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Transcript 22368

Interview with Alexandra Kirk AM, ABC Radio

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: 18/07/2006

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 22368

KIRK:

Prime Minister, East Timor's new Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta's been in the job for a week now. It will be his first meeting with a member of the Australian Government. Are you going to Dili to throw Australia's full support behind the new Government arrangement?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh very much so. I want to talk to him in his new capacity. I know him well from earlier meetings and earlier responsibilities but I want to talk to him as the newly installed Prime Minister. I also want to personally thank the men and women of the Australian Defence Force and the police from the Federal Police and the State police services all of whom have done an absolutely magnificent job in Australia's name.

KIRK:

How soon do you expect East Timor to take charge of its own affairs?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to try and put a date on that. I see it necessary for international forces to remain in East Timor for some time, not in the same numbers as are there now, but it will be some time before it would be prudent for all of them to go.

KIRK:

What sort of numbers and what sort of time frame?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to hazard a prediction in either department except to say that they'll be needed for some time, not in as large numbers as are there now. I can see a phasing down over a period of time, but I'm simply not going to get into trying to talk about months or numbers. It will need to be governed by the conditions at the time.

KIRK:

The day after he was sworn in, Dr Ramos-Horta told this programme that he wanted Australian troops and police to stay for the rest of the year. Will that happen?

PRIME MINISTER:

Alexandra, we will need to have people there for some time. I'm simply not going to play this game of months or weeks. I mean we're just sort of wasting time asking the same question. We will stay in such numbers for as long as necessary. My broad prediction is that over time we will be able to reduce the numbers there but I'm not going to commit myself to a particular number by a particular time.

KIRK:

And Dr Ramos-Horta wants Australia to lead the UN peacekeeping mission. Is that your expectation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well obviously if there is a UN peacekeeping mission, if there were to be an international force, or blue helmeted force, the question of who led it would be a matter for the United Nations. However, we're running ahead of ourselves. At the moment we have an international force, the bulk of which is comprised by Australians and we'll deal with those matters in the future.

KIRK:

Dr Ramos-Horta wanted, irrespective of the UN peacekeeping mission that may be formulated, for Australia to keep at least a battalion right to the end of next year. Will you be telling him any good news on that front?

PRIME MINISTER:

Alex, you're asking me the same question again. We will keep forces there in such numbers for as long as is appropriate, but I'm not going to commit myself to numbers or to time. That will be governed by circumstances in East Timor as they unfold. Our good will, our good intentions, our commitment to East Timor's future is well understood, not only in East Timor but around the world. We will always do the right thing by East Timor, but East Timor must of course accept responsibility for her own future and no country can expect a blank cheque as far as the continued presence of forces of another country. But I can assure the Prime Minister when I see him that Australia will continue as it has in the past to do the right thing by his country.

KIRK:

On the issue of governance, does Australia have some suggestions to make?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if I did I would give them to him first before telegraphing them over an interview.

KIRK:

Prime Minister, the first Australians have now been successfully bussed out of Lebanon. More than 6000 Australians, as I understand it, have now registered with the Embassy in Beirut. Do you expect that most will want to leave Lebanon and if so, how long will it take to get them out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's impossible for me to answer either of those questions. I don't know whether all of them will want to leave Lebanon. I think some of them will, some of them wont. We will do our level best to get out as many as we can of those who want to get out. I do ask people to understand that as we speak, attempts are being made in different ways to arrange for people to be extracted. It's better not to give too many details of those arrangements, I hope people understand that.

We fully appreciate the concern of Australians who have loved ones in Lebanon and we are doing everything we humanly can and I've indicated that, Mr Downer's indicated that. And the first are out, and that's terrific news. And I can promise the people who are so concerned that we are working overtime to make other arrangements in all sorts of ways to try and get people out. But it really doesn't help for me to start talking details, or numbers, or times, or dates. It's a very fraught and difficult, indeed chaotic situation.

But we have been in touch with people. The Foreign Minister has spoken to the Israeli Foreign Minister and we are working very hard to help Australians who are in need of help and I hope people will understand that I can't give a running commentary on every possibility. I don't even think it's in the interests of the people there that I do so. And I know how concerned and distressed and fraught people are and I want to promise them that we are doing everything we humanly can to help their loved ones.

KIRK:

Mr Howard, finally on the domestic front, as you predicted voters have taken the events of the past week in their stride. Two polls show now that there's been no real damage to the Government, but the Liberal Party Room wants you to stay, it's clear, and they also say that an early announcement about your intentions is what they're seeking. If you are to make an announcement, will you tell your Party Room first before you tell the rest of Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Alex, I am not going to respond to that question. I don't normally give running commentaries on opinion polls. I've said all I propose to say on that whole issue. I've answered questions like that time without number over the past few days and I have nothing to add to what I have previously said. I am on the job, I am doing the things that I was elected to do and I will go on doing those.

KIRK:

In the past you have told your MPs before you've told everybody else. Does that remain you operating and guiding principle?

PRIME MINISTER:

Alex, I don't have anything to add to what I have previously said.

KIRK:

Prime Minister, thanks for joining AM.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 22368