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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 20947

Interview with Leon Delaney, Radio 2SM

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: 10/10/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20947

DELANEY:

It';s a quarter past nine and my pleasure to welcome to the programme this morning, Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard. Good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Hi, good morning, Leon. Nice to talk to you.

DELANEY:

This weekend you';re travelling to Bali, obviously, to mark the first anniversary of the bombings and I get the impression that it';s not only something that you want to do but something you feel you must do.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I certainly want to do it and I wouldn';t dream of not doing it. It';s a very important commemoration. This tragedy has had an enormous impact on Australia, not only did it kill 88 Australians and leave many others injured and grief stricken, but it';s had a huge impact on our national psyche.

DELANEY:

In many ways people have said September 11 changed the world, but in many ways Bali has changed Australia and Australia';s way of life to some extent, hasn';t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think what it';s done is to shatter that impression of carefree abandon that many Australians may have had before. I don';t think it';s in any way broken our spirit or affected us in a long-term way. We';ll still travel, we';ll still seek out adventure, we will still see our young going abroad. The right of passage so many young people is that first trip abroad and for so many of them it was Bali.

DELANEY:

Now your presence at the ceremonies will obviously send a message of comfort to the victims and Australians generally. It will also send some sort of message to Indonesians, won';t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I hope that by going that can offer some reassurance and comfort to people. It';s entirely, of course, it';s a very personal thing as far as I';m concerned and I want to say to them we';re still thinking of you and we still continue as much as we can to share your grief. I don';t see my presence in any way as you put it sending a message to Indonesia. I don';t want to send any messages to Indonesia other than messages of cooperation. We have worked together very well since the attack in Bali to bring to justice those responsible and I';m full of praise for the work of the Indonesian police and the Indonesian authorities.

DELANEY:

Should we read anything into the Indonesian President';s reluctance to attend the ceremony?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don';t read anything into it. I never thought she would go from way back and when there was talk earlier this week that she might after all go, I doubted that and she';s not coming for very complicated cultural reasons, which I fully understand. Now they';ll obviously after the East Timor independence and Australia';s involvement in that, there was quite a high level of anti-Australian feeling in Indonesia. Is there still a high level of anti-Australian feeling in some quarters there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, there is probably in some quarters, but overall the relationship is in good shape. It';s not an easy relationship, we are very different countries but we are thrown together by geography, we are neighbours and we must get on with each other. There will be ups and downs in the relationship. Australia is 20 million people, Indonesia is 220 million. Indonesia is the largest Islamic country in the world. It';s made up of so many hundreds, indeed thousands of islands. It';s a very different culture, a very different background, but that doesn';t mean to say you can';t find common points of cooperation. There are a lot of Indonesians being educated in Australia, there are a lot of Indonesians who regularly travel to this country. I find at a personal level, relationships are very good.

DELANEY:

When you travel to Bali this weekend, do you risk becoming a target yourself?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don';t know, maybe, maybe not. But you';ve got to take risks and I certainly am not concerned about my own safety.

DELANEY:

Yesterday in Parliament, you said that the war on terror must go on in honour of the victims of Bali. Has joining the war in Iraq, for example, made Australians safer in the world than we were before?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think that the removal of Saddam Hussein sent the very strong message to countries that might be tempted to emulate what he did and in the longer term I believe it';s made a contribution to a safer world, people will debate that, that';s part of a democratic process. But terrorism is very indiscriminate: although terrorists hate western society and the process of playing out their hatred, they kill many people who are not part of western society. Indeed, more people who are of the Islamic faith have died in the last six months than there have been people of the Christian or Jewish faith. Now, that';s a reminder of just how indiscriminate terrorism is and it';s also a reminder that Islam is as much a target of terrorism as is Christianity or Judaism.

DELANEY:

Yes, for all its political motivations they may or may not have, terrorism remains above all else a crime against all humanity.

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course. I read an article in The Australian this morning by one of the survivors, Jake Ryan, he put it so eloquently and powerfully that nothing can excuse the indiscriminate killing of innocent people who have done you no personal offence.

DELANEY:

Have there been, or have there not been credible intelligence assessments made that suggest that we are in fact less safe because of our involvement in the war against Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there';s a… you talk about credible assessments, well there were arguments put at the time if that';s what you';re referring to. Some people took the view that there may be a short-term increase in the risk of terrorist attacks in certain parts of the world. Although in relation to Australia itself, the assessment made by ASIO and others was that there was no need to increase the level of terror alert in this country and that remains the position.

DELANEY:

What do you say to people who feel that there is increasing evidence that the United States decided to go to war, and therefore so did we, on the basis of poor information?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I would say to them that I saw the information and it was not poor. It presented a very strong circumstantial case that Iraq possessed a WMD capability and I believe the intelligence was very credible and the intelligence that I saw was very similar to the intelligence that would have been seen by the American Administration and by the British Government.

