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Transcript 12549

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH JON FAINE, RADIO 3LO, MELBOURNE

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: 12549

Subjects: Governor-General; defence photographs; former ministers

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

FAINE:

In our Canberra studio, Mr Howard good morning to you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning John. Can you hear me okay?

FAINE:

We can indeed, we thank you indeed. There';s the undignifying spectacle of the office of the Governor-General being brought into some disrepute as the ongoing scandal surrounding Peter Hollingworth seems to deepen. All of this on the cusp of you hosting the Queen and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. You can';t let this drag on surely?

PRIME MINISTER:

Dr Hollingworth has had a number of allegations made against him most recently yesterday on the Sunday program and like everybody else he';s entitled to the opportunity of a full reply. He';s going to deliver that and until that has happened I am not going to make any further comment beyond saying that he continues to enjoy my full confidence and support. And let';s wait and see what he has to say in reply to the particular claims made on the Sunday program yesterday.

FAINE:

Is there a vendetta against him as some of his supporters have said?

PRIME MINISTER:

There are some people who don';t have any respect for the Office of Governor-General. You know that as well as I do John. And I think some of the claims that have been made against him of a general character sound on the face of them to be extreme. I mean, one person this morning said he should be behind bars, well really that shows the measure of the hysteria that is emanating from some quarters.

I am not going to talk about the specific allegations because I know nothing of them. I am in no position to talk about individuals that were named on the Sunday program yesterday. I have known Dr Hollingworth for a long time, he has always impressed me as a person of immense character and ability and an extremely conscientious individual who would bring a sincere commitment to any job he had. So let';s wait and hear his side of the story. I feel for him and for his wife and family.

FAINE:

Is it enough to wait to hear his side of the story? Do you need some independent form of inquiry?

PRIME MINISTER:

This business of every time an allegation is made against somebody then you immediately rush out and have an independent inquiry, that';s just a way of trying to throw further mud. Look, I know that we are dealing here with an incredibly distasteful issue - that';s child abuse. We all have a natural flesh-creeping revulsion in any reference to child abuse and it';s understandable that when issues relating to that are raised they have to be dealt with firmly and in a thorough comprehensive manner. Now, the allegations that were raised in relation to the Toowoomba school have been, in my opinion, responded to. The idea that an Archbishop can be responsible directly in the way that it was sought to establish in relation to that school incident. I mean, clearly anybody who knows anything about the administration of independent schools know that they are run by school councils. They are not in reality on a day-to-day basis, they are not run by the denominational leadership of the church to which they are attached.

FAINE:

Yes indeed.

PRIME MINISTER:

That is an unreal proposition. But look, John, the latest allegations are different from the Toowoomba one.

FAINE:

And it';s hard to understand how you can appoint someone against whom you have just been investigating allegations of sexual abuse, how you can point that very person to an ethics [inaudible]…

PRIME MINISTER:

But John, can we hear Dr Hollingworth';s reply. The allegations were only aired yesterday. A man is entitled to put his side of the story before I comment or you comment. I mean, it was only aired yesterday. Give the man the opportunity of replying, give him a fair go.

FAINE:

I';ve had personal and professional dealings back when he was at the brotherhood of St Laurence here. You couldn';t have appointed someone to the office of Governor-General for whom the community had higher regard. He';s a good [inaudible]. He';s work with the poor was exemplary and outstanding but that almost makes it harder but all the more urgent to inquire into, independently inquire into, the circumstances of what now seem to be a rolling sequence of complaints that all have some similar facts to them.

PRIME MINISTER:

With respect, and I say that generally because I enjoy my interviews with this job, I think that is really a bit rough on him. Can';t he be given the opportunity of replying?

FAINE:

Indeed.

PRIME MINISTER:

And these allegations were only made yesterday, they were specific. You can';t comprehensively reply to something like that in the space of two or three hours. You have got to get it right the first time, you don';t want to be amending it. And in the context of other matters quite properly the media is saying to the Government you have got to get detailed advice before you say anything. And that';s the advice I give Dr Hollingworth, that he reply to the allegations but he has got to obviously assemble his facts and deal with it in a comprehensive matter and I know that he will. And he continues to enjoy my support and respect.

