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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23614

Mr HAASE (2:03 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware of statements that the United States President `is the most incompetent and dangerous president' in United States history? What is the Prime Minister's response to these statements?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I am aware of those statements. They were rather infamously made by the member for Werriwa in an earlier incarnation. When he became Leader of the Opposition yesterday he sought to say that they were purely in the context of his criticism of United States policy in Iraq, yet this morning, interestingly enough, on Melbourne radio, when asked the following question by Neil Mitchell, `You still said he was the most incompetent and dangerous president and you have said today that you don't back away from that,' the answer came back: `No—well, Neil, that's right.' In other words, this is not something in the past; this is something that was repeated this morning.

What the Leader of the Opposition was saying this morning was that he still believed that the current President of the United States was the most incompetent and dangerous president in American history. I take the view, and I believe that most Australians take the view, that it is not in Australia's interest, it is not in the national interest of our country, that the alternative Prime Minister of this country should describe the current American President—no matter what that American President's politics may be—as being `the most incompetent and dangerous' in the history of the United States. That is what the Leader of the Opposition sought to do this morning, and by doing that he has demonstrated that in his new position he is dangerous so far as the American alliance is concerned.

Let me say at the outset that criticism of American policy and criticism of the policies of an American President are of course perfectly legitimate for any political leader in Australia, but it is not in our national interest to make that kind of damning, personal, generic statement of criticism of the current President of the United States. But it is very interesting that, when you look behind the language and behaviour, you realise that the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition towards the current American President is driven more by tribal political considerations than it is by anything else—because, interestingly enough, you never hear a criticism of the leader of the British government. You never hear a criticism of Tony Blair when it comes to Iraq, and better than anybody in Australia I know how close the views of Tony Blair are to those of George Bush on the subject of Iraq.

The reality is that the Leader of the Opposition has allowed his tribal dislike, because of the politics of the current American President, to overwhelm his concern for the national interest. Irrespective of who the president may be, it is never in the interests of this country to have that kind of generic criticism made. By all means, attack American policy on Iraq or anything else—and those criticisms and attacks will be judged according to their quality—but it is not in Australia's interest for the alternative Prime Minister, the man who is only eight seats away from being the leader of this country, to describe the current American President in those terms.

It can only be explained by the tribal approach that the Leader of the Opposition takes. Tony Blair is off limits—you never criticise him—but centre right George Bush is the most dangerous American president in the history of that country. I have news for the Leader of the Opposition: I do not think the Australian nation of the 21st century thinks in tribal terms. Australians do not see this country as a nation of tribes; they see it as a nation of 20 million aspiring, gloriously individualistic people. That is the view particularly of the younger generation of this country.