PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 15612

Press Conference Phillip Street, Sydney

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: 12/10/2007

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 15612

Subject:
Bali bombings; Australia: Strong, Prosperous and Secure; indigenous Australians.

E&OE...

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and gentlemen, can I start this press conference by remarking that this is the 5th Anniversary of the terrorist attack that claimed the lives of 202 people at Bali, including 88 Australians. It's a time to remember and reflect on the loss of so many of our fellow countrymen and women, to continue to share the grief of their family and other loved ones, to renew our resolve to fight terrorism and to remember always that terrorism does not discriminate between nations and religions. The nationals of many countries including Australia died in Bali and the nationals of many countries have died at the hands of terrorists since. We must renew our determination to work with our friends in the region, not least Indonesia, to fight the scourge of terrorism. But above all, today is a day of sad contemplation and reflection at the cutting down of so many lives, so many of them we recall, of course, were young men and women celebrating the end of football seasons in their various codes. And it was in so many ways a brutal assault on the Australian way of life.

My other comments relate to a document which I am releasing today, which is entitled Australia: Strong, Prosperous and Secure. This document brings together the journey that Australia has undertaken under this Government since March of 1996 and lays the groundwork for the enunciation over coming weeks of policies by the Government built around five forward agenda items.

The first of those is a New Growth and Opportunity Agenda, which will build tomorrow's prosperity and help Australians reap the benefits of hard work, educational endeavour and home ownership. A new Stronger Communities Agenda, which will better equip individuals, families and communities to meet the diverse challenges of everyday life with services that offer real choice and genuine help for those in need. A new Securing Australia Agenda that will further strengthen our capacity to defend the nation and to engage confidently in the world. A new Sustainable Country Agenda that will give Australia more tools to tackle the environmental challenges of our time so we leave this ancient land in better shape for future generations. And finally, and importantly, a new National Unity Agenda that will lift our sights to the unfinished business of nation building and nurture our common bonds for the challenges of tomorrow.

In the weeks ahead, policies around those five agenda goals will be enunciated by me and by others in the Coalition team. The document that I am releasing and that is on the Liberal Party's website now, liberal.org.au, brings together the performance and the policies and the achievements of the Coalition over the last 11 and a half years. But in doing that, it is laying a platform for the policy goals and policy objectives of the years ahead. It is therefore not just a document about the past 11 and a half years, but it is a document which is laying a groundwork for achievement and for implementation in the years ahead.

The five agenda items that I have spoken of are incorporated for your information in the foreword to the document and they represent the broad agenda items around which clear and specific policies will be enunciated in the weeks ahead. Any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard when will the election be?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the election will be some time between now and early December.

JOURNALIST:

And when will you announce it?

PRIME MINISTER:

When I have received the permission of His Excellency the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament.

JOURNALIST:

And is that likely to be on the weekend?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not saying anything more than that Dennis.

JOURNALIST:

Can I ask you a question about your remarks last night, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

They were very personal remarks, they sounded very personal. Was this something that you felt you needed to settle yourself? How extensively did you discuss this policy direction with members of your team, specifically the Treasurer?

PRIME MINISTER:

I didn't really have much of a discussion with any members of my team about this. I spoke to Mr Costello yesterday to brief him on the speech. But this speech was very much my own work, an expression of my own feelings and views. What people don't understand, or haven't accepted, is that I've always believed in reconciliation. I have always believed that we've owed it to our indigenous citizens to do more for them and to more effectively incorporate them into the mainstream of our society, but I have never been willing to embrace the old paradigm, the old agenda. Because that to me involves a repudiation of the Australia I have grown up in and loved and I just couldn't do that and I will never do that.

I think it's possible to love and revere the traditional Australia but also have full and genuine reconciliation with the indigenous people. And many of those who propagated particular pathways to reconciliation created a situation where it was almost impossible to do that, that it all had to be built on repudiation and shame and guilt. And it can't be built on that and if we try and do that we're not going to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity that I believe the Northern Territory intervention and the public reaction to it has presented.

