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Howard Announces $15 Million 'Terrorist Threat' Advertising Campaign: Public To Be Encouraged To Report 'Suspicious Behaviour'

December 27, 2002

John Howard, Prime Minister The Prime Minister, John Howard, has announced a $15 million advertising campaign, including television and newspaper advertisements and a booklet to be distributed to every household, in response to "the terrorist threat".

The "public education campaign" will commence on Sunday. Howard described the timing of the campaign, between Christmas and New Year, as "the right time". He said that the advertisements would be "thoroughly informative" and "reassuring". According to the Prime Minister, Australians are a "fun-loving, free people.. but the unpalatable fact is that since the 11th of September last year and, more particularly since the 12th of October this year, we do live in a different world and we have to take appropriate steps."

The campaign includes a telephone hotline capable of handling 1200-2000 calls an hour. Howard said "the theme of the advertisement will be to encourage all Australians to work together to make certain that suspicious behaviour is reported".

Asked what constituted suspicious behaviour, Howard said: "What is suspicious depends very much on circumstances and the environment in which the act occurs. I think it would be very unwise of me or somebody else, the presenter at this stage particularly to stand up there and say, what you've got to look for is this. It is very much a question of the application of one's commonsense. I mean, self-evidently, if you see somebody climbing into a window at the house next door and you don't recognise him, well, I mean, we all know that is suspicious. Now, I'm not saying that that's in anyway a stereotype for a terrorist act but I use it as a metaphor, as an illustration of the point I'm making, it depends upon the circumstances."


This is the transcript of the press conference held by the Prime Minister, John Howard, in Sydney.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to welcome you to the news conference and I've called this news conference to announce the Government's public education campaign, relating to the terrorist threat, will commence this coming Sunday. On Sunday there will be print ads appearing in major metropolitan newspapers and others throughout Australia. On Sunday evening all of the television channels, including, I understand, the ABC on a community service basis will be screening the first of the ads.

The purpose of the campaign, which is likely to last for about three months, is to inform, re-assure and enlist the public in looking out for Australia in the heightened terrorist circumstances in which we now find ourselves.

I believe that the television advertisement and the other material, when viewed, will not be seen as alarming but it will be seen as thoroughly informative and, importantly, reassuring. We do not want to see Australia's way of life change fundamentally. We are a free and open society and we are fun-loving, free people and the Government has no desire and no intention of altering that. But the unpalatable fact is that since the 11th of September last year and, more particularly since the 12th of October this year, we do live in a different world and we have to take appropriate steps. And the theme of the advertisement will be to encourage all Australians to work together to make certain that suspicious behaviour is reported. There will be a specially dedicated national security hotline with the same number, of course, throughout Australia. It will be capable of handling 1200 to 2000 calls an hour, which is a very significant number, and it will have a very major capacity. We have been training people to handle the calls and arrangements have been put in place for the material gathered to be immediately referred to the relevant police or security agencies.

The opening advertisement and, indeed, all of the material will encourage Australians to continue with their ordinary lives and that is what I ask them to do. I don't want Australians to become frightened, I don't want Australians to stop living their ordinary lives. If that happens then the terrorists win but I do want Australians to be on the lookout for suspicious conduct and if in the circumstances conduct is regarded as suspicious then that ought to be reported to the hotline.

It's important that we all work together to beat this new threat to our free way of life and the advertisements seek to encourage Australians to do just that. There is reference, in a reassuring way, to the steps that the Government has already taken to strengthen our security, our defence and our intelligence services. The campaign includes television, radio and print advertisements. It will be in 28 languages. The Government's national security website has also been significantly upgraded.

In the coming weeks, I anticipate towards the end of January, a booklet will be distributed to every Australian household with further information on what counter-terrorism measures are in place, what to look out for, how to be prepared in case an incident does occur and advice for Australians travelling overseas. As I indicated, the campaign will begin this coming Sunday, the 29th of December, and run for approximately three months. I believe the campaign will strike the right note of reassurance, of asking people not to be alarmed but to be alert and that, I think, will be an important message of balance and reassurance to the Australian public.

The presenter of the first TV advertisement is Mr Steve Liebmann of the National Nine Network and I want to thank Mr Liebmann for making a very important contribution to this very important campaign.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, will the ads in effect be encouraging Australians to become amateur spies?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, they'll just be encouraging Australians to behave as they are very capable of doing on all occasions and that is in a very commonsense, practical way. Australians are very commonsense, practical people. If you see something that in the circumstances is clearly out of phase, out of sync, is clearly something that is suspicious in the environment and the circumstances then quite obviously that's the kind of thing to be reported. I don't think Australians are going to become amateur sleuths or spies. I think everybody wants to do something, they want to keep Australia as it is and the way we can do that is to become a sensible, active part of this campaign.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, does this effectively extend the national security alert that was issued on November 19?

