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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 20705

Interview with Kerri-Anne Kennerley

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: 20/05/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20705

KENNERLEY:

This morning it is a great pleasure to welcome to the program Prime Minister John Howard. Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time. It's very good of you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Very nice to be here.

KENNERLEY:

Well it's terrific because I know how busy you are. Now, I think we've got to get straight to the newspapers this very morning, and I know you obviously have been following polls for a lot longer than I have, but how is it - perhaps you can explain - in the Sydney Morning Herald you have been overwhelmingly rejected and in the The Australian poll you apparently have a commanding lead. Just tell me how this works again.

PRIME MINISTER:

It depends a bit on what question you ask.

KENNERLEY:

Well, you know, you're doing good here and you're doing bad there. What's going on? Who's right, who's wrong?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in the end the public will decide that at the next election. I've been following polls for a long time and I'm a little bit sort of philosophical about opinion polls because I've been at every point on the chart. I can remember picking up papers some mornings where I can tell you, both of them said I was right down there, and others differ. I think the explanation this morning is that the Nielsen poll asked some questions which the Newspoll didn't. The Newspoll asked a very important question which Nielsen didn't, and that explains the difference. Nielsen asked for peoples' attitudes on some specific things, and we didn't do as well there. But when Newspoll asked the particular question - do you think the Budget was good for the economy, which Nielsen didn't ask, we did very well on that. And of course on the overall party situation, we're still doing very well on both polls - better in Newspoll than in Nielsen.

KENNERLEY:

And obviously that's the one you'll believe this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look these things change. They really do. I think that very seriously the one thing everybody should remember about in the Australian political climate is it's always very close when it comes to an election. I've been in Parliament now for 29 years and been through a lot of elections. There has only been on about four occasions in that 29 years when there has really been a very strong result either way. Mostly the result ends up being just a couple of percentage points difference between...

KENNERLEY:

So at the end of the day, it doesn't really make any difference?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not a lot, no, it really doesn't. But it has an effect on the internal dynamics of political parties.

KENNERLEY:

In the real world it doesn't matter?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, in the real world people are interested in how the economy is going, their jobs, their interest rates and those sorts of things.

KENNERLEY:

Well another issue that I know the real world is interested in - troops coming home. You have been welcoming them home. But as a leader, it must be the toughest decision of all time to send troops to war. Do you remember the defining moment - the moment - you said we are going to war? Where were you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I was in Sydney and I heard that the last hope of getting a consensus in the United Nations disappeared. I still believe that if the United Nations had come together, then Iraq may have capitulated and we could have avoided war.

KENNERLEY:

But that moment. Where were you standing?

PRIME MINISTER:

I was literally sitting in my office and I got this information. I knew then.

KENNERLEY:

What time of day?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, it probably would have been about nine o'clock in the morning.

KENNERLEY:

Is that sort of an indelible...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well not completely because these things happen incrementally. You don't sort of go from one side to the other in a huge whoosh.

KENNERLEY:

But how did you feel? What went through your mind, your body, when you said we must now send Australians to war?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh well I felt very responsible and every time the phone rang then for the next six weeks, I worried that it was somebody to tell me that one of our men or women had been hit. That's the hardest part of it and I'm just so incredibly grateful, and I'm sure the families even more so, that miraculously, marvellously, incredibly we didn't suffer any casualties. That's the hardest part because I would have felt directly and personally responsible for that.

KENNERLEY:

Because making the decision was yours. Your father, your grandfather, quite extraordinarily who fought in World Wars, met as soldiers on the fields of France. What do you think they would have made of their young John having to make these decisions?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'd have hoped they thought I had done the right thing. I would hope that. I think they would have, but I'll never know. They've long since left us. But I think the proudest time I have had as Prime Minister has been to mix with these young men and women, to meet them in the Gulf. It was a very interesting trip I had a few weeks ago, but the highlight of it was meeting the men and women in the Gulf. Their uncomplicated enthusiasm, their commitment to Australia, the pride in the work they have done, and their fundamental decency. They weren't only great war fighters, they were also great peacemakers and conciliators. And they were a terrific advertisement and exemplar of today's younger generation, and some not quite so young.