DELANEY:

Do you believe that pursuing a pre-emptive strike policy is a risky business given that it might set an example for a less responsible nation to launch attacks against their enemies using the same sort of justification?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there';s been too great a tendency to impute a generalised intention on the part of the Untied States to adopt what you call a pre-emptive strike policy…

DELANEY:

Well, I didn';t invent the term.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I know you didn';t. But you just used it, that';s all. I think what you have to do is look at the circumstances of individual action. If you look at Iraq, the United States tried very hard to get an extra Security Council resolution and, indeed, the action that was taken by the United States was in accord with earlier Security Council resolutions. It was the legal advice, the international legal advice given to the Australian Government at the time that the action being taken was completely in accordance with international law.

DELANEY:

A lot of people feel that the United Nations should have had a greater role in the process. Obviously, the United Nations was quite divided at the time, wasn';t it, and many of the opposing nations such as France and Russia also have other motivations including the contracts they held with Iraq, didn';t they?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don';t want to get into a discussion as to what the non-political motivation of other countries might have been. But it is true that the United Nations was prevented from acting in Iraq because of the objection of other permanent members of the Security Council led by France - there';s no doubt about that. The United Nations is only ever the sum of its parts and if the parts of the United Nations that exercise vetos on the Security Council decide that the United Nations will not take action, it cannot take action. The United Nations has no independent executive authority of its own. It is at the end of the day an expression of the… or otherwise of the collective will of the member countries, particularly those who are permanent members of the Security Council. Now the United Nations didn';t pass another resolution because of the objections of countries like France and Russia and Germany and that was the reason. And if the United Nations, both countries had not objected, now they will argue that had grounds for objecting and they';re entitled to their opinion. But I think we have to identify why the United Nations didn';t act in a very direct and open fashion and it was because those countries would not lend their support to the action sought by the United Nations.

DELANEY:

Is there a future role for the United Nations?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, yes. I';m a strong supporter of the United…

DELANEY:

.. relevancy into question.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don';t think the United Nations is irrelevant, I never have and it';s a mistake to assume that because the United Nations can';t give a general sanction to everything that its done that it';s failed and is irrelevant. We don';t live in a perfect world. There have been other cases when action';s been taken without the support of the United Nations. The bombing of Serbia several years ago to help the Kosovos undertaken by the NATO countries, that did not have the United Nations authority and the reason it didn';t have Untied Nations authority was that Russia as a permanent member objected because Russia';s historically been very close to Serbia. Now, people tend to overlook that but nobody who criticised America over Iraq earlier criticised that action, or very few did, because… but in legal terms, the situation was exactly the same.

DELANEY:

Is it inevitable that Australians will experience another terrorist attack against them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the likelihood of an attack on the Australian mainland is less than the likelihood of such attacks in other countries, but I can';t rule it out and I can';t give a guarantee it won';t happen. There is always a risk, though, that Australians in other parts of the world can get caught up in a terrorist attack. And I was going through the countries who lost people at Bali, it was a very large number of countries…

DELANEY:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

And there';s a danger that we as a people who travel a lot will get caught up in another attack, I hope it doesn';t happen but it';s the world we live in now and nobody can give such assurances.

DELANEY:

That being the case, is it ever really possible to win a war on terror?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I suppose it';s a bit like, you know, whether you in a game of cricket you eventually win after five days or you win very quickly. I think in the end you can secure a victory, but it just might take a bit longer than we';d like.

DELANEY:

And in order to secure that…

PRIME MINISTER:

To perhaps use a boxing analogy, win on points after 15 rounds instead of…

DELANEY:

But if you win on points, the other guy';s still standing and we don';t want terrorism to be still standing, do we?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, but I';m really talking about the length of time. You can try very very hard and over time, I think we can see a situation where you can say the threat of terrorism has been substantially defeated or substantially reduced. I don';t think you can ever say there';s never going to be a possibility of a terrorist attack because you can have isolated acts of terror, for example - the IRA bombing campaign against the mainland of Britain, that was terrorism but it was confined to the mainland of Britain, it didn';t go around the world, it wasn';t a worldwide network.

DELANEY:

The new breed of terror is even more insidious, isn';t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it';s more insidious, it';s more indiscriminate. I mean, not that I excuse in any way the IRA, let me make it clear, but I';m using that as an illustration of how something can be localised.

DELANEY:

Now what, in your view, is the best way that we as Australians should honour the victims of Bali this weekend?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we should pause in our different ways and according to our own preference to remember them. We should resolve to continue the war against terror. We should make sure that we are welcoming to people of Islamic background, if we happen to come into contact with them because they';re not to blame and they shouldn';t be made the scapegoats for this.