This is a real watershed. What we have seen in the last few months is an overturning of the attitudes previously argued and accepted in relation to indigenous policy; and we have seen a new approach. And people say to me, why didn't you intervene like this five years ago, 10 years ago? The public would never have accepted it because we were then still as a nation toying with the old notions of treaties and the concept almost of separate development; that somehow or other you had a split citizenship within one nation. Now I have never believed in that. I used a phrase last night I first used 19 years ago in a document called Future Directions. I used the phrase; One Australia and I have always believed in One Australia. I believe in that passionately. It's influenced my views in relation to this. It's influenced my views in relation to multiculturalism, to settlement policies. I have always supported a multi-racial mix in this country, but I have always believed that we should be one nation, one people.

The indigenous people of this country are different from anybody else because they were here first and they have a very special place and I think we have an opportunity to honour that place in a respectful, symbolic fashion by putting something in the Constitution. But you won't do that unless you are able to unite conservative Australia with the rest of the country and conservative Australia will not vote for something that is built on shame and repudiation.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think conservative Australia would have been surprised...

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Do you think conservative Australia would have been surprised to hear your words last night?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no sensible conservative people, they would understand me, they would understand because it's their view. I mean, it's a mistake to see conservative people as being against reconciliation. What they are against, what I am against, is a repudiational reconciliation if I can put it that way, something that involves repudiation of the past. Obviously there were great injustices done to indigenous people in the past but I have never been willing to embrace a formal national apology because I do not believe the current generation can accept responsibility for the deeds of earlier generations and there's always been a fundamental unwillingness to accept in this debate the difference between an expression of sorrow and an assumption of responsibility and I think we have...but the important thing is this; that because of the new mood following the Northern Territory intervention we have an unexpected and perhaps time limited convergence of sentiment and we've got to build on that. A sentiment that unites conservative people on this issue and people who have a more rights based attitude.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, why did you go out of your way in the speech last night to say that you accepted your share of the blame in the past for the past relationship between yourself and the indigenous leaders? Why did you go out of your way to talk about your share of the blame?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because I think looking back I might have handled things better. I might have handled myself better at the reconciliation conference in 1997, was it? I mean, I've acknowledged that previously and on something as tortured and difficult as this it would have been, if I am willing as I indicated two years ago, willing to go more than half way, it would have been conceited in the extreme to have pretended that I didn't carry some of the blame.

JOURNALIST:

So Prime Minister are you saying that this is the closest your government can get to saying sorry?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think to typify this as just whether you say or don't say sorry is to misunderstand what's involved and to trivialise the issue.

JOURNALIST:

Are you the Fonzie of Australian politics?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm sorry?

JOURNALIST:

Are you the Fonzie of Australian politics?

PRIME MINISTER:

The which?

JOURNALIST:

Are you the Fonzie of Australian politics? Happy Days, he was never able to say sorry.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think you're trivialising a very important issue.

JOURNALIST:

But are you? Do you watch Happy Days?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think I am who I am and I think you're trivialising it.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, do you believe that the Coalition, led by you, is only capable of providing that conservative convergence on this issue? Do you believe Labor could do it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't. I don't believe Labor could unite conservative and progressive Australia on this issue, I don't.

JOURNALIST:

And do you, you specified an 18 month time frame. You've also indicated that you would retire at some stage in the next term if re-elected. Does that 18 month time limit mean that you would remain until this was actually delivered?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, what it means is that within 18 months I would want to see a referendum. I'm not getting into anything in relation to my future beyond what I said some weeks ago about well into my next term, I would retire. I've made that clear and I would then expect to be succeeded by Mr Costello. So there's nothing added to, subtracted from implied by, derived from, constructively altered by what I've said last night. It's...that's a free standing thing and that's it. But I think that, you won't get this referendum up unless you can unite conservative Australia with people who adopt a more strident, rights based approach, or group rights based approach to this issue. See, what I'm talking about is a statement of reconciliation which accords a special place to the indigenous people, their language and their culture within the concepts of an indivisible citizenship and a reconciled nation.

