Prime Minister John Howard
Press Conference Following Phone Conversation with President Bush
September 29, 2001
Ladies and Gentlemen Ive called this news conference to report that last
night President Bush rang me to discuss the American led response to the terrorist
attack on the United States. We discussed the situation in general terms. He
took the opportunity of thanking me very warmly for the expressions of sympathy
and compassion which have not only been conveyed through the resolution of the
Parliament but in the many memorial services and acts of public condolence which
have occurred in Australia. He was very well informed on the reaction in this
country to the terrible events of the 11th of September and he was very warm
in his expressions of gratitude.
He said to me in the course of the conversation that the American led response
would not be over and done with quickly. He made it very clear that it was going
to take some time and certainly confirmed to me in the discussion the comments
that hed made publicly to the effect that people should not imagine that
it was something that could be handed and dealt with very very quickly. He thanked
me for the offer of Australian military assistance which I made when I was in
Washington and subsequently repeated in the Parliament and elsewhere in Australia.
And we agreed that at the highest level our military people should have further
discussions about the nature of an Australian contribution with a view to a
further announcements being made when appropriate.
I also took the opportunity of telling him that we had decided to act in consequence
of the announcements that he made a few days ago regarding financial sanctions
on terrorist and terrorist organisations. And he thanked me very warmly for
the fact that Australia had responded so very very strongly.
It was a useful conversation because it brought me up to date with his general
thinking and that of the Administration about the aftermath and the American
response. It being a normal land line it was not possible to go into precise
details but the general thrust was very clear as far as the response was concerned.
Its not something thats going to happen in one single event but
its something that will require a variety of responses over a period of
time. Hes been careful to communicate that to the American people and
its important that Australians understand that, and I know they do, that
this response not only needs to be one that involves a number of countries,
in fact as many countries as possible, each perhaps doing a variety of things.
As far as the military side of it is concerned, I just say again that we agreed
that our military people, at the highest level would discuss the nature of an
Australian contribution and as appropriate further announcements about that
would be made as a consequence of those discussions at an appropriate time.
I thought it important that the call itself and the general nature of it be
reported to the Australian people as soon as possible. It was a very good opportunity
as I say to be brought up to date with his thinking and it was very evident
from the nature of the conversation that he was of course very appreciative
of both the emotional response within the Australian community and also the
offers of assistance that were made in a variety of ways and not least the military
offer of assistance shortly after the terrible events took place. Do you have
Is the response a multilateral military one?
Well there obviously will be military action involved. Thats self evident.
But I think the point that needs to be made is that any idea that its
one single event thats going to put an end to it, thats mistaken.
Its self evident even without any discussion that the President or indeed
anybody else, its self evident that what is required in relation to this
matter is different from what, for example, was required in the circumstances
of the Gulf War where you had an invasion by one country of another. That hasnt
happened here in the traditional military sense, its certainly happened
in a terrorist sense but you do need a different response. And as the President
was saying to me, and as he said to his fellow countrymen and women that its
not something that you can just embrace in one single fell swoop.
What is your reaction to reports of raids .
Well I understand that there have been some activities within the normal course
by Commonwealth and State bodies, I dont want to go into the detail of
it but they are the sorts of things that those agencies would do. Theres
no specific connection but clearly in the .
What is your reaction though to the military training of middle eastern groups
What is my reaction? Well I would like to be satisfied that all of the reports
are true before I give credence to them.
Is there any evidence that these groups have any connection to Osama bin Laden?
Well, let me put it this way, that Ive said before that we cant
assume that nothing can happen here but its also important to keep a sense
of proportion. The potential vulnerability of Australia although like any other
western county its there its perhaps not as high as others. But
we dont take anything for granted. I think Ill just rest it on that
You wouldnt be pleased though?
Well Im not going to add to what Ive previously said, you realise
that with those sorts of things one has to be fairly careful.
Given Australia could be a target, are you considering increased security arrangements?
Well one of the things that should be said is that our aircraft security arrangements
have always been quite tough in the past. Some people believe theyve been
tougher than some other countries. We will on Tuesday at the Cabinet meeting,
we will look at any further measures that need to be taken, Ive indicated
before that were asking for more advice on different things that might
be done and if there are some further things that need to be done well
naturally be ready to implement them because at a time like this you have to
be willing to take all possible steps because we cant assume that there
isnt a threat in this country.
Prime Minister there is a report in todays papers that you effectively
killed off Ansett by blocking the Singapore Airlines recapitalisation plans
for that airline, do you have a response?
Yes I do, thats a ridiculous report. I read it and at no stage did I and
the Government block the Singapore Airlines recapitalisation. We always accepted
that the only Government that really had a role in the Singapore Airlines recapitalisation
was the New Zealand Government via the foreign investment application by Singapore
Airlines to increase its stake in Air New Zealand. And Air New Zealand then
with the additional resources to recapitalise Ansett. We never blocked that,
thats ridiculous, wed never block that. We always indicated that
if all things were equal the idea of an alliance between Qantas and Air New
Zealand would be a good thing with Singapore Airlines teaming up with Ansett.
But in the end we always recognised that ultimately it was a matter for the
New Zealand Government and it had to be resolved in a commercial fashion. So
I reject completely any suggestion that I or indeed the Government blocked the
recapitalisation of Ansett.
Any conflict between yourself and two of the ministers?
Well Im astonished to read those suggestions too. Quite astonished.
Going back to Mr Bush, did he want you to consider anything specific
or was it a general chat?
