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Australia
Prime Minister John Howard
Press Conference on the Terrorist Attacks
Australian Ambassador's Residence
Washington, D.C.
September 12, 2001

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming along. I can only say again, on behalf of the Australian people how incredibly distressed I am, and I know all of our fellow countrymen and women are, about the terrible events in the United States, particularly in New York and Washington over the past 36 hours. I’ve had the opportunity of conveying, as you know, on behalf of the Australian nation to the President, our feelings. This morning I had the opportunity of attending a special sitting of the House of Representatives and the Senate and I did have the opportunity of going onto the floor of the Senate chamber and in particular, expressing my condolences to the two Senators from New York, including Senator Hillary Clinton. And it was an opportunity also in discussion with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority Leader in the Senate, Senator Lott, and the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, Congressman Richard Gephardt, and many other members of Congress to express our very deep sense of condolence, our empathy, our compassion for the American people in this very, very difficult set of circumstances.

I’ve also indicated that Australia will provide all support that might be requested of us by the United States in relation to any action that might be taken. Like everybody else I’m hopeful that those responsible will be hunted down and treated in the manner that their despicable behaviour deserves, and brought to justice. As to what is happening on that front, you’re probably as well informed on that as I am. But it is a terrible moment in American history. It has implications for other nations. Nobody should imagine that they’re immune from this. Australia is not immune from this kind of possibility and anybody who suggests that Australia is somehow or other different and that precautions taken by other nations don’t need to be taken by Australia and Australians are deluding themselves. The ease of travel, the ease of communications, the ease of globalisation of so much of the world now means that nobody is immune from the possibility of this kind of outrage and all of us have to take that on board.

In many respects, yesterday marked the end of an era of a degree of innocence following the end of the Cold War and a decade in which it seemed as though things which posed a continuous threat were behind us. But regrettably we now face a possibility of a period in which the threat of terrorism will be with us in the way the threat of a nuclear war was around for so long before the end of the Cold War. I think it is as bad as that and I don’t think any of us should pretend otherwise.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, what’s your latest information on the Australian fatalities?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the best information I have, Nigel, is three confirmed. There were two on one of the aircraft coming out of Los Angeles and there was one person identified as having been killed who was working in the World Trade Center. Now I’m not suggesting that that’s the limit of it. We would all hope, that’s bad enough, but we would all hope that there wouldn’t be any more but we have to recognise that there could well have been a lot of Australians working in the Trade Center. There could well have been other Australians on the aircraft. There was a concern, I think I mentioned it yesterday, about some Defence personnel at the Pentagon, but they are both safe and well.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I mean I’m not aware of any confirmed fatalities beyond the three that I’ve mentioned.

JOURNALIST:

When you say Australia will give its full support, what do you mean by that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m talking diplomatically and otherwise. We haven’t been requested to provide any military assistance, but obviously if we were asked to help we would. It is very important at a time like this that America knows that she’s got friends.

JOURNALIST:

So Australia could provide military support.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we haven’t been asked to. What I’m saying Allison is that we would provide support within our capability.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, back in 1991 when the Gulf War broke out then-Prime Minister Bob Hawke committed Australian forces to that confrontation without going to Parliament and he was criticised for that …

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I didn’t criticise him at the time.

JOURNALIST:

The public did though…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I wasn’t one of them.

JOURNALIST:

No, but now that you’re Prime Minister, you’re not concerned that there might be criticism…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I will wear that criticism if it comes. I thought Mr Hawke was right, on that occasion, and he received the instantaneous support of the then-Opposition Leader and the Opposition and, you know, you must bear in mind that this is an occasion where America must understand that she’s got friends. But let me stress, I haven’t been requested, and I’m not suggesting we will be, but we have to accept that this is an occasion where we should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Americans, because this is not just an assault on America, it’s an assault on the way of life that we hold dear in common.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, when and how will you return to Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m expecting to go back to Australia this afternoon. The Americans have offered me a Defence aircraft which would take an official party – I’m sorry that it can’t extend for security considerations, no disrespect to you, let me stress immediately, but it can’t extend beyond the official party …I’m sorry for that but…and I’ll be going to Honolulu and then making other arrangements to get home from there.

JOURNALIST:

Commercial flight?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m not entirely certain at the moment, that could well be the case but, you know, the situation is still unfolding.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

My official party. Nobody else. And I’ve been told by the Defence authorities that that is how they want it.

JOURNALIST:

Australia might need…do you have in mind…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, increased airport surveillance, the whole gambit. I mean, when something like this happens, you’ve got to go over everything that you do.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it’s already being discussed by the national security committee of Cabinet and work is already underway.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think there will be implications for the security arrangements for CHOGM?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the security arrangements for CHOGM are already very tight and we’ll obviously review them again. I’m not suggesting that there’s an immediate further complication as far as CHOGM is concerned, but when something like this happens you go back to basics on all your arrangements and that’s essentially what we’re going to do with every aspect. And we should and every nation that shares values in common with America should do the same.

