PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 8223


Photo of Hawke, Robert

Hawke, Robert

Period of Service: 11/03/1983 to 20/12/1991

More information about Hawke, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 04/12/1990

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 8223

7.30 REPORT, 4 DECEMBER 1990
LYNEHAM: Prime Minister, welcome again to the program.
PM: Thank you very much Paul.
LYNEHAM: Why is it in Australia's direct national interest
to become involved in potential war so far from our shores?
PM: Because we are now in a new era, after the Cold War,
where it's important that the international community
establishes its authority through the United Nations to
ensure that aggression will never be condoned or acquiesced
in. If Australia, in the future, or any of Australia's
neighbours who want the assistance of the international
community through the United Nations, we have to make sure,
by our actions now, that the authority and the capacity of
the United Nations is established. This is something that
was envisaged from the very beginning in 1945 by Dr Evatt,
who was one of the important foundation originators.
LYNEHAM: It hasn't happened that often though, sir, has it?
PM: No, because in the Cold War period, in the whole of the
Cold War period the Security Council was never able to
operate because every conflict was in the context of a
superpower conflict and there was always the threat, if not
the actuality, of the veto.
LYNEHAM: So dLo you see this now, perhaps, as a sort of
precedent for keeping the peace in a post-Cold War world?
PM: Yes, indeed. One would hope beyond it being a
precedent that any would-be aggressor will now see that
there is a determination on the part of the world community
not to tolerate aggression.
LYNEHAM: What of those who say, if sanctions were
worthwhile in the first place why not keep them in place
until Saddam Hussein backs down?
PM: Well there is an indefiniteness about that. What the
sanctions were intended to do was to convey, in the
strongest possible way it was thought, a clear message to
Saddam Hussein. It wasn't intended to, as I said in my

statement to the House, to starve the Iraqi people but there
is no evidence that Saddam Hussein has got that message and
so the international community has said a stronger message
must be given.
LYNEHAM: The extension of the operational role of our
ships. They move first, if I understand it correctly, from
the Gulf of Oman up into the Persian Gulf to exercise with
the allied vessels.
PM: That's correct.
LYNEHAM: Does that amount to a commitment to fight?
PM: Well what it does is this; it's a commitment and
immediate response by the Australian Government to the
specific request made in the United Nations Security Council
Resolution to Member States to provide support. Now our
naval forces are there and they have been there in the Gulf
of Oman to, in fact, give effect to enforcing the sanctions.
Now that role is, in fact, substantially finished for some
time now because there is no movement of ships through
there. Now what the Security Council has said is that there
will be preparedness to use force after the 15th of January
if there hasn't been acquiescence. Now what our ships,
therefore, are going to do now is to go up and to exercise
with the ships of the United States, Britain and Canada.
There will be a fairly massive aircraft carrier grouping
there. Our ships have the particular capacity through their
equipment and their training to provide escort capacity.
They will go up there it would be the worst thing you
could possibly, do is to say; oh well they'll be available if
you want them when the whistle blows, because that would be
dangerous both~ in terms of maximising efficiency of your
asset but most: importantly, as well, in maximising the
safety of your men on your ships.
LYNEHAN: Of getting our people up to speed?
PM: Sure, yes.
LYNEHAM: They would, therefore, though be within missile
range, wouldn't they..
PM: Yes. I made no attempt to disguise in the House, in
fact I asserted quite clearly, that this is going to be
potentially very dangerous.
LYNEHAM: You also said our ships would be under Australian
national command but US operational control. Now how does
that work Prime Minister?
PM: It works -this way; that in the end we retain the
command, the national command. Our decision is operative as
to whether they are there or not. Of course it was
envisaged at the time of the Security Council Resolution
where you've got ships of the United States Navy and
that's the overwhelming and the largest force there and

the Canadians, and the British up there at the sharp end, if
you like, and where we're going of running their own
game. It was envisaged and understood that there would be
operational control. So what we do in advance is that we
work out the operational rules, we do that, our relevant
defence people do that with the United States, and then our
commanders ensure that if operations occur that we are
operating according to those rules. If they have any reason
to believe that the rules are not being adhered to, we're
being asked to do something not agreed on in the operation,
also we'd need to refer that back.
LYNEHAM: Well what sort of roles do you envisage for these
vessels? PM: Well they are part of the air defence, they provide
part of the air defence capacity for the force there.
LYNEHAM: Could they be involved in escorting landing craft,
in case say of the landing on Kuwait or bombarding shore
facilities, things like that?
PM: Well what is basically envisaged, I mean they are going
to be there to perform the roles which are appropriate in
those circumstances, but really what they are best and most
appropriately equipped for is to provide part of the air
defence cover.
LYNEHAM: You said in your statement; it is not proposed to
make any other contribution of naval, ground or air forces.
PM: Yes, those were the words I used, and I said, to fine
that up, that this commitment that we're making is
significant, it's proportional to our interests and it is
practical and that is the right way to describe it.
LYNEHAM: Was this forced on you by the factions
PM: No, I mean
LYNEHAM: inaudible
PM: I don't want to get political about this but I must say
that I was totally appalled by the incapacity of the Leader
of the Opposition on a matter of such profound importance to
this country t~ hat he couldn't leave miserable party politics
out of it in his response. It was suggested that this
position that I've put, on behalf of the Government and the
people of Australia, is something forced upon me by
factionalism. I and my leadership colleagues, and the
Minister for Defence, and the minister for Foreign Affairs,
we examine thi~ s thing closely and thoroughly with the input
from the Minister for Defence coming from his discussions
with the defence people. Out of all those processes
LYNEHAN: That was an executive decision?