FAINE:

Well, Prime Minister, speaking of things you have to get right the first time, the photos of the people overboard. I heard you this morning on Channel Nine saying I was totally in the dark, you say you were misled. Of course, we now know that we were misled. Aren';t you angry, the population seem to be but you seem to be fairly calm?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, when I said I was in the dark, I was in the dark about one aspect of this and that is the existence of more than two photographs. And certainly any suggestion that I was part of a process whereby the Government selected out the most convenient and supportive photographs and released them and deliberately kept the others to itself, I deny that. And so incidentally according to an AAP report does Mr Reith. He';s quoted as saying that he only ever saw two photos and denied knowing anything of photo manipulation. Now, once again I can only speak of my own knowledge but the key issue in this is whether the original statements I made and Mr Ruddock made and Mr Reith made were based on advice properly given and also whether at any stage I was told or Mr Ruddock was told or Mr Reith was told that that original advice was wrong.

Now, I was not told that, nor was Mr Ruddock. And Mr Ruddock inquired of the head of his Department as close to the election as two days before and he was assured that there had been no contradiction of the original advice.

FAINE:

So you were misled Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you say…no, I wasn';t. I mean, it depends what you mean by misled. If somebody knowingly deceives you, I don';t believe that happened.

FAINE:

Then how else could you explain that someone not only gave you two images out of hundreds….

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no.

FAINE:

….publicly released, they were cropped and digitally…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, hang on. They weren';t cropped…

FAINE:

Who did that?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I am sorry, there is no evidence that they were cropped and digitally altered. Not even Simon Crean is saying that they were cropped. Not even Simon Crean was saying that. So fair go.

FAINE:

We';ve been shown one tiny part of a much bigger photo.

PRIME MINISTER:

I';m sorry, that is not what I understand occurred. What I understand occurred was that there were two photographs released and once again I didn';t release photographs. They were released by Mr Reith.

FAINE:

Understood.

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean just let me go through the sequence of this. They were released by Mr Reith, Mr Reith has said that he only ever saw two although it is apparent that others were sent to the Defence Liaison Officers in his office. I mean it is possible a copy of them to be sent to somebody in their office and it';s not drawn to the minister';s attention. But I can';t myself answer for the workings of Mr Reith';s office. I ‘m not going to try and do that.

FAINE:

No I';m not asking you to.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can only speak of my own knowledge and I can only speak of what I know Mr Reith has said about the issue. Now what I am saying to you is that at no stage, at no stage was I involved in some process whereby we deliberately chose to release photographs favourable to the Government';s interpretation of events.

FAINE:

Well who did choose to release only those images that were released out of the hundreds available.

PRIME MINISTER:

At this stage my understanding, and I qualify that very carefully, because I have to say to you I was given information yesterday by defence in writing that was subsequently altered after I had made a public statement on the basis of that advice. So you';ll understand why I';m choosing my words very carefully. My understanding is, and this is based once again on what Mr Reith has said, is that he himself personally only ever saw two photographs and he denied being involved in any process of rejecting some photographs and putting others out. Now there were obviously other photographs, a lot of other photographs in the system but for example I haven';t seen the disc that Mr Crean';s got. It would appear that somebody in the defence system has leaked that to the Opposition.

FAINE:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

They might have at least been even handed and given us a copy too. But at least that would have been even-handed but any way these things happen.

FAINE:

[inaudible] didn';t do the editing process who did and why aren';t you angry that you and your staff and your ministers were part of that same process of releasing selectively material?

PRIME MINISTER:

John I have not been part of a process of selectively leaking something.

FAINE:

No but somebody has been.

PRIME MINISTER:

I know but you just said that I have been.

FAINE:

No why aren';t you [inaudible] as cross about it as the rest of us?

