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Details of Howard Government’s Ministerial Changes

Changes to the Howard Government’s ministerial arrangements were announced today. They follow the departures over the past week of Senators Hill, Patterson and McDonald.

The changes were announced by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at a press conference in Canberra this afternoon.

The changes see the National Party lose one ministerial position as a result of yesterday’s defection of Senator Julian McGauran to the Liberal Party.

Major ministerial positions are unchanged, with the exception of Brendan Nelson’s shift to Defence. His current Education portfolio will be taken by Julie Bishop.

Listen to Howard’s press conference (34m)

Watch Howard’s press conference (34m – transcript below)

This is the text of a media statement from the Prime Minister, John Howard.

MINISTERIAL CHANGES

Earlier today I called on His Excellency the Governor-General and secured his approval to announce the following changes to the Ministry and the Administrative Arrangements Order. The changes to the Ministerial line-up reflect the depth of talent available to the Coalition and leave the Government well placed to pursue its fourth term agenda.

The changes include two promotions into Cabinet, four new appointments to the outer Ministry and four new parliamentary secretary appointments.

I reiterate my appreciation to Senators Hill, Patterson and Macdonald for their contributions to the Government. As a result of Senator Hill’s resignation I have decided to appoint Senator the Hon Nick Minchin Leader of the Government in the Senate. The new Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate will be Senator the Hon Helen Coonan.

The Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination will be moved to the Family and Community Services (FACS) portfolio because of the potential synergies with other FACS programmes. The portfolio will be renamed Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the current portfolio of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs will be renamed Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.

The Hon Mal Brough MP will become Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. He will also become Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

The Hon John Cobb MP will become Minister for Community Services in this newly expanded portfolio.

The Hon Dr Brendan Nelson MP will become Minister for Defence. His previous portfolio, Education Science and Training will be taken by the Hon Julie Bishop MP, who will also become Minister assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues. Senator Santo Santoro becomes the new Minister for Ageing.

The Hon Bruce Billson MP will become Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence. I thank the Hon De-Anne Kelly MP for her work in this portfolio over the past year. Mrs Kelly will be appointed Parliamentary Secretary (Trade).

The Hon Peter Dutton MP becomes the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer. He will be replaced as Minister for Workforce Participation by the Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP.

Senator the Hon Eric Abetz will become Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation. The Hon Gary Nairn MP will become Special Minister of State.

Mr Malcolm Turnbull MP will become Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister with particular responsibility for water policy.

Mr Andrew Robb MP will become Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.

Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck will become Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration.

The Hon Sussan Ley MP will become Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

The Hon Teresa Gambaro MP will become Parliamentary Secretary (Foreign Affairs).

Senator the Hon Sandy Macdonald will become Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence.

In the light of the possibility of his retirement at the next election, the Hon Warren Entsch MP has asked that he stand down as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources. I wish to thank Mr Entsch for his contribution in that position over recent years. He will be replaced by Mr Bob Baldwin MP.

The swearing-in ceremony will be on 27 January 2006.

Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s ministerial reshuffle press conference

Note: Audio and video of the press conference is available at the top of this page.

HOWARD:

Well ladies and gentlemen I have called this news conference to announce a number of changes to the Ministry. It’s obvious to everybody that as a result of a couple of resignations some changes were needed and I’ve taken the opportunity to implement some significant alterations to the Ministry. I indicated a few days ago when Robert Hill resigned that I felt very fortunate that there was, within the ranks of the Coalition, a great deal of talent. Now I have been able to draw on some of that but unfortunately not all of it because there are simply not enough positions for the available able men and women. And I hope those of great ability in the Coalition who will feel some sense of disappointment about not being included will understand that reality.

