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AUS: Transcript: Howard Interview

8 August 1999

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW OXFORD FALLS, SYDNEY, NSW

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister is it true, have you asked the former Australian cricket captain to help with the ônoö case?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

The Sun-Herald has put out a press release saying that it stands by the story, it says that there has been talk between your office and the ACM about recruiting him.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look there's been no talk between me, or anybody on my behalf, and Mark Taylor. Can I say that if I get the opportunity to talk to Mark Taylor I don't waste time talking about the republic. We tend to talk about cricket, and I've had no discussions with him about the issue at all, any view he might have on the subject would be entirely his own.

JOURNALIST:

Would you like to see him enter the debate?

PRIME MINISTER:

That's a matter for him. I respect Mark Taylor enormously for what he's done for Australian cricket and because he's Australian of the Year. The question of his entering any political debate is entirely a matter for him. I don't recall ever having discussed the issue with Mark at any time. I'm surprised that the story was written and I repeat that I've not discussed it with him and nobody on my behalf has discussed it with him, and in those circumstances I think it's an extraordinary story. That's not the only extraordinary story the Sun-Herald had today. I've had something to say about another one.

JOURNALIST:

They also say in their press statement that the decision was to be announced within a month or so but that Mr Taylor hadn't made up his mind.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I don't know. You go and talk to them and talk to Mr Taylor. I just repeat that I've had no discussion with him and nobody at my request or on my behalf has had any discussion with him. I repeat that when I talk to him I don't talk about the republic, I talk about something a little more interesting to me, namely cricket.

JOURNALIST:

He'd be handy to have on side though.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, what he does is a matter for him, and I regard somebody who's been the Australian cricket captain as in a sense being somebody that the entire community identifies with. The question of what he does on individual issues is a matter for him but I have not asked him to do anything in relation to any political issue and I don't intend to.

JOURNALIST:

You mention another Sun-Herald report. Are you talking about these reports that your wife opposed the appointment of someone to the ABC board?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. It's self-evident what I'm talking about and I've made a statement about it and I've got nothing further to add.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister at the Cabinet meeting this week, is there likely to be a decision on the wording of the referendum question?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it will come up.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think it will change from the current question?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we'll have a look at it, but the proposed question is a truthful, accurate reflection of what the Australian public will be invited to decide on and any suggestion that that question is loaded is one that I reject. The idea that you should have a question that doesn't mention the method of election of the president seems quite extraordinary to me, yet that seems to be the view of some.

JOURNALIST:

Neither does it mention The Queen and yet she's the one facing removal as our head of state.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if you say you're going to have a republic of course you are removing The Queen.

JOURNALIST:

Are you open to changing the question?

PRIME MINISTER:

Am I open to change? Well you only change something if what you've got at the moment is defective. And what we have at the moment as far as the question is concerned is not defective. The Cabinet will, like all of these things have a look at it, and I'm not going to pre-empt what Cabinet does, I'd never do that.

JOURNALIST:

It seems the question of negotiations on the preamble, you've already been speaking to Aden Ridgeway this week, is there the possibility of that making the referendum?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we're continuing to talk.

JOURNALIST:

Any movement on the words mateship, stewardship, custodianship?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you know how fond I am of mateship.

JOURNALIST:

Aden Ridgeway says that there has to be either reference to traditional ownership, stewardship or custodianship. Are they in, are they likely be in?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't write preambles on the slopes of Oxford Falls.

JOURNALISTS:

What about the suggestion from Kim Beazley of a second referendum to boost the yes vote?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well why would I agree to that?

JOURNALIST:

Well what are your thoughts about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Just for the purpose of boosting one side or the other? Well what an extraordinary proposition. I thought the whole idea was to get a decision as to whether this country wanted to become a republic. Now that's the question, I can't see the point of having another question. Look can I just make the observation that we went to a Convention and the understanding was that whatever came out of the Convention the government would put to the people and that's what we're doing. It seems as though the supporters of the yes case because they are troubled about their prospects are now casting around for people to blame. I'm doing everything I told the Australian people I would do. I'm having a referendum, I'm having a vote. I'm expressing my view, I'm holding to my opinion, I've not changed it and I won't be changing it, and it's a matter for the Australian people not for me or Kim Beazley or anybody else to decide.

JOURNALIST:

East Timor, Prime Minister. What strategy does the government have in case the UN pulls out of East Timor?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't accept that that is going to happen. Australia wants a free and open vote and then we want everybody to respect and support the outcome of that vote and that means that if the people of East Timor vote for independence then that should be respected and supported in an orderly way by the Indonesian government. There should be an orderly transfer of power, there should be no precipitive withdrawal by Indonesia, but the rest of the world must understand that if there is a vote for independence then Indonesia will quickly lose interest in the territory and the rest of the world, particularly Australia, will be obliged to provide help and we'll be ready to do that.

It's not very productive to be talking in doomsday terms about what may or may not happen if a particular scenario transpires. The important thing is that we're going to have a free vote and in a free vote everybody who supports having the free vote should respect and support the outcome and that's what we're going to do and we'll continue to play a very constructive and supportive role and I ask the rest of the world to also understand that if the vote goes in favour of independence Australia alone can't look after East Timor, we'll want help from other countries. We'll play a role, we'll play a major role but we can't play the only role. And those who've been yelling loudest for independence for East Timor must be willing to play a role alongside Australia in helping what will be a very weak, fragile and vulnerable country. Fewer than a million people it's going to be pretty difficult, pretty tough and the people of that area will need a lot of help.

Thank you.

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