Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Prime Minister discusses federal election; nuclear waste; temporary protection visas; Iraq; US Ambassador; Kim Beazley; WMD intelligence; David Kemp; Goldstein preselection; advertising; drugs in sport; and Shane Warne.



Download PDFDownload PDF

PRIME MINISTER

14 July 2004

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH JON FAINE, ABC RADIO MELBOURNE

Subjects: election; nuclear waste; temporary protection visas; Iraq; Thomas Schieffer; Kim Beazley; WMD intelligence; David Kemp; Goldstein pre-selection; advertising; drugs in sport; Shane Warne.

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………….

FAINE:

Mr Howard, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, Jon.

FAINE:

We are having a rehearsal, aren’t we? A dress rehearsal for an election campaign?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve been a fairly frequent guest of yours over the last few years, haven’t I?

FAINE:

Indeed you have.

PRIME MINISTER:

I normally accept your invitations. I’m not a person who tries to pick and choose when I appear. Jon, I don’t have any further to say on that. But three years of the current parliament doesn’t run out until the tenth of November and legally the election can be held in the early part of next year.

www.pm.gov.au

FAINE:

Even up to April indeed.

PRIME MINISTER:

Constitutionally that would be very unlikely, but legally possible. So it really is pointless pursuing it because I don’t know when it’s going to be held - I have not made up my mind.

FAINE:

Do you have a whiteboard in your head and you’re ticking off the dates and working it out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I think about it quite a bit but I have not made up my mind - honestly.

FAINE:

And when you do make up your mind obviously we’ll be given a short campaign or a long campaign - which one would you prefer?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, a normal campaign in this country is about 33 days. That’s the time that’s required by the law and law will be observed.

FAINE:

Is it a tactic of the Liberal Party to see whether or not with a long and drawn out build up to a campaign you can get Mark Latham to put his foot in his mouth a couple of times along the way?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is a political contest going on all the time. The contest starts the day after the last one and that’s the parry and thrust of politics as well as the process of Government and the two get more intermingled and distorted, I guess, the closer you get to an election but I am a victim of the fact that everybody know we have three year polls and the closer you get to that three years the more everything is seen through the prism of preparing for the election even though in some cases it may not be. Although on other occasions it clearly is. I don’t think there is anything amazing about acknowledging that political parties who seek to win office do take some decisions with an eye to their impact on the public. That’s part of our job, but what you’ve got to try to do is make sure that those sorts of decisions are also consistent with good policy and that’s what people make judgements on.

FAINE:

John Howard as the victim is not an association I would readily make, but that’s the word you just....

2

PRIME MINISTER:

(inaudible)

FAINE:

Indeed, indeed. I’m playing, aren’t I?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, of course, you are. You enjoy doing that too.

FAINE:

Prime Minister, clearing the decks though clearly is a decision to nullify a significant issue in South Australia that could have cost you two or even three seats in South Australia which was the decision taken by the Science Minister to impose a national nuclear dump in South Australia, that’s an indication of clearing the decks along with policy changes on temporary protection visas, politicians’ superannuation - all of these things are narrowing and defining the territory for this election campaign. What happened to sound policy and good decision making?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, can we take each of those in turn? Can I take first of all the nuclear waste dump? I understand why you put it in the context of South Australia and marginal seats, of course, I do. On the other hand, there was that decision of the full federal court and the legal advice we had was that our prospects of succeeding before the High Court were at best 50/50. So we therefore had to confront a genuine dilemma and that genuine dilemma is that although in general terms the States have all agreed for years that there should be a national repository of nuclear waste everybody says it shouldn’t be in their state. So yes, we support the policy in general but we totally and vigorously oppose it in particular. So what we have decided is that because of the destructive attitude being taken by the States and it is a destructive attitude of all of them saying, well, we’re in favour of you fixing the problem but we’re not going to let you do it on our territory and even if it’s on Commonwealth land we’ll do our level best to frustrate it. So what we’ve said, okay, in view of the federal court decision we’ll accept the reality of that and each state can look after its own waste and the Commonwealth which has got waste - we’re talking here about, you know, low level waste which potentially contaminated gloves, garments, things like that. We’re not talking about nuclear rods here. But what we will do - we’ll conduct a search, see if we can find some commonwealth land either on shore or off shore and we’ll put the commonwealth low level waste there and we’ll require the States to look after their own.

FAINE:

Where’s the Commonwealth waste going to go? You’ve already conducted that search, that’s how you came up with the Woomera site?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, that was for a national repository.

