PM Interview on NOIE
Wed, 17 Sep 1997 10:25:45 +1000
16 September 1997
TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER
THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP
PHILLIP ST, SYDNEY
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I've called this news conference to make a
couple of comments and to make an announcement regarding future
arrangements inside the Government for a greater focus on the
As everyone knows, the revolution that is now occurring in information
services, not only in Australia but around the world, represents
potentially the greatest transformation of the world economy since the
industrial revolution. And the contribution that information technology
make to job generation in Australia to the creation of thousands of
additional jobs, over the years, immediately ahead of us and into the
Century, is a very important element of the plans that the Government
have for the further economic development and the further involvement of
the Australian economy in the global economy. And as a result of that
decided on some new administrative arrangements to more tightly target
better focus the Government's own energies in relation to the
I'll be recommending to His Excellency, the Governor-General, the
appointment of Senator Richard Alston as Minister for Communications,
Information Economy and the Arts.
The Minister for Industry Science and Tourism will retain responsibility
for industry development and investment issues.
I will appoint within - establish within Senator Alston's portfolio a
National Office for the Information Economy. That will be a separate
within Senator Alston's portfolio.
It will have a very strong private sector focus. It will operate under a
sunset clause of three years' duration and it will have particular
responsibility for policy relating to the regulatory, legal and physical
infrastructure environment for on-line activities, including
electronic commerce, ensuring consistency of Commonwealth positions for
international firms and overseeing policies for applying new technology
government administration and information and service provision.
I'll also establish a Ministerial Council of Ministers in the Government
concerned with information technology and economic matters. And that
council will comprise, as well as Senator Alston, Mr Fischer, the Deputy
Prime Minister, Mr Costello, Mr Moore, Mr Fahey, the Attorney-General,
Williams and the Minister for Administrative Services, David Jull.
The new arrangements are designed to more tightly focus and to
the emphasis that the Government places on information technology and
There are enormous potential opportunities for Australia in this area.
it is the responsibility of my Government, as it is the responsibility
the various State governments, to ensure that our ministerial and other
arrangements respond to those opportunities and to match the challenges
that are available.
Given the propensity of Australia to embrace and Australians to embrace
technology, the opportunities for us in this area are greater than for
other countries. For example, after the United States, Australia has the
second largest internet usage of any nation in the world. We have the
largest usage of mobile telephones. And our voracious appetite for
devouring new technology is legendary in our experience.
We have, as a government, put very considerable additional resources
this area. There's the $250 million communications infrastructure fund
regional Australia, which is being funded out of the sale of one-third
Telstra. And there are many other programmes and policies which will now
even more effectively and tightly coordinated.
Before taking questions could I just briefly comment on my forthcoming
visit to the South Pacific Forum in the Cook Islands. It will be an
excellent opportunity to renew contacts with the Forum leaders. It will
the first opportunity to have a personal and lengthy discussion with the
new Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Mr Skate, to whom I've spoken on
the telephone but I've not previously met. And also to renew
with Forum leaders that I've met before, such as the Fijian Prime
It should be pointed out that Australia continues to place a very high
priority on the South Pacific. Forty per cent of our bilateral aid
goes to nations in this area. And we regard our partnership with the
nations of the region as being particularly important.
I'm pleased that the economic reform agenda, which was discussed in the
Marshall Islands last year and was further advanced in the Finance
Ministers' Meeting in Australia two months ago, has made considerable
progress. And the Finance Ministers in particular have agreed a
reform agenda. And our aid programme will support that reform agenda.
The South Pacific is a very diverse region and answers will obviously
be the same for all countries. And one of the issues that comes into
context is, of course, the different perspective that we inevitably have
I will expect a good discussion on climate change matters at the Forum
meeting. I do understand, and anybody who's travelled across the Pacific
will understand, the vulnerability of many of the small island nations
in relation to weather patterns and sea levels.
Australia wants to see a sensible, workable outcome on climate change
negotiations, especially at the Kyoto meeting in Japan in December.
Our point has been and will continue to be that the only approach to
climate change which will work is one that is realistic and takes
of each countries circumstances. Otherwise targets will simply not be
achieved and developing countries will suffer.
It is a global problem and it has to be tackled in a way that involves
nations. Australia herself produces just 1.4 per cent of the world's
greenhouse gas emissions. And it is in the interests of the countries of
the South Pacific that the outcome in Kyoto provide for all countries,
including developing countries, to make an equitable contribution to
reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
I make it clear again that targets that unfairly penalise the Australian
economy and, in particular, targets which destroy Australian jobs will
be accepted by the Australian Government. That is a fair, consistent,
wholly defensible position for my Government to take and, I believe,
position that has the support of the great bulk of the Australian
community. But I do approach this issue in a constructive way, but a way
that is consistent with the Australian national interest.