As a result of Robert Hill’s resignation I’ve decided to appoint Senator Nick Minchin as the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I intend to appoint Senator Helen Coonan as the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate. I intend to appoint Dr Brendan Nelson as the Minister for Defence. There will be no changes to the portfolios held by Mr Abbott, Mr Costello, Mr Downer and myself, or indeed a number of others in the Cabinet. I’ll be promoting two Ministers into the Cabinet from the outer Ministry. I propose to recommend the appointment of Mr Mal Brough as the Minister for the new portfolio, or newly named portfolio of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. I’m taking the Indigenous Affairs responsibility out of the Department where it is currently located and placing it more appropriately in the Department of Family and Community Services. It reflects a continued determination of the Government to have more mainstreaming of indigenous affairs matters. As a result of this, there will be no junior Minister in the, to be renamed, portfolio of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. Senator Vanstone will continue to hold that reshaped portfolio and she’ll have a Parliamentary Secretary to assist her. I propose to appoint Ms Julie Bishop as the Minister for Education and Training, to take the place of Dr Nelson and I’ll also appoint her as the Minister assisting the Prime Minister in relation to the Status of Women.

Moving to the outer Ministry, there are three new faces in the outer Ministry. I’m going to appoint – four – I’m going to appoint the Honourable Bruce Billson, who’s been Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I’m going to make him the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. I will appoint Mr Peter Dutton as Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Revenue to replace Mr Brough who has been promoted to the Cabinet. I am going to appoint Mr Gary Nairn, who’s currently Parliamentary Secretary to me to be the Special Minister of State. I’m going to appoint Senator Abetz, who’s currently Special Minister of State to the Ministry for Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries. There is a vacancy in the portfolio of Ageing as a result of Julie Bishop’s promotion and I intend to appoint Senator Santo Santoro from Queensland who is a former Minister in a State Coalition Government to the Ministry for Ageing. And finally, to replace Mr Peter Dutton as the Minister for Workforce Participation, I’m going to promote Dr Sharman Stone who is the Member for Murray in Victoria to that vacant Ministry.

Now, within the ranks of Parliamentary Secretaries there have been a number of changes. I want to indicate firstly that Warren Entsch because of his possible retirement at the next election which he has commented upon indicated that he wished to be stood aside in this reshaping. I intend to appoint a number of new Parliamentary Secretaries. As a result of the realignment of the numbers within the Ministry between the Liberal Party and the National Party there will be one less National Party Minister in the outer Ministry but there will be one extra National Party Parliamentary Secretary. And for those who follow these things very closely if you do the mathematics, that very faithfully reflects the current proportion of National Party Members to total Coalition Members and Senators within the Government.

The upshot of all of that is that there are a number of changes amongst the Parliamentary Secretaries. I’m going to appoint in place of Mr Entsch into his current position, going to appoint the Member for Paterson Bob Baldwin as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources. I’m going to appoint Mr Andrew Robb as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and I am appointing Mr Malcolm Turnbull as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister with particular responsibility for water policy, because water policy is within my remit.

I’m shifting Senator Richard Colbeck to be Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration in place of Dr Sharman Stone. Susan Ley will become Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Teresa Gambaro will shift from Defence to Foreign Affairs. De-Anne Kelly, who is no longer a Minister, will pick up the extra Parliamentary Secretaryship for the National Party and will be Parliamentary Secretary for Trade. And Sandy Macdonald who’s currently Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade will become Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence.

Accept as hereto fore-stated, all other positions remain unaffected and it does represent a very significant change. Let me say that I particularly welcome and congratulate those two new Ministers who have come into the Cabinet. Mal Brough who’s done a very good job as Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer comes into the Cabinet and it lifts the Queensland representation in the Cabinet by another person. Two Liberals and one National Party person. I congratulate and welcome Julie Bishop on her promotion to the Cabinet. I also welcome and congratulate Bruce Billson, Sharman Stone, Gary Nairn and Santo Santoro as the new Ministers in the line-up. John Cobb who is currently the Minister for Citizenship will become the Minister for Community Services as the junior Minister within the enlarged department portfolio of Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Ladies and gentlemen I commend this new line-up to all of you. I think it does represent an intelligent number of changes. It preserves in their respective places outstanding senior Minister’s such as Peter Costello and Alexander Downer and Tony Abbott and others who’ve done a really first class job and in relation to which there is absolutely no case for any change. They represent the centrepiece of the Government, but it also gives opportunities for people who’ve not previously served in the Ministry and in the case of two people, that is Mal Brough and Julie Bishop, the opportunity of serving within the Cabinet, which of course is the engine room of the Government and the body where all the major decisions of the Government have been taken.

