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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 22297

Joint Press Conference with Mr Bertie Ahern Taoiseach of Ireland Government Buildings, Ireland

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: 23/05/2006

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 22297

TAOISEACH:

I am delighted to welcome the Prime Minister of Australia to visit us today. I thank the Honourable John Howard on this official visit to Ireland. This is indeed a historical occasion given the close cultural links between our two countries. I welcome the opportunity to reciprocate some of the wonderful hospitality that the Prime Minister afforded to me back in the spring of 2000. We've had a fairly long discussion which we will continue again later on this evening. But we noted our excellent bilateral relations, positively influenced by our historic and family ties. The Prime Minister's visit will no doubt help that and to develop that further.

We very much appreciate the visit for that and all the other reasons. We have a huge amount of Australians now coming to this country. We have more and more of own people going on holidays in Australia and of course we have thousands of Irish people going on the visa system every year which almost seems to be a compulsory part of Irish young life nowadays and they enjoy themselves greatly in your country.

I briefed the Prime Minister on the Irish economy and he's well familiar with the Irish story of our investment. And we've been talking about European issues, we've talked about the current issues in Europe and of course we've been talking about our own trade relationships and the more and more companies now doing business, more and more Australian companies coming here to win a share of the large capital program that we're spending. A number of those have been very successfully involved in some of the major projects like the (inaudible) like the court system and other systems as well. And we want to see that develop, we want to see that continue in the period ahead. All of us have taken an interest in recent years on, maybe from different levels, on India and China and the Asian strategy, we've been talking about those issues as well. Of course we talked about Iran and Iraq and we'll be talking about (inaudible) later on tonight.

On my own behalf, on behalf of the Irish Government I would like to extend a very warm welcome to Prime Minister Howard to this country. We'll be hosting a dinner in his honour later this evening and we look forward to his address in the Dail tomorrow. But, I think, in all our international engagement over the last nine years for me - over 10 for you - we've been very, very good friends and very much appreciate always the attention that you give to Irish issues when we raise them in the international forum whether it is the United Nations or OECD or wherever. I appreciate that. You've been a very good friend, friend to me, friend to the Irish Government and friend to the Irish people and we very much appreciate that and are very glad that you're here.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well thank you very much Taoiseach. It's a great pleasure for me to be in Ireland and I thank you very much for the time you've made available. We've had a good personal discussion, one-on-one discussion about a whole range of issues, the ones you've mentioned. We also talked about some of the challenges involved in the DOHA negotiations and we'll have an opportunity over dinner tonight to talk in further detail about those issues.

At this point I simply want to say that it is a relationship deeply and permanently steeped in history, in culture, and shared experiences, and Australia will forever be indebted to Ireland and Irish people for the contribution made to the shaping of our national identity. It is also very much a contemporary relationship as well and the observation you made about the number of young Irish men and women who come to Australia, some 60 000 a year, and that's an extraordinary turn-around on what use to be the case. And it's an indication of not just the past that matters between our two countries, it's also the present and the future.

And I guess the other point I'd make is that I expressed to the Taoiseach, to Bertie, my admiration for the growth and vitality of the Irish economy; the way in which you turned around those immigration flows, the way in which a small country such as Ireland is such a major exporter of IT software. The capacity that you've developed to penetrate markets in areas like that, I think is a remarkable tribute to the adaptability and the resilience of the Irish people over recent years. So for all of those reasons, but always very importantly because of the ties of kinship and sentiment and history, it's a great delight to be here and I bring to you and to your nation the good wishes of 20 million Australians.

JOURNALIST:

I've got a question for both leaders on trade. First of all Mr Ahern, John Howard has urged you to take up the US offer on trade and drop your agricultural subsidies. Are you prepared to forgo $1.5 billion euros in subsides in the greater global good? And to Mr Howard, Australian wheat farmers look like being shut out of another Iraqi grain deal. Is this the legacy of the AWB scandal and is there another mercy dash to Baghdad?

TAOISEACH:

We have made it very clear from the Irish government that we want to see the success of the DOHA Round. We've already made major concessions on two occasions. We discussed this with Commissioner Mandelson a number of times. It's in our interest as a trading country, as I explained to the Prime Minister the figures around that. Because we are exporting medical devices, pharmaceuticals. Of the 10 top drug products in the world six of them are made in this country, so we understand trade very well. We have agreed to the (inaudible) removal of all the export subsidies 2013. We have made significant moves on all of these fronts. Of course we have to watch our beef market. We export over 90 per cent of all of our beef so we have already taken a lot of hits on our sugar market. We've closed our beet trade, we're the only country this side of the world that has had to do that. But we do want an agreement and we've agreed to the 2013 figures and we believe we've made huge concessions.

PRIME MINISTER:

In relation to the negotiations with Iraq over wheat, past experience will tell you that it's not over 'til it's over, to invoke an old expression and I think we'll just see how things work out. There have been doors closed before, only to be reopened. And there've been opportunities denied only to be rediscovered. The Iraqi market has been a traditional Australian wheat market for decades. There is a very long standing relationship between Iraq and the Australian wheat industry and I am confident in one form or another that will be retained.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister you spoke in UCD this morning about how relations between Ireland and Australia should be seen in the context of the challenges facing the 21st century and you mentioned international terrorism (inaudible) radical Islam. What role do you think Ireland can and should play in dealing with that threat in (inaudible) such as Iran and Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't make a habit of telling other countries how to conduct their affairs. I speak for Australia. The question of how Ireland deports herself in relation to these matters in particular is a matter for the Irish Government and the Taoiseach, and the Irish people. I'm sure I don't transgress that principle by saying that Taoiseach would share all of my abhorrence of terrorism and Irish people have suffered as part of the world community. There were Irish people working in the Trade Centre in New York, there were Irish people in Bali and there have been Irish people that have been victims of terrorism around the world, as there have been Australians and Englishmen and Americans. But just how Ireland reacts to particular issues is a matter for Ireland. Let me say that I did take the opportunity during our discussions of again thanking the Taoiseach for the contribution that Ireland made to the Australian-led peacekeeping operation in East Timor. It was a long way from Ireland, and for that and other reasons I was very grateful for the contribution that Ireland made.

