Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Townsville, Queensland, 19 September 1999: transcript of press conference [deployment of Australian troops to East Timor]



Download WordDownload Word

image

 

PRIME MINISTER

 

19 September 1999

 

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

PRESS CONFERENCE

TOWNSVILLE QUEENSLAND

 

Subject: Deployment of Australian troops to East Timor

 

E&OE………………………………………………………………………………...

 

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen, just a few brief comments. It will be a fairly brief news conference. My wife and I have arrived here recently and have been accompanied by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Beazley, and the Leader of the Australian Democrats, Senator Lees. We’ve met some of the Royal Australian Airforce personnel who will be involved in the operation, and we’ll shortly be meeting the others who will be deployed.

I can announce that the deployment will take place tomorrow. It will primarily be from Darwin and Townsville, with some deploying from Tindal. I want to say how tremendously impressed I am with the state of readiness. I want to thank the Chief of the Defence Force Admiral Barrie, and everyone else. To General Peter Cosgrove who will be the overall commander of the coalition operation, my thanks. He is one of Australia’s most capable and distinguished combat soldiers. To Brigadier Evans who will be the Australian land commander, to all the other men and women of the Australian Defence Force I say again how tremendously proud we are of the commitment they have to this very important task. It is not without its risks. We all appreciate that, and it adds to the serious character of the occasion. And it’s a very important mission and we wish them well. They’re very well trained, they’re very well prepared, and I know that they’re extremely anxious to be away and we wish them all a very safe return. And the deployment will commence tomorrow and it will be from those three areas of Australia. That is all I really intend to say at this stage. It will be a coalition operation so far as transport and the personnel will be deployed as indeed it’s been a coalition operation of the naval vessels that left Darwin yesterday.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ll I’ll be saying, to the Australian people [inaudible] my address to the nation that not only will we send our thoughts and prayers with the men and women who are going, but we think also of the families and all the loved ones of those who are going. And we will try as best we can to share with them the anxiety that they will actually feel over the days ahead. We can’t experience exactly what the anxiety will be but what we can at least do is to try and share some of that anxiety. And I know that all Australians will do that.

JOURNALIST:

Is it likely that Australia will have a significant military presence in East Timor for up to two years.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m not going to try and put a particular term on it. I think we all hope that the operation can be accomplished quickly and smoothly, but it could be longer and more protracted. It’s impossible and pointless trying to put particular terms on it. But it could take some time. You’ve got to remember that the aim is that ultimately the multinational force will be replaced by a permanent United Nations’ peacekeeping force, what is called a ‘blue helmet’ operation. But I’m not going to try and put an exact time on it. I think it’s quite impossible for anyone to do that.

JOURNALIST:

Are you aware of what the climate is in Dili as we speak? What the peacekeepers are likely to confront?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it’s impossible for me to answer that question. I don’t think it’s really helpful to try and do so. We are positive about the conditions. We are optimistic that there will be sensible cooperation between the Indonesian forces and the coalition forces, the multinational peacekeeping force. But equally and until the deployment actually takes place and there’s the opportunity of experiencing what is on the ground, I can’t really answer that one. I think it’s unhelpful probably for a non-military person such as myself to try and speculate. I think it’s important that we leave operational matters to the defence personnel and the commanders, we leave other matters to the political figures.

JOURNALIST:

In your meeting with the troops, what message have you been giving them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s a very simple message. It’s a message of thanks, it’s a message of confidence, it’s a message of pride , and a message of good luck and an assurance that we’ll look after their families while they’re away.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] dangers that they’ll be facing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. I have never tried to disguise the fact that there is danger in this. And I’ve said that from the very beginning, and I say it again tonight in my address to the nation. It is a dangerous operation. But the comfort is that they are superbly trained and prepared and that is an enormous source of satisfaction to me, and I hope it’s a source of sustenance and encouragement to their wives and families.

JOURNALIST:

Are you bouyed by the support of other countries some of which seems to have come at the 11 th hour?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is a joint operation. It’s very important for the Australian public to know that this country is not alone in doing this. We’ve now taken the lead and we will be providing demands to the forces, but we’re not alone. There are people from all around the world and very particularly from our region. The Deputy Commander is from the Royal Thai Army. And there are force elements from elsewhere and we’re very grateful for all of those. But I do want to say that the decision that was taken by the Defence Minister Mr Moore, and the Government some months ago, to put the additional brigade ready, state of readiness, has meant that we were able to respond immediately and effectively to the United Nations’ request. And it’s meant that the man and women in that force, that we’ve done the right thing by them because if people are well trained and well prepared well they have a much better opportunity of dealing with the challenges. There’s nothing worse than a government putting people into a position of danger when they’re not properly prepared for it. I think we’ve been able to do that and I record my thanks to the Defence Minister and the CDF and the Australian Army for what’s been done in that regard. I’ll just have one more question.

JOURNALIST:

Xanana Gusmao has left Jakarta. Have you had communications with him?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve not had any communication with him no.

JOURNALIST:

Will you over the next few days?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I guess that’s a matter for him. I mean he communicates with all sorts of people in Australia. He’s a significant figure. I would imagine if he wishes to have contact with the Australian Government it would be through the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m not trying to avoid him…I’m just not sure. I understand he’s in Australia and if he wishes to discuss anything with the Government we’d be delighted to do so.

JOURNALIST:

Do you expect to meet with him tomorrow in Darwin.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, depends whether he’s there or not. Our latest information is that he may not be there. But if he is and he wants to see me I’d be delighted to. Thank you.

[Ends]

 

md 1999-09-21  09:55