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Transcript 12115

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTERTHE HON JOHN HOWARD MPINTERVIEW WITH JOHN LAWS, RADIO 2UE

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: 09/11/2001

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12115

Subjects: Illegal Immigrants; 2001 Election Campaign; Ansett.
LAWS:
Prime Minister good morning.
PRIME MINISTER:
Good morning John, very nice to be with you again.
LAWS:
Has your credibility suffered a bit of a blow because of these claims and counter claims over children being thrown off?
PRIME MINISTER:
I don';t believe so because all of the claims I made were based on advice, I wasn';t there. We were told and I still have no reason to doubt that the Navy believed children had been thrown overboard. I received a written report from the Office of National Assessments which said quite unconditionally, adults jumped into the water with life jackets and children were thrown into the water also. Now if you';re told that by a body like that you are entitled to go out and argue it. The video was never the basis of my claims. The video is something that emerged two or three days after the claims were made.
LAWS:
Wasn';t very conclusive was it?
PRIME MINISTER:
No the video was inconclusive but it was never the basis of the original claim and it wasn';t in the public domain until the 11th of October. I first heard Mr Reith and Mr Ruddock make the claim, and I repeated it on Sunday the 7th and the ONA report to which I refer was given to me on Tuesday the 9th. So the video came along and I think what has caused the confusion is that the remarks initially made by Admiral Shackleton were in relation to what was on the video. And I think if you look carefully at what he said, he said in this instance meaning the video, there was no clear proof of kids being thrown overboard, although there was one child apparently being held at the railing and he described that as threatening to be thrown overboard. Which whilst it is not the same as being thrown overboard, is hardly meritorious conduct.
LAWS:
Hardly, do you think that what was told to you in the first instance was correct, or perhaps was wrong?
PRIME MINISTER:
I don';t have any, I do, I';ve talked to Mr Reith about this again this morning and he indicated to me, he retailed to me another piece of the mosaic that the Captain of the vessel had apparently rung the Maritime Commander at some function and a colleague was with the Maritime Commander and he mentioned to my colleague that he';d just been speaking to the Captain of the Adelaide and apparently they';re throwing, he made that comment that apparently they';re throwing children in the water. Now I have no doubt that what the Ministers said was a genuine belief based on information they had received. Now, it seems to me that if it were definitely wrong, somebody from the Navy would have got in touch with my office or Reith';s office, Ruddock';s office some weeks ago and said, look fellas you know it';s up to you how you make this known but you should be aware that those original reports were wrong.
LAWS:
Are you surprised that Peter Reith didn';t look at that video until yesterday?
PRIME MINISTER:
No not really because it was mentioned and then it seemed to go out of the picture and we sort of moved on to something else.
LAWS:
Now we';ve got a boat on fire.
PRIME MINISTER:
Yes we have, it sunk and apparently and sadly there appears to have been two of the people on it drowned. What I';ve done is, particularly in light of what has occurred, I';ve told Mr Reith to release the Navy report, unvarnished and in full and people can then make their own judgements. And if there';s any correction subsequently to be made well that';s fair enough and the Navy will make that correction but I do not want people, particularly the day before an election, saying well Howard and Reith are making this up. So we';re not making it up, the report indicates that a boarding party went on board and the boarding was made difficult by barricades and on boarding, I';m reading from the Navy report, they discovered fire in midships hold. The boarding party officer attempted to extinguish the fire which had taken hold and a drum exploded and the hold erupted in flames. The passengers had moved to the bow and were entering the water. As fire exploded the passengers panicked and rushed to the starboard side and the vessel listed 15 to 20 degrees. The boarding party assisted two thirds of the people to exit the vessel and then left it as the fire was endangering them. They then continued to assist the last of them and they';ve put them on the Wollongong, 90% of them were recovered and the coast watch searched the sea, they';ve confirmed that it was sunk, the Wollongong reported the situation stable and they were providing humanitarian assistance to the people and assisting family reunions.
There were 30 children in the party, all of them I';m happy to say, are safe. On entering the water they appeared to remain in family groups. Some were separated from parents on rescue but are now reunited. The report goes on to say that at the time of the incident 95% of the people wore orange life jackets, others utilised flotation devices. They panicked and were hysterical when the vessel erupted, that';s understandable, they';re now calm and compliant. Is any one missing? - this is a question – at this stage no one is reported missing. As they';re split into two groups on different vessels confirmation will not be possible until later today, thorough air and sea search has been made.