And could I, before taking questions, also remind all of you that
on the financial market an historic event occurred and that is, for the
first time since the floating of the Australian dollar and the
of the Australian financial system that accompanied it, the long-term
rate for Australian securities fell below that of comparable United
securities. And bear in mind that there was a gap of 250 basis points
between the US long bond rate and the Australian long bond rate when
Government was elected in March of 1996. That particular development
symbolised the great success that this country has had and, in
my Government has had in communicating to the rest of the world that
inflationary expectations are very much a thing of the past in
that we now have an Australian government that is determined, unlike its
predecessors, not to believe that it can spend its way out of trouble,
Australian government that is willing to tackle the problems of debt,
we inherited from Mr Beazley and Mr Keating.
And I am particularly proud to have been the Prime Minister of a
that has achieved that spectacular turnaround in the international,
financial reputation of our country.
There can be no finer and more emphatic judgment that there is now in
charge of the economic affairs of Australia, a group of people who are
concerned about our international credit worthiness and are prepared to
take the decisions and to send the right signals on inflationary
expectations and reducing budget deficits.
It is a signal of economic achievement, and it means that in the eyes of
the most hard headed financial analyst in the world, this country is out
front of the pack with the best of them, in terms of economic
Have you any questions?
Mr Howard on that last point, on the turn around in the budget position.
Access Economics said the turnaround is going to be much greater and
therefore [inaudible] budget surplus of $4 billion. Do you believe it is
going to be this much?
No, I am not going to speculate about the surplus and as you know from
experience forecasts will jump around a great deal. I am very confident
that at the end of my first term as Prime Minister, I will be able to
to the Australian people, we inherited a budget deficit of $10.5 billion
and we have turned that into a surplus and that is a great achievement
an achievement of which I and Peter Costello, in particular, as
will be particularly proud.
And it has meant lower interest rates and better prospects in the longer
term for employment in this country than would have been the case if we
followed the path of deficit and debt we inherited from Mr Beazley and
Will you be wanting to outline the job strategy for [inaudible] ?
Well his primary responsibility will be as I have outlined and that is
bring together the Minister for the information economy, the regulatory
other responsibilities that bear on information and on-line matters and
The overall responsibility for economic policy and job strategy, of
lies elsewhere but inevitably, with the greater focus on the information
economy, the prospects for job generation in that will receive even
attention. But I am not going to get into the business of giving precise
targets suffice to say that the capacity for growth in this area is
enormous. That is self evident from the nature of developments in the
information economy, not only in Australia, but all around the world.
I used some figures in Parliament a few weeks ago that pointed out that
14 years 5,000 new jobs have been generated in farming, manufacturing
mining and 1.8 million in services.
The potential for growth in information services is enormous and the
thing about it is that it will not be area specific. For a country as
as Australia part of the good news about the information economy is that
demolishes the tyranny of distance for the people who live in the bush
the people who live in regional areas of Australia.
Prime Minister what are you doing to actually stimulate corporate
investment in the technology sector in Australia? Australians may use
ad nauseam but corporate investment seems to be lacking compared to
Well, we have already done one absolutely tremendous thing and that is
we have deregulated the communication market, from the 1st of July, and
that means millions of dollars saved for corporate Australia.
Most surveys indicate that the second largest cost in running a business
this country, after wages, are communications expenses and the
of the communications market will slash, in many cases, decimate to the
benefit of corporations, their telephone and other communication bills.
that single act alone, over time, will inject millions of dollars of
potential investment funds.
Now the broader question, which I think you were getting at. The broader
question of industry policy generally, is to whether you give particular
incentives to this or that company. I have already indicated that the
Government is looking, as a Government as a whole, we are looking at
Goldsworthy, we are looking at Cutler, we are looking at Mortimer and we
will be providing a response to that in the not to distant future. Not
Having a Minister for information technology [inaudible]
[inaudible] was one of the Goldsworthy recommendations. Another one of
recommendations is for you, as Prime Minister, to get more involved in
area. Will you be getting more involved [inaudible]?
I am not going start, I am not going to commit, make my diary hostage to
any particular report. This decision of mine is not in response to the
Goldsworthy Report. I had decided before I got the Goldsworthy Report
I would do what I have announced today.
Mr Howard in response to your trip to America, where you talked to
Mr Greenspan about the job stimulating effect information technology has
had in America, do you think that the industry will have the same impact
here, on jobs?
That did have an influence on my thinking, yes. I have a great regard
Alan Greenspan. He does after all have more influence than anybody else
the most powerful economy in the world. And when a man with that
says to me that he thinks, he didn't put it any more strongly than that
it is always the sign of a really wise person who acknowledges that he
she doesn't know all the answers - but he thought that one of the
why the American economy was going so well, that at long last it was
getting the huge benefits of technological change and technological
Now that did have an influence on me, but there are a lot of things that
influence you in relation to this but there is no doubting the
of my Government, from the Prime Minister down, to reaping to the full,
enormous benefits of the information economy and the enormous benefits
can come from technological change, particularly as we move into the
Paul Montgomery, Net journalist for PC Week, lives like a JavaBean.
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