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Transcript of doorstop interview, Melbourne: detention centres; military action against Iraq; public liability insurance; UN; visit to China.



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www.pm.gov.au

23 April 2002

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP, MELBOURNE

Subjects: detention centres; military action against Iraq; public liability insurance; UN; visit to China.

E&OE………………………………………………………………………………………

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister does Denis Napthine have a realistic chance of winning the Victorian election?

PRIME MINISTER:

There’s no such thing as an unwinnable or an unlosable election and that’s a message that I guess the Liberal Party got here in Victoria at the last election and it’s a message that I’ve always understood. I've never taken the Australian people for granted - I never will. I didn’t at the last election and I won’t in any future election.

JOURNALIST:

Did you see the Lateline report last night about the apparent mistreatment of detainees in Curtin?

PRIME MINISTER:

I did see the video last night, yes. There’s one aspect of it that I sought advice on and that was the allegation that there was an unwillingness to provide medical attention. I've been told by the Immigration Minister’s office that that’s not correct, that the staff were prevented

PRIME MINISTER

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because of the conduct of some of the detainees from providing it and when they could, they did.

JOURNALIST:

Are you happy to say that you support all the actions the guards took?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I strongly support our policy of mandatory detention and I’m not going to criticise what occurred there. Nobody likes keeping people in detention. They are not pleasant scenes. No riot inside a detention centre would be pleasant. No behaviour by people protesting their detention would be pleasant…

JOURNALIST:

But you are happy…

PRIME MINISTER:

… but I support what is occurring as does the Minister.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) aslyum seekers get humane treatment?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am.

JOURNALIST:

… access to legal or medical…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they are being provided with very good and regular medical attention. They’ve been provided with very good food. I know they don’t like being in detention but without sounding in any way insensitive I hope, if people did not seek to come to Australia illegally they would not be in detention.

JOURNALIST:

On another subject Prime Minister, Simon Crean says that he wants to see evidence before Austraila commits to Iraq and he also wants to see parliament recalled. Do you think that's in any way ruining the bipartisan spirit on those issues?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there's no suggestion at this stage that Australia is going to commit forces to some military action against Iraq. What I have said and I repeat it, is that we will look at any request from our American allies in relation to any future action against terrorism outside of

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Afghanistan and the merits. And if I get a request of course I will talk to the Opposition Leader about it, as I spoke to Mr Beazley. I have adopted an attitude since I’ve been Prime Minister of making certain that although the Government takes the decision, we involve as much as possible the Opposition in the process because it's in the interests of the nation that we have as much bipartisanship as possible on military matters. As I said at the launch of the book a few moments ago when Australian forces go overseas they don’t go overseas in the name of one side of politics, they go overseas in the name of Australia and that’s why I will always try very hard to ensure that there is bipartisanship. But I just want to make the point to Mr Crean that we haven’t committed any Australian forces to any action against Iraq, we have not received any request. So I think he's sort of, as it were, jumping the gun to start talking about I want to see the evidence. No request has been made, if a request is made we will consider it very carefully and I will, as I have done in the past, I will have the Opposition fully briefed. Naturally the Government takes the decision and I would want the broadest possible public support for any future action we take. But I don’t think we’re going to get a request in the immediate future so I don’t think it’s an issue which is immediately on the table.

JOURNALIST:

But you don't think you'd destroy the bipartisan stand anyway?

PRIME MINISTER:

I take the view that the Labor Party would, I hope, want to keep as much bipartisanship as possible. I’ll be charitable and say that I don’t believe he’s trying to do that. He’s entitled as an Opposition Leader to make a point but he ought to get it in the right context and the right context is that no request has been received. And I would just also remind him and I’d remind you that I have tried very hard on all military matters since I’ve been Prime Minister to have the maximum amount of bipartisanship. I had Mr Beazley fully briefed, I endeavour to involve the Opposition Leader as far as possible because it’s the right thing to do. The military goes abroad for all of us, not just some of us.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the Bracks Government is looking at industrial manslaughter laws to basically…

PRIME MINISTER:

Industrial what?

JOURNALIST:

Manslaughter laws which would mean that employers would be exposed to charges of manslaughter and heavy penalties.

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t know enough about the background to offer a comment. I’ll leave that to my colleagues here in Victoria.

JOURNALIST:

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The meeting in Canberra today about medical indemnity insurance, do you think that it's something that can be solved in one day?

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PRIME MINISTER:

No it can’t be solved in one day and I don’t think in the long run this and the whole issue of public liability insurance is going to be solved unless and until there is a very major change in the expectations of the Australian community about liability for conduct. I think we have to change our attitudes. I think the expectations in relation to litigation are too high. I said years ago, some years ago when we brought in national gun control laws that I didn’t want Australia to go down the American path on guns. I also don’t want Australia to go down the American path on litigation.

JOURNALIST:

Change our attitudes how?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think our expectations about having a right to sue irrespective of the sort of involvement, irrespective of the sort of conduct that we are involved in, irrespective of any knowledge that we might have of the possible dangers. I think our expectations in the community are too high. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t expect to sue at the drop of a hat and complain about public liability insurance premiums going up and I think the whole community has to rethink this, otherwise we are going to make it impossible for some activities that we take for granted to occur in the future and we’re going to make it prohibitively expensive for some doctors in certain circumstances to practice. Now that’s a broad comment. As for today’s meeting we have a number of practical suggestions to make to the states which in the end control the law. We can’t alter the law of negligence in this country. Only the states can do that but I as Prime Minister can point out what is needed and we need a major change in our approach as a nation to the law of negligence if we’re to get on top of this.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think your stance on refugees has damaged the chance of Australia getting a seat on the Security Council?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t want to contribute anything more on that. It’s something that is just under examination. The answer is no I don’t. We won a seat on some United Nations human rights body, I think it was, or associated body not so long ago. Australia has legitimate complaints about how the UN committee system has operated in the past. We don’t retreat from those complaints but we think they're well based.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think there's any merit though [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's an issue that's under consideration. I’m going to have a further discussion with Mr Downer about it when he returns from overseas. It’s not the most important thing for us. It’s something that tends to come along in a bit of a pattern. But we are examining it but it’s not

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our highest foreign policy priority. I’ve got more important, and Mr Downer has more important foreign policy fish to fry in relation particularly to our associations in the region. I’m going to China next month, not only to mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations but also to press very strongly our case for sales of LNG into that very big market. Thank you.

[ends]