Press Conference by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda
[Opening Remarks by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda]
Let me first pray for the souls of the victims of the Iwate-Miyagi Nairiku Earthquake that occurred the other day, and express my sympathy to all those who have suffered.
I visited the site, and saw mountainside scars like claw marks that made me realize the enormity of the earthquake and disaster. I will continue to do my best in terms of assistance to affected people, reconstruction, and prevention of secondary disasters.
The regular session of the Diet closed the day before yesterday. It was called a "contorted Diet," in which the ruling coalition commanded a majority in the House of Representatives while the opposition parties controlled the House of Councillors. At the same time, it was made clear that cooperation between the two blocks could result in a significant outcome, as evidenced by the enactment of the Civil Service System Reform Law after amendment based on agreements between the ruling and opposition parties.
However, on the whole, only 63 of the 80 bills submitted by the Cabinet, or about 80% of that total, passed the Diet.
It is really regrettable that 17 pieces of legislation, including those closely related to the people's lives such as the Child Welfare Law, failed to be enacted.
It took as long as one month for the House of Councillors to start, in April, deliberation on the bills on the tax system, and a decision had not been made even after two more months had passed. The extraordinary situation that prevailed in the 156-day Diet session made me aware of the graveness of time-consuming decision making in a radically changing world.
This Diet session also reminded me that discussion and cooperation between the ruling and the opposition parties is more important than anything else in terms of protecting the people's lives and safeguarding the national interest.
It has been nine months since I assumed the office of Prime Minister. Both in my inaugural speech to the Diet and in my policy speech this past January, I promised to advance political and administrative reforms from the public's viewpoint. The reforms are steadily moving forward. I am confident that various seeds of reforms that I as Prime Minister cast have already begun to sprout strongly, in line with my pledge to make sweeping reviews of the points that need to be reviewed, while sharing the standpoint of each one of the people.
The first reform is to make administration convenient and people-friendly from the viewpoint of the people.
Accordingly, we decided to establish a new organization that will take the lead in this effort -- an Agency for Consumer Affairs. Restructuring of administrative organizations usually meets with resistance from related existent ministries and agencies that try to preserve their powers, but the process of coordination for the creation of this new agency is proceeding very smoothly. I feel that my philosophy of the people and the consumers first has been gradually permeating the administrative bodies and changing the mindsets of civil servants. I will promote reforms to further spread this philosophy.
Secondly, I have been advancing tax and fiscal reforms, going back to the principle that tax should be used in a way that can be understood by taxpayers.
One example is the reallocation of revenue sources earmarked for roads to the revenues used for general purposes. We have already decided to free up resources that would otherwise be used exclusively for building roads and to utilize them to realize various policies sought by the people, such as the enhancement of emergency medical services and countermeasures against the declining birthrate. This is a reform to secure "revenue sources for the people."
Efforts to achieve "zero waste" are also underway, consistent with the principle that not one single yen of the taxes entrusted by the people is to be wasted. Also, I will implement a fundamental review of public interest corporations that are hugely dependent on government subsidies and employ civil servants after retirement from public office. As for independent administrative corporations, their personnel costs and internal reserves will be strictly examined to eliminate unnecessary public subsidies and grants.
I feel really angry about thoughtless waste in the administration that has been revealed case after case.
The administration itself should have eliminated such waste before it was identified by others. The current situation is regrettable. We have to take fresh measures, backed by political leadership, to eliminate wasteful expenditures. These measures will include the establishment of clear lines of responsibility, and ones requiring that responses be made at an organizational level.
The third reform is undertaken to transform Japan into a low-carbon society. We must act now to hand over this beautiful Earth to future generations. Although fundamental solutions have to wait for innovative technologies to be developed, we should immediately make more energy-saving efforts and accelerate the introduction of renewable energies, thereby achieving, as soon as possible, a low-carbon society, meaning one that is not dependent on fossil fuels.
Two weeks ago, I announced my vision on countermeasures to global warming. I will present more specific initiatives in this area in the near future, and take action in collaboration with the people.
Fourthly, another reform from the public's perspective that has been steadily progressing is one related to social security, which directly affects the people's daily lives.
Last week, the members of the National Commission on Social Security compiled a mid-term report based on the discussions that have taken place since the Commission's establishment in January. The social security system encompasses the issues of pensions, healthcare, nursing care and the declining birthrate, all of which are directly related to the people's lives. Fundamental reform of the system therefore requires national debate, and takes a certain amount of time.
Given the people's dissatisfaction and anxiety about social security, we should start doing whatever must be done now in parallel with discussions at the National Commission.
