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Transcript 12531

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP RADIO INTERVIEW WITH LIAM BARTLETT, 6PR

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: 17/04/2002

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12531

Subjects: East Timor; WA State Government; illegal immigration; child abuse.

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

BARTLETT:

Prime Minister good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, how are you? Can you hear me okay?

BARTLETT:

I can hear you perfectly. Are you alright at that end?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes please.

BARTLETT:

Okay. If I might borrow from a more famous saying this morning rumours of your retirement are being greatly exaggerated, you';re still in the seat.

PRIME MINISTER:

Very firmly.

BARTLETT:

Speaking of the top job it looks almost certainly like Xanana Gusmao will installed in the Presidential seat in East Timor, that';s another step forward for them isn';t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes it certainly is. The whole election process is a huge step forward and I';m looking forward very much to the independence celebrations on the 19th and 20th of May. It';ll be quite a landmark for East Timor and it will be a very important opportunity for us to wish that small country well. We';ll continue to help it, we';ll continue to have Australian forces there for some time and we';ll continue to contribute a lot of aid in other forms. It won';t be easy but it is a very important moment in the history of our region. The people of East Timor are very fortunate to have committed people like Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta and many others to lead them. I wish them well and I congratulate Xanana Gusmao on his election, it was not surprising but it is an important moment and it';s an occasion for Australians to take a degree of pride in the role that we played.

BARTLETT:

And Prime Minister an Australian will be first lady, that';s a nice connection isn';t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes indeed. Somebody who, I think the President-elect';s wife comes originally from Melbourne, I think she';s from Victoria. So there';s quite a connection between our two countries and it';s a connection that goes back of course to World War II days when the people of East Timor gave a great deal of help to many Australian troops who were taken prisoner of war subsequently and were on the notorious Burma-Thailand railway, prisoners of the war of the Japanese, and there';s quite an understandable empathy between returned service men of the World War II generation and the people of East Timor. And that was a factor I found a few years ago when we decided to become involved and lead the INTERFET force that went into East Timor under Lieutenant General Cosgrove, I was quite surprised and impressed by the number of returned service men from World War II who got in touch and said we strongly support the Government taking this action to help the people of East Timor, they helped us when we needed it, we should help them when they need it.

BARTLETT:

Yes, it was a tight relationship wasn';t it. Now no questions this morning I';ll save you suffering the questions about when you';re going to call it quits. But I would like to know this, what do you think your heir apparent, Peter Costello, will be like as Prime Minister, eventually?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I';m not going to talk about that because it';s a purely hypothetical issue. Good try Liam.

BARTLETT:

What do you mean it';s hypothetical, you';re not immortal are you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Nobody';s immortal but when you are in a job and enjoying it and I hope, without sounding in any way presumptuous, doing it tolerably well, I won';t put it any more strongly than that, you don';t start talking about who might be doing it in the future. Peter is doing a fantastic job as Treasurer and I think I';ll leave it at that.

BARTLETT:

He';d be disappointed to know he wasn';t the heir apparent though wouldn';t he?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I';m not going to start nominating people, that';s a matter for the party room. If I were to go under a bus tomorrow the party room would choose my successor. But I';m a very cautious crosser of the road. I look to the left and then to the right, to the left and to the right again just to even it up. Although I was taught as a young child you look to the left and the right and then to the left again and away you went. But because of my political bent I also look to the right a second time.

BARTLETT:

I just wonder though Prime Minister if the lead up to the job has been almost too easy for Peter Costello. I mean he hasn';t faced the many real hurdles that develop a sort of track record in tenacity has he? No one for example would doubt your passion through the hurdles you faced or for that matter Paul Keating or Bob Hawke or whatever. But Peter Costello';s had something of a dream run.

PRIME MINISTER:

Liam, I';m not going to talk about Peter';s future. That';s a matter for him.

BARTLETT:

Alright. Can we talk about Western Australia because –

PRIME MINISTER:

Certainly.

