PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21033

Doorstop Interview International Conference Centre, Abuja

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: 08/12/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21033

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the Information Minister from Zimbabwe Mr Moyo suggests that Australia was being racist in its position against Zimbabwe [inaudible] do with the ….

PRIME MINISTER:

It';s totally absurd.

JOURNALIST:

He was suggesting that it was related to Australia and Britain';s concerns about their treatment of white farmers. Is that in any way a part of your concerns about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe?

PRIME MINISTER:

The allegations are patently absurd. I say nothing more.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what transpired this morning in relation to Zimbabwe following [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there was some discussion but the situation remains and there is really nothing more to report.

JOURNALIST:

Does President Obasanjo still intend going to Harare?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, very much so. And that';s part of the understanding that came yesterday. I think the outcome yesterday was a very sensible outcome. The suspension continues. There is a renewed effort to engage. There is a three step process. Obasanjo talks, tries to bring about reconciliation. If he makes progress, he comes back to the six, and if the six think progress has been made, they go to the full body. But obviously there has to be change inside Zimbabwe before any of those steps can take place.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, how do you rate the chances of reconciliation now that Mugabe has pulled out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I';m always optimistic but I';m also realistic and I don';t know that my sort of putting that on a scale of zero to ten at the moment achieves anything. You know my view, I';ve made it very clear. I also believe that President Obasanjo is a person of great integrity and he has a fine reputation in the Commonwealth and he';s tried his honest best to handle a very difficult situation.

JOURNALIST:

Were you only half surprised about his (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I sort of never get very surprised at anything he says or does.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you expressed yesterday and again this morning, your concern that the priority ought to be for the welfare and the well being of the people of Zimbabwe, how does what';s happened at this conference progress that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think one thing that can be said, that if the Commonwealth had walked away from its responsibilities, the sense of hopelessness of those people would have been increased. At least they know that there are a lot of people around the world inside the Commonwealth who believe that and understand that a restoration of proper democratic approaches inside that country is necessary and an essential precondition to their lot improving.

JOURNALIST:

But isn';t there a danger that Zimbabwe would be even further isolated and that the Mugabe regime (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I do know this, that if you compromise on something that is fundamental you don';t win improved behaviour from people who have misbehaved in the past. All the lessons of international diplomacy and dealings will indicate that. It will only feed the view that further misbehaviour will be equally rewarded.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, you had hoped for a strong statement on trade on these talks. How much of you wanted to discuss….?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the communique which I have seen and I';m happy with is broadly consistent with the things I';ve been saying.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, has this weekend threatened unity at the Commonwealth level?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don';t believe so. I';m intrigued at some of the reports, ..this has been difficult, some of the reports that suggest that. This has been a difficult issue for the Commonwealth because everyone knows there are strongly divergent views. I mean let';s not kid ourselves, there are very strongly divergent views on this issue, but we did reach a consensus yesterday and not everybody agreed with the position taken, they never do when you';ve got 55-56 countries but I think the Commonwealth has handled it well and President Obasanjo as the host has handled it extremely well.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)…talk tougher and imposing sanctions or something like that against….?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that';s never been the way of the collective. If individual countries do things that';s a different matter. I don';t think that makes sense. I wouldn';t encourage it, I think the Commonwealth is a strange body and it';s a mystery to most people other than those who belong to it. But I don';t see the world replete with perfectly functioning organisations, so in that sense it';s no different from many others.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, you put your views very strongly and the South African states have put their very strongly, but most of the other Commonwealth countries leaving you (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I';ve heard some pretty strong statements from the New Zealand Prime Minister and, I';ve heard some, well there were some quite strong views expressed inside the meeting let me leave it at that. But what other people do is a matter for them. But the impression should not blind us, this is not a racial divide, it is not. It is a matter of fundamental principle. If you';re going to apply an approach to a country like Fiji, a small country, a lonely country in many ways then you ought to be consistent in relation to others.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, are you afraid of any splits within the Commonwealth?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don';t think the Commonwealth will split, I think there will be a vigorous disagreement on this issue and there';ll probably continue to be, but I don';t believe it will split.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 21033