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Transcript 12498

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH STEVE PRICE, 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: 14/02/2002

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12498

E&OE...........

PRICE:

Thank you for your time, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning.

PRICE:

Back from your walk.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I';ve had a good walk.

PRICE:

Can I ask you if you feel this morning let down by the advice that you got from Peter Reith during the election?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don';t. Look, there';s a couple of things that need to be made quite clear. The original claim made about children being thrown overboard was based on quite straight advice and all the statements I made then and all the statements Mr Ruddock made and Mr Reith made were based on straight advice. And at no stage did my Department or any other official tell me that that original advice was wrong. Now, that is the reality of it. Now, after…I indicated when some argument arose on the eve of the election I indicated that I would get a full report on the sequence of events and I';ve got that and I';ve tabled it and what that demonstrates is that we were told, originally, that children had been thrown overboard. And in fairness to the defence people these were fast moving events, very difficult circumstances and I';m not offering any criticism of them, I certainly don';t, but we were given advice. We acted on that advice. A full investigation is now being carried out and it indicates, as the report revealed yesterday…it also indicates in black and white terms that at no stage did my Department or did any other officials tell me that I hadn';t been…that the original advice was wrong.

PRICE:

I congratulate you on commissioning the report and tabling it. I think we all needed to know but surely that report now shows that Peter Reith was given evidence that the photographs that were released were not photographs of children being thrown into the water and, indeed, he was told, his Department was told, that at three-thirty on October the 10th that there were doubts about the photographs being of the October 7 incident. I then talked to him at ten-past-four that day and his direct quote to me was, it did happen, the fact is the children were thrown into the water.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Steve, as to what passed between Mr Reith';s Department and his office and Mr Reith and his staff is something that really, in fairness to him, he should answer. I can';t put myself in his place. I can only react to the information that has been available to me. I am aware that on the eve of the election there were doubts raised in relation to the photographs and I can remember that occupied a large amount of time during the last 48 hours of the campaign. But even on that occasion let me remind you that I insisted that the video should be released and that video did not, of itself, according to most assessments made, provide evidence that children were thrown overboard, although it did…I mean, it was not easy to work out from the video precisely what was happening but that seemed to be the accepted take-out of that video. But at all times I acted on advice and at no stage did I invent anything and at no stage, subsequently, have I tried to cover anything up. I mean, why would I bother to have an inquiry and just table it. It was an inquiry that I commissioned and it was carried out by a very competent officer in my Department and it was supplemented by a defence investigation. A great deal of effort was put into both of those inquiries and the material has been tabled the first business day of the new Parliament. I don';t know that one can be more transparent than that.

PRICE:

What does this incident, though, say Prime Minister about a Government when crucial information like that doesn';t get from the Navy to the Minister and the Prime Minister correctly, clearly, earlier, misleading information that led you to stand up and say we would not want these sorts of people in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, different people draw different conclusions and make different allegations about that. The report covers the chain of events and before people get too critical of individuals they should bear in mind that the naval personnel were dealing with a very difficult situation and a situation where events were moving very rapidly. We were obviously living in a, at that particular time the election campaign had started, we were living in a politically charged atmosphere. But I mean, the Labor Party';s running around saying, no, this has tainted our victory. The problem with the Labor Party is it can';t live with the fact that it';s lost again.

PRICE:

Wayne Swan said today it cost them government.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that is just complete nonsense. I mean, the issues on which people voted on the 10th of November were varied. As far as the boat people issue was concerned the people voted for us on that issue because they agreed with our policy. They didn';t vote for us because of the allegations in relation to children. They voted for us because they believed in a policy of strong border protection. That';s why they voted for us on that issue. But that wasn';t the only issue, there were many other issues that caused us to be returned. The Labor Party cannot live with the fact that it';s lost again. I mean, it';s burning them up. Kim Beazley';s apparently admitted to some of his friends that for three years he lived in the expectation that he was going to be in the Lodge. Well, anybody who understands Australian politics should never believe they can live through a period of three years imagining they';re going to be in the Lodge. I didn';t think I was going to be in the Lodge during the previous three years. I had a different view virtually every week as to whether I would win or I would lose because I';ve never taken the support of the Australian people for granted.

