PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 12521

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH NEIL MITCHELL, RADIO 3AW

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: 15/11/2002

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12521

Subjects: Victorian state election; Iraq; Bali investigation; Japanese travel warning; Osama Bin Laden tape; Free Trade Agreement with US; Australian/Asian relations; World Trade Organisation; Australian flag; taxation; fitness

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

MITCHELL:

In our Canberra office the Prime Minister, Mr Howard good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil.

MITCHELL:

Are you on the electoral roll Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I am.

MITCHELL:

They';ll be hard pushed to win now won';t they?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well this is a set back but the caravan moves on. Dean has gone, there';s no suggestion that, as I understand it, that Robert Doyle is in any way involved in this act of gross carelessness at the least, he';s paid a very heavy penalty but in the end what really matters is that what alternatives are being offered by the two sides, I remember in New South Wales politics way back in 1973 the former Health Minister Harry Jago in the Askin Government forgot to nominate and the Liberal Party didn';t even have a candidate in the seat of Gordon and it was the safest in the state. Askin still went on to win the election. Now, we were in government then and we';re in opposition in Victoria. Look it';s a blow, I spoke to Robert Doyle last night to sort of…

MITCHELL:

What was your advice to him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it was really just to ring and say look I';m sorry mate, focus on the contest with Bracks, put it behind you, you can';t do anything about it, a terrible act of stupidity was committed by one of your colleagues but you';ve dealt with it quickly, you';ve got another candidate, you';ve got a new shadow treasurer, get on with the campaign, don';t let it divert you. And I in fact quoted the Askin/Jago precedent.

MITCHELL:

Doesn';t say much about the Liberal machine in Victoria…

PRIME MINISTER:

I don';t think it';s got anything to do with the machine.

MITCHELL:

Shouldn';t they be checking those sort of things?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, look it';s your responsibility, you can';t shift these things to the Liberal machine, whenever an election is called, even as Prime Minister, I worry to death until I';ve got my nomination in and I';ve seen in triplicate the receipt from the electoral commission and I badger the State Director until I get it. I';ve been doing this every election and it's your responsibility and Members of Parliament who try and shove the responsibility for this sort of thing onto the State Director or to the party organisation, I';m not saying that';s happening here, but people who do that really don';t have the measure of responsibility that';s required to be a Member of Parliament.

MITCHELL:

So as the wise political head would you say, Robert Dean';s career as a politician is over?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes.

MITCHELL:

You don';t want him federally?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look I barely know him but somebody who';s as negligent as this really should do something else.

MITCHELL:

Because it goes to the point doesn';t it, and this happens all around the country, of politicians not living in their electorate but sort of keeping a property in the electorate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don';t pretend to know all the background, all I know is that he didn';t comply with the elementary requirement, he';s paid a very heavy price, he';s embarrassed his friend and his leader but I say to his friend and his leader focus on the main game, the main game is fighting the campaign and it';s amazing how quickly you can recover from campaign glitches like this. I';ve been through a few of them myself, not quite like one of those, but I';ve been through a few but you can recover and people do move on and I think Robert Doyle apart from this error over which he had no control or has no responsibility for, he';s been running a good campaign, he did well in the debate against Bracks, I think he';s cutting a good alternative figure and my private and public advice is back to the main game, that';s what the voters are worried about.

MITCHELL:

And your advice to Robert Dean is do something else?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don';t think he';ll get re-endorsed.

MITCHELL:

Other issues, more serious issues, Saddam Hussein has agreed to the UN resolution, do you trust him?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, that';s why you have a strong resolution. That';s why you have a resolution that demands total transparency.

MITCHELL:

So this really isn';t the end of it, the fact that he';s agreed?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no I don';t think it';s the end of it at all. It will only be the end of it if the resolution is fully enforced and they either find no weapons or finding weapons but that are declared in accordance with the resolution they are totally destroyed. We';re not at the end of it, I am naturally pleased that the first hurdle has been cleared, the Iraqis have sensibly allowed the inspectors in but the track record of this man is one of deceit so one shouldn';t believe what one is told, one should only believe what one finds in totally unconditional and transparent circumstances.

MITCHELL:

So you still see the possibility or the danger of action against Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh the danger and the possibility is clearly still there, I hope it doesn';t happen. Nobody wants a military conflict, I certainly hope it doesn';t happen.

