Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of news conference, Sheraton Hotel, Harare



Download PDFDownload PDF

P R I M E M I N I S T E R

TRANSCRIPT OF NEWS CONFERENCE, SHERATON HOTEL, HARARE 18 OCTOBER 1991

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you considering going to South Africa sooner now that Nelson Mandela thinks it could be helpful to the process of a new constitution?

PM: Well obviously I noted with a considerable amount of interest, and may I say a little bit of pride in what Nelson Mandela had to say, but I would be guided, if and when I go to South Africa, by a consideration not only at our end but

from within South Africa of whether such a visit would serve a particularly useful purpose. I have no doubt that going there would be useful generally. Nelson seemed to think it may have some particular purposes of significance. We would

examine that and if we came to the conclusion that it had that possibility then obviously we would do it, but I'm not going to say anything more than that. Anything further is simply superfluous. That is the essence of my of position

about what he's had to say.

JOURNALIST: What do you think he had in mind when he spoke of a visit facilitating the setting up of an interim government?

PM: I think he was very conscious of the fact that the central trigger point, if you like, in the whole process now of accelerating the move to a democratic non-racial government in South Africa, and of course also associated with that the question of the lifting of sanctions, goes to

this very issue of the interim arrangements and that's centrally in his mind. I guess what he is really conveying is that anything that can hasten the achievement of that central point is significant, and I agree with him.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, your meeting with Dr Mahathir -was in any sense an apology offered, or appropriate?

PM: No, nor requested, may I say. Because, let me first of all say this, that I was grateful to Dr Mahathir for his ready agreement to a meeting. As you know it was a quite lengthy meeting, extremely cordial and very direct. Dr Mahathir understands the truth of what I've consistently

said, that neither I nor the Australian Government can or

M ed ia in fo rm a tio n , 'Current A w areness and Hansard.

t \

i

2.

obviously would seek to control the Australian media - I mean, how could I control you mob. And he understands that. But reasonably he takes the view that if something occurs in

our media that is an inaccurate portrayal or representation of a position in regard to Malaysia, it is appropriate that the Australian Government should dissociate itself from it. I accept that, and I said of course that I regarded that as reciprocal and Dr Mahathir of course said the same thing, that if something were to occur in the Malaysian media that was inaccurate about Australia he would similarly dissociate

the Malaysian Government from it. So that was the position that was reached and as far as Dr Mahathir is concerned, relations between us are fully back to normal. I welcome that because the relationship between our two countries is very important and it covers economic, defence, educational, political matters and matters of regional concern. We have had extraordinary cooperation from Malaysia in regard to APEC and we both recognise the,importance, the mutual

importance, of getting that relationship back to normal and I welcome the fact that we've done that.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned with the way that Zimbabwe police put down a riot at the university and would you be raising this with Mr Mugabe?

PM: I know nothing about it other than when I went back to my room there was some reference that some Australian journalists were in a bus and had a rock through their window. But I honestly know nothing about it. I mean I 've

had a whole lot of other issues which you know I've been dealing with. I'm just not aware of the circumstances.

JOURNALIST: So seeing this involves human rights though and this has been a central theme of this conference, would you be making any inquiries to find out more about it, as something that's happening on the doorstep of CHOGM?

PM: I won't be going out of my way to make any inquiry about it. I have the capacity to get these things in perspective. Here are gathered representatives of 50 nations, talking about a broad range of issues, including

the one that you rightly refer to, and it is sensible that I concentrate my attentions on making the best contribution that I can to that range of issues. And I'm frankly not going to be diverting the very limited time I have available by conducting a one-man investigation into an alleged

incident.

JOURNALIST: On Malaysia, who decides if a report is inaccurate?

PM: Well in my case I would, in regard to Australia. We're not setting up some formal monitoring mechanism. If I saw something in the Australian media in regard to Malaysia that was inaccurate, or if I hadn't and it was brought to my

attention and I decided that it was inaccurate, then I would dissociate the Australian Government and I assume that in the case of Malaysia that that would be the case. If Dr

3.

# *

Mahathir himself saw it he would do that or if he didn't see it, because after all, Prime Ministers don't read - I know this may come as some shock to you all - but frankly we don't read every word that's written by all of you or that appears on every television or on every radio. I would assume if it came to our attention that something had occurred in Malaysia which we regarded as inaccurate and it was brought to his attention then he would do it. It's as

simple as that.

JOURNALIST: What about a show like Embassy which doesn't even mention Malaysia and caused Malaysia offence? How would this be ... the guidelines?