DELANEY:

Now if you';ve got a moment, I';d like to ask a few questions about the medical indemnity crisis. Is Peter Costello trying to win friends among the doctors? He said that the crisis it';s all their fault? Is he right?

PRIME MINISTER:

I didn';t think Peter was saying that the difficulty was all their fault, he was pointing out that the collapse of UMP which has triggered all of this was not the fault of the Federal Government or indeed the State Government. It was because the fund was badly administered and that';s a legitimate point to make. I want to see this issue resolved but it has got to be resolved in a fair and honourable fashion. What is being asked of the Federal Government which was not in any way responsible for either the collapse of the UMP or for the way in which the negligence laws in this country have been administered, because they are controlled by state governments. We';re being asked to solve an issue not of our making. Now, we';re very happy to try and do that, let me make it very clear because we';re the national government but there does come a point where no government can right a blank cheque. Now, we';re making progress I hope, we';re still talking and I hope that the matter can be resolved in a way that';s fair to everybody and particularly fair to the patients.

JOURNALIST:

So how long has the Government known that its liability calculations were faulty in working out the levy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we don';t admit they were faulty, we';ve never admitted that. That was a completely false report.

DELANEY:

Well it';s certainly a very widespread report, everybody seems to think it';s true.

PRIME MINISTER:

A lot of things are widespread that aren';t necessarily correct.

DELANEY:

So if there';s no fault with them then why is the Government reviewing them now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well because the doctors don';t believe they';re correct. What';s been implied, what's been asserted is that we have admitted they were wrong, well we haven';t. The calculations were made by the actuaries of UMP and they were checked by the Government actuary and the Government actuary said he thought they were soundly based. Now the doctors want them recalculated.

DELANEY:

Well the report also suggested that that original calculation carried a caveat that they would need to be recalculated to accommodate the changes to tort law.

PRIME MINISTER:

What they naturally said was that they could change, well any set of calculations can change but that doesn';t mean to say the original calculation is wrong because if you';re projecting something on the basis of events that are going to happen in the future, while you make a projection about the impact of those events you can';t be absolutely certain until those events actually happen as to what their impact is going to be, that';s all that was being said.

DELANEY:

Now, obviously tort law reform is part of the solution but do we also need to take steps to improve the quality of management of the insurance industry?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes, I think prudential supervision and management of the industry is very important.

DELANEY:

It seems to have failed in this case hasn';t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it certainly has and that was due to the administration of the fund. I mean, there comes a point a free enterprise country and a free enterprise system that if a company fails there has to be a point at which the people who run the company accept some responsibility for that failure. You can';t have a situation where if a company falls over the people responsible for it falling over can say, ‘well, you can';t really blame us, you have to blame the people for not properly supervising us';. I mean, people can';t have it both ways, they can';t assert and claim the benefits of a free enterprise system but then on the other hand if something goes wrong they then say, ‘well look you can';t really blame us, we';re only the people only running the company… (inaudible).. and then blame the administrator.';

DELANEY:

People would generally would expect prudential authorities to keep a close enough eye on important services such as this to see warning signs before it comes to a complete collapse.

PRIME MINISTER:

But you';ve also in the end, you've got to, unless you nationalise the insurance industry, no amount of prudential supervision can guard against bad management.

DELANEY:

It';s also been suggested to me that judges have too much latitude available in determining the amount of a payout leading to some of the very high figures we';ve seen in recent years.

PRIME MINISTER:

The system we live under is that judges do have latitude and I don';t wish to change that because I believe in the rule of law but if you think they';re exercising too much latitude in a particular case, well you alter the law and I think the law of negligence should have been altered some time ago by the State Governments to limit in some way many of these verdicts. Now, once again, that';s not something that we have any control over. We don';t control the ordinary laws negligence. Now the States have caught up quite a lot and I give them credit for that and many of the changes that have been made over the past year or two will make an impact in the future.

DELANEY:

As for outstanding liabilities, for the doctors, they';re still asking for a couple of things that the Government';s not prepared to give. The cost of future liabilities out to 21 years, cost of ongoing care for catastrophically injured patients - is there in any chance that they';ll be granted some of those?

PRIME MINISTER:

There are discussions about a process to deal with this whole issue going on at the moment and I';m not going to get further into detail.

DELANEY:

Before you go today, how do you reckon the Wallabies will go?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I hope they win. They';re a great team, I wish them well. Nobody should in anyway write off their chances of holding on to the World Cup. There';s always pressure on the country that holds the World Cup. England and New Zealand on past form are both very big threats, but it will be a great sporting tournament stretching over many weeks. It';s a great credit to Australia and to the ARU for hosting it and it is going to be a huge enjoyment for many millions of people around the world.

DELANEY:

And when you get the time to attend any of the matches will you be singing Waltzing Matilda?

PRIME MINISTER:

You bet.

DELANEY: Good on you. Thank you very much for your time today. [ends]

Transcript 20947