I mean, this is moving on from what underpins so much of the discussion of the last 20 years and that there was some notion of negotiation between two parts of the nation. I have never accepted that and you can go back and look at every single thing I have said about this issue as Prime Minister, as Leader of the Opposition and in whatever other positions I've held. I have never believed in the idea of customary law having ascendancy over the general body of law. I have never accepted the notion of split citizenship. I have always wanted to see the indigenous people assisted by involvement in the mainstream of the Australian community but I think we have seen a tectonic shift in this whole debate over the last few months. The Northern Territory intervention would not have been accepted by the public five years ago, let alone 10 years ago and one of the reasons why it has been accepted is that people think the old approach has failed and they see a solution through dealing with the problem on the basis of all of us being Australians together. Now there's nothing incompatible with that and the notion of a special place in the Australian community.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, given the significance of this and your own personal, long personal history of involvement, given that with indigenous relations, wouldn't it help if you were actually there to help persuade the Australian people why this is a good idea?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm talking about doing this and doing all of this very early in my term if I'm re-elected.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, in releasing this document today, would you say that one of the reasons for doing this is that you feel that the achievements of your government are little understood or not fully appreciated?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I think it's always important when you're coming towards the end of a term, and we are clearly coming towards the end of a term, I think it's always a good idea to draw together in a consistent and well articulated fashion the achievements not only of that term but the terms that have gone before it. I suppose all governments think no matter how, who they are and where they might see themselves politically they think from time to time that people should be more appreciative than what they are but that's not really the point. I'm not ungrateful in any way for the reaction of the Australian people towards what the Government has done but I do think it's necessary when you get to the end of a term to bring together in a document what is being done but more importantly what it means about your capacity to implement an agenda for the future. It's all very well to have five agenda items but unless you can point to a past track record of performance those five agenda items will sound like empty rhetoric.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, this document?

JOURNALIST:

Yes, yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

This document has been printed and authorised by B Loughnane, Liberal Party of Australia, Canberra.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, if I can take you back to the past for a moment, can you tell us about working in 1967's referendum, how you voted and why?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I voted yes, yes. Well I voted in favour of putting the references in to the power of the Commonwealth to make laws in relation to Aborigines and I also voted at the same time in favour of their inclusion in the census which, of course, some people have forgotten as one of the things but I also voted to break the nexus, but that went down in a screaming heap. It was supported by both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party, the Coalition, the Country Party as it then was, but it was opposed by the DLP and the DLP scored a stunning victory at...they certainly did at the Campsie Public School and I think they did just about everywhere else.

JOURNALIST:

What sort of vote would you like to see this time, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

I would like to see something in equal to this. I would.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think that's feasible? I mean that...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think if you can get a genuine bipartisan consensus, and if it is seen by conservative Australia as being what it is meant to be, and that is a reaching out and a respectful recognition of the special place of indigenous people in the life of this country and the history of this country, but is not seen as some kind of back door way of entrenching special rights and special entitlements, and it does not involve a revival of the old paradigms of treaties and formal apologies and so forth; I think there's a real likelihood of it. Because I did incidentally discuss this with the Leader of the National Party before I made the speech and he was very strongly supportive of the sentiments.

JOURNALIST:

Was that yesterday too, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

What's your response PM to criticism that what's happened over the last 10 to 11 years, you've got a problem with trust with the indigenous leadership. What's your response to that particular point?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well my response is that there are some people who are styled as indigenous leaders that will never accept anything I say because they come from a radically different stand point, they belong to what I can only call as a school of thought which says that the only acceptable way forward in relation to indigenous policy is a repudiation of this nation's past. Now I'm not going to do that because on balance I'm very proud of this nation's past. It's got blemishes but the balance sheet of Australian history is an incredibly impressive one and I will never do that. And they know that, and that's why whatever I put forward is not acceptable.