These tasks are never easy, they do involve very finely balanced judgements. I know some of my colleagues will feel a sense of disappointment, some of them I know will feel a sense of great elation at having been promoted, that is the nature of politics. Those who’ve got new jobs are expected to perform and those who have not been successful should understand that I do try and do these things consistent with the obligation you do have to pay some regard to state balances, and some regard to the balance between the House and the Senate. I do endeavour as best I can to make decisions and promotions on the basis of performance and on the basis of merit. I’d be very happy to answer any questions about this or indeed I guess anything else you might want to ask me about at this very welcome return press conference to Canberra.

JOURNALIST:

What portfolio does Peter McGauran have?

HOWARD:

He remains Agriculture, he remains. I said unless it’s been heard to fore-mentioned you remain.

JOURNALIST:

You said Senator Abetz was going to Agriculture?

HOWARD:

No, he’s going to the Junior Ministry in that, he’s taking Senator Macdonald’s position and I’m putting out a press statement. I know you will of all taken it down in your impeccable shorthand, but there is a press statement being prepared by the ever smiling and helpful Mr O’Leary who’s going to provide it to you.

JOURNALIST:

What was the basis for deciding which of the five National Party Ministers would go and why was it Ms Kelly?

HOWARD:

Oh look I’m not going to start getting into those sort of things. The reality is that because of the numbers the proportion has altered. The total number within the 42, and the 42 are the 30 Ministers and the 12th Parliamentary Secretary, that total number is not altered but the, how shall I put it, the respective percentages within the Ministry and the whole have altered because unless there had been alteration there would’ve been a very significant over-representation within the Ministry.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard when did you become aware of Julian McGauran’s defection. What impact did this have on this (inaudible)?

HOWARD:

I became aware of his decision to resign from the National Party at three minutes past seven, or was it two minutes past seven on Sunday night. He rang me and informed me. I asked him whether he’d spoken to his leader, Mr Vaile, and he said he had. I had no previous inkling of it. I believe that this was his decision. I do not believe that he was poached by the Liberal Party in Victoria and I believe it was his decision. Now I understand and I’m very sensitive to the feelings of my friends and colleagues in the National Party. When somebody’s been a member of your party, even though he chooses to join a very similar party, there is a feeling of resentment-that’s very understandable. But we have to keep a sense of perspective, and the most important thing from the Government’s point of view, and my overriding political responsibility is to strength and the stability of the Government, the most important thing of course is that Senator McGauran remains a member of the Coalition family, within the Senate. Now the question of his membership of the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party is something to be decided by the Victorian Division in accordance with its usual processes.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard you’ve talked about a merger though in the past. You’ve in fact called for a merger of the conservative parties in the 1990’s. I mean would you like to see at some point the Liberal Party and the National Party’s becoming one?

HOWARD:

My position on that hasn’t changed.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard was it Senator McGauran’s resignation that allowed you to ease one of the National’s out of….

HOWARD:

It’s not a question of easing people out.

JOURNALIST:

Well you know, knock their numbers off by one.

HOWARD:

Look, politics as you all know is remorselessly governed by the laws of arithmetic. The Government is formed by the party that gets the most seats. I mean we all live according to the laws of arithmetic and that is the reality, and I’m quite certain and I say this for the benefit of all of my Coalition colleagues, that if at some time in the future the proportions between the two parties were to change in favour of the National Party, the Liberal Party would need to surrender a position.