The Basic Policies 2009 will be finalized soon, and policies such as a new employment strategy will enter into an implementation phase. Concerning policies that have a direct connection with the people's peace of mind, in July I am going to specifically list five critical policies as the Five-Point Reassurance Plan, and instruct relevant offices to implement them as soon as possible.
The first pillar of this plan is building a society in which the elderly can lead active lives with a sense of reassurance.
The development of a healthy and vigorous society, in which elderly people with wisdom and experience can take part actively, is of supreme importance. I will swiftly take measures for the creation of a working environment free of age discrimination and for the launching of new business ventures that draw on the experiences of the elderly.
In addition, I will ensure that elderly persons can comfortably stay in places where they have lived for a long time by advancing a scheme to support home care, constructing more housing with home care service, securing personnel for nursing care, and through other means. The ruling parties have already begun to identify other challenges we have to tackle.
The second pillar is establishing a society in which everyone with health concerns can receive healthcare.
There are medical institutions with obstetrics and pediatrics services that have been closed due to the shortage of doctors, and emergency patients have been passed around hospitals. Healthcare affects the people's lives. We cannot ignore these situations. Regarding the issue of the doctor shortage, more prospective doctors will be trained from now on, but the number of doctors will not increase immediately.
In the meantime, one way to prevent the passing around of patients is to have medical institutions functioning as a control tower in each region. I will also facilitate networking among hospitals and clinics so that those medical institutions can provide necessary regional medical services by complementing the manpower and functions of the others that would otherwise be insufficient.
Besides these initiatives, I will expeditiously take measures to reduce the excessively heavy workload of hospital doctors and to ensure that people feel secure about giving birth to children.
The third pillar is measures to protect and raise children who shoulder the future.
It is young parents who give birth to and bring up the children who are going to sustain this nation in the future. A lot of serious and urgent voices of many mothers and fathers struggling with child raising have reached the website of the National Commission on Social Security.
Those include, "My child has to wait until April to enter a nursery school," "My child will have nowhere to go after school when he enters elementary school," and "I would like to take childcare leave more flexibly," to which we can respond by managing the current system or making some improvements to the system. There are many other concerns that can be addressed without drastic change to the current system. I will immediately look to remedies from the public's viewpoint in response to such voices.
The fourth pillar is measures for non-regular employees such as dispatched workers and part-time workers.
Now, one out of every three employees has a non-regular job. Many non-regular workers are anxious about their future because of their unstable status. It is important to give those people hope for the future by supporting their efforts to get regular positions and by expanding the coverage of social insurances.
In particular, I will take firm steps including revision of laws to prevent the hollowing out of the system protecting dispatched workers, as many problems such as the issue of day workers have been pointed out regarding dispatched labor.
The fifth and last pillar of the plan is to restore the people's trust in health, welfare and labor administration that is closely linked to the people's daily lives.
Public trust in the administration that manages the social security system including the pension system is a prerequisite for public participation in and support for the system, but a series of problems that damage public confidence, such as those related to pension records and hepatitis C, have occurred in recent memory. With regard to the pension record problem, we the Government as a whole will continue to do our utmost toward the resolution in accordance with the policies of the Government and the ruling parties announced on July 5 last year. By the end of this month we will have identified further actions to take to accelerate our efforts, based on the results of investigations by the task force and the special team under the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare.
In addition to squarely dealing with individual problems, thorough and comprehensive review from the public's point of view on the administration of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, including its organizations, will be conducted under the political leadership, modestly reflecting upon various problems associated with the past social security administration.
We face an increasingly uncertain economic situation. I fully recognize that the people have been facing many difficulties amid rising prices of raw materials and foods. We have to carefully follow the impacts on Japan of US economic trends and the price of crude oil, and be prepared to swiftly take necessary countermeasures.
I am fully aware of the particularly severe situations experienced by small- and medium-sized enterprises, people engaged in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries, and people living on remote islands, on account of soaring crude oil prices. I will urgently take all possible additional measures, including those to finance small- and medium-sized enterprises and to alleviate the hardships of the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors.
The Japanese economy is now being tossed about by the powerful wave of the global economy. Internationally-collaborated measures, especially those to counter recent inflation, are needed. At the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit taking place in two weeks, I will initiate substantial discussion on the issues of soaring prices of crude oil and foods as well as the global environment, thereby taking a step toward effective resolution.
I have been engaged in the reforms in various areas, including the administration, tax and fiscal systems, the environment, and social security, since I was sworn in as Prime Minister. From now on, I would like to steadily put these various reforms into practice from the public's viewpoint. I am determined to find out what is really important for the future of the people of Japan, not being misguided by nearsighted interests. It is my style to advance, step by step, reforms that must be made, as unspectacular as they may seem.
