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Howard Meets With Blair

November 9, 2003

This is the transcript of the doorstop interview given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at the site of the Australian War Memorial, Hyde Park Corner, London, following his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.


JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, your initial reaction to seeing the memorial?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh itís very impressive. Every Australian who sees this will be immensely proud. Itís not only a great work of craftsmanship by Australians but itís a beautiful rendition, as best you can in a memorial, of the breadth of the Australian contribution to the defence of freedom in two world wars, the scale of the armies and navies and air forces we sent, and therefore a measure of the debt that is owed by Britain and others to Australians in both of those conflicts.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think of your father and your grandfather when you see a memorial like this or when you attend the remembrance service?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I do. I mean Iím like so many millions of Australians. I had close relatives in both wars, and of course you think of them. You think of the 60,000 Australians from World War I who didnít return and the 30 or more thousand from World War II, and you naturally think of the fact that for 18 months Britain, Australia and one or two other countries virtually stood alone against the Nazis, and that is a chapter in our history that will never be forgotten and never should be forgotten.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the fact that today the British were remembering 54 of their servicemen killed in Iraq, did that give a special significance to the service this morning do you think?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think any contemporary remembrance always gives a special significance. A remembrance day is a day to recall everybody who has died in conflict, although the day and the time marks the end of World War I in Britain. It is the principal remembrance day, unlike Australia which is Anzac Day, but of course I feel for those British families who have lost people in Iraq, as I do for the families of our American friends who have lost even more.

JOURNALIST:

Fate shone on Australia really. I mean we had people there but none of our people were killed. I mean the country was lucky.

PRIME MINISTER:

Paul, we still have people there. We still have 900 Australian servicemen and women and they are still in danger. We hope and pray none of them is killed or injured.

JOURNALIST:

Does that give you sleepless nights, knowing that theyíre still exposed?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look whenever you have people overseas, you worry. We have been lucky to date, but we canít assume that that will continue. We hope it does.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, next week when George Bush comes here there is huge protests planned. There is nothing that Iím aware of planned, anti-war protests, for your visit, yet Australia was part of that war too. What do you think the difference is?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I donít know. Youíd have to ask the protesters I suppose.

JOURNALIST:

Well let me put it this wayÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

You have a theory Fran.

JOURNALIST:

No, no, no.

PRIME MINISTER:

You havenít lost your theories since youíve been in England.

JOURNALIST:

Tony Blair and George Bush are both having a lot of trouble politically from anti-war feeling. You donít seem to be having such trouble politically. How do you analyse that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I donít analyse. Iím a participant, Iím not a commentator. And I never take any political situation in my own country for granted. I do my best to explain what we did and how we did it. I admire the stand that George Bush and Tony Blair took. I told Tony Blair that this morning when I saw him in Downing Street. I think he was very gutsy and very courageous and I donít retreat for a moment from the stance that my Government took in supporting Tony Blair and George Bush.

JOURNALIST:

You said on an interview this morning that you were surprised that weapons of mass destruction hadnít been found in Iraq. Could you expand a bit on that. Surprised why?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well because the intelligence was so very strong Dennis. See people have to accept a simple proposition. We had intelligence. It was very credible. It was consistent. But the intelligence I saw was essentially the same intelligence as Tony Blair and George Bush saw. We didnít make it up. We didnít fabricate it. And it may well be that as time goes by and the Iraq Survey Group continues to do its work, more material will be uncovered.

JOURNALIST:

Itís looking less likely though, isnít it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you canít assume too much. There is still a lot more work to be done. I can only repeat that we did have credible intelligence and that is why we acted.

JOURNALIST:

Your time at Downing Street Ė was that just an informal get together?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but we talked about a whole lot of things. He invited me over. We watched the last 10 minutes of the Wales versus England rugby match in the kitchen. It was pretty tight, interestingly tight from an Australian point of view Ė not so much from an English point of view.

JOURNALIST:

Did you compare notes about the Iraq aftermath and the impact that it had on your popularity?

