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Scoop Transcript: PMs Howard & Clark Q&A

Scoop Transcript: PMs Howard & Clark Q&A


Rush transcript prepared by Rosalea Barker
See also…Scoop Audio/Images: Clark & Howard On Iraq & Obama

Question and Answer Session (21 Mins)
Scoop Audio.Scoop Streaming Audio (click here to listen): Helen Clark and John Howard question and answer
Scoop Audio.Download the file


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NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
Questions? Barry?

NZ REPORTER IRN NEWS:
PM Howard, why do you believe that there's so much instability across the Pacific? I mean, there's [.. indecipherable..] for that at this current moment.

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
Some of it is coincidental. But some of it is a product of the fact that many of the countries in this part of the world lack high-quality governance and are in need of significant economic reform. When those conditions exist, there is always fertile ground for those who would seek to de-stabilise. What's happened in Fiji, of course, has its own particular origins in the history of that nation and can't be separated in circumstance from the events of 1987 or the events of 2000.

What we seek to do--and, I believe, New Zealand seeks to do and other countries in the region seek to do--is, through Operations such as RAMSI, to provide help on legitimate conditions. And those legitimate conditions are improved governance and economic reform, because, in the long run, the smaller societies of the Pacific are only to be successful if standards of governance are lifted and there's economic growth in the . Where that has occurred, there have been successes, and where it's been absent there has been fatal.

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
Australian media questions?

AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (M):
Do you think the invitation from Manasseh Sogavare yesterday does represent a potential thawing in relations between Australia and the Solomon Islands?

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
I will always be willing to meet anybody who leads a country with whom Australia may have some arguments as well as meeting leaders of countries with whom Australia doesn't have arguments. I'm positive about that approach. What it represents, it is too early to say. The best thing to do is for our Foreign Ministers to get together and have a discussion and then let's see where we go. But I am happy in appropriate circumstances and appropriate preparatory work having been done, to meet him.

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
New Zealand media?

SCOOP:
Prime Minister Howard, do you have anything to say to Senator Barack Obama today? Did you discuss Iraq with the NZ Prime Minister, and...

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
Do I have anything to say to Senator Obama today?

SCOOP MEDIA:
Yes. Or is that finished now?

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
Sorry. Hmmm?

SCOOP:
Is that finished now? The discussion with Senator Barack Obama…

PM CLARK:
Thank you. We've heard the question.

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
Yes, we did not discuss in substance, Iraq. There was a brief unilateral reference to it, but we did not discuss the issue, no. We certainly discussed at length, Afghanistan, and we have a joint commitment in Afghanistan. In relation to the matter involving the Senator, I don't really have anything to add to what I've previously said.

SCOOP:
Prime Minister, do you have any...

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
Thank you.

SCOOP MEDIA:
No, one....

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
Australian media, please.


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AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (F):
Prime Minister Clark, on the issue of Iraq, though, do you think the world is a safer place following the invasion of Iraq? Do you think it's actually reduced terrorism in the world since 2003, since that commitment was made?

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
Well, I think everyone's very well aware of the views of the NZ Government on the original intervention and our concern and distress at the current state of affairs in Iraq which is shared very, very broadly. I don't really think there's much point in going back over the history of that except to say that we--like the whole international community--want to see a pathway for restoration of some kind of stability for the people in that very troubled country.

AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (F):
Do you think it's made it better or worse, though, since that invasion?

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
Well, I don't really want to go down that track today. Any other questions?

NZ REPORTER IRN:
What about you, Mr Howard? Do you think it's been worth it? Iraq.

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
Well, we all know that on this issue Australia and New Zealand have a different position. I respect the position taken by New Zealand and I'm sure New Zealand respects the decision that we took. I remain as part of my country, as part of the Coalition and we seek to bring about an outcome where the Iraqi security forces can look after the security of their own country. I'm not going to try and put a time on when Australian forces might withdraw.

I think the current commitment we have in Iraq is about right, but--as always--I don't really think about in the future. I don't believe there is going to be any major increase in our commitment. From time to time, there might be some modest variations in the force levels as the mission evolves.

