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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 12588

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP PRESS CONFERENCE, AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY DILI, EAST TIMOR

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: 20/05/2002

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12588

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

PRIME MINISTER:

Before taking questions I'd like to say something about the death of John Gorton. I was very sad to hear the news of Sir John's death last night. He had been ill for some time. I'm glad I had the opportunity of seeing him in hospital only a few weeks ago. He was his normal bright and direct speaking self. And he has had a very long and a very distinguished life. He was a passionate Australian nationalist of great personal fibre and courage. He made a huge contribution to Australian politics. He was a person who championed the national identity of our country in everything that he did. It was displayed in areas as diverse as you could find. He was a great champion of the Australian identity in the arts. Those associated with the Australian Film and Television School will remember with great affection his contribution to that. He championed the cause of freedom of choice for Australian parents in the area of education. He sought to communicate to Australians thirty or more years ago that we were a single economic union and not a collection of state based economies, and he was right in doing that. And he had a farsightedness in relation to that that perhaps only with the passage of years others have come to appreciate. I was personally very pleased that a few years ago at the Federal Council meeting of the Liberal Party he was honoured for his contributions to the party. And the party, at that meeting had the opportunity of expressing its gratitude for what he had done. It represented a coming together of a party and its former leader that was warming for everybody associated with that. And of course many people on all sides of politics will remember the celebration of his 90th birthday in Sydney last September.

The Commonwealth has naturally offered a state funeral to his family. Details of that will be announced after consultation with the family. I have spoken to Lady Nancy Gorton on the phone this morning to convey my personal condolences to her. And can I on behalf of myself, my wife Janette and all of the Australian people, express my sympathy to Nancy and to John';s children and grandchildren. We have lost a passionate Australian who was a brave servant of this country in war and suffered for it. He was a laconic figure, an attractive figure and I am very sorry he has died. I feel privileged to have known him and I know he will be greatly missed by his many friends.

Could I say in relation to the events of the past 24 hours here in East Timor that it has been not only an historic occasion but also an emotional occasion for many Australians. The relationship between Australia and the people of East Timor goes back a long time. We owe the people of East Timor a great deal for the courage they displayed in helping Australian soldiers during World War II, at great personal risk to themselves. I';m very proud that Australia was able to play a critical and decisive role in bringing about the independence of East Timor, during the events of 1999. East Timor has a great deal of good will around the world. I believe that the action of President Megawati Sukarnoputri in coming to the independence celebrations last night was a courageous act. It does signal a willingness on the part of Indonesia to work together with East Timor and others in the region. She is to be applauded for doing it. So also is to be applauded, the gracious reception she was extended by the people of East Timor. All of that indicates that there is a willingness on the part of participants in this part of the world, notwithstanding difficult events of a few years ago, to look to the future. East Timor will need a lot of help, it will need a lot of understanding but it will also need to make the right calls and take the right decisions in relation to the conduct of her own internal affairs, particularly but not only the management of her economy. It is important that East Timor be an attractive place for foreign investors. It is important that the crucial significance of private business activity and foreign investment be understood.

Can I just say to the President Xanana Gusmao, to the Prime Minister Mr Alkatiri, to the Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta, that they have achieved, after a long struggle, their goal. They achieved it with the good will of the Australian people. We will work together in the future. We won';t always agree on everything, but there will always be a basis of good will and a positive desire on the part of the Australian people to work with the people of East Timor. I want to thank the United Nations, the Secretary General, Sergio de Mello and the administration that has been in place since 1999. And can I also finally and very importantly thank Admiral Barrie, and General Cosgrove and all of the others who were responsible for the decisive intervention of Interfet and the contribution of the Australian defence force. Because without that contribution, the outcome that we celebrated last night would not have been achieved and that is widely recognised in the international community. The men and women of the Australian defence forces, consequent upon the government';s decisions at the time, played a decisive role in bringing about what is widely regarded as an extremely positive outcome.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard the only negative in the last 24 hours has been on the Timor Sea Treaty. Mari Alkatiri used his maiden speech in parliament to take a swipe at Australia. How do you respond to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I understood what he was saying. He was putting forward…he was articulating his country';s national interest, which is the first responsibility of the Prime Minister of any country, to articulate their national interest. My response is that of course we are ready to listen to what the newly independent country of East Timor wishes to put in the course of future negotiations. We believe that the approach we have taken to date has been very fair, has been generous. We must serve our own interest, but also ensure that we are fair and generous to the people of East Timor. I was not the least bit surprised at what he said. I expected him to say something of that kind. We';ll talk to him, we';ll listen to him, but we think the way we have conducted ourselves to date has been fair and reasonable and we will continue to be like that.