JOURNALIST:

A lot more security checks and…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, I’m not ruling anything out because I do not think that we should delude ourselves that we are in some way immune.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don’t think we have, but I think there’s a tendency, something for us, and we all like to believe it and we all think that there’s a patch in the world called Australia that’s a little different from everywhere else, but it’s not really and we have to understand that we have to take precautions and accept approaches that we otherwise would not have wanted.

JOURNALIST:

Does this episode have implications for our refugee…

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I’m not seeking in any way to link those two things, Tony.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, on CHOGM, will you be contacting Prime Minister Blair or any other Commonwealth leaders about that meeting? In light of the…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I haven’t got any plans at the moment, but I, Dennis, you never rule anything out. I don’t want to be reminded in a couple of days time that I said I wouldn’t and if I do, I mean, but I don’t have that in mind at the moment, but I might.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) What was your feeling in response to the very extended applause…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I was very touched by it and it was a demonstration to me of the closeness of the relationship. I think the Americans appreciated the fact that I went there very deliberately. I mean, obviously because of what has happened the arrangements for my address to the joint sitting were naturally cancelled. But I indicated that I wanted to go there and to demonstrate, by my presence, the compassion that we felt for the American people and the closeness we felt and the identification with the values for which America stands. I mean, this is a time when you have to stand by people who have the same view on life as you have. You can’t have, you can’t cherry pick a close relationship.

JOURNALIST:

On that score, Prime Minister, if it emerges that this is an example of state backed terrorism and America decides to take action against a particular state, would Australia consider supporting America militarily in that action?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we are not going, I am not going to hypothesize, I am simply going to state the principle that we will render all the assistance we can within our capability. That is what I am saying.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what is your assessment of the incident on the US economy and the world economy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I would hope that they don’t have any long-term impact. I suppose it would depend a bit on how quickly things return to normalcy as far as travel and as safe as it was. There is no suggestion they won’t. There may be a lapse of a few days, but I would hope that the impact on the economy would not be lasting. I have not really sat down and thought about the economic impact. I’ve thought more about the human and political and diplomatic impact.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you wrote to George Bush. Have you had a chance to talk to him?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, well I had three hours with him on Monday and…yes, I realize that. No, I haven’t sought to speak to him because…

JOURNALIST:

Have you had any briefings from the Americans?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I have, yes, I have. I have had several.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

I have had several high level briefings from the Americans on a number of things which I won’t choose to go into.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, on this airport security, (inaudible) have you received any specific warnings or advice that Australia requires upgraded security?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

Have you offered the Americans the services of our intelligence…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we already have an arrangement. Tony, it’s there. We have a close intelligence sharing arrangement with the United States, with the United Kingdom and Canada.

JOURNALIST:

But in unraveling this particular…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let me say this, we have an extensive intelligence collaboration, very extensive, too. And we should, too. I won’t say anymore than that.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, (inaudible)…crime at the Pentagon was actually intended for the White House (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Karen, well I suppose in a retrospective sense, yes. But you don’t really when something like this happens. We are all… we are lucky, we are safe, you think of the people who weren’t so lucky. That’s what has preoccupied me. I just feel so desperately sorry for those poor people in that Trade Center building. It’s just terrible. The police, the 150-200 fire department people who were crushed. There is always a special poignancy to me about people whose job it is to protect others when they get caught. I feel desperately sorry, particularly sorry for them.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there was a meeting yesterday.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, yes, I am very happy to see my son. He has been on a working holiday in England for six months and it was very nice of him to come over and see his mum and dad. Of course, you sort of think about your family and you sort of grab hold of them, physically and emotionally, on an occasion like this, circumstances like this – it’s very natural. But we are lucky, so are all of you. I mean there are a lot of people who have not been so lucky. That’s how I look at something like this.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I have spoken to both of them.

JOURNALIST:

