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Prime Minister discusses Abu Musab al Zarqawi; Australian contractor killed in Iraq; East Timor; and David Hicks.



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PRIME MINISTER

9 June 2006

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

Subjects: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; Australian contractor killed in Iraq; East Timor; David Hicks.

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

FAINE:

Good morning to you Mr Howard.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Jon.

FAINE:

First of all, the official Government reaction to the news about al-Zarqawi having been killed in an American air strike north of Baghdad?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s a terrific fillip for the anti-terrorist cause in Iraq. This man was a brutal murderer. He was the architect of the terrorist insurgency in Iraq. He was personally responsible for many deaths. He was, in a mastermind way, responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iraqis

and for many hundreds of citizens of other countries. I don’t pretend that this means that we’ve dramatically turned a corner. I don’t pretend that this means the insurgency or terrorism in Iraq is going to finish, but it represents the removal of somebody who was a dominant force, and it also represents a significant intelligence achievement on the part of the Americans. It looks as though…

www.pm.gov.au

FAINE:

It also seems to be a missed opportunity in some ways. Several callers this morning saying if you’re so secure about knowledge of where he is, even if it puts lives at risk to capture him alive and interrogate him, surely that would be a better option?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think so. It’s very easy to say that after the event. I actually think given that in the past he has eluded capture, and it’s reported that on one occasion he was actually taken into custody and then let go because he wasn’t properly identified, if that course of action had been taken, the one urged by some of your callers, and it had not come off, then just imagine the criticism that would have been levelled at the Americans. I think they have done the right thing.

And the other thing that’s very good is that this has come immediately after the swearing-in of the new Government, and you may have noticed that overnight the new Prime Minister Mr al-Maliki announced the filling of those two remaining positions, the Interior Ministry and the Defence Ministry, two positions that had proved very difficult to fill, and he announced that. So if you take all of those things together, al-Zarqawi’s death, the swearing-in of the new Government, the filling of those two positions, it’s given the new Iraqi Government a degree of momentum. Now I’m not pretending that we should go over the top about this and I thought the reaction of President Bush was very measured and very sensible, if I may say so, that he still pointed out that there was a long way to go.

But this is a big step forward. When you are dealing with a terrorist movement, the leaders of that movement have a certain mystical quality, and true it is that there are plenty of other people who are there to take their places…

FAINE:

And the risk is he becomes a martyr to the cause.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well of course. But you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t. That’s not a reason for letting him go on. He becomes a hero. And I still think when you are dealing with terrorists, a live hero to the terrorists is a bigger threat than a dead martyr.

FAINE:

All right, now a 34-year-old Australian is reported as having been killed in a roadside bomb attack. He was working for a private security firm. What else have you learned about the man who’s died?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have been told some of his personal details but I can’t disclose them until the family does so, out of respect to his family. He does come from Queensland, he was working with a security firm. It is very dangerous work. The man apparently was killed as a result of a bomb. They call them improvised explosive devices. They’re bombs. They’re little, well they’re not little in the sense of the terrible havoc they can wreak.

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FAINE:

Is he a mercenary working in security in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t want to talk about his background in fairness, because that might, in some way, lead to his identity being talked about…

FAINE:

Former military? Former Australian Army?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m simply not going to answer those questions Jon, not because I’m reluctant, but out of respect to the man’s family. It’s for them to say when his name should be released and what should be said about him, not for me.

FAINE:

I understand the need for private security for people who are working as contractors and attempting to work with the Iraqi Government, but it’s a most unpleasant aspect of any war that there are private soldiers.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there are a lot of security people. You might say that every security person in Melbourne is a private policeman.

FAINE:

We’re not at war in Melbourne that I am aware of Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

No but I mean the, you know, soldier, private soldier, the analogy is the same. The point I’m making is that people are entitled to be employed and they take very big risks. They are very highly paid, but they do take very big risks. And inevitably in many situations around the world there are varying levels of security needed and I can’t really see a great difference as far as…

FAINE:

Your Government recommends against Australians going to Iraq other than for essential purposes and working as a private security contractor is really putting yourself right in the midst of it isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but look I’m not going to be critical of a man who’s just been killed.

