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Opposition Leader discusses SAS troops; Muslims; and leadership.



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

TRANSCRIPT 0F INTERVIEW - PHILIP CLARK, RADIO 2GB MELBOURNE, THURSDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2002

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: SAS Troops; Australian Muslims; Leadership

CLARK: It’s good to have some cool weather at last after the heat of recent days. Someone who’s been used to the heat all this week, of course, has been the Opposition Leader, Simon Crean. It hasn’t been the best of weeks. He’s had to fend off leadership speculation as well as being mired, to some degree, in the oxygen-stifling atmosphere of international affairs. I mean, I say that because it’s probably difficult for any Opposition Leader to make much headway when lots of the concentration is on the War against Terrorism and the anxieties and fears that go with that. Do we want to be thinking about alternatives in the current climate? I don’t know, and what’s the strategy for it anyway?

Well, Simon Crean joins me on the line this afternoon. Mr Crean, good afternoon.

CREAN: Hi, Philip. How are you?

CLARK: I’m well. This decision to bring the troops home from Afghanistan is the right move, isn’t it?

CREAN: Yes, it’s welcome on two fronts, Philip. Obviously the troops themselves have done a magnificent job and it’s fantastic that they’ll be home for Christmas with their families. But it’s also welcome because, since the Bali bombing, I’ve been calling for the fact that we should make the priority, in terms of our troops etcetera, on the home front in our region, if you like. So it gives us the greater opportunity to reassess the need, the demands, the pressures, here at home.

CLARK: Yes, well that’s true. They’re specialised, highly specialised combat troops, and they probably should be home. The mission in Afghanistan has increasingly lost focus, I would have thought, in recent months.

CREAN: Well, yes, but it’s still important that we’re still part of the effort there in Afghanistan, Philip. The advice from the Chief of Defence Forces was that their role was

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no longer needed, but clearly we are continuing a presence with our naval vessels and with the supply of the P3 Orion surveillance aircraft.

So our commitment in the Afghanistan theatre is still there. But this is the point - after Bali, the Prime Minister said that we were going to reassess our anti-terrorist capacity here. I welcomed that at the time, but I’ve argued since the Bali bombing that the priority has got to be here - on Australian territory, and with our region.

And it’s for that reason that I’ve also called for the establishment here of a Department of Homeland Security so that we can coordinate better the activities. The Americans have just passed this through their own Congress and Senate, Philip. But I think that - given the heightened threat, the warning the other day but, most particularly, since Bali - the threat in our region, we need a better coordinating role here. And that’s what we should be doing. And I urge the Prime Minister to adopt Labor’s proposal in that regard.

I think whilst your introductory point is right, that it’s hard to get the other agendas up, it’s also important in the context of this issue that is dominating, that the leadership of the country is speaking as much as it can with one voice. And I’ve tried to do that as much as I can - putting forward constructive propositions as well to strengthen our fight against the War on Terror.

CLARK: It must be frustrating for you, though, because in essence you’re right. I mean, this is not a time when I think people are looking for a political division or wanting to explore alternatives too much. I mean, they’re really out for a united front, as we all as a community have to be united against this threat. And it’s not really a fertile time for an Opposition Leader, is it?

CREAN: Well, again, I just make the point that I think that people are concerned. They, therefore, want to know that the right steps are being taken. It takes more than just the issuing of warnings, Philip. They want to know that you’re actually taking some steps to better secure, better protect, better gather information. And that’s why the Department of Homeland Security is important. I might say, it’s also the reason I think a Coastguard is important, because we’ve just got to have a policing authority - not just a Defence mechanism around our territory. The Defence one is terribly important if we’re attacked, but if we’re to stop the gun-runners, people-smugglers, drug-smugglers - those sorts of things that threaten us, as well, as a community - you need a cop on the beat. And that’s what the Coastguard is for. And the third thing I argue for is, really, the Prime Minister should be taking up another initiative that I’ve proposed, and that’s the convening of a Leaders’ Summit in the region to get greater cooperation …

CLARK: Who would we invite? We wouldn’t get invited if someone else organised it, would we?

