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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 22021

Interview with John Laws Radio 2UE, 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: 09/11/2005

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 22021

LAWS:

In our Canberra studio we have the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard. Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning John.

LAWS:

Yesterday we were reading that you had the lowest polls in four years when it came to your personal rating. I suggest they might have taken a bit of a lift last night. What do you think?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not going to comment on that. I haven't sought any personal vindication out of what I did last week. I believed it was right and I was able to explain on your programme my reasons for doing it. I remain of that same view. How it affects my standing in the community is a secondary consideration. I am very impressed by the cooperation between our law enforcement agencies. This operation was led by the Commonwealth bodies, ASIO and the Australian Federal Police, but they had great cooperation and support, very professional support, from the New South Wales and the Victoria Police. Now it remains for the courts to decide the guilt or innocence of the people who've been charged and I do want on this programme, as I have in every interview I've given since yesterday morning, make the point that the people charged are entitled to a presumption of innocence and people in my position, both at a Commonwealth and a State level, have to be careful of what they say, and I am and will continue to be, because people are entitled to a fair trial.

LAWS:

Yeah. But just back to the opinion poll, you'd rather be liked than disliked wouldn't you? I mean that's human nature.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I guess that's true. But I, haven't throughout the whole of my political career, sought to adjust everything I do in order to gain the maximum amount of support in the shortest possible time, that wouldn't be very good government. Every government, every prime minister, goes through periods of being popular and unpopular and sometimes when you bring about significant changes there is a short-term resistance of those changes, there's a short-term belief that those changes might be damaging to individuals and over time when it's realised they're not, then that reaction changes. But no prime minister worth his salt, having been in office for nine and a half years, is going to turn around and say well I won't do this because it might make me unpopular with the public. My responsibility is to govern well, that's why I'm pushing ahead with industrial relations reform because I believe it will strengthen our economy, I believe it will help us maintain the momentum of the wonderful period of growth we've had over the last 14 or 15 years. Now in the short-term it's being attacked and a scare campaign is being run. I have no doubt that once the laws are passed, if they are by the Parliament, then people will realise that the world is not coming to an end, that Christmas Day is not being abolished, ANZAC Day is not being abolished, that life will go on as it is now in relation to those sorts of things and in a few months time they'll say what was all the fuss about?

LAWS:

Prime Minister, what did you make of the assertions of Bob Brown and Lyn Allison that the whole terrorist thing was a smother for your industrial relations changes?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well absurd, absurd.

LAWS:

Absolutely.

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely absurd. John, I am proud of these industrial relations proposals, I believe in them. I think they will help Australia. I am the last person who wants to camouflage them, to push them into the recesses of public debate. I'm quite happy to see them talked about and debated. We continue to debate them in the Parliament and they'll continue to be debated in the public and I'm very happy to talk to commentators about them. But we had particular information last week combined with specific advice for a law change that according to that advice would strengthen the capacity of the authorities to respond to certain situations. And I, having received that advice and having thought about it, believed we had no alternative other than to call the Parliament back, the Senate back. And there's no way we could have done that and put that change to the law through without explaining why. Some people have suggested that somehow or other we should have made the law change a secret.

LAWS:

Yeah, well you couldn't have done it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you can't do that, you can't ask the Parliament of Australia to pass a law through both Houses urgently and not tell anybody about it.

LAWS:

Did you consider the emergence of a home-grown terror threat to be inevitable?

PRIME MINISTER:

I guess my thinking in relation to that issue, and I don't relate this to yesterday's arrests but more generally, I think my thoughts on that did change after talking to the British Prime Minister and after observing and understanding what had happened in Britain. I guess a lot of us had the idea that if there were to be a terrorist attack in Australia it might be carried out by people who are brought to this country or came to this country for that particular reason. Now I'm not saying that won't happen in the future, many of us, perhaps because it had never really occurred to us and given that immigration and cultural diversity has become such a normal thing in Australia that we never really imagined that people who'd grown up in Australia or who had embraced Australia as their country would want to engage in such terrorists act. I dare say until July many people in the United Kingdom felt that people who had grown up in the north of England and spoke with Yorkshire accents weren't going to be involved in the sort of atrocities they were apparently involved in in July.

LAWS:

Yeah. Is this going to make any difference to immigration regulations?