3

FAINE:

Yeah, so now the Commonwealth repository will be where, presumably Woomera?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we don’t know. We haven’t conducted the research.

FAINE:

(inaudible) on Woomera still can’t you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we have indicated that because we want to co-locate the low level with the intermediate level and that we’ve given a previous undertaking that the intermediate level waste will not be in South Australia, it won’t therefore in South Australia.

FAINE:

Alright. So you’ve got an acknowledgement at least that there are marginal seats in South Australia.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, that’s self evident irrespective of whether you had nuclear waste dump issue or not.

FAINE:

But you suddenly nullify yet another issue?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that is something that the voters will decide on election day. But I’m responding to your charge that there’s no good policy content in the decision because we’ve reached a situation where because of the attitude of the States and because the States have constitutional control over land management and because of the decision of the Federal Court, because the advice we’ve received about the High Court, because of the capacity of the South Australian Government to declare the area in question a National Park if it could get the legislation through the South Australian parliament - I can see quite plainly that the implementation of the policy agreed to incidentally 12 years ago when I wasn’t Prime Minister and when Mr Keating was Prime Minister and solemnly sworn to by all of the States incidentally, all of which at that time had Governments of the opposite political persuasion. Jon, I’ve got to say - this is federalism at its worst....

FAINE:

It certainly is.

4

PRIME MINISTER:

...and a couple of weeks ago we had federalism at its best when the States came together on water and I was proud of the way the federal system worked on that occasion with the exception of one Premier who I think was very parochial. But on this occasion, you see the worst aspects of uncooperative federalism in this country. I mean, this has come about because of the, “not in my backyard...”...

FAINE:

So why shy away from a fight?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m prepared to fight things where you have a prospect of victory. But given the court decision there was nothing to be achieved by going on and if the States are refusing in practice to cooperate, if they’re adopting this destructive attitude then I will flush back on them the responsibility of looking after their own waste. If they want to play sovereign state politics, “not in my state” politics, okay they can do that but they will have to look after their own waste.

FAINE:

The same approach has been taken, Amanda Vanstone since she became Minister for Immigration has basically undone all the work that Phil Ruddock was doing on your behalf when he was the previous Minister for Immigration and you’ve now got a remarkably different set of policies and attitudes in place...

PRIME MINISTER:

(inaudible) I don’t (inaudible) can I tell you why?

FAINE:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just tell you - no. The principle objective of our policy in relation to asylum seekers was to stop the boats coming. That was the objective and you know that, your listeners know that, the Australian public knows that and we achieved that.

FAINE:

Well, was it to appeal to people to vote for you at the next election?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it was to stop the boats coming. You’re entitled to make that as a comment. I don’t agree with it, but what I’m pointing out to you as a matter of fact is that the core of the policy was to stop the boats coming and that policy has been an outstanding success because the boats have stopped coming and if we had adopted the Labor Party’s advice, if we had not adopted

5

the Pacific Solution, if we had invited people who’ve been wanting to come to this country illegally to be processed on the mainland the boats would still be coming.

FAINE:

Is that right, Prime Minister or could you have separated out the issues? Children overboard separately from Tampa...?

PRIME MINISTER:

But that is a separate issue and you know that and your listeners know that. The issue that concerned rightly the Australian public three years ago was that this country was seen as a soft touch for people smugglers and illegal immigrants and we set about adopting a policy that stopped that and that policy was effectively opposed by the Labor Party, is still opposed by the Labor Party because of its muddled approach which basically invites people who want to come to this country illegally to be processed on the mainland. See, the great deterrent in our policy was when we took the stand three years ago to say, you’re not going to come to this country and be processed on the mainland and it was that policy and the boarder protection policies that we have enforced that have turned the boats around. Now, that is a separate issue from how you in a practical sense deal with people who are on temporary protection visas and what we’ve said is that those who are working in the community and I have had plenty of people talk to me about people who have been working in rural areas (inaudible) and they've said isn't it sensible to let them apply for a mainstream visa, and we have decided to allow that to occur. In relation to the others, well where they can... they're on temporary protection visas... they all want to apply for new ones and then those who get them will get them and those who don't will be given this new category called a return pending visa, which allows them to stay for another 18 months, and we'll give them reintegration assistance if they can go back to the country from which they came.

FAINE:

The alternative reason is...

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it is a very sensible policy. I really do.

