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Transcript 20691

Interview with Charles Wooley, 60 Minutes, Channel Nine

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: 16/02/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20691

WOOLEY:

Prime Minister, thanks for joining us. Given the polling that we've seen, the numbers of Australians in the street this weekend wouldn't surprise you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Charles, this is a very difficult issue and I respect the fact that a lot of Australians don't agree with me on this. I also suspect that there are a lot of Australians who do and they're not as, perhaps as noisy about it and there are a lot of people in between. In the end, my charge as Prime Minister is to take whatever decision I think is in the best interest of the country and I believe the way we are handling this is in the best interest of Australia. I am worried about countries like Iraq possessing chemical and biological weapons, not only because they might use them themselves, but they might... the more that have them might hand them to terrorists and that really is the ultimate nightmare. So, that's the different world in which we now live.

WOOLEY:

But, for a leader of a democracy to go against the perceived tide of public opinion is still a considerable thing to do it and it is true, to use a kind of vernacular that you use, the mob don't like it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don't think the mob, to use that vernacular, has quite made up its mind on this issue and it can't really make up its mind until we know what all the alternatives are. Clearly, most people would like the general approval of the United Nations of some form. I don't know what the outworking of that...

WOOLEY:

Well, that seems to change the complexion considerably, then the opinion polls swing around.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that is understandable. Look, the one constant in all of the polls is that people think Saddam Hussein has got dangerous weapons, they don't believe him and they think something ought to be done. The argument now is really about how you deal with this problem. The worry I have is that if my critics are listened to, then effectively the world will turn its back on the problem and we won't be rewarded by Saddam Hussein throwing away these weapons and being a nice boy and worse still, it will make it impossible to control countries like North Korea.

WOOLEY:

If the United Nations doesn't endorse it, are you telling the Australian people we'll go in anyway, or are you telling them we won't...?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the reason I can't say yes or no to either of those questions at the present time is that until I know the final outcome, it may be what I call a grey outcome, you may get a resolution from the United Nations which says Iraq has cheated, Iraq is completely recalcitrant and we note that and we record that and say nothing more. Now, in those circumstances we'd have to take a decision as to what we did. You may have another outcome that... it's impossible to predict. And I would be very foolish if I gave some forward commitment about what we were going to do in a particular circumstance, that would be the worst thing for me to do. Look, clearly, we are more supportive of the United States' position than any other country...

WOOLEY:

Clearly.

PRIME MINISTER:

...except Britain, clearly, I accept that. We have deployed people. I mean, everybody knows that and I did that very consciously, knowing the signal that it would send. But can I say that the military deployment, particularly by the United States, but also by the Brits and us, is the reason why the inspectors are back in Iraq. Kofi Annan and Blix both acknowledged that to me when I was in New York, both of them said to me if it hadn't been for the American pressure the troops wouldn't be, the inspectors wouldn't be in Iraq. It's therefore very strange to me that America's critics, like the French, their starting point is let the inspectors do more work, yet the inspectors wouldn't be there if it hadn't been for the Americans. The Americans did the heavy lifting to get the inspectors into Iraq and now America's critics come along and say - well, thank you very much for that, we didn't really want you to do it but now that you've done it, thanks very much and now we'll take it over and have it determined in a particular way. Not surprisingly, the Americans don't agree with that.

WOOLEY:

How do you interpret our obligations here under the American alliance?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that is an important element...

WOOLEY:

It's fundamental...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, hang on, there's no legal obligation under ANZUS because America is not directly under attack. I'm not putting in those terms, but we should remember that in the end there is only one country that can help with us to guarantee our security and that is the United States.

WOOLEY:

Now the scary proposition that underlines that for me is that you're almost suggesting that the US would be less likely to come to the assistance if we need it of an ally who'd looked half-hearted in the past.

PRIME MINISTER:

No I'm not saying that, I'm trying to fairly communicate to the Australian people the importance I place on the alliance. We are not meant to be an uncritical friend of the United States and we are not uncritical. But in the end given our position in the world the importance of that American alliance and given the history of this country in World War II and what the Americans did then we shouldn't lightly forget that. It is a very important consideration.

WOOLEY:

Prime Minister many people are saying to me how much greater a threat must North Korea be. They have the weapons, they're making more nuclear weapons and now they're threatening to use them and the Japanese are threatening to retaliate, well pre-emptively.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think there's a very big connection between Iraq and North Korea and the connection is this, if the Security Council and the world community can't discipline Iraq it has no hope of disciplining North Korea. Can you imagine that if we watched the world walk away from the Iraqi problem, can you imagine the reaction in P'yongyang, the North Korean capital? I'm quite certain that a lot of their brinkmanship at the moment is because of what's happening in Iraq, they look at the disagreement between the French and the Germans on the one hand and America and her allies on the other hand and they say well in this environment we've got a divided world so we'll push out the envelope a bit further. I mean there is a very direct link and if we're worried about North Korea we'll show a strong face to Iraq and send by that a very clear message to North Korea.

WOOLEY:

Were you able to convince Megawati and the Indonesians that this is not a war against Islam?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. The President...

WOOLEY:

You sound as if it was easy?

PRIME MINISTER:

No it wasn't easy but I explained to her that our differences with Iraq had nothing to do with the Islamic faith. She said that she agreed with that although...

WOOLEY:

She agreed with it?

PRIME MINISTER:

She agreed that the concerns the world had with Iraq and if any action were taken against Iraq that should not be seen as anti-Islamic. That's not to say she has the same policy in relation to Iraq as I have but I was encouraged by her very strong statement that any action against Iraq, even though she may not agree with it, should not be seen as action against Islam.

WOOLEY:

Prime Minister this is a war on terror, it's not going to be conventional, armies might line up that terrorist strike behind your lines, they strike insidiously at home, how safe are we?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well this really comes to the kernel, the nub of the problem. We do live in a very different world now, when we were younger and we read history war was about armies rolling across borders, mobilisation, there were perceived 'goodies' and perceived 'baddies'. The threat of violence and terror is borderless, we had that tragic experience of 88 Australians going out to a club for a beer and not coming back.

WOOLEY:

So the point is it's not necessarily decided on the battlefield?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not necessarily, but when you know that a country has chemical and biological weapons and wants nuclear ones, when you know it is like Iraq, when you know that if they are not disarmed others will aspire to do the same and when you know that the more that have them the more likely it is that terrorists will get hold of those weapons you've got do something and if you don't I think you could end up paying a much greater price further down the track.

WOOLEY:

You've experienced the mood in the United States, people in their homes are stockpiling food, they're lining rooms with plastic, they're creating shelters. I've got a fridge magnet.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you're dammed if you do and you're dammed if you don't if you're the government in a situation like this. Charles, if we had done nothing about an information campaign, if we hadn't given you your fridge magnet and all the valuable information that went with it you'd quite rightly be saying to me what are you doing to prepare us in case of an attack Mr Howard and you'd be right.

WOOLEY:

You're right, you can't win.

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

WOOLEY:

Prime Minister thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 20691