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Prime Minister discusses Bali; terrorism; Brian Deegan's letter; Iraq; Fred Nile's comments; and retirement.



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22 November 2002

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH PHILLIP CLARK, 2GB

Subjects: Bali; terrorism; Brian Deegan’s letter; Iraq; Fred Nile’s comments; retirement.

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………………...

CLARK:

I'm pleased to say Prime Minister, John Howard, joins me on the line this afternoon. Prime Minister, good afternoon.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good afternoon, Phillip.

CLARK:

It seems investigations aren't progressing well into the Bali bombing from we can read apparently only six more suspects to catch and the mastermind behind the bombings, apparently this Imam Samudra apparently confessed which does confirm, I understand, the link between the bombings and Jemaah Islamiyah. You must be pleased with the level of cooperation and the speed of the investigation so far?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am and the information I have from the Federal Police is that the investigation has gone extremely well. There has been very close cooperation between the Australian Police and the Indonesian Police. I want to record my thanks to the Indonesian authorities. It goes back to the agreement that was reached when Alexander Downer and our Justice Minister, Chris Ellison, went to Jakarta two days after the atrocity, met senior Indonesian ministers and the President and arising out of that, and also of course the conversation I'd had with her only hours after the bomb went off, there's been very close cooperation. And it's very important given all the publicity that was afforded to stories that relations between our two countries were going poorly. I think it's important to look to what as what has happened as distinct from maybe things that were said or things that were reported so far, and I stress so far, the investigation has gone better than many people would have had expected.

PRIME MINISTER

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CLARK:

Yeah, I think that's right.

PRIME MINISTER:

… in terms of the speed of it and I am told by our Federal Police that they are very satisfied about coroboration of the case against firstly, Amrozi and I'm satisfied that the suspects [inaudible] Samudra that there are strong grounds for the allegations that are being made that he was the mastermind. Now…

CLARK:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

That is all very welcome news and I have felt that since this happened that the most important thing we had to do was to make sure that there was close cooperation between Australia and Indonesia. We couldn't have done this on our own. The crime was committed in Indonesia, it was not committed in Australia. And it was essential that there be very close cooperation between the police forces of the two countries. And I again record my thanks to the Indonesian authorities and I also compliment the Australian Federal Police and the police officers of the State authorities, they have been in there with federal colleagues. It's been a great Australian operation. It's not over yet by a long shot, but…

CLARK:

Has there been some sort of feeling of perhaps the Indonesians may not have the ability to crack this or were dragging the chain? I think we can put that to one side because that's not been the case.

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not saying… the whole thing has gone very well and give credit where it is due. And the important point to emphasise is that the police forces of both countries have worked together and that's very important.

CLARK:

I spoke to Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, earlier Mr Howard about the climate now, I think, for increased border security at probably all levels and wondered to Mr Ruddock whether many of his critics would now eat their words. Well, politics being politics I suppose they won't, in your case as well. But there seems to be, I would think in the community, a case for great support for an increased border regime at possibly all levels. Is that the way the Government's heading?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we don't want to make the place an armed camp, nobody wants that. We are still a very welcoming, friendly country. We have a strong immigration program and we'll continue that.

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We'll continue to have a humanitarian refugee program. We certainly want to be quite clear though that people who are a potential danger to this country are kept out and that's absolute and I think all Australians want that to occur. They don't want to muck around on something like this, anybody who is a potential danger should be kept out. But equally people who want to make a contribution to Australia, wherever they come from, providing they fit the migration criteria they remain very welcome. We're still a country that needs immigrants. And in all of these things, the most important thing to do is to keep a sense of balance and proportion. We have to be more vigilant, but we can't stop living our free life. We have to keep out people who are a potential danger, but we want to remain open to people who will make good citizens and that 99.9 per cent of people and welcome them.

CLARK:

Yep. It's true, unfortunately true, isn't it, that in the public mind and at least, there's been a connection made between the Muslim religion or the Islamic religion and terrorists? Not that all Muslims are terrorists or anything of that nature, but unfortunately that link is there because that link's been made by the terrorists themselves who preach in apocalyptic terms about the war being… between us and you - you being the west. And it's created a climate in the country where it's very difficult for anybody from that religion now, isn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it is difficult and I feel for them very much. The overwhelming majority of them are committed Australians. I've met many of them who are as distressed as you and I are about what happened in Bali. They obviously resent very deeply that a small number of criminal fanatics have tried to hijack a religion. And you're dealing here with a small number of people whose behaviour is ugly, unacceptable, repugnant to any decent person of the Islamic faith - that has to be stated very strongly. And I want to condemn in the strongest terms any attempt to blacken Islamic people generally with the foul deeds of fanatical Islamic terrorists. History is littered with examples of fanatical fringes of religion doing things that are unspeakable in the names of their religions, and it’s unfair to associate the ordinary people of those religions with their deeds. And I mean this is something that you’ve found in different religions down through the century. I mean we’re dealing here with people who are trying to besmirch and are besmirching and hijacking the good name of people who are just conscientious Muslims and who live a decent law-abiding life and give loyalty to the country of which they are a citizen. And that applies to the great bulk of the quarter of a million Australians of an Islamic background.

