Prime Minister John Howard
Press Conference on US-led Response
October 4, 2001
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. When President Bush and I spoke last Friday
evening it was agreed that the respective leaders of our defence forces would
consult about the nature of any Australian involvement in a US led response
to the terrorist attack on the United States. I can now report to you that Admiral
Chris Barrie, the Chief of the Australian Defence Forces, in recent days has
held discussions in Washington with General Myers, the incoming Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Franks, the Commander-in-Chief of Central
Command in the United States, the Commander-in-Chief of Pacific Command Admiral
Blair, and other senior people in the Pentagon. And Admiral Barrie briefed me
and the Defence Minister Mr Reith this morning on the outcome of those discussions.
As a result Ive instructed the CDF to have available a range of military
assets including a detachment of special forces and air to air refuelling aircraft.
Weve already committed to an extension of the presence of HMAS Anzac which
currently is serving with the United States Fifth Fleet as part of the UNs
Multilateral Interception Force in the Persian Gulf. Should the need arise we
also stand ready to consider further contributions in such areas as long range
surveillance aircraft and an amphibious command capability.
An involvement of the type that Ive outlined would be very much within
Australias defence capability and fully consistent of course with our
obligations under the ANZUS Treaty which has been jointly invoked by Australia
and the United States following the terrorist attack on the 11th of September.
There will of course be further discussions with the United States before the
deployment of any Australian assets and of course the details of their deployment
will be subject to operational requirements. I should emphasise the point I
made after my discussion with President Bush and that is it should not be assumed
that the American military response is something that will be comprised in one
activity. It could in fact involve a series of activities over a period of time.
And it is important that all of the diplomatic as well as military preparations
that might be necessary are carefully attended to and put in place before any
action takes place.
I did call the Leader of the Opposition after seeing Admiral Barrie and before
this press conference to brief him on the outcome of the discussions that Id
had with Admiral Barrie.
Id also like to inform you that yesterday the American Ambassador brought
to me the same material that had been made available to the British Prime Minister
from intelligence sources. The material was very lengthy. I read it over a period
of half-hour or 45 minutes and returned it to the Ambassador. It was certainly
very compelling and the material he presented to me it included some material
that I of course was previously well aware of, but some new elements which youll
understand I wont go into, but collectively it amounted to a very compelling
case in support of the allegations concerning bin Laden and his terrorist organisation
that have been made by the United States and by others.
Do you have any questions?
Do you have a time frame for the deployment of these assets?
No I dont. What has happened here is that once ANZUS was invoked that
really put upon both sides an obligation to consult. I had the discussion with
the President last Friday and we both agreed that we would get our respective
defence leaders to talk about the character of any Australian contribution.
Thats occurred. Now as to the timing, I think its fair to say that
that is probably still a matter that is being assessed by the United States.
And I think its important that people understand that this thing has got
to be done with the maximum degree of preparation and the idea that the United
States or indeed anybody, and of course its a United States led operation
and the United States quite properly calls the shots, that there should be any
rush before the proper preparations have been made. I think thats unwise
and President Bush has very wisely in my view counselled against that occurring.
But I think its important that there be discussions as there have been
at a military level and theres a very clear idea in those discussions
of the sort of involvements that would be appropriate for Australia. And Ive
asked that arrangements be made so that those assets can be ready and therell
obviously be further discussions and contact between Australia and the United
States before any deployment takes place and naturally deployment with be subject
to operational requirements.
Do you know how many troops we are talking about?
Were probably talking about a squadron which is up to 150.
So what do you see as your obligation with regard to Mr Beazley should deployment
occur during an election campaign? Will you have to seek his agreement for that
deployment or will you simply have to ..
Well what I will do Malcolm is if a deployment becomes necessary I will of course
talk to him and I would expect him to agree to it because hes indicated
broad support for what were doing. But Im not going to try and be
clever or take any political points in relation to this. Its too serious.
I want to pay all the courtesies that are due to the Opposition Leader. These
forces if they go abroad will go abroad in the name of our country. They wont
go abroad in the name of my Government and therefore I will want to see that
theres proper consultation. But I will still be the Prime Minister and
he will still be the Leader of the Opposition during the caretaker period. And
the obligation is clearly, quite apart from any caretaker convention, the obligation
is to consult the Leader of the Opposition extensively on something like this.
I doubt hed disagree but do you intend to get his approval?
Well I wont presume to speak for him, he can speak for himself. But Ill
consult him as I should.
Mr Howard, do you expect President Bush to go to APEC and do you intend to go
The answer is I do expect him to go to APEC and on that assumption it is currently
my intention to go to APEC.
Has the United States requested any of these assets be ready or are these our
offer for them?
Well a military power like the United States having the relationship it does
with our defence authorities really doesnt presume to sort of tell our
people when to have things ready. They talk to our people and theyve reached
agreement in an operational way as to what would be a suitable Australian contribution.
And the question of readiness is entirely a matter for us. But the assets will
be ready on quite short notice.
Will they be under US command or will they be under Australian .?
The overall operation will be in the hands of the Americans naturally. But therell
be a separate national command. I mean the Australian forces will all be under
the command of an Australian commanding officer. Therell be a separate
national identifiable national command for the Australian forces, therell
be separate rules of engagement for the Australian forces.
Who is that officer?
Well were still giving consideration to that. When I say we I mean were
waiting on a recommendation.
How many refuelling planes will be committed?
