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Transcript 12107

Interview with Phillip Clarke, Radio 2GB

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: 08/10/2001

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12107

Subject(s): US attacks on Afghanistan; illegal immigration; 2001 election

8 October 2001

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

CLARK:

Mr Howard, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, Phillip.

CLARK:

It’s the start of an election campaign and what a way to start. You were woken early this morning, I understand, by US Vice President Cheney.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. The Vice President, Dick Cheney, rang me some time after one o’clock this morning and he told me that the strikes were imminent. Because we weren’t on a scrambled line we didn’t go into any operational details but he gave me a broad outline of what was involved. We chatted for a few moments about that. He repeated the gratitude of the Administration and the American people for the offer of Australian help. He said that that help would likely be taken up at later stages in the campaign against the Taliban. And I expressed my good wishes for the success of the American and British action. None of us like it. It’s a fairly sombre morning as far as I’m concerned. It’s not something any of us wanted.

CLARK:

It’s a necessary [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s a very necessary thing. We have no alternative. What happened in America on the 11th of September was absolutely outrageous by the standards of a civilised world. We can’t have the luxury of saying it’s America’s burden to carry alone. We need to stand beside the Americans and that’s why I’ve offered Australian involvement and Australian assistance. I don’t know how long this will take. We all would hope that it doesn’t take too long but unfortunately I can’t give any guarantee or hold out any hope of that.

CLARK:

We’ve committed, what, 1000 military personnel, including 150 of our best soldiers, the SAS, the highly trained, behind the lines, soldiers. Are any of them involved in the current action today?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, there are no Australian forces involved in this current action. The only forces on my information involved in this are American and also with British support, particularly the firing of the cruise missiles from submarines.

CLARK:

Okay. At some point in the future, though, you would expect [inaudible] will be literally, be on the ground in Afghanistan.

PRIME MINISTER:

And also, not only is that very likely but also the involvement of our refuellers, our long-range reconnaissance aircraft and it may be our decision more so than the Americans that we would send some kind of operational base in the Gulf one of those amphibious vessels like the Manoora which is involved in taking some of the boat people to Nauru or the Kanimbla, the Manoora sister ship. The idea would be that that would form really a command headquarters because, although any Australian involvement would be under overall American control and command we will have a separate national command. There will be separate rules of engagement for the Australian forces. So they’ll be there as a distinctive, identifiable Australian group.

CLARK:

Right, so no Australian soldier will be on the ground in Afghanistan without being under direct control of Australian [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, under Australian command is the way I put it, with separate Australian rules of engagement. But obviously the Americans call the overall shots but these things get worked out on the ground. The local people in control get together and they know the difficulties involved and you can easily resolve acceptance of overall American command with a seperate national command for the Australians.

CLARK:

Mr Howard, can we talk about a few domestic issues. I mean, clearly the election’s going to be conducted against this background, of events which are of global importance and I suppose to some extent, on a morning like this morning, [inaudible] matters like health and education and so on, no doubt they’ll be important, but can we turn to the refugee issue for a start. I mean, I was horrified, I think every parent would have been about the image you had at the weekend of boat people throwing their children overboard. I mean it says two things I suppose, one is the desperation of the people involved. It may say something else about them. Well, what was your reaction?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, my reaction was I don’t want in Australia people who would throw their own children into the sea, I don’t and I don’t think any Australian does….

CLARK:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that’s one view, another view is that this is an attempt to morally blackmail Australia, I think it is. Genuine refugees don’t put their own children at risk, they become refugees in the name of the preservation of the safety of their children. There’s something to me incompatible between somebody who claims to be a refugee and somebody who would throw their own child into the sea, it offends the natural instinct of protection and delivering security and safety to your children. So I don’t accept that it’s a measure of the desperation. I think it’s more a mark of the determination of those who’ve taken advantage of people, or using the services of people smugglers, it’s the people smugglers that are taking advantage of them. But it’s a determined attempt to intimidate us and we have to understand that. They’ll be treated humanely and they have been and they will be and I want to thank the men and women of the Australian Navy for doing this very difficult, very disagreeable thing, it’s not easy for them…

CLARK:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s very stressful for them and I’m very conscious of the impact on a lot of young sailors and we’re endeavouring to implement a policy that protects the integrity of our immigration system in a way that’s humane and everything we’ve done to date has been quite humane and we’re not going to though be pushed around by this kind of intimidatory behaviour.