The report goes on to say, they had prepared their vessel to obstruct Royal Australian Navy boarding parties and had set about deliberately destroying their vessel in order to avoid their return to Indonesia. The fire was deliberately lit and the exploding drum is indicative of an attempt to prevent the boarding party from extinguishing the fire. That this was a deliberate action by the people is reinforced by the fact that they all wore life jackets. While not confirmed the two deceased woman appear to have drowned. This is an interim report subject to correction following more detailed investigation.
Now, that I';m reading from a Navy report. I';m not making any of that up, that is not based on hearsay. It is a written report which I';ve had the Minister put out. Now if this is correct, and I';m relying on the report, what it indicates is a pattern of conduct whereby it is made, attempts are made once you get in or near Australian waters to wreck the vessel so it can';t be sailed back to Indonesia. Now this is what we are dealing with…
LAWS:
That';s right.
PRIME MINISTER:
…and this is very difficult because Australian sailors won';t allow people to drown, they did everything they could, sadly two people drowned as a result of the sinking of the vessel, I';m very sorry about that but it';s not the fault of the Navy. I think the Navy does a fantastic job in a very difficult situation and I don';t envy them their job and instead of from time to time people taking pot shots at the Navy they ought to be lauding them for the job they';re doing on our behalf.
LAWS:
Could I say this to you, given that you read that report verbatim, does that not suggest that there is an inkling of concern that your credibility might have been damaged?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well John you can put it… I don';t want people now saying that we made it up.
LAWS:
No, well I know you didn';t.
PRIME MINISTER:
And I didn';t make the other stuff up either and I';ve learnt a lesson from that. In future, if I';m still in the chair, when these sorts of things happen, what I';m going to do is get a report from the people on the spot and put it out.
LAWS:
Do you think they';ll continue to happen?
PRIME MINISTER:
What?
LAWS:
These sorts of things.
PRIME MINISTER:
Well I hope not, but I can';t guarantee to the Australian people there won';t be more of them but I can guarantee to them that if I';m re-elected tomorrow I will continue to stop these vessels coming to Australia.
LAWS:
You';ve been very glowing in your praise of Mr Reith in the past, are you still as enthusiastic about him today as you were a couple of weeks back?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well look, I still think Reith has done a great job. I thought he did a great job on the waterfront. No Minister in my Government in five and a half years stood up to more pressure than he did. That was a very difficult period, he was subject to enormous criticism, physical threats, his family went through a very difficult time and he brought about a reform that people have wanted for years and has been of enormous benefit to us.
LAWS:
Well let';s not go back into history. But out of interest why won';t you name his replacement before the election?
PRIME MINISTER:
Because I think it is presumptuous to talk about something which is posited on your having won.
LAWS:
You don';t think you';re gonna win.
PRIME MINISTER:
I never take anything for granted and I don';t want to convey to the Australian people any impression, any demeanour other than that I';m campaigning for their support up until the polling booths close at 6 o';clock tomorrow. Elections are funny, unpredictable things…
LAWS:
Sure are.
PRIME MINISTER:
…I';m full of cautious hope but I don';t take it for granted. The published polls are very mixed, aren';t they?
LAWS:
Yes. That must make it very confusing to constantly read mixed polls because they are…
PRIME MINISTER:
Well they are very mixed. I mean Morgan and Newspoll cannot both be right. Morgan has Labor winning in a landslide. If Labor were to get what Morgan said it would have a majority of something like 35 to 46.
LAWS:
And you can';t see that happening?
PRIME MINISTER:
I don';t think that will happen, but I certainly don';t rule out the possibility of Labor winning by a much smaller margin. Particularly as Labor is getting the Green and Democrat preferences.

LAWS:
Yeah the problem areas are going to be Victoria and Queensland aren';t they?
PRIME MINISTER:
Victoria appears to be a little softer for us than the other eastern States.
LAWS:
Queensland tough?
PRIME MINISTER:
I would not think Queensland is as soft for us as Victoria.
