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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 22571

Doorstop Interview Parliament House, Canberra

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: 09/11/2006

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 22571

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning. Any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, President Bush has announced a new direction on US policy towards Iraq. Has the White House briefed you on its intentions?

PRIME MINISTER:

I thought he'd announced a new Defence Secretary.

JOURNALIST:

He also said that he, a new Defence Secretary for a new direction in defence policy.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think you're reading a little too much into that.

JOURNALIST:

Has the White House briefed you on its intentions?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'll be seeing President Bush for lunch next week in Hanoi and we will have a very lengthy discussion. But there is no fundamental change in American policy. I know that for a fact.

JOURNALIST:

What is your reaction to the departure of Donald Rumsfeld?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that really is a matter for comment within the United States. I think as a result of the vote in the Congressional election it was obvious that the President decided that a gesture acknowledging the unease that some people feel about the way the operation is going in Iraq that he had to do that. And I would see Rumsfeld's departure very much in that context. I think the man who has been appointed to replace him is very able, but my reading of the situation is that although they will get the Baker-Hamilton Report and although they are clearly looking for ways in which their tactics may change, their strategy is not going to change. They are not going to suddenly pull out of Iraq. What people have got to remember is that many of the Democrats who were elected are in fact on the more conservative side of the Democratic Party. And you're going to have a Presidential election in 2008 where the two likely protagonists, Hillary Clinton and John McCain both voted in favour of America going to war in Iraq. I think therefore we have to take a little bit of a reality check. Clearly the President has reacted to the vote, obviously he has and that is sensible. But his reaction does not amount to a fundamental change in direction.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, from my observation on the various meetings that you had with Donald Rumsfeld you got on with him very well...

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I like, let me make it...I like Donald Rumsfeld. I did enjoy his company and I am not going to make any bones about it. I don't walk away from people when they happen to fall out of monthly flavour, that's not my style. I liked him. He's been a controversial Defence Secretary. A lot of people were critical of the decision to disband the Iraqi Army not long after the fall of Baghdad and that was one of the decisions with which he was particularly identified, but that is now in the past and that is a matter for the President of the United States. I've got enough on my hands dealing with the appointment and so forth of Ministers in Australia, I am not presuming to give President Bush any advice. But on a personal level, I enjoy Donald Rumsfeld's company and I will in the future, and I wish him well personally. But there is a measure of gesture politics in what the President has done, I understand that, and a tough bloke like Rumsfeld would understand it as well.

JOURNALIST:

Did he do a good job? Did Rumsfeld do a good job in the role?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is a matter for the American people to make a judgement on.

JOURNALIST:

From Australia's point of view?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I found him a very good person to deal with and I found him always very solicitous of Australian views, and he enjoyed a very good relationship with the various Defence Ministers with which he interacted, which I think were three.

JOURNALIST:

When you meet President Bush next week, will you be reiterating Australia's position that the coalition ought to stay the course in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I will be telling him that Australia's view is that it would be against everybody's interests except the terrorists for the coalition to leave in circumstances of defeat. I will certainly be making that very plain that that is our view and I make it plain again. And I am sure it is his view, and I am sure it is Mr Blair's view. I will be talking to Mr Blair tomorrow night after I hope my XI has defeated his, and amongst other things we'll talk about Iraq and I will be reiterating my view on that. But everybody should take a bit of a deep breath. There are some other reasons why the American election went as it did. I think one of the problems the Republicans had was that many of their fiscally conservative supporters did not agree with the Administration running a string of budget deficits. Now that of course is a point of great departure and great distinction from the Government I lead. I think it is an area where my good friend and I have really taken different paths. Now clearly the American circumstances are a little different, I think that is a fact. You've got to remember in America they have this, they have a very different system. I don't think it's better than ours, I think it's worse in fact but...where a mid-term election allows you to give the Administration an almighty whack without changing it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, James Hardie. There's a suggestion that James Hardie is about to come back to the table on compensation after getting favourable treatment by the Tax Office. Are you able to throw any light on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can certainly tell you that some months ago I spoke to the New South Wales Premier and I spoke to Bernie Banton, who was leading the campaign, and I said the problem was not the Australian tax law, the problem was the deal had not been properly structured. And they went away and took that advice and the New South Wales Government and Hardies have apparently now agreed on a structure for the deal that accords with the current Australian tax laws. There was never any need to change our tax laws, there was always a need to make sure that the arrangements were properly structured. Now if, as Hardies now claim, that has happened, then I am very pleased and I make the observation that it was my suggestion that the Tax Office and Hardies and the New South Wales Government put their heads together that may well have brought this about. And if that's the case then I am very pleased because everybody's wanted the asbestos victims to be looked after. And nobody has appreciated any attempt by the company to do it in a way that was at cost to the rest of the taxpayers. I mean my point and Peter Costello's point all along was not that we didn't want to help the victims but we couldn't see why the rest of the Australian taxpaying public should pay for something that Hardies should have paid for.

JOURNALIST:

Have you spoken to President Bush?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I haven't. I will not be speaking to him until next week. I sent him a message on the eve of the election and I will talk to him, knowing that I am seeing him in Hanoi at the end of next week where we're having lunch and there will be plenty of opportunity to talk.

JOURNALIST:

What's your view on the cervical cancer vaccine?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well my view is that it will be subsidised, I am sure of that. The debate at the moment is about the terms and conditions and you've got to remember that these companies do try and drive a very hard bargain, and it's our responsibility to have this vaccine available for the mass immunisation campaign. And if agreement can be reached fairly soon, that mass campaign can still start on the 1st of January 2008. But you can't have a situation where you just accept the first request that's made by a company. I mean companies know that they have a very strong position in relation to these drugs where there's a lot of support. But let me make it clear that this drug will end up being on the PBS list. It's a question of precisely when and it's a question of the price and the terms and conditions, and I think we have every reason to make sure that we get good value for the Australian taxpayer.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, just on Iraq, were mistakes made under Donald Rumsfeld's watch?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's always the case that in military operations mistakes are made, but that would apply with any military operation. But if you're asking me was it a mistake in the first place, no it wasn't. If you're asking me whether I've changed my broad position, no I haven't. Do I think President Bush has changed his, no I don't. I think he will obviously, as he should, continue to look at tactical adjustments, that is very understandable. But I do not believe, and I think it would be against the interests of his country for there to be a precipitative withdrawal and I am sure it won't happen.

JOURNALIST:

What about a staged withdrawal?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we all want ultimately to get out Jim, but you only get out, or start to get out, in circumstances where you're satisfied you're leaving behind a reasonably stable situation.

JOURNALIST:

Will there be any significant troop draw-down next year, PM, in your view?

PRIME MINISTER:

By whom?

JOURNALIST:

By the coalition.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it depends a lot on what you mean by significant. That's Patrick is it?

JOURNALIST:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

It depends a lot on what you mean by significant and therefore I am very careful. The best way I can answer that is simply to say that I do not believe that either the United States or the United Kingdom is going to begin withdrawing, except in circumstances where they are as satisfied as you can be that you're leaving behind conditions of reasonable stability.

JOURNALIST:

What else will you be talking to Tony Blair about?

PRIME MINISTER:

I guess we'll be talking about a number of other international and bilateral issues. I guess climate change might get a run and I will be observing to him the different positions that our two countries have. Britain is not a developed country that is a net exporter of energy and obviously the European perspective on this is important. Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 22571