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Transcript of interview with Paul Lyneham, the Gulf report

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LYNEHAM: Prime Minister, thanks for joining us.

PM: Pleasure Paul.

LYNEHAM: You told Caucus yesterday the Gulf war could become quite ghastly. You've talked in Parliament of a high and terrible price. Presumably you've been getting some rather chilling intelligence assessments?

PM: I've been getting intelligence assessments and we have known from the beginning that it could be long. I don't say that it will necessarily be so but it can be and it's honest

that I should say that to the Australian people.

LYNEHAM: Do you think that Saddam Hussein has weathered these first few days better than our experts had expected?

PM: In his own mind or in some objective assessment?

LYNEHAM: In an objective assessment.

PM: I think that the achievements of the attacks so far have been very considerable. I mean it's very interesting to note that they are saying he's still got his airforce. While his airforce remains bunkered then he can have 10,000 planes

bunkered. I mean an airforce is no good bunkered. Now the evidence that we've had so far of how his airforce has operated when it's been up doesn't reflect considerable credit upon them.

LYNEHAM: How ghastly could it get, Prime Minister? I mean could it -PM: Well you've got to divide it in two parts. While it remains limited to the air assault then it's obviously ghastly

for those on the ground, the recipients. The allied air losses have been in relation to the enormous number of sorties, remarkably small, in fact not significantly more than

if you had an air training exercise of this sort of intensity. But of course if you look at the second category, if it does move to a land battle then of course it can be very nasty indeed.

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LYNEHAM: And we could end up, could we not, with street fighting getting them back, street by street out of Kuwait, for example?

PM: Oh no, I don't think it's that. I mean it's the actual tank battle that would be the area of greatest strife and ghastliness. I have a question mark in my mind about whether in fact given the increasing intensity of attacks that there will be upon troops and tanks in what is euphemistically referred to as a softening up process, how their morale will hold. I accept and I indeed have tried to warn the Australian people that it could be long and ghastly. But I don't think

that we should preclude entirely the possibility that with the total air supremacy that exists while the Iraqi airforce stays where it is that you may not have some impact upon the morale of their forces on the ground.

LYNEHAM: Why can't we be told how ghastly it's been so far for the Iraqis? Gareth Evans says that those casualty estimates won't be released for security reasons. How could they compromise security?

PM: Well I think in these issues you have to a considerable extent, rely on the judgement of those who are for all, you have committed the responsibility to for safeguarding the lives of your own forces. I mean if they have that

responsibility of conducting the operations and including in that responsibility the responsibility for the welfare of our own forces, if they make the judgement in respect of that welfare that a certain course of action is necessary, it is prima facie presumptuous to do something which may threaten that.

LYNEHAM: Those casualty figures presumably would provide a lot of fodder for the peace movement, wouldn't they?

PM: Well I don't know that they would because more than any other conflict in history, the world has been able to see on television the great accuracy of the attacks that have been made and indeed when the journalists were still there in

Baghdad and they were - the Iraqis were trying for propaganda purposes to talk about large civilian casualties and in hospitals and the journalist said will you take us to see them, their request was refused.

LYNEHAM: The Labor backbenchers who do not support the resolution you've put to Parliament, I know you were talking to them one by one from about 8.30 to 3.30 this morning -PM: A fair while, my time during that period was not entirely occupied with those -

LYNEHAM: But it a was a bit of a session though wasn't it?

PM: Yes, but I'm merely making the point, those hours were not entirely occupied on that purpose.

LYNEHAM: Is Gareth Evans right in raising the prospect of disciplinary action against -

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PM: All that Gareth did, and that's according to what I saw on the television, was to say that these are matters that it is within the competence of the Party to look at.

LYNEHAM: What do you think about disciplinary action?

PM: I'm not thinking about it at all at the moment.

LYNEHAM: Can they escape discipline without the Government giving the impression of a two track policy?

PM: Well of course you can. I mean there is no doubt about the position of the Government. The Government position is overwhelmingly clear and supported by the majority of the Australian people I'm glad to say.

LYNEHAM: And what of the idea that given that this is such a key issue of life and death why not have a conscience vote? Some would would say Parliament's a rubber stamp on the ...

PM: Let's be quite clear, and indeed in respect to some of the people concerned, they have been amongst the strongest advocates of denying a conscience vote. But they joined a party which is not a pacifist party. They joined a party which in fact in the two major conflicts of this century had the conduct of that war, in the First World War and the Second World War undertaken by Labor Governments. They joined the

Party which - I might remind you of what I said in the speech on the 4th of December - they joined a Party in which a very prominent figure was Dr Evatt who said at the founding of the United Nations what the responsibilities were. Remember what

I said to the Parliament, this is the words of Dr Evatt: "It must be made crystal clear that the nations seeking representation in the world organisation must be prepared to contribute their share of physical force to restrain the

action of proved aggressors. Now that's the Australian Labor Party. That was our Foreign Minister at the time who made it crystal clear, you can't have the luxury of mouthing your support for the United Nations, as we have done, and including

these people, and say but when the crunch comes we will not discharge the obligation that Evatt made clear from the beginning rested upon every member of the United Nations.

LYNEHAM: Prime Minister, Iraq's Ambassador to Paris, Mr Abdil-Razak A1 Hashmy, has reacted very strongly to Australia's involvement in the Gulf war. I would like to show you some of his comments and seek your reaction if I may.

PM: Sure.

(Excerpt of comments by Mr Abdil-Razak A1 Hashmy)

LYNEHAM: What do you think he meant by warning we'd pay a very heavy price in the future?

PM: I must say looking at that there's one thing that came immediately to my mind, are the words of Neville Chamberlain in 1938: "Why should we worry about this little country so far

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away, Czechoslovakia?" And what a heavy price the world paid for listening to that sort of abysmal nonsense. This man seems to think that there is some geographical scale to moral concern and moral commitment. I would suggest to him that he

should ask the same question of Canada, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Czechoslovakia, all these nations removed a great distance from the conflict. ... would give the same answer that I do, and that is that you must have a concern, wherever

you are in the world that an aggressor, wherever he is, can annihilate another nation and escape censure. I put a question to him, a very simple one. What is Iraq doing in Kuwait?

LYNEHAM: There's a threat there though too isn't there, "we'll pay a heavy price in the future". Are you going to take that as a ...?

PM: There is an assumption in his statement and that assumption is that this regime will in the future be there to dictate to its neighbours and to the rest of the world what's going to happen. The world will not tolerate a continuation of that sort of regime.

LYNEHAM: Is it likely that Saddam, do you think, will emerge from this conflict still ruling Iraq?

PM: Well in a sense the paradox is I hope so. The paradox of course being that I would hope that as of the next second from now Saddam Hussein would realise what he must do if he's going

to save his nation, and that is that he would announce his immediate and unconditional acceptance of Resolution 678 and begin the total withdrawal of his forces. And if that were to happen, then the position of Australia, as it is indeed the position of the United States and the rest of the nations

involved, is that that is it and conflict would cease. But whether after that situation Saddam Hussein would survive would be a matter of course within Iraq. I would hope that he wouldn't .

LYNEHAM: Finally a quick yes-no if I may.

PM: Oh come on.

LYNEHAM: Do you ever consider the prospect that the allies might not be able to dislodge him from Kuwait?

PM: The allies will win this conflict in one of two ways. Hopefully by what we have done forcing the conclusion that I've just said that he should voluntarily decide to withdraw. Unfortunately if that doesn't happen then we will win by the

force of arms.

LYNEHAM: Prime Minister, thanks for your time.

PM: Thank you very much.