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Tetchy Howard Defends Choice Of Waugh As Australian Of The Year

Prime Minister has given a tetchy doorstop interview about whether too many sportspeople were being chosen as Australian of the Year.

It followed the announcement that the retired cricketer, Steve Waugh, had been chosen as Australian of the Year.

  • Listen to Howard (3m)

Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s doorstop interview at Parliament House, Canberra.

JOURNALIST: You’re obviously pleased that he has been…

PRIME MINISTER: Well this is just about Australian of the Year, is it? Yeah look he’s a great choice. I mean the choice is made by a committee of worthy citizens and he’s obviously a good choice, a popular choice, but it’s always very hard because you have that wonderful lady from Western Australia Fiona Wood and you had Steve Irwin, who I think is a great character, and I think he’s a great Australian character too.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, four out of 10 Australians of the Year out of the last 10 years have been sportsmen. Is that the right message? Should it be broader?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh look I think those sort of statistical compilations don’t mean anything. What about the last 20? Have you done that sum? No, well maybe it might be a bit different. Look, you don’t want to get hung up on those things. I mean we had Fiona Stanley last year, one of the world-renowned early childhood specialists. You’ve had Gus Nossal, you’ve had many people in different walks of life, and they’re all part of the Australian story. And sportsmen and women are part of the Australian story, so I don’t think we should sort of choose a statistically convenient number.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think they are so prominent though?

PRIME MINISTER: I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST: Why do you think sportspeople are so prominent on the list though?

PRIME MINISTER: Why? Because it’s a very important part of our life and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be. It is a very important part of our life, and it’s not a question of one being preferred over another. I think it’s these comparisons between our commitment to sport and the arts for example, are wasteful, stupid exercises. We should have both. In fact, the Federal Government spends more money, for your information, on supporting the arts than it does on sport. Most people don’t understand that.

JOURNALIST: What qualities makes Steve Waugh such a worthy winner?

PRIME MINISTER: Well you have to ask the committee who chose him. I mean I don’t… I’m not going to give a commentary on [inaudible]. I think it’s a fine choice. I support it. I congratulate him. But if you want to know why he was chosen, I’m not a member of the committee. You ought to go and talk to the committee.

JOURNALIST: What about the win at all costs attitude. I mean he’s obviously a very successful cricketer. Is he a…

PRIME MINISTER: Everybody who succeeds in their chosen pursuit has a committed determination. Eminent scientists are committed and determined. Eminent musicians are committed and determined. Eminent people in other walks of life… and there is something about his gritty and laconic character that connects with Australians and they see a bit of them in him, and that is very understandable.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] generosity of spirit…

PRIME MINISTER: I would have thought what he has done in India, for example, his identification with causes there shows a warmth and a generosity that perhaps others haven’t displayed. Thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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