PRIME MINISTER:

We talkedÖ oh look we know each other very well. We may come from different sides of the political fence but I like Tony Blair, I think he has been very gutsy over Iraq, and of course we talk about the range of impacts of these things on our countries when you know somebody as well as I know him now and he me, we naturally talk fairly frankly and freely.

JOURNALIST:

There has been a call by Mr Blair, by Mr Bush for more troops, for more support from all countries. Are you willing to add to what weíve done already or are we doing enough?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are of course contributing a lot more than most. I mean we do have almost 1,000 people in Iraq and of course we were at the sharp end of the military conflict. That is the extent of our contribution. I have always made that very clear and that has always been understood by both the Prime Minister and President Bush.

JOURNALIST:

The Indonesian fishing boat Ė can you explain where it is and what the status of the people aboard is now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the boat has been returned to Indonesia and their status has not changed, but the boat has been returned to Indonesia in the same way that other boats have been returned, and itís been returned with the understanding of the Indonesians, and there were contacts made in the appropriate way with the Indonesian authorities several days ago, and I donít really want to say any more than that except to say that there has been contact with the Indonesians and the approach that we have adopted has been perfectly legal and perfectly proper and the truth is that we have again shown a willingness to protect our borders against illegal immigration and those who criticise what we have done back in Australia are of course supporting a more open policy.

JOURNALIST:

Were you involved in those contacts with Indonesia?

PRIME MINISTER:

I wasnít personally involved, but I certainly knew what was going on and I certainly authorised it.

JOURNALIST:

Do you believe the allegations levelled against the Prince of Wales could undermine support for the Royal family in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

I donít really want to get into that. I mean theyíre in the realm of speculation and allegation and denials have been made. Iím really not going to give it any more credence than that.

JOURNALIST:

Back on the issue of Iraq, do you have a view where any extra troops or extra support could or should come from, given that this task is going to take a lot longer than perhaps was initially thought?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I donít think I should start listing countries that should do this or that. Iíve spoken for Australia and I have indicated the extent of our contribution, and weíll maintain our contribution in different ways in the time ahead. But as to what other countries should be doing, that really is a matter for them. But I have to repeat what I said on the Frost programme this morning, that if the advice of those who opposed America, Britain and Australia had been taken, Saddam Hussein would still be running Iraq.

JOURNALIST:

Do you expect our commitment will be for the long term in Iraq given the situation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Iím not going to put a time limit on it. Weíll be there for a time yet, but just how long I canít say.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, would you welcome Pauline Hanson back into politics?

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Would you welcome Pauline Hanson back into politics?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Louise, the question of whether she or anybody else enters politics is a matter for the Australian people. I donít divine who should be in politics. That is a matter for the Australian people. They run us, we donít run them.

JOURNALIST:

You said weíd be maintaining our support in different ways. What do you mean by differentÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the different ways that are there now. We have naval units, we have commandos, we haveÖ

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] change

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there might be some changes in relation to different aspects of it, but we donít have anything major in mind.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, can you tell us any more about the general discussions you had at Downing Street, in the kitchen or otherwise?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we moved from the kitchen to the lounge room, and then we talked about Iraq, we talked about politics in Britain, politics in Australia, we talked about different aspectsÖ

JOURNALIST:

Did you talk about asylum seekers?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, not today, no. Weíre having a formal discussion in the next little while. We also had some discussion about the detainees in Guantanamo Bay.

JOURNALIST:

What about tension between himself and Gordon Brown and how leaders resolve that in terms ofÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I, you know, tension is not an emotion politically that I have experienced in recent times.

JOURNALIST:

So no advice for him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh now look, heís a very experienced political operator and we reflected with some amusement on the fact that there are a few Howards around at the moment.

JOURNALIST:

Will you meet your doppelganger? Will you meet the Opposition Leader Howard?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes it is normal on an official visit to meet the Leader of the Opposition, and Iíll also meet the Leader of the Liberal Democrats. I met them all this morning but Iíll meet them in a more formal way shortly.

JOURNALIST:

What did you discuss about Guantanamo Bay?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we just talked about it. I mean he has some people there and we have a couple of citizens of Australia who are there.

JOURNALIST:

Were you talking about speeding upÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you know, we have our position and weíre working on that and theyíre working on theirs. Thank you.

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