CLARK:

It’s an expensive and messy business the solution that’s been cobbled together with Nauru, it’s not a long term solution is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ve said all along that a long term solution is to stop the people coming in the first place, to staunch the flow. Now that involves the co-operation of other countries. We continue to seek greater co-operation from Indonesia and there have been some helpful signs over the last few weeks that Indonesia is adopting a tougher approach. One of the difficulties of course is that there’s freedom of entry, there has been until recently, freedom of entry into countries like Malaysia from Islamic countries in the Middle East in particular. One of the things we have to do though in relation to refugees is to start seeing a greater solution to the problem as being helping those countries that are the first haven for refugees. In the present Afghanistani situation Pakistan is a country that will need a massive amount of help from the rest of the world in order to cope with the refugee problem and it’s far better in my view to help Pakistan handle the problem in Pakistan than to imagine that you can easily resettle around the world millions of people because you can’t.

CLARK:

I was going to say it’s an approach that if it came off would be very helpful indeed. I have the Prime Minister of Australia with me it’s quarter to nine here on 2GB 873. From mid noon today Mr Howard I understand you’re in caretaker mode. What does that mean? We have a situation here where Australian troops are moving into overseas operations, does that mean you take all decisions with Mr Beazley?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, what it means is that as a caretaker Prime Minister you don’t take decisions that would commit an incoming Government and you don’t take decisions which would represent a major change of policy without consulting the Opposition. You continue of course to govern and you certainly continue to take decisions within existing established policy. Now we have a policy, supported by the Opposition of committing forces to the American led Coalition. Obviously if any requests come in or any decisions are required for the deployment of those, they will be taken, but even before the caretaker period was in contemplation I said that I would speak to Mr Beazley on a regular basis and I’ll continue to do that.

CLARK:

So any decisions about what happens to do the troops and so on…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ll communicate to him about it, I mean they’ll –

CLARK:

So you’ll consult with him about what’s going on?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course, of course and I’m very happy to do that because when military forces go abroad they go abroad in the name of Australia, they don’t go abroad in the name of one side of politics and I don’t want this to become an issue that gets caught up with partisan politics. It’s not in Australia’s interests to have this being caught up in partisan politics and I am quite ready to talk to Mr Beazley, quite ready as I have been up until now and that attitude will continue but of course the decision making still rests with me because I’m still the Prime Minister.

CLARK:

Alright Mr Howard to return to this question which seems to have at least dogged the first few days of the campaign, will you go the distance?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve got to say Philip that I am absolutely…

CLARK:

You and I always talk about this.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, I know, I know we do. I’m absolutely flattered that Mr Beazley’s major preoccupation in this campaign seems to be that I won’t be around forever. I really am, I really am quite flattered. Philip on a more serious note, right at the moment I have the most powerful commitment imaginable to see the Australian people through the current challenges and the last thing I’m interested in is to leave politics.

CLARK:

Alright but you won’t give a commitment to… I mean some may see it as a curious omission. I mean why not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think you know that Parliaments and Governments are elected for three years and what I said, mused about on your program more than a year ago was that two years into that three years, two years into that three years not six months into that three years, I would sit and think about whether I stand at the next election. Now I think that’s a perfectly normal thing to do, don’t you?

