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Australia
Prime Minister John Howard
Interview with John Laws of Radio 2UE
September 12, 2001

LAWS:

Good morning Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning John.

LAWS:

What were you doing at the time the first of these hijacked planes hit the World Trade Centre?

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

It’s difficult to overstate the sense of shock that people feel in the United States. And it’s 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.

LAWS:

Do you think it’s perhaps the darkest hour in the world we know?
PRIME MINISTER:

Well I hesitate to say that, we’ve had many dark hours but you’re looking here at the deaths of potentially, I don’t 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 can’t 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 I’ve sent a message to the President and I’ve spoken to a couple of senior people in his Administration but I can only say that it is an appalling, wilful act of bastardry.

LAWS:

It’s an attack on the civilised world is it not?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s not just an attack on the United States.

LAWS:

No it’s an attack on the civilised world.

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course, it’s 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 won’t be diminished or bowed by this. They’ll 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.

LAWS:

And we obviously would support them.

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely I’ve 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 everybody’s 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 everybody’s got to put up their hand and say you’ve not just assaulted the Americans you’ve assaulted us as well, otherwise it will happen again and it will not only happen in America.
LAWS:

Do you believe it’s now time that the civilised world effectively declared war on terrorism?

PRIME MINISTER:

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 it’s deeds that really count and we’ve seen that to horrible effect…

LAWS:

We certainly have.

PRIME MINISTER:

…today in the United States. To most of us, well to all of us, it’s just quite unimaginable. I couldn’t believe and I’m sure that everybody in Australia, many of whom have been up all night, I understand, watching it on television, I don’t think anybody could have believed something like this could have occurred. But it’s 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 doesn’t 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.

LAWS:

It’s 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?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is, it is in some respects worse than Pearl Harbour. I don’t 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 don’t know at this point whether any of them may in fact have been Australians. I don’t know. Whereever they come from it doesn’t sort of alter the monstrous nature of this crime against humanity.

LAWS:

You’ve 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?
PRIME MINISTER:

No I didn’t, I didn’t 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 it’s the first time I’ve 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. He’ll be very strong but he’ll 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 he’s an impressive individual who cares very deeply of course about his country. He’ll be strong but he’ll be sensible and he’ll be clear headed. And America’s Government and therefore in a sense the government of all of us because it’s the most powerful nation on earth is in very good hands at present.

LAWS:

Have you been in touch with your senior Ministers in relation to this and has security been stepped up in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes it has. I got in touch with people last night, well, the early hours of this morning Australian time and I’ve 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 don’t want people to be alarmed and to think that at this stage it’s 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 don’t know.

LAWS:

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?

PRIME MINISTER:

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 shouldn’t say, oh that’s happened in America and well, we’re sorry about it but it doesn’t really effect us, it does. We are an integrated community and there may well have been Australians in that building. I don’t know. It’s very possibly a case that there were and it will be some days before we know how many people died and who they were. It’s a very big building. One financial institution alone has 3,500 employees in that building and so I don’t 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.

LAWS:

Do you believe that the whole world should stand up now and help, we’re all in this together?

PRIME MINISTER:

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 can’t pretend we’re 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 don’t just touch one nation, they touch all nations. And what it represents, it’s the affront it is, it’s the obscene attack it is on a peaceful, law abiding community which makes it such an outrage and it’s nothing short of an act of war.

LAWS:

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 world?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we do share a lot of information with our good friends.

LAWS:

Should we share more?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, whenever something like this happens it’s 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 nightmare.

LAWS:

Okay, now, what steps or can you not tell us, but what steps are being taken to get you back to Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I can’t tell you that and I’m obviously, I’m here at the moment and there are no flights at present in the United States for the first time in the nation’s history and I’m, in that sense, no different from any other citizen. I mean, the Americans have got a huge problem. I’m okay. I naturally want to come back to Australia. The rest of my programme I’ve 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 wouldn’t be appropriate for a number of reasons, including security. I’m not going to New York, as I had intended to tomorrow afternoon after the address to Congress and I, therefore, when it’s feasible and permissible to do so I’ll return to Australia. I can’t 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.

LAWS:

Okay, well whenever it is you come home we’ll 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.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s a very, very sad day. It’s not just a sad day for America, which it is, but it’s 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 don’t deserve to be part of it.

LAWS:

Thank you very much for your time, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

END


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©2001 Commonwealth of Australia.