BARTLETT:

We are facing here increases in the cost of living, we are told, in a few weeks time with the state government delivering its budget. And that';s the first real budget, when I say the first budget in real terms, in a full term. They';re forecasting increases in taxes and charges to rise. How do you think Geoff Gallop is going running this state?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not very well. My impression is that the government, the Labor Party, over-promised in the last election campaign. And now they have to pay the piper and they';re in some difficulty. But they don';t have anybody to blame but themselves, they can';t blame us, they';ve been well treated by the Federal Government. They do try and blame us on all sorts of things but I mean in the end that';s a matter for the people of Western Australia and I don';t want to unduly involve myself in the state political issues, that';s a matter for the government and the opposition. I';ll co-operate with Mr Gallop, Dr Gallop, I';m sorry. I did at the recent meeting dealing with stem cell research and a number of other issues and the Premiers and I reached agreement on a lot of issues there that were very important for the future of Australia. But as to local politics, as to domestic Western Australian politics well my reading of the scene is that the Labor Party did over-promise and now they';ve got to find the money and they can';t and they';re going to slug the public in order to make up the difference and understandably the public feels a big chiselled.

BARTLETT:

What about the possibility of more financial support from you and the Federal Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it';s not justified, I mean we have our responsibilities. One of the things that will come out in the intergenerational report that Peter Costello is going to release in conjunction with the budget, one of the things that will come out very clearly is that whereas the Federal Government has provided a growth tax to the states via the GST, in the years ahead the Federal Government';s spending responsibilities will rise at a sharper rate than the state government';s spending responsibilities. Yet we have provided the states with a growth tax. So there is one thing I want to make very clear, want to make very clear to all of the Premiers, whether they';re Labor or Liberal, they';re all Labor at the moment but that won';t always be the case, and that is that as the years go by and the effect of an ageing population begins to assert itself it';s the Federal Government that will see, via health and aged care charges, a more rapid escalation in its responsibilities, spending wise, then the states. Yet we have provided the states with a growth tax via the GST so they don';t have any case for crying poor. And when they';re honest –

BARTLETT:

What about –

PRIME MINISTER:

They will cry poor but they don';t have a case. I mean Peter Beattie sort of blew their cover a few weeks ago when he announced huge increases in spending on education in Queensland and when he was asked by a reporter how are you going to pay for it, he said oh from the GST of course.

BARTLETT:

What about the contentious area of gambling revenue? Now a couple of days ago Premier Gallop called on your Government for more financial support in recognition of the stance taken here in WA against the proliferation of poker machines. Do you intend to help out by filling the hole in forgone gambling tax revenue?

PRIME MINISTER:

I';m sorry that is not our responsibility.

BARTLETT:

No, it might not be but he';s saying look you should put your money where your mouth is because you have been very critical of the growth in gambling revenue in other states.

PRIME MINISTER:

I can equally say that he should put his money, I mean that means that every time that he says anything about a federal matter he';s got to put the money up. I mean that, with great respect that is a very limp argument from the Premier.

BARTLETT:

So you don';t intend to help out states like WA who have resisted?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Western Australia, presumably if they';re being responsible, Western Australia';s spending commitments would have been geared according to their likely revenue returns. If they haven';t collected money from gambling well they presumably if they were responsible would not have committed themselves to spending in other areas so they wouldn';t need any additional support to fill an alleged black hole because there wouldn';t be a black hole. As I understand it Western Australia under previous governments of both political persuasions didn';t have poker machines and I think they deserve credit for that. But in the end that is a matter for each state government to make a decision. See states, if I may say so in a federation, they can';t have it both ways. They can';t assert the right to hold onto all of their authority and all their power and exercise the powers of a state under the constitution yet every time there';s any kind of challenge or difficulty the Federal Government is expected to help out. I mean it';s got to cut, if you have power you';ve got to accept responsibility and I';ve never found a state premier willing to hand over authority to the Federal Government in something that might have a national consequence, to hand it over lightly. And yet whenever there';s a difficulty they come running to the Federal Government saying will you please give us some more. It';s got to cut both ways and we are treating the states more fairly, revenue wise, than any government in the history of federation.

