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Aus PM John Howard - Press Conference

20 May 2000

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

PRESS CONFERENCE, GRAND HYATT HOTEL, SEOUL

Subject: President Wahid; Fiji; Korean Acting Prime Minister; Kogas

E&OE ……………………………………………………………………………

This will only be for a few minutes, you may want to ask me one to two quick questions, but before you do that I thought I might inform you that this morning I took a telephone call from President Wahid of Indonesia. It was in response to the letter I’d written to him, which I spoke of about ten days ago.

The President told me that he agreed that our meeting, our bi-lateral meeting should take place before the proposed tripartite meeting involving the East Timorese Leader Xanana Guasmo. He said that he was still looking forward to coming to Australia and I have suggested some dates in July and they will be a matter of discussion between the Australian Ambassador in Jakarta and President Wahid’s office.

This is the first occasion on which we have spoken. It was a very pleasant conversation, we’re both looking forward to meeting each other. I told the President that he would be the first Indonesian leader to visit Australia in twenty-six years and that he would receive a very warm and generous welcome from the Australian people, from both sides of politics.

I expect that he will be honoured with an honorary doctorate in at least one or perhaps two Australian universities. That of course is a matter for him and those institutions. But it goes without saying that he will be very warmly welcomed in Australia. The relationship between Australia and Indonesia is a very important one. I have made that repeatedly clear. I admire very much the leadership he’s given to Indonesia since taking over in very difficult circumstances. I repeated that to him during our telephone conversation and informed him that that had been the substance of some the discussion between myself and President Kim Dae-jung.

Now, any other questions?

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, have you had an update today on the events in Fiji?

PRIME MINISTER:

Very briefly Paul, the situation on our latest information, it’s still difficult but we are increasing our optimism that the matter will be satisfactorily resolved. It does not appear that the hostage takers have the support of either the police or the army. They have been denounced by the President and Army Commander Ratu Mara. There’s been widespread international condemnation of which of course Australia has been part. General Rabuka has I understand been involved in some of the discussions and negotiations. The advice we have is that there is no danger to any Australians in Fiji. It is still a very difficult, tense situation. But we have more rather than less grounds for feeling positive than last night.

JOURNALIST:

Notwithstanding the fact that threats have been made to the lives of the hostages there, there’s quite serious threats that have been made against them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I am aware of that. Well, there’s always a threat when people are taken hostage by armed hostage takers. But I can only inform you that that is the latest. Mr Downer spoke by telephone to Ratu Mara this morning and he will be issuing a statement regarding that in Australia very soon.

JOURNALIST:

Are you concerned about the fact that the Korean media is reporting what happened yesterday as an announcement, or an agreement by you for some trade agreement with Korea? It seems to have been taken to a much further level than you announced yesterday.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you know what it’s like, if you reacted to each and everything that was said in the media you’d get rather disconcerted, wouldn’t you? I know what was agreed, it was agreed that as part of the dialogue there should be a discussion of those things.

JOURNALIST:

Can you tell us anything about the discussion you had today with Mr Han?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I had a very good discussion with Mr Han of KOGAS. I naturally extolled to him the virtues of entering into large, long term, valuable contracts for the supply of LNG from Australian suppliers and he said that he was having discussions with the joint venture project group that is in Seoul at the present time, but they haven’t of course made a decision. The situation is that they have bought their LNG from as, a number of sources in South East Asia and the Middle East and they’re looking at further diversification and that is where Australia comes in. And I spent most of my time telling him that it would be a very wise decision to involve Australia. But of course it is a commercial decision, but the company has had the goodwill and the backing, not only of the Federal Government but also of the Western Australian Government.

Yes?

JOURNALIST:

Sorry Mr Howard have you read the reports that the Fijian Prime Minister has had a gun held to his head?

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven’t heard that specific report. In my comments I’m relying on the reports I was given a couple of hours ago and also what I have been informed of the discussion between Ratu Mara and Mr Downer.

JOURNALIST:

Why do you say there’s more reason to feel positive than last night?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that was the thrust of the advice conveyed to Mr Downer.

JOURNALIST:

But why is there more optimism now? Given that it seems to be . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no, I base that observation on what Ratu Mara told Mr Downer. It’s optimism that the matter will be satisfactorily resolved but look, I obviously can’t do more than report to you what I have been informed. I mean, we have no direct control over the situation. It’s clearly a very, a very unhappy situation. It’s been roundly condemned. It’s an outrageous act, transgression against a democratically elected Prime Minister and there’s always a danger while they remain in the hands of the hostage takers. And the reports you allude to may well be correct. I don’t know I hadn’t been informed of them. I am just informing you that I have been told that the thrust of the discussion was that there was more optimism now, that the situation could be satisfactorily resolved. Now that may prove to be wrong. In these situations all I can do is answer the questions as best I can on the latest information I’ve got.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you also spoke to the head of POSCO I think yesterday?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I did.

JOURNALIST:

What was . . . was there any outcome from that discussion?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, essentially it was a discussion that spoke of the longstanding relationship that exists. The fact that POSCO has been, you know a very substantial purchaser and I naturally exhorted the company to continue that.

JOURNALIST:

Was there a courtesy call from the Acting Prime Minister today?

PRIME MINISTER:

I saw the Acting . . . yes, I had a call from him. Well, I saw him in his Finance Minister capacity and he will be entertaining us at lunch.

JOURNALIST:

In that capacity, were there any issues addressed with him that are substantial and specific which might be of interest to us?

PRIME MINISTER:

In other words, is there anything you want me to tell you about the meeting? Well I know, it was largely a meeting that reinforced the discussions I had had with the President, particularly in relation to the trade association and the economic recovery that Korea has enjoyed.

JOURNALIST:

Discussions about currency and such issues?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. No discussion about currencies.

JOURNALIST:

Do your discussions with KOGAS leave you more optimistic that that extension, the massive development of the North West Shelf could go ahead, given that it needs an additional partner with Japan?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think its prospects were done any harm and it’s always important to reinforce the support that the Government is giving to the private sector investors and certainly, Mr Han was left in no doubt that the Federal Government is an enthusiastic backer of that project.

Thank you.

[Ends]

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