PM: In my judgement the Government of Malaysia on the internal intrinsic evidence of the Embassy series in regard to certain points - I haven't seen it myself, but I've taken the advice of people who have and who are in a position to know - on certain internal evidence Malaysia was entitled to

draw conclusions that they were being referred to.

JOURNALIST: On the issue of sanctions is there any reason to believe that after yesterday's debate there might be some departure from the New Delhi plan?

PM: Well if you look at the debate yesterday in the full session of CHOGM, every speaker supported the Foreign Ministers' New Delhi plan, every one. There was no-one who sought a toughening. The only qualification of what I've just said was of course John Major who wanted a somewhat

softer position. Apart from John, every other speaker without qualification supported the New Delhi plan. Now one would assume on that basis of discussion that there wouldn’t be any change. It is open I suppose at the Retreat, which we're going to soon, for some change to be suggested. But

all I'm saying is that having had that sort of coverage and that sort of unqualified support in the general debate, when it was open to general debate, it would be a little bit surprising if there were change.

JOURNALIST: Are you confident that it will succeed?

PM: That what will succeed?

JOURNALIST: The New Delhi proposal will be endorsed?

PM: I would expect it to for the reasons I've just put. But I'm simply saying that if at the Retreat someone wants to raise any qualification in any way I'm simply making the point it's open for them to do that. But on the basis of

that debate it would be surprising if that were to eventuate.

JOURNALIST: Do you hold out any hope of accommodating Britain so that in the final communique they don't have to shove a rider in there?

4.

i

l

PM: Well it is the case that in the debate yesterday, as you know and you would have had reported to you, John Major indicated, I may say in a wonderfully low-key and constructive contribution, that he had a somewhat different emphasis from the rest of us. But, as I say, he did that in

a very constructive, positive way. It may be that in the end that John Major will have to have an indication there that they have a slightly different position. But if that does happen in no way will it be a fracturing of the Commonwealth position.

JOURNALIST: How will Australia benefit by this improvement in relations with Malaysia?

PM: I think we can be quite specific about it. Some of the things that were happening before were precluding Australia's official diplomatic representation from involvement in important events. I have no doubt that that has finished. But very importantly also in the area of economic business trading relationships it had got to the point where we were starting to be prejudiced there. Now that will have finished and that's obviously very good for us.

JOURNALIST: Would you agree to any request from any other countries for you to make a public judgement on the accuracy or otherwise of articles which offend them?

PM: If they ask it. You see, what you've got to understand is that, and I mean you people and I know this robustly from our own personal relationships, that the relationship between the Australian Government and the Australian media

is one in which we, you know, unless it's in the area of defamation, you've got to buy it, you've got to ride with it and you've got to live with it - don't you Pilita?

JOURNALIST: That's right.

PM: And may I congratulate you Pilita on your thoroughly professional handling of a particular matter. I congratulate you. That's our sort of position. We don't really say that because something's been written in the media or is in the television that that carries some

authority. That's your position and it's my position as far as the Government's concerned. But if a government of another country which doesn't have exactly the same sorts of relationships with the Press and understanding of what Press positions are, if they feel that something's occurred which is hurtful to the relationship and if the thing is in fact inaccurate, then I would have no problem in doing that. But I'm not going to set myself up as a censorship in terms of saying to any part of the Australian media look you musn't cover a particular area. I mean, for God's sake, I'd be the last one to do that. But if -JOURNALIST: But if

5.

t

PM: Let me finish. It's not a question of offensive, ... if it's inaccurate. If something is inaccurate and it has caused offence, that can hurt the relationship. That can be something that's against the interests of Australia. It makes thoroughly good sense in that circumstance to say well

look, we have a free press, we don't control what's said, but in respect of that particular matter which has caused you offence and which is inaccurate, we dissociate ourselves from it.

JOURNALIST: Say the media made a statement critical of capital punishment in Malaysia which coincides with the Australian viewpoint and Malaysia objected. How would you handle that?

PM: Well, obviously it's not something in terms of the discussion I had with Dr Mahathir that he would take offence about or he would expect any action. I mean around the world people have opinions about the question of capital punishment. But if, just to use the analogy, if something was written which inaccurately portrayed a decision in Malaysia in regard to capital punishment, then that would be

something that would be appropriate to say well that's not right, we dissociate ourselves from that.

JOURNALIST: What if the offensive article was accurate? That's the point I 'm making. Aren't you then setting yourself up for a position where you're ...

PM: No. You read the transcript of what I've said and you'll see that that question is answered already by what I've said.

ends