MITCHELL:

Simon Crean';s now saying he will not support sending troops to

Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER:

I';m not quite sure what he';s saying at the moment, he';s shifted his ground. I thought he was saying that he was against certain kinds of military assistance but not others. Now I mean that really is a rather hair splitting approach to be taking, I mean you are either hypothetically in favour of some kind of military commitment or you';re not. Now look I';m not asking him to respond on that at this stage because it is hypothetical. The one point I';d make and this is the point I';ve been making for months, and this is not generally in relation to Iraq, this country';s first responsibility is obviously for its own security and its own immediate theatre of responsibility in operations and any commitment that this country under my government might in the future make to military action some distance from Australia would be well within our capacity and would not in any way weaken our capacity to deal with threats closer to home. Now that has been the position on which we';ve always operated and nobody should imagine that if we respond to some request for military action in some other part of the world that we';re going to denude our capacity to deal with potential threats closer to home, that';s a given as far as I';m concerned.

MITCHELL:

Presumably you';re willing to, if necessary, to agree regardless of support from the Opposition because it is, as you say Simon Crean';s equivocating it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I';m just not quite sure that the time for trying to precisely work out his position hasn';t arisen, it may not arise, look in the end on these things we';ll take a decision based on the national interest, it is always better to have a bipartisan approach and I would seek to achieve a bipartisan approach consistent with a government taking the decision it believes is right for Australia but we';d always try and seek a bipartisan approach and I have been careful to ensure that Mr Crean has received briefings as far as is appropriate for an Opposition Leader in our system of government to be kept in the loop because it';s always in the country';s interests to have government and opposition in agreement on the broad thrust of policy where military forces are sent abroad. You might have some differences in degree about the composition of them and so forth but they are in a sense matters of detail rather than matters of principle.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister we';ll take a quite call on this if we may, David go ahead please.

CALLER:

Yes, Mr Howard, good morning. I can';t understand why the United States and Australia are even discussing Iraq when clearly the job hasn';t been finished in Afghanistan and that';s been made evident the last two days.

MITCHELL:

What, because of bin Laden?

CALLER:

Exactly, the Americans are great starters but rotten finishers and they proved it in Vietnam, they proved it in Korea, they stuff up everything they go in to. So they stuffed up Iraq 10 years ago and now they want to go in and possibly stuff it up again.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don';t agree with your criticism of the Americans, it';s easy to have a swipe at them, they';re the biggest kid on the block so you can always poke your tongue out…

MITCHELL:

… the job isn';t finished in Afghanistan.

PRIME MINISTER:

No but it';s a rather mistaken view of the world to imagine that you can';t use that old idiomatic expression 'walk and chew gum at the same time' and you';ve got to remember that the ultimate terrorist nightmare would be if weapons of mass destruction were to fall into the hands of terrorists.

MITCHELL:

Well that must become more of a danger every day, the longer it goes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that';s right and that';s one of the reasons why a country that has a proven capacity to use weapons of mass destruction maliciously and capriciously and Iraq is one of those countries in relation to her own population and in the Iranian war, why counties such as Iraq should have their weapons of mass destruction taken away from them and that re-enforces both the relevance and the need for the security council resolution to be put into effect and that is why the United States and Australia and many other countries, 15 countries voted for that resolution including Syria, why all of those countries are talking about Iraq and they should because I am concerned about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of people who have shown in the past a willingness to use them maliciously.

MITCHELL:

We';ll take a quite break here and come back with more, including some more calls for the Prime Minister.

[commercial break]

MITCHELL:

The Prime Minister is in our Canberra studio. Mr Howard, you agree that circus, the parading of Amrozi by the Indonesian police, was offensive?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes. Very much so.

MITCHELL:

Will you object to the Indonesians about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what I will do is always handle this in a way that maximises the chances of catching all of the people who were responsible for this abominable crime. I feel very much for the relatives who saw that spectacle yesterday. I also know, as they know and all Australians thinking about this know, that in order to catch all of them we need maximum cooperation between the Australian police and the Indonesian police. And the Australian police, who are doing an excellent job.

MITCHELL:

Does that mean you step a bit softly here?

PRIME MINISTER:

No it just means that while articulating how we all feel, we also keep in mind the need to make sure that you have the total cooperation of the Indonesian police. I mean this investigation, be it said again, is being carried out in a foreign country and we have a remarkable level of involvement and cooperation with the Indonesian police. And it is unprecedented that foreign countries would allow a joint team investigation of a crime committed on their soil, and that is a remarkable tribute to the level of cooperation. And I want to keep it that way because the greatest thing I can do for the grieving relatives as Prime Minister is to make sure that no stone is left unturned to catch these people and that is my main preoccupation. But can I say, fairly consistent with that, I was repulsed by that. Absolutely.

