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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

Press Conference by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda

Friday, December 9, 2011

[Provisional Translation]


CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We will now begin the press conference by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Prime Minister, your opening statement please.


Opening Statement by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda

PRIME MINISTER NODA: The 51-day-long extraordinary session of the Diet, since last October 20, closed today. The most significant outcome of this session is that we have made a big stride to address issues of reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake and rebuilding of Japan's economy that this Cabinet must absolutely accomplish. Specifically, as announced at the press conference on December 1, the Bill on Special Measures for Securing Financial Resources Necessary for Reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake was passed, which provides the legislative backing to the third supplementary budget in the amount of over 12 trillion yen. In addition, thanks to continued constructive discussions at working-level between the ruling and opposition parties, related legislations were finalized at the end of this Diet session; namely, the legislation to ease taxation and regulations, through such means as zero-corporate tax for five years, for special zones for reconstruction, and the legislation to establish the Reconstruction Agency as a one-stop agency that unites vertically divided administrative functions. As a result, the mechanism to promote reconstruction in the disaster-affected areas has been established, and we will speed up the process to actualize robust reconstruction. We will also accelerate the implementation of the measures to fight against the appreciation of the yen and tackle the issue of hollowing-out of industry from Japan, by steadily carrying out items listed in the third supplementary budget, including vastly increased location subsidies for establishing business sites in Japan.

I have answered questions at many Q&A sessions of plenary sessions, budget committees, and other occasions. The number of Diet deliberations I attended amounts to 29. Thanks to both ruling and opposition parties' serious discussions, many good ideas and opinions were offered to enhance the contents of these legislations. Again, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the Diet members of both ruling and opposition parties.

On the other hand, there are some bills that we could not finalize during this session. In particular, I feel deeply shameful that we could not enact the bill to reduce civil servant remuneration of national public servants and the bill for the Postal Reform Act - both of which are important to procure financial resources for reconstruction - and the bill to amend the Worker Dispatching Act to improve the working terms and conditions of non-regular employees to an appropriate level. I have requested both the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the New Komeito Party to enact these legislations mainly through Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Secretary-General Azuma Koshiishi; however, the prospect of enacting these legislations appeared slim even if the Diet session were extended, and finally we had to give up on passing these bills during this session. We will continue our discussions on these legislations with each party and group until we reach consensus on these legislations, submit them for debate to the ordinary Diet session next year, and will make every effort to pass these bills at the earliest possible date.

We could not achieve some of big political agendas either, such as the one to finalize the Election System Reform Act, which encompasses the correction of disparity in the relative weight of one vote and a cut in the number of the Diet members. We will nevertheless continue our work to materialize them at an early point with the understanding and cooperation of each and every party and group.

During this session, I also worked on foreign policy agendas steadily. Specifically, I participated in a range of international conferences, including the G20 Cannes Summit, where we discussed a wide range of global economic problems focused on the European financial crisis, and the APEC Honolulu (Hawaii) Economic Leaders' Meeting, in which I announced that Japan will enter into consultations towards participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations with the relevant countries, and exchanged opinions about the future of the Asia-Pacific region with the state leaders. At the ASEAN-related Summit Meetings 2011 held in Bali, I aimed to further strengthen the close ties between Japan and ASEAN member countries. On each occasion, I was able not only to disseminate Japan's policies actively to the world but also to deepen the relationship based on trust with other state leaders. There is no holiday for foreign affairs, and thus we commit ourselves to continue to work on various issues of foreign affairs toward the year-end.

Regarding remarks made by the former Director-General of the Okinawa Defense Bureau, the Minister of Defense announced the decision to strictly punish persons concerned as of today. A decision was also made of voluntary returning of salary by the Defense Minister, Senior Vice-Minister, and Parliamentary Secretaries. It is only a natural consequence to take severe measures when we think about how much his comment hurt the feelings of the people of Okinawa. Again, I myself would like to apologize to the people of Okinawa from the bottom of my heart. I regret deeply that our best of intentions toward Okinawa were not fully carried out. The Government as a whole will make sincere efforts more than ever to regain the trust of the people of Okinawa.

