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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11046

Television Interview with Paul Lyneham, Nightline

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/09/1999

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11046

Subject(s): East Timor

14 September 1999

Subject: East Timor

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

LYNEHAM:

Prime Minister, welcome again to Nightline.

PRIME MINISTER:

Pleasure Paul.

LYNEHAM:

How long before the talking stops and the peacekeeping begins?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I hope that we can wrap it up in New York in the next day or two. We’re ready. I think all Australia knows that our troops are ready to go and they can get there within 24 hours once the go ahead has been given.

LYNEHAM:

Do we wait for the other member nations of the peacekeeping force to get the green light, or do the Aussies just go straight in?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we do what the United Nations asks us to do, and remember that the United Nations determines the composition and all those sorts of things. But plainly once the go ahead is given the name of the game is to get people in there. We’d be very happy if as part of the advance party other nations were involved. But once again it’s a question of who’s ready. There’s not much point in waiting and losing precious days.

LYNEHAM:

And precious lives.

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly. But can I just say again – Australia is ready.

LYNEHAM:

But most likely by the end of the week?

PRIME MINISTER:

On the indications I have yes. But Paul, I can only proceed, Australia can only proceed in cooperation with others. We’re ready. If it was solely left to us then I guess we’d be there now.

LYNEHAM:

And before then the prospect of food drops to those tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people hiding out in the hills?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there are discussions going on at the moment between AUSAID and the Defence Force about that and if all of the conditions for safe delivery of those food parcels can be met in those discussions then the drops could possibly start on Thursday.

LYNEHAM:

Would you expect that the Indonesians would have disarmed the militias by the time the peacekeepers arrive, or is that part of the peacekeepers job?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the situation will be very uneven. I think in some parts of Dili and in some parts of the territory it will be more difficult than others. So you can’t give a blanket response to that. This is a dangerous operation and there is danger to Australian lives and Australian property, and nobody should be in any doubt about that.

LYNEHAM:

Well if Australians are fired on by these militia, what will they be….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they will have complete authority to defend themselves. Of course they will.

LYNEHAM:

Including shoot to kill?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course. You have to in a situation like this. I’m not going to expose the lives of young Australian soldiers to a situation like this and deny them the opportunity of defending themselves. That would be outrageous.

LYNEHAM:

And what if they were to come under Indonesian fire?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well once again the mandate will be very broad, but we don’t expect that. And let’s not sort of talk as though it were going to happen because that doesn’t help the overall situation.

LYNEHAM:

It’s not impossible though is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Paul, my objective is, as quickly as possible to get the peacekeepers on the ground and every comment I make on this issue has that in mind.

LYNEHAM:

If the peacekeepers can help the East Timorese up off their knees and into independence, what is likely to be Australia’s role in the years ahead?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Australia will have to help East Timor a lot. We will have to help East Timor more than any other country in the world. We will be expected to carry the bulk, but not all, of the aid burden. It’s going to be a very poor country.

LYNEHAM:

Hundreds of millions of dollars….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t know about…..no, no, not hundreds of millions of dollars a year. That’s an exaggeration. But it will be a significant call on us because it’s going to be a desperately poor country. And that was always going to be the position without the events of the past few months. So there is a burden ahead of us but it’s part of our role and our responsibility. We are a relatively rich country in our region. We have a strong economy. We have obligations and I think most Australians are prepared to assume them.

LYNEHAM:

How much sleep are you getting at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not a lot. Not a lot at the moment.

LYNEHAM:

Not a lot?

PRIME MINISTER:

The time differences between Australia and New York are sharp as you know.

LYNEHAM:

And you’re watching every move from all sorts of places at once.

PRIME MINISTER:

I am indeed.

LYNEHAM:

Thanks for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Pleasure.

[Ends]

Transcript 11046