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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Prime Minister the Hon John Howard, MP: The Willard Intercontinental Hotel: Washington, D.C.: Washington visit; David Hicks; ASIO head; Indonesian ambassador.



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PRIME MINISTER

16 July 2005

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW THE WILLARD INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL,

WASHINGTON DC

Subjects: Washington visit; David Hicks; ASIO head; Indonesian Ambassador

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

Well tomorrow I begin the visit in earnest. My wife and I will have a private lunch with the Vice President and Mrs Cheney and in the evening I will catch up for a yarn and a drink with Richard Armitage - well known to all of you - a former Deputy Secretary of State. The visit, as you know, will obviously focus very heavily on issues of international security including of course Iraq and Afghanistan and in the wake of the attacks in London, the ongoing challenge of terrorism, but there will also be a particular emphasis from our point of view on the importance of making progress with the trade talks that take place at an ad ministerial level in Hong Kong. If we are to make a success of the DOHA round we really do have to make big progress at Hong Kong and making big progress does involve making some progress on the agricultural front. Now there have been some promising signs. The remarks made by President Bush a few weeks ago about the desirability of both the United States and Europe moving forward on this issue is very important and it will be something I will want to focus on, not to the exclusion of other issues, but it will certainly be an important issue. As I indicated yesterday I will raise the question of the military commission trial of Mr Hicks going ahead.

I can inform you and will provide you with a letter later. We have received written advice from the Defence Department that after a very thorough investigation of the

allegations of Hicks and Habib about mistreatments whilst they were in American custody, no evidence has been found to support those allegations and I will make those copies of the letters available to you. They are really all the things I wanted to say at this stage.

JOURNALIST:

Can we be satisfied that the American Defense Department, that the Department would find anything else other than this finding?

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s a somewhat cynical question.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard there has been another dreadful terrorist, suicide bombing in Iraq. Do you believe the security situation has improved at all in Iraq, and no doubt you will be discussing this with the US President?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the security situation in Iraq is still very challenging. I have never said anything otherwise, but that doesn’t mean to say that progress isn’t made and it doesn’t alter the importance of preserving.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, a member of the Indonesian Foreign Relations Commission [inaudible] has criticized your appointment of Mr Farmer as Ambassador to Indonesia, he suggested that he is not fit and even hinted that they may veto his appointment [inaudible]? What is your response to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Indonesia is a big country. It’s a robust democracy and with more than 230 million people and a large parliamentary system, you’ll get various comments. Mr Farmer remains the Government’s appointee, and I have no doubt that he will be appointed. But let me emphasise there are normal processes of approval that have to be gone through.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, on the question of appointments, the Sunday morning press article in Australia raises allegations that the new head of ASIO that in the mid 80’s was involved…

PRIME MINISTER:

Were these allegations by Mr Reid were they?

JOURNALIST:

Yes they are.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, yes.

JOURNALIST:

Can I ask you, were you aware of those allegations, given Mr Reid said he gave them in an inquiry ten years ago, were you aware of those allegations when you made the ASIO appointment recently?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I will say on that, is that there was an inquiry carried out by Mr Justice Samuels and that inquiry did not report adversely in any way on Mr O’Sullivan. I don’t therefore have anything further to say.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, the British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, on these military commissions, has said that they don’t, in his view they don’t uphold the basis of [inaudible] of international justice, is he wrong?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no, he is expressing his view as the Attorney General of another country. We make our own assessment of these things and we are satisfied with the changes that have been made at our request - that there will be a proper balance between what is alleged in

relation to Hicks, and let us remember the allegation about Hicks is a very serious allegation. It is an allegation that he trained with Al Qaeda, its an allegation which includes allegations including the specific allegation that he was in Pakistan on the 11th September 2001 and in the wake of those events, rejoined his colleagues, so we are dealing with serious allegations. Now he obviously has a point of view that will be put in relation to those allegations before the military commission. I would like those proceedings to go ahead as soon as possible. That has been my position for some time… They have been held up by the judicial proceedings in the United States; if further judicial proceedings are taken in the United States, there could be a further delay. That is though, something beyond my control and beyond the control of the US administration.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, given the opposition in Washington at the moment, towards some of these Chinese trade moves, and your attempt to balance the US and China relationship, have the remarks by the Chinese General, the US should prepare for nuclear attacks on the US cities over Taiwan, how helpful are those remarks?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they were unhelpful, irresponsible remarks and I am sure they don’t represent the views of the Chinese Government.