TAOISEACH:

Obviously we discussed Iraq and Iran. I'll just make two points. On Iraq, I wish the new government of national unity well. I think they have been brave people, they voted on three occasions. It's taken them sometime to get to the end of these negotiations, I just wish them well into the future and hopefully that can help to stabilise and to work to try to make it a more peaceful country for them. And in Iran, obviously that's going to be a difficult issue going forward, and I share what the Prime Minister has said today, that this is an area people have to just work for a diplomatic solution to and try to make progress on that in the period ahead.

JOURNALIST:

Well Mr Howard on two occasions today your Irish hosts expressed confidence that you would win the next election. Do they know something that we don't and do you feel emboldened by their enthusiasm? And Taoiseach, yourself and Mr Howard are two of the longest serving democratically elected leaders. Do you believe there's a use by date for leadership and was the topic discussed?

PRIME MINISTER:

Ah Alison, I don't really have anything to add to what I've previously said on that subject. No, no, wasted question, sorry.

TAOISEACH:

My election's too far off to be worried about it.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard can I ask you, how soon do you think it'll before Australia breaks the link with the British Monarchy? And could you explain to, dare I say, bemused Irish people the logic of maintaining that link?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh very easily, very easily, let me warm to the task. I wouldn't put a date on that. We had a referendum which failed. I'm a monarchist as you know, I support the present constitutional arrangements. I don't think there's any prospect of them being broken while the Queen lives, and as to whether, on the assumption that she remains on the throne, which is the working assumption, as after that, well I'm not saying that it would automatically happen after that either.

I take the view that, and I say this in the presence of a bemused Irish public, I take the view that the circumstances... almost an historical accident has given us a very well functioning system of government. I mean you need in a parliamentary system, you need a head of state. I am totally opposed to an elected presidency. I know you have one in Ireland but it wouldn't work in Australia, it would represent an alternative power centre. And if you really want to alter the dynamic of Australian politics and set up a rival power centre, have an elected presidency. So you know where do you go from there? Do you really think the system that you would replace the present system with would work out to be better?

So I wouldn't like to set a date on it, I'm not saying it won't happen, I mean I just don't know. I think it's next to impossible to happen given the regard in which the current monarch is held, I don't think it's going to happen in her lifetime. Obviously when she goes the dynamic will begin to change, I acknowledge that, but that doesn't necessarily mean the institution will automatically go. I think it functions quite well and I don't think anybody thinks, apart from some bemused Irish journalists, that it sort of in anyway compromises Australia's independence.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Ahern, does the growing and escalating violence in Iraq, 40 killed yesterday in a bombing in Baghdad, and the continuing lack of warning in Baghdad, in your view justify Ireland's original decision to stay out of the invasion?

TAOISEACH:

Well we made a decision at a time that we needed an explicit UN resolution, a further one. Now other countries have different positions in these things, so that's what we did. But once there was a UN resolution we assisted in every way that we could. The situation now, and has been for a number of years a different one, where there's a current and clear UN resolution. And I think all of us want to work to see a better Iraq. We want to see a people freed from all that they have to live on. And in our own way in this country we have assisted as we could. We have facilitated (inaudible) all the way through as you know - everyone doesn't agree with that - but once it was a clear UN resolution, that was our position.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard yesterday you said that people should give the fledgling democracy more time. Given there's a continuous situation, does that timeframe mean that our troops will be there, not months but years more?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I have steadfastly refused to commit myself to a timetable. Those who demand on a almost daily basis that I provide a timetable have the luxury of total lack of responsibility in relation to the issue - and I'm not talking about journalists, I'm talking about others -I would never say that in relation to journalists - or don't really understand the dynamic. I mean we will stay while it is necessary as a contribution to leaving behind a security force in Iraq which is capable of maintaining order. And I do think that fledgling democracy's entitled to a lot more sympathy and understanding than it receives. I mean when you think of the travail through which mature democracies often go in handling difficult issues, I only marvel at what the Iraqis have done and the courage that they have displayed in doing it.

And I do think the advent, as the Taoiseach said, the advent of the new government in Iraq offers real hope. It's a government of national unity, it includes Sunni, as well as of course retaining the Kurdish President, Talabani. The new Prime Minister has a reputation for tough decision making, I think he'll be a purposeful Prime Minister and we'll do everything we can to help. I've written to him, I've expressed my good wishes and I've said that Australia will stay the distance in the context of what that means as I've just explained.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister your speech tomorrow is going to be quite (inaudible) protesters. What message do you have for those people (inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I would say to them isn't it terrific to celebrate the joy of democracy, And part of the joy of democracy is the right of peaceful and lawful dissent. And the Irish brought many things to Australia, and one of them was dissent. So they are living exemplars of that Irish spirit, God bless them. Thank you.

TAOISEACH:

Thank you very much.

[ends]

Transcript 22297