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Prime Minister discusses Amrozi verdict; terrorism; security alert level; death penalty; Mal Colston; John Hewson; stamp duty; and terrorist threat.



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8 August 2003

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH NEIL MITCHELL, RADIO 3AW

Subjects: Amrozi verdict; terrorism; security alert level; death penalty; Mal Colston; John Hewson; stamp duty; terrorist threat.

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………….

MITCHELL:

Mr Howard, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil.

MITCHELL:

What is your reaction to the Democrats suggesting this would be on a par with terrorism?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t agree with them. Neil, I don’t myself support capital punishment in Australia. The reason I don’t support capital punishment is pragmatic. I know that from time to time the law makes mistakes and innocent people can go to the gallows if we have capital punishment, and subsequently if you discover they were innocent, then there is nothing you can do about it. It’s a purely pragmatic thing. What has happened here is that under the law of another country people have been tried. They are citizens of another country. Amrozi is not an Australian citizen. He’s an Indonesian. And I find it extraordinary that anybody can use the word ‘barbarism’ in relation to this matter. I just find that extraordinary. I mean it’s the judicial process of that country. There is a legitimate debate about capital punishment. And I don’t know that people, if I may say so, picking up your introduction, I don’t know that people are dancing in the streets. I don’t feel any sense of jubilation about this and I don’t think people do. But if you have lost somebody, the emotional release of at least thinking that the process of justice has been served, and I’m impressed by the fact that amongst the families of the people who died, some are in favour of the death penalty, some are not. They

PRIME MINISTER

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reflect the division in our community on that matter and they are behaving in an understandable, normal Australian way.

MITCHELL:

You don’t find the popping of champagne corks and the sort of ‘die you bastard, die’ as a little un-Australian?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well these people lost their kids.

MITCHELL:

Sure.

PRIME MINISTER:

And I mean I have met a lot of these people. [inaudible] I remember how they felt. And I just try and put myself in their situation.

MITCHELL:

I think my point is this is going to go on for years now, isn’t it? I worry about people being consumed by revenge.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I don’t think the Australian public is consumed by revenge. I think the Australian public has reacted to this tragedy in a very heartfelt, mature way. Australians know that our lives have been changed forever by the coming of the age of terrorism. There is no doubt about that. It started with the attack in New York and Washington in September of 2001. It came horribly close to our own country and claimed all those lives in Bali. And again this week we’ve been reminded that we’re living in a region that is very unstable and we can’t for a moment imagine that it won’t happen in our own homeland, in one of our cities on the Australian mainland. It could happen. We have to work very hard to prevent it occurring. Now against the background of all of that, I don’t think Australians are behaving in an un-Australian way. They accept realistically that we have to live our lives differently, but they’re determined to get on with their lives. They react in a very passionate way when pain and death is inflicted on their family and their friends, and that’s perfectly normal. I am frankly filled with admiration at the way in which Australians have reacted and adjusted to this new situation.

MITCHELL:

Australia has been involved with Indonesia in helping in the investigation and the rest of it since this happened. Presumably because of that we do have the right to have an opinion and express a view on the death sentence.

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PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. Yes we have a right, and I have chosen as the elected leader of this country to say that I will not be raising any objection to the normal processes of Indonesian law being carried forward. I mean it would be open to me, if I chose, to do otherwise, but I have thought about

this.

MITCHELL:

So you think execution is appropriate?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I think is appropriate is that the law of Indonesia be applied.

MITCHELL:

But do you think it’s appropriate this man be executed?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think he should be dealt with in accordance with the law of Indonesia.

MITCHELL:

But I’m taking it a step further Prime Minister. Do you believe it’s appropriate he be executed?

PRIME MINISTER:

Neil, I’m answering your question. What I’m saying to you is if the law of Indonesia requires that he be executed, then I regard that as appropriate.

MITCHELL:

If he was an Australian? With an Australian citizen you’d have a different view.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Neil, we’re not dealing… I mean please, this is too important and sensitive and heartfelt an issue for us to deal in hypothetical situations. I intend to deal with the facts and the facts are that this man is an Indonesian citizen, he was tried in accordance with Indonesian law, Indonesian law obliges the imposition of the death penalty, it has been imposed and in those circumstances, I regard that as appropriate and I do not intend, in the name of the Australian people, to ask the Indonesian Government to refrain from the imposition of that penalty.

MITCHELL:

Do you hold that view if the remaining five are found guilty?

