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Transcript of PM Howard Joint Press Conference

Transcript of The Prime Minister The Hon John Howard MP Joint Press Conference, Phillip Street, Sydney

Subject: East Timor Treaty; bus crash in Cairo; Greenpeace protests; safeguard agreement with China; tax cuts; 20-20 cricket.

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Ladies and gentlemen, the treaty signing that the Prime Minister and I have just witnessed is a very important event in relations between Australia and East Timor. I congratulate the two Foreign Ministers, Mr Downer and Dr Ramos-Horta for the patient, careful, on occasions laborious work that was involved in bringing out what is a fair and just outcome. It means that the very close relationship between our two countries can not only continue, but become even closer. It provides over the years ahead a very important addition to the revenue stream coming to a tiny independent country, and that is a very welcome thing. There is great affection in Australia for East Timor. There’s great sympathy for the people of East Timor. There is a great desire on the part of the people of Australia that the people of East Timor have a strong, secure future.

As with all countries, that future is overwhelmingly in the hands of the people of East Timor and the decisions that East Timor makes will crucially determine the future of that country. But we believe that the arrangement that’s been negotiated will make a very, very important contribution. And I’m very pleased Prime Minister that you and I have been able to witness this agreement and I again thank our two Foreign Ministers. I invite you to say a few words. If there are any difficult technical questions Mr Downer and Dr Ramos-Horta will handle all of the difficulties. And if there are any other questions you want to ask us, please go ahead. Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER ALKATIRI:

Thank you Prime Minister, it’s a pleasure for me to be here too, to witness this signing ceremony. We just came from, not too long way to come to this ceremony, but still a very clear, very difficult step that we succeed to overcome. The negotiation took place in very different grounds, very different environments but finally two friendly countries succeed to finally finalise this agreement. It’s very good for both countries–particularly for the region and for the investors in the region. We just put together ideas and a lot of good intentions, goodwill and make it possible to come to this agreement. I thank you very much. I really pay tribute to yourself Prime Minister, to Mr Downer as Foreign Minister, my Foreign Minister and my Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources. I know that I’ve been known to the Australian Government as a tough Prime Minister in the region, but of course this is my way of doing the things to serve my people. Thank you and I’m ready to answer the question please and my Minister’s too.

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Thank you. Any questions?

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) does the government of East Timor believe it will benefit in more support from Australian Military?

PRIME MINISTER ALKATIRI:

I think that we still can manage the situations, we have been assisted by Australia and by Australian and by other countries of creating, setting up our police and other forces for army. And now we are really prepared to deal with this kind of situations. We have good relations with Indonesia, with the Government in Jakarta and they have been very positive. And we do believe that by political means, diplomatic channels, we will resolve this situation.

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Okay.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Alkatiri are you confident that the Timor-Leste Parliament will ratify the accord?

PRIME MINISTER ALKATIRI:

I’m quite confident, yes. But I do believe that I have still a very, very hard, very tough question from the Parliament, but I’m confident this is for the benefit of the people. And MPs that are representing the people, they know clearly that this agreement is the best that we can be achieving.

JOURNALIST:

To domestic matters Prime Minister Howard, do you have any reflections on the tragic accident in Cairo?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well I have a reaction. It’s a heartbreaking tragedy. I send on behalf of the Government, for myself and my colleagues our heartfelt sympathies to those who’ve lost loved ones. It’s a terrible tragedy when anybody close to you is killed. There’s an added sadness and trauma when it happens overseas. You feel a sense of powerlessness and isolation and it is a terribly sad time. And I particularly send my thoughts to the police forces of Australia. The men and women of the various police forces of Australia do a magnificent job in protecting us. They deserve our respect and our support at all times, and particularly on occasions such as this. I feel very deeply for the members of the various state police forces who’ve lost their colleagues in such tragic circumstances.

JOURNALIST:

The other matter we’ve seen lately is the pictures of the Greenpeace vessels clashing with the Japanese ships, is there anything more that can be done there… that the Australian Government….

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well I don’t people should behave provocatively to each other on the high seas. That’s a piece of advice to anybody who’s on the high seas. This suggestion that an Australian naval vessel should be sent there is quite absurd and it won’t happen. And people are entitled to express their view. People are entitled to lawfully demonstrate. People are not in my view entitled to behave in a provocative fashion on the high seas.

JOURNALIST:

Do you support Greenpeace’s presence there?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

I think people have a right to express their view providing it is lawful, providing it is not provocative and provided it is not dangerous. Our views on Japanese whaling are well known. We don’t agree with it. We think the scientific justification lacks substance and we are very critical.