CLARK:

At the time I must say it did seem like a normal, like a perfectly normal (inaudible) thing to do as well.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that’s all I did, I just reflected on that and that’s, there’s no more to it than that but nobody should doubt that I couldn’t be more committed to serving the Australian people and I really am resolutely committed, in an unconditional way to seeing them through, if that’s what they want and I am elected…
CLARK:

…. said there’d be no by-election?

PRIME MINISTER:

I did and I will see them through this current, these current challenges and the last thing I want to do is leave Government.

CLARK:

Alright, you’re still off to Shanghai aren’t you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes and during my discussion with the Vice President earlier this morning he indicated that President Bush would still be going to the APEC meeting and it’s all the more reason, particularly in the light of what has occurred overnight, it’s all the more reason that I should go to that meeting. Because it is an opportunity for the President of the United States, the President of Russia, the President of China, the Prime Minister of Japan and the President of Indonesia to join in a declaration and a concerted statement against terrorism and for an Australian Prime Minister, even in the middle of an election campaign to pass up the opportunity of associating our country with that declaration from those people would be a dereliction of duty and that’s why I’m going.

CLARK:

Okay it’s 10 and a half ‘til nine this is 2GB 873, Philip Clark with you this morning. My guest the Prime Minister on the opening day of the campaign which will see it’s fair share of promises by the way, many are expecting Mr Howard to give a promise that you will have in your back pocket somewhere along the line an income tax cut.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it remains our view that if there is an available surplus then priority should be given to further income tax relief. Now there won’t be large surpluses this year or next year, the situation may improve in the years thereafter and they could well improve. There really isn’t a lot of room for any significant promises in the near future. We have after all spent some money on very necessary things. I keep hearing Mr Beazley attacking me for having spent some of the surplus but he doesn’t attack the things I’ve spent the money on. I’ve spent the money on roads, he supports that. I’ve spent the money on defence, he supports that. I’ve spent the money on salinity and water quality, he supports that. I’ve spent the money cutting fuel excise and getting rid of half yearly indexation of fuel excise. I mean he’s walking both sides of the street again. He’s saying don’t spend the money, in brackets so I can spend it on the things I want, but then he says oh but I’m not opposed to what you’re spending it on. Well you can’t have it both ways, you can’t support the program and oppose the appropriation of the money and everything we have spent money on has been necessary. It’s actually provided an additional stimulus to the Australian economy at a time when it needed it. Just imagine where the housing industry would be now if we had not doubled the home savings grant? Now that’s one of the things that Mr Beazley laments us having spent money on apparently.

CLARK:

Mr Howard the shape of the first two Howard Governments were pretty much plain I think. Industrial Relations reform and so on in the first term. You went to the people last time with the promise that you would introduce a GST and in that sense people had the choice about that. You did so. I mean without, you’ll have an opportunity for another policy speech before, but I mean what is the general shape of a third Howard government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there are a number of issues that we as a society have got to tackle and I’ll be having more to say about them in the campaign. But we do have to achieve a better balance between work and family. The sort of, the BBQ stopper with many families is still a debate ABOUT how you balance looking after your family, doing the right thing….

CLARK:

Well people feel very insecure don’t they?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s really getting the right mix between the two. It’s not so much the sense of insecurity, it’s the sense that we want to do the right thing by our families but we’ve also got to do the right thing by our job and our career and our economic…

CLARK:

Everybody in work feels like they’re working harder.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they do. And I think to some extent everybody is working harder. Because we’re living in a more competitive world. And there really is no great alternative to that. I think what people want is an arrangement that involves a lot of things. It involves workplace laws, it involves taxation, it involves the flexibility and the affordability of childcare. There’s a whole range of things where you need to have a better balance. Now we think our industrial relations reforms have helped and we think Labor’s rolling back of those would actually make it harder on working women in particular. We think our tax changes have given people greater choices. Childcare is now more affordable, it’s cheaper than what it used to be and the tax changes have helped the affordability of childcare. But I think there are some other things we can do.

