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John Howard Comments On The Liberal Party Leadership

Prime Minister John Howard today made a series of comments about the leadership of the Liberal Party.

Howard has been leader of the Liberal Party since January 1995 and Prime Minister since March 1996. He has won three elections.

Howard made it clear in his remarks to journalists at the National Museum that “no-one should assume I going to depart the scene next year”.

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Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s doorstop interview at the National Museum of Australia.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister thanks for your time. Would you concur with Mr Walker’s assessment of Peter Costello being a young and dynamic replacement for you?

HOWARD: Well he’s certainly young, he’s dynamic, he’s been a great Treasurer. The question of my successor will be a matter for the parliamentary party, if and when there’s a vacancy and there’s no vacancy.

JOURNALIST: Would you think it would be Peter Costello eventually?

HOWARD: That is a matter for the party, but I’ve made my position very clear that I have a very high regard for him. But I’m a traditionalist in these things, these matters are the prerogative of the parliamentary party, but as for my own position, nothing has changed since I dealt with this issue during the election campaign. I’ve said before that I’ll have a look at it towards the end of next year, after I’ve been in office for a couple of years and nothing at all has changed. The only thing that I’d emphasise is that we’re a great team.

JOURNALIST: So it’s not a fait accompli that there will be a leadership change next year?

HOWARD: Well I can only repeat what I’ve said before, and that is that I will think about my future next year in the time frame that I indicated. I’ve levelled with the Australian people about this. I told them that that was my thinking before the election but nobody should assume that I’m going to depart the scene next year, nobody should assume that at all. What you can assume is that I will give the matter some thought. Meanwhile what’s…. back to the present.

JOURNALIST: PM, Access economics today suggests that the economy might be overheating. What’s your opinion on it?

HOWARD: I think the economy is going gangbusters.

JOURNALIST: Overheating?

HOWARD: No, it’s going gangbusters. I think the economy is performing beautifully, the hum of the machine of the Australian economy is a delight to the ear.

JOURNALIST: It is in danger of overheating?

HOWARD: No, I don’t think it’s in danger of overheating. I think people who use those sorts of descriptions, are in danger of sort of searching for a headline grabbing description rather than analysing what’s happening. I think the Australian economy is well balanced. It’s a credit to the government that the Australian economy is going so well and it’s a credit to the Treasurer that it’s going so well. It’s also a credit to the Prime Minister who has strongly supported the sort of economic policies and in fact, promoted many of them that have brought this about.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

HOWARD: Well I’m not going to say anything further beyond what I’ve already said about interest rates.

JOURNALIST: What impact do petrol prices have on the economy?

HOWARD: Rising petrol prices are not helpful but over-whelmingly, in fact totally, any increase in petrol prices now is due to the very turbulent position in the Middle East.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, paid maternaty leave is an issue (inaudible) looking at the moment. Do you still think it’s too expensive to look at immediately? Or what do you think the time frame should be?

HOWARD: Well I don’t think these things should be mandated. I think they are matters of negotiation and they should be matters which are determined at an enterprise level. Some enterprises can afford it, some can’t. And I don’t think they should be forced upon those enterprises who can’t afford it because all that will do is rob people of job opportunities.

JOURNALIST: What about tax incentives for the companies that do encourage that?

HOWARD: Well we’ve provided a lot of tax incentives for companies, we don’t have any more in mind at the moment I can assure you.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Ron Walker that the proposal for four-year terms will succeed?

HOWARD: Well I’ll be interested to hear the debate, and I’ve said before that in principle I support four-year terms. But I think what you’ve got to remember about this whole debate is that Australians are interested in quality of government, not length of government for any particular side of politics. And my major goal in all of these things is to improve the quality of government, and I think Australians want better government not necessarily longer government.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it would improve the quality?

HOWARD: Well it may in some circumstances. Look I don’t object to it. I support it in principle but it’s not the most important thing on the horizon for me, and it oughtn’t to be for the government.

JOURNALIST: And if the party backs it?

HOWARD: Oh if the party backs it , that will be an interesting expression of the organisation’s view and I will respect it, I’ll remember it, but I won’t be instructed by it because that is not the Liberal tradition.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, the French Ambassador has dismissed the campaign to stop the airport above the Somme grave yards as stupid. Is that an insult to Australia’s war dead?

HOWARD: Well I’m sorry he said that, if that’s what he said and I’ve asked our foreign affairs people to convey my feelings on that to the Ambassador. I don’t think he’d be expressing the views of the French people. I’ve found whenever I’ve gone to France and I’ve gone to the battlefields of the western front on a number of occasions, I’ve found a deep affection in France for what Australians did. But there are more Australians buried in France than any country other than our own and therefore, any campaign to keep sacred the memory of those people who died in France is a campaign that has my total support and I do not regard it as in any way trivial or childish.

JOURNALIST: …Australian government position…

HOWARD: Well we have, at a number of levels, at the level of the Foreign Minister and the Veterans’ Affairs Minister and through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, we’ve put our position very strongly and we’ll continue to resist any suggestion that there should be any lack of total respect to Australia’s war dead in France or indeed anywhere else in the world. Just remember that 45 000 Australians died on the western front, and it’s something that I know the French people will never forget and it’s certainly something the Australian people will never forget.

JOURNALIST: Sir, in some quarters it’s been unkindly suggested that you’re seeking an imperial honour.