JOURNALIST:

Can we talk a bit about how the $4 billion figure was arrived and what sort of fiscal regime does it operate under?

PRIME MINISTER:

What was the first part of your question?

JOURNALIST:

The $4 billion figure…

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Yeah well that’s our calculation yes. Based on reasonable assumptions about what would be the return on the investment you can only ever do that. I mean I don’t think there’s any doubt that the deal that has been cut, the agreement that has been reached will provide for an additional revenue return to East Timor. East Timor would never have signed the agreement if that weren’t the case. And I think my colleague here agrees. Next question.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, on climate change in the Asia-Pacific, the recent report from ABARE says the Partnership could achieve 30 per cent cuts by 2050. Do you think this is possible?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well I’m not a scientist and I am guided by experts. And the experts from ABARE, and ABARE has a lot of respect in the Australian community, have reached these conclusions and put them on the table. I respect ABARE. I can’t independently verify these figures any more than people can independently verify the doomsday predictions that have been made by some of the radical environmentalists. I think what the Partnership has done is to inject an overdue dose of realism into the debate about climate change. It is quite unrealistic for anybody to assert that you can effectively deal with this problem in a way that will cut the living standards of the Australian people or cut the living standards of countries around the world. No electorate is going to readily embrace that. Our opposition to signing the Kyoto arrangement is based on the belief that if we entered into it under present modalities, it would inevitably result in the export of Australian jobs to other countries. Now I’m not going to be part of a policy that exports Australian jobs. I’m in the business of creating Australian jobs and we believe it is possible to tackle issues of greenhouse gas emissions and the challenge of climate change without reducing living standards and the idea of the Partnership and the idea of the focus on technology is to recognise that living standards, poverty reduction, economic growth, tackling climate change issues, they should move forward in lock step and they should not be seen as in permanent antagonism to each other.

JOURNALIST:

But is the money you’ve announced today really enough?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Look the money we’ve announced is in addition to a very large amount of money already announced. I mean $1.5 billion is the investment from public and private sources in the programmes that were laid out in the Energy White Paper, and there have been other commitments and other announcements. We just see today’s announcement as being part of a continuum. But the great thing about this meeting is that it has brought together half the world’s GDP in the countries represented. And of course, it’s brought together countries that are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. That’s understood and acknowledged. And interestingly enough, it is recognised even by strong protagonists of Kyoto Protocol such as the British Prime Minister and some of the other G8 countries that without the sort of policy vision that’s involved with the Partnership we’re not going to achieve meaningful, lasting reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. We can not ignore the issue of technology. The world will go on using fossil fuels for many years into the future because it’s more economic to do so. So therefore it’s elementary commonsense that you should try and make the use of fossil fuels more greenhouse gas sensitive. You should try and clean up the use of fossil fuels. They’re going to be used whether we like it or not because it’s economically feasible that they be used, so therefore, what we should try and do is make their use cleaner. And that is essentially what this is all about.

JOURNALIST:

One of the technology measures being put forward is nuclear technology. On that issue, how far advanced are we?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well we are commencing on, I think the 17th of January, in a couple of days time, four days time. We’re commencing discussions in Canberra between Australia and China about a safeguards agreement. There’s no way we’ll export any uranium to any country without a proper safeguards agreement and the conditions were laid down what, more than twenty years ago as a result of the Ranger inquiry in the time of the Fraser Government and we made it very clear then. And this has been I think a bipartisan policy in Australia over the years that there would be a determination on the part of any Australian Government to make sure that very stringent safeguards applied to the export of uranium. Now the question of whether there are any exports and so forth that go ahead, well that ultimately is a commercial matter, involving companies and involving utilities in China. But from the Government’s point of view, we are quite determined that there be proper safeguards and we’re having discussions with the Chinese about that.

JOURNALIST:

When do you have to have that finished?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

I don’t know.

JOURNALIST:

The National Party is calling for the top marginal tax rate to be reduced. Is that likely to happen?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well I think at this time of the year there are a lot of stories about tax. Let me simply say that we will continue to provide tax relief where it is economically responsible to do so. As to the form of that tax relief or tax reform or tax change, I’m not going to speculate about it. That’s a matter that I will discuss with the Treasurer at the appropriate time and any views that any of my colleagues have will be taken into account. I think there’s one thing that I do want to say however. And that is I see in some reporting of this issue a suggestion that in some way changes should be made to the Family Tax Payments system. Now let me make it clear we are not going to change that system, that system is highly beneficial to low and middle income Australian families. It was brought in to give tax support to low and middle income people who have children. It’s been very successful. It has delivered assistance to low and middle income Australian families and we do not intend to scale that system back.

