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Transcript of doorstop interview: Cronulla Sharks Leagues Club, Sydney: 25 February 2007: Iraq; US Vice President; New South Wales state election.



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PRIME MINISTER

25 February 2007

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW CRONULLA SHARKS LEAGUES CLUB, SYDNEY

Subjects: Iraq; US Vice President; New South Wales state election.

EO&E…………………………………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

I’d just like before taking your questions, to make a comment that this morning on the Sunday program on three occasions, Mr Rudd was asked to say what he thought would be the consequences of an American defeat in Iraq and he refused on three occasions to do that, because he knows what the true answer is, and the true answer is that it would be a huge win for the terrorists and a massive weakening of American authority around the world and I think Mr Rudd’s failure to address what is after all, when you put the shadow boxing aside, after all the central issue. The central issue is what will be the consequence of a defeat or a perceived defeat for the coalition, and that means the United States in particular in Iraq and that will be very serious, it would embolden the terrorists and it would have consequences for American authority around the world. Now Mr Rudd knows that and that is why he would not give a direct answer to Laurie Oakes this morning when Mr Oakes asked him on three occasions what he thought would be the situation.

JOURNALIST:

Do you still consider Mr Rudd to be a threat to the US-Australia alliance, especially given Mr Cheney’s comments that the alliance is strong?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well as far as Mr Cheney is concerned he made it clear he was doing the right thing by not wanting to get drawn to domestic Australian political debates. But he made it very clear during the time that he was in Australia that America both appreciates our presence in Iraq and wants us to maintain our current commitments.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Cheney said that the alliance wouldn’t be damaged if you did pull the troops out.

PRIME MINISTER:

Mr Cheney was doing the diplomatic thing by staying out of the Australian political debate.

JOURNALIST:

Does that give you the green light to withdraw troops from Iraq if it won’t damage the alliance?

PRIME MINISTER:

Mr Cheney was being very diplomatic and as far as our policy is concerned we think our troops are doing a valuable job of training Iraqis, that is what after all is necessary in order for the Iraqis to look after themselves because in the end everybody wants a stage of stability to be reached so that we can all pull our troops out. But if we do it prematurely, the consequences could be quite drastic and that is the view of every

intelligence assessment, it’s the view of the American intelligence assessments, it’s the view of others and it’s also the view of the Baker Hamilton inquiry which is often quoted by Mr Rudd in support of his position.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Cheney put out some fairly bellicose signals concerning Iran in an interview that he gave on Friday. Are you concerned that a new front could be opening up in the Middle East in terms of the Iranian engagement?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don’t think so. I think his remarks indicate the obvious and that is that if you are dealing with a difficult country like Iran you leave every option on the table and that is all he has done. The Americans are trying and I think quite wisely they are trying a diplomatic approach to Iran. The point about Iran is that it would be an enormous beneficiary of a coalition defeat in Iraq. The Iranians would be delighted and they would increase their influence and they would be great beneficiaries. So if you’re looking at containing Iran in a managed diplomatic, strategic way, you don’t

hand victory to the terrorists and others in Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER:

Prime Minister, was it necessary to close the Harbour Bridge and further disrupt Sydney for Mr Cheney’s visit?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well those judgements are made by security people and the reality is that we live sadly in a world, not created might I say by the United States or created by Australia, we live in a world where people who hold the sorts of positions he holds, wherever he goes, are potential targets and I think the authorities have a responsibility and I back them to do what is done and I’m afraid there will be the same situation when the APEC meeting takes place and you’re looking there not just at the American President, you’re looking at others. Fortunately we live in a country, absent visitors from overseas, where political leaders whatever people may think of them on certain issues can move around in a relatively unmolested fashion and I thought to myself yesterday when I met the Vice President to get on the boat that it’s a spot that I walk over every morning when I’m in Sydney and go out walking from Kirribilli House, it’s a reminder of one of the great things about Australia and something we should never forget.

JOURNALIST:

Your warning to Mr Rudd that he might be encouraging terrorists…

PRIME MINISTER:

My warning to Mr Rudd, when did I say that? Just then?

JOURNALIST:

Sorry, your warning to Mr Rudd about pulling out troops early being an encouragement to terrorists…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well did I just say that then?

JOURNALIST:

You did.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I thought what I said then was that Mr Rudd refused to answer a very direct question from Laurie Oakes and that very direct question was what do you believe would be the consequences of an American defeat. We’ve got to go back to what is the central issue in this debate. The central issue in this debate is what is the consequence of a coalition defeat? And my argument is that if there is a coalition defeat in Iraq the terrorists will be emboldened, American authority will be weakened and that will have consequences for all of us and most particularly for us. Not that’s been my position all along and I don’t know why Mr Rudd won’t face that simple

question, why won’t he answer the question what do you believe will be the consequences of an American defeat in Iraq. The reason he won’t answer it is that the answer is the answer that I’ve given and he doesn’t want to be in a position of agreeing with me. Any other questions?

JOURNALIST:

…reports Mr Cheney’s plane has been forced to turn back after taking off from Sydney, can you confirm whether that’s happened?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that is a matter that the American embassy should deal with. I have heard a report to that effect.

JOURNALIST:

Do you know whether it’s a mechanical fault?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not aware of the full circumstances and I have not been told except that it has been diverted as to the precise circumstances I’m not as yet advised.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, is it fair that your incredibly wealthy Environment Minister is using his taxpayer-funded rent money to pay for his wife’s property?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Mr Turnbull like Mr Rudd and like Mr Garrett and like others is entitled to an allowance when parliament is sitting and what he does with that allowance, equally what Mr Rudd does with his and Mr Garrett does with his, is his business. It is totally within the rules and I don’t hear people saying that there should be some kind of

income test on whether people are paid an allowance or a salary when they go into public life. Now I think that that should be the end of the matter. I thought Mr Turnbull dealt with it this morning and I don’t think it’s going to be very helpful for the public life for either side of politics if we get into some kind of exercise in pinpointing people because they have been more successful than others in their pre-parliamentary lives and that applies to both sides of politics.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Rudd also announced a $1.5 [inaudible] clean coal initiative. Is he still such a danger to the coal industry Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we started doing what he talked about this morning three years ago and we’ve

already announced three projects. The real danger to the coal industry is the possibility that the Labor Party would do a preference deal with the Greens, particularly in the State of Queensland and if you look at the person who would be the environment minister in a Labor government Peter Garrett, he is very unsympathetic to the coal industry.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you said a year ago that Peter Debnam had a steep mountain to climb to achieve government in New South Wales. We’re four weeks out, has he begun the ascent?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think he’s done very well, my reading Imre is that the people of this state really want a change and there is a tide, if I can paraphrase somebody more eloquent than I in the English language, there is a tide in the affairs of the state which, varying it a bit, indicating change and I think there is a deep feeling in this state that this government has fallen below an acceptable level of competence. They have lost faith in this government and if we can have a good campaign there could be a wonderful result. Now it’s tough, it’s a huge swing, there is the enormous advantage of incumbency, all of that. But gee the mood is there and I thought today’s launch, the policy was

excellent, there’s a very good mood and that’s always a good indicator so I think it can be a very, very interesting four weeks here in New South Wales. Thank you.

[Ends]