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Transcript 22352

Interview with Neil Mitchell Radio 3AW, Melbourne

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: 30/06/2006

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 22352

MITCHELL:

The Prime Minister Mr Howard, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil. How are you?

MITCHELL:

Well, thank you. Are you embarrassed by this United States' decision on Guantanamo Bay?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, what the decision means is that the military commissions are unconstitutional. The decision does not rule that the detention of people is illegal, nor does it decree that Guantanamo Bay should be closed down. What it does say is that, as a process, the military commission is unacceptable.

MITCHELL:

But you've supported that commission.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well because our advice had been, as had the American Government's advice, had been that it was lawful. Now the court has said no, well, we accept that.

MITCHELL:

So your advice was wrong.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it often happens. You get advice and you act on it. The Supreme Court ruled by five to three. There were three judges who thought it was constitutional and five thought it was unconstitutional. Well that's the end of the matter. We all live under the rule of law. What now has to happen is that quite quickly, in my view, the administration has to decide how it will deal with the trial of the people who are being held. I mean our view in relation to Mr Hicks is that he should be brought to trial. Now as the military commission trial is regarded by the court as unconstitutional, there clearly has to be another method of trial, a court martial, or a civilian trial which conforms with the Supreme Court decision.

MITCHELL:

Well is this likely to bring him back to Australia quicker?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't know. It depends on what happens in relation to that trial. Our position is that he should be brought to trial as quickly as possible.

MITCHELL:

In Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no. If he's brought back to Australia he can't be effectively charged because the crimes that he committed were not, according to Australian law, crimes at the time he committed them. It was not a crime back in 2001 to do as he admitted he did, and that is train with Al Qaeda and rejoin Al Qaeda even after the terrorist attacks on the 11th of September.

MITCHELL:

So if he comes back to Australia he goes free?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. That's right. And those who argue that he should be released immediately know they are arguing that he should be allowed back as a free man to Australia.

MITCHELL:

This has gone on too long hasn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

It has gone on too long. There's no doubt about that. But on the other hand, I don't greet with any great enthusiasm the idea that a person who's admitted doing what he admits to having done can come back to this country and not be tried.

MITCHELL:

What does he admit to having done?

PRIME MINISTER:

He admits to having trained with Al Qaeda.

MITCHELL:

Is he a killer? Because that's the way George Bush is describing these people.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he's talking about a whole lot of people. I can but repeat my knowledge of what he has admitted having done. He trained with Al Qaeda, and in full knowledge of the terrorist attack on the 11th of September he returned from Pakistan to rejoin Al Qaeda. Now I don't think somebody who has admitted having done that should be lightly let back into this country, but if he's freed, he is an Australian citizen and he would be able to return.

MITCHELL:

But Prime Minister, we don't convict people on the basis of alleged convictions before they get caught.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think he should be tried, and we were quite happy to go along with the military commission procedure because we were told, subject to the changes to it that we had negotiated with the Americans, that it was acceptable. Now the American Supreme Court has decided otherwise. Well that is the end of that matter. That decision has to be accepted and it has been accepted and what the administration must now do is to decide, in our view quickly, what alternative method of trial will be used for the people charged with offences who are being held in Guantanamo Bay and Mr Hicks is one of those. Now it seems on the face of it, and I do need a bit more advice, I've only heard about the decision in the last few hours, it does seem that either that method of trial has to be a court marital or a civilian trial.

MITCHELL:

Does David Hicks have worthwhile security information?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he, I mean in a sense that's not quite the point.

MITCHELL:

I think that's one of the points that's being argued in the United States though isn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I mean, I heard his lawyer arguing that, but he's been charged with certain offences.

MITCHELL:

Well does he have information that we want in this country?

PRIME MINISTER:

Information that we want, well I think what we want is for him to be brought to trial as quickly as possible. I'm not going to get into the entrails of what he may or may not know because that wouldn't be appropriate, but it is appropriate that he be brought to trial as soon as possible.

MITCHELL:

You got any sympathy for him?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don't. I have sympathy for the principle that people should be brought to trial when they're charged with an offence, but I don't have any sympathy for somebody who trained with an organisation such as Al Qaeda. But that doesn't mean to say his rights should not be respected.

MITCHELL:

9690 0693 if you'd like to speak to the Prime Minister. 9690 0693. He's in our Sydney studio. Mr Howard, something else. Sol Trujillo, the head of Telstra, is proud of the drop in the share price. Are you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm unhappy about it.

