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Transcript of doorstop interview: WA Parliament, Perth: 13 April 2006: Howard at Cole Inquiry; asylum seekers policy; David Hicks; RU 486
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON KIM C BEAZLEY MP
TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP INTERVIEW -- WA PARLIAMENT, PERTH, APRIL 13 2006
E & O E - PROOF ONLY
Subjects: Howard at Cole Inquiry; asylum seekers policy; David Hicks; RU 486
BEAZLEY: John Howard wants to wash his hands of this scandal like Pontius Pilate. Arrogantly he thinks he’s above the law. He can stand aside and regard it as acceptable that he does not have coming before him information vital to Australian national security. Information on which governments are basing decisions. That is not how you run a country. John Howard like Pontius Pilate wants to wash his hands of this sorry scandal. Now he makes the trifecta. There’s been three of them before the Royal Commission over the course of the last week. There’s John Howard washing his hands like Pontius Pilate, then there’s Alexander Downer and Mark Vaile, the Beavis and Butt-head of Australian national security policy. Our national security is in the hands of people who want to be deliberately ignorant.
Deliberately ignorant. You cannot conduct national security policy that way. Some people ask this question. Well does this scandal matter? Is this a problem? Let me tell you this. There are three strikes, national security strikes at the very heart of this scandal. The first is this. For more than a decade Australian sailors were sent at great personal risk to themselves to uphold
sanctions on the Saddam Hussein regime. The Howard Government betrayed them. Australian soldiers were sent to fight in Iraq. The Howard Government’s neglect and turning of a blind eye meant that we funded their enemies. The third strike concerns our relationship with our ally. Our ally went to war in Iraq because the sanctions regime had failed. We were at the heart of the failure of
the sanctions regime. Now you simply cannot conduct foreign policy and national security policy on the basis of which it’s been conducted by our Ministers. Vaile and Downer must now be sacked. They must be sacked for
proven culpable negligence. They must be sacked for deliberately turning a blind eye.
Howard can no longer be as he is now the Pontius Pilate of this. He now has to act. He now has to clean up his government, clean up his act, accept personal responsibility for this, not try to duck shove that responsibility to someone else. The issue is far too important.
Now there another issue around in politics at the moment and that is the question of the statement by the Howard Government that it intends to change policy in relation to asylum seekers and refugees. Our policy cannot be changed at the behest of any other country Indonesia or any other country. Our policy on asylum seekers must be the product of our own deliberations, our own national interests and our own concerns. Law as it now stands in relation to asylum seekers is adequate. If you come to this country you should be properly assessed under the laws of this nation. If you are intercepted on high seas, then you can be taken to Christmas Island and assessed properly under international law. That is the situation that now exists. That is in the Australian national interest and that is how asylum seeker policy should continue to be determined. You do need proper enforcement, we need a Coastguard. A coastguard is the maritime equivalent of a fence.
Good fences make good neighbours. Good enforcement ensures that good laws are effectively upheld. But good law is what we have. What John Howard is doing is changing our law at the behest of another country. It should never be done. But Indonesia has laws that we disagree with John Howard says it’s a matter for them. Now we have a law that apparently they disagree with, that is a matter for us. That is for us to resolve in terms of our national interest. And frankly we have resolved them. We’ve had long debates on these issues and arrived at the conclusions we ought to arrive at. It’s no different whether you make landfall from a boat or whether you make landfall at Sydney Airport. Once you’re in Australia you’re assessed under Australian law. Intercepted on the high seas, taken to Christmas Island, assessed under international law. That’s fine, that’s proved durable and that’s all that should be done . Over to you.
JOURNALIST: John Howard, he was on the stand for thirty five minutes today and other lawyers weren’t allowed to cross examine him. What does that say about his appearance and the enquiry itself.
BEAZLEY: Look the whole point of this Cole Commission is that it has distorted terms of reference. It has one standard by which AWB officials are being judged. It has another standard or another set of issues concerning Australian Ministers. Their administration of their obligations is not being tested by the Cole Commission and it should be. It should have an extended term of reference to enable him to do that. What we’ve seen over the last week is that Howard, Downer and Vaile have an awful lot of questions to answer, an awful lot of questions related to their stewardship, a real need for there to be an independent body arriving at a conclusion about whether their stewardship was any good.
After all Australian national security interests are at the heart of the issues they were dealing with when they were dealing with AWB sanctions busting. Now it’s
not good enough simply to say that the cables didn’t come before us. There were a plethora of warning shots fired across the bows of the Australian Government, through cables and through advice from Australian diplomats, through reports from intelligence community and the like. We’re not dealing here with the beef production of Outer Mongolia, we’re dealing here with what was right through the decade up to the War a core issue in international politics. Sanctions were a core issue in international politics.
The possibility that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction was a core issue in international politics. The possibility that sanctions were undermined to give him the funds to develop that and also to develop his armed services, that was a core issue in Australian politics and international politics. Australian sailors, day in, day out, were enforcing sanctions at great personal risk to themselves and that was a core concern for a Prime Minister of this nation. He has failed the Australian people, he has failed the Australian service personnel. He loves to appear with them in photographs, but when it comes to doing his job he won’t do it. They do theirs. He doesn’t do his, he betrays them.
