U.S. Attacks: Government Invokes ANZUS Treaty

The Howard government has invoked the ANZUS Treaty for the first time in its history, in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States

The decision was announced in Canberra today by the Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer.

Transcript of portions of a joint press conference held at Parliament House, Canberra, by John Howard and Alexander Downer.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen the federal cabinet had a special meeting today primarily to consider the consequences of the awful events that have occurred in the United States in recent days. We came very quickly to the view that the provisions of the ANZUS Treaty should be invoked in relation to the attack upon the United States. Quite clearly these are circumstances to which Article IV of the ANZUS Treaty applies. We have discussed this matter with the United States and I would expect that this is a view with which the Administration will concur. The consequence of that is that we will consult the Americans regarding responses which might be deemed appropriate to what does amount to an attack upon the metropolitan territory of the United States in accordance with the provisions of the ANZUS Treaty.

As I indicated in Washington and I repeat today, and it’s the unanimous view of the Cabinet, that Australia stands ready to cooperate within the limits of its capability concerning any response that the United States may regard as necessary in consultation with her allies. I do want to stress of course that although the greater loss of life, the overwhelmingly greater loss of life as a result of these attacks, has been American, there are still some 80 or 90 Australians unaccounted for and there are confirmed deaths of at least three Australians. And at no stage should any Australian regard this as something that is just confined to the United States. It is an attack upon the way of life we hold dear in common with the Americans. It does require the invocation of ANZUS. The provisions of ANZUS do in our view apply and the Cabinet came to that view and I have released a formal statement to that effect that will be available to you at the end of this news conference.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, what type of military support [inaudible] United States?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think that’s the sort of thing I should speculate about in advance. I’ve said that we would be willing to participate to the limit of our capability. The Americans haven’t at this stage made any requests for particular support but we will consider any requests that is made. The important thing is that by invoking ANZUS, it puts us in consultation, it represents a determination on our part to identify with the Americans. If ANZUS is meant to cover a situation, surely it covers this.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] the enemy Mr Howard.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no you don’t, not my reading of ANZUS, no.

JOURNALIST:

Did you invoke ANZUS as a gesture of solidarity on your own initiative or was it sought by the Americans?

PRIME MINISTER:

Its sort of happened simultaneously. It was something that we thought made a lot of sense and I think the Americans about the same time came to the same conclusion.

ALEXANDER DOWNER:

We’ve been talking with each other about this.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes and it’s just something that emerged, I mean it wasn’t sort of a question that you know, we’ll ring you and you’ll ring me kind of thing, I mean it was just something that emerged.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, what does invoking ANZUS….[inaudible] ANZUS as a living document that doesn’t really need to be invoked. What is the formalising thing…?

PRIME MINISTER:

There’s no I mean there’s no particular… there’s no form that’s laid down but the fact that I have said after a cabinet discussion with the full authority of the Government, and I did communicate the Cabinet’s decision, I couldn’t get Mr Beazley because he was in the air, but we communicated with his office our decision and I gather from the response, but I mean I may have misunderstood, that he would support the action that was being taken by the Government but that’s a matter for him to speak on. We think it appropriate to make it clear. It has both a symbolic resonance but it also means something in substance and it does mean that if there is action taken then we will naturally consider any requests from the Americans for assistance.

JOURNALIST:

On the US situation, have you spoken to the Australian families who have lost people in New York? Or do you plan to?

PRIME MINISTER:

I plan to. I haven’t been able to yet. I have, I got back as you know only just before the Cabinet meeting and I’ve been tied up in the Cabinet since. I have made a number of enquiries, of course when I was in the United States, through the Ambassador, I was kept regularly up to date and I also had a number of conversations with the Consul General in New York, Mr Allen, and I also spoke to Mr Lowy, Mr Frank Lowy, whose company of course is part owner of the World Trade Centre. And I was able to ascertain from him within a few hours of the situation in relation to the employees of his company. Fortunately in their case, the retail activities were on the ground floor and the people were able to get out. Others, sadly, were not so fortunate, but I will certainly in time do that.