FAINE:

Of course you do. You've introduced it. You could have with the Indonesian authorities' cooperation introduced a range of measures that you have introduced to deal with the people smugglers in Indonesia without needing to demonise the people who made it to Australia and made applications when they got here.

PRIME MINISTER:

Jon, the crucial turning point in all of this was when we put our hand up in relation to the Tampa and said we've had enough of this and we're not going to allow people to arrive here illegally. Now that was a crucial turning point. If we hadn't have done that and we hadn't adopted the Pacific Solution, so derided and ridiculed by the Labor Party, wrongly in my view, we would never have turned this policy around. Now having done that and having

6

turned back the boats and having sent that signal, it is now only sensible and compassionate and the right thing to do in the way that we are proposing in relation to these people.

FAINE:

So you don't think you could have severed out some parts of all of that policy, the Pacific Solution, Manus Island, the massive amounts of money that was spent detaining a few people, kids in detention...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the massive amounts of money involved Jon, may I say, if you're going to run an economic argument, the pre Tampa policy was infinitely more expensive because of what was involved in processing people who were being allowed by the middle of 2001 to come in their thousands to this country.

FAINE:

Well some thousands had arrived, but you don't think we could have made that offshore, you could only deal with that with a raft of issues, a raft of measures, all of which you see bundled together in separate (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no. (inaudible) there aren’t always nuances to everything, but that's not what we're talking about. We're talking out here about the core of our policy.

FAINE:

Okay. Do you acknowledge there's been a human cost to some of those people?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there's a human cost involved when people take their children on leaky boats, an enormous human cost. And if you're starting to talk about human cost, of course there is. There's a human cost... there would have been an immense human cost involved, if I can switch subjects but you'll take me back to this one, immense human cost involved if Saddam had not been overthrown.

FAINE:

And we'll talk about that...

PRIME MINISTER:

People keep talking about, you know, the human cost involved in our involvement. They don't acknowledge the human cost if he hadn't have been overthrown. But going back to the boat people issue, there are immense human costs involved in decisions that are taken. But our view was that we could no longer accept the situation where people saw this country as an easy target, and the only way, in my view, to turn it around was to essentially take the action that we did.

7

FAINE:

I don't want to get bogged down on it. I think we have.

PRIME MINISTER:

(inaudible) issue.

FAINE:

But politically again you've managed to clear the decks. What was said to be a nagging issue, the “doctors’ wives” issue, which was ticking away...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that's not language I've ever used.

FAINE:

You've heard it though, surely.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well people have a range of views, but the Government faced, quite apart from any political considerations, the Government faced the challenge of how to deal with a situation where...

FAINE:

Well it was becoming...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, from a legal point of view. Lots of people, their TPV's were coming to an end and you had to have a way of dealing with that, and we have devised a way of dealing with that which I believe is fair, and whether it gathers support in the Australian community, we'll have to wait and see.

FAINE:

Just before the nine o'clock news Prime Minister, I'm not sure if you were here in time, we were speaking to a community health centre doctor about a group of Kosavars who are still here. They came at our invitation five years (inaudible) ago. And there's a group of 30 from families who are still here in Australia and their deadline is two weeks from now, the end of the month of July, on whether or not they have to leave or whether they'll be allowed to stay in Australia, having now put down roots. We know some of the Timorese who have been allowed to stay have as well. Are you prepared to have a look at their case?

8

PRIME MINISTER:

Well my understanding is that their situation is being examined by the Minister, and given that she has certain discretions in these areas, I don't think I can sensibly do more than say I'll refer the issue to her.

FAINE:

The United States were criticised over the last few weeks for intervening in Australian politics by various people. You at the time said you couldn't see there was anything wrong with Richard Armitage and various other figures, Dick Cheney amongst others in the US administration, commenting on what was going on in terms of the Australian alliance when Mark Latham was under fire. Now of course he's appointed Kim Beazley as his defence spokesman and the American Ambassador praises him. So do we get the tables turning now? Do you tell the American Ambassador to butt out of Australian politics?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don't. He's being a diplomat. Diplomats are meant to be diplomats, and it's the role of a diplomat to have relations with both sides of politics in the country where they're appointed to represent their country. But Mr Beazley may have come back, but Mr Latham is calling the shots.

FAINE:

On defence issues?

