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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 20661

Interview with Neil Mitchell, Radio 3AW

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: 13/06/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20661

MITCHELL:

In our Sydney studio the Prime Minister. Mr Howard, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, Neil.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, we've been very keen to have a welcome home function for military personnel who served in Iraq here in Melbourne, but we've been told that you told the Premier here you can't help, why not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Neil, we're having two welcome homes and they're not based on any preference for one part of Australia over the other. It's based on the fact that the units that were involved were predominantly Sydney or near Sydney-based or Perth or near Perth-based.

MITCHELL:

But you had functions for the families.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, we did have functions for the families but you've got to bear in mind, Neil, that these personnel have been on duty for a long time. There's a lot of, even with the new Sydney-based personnel, there is time out of their leave for the parades. If you have a parade in every capital city in Australia that will eat into their leave time and they want to spend as much time as they can with their families. When we had the INTERFET welcome home, we had a welcome home parade in Sydney because there are a lot of units from Holsworthy and we had the other welcome home parade in Townsville because the great bulk of the remainder had come from units that were based at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville. Now, it's purely related to that element.

MITCHELL:

We're not even talking about a parade, we talking about a function at Government House and your letter extraordinarily says the defence forces don't know where their own personnel are, which I find extraordinary...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, no. What the letter was saying was a definition of what is a Victorian-based, what is a Victorian... I mean, who do you invite?

MITCHELL:

Anybody in Victoria...

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah...

MITCHELL:

.. who served in Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but the great bulk of the people are not living in Victoria because they're not Victorian-based. Many of them, even if they came from Victoria, have gone elsewhere.

MITCHELL:

Well that shouldn't be a problem then. We'll just have a small party.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I mean there has to be a point at which... now if you do that you've got to do that in every part of Australia.

MITCHELL:

Why can't... we're the only ones who have suggested it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, no, no. I know the way, you know, things like this operate and I'm not saying this critically of premiers but the reality is that if we do it in Victoria and the Queensland Premier asks for one and the South Australian Premier asks for one and the Tasmanian Premier asks for one, there is no reason why we can't treat them the same. Now that is why we have adopted, and I've talked extensively with the defence, and this is not just my view being imposed, this is the very strong view of the defence forces as well.

MITCHELL:

Well Mr Bracks says you're playing politics.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh really. I mean, heavens above. Did I play politics when I invited Mr Bracks to come to the family gathering at Government House? I mean, I haven't played politics over this. I mean, let's not get into political positions taken on the military commitment in Iraq. I mean, please, I don't think it's very sensible of Mr Bracks to start talking about that.

MITCHELL:

Well, it is frustrating. We're trying to avoid the Vietnam syndrome. We want...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don't think there's any likelihood of that. They will be given... there will be two welcome home parades and it's purely based on the fact that the overwhelming bulk of the people involved were either Sydney or near Sydney-based units, or Western Australian or near Perth-based units. Now, that is the rationale. If there had been Victorian-based units and none from New South Wales the parade would have been in Melbourne.

MITCHELL:

Well, true but there were a lot of Victorians who served there.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well when you say there are a lot of Victorians... I mean...

MITCHELL:

I mean, the parents keep ringing me saying what about the welcome home?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I understand that, but I also understand that those people are based elsewhere and it means that we would potentially face another four or five welcome home parades. And what the defence people say to me - I have to take some notice of them because they've got to handle these issues - they say that the great, you know, the feeling of their men and women is that - ok, a couple of parades, most of them, many of them will be involved in only one, very very few will be involved in both and then they would like to have the rest of their time on some leave. I don't think that is unreasonable.

