PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 12496

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH NICK MCCALLUM, RADIO 3AW

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: 13/09/2002

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12496

Subjects: United Nations; Iraq; Ansett.

E&OE...........

McCALLUM:

Thank you very much for your time, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good afternoon, Nick.

McCALLUM:

Now, a survey says 60% of talkback callers at this stage oppose Australia's involvement in any attack on Iraq. Are you, a) surprised about that and b) concerned about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm not surprised about it for a number of reasons, one of which is no decision has been taken to be involved in military action against Iraq and trying to assess public opinion on that at the present moment is not only premature but very difficult to be focused about. What we're endeavouring to do, along with the United States and Britain, is to support strong action being taken by the United Nations to secure Iraqi compliance with previous resolutions of the United Nations and perhaps in time Iraqi compliance with new resolutions of the Security Council. Talk of a military attack on Iraq is not only premature but it's just not focused because it is not something that we want to occur if it can be avoided.

McCALLUM:

Can I ask you how much notice will you take of public opinion if that time comes because of course history shows that sending troops overseas to fight a war which is not supported back home is always dangerous, isn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I take a lot of things into account in reaching important decisions. In the end I will conscientiously take decisions that I believe are in the best interests of the Australian community and in Australia's national interest. Public opinion is obviously an element in that but you can't necessarily gauge public opinion completely according to the volume of talkback calls. Often people ring talkback radio in order to express opposition. They ring less frequently to express support. There are a lot of things you take into account in making decisions but, Nick, we are not right at the moment contemplating the possibility of military action. What we are endeavouring to do is to support the efforts of like-minded countries to resolve this issue through the United Nations without resort to military force. I don't want military conflict, I hate military conflict, all Australians do and it is in this country's interests that their Government and their Prime Minister work very hard with others to ensure that we resolve this very difficult issue through the United Nations.

McCALLUM:

Given the record, the previous record of the United Nations Security Council, are you confident it can be quick enough and strong enough to come up with a resolution that is satisfactory to Mr Bush and, of course, to you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I was quite encouraged by the remarks of the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, just before the President spoke. He talked of the obligations of the United Nations. He accepted those obligations. He repeated his plea to Iraq to comply with earlier resolutions. I was very encouraged. They were the words of a person who understood that this was a critical moment for the United Nations.

McCALLUM:

But he also urged America not to go it alone, didn't he?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, he made a number of remarks, of course he did that. But the important thing to me was that he realised the special responsibility of the United Nations. I mean, we need to work this issue through episode at a time. There's no point in running ahead. You don't get the right outcome in these very difficult situations by jumping from one consideration to another and trying to answer questions today which you may not be required, if at all, to answer for several weeks. And that is why at the moment the issue of a military strike against Iraq is not the question. The question is Iraq's compliance with the requirements of the international community as expressed through the United Nations.

McCALLUM:

Mr Crean was in here yesterday and he was critical of you because he said that you should be the one leading the debate in Parliament next week, you should be the one making the statement rather than Alexander Downer.

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just say that I suppose if you're the Opposition Leader you've got to say something that's critical but what we're talking about here is a report to Parliament from the Foreign Minister who is now in New York and by the time he gets back to Australia he will have met the Iraqi Foreign Minister, he will have met the United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who he's already seen, a National Security Adviser, Condolesa Rice, both of whom are at the General Assembly, and on top of that he can detail to Parliament Iraq's non-compliance with previous United Nations resolutions. Now, I think it's entirely appropriate that he deliver that statement to Parliament. If other statements are needed of course I will deliver them but this idea that the only person who can say anything to Parliament about this subject is the Prime Minister is really a little juvenile.

McCALLUM:

Will you guarantee that all available evidence that doesn't have intelligence connotations will be made available to the Australian public before troops are sent in?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we haven't decided to send in troops but let me say this, if we were to do so subject to protecting the confidentiality of sources we would want to make all we could available, of course.

McCALLUM:

Now, on one other quick topic, Mr Howard, we've been discussing with former Ansett employees just before the 5 o'clock news. Many of them are still owed, in fact, one is owed 100,000, another is owed 86,000. Can you guarantee or is there any way of guaranteeing that they'll get at least the majority of their…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, our position has been that we would guarantee that they would get their basic entitlements - that's long service leave, holiday pay etc - and up to eight weeks redundancy. We never guaranteed that they would get more than eight weeks redundancy. We made it plain a year ago that our guarantee did not go beyond eight weeks and I suspect that the people you're talking about are people who are owed a great deal more in redundancies. Now, it's not part of our scheme to guarantee more than eight weeks redundancy. And why we've chosen eight weeks is that that is the community average. In the case of Ansett employees the redundancy arrangements were well above the community average. Now, that, of course, sadly is one of the examples of the financial commitments that oversteps the company but I want to say to any Ansett worker that's listening to this programme, our guarantee last year was that you would be guaranteed - a guarantee means that if the person who owes the money to you doesn't pay it to you we guarantee that you'll get it from us - our guarantee was you'd get the basic entitlements and eight weeks redundancy. And under that arrangement we have advanced $328 million to the Administrator. We have collected $100 million from the ticket levy. So we have advanced $228 million more than we have collected so far from the ticket levy. We have not, I am informed, been refunded any money as yet by the Administrator. If at the end of the day after everything's been reconciled and balanced as a result of the levy there is any excess then we will give that back to the aviation industry with a preference to the tourist part of it. And that was the undertaking I gave last year when this arrangement was put in place and that is the undertaking that will be delivered.

McCALLUM:

Okay, Mr Howard, we have to wrap it up now. Thank you very much for your time, I really appreciate you taking time out to speak to us.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[Ends]

Transcript 12496