BARTLETT:

Prime Minister I have some listeners who';d like to ask you some questions, we';ll go to the phones in just a second. I just wanted to ask you a question Prime Minister on the asylum seeker issue.

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

BARTLETT:

There was some evidence to the Senate inquiry highlighted on Four Corners on Monday night that according to the ships log on the Adelaide there was approval from the PM of Australia to tow the vessel at the centre of the children overboard affair. How often do you personally involve yourself in those sorts of operational matters?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in relation to that I certainly approved the policy of towing vessels back, yes I certainly did. And I think it';s fair to say that I would involve myself very directly as I should because I';m the Prime Minister, in approving a policy change. I wouldn';t involve myself in an operational matter. I wouldn';t presume to tell people in the services how to board a vessel or how long to stay there or what kind of force to use or anything of that kind. That is an operational matter. But we did take a decision and a recommendation was put to me and I certainly endorsed it and I make no bones about that to tow vessels back…..

BARTLETT:

On that particular matter?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we took a decision, I can';t remember the exact date, but we did take a decision that in future we would, where possible, tow vessels back. Now it would have been presumably a reference to that general decision but having taken a general decision then it is implemented.

BARTLETT:

And were you in contact with somebody to make a specific decision over that particular matter?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I would have received a recommendation from my department I think and I would have endorsed it. But was I in touch with the Captain of the vessel, no.

BARTLETT:

Well were you approached directly about that particular situation?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don';t think I was approached about that but I would have been asked, I';ll start that again, I would have been in receipt of a recommendation from the relevant departments including my own saying that we think in future the following should be done involving where possible and feasible and where it was not dangerous to do so returning vessels to Indonesia, to Indonesian waters and that has been a very successful policy.

BARTLETT:

Yes but in relation to that particular incident the Senate asked Commander Banks is this a novel thing for the Prime Minister to involve himself in in operational….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well hang on….

BARTLETT:

Hang on Prime Minister, let me finish.

PRIME MINISTER:

No but which incident, what are you talking about?

BARTLETT:

Commander Banks, the incident with the Adelaide.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, but are you asking about the incident shown on Four Corners which is a different incident?

BARTLETT:

Yep.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I mean that';s why I interrupted you. I mean we';ve got to get our facts right.

BARTLETT:

Is this a novel thing for the Prime Minister to involve himself in operational matters like this? Commander banks….hang on….Commander Banks answers and says that originated from a telephone call with Commander JDF 639 who advised me that this was a big deal and that the Prime Minister would make the decision where we would take this vessel.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can';t answer, without looking again at all of the evidence in the Senate, I can';t answer as to precisely what he was talking about….

BARTLETT:

Well….

PRIME MINISTER:

Hang on, I';m sorry, you asked me not to interrupt you and I didn';t so can I just now finish. What I said was that I made a decision about a particular policy and I said that and we changed our policy and our policy was to tow vessels back and that was our policy.

BARTLETT:

Do you make decisions, have you made decisions on certain occasions for certain vessels?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I did in relation to the Tampa.

BARTLETT:

And others?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if the circumstances required it, I would have to go back over all of my records to check that….

BARTLETT:

It';s fairly easy to remember isn';t it surely?

PRIME MINISTER:

No it';s not, it';s not easy to remember because there';ve been a lot of vessels. I';m not going to give an offhanded response and then….

BARTLETT:

So have there been more than one decision?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I make a lot of decisions about a lot of things. Of course there have been.

BARTLETT:

Okay, so there has been more than one decision made about more than one vessel, not just the Tampa?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there';s a lot of decisions made about a lot of vessels but they are not decisions that involve….I mean what you';re getting at and it';s a fair question is do I involve myself in operational matters. My answer is no I don';t. I would involve myself in policy matters.

