Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Sydney Airport, 11 November 1999: transcript of press conference [visit to South Africa; opening of Olympic Games]



Download WordDownload Word

image

 

11 November 1999

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

PRESS CONFERENCE, SYDNEY AIRPORT

Subjects: visit to South Africa, opening of Olympic Games.

E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I don’t have any statement to make. You are aware that I’m departing shortly to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which is being held for the first time in South Africa at Durban. The theme of the conference is obviously related to the impact of globalisation on society. I’ll have the opportunity while I’m in South Africa of doing a number of other things including an audience with the Queen, and also the opportunity to invest Mr Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, with membership of the Order of Australia. He’s been awarded an honorary AC and I’ll have very great delight as the delegate of the Governor-General in accordance with protocol to invest him with that insignia. Are there any questions.

JOURNALIST:

Why have you decided to not open the Games?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve decided that it would be better, given the obvious fact that my opening the Games is going to be made a matter of political controversy, it would be far better if the Games were opened by Sir William Deane. I’ve discussed that with the Governor-General and he’s indicated to me that if an invitation is forthcoming then he will accept it. It’s a very simple move on my part to take politics out of the Olympic Games. There’s been too much politics in it already. It has a lot of controversy surrounding it on other issues. This is a small way in which I can make a contribution towards keeping party politics out of it. It’s become quite apparent since the referendum that many in the Labor Party are going to run this as a political issue. Quite frankly ensuring that the Games are a great unifying national event is far more important to me than any personal satisfaction I might get from opening the Games.;

JOURNALIST:

But personally, do you still believe the Prime Minister should open the Games?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what I’ve said was that the arguments I advanced in favour of the Prime Minister of Australia, whoever he or she may be, remain as valid now as they were before. But there are other considerations. And sometimes in these things it’s not a question of adopting an in your face win at all costs approach. It’s a question of paying some regard to the common good, some regard to the national interest and I think the public would want me in the name of taking political controversy out of this issue, the public would want me to do what I’ve done and that’s why I’ve done it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what damage do you think is being done to the Games? I mean the Federal Government is a partner in the games after all. What damage is being done to public perception of these Games by all the constant controversy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there’s one great controversy and that of course is the ticketing controversy. I think that is damaging the Games a lot. There’s no doubt about that. I don’t have any control over that. We don’t run SOCOG. I mean, look, I have tried from the very beginning to work with the New South Wales Government to make these Games a great success and I don’t seek any political argument with the New South Wales Labor Government over the Games. And the main reason, the overwhelming reason why I’ve done what I’ve done in relation to the opening of the Games is to take political controversy out of it. That is what the Australian public wants. They want to celebrate these Games as a great unifying national occasion. Unfortunately they have been caught up with political difficulty, they have been plagued by the ticketing fiasco, and it is a fiasco. But let me leave that to others. I don’t really want to personally get any more involved in that but I mean one can only react to the obvious and that is that the public was badly misled.

JOURNALIST:

Does this indicate Prime Minister that the Games …you’ve taken this step as perhaps an example to step back and take the heat out of it, in terms of the political heat, is that to indicate that you believe there’s still too much politics in this, in what should be a bipartisan effort ?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I want it to be bipartisan and although I hold the greatest elected office in this country and it was out of respect for that office that I previously took the position when Mr Keating was Prime Minister. I nonetheless think that I strike a blow for de-politicising the Games by doing what I’ve done and I’m sure it’s the right thing. I’m sure Sir William Deane is widely respected in the community and I’m sure that his opening the Games will be widely supported. It’ll be supported by people who vote Labor, people who vote Liberal, people who are for and people who are against our current constitutional arrangements. So occasionally it’s far more important in these things to put aside any personal interest or pride and allow the common good or the common wealth, if I could use an appropriate expression in the current context, to prevail.

JOURNALIST:

Was any thought ever given to Her Majesty opening the Games?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well she’s coming here in March of next year and I think I’ve indicated that it’s the view of the Government that either the Prime Minister or the Governor-General should open the Games.

JOURNALIST:

How much pressure was there from Coalition…[inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:  

 

None. None at all. Can I just put that sort of proposition down completely…. the matter was not even discussed at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. I don’t normally talk about what’s discussed in Cabinet but in order to stop that proposition running, it wasn’t even discussed. I came to a conclusion myself in the last 48 hours that this was the right thing to do. I talked to my two most senior colleagues yesterday, that’s John Anderson and Peter Costello. We hadn’t previously discussed it. Both of them agreed that I’d reached the right conclusion. I then discussed the matter with Sir William Deane. I discussed it with a couple of my close advisers and I made the announcement last night. But there was no mail inside the Liberal Party for me to change on this. There was no pressure, no discussion. But I think most of my colleagues will agree that it’s the right decision.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] missing this opportunity, passing up such a huge TV audience indicate you’re not going [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I said last night, ensuring that the Games are as non-political as possible is far more important to me, far far more important to me than any personal satisfaction.

JOURNALIST:

What was Sir Willian Deane’s response when you did actually ask him?

PRIME MINISTER:

As outlined in my statement last night. He said that if he were to receive an invitation he would accept my advice to take up that invitation. Thank you.

[Ends]

 

 

jy  1999-11-12  11:06