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Transcript of doorstop interview: Lakes City Church, Wangara: National Plan for Water Security; David Hicks; Iraq.



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PRIME MINISTER

22 February 2007

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW LAKES CITY CHURCH, WANGARA

Subjects: National Plan for Water Security; David Hicks; Iraq.

EO&E…………………………………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen can I start as I did yesterday in saying that the most important issue confronting Australia this week is national water security. The meeting in Canberra tomorrow which I go to in a very constructive, cooperative frame of mind is an opportunity for me and for the Premiers and Chief Minister of the Murray-Darling Basin states to reach an agreement of long-term benefit to the country and I again say to my fellow heads of government that we all have an obligation to rise above parochial, individual concerns and to match the nation’s needs. And I welcome the attitude taken and the views expressed by the New South Wales Premier in Sydney earlier today where he said he is very keen to support the Commonwealth plan. I spoke to Mr Iemma yesterday, he had a number of questions, he was constructive and he indicated as he has again this morning that he thought this was a good plan, it was in the national interest and it was in New South Wales’ interests and I welcome that and I hope that that constructive spirit will prevail tomorrow. I’ve said before and I repeat it that there are some essential elements of the Commonwealth plan that naturally can’t be compromised and one of those is a clear referral of powers and a body of experts giving advice to the Commonwealth but obviously that level of government, namely the Commonwealth that carries the political responsibility must make the final decisions but clearly I am happy to fully consult the states in relation to the composition of that body that gives advice to the Commonwealth and I am ready listen to reasonable suggestions consistent with the essential elements of the plan but this is a moment in time as far as fixing in a long-term way the water problems of Australia and the plan has attracted a lot of support. We cannot go on with the

existing arrangements. They don’t work and we can’t embrace some imitation of the existing arrangements they won’t work either. We have to make a decisive break with the competitive and cumbersome governance arrangements of the past that the Commonwealth provides a way forward on that.

Could I just before I take you questions move to another matter and that is the interview that Mr Rudd had on Lateline last night. Mr Rudd has repeated a false claim he continues to make about the military commission, before which David Hicks will appear. Last night he said there will be no presumption of innocence and this is something that Mr Rudd has repeated again and again and he’s wrong and he should know that he is wrong because the Military Commission Act in Section 949 LC1 says very clearly that the accused must be presumed to be innocent until his guilt is established by legal and competent evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Now in my understanding and in the language of the judicial system that I am aware of and familiar with, that is a presumption of innocence. And that is written into the very Act which established the military commission that will hear the charges against Mr

Hicks. Now Mr Rudd continues to assert that there is no presumption of innocence and to say that there is not presumption of innocence is of course a very serious allegation because it really is a cornerstone of our system that people are presumed innocent until proven otherwise and the Act establishing the body that will hear the charges against Mr Hicks, makes that very clear. And when he talks about the normal rules of evidence he fails also to acknowledge that the rules relating hearsay that the military commission will follow are similar to those of the international legal tribunals that heard charges against people arising out of the behaviour in the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, I think Slobodan Milosevic and others who were before that body; nobody challenged the competence of that body or said it wasn’t giving a fair trial to people and I am informed by the Attorney General’s Department that the rules relating to hearsay that will apply to Hicks are essentially the same as those that applied in relation to that international tribunal.

Now I mention those things to make the point that Mr Rudd particularly in relation to the presumption of innocence has got it completely wrong and he should stop distorting the situation.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, in relation to water, two questions if you like…have you given any more thought to the proposal by Peter Beattie to pipe water from the north of this state and you appear to have a particular resistance to your plan from Steve Bracks.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I have said that I don’t mind an examination of the Beattie proposal; I said that the other day. But it should not delay a decision on the Commonwealth’s proposal, but I don’t want this meeting to break down into discussions about endless alternatives. People have got to front up and make a decision and the Australian

public wants the Premiers to make a decision. The Australian public likes the plan I’ve unveiled, I’ve explained it, I’ve answered their reasonable questions. If they have some particular, further proposals they want to put tomorrow about our plan, I am very happy to respond in detail. I am concerned that Mr Bracks is adopting a

negative attitude. I hope the ambience of the meeting tomorrow will persuade him otherwise.

JOURNALIST:

The benchmark that you applied for success; you look like getting one signature on the paper. At what point do you regard it as having reached the critical mass?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Greg I am not going to fall into a trap, of sort of in advance of the meeting saying this and this and this is a benchmark. I’ve explained the attitude I will take to the meeting, plainly I want agreement to the Commonwealth plan but let me not start speculating as to what represents success or failure, there’s nothing to be gained by that.

JOURNALIST:

You’ve called it a moment in time for you, but can we assume that you are not going to be petulant and say you know if it doesn’t work out tomorrow the $10 billion plan is off the table, can we assume that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the plan is an integrated plan, it is not just $10 billion - it is $10 billion and a referral of powers.

JOURNALIST:

No exactly, but if there’s no agreement tomorrow and I know you are being optimistic, if there is no agreement tomorrow is this the last chance?

PRIME MINISTER:

Matt, I am not going to speculate about that.

JOURNALIST:

Why is it reasonable for the UK, Denmark and Lithuania to set a timetable on withdrawing from southern Iraq but not Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the UK has not set a timetable to withdraw from southern Iraq.