LAWS:
What are your thoughts on the Fox Lew bid to relaunch Ansett?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, we want it re-launched. If we are re-elected we will sit down and have a look at it on Monday. Solly and Lindsay are asking for a fair amount of Government help. Now that is fair enough and I know Solly and Lindsay very well and I would expect them to start off asking for quite a lot of Government help. They will understand that we are not going to put a whole lot of equity in to it. And they will understand that quite a number of the things that they have asked for they can';t seriously expect to get. But we will have a conscientious look at it because I want Ansett flying again. I would like to see a slimmed down Ansett with initially say twenty to twenty five per cent of the domestic market and then it could build. And they are both very good businessmen and what they';ve put together with the new airbuses and replacing them every two years to keep the maintenance costs down seems smart to me. One of the problems with the old Ansett is that it had a multiplicity of airframes which added to their costs. If I get re-elected I';ll have a look at it first thing on Monday morning.
LAWS:
But there is a stumbling block it would appear at least as far as John Anderson is concerned. Is the money the stumbling block, the $195 million?
PRIME MINISTER:
No, it';s not really a stumbling block. John Anderson';s position on this is really no different from mine.
LAWS:
Will the workers'; entitlements be saved?
PRIME MINISTER:
The workers'; entitlements will be guaranteed by us up to the guarantee that we have committed ourselves to. That';s all of the long service leave, holiday pay, pay in lieu of notice, plus redundancy up to the community standard of eight weeks. Now we';ll guarantee that. If there is more money available well people';s redundancy entitlements over the eight weeks will get paid, the people that leave. But we are only guaranteeing the redundancy up to eight weeks. And that is guaranteed. If the payment of the entitlements can end up being funded from other sources…
LAWS:
What is happening to that tax money?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well that tax money is being collected. If we have to meet the guarantee then the tax money is used to defray the cost of the guarantee. If we don';t have to meet the guarantee we are going to refund that money some how to the public. And one way that we might do it is to give some of it to the tourist industry, because the tourist industry has been very badly hit by the Ansett downturn.
LAWS:
Well considering that the tourist industry has been hurt and considering that you might have to prop up the workers'; entitlements, does this indicate to us that we';re no closer to resolving the situation in relation to workers'; entitlements? I know you';ve done something about superannuation, making sure that companies pay it quarterly now, instead of that stupid arrangement of annually, which was opportunistic on their part. So are we in a position now to say that workers'; entitlements from now on will be safe or is the government doing to …
PRIME MINISTER:
We do have a, quite separately from Ansett, we have committed ourselves to an improved workers'; entitlements….
LAWS:
But that';s taxpayers money.
PRIME MINISTER:
It';s using taxpayers money. But also in relation to the non-redundancy area, what we are doing is lifting the priority in liquidations so that the holiday pay and the long service leave and the pay in lieu of notice ranks ahead of the secured creditors.
LAWS:
It';s still a fairly ad hoc sort of solution. The Labor Party one certainly isn';t any better.
PRIME MINISTER:
The Labor Party one involves an extra tax on all businesses over a certain level which is more simple but it is also more unfair because if you';ve done the right thing you have to pay an extra tax and those who don';t do the right thing have to pay the same extra tax. So we don';t think that';s very good. We think our scheme will guarantee about eighty seven per cent of entitlements. We acknowledge that there is thirteen per cent there that won';t be, but eighty seven per cent of entitlements when a company goes broke isn';t a bad return.
LAWS:
True. Your critics say that growth is at a ten year low, they also say it was the previous Labor Government that broke the back of inflation, which in turn brings along lower interest rates. When you left office as Treasurer in 1983 inflation was over eleven percent, this is what your critics are saying. In February 1996 the dollar bought seventy five US cents now it buys around fifty. Why?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well the relativities of currencies around the world have altered. You can';t see our exchange rate level just in terms of strengths and weaknesses of the Australian economy, you';ve got to look at the other side of the coin. What has happened over the last five and a half years is that the American dollar has massively strengthened against just about every other major currency, including our own.
LAWS:
It can';t stay that way surely, can it?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, it';s very, very hard to predict. The last couple of weeks the Australian dollar has strengthened somewhat. But the present level of the Australian dollar is very good for our exporters.
LAWS:
That';s all.
PRIME MINISTER:
Yeah, but they';re an important part of this country.
LAWS:
Oh very.
