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Transcript 22470

Interview with Geoff Hutchison ABC Radio, Perth

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: 13/09/2006

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 22470

HUTCHISON:

Prime Minister good morning to you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Geoff.

HUTCHISON:

Thank you for your company this morning. Prime Minister could we firstly talk about the media ownership issue, and it would seem that there's really some anxiety from Nationals Senators and even some of your own about the future of this bill.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well this is a very complicated area and what we've done is to introduce the legislation, or we'll introduce it tomorrow, it will then go to a Senate inquiry and that will provide a platform for the concerns and the differences that people want to air to take place and we'll see what comes out of that process. I understand there's a variety of views. People are keen to preserve as much diversity as possible but we also have to take advantage of modern technology and I'm hopeful that out of this process we'll get some very important changes. But although it's important, it's not as important to me as a lot of other issues.

HUTCHISON:

Do you think that Mrs Coonan will have to make some changes to the bill if people like Barnaby Joyce are making it pretty clear that he thinks, the argument is the bush isn't comfortable with media concentration. They want local news and they want it read by local people and probably not owned by the person who also owns the newspaper and radio station and I think from a WA perspective, towns like Bunbury or Albany or Karratha, would there not be concern in those kind of places? Do you have to address that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think what we should do is let the parliamentary process commence and we'll see what comes out of it. I'm not going to commit myself at this stage to further changes, but I am not going to rule out fine tuning either. So let's just let the process work and we'll see what comes out of it.

HUTCHISON:

Prime Minister it would seem that Kim Beazley is stealing a bit of your traditional thunder by trying to convince visitors to this country that they need to uphold all kinds of values. Is it a point upon which you and he might share some agreement here?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the overwhelming majority of Australians believe that immigrants who come to this country should fully integrate into the Australian community. There should be an intensive effort made to learn the English language and of course there should be a respect for Australian values. And if there are some people in the Opposition who are now saying they support that, that's a very good idea. The particular proposal Mr Beazley put forward suffers from a number of practical flaws and it sounds as though it's been hastily put together on the run. He talks about visitors to this country, when they apply for a visa, signing on to Australian values. Well 80 per cent of visitors to Australia I'm told don't sign a visa application. They are issued with an electronic travel authority doesn't...and that's, in many cases, embedded in the ticket you receive through your travel agent.

HUTCHISON:

His office has told us that it's also for migrants as well as those tourists.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I realise that, but the point I am making is that there's a real difference between saying to somebody who's visiting Australia for two or three days you've got to sign on to Australian values. I visit a lot of countries that have values I wouldn't sign on to in a month of Sundays. I mean that is the reality.

HUTCHISON:

None of which you'll name for me now.

PRIME MINISTER:

No of course not and you know why I wouldn't do that, but there are a lot of countries that don't have the democratic practices Australia has. We are all in favour of people who settle in this country embracing Australian values and last April the Parliamentary Secretary to the Immigration Minister Andrew Robb foreshadowed that he would work up, after consultation, a compulsory citizenship test for people who wanted to become Australian citizens and he's done a lot of work on that. He's been working on it since April, we do it in a methodical way, we don't do it in an ad hoc way. And Mr Robb will be releasing a discussion paper on a compulsory citizenship test very shortly, very shortly indeed. And that will reflect the care and detailed work that the Government has done on this issue. We're happy to consider any ideas but you have to do the research, you have to understand the implication of statements, you can't do these things on the run, but the objective has to be the full integration into the Australian community of people who come here and the full embrace of Australian values.

HUTCHISON:

Prime Minister, Caroline would like to put a question to you. Go ahead Caroline.

CALLER:

Yes good morning Mr Howard. I can't say that I'm shaking with nervousness speaking to you because quite frankly I have no respect for you, but I'm shaking with anger. I have a huge list of things that I have in front of me that I'd like to speak with you, but obviously I don't have that time. But I'm very worried about your inciting hatred of Muslims with your rhetoric at the moment and I think that in saying that, you are not acknowledging the fact that we have some Christian religions that have extremist viewpoints. And in talking the way you do, you're not acknowledging that. And the fundamental Muslims are not representing the Islamic religion at all. The other thing I want you to be very aware of, that everyone I know holds Bush, the man you follow so closely, in utter derision and it is time you had a good look at the fact that he is more a terrorist in many people's eyes than any other leader in the world.

