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Prime Minister discusses East Timor; Yugoslavia; CARE workers; tax reform; Jeff Kennett.



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21 April 1999

 

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

RADIO INTERVIEW WITH HOWARD SATLER

6PR PERTH RADIO

SATTLER:

 

Well, Prime Minister John Howard is off to Bali in a few days but there will be no holiday, the crunch has come for Indonesia over East Timor, Mr Howard and its President, BJ Habibie, will be attending urgently arranged talks to sort out the current mess. Before that our Prime Minister is spending a couple of days in more docile surroundings I should say, although we’ve had our share of trouble here recently. He’s in Perth and then I think today he’s off to the goldfields. He’s my studio guest this morning. Welcome, Prime Minister, good to have you here.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Good to be back again.

 

SATTLER:

 

Thanks for joining us. Alright, I said ‘docile surroundings” here, but less than two hundred metres from where we’re sitting at the moment, there were scores of East Timorese and their supporters attacking the Indonesian Consulate in the past 24 hours and that’s following what’s been going on in East Timor. What can Australia do to stop the bloodshed up there?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

We can at the highest level, which is going to happen next week, put very directly and frankly but in a constructive way oar concerns. We hope that the views we bring will influence Jakarta. I will be saying to the President that Indonesia’s international reputation is affected by what happens in Timor. International help is needed for the Indonesian economy, the long term stability of Indonesia is in part bound up with the view the rest of the world has of it and what happens in East Timor will influence that I’m not going to overestimate what can be achieved in one meeting and remember that we are dealing with a sovereign country that has legal control over and responsibility for East Timor.

 

There is a lot of wild talk about what can or can’t be done. The bloodshed can only be stopped by the Indonesian Government and the Indonesian armed forces and what I’ll be putting very strongly to the President but in a very constructive way because our two countries are close, I will be putting to him that in Indonesia’s own interests as well as on the basis of a concern for human life and human rights, more must be done to prevent bloodshed I am pleased to hear that General Wiranto, the Head of the Armed Forces and the Indonesian Defence Minister, is going to Timor today. And I was encouraged by what the President said to me on the telephone yesterday about taking action. And also the continued commitment of the Indonesian Government to the self-determination process.

 

SATTLER:

 

Alright, General Wiranto is going there at the same time as not admitting that they are responsible for what is occurring in East Timor. Is there any doubt in your mind that the military, the official military people in Indonesia, are supplying the paramilitaries?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, Howard, I put a view yesterday about that I’m not going to add to what

I said yesterday.

 

SATTLER:

 

Well, what was your view?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I said that there was an unmistakable impression in Australia that ABRI, or sections of AJ3PJ had turned, at least turned a blind eye, to what was occurring. Now, I have arranged a meeting, I’ve put a view. I’ve put it very openly and frankly, it was a very direct discussion. But it certainly wasn’t an acrimonious discussion, it was a very constructive one. I want to have a constructive meeting. It doesn’t serve the interests of Australia or the interests of Indonesia or the interests of the people of Timor for me to be sort of adding any further to what I said yesterday at this time.

 

SATTLER:

 

Alright, what is the alternative for the Indonesian Government if they don’t stop the killings up there?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, that is something for the Indonesian Government to contemplate. I mean just let’s again remind ourselves that East Timor is part of Indonesia. East Timor comprises fewer than a million people. It has an important historical connection with Australia because many of Australian Service men during World War II were captured on Timor. We are as a country concerned to see the right thing done for the people of East Timor but in the end it is part of Indonesia and people who propound solutions often ignore the fact that to implement an effective solution you need the involvement and the cooperation and the consent of the Government of Indonesia.