Are you happy to be going home?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I don’t know that I have thought about whether I am happy or not. I mean I am always happy to be going home to Australia but I haven’t sort of thought to think about that. I wanted to be in Washington today. I wanted to go to the Congress. I wanted to go to the Cathedral to show the sense of national compassion that we feel for the Americans. But having done that I think it is appropriate I do go back to Australia because there are things to do, including in relation to the matters I have been talking about. There is a lot to be done and it is obviously my responsibility to go back home as soon as possible now that I have had the opportunity of properly conveying our sense of distress and compassion to the American Government and the American people.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)…what will your priorities be when you get back then?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, obviously following up on some of the things I have said in relation to security and other reviews. I would hope that we have the opportunity, I will discuss it with others when I get back, have an appropriate, larger memorial service in Australia. I know there was one organised quickly by the Governor-General for which I thank him. But I would like a larger one, perhaps early next week. And bear in mind, that we will not only be mourning the deaths of Americans, but we will be mourning the deaths of, I hope, not too many more Australians, but certainly the deaths of some Australians. I am told there were something like 15,000 inquiries logged by DFAT in the space of about 12 or 18 hours, which gives you an idea of the magnitude of concern that people feel, and also the enormous number of Australians now who work and live in the United States. It is a global world, but particularly in the English-speaking world, the mobility of people, particularly the young, is very great.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, when do (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I will fly in whatever circumstances is appropriate at the time and if that means in the future flying commercially, of course I will. I mean, of course I will. I am not, certainly, going to sort of use an incident like this as some kind of accelerated justification for other things. I flew commercial in the United States, and so did all of us.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, there is a risk in anything you do, obviously. I mean I can’t, I have got work to do. I’ve got duties to fulfill and I have got places to visit. I mean, I have to travel. We all do.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I won’t be returning to the United States before, I would say, sometime next year. I don’t expect to return, I mean I always like visiting America.

JOURNALIST:

But do you feel there is unfinished business?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I do but I mean, that is something that I have…I mean I feel that the way you put it, I do, but I will be back. And I hope to come back here next year as Prime Minister but that is something that will be in the hands of the Australian people.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no. I was just making the point, I mean of the many reflective pieces I read in the American press this morning there was one that made the point that we, America in particular, but I think it applies to us, too, that we have gone through a decade of thinking that the Cold War is over and we are in an era where you don’t sort of have ubiquitous threats hanging around. But, in a way, yesterday has brought that period to an end. I am not saying that we are now entering an era that is going to be the same as the Cold War, but I just was making the point that it’s different, it feels different, and it’s something that we have to accept may be different.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)…do you feel that we should be cautious about making judgments?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you have to be satisfied that you have accurately identified the perpetrators. I certainly would not want innocent people made to suffer, but I certainly believe that what was done yesterday was an act of war against the United States and the Americans are entitled to, having properly identified those responsible, are entitled to retaliate. I think what we were being urged to do this morning by reference from those passages from Matthew, is to be measured and careful. But the people have got to be brought to justice and I think the preacher used the words “hunted down” – I listened very carefully.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)…Prime Minister, can I ask a question?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Dennis hasn’t asked one yet.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, how does it feel to…(inaudible)? Do you think that is appropriate? Should the Americans treat this as (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, if part of the debate is to suggest even ever so slightly, that this has happened because the Americans have retreated a bit, I think that is nonsense. I don’t think that it has anything to do with that at all. As to whether they should, no. I don’t think they will. I think it is important that countries like Australia play a role in identifying ourselves with the Americans. I mean, just because you are big and strong doesn’t mean that you can’t feel lonely and you can’t feel that your heart has been ripped out. And I think that is very important, therefore, that Americans know that they have got some really good, reliable friends.

JOURNALIST:

On the matter of the APEC meeting…?

PRIME MINISTER:

The APEC meeting?

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)…CHOGM…(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

I think we mentioned the APEC meeting. I can’t remember the precise exchange we had on it, but it was certainly mentioned in the context of our discussions about China.

JOURNALIST:

Are you looking forward to being in Shanghai?

PRIME MINISTER:

I always like to be in Shanghai.

JOURNALIST:

Are you going to Shanghai?

PRIME MINISTER:

My current schedule suggests that I will be in Shanghai at the time of the APEC meeting.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let me say in relation to that, that there are tens of thousands. Indeed, there are probably several hundred thousands of Australian-Lebanese and other Arab heritages. And they are good citizens and they are entitled to the same decent treatment and respect that we extend to all of our citizens, and I hope, speaking from, however inadequately, from a Christian perspective, I ask all Australians to extend to their fellow countrymen and women -- whether they are of Islamic faiths, Christian faiths, Jewish faiths, or no faith at all – tolerance, decency and inclusion. We are a harmonious society. I want to keep it that way, and the people of Middle Eastern extraction in Australia, and the ordinary Australian citizens of that extraction should not be judged by the dastardly deeds of a few. I encourage everyone to re-double their sense of acceptance and tolerance towards people of different backgrounds and different ethnicities. And we have, by and large, been fortunate in that respect. But it is very important, having said that, to understand that there are a number of countries in the world that do harbour terrorists, they do give them comfort and that is one of the reasons why terrorism sometimes hits with devastating and callous effects. There are too many safe harbours for terrorism in the world and we should make that known.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Jim, in answer to another question in another context, I said I didn’t want to link two things and it is just not something I want to do. And your question, in any event, is completely hypothetical.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the President last night said America would not differentiate (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

I think in a situation like this what the President said was absolutely understandable and reasonable and I agree with that.

JOURNALIST:

Which countries do harbour…?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t want to go any further than to state the general principle. I think you are all aware of where some of the suggestions lie.

Thank you.

END


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©2001 Commonwealth of Australia.