PM: That was the leadership. I had a meeting with Senator
Button and Paul Keating and myself and Evans, they are the
four leaders in the Parliament and I also had Senator Ray.
Out of this whole process our clear decision was that what
was significant, proportional and practical was the
commitment that I announced in the House. Now and let me
say that whenL I put that to the Caucus today it was
accepted, I think as I understand it, without dissent.
LYNEHAM: Because some Caucus Members were saying, Prime
Minister, tha~ t they feared a sort of open-ended Vietnam
style PM: But it's not only-Members of the Caucus. Let's be
quite clear. What we're talking about here is the
commitment of Australian naval forces into a potential war
situation. Now anyone who's got any concern for their
country and its interests are going to think very seriously
about that. What is appropriate to be done there is to do
what I've said. The words I used in the House were the
appropriate words. You must be significant, you must be
proportionate, you must be practical. That is how we
estimate that contribution to be made. In our assessment I
am able to say on that basis that it's not proposed to make
any additional commitments. The question was raised in the
Caucus; well may there be more? if so, will there be
discussion? I answered to that; I don't expect that
there'll be more, that's why I make this statement that no
more is proposed. If there were circumstances that arose
where we needed to consider more then of course there would
be a discussion and there would be a further statement
LYNEHAM: So an upgrading of the forces is not out of the
question? PM: Well I don't believe it will happen and that's what the
nature of the statement is. I'm simply saying I've conveyed
to my colleagues and if I think it would be implicit in
the statement I made that if some particular circumstance
arose where a request was made, then we would consider it
but there would be no expectation on our part, no
expectation on our part that there is going to be such a
request because let it be remembered for a nation of 17
million peoplEt the commitment of 3 vessels like this is a
very, very significant commitment and it's a very practical
one because WE, have the equipment on those ships and the
training with those other navies which enables us to go with
them and perfcorm a very important task. It is a very
significant co'ntribution that Australia's made.
LYNEHAM: Two more Australian medical teams will join the
hospital ships in the Gulf. How many Australian casualties
have been predicted in the event of a war?
PM: Well we haven't got any precision on what Australian
casualties there will be in a war. I mean there have been
figures that have been bruited around in regard to the
Americans if they were involved

LYNEHAM: It's very frightening figures.
PM: Some reasonably frightening well war is a frightening
thing. You don't have war without casualties. That's why
we don't want: war if we can possibly avoid it.
LYNEHAM: Whatever the outcome, some critics will say you
will agree with this that you know they'll say that you've
risked Australian lives to cater to American interests.
PM: I dealt with that in the House and I said this was an
absurdity, as it is. The facts show that it's an absurdity.
Look at the sponsorship of the United Nations Security
Council Resolution. The sponsors were these are the
sponsors; the United States, the Soviet Union, France,
Britain and Canada and Romania and with twelve countries
voting for, one abstention, two against Cuba and Yemen.
Now you can't possibly say in those circumstances and given
the unanimity there's been on so many of the United Nations
Security Council Resolutions that this is the United States.
We're fortunate that the United States, the wealthiest and
most powerful nation, is taking an important role which is
supported by the Soviet Union and by right across the
spectrum of nations. The interests of the world are at
stake here as well as the interests of the United States.
LYNEHAM: Did you ever think of delaying or postponing
today's statement because of the suggestions that our
hostages might soon be free?
PM: That occurred to me but then it was quite obvious,
Paul, that that would be the wrong decision. We came to the
conclusion that the decision regard the commitment of our
forces was the right one, it needed to be taken. It was
suggested that well they may be an announcement of their
release might come in 24 hours. You look first of all at
the practicalities and I do this within the situation let
me say of putt~ ing to your listeners that every day the
position of our hostages has been on my mind. Our people
have been working there relentlessly and we've changed the
situation from the 2nd August, when there was 170 people
there where it:' s 30 now. Every woman and child who's wanted
to leave has been able to leave. It's now got from 170 down
to 30 people that are there.
LYNEHAM: What: if they say we were going to let them go but
Hawke made this statement-
PM: I'm coming to that but I'm putting it against the
context of a Government that's worked through its officials,
not within the glare of publicity. We have been working to
reduce and reduce the number of people there. Now let's say
I'd waited for 24 hours and in that 24 hours they'd said
well we're going to release your hostages and then I'd said
alright now I'll make the statement. The hostages are still
there, they don't get out immediately so what happens? They
just get retained. I mean that's the worst possible thing

that if we said we were going to release them and then oh
now, your Prime Minister's made a statement, we'll hold them
again. The second point I make is that the Iraqi Ambassador
here in Australia yesterday made a clear statement that he
didn't believe that the Prime Minister's statement would be
making any difference.
LYNEHAM: And finally, given the information available to
you, how do you now think this will be resolved?
PM: Good question. Let me express my hope first and then
how I think the odds are. My profound hope, of course, is
that Saddam Hussein will withdraw and meet the requirements
of the United Nations. That is both my hope and I think on
balance although one cannot be certain I think on
balance he'd more likely than not that before the 15 January
he will meet the requirements of the United Nations. We
can't be sure of that but the one thing I think we can be
certain of is that we maximise our chances of getting that
decision by having the decision of the United Nations
Security Council we have and by Australia and like-minded
countries giving the support to that Resolution that we
have. LYNEHAM: Thanks for your time, Prime Minister.
PM: Thank you very much indeed.

Transcript 8223