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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 12509

Doorstop Interview, the Lodge, Canberra

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: 14/09/2002

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12509

Subject(s): Iraq; US President's letter; September 11; Saddam Hussein; Alexander Downer; United Nations; CHOGM; Zimbabwe; Fiji, Ansett

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

JOURNALIST:
Prime Minister, firstly – how strong, I mean maybe also to the US Ambassador, how strong is Australia's support being received in the United States over the past 12-months?

PRIME MINISTER:
I didn't hear that very well, I'm sorry.

JOURNALIST:
Maybe to the US Ambassador, Mr Schieffer, how strongly is our support being received in the United States over the past 12-months since September 11?

US AMBASSADOR:
I think the support of Australia has been just tremendous. And I brought over a letter from the President this morning that he asked me to deliver personally, expressing the appreciation of the American people for what Australia has done in the war on terrorism, and also thanking the Prime Minister for his council in the months since then. I think the Prime Minister's council has been very much appreciated and is very much a factor in all the debate that is going on in Iraq. And the President was very keen to have that expressed and I was happy to be the messenger today.

JOURNALIST:
Are you releasing the text of that letter?

US AMBASSADOR:
I think that's the Prime Minister's letter, so I'm going let him do that.

JOURNALIST:
Is that gesture part of coalition maintenance for any future purpose?

US AMBASSADOR :
We have allies and Australia is an ally. And I think it's good to always recognise the contributions that allies make and we've had no greater contribution from anywhere in the world than the contributions we've had from Australia.

JOURNALIST:
Mr Howard, did the letter from the US President look forward in any way as the continuing support in the months ahead?

PRIME MINISTER:
No, it was very much about what we've done over the last year and obviously in the wake of the commemorations of the 11th of September, it's very much in that context. But our position is one of very strong support for the arguments that the President put to the General Assembly two days ago. And as events unfold, we hope along with so many other people that this issue can be resolved in a non-military way.

JOURNALIST:
Do you believe that Saddam Hussein has got that in him. Will he listen, will he change, will he he respect the (inaudible).…?

PRIME MINISTER:
Well, I have learnt from long experience that the best way to get a desirable outcome is not to speculate as to whether it might occur or not, but to do the things that are necessary within your power to try to bring that outcome to fruition.

JOURNALIST:
Alexander Downer's meeting with Iraqi representatives, what are you hoping or expecting will come out of that meeting?

PRIME MINISTER:
It will be an opportunity for him to put directly to the Iraqi Government at a very high level what we think, and I think it's very important and very opportune, that we have the vehicle with the two of them being in New York where he can talk very directly and not through anybody else and not through diplomats, but very directly. And I think that's very opportune and I think the Australian people will want to know what he said to the Iraqi Foreign Minister and what the response was. And his statement to Parliament next week will give him the opportunity to reveal both of those things.

JOURNALIST:
What do you make of the UN's approach to New Zealand to contribute inspectors to a new team? And is such an approach to Australia likely?

PRIME MINISTER:
Well, we're always cooperative and we'll do everything we can to help. I think you really should ask New Zealand what they think of the UN's approach. It's not for me to give a commentary on that. We might let the Ambassador go now and I'll come back.

JOURNALIST:
Mr Howard, do you have any idea of when the UN Security Council might meet to consider a resolution?

PRIME MINISTER:
No, but I would think it would be sooner rather than later, yes.

JOURNALIST:
Why are you going to Nigeria?

PRIME MINISTER:
Well, there's a meeting being convened in Abuja by me as Chairman in Office of the Commonwealth. I'm going there to talk to President Mbeki and President Obasanjo about Zimbabwe's continued lack of response to the requests legitimately made of her six-months ago when we met in London and suspended the country from the councils of the Commonwealth for a year.   Zimbabwe has been quite indifferent to the requests properly made of her by the Commonwealth and we want to talk about what might further be done in relation to that. So, I'll be leaving Australia next Saturday evening to go to Abuja in Nigeria to meet the other members of the troika and the Commonwealth Secretary General, Don McKinnon, will also come.

JOURNALIST:
What outcome are you hoping for?

PRIME MINISTER:
Well, I'm hoping that we may be able to find a way of effectively encouraging Zimbabwe to respond to the legitimate concerns about the conduct of the elections. Remember that what we did arose out of a near unanimous report of a Commonwealth observer group about the conduct of the election. I mean, that is our main area of responsibility. There are other things about what is occurring in Zimbabwe that are a great concern to Australia and to the Commonwealth and to other countries. But our particular remit and the particular concern we have as a troika, is the way in which the election was conducted and the unwillingness so far of the Government of Zimbabwe to do anything about that.

JOURNALIST:
Are you in favour expelling Zimbabwe?

