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Transcript of interview of Dr John Hewson, MP leader of the opposition

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Leader of the Opposition X




The Federal Parliament is recalled next week, something I was urging strongly through the week, I notice yesterday some suggestion of a split in the bipartisan attitude towards what's happening in the Gulf, in fact, the headline

in the Herald-Sun today, Hewson PM split on troops.

On the line now is the Opposition Leader, Dr Hewson, good morning.


Good morning Neil, how are you.


I'm good. Are you taking a harder line than the Prime

Minister on this? .


No, I think, as I understand that story, it's

misrepresented what I said. What I've been saying all the way through is that the PM should consult with us at each stage of the process in determining the nature and extent of our.military commitment. And he's done that, and what

I've argued is that each stage should have be^n. a subject of a separate decision. And it has been. When we decided, for example, to move our ships up into a potential battle zone in the Gulf, that was a separate decision. . . Any

increase beyond the present level should of course be a subject of a separate decision. Now, that's all I've said.

Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Phone 77 4022



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In each case, of course, we haven't had a predisposition either way. We certainly haven't had a predisposition that we shouldn't increase our involvement. We've just simply argued that at each stage of the process it ought to be a

separate decision.


Well it seems to be a slight difference, because it seems to me the Prime Minister is ruling out unequivocally any increased military involvement, armed forces or otherwise.


I haven't done that. In that sense there might be a

difference. But equally I haven't called for an increase either. I've simply said that, you know, this situation has been evolving now since early August, and on that basis we've had to be prepared to look at the nature of our role

and the extent of our commitment on a number of occasions. And we've done that.

And at this stage I believe we've made the appropriate response, committing three ships in the role that they're playing for a nation of our size, relative to the

contributions of others. Given the nature of our interest in the outcome of the Gulf I think it's an appropriate

response so far and at this stage we support the Government fully in what they've done.


Could you envisage a situation where it would be necessary to extend or that ground troops would need to go from



Look, at this point I can't. There hasn't been any

request, for example, as there was in the past, from the United States or any implication of a UN Resolution that would cause us to change our position. So at this point I'm happy with our commitment. I think it's appropriate.

This process is very difficult to judge, of course, and in that sense we've just said that any further change in the nature of the role or the extent of the role should be the subject of a separate decision.



I think, in an evolving situation like this, it is wise to set the ground rules in terms of the decision-making in relation to our commitment. That's all we've done.

We're certainly not calling, and I haven't called for an increase in our commitment and I gather there's been some suggestion about that in the media but ...(inaudible)... that.


Are you satisfied with the level of information you're receiving from the Government.


Y e s . In recent days the Prime Minister has contacted

appropriately at the time of each decision and I'm now having available to me daily briefings by the same people, of course, that brief the Cabinet and the Prime Minister and, you know, it is important and the Prime Minister has been very good about this, making sure that the information

is available to us so we can make reasonable judgements on developments as they occur.


On that basis, what's your view, what's your outlook, are you pessimistic.


I'm more optimistic than I was in the sense, that, as I

think the Americans said themselves, their early success has been somewhat better than expected. But it is a very difficult situation. It is very hard to read. I think we had a very tense day yesterday.

I was very disappointed, indeed appalled, by the attack by Iraq on Israel and we totally condemn that.

I was, however, pleased that so far the Israelis haven't responded. That's a very important thing, I guess, the decision is always theirs. But showing the tolerance they have in these circumstances, they've prevented it so far

from being escalated to a much wider and more difficult conflict. And that's obviously an element of Saddam

Hussein's strategy - that he does want to escalate it, and broaden it and make it more an Arab/Israeli conflct. I'm very concerned about that.


But as I say, so far as each hour has gone by we've got

every reason to be more optimistic, perhaps than we did yesterday morning at this time, or the day before. But it's, you know, it's a very difficult situation and he's a ruthless person who has demonstrated a capacity to gas his

own people and to deal ...(inaudible)... Cabinet Ministers in how own government on, he's capable ...(inaudible)... worst sort of atrocities and in that sense, you know, one has to maintain a continual concern until there's a


But I believe the success of the early raids by the

Americans were somewhat better than they expected, and they have seemed to be able to take out a lot of key strategic military and other targets which, in a quite clinical fashion, from all reports, which has obviously reduced his

capacity to run his own internal communications and command system. Hopefully they will be able to continue that

success and hopefully it won't be very long before

Saddam Hussein actually does withdraw from Kuwait.