JOURNALIST:

If there was to be a tax cut…

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Look I’m really not going to get into that. I’m simply not going to. Whether I say something or the Treasurer says something or anybody else says something, there will be stories written from now until the Budget about taxation. You know that, I know that, we all know that. And I don’t think I will add to the discussion. I simply restate the principle and the principle is that we provide for the necessaries like defence and we’ll have to provide more money for defence, I’ve made that clear repeatedly, health, education. We have a strong surplus and if there’s any left over, it ought to be returned to the Australian people. And as to the precise form of that, well that is a matter for the budget process. But I’d remind you all that over the past several years, the Treasurer’s Budgets have delivered significant taxation relief on each occasion.

JOURNALIST:

Can you explain how this arrangement raises East Timor’s to $10 billion, where the $6 billion comes from?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well perhaps the author of that media release can say so.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Are you going to say something?

MINISTER DOWNER:

Well this is of course taking into consideration what the arrangements were up until, well that’s the basis of how it works. I mean there was already an arrangement in place with East Timor based on the Timor Sea Treaty in relation to the joint development area and so this is additional money that East Timor, well it’s an estimate of what East Timor could get over and above that.

JOURNALIST:

So East Timor had a share of $6 billion – this just increases it?

MINISTER DOWNER:

This increases the…well obviously by definition as the Prime Minister said, the East Timorese wouldn’t be signing the agreement if it didn’t. What this does is in the event of the Greater Sunrise Field being developed in those circumstances, East Timor will get substantially more money than would have otherwise been the case. But they would have got some money from it in any case under the previous arrangements that we had and of course East Timor is getting revenue already now from the Timor Sea Treaty that we signed a few years ago which gives East Timor 90 per cent of the revenue, government revenue from the joint development area and the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister of East Timor was just saying a little earlier that, I think I’ve got this right, that already East Timor has accumulated about $370 million from that agreement, so it has been a good agreement for East Timor. I regret to say that we’ve only got 10 per cent, where they’ve got 90 per cent. This is a part of the genius of Jose Ramos-Horta.

JOURNALIST

How much do you think Australia will get revenue wise?

MINISTER DOWNER:

I don’t have a number for that. Doug can you tell us exactly how much Australia will get. The answer is that out of Greater Sunrise, Australia and East Timor share it fifty-fifty. Out of the joint development area Australia gets 10 per cent and East Timor gets 90 per cent. So that’s the best way to answer that question, you can make your own calculations from there.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard on a lighter note what were your views on 20-20 Cricket?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

I’ve often talked about a broad church in a political context. I think you can say cricket is a broad church and 20-20 is part of it. Look, I think it’s a variation that obviously has great appeal to a lot of Australians and I think it is wonderful to see people who have never watched a cricket game in their life go along in their thousands to watch it and I think that is good and if that contributes to the further expansion and strengthening of the game in all of its various forms; limited overs, very importantly of course Test cricket, then that is a very good thing.

JOURNALIST:

Did you watch it?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Not as intently as I watch Test cricket.

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER ALKATIRI:

Above all (inaudible) it to Timor East and to Australia, much closer. This is the one thing, so of course we keep, not hoping but fighting, to have this plant there and the pipe to Timor East. We do believe that it is technically feasible, it’s is economically also feasible, and they have been trying to get that pipe line there and I hope that it will go there.

JOURNALIST:

When are you hoping that the production might begin?

PRIME MINISTER ALKATIRI:

That is a very technical issue but the agreement is clear, it has to be started at least in ten years from now, it has to be started.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Downer do you have an update at all about what’s been happening in Egypt, is there any update this afternoon?

MINISTER DOWNER:

I don’t, no, no I don’t, I mean we know and can confirm as I did this morning the deaths of six Australians. Two of those who died were Victorian police officers, one of them was a 14-year-old child, and the others were family member. Five of the six are from Victoria, the other is from Queensland and the 26 injured, one of those is very seriously injured, we have very grave concerns about one of those and I think three of the others are also seriously injured. We don’t really have any further information over and above that.

JOURNALIST:

Is there any details on the four New South Welshmen who we believe have been injured as well?

MINISTER DOWNER:

I can’t, well I am not going to give you their names of course. I think I am right in saying that in each case they have not been very severely injured.

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