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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 20685

Radio Interview with Jon Faine, Radio 3LO

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: 14/02/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20685

FAINE:

The Prime Minister, John Howard, is in transit in Dubai on his way from London to Indonesia. Prime Minister, good morning and welcome to the program.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, John.

FAINE:

You've had meetings, extensive meetings in Washington with the US Administration and President Bush and also with Tony Blair and others in London. Are you arranging any meetings or have you had any meetings with people offering other solutions to the Iraqi crisis?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I dare say that the views that will be expressed to me in Jakarta on the issue will not be the same as the view that's been expressed in Washington and London. One of the reasons that I decided I should go to Jakarta, apart from wanting to personally thank President Megawati for the magnificent way in which the Indonesian police have conducted the investigation into the Bali atrocity, was my realisation and understanding that the Iraq issue does raise sensitivities in Islamic countries. Indonesia is the largest Islamic country in the world and I wanted the opportunity to say to the President that our concerns about Iraq were not, of course, based in any way on religion or Islam. We have no quarrel with Islam or Islamic countries. We do have a quarrel with countries like Iraq that have dangerous weapons. And understandably, there is a concern in countries like Indonesia and I think it's a good opportunity for me to talk very directly to her and explain because of the importance of Indonesia to Australia-

FAINE:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

-the thinking and the reasoning. So, I mean there's a limit to how many countries I can visit.

FAINE:

No, I understood. But Prime Minister, if France and Germany have, in particular, formed a joint position and are strongly arguing for a different solution to the crisis, would it not have been good to at least meet those leaders to see...?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I suppose you could say - well, I should go there, I should also go to Russia, I should also go to China. I mean, there's got to be a limit. I can't be in a situation where I'm seen as going to every capital.

FAINE:

For London...

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't myself, I don't myself think that the French position is in any way final. And bear in mind that the view being put by the United States and the United Kingdom is very similar to the view that's being put by Australia and, of course, they are major players in this. But John, theoretically, you can go on, you can mount a case for visiting every country that is on the Security Council, visiting all of the P-5. Frankly, I'm just not in a position to do that. I do have some other responsibilities as well.

FAINE:

Indeed, you do.

PRIME MINISTER:

And I think the triangulation of Australian foreign policy; the importance of the region - and that's why I'm going to Indonesia - the importance of our very close alliance with the United States. And of course, with the United Kingdom as well, but that's...

FAINE:

It confirms...

PRIME MINISTER:

That's the decision I took.

FAINE:

Understood, Prime Minister. It confirms the feeling in Australia that we're committed to one possible solution, but not any of the alternative solutions to be...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we are. We are certainly not committed to a solution that allows the matter to go on indefinitely and thereby allow Iraq to continue to defy the Security Council as it has over the last twelve years. We are certainly committed to a view that says the matter has to be dealt with. I happen to believe, John, that we are far more likely to get a peaceful solution if we follow the path of insisting that the Security Council will be obeyed. I don't hear that at the moment from the French and the Germans.

FAINE:

No. Prime Minister, there are massive peace marches planned around the world this weekend and it's expected here in Australia in each capital city. There will be a substantial turnout of people opposed to the position you continue to adopt. Does that in any way shake your resolve?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it doesn't alter the view I have. There are always in democracies demonstrations. The one part, of course, of the world where you won't have a free demonstration of will, will be Baghdad and doesn't that say something about some of the things that are at stake in this. You'll have plenty of demonstrations in London, and Washington, and New York, and Australia because we are democracies and they won't be orchestrated demonstrations in the sense of them occurring under government direction or orchestration. They'll be the right of people in a democracy to express their view. If you're asking me whether that's going to alter my position of itself, no it won't. I mean, John, this is not an easy issue. I have a great respect for public opinion; I listen to it; I know there are people with reservations about this matter; I've thought about all of that; I believe that this is an issue that we can't turn our backs on. I think it is a dangerous world when chemical, biological and, perhaps in time, nuclear weapons are in the hands of countries like Iraq. It's made even more dangerous by the possibility of them, those weapons, getting in the hands of terrorists. Now, we are living in a different, a new dispensation.

FAINE:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

And we can't ignore these things and that's why I believe the best way to stabilise and protect Australia's position is to join international efforts to disarm Iraq, to send a message thereby to countries like North Korea. If weakness is shown towards Iraq, North Korea will be boosted and will be much more difficult to control.

FAINE:

Speaking of North Korea, Prime Minister, if indeed they do have super missiles with sufficient range to reach the United States, are you aware whether they also have missiles with sufficient range to reach Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there are all sorts of reports and the situation is by no means clear. And I could argue very strongly- and Australia in fact has done quite a bit already, diplomatically, to try and bring North Korea back into compliance with her obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

FAINE:

But isn't North Korea more a threat to Australia than Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

But it's not a question, it's not a question of, in a situation like this, of saying - well, look, we can only deal with one issue at a time. Both issues have to be addressed and there is a connection. And the clear connection is that if Iraq is not dealt with effectively, we don't have any real hope of controlling North Korea through international pressure and diplomacy. I mean, why would North Korea do what the international community wanted it to do if the international community lacks the strength and the will and the determination to deal with Iraq. I mean, can somebody please, those who are criticising us, perhaps they can answer that question. So, what they're really saying is - oh, because North Korea, that might be a bigger problem, forget about Iraq, and you only focus on North Korea. But I mean, you're not really saying that, they don't really mean that. What they really mean is that they find the North Korean issue as a way of attacking our position on Iraq. Now what I say is you deal with both issues.

