Prime Minister John Howard
Interview with Radio 2UE's Alan Jones
September 17, 2001
The Prime Minister is on the line, Prime Minister good morning.
Good morning Alan.
Welcome home Prime Minister, were you staying at Blair House in Washington were
No, I was staying at the Willard hotel which is very close to the White House.
The White House they say was intended as a target.
Thats what is said, either the White House or the Capitol. As it happened
the actions apparently of three incredibly courageous passengers on the flight
that crashed in Pittsburg resulted in the flight not reaching its destination
and those people along with so many others whove worked so incredibly
hard and taken such incredible risks, not least the police and the firefighters
of New York are the real heroes of this awful tragedy.
So you were only three kilometres from the Pentagon when it was hit. What did
you know about this, what did you see, what did you hear?
Well I was doing a press conference and just before the Press Conference started
my Press Secretary Tony OLeary told me that the first plane had hit the
World Trade Centre. I said something about that at the beginning of my news
conference and apparently while the news conference was going on the plane hit
the Pentagon, I didnt hear anything, I went back to my room, opened the
curtains and there you could see the smoke billowing out of the Pentagon. I
had been to the Pentagon the afternoon before to see the American Defence Secretary.
And then after that my party was asked to go by the Secret Service to the Australian
Embassy where there were quite a lot of other Australians and the new American
Ambassador Tom Schieffer to Australia. And it was there that I spoke to a lot
of people and conducted a news conference and immediately got in touch with
Mr Anderson the Acting Prime Minister to convene a meeting of our security group
which did occur early in the morning, about half past one or whatever the equivalent
time was in Canberra and that group put certain things into action because at
that stage we had no idea of whether there would be knock-on behaviour around
the world, we still dont know that now.
It makes it pretty personal doesnt it when youre with your wife
and your son and youd been to the spot the day before and youre
meeting with the President of the United States and you find that the leader
of the world democracies is virtually under siege.
Well it certainly does and it makes you ponder the random character of life,
you are lucky, others are unlucky. I like everybody else I know people who just
by circumstance, a former economic adviser of mine was working with Morgan Stanley
which is a bank that had 3,500 people in the trade centre, it was only because
he was off on paternity leave that he wasnt in the building and several
hundred of his mates are unaccounted for. Thats the sort of thing that .
there are numerous stories like that. Ive spoken this morning to the Australian
Consul General in New York Ken Allen whos doing a great job with his staff
to look after the relatives of the Australians who are still missing, Im
afraid it must be now presumed dead. Youre looking there at somewhere
between 80-100, perhaps.
Yes the worst peace time disaster ever for Australia.
It is, because of the enormity of the loss of American lives we tend to overlook
the fact that 80-100 Australians may have died in this and that is as you say
the biggest peace time disaster that this countrys had.
Prime Minister President Bush has called it a war, its very hard to fight
a war when the geography is unknown and people are openly prepared to die so
that their enemy will not live.
That is very difficult, its one of those situations that defies previous
experience except perhaps to a limited extent with suicide bombing missions
by zero pilots during the Pacific War, you had a little bit of that then. But
this strategy of people training for a number of years to die in the process
of killing others, a strategy for fighting that is very hard, and it will take
a lot of time, its not one of those things where some kind of single big
strike is going to enable people to say well the problem has been solved, its
not like that and quite wisely both President Bush and the Vice President Richard
Cheney are preparing the American public and therefore the world public for
that realisation. And it is something that could go on for some time, and its
not going to be something where you can declare an early victory and it will
not be in my view something just like the Gulf War.
The Daily Telegraph today in Sydney editorialises in part and says with the
threat of terrorist counter attacks against any nation that aids the United
States, Australia must be vigilant, particularly in maintaining the sovereignty
of its borders. It is for this reason Mr Howard should reintroduce the Border
Protection Bill this week when Parliament resumes regardless of the outcome
of the appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court today. What is your reaction
Were having a Cabinet meeting this morning to consider all of those issues.
