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Transcript 11058

Interview with Ron Wilson, Channel Ten Evening News

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: 16/09/1999

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11058

Subject(s): Indonesia cancels four-year security pact with Australia

16 September 1999

Subject: Indonesia cancels four-year security pact with Australia

E&OE………………………………………………………………………………………

WILSON:

A major development late this afternoon – Indonesia officially cancelled a four-year security pact with Australia. We’re talking about that now with Prime Minister Howard. Prime Minister, what are the implications of that announcement?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think they’re very great. This is to be expected. Indonesia feels that gestures of this kind are probably necessary. That security pact really didn’t come into play at all over recent months. We never saw it as being the solution to all the problems in the relationship as the former government did. So I don’t pay too much regard and I’m not particularly surprised by or concerned about this decision.

WILSON:

At this stage of the overall crisis, what level of damage do you see has been done to the relationship between Australia and Indonesia?

PRIME MINISTER

Well obviously it’s under strain. But as I’ve said frequently, what we have done over the last few weeks is to do the right thing by East Timor, and you should never be in a position in your relationship with another country that you are willing to preserve that relationship at all costs. You must be willing to take a stand on an issue of principle which we’ve done. But I’m also confident as time goes by that the ordinary people of Indonesia and Australia will see the value in continuing to have a close association between our two countries, more realistically based in the future than perhaps it has been in the past. And in any event there are a lot of people in Indonesia who probably agree with the stance the Australian Government has taken on East Timor.

WILSON:

Well we actually now have the cancellation of security agreements, our peacekeepers are being openly threatened and our Embassy in Jakarta virtually under siege, is there a potential for armed conflict actually between Indonesia and Australia? Is there in fact a potential for war?

PRIME MINISTER

No no no. That’s quite alarmist and that’s not going to occur. It’s a difficult period. We knew it would be difficult once we took the stand we did. But it was the right stand and in time it will clearly be demonstrated to have been the only thing that Australia could have done in a very difficult situation.

WILSON:

The other thing here though is that our commander of our peacekeeping force in the news conference this morning described this as the greatest threat to our soldiers since World War II. That sounds very concerning to me.

PRIME MINISTER

Well any theatre of hostilities, activity of this kind involves danger. And I don’t pretend for a moment that there isn’t danger to our men, to our soldiers. Of course there is. What we’ve sought to do though is to create a situation where that danger is limited as much as it is possible to do, given that by its very nature a military operation involves great physical danger to the people involved.

WILSON:

As you say, it’s a dangerous situation for our peacekeepers going into East Timor. Has there been any talk of compensation for that?

PRIME MINISTER

Well earlier this afternoon, in fact a short while ago, the Defence Minister announced a very significant increase in the special deployment allowance that will apply to people involved in East Timor. It’s an increase of close to 50% in the tax-free daily allowance. It’ll now total $125 a day for most ranks. And the details of that were announced earlier by the Defence Minister. It’s appropriate. It’s a significant increase but it’s absolutely appropriate and one that the Government very freely and willingly and keenly has given because these people are undertaking a very important, but also a very dangerous mission on behalf of our country. And I know they will go with the thoughts and prayers of all Australians.

WILSON:

How soon will they go?

PRIME MINISTER

Very soon but don’t press me too hard on the precise time of departure. You’ll understand at this stage I don’t want to talk about that.

WILSON:

Prime Minister thanks for your time this afternoon.

[Ends]

Transcript 11058