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Transcript 12532

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH PHILIP CLARK, RADIO 2GB

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: 12532

Subjects: guns; child sex abuse; war on terrorism; disability pensions

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

CLARK:

Mr Howard good afternoon.

PRIME MINISTER:

How are you Phil?

CLARK:

I';m very well. Welcome to the Drive Show.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

CLARK:

We';ve normally spoken in the mornings but…

PRIME MINISTER:

How';s it going, how do you like drive time?

CLARK:

Love it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Your listeners like it too?

CLARK:

I hope so, I hope so. [inaudible] knock on their door but I';m sure they will. I just wanted to range over a number of issues this afternoon. Can we start off with guns? You were widely applauded and rightly so for bringing in against much opposition including from your own side of politics a pretty tough set of gun laws in Australia which we now have in place. Sydney this week and last week has seen an outbreak of gang violence particularly involving the use of hand-guns which I think';s surprised and shocked a lot of people, my listeners including me. They say there';s something like 10,000 being smuggled into Australia illegally every year. New South Wales the armed robbery rate';s gone up 34% in the last couple of years. Do you, when you look back now given these tough gun laws, I mean does it bother you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it does. The gun laws that I brought in in 1996 were of course in relation to semi-automatics and rifles which had been subject to a much looser regime. You can';t have a hand gun in this country without a licence and those licences are issued by state authorities. You can';t import them without a licence and without going through customs and I have been in touch with my Justice Minister Chris Ellison, there';s been a gathering of police ministers, a discussion of police ministers right at the present time to further tighten those laws and see if there are any loopholes. I think some of the allegations that are being made may be exaggerated but let me simply make the point to all of your listeners – I have asked not only my own department but also the Justice Department and the Attorney General';s Department to provide me with advice as to whether there are any further steps which the Federal Government needs to take in order to further tighten the conditions under which hand-guns can be brought into this country. At the moment you can only bring them in if you';ve got a licence and you will only broadly speaking get a licence if you are involved in the security industry, police, defence forces, et cetera. The dealers are only allowed, so I';m told, to hold a small number of guns at any given time and that the whole thing is, so I';m told, and I have to go on what I';m told, very rigorously enforced. Now that really, plainly is still in the eyes of many not good enough and I have in fact over the last week, I have asked for advice as to what further steps can be taken to further tighten. Now I don';t know that there can be much more done but that was the preliminary advice I';ve got.

CLARK:

Well that';s what I worry about as well, what more you do? I mean you can';t physically inspect every item that comes….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we actually have every parcel that';s imported through Australian Post, it says here according to my advice - every single parcel big enough to carry a hand gun or gun parts coming into Australia is X-rayed by Australia Post as part of some changes the Government introduced last year in the wake of the foot and mouth disease crisis. Now some….I mean letters aren';t, but things big enough. Now there may be further things that we can do and I want to tell your listeners that if there are we';ll do them.

CLARK:

Yeah. As a caller to my program yesterday said, in some cases he said, well particularly of bikie gangs it';s fairly easy he said to import a package of motorcycle parts which will include broken down parts of a gun and that';s what happened, that is how they get here.

PRIME MINISTER:

That is one of the difficulties and we will find any means we can to further restrict them because I hate guns. I don';t think people should have guns unless they';re police or in the military or in the security industry. There is no earthly reason for people to have…ordinary citizens should not have weapons. We do not want the American disease imported into Australia.

CLARK:

It looks as though we';re heading that way. I mean it bothers me….

PRIME MINISTER:

It bothers me immensely. That was one of the things that bothered me back in 1996 when we took action in relation to semi-automatic weapons and I will leave no stone unturned to tighten the laws as much as I humanly can and I';m quite happy to talk to any of the state premiers about this. It';s got nothing to do with party politics. It';s something that we';ve all got to get together on because I think guns have become a blight on American society. We do not have the same gun culture as the Americans and we should strenuously resist any slide into the gun culture of the United States.