So theres a likelihood that you will reintroduce that legislation?
I can assure your listeners Alan that we will be taking all the steps that are
available to us legally to fully protect our borders.
So to strengthen the laws to enable you to turn away illegal boat arrivals.
We should have the right to have, we should assert the right to give ourselves
a legal position that fully protects us.
And youll be ensuring one way or another that occurs?
Prime Minister to shift from that, unless theres something else that youd
like to say to listeners about the position in America that youd like
to share with my listeners cause I want to ask you some questions about
Please go ahead Alan.
You must surely be concerned at the increasing revelations about the role of
Air New Zealand in all of this, in June the Chief Executive Gary Toomey assured
markets that Air New Zealand didnt need a bail out and had more than adequate
cash. Were only a couple of months on and Ansett has been left to die.
Well he not only assured the markets he also told me in late in June that the
company, the group that is, had reserves of a billion dollars, it was in a difficult
position, he said that and that was quite well known, it did need a capital
injection and that was why there was very strong support for the Singapore Airlines
increase in ownership of Air New Zealand and the resulting money was to be used
as a capital injection into Ansett. That was the plan. But he said that they
had a billion dollars and it would last for a year. Now that was the common
view around the markets, not only late in June but probably into early August
according to Qantas and others the view was being put by the Air New Zealand
group around the markets until early August.
But its now being said that deliberately Air New Zealand whose board knew
virtually nothing about aviation, and its quite clear that Air New Zealand
was wading way out of its depth and Ansett was twice the size of it to start
with, but was actually transferring its corporate fuel bills onto the Ansett
account and ripping $30 million a month, or adding $30 million a month to Ansetts
costs. Now it must be clear that Australia surely has to approach this matter
to the New Zealand Government to determine what kind of liability Air New Zealand
holds for the collapse.
Well certainly Alan there has to be a proper investigation of that. Ive
read that allegation. I have no direct knowledge of whether its true or
false. But the Australian Securities and Investment Commission has already commenced
an examination. There must be a full examination in a cooperative way by the
comparable Air New Zealand body. Of course the shareholders of the group, the
employees of Ansett, the Australian public, the Australian Government is entitled
to a full explanation and a full accountability from those involved in this.
And there wont be any barriers put in the way of that and there are bodies
and they have already started to conduct their investigations and I can assure
your listening public that that investigation will be carried out to the full.
There are suggestions that also Ansett earned $70 million a year freighting
cargo on behalf of Air New Zealand. When Air New Zealand became 100% owner of
Ansett that charge was waived.
That could well be the case Alan, I mean, I dont, the Government didnt
have any shares in Ansett. Ansett was a private company, it always has been.
And Governments cannot know the inner workings of private companies. What
they can do is pass laws that allow investigations to be made, prosecutions
to be brought and people to be made accountable when something goes wrong. And
those mechanisms are now in motion. And that kind of approach and that kind
of investigation is certainly going to take place.
Now for you, the Prime Minister of Australia, youve got places like Singleton
and Forbes and West Wyalong and Cowra, down in Cootamundra in New South Wales.
Virtually the whole of regional Western Australia. Most of regional Tasmania.
Significant areas of regional South Australia without any airlines service.
It is an obligation of the Government to see that that circumstance doesnt
continue isnt it?
It is and that obligation will be met.
Well we have started to do that by Qantas picking up additional routes. Well
be having a discussion this morning at Cabinet about arrangements being made
to cover the areas that have not been picked up by Qantas and by Virgin. I dont
know how it will ultimately work out but there are negotiations going on between
the liquidator and companies and parties interested in buying or being involved
in aspects of Ansetts operation including operations of Ansett subsidiaries
which cover not only the trunk routes like Sydney Melbourne, but also
those regional routes that you speak of. We have a special responsibility in
relation to those regions. And weve made it clear that that responsibility
will be met.