At today's plenary session of House of Councillors, nonbinding no-confidence motions were approved against Minister of Defense Yasuo Ichikawa and Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety Kenji Yamaoka. It is very regretful, and we must take this matter seriously. Meanwhile, both ministers have a pile of agendas which they are in charge of and need to take care of, thus I want both of them to reflect upon their conduct, straighten themselves up, and give their best to carry out their duty.

Only less than a month is left until the end of this year. We still have many policy issues to address by the year-end. Specifically, we need to formulate the next fiscal year's budget and the fourth supplementary budget, bring the nuclear power station accident to a conclusion, and compile a basic strategy for the revitalization of Japan. I want make each step steadily one by one towards these policy goals.

The EU Summit has started, and no optimism is warranted on the consequence of the European debt crisis. Japan also needs to keep a close eye on it by staying on our guard, and take measures swiftly and flexibly as needed.

Regarding the comprehensive reform of the social security and taxation systems which is the most important agenda, I gave instructions to the Headquarters of the Government and Ruling Parties for Social Security Reform to refine the final draft proposal made this June and compile a draft plan to be submitted for non-partisan debate. It is most important for the people of Japan to discuss this issue widely and in depth as their own agenda.

I would like to explain again why this is an issue now. It is in fact from now on that Japan, the world's fastest ultra-aging society, will confront the most critical years of this situation. Those in the baby-boom generation will successively turn 65 and become the ones being supported by the system rather than supporting the system. In years past, many people supported one elderly person as if tossing someone into the air. This population composition has today shifted to three people supporting one elderly person as if a mock cavalry battle and will eventually shift to one person supporting one elderly person just like riding on someone's shoulders. Fiscal expenditures for social security as they currently stand are set to automatically expand on a scale of 1 trillion yen annually. Concurrently, establishing social security for all generations, that is to say, a system that extends support to the child-raising generation and young people who support the social security system is another compelling challenge. In addition, the European debt crisis which I mentioned a moment ago is not a fire on the other side of the river. The world and the market are watching Japan's commitment to maintaining fiscal discipline. If the burden keeps being shifted to future generations, national credibility will not be protected.

In order to cope with this situation, I am resolved to work hard, above all, to thoroughly cut wasteful spending by the Government and secure non-tax revenues. That is precisely why I intend to do whatever it takes to realize the early passage of the bill to reduce remuneration of national public servants and the bill for the Postal Reform Act. In addition, I am intent on pushing through the plan to decrease the number of housing complexes for national public servants by 25%. Furthermore, I will improve the efficiency of government administration by fully taking heed of the proposal-based policy review of the Government Revitalization Unit and going back to the basic premise of this discussion. Additionally, I will speed up the considerations on the bill to review the special account of the Government and the bill to essentially eliminate the ministerial branch offices with a view to submitting these bills at next year's ordinary session of the Diet.

In this regard, unless stable financial resources are ensured, we can neither strengthen social security functions nor maintain the sustainability of the social security system. Of course, when we actually ask the people to bear any burden, we will need to carefully assess the economic situation. I would like the people to join us in examining and holding wide-ranging discussions about these and other matters.

As we move toward the end of the year, we remain committed to helping the people who are faced with a variety of concerns in all corners of the country. With regard to livelihood support in response to the series of natural disasters this year, beginning with the Great East Japan Earthquake, we will do everything we can to extend warm support to the afflicted people, including the swift delivery of heating appliances to prefabricated temporary housing units and the speeding-up of emergency repairs of homes damaged by typhoons. With regard to measures that will help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) deal with cash flow pressures at the end of the year, we have requested financial institutions for the smooth supply of funds. The tellers' windows of relevant institutions will be open until December 30, including weekends, to offer guidance. With respect to job-hunting support for high school and university students approaching graduation, carefully tailored services will be provided, including helpful counseling by job supporters at Hello Work (public employment security office). Through these initiatives, we will take thorough measures to safeguard the livelihoods of the people as the year draws to a close. This concludes my opening statement.


CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We will now move on to the Q&A session. When you are called on, we would appreciate it if you would first state your name and affiliation. Mr. Yamazaki, please.