MITCHELL:

... we have it after the leave. Anyway, calls for the Prime Minister 9696 1278 if you'd like to speak to Mr Howard in our Sydney studio. Middle East, Mr Howard. Hamas and Israel have overnight both declared war, more attacks from both sides. Israel says it will destroy Hamas even to the lowest members of the group. Is that fair?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it's understandable. I don't think it's sensible. I think that everybody, difficult though it is, has got to exercise restraint. Until one side, by a breakthrough in self restraint, acts out of character, then we're not going to have a breakthrough. And for the peace process to succeed there does need to be a breakthrough, there does need to be a situation where despite the provocation and despite the retaliation, despite everything that has happened, one side says well I won't retaliate in relation to the latest outrage as I see it committed against me. I do have to acknowledge that the people who first said they were going to derail the road map, if you derail a map, it will tear up the road map - that was Hamas. Remember after the meeting in Aqaba, convened by President Bush, it was a Hamas leader who said I'm going to stop this, we're going to keep going, we're not going to take any notice of what Abu Mazen the Palestinian Prime Minister had said. But I also think that the... in response the hyperescalation by the Israelis is very unhelpful and I don't think it's in the interests of Israel. It's in Israel's interest to have peace, and that has to be kept in mind.

MITCHELL:

Should Israel be exercising restraint now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well everybody should be. Not just Israel. I mean unfortunately with this debate there is always the tendency to say well...

MITCHELL:

But we do have more influence with Israel, do we not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the west has a lot of influence with Israel, but I think we also have a lot of influence with the Palestinians. Perhaps not as much, but just because you have more influence with one party to a dispute doesn't make it fairer for that party to exercise far more restraint than the other party. They've both got to behave responsibly.

MITCHELL:

Hamas has told foreigners to get out of Israel. They say it's too dangerous. What do you say to Australians in Israel?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it is very dangerous.

MITCHELL:

Should Australians get out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Australians... obviously people will make their own decision, and I know a lot of Australian citizens who live in Israel. I can only say to them - you will have to recognise the continued and increasing danger of living there - and the question of whether we vary our travel alerts is something that we'll get advice from our security services on, but I would have to echo the concern that has been expressed over the world's media today.

MITCHELL:

Do you agree with George Bush that some people in the Middle East seem to hate peace?

PRIME MINISTER:

I do, and Hamas is a very good example of that because, as I say, it was Hamas who immediately, as soon as that meeting had finished in Jordan, they immediately said in effect - we're going to try and wreck this.

MITCHELL:

Is there any increased role for Australia here as we head into this situation? Is there any increased role you can see yourself or this country playing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'll continue to express diplomatically as well as publicly the view that I have about Israeli responses, and I'll continue to do that to the Palestinians. We have a role. But when tempers and when behaviour becomes so inflammatory, there is not an enormous amount that anybody can do beyond trying to exert pressure. There is not an enormous amount even the Americans can do. They have done wonders I think getting the parties together. I think President Bush is to be congratulated that he has used the opportunity of the victory in Iraq to get them all together.

MITCHELL:

We'll take a call. Arthur, go ahead please.

CALLER:

Yes. Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes Arthur.

CALLER:

My name is Arthur Carbell. I'm from the welcome home committee for the Iraq war veterans. What is wrong with trying to get the Kanimbla who have a lot of Victorian people on board. I know for a fact, because I'm dealing with some of the families that have relatives on that, doing like a goodwill tour after they have had all their leave and so forth, swing them into the Port of Melbourne so that they can put on a state reception for them.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Arthur, I'll talk to the military about that. I don't know the feasibility of that, and I am not in charge of the operations of the defence forces. I take a very strong view about operational matters, if I can put it that way, and I don't tell the defence force where they deploy their assets when they're not in normal military operation, so I'd have to talk to the Navy and the CDF about that. I'll pass on that suggestion. I'm not rejecting it, but I don't know the feasibility of it, I don't know exactly what they have in mind, but I will certainly pass that on and if you like to, I'm sure you've already left details of your address and so forth, and I will be very happy to come back to you. I'm not trying to be difficult. Please understand. I know what you're getting at. I know the feeling of a lot of people. I have to also though pay regard to the feelings and the people in the defence force, and just the reality that the great bulk of the people who have served in the Gulf are from units that are not Victorian based. I mean that is the whole rationale for this. It has got nothing whatever to do with preferring one city over another, as I pointed out last time. We had the second parade in Townsville, not in Perth or Melbourne, just because the great bulk of the fellows came from, or the men and the women came from the Lavarack Barracks.

