PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 12497

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP RADIO INTERVIEW WITH JOHN FAINE, 3LO

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: 12497

Subjects: Iraq; United Nations; September 11; Ansett; paid maternity leave.

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

FAINE:

The Prime Minister John Howard joins me in the studio. Good morning to you Mr Howard.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning John.

FAINE:

Yesterday, or our time overnight, George W. Bush addressed the United Nations. Have you had a chance to read or hear his speech, and are you impressed with the evidence that he said he would produce to the world at large?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I';ve read his speech and I saw the excerpts on television this morning. He didn';t, as I understand it, give a detailed commitment about producing evidence. What I believe he did was very important, and that is to make in unmistakable language the point that Iraq has failed to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and importantly this is the same point that was made by the Secretary General of the United Nations. I was quite encouraged by the commonality of approach between the Secretary General and the President. Some people are saying that what the President was doing was telling the world that if the United Nations doesn';t do something about it, then somebody else might. That is a phase that I hope we don';t get to. The phase in front of us now is for the United Nations to remind Iraq of her non-compliance and do something about it, and that is what the President encouraged the world body to do and that is a very good thing.

FAINE:

George W. Bush and Tony Blair both said we have evidence that Iraq is assembling nuclear weapons. We already knew they had extended aluminium shafts and tubes. We already knew they employed nuclear scientists. We already knew all the things that George W. Bush mentioned at the United Nations. There is no new evidence.

PRIME MINISTER:

But hang on, if your case is that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, the fact that most of the evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction is already in the public domain and accepted, doesn';t destroy the argument that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. What we';re seeing here with the critics of America and the critics of the Australian Government is this sort of leap of logic – because some of the evidence is old evidence, therefore it is no evidence.

FAINE:

No, the old evidence was inadequate evidence and we were told but wait, there';s more.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well who said it was inadequate?

FAINE:

Everybody has said it is inadequate. We';ve heard from the United Nations in fact, Kofi Annan said it was inadequate.

PRIME MINISTER:

I';m sorry, if he regards it as inadequate, why is he insisting on compliance?

FAINE:

He';s saying he wants compliance with the earlier resolutions but there';s not enough here to justify an attack.

PRIME MINISTER:

We are talking about, at this stage we are talking about compliance with the earlier resolutions and perhaps compliance with a fresh resolution. That';s what we';re talking about. I mean let us do this episodically. What I find strange about the critics of the Government on this is that they say you should go through the United Nations process and when we do they then sort of leap over that and say, oh yes but what';s your evidence for a military attack? We';re not arguing the case at this stage for a military attack. That might happen and I don';t gainsay the possibility that it might happen. But at the moment what we are doing, what the Americans are doing, what the British are doing, is reminding the United Nations of her responsibilities. And I welcome the fact that Kofi Annan said that Iraq must comply and I welcome the fact as I read his speech that he accepted his responsibilities as Secretary General for the UN to do its job. And I think that';s a very good thing.

FAINE:

The other members of the Security Council have already said they are unimpressed with the information being made available to date. No new evidence has been produced so why would they suddenly change their stance?

PRIME MINISTER:

I';m not sure that the other members of the Security Council, and you';re presumably talking about the permanent members mainly but not exclusively – but they have said mixed things. The French President initially sounded as though he was totally opposed to any type of action. Subsequently he has sounded as though he is in favour of action if Iraq does not comply with an ultimatum.

FAINE:

And if the rest of the Security Council agree as well, he doesn';t, as you say, he doesn';t say I';ll go alone with the US and Britain if I have to.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well nobody has reached that stage yet.

FAINE:

I thought you had.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, who said that?