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well let me hear the evidence. Let me state the principle and then say I’m not going to hypothesise about future trials. The principle is that these people should be brought to justice in accordance with the processes of Indonesian law, and that is what… may I just finish … this is important… That is what the Australian people would demand if this crime had been committed in Australia.

MITCHELL:

9696 1278 if you’d like to speak to the Prime Minister. I guess the broader point and perhaps even the more important point now Prime Minister is the effect of the sentence. Do you believe that this sentence will reduce the terrorism risk in this region?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s more likely that it will be neutral.

MITCHELL:

You don’t think it will increase it either?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can only speculate. The more that you communicate a capacity to apprehend, try and convict people involved in terrorism, the greater is the warning given to the terrorists. When I answered neutral, I was thinking more in terms of the actual verdict, as distinct from the whole process.

MITCHELL:

Well do you think the death penalty will reduce or increase the risk of terrorism in this region?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the death penalty will have a different impact on different people, and therefore I think it’s probably neutral.

MITCHELL:

This man seems to seek martyrdom. Is this what we’re giving him?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t believe so.

MITCHELL:

Why?

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well in the long run, people who decide to embark upon terrorism have already embarked upon a fanatical mode of behaviour, and I don’t know that the execution or the sentencing to life of somebody like that is going to alter the original decision.

MITCHELL:

I noticed the judges in their sentencing said they thought this would prevent a repetition or help to prevent a repetition. You don’t agree with that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I hope they’re right. I think terrorism is going to be with us for a long time. We have begun the fight against it. It’s a fight that will involve greater emphasis on intelligence gathering and cooperation between the agencies of different countries. It will involve also dealing with issues that give rise to conditions that can be exploited by terrorists. I do believe that one of the most positive things that have come out of the Iraq war has been the renewed push for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. If that settlement can be achieved, that will remove an argument that the terrorists have used.

MITCHELL:

Has there been any consideration given as a result of what has happened over the past week, both the Jakarta bombing and now this sentencing, of increasing the security alert in this country?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not as a result of those two events. We would only seek to increase the security alert in Australia if there were specific pieces of intelligence or advice which suggested that there was a need within Australia for it to be increased.

MITCHELL:

Is that the situation at the moment? You’re considering that?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, because we don’t have anything of a particular character which would warrant that happening.

MITCHELL:

We’ll take a break and come back with more from the Prime Minister, including your calls - 9696 1278 - and other issues I’d like to touch.

[commercial break]

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MITCHELL:

The Prime Minister is in our Sydney studio. Mr Howard, before we leave the security issue, as I mentioned also, a British family - one with a Bali victim - is appealing against the death sentence. They want Amrozi to spend time in jail instead. Presumably you would hope that appeal fails if it goes ahead?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t know that I’ve quite thought about it. I’ve expressed my view Neil, and my view is that the law of Indonesia should be applied, and if the law of Indonesia requires the imposition of the death penalty and if the appeal processes within Indonesia result in the death penalty being imposed, then that is appropriate and I’m not going to object.

MITCHELL:

What do you say to people planning to travel to Asia at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I advise them to consult the travel advisories. We’re warning against non-essential travel to Indonesia. There is nothing unsafe about travelling to most parts of Asia on the current advice we have, but people should look in relation to individual countries when they talk to their travel agents about the travel advice.

MITCHELL:

There is a report out of Indonesia today, out of Jakarta in fact, saying that it is not yet certain that the attack in Jakarta on the Marriott hotel was by JI or any group of Muslim fanatics but possibly an attack on the Indonesian Government. Do you have that information?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t have any information that would confirm that. All of the preliminary information and assessments I have indicate that it is almost certainly JI.

MITCHELL:

Hello Michael, go ahead please Michael.

CALLER:

Yeah good morning. This guy that they’re putting to death, I think first off that they should be making him suffer first, I mean he wants to die a martyr and by putting him straight to death, giving him what he wants, he should be made to suffer first, I mean he caused so much suffering for so many other people.

MITCHELL:

We are getting, thanks Michael, a lot of reaction like that Prime Minister saying torture him first. What’s your response?

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m not in favour of that. I’m in favour of applying the law of Indonesia. We don’t control this process.