MITCHELL:

We'll take a break and come back with more questions, more calls for the Prime Minister. 9696 1278.

[commercial break]

MITCHELL:

It's 13 to 9. The Prime Minister in our Sydney studio. Mr Howard, the Governor-General.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

MITCHELL:

I'm advised to place my house on Peter Cosgrove. If I do, will I have somewhere to live when it's announced?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not responding to any speculation about anybody.

MITCHELL:

Close to a decision?

PRIME MINISTER:

The matter is getting the appropriate, very active, consideration.

MITCHELL:

Is the age or sex of a person relevant?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

MITCHELL:

Does it worry you...

PRIME MINISTER:

I want a good person.

MITCHELL:

Yep, fair enough.

PRIME MINISTER:

And I think Australia wants a good person, and there a lot of good people. I'm giving it a lot of very careful thought and it is being handled, I believe, in the appropriate fashion. And when I'm in the position to do so, and advice has been given and accepted, I can make an announcement.

MITCHELL:

What about the Labor Party? Does it worry you who leads the Labor Party?

PRIME MINISTER:

That's a matter for them. I have made a very firm commitment to myself not to publicly comment on the contest. Whatever I say will be seen by the Australian public, quite legitimately too, as self-serving, and there is no point in my saying anything. Obviously you think about it, and I follow it with great interest.

MITCHELL:

You'd agree a strong opposition is good for democracy though?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course. But can I say to people who think that the next election is a walkover for the Liberal Party, that whoever emerges as leader of the Labor Party from Monday, the Labor Party will get its act together and the Labor Party will be a tough opponent for us. No Liberal anywhere in Australia should think that the next election is a foregone conclusion. Federal elections in this country are nearly always very close. There is only often two or three percentage points on a two party basis that separate the two sides, and no matter how strong the economy is, or no matter how weak people may think the Opposition is, or disunited, etcetera, once you get down to the wire, the elections are always close, and the next one is going to be very hard. We'll be going for our fourth in a row, and historically that is extremely hard to achieve. It has only been achieved twice since World War II.

MITCHELL:

Something else. Why is a former Prime Minister of Bangladesh, who was sentenced to jail for corruption, why has he been given refugee status in Australia? And is he even getting an Australian pension?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't know why. I read that story. It's the first I knew of it. The decision was apparently taken by the Department without apparently, so the newspaper report says, any reference to the Minister. I'm going to make a few enquiries about it. On the face of it, it seems a puzzling decision, but there may be a proper explanation, to be fair to the people who made it. I don't know anything of it beyond what is in the papers, but I intend to find out this morning.

MITCHELL:

Corey. Go ahead please Corey.

CALLER:

Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Corey.

CALLER:

Prime Minister, I hear that we will be receiving a bill from the Americans in reference to the Iraqi war, and hence the food that our boys ate, as well as the bombs that were also dropped, is that true or not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I haven't actually seen that report but I wouldn't be surprised if it were true, I mean we're not scroungers internationally, we pay our own way, it was never part of the deal that the Americans would financially underwrite our commitment, I don't think any self-respecting Australian would want that to happen would they?