FAINE:

I thought you had made it clear that even if the Security Council didn';t want to, if America went against Iraq and Britain was the only country with it, then Australia…

PRIME MINISTER:

Look we have made it very clear that we understand and are sympathetic to the American position. And I don';t apologise for that. But we';ve also made it clear to the United States and we';ve made it clear to the United Nations, and the Foreign Minister will be addressing the United Nations this evening, that we favour the United Nations doing its job. And I have said on numerous occasions John over the last month that if Iraq were to comply fully, to allow the inspectors in in a totally unfettered, unhindered way, that would transform the situation overnight. Now that is not the language of somebody who is saying we don';t care about the United Nations. But what I am not willing to do is to deal with this issue other than in a step by step, measured way. You can';t in the one breath be told go through the United Nations and then be invited to deal with a whole lot of hypothetical questions which are based on the assumption that the United Nations approach has failed.

FAINE:

Are you concerned that the body of Australian opinion would seem not to support your current position? Whether it';s opinion polls, talkback radio surveys, whatever it may be, somewhere around 60% or more of Australian people, whichever way you measure their opinion, don';t support you.

PRIME MINISTER:

John I think at this stage of the debate it';s very difficult to get an enduring read on public opinion because the issues are not clearly defined. We have not invited the public to support military action against Iraq. We hope military action against Iraq can be avoided.

FAINE:

But when you talked about military action in Timor for instance, there was overwhelming support.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well of course because the situation had clarified and there was a simple proposition. At the moment there is a lot of debate about compliance with United Nations resolutions, and the natural reaction of people is not to want military conflict. That is my view. And I';m not the least bit surprised at the moment that you get a lot of people saying well I don';t want military action. That is a perfectly natural reaction. And I have said before and I repeat it this morning, that if we were ever involved again in military action, whether it';s against Iraq or elsewhere, I would accept the responsibility to advocate and explain to the Australian people the reason for it. The other point I make is that in the end I have to take a decision that I think is in the best interests of Australia, and that is not a decision that can vary from day to day according to the volume of talkback callers, and I can';t imagine that you or many other people would encourage me to make Australian foreign policy on that basis.

FAINE:

But it';s one measure of something…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I accept the responsibilities because I am accountable to the Australian public, and I am their delegate, their representative. I have to explain my actions to them and I';m perfectly happy to do that. Right at the moment I';m saying, on their behalf to the United Nations, do your job, ensure compliance. I';m saying to Iraq, it is in everybody';s interests to fully comply. And tomorrow in New York, on Saturday in New York, our Foreign Minister Alexander Downer will meet the Iraqi Foreign Minister face to face and he will convey the views of the Australian Government directly to the Foreign Minister of Iraq. We won';t be hiding behind the United Nations or the American President or the British Prime Minister. And Alexander Downer will talk directly to the Iraqi Foreign Minister in New York and will convey the views of the Australian Government directly to the Government of Iraq.

FAINE:

Prime Minister, George W. Bush in his speech also said that as a symbol of the American commitment to human dignity the USA will return to UNESCO. I applaud that and I presume our Government, which makes a substantial contribution to UNESCO, do we welcome the Americans back into UNESCO?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we do and can I just remind people that Australia has been a member in good standing of the United Nations since it was founded and we';ve been a regular, full fee paying member of the United Nations too since it was founded. We don';t always agree with it but I think the United Nations, especially through many of its specialised agencies such as UNICEF and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, does an outstanding job. But in other areas I think the United Nations has it wrong and we';ve never been reluctant to say so. I mean nobody is perfect and support for multilateral institutions doesn';t mean that we believe that the United Nations should be always regarded as the United Nations, right or wrong.

FAINE:

You';ve anticipated my next question and I therefore can';t ask it. President Bush also said America stands committed to an independent and democratic Palestine living side by side with Israel in peace and security like all other people. Palestinians deserve a Government which serves their interests and listens to their voices. Does Australia stand committed to an independent and democratic Palestine?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have for a long time.

FAINE:

Are we prepared to resist the call, strident calls, from very influential lobbies, particularly from the Jewish community, who have resisted for years our attempt to have a balanced approach [inaudible] in the Middle East?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think we have the right approach to the Middle East. I mean, we are an unapologetic supporter of Israel. I remain strongly of the view that a magnificent opportunity for a peace settlement was passed up two years ago when Arafat didn't have the courage to accept ehud Barak's very magnanimous offer at Camp David. And what happened after that was predictable because of Arafat's failure to take up that offer. But we have for some time supported the right of the Palestinian people for a homeland.