KENNERLEY:

In the whole lead up, and as you've said these things happen incrementally, the whole lead up to the discussions, especially with the United States, were there any discussions about trade deals?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it was never conditional. Never. I mean I want a trade deal and I'll work very hard for it and we've...

KENNERLEY:

The timing was most interesting that all this is sort of happening after the war.

PRIME MINISTER:

No but Kerri-Anne, we started talking about the possibility of a trade deal 18 months ago.

KENNERLEY:

So it was never [inaudible] in correlation...

PRIME MINISTER:

It was never linked. There was never even a suggestion of, look John, if you give us help in Iraq, we'll give you a leg up in the trade deal. I think the trade deal incidentally will still be very hard and we'll continue to have a lot of differences with the Americans on some of those trade issues, but they are not linked. And I've taken the opposite side of it too, that even if we had a bad outcome with the trade negotiations with the United States, it wouldn't alter my view about strategic and political issues.

KENNERLEY:

Very importantly, you made this wonderful visit to President Bush's private ranch. What's it like?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's a great property. It's not pretentious and lavish or over the top. It's his own. He bought it out of the proceeds of the sale of his interest in a baseball team, the Texas Rangers.

KENNERLEY:

Was it comfy?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's comfy and adequate without being over the top. It's got a separate guesthouse [inaudible] myself, and that's okay, comfy as you say.

KENNERLEY:

Did they make a decent cup of coffee?

PRIME MINISTER:

They made a very decent cup of tea or coffee, whatever you like.

KENNERLEY:

I was going to say do the Texans know how to make tea?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, if you ask them. And I got driven around in his utility, or he calls that a pick-up.

KENNERLEY:

Did he drive?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes he does. He took me for a drive around the first afternoon, and then the next morning after we had had the press conference, he and I and the two Ambassadors - Michael Thawley from Australia and Tom Schieffer from America - and then Janette and Laura, came in the next ute. Janette and Laura found they had a lot in common. They had a similar professional background, some similarities. Janette a high school teacher and Laura a librarian. And they were both by coincidence only children. So I suppose in the exchange of sort of life's experiences, they had quite a bit in common.

KENNERLEY:

So when you're driving around in the pick-up with the President driving, what's he doing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he's pointing things out.

KENNERLEY:

What does he love?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he's very fond of his property and he has a very intimate knowledge of the vegetation. It's much greener... it reminded me a little bit of western Victoria without the gum trees. That was the sort of... I was put a little bit in mind of - western Victoria after a lot of rain and without the gum trees.

KENNERLEY:

So he's a good host?

PRIME MINISTER:

Very pleasant. He's a very amiable bloke and we just talked the whole time. There were serious discussions and also a lot of family and personal discussions, so I enjoyed it. It was enjoyable. It was also quite a privilege. And it's the first time I think an Australian Prime Minister and an American President have had such a sustained amount of time together. I mean other Prime Ministers have been close to American Presidents, I'm not suggesting otherwise, but for a sustained period of time and access, it's certainly the longest I can think of.

KENNERLEY:

Well how will you reciprocate at Kirribilli or Lodge when he comes out toward the end of the year?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'll think of a way when he comes. I mean he may come at the end of the year, maybe next year. But I'll find a way.

KENNERLEY:

So you'll be in the Lodge next year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Good go.

KENNERLEY:

Is that a yes?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it was a good go on your part.

KENNERLEY:

But you will think of a way? It's hard. I mean, what do you do for the President?

PRIME MINISTER:

Interestingly enough, he revealed that he plays rugby - he played rugby rather when he was at college - which is not something American Presidents normally do, so...

KENNERLEY:

Very unusual.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, very unusual. Look I'll think of a way. I mean, I haven't given it detailed thought.

KENNERLEY:

We had a bit of fun. Okay, who invented the barbie? Did you do a barbie at the ranch? Because I want to know - is it the Aussie barbie or the Texan barbie?

PRIME MINISTER:

We had a sort of a burger kind of barbie on the second... on the Saturday lunch. But it was a very sociable and very amiable occasion. But when you have an opportunity like that, you can actually, well you can talk more freely and we had about three hours talking on Air Force One flying from San Francisco.