Could I also say a couple of other things about the loss of life – Australian and American – in this tragedy. We’ll be inviting Australians to treat Sunday, this coming Sunday, as a National Day of Mourning. And we’d hope that flags will be flown at half mast and no doubt special reference and observance will be kept in churches of ….and other faiths throughout the country. I also intend that a National Memorial Service be held in the Great Hall next Monday. I will invite the Leader of the Opposition to join myself in reading one of the two lessons and there will be appropriate contributions from other people. It will be a religious service and give an adequate opportunity for observance of the great loss of lives of Americans and Australians and the impact that this has had on both our communities, particularly the United States.

I’ll also introduce, and I’m sure will be supported by the Leader of the Opposition, a resolution condemning what occurred in unequivocal terms and allowing an adequate amount of debate on both sides and then propose that the House adjourn after that on Monday as a mark of respect for those who lost their lives in this very tragic event. I propose that Mr Reith or Mr Downer on my behalf consult the Opposition regarding the wording of the resolution and it is proposed that it not only condemn the outrage but also incorporate a reference to the Government’s decision in relation to the application of the ANZUS Treaty.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister on the ANZUS activation, will Australian personnel serve under….whose command will they serve under and on what basis will they be (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we won’t go into that with any hard and fast view. I mean you have to be practical. Just as it was practical on the first occasion that Americans and Australians fought together for the command to be in Australian hands, it will almost certainly be practical that the overall command on this occasion be in American hands. I mean we will naturally assert the rights that an independent nation always does in relation to these matters but when you’re together with somebody the idea is to work together and have a practical attitude towards command.

JOURNALIST:

You’ve got 260 people still at Ashmore Reef. They don’t want to go to Indonesia and you don’t want them to come to Australia – what will you do if Nauru won’t take them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we would expect as a result of the agreement made by Mr Reith with President Harris that Nauru will be willing to take quite a number of people. We had some further consideration of that issue today. As you know the Full Bench of the Federal Court, I hope will deliver a judgement on Monday morning. We remain very strongly of the view that everything the Government has done has not only been in Australia’s national interest but also legal, and I can but say again if the Labor Party had not rejected the Border Protection Bill, this issue would not be in front of the Australian court.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Mr Reith suggested yesterday that the events in New York provided an extra justification for action with respect to asylum seekers, his proposition being that extra border protection helps to keep out terrorists. Do you think that the events in New York give a justification that was not there before for taking this line you have with the people on these ships?

PRIME MINISTER:

As you know Geoffrey, we took the action we did in relation to the people on the Tampa before those awful events. I thought what we did – before those awful events – was one hundred percent justified. You can’t have anything more than one hundred percent. I haven’t seen precisely what Mr Reith said, I’ve been rather preoccupied with other things. I simply make the point that what we did in relation to the Tampa was a stand alone, 100 percent justified exercise. People are shaken beyond belief about what happened in New York and I don’t really want to say any more than that.

There is just one other thing I would like to add and I think it is important to say it. And that is that it is important for all Australians to bear in mind that there are probably a couple of hundred thousand Australians of Middle Eastern descent and heritage in our country and like any other ethnic group the overwhelming majority of them are wonderful Australians, law abiding and committed to the unity of this country. And it is essential that in the wake of what has occurred and the not surprising assumptions that have been made about where people may have come from, that those actions….that the naturally hostile and angry responses to those actions are kept well apart from our attitude towards Australians of Middle Eastern descent. They should not bear the burden of things that they despise as much as I do and it’s important, especially important at a time like this, that people of different faiths, indeed people of no faiths at all, that everyone be treated in a decent, understanding and tolerant fashion. I know that there are many Australians of Arabic descent who would share my horror and disgust at what has happened, and I want to make that very plain and I extend to them goodwill and the hand of friendship as a fellow Australian.

Thank you.

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