The Prime Minister, John Howard, has fielded questions about the Anglican Church report on the Governor-General’s handling of sex abuse allegations.
In an interview in the United States at the start of his visit to President Bush’s ranch in Texas, Howard has denied he is protecting a friend.
Responding to other questions, Howard reiterated Australia’s “niche expertise” in the rebuilding of Iraq.
Transcript of doorstop interview given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at Moffett Field, Palo Alto, USA.
JOURNALIST: Have the American and Australian relations ever been stronger than they are today?
PRIME MINISTER: No they haven’t. And it’s very important that as we move into the 21st century that the relationship deepen and strengthen even more, not to the exclusion of other very important relationships that both countries have, but I can’t think of a time in our shared history where the relationship has been stronger than what it is now.
JOURNALIST: And if the US did not find weapons of mass destruction, does that question the legitimacy of the war and the Australian support for it?
PRIME MINISTER: Well Australia supported military action against Iraq for a number of reasons, particularly the possession of weapons of mass destruction. I’m sure evidence of that will be found, it will take time. We’re also delighted to have played a part in bringing down a brutal dictator and freeing a people, and demonstrating to the world that democracy can, given an opportunity, take root in Iraq.
JOURNALIST: Are you relieved that the war is ending?
PRIME MINISTER: Of course I’m pleased that the war is ending. No one likes war, everybody hates war. I’m deeply grateful that the Australian armed forces, so far, have been spared casualties. And you must never do other than mourn the death of just a single person. The casualty levels in this war have been remarkably low, apparently on both sides.
JOURNALIST: Are you happy with the final outcome in Iraq?
PRIME MINISTER: Oh very much so, it was a remarkable military victory, and a great tribute to the American military leadership. But also the contribution of the British and the Australians who played, in their own way, very important supporting roles.
JOURNALIST: Should Australia have a greater role in rebuilding Iraq?
PRIME MINISTER: We are prepared to play a constructive role, we’ve got expertise in certain areas, we’ll discharge our responsibilities. The rebuilding of Iraq is a responsibility for the world community, and we want it back on its feet and the economy working as soon as possible for the benefit of the Iraqi people. But Australia has a lot of expertise in certain areas, and we see ourselves as a provider of niche expertise in particular.
JOURNALIST: And on the home front, why won’t you table the report on sex abuse in Federal Parliament?
PRIME MINISTER: Well it’s already been tabled in the Queensland Parliament. It’s not our report and you don’t normally table in parliament reports of independent bodies. And the reason that they wanted the report tabled in parliament is because of fear of defamation proceedings. Well that is a matter for individual organisations, but the report has been tabled, it’s not our report, it’s the report of the Anglican Church. The governments only normally table in parliament, reports that they themselves have commissioned, not the reports of independent bodies…
JOURNALIST: …because it could be seen that you’re trying to protect a friend, and that’s why you won’t brief the national parliament?
PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s ridiculous. And one that I completely and utterly dismiss. This is a report commissioned by the Anglican Church and the reason it wanted it tabled was to protect itself against possible legal proceedings, it was not a report commissioned by the Government. And it’s for that reason that the Government decided not to table it. I didn’t know what was in the report when I was asked to table it, so any suggestion that I was covering up is therefore by definition, quite absurd.
JOURNALIST: And, last question, they’re laying out the welcome mat for you, Air Force One, Marine One, going to the Western White House. What do you expect to do there? Are you really going to ride horses?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I think we’ll have a very good opportunity, President Bush and myself, to talk about a lot of things, Iraq, the relationship issues of importance to our region, the Asia-Pacific, North Korea and also some free personal time with our respective wives, and a few friends, and I’m looking forward to it, I’ve always found him a very friendly and easy-going bloke and I’m looking forward to seeing him and being at his home.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, thank you very much.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you.