John Howard Press Conference: Asylum Seekers, Defence Photos,Governor-General, SA Election

This is Prime Minister John Howard’s press conference.

Howard was questioned about asylum seekers and the children overboard issue. He also took questions on the future of Governor-General Peter Hollingworth and the South Australian election.

  • Listen to Howard’s press conference (35m)

Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s press conference.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and Gentleman, I would like to start today’s news conference by congratulating Steven Bradbury for his gold medal in the short track speed skating and Alisa Camplin for a gold medal in the aeriel skiing. I think these two victories have for Australia really brought the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City alive. That’s not the only reason I called this news conference, pleased though I am to have something to say about it.

But given some the reporting and analysis of the material presented to the Senate estimates committee last night, I thought it might be useful, if I were to make some comment on that and to put it in context lest what I regard is some inaccurate conclusions in that material gather a currency.

Can I first of all remind you that the original basis of my claim in relation to the children overboard was the information that was conveyed to me by Mr Ruddock on the 7th of October. I never based that claim, indeed almost all of the claims that I made on this issue, were based on material other than the photographs. And I think one of the difficult things in this whole issue is that the question of doubt about the date on which the dates depicted by the photographs, that that has become merged and blended, with doubt about the veracity of the basic claim. And in the process, I think that in the process I think some unreasonable conclusions have been drawn.

Now, I’m not denying that the photographs aren’t material. I’m not saying there immaterial, I’m not saying that for a moment, but I think it’s important to keep those two things separate. If I can put it hypothetically, it is quite possible, it would have been possible and I stress this as a hypothetical proposition, to have had a situation where undeniably the photographs were as appears to be the case of the 8th of October yet there could have been separate evidence not involving photographs of children being thrown overboard on the 7th, so I think it is important and this is relevant to some of the further thing I’m going to say, thatt that be kept in mind. So, my primary source was my conversation with Mr Ruddock. The substance of that advice was then conveyed to me, I’m told in a fax to Kirribilli House on the evening of the 7th of October and that was the taskgroup report which I don’t think is being made available in full. And I’m going to make it available after this news conference, the only thing I’ve taken out of it and I ask you to accept this – if anybody wants to have a separate discussion with somebody in my office they are welcome to – the only thing I’ve taken out of it is some references to Indonesia, and I don’t think it would be consonent with the very positive approach that we’re endeavouring to take in co-operation with Indonesia for those references to remain.

But that report very clearly states that children were being thrown overboard, and that of course is relevant to the question to the ONA report which was discussed last night. Now, in the Senate estimates and in some of reporting this morning there was a great amount of play on the fact that Miles Jordana had got in touch with Jenny Bryant on the 7th of November requesting documents. That, if I may put it this way, is about the most innocent contact imaginable because it arose from the request from me to be refreshed, if I can put it that way, on the advice, particularly written advice I’d received about a month earlier regarding the children overboard incident. As you remember the 7th was the day before my press club appearance. I spent the evening at the Lodge with a number of my advisers and sometime during the day I’d asked Miles to go through the material I’d already seen, or the office had received. He wasn’t making a fresh request for new information. I knew I was going to get asked questions about the children overboard issue, apart from anything else there was a story on the front page of the Australian that day quoting Naval officers having spoken to people in Christmas Island querying the original story and I knew it was an issue and what I wanted what written evidence there was, or written references to it were available. Miles spoke to both my Department and ONA, ONA produced that report and that was the one I quoted from, I quoted from it in complete ignorance of the reference that Kim Jones made when he spoke of the source of the information, the source of the information he was inconclusive about on the 7th of November. He said it could have been based, he didn’t say the information in the ONA report was wrong, as some news reports have said this morning. What he said was that the source could have been based on ministerial comments or it could have been from defence sources, he wasn’t sure. Subsequently on the 12th of November he confirmed it had been based on the former.

But the point I’d make ladies and gentlemen is that in any event as far as documentary evidence is concerned on which I based my original claims, the ONA report is in a sense academic when you look at the taskgroup’s report which unambiguously, as you will see when the document is released, unambiguously speaks of children being thrown overboard. The irony now is that the response to Miles’ request to my department apparently wasn’t delivered until after I’d got to my feet to address the National Press Club. And that is why in terms of quoting from the document, the one that was available to me was only the ONA report, if the other one had been available then I’ve no doubt I would have quoted from that. But as the to the substance I’d simply make the point to you again that I didn’t base my original claim on photographs, I based my original claim on advice from Mr Ruddock and the circumstances of that advice had been explained and that advice was confirmed in a taskgroup report that was, so I’m told by my Department, sent to Kirribilli House on the evening on the 7th of October, it was also copied to Mr Ruddock and copied to Mr Reith.