PRIME MINISTER:
And we do have a very competitive exchange rate and it has not had an inflationary effect, our inflation rate has come down quite in accord with our predictions. And if you look at the, we said when the GST was introduced you';d have a once off effect and it would disappear after a year, that';s exactly what has happened.
LAWS:
Does the jobless rate upset you?
PRIME MINISTER:
I always like to see unemployment going down rather than up. I thought the figures yesterday were a little stronger than they might otherwise have been. Because the economy is flattening a bit because of the impact of what happened in America. But the good news is that our growth forecasts are better than most and the treasury believes that we will continue strong growth. But I';m not disguising that we face a more difficult time because of the international economic scene and that will have an effect.
LAWS:
Are we, do you think, on the start of the old slippery dip of unemployment figures going up and down?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, there';s a bit of volatility in them. See what happened yesterday was employment actually went up, but the unemployment rate went up because of the number of people looking for work rose more sharply, the participation rate. Now that can go in the opposite direction where you could get next month the unemployment rate coming down by about 0.3 per cent while the number of jobs could remain the same or even fall a little bit. But because participation rate would fall more you get this aberrant sort of result.
LAWS:
The Japanese are very concerned about their unemployment rates and understandably. Is that going to effect us considering they';re major trading partners?
PRIME MINISTER:
Now all of those variations have an effect on us. I don';t disguise that. It does have an effect. And Japan is our best customer. Although most of our contracts with Japan are long term resource contracts and therefore they';re slow to change but there may be negotiations to alter the returns in relation to some of those contracts. But Japan is a very good customer but Japan has been in recession now for some time.
LAWS:
You don';t, well I think they feel it is getting worse with the unemployment figures there, they';re saying that they are in a national emergency.
PRIME MINISTER:
What Japan has done, excuse me, is put off for a long time the necessary banking and other reforms and that is now creeping back and hurting them, unfortunately.
LAWS:
Is it going to hurt us?
PRIME MINISTER:
It will effect us John. I don';t want to be alarmist but I don';t want to conceal anything. The world economic scene is now less benign towards Australia. I would argue that';s another reason why the Government should be re-elected because we have very strong economic management credentials and we are better able to manage the country';s economy in these less benign times.
LAWS:
You went to the election with a plan for an across the board GST. Are there any guarantees that you won';t extend it to fresh food and vegetables?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well there is, there is my guarantee as Prime Minister and I';m sure that';s a view widely held throughout the party. You know it was in the policy in ninety eight.
LAWS:
I do.
PRIME MINISTER:
The Senate said no, we accepted that. And that is now set in cement. We have, we abandoned two and a half years ago, after the position in the Senate, any policy commitment to putting it on food. That is just something now gone.
LAWS:
Peter Costello has talked about it being on everything and a couple of your other aspirants have talked about it being on everything. What guarantee is there if you go and Peter Costello becomes Prime Minister that he won';t endeavour to move?
PRIME MINISTER:
The Party policy, it binds me. It binds all of us. And as you know I haven';t said I';m going.
LAWS:
No.

PRIME MINISTER:
I';ve just said I';m going to have a look at my future in a couple of year';s time if I get re-elected. And the way I feel at the moment the proverbial wild horses wouldn';t drag me out of the job if I get re-elected. John, Peter actually in the campaign said in relation to the further exemptions of rollback that further exemptions weaken the base. I never heard Peter anywhere in the campaign argue that we should have it on food. There was a completely erroneous Sydney Morning Herald headline on page 5 that said Costello wants GST on food and when you read the body of the article Costello wanted no such thing. And I';ve spoken to him about that and of course he protested it. But John we are not going to put it on food and we are not going to increase the rate.
LAWS:
Why this invigorated enthusiasm for the job?
PRIME MINISTER:
I like it.
LAWS:
I know you like it but I do think, just my reading of it, I do think there was a stage where you probably got a bit tired and did seriously think about maybe giving it away in a year or two but that seems to have gone now. You seem to be much more committed. What';s caused that?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well I feel well. I mean I';ve always been very committed but I just, there are a lot of challenges around at the moment. And the experience I';ve had over the last five and a half years I find almost every day it';s more and more valuable and more and more relevant. I do have good health. And in a way if you have the combination of the experience and the good health and our family position, our children as you know have all grown up and they come and go. But, we still see a lot of them, but it is a job in that sense too which is far more readily discharged and done. Janette';s able to travel around a lot more with me now. I feel more on top of it now than I think I have at any time. Now if that represents reinvigorated enthusiasm so be it because I am enthusiastic and I am vigorous.
