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Ryde, Sydney: transcript of doorstop interview: Sydney bushfires; drought; terrorist activity; Telstra.



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www.pm.gov.au

10 October 2002

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

Subjects: Sydney bushfires; drought; terrorist activity; Telstra

JOURNALIST:

Do you have anything to say to the victims of the bushfires around Sydney?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m, like all Australians, very concerned that these bushfires have started so early and we will do everything we can to support State governments who have, of course, the prime firefighting responsibility. We're contributing $5 million to bring out three Elvis's, three heli-tankers and I agreed with the Premier of New South Wales yesterday to split the cost of the $800,000 bill for transporting two of them in an Antonov large aircraft so that they can get here a lot quicker. I think everybody is deeply alarmed that the bushfire season, if I can put it that way, should have started so early. I can only express the hope that everybody behaves in a totally responsible manner, strictly … the total prohibitions on the lighting of fires, which are imposed by the relevant State authorities. But if yesterday and the day before is any guide we're off to a pretty bad start and I can only hope that the tentative signs of rain that we're experiencing at the moment turn into a deluge. It's a pretty vain hope according to the weather bureau but we can hope and pray that we get a lot of rain because we don't face a good summer, we face a very grim summer. And the drought, of course, is having an effect on people's lives and it's utterly distressing for people who've had one or two good seasons and have seen all of the value of that put at risk by this drought.

JOURNALIST:

Does it disappoint you that police have [Inaudible] 169 fire bugs in Sydney alone.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, of course it does. It disappoints not only me but more than that it disappoints those poor people who lost their homes. They're the people I feel most deeply for. Unfortunately we've always had fire bugs with us and I can only beseech parents to see what their children

PRIME MINISTER

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are doing and I can only beseech the community to have a sense of responsibility and to understand that you not only put property at risk, you put lives at risk, you put the lives of your fellow citizen, you put the lives of the firefighers and the police who, in the end, they're the people who represent the front line in the fight against fires and they're the men and women who do take the risks for all of us and they deserve our understanding and our respect.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, there are media reports today about the levels of ethanol in petrol for cars. Is the Government in a position to place a cap on what percentage ethanol should be in petrol?

PRIME MINISTER:

What we're going to do is get the results of an inquiry that is being carried out by Environment Australia and we'll be guided by that inquiry. We haven't made any commitments not to impose a limit. If we are persuaded by the results of that study that the right thing to do is to impose a limit then we'll impose a limit.

JOURNALIST:

Does it concern you that levels in some cases are exceeding 20% when car manufacturers say that it's dangerous to the car's engine to exceed 10%?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well one of the reasons that we’re having the inquiry is that people are concerned and when we have the results of that study we’ll take the appropriate action.

JOURNALIST:

When is that likely to be, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the inquiry will be giving a preliminary report before the end of the year with a final report later but we’ll get a preliminary report by the end of the year. But our position is that if there is a proper scientific and other evidence justifying and warranting a cap then we’ll impose it.

JOURNALIST:

Sir, an Al Qaeda expert suggests that there is a list of targets in Australia for possible terrorist activity, do you know of such a list?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t talk about security matters with any degree of specificity but I will say this, that any allegations of that kind are automatically investigated. Australia is more at risk now than we were before the 11th of September last year but so is just about every other country and nobody should imagine that this country is immune from potential terrorist attacks. But I have not received any evidence of a general kind in recent months suggesting that that risk has become markedly greater. JOURNALIST:

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Do you know that there are many targets, though, outside of the obvious landmarks?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, as I say, I’m not going to get into any degree of specificity. I’m not going to give any particular currency to these latest allegations either. Allegations of that kind are automatically investigated by the agencies involved and a report on those investigations is provided to the Government in the proper fashion. So I want to assure the public that we’re doing everything we can to make sure that if there are credible allegations made that they’re fully investigated but, equally, I don’t want to alarm people. We are more at risk now than we were before the 11th of September 2001 but we are not as exposed as other countries but we can’t be complacent and anybody who imagines that it can’t happen here is kidding themselves.

JOURNALIST:

Has the Government been aware of these allegations up until now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I don’t talk about what we’re aware or not aware of when it comes to security issues. I think the media is well aware of the reason for that.

JOURNALIST:

What agency will investigate the new claims?

PRIME MINISTER:

The right ones.

JOURNALIST:

Have you changed your mind about the proceeds from the full sale of Telstra? Will it go towards retiring debt?

PRIME MINISTER:

My position on that hasn’t changed. I’ve said that the purpose of…the best application, rather, of the sale of the proceeds is, of course, debt retirement. That doesn’t mean that you mightn't do some things but I think people who imagine that you can spend a large proportion of the proceeds of the sale of Telstra, if a sale takes place, are wrong.

JOURNALIST:

There are reports of job losses within Telstra today.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you’ll have to direct a question on that to the company, I don’t run Telstra.

[ends]