PRIME MINISTER:

John, look I deal with these things in my own way and one of the responsibilities of high office is to remain calm and controlled. I don';t have the liberty of losing calm and losing control, nor I should, and I';m dealing with this matter systematically. But can I take you back to the central issue, and in a way the central issue is unrelated to the questions of the photograph the central issue is whether I acted, and Mr Ruddock acted, and Mr Reith acted in good faith in claiming that children had been thrown overboard. I mean the photographs are plainly of the sinking of the vessel and it was always my understanding that the children overboard had occurred the day before the vessel sank and that was my understanding right through. I mean obviously now that there';s been a detailed report I have to accept what is in that report. But the advice I had, and this advice incidentally was in writing that was provided to me the day after….it confirmed the verbal advice Mr Ruddock gave. I was given verbal advice by Ruddock on the 7th of October and then that was confirmed in writing from the taskgroup report that came to my office the following day and it was copied to Reith that children had been thrown overboard. Now to this day, or until the report came I';m sorry, I never received any written contradiction of that, nor did I receive any verbal contradiction of that.

FAINE:

Did your office?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

FAINE:

The Financial Report reports that Max Moore-Wilton, your departmental head, was told as early as October the 9th [inaudible] about the story.

PRIME MINISTER:

But the Financial Review also reports Mr Moore-Wilton';s denial and it reports the denial of Mr Jordana of my office and yet the Financial Review says – “Revealed, PM';s people knew”. How can they say that when the two people who allegedly knew have gone on the record and said they didn';t.

FAINE:

Are you happy for Mr Moore-Wilton to appear before the inquiry in the Senate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

FAINE:

Are you happy for Peter Reith to appear?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is a matter for him. If he wishes to it';s fine by me.

FAINE:

[inaudible] Do you want….?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is entirely a matter for him. He';s no longer a member of my government. He';s now a private citizen and the question of whether he appears or not is entirely a matter for him. He';s in a different position from me.

FAINE:

If he doesn';t there';s a piece of the jigsaw puzzle missing.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that';s a judgement that you make but I can';t and I won';t compel him to. I have no power to and I wouldn';t presume to. But let';s just go back to basics. I was told in good faith. I used that information in good faith. It was never contradicted to me. I inquired two days before the election and was told by Reith there had been no contradiction. I authorised the release of the video even though that video was plainly inconclusive on the issue. And can I also remind you, John, that most of the news coverage on this issue two or three days before the election was actually alleging that children had not been thrown overboard.

FAINE:

Prime Minister, increasingly this whole policy on asylum seekers seems to be falling apart. We';ve got a $400 million cost overrun, Defence Signals Directorate intercepting calls between private citizens and the Tampa, the Sunday programme yesterday alleging that the Federal Police informant, Kevin Enniss, is in fact a people smuggler and playing up [inaudible], it';s falling apart, is it not?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don';t accept that at all.

FAINE:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

No, well, that';s your allegation. Now, let me go through those things in reverse. I saw the programme about Enniss. I';m getting advice on that and until I';ve got it and I';ve carefully examined it I';m not going to say anything. I';m not going to say a thing. I just don';t know about that. It was completely news to me. I';ll get advice and when I';ve got the advice, and it may take several days, people will just have to wait. I';m not going to give some on the run comment about that until I know exactly what the situation is.

As far as the cost overrun is concerned, it';s not $400 million, it';s $80 million. And from a long-term point of view the policy we';re following, if it continues to be as successful, as successful, as it has over the last three months it will, I believe, end up saving a great deal of money. That';s not, incidentally, the purpose of it. Can I also say, I don';t like the fact that we have to keep people in mandatory detention. Any of your listeners who thinks that I enjoy that and I like it and regard it as a preferable state of affairs, I don';t. I wish it were not necessary and we are taking as many steps as we reasonably can to speed up the process of assessing people';s asylum claims. And what was the first alleged piece of evidence that it was falling apart, I missed that, I forgot it?

FAINE:

The Defence Signals Directorate intercepting private calls…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, hang on, with respect, what happened there was that everything was done in accordance with the law except in…in a narrow area there were four individual breaches that were remedied and that is relatively common, as annual reports of the Defence Signals Directorate going back 10 years will testify that we haven';t broken the law in any way in relation to that, not at all.

FAINE:

Prime Minister, it must be frustrating, you';ve got Parliament resuming, you';ve come off a high winning an election, you';ve got the Queen about to arrive for a Heads of Government Meeting for the Commonwealth, you should be riding high both personally and professionally and instead all that';s happening is this stuff';s clouding up the radar for the media, for the public, for your Government. You';ve got to find your way through it all.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, these things happen and you don';t find a way through these things losing your cool or getting exasperated. You just deal with them on the merits and that';s exactly what I';m doing bit by bit.