JOURNALIST: In some quarters it’s been suggested that you are…

HOWARD: Well they are even less well informed than many of the other sources on which some of your colleagues, not you Geoff, from time to time rely. I’m not interested in any kind of imperial honour. I think imperial honours and imperial accoutrements and descriptions are something in the past for Australians. They are in the past. I made that very clear when I became Prime Minister. I had no objection to Knighthood’s while they were around but they stopped and I haven’t bought them back, I don’t intend to bring them back, I don’t want any kind of imperial honour for myself, I don’t mean that disrespectfully. I’ve got a lot of respect for the Brits but that was good for a time in Australia, it might suit the British now, it doesn’t suit the egalitarian Australia of which I am Prime Minister in the year 2002. It’s just of a different period, I’m not interested and while ever I’m Prime Minister there won’t be any reintroduction of Knighthoods or any other kind of thing for Australians.

JOURNALIST: So the Cinque Ports don’t need a warden?

HOWARD: Well not an Australian warden.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you agree with Mr Walker that whenever the leadership transition occurs it will be smooth?

HOWARD: Well that’s a hypothetical question. There’s no vacancy.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard what message do you think the court case in Melbourne on smoking sends to tobacco companies?

HOWARD: Well I think it’s a bit early for me to be saying anything about that. There is an appeal pending and I don’t think it’s the role of the Prime Minister to give a running commentary on things of that nature when there is an appeal pending.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard is the reduction at Woomera an admission that they were inhumane conditions?

HOWARD: No, I think it’s just a further example of what an enlightened progressive, compassionate but firm Immigration Minister Australia has in Philip Ruddock.

JOURNALIST: What do you think of Mr Rann’s suggestion that perhaps the new detention centre should be built here in Canberra?

HOWARD: Well I don’t mind where detention centres are built. I think he has a point, not literally but I think he was metaphorically making the point that these are responsibilities that should be shared around in the Australian community. You build them where it’s most appropriate and most convenient in a national interest sense. I don’t think that there’s any area of Australia that should be quarantined. I think it’s just a question of making a judgment and judgments have been made. This is a difficult area and I think we’re getting the balance right. The important thing is that the policy is working. I don’t want to claim victory in relation to the policy but we haven’t had any new arrivals for some months now and that is a direct consequence of the Government’s policy, so trenchantly criticised by just about every media, not all, media outlet in Australia and by our political opponents.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you regret having been so frank about your retirement, I mean –

HOWARD: No, I don’t regret anything –

JOURNALIST: – coming back doesn’t it?

HOWARD: Oh, look I don’t mind that, I mean you’ve got to do something haven’t you. Seeing we’ve won a few elections now so you’ve got to find something else to talk about. That sort of thing is inevitable. If there’s one thing I’m never going to be part of it’s deceiving the Australian people on these sorts of things. I was quite open and what I said before the election stands, you should look at what I said. What I said was I’d think about my future in the timeframe that I’ve specified and that remains the position, nothing has changed. I don’t have deals with anybody, I have a lot of respect for Peter, he’s obviously a person of great ability and he’s got a lot of support in the party for what he’s doing and what perhaps he might be doing in the future. And we’re working together very harmoniously. Now it is as simple and as open as that but it’s no less and no more than that. And I mean you’ll keep asking me about this, I understand that, that’s life and you’ve got to write about something.

JOURNALIST: Well could you possibly expedite your decision to lay the speculation to rest?

HOWARD: How do you suggest I might do that Alison? Consistent with what I’ve said. Come on now, this will be very interesting and I’ve got plenty of time this morning.

JOURNALIST: Well I’m not suggesting you defy nature and turn 64 tomorrow but maybe bring forward –

HOWARD: No I certainly can’t do that no. Certainly what?

JOURNALIST: Bring forward the timing of your announcement.

HOWARD: No I’m not going to do anything of the kind because I’m enjoying the job I’m doing, I think I’m doing it with some degree of success, both politically, economically and in other respects. And in the end I’m at the disposal of the Australian people and of my party and while ever I believe that the Australian people and my party want me to continue in this position then I’m responsive. But I’m mortal like everybody else. Although on occasions like this beautiful Canberra morning you feel as though you could go on forever don’t you?

JOURNALIST: Do you think you’ve got another election win in you?

HOWARD: Oh we’ve just had one mate. You know, one election at a time. Three’s not bad but you know. We’ll see.

JOURNALIST: Do you see any signs of impatience on Mr Costello’s –

HOWARD: No, I think Mr Costello is doing a wonderful job, he’s a good friend, a loyal deputy, a great colleague, a wonderful Treasurer and we’re a terrific team. But like me he’s at the disposal of the party and the disposal of the Australian people. And in the end you’ve got to remember that with all of these things whether it’s the leadership of the Government or four year terms it’s what the Australian people want that matters. In the end. I mean people should remember that about, they want good government and they want committed leadership. They’re the things. And we are here not to serve our own ambitions or to serve the narrow sectional interests of our party all the time, although they’re important, we are here to serve the Australian people and to give them good government and that’s what I will allow to instruct and govern me in everything I do, both in relation to my own future and also in relation to the issue of four year terms.

JOURNALIST: So you don’t think there’s any danger Mr Costello could fall victim to the Keating syndrome?

HOWARD: They are very different people. Please. Mr Costello is a very different person from Mr Keating. I see that analogy being made on occasions and I think that is unfair to Mr Costello and I think it’s inaccurate. He’s a very committed person. I’m not saying Mr Keating wasn’t committed to what he believed in. Look I haven’t come here to bag the former prime minister, we’ve stopped boxing in the ring. I’m boxing somebody else in the ring at the present time and Paul Keating’s gone, I wish him no personal ill will. I hope he has a long and happy period after politics ahead of him, good luck to him, God bless him, I’ve got nothing against him.


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Malcolm Farnsworth
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