HUTCHISON:

Thanks Caroline.

CALLER:

Okay, there's many, many more things that I'd like to say.

HUTCHISON:

I'd like to hear the Prime Minister's response thank you. Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the very thing that you have called on me to recognise, namely that the great majority of Muslims are not fanatics, do not support terrorism, I have said over and over again. Everything I have said about Muslims in recent weeks has been an exhortation to the good, moderate Muslims to more openly attack those within their own ranks who might be soft on terrorism, who might be soft on extremism. And you talk about fundamentalist, or you talk about extreme Christian groups, I in fact said last week and I've said on a number of occasions that if there were an extreme Christian sect that was advocating violence or advocating terrorism, I would expect the leaders of the Christian church in this country to routinely and regularly denounce them and to point out that what there were advocating was in fact a blasphemy on Christianity, just as terrorism and the invocation of Islam to justify terrorism is a blasphemy on Islam. You should, with respect, you should listen to what I say and don't impute words and thoughts to me that I haven't held or uttered.

HUTCHISON:

Good morning to you Ross.

CALLER:

Hello, how are you?

HUTCHISON:

Good. Your question for the Prime Minister?

CALLER:

Good morning Mr Howard. I am an ex-SAS soldier. I've got four sons between 19 and 12 and I've been on mil-comp and DVA for the past 10 years or so. And I'm just saying, you're not getting any diggers into your Army because it used to be passed down from father to son and my sons have seen how I've been treated on the compensation system and the problems I've had with DVA, and especially Writeway Research over the last few years. If they wanted to join the Army, I wouldn't let them until the compensation system is fixed up. None of us minded doing what we did, but all we wanted to be was looked after when we got out of the regiment and were buggered. A lot of the association chases me, like the PBI Association; are greedy because all us younger diggers wanted was a Gold Card for our family. And basically Writeway Research who DVA are using, need shooting. Thank you very much.

HUTCHISON:

Thank you Ross. Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Ross, I'll take that on board. We are looking at the recruiting and retention patterns and there may some merit in what you say. I don't totally dismiss it, although I do know that the pattern of family recruitment is still quite high, if I can put it that way. But if you wanted to send me the details through the station of your particular situation, if there's anything that indicates that you haven't been fairly treated within the existing rules, then I'd be happy to see that adjusted. But I guess there can always be debate about the extension of benefits. I mean I announced a major extension, the Minister for Veterans Affairs, a major $600 million further injection into the benefits surrounding the Gold Card. Now the Gold Card, true it is, is limited at this point to people over the age of 70, but just precisely what your own situation is, naturally without knowing the details I can't comment on. But that announcement yesterday will mean that the Gold Card for those who are entitled to it will maintain and recover its full value and benefit and that will be of help to about 300,000 veterans or widows of veterans around Australia. It's a very significant announcement and...

HUTCHISON:

Prime Minister, may I just interrupt. It's an interesting thing though. I mean recruitment is such an issue these days, clearly it's a factor.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well recruitment, there are a lot of things, we had a very lengthy discussion about recruitment. The problem is as much retention as recruitment. There is not, on the face of it, there is not a shortage of people expressing an interest in joining the Army or the Air Force or the Navy. The problem is too many of them drop out too soon, that's the problem, and if we could lift our performance by 500 a year, in other words if we could keep an additional 500 or recruit people who together with the people we keep made up the number to 500, we would meet all of our targets. And the research, including the research amongst people who have dropped out, indicates that the impact on families, the moving around and those sorts of things is the major reason why people drop out, not the only reason, I'm not saying there aren't other reasons, like all of these things there are a variety of reasons. We had a two hour discussion about this in the National Security Committee of Cabinet a couple of weeks ago and we had in front of us the benefit of a survey of people who dropped out of the Army, so we weren't listening to bureaucrats or people from the Department of Veterans Affairs, we were listening to the men and women who dropped out and they gave a lot of reasons. The biggest reason they gave was the dislocation service life brings to families.