JOURNALIST: So was the Prime Minister treated with kid gloves at the Royal Commission this morning?
BEAZLEY: The Royal Commission does not have the right terms of reference to deal with the Prime Minister. It’s as simple as that. If the Royal Commission were there to investigate the Prime Minister’s stewardship of this core area of national security they’d have had him there for hours.
JOURNALIST: Should he have been cross-examined?
BEAZLEY: I believe he should have been cross-examined but the truth is this. The Royal Commissioner - and understand I am not making a criticism of the Royal Commissioner here - the Royal Commissioner deals with his terms of reference. Howard gives him the terms of reference. Howard gave him a term of reference
Which meant that Howard would not be cross-examined at very great length because it was all about AWB and not about John Howard. But the Australian people want to know who’s responsible for this. They want to get to the bottom of this, but they cannot get to the bottom of it with these rorted terms of reference.
JOURNALIST: Is it a reasonable excuse for the Prime Minister to say that so many documents go through his office he doesn’t read them all?
BEAZLEY: It is not at all reasonable. It might be reasonable to argue as I’ve said about the beef quota in Outer Mongolia and beef production there and whether or not arrives at his desk, of course it wouldn’t. But we’re dealing
with an issue at the forefront of public concern, at the forefront of international concern, at the forefront of government concern. A cause and an activity to which Australian armed forces have been committed. Now for the Prime Minister not to be receiving information on that, all you can say is that a deliberate blind eye has been turned here and culpable neglect is what the Prime Minister here is guilty of. And you cannot just simply, as he has done or attempted to do, wash your hands of it like Pontius Pilate and say it’s somebody else’s responsibility. The buck stops with John Howard, the bucks ended up with Saddam Hussein, but the policy buck stopped with John Howard.
JOURNALIST: Has he reached that point yet where its quote, unquote “game over”?
BEAZLEY: Look it’s game over on culpable negligence in turning a blind eye. Everybody can see that. We all know that. From outside this country judgement is being passed on us on the quality of our Prime Minister. You’ve got public servants of other nations coming out and saying “well of course it was the responsibility of Howard, Downer and Vaile to uphold the sanctions regime put in
place by the United Nations”. This is a shocking national security failure and the Prime Minister is at the heart of it. And there’s two Ministers, what a pair of clowns, the Beavis and Butt-head of national security policy and they’ve been there for years and they should not be there another day.
JOURNALIST: On the other matter are you saying that the Prime Minister’s gone wobbly at the knees on the other matter?
BEAZLEY: We should not have our policy determined by another country on anything as fundamental as this and it is quite clear that our policy is being changed, not on a deliberation related to the Australian national interest,
but on the complaints of another country. Now that’s not good enough. And I wouldn’t characterise it by pointing the finger at another country, the fact is that it is being changed at the behest of another country and it doesn’t need to be. We’ve got tough policies in relation to asylum seekers. We don’t have tough policy on enforcement but that’s their fault. All they need to do is do a coastguard and they’d have that there as well. And as far as the neighbourhood is concerned when you’ve got a policy that’s been determined in the national interest your job as Prime Minister of this nation is to explain it to them. They might not understand that immediately but if you’re consistent and you work hard at it, it gets through.
JOURNALIST: What are the dangers of appeasement?
BEAZLEY: Well the dangers of letting it be known that your policy can be changed at the behest of anyone else is that they’ll think of a few other policies that they might like to see changed as well, and I’m not just talking about the particular country of Indonesia, I’m now talking about any country. What any
country now knows is that they’ve got a Prime Minister they can sit on and if they’ve got some part of Australian law they object to, there’s a very good chance if they sit on the Prime Minister, they will get a result. So you never ever want to get yourself into a position where that is obvious in the neighbourhood, or for that matter, global.
JOURNALIST: David Hicks…reports that he’s been put in solitary confinement (inaudible)
BEAZLEY: We are an ally of the United States and we have an entitlement here to be able to speak to the Americans directly. We in the Opposition have total confidence in the US civil courts. If someone is arrested in the United States or by United States’ authorities and goes to trial in a US court, we don’t have the slightest problem with that. You have to ‘fess up and you have to front up. But a Military Commission is not acceptable. That is not the way Americans would try their own citizens and we want the same justice for Davie Hicks that any American should get.
JOURNALIST: So what should the Australian government do?
BEAZLEY: The Australian Government should be doing an all courts press now just as the British Government did. To say to the Americans, look, you’ve had him now for four years, put him on trial in the US civil court.
JOURNALIST: Reports that two Queensland gynaecologists have been given permission by the TGA to prescribe RU486. Any comments on that?
BEAZLEY: Well it has to be done in the appropriate procedures that are established by the Parliament and the relevant therapeutic authority, that’s a matter for them.