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Trans Tasman PMs' Press Conference March 9th

9 March 2003

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER
THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP
JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH NEW ZEALAND
PRIME MINISTER HELEN CLARK,
SHERATON HOTEL, AUCKLAND

Subjects: Bilateral discussions; Zimbabwe; Iraq; CER; Pacific islands; protestors; free trade agreement with the US; star wars missile program; Iraqi diplomat.

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

We’ve had a very solid discussion this morning on a very wide range of issues across the bilateral, regional and international. On the bilateral front, I commented that Peter Costello’s visit to New Zealand was very successful in our view, and we’re very pleased with the engagement between the Australian Treasurer and the New Zealand Minister of Finance in taking the CER relationship on beyond the purely trade issues into the level of harmonisation across business, regulatory and tax law. We’re looking with some interest from the New Zealand point of view at the reference to, and work of, the Australian Productivity Commission on the rules of origin issue, and when that Commission has advanced its work, we’ll be making a submission to it and looking forward to discussing with Australia how we might modernise and update our relationship in that respect.

We had a good exchange on the position of the two economies at the present time. Both have been star performers in the OECD league at present. We’ve had a thorough discussion around counter-terrorism issues. We cooperate very, very closely. There has been, particularly since September 11th, a new level of engagement for most countries on counter-terrorism. We have officials coming and going between us a great deal, and we’ve also discussed the agreements that are being made with other countries in the region on strengthening counter-terrorism cooperation. There is no doubt that this will need to be an issue to be taken up again at the Pacific Island forum to be held in Auckland in August this year.

On defence, I was able to brief Mr Howard on the substantial commitment New Zealand is making to the operation Enduring Freedom, ongoing campaign against al Qaeda and Taliban efforts, the deployment to the Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, the Straits of Hormuz area where we presently have a frigate, will have an Orion shortly and also the likely deployment of a Hercules with respect to that overall operation Enduring Freedom deployment as well. We’re also very much on track with our long-term defence purchasing plan and that has seen refurbishment across the three arms of the New Zealand armed services.

We’ve had a discussion about the Australian negotiations shortly to begin of the free trade agreement with the United States. We’re very pleased with the progress Australia has made and we wish Australia every success in reaching agreement with the United States. Clearly we’re looking for our own opportunities, and we’ve welcomed the fact that Australia would also not only not stand in the way of such an agreement, but seize the opportunities for New Zealand for such an agreement.

We’ve also touched on the forthcoming Commonwealth summit where the issue of Zimbabwe will be salient again. As I’ve recently had the opportunity of talking with Don McKinnon, as has Mr Howard as current chair of the Commonwealth, I’m obviously hopeful that the suspension of Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth, will be able to be maintained through to and including the CHOGM in Abuju where the matter can be discussed again.

And yes, we have spent a little time on the issue of Iraq. I think both Prime Ministers are very clear of where each other’s Governments are coming from. We’ve taken, and agreed to, a disagree position on the timetable and means of resolving this in the short term, but there can be no disagreement at all about the objective, which is we all want to put the crisis over Iraq behind us, see Iraq effectively disarmed and contained, and having resolved that, see a greater possibility of bringing stability to the Middle East overall.

Mr Howard.

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well thank you very much Prime Minister. As always it has been a very detailed and focused discussion. As Prime Minister Clark has pointed out, we covered all of the main bilateral issues and also a number of international issues, and I endorse very much the summary that the Prime Minister has given. What is important, as we celebrate 20 years of CER, is to find ways of building on the very great momentum that CER has generated, and the way in which we can harmonise our economies in relation to taxation, to which the Prime Minister referred, and in other ways will be the path forward to building further economic linkages between our two communities.

We did discuss a number of international issues, not least of course Iraq, and the Prime Minister has indicated the tenor of that discussion. We’re also very focused on ensuring that the rules that underpin the operation of the Commonwealth are applied with the same rigour, if I can put it that way, to countries like Zimbabwe as they were applied to countries such as Fiji and Pakistan, and that has been behind the arguments that I have advanced as chairman in office, and I believe that there is logic in the current status of Zimbabwe being maintained until the next Commonwealth meeting which will be this year in Nigeria.

We also discussed our common interest in the challenges facing the small island states of the Pacific, and the next meeting of the Pacific Island Forum will be here in Auckland, and I’m looking forward to that meeting as an opportunity to further engage some of the challenges, particularly of a governance kind, of those small island states. And it’s an issue that we talked about a lot in Suva last year, and it’s an issue that we have to return to because we in Australia see linkages between ongoing assistance and governance in these countries, and obviously the critical mass that is needed to maintain some of the services and infrastructures of nationhood are lacking, and we have to find as a community of countries in our part of the world, new ways of assembling that critical mass, and it’s one of the issues that we hope to see addressed.

But can I say that it was a very comprehensive discussion and conducted in the candid, cordial way which has characterised all the meetings I’ve had with Prime Ministers of New Zealand.