PRIME MINISTER:

We won't be departing from our non-discriminatory immigration policy. There's always a case for constantly looking at regulations to make sure that things such as propensity to anti-social behaviour or propensity to terrorism is even more closely examined. But that is done on the basis of individual behaviour, it's not done on the basis of condemning a group of people because of their ethnicity, national derivation or religion. We won't be doing that, there's nothing to be gained by that. And I do want to take this opportunity of saying to Australians of Islamic faith you are part of our community, nothing that this Government has done or will do is directed against you as a group.

LAWS:

People see it differently.

PRIME MINISTER:

I know they do, but can I say to Australians of Islamic faith that they have as much interest as I do in fighting terrorism. Terrorism is an enemy of decent Muslims, as it is an enemy of decent Christians and decent Jews and Buddhists or whatever religion, or indeed decent atheists. I mean it's not, terrorism is everybody's enemy and we should see it that way, we should not in any circumstances see anything that this Government has done or anything the state governments have done or anything the police have done as representing prejudice against Muslims. What is happening is that action is being taken to deal with people who it is believed have broken the law and anybody who it is believed has broken the law should be brought to justice and that is as much in the interest of Islamic Australians as it is the interest of the rest of the community.

LAWS:

It's very difficult, however, not to link Muslims collectively with terrorism given that the majority of terrorists are Muslims, like it or dislike it, certainly they're fanatical, they're extremists, but nonetheless they are Muslims.

PRIME MINISTER:

There's no doubt, John, that is true, the common thread of the contemporary terrorist threat is perverted, fanatical Islam. But it's important to use the words perverted and fanatical, and I'll add another one - totally unrepresentative Islam. Now that is true and that is a common thread and it's not being prejudice to say that because the utterances of people involved in terrorism all go back to their conception of a jihad and their desire to have some kind of Islamic caliphate, their desire to see the triumph of Islam over other religions. But the point I would make, and I know 99 per cent of Muslims in Australia would make, is that is not a true representation of Islam, any more than the perversions of other religions in the past have truly represented those religions.

LAWS:

It's extraordinary that one of those men charged is a convert, his name apparently is Shane Kent, and he's converted to Islam and to the most terrifying sector of Islam, he's one of these people who was picked up.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I don't want to talk about him, if you don't mind.

LAWS:

No, I don't mind.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I prefer not to wander into commentary on any of the individuals, charges have been laid, it's matter for the courts, untroubled by any comments from me or others, to make decisions.

LAWS:

Tell me, are there going to be more raids?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is a matter for the police.

LAWS:

You haven't been informed about any?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am kept generally informed about what occurs. Informed is the operative word. We don't instruct the police about what they do, and I made that clear on your programme last week, and that continued to be the position. Obviously the Government is kept informed, particularly when significant events are going to take place. But that is an ongoing process and I don't want to predict what the police are going to do because what the police will do will depend upon the results of ongoing investigations and I have no way of knowing that and I don't really want to get too much into the detail of operational matters, it's not a good idea and it's interfering in the discharge of their responsibility.

LAWS:

The leaders of the Islamic faith in Australia, do you think that they have been vocal, sufficiently vocal, in their protestations against the behaviour of some of their members?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think many of them have, I think others perhaps have been a little ambiguous and perhaps have misunderstood what the Government is about. I've heard some say that all of this looks as though it's directed against Muslims, it's not, it's directed against people who it is believed have broken the law relating to terrorism and associating with terrorist organisations. And that is a law that applies with equal force to anybody in the community. It doesn't just apply to people who are of the Islamic faith. But I have heard statements from quite of number of Islamic leaders, I saw a young gentlemen from Victoria speaking on television last night and he was, I thought, making a great deal of sense and saying that the enforcement of the law against believed violations was good for the Islamic community. It is, because if in fact people were planning a terrorist attack, if in fact they were, then that is as much a threat to Islamic Australians as it is to the rest of us because I mean all the terrorist attacks that have occurred over the last few years, there have been more Muslims killed in them that non-Muslims.

LAWS:

They don't care who they kill.

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course they don't, and those trains carried Islamic people in London, the World Trade Centre had Islamic people in it.

LAWS:

Plenty of them.

PRIME MINISTER:

And the terrorist attacks going on in Iraq are killing Muslims every day. So this idea that in some way well if it does happen then it'll only be directed at non-Muslims, forget it.

LAWS:

Okay Prime Minister, I appreciate your time very much. Do you think we can expect to hear some further news in relation to activities as far as terrorists are concerned?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is not for me to say, it is in the hands of the police.

LAWS:

Okay. Have a good day Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 22021