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Transcript 20694

Interview with Tracy Grimshaw, Today Show, Channel Nine

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: 18/02/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20694

GRIMSHAW:

Prime Minister John Howard is with us this morning. Good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning.

GRIMSHAW:

Prime Minister, we've seen the biggest demonstrations in history, your approval rating is slipping, the opinion polls say Australians don't want war. Are you worried?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I'm not. I'm not doing this... I'm not taking the stance I am because of the reading of the latest opinion poll, but I just might point out that opinion poll shows the Government still clearly in front and my lead over Mr Crean as preferred Prime Minister actually increasing since the last poll, so I think we have to keep that in perspective. In the end, on something like this I have to do what I believe is in the best interests of Australia. There will be ups and downs in public reaction. My own strong view is that public opinion has not finally settled because the public doesn't know the full options that are available and what all the circumstances are. I think you saw at the weekend an expression from those people who strongly oppose our position. There is probably an equal number of people, perhaps more, who quite strongly support it, but they don't need to demonstrate in favour of what we're doing because we're doing it. And then there are a lot of people in the middle who haven't really made up their minds, and that I think is the state of public opinion. But in the end, on something as critical as this, somebody in my position has to think it through very carefully and then do what he believes is right, and that's what I've done.

GRIMSHAW:

So are you, in effect, saying that Governments aren't accountable to people's opinions where matters of global security are at issue?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I'm not saying that at all. I mean I'm accountable at election time. If the public at the next election doesn't like the job I've done, they'll throw me out. That's what democracy is all about. But you can't run a Government on the basis of changing your policy according to fluctuations in the opinion polls. We would never have had tax reform if I had followed the opinion polls on that issue. There are many things that you have to, during the life of the Government, you have to argue for, even though there may at a given point of time be less than 50 per cent support for. But on this issue, I don't believe the true state of public opinion has yet settled. But in any event, my job is to do what I believe is right and I think it is right to take a stand against the spread of chemical and biological weapons because I'm worried they'll get into the hands of international terrorists. And this is the new threat... this is the new order under which we live now and we have to deal with it. We can't turn our backs on it. People who think... and everybody hates war, and those rallies at the weekend were called anti-war rallies. I'm anti-war, you're anti-war, everybody hates war. But there are some times, occasions where you've got to take a stand. There may be some short-term pain, but if you don't take a stand, dealing with it later on occurs at a much greater cost. That's what history tells us.

GRIMSHAW:

You've said if people don't like what you've done, they'll throw you out at the next election. Are you prepared to risk the next election on this? Are you saying that? And as you sniff the political wind, are you conceding that's a possibility?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't concede that at all. I'm just stating... you asked me a question - do I think I'm accountable, and the answer is yes, I'm accountable at election time and if people don't agree with what I'm doing, then they vote against me. That's not conceding that they disagree. I don't think the majority has yet settled either way on this issue. I think there are some people obviously very strongly against it and you saw a lot of them, and I respect their view, I do, at the weekend. And there are also a lot of people strongly in favour, but they don't make as much noise because you don't demonstrate in favour of the status quo. And then there are a lot of other people who are sifting through the information, waiting to see what happens before their attitude finally settles. In the meantime, I've got to have a position on behalf of our country. I believe that what we are doing is right. It's not easy. This is a very difficult issue but you have to take the judgement, or make the judgement, you believe to be in the best interests of your nation. That's my charge, nothing else.

GRIMSHAW:

You could find out what people think by having a plebiscite. Why not do that?

PRIME MINISTER:

You don't have plebiscites, I mean, we never have. What is the point of having a Government? Governments are elected to govern. We have elections every three years. You don't get... when companies make major decisions, they don't go to their shareholders on every single thing. But look, you can't run a country on that basis. I mean the whole idea of representative Government is to elect a group of people, if you don't like what they're doing, then you vote them out of office. We have elections quite frequently in Australia - rare for major democracies to have only a three year term - five years in Britain, four or five years in Canada, four years in the United States. So it's not as if we are elected for a very long time. Most people say we have too many elections.

GRIMSHAW:

There are signs that the backbenchers are getting a little nervous. Would you be willing to give them a conscience vote?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, you don't have a conscience vote. I haven't heard anybody in my... there's nobody in my party who has called for a conscience vote, but in any event it's not appropriate. Look, I think the parliamentary party has been, you know, magnificently solid on this. They have been terrific. Obviously there will be a range of views. I respect that. This is a very challenging issue. There are a range of views in the Labor Party. I think there are probably a lot of people in the Labor Party who agree with what I'm doing, but they don't really want to say so.

GRIMSHAW:

Israeli sources say we are now a bigger terrorist target as a result of our support for the American Government. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie says we are too. Do you think that we are?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are a terrorist target because we are part of western society, and if you think taking a different stance on Iraq buys immunity for your citizens, think of the German and French citizens who died from terrorist attacks at the hands of al Qaeda.

GRIMSHAW:

Alright, we'll leave it there. Thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 20694