FAINE:

We continue to push that despite it causing you, I would have thought, some political anxiety because the bulk of the Australian Jewish community would be aghast to hear those words coming from the lips of the President of the USA.

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't believe so, I really don't. I mean, I talk to people in the Australian Jewish community on a regular basis. I also talk to people who are concerned about the Palestinian point of view as well. The view I get is that people want peace, they want peace on the basis of Israel having secure defensible borders but they also recognise that the people of Palestine have legitimate aspirations to a homeland. There will continue to be debate about the extent of that homeland, there will continue to be argument about where you have the capital of any Palestinian State. There'll be all those endless debates but that takes me back to my point about Barak and Arafat. There was an Israeli Prime Minister offering Palestinians 90% or more of what they wanted, including even some involvement in Jerusalem and the Palestinians knocked it back. I think that was a terrible tragedy.

FAINE:

Kim from Essendon, I'm just waiting for the Prime Minister to adjust his headphones. Kim, if you can hold on for just a moment, here we go, go ahead.

CALLER:

Oh, hello Mr Howard. I just wanted to ask you, I may have missed something but what single incident has brought this issue with Saddam Hussein and Iraq back to the forefront, what has made such a hot issue, has there been new evidence as far as something has changed over the past couple of years or has there been an incident that has made America so keen to go and declare war against them?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think what happened was that the events of the 11th of September last year created a new dimension in international affairs and that dimension is the reality that rogue states or groups of terrorists can successfully assault the citadels of power of countries all around the world and destroy lives and destroy property. I think what the 11th of September has taught us is that we can no longer leave potential threats unattended to otherwise we may be condemned to explain to the children of future victims why we did so. That is, more than anything else, the circumstance that has focused the American mind since the 11th of September last year and clearly the continuing breach of the original UN Security Council resolutions is a factor. People have often said what is the link between the 11th of September and Iraq. The link is what I have just explained. I mean, there may or may not be some more direct link in an evidentiary sense but I have always taken the view that the true significance of the 11th of September last year was that it taught us something about the world that we didn't know before, or perhaps didn't want to know, and that is that we are all vulnerable. And that therefore if you as a nation see a potential threat and you don't do your level best to neutralise it or eliminate it then you may well face a repeat of the 11th of September, albeit in a different form, a different magnitude, perhaps even worse but nonetheless that is the link in my mind and I think that more than anything else has motivated and galvanised American opinion on this. And I must say as an Australian I can understand that. I mean, I invite you to consider how you would feel if that attack had occurred on a big building in Melbourne or in Sydney.

FAINE:

But what's the link between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda and New York?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look John, I've already said that the question of whether there is a direct link is, well, I can't say yes or no on that. The point I'm making is that the 11th of September has told us that we're all much more vulnerable and therefore the fact that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, the fact that Iraq has demonstrated an aggressive capacity - he's used these weapons against his own people, he's used these weapons against the Iranians, has threatened…

FAINE:

But all years ago. Kim's question was why…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well because years ago we weren't instructed by the events of the 11th of September last year that we are more vulnerable than what we thought we were.

FAINE:

Okay. Stuart in Windsor, good morning.

CALLER:

Yes, good morning, Mr Howard and John. What I'm ringing in regards to, I've got two questions - one, is America fully paid up on the UN?

PRIME MINISTER:

I frankly don't know. I think at various stages they were objecting to some of their payments. Whether they're fully paid up now, look, I don't know that.

CALLER:

I think at one stage they were quite behind.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah look, at one stage they were. I acknowledge that. And that's one of the reasons why I said that we've been a full-fee paying member.

CALLER:

You're obviously supporting America and supporting the UN yet America, I thought you as Prime Minister of Australia would know if you're supporting this power that they're fully paid up.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but that question is not the sole determinant of whether what they're doing here is right or wrong. I mean, that's an issue in its own right, but its' not the dominate issue in this debate.