CLARK:

Is there a need for a specialist federal agency?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don';t….I mean we';ve got a Customs, we';ve got police. I mean the solution to this is not to have another bureaucracy. The solution to this is that if there are further ways in which you need to tighten the law you should do so. We';ve got plenty of bureaucracy, that';s not the problem. The problem is to have the political will if needed to tighten the laws. There have been some loopholes at a state level which I';m told, particularly in New South Wales and Queensland, which I';m told have now been closed and that is good. And I';m happy if any of the state premiers think there';s more I can do just get on the phone and ring me up and tell me. If Bob Carr thinks there';s something more I can do, Bob give us a ring.

CLARK:

You stand ready to do it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly, because I have no argument….

CLARK:

Your credentials on the issue are pretty good….

PRIME MINISTER:

Whatever has to be done I';ll do it.

CLARK:

Mr Howard, the Brisbane Archbishop Phillip Aspinall says he wants a national Royal Commission into child sex abuse amongst all the institutions in our society. He';s trying to have an inquiry himself up there in Brisbane. He says he';s got problems with that, legal problems with that. You appear to be pretty cool on the prospect of a national inquiry into child sex abuse despite the fact that there are many in the community who are worried that much of it remains hidden. Why?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I';m not sure that having a Royal Commission is necessarily the right response. We';ll consider what the Anglican Archbishop has put to us. I';ve written back to him this afternoon saying that I do have reservations and I';ve publicly voiced those reservations but we';ll have a serious look at what he';s put forward. I have made the observation that if the Archdiocese of Brisbane believes there are things within the Archdiocese that need to be investigated then that investigation should go ahead irrespective of what the Federal Government does. I don';t think it';s satisfactory for any group in the community, having publicly said it wants to investigate a potential problem within its own ranks, and look I don';t know of the circumstances beyond what I';ve read in the newspapers of the Anglican Archdiocese and I certainly don';t wish to do it any kind of injustice, but it having said, through its Archbishop, that it thinks it has a problem, whether the Federal Government does something or not may I respectfully say to the Archdiocese that it does have a certain responsibility to see that through.

CLARK:

I think that';s right but I think the Archbishop appears to be of the view that, and he may be right about this, that the Archdiocese may have problems legally in compelling anything….witnesses or getting anybody to actually appear that may say anything useful.

PRIME MINISTER:

There';s been a mixed reaction to that. I understand for example the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne is not in favour of a Royal Commission, in fact has said that it has its own protocols in place and that what the system they have put in place is working effectively and they don';t see advantage in having a Royal Commission. The other reservation I have about having a Royal Commission is that it sends a signal to the community that you believe you have a problem that none of the existing procedures and institutions is capable of handling. Now whilst I would be the last to deny the existence of child sex abuse, and I just find it an abomination in every way as most Australians do. But a lot has been done, a lot of changes have been put in place. There is a different attitude. We are more transparent. It may well be that the incidence of child abuse is now no greater than it has been in the past but the scrutiny of it and the talk about it is at a much higher level.

CLARK:

And I think what a lot of it is about today is that we are more willing it seems as a community to identify those perpetrators and have [inaudible] shunted around and moved on.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that was absolutely unacceptable and the other thing to be fair to the churches is to say this, you shouldn';t sort of just think that where this has occurred in the past, it';s only occurred in churches. It';s occurred in other sections of society and if you';re looking at a comprehensive analysis of it you';ve got to go into a lot of educational institutions state as well as private. But once again though we don';t want to create the impression in the community that everywhere adults interact with children in a caring environment there is paedophilia. That is to cast a terrible slur on people who devote their lives to looking after the young and care for them in a wholesome, decent, nurturing fashion and I don';t want people to be discouraged from the normal love and attention and affection they display towards children and obviously including children other than their own.

CLARK:

There';s a lot more tension in the community about it isn';t there? I talk to teachers on the program for example. They will tell you that you do not touch children.

PRIME MINISTER:

Isn';t that terrible? I mean I think that is appalling.

CLARK:

I think it is too but…..