MITCHELL:

Would you like to try Amrozi in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the appropriate thing is for him to be tried in Indonesia. Obviously with the passage of the extra-territorial murder offence, there is a capacity if people are extradited to this country, to try them for crimes under that law. But the reality is that he will be tried in Indonesia because that is where the offence took place. That is where he has been taken into custody. Clearly if there was some breakdown, which I don';t expect and I don';t think it';s productive to speculate about it, I might have another view. But so far the information I have from the Australian Federal Police is that the investigation is proceeding, that it is being conducted properly. Bear in mind that police methods and so forth vary from country to country. And they are satisfied with the level of cooperation they receiving. I';m not interfering in any way with the investigation and I';m not commenting on the detail of it. That';s a matter for the police. They have my total support and the total allocation of resources to do everything in cooperation with the Indonesians to catch the people who did this. They look as though they';re making progress but there are obviously more people involved, and it';s very important. But can I just say again, that was a sickening display yesterday and I feel very deeply for the relatives.

MITCHELL:

In a related area Japan has warned, has issued something of a warning against coming to Australia because we are a terrorist target. Is that fair? Is that reasonable?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that';s a matter for the Japanese. It';s not soundly based though. There was a terrorist attack in a Tokyo subway and there has been a far more serious terrorist attack in Japan than there has been in Australia. But we wouldn';t warn people because of that to stay away from Japan.

MITCHELL:

It could hurt this country, couldn';t it? Financially.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look if people stop coming here or the number reduces, obviously it will have an effect. I can only repeat the obvious to our Japanese friends and that is that by the standards of most countries this is a very safe country. Nobody can guarantee that any country is completely immune from a terrorist attack. I can';t do that. I can only repeat and state my scale of assessment of risk.

MITCHELL:

Just on a similar area too, the Osama Bin Laden tape. What did you feel personally when you heard what he had said? Because it was certainly the most direct threat.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes it was. It was chilling. I thought if you looked at the tape, it was interesting that the two things to which objection were taken were the involvement in Afghanistan in the fight against terrorism, and East Timor. Now both of those actions had overwhelming support from the Australian community, were totally justified in all of the circumstances. And I thought that was interesting, if I can dare to use a word in relation to such a diatribe, I thought the ultimate obscenity though was the indication of God to defend and sanctify his actions. I just thought that was a total obscenity, and ought to be offensive to every decent person of Islamic faith either in Australia or around the world.

MITCHELL:

We';ll take a quick call. Carl, go ahead please.

CALLER:

How are you going? Good morning Neil. Good morning Mr Prime Minister. I just, as a brother of a serving member in the Australian armed forces, wanted to get the opportunity, I';m pleased to have the opportunity to say thank you, we';re proud of the job you';re doing. Keep up the good work because there are a lot of people out there that have support for you. My young brother just served in the Persian Gulf onboard the Manoora. He was also on board the Manoora during the Tampa crisis and supports you 110% all the way.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Carl thank you very much and can I convey my thanks to your brother and he';s a metaphor for so many – I don';t just mean because of his personal views, but for the job he does. I think our sailors did a fantastic job in the Gulf and I thought they did a fantastic job through the whole of that boat people issue. It wasn';t easy. They stuck to their job. It was dangerous, it was difficult and they have the admiration of the entire country.

MITCHELL:

Thanks for calling Carl. Prime Minister, the possibility of a Free Trade Agreement with the United States – will we trade off quarantine restrictions?

PRIME MINISTER:

Quarantine is a science. The Americans are not arguing that you should start trading off pure scientific assessments. They';re raising questions about process and questions about communication, but it was made very clear yesterday by Mr Zoellick that they understand that quarantine is a scientific issue. We';re not going to relax genuine scientific standards as part of a deal anymore than I would expect them to do that. I mean it';s either unscientific or it';s not. That';s not really something that you can deal away and neither you should.

MITCHELL:

What about cultural rights? What about Australian content?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well obviously in negotiation, people are going to put their requests on the table. And they will put that on the table. We';ll listen to what they';ve got to say. You can';t have a negotiation unless both sides are prepared to listen to all of the arguments of the other side.