KENNERLEY:

Oh yeah, what's Air Force One like?

PRIME MINISTER:

Pretty similar.

KENNERLEY:

Is it just like the movie?

PRIME MINISTER:

Very similar.

KENNERLEY:

Did you sort of... when you were on Air Force One or at the ranch, I mean we're all tempted occasionally when you go to the flash hotels and you pick up the shampoo bottles or the bathrobe or something... did you get a goodie? PRIME MINISTER:

No, not into that.

KENNERLEY:

Did they give you a little memento?

PRIME MINISTER:

I got a packet of famous cards in the Gulf.

KENNERLEY:

But nothing off the ranch or US One?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

KENNERLEY:

Because a lot of us have been perhaps a little tempted... Is it just me? So no souvenirs?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can't remember any [inaudible]. I don't follow those things very closely.

KENNERLEY:

... wonderful collection of ashtrays, and I don't even [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

No, well he has the odd cigar.

KENNERLEY:

Well Prime Minister, we've got a little bit more to talk about and if you'd be so kind, we're going to take a commercial break, if you'd like to stay with us.

[commercial break]

KENNERLEY:

Welcome back to Mornings and Prime Minister John Howard is still with us and again thank you Prime Minister. When we met last time I think I was doing a little bit of radio and I found the most wonderful archival audio going back to the 50s and when I played it I just got an enormous reception from our listeners and I'd like to get your reaction this morning Prime Minister.

DAVEY:

Yes, and I picked young John Howard, he's a nice sort of lad and he's been here two nights now battling away and he just hasn't much luck. How are you John?

JOHN HOWARD:

Not bad thanks Mr Davey.

DAVEY:

That's alright. What do you do for a living.

JOHN HOWARD:

I still go to school.

DAVEY:

Oh you do. What school?

JOHN HOWARD:

Canterbury Boys High School.

[laughs]

DAVEY:

Who are they?

JOHN HOWARD:

Oh that's just my brother, he went to Canterbury too.

DAVEY:

Oh he did hey?

JOHN HOWARD:

And he's got a wife down here with him too. She didn't go to Canterbury.

DAVEY:

I got to say these co-educational schemes are quite alright. Now you know what we've got to do don't you John?

JOHN HOWARD:

Yes... velvet packets rather.

DAVEY:

That's a boy, velvet packets yes. Right, let's get busy. Where do you find a mortar board?

JOHN HOWARD:

Oh, on a school teacher's head.

DAVEY:

That's the best way for it yes. Right, that's exactly 10 bars of velvet soap you've got. In botany, a tree whose leaves fall in autumn is called a what sort of tree?

JOHN HOWARD:

A shedding tree.

DAVEY:

I could not look you straight in the face John and say that it was not a shedding tree because there is it busily shedding. So therefore it is. It's called a deciduous tree, but you've got the right idea, you've got 20 packets now. Venus is another name for the Goddess of what? Don't pull a face like that, you're a bit young yet but you'll come good. The Goddess of what - Venus? No good looking at your brother, he's married.

JOHN HOWARD:

Oh the Goddess of love.

DAVEY:

Who composed the oratorio The Messiah?

JOHN HOWARD:

Handel.

DAVEY:

You're a nice boy, glad you came John. Afraid you haven't won a washing machine but you're going to keep Mum Howard pretty happy for a long time because you got 90, give him another 10, you got 100 bars of velvet soap.

KENNERLEY:

Prime Minister, what a wonderful piece. What does that do you for you when you hear that? Jack Davey.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes it was a long time ago but I remember it and I was in fourth year at Canterbury High, it would have been in 1955, so that would have been what about 48 years ago, yeah 48 that's right, 48 years ago. Extraordinary.

KENNERLEY:

What did you do with all the soap, 100 bars?

PRIME MINISTER:

I gave it to my mother.

KENNERLEY:

And how did she feel about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

She was very very grateful, I think she wouldn't have minded the washing machine, although she did have one but perhaps a later model would have been very popular. But it's just one of those things, but heavens that old archival stuff is extraordinary.

KENNERLEY:

Isn't it wonderful?

