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Transcript of doorstop interview: Taralgon, Vic: 19 April 2004: Australian troops in Iraq; intelligence; Free Trade Agreement; Robert Mugabe; Victorian Government advertising campaign.



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PRIME MINISTER

19 April 2004

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, TRARALGON, VICTORIA

Subjects: Australian troops in Iraq; intelligence; Free Trade Agreement; Robert Mugabe; Victorian Government advertising campaign.

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………….

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Spain has begun pulling its troops out of Iraq, could we consider filling the void with our own troops?

PRIME MINISTER:

We will maintain our presence in Iraq for so long as the tasks we have need to be attended to. I regret very much Spain’s decision. Spain’s decision will give heart to those people who are trying to delay the emergence of a free and democratic Iraq. Every time a country appears to be retreating from a difficult situation, encouragement is given to those people who have created the difficulty.

JOURNALIST:

Is it worth bolstering our own troop numbers now in the light of Spain’s (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

We have had no requests to do so and the tasks that we are fulfilling are very important tasks, the training of the new Iraqi army, the training of the police, the training of the new air traffic controllers and the other tasks that we are fulfilling. What we are doing at the

moment is very important and importantly further we’ll go on doing it while there is a job to be done.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) Sunday programme yesterday, is the military withholding (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that’s an unfair observation. Let me say this, there’s Parliamentary inquiry into the military justice system, that’s fair enough but I have a lot of confidence in the military, I have enormous respect for the leadership, like any other organisation it will make mistakes but I think this attempt to cast a generalised smear over people involved with military intelligence is unfair and not justified, there will always be debate inside in any organisation about the direction of that organisation, there will always be differences of view, we are a nation of people who produce citizens with strong opinions and long may that continue to be the case.

JOURNALIST:

Can the Government condone this sort of email being released (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I don’t accept that at all, General Cosgrove explained the context of it and I don’t have anything to add to what he said.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the public hearings on the free trade agreement today, what’s your sense of (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we hope it is strong because the Free Trade Agreement has enormous benefits for many parts of Australia, it has great benefits for this part of Victoria, the dairy industry will benefit enormously from the Free Trade Agreement. It is in the interests of the people of the La Trobe Valley and other people associated with the dairy industry in Victoria that the Free Trade Agreement be approved. This is a once in a generation opportunity for this country to lock itself into the growth of the most powerful, dynamic economy the world has ever seen.

JOURNALIST:

Are you confident that the figures that will come out of the economy study into the FTA will support that point?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m sure that there are huge economic benefits, I don’t know the outcome of that study, I don’t think its been completed yet and I’m not going to speculate but I am confident there are significant economic benefits for this country.

JOURNALIST:

Dr Chalabi is saying 18 months (inaudible) is that a realistic….(inaudible)…?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to tie myself to a particular time, I’ve said that all along and you can ask that question any way you like but I’m not doing it, it’s unrealistic from my point of view to do that. We will stay there while there is a job to be done and it is simply not possible with respect to all others who have a contrary view, it is simply not possible to precisely pinpoint at what time we can confidently say the job has been done because the assessment of whether the job has been done depends upon a whole serious of events and circumstances that can change from day to day and therefore I am not going to make myself hostage to a particular date. I am going to repeat the principle; we’re not cutting and running, we’re going to finish the job, we’re going to do what Australians always do and that is to see things through.

JOURNALIST:

… more troops?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am saying what I’ve just said.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) what’s your response to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

What do you expect? I mean Robert Mugabe is hardly in a position to lecture the rest of the world about evil political behaviour.

JOURNALIST:

The Bracks’ Government has spent $400,000 on an ad campaign against the Federal Government, what’s your reaction to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

A waste of the money of the Victorian taxpayers. State governments, courtesy of the GST, have greater guarantees of revenue growth than they’ve had at any time since World War II and you’ve now got the second State Labor Government wasting the money of their taxpayers in running futile misleading political campaigns against the Federal Government. One more question then I must go.

JOURNALIST:

… air traffic controllers (inaudible) today, when do you expect they’ll finish their task in Iraq, given that the situation is really dire there now (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they will, there’ll be an air traffic control instruction presence in Iraq for so long as it’s needed to train locals to take over the management of air traffic control duties at Baghdad airport. I wouldn’t use the word dire, that’s your word, it’s not mine, it’s not the word of the air traffic controllers, it’s not the word of the military authorities in Bagdad. It’s difficult in areas but progress is still being made and it’s important to remember that those who are engaging in the insurrection and the acts of terror are trying to deny to the people of Iraq a democratic future and those who by their behaviour give appearance of condoning that are also denying the people of Iraq their democratic future.

Thank you.

[ends]