Therell be two. Theyll be two Boeing 707s and on that basis Ive
already informed Mr Beazley that the 707s will not be available for the election
campaign and there will be other arrangements made and they are in hand at the
present time. They could include chartering some aircraft from Ansett which .
.chartering a couple of aircraft from Ansett. But Ive informed Mr
Beazley that whatever the arrangement is it will be exactly the same for him
as it is for me.
Is the Anzac going to be indefinitely in the Persian Gulf?
Whats the answer to that Peter? Yeah theres going to be a replacement
for Anzac in the Gulf.
You described yesterdays evidence as compelling. Are you personally convinced
that Osama bin Laden was responsible for ..?
[inaudible] more of that evidence should be made public to reassure people of
Well youve got to be very careful about making intelligence reports public
because you run the risk of compromising sources. Youre not dealing with
people who muck around.
Has there been any indication of what role special forces troops could play
in this campaign?
I dont want to go into that at this stage.
Does Australia have any concerns at all of effectively going in on the side
of the Northern Alliance?
Going into Afghanistan on the side of the Northern Alliance?
Well we certainly dont have any concern about being involved in action
against those people who were responsible for the terrorist attack. I mean youve
sought to define that in a particular way. I choose to describe what were
doing in another way and that is the objective.
Does the United States need a security resolution before it goes into the Middle
Well I think the United States has all the moral and legal authority it needs.
The question of whether it seeks United Nations sanction as well is obviously
an option. But it clearly has undoubted legal and moral authority to respond
to these attacks. They are clearly an attack upon the mainland of the United
Is your intention to go to APEC have any impact on election timing?
during the election campaign?
I beg your pardon?
Are you intending to leave the country during the campaign?
Yes I do. Well I dont think Im giving anything away to say that
I expect the election campaign will be underway when the APEC meeting is taking
place. But I think its important even if it is damaging to my campaign,
I think its important that in Australias interests that a meeting
that will potentially bring together at this very difficult time for the world
the President of the United States, the President of Russia, the President of
China, the Prime Minister of Japan, and the President of Indonesia, I think
its very important that the Prime Minister of Australia be at that meeting.
And the caretaker period doesnt have any impact on your ability to participate
in those talks?
No I dont believe it does because many of the things that well be
talking about there are consistent with established policies. I mean the caretaker
conventions preclude you from making appointments or initiating changes of policy.
Its a well known policy of this Government, I understand its supported
by the Opposition, to pursue the broad goals of APEC and I would imagine that
in joining action to condemn terrorism and the like, I would be speaking for
the whole country and I just think its important that this time, even
if we are in the middle of an election campaign, that the Prime Minister be
present. Particularly if those people Ive named are there and as you may
know I wrote to President Xiang Zemin a few weeks ago asking that the question
of terrorism be placed on the agenda at the APEC meeting and he has agreed to
Do you see a need for a formal declaration of war at any stage?
is an important issue at this time, will you commit that if you win the
next election you will serve the full term in the parliament?
Denis as you know I said that when I got to the age of 64 Id think about
my future, I said that about a year ago. Quite frankly the last thing I want
to do at present is leave Government because my overwhelming commitment is to
see the Australian people through this new and very dangerous security and economic
In relation to bin Laden and the information that youve seen, is the aim
of the American led operation to wipe bin Laden out or to, as to President Bush
has put it earlier on, to bring him to justice, the possibility of taking him
to a court? If its the latter, do you think that the evidence that youve
seen would be strong enough to run a case against him?
Well I think the evidence is very compelling, very compelling indeed. As you
are aware Ian, the Americans have tried to pursuade the Taliban to hand him
over. Obviously if he were handed over I think the Americans would go through
some kind of process, Im sure they would but hes not been handed
over and clearly the Americans are entitled to pursue a policy in those circumstances
that has as its ultimate objective his destruction and that of his organisation.
acted yesterday on your request and is moving to freeze and seize assets
of people you think are suspect in these matters. They listed the Taliban members
among those, what evidence is there that there may be any of those assets in
Australia or moving through Australia?
Well I dont pretend to have all of the evidence that might be around but
as Ive said previously, although theres no evidence of cells there
is evidence of sympathisers and connections and in the sort of world in which
we live at the present time youve got to take all precautionary action
that you can.
Is there evidence of money though?
Well as I say I dont have all of that information in front of me because
it wouldnt automatically come my way because of the confidentiality of
banking records and so forth. But Im sure that the Reserve Bank is in
a position to and thats why the instructions been given to them
to act in a particular fashion.
Kim Beazleys saying that a vote for Howard is a vote for Peter Costello.
From your previous answer are you indicating that at this moment youre
saying to the Australian people you plan if re-elected on being there for the
No what Im saying is what I said and the biggest question people have
got to ask themselves at this election when it is called is in this very difficult
time who do they want at the helm. Do they want a Prime Minister and a Government
thats led us successfully through many challenges and is clearly the more
competent economic manager and also a person and a Government that has displayed
determination against a leader and an opposition that has gone from one side
of the street to the other several times on many major issues. Thats the
choice the Australian people will face.
Given that youre saying that the times have changed, Mr Howard, do we
then take it that youre saying that your attitude to possible retirement
dates has changed?
Karen Im saying what I said. I cant be plainer than that.
Would you like to clarify what youve said?
No, no, youre just trying to prolong the discussion. Thanks a lot.