The second great issue we’ve got to challenge is the ageing of the population. Now you can’t reverse that but what you can do is make sure that you have policies that encourage people where they want to, to work longer. I mean I think people should be able to stay in the workforce longer. One of the biggest changes that I’ve seen in my, in the last 20 years, is 20 years ago there was a whole drive to get people out of work early, now it’s just shifting right around. And …

CLARK:

But you’ve got to help people do that haven’t you?

PRIME MINISTER:

There are a variety of ways and one of the things we’ve done is to have this pension bonus scheme whereby if you remain in the workforce beyond normal retiring age then when you do retire you get a bigger pension. Now that is the government giving the lead. That’s something we bought in and there may be some other things that we can do at a government level that show the lead. But different ways have to be found of encouraging these gold collar workers as I call them to remain in the workforce longer. And the third great area of challenge for our third term is in the environmental area. Tackling the problem of salinity and water quality. It may not hit a lot of city folk….

CLARK:

It’s not a (inaudible) topic to use an unfortunate phrase, but it’s not is it, but it’s a critical issue isn’t it.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s absolutely critical. We’re a very dry continent and you don’t have to go far out of the big cities to start encountering the problem of the impact of salinity. So they’re three very important areas and when you add to them some issues we’ve already unveiled such as reforming our welfare system you already have a major third term agenda.

CLARK:

Alright. What’s the most important thing you’ve done?

PRIME MINISTER:

I would say the, there are three great achievements of my five and a half years. Getting the economy in shape, paying back 58 billion of the 96 billion dollars of debt, getting interest rates down, all of the economic reforms. I would also put on a par with that what we did for the people of East Timor. And I would say domestically what we did with guns. What we did with guns has delivered in my opinion over the years a safer Australia for women and children in particular. I don’t think we will ever know perhaps in our lifetime the value of creating a situation where we don’t have the gun culture that unfortunately bedevils the United States. The United States is too far gone in the other way and Americans have said to me that they wished that at some stage earlier in America’s history she’d been able to do what we were able to do in May of 1996.

CLARK:

Yes we were still at a point in this country where we can stop it. Just back on some of those workplace related issues and these are really by way of questions from listeners this morning. What about an extension of paid maternity leave? We’ve seen it already organised in some workplaces. I mean I think it’s one of the Catholic University’s in the west that has done it. Should we see that as a greater extension across the workplace?

PRIME MINISTER:

If it can be afforded particularly by small business, yes. It’s not …

CLARK:

It’s a nightmare for a lot of small business.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well of course. That’s why it shouldn’t be made mandatory, because what you would do is end up having fewer women employed and fewer people who want to start a family employed. That’s the problem with making it mandatory. And people who rush in and say you’ve got to pass a law to compel it….what you have to do is encourage its spread by workplace agreements that are more flexible and where possible, set an example in government. But not mandate it, it’s just not fair on small business.

CLARK:

That and some incentive for some people as you say not to cash in the superannuation and get out of the workforce quickly because the superannuation laws really penalise people who stay longer.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well certainly the, what we’ve done is in relation to the pension and what we’ve said is if you stay in the workforce longer you get a bigger pension, a bigger pension. Now that’s at the other end. But as far as women wanting to leave the workforce temporarily….you see the increasing pattern is that when a child is first born people would like to be out of the workforce for a while. Some of them for not so long, some of them for a much longer period and then perhaps return part time. Some ultimately returning full time, but many not going beyond returning to the part time workforce. So what in the face of that, what you really need is a taxation approach and a workplace relations approach and other approaches that accommodate that life cycle choice that women in modern Australian society have. And that’s one of them, we’ve come a long way, but we still have a distance to travel.

CLARK:

Alright Mr Howard, you’ll have a few weeks to convince the voters of that and other messages. Good luck on the campaign and may the best man win. Thanks for joining us.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you Philip.

[ends]

Transcript 12107