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AUS: Howard Transcript

15 September 1999

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH ALAN JONES û RADIO 2UE

JONES:

Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, Alan.

JONES:

Congratulations, you've done a splendid job in difficult circumstances.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that's kind of you to say so. There's still a lot to be done and my main aim is to get a peacekeeping force in as soon as possible.

JONES:

What's the delay?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we're just waiting on the resolution to be carried at the United Nations. Good progress has been made in the past few hours. My latest information is that it could be passed in the next six or eight hours, Australian time - perhaps there will be a bit of delay on that to the following day, I hope not but we are making good progress. We are ready to go. We naturally would like there to be some forces or a detachment from other parts of our region to go in at the beginning as well. We're very happy to do that. And the Deputy Head of the Australian Defence Force is actually in Malaysia today and in touch with the armies and the military forces of the ASEAN countries. But I think we are very close now to having the resolution carried, according to my information, but we can't act alone. We've always had to carry others with us on this. But I hope it won't be too long before we get the final go ahead and we can get some peacekeepers on the ground and we can begin restoring tolerable conditions for those poor people.

JONES:

Right. Well now Prime Minister it's only stating the obvious to say, and you are aware and you've alluded to this, there is very, very strong anti-Australia sentiment within Indonesia. The possibility of a military encounter between your troops, our troops, and the militia can't be dismissed. Anti-Australian instinct and sentiment is running deep. How should we respond to that once we get into East Timor?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Alan, I am optimistic that there won't be encounters between our forces and the Indonesian military forces. Obviously there could be encounters with the militias. And I acknowledge that there is a blurring sometimes between some of the Indonesian forces and the militia. However, I 'm rather more optimistic on that front but it is a dangerous operation. Our forces will have a full capacity of self-defence. I want to make that clear. There's no way that I would permit Australian forces to go into a dangerous theatre of activity with one hand tied behind the back and that is just not going to happen. And I'm sure the United Nations' resolution will authorise the peacekeeping force to take all necessary steps to implement its mandate.

JONES:

Prime Minister, four of Indonesia's neighbours û Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines û have committed to being part of the force and they have a long tradition of not interfering in each other's affairs. Is this a censure of Indonesia or does it represent an effort by Indonesia to save face by having sympathetic countries in the force that might be less willing to directly confront the Indonesian Government over transitional and management issues and may they be more reluctant even to take on militia members in armed conflict because the militia are widely believed to include former or serving Indonesian members?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'd be reluctant to assent to either of those propositions. I have to say that the view of our military is that the forces of a number of those countries are very professional. I mean, our army, for example, has had quite a lot of association with the Malaysian forces and hold them in quite high regard, very high regard, less so with the forces of the other countries. I would imagine, Alan, that any forces that go in will do a very professional job. They'll be under a unified command so they will need to work together. And I think it's too early to sort of draw conclusions as to why these ASEAN countries are being involved. I accept at face value that they are concerned to end the violence. They naturally didn't want to get involved without the acquiescence of the Indonesian Government. That's why I said all along that had to occur. But I found talking to the leaders of these countries in New Zealand a few days ago a great concern about what is happening and a desire to be involved. And I welcome, unreservedly, the involvement of these countries. And I think it's very important that Australia not be the only country involved in it. I think Australia is making a big contribution, probably the biggest, certainly the biggest, but we should do it in co-operation with our neighbours in the region. That's very important for us as well as for Indonesia.

JONES:

Absolutely, for long-term foreign policy implications. But, Prime Minister, there are 20,000 Indonesian police and soldiers in East Timor. We will have max 7000 û put simply, do the maths work out, can we handle it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that assumes, of course, that they're all going to be against us. I don't think that will be the case at all. I believe that there will, by and large, be a willingness on the part of the Indonesian Army to go along with the arrangement.

