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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 12525

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, SYDNEY TOWN HALL

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: 16/04/2002

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12525

Subjects: child sexual abuse; illegal immigration

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

JOURNALIST:

What';s your response to calls by Phillip Aspinall for a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I only saw the Archbishop';s letter this morning and I';ll consider what he';s put to me but beyond saying to me that it would be easier from the Church';s point of view if the Royal Commission were conducted by the Federal Government with all the powers that';s involved in that, there wasn';t in the letter to me any other arguments in favour of having it. I think there';s a danger in just having a kneejerk response of let';s have a Federal Royal Commission in relation to every issue of concern in the community.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) properly conducted.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I can say – I only got – I saw his letter this morning, and he was – he canvassed some concerns in relation to the limitations of a Church inquiry but I mean that is something of particular concern to his – to the Church and I respect the Church';s position and his concern. On the other hand, having a Royal Commission is a very big step. I think we have to make certain before we just in a kneejerk way say, oh let';s have a Royal Commission, that it is completely justified and that it has the support of everybody, including State Governments and – I';m not at this moment willing to commit the Government, in fact I think there are some good reasons to be cautious about calling Royal Commissions into something, serious though the issue is, but we have to understand the signals the calling of a Royal Commission sends to the community in terms of the level and dimension of a problem.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, does your Government sanction the use of electric cattle prods on asylum seekers?

PRIME MINISTER:

What are you referring to?

JOURNALIST:

I';m referring to the allegations on the ABC TV 4 Corners programme.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well why didn';t you acknowledge that those allegations have been denied by the Defence Minister? I just want to say that I think that the sailors and the army personnel have done a magnificent job in a very difficult situation. It was – I saw that programme, and self-evidently the situation was difficult and dangerous and the men and women of our defence forces deserve our unqualified support and thanks for the work that they have done. Senator Hill, on behalf of the military, has denied the allegations about electric batons completely and unqualifiedly.

JOURNALIST:

What about the denial that hospital access for sick (inaudible) asylum seekers?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that particular aspect of it, you can pursue further with Senator Hill. But look overall, I';m not going to have the military bucketed by the media for the work that they';ve done in relation to this operation. I think they';ve acted on behalf of all of us and they';ve discharged a job which is difficult, dangerous, traumatic and stressful, with tremendous skill, and they have my support and I believe the support of all Australians.

JOURNALIST:

Are you happy with the way they';ve done their job?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I';m very happy with the way they';ve done their job. I think they';ve done a very difficult job extremely well.

JOURNALIST:

Have the asylum seekers lied (inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, that';s your word. The asylum seekers clearly were under stress, of course.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

My word is what I';ve just said.

JOURNALIST:

Should taxpayers be concerned about the soaring costs though of the Christmas Island option for the detainees.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think what you have to do is look at the deterrent effect of the policy. You';ve had no new arrivals for months. Now I';m not guaranteeing that that will continue. I want to make that very clear. But we haven';t had any new arrivals now for months so the impact of that on the overall cost is very significant indeed. The policy is working. The policy was to deter and deny, and that policy is working. And we must again thank the men and women of our defence force for the work that they have done, difficult and dangerous, on our behalf.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) What about the human cost of that operation – people not getting hospital treatment, people dying at sea because boats are being abandoned?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, hang on.You';re saying people dying at sea because boats have been abandoned. There is no evidence that any action by the Royal Australian Navy has led to the death of any person. In fact the Royal Australian Navy has saved countless lives and I';m not going to have any suggestion made that anything that our defence forces have done have led to the deaths of asylum seekers. They have saved lives. There would have been many more deaths of asylum seekers if it hadn';t been for the actions of the Royal Australian Navy.

JOURNALIST:

Are you going to do anything about them?

PRIME MINISTER:

What allegations?

JOURNALIST:

The allegations on the ABC';s Four Corners?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I saw the ABC';s Four Corners programme last night, I watched every bit of it and I think even the most biased person against the Government';s policy would have to acknowledge that the men and women of our Defence Forces did a magnificent job. Senator Hill has dealt with the allegations regarding capsicum, he';s dealt with the allegations regarding electric batons, the other questions you asked me you can pursue with him because I don';t have the material with me to answer it. But overall let me say that the military people have nothing to apologise for, nothing at all and they have my total support in what they have done.

JOURNALIST:

… Australia';s international reputation?

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

What harm do you think these allegations are having to Australia';s international reputation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well can I make the observation to you that having talked to a lot of people overseas in recent weeks in relation to our asylum seeker policy there is enormous understanding and support, even to the extent that one of - a close adviser to the British Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that of all of the countries in the world the ones that';s got the policy in relation to asylum seekers about right is Australia. So I reject this claim that our reputation';s been damaged. I think people understand that we have taken action in a difficult situation that is wholly consistent with the right of this country to protect its borders.

JOURNALIST:

Is (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Personally directing, no I wasn';t personally directing the Naval operations. No I wasn';t, of course I wasn';t.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

I was, well would you stop being a commentator and be an interviewer. I was not personally directing them, no. I mean obviously in relation to particular issues I was consulted. But any suggestion that I was personally directing it, I approved the policy of returning boats to Indonesia, I think that was a good policy and I totally support it and I knew that what the military were being asked to do was difficult and dangerous work, that is why people should not be so ready to criticise them, rather they should be ready to praise and support them which I do unqualifiedly.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) Archbishop, do you plan to speak to him personally?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don';t know, I mean I talk to a lot of Archbishops from time to time, about a lot of things. I only just got the letter this morning, I was shown the letter on the -

JOURNALIST:

But he did have (inaudible) forward.

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Does he have a chance?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he';s not raised the issue with me before. I mean basically what he';s said to me is it might be a bit difficult for the Anglican church so will you please have a federal royal commission. I mean I will consider that but I have reservations which I';ve indicated. I mean you can';t just have a, every time you have a difficult issue you can';t call a royal commission. We have a royal commission running on HIH, we have a royal commission into the building industry and we';ve got to keep a sense of proportion. And if there is a group in the community that feels it has something to investigate regarding child abuse in its own ranks then it should do so itself. Now he';s said well that';s a bit difficult, well as I say I';ve only read the letter this morning and I';m not going to be sort of put in the position of giving a knee jerk response. I have reservations, real reservations which I';ve tried to articulate in the time that I';ve had available. Now you were asking me a question?

JOURNALIST:

Does the Reserve Bank debacle harm Mr Costello';s leadership chances?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the Reserve Bank debacle? The Reserve Bank is doing quite well at the moment. I mean it';s presided over the lowest interest rates this nation has had in my lifetime. I don';t know what debacle you';re talking about.

JOURNALIST:

The changing of banks (inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Peter Costello';s made a statement about that and he';s in possession of all the facts and my understanding from what the Treasurer said is that there';s been no loss to the taxpayer, that the location of the money has gone from one account to another. Now in those circumstances there';s no debacle and there';s no damage to Mr Costello';s reputation.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 12525