 

SATTLER:

 

But that doesn’t give the right to massacre the locals.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Nobody has that right, but let’s just understand that if you reject one course of action, you are by definition propounding an alternative course of action. Now, the only feasible thing for Australia to do, the only sensible thing, the only appropriate thing for Australia to do at this stage is to try and use whatever influence it has to persuade the Indonesian Government to exercise greater restraint over the armed forces, to ensure that as far as it can the bloodshed is stopped. To accept that there is fault on both sides inside Timor, to go ahead with the process of self-determination which will involve Australia in an inspectorial role as far as the balloting process is concerned and my aim will be to get that process back on track and in the process to convey in the most unmistakable terms to the Indonesian Government, the concern that we here in Australia have about what is happening. But we mustn’t raise undue expectations about what can be achieved regarding a dispute inside the boarders of another country. I mean some commentators on this issue speak as though Timor is just out there on its own and that the Indonesian Government has in a sense ultimately no role in it. I mean, it is part of Indonesia and you can’t talk about injecting the United Nations, you can’t talk about injecting other elements without the involvement, the consent and the support of the Indonesian Government.

 

SATTLER:

 

Okay, but the Yugoslav Government would say that Kosovo is part of it too, and we’re certainly supported NATO on their incursions there.

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I think it is foolish in the extreme to start drawing analogies between

 

Yugoslavia and East Timor.

 

SATTLER:

 

Alright, but what alternatives will you be suggesting to President Habibie? Will you be telling him that if he doesn’t stop it the United Nations is likely to move in?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, look the United Nations can’t go into any country without the consent of the government of that country. People seem to forget that, no look can I just take you back. Just think about that proposition. I mean, this has been wildly put around by people. The United Nations can’t go into a country without the consent of the government of that country.

 

SATTLER:

 

So they can keep killing people?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, look, nobody wants that to occur. But just understand that we area a neighbour of Indonesia, we do not have legal control over any part of Indonesia and therefore the influence that we bear is the influence of diplomacy of friendship, of pointing to Indonesia’s own self-interest and self-advantage, pointing out that the reputation of a country around the world is very important. So you don’t necessarily achieve results on the international stage by talking the loudest and the rudest and the most rhetorical. If you want to achieve a result then you first of all sit down and talk to people and that is what I’m doing. I’m not going for the cheap headline on this. I put a view, I put it very strongly. I couldn’t have had a more direct discussion with the President of a nation of more than 200 million people than I had yesterday. It was a very direct discussion, but by the same token I respect the role of the Indonesian Government. I value the friendship between the people of Indonesia and the people of Australia, and I want to draw on that history of friendship in the discussions that we have next week.

 

SATTLER:

 

Well, what are the prospects of Australians going in there to settle things down around election time, to help with the election?

 

PRIME MIINLSTER:

 

Well, we have indicated already that..

 

SATTLER:

 

If there is any election.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

... as far as the election process is concerned we are prepared to contribute assistance as far as the conduct of the ballot and the Australian Electoral Commission is helping out and we are providing resources for that. I’m not going to speculate about any further involvement of Australia at this time. It’s not on the table and it doesn’t achieve anything just to wildly speculate about it.  I mean, you’re talking here about a very serious issue and everybody..

 

SATTLER:

 

The East Timorese think so too.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

We-all think so. We all think so. I’m not in the business of willy nilly committing Australia to a course of action, the end of which I do not know and cannot control. No Prime Minister of Australia should ever make the mistake of doing that.

 

SATTLER:

 

The other war in the Balkans, what’s the latest news of aid workers, Steve Pratt and Peter Wallace?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, Howard, like every other Australian I hope we can get them out. I don’t want to say much. In a sense everything you say in relation to them can be misunderstood or misconstrued by those who want to do so.

 

SATTLER:

 

But you’ve given Malcolm Fraser a special pass now.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yes, yes, because he’s the Chairman of CARE. he’s a former Australian Prime Minister, he’s got a lot of experience. We hope that we can get them out. 1 can say to the families again, that we are doing everything we humanly can. It is not easy, not easy at all.

 

SATTLER:

 

It’s unbelievable isn’t it?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

It is. Because these men are not soldiers, they’re not combatants. They were there to help the people of Yugoslavia on both sides. They were doing humanitarian work.