PRIME MINISTER:
Well, I'm not going to anticipate what options could be in front of us. Let's take it one step at a time. It's important to have the meeting, and I've been corresponding and talking to the two presidents over the past two weeks and an opportunity has arisen for this meeting to take place. So, I'll be going there next weekend.

JOURNALIST:
You mentioned in Fiji that you need to throw the book at Zimbabwe, I think it was a term like that, how much more severe do we need to get…?

PRIME MINISTER:
Well, what I said was that some people would say that if it were fair enough to throw the book at Fiji, then a similar approach would be taken. I was talking generically and in the abstract. We have this meeting coming up. There are a range of options available to the Commonwealth. But in the end of course, individual countries whether they're in the Commonwealth or not can choose to take action. But it's not an easy position. The internal situation in Zimbabwe is deteriorating very rapidly. There are a lot of people, not only on the edge of, but have fallen into hunger and poverty. And there's no improvement in the freedom that people have to engage in political dissent. And it's pretty well a pretty depressing picture.

JOURNALIST:
Is Australia willing to take the uni-lateral action [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:
Well, I think what I could say to that Michelle, is that we will have this meeting, we'll see what comes out of the meeting and then the Australian Government will give thought to its own position. But I have a responsibility as the Chairman of the Commonwealth in office to do what I can in discussion with the two other members of the three-man group. I don't want to raise expectations about our capacity to achieve miraculous turnarounds. The Government of Zimbabwe has proved to be very reluctant and very indifferent to international opinion.

JOURNALIST:
In talking with President Mbeki and also Obasanjo, have you got any sense of reservations within some African nations to take stronger action, namely – sanctions or expulsion?

PRIME MINISTER:
Well, nothing that's been said in our exchanges in the past few weeks has altered the position. There is a long-standing infinity between a number of those countries, stretching back to the campaign that the African National Congress waged against the aparthied regime in the old South Africa. I understand that, I understand the history. But I also understand the reality that if the Commonwealth is to operate according to a set of agreed rules, and conventions, and values, and that leads to the suspension of a country like Pakistan or the suspension of a country like Fiji, then people are entitled to say – why can't the same rules apply to a country like Zimbabwe.

JOURNALIST:
Given the famine situation, does that rule out smart sanctions no matter how smart and how targeted? Is it impossible to apply sanctions…?

PRIME MINISTER:
Well, I don't want to start talking hypothetically about sanctions at the present time. I'm going of to a meeting in a weeks time. I want to try and bring a constructive approach with all the difficulties that one faces. I don't think now is the time to be speculating about sanctions.

JOURNALIST:

On Iraq, Mr Downer I understand, and I havn't actually read what he said yet, but I understand he sounded quite pessimistic – I'm sorry about that - I understand he sounded quite pessimistic…

PRIME MINISTER:
But perhaps he didn't?

JOURNALIST:
… I understand he sounded quite pessimistic about the hopes of peaceful resolution in Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER:
I thought, I've read his speech, and I thought it was realistic.

JOURNALIST:
Prime Minister, just back on Commonwealth matters - as the Head of CHOGM, would you like to see out that term until the next CHOGM meeting?

PRIME MINISTER:
I enjoy the role, let me put it that way.

JOURNALIST:
Would you like to fill that position until the completion of the next CHOGM?

PRIME MINISTER:
Good try. I think we've now reached the silly end of the news conference.

JOURNALIST:
Will you be releasing the text of the letter from the US?

PRIME MINISTER:
I don't know. I'll have a look at that.

JOURNALIST:
Can I just ask you one last question?

PRIME MINISTER:
Yes.

JOURNALIST:
Today's the year anniversary since the collapse of Ansett. Do you have anything to say to those workers that are still looking for work, or still waiting for their entitlements to be paid?

PRIME MINISTER:
Well, I remain very sorry for the men and women who lost their jobs when Ansett collapsed. We promised to guarantee their basic entitlements, plus eight weeks redundancy – which is the community average or standard for redundancy – and we have delivered in full on that guarantee. The additional entitlements that they're owed are over and above what we guaranteed and we never guaranteed that. Now, if there are assets available, from money available from the disposal of assets, then over time those additional entitlements can be met. But we have delivered in full on our guarantee, but I remain compassionate towards and concerned about, those people who lost their jobs. But unfortunately, a Government can't prop up individual companies. We can't get into the business of doing that because there would be no end. Not all of them have found jobs, but many of them have.

JOURNALIST:
How quickly could the levy be removed?

PRIME MINISTER:
Well, it's too early to speculate about that because we've collected about $100 million from the levy. We've advanced $328 million to the administrator. We haven't had any repayment from the administrator yet. So, it's a bit early to start speculating about the removal of the levy.

[ends]

Transcript 12509