I think it is important to bear that sequence of events in mind. The other material that came out last night were references to contacts between Ms Halton and Ms Bryant and Miles Jordana. The sequence of events in relation to that as I understand it from what I’ve been told is that Miles believes that Jane Halton may have spoken to him about that time and passed on some tea room, or tea break gossip from Defence and I think the circumstances of that are pretty fully set out in the Financial Review this morning, from Defence to the effect that there was real doubt about the photographs, not real doubt about the original allegation but real doubt about the photographs. And in the interest of complete disclosure I’m also going to make available a letter that was given to me yesterday by the head of my Department which is a letter from Jane Halton to Mr Moore Wilton elaborating on that and this letter as you will see is broadly consistent, well is consistent with what was said last night by Jenny Bryant and also is what is in the Financial Review this morning. I would in other circumstances have taken the view that this something that ought to have been related before the Senate inquiry along with Ms Halton’s original statement, but given that this issue of that contact is now in the public arena in the interests of full disclosure and to avoid any accusations that I’ve concealed this because I have knowledge of it, I’m going to make it available today.

So ladies and gentlemen it remains the case that at no stage was I informed by my Department or by anybody on my staff including Mr Jordana that it or they had received a contradiction of the original advice that children had been thrown overboard. What Mr Jordana alluded to, and which I referred to in the House yesterday was some tea room gossip reported to him via the lines and the channels outlined in the Financial Review this morning regarding the photographs, bearing in mind that although the photographs are clearly relevant there are two separate issues. You can have confusion and error over the photographs but hypothetically you could still have separate evidence in relation to children overboard and I think for any fair analysis of this issue you do have to keep both of those things separate.

So ladies and gentlemen I’d be obviously very happy to answer any questions on this issue but I thought it appropriate to have this news conference to contextualise some of the material that has come out and there were some suggestions made in, I think this morning’s media by the Opposition Leader that what I said yesterday about Miles Jordana in the House contradicted what I said last week. That’s not right. What I said last week, and I remains the case is that Jordana didn’t tell me that the original advice was wrong and Jordana didn’t tell me that he’d been given advice that the original advice was wrong. What Jordana told me was that he believes he could have had a conversation with Jane Halton and somebody in Reith’s Office about the photograph issue. And that is a, as I’ve been at pains to explain is a separate issue.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) of the original advice about children being thrown overboard.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ian, I wouldn’t try and put a date on this, obviously long after the election but …

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that’s a press report. I don’t automatically….no no I don’t mean this disrespectfully. I don’t automatically disbelieve every report. I mean the press report was one of the things that prompted me to ask Mr Reith on, I think to the best of my recollections, the evening of the 7th of November. I mean the all of this if you look at the sequence of events it does all present a situation where you have a flurry of activity on this issue – 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th of October, and then it really goes, as far as I’m concerned, goes right off the radar screen and it obviously goes right off the radar screen for the Opposition as well. I don’t get questioned for 16 days according to my transcripts about the children overboard issue and then it comes back in the last few days. And you’ll remember the 7th of November was clearly, was the origin of that Australian report and that was on the 7th and then I spoke to Peter Reith that evening. I not only spoke to him about the issue of whether he got contrary advice from defence but I also spoke to him about the video, and I also spoke to Scrafton in his office and the reason I spoke to Scrafton was that Scrafton had looked at the video. I didn’t speak to Scrafton to get an independent source of advice. Scrafton was relevant because he was the person designated by Reith to look at the video. He was in Sydney and the video was apparently in Sydney so he had a look at the video.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister why didn’t your office ask for advice from the Commander of the Adelaide on November 8 and 9 as to what actually occurred given there was so much speculation about it at the time, the comments by Vice Admiral Shackleton and the report in the Australian on November 7?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it has never been the practice in things like this to as it were double guess the advice you get from the department. I mean the normal way of operation of a prime minister and a minister such as this is to go to the normal channels of advice. I mean with the benefit of hindsight people can turn around and say you should have but putting it in the context of what was happening then it was a perfectly legitimate thing for me to ask the Defence Minister, which I did, and having been given an indication in relation to that and having decided to release the video I think in the circumstances and given that I did have a few other things on my mind at that particular time, and I was concerned to deal with those issues as well, I think to suggest I should have accepted with the benefit of hindsight, to have rung the Captain of the Adelaide is a bit rich.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Scrafton, Mr Reith, Mr Jordana, Jane Halton all knew there were doubts by this stage about the photographs. They all….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in relation to Mr Jordana and Mr Reith on the strength of what he told me – no, not in relation to the veracity of the original advice – no.