JOURNALIST:

Did Mr Vaile agree with…

HOWARD:

Yes he did, yes he did. We met last night in Sydney and we discussed this at great length, and Mr Vaile found the arrangement…. I mean he obviously regrets what’s occurred in relation to Senator McGauran-and I can understand that, but we have to deal pragmatically with the situation and the reality is that there are three National Party Ministers within the Cabinet-including the Deputy Prime Minister and of course as you all know the major decision-making body within any government is the Cabinet. And given the number’s something like some, what 13 and a half percent or so of the total Coalition is National Party members. I think in the circumstances the National Party is fairly and properly represented. And if those numbers in the future were to alter in favour of the National Party then the Liberal Party would, if we are to remain in Coalition, would have to surrender one of its Ministerial positions. I mean that has always been the understanding and there’s nothing unexceptional about this.

JOURNALIST:

Doesn’t it increase the animosity though Prime Minister towards the Senate, especially given that it looks like your Party will offer him comfort and support by…

HOWARD:

Well can I make it clear, my Party will accept via the Victorian Division his application for membership if it is in accordance with the rules of the Party. But he has not been given any assurances about his future pre-selection.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have a view of it?

HOWARD:

What?

JOURNALIST:

Whether he should or shouldn’t….

HOWARD:

Well that pre-selection won’t come up for another four or five years, ask me then.

JOURNALIST:

You’ve promoted a lot of younger people, what message are you trying to send Australians with this new team you’ve got now?

HOWARD:

Well I’m sending, the message I would give is that it’s a mixture as always of very experienced, competent people with some new, somewhat younger people who’ve done very well in the past and have promise of doing even better in the future.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull’s obviously generated a lot of headlines and he’s also generated some concern within Coalition ranks that he hasn’t set a very good example in terms of the playing with the team if you like. You bringing him under your auspices. I mean are planning to play a mentoring role with Mr Turnbull? Are you going to keep an eye on him? Why have you decided to bring him into that role?

HOWARD:

I’ve got work for him. I’ve got work for him to do and I’m sure he’ll do it well. I think Malcolm Turnbull is an able person, I think he’s highly intelligent, he’s very energetic, he’s only been in Parliament a year, I think he deserves a run in the paddock as a Parliamentary Secretary and we’ll see how he goes. I think he understands that and I think Andrew Robb falls into the same category. But they’re not the only able people I’ve got. I mean I’ve been tremendously impressed with some of the younger Ministers like Peter Dutton who came in in only what 2001, he’s done a very good job. Mal Brough, bit older but he’s done a great job. I mean this is a, let me say without being – labouring the point too much, this a good reshuffle for the great state of Queensland.

JOURNALIST:

Mal Brough and Julie Bishop, that’s obviously a big promotions for them. Why have you chosen them for those roles?

HOWARD:

Well I think Julie Bishop is very intelligent, she handled the Ageing portfolio well and I think she has the skills and the application to be a very good Education Minister. Brendan is a detail man. Defence is a very challenging, detail driven portfolio, it’s a very big portfolio, it’s a huge job and you want somebody in it who will burn the midnight oil on a whole lot of things and I think Brendan is your man.

JOURNALIST:

If Julian McGauran had remained with the National Party, would that have entitled the Nationals to hold on to that extra Ministry they had previously?

HOWARD:

Yes I think its fair, that’s fair to say, yes.

JOURNALIST:

Does Mr Vaile accept that Peter Costello wasn’t part of any attempt to lure…

HOWARD:

Well Mr Vaile – at no time in our discussions, has Mr Vaile made that suggestion and Mr Costello rejects and I know Mr Costello has had a discussion with Mr Vaile today in which he has rejected it. I do not believe that Peter poached Julian McGauran. It is true that he and Michael Kroger and others have known Julian for a long time, there is nothing surprising about that, they were at university around the same time and in two political parties as philosophically aligned as the Liberal Party and the National Party it is inevitable that you develop these friendships. I mean I over the years have talked very openly in private discussions with members of the National Party about our respective parties and a former leader of my party had very close associations with members of the National Party so there is nothing strange about any of this. But as to the charge that we poached him, not guilty your honour.