MITCHELL:

He doesn't seem to be.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I have a different view.

MITCHELL:

What's your view of his view?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm not going to give a running commentary on the running commentary of every managing director in this country.

MITCHELL:

Yeah but you're his boss.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I'm not his boss.

MITCHELL:

Well you own the major percentage.

PRIME MINISTER:

But he was not appointed, I'm not saying this in criticism of him or to distance myself from the appointment but it's a statement of fact; he was not appointed by this Government, he was appointed by an independent board of directors and I'm not going to give a running commentary on every piece of commentary that he gives. But self evidently, I would like to see the share price of Telstra higher.

MITCHELL:

Does he have your full confidence?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

MITCHELL:

Are you concerned that you in fact, and your Government were advocating people buy these shares and they've lost one hell of a lot of money on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I accept responsibility for anything that I've said. I don't try and rewrite the circumstances in which I use expressions. I don't for example, suggest things I say were a joke when I mean them but we'll come back to that...

MITCHELL:

That's politics.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's politics, but well, you know, it's a pretty important issue. But can I just say Neil that we are very concerned about the share price. I don't think it helps for people to make off-the-cuff comments and I think that was an off-the-cuff comment that in the cool light of day he might have wished he hadn't made.

MITCHELL:

Well we'll try to find that out. But he's also, what wasn't an off-the-cuff comment I don't think, he's putting pressure directly on you and saying that unless the Government changes the regulations the share price will go further. That's almost blackmail, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think people understand that I have many faults, I freely acknowledge them and make my share of mistakes, but one thing I don't do is succumb to blackmail.

MITCHELL:

Is it blackmail?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, I don't, that's not my expression. I'd simply say to Mr Trujillo and I say to the board of Telstra, we have made our position regarding regulation in telecommunications very clear and we're not going to be persuaded to change it, and I suggest they continue their discussions with the ACCC because bluster about changing the regulations is not going to achieve anything.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, 9690 0693. Jason, go ahead please Jason.

CALLER:

Good morning Prime Minister. I was just a little curious, I've just tuned in, sorry, I might have taken it a little out of context, but your comments about being, not having any sympathy for David Hicks, I was just surprised you're not more sympathetic towards him considering he hasn't been tried. He is alleged to have done these activities. You seem to be suggesting that he's guilty before trial perhaps?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I didn't say that. I was asked whether I had sympathy for him and I don't have sympathy for people who train with organisations like Al Qaeda.

MITCHELL:

But you see, it isn't proven that he did.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, I don't think even his strongest supporters are saying that he didn't. They are sort of saying he was misguided and he's learnt his lesson and so forth. I haven't actually heard people emphatically deny those claims and they are admitted.

MITCHELL:

Thank you, Jason. Thank you for calling. Just on Telstra, before we move on, what would your advice be to shareholders who are feeling a little bit edgy here?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look I am not an investment adviser.

MITCHELL:

Well you were when you told them to buy.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the Government was selling an interest in Telstra and I think in the circumstances, with all the debate, I should not be an adviser at this time.

MITCHELL:

We'll take a break, come back with more calls, more questions for the Prime Minister. 9690 0693.

[commercial break]

MITCHELL:

Fourteen to nine. The Prime Minister's in our Sydney studio. Mr Howard, I might just go back to the David Hicks issue because I was looking during that ad break at what his lawyer has said in the United States. He says that the United States, on his interpretation, is willing to release Hicks if he is not a threat to the United States and does not have further valuable information, security information. On that basis, would you be willing to see him released or should they not release him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the information that we have been given, and this stands irrespective of the decision of the Supreme Court, is that he has, amongst those that are held in Guantanamo Bay, committed more serious offences than most. And look, we can argue about what a serious threat to the United States means, but I would believe, and I think most people would believe, that if somebody has committed the sort of offences that they believe he has committed then he is a threat to the United States. That's one of the reasons why he is being held. Look our position is that he's been charged with serious offences and we can understand why the United States would want to bring him to book for those offences or alleged offences, and he should be tried as soon as possible. Now we have been pushing the Administration for a long time to bring on the military commission. They wanted to do that. That was held up by these court proceedings. These court proceedings have now been resolved against the military commission.

It is now the responsibility of the American Government to fix quickly on an alternative method of trying him, and what we'll be putting to the Americans is not that he should be released, rather that he should be brought to trial in a manner acceptable to the Supreme Court as soon as possible.

