Transcript of the Prime Minister the Hon John Howard MP Doorstop Interview, Tomaree Education Centre, Salamander Bay
Subject: Boeing workers; industrial relations; David Hicks; anti-terrorism legislation
What are you doing in Paterson today?
I have a couple of functions before heading back to Sydney but Paterson is an electorate I visit on a very regular basis
and I’ll continue to do that.
Mr Howard you met a couple of Boeing workers today, can you tell me how that went?
Yes, I met two of the Boeing workers, they spoke to me on behalf of all of those who are on strike. We agreed that their
dispute with Boeing has nothing to do with the new workplace relations laws. I also told them that I would like the
dispute to be resolved, I’d like them to go back to work, but ultimately that was a matter between the company and the
workers, it’s not something that should involve the Government or should involve any other body. It is not a question,
really as I understand it, of pay and conditions, it’s really an argument about what legal form their employment should
take. The company has a policy, which it’s entitled to have, they don’t like that policy and they are on strike. But I
emphasise it has nothing to do with the workplace relations laws that are before the Parliament. We had a very cordial
discussion, they were nice men, and we had a very pleasant talk. We obviously have some areas of difference but it’s got
nothing to do with the new laws, it’s a dispute about the legal form that their employment should take and ultimately
that is a matter that has to be resolved between the company and the workforce. It can’t be and should not be resolved
by the Government.
Doesn’t the dispute show that the idea of choices for workers is fiction?
No, it doesn’t show that at all. What the Boeing dispute is about is something that has been around for a very long time
and that is that sometimes there will be an argument about the legal form that people’s employment should take. It’s not
about pay, they could back to their jobs tomorrow and the people who are employed on common law contracts by Boeing are
paid very well so it’s not really about that. It’s a gesture…
…no, no, it’s a gesture by the unions to make its political point about the legal form that the employment should take.
Now this is not about grinding down conditions, it’s got nothing to do with that all.
Mr Howard will you be speaking with Boeing to try and …
No, no it’s not the Government’s role to intervene in every debate between a workforce and a company. That is not, we
expect the company to obey the law, we expect the workforce to obey the law, we expect workers and companies to solve
these things themselves and that is the way in which the dispute will be resolved. The rest of the workers of the
company seem very happy with the common law contracts and a company like Boeing is acting within its rights.
Mr Howard, do you think it’s fair that two workers with the same qualifications, the same skills and the same attitude
towards their work, are paid differently when they are doing the same job?
You’re asking me a hypothetical question which is clearly related though to this company and this dispute and I don’t
intend to answer hypothetical questions without having full possession of the facts.
Are you sympathetic to their plight though?
I am in favour of disputes being resolved in a commonsense fashion and that can only happen by the workers and the
company resolving the dispute. This is not a dispute about our new workplace relations laws. It is not a dispute about
pay, it is a dispute about the legal framework of their employment. That’s what it’s a dispute about and the union has a
certain view about that, the AWU, and the company has another view and they have to put their respective cases into the
forum of public opinion. But these men could go back to their jobs tomorrow and they would not suffer any penalty, now
that is the situation, now I can’t really say any more than that. This is about, this is a political debate about the
form of, the legal form of a workplace arrangement, it is not an argument about the fairness or otherwise of our
industrial relations proposals.
The state industrial relations ministers are in Canberra today speaking with the Senate inquiry, they’re saying that the
IR changes are unconstitutional, how do you react to that?
Well our advice is that they are perfectly constitutional and in the end that matter will probably be resolved by the
High Court, but our advice all along has been that these laws have been quite constitutional, we wouldn’t be putting
them up otherwise.
The State Premiers, Steve Bracks and Peter Beattie, are also concerned about the sedition provisions in the
counter-terrorism legislation, would you consider having that removed from the main bill to be considered separately?
No. I am surprised that Mr Bracks and Mr Beattie are raising that issue now. In all the previous discussions we had,
there was not even a passing reference to the sedition provisions, not even a passing reference. We won’t be taking
those provisions out. What we are doing is modernising the language of the law of sedition. We have had provisions about
the law of sedition in the laws of Australia for many, many years and there is no case to take them out. Journalists,
cartoonists, actors and all other sundry critics of the Government have nothing to fear from these new proposals. People
can still attack me and Mr Beazley and lampoon us as I am sure they will without any fear of being put into the slammer.
You will not tighten the wording to make sure, take away the…
Well we don’t believe the wording needs tightening.
Just on terrorism, what can you tell us about the anonymity of the people who report suspicious behaviour?
Well it is meant to be respected.
So how are things getting out then?
Well I don’t know whether things have got out, I understand that there is an allegation that things have got out, but
that will be investigated in the appropriate way, I obviously can’t answer for the thousands of calls that are made but
clearly it would be a matter of concern if calls were not treated in an anonymous fashion.
Mr Howard, on the weekend you said it would be wrong to change the law in respect of David Hicks because no offence was
created at the time (inaudible) actions, is it not a greater offence to leave an Australian in a prison overseas for
something that wasn’t an offence (inaudible)?
It wasn’t an offence under Australian law, but it may have been an offence under the laws of another country.
Well that is a matter that will be resolved by the Military Commission. You see, there seems to be the view still around
and it is implicit in your question that if an Australian goes overseas and does something, he is still covered by
Australian law, that is not the case. If people come to Australia and commit offences, we expect them to be judged by
Australian law, not by the laws of the country from which they originated. Thank you.