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John Howard's "Talkback Classroom Interview on Triple J

August 24, 2001

This is the transcript of an interview given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, to three secondary school students on the Triple J radio network.

Prime Minister John Howard

STUDENT:

There was one issue I would really like to raise with you which is the environment. Iím from Tasmania, Iím from a rural area of Tasmania and Iíve really seen the shift to the plantation industry through Tasmania which the Federal Government did really support. And Iím also worried by the continued destruction of the old growth forests in Tasmania. And when your initiatives came into place I was actually quite pleased because I thought that the plantation industry would mean a move, it would mean a shift from the logging of old growth forests and Iím not seeing that happening and I was just wondering really if you thought that maybe you could by maximising the plantation industries that we have in Tasmania you could prevent the logging of old growth forests.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well certainly itís made a contribution to a reduction in logging. The agreements we struck in Tasmania were an attempt to strike a balance between preserving the environment and also preserving jobs.

STUDENT:

But do you recognise that by preserving the environment such as the old growth forests you can create employment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I recognise you can create some employment. But if I could just finish, I also recognise that you have to strike a balance in all of these things between job generation in certain areas. I donít think you can create all the jobs you need by taking a 100% environmental position. I think you have to try and strike a balance between the two.

STUDENT:

But how can you say that you care about jobs if for example in the forests in Tasmania thereís been a 5% decrease in jobs.

PRIME MINISTER:

What, in the forest industry:

STUDENT:

In the forest industry.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah well one of the reasons for there being fewer jobs in the forest industry, that is a consequence of any kind of injection of an environmental consideration in relation to logging, youíre always going to have fewer jobs. If you have less industry you must have fewer jobs. I mean youíre really making my point rather than the reverse.

STUDENT:

Shouldnít you be looking at the potential for environmentalÖ.the benefits of environment industry, for example downstream processing and creating the industries and creating employment in Tasmania rather than just growing the trees in Tasmania?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes but what weíre doing is trying to strike a balance. I mean whenever you restrict logging you put people out of work and the question is whether the things that you replace them with provide as many jobs as you take out of the system by restricting the logging because if there is less supply then there are fewer jobs for people in the industry. So what you have to try and do is find a replacement. Now what weíve endeavoured to do is to bring in plantations, weíve also tried to emphasise the value of eco-tourism and I think theÖÖ

STUDENT:

But how can you emphasise the value of eco-tourism when youíre continuing to destroy the eco-tourism benefits?

PRIME MINISTER:

No but we havenít, but itís not right to sayÖ.I mean we havenít destroyedÖ..we havenít. I mean look, I think itís one of these things where you, I think Felicity probably think that any kind of logging is bad.

STUDENT:

Of course not. I can see the potential for forestry and the plantation industry. I think itís important for Tasmania.

PRIME MINISTER:

Itís not right though to say weíve destroyed all the forests. I mean the whole idea ofÖ..

STUDENT:

But the continuingÖÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

I think we might have to agree to disagree only to the extent of the nature of the balance. I mean I am sympathetic to your basic position.

STUDENT:

One issue I feel incredibly strongly about is youth representation and I want to talk to you about the current state of youth representation and the voice of youth. Today three students from all over Australia have been given the chance to speak directly to the head of government. But this is a really rare opportunity. We do not get the chance to vote and we usually speak to the governmentís intermediary. With all respect to the media present today the media loves to sensationalise youth participation and present young people as grilling the Prime Minister and wants to get this great headlineÖÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

Iíll wait until tomorrow to see whether that prediction is true. Iíll see whether Iíve been sizzled or fried or grilled.

STUDENT:

Some will hope that we may trip you up like Stephen Conroyís recent encounter with youth. But you might want to comment on my tirade. But my question is do you feel that the National Youth Roundtable is the best official avenue your Government can do in terms of youth representation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well before I come to that can I say that this is a great opportunity for me and I hope it is for you. But now on the Roundtable I know there was some criticism about defunding the former ÖÖ

STUDENT:

AYPAC

PRIME MINISTER:

AYPAC. But I think the Roundtableís worked pretty well. Iíve attended every session, every time itís met in Canberra Iíve gone along and other senior ministers have gone along. We have picked up a couple of suggestions and I think just off the top of my head recall like the Indigenous Youth Leaders programme and also another programme that was designed to reduce the incidence of bullying that affected young people. And Iíve found it and I know David Kemp has found it a very valuable way of getting the views of younger people.

STUDENT:

Iíve got here a criticism written in the Sydney Morning Herald from a National Youth Roundtable former member and he claims that the Governmentís image Nazis donít allow LaborÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

Image Nazis?

STUDENT:

Image Nazis.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I see. Doesnít sound as if he likes us very much..

STUDENT:

Donít allow Labor or the minor parties to consult formally with Roundtable participants. So the Roundtable ends up being a Liberal Party focus group funded by taxpayers. Senator Kate Lundy claims she had to gate-crash a National Youth Roundtable function.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thatís just a bit of headline grabbing by Kate. There are umpteen bodies Ė no matter who is in power Ė that are formed by governments to give them advice. And governments donít prevent them meeting the opposition. I mean when the Youth Roundtable comes to Canberra thereís plenty of opportunity to talk to opposition people Ė plenty of opportunity. And look, if youíre an opposition leader you can set up a formal consultation in a committee room in Parliament House and invite members of the Youth Roundtable along. End of story. Itís as simple as that. I mean I used to do that when I was in opposition. I mean she is, with great respect, just scoring a political point.