CLARK:

I’m sure you’ve seen the letter published in the Australian today by Magistrate Brian Deegan. His son Joshua died in the Bali bombings. He has criticised the Government’s unconditional support of US policies in the Middle East. How do you respond to letters like that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I have read that letter and I will write a full response to the Australian newspaper. I did do a lengthy interview on another radio station following an interview with Mr Deegan. I feel very sorry for him. I feel desperately sorry for the parents of so many of the young people who died in Bali. I don’t agree that we are paying for being close to the United States. The fanatics dislike us and despise us because of who we are and what we represent. They despise Westerners, they despise people who are free and open in their lifestyle, they despise a

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society that gives equality of treatment and opportunity to women as well as men, and in my opinion it’s a test for this country to understand the basis of the hostility that exists to us from these fanatics. It’s interesting that bin Laden in his public statements when he has mentioned Australia, has already twice mentioned what we did in East Timor in critical terms rather than what may have been said about Iraq or said about other things.

CLARK:

He’s obviously misinformed about East Timor. I mean as far as what we know it’s a Catholic country anyway, not [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

His argument was that it was separated from an Islamic country. That was the basis of the criticism. I know that the then province of East Timor was very strongly Catholic, yes, unlike most of Indonesia. But the point being made was that it was an affront to the largest Islamic country in the world that a small part of it was given independence really at the urging and active assistance of Australia. But the point there was that it was that deed more than anything else that has been criticised. Now I’m not suggesting that people extrapolate too much from the broadcast mutterings of this fanatic but I’m trying to make the point that it’s a little simplistic to argue that because we’re close to the United States, these things have happened. But in the end we are an object of hatred because of the type of country we are, and fanatics don’t like free countries. The fanatics will lash out at free countries. And it’s not only countries like Australia that have lost to the deeds of terrorists. [inaudible] countries that perhaps haven’t been as seen as as vocally supporting the United States, countries like Germany and France, their citizens have died in terrorist attacks as well. And of course many Islamic people have been killed in terrorist attacks. There were Islamic people killed in the World Trade Centre. There were Hindu people killed in Bali and probably some Islamic people killed in Bali as well.

CLARK:

Yeah I’m sure that’s probably right. Our SAS troops are out of Afghanistan. I think everyone probably welcomes that decision and thinks it was proper in the circumstances. In relation to recommitting them to any potential conflict in Iraq the Government’s position is still that we are broadly supportive but would have to see what the UN says. Is that it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well our hope is that this would be resolved through the UN and we haven’t taken any decision to commit. We have had contingency discussions with the United States but we have not as a government taken a decision. I hope it is not necessary for any military action to be taken by Iraq. I hope that Iraq complies fully with the UN requests. If it does, if it makes a full declaration, if it cooperates in a totally dismantling and destruction of these weapons of mass destruction then there is no need for any kind of military action and in that sense the ball is very much in Iraq’s court. I wish we didn’t as a world have to confront this issue. It’d be easy to walk away and pretend the problem would go away but those things never do go away simply if you turn your back on them.

CLARK:

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I don’t want to dwell on this but Fred Nile’s proposal to ban the chador in public and other forms of Islamic dress, you seemed to be skipping around a bit yesterday. I mean is it a good idea or not?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. I said yesterday that I didn’t agree with it. I simply say this - that you can’t in a democratic society pass laws telling people how to dress. I think when suggestions like this come up the best way of dealing with them is to just ask yourself the commonsense question, is that the sort of thing that a democratic society can or should do and the answer has to be no.

CLARK:

Yeah. The age old thing is that we don’t want to be moving to emulate some of those societies, you know, which others may come from but we do not want to be like.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we just, I mean we are a tolerant open country and it’s a difficult time at the moment for a lot of people. It is difficult if you are Islamic, there’s a tension, a bit of tension in the community, people feel very aggrieved about what happened and it’s really an occasion for everybody in a sense taking a deep breath about a lot of things and rather than looking around for people to point a finger at it’s better to try and look around for people who you can put an arm around and help. That is a far better way of handling it I do believe, far better.

CLARK:

Yeah. Good way to put it Prime Minister. Just before you go you said in a speech last night that you think people should abandon early retirement. Does that mean you will?

PRIME MINISTER:

I seem to remember answering a question from you on another station about….

CLARK:

I’m just wondering whether you’re putting your plan into action.

PRIME MINISTER:

I was talking generically.

CLARK:

Is the rule going to apply to prime ministers?

PRIME MINISTER:

I was just talking generically. I do think that we went through a cult of early retirements some years ago. I think that’s a mistake. I think we throw on the scrap-heap of early retirement much accumulated wisdom and skill and knowledge and a change of attitude should run through all of society and professional firms should keep their older partners longer on a part

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time basis, people should be encouraged to stay on longer perhaps working fewer hours and fewer days. The idea that you suddenly reach a retirement point and you can’t work another day in a responsible position. I talked to a senior bank man about this a few months ago and he said he held a very commanding position in a bank in Sydney and he had to retire on a particular day and he said it was the busiest day of his life because he knew he had to retire, the he’d sort of worked for 14 hours getting everything ready to sort of hand over to the bloke who was going to take his place. Now people might say he was a bit disorganised but I think what it illustrates is that statutory cleaver points if I can put it that way where the meat cleaver comes down and says you’re out, I think that is silly because as we age as a population we’ll need more and more to find people generating wealth to pay for the retirement support we need to give for the people who can’t work.

CLARK:

Yes exactly.

PRIME MINISTER:

And the longer you can stay in the workforce the better and one of the disturbing things about Australia is that in the age cohort 55 to 64 we have fewer people participating in work in that age cohort, about 47%, 49% versus close to 60% in countries like the United States. Now there’s got to be a reason for that. We’ve got to find some of the reasons and if we can get rid of them so that those people stay on longer.

CLARK:

Yep. Alright Prime Minister, you’ve been generous with your time and I do thank you for that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]