MITCHELL:

Okay, interest rates up overnight in the United States. Are pressures back on interest rates in this country?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not automatically, no because interest rate pressures in America are different from what they are in Australia. They're not totally divorced, but...

MITCHELL:

You agree it puts pressure on Australian rates?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not automatically. What will determine interest rates in Australia will be the judgement made by the Reserve Bank about the future of inflation in this country.

MITCHELL:

The deal on prisoners with Indonesia. If the prisoner exchange goes ahead and a prisoner of any number serving time there comes back here, would you want them to serve the full sentence?

PRIME MINISTER:

I would want them to serve the sentence that they were given in Indonesia or any other foreign country with allowance being made for remissions given in those countries, because that is the basis of the agreement. The idea is that you, in the case of somebody convicted in Indonesia, you come back to Australia after having served a certain amount of time yet to be negotiated in Indonesia and then you serve out your time as if you were still in Indonesia and subject to Indonesian law and Indonesian remissions.

MITCHELL:

Well that means people can visit you and have a beer in jail.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, hang on, no but physically within Australia.

MITCHELL:

Okay, but the Indonesian conditions are much more relaxed. You can get out and go...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we wouldn't be allowing that. But when I say Indonesian conditions I mean if you were given 10 years in Indonesia, and there are certain Presidential pardons and remissions, then you serve the 10 years in Australia minus the pardons and the remissions, but you serve them physically in an Australian jail, according to Australian jail regimes.

MITCHELL:

Will it cost us money?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I think there'd be some money involved in this, yes, there'd have to be, and there would be some money involved for the Indonesians, yes of course. But I don't think the amount involved is enormous.

MITCHELL:

Industrial relations. Do you accept, as some are claiming, that this could cost you the next election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the question of whether we win or lose the next election will be determined by a whole lot of factors and obviously industrial relations is one of them.

MITCHELL:

How important though?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think industrial relations reform is very important.

MITCHELL:

Yeah, but how important in an election context?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look you're asking me to be what I'm not, and that is a commentator.

MITCHELL:

You're an astute observer Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

But I'm also a passionate advocate, and my passionate advocacy far exceeds my astute observations, even if people are kind enough to say that I am such an individual. I think it's a very important issue, and I think the differences are very clear. The Labor Party wants to go back to the 1950s. The unions want to resume running the country and quite clearly, they see in Kim Beazley a very soft touch.

MITCHELL:

But there are cases coming up which look rough, they look unfair, the really do look rough. Will you still look at fixing some areas of this legislation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we are not going to alter its fundamentals. Like any piece of complicated legislation if there is finetuning down the track that's needed, then it will take place.

MITCHELL:

You agree some of these things look rough?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well on the face of it, a lot of things look, a number of things can look rough, but when you drill down, I mean there's been a number of cases where quite clearly there have been stunts organised by unions to give the appearance of certain things.

Look, there are 10,000 people, every week in Australia leave one job or start a new one and there are a myriad of circumstances that govern why people might leave a firm and why they might join another, and in the end you have to look at the overall situation. And the overall situation is that we have the lowest unemployment in 30 years and that the Labor Party said the world was going to come to an end when we made some changes 10 years ago and the world has not come to an end. In fact, the world has got a lot better and it's easier to get a job now than at any time in the last 30 years.

And we think these changes will improve that situation even more and we are worried about the Labor Party's plan to abolish Australian Workplace Agreements. I think that will be particularly destructive in the resource sector, which even they acknowledge is our best performing industry sector at the present time.

MITCHELL:

Take another call for the Prime Minister. Andy, go ahead please.

CALLER:

Yeah good morning Neil and Mr Prime Minister. Comments on your Government there Mr Howard, I think you're doing a superb job. But with the China deal, with gas, I'm sure I speak for a lot of Australians who are very curious to know what the deal is, how much per litre are we sending there, delivered? There was rumour years ago that we used to do it at five cents a litre. Is that true or not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Five cents a litre?

CALLER:

Yeah that's right.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, I can't give you the exact figure. I should have it, but I don't have it on my fingertips, but can I make the point that it isn't the Government's gas. The gas belongs to the companies and the price was negotiated by the companies with the purchaser in China. And I made it very clear when I was in China the day before yesterday that so far as contracts in the future are concerned, the Chinese will have to pay the market price and I think that's something that all Australians would want.

