No Grounds For Terminating Governor-General: Howard

Prime Minister John Howard has held a press conference at the Pierre Hotel, New York.

The conference followed Howard’s visit to President Bush’s ranch in Texas, en route to the United Kingdom and Doha.

Howard was questioned about the position of the Governor-General.

Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s New York press conference.

HOWARD: Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to inform you that on my way home to Australia from the United Kingdom I’ll be going to Doha and to visit elements of the Australian Defence Force who served in the war against Iraq. It will be an opportunity for me before they actually return to Australia to express my thanks and the thanks of the Australian people for their brave deeds and for the tremendous work they did in our name and as part of the coalition in the war against Iraq, and I look forward to the opportunity of meeting as many of them as possible and expressing close to the theatres of action in which they are involved, the gratitude of the Australian people.

Yesterday concluded the most extensive talks I believe that have ever taken place, between an Australian Prime Minister and an American President. It is clear that the relationship between our two countries is stronger now than it’s ever been. That is not to demean of course the strength of the relationship in the past or to deny the contribution of other Australian Prime Ministers to the Australian-American alliance, but plainly there is great goodwill towards Australia. Plainly there is a shared philosophy between the President and myself regarding many issues. I drew very great encouragement from his clearly stated determination, as I’ve alluded to before this visit, to work as hard as possible to achieve a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. It remains the greatest single and important objective of world diplomacy in that part of the world. Australia, as a 50 year staunch friend and ally of Israel, but nonetheless a country that believes very strongly in the emergence of an independent Palestinian state, will do what it can to contribute towards the successful outcome of the peace process. It won’t be easy but one thing should be clearly understood. There is a great determination on the part of this administration in the United States to do everything it can to achieve that objective. It will have the support and the goodwill of the Australian Government in pursuing it.

Tomorrow, as you know, I’ll be seeing the Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, and then after that I’ll be going to London to see the British Prime Minister Mr Blair, other senior ministers and I will, during the course of that visit, also see leaders of the opposition parties in the United Kingdom and I’ll be paying a courtesy call on the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, should the Governor General resign?

HOWARD: Look I thought I might be asked a question about the Governor General. Let me simply say this, and repeating what I have previously said, that there is nothing in his conduct as Governor General and indeed no proper basis in relation to other matters for me to recommend to the Queen that his commission be terminated. Beyond that I don’t intend to comment on the speculation and commentary that has occurred in Australia since I left.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister have you spoken to Dr Hollingworth?

HOWARD: I speak to him as you would expect a lot, if you’re asking the timing of conversations I’ve had with him I don’t intend to comment.

JOURNALIST: Will you raise the matter with the Queen?

HOWARD: It is not normal to canvas either in advance or in retrospect matters discussed. I should say that the arrangements about a call on the Queen were concluded some days ago.

JOURNALIST: Is the position of the Governor General untenable whilst he may not have done anything whilst he was Governor General, is the ramifications of the report by the Anglican Church making his position untenable as Governor General?

HOWARD: I’ve indicated Dennis the extent of what I intend to say on that subject.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, (inaudible) do you have any indication of (inaudible)

HOWARD: Refer to answer to D. Shanahan.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask do you have any more information on the talks you had with President Bush about North Korea?

HOWARD: Yes.

JOURNALIST: Were economic sanctions considered?

HOWARD: Well we had a very lengthy discussion about North Korea and the discussion was aided by the fact that Jim Kelly, who was present and he was the United States representative at the meeting which took place in China, in Beijing. We didn’t discuss economic sanctions, but we discussed various aspects of the relationship between the two, between North Korea and many other countries. It is fair to say that America’s attitude towards North Korea is pretty well understood. It makes a great deal of sense. North Korea has been in clear and open breach of her obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

JOURNALIST: Are you confident that (inaudible).

HOWARD: I’m optimistic there can be. The prospects of a diplomatic outcome that is lasting and is satisfactory has been greatly enhanced by American policy successfully pursued with Australia’s support in relation in Iraq. I said before the Iraq war started that the prospects of the world dealing successfully with North Korea would be greatly diminished if it could not deal successfully with Iraq and nothing has happened since then to alter that judgement indeed what has happened since then has reinforced that judgement in my mind and certainly in the minds of the Americans.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the US is reviewing its true positioning in our region, do you have any indication of what they might do and did you perhaps offer any suggestions or advice to the President?

HOWARD: Well the question of what the Americans do with their own troops is a matter for the Americans to talk about. It’s not for me to give any public advice about. It’s not something that in terms of how it might affect Australia was discussed yesterday. Well obviously Australia is a country that will always listen to propositions that might be put to us by the Americans concerning troop placements that directly affect us but that didn’t come up yesterday.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned yesterday that there was a lot of discussion about Indonesia and the situation there. Can you flesh it out….

HOWARD: Yes in talking about the success of the war against terror and the terrorist threats in different parts of the world, we naturally focussed on Jemaah Islamiah and the influence that that organisation in Indonesia. I told the President that there is very close cooperation between Australia and Indonesia. I praised the work of the Indonesian police in tracking down those responsible for the Bali outrage and said that the level of cooperation between the Indonesian police and the Australian Federal Police had been outstanding and that the Indonesians deserved a great deal of credit for the work that had been done in tracking down the Bali suspects.

We are making progress in the war against terror. We are catching people. We are striking at the terrorist organisations and taking in people to use almost a corporate expression, whole significant executive authority below the chairman of the board, and that is starting to have an effect, but nobody should imagine that the war against terror has been won and we won’t continue to be a huge challenge not only to the United States but for all of us.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, in Doha which elements of the Australian forces will you visit and how long will you be staying?

HOWARD: Well I’ll be staying there essentially for a period of day and I’ll be also calling on some political leaders in the area to thank them for the basing arrangements that were involved in relation to the stationing of our forces. The details of who I’ll be seeing are still be worked out but I have to see as many force elements as possible and it will be an opportunity before they come home for me there to directly thank them.

JOURNALIST: Will you overnight there and is there any thought of going to see the SAS in Iraq?

HOWARD: Well I don’t want to get into the fine detail of it at the moment. I may be able to provide some more information and I will be spending one night there, but as to the further information let us keep in touch.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, did you raise with the President the issue of two Australians held at Guantanamo Bay without trial, legal representation or charge, and if not, why not?

HOWARD: That matter was already under discussion between the Attorney-General and his relevant counterpart in the United States Government, and therefore there was no need and it was not appropriate that the matter be discussed yesterday.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the United Nations should have a role beyond the humanitarian role in Iraq in the reconstruction?

HOWARD: My view is that the United Nations should have a role where appropriate, but that has to recognise the reality that the coalition did the heavy lifting. The coalition effectively is the administering authority pending a transition. Consistent with that, I’m in favour of sensible, practical, useful involvement by the United Nations to the extent that might be appropriate. I wouldn’t try and circumscribe the areas. Clearly the United Nations has expertise in a number of areas but also clearly we have to recognise the reality of what has occurred and who was involved in bringing about the state of affairs which has seen the removal of a tyrannical regime.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister [inaudible] man of steel [inaudible]

HOWARD: Well I have long since eschewed personal introspection. I’ve long since eschewed trying to put descriptions or [inaudible] or whatever on myself. I will leave that to others. I don’t get into that. It’s a dangerous pastime. I’ve seen others wander into that sort of area and get into awful trouble.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

HOWARD: What is the next question Mr Farr? Come to the baseball.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on free trade are you optimistic that the President’s new timetable…

HOWARD: The President is very committed. He made that very clear in the discussions. He made it very clear at the news conference. I welcome that. We are very committed. And both of us are going to try very hard within the shortest time that is reasonable, to get a successful outcome. Now that’s not going to be easy. We shouldn’t kid ourselves, but gee if it can be pulled off it will be of enormous and lasting economic value and assistance to Australia. I can’t stress too much the fact that you’re dealing with a relationship with a nation that is going to bulk larger in the economic life of the world over the next 50 years, than it does at the present time and the benefit from being enmeshed with an economy as strong as that, and side by side with our very strong investment with growing economies such as China, a very important relationship, and also our ongoing and close economic relationships with Korea and with Japan in particular, but not only. You are laying down a future underpinning for the economic strength and prosperity of Australia way beyond the current generation. And people talk about, you know, visions for future and so forth. If we can, through those relationships and linkages, underwrite the economic future of our nation, then future generations beyond ours will be the beneficiaries.

JOURNALIST: Does the goodwill towards Australia at the moment make this a once in a lifetime opportunity on trade?

HOWARD: Dennis I have never sought to link the two. I have never sought to say a free trade agreement is an Australian entitlement, because of what was done in Iraq. We did what we did in Iraq because it was right, and we would have done it irrespective of whether we were in negotiations with the United States for a free trade agreement or not. I want to make that very clear. And in the past when this issue has come up, I have always separated, as other Australian Prime Ministers have done, separated the two things and I always will in future.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] advice that the President has strongly endorsed a free trade agreement at a particularly delicate time in the political cycle…

HOWARD: Well I will leave the commentary on delicacies to others who are more delicate than I in those matters, but all I want to say is that I have never sought to link the two. But he is very committed. You heard what he said, and I know what he said privately and what he said privately has been utterly consistent with what he said publicly and no different. He is very keen. Now, it doesn’t gainsay the difficulties, nobody should pretend. But he is very committed and I very warmly welcome and amen his comment about the value of it for our two countries.

JOURNALIST: Did he discuss some of the difficulties of getting the FTA pieced together?

HOWARD: We’ve always been aware of some of the sensitivities within the farm lobby within the United States. We all know that. It’s going to be tough rowing on that. We understand that. He understands that. I do. But when you have the two political leaders firmly committed, it’s a help.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, [inaudible] you said the discussions are continuing at a lower level. Could you give us…

HOWARD: No, I don’t regard the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth being at a … [inaudible] but I mean he’s at a very high level. He’s the first law officer.

JOURNALIST: Either way, [inaudible] update as to what is the latest with that and what is Australia…

HOWARD: What I can tell you is what I said to the earlier question to Greg. What I can tell you is that discussions are going on between the Commonwealth Attorney-General and relevant people in the Administration.

JOURNALIST: What are we saying to them?

HOWARD: Well I’m not in a position, for obvious reasons… but the matter is the subject of those discussions and those discussions are relatively precise. Let me put it that way. But I can’t tell you why. You must understand that with something like this, I’m not and I can’t give a running commentary.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you anticipate that Kofi Annan is going to ask that the Australian deployment in East Timor might be a little longer than was originally planned?

HOWARD: I think the East Timor deployment will come up. Our position is that we want to make sure that conditions remain stable and secure in East Timor, but we also want to maintain the maximum incentive for the East Timorese Government and the East Timorese people to manage their own affairs and their own security, and we’ll endeavour to balance those two considerations.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, given the serious error of judgement in allowing a priest guilty of child sex abuse to continue working is not a proper basis to seek the removal of a Governor General, what would be?

HOWARD: Refer to my answer to D. Shanahan.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, just back on the UN, what will you be telling Kofi Annan about our role in post-war Iraq and how do you see the timeframe for the remaining troops and personnel that are there today?

HOWARD: Well we’re going to play the sort of role that I and my colleagues have already indicated. We accept the responsibilities because we were part of the coalition. When we bring back the SAS and the Hornets and some other force elements, we will still have during the transitional period some 1,000 to 1,200 personnel in the area, in and around Iraq. We will keep reviewing the length of time that they will stay. I should interpolate here that during our discussions yesterday, the President reiterated his clear understanding all along we wouldn’t be providing a significant peacekeeping force.

JOURNALIST: Do you see it as months or years…

HOWARD: Well I certainly don’t see it as years. No. I’m not going to try and… you mean the presence of the Australian forces? Very difficult looking at you with that light. I mean it’s a lot more difficult for me than it is for you. I know you like to get mastery of these situations, and you are succeeding, let me tell you. You are blinding me with the piercing interrogation to which I’m now being subjected.

JOURNALIST: Kryptonite, Prime Minister?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Mr Bush said yesterday he was proud to call you a friend. Do you call him a good mate of yours?

HOWARD: Yes. Very much so. I enjoy his company. He’s a highly intelligent man who has knowledge of world affairs. His sensitivity to the responsibility that America’s pre-eminent position of power carries is evident. Anybody who thinks that the current President of the United States is sort of interested in having a fight with everybody who disagrees with the United States, couldn’t be further from reality. He understands the responsibility that goes with leading the most powerful country in the world. He wants and appreciates good friends, like anybody else does in that position. He’s very committed to the peace process. He has always understood that if Australia were to be involved militarily in Iraq, it would be in the form that actually took place, that was the supplier of special forces and Hornets and other force elements that we did supply during the military operation, and he has always understood that there would be no expectation to have a large number of peacekeepers beca! use we made that very clear right at the beginning, and there has never been any misunderstanding. He is a person who values having a clear understanding of where an ally and where a friendly nation stands. But I certainly value him as a mate and I certainly regard the relationship as being in excellent shape, and each of us have made a very important contribution to it. But it’s a longstanding relationship. I’m not pretending that I’m the only Australian Prime Minister that has made a contribution to it.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, talking about a possible visit, Prime Minister, it’s pretty handy in the lead-up to an election…

HOWARD: I would never want to involve a foreign leader in an Australian domestic political campaign. The last Australian Prime Minister who invoked the name of a foreign political leader or leaders to aid his campaign suffered a very dismal fate.

JOURNALIST: Just for the record did you renew the invitation…

HOWARD: Oh yes I have and I’m sure he will visit Australia at some time in the not too distant future. Exactly when, I don’t know and he doesn’t know. But the invitation is there and I hope he can come. But it won’t be, as far as I’m concerned, in any way connected with the next election.

JOURNALIST: On the discussions with the Middle East peace process with the President, is there a new and specific role for Australia in assisting the peace process?

HOWARD: Well not a new role because we have…

JOURNALIST: An extra role?

HOWARD: Well no, there’s not an extra role. And in the end we will make our own role irrespective of the role of the United States and other countries. But we have very close links with Israel and we also have been longstanding in our support for an independent Palestinian state, and Australia declared in advance I think of the United States, support for the emergence of an independent Palestinian state. And because of the linkages through various communities in Australia with that part of the world, I’m sure we can play a very useful role.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

HOWARD: No. I want to make it clear that the possibility of doing it was in my mind before the President went to the US Abraham Lincoln, and also the arrangements for that other call in London to which I referred. They were in place some time ago.

JOURNALIST: Would you prefer to be at the West Indies than the baseball this afternoon?

HOWARD: Dennis you know that I always prefer to be watching a game of cricket, but I am looking forward to it. It’s part of American culture and part of world sport and of course I’m looking forward to it, and we’ll see you all there.

JOURNALIST: So you’ll get Mr Bush to a game, say the New Years Day test when he comes out to Australia.

HOWARD: Well I mean one possibility is of course, I mean if it were to occur later in the year, it would be in time for the Rugby World Cup and some of you may not be aware that the President played rugby when he was at college. So he’s quite familiar with the game. He played fullback. We talked about that yesterday. And I once or twice played fullback for Canterbury Boys High School. Alright, we’ll see you later.

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