MITCHELL:

Well can it come down to whether the risk is worth the gain in the end?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in all of these things that';s what it does. I have no doubt that if we could reach a Free Trade Agreement with the United States it will be hugely beneficial to the Australian economy. And in the end what you have to do is make an overall assessment of whether the outcome of the negotiation is worth the candle. But I';m very committed to this. We';ll obviously want to see progress on agriculture. If you can';t get any progress on agriculture, then we';re not going to be able to have an arrangement. But I don';t believe the Americans would have started this if they weren';t genuine about getting a result. They have said they want to do it within 18 months - that's good, as far as I'm concerned. These things can go on forever and if we have that kind of time limit, I think that's good. We approach it very enthusiastically and believing that if we can do this it will be hugely beneficial to the country. Can I just make a point, particularly in the context of this absurd claim by the Opposition, that by negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States, we're exhibiting anti-Asian sentiments. I mean, for heavens sake, we're just about to sign a free trade agreement with Singapore - an Asian country. We have just pulled out the largest, pulled off the largest trade deal in our history with the largest country in Asia, mainly China, that's the LNG gas deal. Japan remains our best customer. Korea is one of our three or four best export destinations. I mean, surely it is possible for a country like Australia to have close and deep economic relationships with every part of the world. And that's been the whole point of what I've been making. I haven't sought in any way to detract from our Asian associations, I have sought at every turn, as well as deepening and building those, also to deepen and build on our relationships with other countries and most particularly, of course, the United States.

MITCHELL:

Can I just ask you about a couple of quick things. The World Trade Organisation protests in Sydney. I mean, this is becoming a real habit. But do you think we should have a law banning the burning of the Australia flag?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is a difficult one. I know my friend and colleague John Anderson's got a view on that and I know we'll kick it around. I have in the past, despite my great affection for the Australian flag, I have stopped short of advocating that because repugnant though it is to me, in the end I guess it's part of the sort of free speech code that we have in this country. I mean, I say that as somebody's who's regularly and, as far as I'm concerned, proudly labelled as a traditional conservative Australian when it comes to expressions of patriotism. I like the present flag. It's growing the affection of the Australian community, not diminishing.

MITCHELL:

But you wouldn't go that far?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have reservations for those reasons, but I will naturally be willing to hear what John's got to say because I always value his opinion. He's a close friend and a very valuable Deputy Prime Minister.

MITCHELL:

Now the tax take, can I…

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes you can.

MITCHELL:

…Costello has really agreed today that the amount of tax you're taking has gone up. It's up to…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think Peter… I mean, the total tax take, according the most recent budget papers, the tax take to GDP has fallen from 23 and a half per cent in our first year to 21 per cent now.

MITCHELL:

Well, income tax has gone from 16.4 to 17.1.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the commitment we made was that…

MITCHELL:

Income tax.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, yes, but I mean there's a lot more people in work.

MITCHELL:

Yeah, I know. But they're… shouldn't affect your bottom line.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh…

MITCHELL:

More people at work reduce more, therefore your GDP goes up.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, but it will have an impact and if wages are high.

MITCHELL:

Mmm.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well…

MITCHELL:

Your income tax is up no matter whatever way you look at it.

PRIME MINISTER:

But Neil, those calculations additionally, the figures that you quote, additionally don't allow for the fact that the private health insurance rebate because the bulk of people take it not as a tax cut, but as a direct payment to their health insurance fund - that is counted as an expenditure. The, would you believe, the Family Tax Benefit - it's called a Family Tax Benefit - that is put on the expenditure side of the budget because the majority of people who take it don't take it as a tax refund at the end of the year, but they take it as a fortnightly payment through the family tax office, even though at the end of the year, it is reconciled through their tax return. And in fact, this debate a few months ago about people having to pay amounts back or to get refunds, that all arose after they got their tax return. In other words, it is run as a tax benefit yet because the bulk of people take it fortnightly, it's treated for budget purposes as an expenditure. Now, you know, if you take all of that into account that would have a huge affect on that figure you just mentioned.

MITCHELL:

And extremely quick call. Josh, go ahead.

CALLER:

Yes. Good morning, Mr Howard.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

CALLER:

I was just… I'm from Fitness Victoria. I just have a quick concern about your fitness training. I've seen you walking along…

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

CALLER:

And looking very very fit. I was just wondering are you doing any strength training or weight training?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh well, I do push ups and those things. I';m not big on weights, but I do push ups and…

CALLER:

Well, you've got to have a balance, walking, aerobic and strength training program.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, I do. I've got one of these things you stand on and you pull it up and everything…

MITCHELL:

[Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

It helps your golf swing!

MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time.

[ends]

Transcript 12521