PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21575

Press Conference 70 Phillip Street, Sydney

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: 12/01/2005

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21575

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen, I would like to express first up my shock and sadness at the tragic loss of life that's occurred in South Australia. The death toll now stands at 10 and there are at least 6 other people missing, although that number varies given the circumstances. It's a terrible reminder of the ever- present threat of bushfires and their devastating effect in this country. I want to praise the tremendous work of the South Australian fire fighting authorities, police and emergency services. As always in these terrible natural disasters the police and emergency services do a wonderful job and the loss of life would have been much greater had it not been for their work.

I rang the South Australian Premier last night, not only to get a direct briefing from him about the current situation, but also to offer any assistance that was needed from the Commonwealth. I understand that from this morning the Centrelink services of the hotline are available, and if there is further assistance that the Commonwealth can provide through the emergency relief organisations it will be made available. I'm happy to report that the cooperation between the Commonwealth and the states and the cooperation between the states in these emergencies is always very effective as it should be.

The fires still represent a threat, on the latest advice I have, to certain parts of the affected areas and I can only again express my profound sadness and sympathy; myself, and my wife, and my colleagues to those who have been so suddenly devastated. The loss of life, of course, is terrible, and also the loss of property and the way in which the lives of so many of our fellow Australians have been without warning, in an arbitrary brutal fashion changed, in many cases changed forever. And I express my condolences and sadness at what has occurred, and I can only hope, as all Australians do, that these fires will be brought under control and that there will be no further loss of life.

JOURNALIST:

It's a difficult time for Australians at the moment isn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is, but we are great at rallying with each other at a time of sadness. We are not unfamiliar, tragically, with bushfires, but this is a particularly bad one. It is fair to say that it's probably the worst, given the loss of life, the worst since Ash Wednesday, and, as these so often do, it arose suddenly and we have to brace ourselves for a continuation because of the hot weather - the continuation of the bushfire risk during the remainder of the summer.

JOURNALIST:

In relation to Mamdouh Habib, what have you been told about why the US has dropped its case against ...[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't have anything to add on that score to what the Attorney-General said last night. Our position has always been that if he were not charged then he should be able to return to Australia. He was, on the advice we've been given, lawfully detained by the United States as an enemy combatant. We have put it to the United States over the time that he has been detained that he should either be charged under the military commission procedures or repatriated. Now the Americans have decided not to charge him. There are a combination of reasons that the Americans have arrived at that decision and on that I don't add to what the Attorney-General said last night. And as a consequence of that they will repatriate him to Australia, and when he arrives back in Australia he will be treated in accordance with Australian law.

JOURNALIST:

His wife [inaudible] if he's not charged...[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't intend to elaborate on what the Attorney-General said last night except to confirm that he continues to be of security interest, and I don't intend - for reasons that the Australian public will understand and support - I don't intend to elaborate on that.

JOURNALIST:

He either guilty or innocent...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't determine guilt or innocence. Guilt or innocence is determined in accordance with the legal processes of this country. When he returns to Australia he will be treated in accordance with Australian law as any other citizen will be treated in accordance with Australian law. It is not for me to proclaim matters of guilt or innocence. That is the last thing that a member of the executive should do.

JOURNALIST:

Are you in any way embarrassed about the process that took three and a half years and ended with [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the process took too long, and we've made that known in very plain terms to the United States. I'm not thereby expressing any particular... I'm not expressing a view on Habib's behaviour. I'm not expressing a view on his behaviour in saying that, but we have told the United States that we thought the process of arriving at a decision as to whether he should be charged took far too long. But I have to say again that if an Australian is apprehended overseas there is no automatic right of repatriation to this country, so that any claimed crimes or misdemeanors can be dealt with in this country. There seems to be have been this mistaken view through the whole of this episode that if an Australian is picked up overseas, then somehow or other we have a right to demand that he be brought back to Australia for trial. That's not the case at all. If an American commits an alleged crime in this country the Americans don't have a right to have him repatriated and I don't question, and I haven't questioned, the right of the Americans, given the circumstances, to apprehend him. But we have argued all along that they had to either charge him or let him go.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that is your judgment. I can only report to you the decision that has been taken by the Americans.