REPORTER: I am Yamazaki of TV Asahi. Today, the House of Councillors passed the no-confidence motions against Minister of Defense Ichikawa and Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission Yamaoka. Although you have said a moment ago that you would like the two to do their best to fulfill their duties, the opposition parties are intent on boycotting the deliberations at the next ordinary Diet session if you let the two stay in their posts. That would rule out any chances of passing both the national public servant bill and the postal bill which you stressed. Can you please clarify whether you will replace the two ministers before the ordinary Diet session through replacement, rotation, Cabinet reshuffle, or other means, or whether you will carry on with the ordinary Diet session with the two staying in their posts?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: As I also touched upon in my opening statement a moment ago, the no-confidence motions against the two ministers were passed at the House of Councillors today. Although this is very regrettable, this is the view of the House of Councillors and I would like to accept it with utmost seriousness. Based on this, I would like both ministers to work harder than ever before to execute their duties with propriety. That is how I feel right now.



REPORTER: I am Ito of The Japan Times. As you also stated in your opening statement, while I believe you had indicated a strong desire to pass the bill to reduce national public servant remuneration, unfortunately the bill was not passed at this Diet session. As you stated, this may also have an impact on financial resources for reconstruction. Does the Government intend at all to get this bill passed, even by agreeing fully to the demands of the opposition parties? Also, with the non-passage of bills that are disadvantageous to officials , such as the bill to reduce the number of Diet members and the bill to reduce national public servant remuneration, do you believe you will be able to obtain the understanding of the people with regard to the consumption tax increase which will impose a burden on the people?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: With regard to the bill to reduce national public servant remuneration, as you are aware, in order to fully secure financial resources for reconstruction within the so-called public sector and in order to support the disaster-stricken areas, we have compiled a bill as an ad hoc and unprecedented measure to reduce remuneration by 7.8% and have made efforts to obtain the understanding of the parties. Nevertheless, we failed to obtain their understanding before reaching this stage of the end of the Diet session. Regarding this matter, the LDP and New Komeito Party have also proposed to reduce remuneration after the implementation of the National Personnel Authority (NPA) Recommendation. The question is whether an agreement can be reached on these parties' opinions through further inter-party talks. If possible, I would like an agreement to be reached by the end of the year. As I mentioned a moment ago, based on this agreement, I would like the items agreed upon to be passed as legislation as early as possible at the ordinary Diet session. That is my present view. With regard to postal reform, it is also possible to sell stocks and allocate the revenue from their sale to finance the reconstruction. Therefore, with regard to the bill for the Postal Reform Act, too, I would like an agreement to be reached by the end of the year through inter-party talks, and based on that, pass this bill at the earliest possible date at next year's ordinary Diet session.

In addition to these two bills, I believe we also need to make ceaseless efforts to increase non-tax revenues and reduce government expenditures. As I also touched upon in my opening statement, it has already been decided that a bill to rearrange the special account will be submitted (to the Diet). I would like to examine this matter in more depth. As you just mentioned, there are also the issues of reducing the number of national public servant housing complexes and the number of Diet members. By committing to doing everything we can, we will work hard with an eye to fully and simultaneously realizing the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems.



REPORTER: I am Indo of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. My question is in regard to the consumption tax. In January of this year, when you were the Minister of Finance, you said in your New Year's address of the Ministry of Finance that you will put your political career and your life on the line for realizing the drastic reform of the taxation system. Can you say the same thing now? Are you prepared to put your job on the line in order to pass the prepared bill for the consumption tax increase that will be submitted to next year's ordinary Diet session? That is my question.

PRIME MINISTER NODA: I believe no matter which Cabinet is ruling, we are in a state in which this matter cannot be pushed back and postponed any further. I have discussed the reason and the issue a moment ago. The final draft proposal was compiled in June according to the initial existing policy. By the end of the year, a draft plan will be prepared that compiles the views of the Government and the ruling parties. When the draft plan is created, we will ask the ruling and opposition parties to discuss it, and if possible, a nonpartisan agreement will be reached. Based on this, an outline will be developed and turned into a bill, which will be submitted (to the Diet) by the end of the fiscal year. These are the steps I would like to pursue steadily, and I will act upon them with an unwavering resolve.



