Prime Minister John Howard
Press Conference on the Terrorist Attacks
Australian Ambassador's Residence
September 12, 2001
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. Ive 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.
Ive 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 Im 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, youre 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 theyre
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 dont 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
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 dont think any
of us should pretend otherwise.
Mr Howard, whats your latest information on the Australian fatalities?
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 Im
not suggesting that thats the limit of it. We would all hope, thats
bad enough, but we would all hope that there wouldnt 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.
Well, I mean Im not aware of any confirmed fatalities beyond the three
that Ive mentioned.
When you say Australia will give its full support, what do you mean by that?
Well, Im talking diplomatically and otherwise. We havent 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 shes
So Australia could provide military support.
Well we havent been asked to. What Im saying Allison is that we
would provide support within our capability.
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
Well I didnt criticise him at the time.
The public did though
Well I wasnt one of them.
No, but now that youre Prime Minister, youre not concerned that
there might be criticism
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 shes got friends. But let
me stress, I havent been requested, and Im 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, its
an assault on the way of life that we hold dear in common.
Prime Minister, when and how will you return to Australia?
Well, Im expecting to go back to Australia this afternoon. The Americans
have offered me a Defence aircraft which would take an official party
Im sorry that it cant extend for security considerations, no disrespect
to you, let me stress immediately, but it cant extend beyond the official
party Im sorry for that but and Ill be going to Honolulu
and then making other arrangements to get home from there.
Well, Im not entirely certain at the moment, that could well be the case
but, you know, the situation is still unfolding.
My official party. Nobody else. And Ive been told by the Defence authorities
that that is how they want it.
Australia might need do you have in mind
Well, increased airport surveillance, the whole gambit. I mean, when something
like this happens, youve got to go over everything that you do.
Well, its already being discussed by the national security committee of
Cabinet and work is already underway.
Do you think there will be implications for the security arrangements for CHOGM?
Well, the security arrangements for CHOGM are already very tight and well
obviously review them again. Im not suggesting that theres 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 thats essentially
what were going to do with every aspect. And we should and every nation
that shares values in common with America should do the same.
A lot more security checks and
Well, look, Im not ruling anything out because I do not think that we
should delude ourselves that we are in some way immune.
No, I dont think we have, but I think theres a tendency, something
for us, and we all like to believe it and we all think that theres a patch
in the world called Australia thats a little different from everywhere
else, but its not really and we have to understand that we have to take
precautions and accept approaches that we otherwise would not have wanted.
Does this episode have implications for our refugee
Look Im not seeking in any way to link those two things, Tony.
Mr Howard, on CHOGM, will you be contacting Prime Minister Blair or any other
Commonwealth leaders about that meeting? In light of the
Well I havent got any plans at the moment, but I, Dennis, you never rule
anything out. I dont want to be reminded in a couple of days time that
I said I wouldnt and if I do, I mean, but I dont have that in mind
at the moment, but I might.
(inaudible) What was your feeling in response to the very extended applause
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 cant have, you cant cherry pick a close relationship.
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?
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.
Prime Minister, what is your assessment of the incident on the US economy and
the world economy?
Well, I would hope that they dont 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 wont. 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.
Ive thought more about the human and political and diplomatic impact.
Prime Minister, you wrote to George Bush. Have you had a chance to talk to him?
No, well I had three hours with him on Monday and yes, I realize that.
No, I havent sought to speak to him because
Have you had any briefings from the Americans?
Yes, I have, yes, I have. I have had several.
I have had several high level briefings from the Americans on a number of things
which I wont choose to go into.
Mr Howard, on this airport security, (inaudible) have you received any specific
warnings or advice that Australia requires upgraded security?
Have you offered the Americans the services of our intelligence ?
Well, we already have an arrangement. Tony, its there. We have a close
intelligence sharing arrangement with the United States, with the United Kingdom
But in unraveling this particular ?
Well, let me say this, we have an extensive intelligence collaboration, very
extensive, too. And we should, too. I wont say anymore than that.
Mr Howard, (inaudible) crime at the Pentagon was actually intended for
the White House (inaudible)?
Karen, well I suppose in a retrospective sense, yes. But you dont really
when something like this happens. We are all we are lucky, we are safe,
you think of the people who werent so lucky. Thats what has preoccupied
me. I just feel so desperately sorry for those poor people in that Trade Center
building. Its 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.
Well there was a meeting yesterday.
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 its 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. Thats how
I look at something like this.
Yes, I have spoken to both of them.
Are you happy to be going home?
Oh, I dont 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 havent 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.
(inaudible) what will your priorities be when you get back then?
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.
Prime Minister, when do (inaudible)?
I beg your pardon.
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.
Well, look, there is a risk in anything you do, obviously. I mean I cant,
I have got work to do. Ive got duties to fulfill and I have got places
to visit. I mean, I have to travel. We all do.
Well, I wont be returning to the United States before, I would say, sometime
next year. I dont expect to return, I mean I always like visiting America.
But do you feel there is unfinished business?
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
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 dont 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 its different, it feels different, and
its something that we have to accept may be different.
(inaudible) do you feel that we should be cautious about making judgments?
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.
(inaudible) Prime Minister, can I ask a question?
Well, Dennis hasnt asked one yet.
Prime Minister, how does it feel to (inaudible)? Do you think that is appropriate?
Should the Americans treat this as (inaudible)?
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 dont think that it has anything to do with that at all. As to whether
they should, no. I dont 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 doesnt mean that you cant
feel lonely and you cant 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.
On the matter of the APEC meeting ?
The APEC meeting?
(inaudible) CHOGM (inaudible)
I think we mentioned the APEC meeting. I cant remember the precise exchange
we had on it, but it was certainly mentioned in the context of our discussions
Are you looking forward to being in Shanghai?
I always like to be in Shanghai.
Are you going to Shanghai?
My current schedule suggests that I will be in Shanghai at the time of the APEC
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
Jim, in answer to another question in another context, I said I didnt
want to link two things and it is just not something I want to do. And your
question, in any event, is completely hypothetical.
Prime Minister, the President last night said America would not differentiate
I think in a situation like this what the President said was absolutely understandable
and reasonable and I agree with that.
Which countries do harbour ?
I dont want to go any further than to state the general principle. I think
you are all aware of where some of the suggestions lie.