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Transcript 12119

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTERTHE HON JOHN HOWARD MPINTERVIEW WITH STEVE LIEBMANN,TODAY SHOW, CHANNEL NINE

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: 12119

Subjects: Illegal immigration; defence video; Ansett
LIEBMANN:
PM, good morning to you.
PRIME MINISTER:
Good morning, Steve.
LIEBMANN:
Can I begin by asking you whether you think it';s possible that this issue, the border security and illegal boat arrival issue, the one that looked like winning the election for you, in light of the overnight controversy, could now lose it for you?
PRIME MINISTER:
No, I don';t think people';s attitudes on the issue is going to change because of the debate over whether children went overboard or not because what people are strongly, hold strong views about is the maintenance of strong protection of our borders. The other issue is important and emotional and I understand the interest but it really is not at the core of the debate. The core of the debate is whether the Government agrees, whether the public agrees with the line the Government has taken about deterring illegal immigration. That';s what people are interested in. And if people agree with us on that issue, well, they';ll support us. If they don';t agree with us I guess they won';t support us because they would imagine that Mr Beazley doesn';t feel as strongly about the issue as I do.
LIEBMANN:
But who got it wrong, you, Ruddock, Reith, the ONA or the Vice Admiral, before he clarified his position?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, in the end the Vice Admiral did say that Defence had told the Minister that they believed children had been thrown overboard and at all times I acted on that advice. I mean, I can';t do anything other in a situation like this. These incidents happen up around Ashmore Reef and Christmas Island. I';m not there. And I was told that defence people on the spot had indicated that children were being thrown overboard.
LIEBMANN:
Did Peter Reith mislead the public and you, should he have been a little more careful and a little less loose with his language?
PRIME MINISTER:
I don';t believe so. I mean, if you are told that something has happened you are entitled to repeat it and when somebody doesn';t come along and say, hey Minister, we';ve got to tell you that the advice we previously gave you may not have been correct….
LIEBMANN:
I think, I think, correct me if I';m wrong, that somebody did say to Peter Reith, after the first report, it';s wrong, correct it or it should be corrected.
PRIME MINISTER:
No, that';s news to me. In relation to children going overboard?
LIEBMANN:
Yes.
PRIME MINISTER:
No, that';s news to me. I';ll ask Peter that when I get off the programme. I mean, I would like to know and I intend to get in writing a sequence of all of the events and who told who what because I am, whatever, irrespective of the election, I';m very keen to do that and probably that will take a day or two to compile. But, look, can I just repeat again, my original statement was based on what I was told by Mr Ruddock and was told by Mr Reith. They, in turn, got the information originally from defence sources. I received an ONA report on the Tuesday, which I read out – the relevant bit I read out at the National Press Club – and that was unambiguous. I mean…and when you get a document like that I am entitled, as Prime Minister, to rely on that until it is countermanded. Now, I say again, I was told in unconditional terms by ONA that this had occurred. So, if you';re told that, heaven';s above.
LIEBMANN:
Are you aware of a report that another boat has approached Ashmore Reef and that it has been set alight and the people have gone overboard?
PRIME MINISTER:
Yes, I am and I have spoken to the Defence Minister about it and we have a report and Mr Ruddock will be making a statement about this and we';ll be releasing a report and what I intend to do in this situation is to release the report that the Navy has given us on the incident. I don';t want…it';s a very, on the face of it, it';s been quite an unpleasant incident, quite an unpleasant incident, involving children. There may have been a couple of fatalities. I';ve been told that the vessel was deliberately lit. Now, I';ve been told that by the Navy and what I';m going to do on this occasion is I';m going to require that the report that I have received be made public so that if there are any subsequent corrections then people can';t come around and accuse me or any of my Ministers of manipulating the facts. The other point I make is I';m not criticising the Navy, I think the Navy is doing a very good job in very difficult circumstances and often these reports have to be amended, not because people are deliberately lying, it';s just that you often get slightly different versions of the same set of facts. But in relation to this incident what I';m going to do is have, later on this morning, as soon as possible in fact, I';m going to have this report released in its unexpurgated form. I was on the phone to Mr Reith as I walked into the studio.
LIEBMANN:
But you have been advised that there is another boat in or near Ashmore Reef?
PRIME MINISTER:
That';s right.
LIEBMANN:
That the boat has been set alight and you have been advised that people, including children, may have gone overboard.
PRIME MINISTER:
I';ve been advised that there were children on the boat and that it was set alight and the boat, I understand, has now sunk and the children…people have been rescued, although it';s believed there may have been two fatalities. And I';m told that it was deliberately set alight but, Steve, I will put out the report I got from the Navy in full and people can make their own judgement because I don';t want people running around saying that we';re just inventing anything. It will be the unvarnished report that I have received from the Navy.
LIEBMANN:
When might you do that?
PRIME MINISTER:
As soon as possible.
LIEBMANN:
Just talking about putting out reports – if there is more vision of the earlier incident and there are reports today that there is and that all tapes were handed to Federal Police and customs when Adelaide returned to port, will you, if you';re re-elected, release all of that for the public to make a judgement?
PRIME MINISTER:
I see no reason why not but I would obviously ask defence whether there';s any security problem, you know, in terms of protection of people.
LIEBMANN:
Can I switch to Ansett – if you';re re-elected will your Government put money into the deal and protect Ansett from competition?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, we never, as a matter of principle, try and protect one company…
LIEBMANN:
Will you put money into the deal?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, we will have a look at what Ansett has put up. We would like to see the Ansett deal come to fruition but I haven';t examined in detail the full extent of what Lindsay and Solly are asking for.
LIEBMANN:
They';re asking for a lot of money.
PRIME MINISTER:
Yeah, I know that and that';s why I';m being a little bit cautious. We will have a careful look at it. I can say to the Ansett employees, firstly, that our guarantee of their entitlements remains on foot, secondly, I can assure them that we, if re-elected, we will look at this thing first thing Monday morning. I can';t look at it today, I';m still in caretaker mode.
LIEBMANN:
But do you acknowledge there is no deal unless, well, unless whoever';s in government after Saturday night, Sunday morning, comes to the party, there is no deal?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, that is my understanding from what the administrator and Solomon Lew and Lindsay Fox have said. Look, we want to be sympathetic, we want to help. We';ll obviously do perhaps one or two things that you mightn';t do in ordinary circumstances but we are not going to become an equity participant and we';re not going to put large amounts of government money…
LIEBMANN:
So it sounds like you and Kim Beazley are at one on that because on the programme earlier today, I think I';m quoting him accurately, he said a Beazley government would not take over debt and will not take over the airline.
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, I';m pleased to hear – I don';t know whether that quite means he won';t put equity into it, but anyway, look, I didn';t hear him so I accept the words…
LIEBMANN:
Just finally, Kim Beazley said earlier this week an election result defines a nation, if the nation returns you tomorrow what does it say about the nation and what does it say about Kim Beazley?
PRIME MINISTER:
Well, what it says is that at a time of uncertainty they want somebody who';s demonstrated that he can take difficult decisions, he can lead the country through difficult times, somebody who will deliver better economic stewardship than his opponent and somebody who understands their concerns and their hopes for the future. I think it will mean that what I have been saying, and I hope I say this immodestly, has resonated with the Australian community in a way that what Mr Beazley has been saying hasn';t.
LIEBMANN:
Thanks for your time.
PRIME MINISTER:
Pleasure.
[Ends]

Transcript 12119