JOURNALIST:

What do you mean by security interest?

PRIME MINISTER:

He would remain of security interest. I don't intend to elaborate on that.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

What does this mean for David Hicks?

PRIME MINISTER:

It had absolutely no relevance because David Hicks has been charged and he has been dealt with in accordance with the military commission procedures. There is a big difference. Hicks was charged and there is absolutely no connection between the two cases.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Mr Hicks has been charged.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he's been charged. Clearly his current status will be determined by the military commission.

JOURNALIST:

You mentioned [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no I don't intend to elaborate on those reasons.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

No those matters are being discussed, but I can only repeat that he'll be dealt with in accordance with Australian law, it will be subject to Australian law when he returns to Australia as we all are, and he will be dealt with when he returns to Australia in accordance with Australian law.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister you said to the US that you will guarantee that Habib will not leave Australia once he arrives.

PRIME MINISTER:

No I haven't done that. He will be treated in accordance with Australian law. That means he's subject to the responsibilities and the implications of Australian law as all of us are, and I haven't given any, I am certainly not aware of any guarantees having been given about his movements, once he is in Australia. But I just repeat what Mr Ruddock, or confirm what Mr Ruddock said last night about him after he returns to Australia, and I don't intend for well understood reasons, I do not intend to elaborate. Now what is the next question?

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

He will be treated in accordance with Australian law.

JOURNALIST:

What do you mean by that?

PRIME MINISTER:

No what it means is that on the current advice and evidence he can't be prosecuted for behaviour that, on the evidence available to us, we believe occurred, because the offences which have been mentioned in Mr. Ruddock's statement were not criminal offences at the time the behaviour took place. Now that is the current evidence and the current advice, but I don't intend to elaborate further.

JOURNALIST:

Why did it take the US three and a half years to find out this evidence?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Americans detained him, they had a right to detain him, as enemy combatant, and they have reached a conclusion that he should not be charged, that he will not be charged by the Americans, and in accordance with the views that we have put to them repeatedly, he is coming back to Australia.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] has called for an apology?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we don't have any apology to offer.

JOURNALIST:

What about compensation?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we won't be offering compensation.

JOURNALIST:

But is there any [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not sure that they issued a warning. I think that is a slight, with respect, misunderstanding of what occurred. My understanding of what has been said by the Indonesian Government is that aid workers should indicate their presence and should be accompanied, where appropriate, by the Indonesian Military. I think that is a good idea. I don't have any criticism of that. I think it makes perfect sense. It is very very important that in the process of giving full effect to this magnificent international response, that we recognise the difficulties in Aceh, but that we don't over react to them, and we don't over dramatise them.

JOURNALIST:

The Indonesian Government issued a warning for aid workers [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

It is not in the interests of Australian aid workers, including our defence personnel for them to be armed, and the Americans defence personnel according to my advice are not armed either, and it is overwhelming that in our interests and the interests of the aid effort, that we (until any evidence emerges that we shouldn't be doing so) that we rely entirely upon the Indonesian military, and the Indonesian police to provide security.

JOURNALIST:

I am a bit surprised that the Leader of the Opposition [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't want to talk about that - that is a matter for him, if he is unwell, I wish him a full and speedy recovery.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am not going to get, Daniel, I am not going to get drawn into that, that is a matter for him and it's a matter for the Australian Labor Party. I don't intend to get drawn - that is a matter for him and the Australian Labor Party, I simply add that if he is unwell, I wish him a full and a speedy recovery.

JOURNALIST:

What about comments by Abu Bakar Bashir [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in the past I have not taken guidance from that particular person, and I don't intend to change that practice. The only other comment I would make is that we are there on a humanitarian, compassionate, mercy mission. We are not there to involve ourselves in the politics of Indonesia, and we will not involve ourselves in the politics of Indonesia. We will involve ourselves in the aid efforts, and our forces and our medical workers, and our volunteer organisations, our welfare organisations are doing an absolutely magnificent job in that process. I think that's about it.

-ends-

Transcript 21575