REPORTER: I am Takenaka of Reuters. I have a question regarding the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). There are reports about the injection of public funds and the effective nationalization of TEPCO. I understand that TEPCO has not made a request to this effect, which would be the first step to getting such procedures under way. In view of the upcoming decontamination activities, decommissioning of nuclear reactors, and compensation payments, it is clear that TEPCO will face an extremely difficult situation financially. In this context, I would like to ask about your thoughts on the injection of public funds into TEPCO. If no funds will be injected, may I also ask how TEPCO will be able to cover the costs of timely decontamination activities, the safe decommissioning of reactors, and sufficient compensation payments?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: By next spring, the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund Corporation in Support of Compensation for Nuclear Damage and TEPCO are scheduled to jointly come up with a comprehensive special business plan. There is first this process. Also, as you noted just now, the legal framework sets forth that financial assistance shall be provided at the request of the nuclear power operator. With that, I would like to say that despite some of the news reports which you referred to just now, the Government has not decided on a single prescribed direction to pursue as reported in the media. At this current stage, the Government will be considering a variety of possibilities moving forward. We are not at the stage in which I can comment any further on any single direction.



REPORTER: I am Wada of Fuji Television. I would like to ask about the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems from a slightly different perspective. I believe everybody feels that this reform will involve significant challenges. The LDP is saying that the dissolution (of the House of Representatives) and a general election should come first and that this is no time for discussions between the ruling and opposition parties. Even within the DPJ, lawmakers are collecting petition signatures and are calling for the formation of a new party. In both the ruling and opposition parties, there are campaigns against the consumption tax increase in conjunction with political situations. What is your reaction to the fact that politics is interfering heavily with the importance of this reform? Also, I imagine that it will not be easy to resist these moves and push through this reform. While you spoke about the steps earlier, can you discuss how you will successfully convince the DPJ and the opposition parties for compiling the draft plan, the key points of the legislation, and the legislation itself?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: There could be a variety of views and opinions, but I am not sure whether all such views and opinions being presented are intertwined with politics. The Government and the ruling parties compiled the final draft proposal in June, and we made a Cabinet decision to approve this in August and decided to go ahead as scheduled. I also made it clear during the DPJ leadership election. I did not bring this up abruptly in Cannes. I spoke on this over 20 times in Diet deliberations. Given this context, what we will do from now on by year-end is to steadily follow the process of establishing an overall picture of social security and discussing how to secure stable fiscal resources to support social security to give concrete shape to that picture. This process has already been kicked off. I cannot assume what could happen in each and every turn in this process. All I can say is that I will follow this path steadily. When we come up with a draft plan, I intend to talk with opposition parties to obtain their understanding as many times as required.

REPORTER: Do you really expect things to go forward as scheduled without much resistance given the current situation in your own party and opposition parties?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: Everything depends on how things will develop from now on.



REPORTER: I am Takashi Uesugi, a freelance journalist. Nine months have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11. Under the previous government in which you were a member of the Cabinet, the Roadmap (regarding the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station) was presented and there was the first announcement that Step 2 of the Roadmap would be completed in nine months and evacuees would be able to return to their homes safety. Also, at the time, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano stated that all food products on the market are safe and there were also statements that the containment vessel is soundly protected and the nuclear accident is not so serious as categorized as Level 7. In my view, these statements from the government at the time were wrong, if we look back on them at present. Are you going to change, or correct them? If you are not, it's OK. For example, cesium has been found in milk powder, or you said in your remarks at the outset that you expect to bring the nuclear accident to a conclusion in the next fiscal year. These seem to contradict with the previous government statements I mentioned earlier. On these matters, are you going to change, or correct the previous government statements? You do not have to answer if you are not thinking of changing or correcting them.

PRIME MINISTER NODA: Yes, we presented the Roadmap to bring the nuclear accident to a conclusion in April this year. And the Roadmap, I believe, aimed to achieve the cold shutdown by January next year in the so-called Step 2. We have tried to front-load the Roadmap as much as possible and we are now making final adjustments regarding whether we can make an announcement on that by the end of the year in any way. The state of cold shutdown means that the temperature at the bottom of the pressure vessel is truly cold, and I believe it is cold at the moment. In addition, we have to confirm whether radioactive materials are being managed in a stable manner. We are supposed to make a comprehensive judgment about the state of cold shutdown from these points of view. We have been working on this based on the Roadmap and I believe we are coming near to that conclusion any time now. We still have some problems, the problem of rice, for example. Shipments of rice from some producing areas have been halted. There is also the problem of milk powder, just mentioned. We are going to inspect food with more scrupulous attention than before. I think that the Government still has homework remaining on hand of improving our ability to offer explanations to provide the people of Japan with a sense of security and safety.