HUTCHISON:

Prime Minister may I move on because there are some very important things to discuss. The Solomon Islands, you've sent David Ritchie from Foreign Affairs to Honiara, what is the message he's carrying?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the message he will be carrying is that we don't accept for a moment the expulsion of our High Commissioner Patrick Cole. He was doing the right thing, he was representing the interests of Australia. He is concerned about corruption in the Solomon Islands, he is concerned that the proposed Commission of Inquiry will subvert the legal process and could work to the benefit improperly of people who have been charged under the legal system of the Solomon Islands with...based on allegations of criminal offences. Now, I spoke to the Solomon Islands Prime Minister on Monday morning, he rang me to ask me to pull Mr Cole out and I said that I wouldn't because Mr Cole hadn't done anything wrong. And I'm intrigued that the Opposition spokesman on Pacific Island Affairs is attacking the Government and blaming the Government. It seems that whenever Australia gets into a dispute with another country the automatic response of the Labor Party is to say that Australia is wrong. We're always in the wrong, it's always the fault of the Minister or the fault of the department. There is a big issue at stake here and we've put a lot of resources and we've put a lot of troops, we did, we have a lot of police there and we want the Solomon Islands to lift its game when it comes to issues of corruption and governance and that's what the Australian people want. They're prepared to help countries like the Solomon Islands but they want a performance improvement in return and we also want to increase their economic growth and development and they're the sort of things that Mr Cole was working towards. And we don't accept for a moment that the Solomon Islands is justified in doing what it's done.

HUTCHISON:

It's a pretty disappointing reaction, but how long though can you remain committed to the Solomon Islands? I think the riots were four or five months ago, not much sense of stability.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well these things always take a long time and you can't turn these things around in a matter or weeks or a matter or months, it takes years to alter a culture, but we will continue to be involved in this area for a long time because it's in our interests to be so.

HUTCHISON:

One more question to the Prime Minister before I go on to some more calls. This is not primarily for a WA audience, but a lot of people in South Australia will have heard more rumours as they have done for about three years now that Mitsubishi are planning to close up. Can you tell us anything about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can only reinforce what has been said already and that is the company has made statements about continuing in South Australia and in the end it's a decision for the company. And we have provided a lot of assistance to Mitsubishi as has the South Australian Government. And the motor manufacturing industry is very important to South Australia and we've done a lot of things that have made motor manufacturing more attractive. The GST was of huge benefit to motor manufacturers, it replaced a 10 per cent...a 22 per cent wholesale sales tax with a 10 per cent GST with a rebate of taxes paid on business inputs, so it was a massively favourable deal for motor manufacturing in Australia. In the end it is a company decision, but the company has made statements and that must be taken as an indication of the company's intentions.

HUTCHISON:

Prime Minister let's go to Ian, Ian good morning to you.

CALLER:

Good morning. Good morning Prime Minister and thank you for the opportunity to talk to you. Prime Minister, first may I congratulate you on your leadership, your decision making and your astute judgement when it comes to the international field at the moment which has presented this country with some difficult decisions. On to a home front and to set the xenophobes aside, my family has been in Australia now for 21 years as immigrants and can I just say that this country has given us renewed hope and a wonderful place to live and I do agree with your stance on international immigration and the requirement for people to speak English if they are moving to this country and you have our strong support in that regard as immigrants. On a more home front in Western Australia, I have some concern with the Federal Government's approach to the protection of the North West Shelf oil and gas facilities and the North West Shelf fishing stocks and generally our national security. Can you just tell me what is happening on a national front in that regard?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, very briefly and very generally, we have put a lot more resources, both money and patrols and other equipment into fighting both illegal fishing and also generally providing protection against potential terrorist threats. The greatest threat that we face from terrorism, or the best response we can have to a terrorist threat of course is to have high-grade intelligence. It's often said of other things, that prevention is better than a cure, there is no cure if a terrorist attack takes place. The damage is done and it can't be, in a sense, retrieved. But separately from terrorism I know there is a huge concern about illegal fishing and we have greatly increased the resources in that area both for Customs and also the other agencies of the Government and we'll continue to do so if that is necessary. It's a big issue and I understand the concern in Western Australia and that is why we've put hundreds of millions of dollars of extra resources into that area.

HUTCHISON:

Ian thank you very much. Karen, good morning.

CALLER:

Yes good morning. Good morning Mr Howard. I just, there has been a lot of press obviously and discussion about September 11 recently and a lot of high profile Americans, and Al Gore being the most recent, have criticised George Bush and the administration and the direction of their focus I suppose being more of a war on Islam than actually trying to find Bin Laden and Al Qaeda and stomping them out. I'm just wondering with a response that comes from your heart, would you say in hindsight that you would be so willing to join the Coalition of the Willing and back the US as openly as you have done recently?