JOURNALIST:

No just in terms of they all knew, they had all raised, according to this report and the teabreak conversation….

PRIME MINISTER:

Jordana did not raise the teabreak conversation with me at the relevant time. I mean clearly…..

JOURNALIST:

I guess the point I’m making….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no, I mean……

JOURNALIST:

But I haven’t asked my question….

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I know but it is one of those issues where you can easily slip over from doubt about photographs and the dates thereof.

JOURNALIST:

I’m just asking about the photographs at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER:

You’ll just ask me about the photographs?

JOURNALIST:

I’m just asking about….all those four people knew by this stage there were doubts about the date of the photographs. Did none of those people on the night of the 7th or the day of het 8th ever express to you in any casual conversation that there’s doubt about the photographs even though they may not have been saying the original story was untrue?

PRIME MINISTER:

There was discussion at the time I think in some section of the media about the photographs. But one of the reasons why there was no dwelling on that was that I’d made a decision to release the video and it seemed to me that the dominant issue then was to get the video out and let people make a judgement.

JOURNALIST:

Were doubts raised in the meeting, did anyone…..

PRIME MINISTER:

No the meeting I had at the Lodge nobody on my staff mentioned to me, nobody on my staff has ever raised at the relevant times doubts about the photographs no.

JOURNALIST:

What do you mean when you say “relevant time”?

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean relevant time, I mean before the election and I mean up until right now. I mean I’ve got to be careful that I don’t say nobody’s ever said anything to me about the photographs because unless I fix that in time that might be sort of taken out of context.

JOURNALIST:

Can you fix at a date?

PRIME MINISTER:

In relation to my staff I don’t think….I mean I probably would have had some discussions with them generally after I decided to commission the inquiry, generally some discussion with them perhaps late in November and they were, I mean to the best of my recollection I’d really have to go back and check and, hang on can I just finish answering Glenn, I’ll go back and check that, otherwise I might give an inaccurate recollection. Yes Mr Seccombe.

JOURNALIST:

Did Mr Scrafton or Mr Reith or anyone else raise any doubts with you about the photos or the children overboard incident on the 7th or 8th of November?

PRIME MINISTER:

In my conversation with Mr Reith he said that there was debate about the photographs and we agreed that that was the reason why we should release the video.

JOURNALIST:

But even though Mr Scrafton had told you the video didn’t prove…..

PRIME MINISTER:

No my recollection of the conversations I had with Scrafton, the way he described it to me, my recollection is that it was inconclusive and that was the observation I made. Now he may have a slightly different recollection than that and I’m not saying his recollection is inferior to mine but that is my recollection.

JOURNALIST:

When you released the report the other day you gave the impression at least, I’d have to see the exact words, that it all came as an enormous surprise to you when you saw the report but up until then you had no doubts and no conversation.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that’s your conclusion about impressions.

JOURNALIST:

Well no it’s not my conclusion. I’m asking you is that the impression you gave….?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there were some things in that report that were surprising to me. There were other things in it that were completely unsurprising such as the finding of the report that at no stage had I been told by my department that the original advice was wrong.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, do you think that the contact between Mr Jordana and the Department, including Ms Bryant, should have been in Ms Bryant’s report?

PRIME MINISTER:

You mean the contact on the 7th in relation to the documents that were previously…

JOURNALIST:

…[inaudible] refreshing you…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don’t. I think to be fair to Jenny Bryant I don’t think that should have been there. Well, let me put it this way, I can understand why it wasn’t.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]…didn’t talk to Mr Jordana about it.

PRIME MINISTER:

I can understand why she wouldn’t put it there because the request was made in the context of asking to be given material that had already been before the office and before me and in the context of me being briefed for my appearance at the Press Club the following day. Now, I don’t think, I mean you can disagree with me and no doubt some of you will, I don’t think it’s legitimate criticism of Jenny Bryant to say that that material should have been included.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, just on the evidence that was provided by the head of ONA to Mr Jordana on the evening of the 7th, he told the Senate last night that he had told Mr Jordana that ONA was not certain about the report and essentially that…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no. He, as I understand it and I’ll ask a member of my staff while this press conference proceeds to get me a copy of it, my recollection is that he was inconclusive about the source. He said he didn’t say as I recall in that advice to Mr Jordana, that written advice, which I did not see before I spoke at the Press Club and was not told of, but my understanding of having looked at it is that what he was inconclusive about was not the veracity of the report but the source.