LAWS:
Yes I thought it was rather a nice expression I used actually reinvigorated enthusiasm.
PRIME MINISTER:
Well I don';t object because I feel that way and I am very very keen to serve again and I hope the Australian people give me that privilege. They may not but that';s the glorious uncertainty of democracy. They talked about the glorious unpredictability of cricket.
LAWS:
(inaudible)
PRIME MINISTER:
Yes. The glorious unpredictability of democracy. And I just find at the moment the combination of the challenges, the physical energy I have plus the experiences feeding in to those two things and you do learn from experience, there';s no doubt about that.
LAWS:
What the best thing you';ve done as Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER:
I still believe the best thing that I';ve done was East Timor. And, fixing the economy and East Timor are the two greatest things I believe I';ve done. I';d have to put them together. I really felt very proud of what we did in East Timor because we stuck up for a small country. In the process we didn';t make terribly good waves with a larger country. I didn';t set out to offend Indonesia and I still don';t now but to be able to …
LAWS:
It doesn';t take a lot of doing.
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, there is a, there is a sensitivity there. But I would put those two things, fixing the economy and that includes obviously tax reform and waterfront reform and so forth, and East Timor. I think they are the two things that more than anything I would want to be judged on over the last five and a half years, not in the longer term, but over the last five and a half years. There';re other, I mean gun control was very important, tremendously important.
LAWS:
What do you think is the worst thing you';ve done?
PRIME MINISTER:
Gee. I never like to engage in self, too much self-criticism on the eve of an election but I';ve obviously made some mistakes and I';ll leave that to my critics.
LAWS:
Okay. I';ll ask you after the election. Would you tell me?
PRIME MINISTER:
I';ll try. But you know. I don';t …. You understand the position. Look let me say this. I acknowledge that I';ve made mistakes and I acknowledge that on issues I';ve lost contact with the people. I acknowledge that. I don';t claim to have always been right. I am imperfect like the rest of us but I do say that where I have lost contact I';ve tried to re-establish it. And over the last year I believe that I';ve demonstrated responsiveness to public opinion where I believe that public opinion is right.
LAWS:
What happened at the Gabba? They';ve turned around. They';ve come back?
PRIME MINISTER:
Extraordinary, yes. That';s the glorious uncertainty.
LAWS:
I don';t think you want that sort of uncertainty on the day before an election.
PRIME MINISTER:
Well it';s just a reminder of the fragility of life, politically.
LAWS:
Yeah. It was a great innings. It was a great innings by Matthew Hayden.
PRIME MINISTER:
Right. He';s come back. I admire him because he was in and then he was out. And then he came back and he';s bigger and better than every.
LAWS:
And the Waugh brothers just never looked happy.
PRIME MINISTER:
No, no. But that';s an unusual experience for them.
LAWS:
Especially for both of them.
PRIME MINISTER:
For both of them. Yeah.
LAWS:
Anyway today will tell. You';re not going to have a lot of time to be watching the cricket.
PRIME MINISTER:
I';m afraid not. I hope to do that after the election';s completed.
LAWS:
Well whatever happens tomorrow let';s hope it';s for the betterment of this country and I know that that';s exactly what you want. We all want that.
PRIME MINISTER:
Well it is and I hope the Australian people see that the better interests of Australia are served by re-electing me. I';ve tried to serve them faithfully and openly over the last five and a half years. I have got a lot of reinvigorated energy and I have a very, very strong commitment to serving them again. And I hope they give me that opportunity and I';ll continue to govern for their overall interests if I do have that chance.
LAWS:
Okay. Again let me say whatever happens tomorrow let';s hope for all our sakes, because it';s pretty important. It';s not just for a few days, it';s for the next three years. It';s the life of Australia and the life of the voter, isn';t it?
PRIME MINISTER:
It certainly is. It';s a very important decision and particularly at a time like this where you do need experience and energy, reinvigoru do need experience and energy, reinvigorated or otherwise, to lead Australia through the next period.
LAWS:
My good wishes Prime Minister and thank you very much for your time.
PRIME MINISTER:
Thank you.
[ENDS]

Transcript 12115