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Transcript of the Prime Minister's press conference: 21 October, 2003: Sukhothai Hotel, Bangkok.\n



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PRIME MINISTER

21 October 2003

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP PRESS CONFERENCE, SUKHOTHAI HOTEL, BANGKOK

Subjects: APEC; visits to Australia by President Hu and President Bush; comments by Dr Mahathir; Newspoll; North Korea.

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well this morning there’ll be the second part of the retreat and we’ll obviously talk about a number of security and related issues and then there’ll be the Leaders’ declaration. I expect the Leaders’ declaration to contain a strong recapitulation of the region’s concerns about terrorism, a strong emphasis on trying to recover the ground lost at Cancun in relation to more open trade and I will be hoping that the push in that direction, that Australia very strongly supports, is prominent in the Leaders’ declaration. Any questions?

JOURNALIST:

How was the Tuk Tuk?

PRIME MINISTER:

How was the what?

JOURNALIST:

The Tuk Tuk.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, the garb?

JOURNALIST:

www.pm.gov.au

The taxi.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh that, fantastic. What do you call it?

JOURNALIST:

Tuk Tuk.

PRIME MINISTER:

Tuk Tuk, well there’s room for a golf buggy in it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister the White House briefing yesterday that President Bush considers the remarks of Dr Mahathir in regard to the Jews as hateful and outrageous and they briefed that President Bush took Dr Mahathir aside yesterday at the meeting and told him that his remarks concerning the Jews were wrong and divisive. Is that your view also?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ve made my views on those remarks very well known, I made them know a couple of days ago and I think any attempt to divide this world according to religious affiliations is the last thing we want, we want Jews and Christians and Muslims of goodwill co-operating, we don’t want people put into compartments. I made those views known a few days ago and I certainly don’t retreat from them, I use my language, President Bush uses his, I made my views on his remarks about the Jews very well known and I think my record in Australia and elsewhere in relation to anything remotely resembling anti-Semitism is very well known.

JOURNALIST:

Did you communicate that directly to Dr Mahathir?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I will maintain very formal cordiality and no more with Dr Mahathir, my views on the record.

JOURNALIST:

And also on that subject of Dr Mahathir, what’s your response to his allegation that the US has hijacked APEC for security reasons when the primary focus ought to be trade?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s very hard to keep up with all of these comments made by various people but I don’t think America or anybody else has hijacked APEC. Terrorism apart from its immense human impact has an enormous economic impact as well, Alexander Downer made the point that the Bali attack had taken one per cent off Indonesia’s GDP and of course it’s had a devastating

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effect on the regional Balinese economy. So the idea that you can artificially separate out terrorism from a grouping like APEC is absurd.

JOURNALIST:

How many of the developing countries have reservations about explicitly addressing terrorism?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not aware that any of them do, I mean I read about what one who’s name has been mentioned has said but I haven’t heard that view, I haven’t heard that view expressed around the table, I’d be very surprised.

JOURNALIST:

There are reports in papers saying the reluctant APEC members…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well but I mean you know what you fellas are like.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, today’s Newspoll has Labor down one point in the primary vote and the Coalition down three and puts Labor ahead two party preferred 51 - 49, why is your primary vote slipping?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let me just say this about the poll, it just demonstrates the point that I’ve been making now for some months that it’s going to be very hard for the Coalition to win the next election, there’s only eight seats between us and electoral oblivion, I’ll be working very hard, very hard indeed to give the Coalition its best chance of winning for the fourth time and I want the Australian people to know that I will never take them for granted, I certainly don’t.

JOURNALIST:

Are you confident there’ll be a reference to liberalisation of agricultural trade sort of in the areas of…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I would think that the declaration would fall short of last year if there weren’t and that would be a backwards step, I’ll certainly be pushing very hard and I have already raised that issue in the discussions that were held yesterday afternoon. There are some member countries of APEC that are less enthusiastic than others about removing agricultural subsidises, Australia supports the removal of agricultural subsidises for two reasons, it’s in our national interest to do so because our farmers have been hurt by them but it’s also very much in the national interest of the developing, the least developed countries, if only we could do something to get rid of those subsidises it would be very good.