CREAN: Well I think that we’ve just got to work harder. We have had great cooperation in Indonesia through our Australian Federal Police and their policing authority.

CLARK: But, as you know, Australia’s reputation or role or standing in our immediate region is difficult at the moment in a post-Timor environment.

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CREAN: And that’s why our position, in terms of arguing for this, is harder. But we’ve got to work harder, because the threat is there.

CLARK: Yes, yes it is. What do you - I put a question to Alexander Downer earlier in the day. It does concern me, I must say, that there is now I think a link - and probably fairly made in the public mind - between the terrorist threat and the Muslim religion, because this link has been made by the terrorists. I mean, they’ve said, basically, ‘It’s us against you’, and ‘you’ meaning the West. It’s led to a climate of fear and anxiety that I think is almost unparalleled. I can’t remember a time like it.

CREAN: Yes, and again, that’s something as a community and a society we’ve got to address. We’ve got to avoid the stereotyping …

CLARK: It’s hard to avoid, though, isn’t it?

CREAN: No, it is something that has to be avoided. If we become a nation divided, if we turn against each other, we diminish ourselves and we expose ourselves.

CLARK: But don’t we need more from the Muslim community in Australia? More of saying, ‘Yes, we stand with you, the Australian community, and not the Muslim community worldwide’. I mean, don’t we need more of that?

CREAN: We do, but I believe that the Muslim leadership has been prepared to come out and say those things. Give them more opportunities to say it, by all means, but we have to stand as a nation against this threat. I mean, the people who are perpetrating this claim to do it in the name of Islam, but they are not doing it in the name of Islam. This is not condoned by the Islamic faith. This is not done in the name of faith. These are terrorists, these are killers.

CLARK: Yes.

CREAN: Nothing can justify …

CLARK: Yes, well, the trouble is a lot of their religious leaders back them, that’s the trouble. I mean, people like this Abu Bakar Bashir - I mean, he turns out to be a terrorist himself. If you take his statements at face value, he hates the West.

CREAN: Yes, but the point, Philip, that shouldn’t be lost sight of is that we have to take every step to stamp out the terrorists …

CLARK: Yes, fair enough.

CREAN: … and that’s where the focus has got to be. Throw the book at the terrorists.

CLARK: Yes.

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CREAN: Do everything that is necessary against the terrorist, but do not stereotype groups in our community, religions in our community, and turn into a sectarian-type argument.

CLARK: Yes, but the danger’s there. That’s the trouble, I think. My guest, Simon Crean, the Opposition Leader. Mr Crean, you must be sick to death of this leadership issue this week.

CREAN: Yes [laughs].

CLARK: Having been a long-time observer of the game, this merry dance, it seems to happen to all Opposition Leaders, too, and the forms of words that are used and so on. It’s almost unreasonable sometimes to expect people to rule out forever and a day that there will ever be a challenge, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t the business really about getting on with the job?

CREAN: It is about getting on with the job, and I must say the ordinary Australian out there is not interested in those issues.

CLARK: No, they’re not.

CREAN: They are interested in this War on Terror, which we’ve got to address. But they are interested in the issues that hurt them …

CLARK: Can I put this to you? …

CREAN: Philip, yesterday I was down at a summit on working hours, getting a balance between work and family. They’re the sorts of issues that matter to Australians.

CLARK: I think that’s right. I think that’s fair enough. And, really, if someone wants to mount a challenge to Simon Crean and they’ve got the numbers and Simon Crean hasn’t got the numbers, then that will happen. Nobody can demand much more than the fact that you’ll be judged on your performance, can they?

CREAN: They haven’t got the numbers, never had the numbers - end of story. But it does show that, when statements can be misinterpreted, how they can dominate a news cycle, but they don’t dominate people’s thinking.

CLARK: Well, you know how they do it. You, of all people, having been there long enough, know how the system works. Alright, Mr Crean, we’ll leave it there. Thank you.

CREAN: My pleasure, Philip.

(ends)