BARTLETT:

Yes but that';s not what the evidence suggests does it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no, I think the direction in which a vessel should be taken is not so much an operational matter, it can be both, but it';s also a policy matter.

BARTLETT:

But you see on the one hand with the children overboard affair you';d have us believe you were at arms length at all stages and yet this evidence seems to suggest you';re very much hands on in certain cases when you want to be.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they were two different situations. I mean the children overboard is an incident that arose, or didn';t arise depending on what version is presented, arose as a result of action taken in accordance with the policy of denying illegal immigrants entry into Australia and that is a classic example of the point I am making the differential between, the difference rather….

BARTLETT:

But which….

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me finish please….the difference between implementing a policy and the way in which that is implemented. Now certainly our policy was vessels should be boarded and deterred and we subsequently decided where possible they should be towed back to Indonesian waters. Now as to how that is done and what arises as a result of that is really a matter for operational people. Now if what you';re getting at is I';m on the phone saying look I now want them to go right or go left, or I now want them to board – heavens above I wouldn';t conceivably be involved in that. But if you';re asking me was I following very closely the implementation of our policy of returning vessels to Indonesia yes I was.

BARTLETT:

Let';s move on and take some calls Prime Minister. It';s nine-minutes-to-nine and let';s talk firstly to Geoff. Hello Geoff.

CALLER:

Yeah hi. Just continuing on your close conversation with him about the boat that was towed back to Indonesia. The Commander of the Adelaide was very clear on that, you know that that decision was being made by the PM. I';d remind the PM that three people ultimately died as a result of that, three refugees actually died and here we';ve got the Commander of the ship saying it was the PM';s call. So that';s the first point. The second point is that every man and his dog knew that, you know, the kids weren';t in the water. The smaller people on the Adelaide knew that, all the population of Christmas Island knew that, the crew of the Adelaide. The [inaudible] Defence Minister had been advised of that prior to the election and chose to do absolutely nothing about it because it was too hot for him. I put it to you that John you came to the election with the tag of being honest John and I put it to you that your reputation is shot. If you want it to be believed that the general public out there can accept that you knew nothing about this, your Defence Minister had no idea, that the head of the department, that lady who was interviewed yesterday by the Senate Committee, she can';t remember a damn thing. How convenient is that. You know, it';s a bloody cover up mate and you ought to be thoroughly ashamed of yourself. I don';t know how you can hold your head up now and remain our Prime Minister under such circumstances.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Liam I don';t think that was a question. That was just a political diatribe.

BARTLETT:

You don';t want to respond to any part of it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well except to repeat what I';ve said before and to correct two or three gross mistruths. Jane Halton yesterday giving evidence, and she';s still giving evidence so I better be careful what I say, to suggest that she sort of said she didn';t know anything is quite wrong and quite unfair to her. She just apparently said in relation to one or two questions she was asked amongst a whole score of questions she couldn';t remember something.

BARTLETT:

She couldn';t recall, yeah.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, well, I mean can you recall everything that';s ever happened to you over the last few months or any more than the person making that statement, I forget his name.

BARTLETT:

That';s true but it was a couple of key points wasn';t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah but I mean we';ve got to keep a sense of proportion about this but I can only repeat I did not receive prior to the election advice contradicting the original advice I received about children being thrown overboard. I received that advice as I';ve already indicated on the 7th of October from my colleague Philip Ruddock and it was subsequently confirmed in writing by the People Smuggling Taskforce and at no stage did I receive advice contradicting that. Now the gentlemen who just sort of took liberty with my reputation he';s entitled to do that in a free wheeling democracy. He just should understand that and that remains the case. I';m not ashamed of my role in relation to this policy. I think the Government has done the right thing and what I do resent particularly is not so much the attacks on me, I accept that, but I resent the attempts now being made to denigrate the behaviour of our Naval personnel, I';m thinking in particular of that Four Corners program.

