Prime Minister John Howard
Interview with John Laws of Radio 2UE
September 12, 2001
Good morning Prime Minister.
Good morning John.
What were you doing at the time the first of these hijacked planes hit the World
I was in my hotel room in Washington preparing to do a news conference and I
was in fact in the middle of the news conference when I think the second plane
hit and I was informed by my Press Secretary and when I returned from the news
conference I could see smoke coming from the area of the Pentagon where I had
actually been the afternoon before.
Its difficult to overstate the sense of shock that people feel in the
United States. And its difficult for me to overstate the sense of empathy
and sorrow and solidarity we feel for the American people at a time like this.
This is the worst terrorist incident in history.
Do you think its perhaps the darkest hour in the world we know?
Well I hesitate to say that, weve had many dark hours but youre
looking here at the deaths of potentially, I dont know, potentially several
thousand innocent people. This was not an attack on a military establishment,
not that that is forgivable. Service personnel and men and women are entitled
to live like everybody else but it was an attack on a building and it is just
a monstrous thing and I just cant overstate the sympathy, the solidarity,
the empathy I feel for the American nation and the American people at the present
time and I know that I speak for every Australian in saying that. I said that
at a news conference earlier today and Ive sent a message to the President
and Ive spoken to a couple of senior people in his Administration but
I can only say that it is an appalling, wilful act of bastardry.
Its an attack on the civilised world is it not?
Its not just an attack on the United States.
No its an attack on the civilised world.
Of course, its an attack on all of us. And no imaginable political grievance
what ever it is, real or imagined, can justify this kind this kind of behaviour.
And it does represent an attack on all of us and it does represent an attack
on the civilised world. The spirit of the American people wont be diminished
or bowed by this. Theyll be more determined than ever to find out who
did this and to visit justice upon them which they are perfectly entitled to
do and the world will hope they will do it.
And we obviously would support them.
Absolutely Ive indicated that in the message that I sent to the President
that we would be resolute in our solidarity with the Americans in what they
might do because this is an occasion where everybodys got to stand up
and be counted and everybody who cares about the sort of life we like to take
for granted and perhaps never should in our own country. This is an occasion
where everybodys got to put up their hand and say youve not just
assaulted the Americans youve assaulted us as well, otherwise it will
happen again and it will not only happen in America.
Do you believe its now time that the civilised world effectively declared
war on terrorism?
Well I think now is the time for calm but lethal responses. I think now is the
time for the civilised world to work out the most effective way, not talk about
it, not telegraph it but work out and implement the most effective way of responding.
We can use words, in the end its deeds that really count and weve
seen that to horrible effect
We certainly have.
today in the United States. To most of us, well to all of us, its
just quite unimaginable. I couldnt believe and Im sure that everybody
in Australia, many of whom have been up all night, I understand, watching it
on television, I dont think anybody could have believed something like
this could have occurred. But its just important that we understand that
this is not something that can just happen to America, it can happen anywhere.
The Americans carry the burden of being the leader of the free world and the
most powerful nation on earth and they bear the brunt of it but it doesnt
just effect them, it effects all of us and all of us must be resolute in our
solidarity with the Americans in anything they might properly do to respond.
Its been likened by some American commentators to Pearl Harbour. But is
it not worse than Pearl Harbour because this has occurred in a time of peace?
It is, it is in some respects worse than Pearl Harbour. I dont know what
the full extent of the death toll will be but this was an attack on civilians
going about their daily lives in an office building. It was also an attack on
service personal not engaged in war but doing their jobs in a defence establishment
and of course its claimed the lives of several hundred innocent people on board
four aircraft and most of those I imagine were Americans but not all of them
and we dont know at this point whether any of them may in fact have been
Australians. I dont know. Whereever they come from it doesnt sort
of alter the monstrous nature of this crime against humanity.
Youve been staying in Washington, were you close to the Pentagon or that
car bomb attack outside the state department? Did you hear that aeroplane crash
into the Pentagon?