 

SATTLER:

 

I know, we used to talk with them. They used to stand up for the Serbs and say that they are really suffering here.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Exactly. Exactly. They are decent, well meaning Australians who are trying to help people who are suffering a lot without regard to the politics of the situation. It is therefore, from a moral standpoint and a human Fights standpoint, unacceptable [inaudiblef

 

SATTLER:

 

Have the prospects for them brightened in the past few days?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I don’t want to say anything more than what I’ve said. I hope that we can get them out but I don’t want to unduly raise expectations.

 

SATTLER:

 

Would the Australian government support the use of ground troops in Kosovo to protect the remaining Albanians and to reinstate those that have been forced out?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Australia is not a combatant nation. It’s not a member of NATO, it’s not appropriate for me to express a public view about that issue, indeed to [inaudible]

 

SATTLER:

 

But you have already said that we support what NATO has done.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yes, what NATO has done. NATO has taken a decision to take certain action. The question of whether ground troops should be used is something that is in the hands of those whose armed forces are involved in the conflict. And it’s not for me on the sidelines as it were to give gratuitous advice about what ought to be done.

 

SATTLER:

 

Now, what do you think of Australians, Australian Serbs, people with dual citizenship, either leaving or proposing to leave to fight for President Milosevic. I’ve had a number of them on the programme, one left yesterday, and they’re going over there, even though they’re Australians and they’re going to fight for him against the Albanians. Now, what do you think of that?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, it’s a very difficult issue. I am disturbed as Prime Minister that people who were born in this country should feel that when a dispute occurs in another country of their ancestors..

 

SATTLER:

 

No, I’m talking about people who have been given citizenship of Australia and allowed to obtain Serbian citizenship.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, I’m getting around to that. The people who were born in this country but feel that their ancestry, the influence of their ancestry is greater than the influence of their Australian citizenship, and I think that is a concern to everybody and that applies whether you are Serbian or Irish or Chinese or English or anybody. I mean, Australia first, second and third is my view and it’s the view of most Australians and it’s the view might I say of lots of Australians of Serbian descent to whom I have spoken and even though they have an affection for the country and they’re concerned about it, their view is that they’re now an Australian citizen Look, if people have dual citizenship then they can exercise the legal Fights of dual citizenship. I don’t think people are happy about anybody who is the citizen of this country being involved in the conflict of another country.

 

SATTLER:

 

But do you think once you declare yourself for Australia you should be able to [inaudible] citizenship of another country?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, that raises, that raises a broader issue And there are arguments for and against it. There are a lot of people in this country who have dual citizenship. There are several million people. I would say most of them of, but not all of them, but the majority of them would probably be of British decent, British and Irish descent who would have dual citizenship. Now that raises a very broad question that has got a lot to do with the history of this country the fact that until 1948, we didn’t have separate nationality, we all had a common British nationality.

 

SATTLER:

 

Do you think you should be allowed to have two bob each way? That’s what

 

I’m saying?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, a lot of people don’t think so.

 

SAZITLER:

 

Well, what do you think?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I’ve got to say that I would like over a period of time, let me phrase it this way. I think it is, it is difficult given the history of this country to arbitrarily deny people the right of dual citizenship.

 

SATTLER:

 

I know, but do you think these people should be allowed back into Australia after they have gone over there and fought?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, they should, they should have the rights of an Australian citizen. I do not believe in arbitrarily reducing the rights of Australian citizenship.

 

SATTLER:

 

AIright, well Australia. Back to Parliament now, where you are not. The Senate is beginning the longest debate in our political history this week over the tax reform package. How do you now rate your chances of getting it through untouched?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, my view has not changed. I remain hopeful, but I’m not..