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Does this extend the national security alert...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the question of national security alerts are, in a former way, separate from this. This is a campaign. If we have anything to add to that national security alert then we obviously will do so.

JOURNALIST:

So there's no need to extend that security alert at this stage?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I never rule those things in or out. I mean, if we have something more to say on the question of that, we will say it, but we made that...we issued that alert for very good reason. But this campaign is necessary, given the new security circumstances in which we have found ourselves, particularly as a result of the 11th of September and the 12th of October.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think Australians are still too complacent about a terrorist attack on Australian society?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think Australians have become far more alive to the possibility that it could happen here. There'll always be some people who are complacent. You'll never stop that. I'm finding, as I talk to people, particularly over the past week or 10 days when inevitably, at that time of the year, you spend more time in a social environment, people do talk about it. They're not alarmed but they realise the world is different. They want some information, they want reassurance, they want to keep living their lives but they do understand things have changed. I don't think, therefore, the great bulk of people are complacent. They do know that it's different and that's a result of both those events, last year and the year before.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, we haven't seen the ads yet but we assume that you have.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I have. We're going to give you all a video, we'll give you all a copy as you leave and they're being distributed to the various networks and so forth.

JOURNALIST:

What was your personal reaction, did they scare you?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, they don't. Look, they're not, contrary to what's been in some reports, they are not confronting. Confronting presentations would not, in my view, serve the purposes of this campaign. We have no desire to frighten people. We have no desire to in any way ratchet up paranoia, that doesn't achieve anything. We believe in a balanced, reassuring way people are told that things have changed. We are determined to preserve our open way of life. There are different ways in which you can help. The public is told that the booklet will be coming and attention is drawn to the hotline. And the presentation is in a fashion that is reassuring to all sections of the Australian community. No section of the Australian community would have any reason to feel, from this presentation, that it's being targeted or scapegoated and care has been taken to ensure that that is not the case.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, did the advertisements...did the advertisements give any sort of a stereotype of what people should be looking for?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, because that is self-defeating. It does depend...what is suspicious depends very much on circumstances and the environment in which the act occurs. I think it would be very unwise of me or somebody else, the presenter at this stage particularly to stand up there and say, what you've got to look for is this. It is very much a question of the application of one's commonsense. I mean, self-evidently, if you see somebody climbing into a window at the house next door and you don't recognise him, well, I mean, we all know that is suspicious. Now, I'm not saying that that's in anyway a stereotype for a terrorist act but I use it as a metaphor, as an illustration of the point I'm making, it depends upon the circumstances.

JOURNALIST:

What is the cost of the campaign and do you see in any circumstances in which the campaign would be extended beyond three months?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, it may be extended. I would leave open that possibility. We don't have any plans, at this stage, to extend it but it's going to cost about $15 million and it's money very well spent, in my view.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think there's a danger that these ads may well encourage people to target Muslims [inaudible]...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't. Muslim Australians have as much interest in a successful education campaign against terrorism as the rest of the Australian community. They are part of the Australian community. Terrorism is a threat to them as much as it is to me or to you and the point is made that this is something...we're all in this, we're all in this together and we have to see it in those terms.

JOURNALIST:

But the local Muslim community...

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

The local Muslim community, that is some of the formal representatives, say they've had no formal opportunity to view the video. They said that had their been more consultation that they could have had some...

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, you don't negotiate something like this with different sections of the community. Why would you stop at Muslims, why won't you say, well, we'll go and talk to other people. I mean, we represent the entire community. The Government is elected by the entire community and the idea that one section of the community has some kind of right of veto over what goes in a public education campaign, that is not appropriate.

JOURNALIST:

Have you received any further intelligence that there is going to be a terrorist attack in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't have anything to add to what I've previously said on that.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you said the campaign is necessary, is the message to the public that they may well come across some sign of planned terrorism activity in their daily lives, hence the need for a hotline?

PRIME MINISTER:

That's part of the message. The purpose of the campaign is to do a number of things. It's to remind people in a calm way that we are living in a different world. It's to briefly recall things that have been done to strengthen our capacity to deal with terrorism. It's to inform people in advance that more material is going to be made available and it's to provide them with a hotline which enables them to report conduct which they regard in the circumstances using their innate commonsense and intelligence ought to be reported. Now, given the sort of campaign that we're running, that is an appropriate way to commence it, particularly with the flagship TV ad that runs for about 45 seconds. And then, of course, there'll be print ads which are following the same theme but they're obviously a little more detailed because of the nature of the presentation. Now, that's the appropriate way to begin. We will be running a further TV presentation towards the end of January and there will be the booklet that will go to every Australian household by about the end of January or perhaps a little earlier. Now, the question of whether we need to develop further material or further presentations is something that we will monitor and assess. But our judgement talking to people, in the way in which one normally does in the development of material of this kind, our judgement is that people want to know where they can go if they see something suspicious, they want reassurance about what is being done. They don't want to be frightened and confronted and they don't want to pick on other people and create scapegoats. So they're things that quite properly are reflected in and consistent with the campaign.