JOURNALIST:

In your Christmas message to parliament last month you said you despised people who threw dirt in the faces of the group which brought them into public life, so how can you on that basis welcome someone like Senator McGauran into your party?

HOWARD:

Well just listen carefully what I have said about Senator McGauran – I haven’t said anything other than his application will be dealt with in accordance with the processes of the Liberal Party.

JOURNALIST:

So you don’t welcome him?

HOWARD:

Well his application will be dealt with in accordance with the processes of the Liberal Party. I tell you what I do welcome, very warmly, and that is the fact that we have a slender majority of one in the Senate and it’s my responsibility above everything else to do what I can to retain that and that means keeping Senator McGauran within the Coalition fold.

JOURNALIST:

It’s not really a ringing endorsement though of his decision Prime Minister?

HOWARD:

But it’s his decision and I am not going to get drawn further than that, I do understand the feelings of the National Party, but I say to people who are saying to us, the Liberal Party should reject his application, that would achieve nothing except to run the risk of undermining the Government’s position in the Senate and I do not intend to do that.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister we have a couple of differing views on whether or not the 15 per cent contributions tax on super should be scrapped. What do you think?

HOWARD:

I will make my contribution to the Budget process in the normal way at the normal time. We’re all now back at work and the time when people sort of make all sorts of statements has ended and I think it would be a very good idea if everybody understood the difficult challenge that the Treasurer has in putting the Budget together. He and I and other senior Ministers will be sitting down and talking about the strategy. We have to be careful not to unduly raise expectations about what can be done. The first and most important thing is to keep the economy strong, to keep the Budget in surplus, to keep interest rates down and the Australian people will not thank any government that acts in a fiscal fashion which results in interest rates going up.

JOURNALIST:

Anything on the elevation of Alan Carpenter Prime Minister?

HOWARD:

I don’t know Mr Carpenter literally, therefore, I can’t offer a view other than to wish him well in a respectful professional sense. No doubt I will meet him at the Premier’s conference here in Canberra in a couple of weeks time, but I do not know the man. Clearly I wish him well in a professionally restrained sense of course.

JOURNALIST:

Do you agree with Senator McGauran’s view that the Liberal Party will be a better vehicle for him…

HOWARD:

I am not going to get into that game, I’ve given you my answers, forget it, you won’t get any further response from me on that issue.

JOURNALIST:

When he rang you to inform you of his intention, did you try to counsel him against it. Did you warn him this could cause trouble, talk him out of making the move?

HOWARD:

I asked him whether he had reflected on the impact that this might have on his party which I still saw as the National party and he said he’d thought about it very carefully and he had reached this decision. It was quite obvious to me when he rang me that he had made up his mind and he was not going to be talked out of it by anybody. That was quite obvious and I had a brief discussion with his brother who I know well of course, that same evening. I spoke to Peter Costello and I spoke to Mark Vaile as you’d expect me to. But it’s quite plain to me that the man initiated this himself, he made up his mind to do it and nobody was going to talk him out of it. Now as to what his motives are and so forth, look I am not going to give some sort of public dissertation on that, it has happened and you’ve got to keep the main game in view and the main game for us it keep the, dare I say it, solidarity of the Coalition’s position in the Senate and not allow that in any way to be affected.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, you’ve promoted a number of Liberals from rural electorates into the Ministry, is that part of this sort of shift going on that the Liberals are reflecting rural constituencies more?

HOWARD:

No it’s a reflection of the able people who happen to represent rural electorates. I’ve promoted a number, well but I haven’t done them because they are rural people, I’ve done it because they are good people and they are very able people and so I should.

JOURNALIST:

Will you take this new look team Mr Howard to the election?