PRIME MINISTER:

Mr Latham is calling the shots on all national security issues, and this latest policy of his is just a patch-up job for the election. I mean that is as plain as the nose on your face. A few weeks ago he was wearing his anti-Americanism as a badge of honour and he went out of his way to insult the Americans, and because he feels a little bit of domestic political heat on that, he tries a patch-up job. And he's produced a policy which is still very contradictory and very confused, and nothing can divert one from that fact that he's proposing to bring home our trainers, and yet they are arguably of all the people we have in Iraq, they are arguably as crucial or more crucial to a stable future for Iraq than any other component because they are responsible for training an Iraqi army, and if Iraq is to have a hope of surviving on its own feet, it needs effective army personnel and it needs an effective security force. And to reef out of that country those Australians who are responsible for delivering that, is striking a blow at Iraq's future rather than helping it.

FAINE:

Twenty-five past nine. But Kim Beazley, you've been on the record saying that if you had a war cabinet, across all parties war cabinet, you'd put Kim Beazley in it. So in a way I suppose he's goes there with... to the front bench again as Defence Shadow Minister with your endorsement almost?

9

PRIME MINISTER:

Look John I don't retract previous things I've said. I'm not going to be a hypocrite. I'm simply making the point that the policy is what matters, and the policy is Mr Latham's policy. The policy is confused and contradictory and it's a patch-up job for the election and it doesn't really persuade anybody.

FAINE:

Meanwhile in the UK they're about to have the inquiry, the Butler inquiry, handed down into whether or not the intelligence reports on weapons of mass destruction were reasonable and sustained. In the US of course the reports are coming down there. Are you ready yet to concede, we've discussed this every time you've come in since the war, are you yet prepared to concede that there are no weapons of mass destruction?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what I'm... I obviously acknowledge is that the stockpiles have not been found. Of course. I've said that before.

FAINE:

Last time I asked you this, you said - but it might...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well whilever works goes on, you have to acknowledge that that work goes on. Those stockpiles have not been found, but I do not retreat from the decision that we took, not for a moment, because that decision was based on an honest assessment of all of the circumstances, including the intelligence material that was available. And you will notice that in the United States, the Senate report did not suggest that the CIA had been leant on politically.

FAINE:

No, they...

PRIME MINISTER:

And I don't know, because the Butler report has not been published, however the report from Fran Kelly on the ABC this morning said that it is reported that it will not suggest that there was any political interference. There will be apparently, according to the reports again, a reference to the 45 minute deployment, that reference was made by Mr Blair - you will recall that I did not make that reference and you'll also be aware that the language that I used in relation to the intelligence material we had was careful and it was a fair representation. Intelligence can never provide irrefutable proof. If you wait for irrefutable proof, you have another Pearl Harbour. That was the point I made in March of last year. The intelligence material in front of me presented a very strong circumstantial case that was convincing. It did not provide irrefutable proof. I didn't expect it to. Now we made an honest assessment, taking that into account. We also took into account the importance of the American alliance. That was a factor.

10

FAINE:

But it was wrong, that report, the intelligence reports you were relying on were wrong.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the latest assessments that had been made by other bodies... well they are critical of it. They're not saying every element of it is wrong. They... no they're not, and they're not saying that. They are very, very critical of the intelligence agencies. But you're asking me to reflect on the decision that I took. Now I'm not sorry...

FAINE:

If you knew then what you know now, would you still...

PRIME MINISTER:

(inaudible) our lives in different... I mean that's, you know, that's...

FAINE:

(inaudible) had we all...

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly, exactly. I mean we can all sort of ask those questions. But you're asking me do I regret the decision we took. No, I do not. And I say to those people who continue to criticise the decision, that if their advice had been followed, Saddam Hussein would still be running Iraq, he would still be running Iraq, and nobody can escape that. And could I also say that I was not alone in asserting the existence of weapons of mass destruction. Mr Rudd, Mr Crean, I think even Jacques Chirac probably acknowledged that there were weapons of mass destruction. The argument was not whether there were weapons. The argument was how you dealt with it - whether you waited interminably for the 19th resolution of the United Nations Security Council or you took action legally based on the then existing resolutions.

FAINE:

Couple of local issues.

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

FAINE:

David Kemp, Environment Minister, Minister for Goldstein down in Brighton and Black Rock area of Melbourne has decided to jump ship, he got rolled recently in Cabinet on environment policy, that’s well known. This is the price you pay is it not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Jon, you know, your commentary, he’s done a great job as an Environment Minister and I wish him and his family well, he’s been a great servant of the Liberal Party and he has been a

11

very good Environment Minister. But he’s decided to retire, he spoke to me only a couple of nights ago to let me know that and the Party will now choose another candidate.