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JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, reports that fighter aircraft will be patrolling the skies over Canberra during President Bush’s visit, is that a little over the top?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it’s not, that was done at CHOGM.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, given the concern Mr Downer’s expressed about MANPADS are you concerned that the Malaysians are insistent on acquiring them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think I’d like to know a little bit more about precisely what the Malaysians have in mind, I’m not as across the detail of that to enable me to go further than to support what Mr Downer said.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the Americans have put up some new proposals on North Korea that they’ve put around at this conference, I was interested in your reaction to them and if you had any insight into how some of the other key stakeholders like China and South Korea etc responded to them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the Chinese continue to play a very constructive role, I think it’s too early to say that the Chinese are supporting or opposing what the Americans have put around, I spoke to the Chinese President last night at dinner, we were seated next to each other and we talked amongst other things about North Korea and I thanked him for the very constructive role that China is playing and we’ll have an opportunity when he’s in Australia later this week to have a further discussion and I intend to focus a little on this issue in my remarks to the formal dinner that’s being offered to the President on Friday night. China remains the key player, I think we should continue to tackle it through a six nation forum, I think that is very desirable, but in the end no country can exert more influence on North Korea than China.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, there’s not a lot of detail made public yet about what the US is proposing, is President Bush sharing with the Leaders’ more detail than is being made public, are you more aware…

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it’s too early, there have just been an outline and perhaps we’ll get some more detail later.

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JOURNALIST:

Just finally Prime Minister, for me at least…

PRIME MINISTER:

Who you trying to kid?

JOURNALIST:

A number of commentators have said that APEC has outlived its usefulness, how do you respond to that in light of what’s happened so far?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think that’s nonsense, from Australia’s point of view it’s the only grouping that brings together North Asia, South Asia, North America, South America and by my understanding of the historical placement of Russia a little bit of Europe as well. I think it’s a very useful body and its provided, in the case of Australia and Thailand, I think the fortuitous character of the meeting provided the final catalyst to bring about the Free Trade Agreement and as more detail of that is absorbed in Australia it’s very apparent to people that it’s a major breakthrough for a number of Australian industries.

JOURNALIST:

Isn’t that the point Prime Minister that most of the announcements coming out of APEC are now bilateral announcements, not multi…

PRIME MINISTER:

But that is no bad thing, that is no bad thing, I mean what matters in the end is what you actually get out of these gatherings and the dynamic and the momentum of a meeting often produces an outcome that would otherwise not have been achieved, there’s no doubt in my mind that the fortuitous timing of the APEC meeting in Auckland in 1999 helped greatly to bring some things to a head in relation to East Timor so it’s always been the case, there’s nothing new about this.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what do you expect the twin presidential visits to achieve this week?

PRIME MINISTER:

The fact that they’re taking place is very important, they re-emphasise the importance of the two relationships, they re-emphasise the respect in which Australia is held around the world, they provide an opportunity for me to talk on home soil to both world leaders and they also illustrate I guess the interconnected character of our world and they drive home a point that I’ve made repeatedly since I’ve become Prime Minister that when it comes to our foreign policies we are not a regional exclusive player, a region exclusive player, we are a participant that has interests in all parts of the world and we have very close linkages with our own region but we of course have enduring linkages with North America and Europe.

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JOURNALIST:

Are there any new initiatives on tackling terrorism in the discussion this afternoon and in the declaration?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the most important thing is to afford the campaign or the war against terrorism its appropriate place so far as this region is concerned rather than having new initiatives, I mean there are some proposals relating to travel information that are around, but they’re valuable but the important thing is this continued focus.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, apparently the declaration is going to use some words about the economic impact of corruption, it sounds very much like the language Australia’s been using in the South Pacific.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, well we agree with that, we agree with the use of that language.

JOURNALIST:

It sounds very much like your language. Do you think that you can actually use that argument that you’ve been using in the South Pacific more broadly within APEC about the economic…

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the importance of good governance, if I can put it that way, is one of those world wide imperatives, not just in the Pacific.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, has there been more talk about this regional alert system to track people of interest throughout the region?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is on the table, yes.

JOURNALIST:

You’ve been to eight APEC meetings, how has it evolved since you first starting coming in ’96, how would you characterise the…

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s become more politically relevant, that’s the biggest single change and that’s an added reason why we should keep it, it’s more not less relevant politically now than what it was and one of the reasons for that is the growing, or the growth in the constructive interchange

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between the United States and China and the evident desire of the United States and China, whatever their differences, to work together where they can, China’s desire to be part of the enormous economic growth that can be hers if she liberalises her economy and a willingness on the part of the major powers in the region and I obviously rate them as the United States, China and Japan to recognise that whatever differences they have on certain issues it’s in everybody’s interest, they work together, now we’re part of that, albeit a smaller part because of our size, but given our size we do carry a lot of influence and are listened to and play a constructive part but I think the political relevance of APEC has risen enormously in the last eight years and that’s why it’s the single most valuable meeting that Australia participates in during any calendar year. One more question then I’ve got to go and get changed.

JOURNALIST:

Have you spoken to the Singaporean Prime Minister at all about the comments he made on Sunday?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I’m not particularly, I’ve said what I think about them. I think they were fairly reported this morning.

JOURNALIST:

Do you know what animals are going to be on your shirt this morning Mr Howard?

PRIME MINISTER:

What’s 1939? That’s the puzzle for the day.

Okay, see you later.

[ends]