MITCHELL:

Are you nervous about what's happening in the Middle East at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I am, I'm very nervous. I understand the feelings of the Israelis. The complicating factor has been the election of Hamas. Now they were elected and I can't dispute that and the Israelis must, much and all as they have reservations about them, they must endeavour to deal with them, but I can certainly sympathise with and support the Israeli determination to try and recover their soldiers.

See what must never be forgotten is that for a number of years now, a campaign including suicide bombing, has been directed against Israel and it still remains the situation that there's a fundamental unwillingness on the part of so many, particularly in Hamas to accept the continued existence of the State of Israel. Now that's not to say Israel's perfect, it's not to say that they don't on occasions behave in a very provocative fashion, but there is this fundamental unwillingness on the part of so many, particularly Palestinians, to accept the right of Israel to remain.

MITCHELL:

Do you agree that what's happening there at the moment could escalate the whole situation in the Middle East?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh it's dangerous, but we've had dangerous situations in the Middle East before and they've somehow or other been contained. I still believe that on the part of the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and on the part of the Palestinian leadership, Abbas, that there is a determination by both of them, despite all of the setbacks, to keep inching towards some kind of accommodation.

MITCHELL:

Just on the Murray River. You have an announcement on the detail of the Murray River.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, we're going to announce the detail of the dispersement of the $500 million that was announced in the Budget and it's designed to do a number of things. This is a major investment. The funds are going to be used by the Commission to ensure that water recovered through the Living Murray initiative can be delivered, which maximises environmental outcomes.

MITCHELL:

So where does the money go?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's going to go on quite a number of projects and the Commission will be announcing the details of those projects in the next few weeks.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, what do you think about a woman as Governor-General? I think it was General Cosgrove was urging it wasn't he? A woman as Governor-General, we need one.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the present Governor-General is doing a very good job.

MITCHELL:

Well next time I suppose.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that won't be for another couple of years and no doubt the Prime Minister of the day will take advice from a number of people as to the best person.

MITCHELL:

A couple of years? When does his term expire?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, generally, around about the second half of 2008.

MITCHELL:

Oh. So you think you'll be gone by then?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I said the Prime Minister of the day. There's an election you see between now and then and the fate of any Prime Minister, including me, is in the hands of the Australian people and I would never presume on the forbearance of the Australian people, I'm always honoured to receive it.

MITCHELL:

Your seat could be a bit dodgy next time round. Isn't there a redistribution?

PRIME MINISTER:

There's a redistribution in New South Wales and the maps are going to come out at 10 o'clock this morning.

MITCHELL:

Are you a bit edgy about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. I'm not edgy about it, no.

MITCHELL:

Well what if it becomes a marginal seat? Would you stay around? It would be an awful way to go out, losing your seat.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, look Neil, that's another angle, yes.

MITCHELL:

It's not a bad one though. I mean...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no it's not a bad question I agree with that.

MITCHELL:

Is it relevant? When you look at how your seat is affected, will that affect your decision on your future?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look, people who will determine that are, as you know, my party. I remain here as long as they want me to and it's in their best interests that I do so.

MITCHELL:

But you will be looking at that result....

PRIME MINISTER:

I'll actually be looking more closely at the impact of the redistribution on seats in western Sydney. As you know we hold a lot of them and they're very important to our majority.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, you understand Sydney a lot better than I do. What are they doing to Eddie McGuire up there? They seem to be going after him.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I think there's a fair amount of intra-media rivalry. I know that you've never encountered that in Melbourne.

MITCHELL:

No. no.

PRIME MINISTER:

That never happens in any other part of Australia. I just think there's been a lot of incredible competition between Seven and Nine, and that's no bad thing. No media outlet has got a right to luxuriate forever in dominance, but I suppose it's the natural working out of things after the death of a giant like Kerry.

MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time. It's bad news for him and good news for us, Michael Vaughan, injured, might miss the Ashes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh really?

MITCHELL:

Yeah.

PRIME MINISTER:

I didn't hear that.

MITCHELL:

It was confirmed overnight, knee injury.

PRIME MINISTER:

How serious?

MITCHELL:

Could be six months.

PRIME MINISTER:

Gee.

MITCHELL:

That's bad news.

PRIME MINISTER:

That is, that's bad luck. We want a fight against the best they can offer.

MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time. The Prime Minister in Sydney.

[ends]

Transcript 22352