PRIME MINISTER:

I certainly have no regrets about backing the United States in the war against terrorism, no regrets at all and I think that attack on the 11th of September was an attack on not only on the United States, it was an attack on Australia as well because it was an attack on countries that hold certain values. You've got to remember that Al Gore was defeated by George Bush in the 2000 Presidential campaign and he therefore can't be regarded as a totally objective critic. And in any event I don't recall Mr Gore having attacked President Bush's response in relation to the 11th of September. I think he was critical of the administration in relation to Iraq and maybe that is what you have in mind. Even on that can I say that I don't regret my decision. It was taken on the basis of intelligence available at the time and everybody who was contributing to the debate in March of 2003 about entering Iraq agreed that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction. I've recently read a speech that Mr Kevin Rudd the Opposition foreign affairs spokesman delivered in March of 2003 or January of 2003 in which he said the possession of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein was an empirical fact, empirical fact. The disagreement between us and the Labor Party was not about the existence of weapons of mass destruction but about how you dealt with their existence, and it's a bit rich now for Mr Rudd and Mr Beazley to say well you know, Howard made up all that stuff about weapons of mass destruction.

HUTCHISON:

Prime Minister, isn't it also an irrefutable fact now that there were no weapons of mass destruction?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the evidence to date has not shown them to exist, I accept that. But the point that I'm making is that when you have to make decisions on these things you have to make them in good faith on the available intelligence and the available intelligence at the time, it wasn't made up and it wasn't interfered with and it wasn't manufactured by the Australian Government, suggested that there were weapons of mass destruction. And people like Mr Rudd agreed not...and he agreed in his typical unconditional way, he said that it was an empirical fact. He was even sort of more emphatic about it than I was, and now he's running around saying oh Howard made it all up.

HUTCHISON:

But forget Mr Rudd, wasn't it a failure...

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don't think you can because...

HUTCHISON:

But Prime Minister wasn't it, if nothing else, it was a profound failure of intelligence?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but I'm making, I was asked by the lady...

HUTCHISON:

...it's more important than Kevin Rudd.

PRIME MINISTER:

No but hang on, I was asked by the lady whether I had a different view about the position I'd taken and I was trying to explain in relation to the war against terrorism, generally no I didn't. And although she didn't mention Iraq, I think she may have had Iraq in mind and I raised the issue of Iraq and I was explaining why I took the decision and I still believe very strongly that Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein. And in the long run history will make a favourable judgement on the coalition operation.

HUTCHISON:

Karen thank you and to Richard we are probably getting close to running out of time Richard so if you could keep nice and swift.

CALLER:

Yes good morning Prime Minister. Australia has got an appalling record for doing nothing about greenhouse gas emissions and basically, in fact hundreds of millions of dollars are going towards non-renewable energy research and development and virtually none towards renewable energy research and development. Both Victoria and South Australia have made positive steps towards doing something about the problem. When is our Government going to do something about it? It's a very, Australia and in particular the world, of course, is in crisis at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think that's an alarmist description, I don't think the world is in crisis about this. I do accept that greenhouse gas emissions are a problem, our emphasis is on technology. We're investing hundreds of millions on dollars in trying to find ways of containing greenhouse gas emissions out of use of fossil fuels. Our concern about the alternative, in other words signing the Kyoto protocol, is that that would impose burdens on Australian industry that would not be carried by industry in countries like China and Indonesia and that would result in investment in those industries going to China and Indonesia along with thousands of Australian jobs. So there is no fundamental disagreement about the need to do things about greenhouse gas emissions, it's how you respond that produces the argument and we are going to do as well in relation to our target of 108 over the base year of 1990 set by Kyoto, as well as or better than many of the countries that have been critical of stance taken by Australia. So whilst, sir, I disagree with the methodology I think you support, I don't disagree with you that there does need to be something done, but I think what we are doing is in a practical way more valuable than the alternatives that are being urged that would do damage to Australian industry and destroy Australian jobs.

HUTCHISON:

Prime Minister thank you very much for your time this morning.

PRIME MINSITER:

Thank you.

HUTCHISON:

And we hope to have you in the studio in Perth at the earliest opportunity.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 22470