But I think we have moved on from that. I think there is a new and different mood and I even detected it in some of the comments that were made this morning. Now I'm not going to single out the comments I have in mind but I was not unhappy with the comments that were made this morning. I found some of them rather more positive than some might have accepted. Others were entirely predictable and not to be seen as representative of mainstream indigenous opinion. But we're talking here about an amalgamation of opinion. You can't get anything into this Constitution, and we can't resolve this issue, we can't finish the business on this issue unless we can unite conservative and other sections of the Australian community.

JOURNALIST:

How much does this speech represent a change of sentiment on your part? How much have you changed your mind?

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven't really changed my mind if you look at what I've previously said, as much as some people have argued. I think what I have come to accept though is that in order to get movement on this issue I've had to personalise it more, and that's what I've done. Because in the end the personality of the Prime Minister does influence these things particularly if you've been Prime Minister for a long period of time. But I am very heavily influenced by the passionate One Australia view I've held for all of my political life. I have seen this nation as a federation of ethnicities or a federation of interest groups. I've always seen it as an indivisible entity.

JOURNALIST:

So you decided that you actually would (inaudible) as a person and as a leader was standing in the way...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, that misinterprets what I'm saying. I think with some of these things you...in order to make the point; you really have to be more personal about it and to be more willing to bear your soul than you might in relation to other issues. But there's nothing, and you can tell from what I'm saying today, this afternoon, there's nothing that I said last night that I felt in anyway uncomfortable with and there was nothing that was forced or gone beyond my well held and well known beliefs.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you said that all governments would like the public to be a little bit more appreciative of what they have done. Are you...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, you misunderstood....that was a generic comment. I am not the least bit unhappy about the gratitude of the Australian people.

JOURNALIST:

Are you puzzled?

PRIME MINISTER:

Am I puzzled?

JOURNALIST:

Are you puzzled by the apparent lack of gratitude of the Australian people?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, I'm not, I'm not.

JOURNALIST:

So you're not unhappy John?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, I'm always happy, always optimistic.

JOURNALIST:

Well why do you think the polls have been so consistently against you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look you're asking me....I'm not going....particularly at this stage of the Government's term, and we are getting towards the end of this term, I don't think it's appropriate for me to give a commentary on the polls.

JOURNALIST:

Is there speculation that you're about to make an announcement or may even introduce some legislation next week in parliament on the same sex discrimination.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is wrong, I'm not about to introduce any legislation on that. Look my position, the Government's position on this is that we have no desire to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual preferences. I want to make that very clear. We, however, have a very strong view in relation to the institution of marriage, which is articulated in the amendments we made to the Marriage Act, and so I think I'll just leave it at that.

JOURNALIST:

Those views Prime Minister don't stand in the way of amending all those pieces of legislation.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if you're...what are you asking me?

JOURNALIST:

Could you give them the same status as de facto couples?

PRIME MINISTER:

If you're asking me does the Government endorse all of the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission on this, no it doesn't.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, given the sensitivity on the announcement on reconciliation and given the Treasurer's role as your successor, why didn't you consult with him more fully beyond briefing him yesterday?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I had no reason to believe he wouldn't agree with what I was about to say.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think it will help his prospects?

PRIME MINISTER:

His prospects? I think his prospects, like mine, are in the hands of the Australian people.

JOURNALIST:

What about as a successor to you? He's been heavily identified with reconciliation in the past. Does your own change of heart...

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, if you're asking me who do I think my successor will be, I think it will be Peter, and I think it should be, although it is up to the Party when the time comes, but I have no doubt as to who the Party should choose as my successor. Thanks a lot.

[ends]

Transcript 15612