


Can we have one more regional question perhaps?




There is a view that we are putting all of our eggs in one basket, that being

the tourism basket, is that too much of a risk?


Look, I think any economy which is balanced in stronger for being balanced

and any region which is balanced between different industries is stronger, because

if something turns down, you have got something else to rely on. Now let’s

take the tourism industry, suppose you have a SARS outbreak as we had a year

or two ago, and that turns down, if you have got the agricultural industry,

if you have got mining industry, if you have got service industry that can give

you some strength during the period of another industries downturn, but having

said that, I am a great believer in Australia’s tourism industry, I think

the Australian tourism industry is going to be one of the greatest industries

for the future of this country and I can’t think of an area that is better

placed to tap into that than Cairns, So, this is going to be one of the growth

areas of one of the growth industries of Australia in the future. Thanks very