PRESENTER:

John Howard there talking with Nick Robertson, Lise Della Torre and also to Felicity Harris and theyíll be back for the second part of their conversation with the Prime Minister on Talkback Classroom here on the morning show after we hear from Leonardoís Bride. [song break]

PRESENTER:

We are in the middle of Talkback Classroom so quiet down the back and pay attention to the teacher. And holding the conservation this morning Nick Robertson from Marist Brothers College in Brisbane, Lise Della Torre from the Academy of Mary Immaculate in Fitzroy in Melbourne and Felicity Harris from Don College in Devonport, Tasmania. And they are in conversation with the Prime Minister of Australia John Howard.

STUDENT:

We would like to discuss a topic which marks the fundamental divide between the so-called generation X and Y which many of us belong to and your own generation. This topic being the question of sexuality. Now as an average Aussie bloke would it be fair to say that when you were 16 in 1955 I believe that homosexuality was a topic that wasnít discussed in mainstream society, it was sort of taboo.

PRIME MINISTER:

People didnít talk as openly about sexuality of any kind when I was younger, not just homosexuality but sexuality generally. People are more open and frank about these things now and thatís a very good thing. Of course itís quite different, itís very different, itís one of the big changes. You calculated right, I was 16 in 1955.

STUDENT:

So can you now recall your own views on the morality of sexuality when you were a teenager?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes they were probably more conservative than todayís teenagers, yes. I think thatís true of just about every generation.

STUDENT:

You highlight the difference between the young people of today and their views and the young people of your generation. When do you think society made a shift to allow more openness particularly in the case of homosexual couples? When do you think that era was?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I think that probably happened more in the last 20 years. I think people take the view that individuals make their own preference, you know, choose their own lifestyle in these things and people shouldnít be the subject of discrimination if they choose a particular lifestyle. But it still remains the case that many people, and Iím one of them, see marriage as one of the bedrock institutions of society and that itís one of the things that does continue to provide stability, I mean not all marriages work, Iím aware of that and everybody tries hard in the beginning to make them work but in the end itís still the most important relationship in the end that people tend to make during their lives and I still think itís something that we should give a special place to in our community.

STUDENT:

So if we had a scale with total acceptance of homosexuality on one end and total rejection and abuse of homosexuality on the other, where would you place yourself?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh Iíd place myself somewhere in the middle. I certainly donít think you should give the same status to homosexual liaisons as you give to marriage, I donít. I mean that will make me unpopular with some people but I accept that. Thatís my view. I think the continuity of our society depends on there being a margin for marriage if I can put it like that. But consistent with that view I donít think people should be in any way penalised or discriminated against if they are homosexual. I mean I certainly donít practice any kind of discrimination against people on the grounds that theyíre homosexual, I think that is unfair. But I donít think we should go the whole hog in the other direction and take the view that you give relationships betweenÖ I mean I donít believe in gay marriage for example, I donít think our society should signal support for that.

STUDENT:

So you say that youíre supporting the majority, the mainstream view.

PRIME MINISTER:

No Iím just, youíre asking my personal view. I havenít sort of done a poll on it, you know finger up in the breeze. Probably the view Iím expressing some people would agree with, some people wouldnít. But on things like this I owe the Australian public the candour of my views, I should tell them what I think, whether the majority of them agree with me or not. I think one of the important things on these issues is for people to be fairly direct.

STUDENT:

A recent poll has come out showing that 52 per cent of Australians have no problem with homosexual activity. Does that surprise you?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. But thatís not all that inconsistent with the point Iím making. I mean thereís a difference between, I mean there are many things that you accept and tolerate in life without necessarily supporting them personally or thinking that they should be given a different status. I mean my view is that we should be completely tolerant and fair minded about peopleís sexual preference. But I donít believe that homosexual relationships should be given the same place in our society as traditional concepts such as marriage. I mean that will, some people agree with that and some people wonít but that is my view and that I guess is what youíre seeking on this programme, an honest expression of my views.

STUDENT:

Is that a moral view that you hold?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well itís a combination of values and also a view about the continuity of our kind of society. Thatís what it really is.

STUDENT:

Do you recall an interview in 1996 with Ray Martin in which you said you would be disappointed if you had a son that was gay. Would you like to clarify what you mean by disappointed.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well thereís nothing to clarify, I do remember that interview and I said in that interview that if one of my sons said he was gay and can I say that isÖ Iím being asked a completely hypothetical question because youíve asked me about one of my sons, I do have two sons and therefore I want to make the point that it was a totally hypothetical question. What I said was that if one of them hypothetically said he was gay I said I wouldnít love him any less but I did go on to say that Iíd be disappointed and I would. Thereís nothing to clarify, I havenít met a parent yet who wants their children to grow up gay.

STUDENT:

But why would you be disappointed? Would it be because you wouldnít have grandchildren? Be disappointed for his safetyÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

It is just a reaction, it was a spontaneous expression of how I feel. Sometimes in life you canít give a formal clinical explanation of how you react and why you feel a particular way. I mean I was asked by Ray how I would feel and I answered it honestly, I said I wouldnít love him any less but I would be disappointed and if I were asked the same question today hypothetically I would give exactly the same answer.

PRESENTER:

Very candid and honest Prime Minister there, John Howard talking to Nick Robertson from Marist Brothers College in Brisbane, Lise Della Tore from the Academy of Mary Immaculate in Fitzroy and Felicity Harris from Don College in Devonport Tasmania. As part of Talkback Classroom, that conversation held yesterday.

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