MITCHELL:

No, but we’ve got a right to have a say in it.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we’ve got a right to express an opinion and that is what I’m doing. And I’m not reluctant to express an opinion, I know some people disagree with me, some people say that I should be thumping the table and saying don’t execute the man, I’m not going to do that because I do

respect the judicial processes of Indonesia, I also believe that for me to do that would offend many Australians who lost people, who legitimately feel as decent Australians that a death penalty is appropriate. See there is a division in our community on the death penalty, many Australians who are a decent and as moderate as I hope both you and I are actually have a different view on the death penalty and perhaps your view and my view is different, I don’t know, but I know lots of Australians who believe that a dealt penalty is appropriate and they are not barbaric, they’re not insensitive, they’re not vindictive, they’re not vengeful, they’re people who believe that if you take another's live deliberately then justice requires that your life be taken. Now I have a different view from that because I’ve read of and I’ve seen the law make mistakes, and it’s a terrible thing to judicially murder somebody and subsequently find that that person is innocent and that’s why I have this pragmatic view so far as Australian courts are concerned that we shouldn’t impose the death penalty. We’re dealing here with the citizen of another country whose murdered 88 of our own in another country and the law of that other country says the death penalty is appropriate. Now I am prepared to accept that, I will not object to it and I think it is appropriate because I respect the judicial processes of that other country. And if we are to get the total co-operation between Australia and Indonesia in the war against terrorism that could go on for years one of the things we have to do is develop a code of mutual respect and co-operation between the judicial systems of our two countries.

MITCHELL:

We’ll take one more call then we’ve got other issues to move onto. Please, Chris go ahead.

CALLER:

Yes, good morning Neil and Mr Howard. Mr Howard I might just say to you that I find the government, including your own and other past governments, very hypocritical when it comes to the death penalty here in this country. Quite happy to see the death sentence carried out over there to their law, I want to know why it is that we haven’t got the right here, why it’s not being put up as an electoral point where we can’t vote to have the people to decide whether or not the death sentence be reintroduced here.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well a couple of things on that, firstly the criminal law of this country is overwhelmingly administrated by state governments and I don’t, even if I’m in favour of the death penalty, I couldn’t pass a law to apply the dealt penalty for example in the state of Victoria. You can

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raise, and this matter can be pursued at a state political level, you say why haven’t you got the right? Well that’s up to the Victorian Government.

MITCHELL:

I assume from what you’re saying today that you are not supporting the reintroduction of the capital punishment in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not supporting the reintroduction, I mean my position, let me repeat, is for reasons of pragmatic concern that the law from time to time will make mistakes, I am against the death penalty. That is the basis, always has been the basis of my objection. But I respect the fact that a lot of people are in favour of the death penalty, a lot of people who are close to me are in favour of the death penalty. It’s just that different people have different views.

MITCHELL:

What do mean people close to you? You mean in your Cabinet?

PRIME MINISTER:

Just generally, Cabinet friends, etc, etc. You know more friends than others. But I’ve had this view for a long time and its been debated ad nauseam in Australia and if people want to raise it again it would be open for example to the Victorian Opposition, if you have a different view on this matter to promote it as an electoral issue, I’m not encouraging them to do so but I’m just making the point that there should be debate on it, I mean nobody’s trying to stop debate on it, we’re debating it now and I’m expressing a view.

MITCHELL:

Okay. If we can move onto some other matters, do you believe that the states should index stamp duty on real estate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Index it?

MITCHELL:

Yeah. Link it to the moving house prices.

PRIME MINISTER:

But it happens.

MITCHELL:

Well no, not adequately, the house prices have soared well ahead and the levels of the (inaudible) stamp duty haven’t gone up.

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think stamp duty is pretty high at the moment, I’m not in favour of anything that makes it higher.

MITCHELL:

No, no but I’m suggesting that if you index it it will be lower because your thresholds will increase.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I’m sorry, I see what you’re getting at. Well I think the states should look at different ways of reducing stamp duty.

MITCHELL:

You think it’s too high?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I think the states have made an absolute bonanza out of stamp duty.

MITCHELL:

Which is really out of the inflation in house prices.

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course, I mean my core argument on this is that back in 2001 when we doubled the home savings grant for new houses I wrote to every State Premier and said we’ve got a slump in the housing industry, we’re going to double the first home owners grant, why don’t you reduce

stamp duty as a further contribution to stimulating the housing industry and they all said no, yet sat by and reaped hundreds of millions of dollars of more revenue as the reviving home building industry fattened their coffers.

MITCHELL:

Which is exactly what you do with bracket creep.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but we did give some of it back in the last Budget.

