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Doorstep interview: Tony Blair and John Howard

Doorstep interview: PM Tony Blair and Australian PM John Howard

Read a transcript of a joint doorstep interview with the Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australian Prime Minister John Howard at Downing Street (11 November 2003).


Good Evening everyone. First of all can I extend a very warm welcome to Prime Minister Howard here to Downing Street. Again I am delighted to see you back here, John, and really the two things I wanted to say by way of introduction - and we have probably got time if we are reasonably brief and you are reasonably brief, for a couple of questions for each - but I would really like to say first of all how moving I found the ceremony this morning for the Australian War Memorial, and it will be a great addition to the centre of London, it will bind our two countries even closer together, and when we think back at the sacrifice made by so many young Australians for the freedom of this country, not simply of Australia and the wider world, I think we have every reason to feel a great debt of gratitude. And the second thing is to say that our bilateral relations I think are in immensely strong shape. We are working together not merely on some of these issues, as with the War Memorial, of the past, but also of course present issues and the present security threat of international terrorism, rogue states with weapons of mass destruction, and the leadership and steadfastness of Prime Minister John Howard has been of immense value, not just to the coalition in respect of Iraq, but also to the security of the world. And again John, I am absolutely thrilled that you are here. We look very much forward to carrying on this dialogue over dinner this evening where we will be meeting people from both Australia and the UK who have got ties with both countries, and as you know, Australians are always welcome here.


Thank you very much Tony. Can I say that this has been a very important and a very emotional day for Australia in London. We are very proud of the memorial and it is a very significant event and I would like to publicly thank you, Tony, for your own strong personal interest in this. It was our meeting here in 2000 during the commemoration of the Centenary Federation constitutional event which really laid the foundation for the building of this, and as indeed the foundation for the inquiry that has produced such a very positive outcome in relation to indigenous remains. Both of those initiatives came out of our discussion here in the middle of 2000, and I am very grateful. But the way in which the British have responded in relation to the memorial, your own personal presence and commitment, that of your senior Ministers, your senior defence people, all of those things are very gratifying, and if our relationship was in fine fettle before today, it is in even better shape as a result. It won't alter our views about the outcome of the Rugby World Cup, but just about everything else is possible. And could I say that the establishment of the Leadership Forum is a great step forward and it will send a message that even though you have a friendship with the country, you have to take Dr Johnson's advice, you do have to keep it in good repair, and the more work you can put into maintaining it at a business, academic, media, intellectual level, the better and I think tonight will be a great way to launch it. But thank you again for having me. We have enjoyed your hospitality and you have been very gracious and we will remember this visit for years into the future. And I know all of you Australians who have been here, the whole lot will remember it very warmly.


Prime Minister, on ID cards we know that the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary had strong reservations. I just want to know, how hard was it to win round the Cabinet to today's announcement, and how much harder will it be to win round public opinion?


It is important to realise that we live in a quite different world today. There is a real security threat. There are difficulties when people abuse or defraud the public service systems and it is important to move towards a system where we are able to make sure that we minimise the risks of fraud and abuse, and indeed minimise the threats to our security. Now I think there are issues to do with cost and efficiency that we need to overcome. This is part of a process that will take some time, but I think it is perfectly sensible in today's world that we do so, and I think the public does understand that the 21st century is different from 30, 40, 50 years ago, and if we are going to have the right security, and the right systems within our public services for the future, we do need to contemplate things that maybe a few decades ago we wouldn't have.


Both Prime Ministers, if I may. British and Australian detainees are still held in Guantanamo Bay without charge and without legal representation How much longer will you tolerate the Americans' failure to get its Military Commission to deal with the British and Australian cases?


If I could start by saying that we are still in discussion with the Americans. Our position has been made clear that we are working to have some additional safeguards built into the Military Commission position. And I have to make the point again, and it seems to escape, not you Dennis, but others, that when an Australian is arrested for an alleged wrong-doing in another country, there is no automatic right of repatriation. A lot of the debate in Australia seems to have proceeded on the basis that if you are arrested for something overseas, you can demand that you be brought back to Australia to be tried. That is not true. If a foreigner comes to Australia and does something that we think is contrary to our law, or does something elsewhere that is contrary to our law and we have control of him, the idea that a foreign government could insist that he be returned is not something that we would support. We continue to discuss the matter with the Americans, we have made some progress and we will continue to discuss it, and Mr Blair and I have naturally exchanged notes on the subject, but that is our position.


We carry on in dialogue and discussion with the Americans about this, and obviously it is important that anyone who is tried is given a fair and proper trial, and that is what we are talking about. I do ask people to remember that this arose out of the situation in Afghanistan, which itself arose out of 11 September, and it is important that we take the interests of course of people for a fair trial into account, but also the wider interests of security.


Mr Blair, I wonder if you could understand the apparent hostility of a sizeable chunk, at least it appears that way, of the British population against President Bush's forthcoming State Visit?


Well you know the great thing about living in a democracy, as we do, is that people are free to express their view. But I think we in this country should be proud of our alliance with America, I think we should be proud of the fact that within the last few years a country like Afghanistan has been liberated from the Taliban, that Iraq no longer suffers under the lash of Saddam, and his sons, and their henchmen, and I hope at least that when people hear some of the arguments and debates they will realise that we are trying to deal with what we believe passionately is the security threat of the early 21st century. And sure, some people will disagree with that position, but that is what we are able to do in a democracy.


A question to both Prime Ministers. Was people smuggling discussed during your talks, and the broader issue of border control and how that fits into the war against terrorism. And specifically Mr Blair, Australia has recently excised part of its territory to stop illegal immigrants claiming asylum. Do you believe such action is justified in the current climate, and would that be a policy that you might be interested in exploring?


I know this is towards the end of the press conference, but I don't think I am going to fall for that one, thank you very much.




It is for Australia to make its rules, and Britain to make its rules in these things. Of course we discussed the issue to do with security and terrorism where I think we share very similar views.


Very similar.

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