REPORTER: Regarding the sense of security and safety, according to the initial sequence of the Roadmap, the Government was supposed to allow residents to return to their homes in decontaminated areas, beginning with areas where decontamination was completed. Now it has changed to decontamination after residents return to their homes. This is a complete about-face. Don't you think this is a deviation from the spirit of security and safety?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: We should first establish the state of cold shutdown. When Step 2 of the Roadmap is completed, we then have to deal with the problem of the Restricted Area and what to do with zoning. My understanding is that when we make a review of such zoning, we will follow the process of deciding what form of decontamination should be adopted from which areas in order to allow residents to return to their homes without further delay.



REPORTER: I am Kano from the Sankei Shimbun. I would like to ask a question on the issue of the relocation of Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture. A no-confidence motion against Defense Minister Ichikawa was passed to demonstrate the Diet's view that he is not qualified as a Cabinet minister to deal with this problem. The first part of my question is whether you are going to keep Defense Minister Ichikawa to handle the Futenma problem from the submission of an environmental impact assessment to an application for landfill work next year? Regarding the submission of a preparatory document [outlining the results of the environmental impact assessment], you have said you are making preparation for its submission by the end of the year but have not made it clear whether the preparatory document is being actually submitted by the end of the year. Are you determined to visit Okinawa Prefecture by the end of the year to explain this policy and remedy the situation?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: I think I already explained my stance on the no-confidence motion against Defense Minister Ichikawa along with that on the similar motion against Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety Yamaoka. I want Defense Minister Ichikawa to continue to perform his duties not only in addressing the Futenma issue but also in various other defense-related issues. I have said all along that the Government will make preparations for the submission of the environmental impact assessment report by the end of the year. Preparations for its submission by the end of the year are one of the official responsibilities of Defense Minister Ichikawa. Regarding the timing of my visit to Okinawa, I plan to visit Okinawa Prefecture at an appropriate timing.


CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Next please. Yes. Mr. Yamashita.

REPORTER: I am Yamashita from the Hokkaido Shimbun. I would like to ask you again about no-confidence motions. Though no-confidence motions are not legally binding, in each and every case of a no-confidence motion passed by the Diet in the past, censured ministers were replaced. What do you think about this? I would like to ask you how you interpret the relationship between legal binding force and no-confidence motions. Another question also concerns the same topic. Since the Diet has been divided, it seems to have become a usual practice to pass no-confidence motions against Cabinet ministers toward the end of a Diet session and there are some people who say that no-confidence motions are being used as part of politics. Could you please comment on this, in general terms?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: As I said just moments ago, it is unfortunate that the House of Councillors, one of the two chambers of the Diet, has passed the no-confidence motions to demonstrate its view, but I believe we have to accept that fact gravely. I doubt the wisdom of discussing, even in general terms, whether no-confidence motions are used as a political tool as a recent trend. I believe that as a basic stance, we have to treat the passage of such motions with gravity if that is the view of one of the two chambers of the Diet. However, these motions do not carry legal binding force. Rather, a Cabinet minister is obliged to explain his thoughts and deeds to the people in the course of deliberations in the Diet. I think it is the question of how to deal with that obligation.


CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We are running out of time, so I would like to make the next question the last. Mr. Sasaki, please.

REPORTER: I am Sasaki from Jiji Press. You just said you would like to enact the bill to reduce national public servant remuneration and the bill for the Postal Reform Act as early as possible if the ruling and opposition parties can reach agreement on them by the end of the year. An ordinary session of the Diet is usually convened in late January each year. Are you planning to front-load the convening of the ordinary Diet session and handle these bills along with the fourth supplementary budget at the outset of the session? The Cabinet is in a position to ask for the convening of a Diet session. What is your thinking about this?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: I have not yet thought about the timing of the convening of the Diet session in such detail. I plan to make judgment after finishing all the work that has to be done by the end of the year, including formulation of the budget. But what I am hoping for is what I said a few moments ago. As we now know various opinions about the two aforementioned bills, the question then is how to coordinate and consolidate such views to form consensus and I am hoping to work out an agreement by the end of the year if possible. If we can work out consensus as such, the remaining questions are when to submit the bills and how to proceed with deliberations on them. I still hope to get these done as early as possible.


CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: With that, I will bring the press conference to a close. Thank you for your cooperation. 

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