HOWARD:

I think this new look team will as you describe it, will be very well capable of representing the interests of the Government right through to the election.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) bring you any closer to deciding whether you will be around in ’07 to contest the election?

HOWARD:

Daniel, my answer on that is the same as it was in the middle of 2003 and I am sure you know what those words were. Nothing has changed, nothing will change.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard you’ve taken a very strong interest in defence matters…

HOWARD:

Yes I have, yes.

JOURNALIST:

… will you maintain that?

HOWARD:

Yes I will. I indicated to Dr Nelson when I rang him this morning that he should expect that the Prime Minister would continue to take an intense interest in matters relating to Defence, I do have a great interest in Defence, I think it’s a huge future challenge for this country, we do need to put more money towards Defence, we will have to do so, our Defence budget will continue to rise. I have enormous respect for the men and women of the Australian Defence Force and they’ve been very active over the last few years. I’d like to think that would dramatically change in the future but I don’t believe it will.

JOURNALIST:

Is Defence likely to take up a greater share of gross national product?

HOWARD:

Well let’s not get too specific, I just see us spending more money it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister that was a pretty extraordinary event at two or three minutes past seven on Sunday evening when you are preparing a reshuffle to start the year…

HOWARD:

No I was actually having my dinner.

JOURNALIST:

Could I ask your personal reaction, did you curse because you had to rip up your careful plans or did you cheer because you had another number on the Liberal team?

HOWARD:

No I excused myself from the table and took the call and I didn’t have any pen or paper in front of me. When you’ve been in this game a long time, you tend to sort of absorb these things fairly readily. I mean let’s keep it in perspective the stability of the government in part depends on the unity of purpose between the Liberal and National parties and that is expressed through the trust and cooperation at senior levels. Mark Vaile and I have complete trust in each other. He’s an incredibly decent person to work with. He’s a very able Minister. The National Party retains three senior portfolios within the Cabinet, the National Party retains the Deputy Prime Ministership. The numbers in the total show are commensurate with its entitlement. It’s a fair thing. Now I understand how they feel and I am quite sure that if a Liberal had defected to the National Party, there would people in the Liberal Party saying rude things about it. But it’s my job to say separate and apart from that, and then just to try and explain it as it is and what’s happened is that we have somebody who was elected in carrying the National Party label as part of a Coalition Senate team in Victoria, therefore the people of Victoria have said they want that position filled by a member of the Coalition. Now he was a member of the National Party when elected, I understand why the National Party is sorry that he’s gone, I would if I were a Nat I would feel the same way, that’s perfectly natural and let’s not sort of pretend. But let us also not lose sight of the fact that we have a majority, a slender one. A majority of one on a good day so to speak and we have to make sure that there is no erosion in that position and it’s very important therefore that Senator McGauran remain part of the Coalition family. Now you can only be part of the Coalition family if you are a member of the National Party or the Liberal Party, there is no other participant in the Coalition.

JOURNALIST:

Do you agree with Senator McGauran that the Liberal Party is in a better position to win seats in rural and regional Australia than the National Party?

HOWARD:

Look I am not going to make any kind of comparative comments between the Liberal Party and the National Party. The National Party is our friend, our partner, our trusted political ally and I will not say or do anything that is gratuitously offensive to or hurtful or in any way damaging to the National Party.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think Senator Joyce has been a destabilising element to the National Party?

HOWARD:

No look I am not going to, you can write about that Michelle, I am not going to…

JOURNALIST:

Bali has called for the death penalty imposed on Myuran Sukumaran, what is your reaction to that and what…

HOWARD:

Well I don’t think anything is served by me giving a serial reaction to each decision. If there is anything that can be properly put to the relevant authorities by the Australian Government after the sentencing procedures have been exhausted then that will occur. I am simply not going to respond in a commentary like fashion on each and every decision, that is not helpful, it is not sufficiently respectful towards the Indonesian justice system.