JOURNALIST:

But why weren’t you told that Mr Howard, surely that was a very important fact to pass onto you when Mr Jordana passed on the report. Wouldn’t he pass on the facts as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

My understanding is that the…Mr Jordana separately, and we talked about this this morning, the handing to me, what he handed to me was physically separate from the advice that came across…

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

…Well, he didn’t.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]..given there are now people in the Department and people in your office who had considerable doubts and the public misconceptions that have arisen from that…

PRIME MINISTER:

I am sorry, with respect.

JOURNALIST:

Some doubts.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, I am sorry. There was nobody in my office who had been provided with any advice that contradicted the original assertion.

JOURNALIST:

The tea room gossip you mentioned…

PRIME MINISTER:

The tea room gossip. Well, I can only repeat what I have been told in relation to that.

JOURNALIST:

Is it acceptable that nobody told you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, I don’t want to get into the blame business on this issue. I understand the pressure under which people were working. And in any event, can I just say to you again, the ONA report was not the primary written authority, if I can put it that way, for the claims. Now, it is true that that was the document I quoted at the Press Club, I don’t deny that for a moment. And I quoted that without any knowledge of any inconclusiveness about the source – I stress inconclusiveness about the source of the information. But I, you know, I just want to remind you again that my initial advice was based on what Ruddock told me and then subsequently we get this task group report. Now, that’s unambiguous and you can have a look at that after the news conference.

JOURNALIST:

The Defence Situation Report identified in the hearings yesterday as being held by your office, will you also release that and wouldn’t that have not contained any evidence of children being thrown overboard and, in fact, being some sort of proof that the allegations are false because all those incidents on that day would have been logged in the Defence Situation Report which you received?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’ll have a look at that report and the question of whether it gets released is something that will be governed by whether there are any operational constraints. But I think I’d have to say if there’s one thing…

JOURNALIST:

Can’t you vet that in the way you are vetting the other one?

PRIME MINISTER:

What other one Laurie?

JOURNALIST:

Well, you are chopping out references to Indonesia, can’t you chop out operational details?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, yes, I am sorry, I misheard your question. I’ll have a look at that. Can I just say, I have no difficulty about releasing any documents on this whole thing. I have, in fact, released documents all along and in relation to your assertion that because it ought to include everything therefore it does I’d have to say with respect to everybody in this I don’t think the course of this issue demonstrates the authenticity of that proposition.

JOURNALIST:

Has Jordana offered to quit?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, would you have used the ONA report if you had known that it was based merely on ministerial press releases and doesn’t it lend weight to the perception that you weren’t told because you didn’t want to know it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the answer to the first question is no, I wouldn’t have. And the answer to the second question is also resoundingly no. That allegation is completely wrong. Can I say again, Paul, the source of the advice on which I based my claim was Mr Ruddock, our telephone conversation on the 7th of October. I then get the task group report which I am releasing to you which confirms unambiguously the allegation. Now, I’d have to say to you if I’d have had that at the Press Club I’d have quoted from that. But for some reason I didn’t, it wasn’t provided to me and I would have much rather quoted from that because normally I don’t like quoting from ONA reports. But look, can I just tell you that if I had known that, no, the answer is no I wouldn’t have quoted from it.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, did anyone [inaudible] public statements before the election seeking to clarify the situation with the children and the asylum seekers being in the water, did anyone from your office seek to request or press him to amend that statement on the same day?

PRIME MINISTER:

I asked my staff. I mean, I didn’t contact him. I asked my staff, they did not contact him. They were informed that Mr Reith’s Office had spoken to him.

JOURNALIST:

Did your staff contact Vice-Admiral’s superiors such as Chris Barrie or anyone like that?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

You said in your conversation with Mr Reith before the Press Club that there was debate about the photographs. Can you explain what the debate was?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, he indicated to me that there was some debate about whether they were the one day or the next and that is reflected in the report.

JOURNALIST:

You might have been aware or you might have been told at that stage that they may have been photos from the following day?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. He just said there was doubt about it and he was…

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the reason I didn’t is that we had the video.

JOURNALIST:

Which was inconclusive.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, of course it was inconclusive.

JOURNALIST:

Would you be disappointed with Mr Reith if he didn’t tell you and during this debate before your big speech that he had evidence, people had told him that there was clear confusion about the date of the photographs?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sorry, what did you say about Mr Reith?

JOURNALIST:

Well, you had a debate with Mr Reith before you go to the National Press Club, he has evidence it seems that the photographs are from the wrong day, you’ve had this debate but somehow you are saying that he didn’t tell you that.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I said we had a discussion about the issue.

JOURNALIST:

So do you think he may have said to you, Prime Minister, we think these photographs are from the wrong day?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the whole discussion was about suggestions that they might have been. He was still in doubt about that and he said that he’d got conflicting advice from Defence. And that is all reflected in the report.