PRIME MINISTER:

And of course as a child I listened to those sort of programmes, Davey was on, he was on 2GB wasn't he?

KENNERLEY:

I think so yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

And Bob Dwyer was on 2UE, I think that's how it's split.

KENNERLEY:

So you liked all those game shows?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I used to listen to them, I used to listen to the serials.

KENNERLEY:

Do you think you're ready for Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I couldn't handle that. Of course that was the year before television was introduced, one year before, so it was the golden age of that kind of radio.

KENNERLEY:

Do you remember who, as Jack Davey said, you're a wonderful young man, that young John Howard, do you have strong memories of your ambitions at that time of your life?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I had ambitions, I mean by that time I realised I could never play test cricket for Australia so I'd given that away. But I had an interest in politics, even at that stage, and I did, you know I don't know that my ambition was formed beyond that, there are stories about people saying you know I'm going to be Prime Minister or something, they're often overdone and they're created in retrospect but I certainly had a lot of ambition then, very much and I have always encouraged ambition in my own children, I think it's very important.

KENNERLEY:

What made you go on a game show? Was it because you're a fond listener?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I was quite a fond listener and it was very much a straight quiz show with the humour appropriate to the time. I followed it and I thought gee I can do that and why not. And I vaguely knew somebody at the time who was a quiz kid and of course they used to have those young people around my age on those quiz kids programmes and I thought why can't I have a go and I just rang up and they interviewed me and gave me a sort of trial set of questions and I managed to do well enough in that, I bombed out a bit in the real thing but that's how it goes.

KENNERLEY:

We took to the streets last night, we wanted Australia to have the opportunity to speak to the Prime Minister and we have some questions if you'd be so kind as to have a look and listen.

VIEWER:

Well a job well done with the Iraqi affair, I think everybody's on his side. But overall I've had my taxes reduced, I pay enough as it now.

VIEWER:

I'd like to know what he's doing about Australia, not too much worry about what's going on overseas.

VIEWER:

The Medicare situation I'm not very happy about that, I'd have a go at him about that.

VIEWER:

Could you give us more tax cuts?

VIEWER:

The increased terrorism, what's happening with it?

VIEWER:

I think national security is probably the main issue, why did we have to go to war?

VIEWER:

Given I would say the terrorist attacks in Morocco I think really the whole world is a very dangerous place. And I don't think that fear, the fear of terrorism is really the answer. I think we need to respond with something a bit more sensible.

VIEWER:

Mr Howard, I was wondering if all of Australia could refund its $4 a week tax cuts and give that back to education, health and the much needed immigration problem that we currently suffer.

KENNERLEY:

Well Prime Minister we do have a bunch of things in there, perhaps we could start with terrorism, Australia's security is paramount in our thoughts at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I mean I agree with that and we've been doing a lot of things since the 11th of September 2001 about that, more for defence, more for internal security, recent announcement about the role of the reserves, we've been working on that for some time. I can't guarantee that Australia won't be subject to a terrorist attack and that's been the possibility now for a number of years. And it's very obvious from what has happened in the Middle East recently and what has been said in Indonesia, it's very obvious that it's a blind generic hostility to Westerners, including Australians, which is the driving force. But I think by walking away from the problem and pretending that somehow or other it will go away if you just say nice things to people, that doesn't work. I do however think that we have to try very hard to get a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians and the strongest political message I took out of my discussions with George Bush was that the Americans are committed like never before to try and get a settlement in the Middle East and what you're seeing at the moment with the suicide bombings is a determined attempt by the absolute fanatics to derail the peace process. They know that for the first time there's a real prospect of a breakthrough because the Palestinians have appointed a more moderate Prime Minister, the Israelis have shown disposition to talk, and I think the absolute lunatic fringe, the murderers are stepping up the terror in the hope of derailing the peace process and I think the world should understand that and resist the temptation to be knocked off course.

KENNERLEY:

Another question there. People, obviously, want more tax cuts. We saw...

PRIME MINISTER:

And more spending.

KENNERLEY:

And more spending.

PRIME MINISTER:

Human nature being what it is.

