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Transcript of doorstop interview: Holsworthy Barracks, Sydney: 26 November 2006:\nSpecial Forces welcome home; Afghanistan; Victorian election; Iraq.



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PRIME MINISTER

26 November 2006

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW HOLSWORTHY BARRACKS, SYDNEY

Subjects: Special Forces welcome home; Afghanistan; Victorian election; Iraq

EO&E………………………………………………………………………………….

JOURNALIST:

The ceremony this morning, very important for the troops returned home from Afghanistan?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s very important to say thank you, to honour those who have been conspicuously brave and to thank the families because it’s always stressful when your loved ones are overseas. They’re a great body of men and women and I am very proud of them and the whole country is.

JOURNALIST:

Are any regrets in removing the contingent of elite troops from Afghanistan with the way things still are, very dangerous in that part of the country?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think we have moved to another phase where having the civil reconstruction group plus supporting troops working in collaboration with the forces of other countries is the right balance.

JOURNALIST:

Today is the day that America has been involved in the Iraq war more than World War II. Has it become a quagmire?

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PRIME MINISTER:

No. Wars now are very different from what they were years ago. The war against terrorism is not a conventional war and it is a war that is going to last for a very long time. So comparisons with World War I and World War II are quite unrealistic.

JOURNALIST:

You mentioned no immediate end in sight in Afghanistan, does that also apply to Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think Iraq, the way forward, is for the Iraqi Army to assume a greater level of responsibility and I believe as time goes by, that is what will emerge. And that is the strategy; to train the Iraqis enough so that they can take the place over time of the coalition forces.

JOURNALIST:

Do you agree with the Governor-General’s assessment that more troops should have been put into Iraq, especially Baghdad, to secure the city?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the important thing now is how we deal with the current situation and the current situation tells us very much that what we must not do is to depart in circumstances where it would be seen as a victory for terrorists. That would do great damage to American and western prestige.

JOURNALIST:

But is it obvious now that things could have been handled better in the original stages?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the important thing is (inaudible) we deal with the current situation. Retrospectives are interesting, but they’re not very relevant.

JOURNALIST:

Is there a time when, is it the near future, we can expect Australian troops back from Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is foolish in a situation like this to be setting timetables. You react according to conditions.

JOURNALIST:

Is there any rift between you and His Excellency?

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PRIME MINISTER:

I’m sorry?

JOURNALIST:

Is there any rift between you and the Governor-General about…..?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. Really? No, certainly not. Extraordinary question.

JOURNALIST:

The Victorian election result.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Do you see any lessons from that or any possible implications for other state governments?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the Victorian election, like all state elections was fought overwhelmingly on state issues. It wasn’t fought on federal issues, it was fought on state issues. And what are the lessons? Well the lesson out of it is that Oppositions, and they’re all Liberal at the moment, have got to work hard for four years. You can’t expect to turn up in the last few weeks of a campaign and turn things around if you haven’t done the policy work over a period of four years. So I have two pieces of advice to the Victorian Liberal Party. The first piece of advice is get behind Ted Baillieu. He’s their best chance of winning next time. Don’t even think about an alternative. Just get behind him and give him your total loyalty and support. And the second thing is, start working on Monday on developing an alternative story for Victoria’s future. State Oppositions have failed year after year to develop an alternative story. They haven’t advanced a reason why there should be a change of Government and if you don’t do that, you won’t get a change of Government. Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, just before you go, sorry, Edith from the Telegraph. Just wanted to know whether you had any more comments on the comments by Peter Tinley in The Australian this weekend?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

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None at all? You don’t think they’re justified?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no. The only comment I would make is that there is a division of opinion in the Australian community about Iraq and you would expect that division of opinion to be reflected through the whole community. I think it’s perfectly natural, perfectly normal.

JOURNALIST:

But does that worry you as a politician coming into an election?

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Does that worry you at all from a political sense?

PRIME MINISTER:

What that somebody would criticise my policies?

JOURNALIST:

No, that there’s a divide in the community. Is that something that…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no, there’s a difference of opinion within the community on our involvement in Iraq. I have always recognised that.

JOURNALIST:

Okay, and America has said that they will have another look at how they’re tackling the war. Are you also sort of revising…

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think they’ve actually said anything different in the last 24 hours than what they have been saying over the last couple of weeks.

JOURNALIST:

You say that, you know, it’s useless to look at things in a retrospective fashion, that you can only go forward, can you sort of just give us in broad, I guess, brush strokes your plan for the future, for Australian involvement.

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PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think I will do it at a doorstop under a tree. I have made it very clear in the past that we don’t intend to precipitately withdraw in circumstances that would be seen as a victory for terrorists and that position won’t alter. Thank you.

[ends]