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

Any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what do you make of the comments of the protestors – question to Mr Howard – what do you make of the comments of the protestors out the front who call you a warmonger?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well it’s not very original.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, the protestors said they wanted to make you feel unwelcome in New Zealand. Have you felt unwelcome here?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

No.

JOURNALIST:

Have you noticed the protestors?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Have you noticed many of them?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Have you noticed many of them?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Not a lot.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, have you been surprised at the way you have been targeted? I mean if you look up at the headline this morning in the newspaper, which says ‘Who do you think you are kidding Mr Howard?’, which is redolent of Dad’s Army and ‘Who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler?’, are you surprised at that level of personal attack?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Nothing surprises me Glenn. But, you know, you’ve got to say something colourful for a headline I guess, and none of you are unfamiliar with that syndrome, are you?

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, there is talk of it being the strongest security deployment [inaudible] in New Zealand. Have you felt safe at all times?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Yes. Including on my morning walk. I didn’t see you Tom.

JOURNALIST:

I slept in this morning. I understand that you didn’t undertake your normal walk out of the hotel. You were taken away to another location.

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well I often… come on, big conspiracy. Tom, it is often the case that when I visit a city, I will drive a short distance to a very pleasant park. And can I say that that garden, that Botanical Gardens, the Domain in Auckland, is beautiful. I mean, there was even a picket fence there. I’m not suggesting that it was erected for me, but the cricket ground and the beautiful Domain, I think it was called, grandstand was very picturesque and I’m glad I did go there. But there is nothing unusual about that happening Tom, come on.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you’ve said that… both Prime Ministers have said that the talks were wide-ranging covering bi-lateral and international issues. What proportion of the time was spent on Iraq, and was there, given that you’ve agreed to disagree, and you obviously have a good rapport, is there any tension over the Iraqi issue at all between you?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

No, there is no tension. We probably spent ten minutes or quarter of an hour on the issue, and I explained Australia’s position, and Ms Clark explained New Zealand’s position. But it is not an issue that is going to contaminate our bilateral relationship in any way. After all, our goal is the same. We have some different assessments of what has been the reason for things that have been achieved to date and what might be achieved in the future, but it’s one of those issues that we talked about very directly, but it certainly hasn’t created, and it won’t create, any tension between the two of us or between our two Governments.

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

I think what I should say about that is that one of the distressing bits of fallout over the whole crisis has been to see elsewhere in the world, long-standing friends exchange very sharp words about it. And I am determined that New Zealand isn’t going to lose good friends or damage friendships over this. There are a range of opinions in countries with which both of us identify with in the normal course of events on most things, but it’s important I think that we respect the differences and that they are expressed in a courteous way. And you’re not going to find the New Zealand Government attacking its long-time friends.

JOURNALIST:

Do you feel any pressure personally… you pick up the newspaper this morning and there is protestors out the front, there is plans for bigger protests in Wellington, the polls show 54 per cent of New Zealanders say Australia is wrong. Do you feel any pressure as Prime Minister to take a hard line with your Australian colleague [inaudible] as a result of that strength of feeling in New Zealand?

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

I think there is strength of feeling along those lines in most of the world’s countries, but from my point of view, I make it very clear what the New Zealand Government’s position is. Mr Howard has made it clear what his Government’s position is. We’re going to register the difference of opinion over the timetable and the means, but there is not daylight between on us on the objective.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister Clark, do you acknowledge that New Zealand could pay a price for its current stand on Iraq, vis a vi a place at the table on free trade negotiations involving Australia and the US?

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

No. I think it’s very important that we not get involved in what I might call a trade across issues. Part of my formative experience as a young person was seeing a New Zealand Prime Minister commit troops to Vietnam on what was widely speculated on at the time as being about a meat quota. I think it’s very important that we look at these issues on their own merits, and I can assure you the sort of consideration that you have raised has not been a consideration in my mind, because I like to think that New Zealand has a consistency of approach in foreign policy and how it handles international issues. And for us, what is absolutely fundamental is to follow through on the work of our Prime Minister in 1945 when the UN was founded and the charter was drawn up at San Francisco, where we hung our flag on principles of multilateralism, the authority of the Security Council and the rule of international law. And we have then taken our interpretation of what that means and applied it to this crisis, and that is what I will continue to do. And I think that is in the very best tradition of New Zealand foreign policy.

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Can I just say on that point, because you know it’s inferentially relevant Glenn, that our attitude on the free trade agreement has been formulated independently of our attitude towards the importance of the security relationship between Australia and the United States. I don’t see trading across issues either as appropriate. I think there is an Australian national interest in pursuing a free trade agreement with the United States if it can be achieved on acceptable conditions. I have explained the Australian national interest before in relation to our stance on Iraq, of which the security alliance with the United States is an enduring component, but not the dominant one, and those things stand independently in their own right, as reasons for the stances we’ve taken on the two issues. And I don’t seek to draw linkages between those two things.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] understand that New Zealand may have some concerns given our CER about a distortion in investment, if Australia gets a free trade agreement.