JOURNALIST:

That put no doubt in your mind?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we then decided we’d release the video and we believed the video was….I mean, I took the view, once we decided to release the video, I took the view that some people would believe the reports. And the video, as you remember, was the source of an enormous amount of debate and controversy over the last two or three days of the campaign and I think in fact I took a question under an umbrella from somebody on an early morning show the last day of the campaign and I think the question contained a bald assertion that the whole thing had been trumped up.

JOURNALIST:

You made the [inaudible] between photographic evidence and other kinds of evidence. Yesterday Mr Moore Wilton in the committee was also suggesting that there still wasn’t, you couldn’t move the possibility that children were thrown overboard. Where is the evidence that children were thrown overboard?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I am not asserting that and nor was he.

JOURNALIST:

But the head of your Department… possibility, is there any evidence?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think he said that, he…

JOURNALIST:

… double negative…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ll have to check, you used a double negative, look I’m not going to argue the factual conclusions of either of the two reports. And the factual conclusions of those two reports is that there was no evidence produced that children had been thrown overboard. Now I can’t, I wasn’t there and none of us were there and we have to rely on the advice of people who were there.

JOURNALIST:

… today that children were thrown overboard.

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Do you still believe today that children were thrown overboard?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look on the evidence I can’t assert that.

JOURNALIST:

… Jordana say he didn’t pass on that very vital facts, what is his explanation?

PRIME MINISTER:

What vital facts?

JOURNALIST:

The one from ONA, the one from Kim Jones saying that the…

PRIME MINISTER:

About the source?

JOURNALIST:

Yes. What did…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he said to me that he doesn’t believe, he said to me that he can’t actually recall reading the Jones note.

JOURNALIST:

… Mr Jordana spoke to Mr Jones on the phone that evening as well as the fax. wasn’t that a critical error of judgement for a close adviser to yourself the night before your Press Club address not to point out to you that there was concerns about the source…

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s an issue between Mr Jordana and myself. And I don’t think, with great respect I don’t think it is relevant to this discussion.

JOURNALIST:

Do you continue to have confidence in Mr Jordana that he performed his responsibilities professionally and kept you as fully informed as he should have?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the answer to the first part of the question is yes. Clearly with the benefit of hindsight, he’s said to me he’s sorry he didn’t advise me of some of these things. But there was a context to it and I’m not into the business of shifting blame.

JOURNALIST:

In relation to the incident itself you just said that you had to rely on advice from people on the spot. Did you ever get any advice, or seek any advice, from Commander Banks who was the man on the spot about this matter.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ian, the answer to that is no I didn’t directly go to him. But you wouldn’t normally do that, I mean because you would assume that if you were given formal advice from a taskgroup which in turn is based on advice received from other people who in turn again receive it from people on the spot, that that advice is right.

JOURNALIST:

… from Banks?

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Did they tell you that advice came from Banks?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the taskgroup gave me advice, I can’t. Look with the great respect the whole process of government would break down if every bit of advice I get before I rely on it I then I have to ring every single person who’s involved in the chain, get them into my office and cross examine them. I mean I think we have to preserve…

JOURNALIST:

… government and your administration actually break down on this matter or could you blame dispassionate observers from finding that your story’s absolutely incredible?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well some people will think anything I say is incredible. That is their nature and it reflects their prejudice. I can understand some people questioning some of the accounts that have come out of this. I can only repeat what I’ve said all along and I’ve been saying it all along and nothing that has come out has shaken this fundamental fact that the original claims I made were based on advice I’d received from Mr Ruddock.

JOURNALIST:

Doesn’t that then point to the fact that your administration broke down on something quite fundamental during your election campaign.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Tony the question of some communication failures was adverted to in the report. There’s going to be a Senate inquiry, in mean I think that Senate inquiry will be politically prejudiced because of the non-Government majority on it. But nonetheless we will go through the process as best we can given that disadvantage. I think it’s important that I await the outcome of that before making some judgments about arrangements in administrative…

JOURNALIST:

The government is that shonky because of lousy communications, can you afford to wait until after the Senate investigates? Why don’t you do something to fix it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it’s fair Laurie that I wait until particularly people in the Defence Department are given an opportunity of putting their side of the story. I think as a matter of natural justice people are entitled to put their case.

JOURNALIST:

We know from Brigadier Powell’s report that Defence, as a Department, had concluded on October the 11th no children had been thrown overboard. You say, and we’ve got to believe you, that you didn’t have any inkling about it until after the election which was a month later.

PRIME MINISTER:

Nor did my department.

JOURNALIST:

Doesn’t that make the point, for a whole month one department has arrived at a conclusion it takes more than a month for you to have any doubts at all. That’s not acceptable, surely you’ve got to fix it up.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Laurie I’m going to give the people who will appear before the Senate inquiry the opportunity of that.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Well you’d have more of this in the meantime…

PRIME MINISTER:

I think I’ll have this anyway, whatever I do. I think with respect if I were to do anything now that looked as though I were trying to pre-empt or abort the Senate inquiry I would be very…

JOURNALIST:

… we’ve got soldiers in the field and you’ve got a Department there that if you’re right is dysfunctional.

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t have that conclusion. I mean call it sentimental if you like, I retain an enormous respect for the uniformed section of the defence administration in this country, enormous respect.

JOURNALIST:

… Peter Hollingworth condone a priest having sex with an underage girl, how do you react to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Peter Hollingworth is going to put out a detailed statement and I’m not going to make any further comment on this matter until I have seen that statement.

JOURNALIST:

You referred before to a letter I think that Ms Halton had sent to Mr Moore Wilton. What was the date of that letter? Was that prior to the election?

PRIME MINISTER:

It was given to my yesterday, the date of it was the 17th.

JOURNALIST:

Of?

PRIME MINISTER:

February.

JOURNALIST:

And what’s in it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it in effect says, she gave a statement to the Bryant inquiry and then a month or so afterwards, I think perhaps it’s more than a month, she remembered something else.

JOURNALIST:

What?

PRIME MINISTER:

She remembered the events that you essentially wrote of in this morning’s Financial Review Steve.

JOURNALIST:

Doesn’t that dispute Mr Moore Wilton’s recollection, he had said that he was not informed…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well she acknowledges that she couldn’t be categorical about having spoken to Mr Moore Wilton.

JOURNALIST:

Does that cast doubt then upon Mr Moore Wilton?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don’t think it does, I think the fact that if you look at the rest of the letter it’s fairly categorical…

JOURNALIST:

… to Mr Moore Wilton…

PRIME MINISTER:

… that Moore Wilton’s recollection is better. But look you can read the letter, I don’t mind.

JOURNALIST:

You say there’s absolutely no advice that the child overboard claims were false, on November 8 and 9 you said that. On November 8th Vice Admiral Shackleton makes public statements that indeed the advice is false. Given that you’re making these important statements before the nation why didn’t anyone from your office seek to speak to Vice Admiral Shackleton on either of those two days?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well one of the reasons is that I didn’t think it was proper for me running a political campaign to sort of do something that normally a Prime Minister wouldn’t do and that is speak instead of the Defence Minister or the Defence Minister’s Office. But you said that Shackleton was making these statements, he made two statements. One of the statements was about the video and the second statement he made confirmed the original advice on which I had acted.

JOURNALIST:

But the first statement said didn’t it that children were threatened to be thrown overboard, not thrown overboard. But it wasn’t just in relation to the video surely?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ll have to look at the statement again.

JOURNALIST:

He talked about advice, the advice was that children were threatened to be thrown overboard…

PRIME MINISTER:

But Jim later in the day he put out a statement in which he repeated, he confirmed that Defence had given advice to the Government.

JOURNALIST:

He didn’t confirm your advice was accurate though did he Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

No he didn’t. that’s true. That is true.

JOURNALIST:

… when there was such an ambiguity over that second statement?

PRIME MINISTER:

Why didn’t my office contact him? Because he having made that statement and it having been my argument all along that our statements had been made based on advice I didn’t see a need to contact him.

JOURNALIST:

Did your office discuss with Mr Reith’s office a request for Shackleton to clarify his original statement which could be seen as pressure on him to issue a second….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there was no pressure put on Shackleton from my office. Well of course there was contact between our two offices. I mean he having made that original statement it would be perfectly extraordinary if somebody from my office had not spoken to Reith’s office and sort of said, you know, what’s going on? I mean one minute we are criticised for not seeking information and the next minute if you seek a bit of information there’s an implication of pressure on uniformed people.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard are you satisfied with the way the Governor General acquitted himself on Australian Story last night?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to make any further comment on that issue until I have read the Governor General’s written statement.

JOURNALIST:

And then you will make comment Mr Howard?

PRIME MINISTER:

I will react and behave appropriately.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, you mentioned earlier that you had discussions with your staff about the veracity of the photographs after you’d decided to commission the inquiry. Did those discussions occur before the election?

PRIME MINISTER:

No they didn’t. But look I thought I said earlier Glenn that I’d had discussions with my staff about the veracity of the original advice. But my recollection, and I’d have to go back and check with my staff and make absolutely certain about this, but my recollection very very clearly is that we put the video out and once the video went out then I’ve got say this the issue about the photographs sort of went out of my mind. And I honestly thought that it was perfectly possible for there to have been confusion about the photographs but the original reports to have been quite accurate.

JOURNALIST:

….video Prime Minister that Vice Admiral Shackleton made his comments casting doubt over the whole incident and the photographs. How can it have left your mind when the day after Vice Admiral Shackleton makes these comments?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Vice Admiral Shackleton made the comments I think on the afternoon of the 8th, I think from recollection, he made them on the afternoon of the 8th and I think the video had been released during the day. And he then made another statement confirming the original advice and then I think I had two lengthy interviews with Mr Tony Jones on Lateline. I had an interview with a whole lot of other people and quite honestly I spent all of the following day, and I mean you will now as you have and you will continue to do condemn the priority but I’ve got to say to you quite unapologetically that I just moved on to the conclusion of the election campaign and that was my obligation and I think to suggest that I should have spent a large part of the Friday as your question implies ringing up a whole lot of people in relation to this when I had no reason because I hadn’t been given any advice from my department or from my staff calling into question the original advice about children having being thrown overboard which was in no way related to photographs or videos. I’ve been given nothing to contradict that. Quite frankly I don’t think it was incumbent upon me to make those inquiries. I think it was incumbent upon me to prosecute the conclusion of my election campaign which I did.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] confidence in the Governor General….

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to make any further comment on that until I’ve read his statement.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course he enjoys my confidence.

JOURNALIST:

Leaving the Governor General aside may I ask your views on a moral question? Firstly, is it a crime for an adult male to have a sexual encounter with an underage female and secondly if that happens is it an excuse on the part of the adult male that the child led him on?

PRIME MINISTER:

Laurie I haven’t checked the state of the criminal law now but I do remember when I was at law school that it was a defence to a carnal knowledge charge that if the person in question who may have been under the age of 16 was between the ages of 14 and 16 and there was a reasonable belief on the part of the accused that the person in was in fact above the age of consent. Now beyond that I can’t offer an opinion on that because I don’t know all of the facts and the circumstances.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] offer an opinion?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I will offer an opinion, I find anything to do with the interference of children abominable, disgusting, and it’s something that repels and is repulsive to all Australians and, you know, I think the community should be united in its hostility to it. I deplore breaches of trust that occur whether it’s in a church organisation or any kind of school and it’s not limited as some reports would have had it in the past to schools run by the Catholic Church of the Anglican Church. Sadly it’s occurred in government schools as well in years gone by. So I mean it makes my flesh creep.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] in relation to Dr Hollingworth?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I think that is asking me an unfair…..no no no question is unfair of a Prime Minister, no question is unfair of a Prime Minister. But I don’t think it is fair for my sort of due consideration of this matter that I try and answer that question. Look my understanding, I have a certain understanding about the incident to which Laurie’s question relates but he asked me, I think you asked me a legal question didn’t you?

JOURNALIST:

And a moral one.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think older men should take advantage of underage girls, no I don’t.

JOURNALIST:

Should other people offer that as an excuse on their behalf?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you’re asking me in effect to comment on this particular situation. It’s a good go and I’m going to avoid doing that Laurie because I don’t think we can with respect as you’ve tried to do separate the Governor General from this issue.

JOURNALIST:

Have you discussed this with the Governor General?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course I have. I’m not going to sort of start saying when I’ve spoken to him. I mean I might then be invited to sort of give a detailed account of whether I sort of checked certain things out a la another issue.

JOURNALIST:

Have you given any advice to Rob Kerin in South Australian to stick it out?

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven’t spoken to Rob.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I spoke to him the day after.

JOURNALIST:

You haven’t urged him to stick it out and get the [inaudible]….

PRIME MINISTER:

I have not conveyed any advice. It’s a matter for him and whatever they decide to do will have my blessing providing it’s reasonable and within the law and I am sure it will be.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think when you hold one of these high offices like Prime Minister and maybe Governor-General you can separate between the office and the person perhaps?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s very hard to do. I can’t do it but everybody is different.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think the head of state is able to do that just generally, theoretically?

PRIME MINISTER:

Separate what?