Well I hope that more can be said about that today by the Deputy Prime Minister.
Well be getting a report from him as a result of what was done over the
weekend, when our Cabinet meets this morning.
Right now theres talk of a staff buy-out by licensed aircraft engineers
and pilots and others. Would your Government, I mean given that the circumstance
in America as you saw at the weekend, I mean theres talk that 100,000
jobs could be lost there. Midway just closed their doors and shut up shop. Continental
are saying they might apply to be covered by bankruptcy provisions and theyre
asking the Government to fund some money. Singapore Airlines is government owned.
What would be wrong with government assisting a staff buy out of Ansett?
Well once you start supporting one particular group of people involved in owning
a company why dont you support another?
Well Im simply saying youve got an obligation to the bloke whos
selling pies and soft drinks at Merimbula for example, whos now out of
business. I mean theres no plane coming in.
Alan, I understand that but there is no limit to the calls that would be made
on the Government if it begins to subsidise direct commercial operation. I was
asked by Gerry McGowan who used to run, who runs Impulse, three months ago whether
the Government would give him a cheque to keep his airline going. And I very
reluctantly said no Gerry, and I know well I cant do that because if I
do that for you Ive got to do it for other people.
Now we do it in relation to health care.
Yes but health care isnt a commercial operation in the same way. What
youre doing there is youre subsidising the individual taxpayer.
Alan once you get on the sticky paper of a Government underwriting commercial
investments and commercial operations there is no end.
But when we had a two-airline agreement .
How do I say no to your friend if I say yes to you.
We had a two-airline agreement didnt we? And everything worked functionally,
it seemed to be satisfactory. Then everyone came in and talked about competition
policy and deregulation, and all that sort of stuff. Then Peter Beattie was
waving around and wearing a Virgin Blue cap for some European outfit wiping
out Australian custom and Australian business, and now we found an icon of Australian
aviation absolutely gone to the wall. I mean it doesnt make sense to the
battler out there who becomes a victim.
No but it also doesnt make sense to the battlers to guarantee a duopoly
in an industry irrespective of the terms and conditions under which that industry
It didnt go broke, they provided services.
Alan, Alan, the idea that you can maintain a duopoly forever, and bear in mind
that Qantas, and the old Australian Airlines, which is a merger, which was absorbed
into Qantas, I mean both of those companies were privatised by the former Labor
Government, which we supported incidentally, so we dont want too many
sermons from the other side about things like privatisation and ending the two
airline policy because a lot of that occurred under the former government, which
we supported. But you cant in my view take the view that forever a particular
arrangement in an individual industry is perfect. Now we are going through a
lot of difficulty and a lot of pain at the moment. The Government is the only
party at the moment thats put money on the table to help the problem.
We are guaranteeing the workers entitlements.
Well, were guaranteeing
I heard that on Friday. Thats what I thought. And I thought well good
on you because these poor battlers, these poor buggers shouldnt have to
suffer. But now I read that theres a redundancy cap of eight weeks.
Alan, I said that on Friday. I said that right at the beginning, right up front.
Because the community standard, most people have redundancies which are not
greater than eight weeks. And if you have a completely uncapped redundancy guarantee
from the Government it will only encourage employers and employees in other
industries in the future to load up the redundancy entitlement as part of a
wage settlement and therell be an ever escalating bill to be met by the
taxpayer. Alan I said that eight weeks on Friday. I said it right up front and
theres been no change on that.
So if someone has more than four years service with Ansett they
I dont know the full Im getting details on that this morning.
But what were saying is that holiday pay, long service leave, unpaid salary,
annual leave. They are the statutory entitlements. Were guaranteeing those.
And were going to guarantee, according to the decision we took on Friday,
up to eight weeks redundancy which is the general, average redundancy package
that most employees in Australia get.
OK, Ive got to go to the news.
I said that on Friday, right at the very beginning.
Ive got to go to news, but thank you for your time.