KENNERLEY:

Exactly. But $4, and I've got to say - you know, we look at those polls and some of the information out of the polls out of both newspapers this morning. In my heart of hearts, I believe Australians would have preferred to take their $4 a week tax cuts to put it into education, into medicine. How do you feel?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not sure, I'm not sure about that. I think it's... people can be a bit unpredictable, they... when you give them a specific thing, you want more money spent on this because that's tangible and specific, you tend to say yes, $4 doesn't sound very much but as a general principle, I'm not sure that Australians don't believe they're better judges of how to spend their money than I am, and they're right too, it's their money.

KENNERLEY:

It is there money, indeed. Now, we're very grateful to have on the line, you have been welcoming a lot of troops home. And this is a young women I know you've met - Petty Officer Julie Higgs is on the line and I believe from Perth. Petty Officer, welcome to Mornings and the Prime Minister is with us. Thank you for your time.

HIGGS:

Good morning, Kerri-Anne, how are you?

KENNERLEY:

I'm very well. The Prime Minister is with us. I know you had a chance to meet the Prime Minister recently.

HIGGS:

I did. I saw him very much with the large crowd that was there on Saturday on our arrival home, yeah.

PRIME MINISTER:

Hello Julie, welcome back. You've sort of come down to earth, it must be wonderful.

HIGGS:

I think I'm still there, but good morning Prime Minister, how are you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm very well and your two children looked very happy last Saturday morning, they really did.

HIGGS:

They're absolutely pleased to have their mum home.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's great.

KENNERLEY:

You're in Nowra, forgive me Petty Officer, at the moment. How tough is it to be a mum away from your babies?

HIGGS:

It was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my Naval career.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think it's a great story. You were the only mother on the Kanimbla?

HIGGS:

On the Anzac.

PRIME MINISTER:

Anzac, I'm sorry.

KENNERLEY:

Were you the only mother on the Anzac?

HIGGS:

Yes, I was Kerri-Anne. There's about 20 to 30 women on Anzac of a crew of about 180 and yes, I was the only mum onboard.

KENNERLEY:

To have the Prime Minister come and welcome you, what does that mean to people in the service, like yourself? Forget which side of politics you may be on, but what does it mean?

HIGGS:

For me personally, and I'm sure for a lot of other people on the ship, it was... I was very appreciative actually that we got the welcome home that we did. It was a long time away and whatever you struggle within yourself, it's just always nice to know that the people of Australia are behind you when you come back home and it kind of made it all worthwhile to see those people lined up and waving the Australian flag and welcoming us home.

KENNERLEY:

Well, well said.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think on that that welcome homes are, Kerri-Anne and Julie, are very, very important. I think many people remember, once again whatever peoples' views are put that to one side, at the time of the Vietnam War when people came home they came home in darkness and almost by stealth and it was terrible and it left an indelible impression, bad impression on them for the rest of their lives. And I was determined when this Iraqi operation started that no matter the outcome, no matter what some people thought of it, and I know a lot of people were against it, and I was determined that those men and women were going to be given a proper farewell and a proper welcome home. And as well as the individual welcome home, we're going to have two big parades - one in Perth and one in Sydney.

KENNERLEY:

Sydney's June 18, I understand.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, and Perth is on the 20th of June.

KENNERLEY:

Well Petty Officer Julie Higgs, we thank you very much for taking the time this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you, Julie and thank you for what you've done for Australia.

HIGGS:

Thank you very much and good morning.

KENNERLEY:

It's nice. Well Prime Minister, you've been very kind to join us, feel free to drop by anytime you'd like.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay, I will.

KENNERLEY:

You've got a busy time ahead.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, well I've got... we're welcoming home some more troops at Holsworthy in Sydney this afternoon and then another one in Townsville in Queensland later in the week and then it's back to Parliament next week. So, it's been a pretty busy time.

KENNERLEY:

So the whole year will be fairly stacked up?

PRIME MINISTER:

The whole year is already very stacked up, there's a lot of things to happen.

KENNERLEY:

Oh, any hints?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, nothing to add to what I've said.

KENNERLEY:

Got to love a trier.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yea, you're a very good trier.

KENNERLEY:

Prime Minister, we do appreciate your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Great, good luck.

[ends]

Transcript 20705