But, look, it's well-known that we had a different view, and one of the great things about the ANZAC alliance is that you have those differences of view occasionally, but it has no fundamental effect at all on the enduring character of the alliance and the values we share and our common fight against terrorism as evidenced by our commitment in Afghanistan, which we discussed in some detail today.



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REPORTER (M):
PM Clark, do you respect the decision Australia made?

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
Australia is our closest friend and neighbour. I respect Australia's decisions. I don't always agree with them. That's on the public record. But of course I respect them.

SCOOP MEDIA:
PM Howard, are you...

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
You're now on about the fifth question. We're not treating it like a student rally, and audience, thank you. Do we have any other questions? Mr Espiner.

NZ REPORTER FAIRFAX(M):
Prime Minister Clark, you mentioned that trade matters were mentioned briefly in your discussions. Are you getting any closer to resolution on the ban on New Zealand apples going to Australia?

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
We are in process. There's been the outcome initialing of the final risk assessment. That's been appealed within Australia. It wasn't appealed by the New Zealand Government. We reserved our options. That appeal is being considered, I understand, in the course of this month, and then in the normal course of events, there'll be discussion between the two countries about the standard operating procedures. The NZ Government is still analysing what its position is in respect to that, but there is undoubtedly a process that is moving on in Australia itself.

AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (M):
Mr Howard, do you agree with Tony Abbott's comment that Labor's policy for a staged withdrawal would be a "staged surrender" in Iraq?

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
I'm always a bit wary of responding to questions that say "do you agree with what so-and-so said," without knowing the full context. My understanding in relation to Labor's proposal is that if Mr Rudd became Prime Minister, he would take all but the troops guarding our embassy out. Although, there was some reference this morning that he might leave a ship, which represents some change on his previous position as I understand it.

Look, I think if the Coalition were to withdraw from Iraq in circumstances that could be seen as a defeat, that would be catastrophic for the cause of the West in the Middle East and around the world. That is my view. I think it's better that I state my view, rather than try and interpret by reference to somebody else quoting what one of my colleague said, without my knowing the full context of what my colleague said. So I'm going to confine myself to doing that.

AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (M):
Before you got us into a war in Iraq, which you expected would go months, but you can't even vaguely say when you think it will end. Tens of thousands of Iraqis are dead and your reason for saying is that going would be worse. Isn't it time, at the very least, that you fessed up to the fact that the original decision was the wrong decision?

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
I don't believe the original decision was wrong. I don't. So that deals with the second part of your question. As to the first part of your question, of course it hasn't stabilised as quickly as I would have liked. Of course an enormous challenge is faced. But the overwhelming evidence at present is that if there were a precipitate Coalition withdrawal--and I say that if it's alright for Australia to go precipitately, then it's alright for America and Britain to go precipitately--so if you argue we should go precipitately, then you're arguing the Coalition should do likewise. Because you can hardly say, "Well, we'll get out but we'll leave it to the British and the Americans to do all the heavy lifting."

I think if that were to happen, you would have--according not only to my assessment, the National Intelligence assessment, the Baker-Hamilton assessment, the assessments of the Iraqi government, the assessment of the head of the CNN bureau in Baghdad, who has some media experience in these matters--you would have far greater levels of bloodshed, and that would not be in the interests of the West, of the stability of the Middle East, or otherwise. So my position remains the same.

AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (M):
Are you saying you were right? You were right.

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
I will not resile in any way from the decision that Australia took. I accept responsibility for it, and like any other democratically elected politician, I'm accountable for it before the bar of public opinion in my country. If you are asking me, do I recant the original decision, No, I do not.


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SCOOP MEDIA:
Prime Minister, are you surprised about the antagonism your remarks about Barack Obama have caused, both here, and in Australia, and in the United States. Are you surprised at that level of feeling that has been generated by your remarks?

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
I think you're exaggerating it.