JOURNALIST:

Just more broadly on China though, there is quite a degree of hostility towards China and even United States in political circles in Washington. I just wonder how helpful you think that is - that that sort of point of America…

PRIME MINISTER:

America is a robust democracy and people are entitled, right across the spectrum, to have their views. China is not a democracy. Australia and the United States are, amongst the world’s oldest continuing democracies. We are therefore,very different when it comes to political structures. But the basis of the way in which I have conducted Australia’s relations with China in the time that I have been Prime Minister has been to build on the things that we have in common and not become obsessed with the things that make us different without, when it comes to the point of principle, without in any way stepping back from the things that we regard important, in the way that Chinese don’t, and that was demonstrated in relation to Mr Chen. Let me remind you that there was a lot of talk about the Australian Government being pushed around. The Australian Government did the right thing. It allowed the process to work and the process has worked and Mr Chen has a visa - now that doesn’t mean to say that I agree with everything Mr Chen has said or that I want this issue to contaminate our relationship - I don’t. But when it comes to things that are matters of principle, obviously Australia is going to stand by our system but we have to realistically focus on the things that we agree on and the things that we can move forward together on.

JOURNALIST:

Is Australia in a bit of squeeze over this though Mr Howard, we’ve got a…

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t feel the least bit squeezed over this issue.

JOURNALIST:

To what extent do you think it will be discussed though with Mr Bush, the issue of the three-sided relationship?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think it will be a big subject. We will talk about China, but not in the context of it being a problem in our relationship with the United States - that is an extraordinary implication and suggestion.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard you have had a day free of appointments today, how did you spend the day?

PRIME MINISTER:

[Inaudible]. I had lunch with my son and it was a fairly extended lunch, a long lunch… a catch up.

JOURNALIST:

Just back on Hicks and the investigation, or the outcome of the investigation, it is unlikely to satisfy David Hick’s family or his supporters, what can you say to them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that’s… Stephanie that’s sort of the starting point of that question is that the implication is that of course the allegations made by his family and on his behalf are right, and everything else is wrong. I mean we have allegations of abuse, those allegations are investigated, we have a response from the Americans. I have nothing to add to that.

JOURNALIST:

You said earlier on…

PRIME MINISTER:

Except to remind you of the nature of the allegations that have been made against Mr Hicks. I mean let us not lose sight of the fact that they are very serious allegations and this ought to be the last one ….

JOURNALIST:

You said earlier on Prime Minister that you thought Mr Farmer would be confirmed as Ambassador in Indonesia, do you have assurances from Jakarta?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there are processes and there is a process. I mean I don’t pretend to know the background or the precise process that goes on in Indonesia but before his appointment was announced. We spoke to the Indonesians and they did not raise any objection to his proposed appointment being announced, but naturally like any country, they would reserve the right to go through what the processes are, but I can’t imagine there being any difficulty, that is what I am saying… and we did raise it with them before we made the announcement. That is the important thing. We would not have made the announcement without first raising it. But I think, you know, I must pay respect to the proper diplomatic process. I think it’s called ‘agrimont’ isn’t it?

JOURNALIST:

Yes and they do have a parliamentary process in Indonesia…

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes we clearly respect that but I say again, we raised it with them, so I have… how should I put it… I have reasonable confidence, properly based, that it will be approved, thank you.

[ends]