Prime Minister John Howard
Interview on AM Programme, ABC Radio
September 19, 2001
Mr Howard weve just heard the latest from Washington but some commentators
back here are saying were the only country to give the US a blank cheque
when it comes to support. What are the limits on our commitment to the US?
Well weve said that we will support the Americans to the limit of our
capability. Obviously if were asked to contribute in a particular way
it will be for us to decide whether we can or will do that. But theres
no point in a situation like this being an 80% ally. You are either a 100% ally
of a country that was a 100% ally of Australias in World War II and made
the difference between Australias survival or going under to the Japanese
assault. We have to remember it. We have to remember the history that America
came to our aid. We have been close allies ever since This is an assault as
much on the freedom and the values of Australian society as it is on the freedom
and the values of American society. Im sure the Americans will behave
in a targeted yet lethal fashion. That is what we have encouraged them to do.
And weve indicated that well be part of that response if that is
what they want.
So does a 100% ally like Australia actually leave open the option of troops
We leave open the option of any kind of military involvement which we are capable
of and would be appropriate. And yes, that includes troops.
What about the prospect
Can I just make the point that we made special forces available to the Gulf
only a matter of 3 years ago. In the final event they were not needed but we
actually sent Special Forces and that decision had bipartisan support in Australia
at that time. So its not unusual for Australia, cooperating with an ally
like the United States, to commit limited forces. Its a very serious,
unprecedented assault on so much of what we stand for and so much of what we
hold dear. And in those circumstances it is an occasion, it is a time for a
strong response. And that is what I am giving. And I know that the Australian
people will overwhelmingly support it.
Well the polls in the US show the people are overwhelmingly supportive there
of some sort of retaliation and also show that theyd be comfortable if
innocent people were hurt in retaliation. Are you comfortable with that prospect?
Look, I dont ever want innocent people hurt. And if innocent people end
up getting hurt in this that will be sad and will not be something that I want
or something that the United States want. But talking about innocent people
being hurt there were 5000 innocent people killed probably by the terrorist
attack so please let us not first invoke the spectre of innocent deaths in the
context of the American response. Let us first recognise that innocent people
died in their thousands in New York last week.
Yesterday one of your MPs Peter Slipper claimed in Parliament that there
was an undeniable link between asylum seekers and terrorists. Do you agree with
Well I havent seen what he said. Ive been asked about this before.
My view is that every country has a right to fully protect its borders. The
question of the character background and so forth of the people that have sought
to come to this country illegally, the evidence on that is mixed. Some of them
have criminal records. Many of them dont. Not all of them have fled tyrannical
regimes as is almost universally suggested by the Governments critics.
But does Mr Slippers language here does that do anything to bring
calm to this whole debate in the wake of the attacks especially in the US?
Well what I I havent seen precisely what he said but look, speaking
for the Government and Mr Ruddocks speaking for the Government on this,
we are not trying to exaggerate links between terrorism and illegal immigration.
However, every country has a redoubled obligation in the light of what has happened
to scrutinise very carefully who is coming into this country. And I argued for
what we have done in relation to illegal immigration before the tragic events
of last week. The tragic events of last week have not altered our policy on
illegal immigration. Our policy on illegal immigration is not a product of the
tragic events of last week.
Obviously this policy has given you a bit of a fillip in the polls. Whats
your interpretation of todays Morgan Bulletin Poll. What do you put youre
dramatic the dramatic
I dont run a commentary. But I will say this. I dont believe that
poll. And I would counsel supporters of the Government to realise that we live
in a very volatile political climate. The next election will still in my judgement
be tough for the Government to win. Were going for a third term. I think
the Governments fortunes have improved steadily over the last 6 months.
We will face a very clear choice. One of the things that is working in the Governments
favour is that we have a clear position on things whereas the Labor Party keeps
running from one side of the street to the other. But I would say to my fellow
parliamentarians and I would say to Liberal Party supporters throughout the
nation, the next election is going to be very tough. I knew that three months
ago and nothing thats occurred in the past few weeks or the past couple
of months alters that fact and people should keep their head down, understand
the gravity of the times in which were living and the sort of serious
sensible response the Australian people want from us.
Well youve agreed to fund the Ansett workers entitlements to the tune
of about $400 million and then take their place as Air New Zealand creditors.