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FAINE:

In East Timor Prime Minister, we have the troops telling your Defence Minister in no uncertain terms that they think that they should be paid as if they’re in a war zone. Why shouldn’t they?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the decision’s been taken by the Government that compared with the other areas of operation in which our troops are involved, dangerous though it is, East Timor is not as dangerous as say Afghanistan and Iraq. I think most Australians would agree with that. And if the people in Iraq, in Timor were to be paid exactly the same as the people in Iraq or

Afghanistan then there would be an argument, legitimately from the latter, that they should be paid more again because their work is on any military assessment more dangerous. Now that is not to say what’s happening in East Timor is not dangerous and this is a difficult issue, but

unless we are to completely obliterate the difference between theatres of operations and to say that once you go overseas with an Australian uniform any deployment is as dangerous as the next, then unless you are going to argue that, you have to have some gradation. Now I have been told as recently as a few moments ago that this deployment in Timor is attracting the highest level of remuneration of any non-warlike category of service by the Australian military forces and if there is an assessment made that the situation has deteriorated further so

that it can be reasonably equated to places like Iraq or Afghanistan then an adjustment will be made. Now I understand…

FAINE:

Why can’t you say, look at the moment there is a threat, but if it settles down we’ll drop you down a notch, because it would seem it’s very stressful at the moment and as the soldiers say, if one of us is killed does that prove to you that it is a warlike situation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look I am not going to deal with it in that fashion, I deal with it by saying that on all assessments, including those made by the military, but let me stress this is a Government decision and the Government accepts responsibility for the decision, because it is the Government on behalf of the Australian taxpayer which is responsible for paying the soldiers;

our assessment is that the conditions of service in East Timor are not as inherently dangerous as they are in Afghanistan and Iraq and that can be fairly and properly argued. We are dealing with people who are on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan, trying to kill others with roadside bombs, that is not happening in East Timor. We are dealing with people who have had, in the case of the Taliban, years of hardened military conflict and fighting, that is not the

case in East Timor. Now, it is all dangerous, but we have to have a capacity to distinguish between levels of danger and the problem is that if we say that it is all the same, then the people who are really in a very dangerous theatre are entitled to say, well if you don’t think I am undertaking any more dangerous a mission than somebody in another part of the world, well I don’t think I am being fairly treated. It is a very hard thing, we have to make a judgement and that’s the judgement we have made. It will be kept under very constant review and if the circumstances change then we will adjust upwards further the level of remuneration.

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FAINE:

Prime Minister how long to do think that you will need to have a substantial troop commitment in East Timor? It is looking as if it is going to be many, many years, if not a decade or longer.

PRIME MINISTER:

I wouldn’t be saying many, many years or a decade at this stage. It is too early to say how long, but obviously until there is real political stability in that country and…

FAINE:

No sign of it so far.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, but we have only been there a few weeks.

FAINE:

But they have been a nation now for years.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they have been a nation since 1999 and this has certainly been a reminder of the fragility of many of these small island states, but it is one of the great dilemmas of the modern world. There was a view a generation ago that no matter how small the country might be it should have its independence without a lot of thought being given at the time to whether some of those countries were viable. Everybody wanted East Timor to have its independence in 1999, I can’t remember something that enjoyed such cross-party and bipartisan support in the Australian community than the independence of East Timor. There is a lot of sentiment about the East Timorese, understandably going back to World War II. You get a general feeling that they were entitled to a fair go. Now, that is the sentiment, but there are always consequences of independence and I think what is happening in East Timor at the moment is that the political leaders are being confronted with not only the freedom of independence, but also the responsibilities. The country has not been well governed over the last few years and I hope the sobering experience of having to get international help to bring about a restoration of law and order will bring home to the leaders of East Timor that there are responsibilities as well as freedoms and privileges associated with independence.

FAINE:

Prime Minister, just a couple of other quick things while I still have a few more minutes of your time if I could please. You have failed to find anyone with environmentalist credentials to go on to your nuclear review.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t agree with that. Arthur Johnston the former chief scientist has great environmental credentials.

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FAINE:

He trained in nuclear physics, he is not someone within environmental circles regarded as an environmentalist…

PRIME MINISTER:

Most of his work has been involved in recent years in a protective watching brief as the supervising scientist in relation to the Kakadu National Park, one of the great environmental treasures that this country has. I think the suggestion that he doesn’t have environmental credentials is absurd.