JOURNALIST:

What’s your response to some of the revelations…

HOWARD:

What’s that noise?

JOURNALIST:

Australia Day…

HOWARD:

I see you are looking at me as much as to say well that’s your fault is it?

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what’s your response to some of the revelations of the AWB inquiry?

HOWARD:

I will wait until all of the evidence has been presented and not say something that in any way might seem to pre-empt the findings of the inquiry head Terry Cole QC who is a very able person. Clearly I am following it very closely, I reiterate what I have said on behalf of the government in relation to it’s position. I also remind you that contrary to what Mr Rudd and others have said, the Commission of Inquiry feels quite able to investigate the role of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and has in fact been investigating the role of that Department from the very beginning. There’s been full cooperation between the Government and the Inquiry and that will continue.

JOURNALIST:

Andrew Lindberg’s position as head of AWB, is that now untenable do you think?

JOURNALIST:

Andrew Lindberg’s position as head of AWB, is that now untenable do you think?

HOWARD:

It’s better that somebody in my position wait until this thing has been completed. They are entitled to put submissions to the inquiry in relation to the allegations that have been made. We haven’t heard all of the evidence. We know what’s been said and nothing that has been presented thus far is at variance with the version of events that’s been presented by the Government. Mr Downer has made that quite clear and he’s absolutely right, but I’m not going to start marking definitive judgements about people. That is a matter for Mr Cole. That’s why we appointment him.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think Andrew Lindberg’s been completely straight with the Government?

HOWARD:

I’m not going to give a commentary on his evidence. That is a matter for the inquiry to deal with and when all of it has been presented; the inquiry will bring down its findings. If the inquiry wants more information from the Government, it will ask for it, and if it asks for it, that information will be provided.

JOURNALIST:

How will the mainstreaming of indigenous affairs be assisted with the inclusion of Indigenous Affairs in the FACS portfolio?

HOWARD:

Because the FACS portfolio deals with the generality of the community receiving services and indigenous people are part of the community and I think it makes a lot more sense for a department that is charged with the interest and the welfare of the Australian community to include the interests and the welfare of indigenous people. I believe that that makes a lot more sense. It’s a far better philosophy and it will lead to far better outcomes and I feel very pleased to have this opportunity of making that change and whilst at the time because of the particular capacities of the Minister concerned, there seemed to be sense in having Indigenous Affairs and Immigration together, I don’t think that is the case now. I think it makes a lot more sense to bring about change. It also means that there will be a sharper focus on Immigration itself with Andrew Robb as a new, and I know very energetic Parliamentary Secretary, I think there will be a particular focus. I would expect a significant workload to be undertaken by the Parliamentary Secretary in that portfolio.

JOURNALIST:

Why do you think there needs to be a sharper look at Immigration?

HOWARD:

Well I just think it’s a portfolio that because of the plethora of challenges it’s had in recent years, it needs that.

JOURNALIST:

Was the load on Amanda Vanstone too much do you think?

HOWARD:

I’m not personalising this. It just is a far better fit.

JOURNALIST:

It’s been six months since you brought the national ID card debate back into play. Have you got a sense of how the public might be reacting to that?

HOWARD:

I don’t think the public’s sort of madly talking about it. I didn’t find many people at the cricket coming up to me and expressing a view or most of them were, they expressed views, but not about the national ID card.

JOURNALIST:

Industry has expressed a lot of concern about the cost to industry of such a system.

HOWARD:

Nobody should assume that I am committed to an ID card. They shouldn’t. What I have said is that the new circumstances of terrorism required that we look at the thing again. That does not mean that we’re definitely going to do it. That does not mean that I’ve decided we should do it. It simply means that I accept the circumstances have changed sufficiently from what they were in the 1980s that we should look at it again and that’s what we’re doing.

JOURNALIST:

What did you think of Osama Bin Laden’s offer of a truce in the war on tetrror. Did you take it seriously? What are your thoughts on that?

HOWARD:

No I don’t.

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