CALLER:

[inaudible] is the one that throws the first bomb and I think in this case, it'll probably be America.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, they haven't thrown any bombs. The only bombs that have been thrown, If I can use that in a generic sense, over the last year are the ones that started it and the ones that happened just over a year ago today…

CALLER:

…Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, but it has demonstrated the vulnerability of countries like Australia and the United States in a way that we didn't know before and I think we're foolish to ignore that reality.

FAINE:

Good on ya, Stuart. You've had a good run. Thank you. Tai Mau Hazu has called in from the Australian Arabic Council. Mr Hazu, good morning.

CALLER:

Good morning, John. Good morning, Prime Minister and listeners. I was going to make the point about America and the UN, but I guess our main point is the Australian Arabic Council's opposed to a war in Iraq and will be very opposed to it this time, unlike the first war where we had to deal with the issues of racism and our own allegiance as Australian Arabs to our nation here. We won't back it because so many civilians were killed in that first war – 150,000 civilians and still over 3,000 children are dying every month in Iraq from sanctions. And we haven't seen any evidence, and I want to see the evidence, I want to analyse the evidence, when we read the real report [inaudible] because we feel a lot of Australians who have…

FAINE:

To say that the Iraqis are dying from the sanctions is to suggest that their deaths has nothing to do with Saddam Hussein…

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean, Saddam Hussein, I've just listened to what you had to say. Saddam Hussein has the capacity under the food for oil arrangement to make sure that the food and the medicines go to his children and to his civilian population. But he chooses to divert it, he chooses to put greater priority to other things other than the lives and the comfort of his citizens. But can I just simply pose the rhetorical question – do you support full compliance, full unfettered, unhindered, supervised compliance with United Nations resolutions by Iraq…

CALLER:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

…could I ask you another question, could I ask you another question? Have you conveyed those views strongly and when did you last do it to the Iraqi Government?

CALLER:

We've always conveyed those views. It's on the public record, on the Council's public record that we think there should be compliance with UN resolutions. We've also always conveyed that the children dying, innocent children sitting in their homes, it is not, and we do also consider that part of this responsibility lies with Saddam Hussein, is not good enough for us as a western democracy to then point the finger to [inaudible]…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you haven't really answered that question very effectively because he is, this is within his capacity to prevent that happening and he chooses to give priority to other things. And that has been very very carefully documented and that is…

FAINE:

You mean his military effort?

PRIME MINISTER:

His military effort and also the priority that's given to certain sections of his society in the nature of a totalitarian state. The food for oil program was deliberately designed to prevent the sort of thing that the gentleman's talking about occurring and the fact that it continues to occur is Saddam's fault. He's running the country, not the US, not Australia, not the UN.

FAINE:

Eight minutes to Nine. Mercer on the mobile, good morning.

CALLER:

Hello, good morning to you Prime Minister and good morning John and listeners. I've been listening very closely to what's been said and I can only tell you that I compare the position of the civilised world today and it's vacillation on why we have to justify today dealing with a despot regime like Iraq, with the machination that were the direct result of the western world, not dealing with concentration camps where my family were wiped off this planet. And I also would like to take the opportunity of suggesting that Australia's role is, at very best symbolic in regards to any military action. However, I think we should also understand what is the moral and proper position for Australians to take…

FAINE:

Do you have a question for the Prime Minister?

CALLER:

Yeah, I';d like to ask the Prime Minister simply this, the Coalition has done an excellent job…

FAINE:

A question.

CALLER:

Well, I'd like to ask…

FAINE:

No, a question or I'll move on.

CALLER:

Okay, the question is does the Palestinian changes politically in having the resignation of all of the Palestinian parliamentarians or cabinet show an opportunity of hope in the Middle East…

FAINE:

Okay, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'd always look for opportunities of hope in the Middle East, there aren't too many of them, but I would look for them. I hope it does. I wish the people of Palestine well, the Palestinians well. Our policy remains, we support the right of the Palestinians to a home land, but the other part of it has always been and will always be the right of Israel to exist behind secure, defensible, internationally accepted recognised boundaries and the weight of behaviour and effort over the last few years has certainly been that the Israelies try, I mean, whatever people say about the Israelies, they criticise them, they sometimes get a very bad press, particularly in this country, but they tried through Barak two years ago, they made a historic offer and sadly it was rejected.

