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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 12548

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH TRACY GRIMSHAW THE TODAY SHOW, CHANNEL 9

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: 18/02/2002

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12548

Subjects: Defence photographs; Governor-General

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

GRIMSHAW:

Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, Tracy.

GRIMSHAW:

When we look at the full file of photographs of the sinking ship how is it that only two highly misleading prints were released?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Tracy, I don';t know because the first I saw of those additional photographs was yesterday. I wasn';t provided with a computer disc of all of the photographs. I can tell you bluntly and directly that at no stage was I involved in any kind of discussion or consideration of just putting out two photographs to put the best light on what the Government was putting forward. I was aware that there were some photographs, I indicated that in the Parliament, and those photographs were released by Mr Reith I think on the 10th of October last year. And then later on in the campaign a lot of doubt arose over whether or not those photographs depicted the events of the 7th or the events of the following day when the ship sank. And, plainly, there was confusion over that but any suggestion that I was involved in some kind of selecting out of advantageous photographs I totally reject.

GRIMSHAW:

All right. Defence Minister, Senator Hill, now says that five photographs were emailed to Mr Reith';s staff that showed substantially similar images to those released yesterday by the Opposition. Who selected those photographs from the file for release?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don';t know.

GRIMSHAW:

Shouldn';t you know, have you asked?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, no, I mean, of course…what happened yesterday was that when the Opposition released the disc we sought advice from the Acting Head of the Defence Force and he advised us in writing that only two photographs had been given to Reith';s office. On the strength of that written advice I then made some pubic – can I please finish, this is quite important this sequence – and on the strength of that advice I made some public comments. It was subsequently that that advice was qualified by the Acting Head of the Defence Force, saying oh no, we';ve now discovered some additional photographs were sent to Mr Reith';s office. Now, in those circumstances, having been misinformed once and having made public statements on the basis of that, I don';t intend to make any more public statements about what happened to these photographs until I am completely satisfied that an exhaustive investigation has been made because I have been totally in the dark about these additional photographs and, quite honestly, after having been inadvertently, I';m sure, misled once, I don';t intend to get caught again.

GRIMSHAW:

Is it starting to seem apparent to you that if, indeed, what you say is true, that you knew nothing throughout the election campaign to contradict what you were saying, that you were deliberately kept in the dark?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I';m not making that allegation at all. I mean, let me say again, Tracy, the basic facts, as far as I';m concerned, are I was informed that children had been thrown overboard. I made my original statements based on that. That advice was never contradicted. I';m not going to start saying that people deliberately kept me in the dark, I';m not saying that at all. I think if you read through the reports in detail – and I read both of them again over the weekend – and I can understand how in an atmosphere of people trying to set fire to a boat, of threats being made, of children being held up at the railing, I can understand how naval officers on the spot in these very stressful circumstances might have been in error as to whether people were thrown overboard. But I';m not going to make judgements about whether I have been mislead or kept in the dark. All I can do is state the truth as known to me and the truth is that I was informed, I used that information in good faith. At no stage, subsequently, was that advice contradicted and when the material that ought to have been released to the public came to my notice such as the video I insisted that it be released and that video was released before the election. Now, this is a sour grapes exercise by Labor but that';s what this is all about. It';s all about trying to say we was robbed.

GRIMSHAW:

But, Prime Minister, you were saying that you were informed, it now seems clear that you were misinformed. If that';s the case, will heads roll?

PRIME MINISTER:

When you say I was misinformed, I can';t make that judgement. I was misinformed yesterday about one particular narrow aspect of the issue but as to the original situation – and that is the advice that children were being thrown overboard – it is the case that that advice was never contradicted and that';s been confirmed by the report. That advice was never contradicted to me. I inquired of the Defence Minister three days before the election whether that advice had been contradicted and he said, no. I released the video. Mr Ruddock spoke to the head of his department two days before the election and he confirmed that the original advice had not been contradicted. Now, that is my position and, quite honestly, people can ask any questions they like of relevant people and of former ministers and of me and I';m quite happy to answer them but I don';t really have any more light at this stage to shed on the matter because that is the truth as far as I am concerned.

GRIMSHAW:

And yet there is a full file of photographs available, the Navy knew it existed, the Navy…defence heads are asking questions through the course of the election campaign saying, look, there';s no evidence, people in your Department were told that there was no evidence to support the claims…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, that';s not…I';m sorry, that last statement you made – people say there was no evidence, I mean, what do you base that on?

GRIMSHAW:

There was no evidence to support the claims that children were thrown overboard. People in your Department were told, were they not, that there was no evidence, that the photographs didn';t necessarily support that…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, I think that';s an exaggeration, with respect, of what the report shows. There is evidence that a senior official in my Department, the Chairman, Jane Halton, of the task force, in fact, asked Defence to make absolutely certain that the thing was okay and then subsequently the release of the photographs, they concluded, as the report demonstrates, that any doubt had been resolved. But can I just make the point about the photographs – the photographs bear upon the…at the time they were being debated before the election they bore upon the question of whether or not they were, they related to the question as to whether or not they were the day the children were allegedly thrown overboard or on a subsequent day when the vessel sank. Now, quite clearly from the information that has now come to light, those photographs were of the second day. I mean, that is self-evident. But that does not of itself in isolation prove or disprove a claim that children were thrown overboard. You could have had a situation where people were thrown overboard but those photographs related to the next day.

GRIMSHAW:

All right, Prime Minister, let';s move on to the Governor-General. There were further allegations made against the Governor-General at the weekend aired on this network and in the newspaper that he ignored sex abuse accusations about Clergy, that he attempted to prevent, perhaps, a complainant going to the police. Do you agree that these allegations are starting to cast a pall over the office of Governor-General?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don';t. The Governor-General saw that material, so I understand, yesterday afternoon and he will be responding to it and until he responds beyond saying that he continues to enjoy my full confidence I don';t believe I should make any further comment. I';m not myself familiar with any of the matters so I can';t make a judgement.

GRIMSHAW:

Have you asked for a briefing?

PRIME MINISTER:

I';ve spoken to the Governor-General.

GRIMSHAW:

Have you asked for a briefing, though, beyond speaking to the Governor-General, have you asked for more details?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the appropriate thing is to hear his side of the story. I don';t automatically accept the contents of the Sunday programme and I don';t think other people should either. And it is only fair and common justice to the man that he be given an opportunity of replying before we start making claims about palls being cast over the office. I mean, they are very nasty allegations and they should be placed under a very powerful magnifying glass and people should analyse them properly and the Governor-General is entitled to defend himself. And I';m not going to start talking about briefings and so forth, that all starts to lead to other questions. And I';m going to let the Governor-General reply and until he';s replied to the allegations, which I expect he will in detail, I';ve got nothing further to say.

GRIMSHAW:

You say they should be placed under a very strong magnifying glass, who';s going to place them under that magnifying glass, are you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I want to hear the Governor-General';s examination first. I want to hear the Governor-General';s response. He';s entitled…I mean, it';s all very well for media to make allegations that go to the heart of somebody';s integrity. I mean, the man';s entitled to the opportunity of replying and I certainly intend that he be given that opportunity and until he has I';m not going to make any further comment. And he continues to enjoy my full confidence and he';s working very hard in his position in difficult circumstances.

GRIMSHAW:

All right, we';ll leave it there. Thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

You';re always welcome.

[Ends]

Transcript 12548