FAINE:

Another matter that people are upset about this morning, the news that Peter Reith having taken a job with Tenix and Michael Wooldridge with the College of General Practitioners is now matched by John Fahey, your former Finance Minister, going to work for the investment bank, JP Morgan. Is it proper for Ministers within weeks, even days in some instances, of departing from the Government to take up lucrative private consultancies?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don';t know the details of any of them. I do know of the three jobs.

FAINE:

They';re not charities, are they?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, but that doesn';t mean to say they don';t do other work as well. But how come we now get criticism of former ministers taking consultancies when other former ministers got well-paid jobs and they weren';t the subject of criticism?

FAINE:

Oh, I think the Labor Party have done the same and should be equally condemned but do we need some rules about this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but are you saying that once somebody leaves public life they have no right to go into business?

FAINE:

Should there be a cooling off period?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don';t know what sort of cooling period is appropriate. I mean, there is not a cooling off period in our system.

FAINE:

Should we have one?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I';m not sure that making additional rules of that kind is necessarily a good idea. How long do you make it, nine, 12 months, two years? People are entitled…I mean, everybody else in the community is entitled to get a proper reward for their abilities and providing they';re not given any favourable treatment – and can I assure you that Mr Reith, as a consultant with Tenix, will be treated like anybody else and any suggestion that he will get favourable treatment or that company will get favourable treatment is completely wrong. I don';t think it';s surprising at all that a company like JP Morgan should have a former Premier of New South Wales and a former Finance Minister on their employ. I mean, senior public servants, I think, for example, the former Head of the Treasury is now a Director of Westpac I think and he';s not long gone from that job and I think that';s a perfectly sensible decision for Westpac to make. I mean, why is that once somebody leaves public life they are not able to use their talents providing they aren';t given favourable treatment and they don';t divulge things they shouldn';t divulge.

FAINE:

So you don';t have a problem with it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don';t have a problem with it, no and I';m not sure that you should…and it';s very interesting, though, that the Labor Party is now attacking it because they';ve now been in Opposition for a number of years. I didn';t hear them attacking it on earlier occasions in earlier years. This is very selective this indignation. I mean, what is wrong with John Fahey going to work with JP Morgan? I mean, is John Fahey meant to do nothing. I mean, I';m sure John does a lot of other work as well. He';s always been very heavily involved, I think, in supporting charities to do with the Catholic Church in particular. I mean, why on earth can';t somebody in that position, they';re free agents, they';re out of Parliament…

FAINE:

Several democracies such as the UK have rules where ministers, upon leaving office, are quarantined from taking up consultancies with people with whom they were supposed to be at arms length moments before for a [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

I';m not sure that the UK';s rules are all that strict. I mean, the UK had a long tradition of senior people on the frontbench of the Opposition, for example, being able to hold company directorships and…I don';t think there';s anything wrong with that. I mean, when I was Opposition spokesman I had a consultancy with a law firm in Sydney and I disclosed that and it was valuable to me, not enormously from a financial point of view but it was valuable in other respects and I thought valuable to the firm. I mean, it';s just unreal to say somebody, once they';ve left Parliament they can';t seek other remuneration and do other things commercially.

FAINE:

No, not ever, ever, never ever but for a period of time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, but how long do you make that period. I mean, what';s the difference between three, months, six months, 12 months? Do you wait ‘til there';s a change of government?

FAINE:

No, you wait ‘til there';s a change in whatever information they may have gleamed whilst serving the public.

PRIME MINISTER:

But in reality, John, that could go on for years, years. And most of the insights that people bring is an understanding of the climate and the working, not secrets. I mean, it doesn';t work that way. It';s an understanding of the climate in which governments operate and a knowledge of the process of government that';s important. And if you';re going to apply the criterion that they should not be able to have a job or a consultancy or a directorship until such time as they no longer remember or have [inaudible] with the experience they had in government then they can never have a directorship and that is plainly unreasonable and absurd.

FAINE:

Prime Minister, I';m grateful to you for your time. We';ve covered a huge range of issues this morning and in great detail and I';m grateful to you and we';ll see what our callers make on talkback in a moment as well.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 12549