MITCHELL:

But why won’t you increase the thresholds in the same why that they do?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes but at least we have done something.

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MITCHELL:

How much of it did you give back Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we gave $2 billion.

MITCHELL:

How much are you taking in?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’re taking in more than that, I accept that, and I didn’t say we’d given it all back but we have given some of it back, at least we have tried.

MITCHELL:

John Hewson, one of your predecessors, has said that you placed Tony Abbott as a spy in his office when he was leader. Is that true?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

MITCHELL:

Did you work with Mr Abbott when he was in John Hewson’s office.

PRIME MINISTER:

I worked with him, I worked with John and we worked together to try and defeat the Keating Government and we were unsuccessful.

MITCHELL:

Well John Hewson obviously thinks that wasn’t going on, is he wrong, totally wrong?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Neil this is, I really don’t want to be seen to be getting into trading differences, particularly over the air with John, I bear John no ill will, I worked with him to try and defeat the Keating Government in 1993, I though Tony Abbott worked very hard for him as a staff person and I was sorry that we didn’t win the election in 1993 but obviously after that people had different views about the leadership of the Liberal Party, that’s perfectly legitimate and John was ultimately replaced as leader by Alexander Downer and I supported Alexander in that ballot and I told John that at the time, before the ballot. And look I don’t really want to, I mean this is a long time ago and I think we should all just move on.

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MITCHELL:

Okay, Mal Colston has again (inaudible) will avoid prosecution although he’s still, or has been ill, he’s still alive. Are you concerned by that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s a decision that’s not in my hands, I can understand why some people will be concerned about it, I can understand that. But if you have an independent process whereby the Director of Public Prosecutions makes these decisions, I have to respect that process. Look I don’t think we should in this country get into a situation where every time a decision is made by a judicial authority, or quasi judicial authority, or a prosectorial authority get into a situation where there’s got to be a political debate on it. There was a day when we respected those processes and whether we like them or not we copped them and look there’s been a decision made, I understand why some people are angry about it, I have to say that, but the Director of Public Prosecutions has made the decision, the Director of Public Prosecutions has statutory independence.

MITCHELL:

The Governor General designate says Australia may change its mind on a republic in five years or so. Do you agree with him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I’ve said, I think it’s possible, I heard what he said last night, or what was reported on the radio this morning, he said the issue could come back, of course it could.

MITCHELL:

You quite happy for him to be discussing these sort of issues as Governor General?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I, heavens above, you can’t just, as he rightly said, go along to something and say you know it’s a nice day, it’s good to see you all. I mean the man’s entitled consistent with not crossing the border, and this is a very important thing, not getting into issues of political controversy, I think people would regard that kind of remark as plain common sense.

MITCHELL:

Prime Minister just finally if we can finish where we started how does Australia move on now? We probably have five or six more years of trials and sentences and the rest out of Bali if the appeals go on, how do we move on?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think we already have, the point I was making earlier was I think Australians have responded very well to the tragedy and also to the threat of terrorism, we are appropriately compassionate to people who’ve lost loved ones, we are determined that justice will be done to the people responsible, and we are working closely with our partners and friends in the

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region, but we are realistic that there could be more terrorist attacks and there could be terrorist attacks on the Australian mainland and that is a grim possibility.

MITCHELL:

That’s the second time you’ve mentioned that in this interview, which to me seems to be a hardening of your warning on the Australian mainland.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s not deliberate, this is the great dilemma that somebody in my position has.

MITCHELL:

That’s why I asked.

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean if I don’t people say he’s being complacent, and if I do, not you but others infer I’m being alarmist. I’m trying to be realistic and candid and frank, we are living in a region which is unstable, we are clearly a more stable country than any in the region, we are clearly a country that is freer of some of the threats that exist in other countries, but we are not immune and we should not imagine that we are immune, now that is the sense, that is the balance of what I am trying to communicate to the Australian public.

MITCHELL:

I sense the longer we go the more likely it is that a fair point.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well last Tuesday’s attack in Jakarta is a brutal reminder, I mean this was an attack that claimed the lives of mainly Indonesians, Muslims, not westerners, but it was an attack outside a hotel which is a symbol, I guess, of a western existence in Indonesia. Now you can’t but re-

warn the Australian community about the possibility but I don’t want anybody to go away from this interview thinking oh he’s got some more information and he’s holding it back, he’s not doing anything of the kind, he’s just trying to be as open and as candid consistent with not unduly alarming people as I should be.

MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]