You mightn't, in fact, have heard of it y et, but overnight there was a national air-raid alarm in Israel, only a

couple of hours ago. The Israeli officials said they had information that missiles were about to be launched. Fortunately they didn't arive. But Moshe Arens, the

Defence Minister, has said blatantly if we are attacked, we will respond and we have been attacked. Which would seem to indicate that it's only a matter of time before there is a response.


Yes, I've heard conflicting reports about that, Neil, that it may be a false alarm. Let's hope it was. But it really is a very, very difficult situation at the present time and I'm sure the Israeli people feel that they've gone a long way towards facilitating a sensible resolution, if you

like, of the hostilities by not getting involved and not escalating it another stage.

But, you know, it's a lot to ask a country to sit there

when they become the object of an onslaught by Saddam

Hussein. So, it is a very difficult time and let's hope that sanity continues to prevail and that the success of the American operation continues and it takes out his capacity, whether it be mobile or fixed missile sites, to

launch these sorts of attacks on countries like Israel.



Dr Hewson, we had 20,000 people in the streets of Melbourne last night, protesting, calling for peace. Are you

confident that you and the Prime Minister have the support of the majority of the Australian people.


Yes I am. I obviously recognise that there are,

justifiably in a country like Australia, very different opinions about circumstances like this. And it certainly wasn't an easy decision for us in the early days of the

conflict to take a position on it. But we did believe that we were representing the majority of people of Australia and, you know, in a sense, we were a bit in front of the

Government in calling for a clear-cut statement of the nature of the commitment we should make and then the

commitment of our ships and the nature of the role of our ships. We've been very consistent with that.

But each stage has been a difficult decision. I put it to you that in the circumstances that we now find the world in, with then ending of the cold war and all the euphoria,

remember last year, the Wall, the Berlin Wall, and an

opportunity to have a world that we hadn't contemplated at any time in the period since the Second World War.

Then suddenly to have that opportunity shattered, if you like, by the aggression of one individual, one nation, against a small neighbour. It calls for a very clear-cut decisive response. Now we are establishing, as George Bush says, a set of principles for this new world order. It's very important in that context that aggressors be stopped.

And, of course, from the point of view of a country like Australia, we have a lot of interests in the Gulf area, not just trading interests, but of course, the significance of the Gulf and petrol prices to our economy are very real. And so in the context of a difficult new circumstances of

the world, emerging new world order, and the significance of the Gulf region to Australia, we thought an appropriate response was of the type that has been made.

And I think that is the opinion of the great bulk of

Australians, even though, of course, there are always going to be differences of opinion and I, I'm one who feels some of these differences personally in the sense that I

remember campaigning in the streets in the 1960s against the Vietnam W a r .


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We all make decisions about circumstances as they evolve, but I'm confident that in the current circumstances we are making the appropriate response and in that sense, there has been very strong bipartisan support.

I put it to you, the two-day Parliamentary sitting this week, Neil, the essential thing there, I think, is a very strong show of national unity and support of our men and women that are in the Gulf. I think that's an opportunity

that Parliament provides and I sincerely hope that we can put a unified front.


Yes, that was going to be the last question, in fact,

Parliament sits Monday, Tuesday, what will you do? I mean, that's your aim, to get a message out of unity, is it.


Yes, principally I think it's an opportunity to do two things. One, obviously, for the Prime Minister to report to the Parliament as he needs to do and to provide all the details he can about what is happening and our role in

relation to that and thereby facilitating a debate on those issues.

But I think secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there's the opportunity for us as a group of Parliamentarians representing a wide cross-section, a full nation of

Australia, but all walks of life, to provide a very clear statement of unity in support of our men and women in the Gulf, and, of course, to send a very clear message to

Saddam Hussein that we are not fazed by anything that he might do. We are actually determined to drive him out of Kuwait.


Dr Hewson, thank you very much for talking to u s . I wonder if you could just hang on for one moment, please.


Thanks Nei l .


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Thank Y o u . Dr John Hews on, the Opposition Leader. As I said, Parliament sits Monday, two o'clock I think, in fact is the sitting time. We will see if we can arrange with

Dr Hews on to get him on the program on Monday morning.

Well, to go through the developments and perhaps just expand on what the plans of the Opposition are through that two-day sitting.