It is you, the people of Japan, who move politics forward, and your ability to distinguish the real from the false is the driving force of the reforms. I have been promoting the reforms from the public's viewpoint, and would like to call again for your understanding and cooperation for those reforms.
That's all from me.
Question 1: My question is about Diet management. The so-called "contorted Diet" has sometimes made dialogue with the opposition parties difficult. With the extraordinary session of the Diet to open in the autumn, how are you going to improve such a situation and what are you going to ask the opposition parties?
In this regular session of the Diet, a censure resolution against the Prime Minister passed the House of Councillors for the first time ever. After the passage of the resolution, you said that you took the matter seriously. Let me ask once again your thoughts on the passing of the censure resolution.
Regarding the censure resolution, I must take it seriously. In other words, I would like to elaborately examine its content and think earnestly on what I should do in order to achieve policy objectives.
Furthermore, many people are focusing their attention on the timing of your dissolution of the House of Representatives, the term of which will expire in less than one year. Please tell us your current plan regarding the dissolution, including the timing.
You referred to a dissolution of the Diet. Some views hold that a change in political situation should lead to the dissolution. However, as I stated, we have a pile of policy issues, and as such, I always ask myself whether or not now would be an appropriate time to dissolve the Diet. My responsibility lies first in executing policies that prevent troubles and instead provide hope in the people's lives.
There will be Japan-US foreign ministerial talks this week and summit talks on the sideline of the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit. At these meetings, what message are you going to send to the United States on the issue of state sponsors of terrorism?
On the issue of the abduction of Japanese nationals, the United States has continuously extended support in various ways, being fully aware of our position. The result of the Japan-North Korea working-level talks shows signs of possible progress in stalled Japan-North Korea relations. We are now in the critical phase to advance Japan-North Korea relations, and therefore must work in closer coordination with the United States.
I will have sufficient discussion on the issue with President Bush at the forthcoming meeting, and will decide what to say, bearing in mind the said situation and development of the situation from now on.
In your opening remarks, you said that cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties could result in a significant outcome, as evidenced by the enactment of the Civil Service System Reform Law. This bill was submitted by the Government, amended considerably by taking into account the opinions of the opposition parties, and thus enacted in line with the agreements between the ruling and opposition parties. Are you going to actively pursue a similar approach in the extraordinary session of the Diet? For example, when deliberation in the Diet reveals defects in a government-sponsored bill, or more people support a counterproposal by the opposition parties, will you amend the government bill?
There may be discrepancies in interpretation, and we will discuss any if and when such a situation actually arises. I do not think that we have to discuss it now.
Regarding this issue, you said in an interview with heads of news agencies that you were at a very important juncture in terms of making up your mind. Does your statement simply indicate the necessity of raising consumption tax rate sometime in the future, or does it mean that a political decision will be taken when conducting the tax system reform for FY2009 at the end of this year?
Needless to say, securing a stable revenue source would be another instrument to sustain the social security system. There are others, such as reallocating earmarked revenue sources for roads to general purpose ones. We have to further discuss these matters.
It would probably be natural that we move on to the next phase of discussion after finding out how much money will actually be saved by the "zero waste" campaign.
I said the other day, "At a juncture in terms of making up our mind," because the audience members on that occasion were heads of the G8 news agencies, who I guessed did not know that Japan would fundamentally reform its tax system this autumn. I said so to indicate the basic direction in a long-term context of two to three years. My expression was tailored to those to whom I was talking, and a more exact way of phrasing it would be required for audiences like you who are attending today's press conference.
Anyway, I am going to address this issue while examining the outcome of the National Commission on Social Security and the "zero waste" campaign.
The economic situation is another factor to consider. It, too, is an element that cannot be ignored. Based on all of this, I will consider the issue in a comprehensive manner, but a little later.
The issue of greenhouse gas reductions will be one of the major subjects on the agenda of the Summit. According to news reports, major economies that took part in the conference on energy security and climate change in Seoul failed to reach agreement on a long-term target to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Given a difference of opinion between emerging countries and developed countries, what extent of progress from last year's "consider seriously" agreement at the Heiligendamm Summit will be evaluated as a successful outcome of the Toyako Summit? Also, I would like to ask how you as Chair are going to take the lead in discussion to achieve an outcome.
Based on that, we have to consider what emission reductions are to be targeted. It has often been said that consensus on specific targets is difficult to build due to different situations of countries in terms of the level of development and technology, for example. However, some common objectives are necessary. We should establish a framework where all relevant players take part with common targets in mind.
Although I heard that the Major Economies Meeting ended, I have not yet learned of the results of the conference. I thus cannot make specific comments, but I would like to work toward agreements on the creation of a framework for all from the aforementioned viewpoints, and hope that such agreements lead to the next session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP).