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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21163

Doorstop Interview, Adelaide

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: 15/03/2004

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21163

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, do you believe that Spain was targeted by Al Qaeda because of its role in the Iraqi war?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it is far too early for people to even make conclusions about who was responsible. The evidence is still unfolding but what I would say is that countries with very different positions on international issues have been targeted by terrorists - countries such as Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Indonesia, Spain - to name a few - have all been the victims of terrorist attacks yet their position on certain issue has been quite different. The idea that somehow or other by adjusting your foreign policy you can buy yourself immunity from terrorism is false.

JOURNALIST:

Was Mick Keelty mistaken in his analysis that Spain was likely to have been the target last week because of its involvement in the war in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the answer, as I recall it, was hypothetical, but in any event it is not a conclusion I would have reached.

JOURNALIST:

Given his position and what you have just said to us in there before about the crucial nature of the war on terror and the crucial nature of intelligence, is Mick Keelty, do you have some concerns about him and his position?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

....two commissioners however Mr Howard have come out saying that this could mean that Australia is at increased risk of terrorist attack...

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I have said all along that I can't guarantee that Australia won't be the subject of a terrorist attack. No liberal democracy in no country can be certain that they have any kind of immunity and the point I make again is that the events of the past few years have demonstrated that countries do not buy immunity by adjusting their foreign policy and the idea that our country or indeed any other country should adjust its foreign policy in the face of intimidation by terrorists is something that I totally reject.

JOURNALIST:

Well, Mark Latham is talking about reducing superannuation contributions tax from 15% to 13% and eventually phasing it out altogether and talking about bipartisan support. Is that something that...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it would have been a good idea if he'd have given bipartisan support to the reductions that we proposed in the superannuation surcharge. We went to the last election with a policy of progressively reducing the superannuation surcharge and in the end we were only able to get that through the Senate with the help of the minor parties. The Labor Party didn't help. This is another example of the Labor Party saying something differently from how they behave.

JOURNALIST:

Does this explain why you think Mick Keelty's analysis is not a conclusion that you could have drawn and which you don't have concern for somebody in such an important position could draw that analysis?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's perfectly possible for me to reach a different view from somebody on an issue without lacking confidence in that person's overall ability to do his job. He's in charge of operational police matters and the question of this analysis is not something that comes directly in that area.

JOURNALIST:

... increased risk of terrorist attack part of the price we have to pay for our involvement in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think countries, irrespective of the stance they've taken on issues like Iraq, have been subject to terrorist attack. Indonesia did not support America on Iraq yet Indonesia was a subject of a terrorist attack. Morocco did not support America in relation to Iraq but was the subject of a terrorist attack. You cannot buy yourself immunity by adjusting your foreign policy. Quite apart from the moral weakness of that stance in practice it never works out that way.

JOURNALIST:

... our involvement in Iraq has not at all... position of...

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't believe it has.

JOURNALIST:

Do you believe the video which says that says Spain has been punished for its... in the world. How do you interpret that to be anything but a reference to Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that tape has yet to be authenticated.

JOURNALIST:

What do you make about Bob Brown's comments that Australian troops should be brought back home?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I reject that, and they won't be. But it is entirely predictable that Bob Brown would say that. I find his remark entirely unsurprising.

JOURNALIST:

... what can we do, what can we learn from what happened?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think the most important thing we can do is to have the best possible intelligence agencies. My very strong view is that the best weapon against terrorism is high quality intelligence. There's a limit to how many trains you can guard, how many buses you can guard, how many planes you can guard. You can take prudent measures, but it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack to cover everything, but what you can do is have very good intelligence agencies, and have very strong laws and we will continue to review our capacities in both of those areas but I am very strongly of the view that superior intelligence gathering is the best weapon that a country like Australia can have against the threat of terrorism.

JOURNALIST:

Does that need to be co-ordinated in your view to an office of homeland...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, why should we automatically follow the American model, the American model incidentally does not work as well as ours, in fact many people believe that America's model in this area is not as good as those of other countries. I see no need to have a homeland security department, that is just a bureaucratic rearrangement, it won't add anything of value to the capacity of our intelligence agencies.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) election, are you expecting any kind of electoral backlash in this country because of our involvement in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it's drawing a pretty long bow to start comparing what happened in Spain to what might happen at the end of this year, I would have thought that there were a lot of factors at play in Spain, I heard something on the ABC this morning suggesting that the opinion polls were predicting a resurgence of the Socialists before the terrorist attack took place. So I think people ought to take a bit of a cold shower on that and not get too excited.

JOURNALIST:

An important local issue, APANZA has concerns that...

PRIME MINISTER:

Sorry, who did?

JOURNALIST:

APANZA has confirmed that decision on the nuclear waste repository will be delayed until the end of the year, does this complicate the re-election strategy for the Liberals?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look I don't see this in terms of a re-election strategy, I see it in terms of having a proper process to find a suitable site for nuclear waste storage, I'm not putting it in the context of an election, of course the South Australian Government is behaving in a totally opportunistic fashion as state governments all around Australia have on this issue, but we have national responsibilities and we'll continue to discharge them.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister earlier today you appeared to be questioning Mr Latham's green credentials as he prepared to head to Tasmania.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in answer to that ludicrous attack from the South Australian Energy Minister who sort of suggested that it would be wonderful for industry if we signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, I made the point that 15 months ago at the time of the Cunningham by-election Mark Latham attacked the Greens, said they were stupid and crazy in relation to their advocacy of Australia signing the Kyoto Protocol, he said it would cost thousands of jobs, he then of course was campaigning in the Illawarra area of New South Wales around Port Kembla and Wollongong, maybe when he goes to Tasmania he'll say something quite differently but when he was in the Illawarra he said the Greens were mad and signing the Kyoto Protocol would do immense damage to Australian jobs. It happens to be my view, it was my view then that it's not in the interests of Australian workers to sign the Kyoto Protocol in its present form, that remains my view, I haven't changed it, it'll be interesting to see whether he holds that view when he goes to Tasmania.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 21163