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well let me put it this way, I mean New Zealanders will speak for New Zealanders, and I’m always trying to be sensitive to their views. We’re not seeking to shut people out in talking to the Americans about a free trade agreement, and obviously because our economy is not the same as New Zealand’s, and there are some things that would be irreducible minima I guess for New Zealand to get out of a free trade agreement with the United States, they’re a little bit difference from irreducible minima for Australia, and that is the reason why we have to proceed independently. But what I have indicated to the Prime Minister is that along the way, if we can point the Americans in the direction of New Zealand, we’re very happy to do so. I mean, we’re not in the business of trying to shut people out and we’re not in the business of trying to create distortions. I mean, we are in a very close economic relationship with New Zealand. I’m here to celebrate 20 years of that. I’m here to encourage an expansion of it. But I’m also after the Australian national interest and pursuing it very vigorously in relation to the Americans. Now the two aren’t incompatible and I don’t think we should get excited in thinking they are.

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

Mark Sainsbury.

JOURNALIST:

On the Vietnam War, if you weren’t Prime Minister today, could you envisage yourself across the road with that protest?

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

If I weren’t Prime Minister today, I’d be taking exactly the same view as I have stated here. At the age of 53, I’m much less likely to be running around with a placard.

JOURNALIST:

But does it personally disappoint you as somebody who did protest against the Vietnam War, that Australia does hold this position from a personal point of view?

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

I understand exactly why Australia holds this position, and I’m not going to express disappointment or any other emotion about it, I simply understand that this is what flows from Australia’s relationships elsewhere. As I say, it’s not going to damage the friendship between us, that we’ve drawn different conclusions about timetable and means.

JOURNALIST:

Ms Clark, [inaudible] star wars missile program, and what do you think of Australia’s [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

Well the very small paragraph reference in the recent Australian document did attract some front page coverage in New Zealand, and at the time when I was contacted by journalists, I said that my reading of it was that it was all pretty speculative and tentative, and that has been confirmed by the discussion we’ve had today, that no commitments have been made. I would register again, as I did when talking with journalists about it, and as we have for rather a long time on missile shields, say that our emphasis is very much on preventative diplomacy with nuclear weapons, on disarmament, on strengthening the disarmament treaty infrastructure, and we have concerns about anything which might destabilise the existing disarmament treaty infrastructure. The anti-ballistic missile treaty is a dead duck now precisely because of the missile shield development. So that’s our key concern.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, just on the Iraqi diplomat that is being expelled from Australia. Why has the Australian Government given him until Wednesday. Why wasn’t he expelled immediately? And the Iraqi charge` d’affaires denies the allegations and has challenged the Government to charge the diplomat.

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well charge`s often do that when this happens, often. I don’t think that’s the least bit surprising. As to why it’s Wednesday and not another day, Mr Downer is more across the detail of this than me. You should talk to him.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, Bob Brown this morning on Australian television said that this is just basically part of a propaganda war to wind us up for the imminent war against Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

That what is a problem?

JOURNALIST:

That the expulsion is just part of…

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well that’s nonsense.

JOURNALIST:

But can I say, wouldn’t it be better to put the facts before the Australian people so that you could knock that argument over?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well Glenn, in inviting us to do that, you’re inviting us to comment in greater detail on security and intelligence matters, that for very good reasons Governments of different persuasions have refused to do. We had very good intelligence and security reasons for doing what we did. He broke the rules, and that is why he is being asked to go. That has happened in the past, and it will happen again in the future, and the fact that it occurred in the context of the UN debate is just how the cards fall. But the reason he has been asked to go is that he has broken the unwritten rules. Based on intelligence and security considerations, I don’t, for reasons most people understand, intend to go into the details of those security and intelligence considerations.

JOURNALIST:

How serious was the Iraqi diplomat’s breach of the rules?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Sufficiently serious for us to ask him to go. Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] how vulnerable you think these small Pacific island states now are to international criminal networks and international terrorist networks? You said before [inaudible]. How vulnerable…

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well they are all more vulnerable as a result of the rise of international terrorism, which underscores the necessity for the world community, particularly the more powerful countries in the world community, to take action to fight terrorism and to prevent opportunities for weapons of mass destruction getting into the hands of terrorists.

JOURNALIST:

Ms Clark, do you have similar concerns about the small Pacific states.

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

We know how much extra work has been involved for New Zealand since September 11th in passing new acts of parliament, drawing up legislation, making extra provision for spending on counter-terrorism activities, so if we feel the extra burden of that, imagine how much more it is for small Pacific island states whose people number you know as few as about 12,000 in the case of Tuvalu. So yes, it is an issue and I think one of the most productive areas of discussion at the Pacific Island Forum here in Auckland will be about regional capability to try and support everyone having a counter-terrorism capacity that is up to scratch.


[ends]

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