FAINE:

Well from an industry point of view he has environmental credentials but from the environmental movement’s point of view, he’s just regarded as a scientist.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but I am afraid Jon with some people in the environmental movement the only person who has credentials is somebody who is fanatically anti-nuclear no matter what the circumstances.

FAINE:

No I am not suggesting you needed to recruit someone who was opposing the very purpose of the inquiry.

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not saying that you’re suggesting that, but some people in the environmental movement will not be happy with anybody that we appoint who might have some connection with environmentalism simply because they don’t approve of this inquiry.

FAINE:

You tried to get a ridgy-didge greenie first of all didn’t you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Are you talking about Mr Bourne? Well I don’t know whether he’d be called a ridgy-didge greenie, he used to run BP, I don’t know that he’d accept that label. He did indicate an interest, he said he wanted to look at the terms of reference, he also indicated that he had to consult his international body, the world body for WWF and after that process had gone through he indicated that he wouldn’t be available and he said something about that. Well that’s his right, I don’t take any exception to that, but that was the sequence of events. He did indicate an interest in it in the beginning.

FAINE:

The only reason I can think of to try and move into a domestic nuclear power industry in Australia is that the technology for, for instance solar and other renewables, is moving along

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to the point where 20 or 30 years from that’s probably going to be the way the world is powered. So is the push for uranium to get some value out of what’s in the ground before it’s not worth anything at all?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, that’s wrong. I don’t share that assessment that we will get to a situation in 20 or 30 years where uranium is not worth anything much at all. I don’t think that’s at all likely. I hesitate to challenge your credentials on this Jon, but, and I don’t claim any expertise, I hope some application of commonsense. And commonsense tells me that we have to look at all alternatives, commonsense tells me that we already have a lot of incentives for renewables. We have a cheap source of energy but a dirty source of energy, in relation from coal and gas and we are working very hard at making them less dirty and in the meantime we should also have a look at nuclear power. I think that’s just commonsense and I think most Australians would share that view. I don’t have any prejudice for or against nuclear power, I do have a prejudice for having an open mind and having a look at it and that’s what this inquiry is all about.

FAINE:

Four minutes to 10, a couple of quick things before the news Prime Minister, did you raise the plight of David Hicks when you saw George Bush recently?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I raised, I discussed David Hicks with Don Rumsfeld the Defense Secretary, he’s the relevant person, and we both agreed that it would be a good idea if the military commission trial could come on as soon as possible, but we both know that that is being held up not by the American Government or by the Australian authorities, it’s in fact being held up in the courts in America.

FAINE:

What about those who say that the military commission is anything but an independent court?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, including Mr Hick’s lawyers.

FAINE:

Yes well if you were his defence counsel you would raise the same points wouldn’t you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well not necessarily, well look I am not his defence counsel and obviously his defence counsel has that point of view, it’s a different point of view from that of the Australian Government. But let it be understood that for the past almost a year, the failure to resolve this matter before the military commission has not been the fault of the Australian Government, has not been the fault of the Pentagon or the American administration…

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FAINE:

It’s a kangaroo court according to the critics.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is not a view that is shared by the American administration and I don’t accept uncritically everything that is said about the Americans by Mr Hicks’ lawyers.

FAINE:

Then why has Tony Blair decided that Guantanamo Bay is an unsuitable place for British citizens and you’ve raised no objections about it whatsoever?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he’s reached a different view. We act independently. I know it suits our critics to say if we agree with the Americans, we are following the Americans, if we agree with the British, we are following the British. Now we’ve made an independent assessment, we secured significant changes in negotiation to the military commission processes and we are satisfied that they reflect basic principles of our criminal justice system, that’s why we’ve agreed. Let me just also remind your listeners that if Mr Hicks were brought back to Australia without any trial before the military commission, he couldn’t be charged in this country because the offences alleged against him were not criminal offences under Australian law at the time.

FAINE:

So why should he be punished for something that is not against the law?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it was not against Australian law, but then the offences did not occur in Australia and there is no canon of Australian law that says that Australian law follows an Australian citizen wherever he goes in the world. Surely you will understand and accept that principle, that the law of a country’s, of a person’s citizenship does not follow that citizen around the world, is subject to the laws in which, and the reach of laws in countries where he commits alleged

offences.

FAINE:

Prime Minister, time has defeated us despite our best endeavours and thank you for making some time available for us this morning, I look forward to speaking to you again soon.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

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