FAINE:

Thanks for calling Mercer. Damien on a mobile phone, you'll be our last caller with the Prime Minister.

CALLER:

Well I [inaudible] good morning, Mr Howard. As far as I'm aware, the US are high consumers of oil, do they have an ulterior motive into focusing so heavily on Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't believe that charge can be validly made. Of course they are a high consumer of oil. They get their oil from Saudi Arabia, I think is their main source of supply in the Middle East. Some people might even argue that oil supplies could be put under some kind of cloud if there is any kind of action or military conflict. I don't believe for a moment that that is America's motivation in this. I know that kind of charge is easy to make against the most powerful country in the world. And can I tell you, in having talked to President Bush last Saturday morning, he doesn't want military conflict if he can avoid it. This idea that he's some kind of impatient warmonger could not be further from the truth, he's not. I think he would be as pleased as anybody else if this matter can be resolved without resort to military conflict. But nobody should doubt either his strength or his willingness to do in the end what he regards is the right thing by his own country and the world community.

FAINE:

Four minutes to nine. Thank you for your call. Some domestic matters while we have a few moments before the news, Prime Minister. Yesterday on this program, Greg Combet from the ACTU marking the anniversary also of the collapse of Ansett said that it was time for your Government to consider its policy on the $10 ticket levy, that you were collecting money that could be going into the pockets of the workers, who so far are still missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of entitlements. Will you review the $10 ticket levy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, what Greg said yesterday is not right. I've checked this morning. What I've been told is that the Federal Government has advanced $328 million to the Administrator to fund payment of entitlements and redundancies up to the level that we have agreed to guarantee, which is only, in relation to redundancy, eight weeks plus the other entitlements. We have collected about $100 million from the levy, so that's 328 out, 100 in. We haven't had any money repaid of the $328m by the Administrator. The Administrator, as far as I understand it, should have made all of that $328 million available to workers. I know a lot of workers have been paid their entitlement…

FAINE:

The minimum entitlement.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I mean, some people say entitlements are the statutory things like long service leave, holiday pay and then on top of that we go up to eight weeks. Now…

FAINE:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, I know but…our promise a year ago was to guarantee what you call the minimum entitlements plus eight weeks redundancy. We didn't presume to guarantee beyond that.

FAINE:

Are you going to keep the $10 levy?

PRIME MINISTER:

We're going to continue the $10 levy. I mean, at the moment it's 328 out, 100 in. Mind over matter tells me that's a different of 228. But we have said that if at the end of the day, and this is after any repayments by the Administrator, we have said that if there is any excess then we will return that money to the aviation industry - I said this a year ago - with a preference for tourists. So we're not going to make a profit out of this and clearly we haven't and we have honoured in full the promise I made a year ago and that is that we would guarantee that the workers got their entitlements plus the eight weeks redundancy. We never guaranteed anything beyond that and the capacity of the Administrator to pay beyond that will be determined by financial [inaudible] other than from the Government.

FAINE:

Are you changing your mind on paid maternity leave?

PRIME MINISTER:

I've always said we'd have a look at it.

FAINE:

Are you looking enthusiastically at it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think it's part of it but it's not the panacea. It's not going to suddenly send our fertility rates soaring to the stars. I mean, that's just not going to happen. It will cost money if the Government is to fund it. I understand somewhere in the order of $400 to $500 million.

FAINE:

Somebody said we'll be a barren nation.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I think people just have to keep a sense of proportion about this. We do have a lower fertility rate than we had. Government policies can influence fertility at the margin. I don't think it can turn the thing around on its head. I think that is just kidding yourself. But, nonetheless, we ought to try to have it as part of an overall debate.

FAINE:

Okay, Prime Minister, thank you indeed for canvassing so much material with us and we'll wait for more news about the meeting between Alexander Downer and the Iraqi Foreign Minister when it happens in New York. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I say that is another reason why he should report to Parliament next week.

[Ends]

Transcript 12497