Well it was a bit more than that, in the sense that weve agreed that our
two military groups should talk about the nature of an Australian contribution.
Did he ask for that?
Well it was understood, I indicated when I was in Washington wed be willing
to make it, and the whole basis of the discussion was that we would get engaged
on the nature of that contribution.
Are we talking here about General Cosgrove?
Oh no Im not, look were not talking about any particular were
not talking about any individuals. I mean what we agreed was our that at the
highest level our military people would examine the nature of any possible Australian
contribution and at an appropriate time in the future a further announcement
would be made.
Are you at all concerned about the HMAS Manoora and Tobruk being tied up with
refugee matters in our northern waters
Well we want to resolve that matter sensibly. I should make it clear that the
people on the Manoora will be go to Nauru, they will not come to the Australian
mainland or to Australian territory. But let us resolve that in a calm, sensible
manner as long as people understand that were not altering our opinion,
there is no change on our resolve and Im sure in the end the people involved
will be persuaded that the most sensible thing is to go to Nauru. We would like
to do that in a calm manner, but in the end it has to be understood that were
not going to change our position and nobody should encourage anybody to believe
that we are because we are not.
Could it be a problem that during this military response you could be in an
I dont believe so. I dont believe so. I mean obviously we will have
an election campaign quite soon. Thats self evident, the Parliaments
term is up, we have to have an election quite soon. Everybody knows that. But
there seems to be bipartisan support for Australian military involvement. If
that were ultimately to be the case.
Have you decided on a date?
Of the election?
Should CHOGM have been cancelled earlier and should there be compensation?
Should it have been cancelled earlier? Well thats a matter a question
you should direct to the Secretary-General. He after all initiated the cancellation
although it was clearly triggered in particular by Mr Blairs announced
intention to withdraw, I dont think that would have, could have, to be
fair to Mr Blair hes in a difficult position, any country that, the leader
of any country in the present situation, I mean I dont know the potential
for any British involvement other than just a broad understanding that there
could be. And thats obviously a matter that the British are discussing
with the Americans. But I can understand why he made that decision.
Would you consider compensation?
Well I have said that well look at things fairly and sensibly, Im
not going to give a broad guarantee, if people have particular propositions
to put to us well have a look at them. Im not going to give an advance
guarantee. But we do understand that this has been difficult for a lot of people
in Brisbane, were sorry about that. We also of course hope to reinstate
the meeting in Brisbane during the first part of next year. And if that happens
then therell be an opportunity for people to gain from that. But I am
sorry for what has occurred but its something completely beyond the control
of the Commonwealth Government. We wanted the meeting to go ahead, we were ready
and Im very sorry it didnt.
Im not going to talk about individual dates.
The American Air Force has been instructed to shoot down any planes,
would you consider similar powers in Australia?
Well that is not an issue thats come in front of us. Theres been
no suggestion that that kind of thing is needed in Australia so therefore the
issue has not been before us.
Can you categorically confirm that the Australian Federal Police are investigating
terrorist activities in Australia?
Look I dont categorically confirm or deny things related to security.
I just (inaudible) myself with the remarks I made a moment ago when I was asked
that question. That it is a normal part of the operations of the agencies both
state and federal from time to time to talk to people and any reports should
be viewed against that background. But Im not categorically confirming
or denying what youve asked me to categorically confirm or deny.
Given the way our military forces are tied up at the moment, what sort of contribution
could we make?
Well I dont want to go into that. Im sure that Australia can make
an effective contribution but thats something that we will discuss with
Has your discussion with Mr Bush changed Australias state of readiness,
are we ready to go?
Well Australias always been in a position to make an effective contribution
at short notice. But this is something, the nature of that contribution as I
say is something that will be discussed between their military and ours and
as appropriate therell be a further statement made. I dont think
I could put it any more clearly than that.
Mr Bush has said Americans should expect casualties, can Australia expect casualties?
Well whenever you get involved in any kind of conflict theres always a
danger of casualties. I dont want to overstate the position, I mean as
we speak now no Australian forces have been deployed. So I think its a
little inappropriate perhaps to be talking about those sorts of things in a
specific way other than to make the obvious point that whenever forces are deployed
there is a risk of causalities. But as we speak now no forces have been deployed
and I just therefore dont want to get into talking specifically about
that except to acknowledge the general point as I have and the Foreign Minister
has that whenever you are involved in a conflict theres always the danger
When are military talks to be held?
Well the chairman, the CDF is in Washington at the present time so I imagine
that while hes there therell be discussions. In fact Im sure
there will be.
Is it more likely well provide intelligence services rather than troops?
No, we have already a very extensive intelligence link with the United States.
But I dont want to speculate at this stage as to what we might provide.
I really dont, I dont think thats appropriate. There are discussions
going on and at an appropriate time in the future a further announcement will
But we can expect new laws to be looked at in Cabinet next week?
We will be looking at a number of things, the issue I mentioned a moment ago
in relation to any need for any security measures. And also the possibility
of new laws. Im not saying we are going to change the law, we will look
at that issue, thats one of the things that Ive ask the Attorney
General to report on.
Can you say which areas of the law you may be examining?
All of those that are relevant. Thank you. Last question.
Do you have any comment on (inaudible) . surveillance operations?
Any comment on what?
(inaudible) surveillance operations
Who is going to win today?
In the AFL? I would like to see Brisbane win. Im not sure that they will.
I would like see them win.