MITCHELL:

Can I ask you a couple of other things about the war, thanks for calling Corey, because it just puzzles me the more I think about it why no Iraqi aircraft were used, why I think about 20 divisions of soldiers were never seen, why if they had them weapons of mass destruction were not used, whether underlying all that the intelligence we received from the United States was accurate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in relation to the use of the airforce, there were strong suggestions early on in the military operations that the Iraqi airforce operating as it apparently had with some degree of distance and independence from the rest of the Iraqi military might not be engaged. Now that was in the end something that didn't come as a complete surprise to me or to us because we'd been told that that was entirely possible. And I'm glad the information turned out to be very accurate. Once again the information we had was that there might not be very strong Iraqi military resistance, although there was always the fear that that information could be very wrong, the intelligence suggested that morale was very low, that the ordinary Iraqi regular army units would not put up any real fight, that the Republican Guard was overrated, it was only the special Republican Guard which was sort of an elite of the Republican Guard that was going to put up a fight. In the end that intelligence proved to be very accurate except that those that put up the greatest fight were the paramilitaries, the "Feda'iyee Saddam" as they were called, they put up a greater fight.

MITCHELL:

And weapons of mass destruction?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the intelligence once again, which might I point out as indicated by my earlier remarks, proved to be very accurate in relation to these other things, the intelligence was that Iraq did have a WMD capacity and I think people should still be more patient about the search that's going on for it.

MITCHELL:

You don't have any sense, I mean there are inquiries being...

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't have any...

MITCHELL:

... any sense that somehow we've been misled?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, I have no sense that our intelligence agencies cooked this up, none whatsoever, I mean obviously they were relying very heavily on American and British intelligence, we have a very intimate shared intelligence arrangement with both of those countries.

MITCHELL:

Or were those countries cooking it up?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't have any sense, no I don't. I mean I personally spoke to the head of British intelligence on two occasions about this when I was in London, and he certainly wasn't, he didn't come across to me as a man who was cooking anything up, I mean they are notoriously understated those blokes.

MITCHELL:

Geoff Clark still hasn't adequately answered going on his trip.

PRIME MINISTER:

No he hasn't.

MITCHELL:

What's his future?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there are certain legal considerations to be taken into account, but clearly on the face of it he has a case to answer.

MITCHELL:

So what's his future?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'll leave that to the Minister to determine in accordance with the proper principles that apply.

MITCHELL:

I would assume he's not going to be the next Governor General?

PRIME MINISTER:

What's your next question?

MITCHELL:

Turf war, we're told by the Police Minister here in Victoria, turf war between the Federal Police and State Police in relation to terrorism.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I heard that interview, I found it amazing, the document that we've released, the counter-terrorism document, was agreed between the Commonwealth and the States, it follows an inter-governmental agreement that I signed with all of the State Premiers following the Bali memorial service in Canberra last October and I have been told that we've had total co-operation, there's full agreement, I don't know what he's talking about, I heard him give an interview on the ABC and it just sounds as though he'd been sent in to bat against the Federal Government for no particular reason.

MITCHELL:

Well he was talking to me about the situation with Joseph Gutnick, the threats to Joseph Gutnick the Melbourne businessmen, and he said that the Victorian Police have never been told of it, which he said was indicative of turf war.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I hadn't been told of it.

MITCHELL:

Would you expect to be?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

MITCHELL:

But maybe the Victorian Police would.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well maybe, I mean, if he's got that particular compliant, but that's not something that necessarily relates to co-operation in relation to terrorism, I mean if he's got particular complaints like that well let Commissioner Nixon take that up with the Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, and if people have got complaints, we have no desire for turf wars, we need the full involvement and the co-operation of state police because they are far more numerous than Federal Police, there are a lot more of them, they've got a lot of experience, we value that experience and this is a partnership, clearly there are roles for both and I'm not interested in turf wars, I hate them, they're the thing that annoy me more than anything else about the governance arrangements of this country, this constant sort of you know we'll make the feds work harder to get what they want and this unwillingness, and it happens on both sides, I mean there's a desire on the part of some people from the Federal Government to take everything over just because they think the Federal Government can do it better, it's a question of sharing your experience and respecting the roles of each other, that's how you make a federation work.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time, have you ever been a fan of Queen, not the Monarch, the music?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

MITCHELL:

Oh, what a pity.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I'm sorry I can't help you in relation to that rap.

MITCHELL:

That rap? Thank you very much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

See you.

[ends]

Transcript 20661