JOURNALIST:

Well they are withdrawing troops Mr Howard.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well yes, but let’s be careful. It is completely wrong to say that and I’ve read Mr Blair’s speech in detail and he said in his speech that the UK would continue to have a military presence in Iraq through 2008 and would not end that while there was a job to do and they were wanted. So this suggestion that because the British are reducing from 7200 to 5200; that that equals withdrawal or equals the setting of a firm timetable for the total withdrawal of British forces from Iraq is wrong. Mr Rudd is asserting that but he’s wrong again. What the British have done is to reduce the number of people they have there because they believe the circumstances warrant that. What I’m saying is that they will still have 10 times more people in southern Iraq than we have and therefore the suggestion that this represents a withdrawal by the British is just plain wrong, it’s refuted by the facts and it’s refuted by the words of Mr Blair’s statement to the House of Commons.

JOURNALIST:

Because it’s complicated and it’s confusing, that message that you want to get across to the Australian people is just not cutting through?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, that’s commentary you’re the expert on that.

JOURNALIST:

What about Mr Rudd’s point that the Brits are getting out of there because they feel Basra is secure, he feels that where the Australian troops are….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they’re not getting out Matt.

JOURNALIST:

Well where they’re withdrawing……

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, I’m sorry, it’s the one area. They are reducing their presence because the conditions have improved. Well my answer to the question of why do we remain? My answer is we only have 550 and you’ve got to have a certain number of people

otherwise you can’t be operationally effective and the idea that you can go on reducing from a very low number and retain both safety and operational effectiveness is false, and Mr Rudd must know that. I mean there’s all the world of difference between reducing from 7200 to 5200 and reducing from 550 to what? To 300, to 200, you reach a point where the operationally capacity of the unit is not very effective and frankly the 550 people compared with what the British have is a much small number. And my answer to that is that if you reduce it too much you reduce its operational effectiveness and you could also raise issues of security because you need a certain

critical mass in order to be effective and also to be secure.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister are the security conditions where the Australians are that much worse then where the British started leaving?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh the general situation in the south, generally, is much safer then in Baghdad or Al Anbar. But the question you ask, you know, does not compare oranges and oranges, it compares a situation where the British are going from seven two, five two and a suggestion that we should go from 540 to what? I mean you only have to state the figures to realise the difference and I just find it very surprising that people firstly claim that the British are pulling out when plainly the Prime Minister of Britain has not set a target to pull out and when you compare the numbers, I mean 550 it’s significant but it’s a tenth of what the British will still have and frankly to talk about significantly reducing that and pretending that your operational contribution can still be as effective as it is now is to assert something that’s very difficult to.. JOURNALIST:

Is the extra in Afghanistan….

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

The 450 ….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we haven’t made any decision Matt. We are looking at the situation and as Dr Nelson indicated this morning there are some people over there having a look at it. But we have not made any decision but I don’t rule out some increase there. But I have not, and the Government has not made any decision.

JOURNALIST:

If you make that commitment will you have an exit plan for….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well everybody’s exit plan is when the mission is completed.

JOURNALIST:

If a Special Forces task group is reinserted, isn’t that an admission that they came out prematurely last year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I’m not going to speculate about something we haven’t decided.

JOURNALIST:

On Hicks, Kevin Rudd’s interview, I saw it last night. He seemed to struggle with that question about if Hicks comes back….

PRIME MINISTER:

I saw the interview and I just find it extraordinary. I mean I’m expected to know the answer to every single thing, which is fair enough, but he is asked what would happen in relation to a pardon if he came back? Well surely Mr Rudd’s got a view on it. You don’t need the advice of the Attorney-Generals Department to know whether you think somebody should have a pardon. You don’t need the advice of the Attorney-Generals Department. I mean I’ve got a view on that, people ought to ask me…..

JOURNALIST:

Would you….if Hicks came back and was given a sentence, would you accept the sentence without question or would you…..

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if he is convicted before the military commission our view is that whatever sentence he receives should be offset by the amount of time he’s served in Guantanamo Bay and the residue should be served in an Australian prison, and that’s our view, that’s my view.

JOURNALIST:

Why is WA being punished and losing $1 billion in GST grants?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t accept it has.

JOURNALIST:

Vice President Cheney is due tonight. Is there any concern that his visit will be a flash point for protests about war in Iraq and David Hicks? I mean it appears that some sort of protest action is planned against him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that will be the fault of the protestors. If there is additional inconvenience to the people of Sydney, over and above what normally happens when you have somebody like this visiting the place, if there is, then that additional inconvenience will be the fault of the protestors, it won’t be the fault of Vice President Cheney and it won’t be

the fault of the New South Wales Police who will merely be doing their job. But I mean let’s keep a sense of balance and proportion about this. If there is a lot of additional disruption because of protests that’s the fault of the protestors who are attempting to break the law. It’s not the fault of the visitor or the fault of the police.

JOURNALIST:

PM we talked about before when you talked about the general political situation, it’s going to be tough election but you don’t get the sense wondering around Australia that they’re out there, you know, vindictively looking at the Government and that you’re on the nose. Do you get that sense even less when you’re over in the west?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I have been encouraged by the response I’ve had on the ground. Now I don’t want to get carried away with it, I don’t want to exaggerate it but I have found the response on the ground here in Western Australia to be very positive and people here recognise that the economy is strong, they give the Government a lot of credit for that, they’re frightened about Labor’s industrial relations policy, they really are. The Western Australian people know that important link, that crucial link between this state’s prosperity and the resource industry and they know that Labor’s industrial relations policy would be absolute poison to the resource industry in everyway, absolute poison.

JOURNALIST:

I know you probably won’t answer this question and you’ve been very generous with your time as usual….

PRIME MINISTER:

I just don’t want another……in the column because I did have tight schedule.

JOURNALIST:

What was your feeling about, and I know you would’ve read the local paper, of coming back and seeing Noel Crichton-Brown and Brian Burke plastered over all….

PRIME MINISTER:

I run a very disciplined campaign Matt.

[ends]