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Sydney: transcript of press conference: US Congressional election result; unemployment; Australia/Asia relationship; ASIO raids; interest rates; Australian/Indonesian relations.



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www.pm.gov.au

7 November 2002

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP PRESS CONFERENCE, SYDNEY

Subjects: US Congressional election result; unemployment; Australia/Asia relationship; ASIO raids; interest rates; Australian/Indonesian relations.

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………………...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’d like to take this opportunity of congratulating President Bush for a quite remarkable victory in the mid-term Congressional elections. It defies history for an incumbent President, particularly the first Congressional election after his victory, to do so well and it’s very important in our view at this time with the war against terror still very much a work in progress, it’s very important that the authority of the American President be strengthened and endorsed within his own country. And to win back control of the Senate and to increase his grip, or his party’s grip, on the House of Representatives does exactly that. It’s a tribute to his campaign skills and I’m personally very delighted that that has been the outcome. That’s all I have to say, any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Jobs figures today, unemployment is down to six per cent but full-time unemployment is up.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what matters Sarah with these things is the trend over time, and the trend over time is that unemployment has hugged close to six per cent now for quite a long period of time. It could go sharply lower if we could get our unfair dismissal laws through the Senate and the Labor Party and the Democrats will have another opportunity before Parliament rises for Christmas to vote in favour of our unfair dismissal law which would generate tens of thousands of additional jobs in small business if it were passed. Parliament will be sitting again next week and there will be an opportunity for the opposition parties in the Senate before we rise for Christmas to give the unemployed of this country a Christmas present by passing our unfair dismissal laws so that next year we could confidently anticipate that the unemployment rate in this country could have a five in front of it rather than a six.

PRIME MINISTER

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JOURNALIST:

Should Mr Emerson, or should Mr Crean discipline Craig Emerson on the grounds that he’s calling you anti-Asian or what’s your response?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look Mr Downer’s dealt with that, I’m not going to dignify that with any further comment.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, on Australia-Asia relations in the wake of the Bali bombings and the Asia (inaudible) travel warning, there seems to be apparent backlash in Asia towards Australia. Are you surprised at that?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is obviously a challenging time but I think we have to look beneath the surface and understand that the undercurrent of relationships between Australia and different Asian countries is still very good. At the weekend, Mark Vaile announced a positive outcome of the negotiations between Australia and Singapore for a Free Trade Agreement. Even countries such as Malaysia, as Mr Downer has pointed out, cooperated with Australia in relation to the listing of Jemaah Islamiah by the Security Council. You are all aware of the very strong and growing economic ties between Australia and China, as epitomised by the successful natural gas deal. You have to take a broader view of these things. We are doing what we must and should and will do in defending the Australian national interest and communicating travel advice and security assessments to Australian citizens. That is our first responsibility and people understand that. The leaders of other countries understand that. I understand the distress caused to the tourist industry in Indonesia and other countries but that distress was caused not by our travel warnings, it has been caused by the terrorist outrages and it is against those outrages that all of our efforts must be marshalled and directed.

JOURNALIST:

So are Muslims, are they safe to travel in Australia unlike what Mahatir said?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is one of the safest countries in the world. No country is absolutely safe for anybody but I just want to say to Australians of the Muslim faith, you are as protected and important part of our country as anyone else. The ASIO raids are not directed against Islamic people. They’re not directed specifically against people of any religion or any race. There are some 250,000 Australians of the Muslim faith and we’ve had fewer than 20 raids. Twenty people have been the subject of these raids and they have been carried out for good reason. They have my full support. They are not directed against Indonesians, they are not directed against Asians, they are not directed against Muslims. They are directed against people of interest and in relation to whom ASIO has obtained warrants on proper grounds - so that is the legitimate behaviour of authorities within an open, liberal, democratic society. And in the circumstances in which Australia now finds itself, we could do no less and we would be letting the Australian people down if we didn’t do it. But I’ll say to our Asian friends, our relationships are deep and strong. Inevitably there will be some challenges that have to be

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dealt with but if you look below the rhetorical surface you will find an understanding of our position in those countries.

JOURNALIST:

What about Megawati’s suggestion the ASIO raids may have been overreaction or excessive.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they hadn’t of course taken place when we had our discussion and there have been a number of incidences of misreporting of what she said, so I don’t know that I want to officially respond to that.

JOURNALIST:

The US has cut interest rates, how do you expect that to flow on to the Australian economy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the reduction of US interest rates of itself will not have an effect on the Australian economy. It’s really the effect it has on the American economy which in turn could have an effect on the Australian economy.

JOURNALIST:

Are you concerned that some are suggesting that, even at the highest diplomat for Indonesia in Australia, that given the relations at the moment between Australia and Indonesia, the investigations into the Bali bombings and suspects may be jeopardised?

PRIME MINISTER:

All the information I have at the moment is that that investigation is going ahead with the full cooperation of the Indonesian police and the Indonesian authorities. The latest advice I have from the Australian Federal Police is that they are working together very closely and I’ve not had any suggestion from the operatives that that investigation is other than proceeding in close harmony between the two police forces. One more question and I have to go to lunch.

JOURNALIST:

On September the 11th there was an outpouring globally for their Americans for their loss of life. How do you feel personally after the loss of life in Bali that there is this criticism and reaction coming from Asia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the reaction I’ve had on a personal level from people at the APEC meeting has been one of sympathy and concern for the loss of Australian life. And I think beneath the surface and beneath a lot of the rhetoric there is an understanding that this was a terrible event for Australia. There has been an enormous loss of life. We have to give a strong, measured and medium term response to the challenges we have at the present time and we have to

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simultaneously protect the Australian national interest and also work with our neighbours and friends in the region and that is what the Government is doing. Thank you.

[ends]