PRICE:

Final question on this – Peter Reith, if he was still a Minister, would you be looking at standing him down today given what you saw in that report?

PRIME MINISTER:

With respect, that is a hypothetical question and I';m just really not going to answer it. I';ve always had a very strong regard for Peter Reith. I think he was a very good Minister and he was a very good colleague and that will always be my view.

PRICE:

I want to talk to you about Indonesia in a moment but first Steve Waugh and the debate about his loss of the captaincy of the one-day side, very, very hot here in Sydney. I think people in Sydney in particular but Australians in general feel he';s been badly done by.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you know how much I like cricket and I';ve got a tremendous regard for him. I think he';s been a wonderful Australian Captain but I make a rule because I am such a cricket fanatic but I';m also Prime Minister not to give daily commentaries on selections. I don';t think it';s fair to Trevor Hohns and Allan Border and the other people that have got to make these decisions. And I';m not going to offer a view as to whether he should or shouldn';t be. I think that is a matter for the selectors. I will offer the view though that I think he';s a wonderful cricketer and a great Captain.

PRICE:

Take your Prime Minister';s hat off, what did you think when you heard it yesterday? You would have said to yourself, come on.

PRIME MINISTER:

Steve, I understand that but…I knew you';d ask me this and I resolved last night that I was not going to express a view because I know Steve well, I also know Allan Border very well and the other selectors not so well and I know that everybody would have conscientiously applied themselves to it and made a judgement. I don';t think it';s fair for me to, from my position as Prime Minister, to pick and choose and say, look, I agree with this selection, I don';t agree with that.

PRICE:

Shane Warne';s going to get the job, what do you think about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven';t heard that.

PRICE:

What would your view be if it was right?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think there';s a group of people - but has that been announced, I';ve not heard that?

PRICE:

No, I announced it but it';s only a rumour, to be fair.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I mean Shane';s very experienced and so is Adam Gilchrist. I don';t know who it will be but once again I think that';s…I think the board chooses the Captain, doesn';t he, or they consult the board.

PRICE:

I think the board does.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah. These things are difficult and I can understand the sentiment and he';s a great Captain and a great cricketer.

PRICE:

Just briefly, this issue of DSD using its resources to listen in to conversations on the Tampa between Arne Rinnan and union officials, are you convinced that that';s the right way to use those facilities?

PRIME MINISTER:

Hang on, the Minister for Defence has said that he';s been told by DSD that the unions were not targeted.

PRICE:

Well, it would seem that DSD listened to all of the conversations.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I haven';t been told that. We have to be careful what we say here because we don';t, understandably, like talking about what the intelligences services do but where an incorrect claim is made that in some way a union';s been targeted. That has been explicitly denied and I';m told that apart from an inadvertent breach, which steps were taken to remedy, all of the rules and regulations and laws relating to the intelligence services have been observed on this occasion by the intelligence services. But having said that, I think most Australians believe that where the national interest is involved the intelligence services should be used and bear in mind that we were acting in relation to the Tampa in accordance with international law and I don';t apologise for anything that was done in defence of the national interest at that time.

PRICE:

I';m now in Sydney, any tips for living in this big city?

PRIME MINISTER:

Enjoy it. It';s a great place but then so is Melbourne. I grew up in Sydney and I obviously have a great affection for the city and I still live a large part of my life there but I also spend a lot of time elsewhere and it is a wonderful city but I wouldn';t presume to give you any tips. I';m an Australian before I';m anything else and, frankly, there are nice people and good Australians in every part of this country. And if you make friends in any part of it life can be very enjoyable and certainly Sydney';s no exception to that.

PRICE:

Just finally, are you looking forward to the year ahead? I mean, there was lots of talk about you stepping down but you seem to be loving the job.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look, I love the job and I am looking forward to the year ahead. We';ve got a lot of new members and there';s a lot to be done. I listened to all of their maiden speeches yesterday. There were a lot of very good contributions and, frankly, I feel as though I';ve got a new lease of life politically.

PRICE:

I appreciate you giving me so much of your time and I';d love to talk to you again soon.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay.

[ends]

Transcript 12498