SCOOP MEDIA:
Is this a case of dog whistle politics---

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
Hang on, hang on. This is not a student rally where you heckle from the back row, I'm sorry.

SCOOP MEDIA:
I'm not heckling!

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
I'd like to take any other questions.

AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (F):
Prime Minister Clark, just on climate change, you had a speech this week talking about climate neutrality. What's your view of Australia's decision to look at the option, at least, of going nuclear? And are you more or less likely to consider emissions trading with Australia, given it is not Kyoto-compliant and hasn't ratified the Kyoto Convention?

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
First thing, nuclear power is not an option for New Zealand. Apart from the fact that NZ has a very strong nuclear-free policy, the reality is that it wouldn't be economic even if someone wanted to go down that track. Australia's in a different position. It happens to be a substantial uranium supplier. We have huge potential for renewable energy in our country. We're just simply in a different position, so I don't want to comment on the rights and wrongs of what Australia does. It will do what it sees as being in its best interest.

My impression is--and I made this comment at the Chief Executives meeting last night--that, while Australia hasn't ratified Kyoto, it is far from idle on the issue of climate change--indeed, to the contrary. For example, I think the Australia-Pacific Partnership, which the Australian Government initiated, has been very useful in drawing both China and India into debate about climate change issues. If we're going truly to get some international commitment on climate change issues then China and India have to start being drawn into the nexus.

As for specifics of emissions trading, I don't have any useful advice I can give to you on that today except to say that I think most countries are accepting that at some point a price will be put on carbon, and we're going to have to find ways of working around that.


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AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (F):
When we spoke to your Climate Change Minister earlier in the week, though, he said that in the short term, New Zealand might be more interested in trading with Europe rather than Australia. Do you disagree with what he says on that?

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
I don't know what comment he's made to you, and I don't have any further comment to make on how trading might work, because we haven't done the policy work, and I doubt if Australia has either.

REPORTER (M):
Prime Minister Howard, it's been reported that the Australian government---

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
Reported?

AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (M):
--the Australian Government's reportedly considering a $19 billion spending package on road and transport infrastructure in SE Queensland, so what is the state of the play with this and has it actually been fostered by Treasury and Finance?

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
We are certainly going to commit more resources to road infrastructure, and one of the areas that must receive additional investment over the years ahead is SE Queensland. It's not the only area, but it happens to be the fastest-growing area in the country, and it stands to reason that the infrastructure requirements there are very high, but let me assure you that the decisions we make in relation to these matters will reflect equity around the whole Commonwealth.

We will treat all sections of Australia fairly, and obviously population growth is one of the factors you take into account. Can I simply make the observation that no government is in a position to make this kind of investment--and I'm not putting a figure on it at this point because there are decisions to be taken by Cabinet--let me simply say that you're not in a position to do things like this unless you have a strong economy with strong surpluses. If we are able to do things in this area, it will be part of the dividend of good economic management.

NZ REPORTER TV1:
On a domesitic issue here Phillip Field announced today that he'll be giving Labour his proxy vote. After taking a bit of a swipe at you, though, saying that you were grossly unfair to him. Can you comment on those two issues?

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
First thing, I think any objective observer would say that I have indeed been patient beyond endurance on this particular matter. Secondly, I have heard of the statement that he made this morning. The fact is that I made the decision on Tuesday night to approach the Party president to take a certain line of action without any foreknowledge or understandings of what decision Mr Field might make.

He has come to his decision himself that he, having been a member of the Labour Party for many, many years and having supported the work programme of the government, wishes his vote to be cast in that direction. When another party handles the vote of an Independent, they take instruction from that Independent vote by vote. I imagine that's what we'll be doing.

AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (F):
Mr Howard, now that you've had a week to reflect, do you think you went too far in saying that Al Qaeda was praying for Barack Obama and the Democrats to win the US Presidential elections?

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
I don't retract anything that I said. Let me make it very clear that I made an observation about a single view expressed by an aspirant for office in another country--on an issue, incidentally, which directly affects my own country, because we're talking about a Coalition of which Australia is part. It's a little different from me making an observation on what an aspirant in another country might want to do regarding an urban housing programme in a depressed area of a big city in that country.