No I didnt, I didnt but I have been in the Washington area for the
last couple of days and obviously being here at the time and I had visited the
Pentagon yesterday afternoon to see the Defence Secretary and I spent three
hours yesterday with the President and can I say that its the first time
Ive met him face to face. I can say that America is led by a very focussed,
committed, dedicated, highly intelligent man who is very much on top of the
enormous task that he has in front of him. Hell be very strong but hell
be very sensible and America is in very good hands. The time I had with him
yesterday, you get an opportunity in three hours to get an assessment of somebody
and hes an impressive individual who cares very deeply of course about
his country. Hell be strong but hell be sensible and hell
be clear headed. And Americas Government and therefore in a sense the
government of all of us because its the most powerful nation on earth
is in very good hands at present.
Have you been in touch with your senior Ministers in relation to this and has
security been stepped up in Australia?
Yes it has. I got in touch with people last night, well, the early hours of
this morning Australian time and Ive spoken to the Acting Prime Minister
and it has been, particularly in relation to American buildings and also some
of the Israeli assets in Australia and the American consulates and there has
been an increased security grading given to the American charge, the American
Ambassador is, in fact, over here with me because of my visit to Washington.
We have taken all of those precautions. I dont want people to be alarmed
and to think that at this stage its based on anything more than the proper
precautions that you take in a situation like this. But we certainly have done
all of that and will continue, of course, to get intelligence assessments as
you do in a situation like this and monitor it as best we can and hope and pray
that there is no more but we just dont know.
The United States has borne the brunt of this but the question does have to
be asked, as this was a very sophisticated operation, who will be next?
Well, you have to ask that question. It was a sophisticated operation, apparently
without warning as far as I know or prior apprehension or detection and nobody
can assume, no country can assume that it is immune from this kind of behaviour
and that is why the free world, people who love freedom and the sort of life
we have in Australia, should empathise and identify with the Americans. We shouldnt
say, oh thats happened in America and well, were sorry about it
but it doesnt really effect us, it does. We are an integrated community
and there may well have been Australians in that building. I dont know.
Its very possibly a case that there were and it will be some days before
we know how many people died and who they were. Its a very big building.
One financial institution alone has 3,500 employees in that building and so
I dont think any of us can be other than very heavy-hearted and sombre
today because it is in many respects a very different world and it will have
an impact on the way nations relate to each other, not nations of good will
and decency but very understandably the world is going to be a warier place
as a result of this and who can blame people who just go about their business
not wishing to offend or hurt anybody.
Do you believe that the whole world should stand up now and help, were
all in this together?
Well, of course we are. I mean, we have to see this as being an attack on the
sort of life we all believe in. We cant pretend were an island on
something like this. I mean, the speed of communications, the increased integration
of the world, the fact that so many of our young people work in different parts
of the world as part of their career development. I mean, we are more and more
interconnected with each other and more and more things like this dont
just touch one nation, they touch all nations. And what it represents, its
the affront it is, its the obscene attack it is on a peaceful, law abiding
community which makes it such an outrage and its nothing short of an act
Will you see to it that in future we have better sharing of information, that
we have total support from all our friends and all our allies and that we pool
information with all our partners all over the world, all over the civilised
Well, we do share a lot of information with our good friends.
Should we share more?
Well, whenever something like this happens its always a good idea to look
at what you do and maybe we should. But let it be said that my understanding
at present is that this attack was without warning and that, of course, is a
Okay, now, what steps or can you not tell us, but what steps are being taken
to get you back to Australia?
Well, I cant tell you that and Im obviously, Im here at the
moment and there are no flights at present in the United States for the first
time in the nations history and Im, in that sense, no different
from any other citizen. I mean, the Americans have got a huge problem. Im
okay. I naturally want to come back to Australia. The rest of my programme Ive
cancelled. I was to have addressed the American Congress tomorrow. I spoke to
the Speaker of the House of Representatives this afternoon and we both agreed,
of course, that it wouldnt be appropriate for a number of reasons, including
security. Im not going to New York, as I had intended to tomorrow afternoon
after the address to Congress and I, therefore, when its feasible and
permissible to do so Ill return to Australia. I cant go into any
more detail about that, obviously the right thing for me to do is to get home
as soon as possible but there are, as everybody knows, there are still travel
constraints of an unprecedented kind in the United States at the moment.
Okay, well whenever it is you come home well welcome you and it was very
good of you to give us so much of your time on the day the world has changed
and it really has.
Its a very, very sad day. Its not just a sad day for America, which
it is, but its a very sad day for the world we really like to think is
a pretty good place and it still is a very good place but there are some people
who dont deserve to be part of it.
Thank you very much for your time, Prime Minister.