JOURNALIST:

Between their private and what happened in past life and, you know, what’s happening now.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think there is an increasing difficulty because of the greater accountability that everybody is subject to these days. We live in a far more accountable society now than we used to. Part of it is a more active media and I am not saying that critically, it’s just an observation. Communications are sharper and more rapid and as a result of that retrieval systems are better and you can get information and all of that. I think it’s very, very difficult now for anybody who’s done anything with their life, I mean, who can say that they have never done anything in their life that mightn’t at some stage in the discharge of their responsibilities be called against them. I mean, it’d be a pretty brave man or woman who could do that.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]…put the onus in the sense on a Prime Minister who is the soul appointee of a Governor-General to make the sorts of checks that are needed and weren’t you, in effect, let down?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me say in advance, I mean, in case you have reason to ask me, of course I did not ask Archbishop Hollingworth whether there was something. I made a judgement about the man and I stand by that judgement and if that judgement is seen by some to have been fallible, well, so be it. I am not going to try and pretend. He had a high public reputation, he continues, in my view, to have a very high public reputation. But if you are asking me did I send him a form to fill out? No. I can’t imagine that Paul Keating sent Bill Deane a form to fill out and I can’t imagine that Malcolm Fraser sent Ninian Stephen and, I mean, even though Whitlam did send John Kerr a form he didn’t take much notice of some of the answers.

JOURNALIST:

In relation to South Australia, do you believe that an election should be overturned on the basis that the winner during the campaign uttered a large falsehood?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t know what the Electoral Act in South Australia is but as a general observation I think it is a bit impractical.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, can I go back to the ONA advice that you mentioned. At eight o’clock on the 8th of November in that Tony Jones interview you just mentioned, the second Jones interview, you said I have said all along that statements we have made have been based on advice and I had ONA advice which stated categorically that children were thrown in the water. So you were at that point relying on the ONA advice and yet your office, your senior adviser, knew that the ONA advice was only based on ministerial statements.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, hang on, I wasn’t only relying on that advice because I had got advice in a conversation with Philip Ruddock.

JOURNALIST:

But you relied heavily on the ONA advice.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but your question implied that that was the only source of my advice. There were three sources. There was the conversation with Ruddock, there was the confirmation of that in writing in the taskgroup report and there was the ONA report. And at the time I made those statements I was not even aware of the inconclusiveness in relation to the source of that advice.

JOURNALIST:

Shouldn’t you have been?

PRIME MINISTER:

With the benefit of hindsight you can say, yes, I should have been and I am sorry, I mean, I am sorry for example that I hadn’t been provided with the taskgroup report for the Press Club because…

JOURNALIST:

Didn’t you have that taskforce report from PM&C and Jordana by the time of the Lateline appearance?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are still checking that out actually but I am advised, no.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, isn’t the error of judgement that Mr Jordana made in not providing you with that advice from ONA, isn’t that a greater crime, if you like, than what Mr….

PRIME MINISTER:

Hang on. I mean, you should not use the word crime.

JOURNALIST:

Well, isn’t that a greater error of judgement than the one that Mr Morris made in ’97 and which he was….

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not going to try and draw analogies. They are different circumstances, different people, the employment relationship is different. Look, you can make those observations which I am sure you will but I am not going to comment on them.

JOURNALIST:

Will he stay in your office?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have no plans at present to alter my office arrangements.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, last night Peter Hollingworth said he had four and a half years left in his term and he was going to serve it out. That’s not his call is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Governor-General holds office at her Majesty’s pleasure.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]…running in the community an underhanded or slimey campaign to seek to get him removed from office simply for that purpose?

PRIME MINISTER:

There are some people who are attacking him who feel very strongly about the issue of child abuse and I understand why they feel strongly about it. I think we all do. There are others, I think, who don’t mind the pressure on him because they don’t have a lot of respect for the office but I am not going to get into anything stronger than that, I don’t think that’s appropriate. One more question and then we ought to go and have lunch.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]…concede defeat and hand over government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I am not going to give Rob any advice. I understand why they are taking the action they are. I don’t know what the law is there and good luck to them but that’s really a matter for them, I am not going to presume to give them any advice.

JOURNALIST:

Would you like to see the matter resolved before the Queen arrives in South Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is within the wit and courtesy of the people involved to handle it if it’s not resolved. I don’t think it will be. If it goes to a court of disputed returns there is no way it will be resolved while the Queen is here. I suppose they’ll have to avoid there being four speeches made on the day.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, is early retirement looking any more attractive?

PRIME MINISTER:

For whom?

JOURNALIST:

For yourself.

PRIME MINISTER:

You have got to be joking. You have got to be joking.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think Simon Crean is looking a bit like Steven Bradbury?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, I am a long distance runner.

JOURNALIST:

Michael Bowers is hanging up his cameras and going to Sydney, what do you think of his performance?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it depends what appears in the Sydney Morning Herald tomorrow. But I wish you well. You should have lost a bit of weight over the last couple of years running around on my walks. And I do wish you well and I think you have produced some great photos, some great pictures, you really have. Good luck.

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