If you recover any money will you then give it back to air travellers?
Yeah, well find a way of handing it back yes.
Have you got any ideas?
Weve got a number of ideas but lets get it back from Air New Zealand
first but I can assure you were not going to pocket it.
Youre guaranteeing redundancy payments for workers of up to eight weeks.
The community standard as you put it. But what about those loyal Ansett employees
owed thousands or tens of thousands in some cases in redundancy.
Well in a situation like this youve got to balance the burden you put
on the travelling public with the obligation. And we took the view that we pay,
you pay long service leave, you pay holiday pay and salary in lieu of notice,
all of those legal entitlements if I can put it that way. All of those entitlements
that actually accrue as time goes by. And in relation to redundancy, most people
when theyre made redundant dont get more than eight weeks. Now,
there are some very big redundancy packages in Ansett and we have taken the
view that as the taxpayer is picking up the tab then its reasonable to
pay the community standard in relation to redundancies. And we are, you know,
were assuming all of the responsibility for this, both economically and
What about the responsibility for the 2000 catering workers, for example, who
arent getting their entitlements from Swiss Air, will you be helping pay
Well, what were doing is were paying for people who are employed
by Ansett or Ansetts wholly owned subsidiaries. You cant sort of
keep going, wave after wave, through the economy because where do you end
Is there any support
Well, the best support we can give to them and the best support the unions can
give to them is to cooperate as quickly and as speedily and in as non-political
way as possible with the administrator to see if elements of Ansett can be resurrected.
No, this is a very important point. I mean, the best thing anybody can do for
those connected with Ansett and the airline industry is to cooperate and not
play any politics in relation to the work of the administrator. And we saw a
deplorable example yesterday where Tony Abbott was actually trying to tell the
Ansett workers what we were prepared to do for them and he was told by the President
of the ACTU, in company with the Leader of the Opposition, that Mr Abbott was
not even going to be able to address them. He was the one person who actually
had some good news for them and he was sent packing by the ACTU.
Now, this is not a political dispute. When I arrived back from America last
Friday morning the first thing I did, even before Id left the terminal
at Sydney Airport, the first thing I did was talk to Ansett workers and to representatives
of the union. I didnt start talking politics. And I gave an indication
then and those who were present, theyre straightforward and Im sure
theyre able to remember it, I gave an indication then that we were prepared
to help on the entitlements. Now, I want from everybody, in relation to this
issue, if theyre fair dinkum about helping the workers, theyre fair
dinkum about helping small business, lets not play any politics.
Well, on politics the Government says it will change its wider workers
entitlements scheme to mirror the Ansett bail out but the Ansett bailouts
funded by a special levy, how will future workers entitlements be
Well, what were going to do with the more generous, general scheme
and well be announcing some more details of that later that will
be funded out of general revenue but we do reserve the right, if you have a
big liquidation that involves a lot of people, if it imposes an unreasonable
strain on the budget then we reserve the right in future to have some kind of
special levy in order to fund that so that you dont have an unreasonable
strain on the budget. Bear in mind that as time goes by, as a result of the
awful events of last week and a general slowing of the American economy, there
could be a slowing in Australia. Were doing much better than most at the
moment so therefore we have to be very careful about our budget position. The
surplus has been affected already by a number of things that weve had
to do and whilst were still in surplus and expect to remain in surplus
its not unlimited and we have to issue the sort of cautions Ive
just issued in relation to the cost of worker entitlement schemes.
Well, as a New Zealand, Air New Zealand creditor, or soon to be a creditor,
what do you make of the management of Air New Zealand and Ansett? Youre
obviously going to be going after them so what do you make of their management
leading in to this?
Well, the evidence so far available is that its been very poor and very
negative and people are right to be angry. They shouldnt allow their anger
to spill over to a general hostility towards New Zealand and New Zealanders.
I dont want the Trans-Tasman relationship, which is very important to
this country, quite precious to this country, to be contaminated by the perceived
inadequacies of a board of directors of a New Zealand based company. That would
be unfair to New Zealand and unfair to the association. But let me say to the
Ansett workers, we understand their anger, well look after your entitlements
in the way Ive explained and then we will seek a legal remedy against
Air New Zealand and try and replenish the Australian budget to the extent that