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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 20991

Interview with David Frost 'Breakfast with Frost', BBC Television

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: 09/11/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20991

FROST:

This morning the Australian Prime Minister John Howard will be laying a wreath at the cenotaph, commemorating more than 100,000 Australian servicemen who died in the first and second and world wars as our so highly rated allies. Serving Australian troops have of course been fighting in Iraq alongside British and American servicemen. Indeed there is a substantial Australian presence - about 800 people still in Iraq today. But when I spoke to John Howard earlier this morning, I asked him first about a new memorial he is dedicating to the Australian war dead, that has been built at Hyde Park corner in central London.

PRIME MINISTER:

Along with the Queen and the British Prime Minister, I'll be opening the new Australian war memorial at Hyde Park corner that will in a long overdue way honour the hundreds of thousands of Australians who fought alongside Britain in both world wars, both World War I and World War II. And it's a beautiful monument and we think it will become very much a focal point for Australians and New Zealanders in London, especially on ANZAC Day, but more generally.

FROST:

And how many Australians did you lose in two world wars?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well from a population of only four million people, we lost 60,000 killed in World War I and the casualty rate of the first AIF in World War I was 65 per cent. That was a staggering... and they were all volunteers. To the end of World War I from the beginning, all of the Australians were volunteers. World War II the casualty rate was lower but amongst our bomber crews over Europe, along of course with the British and other Commonwealth crews of bomber command, the loss was equally staggering.

FROST:

Well of course Australia has been a great ally of Britain, more recently too indeed...

PRIME MINISTER:

Very much so.

FROST:

... with the war in Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER:

In Iraq, along with Britain and the United States, Australia participated and we, our Government, had no hesitation in doing so and I still believe it was the right thing to have done and I believe that the British Prime Minister in a difficult situation showed very great strength.

FROST:

And you in fact have got the support really of the Australian people in a way that here it's now split, and you've held on to that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I never take my electorate for granted David and it's always dangerous for an Australian Prime Minister to say that he's got the support of the Australian people. They tend to peg him back. But by and large, Australia has moved on. We still have about 900 personnel in Iraq, but I believed at the time that our participation was justified and I still do.

FROST:

And on the other hand, the problem now is a very real one, isn't it? I mean the aftermath has been more difficult than we really anticipated, hasn't it - the scenes we've seen in Iraq. We were going to be welcomed we hoped with open arms, and we haven't been.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think in many parts of the country we probably have, but in the Sunni triangle around Baghdad, we haven't. That is not a great surprise to me, but what was the alternative? If the view articulated by America and Britain and supported by Australia had not prevailed, Saddam Hussein would still be running Iraq. I mean let us not kid ourselves. People who say there was another way, I never saw much evidence of that.

FROST:

And the news or lack of news on weapons of mass destruction - is that a disappointment to you?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's a surprise but I still would say the jury is out, and repeat that the intelligence that was available to me, and it was essentially the same intelligence available to Mr Blair and to President Bush, certainly justified what we did. We didn't manipulate that intelligence, and I think that our decision was consistent with what we were told by the intelligence agencies.

FROST:

But apart from manipulation, in addition to that is it possible that the quality of intelligence, and I know there is a committee sitting on this subject in Australia, maybe the quality of the intelligence wasn't as good as it might have been.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well David, intelligence is never enough to convict somebody before an Old Bailey jury. If you wait for that kind of proof, it can be too late. It can only ever be I guess an accumulation of circumstantial evidence, and it was quite strong. You never have total proof because if you wait for it, it can be too late.

FROST:

And how long do you think we'll need to stay there? How long will it be before... two Remembrance Days away will we still be there in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

I would expect we'll be there for some time. I can't put a time on it, but we are making progress. The attacks and naturally the death of service personnel get reported and that's perfectly natural and proper, but unfortunately the good news - the restoration of power, the improvement of the water supply, the fact that children have returned to schools, the universities are open - all of those things are not being reported as extensively.

FROST:

And of course last time we were talking about the appalling events in Bali. Do you think we now know everything we need to know about those?

PRIME MINISTER:

David, I don't think you ever know enough about the lead-up to those sorts of events and tragically what we're seeing at the moment, we've seen it overnight in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, terrorism is very indiscriminate. Over the last six or nine months, more Islamic people have died as a result of terrorist attacks than have people of other faiths, and I think that does drive home very strongly the point that terrorism is very arbitrary and very indiscriminate and very blind.

FROST:

And the headlines as you have seen in the papers today of course are full about this latest smear, scandal, rumour, whatever it is, about the Royal family. How does that affect you in Australia? You championed the cause of the Royal family versus the forces of Republicanism. Does this make your task more difficult?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh David I supported the anti-Republican cause because I thought our system of government was very good. I think it's fair to say that the Queen herself remains a very respected and liked figure in Australia. Even people who don't believe in the monarchy respect her dedication to the job. As for this latest issue, I don't know any more about it than anybody else and I would simply remark these sorts of stories have come and gone in the past and I imagine that will happen with this one.

FROST:

And there's a quote here from your man Russell Crowe in the papers today who says "I did my best to be a bloke because you have to be a bloke if you want to live in Australia, but I'm not really a bloke you know, I'm a very interior person." Do you have to be a bloke these days in Australia? Does it help?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think there is a marvellous line I heard in the obituary of former Australian Prime Minister John Gorton and they said of him that he was both a larrikin and a gentleman. In a way, many Australian men think that's a very complimentary description.

FROST:

It's a good double. It's a good double. Well good luck in your conference this week and particularly in the ceremonies that inaugurate the memorial.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks David.

FROST:

Bless you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 20991