BARTLETT:

Alright. Let';s move onto Michelle. Hello Michelle.

CALLER:

Good morning all. Michelle Stubbs calling from ASCA, Advocates for Survivors of Child Abuse. Now I begin Prime Minister by asking if I might call you John.

PRIME MINISTER:

Please do.

CALLER:

John if I could share with you quickly that I myself am a survivor of child abuse and that the man that abused me was my stepfather and he went on to murder my mother. He shot her to death. And personally John I have always respected and admired you for your stand on gun control and that issue. But what I heard you say on the news last night deeply disappointed me in your lack of support for a Royal Commission into child abuse. ASCA knows through their work in this area that huge numbers of the prison population were abused as children, huge numbers of mental health patients and people with on going physical health problems. Same could be said for the areas of homelessness, youth suicide, prostitution, those with drug and alcohol issues, and both perpetrators and victims of domestic violence and I believe that the only way that the Government is going to really address these issues is through a Royal Commission otherwise both state and federal governments are just throwing millions of dollars as a consequence.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I understand very much how deeply you must feel on this issue and I can only try to imagine your circumstances. I can';t feel them in the way that you naturally would. It';s not that I';m in any way disinterested in fighting child abuse or getting to the bottom of the causes of it, it';s not because of that that I have a reluctance to just respond in a knee jerk way to a call for a Royal Commission. Now this call';s been made by the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane because he feels that the internal Anglican Church inquiry he announced can';t be properly set up and won';t work. Now I understand his frustration about that but he must understand that the answer to his problem is not automatically for the federal government to have a Royal Commission. You have a Royal Commission if you believe that that is the only way of getting to the bottom of a problem that can';t be tackled in other ways.

CALLER:

Could you respond to the issue please of huge numbers of victims of child abuse in all those areas that I just mentioned?

PRIME MINISTER:

When you say can I respond to the problem, do you mean are your counselling services for them adequate?

CALLER:

Are you aware though of huge numbers of survivors of child abuse in each of those areas that I';ve mentioned? You';re looking at huge numbers in the area. How is an inquiry in just the Anglican Church going to assist that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well first of all to justify having a Royal Commission you have to be satisfied that you';re going to achieve a massive additional public good. Now people are aware of child abuse. There is a high level of awareness of it. But equally we have to, I know it';s difficult for me in talking to somebody who in your own sad circumstances has been through it and I';m very sensitive to that, but we';ve also got to remember that every day there are tens of thousands of people, adults in Australia who are interacting in a caring fashion with children and doing the right thing by those children and looking after them in a loving and compassionate fashion. And whilst there has been a certain level of child abuse in the Australian community and it is still going on, I don';t think it';s right to suggest that nobody is doing anything about it.

CALLER:

No and I';m not suggesting it.

PRIME MINISTER:

And I think we do run the risk that…..

CALLER:

[inaudible] that huge that unless the Government looks at it in this way again we are just throwing millions of dollars…..

PRIME MINISTER:

I don';t think with respect we are throwing millions of dollars… I mean we had a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody and the main conclusion of that Royal Commission was to tell us something that I think at the very beginning of it people understood and that is that the high incarceration rate is a consequence of behaviour which in turn is a consequence of economic and social deprivation and I think people understood that. So sometimes you don';t necessarily end up with a better position. I mean there were a number of recommendations that came out of that Royal Commission which have been quite beneficial as well. But I';m not unsympathetic. I';m just not convinced that a knee jerk yes let';s have a Royal Commission is necessarily going to produce a better outcome. I mean most of the institutions that you refer to….

BARTLETT:

Prime Minister we';ll have to leave it there I';m sorry.

PRIME MINISTER:

Alright. The lady obviously feels very deeply about it. I was trying to give her a comprehensive answer.

BARTLETT:

Most certainly. I think you';ve done a pretty reasonable job. Michelle thanks very much for your call this morning and Prime Minister thanks for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay then. Thanks.

Transcript 12531