After all, I was talking about a military operation in which armed forces of my own country are involved. So the observation that it was an excursion into domestic politics of another country is one I don't entirely accept in any event. But, if you're asking me do I have cause to withdraw or retract--No, I don't.


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AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (F) The Age:
Mr Howard, what are your views on ASIC pursuing civil action against the former directors of James Hardie?

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
Well, that is a matter of law and advice. It's not for me to decide whether or not ASIC should launch a prosecution. It has an independent role, and I'm very respectful of the independent role that statutory authorities who have corporate regulatory authority, as some in this room know extremely well. I think what ASIC does is something for ASIC to answer for. I'm neither criticising it nor applauding it. It's not my role to do anything other than to note that it's going to happen, and for the matter to be dealt with in accordance with the law.

NZ REPORTER NZ HERALD (F):
Phillip Field has said that he'll give Labour his vote on confidence and supply and legislation. Do you actually expect that and feel a little more secure than you did two days ago? Or will you proceed as though you can't rely on his vote?

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
I think people would take from all the interviews I've given on this subject over the last couple of days that I believe that the government was substantially not in a different position two to three days ago from what it had always been. And that is, we are going into the eighth year of a minority government which depends on a wide range of relationships. It's very hard work by whips and ministers to mobilise majorities around issues. So, in effect, the announcement made today probably is inching that forward even more in the direction of stable minority government that we have run. But I stress that all of that always rests on collaboration and a lot of consultation.

One last question and then I'm going to have to wrap this up.

AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (M):
Prime Minister Howard, the US Military has released further details on the new case against David Hicks, alleging that he collected intelligence information about a US embassy and he did some advanced Al Qaeda training. Are you confident that upon hearing that information the Australian public may lose some sympathy for David Hicks? Or your ministers?

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
I'm not going to make an on-the-run assessment of that. And I'm not going to try and put myself in the place of the military commission, but I do think it's important that the public know, as it were, both sides of the proposition.

My principal concern is that Hicks be brought for trial, that he have his day in court as soon as possible. That is my principal concern and our energies will be directed on every available occasion towards encouraging and pressuring the Americans for that to come about. He has been held without trial for too long. I held the view some years ago that it was right that he face a military commission in the United States, with improved conditions of operation because he could not be tried for what he is alleged to have done in Australia because it wasn't a crime at the time the offences allegedly took place.

But it has dragged on too long--partly due to the appeals by others and partly due to the slowness of the American procedure. But I think the American Administration is well and truly aware of how unhappy we are at the delay, and they are aware that we are pressing them almost on a daily basis to get the trial on as quickly as possible. That way, ultimately, all of the facts on both sides will be out in the open.

But I'm not going to try and put myself in the shoes of the Australian public collectively. I think the best thing and justice is best served by the trial occurring as soon as humanly possible. Thank you.

AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (F):
Peter Garrett's flip-flop on US bases, just before you go. Do you think he lacks the courage of his convictions?

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
I'm sorry?

AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (F):
Peter Garrett has announced today that, despite everything he has said in the past, that he'll adhere to Labor Party policy in backing a US base in WA. Are you surprised that he's made that decision given his songs that he's penned in the past on this issue?

AUSTRALIA PM JOHN HOWARD:
I think deep down in his heart, he doesn't believe in it.

SCOOP MEDIA:
PM Clark,....

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
An Australian reporter...

SCOOP MEDIA:
Can I have one last question?

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
No, you can't. Last question here.

SCOOP MEDIA:
Is it your job to protect the Australian Prime Minister from answering questions from the New Zealand media?

NZ PM HELEN CLARK:
I'm sorry. You continue to heckle from the back row of every news conference that I give and you're not going to do it to this one. So I think we will be taking our leave.

HOWARD:
Sounds very familiar. Thank you. [Laughter]

AUSTRALIAN REPORTER (F):
.. outrageous.

--END--

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