JOURNALIST:

Is there any room in any international forum though to

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we will….the treaty we signed designates a provisional arrangement and obviously if one or other party wants to argue for some variation of that they have a right to do so. We';ll listen to what they have to say but we also believe that the approach we have taken is fair and reasonable. But I';m not saying that we won';t listen to what they';ve got to put but equally I';m not going to just say automatically that we';ll agree to what is being put. We have to listen to it. Because we are now in a different relationship. We are still two countries that have gone through a lot together and there';s obviously enormous difference in size and wealth between the two communities and that';s one of the reasons why we made a number of concessions in relation to the royalties in negotiations. The split, the 90/10, we think is very reasonable and fair. It represented a shift from our original position and that';s why we are carefully pointing that out.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Mr Horta said that he believed that Australia would eventually concede that East Timor should get a greater share of the Sunrise field. Can you see Australia agreeing to any changes….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we've reached an understanding to negotiate a unitisation agreement on that so in that sense there's still some things to be finally nailed down. I'm not going to preempt those discussions by sort of saying yes or no to that. Once again I can understand why Mr Ramos Horta would say that and if I were in his position I would say that too.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard you say you'll listen to the new Government of East Timor [inaudible]. Is it an unfriendly act to, before discussions on things like maritime borders, isn't it an unfriendly act that two weeks ago Australia declared that it wasn';t going to abide by decisions of the world court or by the protocols of the law of the sea treaty [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's never an unfriendly act for a country to take steps that it's entitled to take under international law. That's not an unfriendly act. That is a legitimate protection of a national interest. And we're not in relation to those acts of which you speak we';re not just talking about any potential impact in terms of relationships between Australia and East Timor. It's a generic thing.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, one of the big issues in the future here is going to be the process of reconciliation. There's an Australian designed model that was exercised in Bougainville, with DFAT and ADF staff actually going into the villages, and it was widely commended. Do you see a role for a similar sort of a process here for Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

We would be willing to cooperate and help in that department if that's what the people of East Timor want. East Timor is now an independent country and I'm not going to be heard to be suggesting in some kind of paternal way how East Timor should conduct her own affairs but if we can assist then clearly I'd have a look at that. That was a successful model. Whether that is appropriate here, whether we would also have to have some regard to the views of our other neighbour in the region as well.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the first report of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute was published today on East Timor and it suggests an expanded Australian security aid for East Timor focused on building up the civil police and in fact suggesting that something like $6 million a year might be helpful. What would your view be of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven't seen that report. It's only been published today so you've had the drop on me. I haven't been able to see it. I guess the only comment I'd make at this stage Geoffrey is that we'd have to look at that in the context of the overall commitment we're making both in relation to the army and also in relation to other things. I just can't say yes or no to that, I haven';t seen it and I'd have to think about it. But bear in mind that we are making a contribution not only to the army as well as to other things including the police.

JOURNALIST:

The paper also canvasses the idea of a security treaty of some sort between Australia and East Timor. What would your views be on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think we should let a little bit of time go by and reflect on that. I'm not going to, you know....it's the first day of independence, I haven't read the report. I really will have to take that on notice. Thank you.

[Ends]

Transcript 12588