FAINE:

In a rush, in a hurry, almost in a panic.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think in a panic, this has happened before, I seem to remember before the last election Mr Reith stood down, Dr Wooldridge stood down, we selected good candidates - Greg Hunt and Tony Smith and they won and won handsomely and are making a great contribution.

FAINE:

You seem to outlast them all don’t you John Howard? You’ve got more stamina than the rest of them put together?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I hope my maker has endowed me with some stamina.

FAINE:

No doubt whatsoever about that. Rumours of course in Liberal circles, Andrew Robb is putting up his hand, your former director, but Michael Kroger’s name, Jeff Kennett’s name has even been mentioned. Are you going to put the (inaudible) on any of them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, look I’ll tell you what, we will have a democratic pre-selection, we will in fact allow the party members in Goldstein to have a vote, now that’s a little different from…

FAINE:

Peter Garrett.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. We sort of have this rather old fashioned view that if you belong to the Liberal Party and you care enough about the Liberal Party to be a member you ought to have a right to participate in its crucial decisions and I would have thought choosing a member, a candidate for a safe seat is the very thing that a party member should be involved in. So therefore, okay, it may be old fashioned, it may take a bit longer and you won’t be able to have these columns saying oh aren’t the Liberals smart, they’ve put somebody in there, they’ve parachuted him or her in and aren’t they clever? We’re going to say to the branch members in Goldstein and the pre-selection committee, we’re going to let you exercise your democratic right. Now you mentioned three people, I mean Andrew Robb is fantastic, he was a very good national director, I don’t know what he’s, I mean I know he’s thinking about it, I think everybody knows that. I have said for a long time that I’d like to see Michael Kroger in Federal Parliament, in fact some years ago in a different environment, when I was not the party leader I think I encouraged Michael to have a go. I don’t know what Jeff’s intentions are in relation, if he wants to return to politics well he’s very welcome, my understanding is he’s not interested in returning to politics but I could be wrong about that. But I’m not going to…

12

FAINE:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Well of course, look I know this game. But look I would like to see a strong field and I would like to see a strong candidate emerge because it’s a good Liberal seat with a great Liberal tradition but democracy will prevail in Goldstein, unlike Kingsford-Smith.

FAINE:

A couple of quick things, time is running away from us, are we going to get more government election ads, at the moment I can count environment, Medicare, citizenship, domestic violence, even smoking, superannuation…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think that anybody could possibly argue that the domestic violence campaign, which incidentally we were harassed about by the Labor Party, they ran around saying why isn’t it on; anti-smoking surely people don’t object to that, I mean I think that’s the sort of ad that could justify the (inaudible)…

FAINE:

… totality of them all at once, the impression you get is that the Government is pumping more (inaudible)…

PRIME MINISTER:

There is nothing wrong at all in running ads about those sorts of things, people will debate, I mean I defend very strongly the Medicare ads, very strongly, because there are big changes to the Medicare system and it is amazing how little information can filter through to people if you adopt the normal communications channels.

FAINE:

27 to 10, we’re running late, very quickly, drugs in sport, Kevin Gosper this morning on this programme defending the processes of the Australian Olympic Committee saying that he expects we will have a guaranteed drug free team in place for Athens and that the current controversy will all be sorted out. Do you share his confidence?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can only say I hope so, I’m not directly involved. I know the people who run the Olympic Committee, I have a lot of respect for their commitment to the movement, I’m sure that they are sincere in what they say, I’m sure that Mr Gosper and Mr Coates and all the others are very sincere, I hope that that goal can be realised.

FAINE:

And we also of course have Shane Warne…

13

PRIME MINISTER:

Congratulations to him.

FAINE:

Shane Warne equally the world (inaudible), Channel Nine under fire for going off to a quiz show rather than …

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think that was a mistake.

FAINE:

Can you have a chat to Kerry about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I don’t do that any more than I have a chat to the Chairman of the ABC every time I’m unhappy about something the ABC does.

FAINE:

Oh that would never happen Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

What? Be unhappy? Or… oh no, come on.

FAINE:

So congratulations to Shane Warne.

PRIME MINISTER:

Indeed, I think it’s fantastic, but I can understand his point though about where they might just change places over the years…

FAINE:

He and Muralitharan.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, he and Muralitharan.

FAINE:

Well it’s going to happen almost inevitably.

PRIME MINISTER:

Inevitably, yes.

14

15

FAINE:

Look forward to seeing you again during the election campaign Prime Minister, thank you for sparing some time for us today.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]