FAINE:

No people are saying there's a double standard that there's more of an effort on Iraq because of oil and North Korea which is just...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well can I deal with the question of oil. I mean this suggestion that America wants to do what it does because it wants to get hold of Iraqi oil is just completely wrong, it's completely dishonest, it's not based on any reality. If America wanted access to Iraq's oil supplies at a cheap price the easy thing to do would be to have made a deal with Iraq years ago to lift the sanctions and get access to the oil. Iraq has large reserves of oil but they're not readily exploitable and the economics of somebody, quote, taking over the Iraqi oil supplies, which of course is not going to happen, they belong to Iraq and that is our position and they don't belong to anybody else and no matter what occurs in the future those oil reserves will always belong to Iraq and that will always be the view of the Australian Government. But even if you accept the cynical view and you've got to bear in mind that if the Americans really wanted to help themselves they would have done that years ago. I mean, that is just one of the monstrous criticisms that are made of the Americans by people who are more concerned to criticise America than they are Iraq.

FAINE:

Two other questions if I may, Prime Minister. At the moment your Government is sponsoring an official visit to Australia by a Muslim cleric, a mainstream Muslim cleric from Indonesia and his name is Hasyim Muzadi. He met yesterday with Alexander Downer, your Foreign Minister, and repeated the warning from many Muslim leaders that attacking Iraq will galvanise support for extreme Islam to pose a further risk to destabilising not just the Middle East but the whole world. Do you heed his warning?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I haven't seen that report. I'm not saying you've misrepresented it but, do I heed his warning - I am aware that some people hold that view. I'm also aware that if the world deals weakly with Iraq extremists will see that as a victory for extremist intimidation. Can I just pose the very simple question - what impact do you really think a weak dealing with Iraq is going to have on the attitude of extremists, aren't they more likely to say we threatened them, we invoked the possibility of all sorts of things and they've retreated? Isn't that going to leave them in a stronger rather than weaker position? I mean, how do you say to people who are trained to deal with these extremists that you strengthen their position by the example of weakness?

FAINE:

Well, you exercise strength but you do it in concert with moderate Muslim states so that the Arab global community and the Muslim community understand that it's not Christians against Muslims, it's not America against Arabs, it's the world united against one rogue regime?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that is my argument and that is why I believe the world community should unite behind a second resolution through the Security Council. I mean, I couldn't agree with you more. And that will bring together countries spanning the religions and that is my very argument. And if you really want to deal effectively with this you have to have a united view. And if we adopt the approach urged by our critics - and that is basically to accept that...I mean, some of them are basically saying that America is as bad as Iraq and that basically is what many of the critics of the Government are saying. They're saying basically it's America's fault. You don't hear much criticism of Iraq. But just going back to the fundamental point you made, which is absolutely right, you were absolutely right in saying that, if you got the world together saying to Iraq, you must disarm and they all said if you don't disarm there will be serious consequences i.e. the possibility of force being used or the likelihood of force being used and then with that occurring you then have the Arab states, which are very important in bringing pressure to bear on Iraq saying the same thing to them, I think you might possibly then achieve a peaceful solution. But you won't achieve a peaceful outcome by dealing weakly with Iraq and if you deal weakly with Iraq then I think that will sap the willingness of moderate Islamic countries to deal strongly with terrorists in their own ranks. And this question of Christians and Muslims, can I just remind you that in Kosovo it was the Christian west that took up the cause of the Muslims of Kosovo against the Orthodox Serbia. People sometimes forget that and some Muslim leaders forget that. This idea that America always, western countries always take the part of nominally Christian countries against Islamic countries is just not correct.

FAINE:

And I'm sure you'll address that with President Megawati when you arrive in Indonesia. In Dubai at the moment, Prime Minister, have you had a chance to look around the duty free shops, have they got any cheap plasma televisions?

PRIME MINISTER:

The answer is, no, I haven't. I will be going for a walk in a moment.

FAINE:

I understand Telstra want back the one they've leant you for quite some time.

PRIME MINISTER:

When you say they want back - the...I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand that question. You say they want back the one they lent me for some time, that seems to be a non sequitur.They lent me a television set. I declared the fact that they lent it to me. They indicated a period of three months, of course, it has gone on longer than that. I have indicated that I'll be returning it very shortly. I want to stress it was not given to me. I would never have accepted it as a gift and it will be returned. It was only ever intended to be a loan. I made this public [inaudible].

FAINE:

Was it not a breach of your own code of ministerial conduct?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

FAINE:

Why not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because there's nothing in the code that says that sort of thing would be a breached.

FAINE:

It should be, shouldn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well when you say it should, I mean, you're saying that somebody...well, why should it be?

FAINE:

Because you make decisions about Telstra and its commercial situation in the market and they're providing you with what many think as little more than a bribe.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I resent the suggestion it's a bribe. I mean, really that's quite ridiculous to say bribe. Our policy on this...Telstra's privatisation as we know it was determined five years ago, sorry, seven years ago.

FAINE:

But it's determined, surely a loan of that nature is to curry favour with the Prime Minister - here, have one of the absolutely most whiz bang, cutting-edge pieces of technology around, play with it for as long as you like, that shows you how nice we are.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, if you think for a moment that's going to influence attitudes I take towards Telstra you don't really know me very well.

FAINE:

The question has to be put, Prime Minister, was it a mistake to accept the gift or the loan?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don't accept that. I mean, if I this...I thought about this and I put it on the register and I thought that was entirely appropriate and I don't think it's unreasonable that the technology of something like that should be something that I'm familiar with.

FAINE:

Thank you for calling us on, I'm sure, what is a very hectic schedule and it will be of great interest in Australia to learn as much as possible about your conversations with President Megawati when you return. Thank you for speaking to us today, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you. Bye bye.

[Ends]

Transcript 20685