 

SATTLER:

 

You’re not kidding yourself

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I’m not kidding myself. I don’t think it will be easy. The Australian people voted for this plan last October. We had a torrid, tough, vigorous, knock-em-down drag it out election fight, and a debate that raged over about two months and we won. And the Australian people, not the Senate or the House of Representatives, the Australian people voted for our plan. And our ultimate call to the Senate is listen to the Australian people, they voted for this. They didn’t vote for food to be taken out. I took all the political risks in going to the Australian people with a new plan, everybody told me I was to defying political wisdom and political gravity in doing it. They said it hadn’t been done before. Now we did it and we won. And we say to the Senate, whether they are Labor, Liberal, Labor, Democrat or anything else.

 

SATTLER:

 

[inaudible]

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

And listen to the Australian people.

 

SATTLER:

 

It’s the anything else. The two people

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, no it’s not only them. I mean this idea.

 

SATTLER:

 

[inaudible]

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Yes, but people just automatically accept that it’s okay for the Democrats and the Labor Party [inaudible]

 

SATTLER:

 

[inaudible]

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

[inaudible) Australian opinion well. But that doesn’t mean to say that people shouldn’t have a view about their behaviour. People shouldn’t say to them, hey, you have responsibility to listen to the Australian people as much as Senator Colston and Senator Harradine. They have a capacity to change their position I notice the Democrats have changed their position a little bit overnight, perhaps they should think about changing it a bit more. If it’s okay to shift from one position, then it is okay for them to shift a bit more. I mean. I just go back to the central point, Howard, we had this debate and the ultimate jury of politics in Australia, that’s the 18 million Australians, or those of them who have the right to vote, voted in favour of our plan. It couldn’t have been more central to the election.

 

SATTLER:

 

But how much room have you got to move?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

I have said all along that we are not going to alter the essential thrust of the plan. I will happily fine-tune at the margin, but I am not going to alter the essentials. So why should we alter something that the Australian people in the words of Peter Beattie, the Labor Premier of Queensland, gave us a mandate to implement. I mean this is Peter Beattie. You should have seen those Premiers. They love it. Because it will mean over time hundreds, indeed billions of dollars extra, hundreds of millions to billions of dollars extra, and that’s extra money for State Governments to spend on government schools, on hospitals, on police and on roads. And any Senator, sitting in what used to be called the State’s House, that’s the Australian Senate, who votes against this plan, will be voting against. more money for government schools, voting against rn6re money for police and hospitals and roads. That’s the bottom line of the long term benefit. And that’s why the Premiers were so pleased about it and why they were happy to sign up to it. Labor and Liberal alike. You should have seen the smiles on their faces.

 

SATTLER:

 

Prime Minister, most of the people listening to this programme today are women. Do you agree with Jeff Kennett that they should be having more babies?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, that’s a matter of individual choice, an absolute matter of individual choice.

 

SATTLER:

 

Would it be better for Australia if they did?

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Well, obviously this country’s population growth is like the population growth of most other western countries and that is modest. And I think the experience over the years is that the higher the living standard of a country, the more the birth rate tends to slowly decline. Now, you don’t change that quickly. You don’t change that quickly. But the question of how many children parents decide to have, men and women, couples decide to have is a matter for them. I don’t express a view either way. I mean, we personally feel very happy that we had three children, my wife and I. We’ve been very lucky they were healthy and we’ve been very happy and we’re very gratefUl and thankful for that. What other people do in the end result is of course their own business. You do need, incidentally, you do need a tax system that is more family friendly and that’s one of the things that’s at the heart of our plan and if the Senate knocks over our plan, they will be knocking over a plan that actually makes it easier for families and the cost of having children is quite high, I think we’re all as parents very conscious of that and the more tax help you can give to mums and dads, the easier it will be. And that’s one of the central elements. The role of the Government in this whole question is to make it less burdensome to have children and that is one of the elements of our tax plan. We have increased the tax benefits for having children.

 

SATTLER;

 

I think what you’re really saying is that you’ve done your bit as a husband and now you’re doing your bit as the Prime Minister.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

You could, you could phrase it that way.

 

SATTLER:

 

Thanks for joining us on the programme today, enjoy your stay in Western Australia and hope the talks go well in Indonesia next week.

 

PRIME MINISTER:

 

Thank you very much.

 

Ends.