Prime Minister John Howard
Press Conference on the Attacks
September 11, 2001
Well ladies and gentlemen, could I start this news conference by reading a message
that I sent a few moments ago to President Bush.
Dear Mr President. The Australian Government and people share the sense of horror
experienced by your nation at today's catastrophic events and the appalling
loss of life. I feel the tragedy even more keenly being here in Washington at
In the face of an attack of this magnitude, words are always inadequate in conveying
sympathy and support. You can however be assured of Australia's resolute solidarity
with the American people at this most tragic time.
My personal thoughts and prayers are very much with those left bereaved by these
despicable attacks upon the American people and the American nation.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a very tragic day in the history of a great nation.
Words always do fail you on an occasion like this. But the sense of horror I
know is shared by all Australians here in Washington and I know will be shared
by our fellow countrymen and women back home. I had the opportunity a few moments
ago to personally express my feelings to Tom Schieffer - the American Ambassador
in the United States who's accompanied me here on my visit.
I can only hope as I know all decent people around the world will that those
responsible for this despicable series of attacks upon the United States will
be hunted down and meted out the justice that they so much deserve. The full
extent of casualties of course is unknown and I am no more able to offer a view
on that than any of you.
Can I say that I've spoken to the Acting Prime Minister John Anderson earlier
this morning after these events took place. And already arrangements, a number
of appropriate arrangements have been made particularly in relation to United
States assets and installations in Australia. We have amongst other things the
Australian Federal Police have established an exclusion zone around the United
States Embassy in Canberra. Heightened security has been established for United
States consulates in Sydney and Melbourne and Perth. There's been additional
close personal security provided for the American Charges. We have also increased
ASIO, increased surveillance of, and protection...has arranged for additional
protection in relation to Israeli and Jewish assets in Australia.
At one-thirty this morning Australian time there was a special meeting chaired
by the Protective Security Coordinator involving the Departments of the Attorney
General; the Defence and ASIO. ASIO of course is continuing to provide assessments.
In other words all the appropriate responses are being undertaken in Australia
both in relation to American assets and also having regard to obvious tensions
in relation to Israeli and Jewish assets in our country.
But the only other thing I can say to you is really on behalf of all the Australians
here is to say to our American friends who we love and admire so much, we really
feel for you. It is a terrible day. It's a day that recalls the words used by
President Roosevelt in 1941 - it's a day of infamy that an attack of this kind
can be made in such an indiscriminate fashion - not upon military assets as
was the case in Pearl Harbour but upon innocent civilians, men, women and children
going about their daily lives. And as I say words aren't very adequate but they
are a sign that we feel for our American friends. We will stand by them, we
will help them, we will support actions they take to properly retaliate in relation
to these acts of bastardry against their citizens and against what they stand
for. America has been hurt by today's events but the American spirit will not
be thwarted or bowed and diminished by these events. The resolution of the American
people will be evident and they will respond and they will respond in accordance
with the courageous traditions of their country.
Mr Howard, what are your immediate plans with regard to your visit?
Well I think they're just on hold at the moment. Obviously in the light of what's
happened it's unlikely that I will complete my program, and there's a freeze
on air movements out of the United States at the moment that obviously affects
all of us. But I'll just see how things unfold but for the next few hours I'll
naturally be staying in Washington.
Mr Howard, you said you've made arrangements to secure Israeli premises and
Jewish premises as well. Is that an indication that you believe that Arab forces
Well there is always a tendency for some of their assets to be targeted. I don't
have any evidence. It's a precaution and it's a sensible precaution.
Mr Howard, do you have any information on any Australian casualties?
Well there was a report that there were two Australian defence officers at the
Pentagon missing. I'm very happy to say that they have been found and are safe.
And I was informed of that a few moments ago. It is a question though of whether
there were any Australians on some of those flights. It has to be kept in mind
that is possible. One of them I think may have been a connector flight for Qantas.
I just don't know the full extent of that. That's possible. We have to prepare
to ourselves for that possibility.
Mr Howard, when will you make a decision regarding your movements?
I don't know Alison. I think, I mean, I'll just see how events unfold.
Will you be returning to the Willard or will you....?
Well I'm just talking to people about that.
Mr Howard, you were at the Pentagon yesterday. Is it a strange feeling that
what, just 24 hours later or less than 24 hours....
Well I'm like everybody else. I'm numb. I think those pictures of the World
Trade Center will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was terrible. And
I mean it's just about the most cowardly, despicable, low-life way of attacking
a country imaginable. There would have been thousands of people in that building
when that collision took place.
Have you had any report of our Consulate officials in New York?
We have ascertained that they're all okay. Yes we have.
Is this going to force a reassessment of our own security back in Australia?
Well I think always on an occasion like this, I mean, it's just too early. I
mean clearly we have to get more information about the source of it. I mean
the appropriate thing to do is to respond as we have done in relation to any
immediate potential target areas back in Australia and depending on what security
assessment is made both here and in Australia, but particularly here as to those
responsible, then we will respond accordingly.
....way that would look.....
Well look it's too early. I mean I think like everybody else I feel distressed.
I'm unashamedly distressed as a human being about what is happening. It's just
awful. And I feel so deeply for the Americans. They are an open free society
and they have this outrageous act of war on them. It's just a very distressing
event and I think the time to talk about longer-term policy changes and measures
is not now.
There are always threats of terrorism. Did you ever expect to see an act as
violent as this attack?
I don't think anybody expected to see anything as bad as this, no. But there
are some very deranged, fanatical people in the world.
What sort of retaliation ....?
Oh look it is foolish... that was an expression of solidarity with the Americans
which I feel very deeply. But please, that's for the Americans to decide.
... the security of US assets, does that extend to joint facilities?
Well, they are a long way away from a lot of other...I think they are very safe.