JONES:

But are we going to have large detachments of Indonesian soldiers protecting the militia troops?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we're going to work out an arrangement on the ground. And I've been very careful not to try and make statements about operational matters because I'm the Prime Minister, I'm not a General, I leave that to the military force. But, Alan, we wouldn't be sending fewer people than are needed if we regarded the 20,000 as being a direct threat. That's been our information and we don't believe that will happen.

JONES:

Sure, well let me just ask you another question. Will the peacekeepers be moving to protect the defenceless refugees or will they be making sure that they disarm first the militias, which is more important?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think it will probably vary and that's where you have to really leave it to the people on the ground. They will have the authority of the United Nations to do both. They will have the authority of the United Nations to secure and promote peace and stability. They will have the authority of the United Nations to protect the democratic mission in Timor û that is to protect the outcome of the ballot and to see that the objective is achieved there and also to facilitate humanitarian relief. So the answer to that is they'll really have an ambit authority to do all of those things. The order in which they do them, the way in which they do them are really matters for the commanding officer of the whole operation.

JONES:

Right, well just something for you, I mean, there may a case for û and this may be a matter you're going to have to take to the Australian people in persuasive argument û there may be a case for holding military aid. Do you have to educate Australians, though, that there is no case, really, for ending the economic aid programmes that we offer to Indonesia? In other words, if we're going to rebuild our relationships with Indonesia we have to be seen, don't we, to be helping Indonesia in their difficult economic crisis given that the bulk of them have nothing to do with the atrocities we 've seen in East Timor?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that's absolutely right. And it's in our self-interest, apart from the broader interests of the region, to do so because Indonesia is 211 million people - a burgeoning, growing, Indonesian middle-class has the capacity to buy goods and services from our country which we will want to sell to them. So, on every score it's sensible of us to do that. I think what we have to do is recognise that this issue has put our relations with Indonesia under great strain but also recognise that the anti-Australian voices that we've seen raised or heard raised in Indonesia are not the only Indonesian voices. There are many people in Indonesia who identify with the democratic cause and will understand and sympathise with what Australia has done.

JONES:

Just one final thing on that, I mean, this is going to be a long and costly deployment, isn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, and it could be, well, it will be dangerous and, you know, there must be a readiness to accept the possibility of casualties. I don't disguise that. We all hope for the best in that respect and our prayers and thoughts will go with all of our forces when they go. But it will be very dangerous and it will be costly. JONES:

And the best way to repair relationships with Indonesia surely is by persuading Indonesians that their best future lies in a democratic process. I mean, there are û and you would be aware of discussions overnight that the military are now saying that there is now a wider case than ever before for the military to regain control in Indonesia. That would be [inaudible] to their best interests, wouldn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely. Alan, if out of all of this democracy is stronger in Indonesia then the good will of the world will be all the greater. In the end Indonesia needs the rest of the world. It needs the rest of the world a lot. And the rest of the world wants to help but it's not willing to help unconditionally as it were. No group of nations can be expected to do that. And that's why it's very important that Indonesia understand that there's no permanent hostility to it as a result of what's happened but it must also understand that the path to international sympathy and understanding does not lie in a rejection of democratic practises.

JONES:

Absolutely. Prime Minister, there are some good things that prime ministers get to do. We are a year out from the Olympics û I'm going to completely change tack û and yet some of the great performances don't necessarily happen within the Olympics. You are aware of Pat Farmer running around Australia to promote the Centenary of Federation. Today is something of a milestone because it is the halfway mark û 7,250 kilometres gone, 7,250 kilometres to go. I know you've sent a message today.

PRIME MINISTER:

I have indeed. I saw him off and I sent him a message today thanking him and expressing the admiration of the Australian public for what he's doing. He's a tremendous inspiration. He's dedicated this fantastic commitment to the memory of his late wife and he really is a first class bloke and the sort of person that we can all be very proud of.

JONES:

Good on you. He'd love to hear that. I know that you can't hear the interview with him so I'll let you go and thank you for your time and congratulations on your efforts. We'll talk again when necessary.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, Alan.

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