JOURNALIST:

Sydney's New Years Eve fireworks - should people go and watch them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course they should, of course they should. And they should go to the major sporting events, as they did in Melbourne yesterday and as I'm sure they will in Sydney over the New Year weekend. I don't want people to stop doing anything they normally do. The message of the campaign is, don't be alarmed but be alert but to recognise, as you go about your daily lives, that things have changed and there are different ways in which you can help if you come across suspicious circumstances. And there have been examples overseas where with these sorts of public education campaigns have enabled material to be provided by members of the public to a central hotline and it's proved very valuable in preventing attacks. Now, that could well be the case in Australia and it's a method of involving everybody and I think that is tremendously important.

JOURNALIST:

Will the booklet actually outline behaviours people should be looking out for?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I was asked that earlier. You can't stereotype it and I'm not going to try and do it because what happens is...

JOURNALIST:

Won't that make people paranoid if they don't know what they're...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it won't make people paranoid because people are actually quite, you know, quite capable of applying their commonsense and they do. Australians are very commonsense people. They know suspicious conduct when they see it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, further to that [inaudible] question, the cab driver that dropped me here expressed disquiet that you could get into a [inaudible] so easily. He said that he had to pick up an elderly person on nights such as fireworks...New Years eve [inaudible] get through the line to pick up some [inaudible] elderly lady down at a non-public zone. Will such things be changing on New Years eve?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm not in charge of police arrangements for New Years eve. I'm quite certain that the police authorities in the various parts of Australia will get the balance right. Look, I'm not going to set myself up as a State police commissioner or patrol commander, I'll leave that to the experts, I'm not a policeman.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm sorry, look, I'm sorry, yes.

JOURNALIST:

Has this campaign been six weeks in the making or how long...?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't know. It's taken a number of weeks...it's taken the right amount of time. We think it's ready to go now and we think we're launching it at the right time, between Christmas and the New Year and I think it will be well received.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, can I ask you a question on the cricket just briefly.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Will you be attending...

PRIME MINISTER:

Will I be going to the...yes, of course I will, I'll be there everyday and I hope it lasts for five days. I'm looking forward to five days of Test cricket.

JOURNALIST:

Would you like to see Steve Waugh go on as Captain on the West Indies tour?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I'll leave that to the selectors but can I say, for a bloke that's been under the pressure that he's been under - his 77 was fantastic and particularly the way he started yesterday afternoon, it was quite a remarkable and emotional moment in Australian cricket. Now, the question of his future is a matter for him and the Australian selectors and I don't think it's fair for cricket loving prime ministers to be giving public advice to selectors. I think that's quite unfair. Let it be said, he was under an enormous amount of pressure and to pull that performance out under that pressure speaks volumes for his tenacity and grit.

JOURNALIST:

Would you like to have him in your Party Room?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I never cross-fertilise politics and sports, it's a dangerous thing. Sporting heroes are available to Australians of all political persuasions.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, on a personal note with cricket aside, how do you [inaudible] 2003, what are your personal feelings for the year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, like all other Australians I realise that the world we live in now is sadly different from what it was even a year ago but I'm still incredibly optimistic about this country's future. The spirit of the Australian people shone through in the wake of the Bali atrocity, the way we all work together, the way we put our arms literally and metaphorically around people who'd lost their loved ones, demonstrated what fundamentally kind, soft-hearted, decent people Australians are and the best of our national character always comes out in adversity. I have no doubt that this country will continue to be seen as a free, strong, economically powerful but, most importantly of all, made up of people who've got great heart and great spirit.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, on another serious issue, what's the Government's stance on the rumblings in North Korea?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we share the concern of the rest of the world community about what is occurring. Every diplomatic effort must, at this stage, be undertaken in order to persuade the North Koreans of the foolishness of what they are doing, how it does breach undertakings reached. I particularly echo the remarks of the Chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency this morning when he condemned what North Korea was doing. We will not be proceeding at present with the establishment of a diplomatic mission and full diplomatic relations in Pyongyang. It's clearly not appropriate to do that at the present time and I share all of the concern that was expressed by the Foreign Minister this morning.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we'll leave that as it is and that's a channel of communication. There's no point in asking them to leave, that would be an over-reaction at this time, a complete over-reaction. What we have to try very hard to do as a world community is to persuade them away from the course of action that they are taking. Thank you.

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