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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 20955

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: 13/10/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20955

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, thank you for talking to us, was this the defining moment you';d hoped it would be?

PRIME MINISTER:

I never saw it as being a defining moment, I saw it as a contribution to the process. I think this idea that you can have one event that gives people closure is wrong. When you';ve lost somebody tragically you never really have closure, you just have the series of events and the passage of time and a lot of love and help from people that enables you to bear it and I hope and I believe that today has made a contribution to that process and my sense talking to the families was that they found it helpful and if that';s the case than that';s what I want.

MITCHELL:

You did have the private meeting with the families and John Williamson songs and all the rest of it, how did that go, what happened there?

PRIME MINISTER:

That was wonderful, I just said a few words and said how terrific it was to have the opportunity of getting together as Australians, and we had a lot of other visitors as well and John sang 'True Blue' and a couple of other songs and another chap who';d lost both his brothers and a sister-in-law, a chap from Geelong, sang a song that he composed, which was quite wonderful, it was very moving.

MITCHELL:

Did you find this whole event personally difficult?

PRIME MINISTER:

I found it emotional, I tried to put myself in the position of these people, when you think God what would it be like if I lost one of my kids and they';re all like that and I just felt so desperately sorry for them, they weren';t doing anything other than what everybody that age does, I mean most of them were young, not all of them but most of them in their 20';s and 30';s, having a bit of fun at the end of the football season, celebrating a big event in their life, a new love or whatever you like and bang - 88 of them are dead and some of them are horribly maimed, I felt desperately sorry for them, I did, when I came up here four days after the attack and I';ve felt like that all the year and seeing many of them again you felt you had an obligation to give them as much help and support as you possibly could and I think we did, I think the Government';s tried hard but in the end as I say you can never have total closure when you';ve lost a loved one, you just help to bear it a little more.

MITCHELL:

Did you shed a tear personally?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes, I found some of the moments very emotional, particularly when you meet some of the families and one lady very early in the group said she';d lost both of her daughters, it';s pretty terrible isn';t it? And this chap that sang the song, very grim.

MITCHELL:

It is grim. What do we do now for these people? Do we have another commemoration? How do we help them into the future?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have ongoing support for them and we';ve undertaken certain ongoing expenses, I think the combination of today and then we';re having another service in the Great Hall in Canberra later this week, that will make them feel that their loss is felt by the whole nation and if we can in different ways go on doing that, it won';t be the same in a year's time as it was today, just as in New York and Washington the second anniversary was not the same as the first, that';s in the nature of things and it';s right that that be the case, you can';t have a situation where you have the same intensity each year, life must go on and that';s important to them and I had the sense talking to many of them today that, whilst as I say this wasn';t a closure or a defining moment, it was a very important part of the process.

MITCHELL:

What do you think this whole event, this whole past few days, the whole event means culturally to Australia, to the future of the Australian psyche, some people have talked about Gallipoli, which obviously is a totally different thing, but is this, how will this affect Australia long term?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think one of the things that';s come out of it for me and to me is that this whole event has bought out what I call that wonderful duality in the Australian character where we';re very tough but we';re also quite caring, we';re very strong but we';re also very soft and maybe we haven';t been as readily acknowledging of the soft caring part of our character as we have been over the last year and if, as I believe that to be the case, that';s a very good thing for our nation.

MITCHELL:

How will we see it reflected in our nation?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it';s bound us together even more. I have never felt such a sense of national unity, I mean these are people from all over the country, all of us different shapes and sizes, I say all of us, we';re all part of it, and they were united, they would have had different views on everything, they played different codes of football and had different religions, some would have no religion at all, they';d have different politics, they had different ethnic backgrounds but they were commonly unconditionally united as Australians and that was very uplifting.

MITCHELL:

And the impact on Australia';s relations with Indonesia, I thought the Indonesian Minister spoke very powerfully today, there';s a sense in some of the victims that this is even bringing Australia and Indonesia closer together, do you think so?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I hope it has, I think the sensible Indonesians understand that we';re in this together, Indonesia has helped in the hunt for those who did this terrible thing and their police have been outstanding and I want to again recognise what they';ve done. So it may well be that this event has helped to further focus the minds of the Indonesians on the need for even tougher measures against terrorism.

MITCHELL:

Did they need that focus do you think?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think perhaps earlier on there may not have been as much focus as there should have been.

MITCHELL:

To get back to the event itself, at any stage did you think that maybe there was just too much risk, that maybe it wasn';t worth doing what was done today?

PRIME MINISTER:

I guess in a theoretical sense I did but emotionally I felt we had to do it, I couldn';t think absent the authorities coming to me and saying look we know for certain that somebody is going to let off a bomb in the middle of the service and we just can';t have it, absent that, I was determined to go ahead with it and determined to have it in a place and with an ambience that meant something to people.

MITCHELL:

What was in your mind as you actually walked up there and stood at the microphone to speak?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I certainly wasn';t thinking of any kind of danger, I was just wanting to talk to the people and just say very simply to them that the nation cared for them a year ago and it still cares for them and that we do have this wonderful combination of strength and compassion and that makes us a great country.

MITCHELL:

Walking past the photographs after the ceremony on the way out must have been one of theā€¦

PRIME MINISTER:

That was very evocative, it would have been very emotional for the families, but you see all those young faces, all in happy circumstances, it';s just a reminder of the barbaric character of what happened is a terrible waste and the wilful criminality of what was done.

MITCHELL:

Just finally in terms of impact on the average people, I wonder has there been a more important time in your prime ministership than right through this year?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don';t think so, because we';ve had to bring reason to our anger, it';s no good blindly hitting out, we';ve got it to do in a reasonable fashion and I am greatly warmed by the fact that most Australians have behaved like that, even those who';ve lost everything, they understand there';s a process, they understand that all Muslims are not to blame, they understand that they';ve got to be tolerant towards people of different faiths and races. I don';t think there';s an increased bigotry in the Australian community, if anything it';s encourages us to seek out a greater understanding of difference rather than pick on people who are different.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 20955