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean the natural thing to do with a young child, I mean around the community you see a little child and you pick it up and you give it a cuddle. I mean are we going to become a society that becomes reluctant to do that? I mean you';ve got to make certain that we, you know, punish severely and weed out and deal with in a very emphatic way perpetrators and we have laws as tough as you like to deal with them, but we don';t want to create the impression that everybody who deals with little children is, you know, sort of under suspicion. And I feel sorry for teachers who are in that situation. I mean let';s face it the great majority of teachers are people who are working hard to their job and part of your job particularly with very young children is to pick them up and give them a cuddle. Gee I';d hate to have a society that didn';t do that. This is not easy. I mean I haven';t said absolutely definitely no but I do have reservations and I';ve tried to express them as courteously as I can.

CLARK:

I mean you have people like Hetty Johnson, who I';m sure you';ve heard before.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

CLARK:

Who say that you';re prepared to value the building industry, you';ll have a royal commission into that, you won';t have a royal commission into this.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I leave myself open to that kind of point by not automatically agreeing with everything that I';m asked to do. Well I';ll have to sort of wear that, I don';t think it';s a fair criticism. I';m not saying I value the building industry more than I value children, what I';m saying is that I';m not automatically convinced that having a federal royal commission is necessarily the way forward towards reducing the level of child abuse and getting at the perpetrators, that';s what I';m saying. I do believe that we have come a long way, I do believe that organisations now are a lot more transparent, they';re a lot more attentive, they';re a lot more immediate in responding to complaints. I think people are more conscious, that parents are more alive and aware of not allowing their children to be put into difficult situations, parents are more inclined now to believe their children when they bring them stories, perhaps being molested by people who they would be astonished to think might have done that. I think we are a lot more savvy and open and aware as a community then we were even 10 years ago. Now I don';t know that by going to have a federal royal commission you necessarily take it forward in a big way and there could be a cost and the cost is you create climate of how shall I put it, emotional reluctance on the part of people who are in a position of caring for young children.

CLARK:

Troops in Afghanistan Mr Howard, I was surprised actually when we added them all up but there was something like, not in Afghanistan but in the total Australian effort on terrorism, something like 1100 of our Defence Force personnel committed to this, it';s a lot. Is there any timetable on it yet in your own mind as to how long this continues?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not precise. We have just rotated the special forces. We had a group there for three months and another group has gone in. We have the 707';s and, for refuelling, we have ships in the gulf, and we have others. I think the answer is that it won';t be indefinite but I can';t give you a time when it will end. It is a very big commitment.

CLARK:

It is, it';s substantial. Not since the Vietnam War have so many Australian Defence Force personnel been overseas, including East Timor.

PRIME MINISTER:

When you add up East Timor, that';s right. It is a very big commitment and that';s one of the reasons why we are spending a lot more money this year on defence and we';ll spend more money in the years ahead on defence. I can';t say exactly when, I won';t allow it to be any longer than needed but I can';t say exactly when. It depends on the success or otherwise of the campaign. I think in Afghanistan, if I can put it this was, the mopping up operation is going to take some time yet.

CLARK:

Alright, can I ask you this, another listener this afternoon wanted me to ask you this, the issue of disability pensions. Can you give us a guarantee that they won';t be cut back in the budget?

PRIME MINISTER:

Disability pensions? Well we';re not looking at, I mean the actual level of the pension.

CLARK:

Will it be maintained?

PRIME MINISTER:

I';m not aware that the level of the pension, any change, is in contemplation. I mean the circumstances in which people receive the pension could be the subject of examination as to whether the entitlement rules are appropriate. But that';s something that';s, as it were, been under an ongoing consideration. But I';m not aware of any proposals from anybody to actually interfere with the level of the pension. Not that I';m aware of. But there can be some circumstances in which people get the pensions that might not be appropriate and I think that';s something that a number of governments have looked at. But if you';re talking about the exact level I';m not aware of anything.

CLARK:

Alright, Mr Howard just before you go have you spoken to Janette recently about the retirement issue?

PRIME MINISTER:

Janette? I talk to her about a lot of things. I';ll have to claim husband and wife privilege.

CLARK:

I thought you might draw that cover.

PRIME MINISTER:

Even Prime Ministers are entitled to do that.

CLARK:

Good to talk with you again Mr Howard.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 12532