APEC To Meet In Sydney 2007: Howard Staying On?

Another sign that John Howard has no intention of making way for Peter Costello in the current parliament can be seen in today’s announcement by the Prime Minister that the 2007 APEC Meeting will be held in Sydney.

The leaders’ meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will be held in September 2007, just two months before Australia’s next scheduled election.

Howard’s announcement came during a wide-ranging press conference in Canberra. Questioned about whether he expects to host the leaders meeting, Howard responded: “I think the Australian Prime Minister will host that meeting with great skill and great alarm – I am not going to comment on that except to say that I’ll continue to occupy this position for so long as my party wants me to.”

This is the transcript of the press conference given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at Parliament House, Canberra.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you ladies and gentlemen for coming. I am sorry for the postponement. I had to speak to several Premiers before I was in a position to say what I wanted to say and therefore I had to slightly postpone the timing of the news conference. I want to announce that the 2007 APEC Meeting, leaders meeting which Australia will host will be held in Sydney. The date that we are negotiating around, and this depends very much on the convenience of other leaders as well, we’re proposing that the meeting be held during September of 2007. I am not in a position at this stage to go into all of the details of where precisely in Sydney the meeting is going to be held but those of you familiar with that city will no doubt begin to speculate as to where various meetings will take place.

This will be, although in aggregate numbers not the largest assembly of world leaders in Australia’s history, but in terms of the weight and influence (if we can presume to put it that way) will certainly be the most significant international meeting to have been hosted by Australia. I should point out that there will be a lot of other meetings; ministerial meetings, officials meetings associated with the leaders meeting and it will be our intention to spread those meetings around Australia as much as possible. In other words not all of the meetings associated with the APEC leaders meeting will be held in Sydney and we are certainly very keen to hold as many of those other meetings as we can in other parts of Australia including all of the states of Australia.

I might also mention that discussions are still going on of the hosting on the G-20 Finance Ministers meeting which is to take place in Australia in 2006. I want to thank those states who expressed interest in the hosting of the meeting and as I say I have informed the various Premiers involved, including of-course the NSW Premier.

Before taking questions on anything you choose, can I say how pleased I am with the ceasefire that’s been agreed between Ariel Sharon the Prime Minister of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Leader, in their meeting in Sharm el- Sheik. I think it represents the best hope for a lasting settlement we’ve seen for a number of years. We have to be cautious – but given the bloodshed, the violence, the ill will, the lack of trust that has characterised this terrible conflict for so long, this very significant movement has to be very warmly welcomed. I want to pay tribute to both men. It’s very much a triumph of the democratic process. We had an election in the Palestinian territories and out of that election came a man (Mahmoud Abbas) greatly respected in the Middle East; a person who has asserted his authority over Hammas and others and has brought a new sense of hope to his people and to the people of Israel and I also pay tribute to Ariel Sharon who has stared down some of his hard liners in his party and the stance that Sharon has taken in relation to the withdrawal of the settlements is to be praised, it has been a necessary step forward. I think the citizens of both countries are tired of the death and the conflict and they want peace and every nation of goodwill should try very hard to assist that process. I know how committed President Bush is to achieving, in his second term, a lasting settlement in the Middle East.

The new administration – it is a new one since his re-election – is absolutely determined to do what it can, and it can do a great deal to bring about a settlement and with the combination of the approach of the United States, the new sense of goodwill that exists between Abbas and Sharon, countries such as Australia are long standing, an unapologetic friend of Israel but also a country that for a long time, and in advance of many other western countries, has strongly supported the notion of an independent Palestinian state. We will do everything we can to aid the process but it is a day of hope in this very troubled part of the world. I don’t need to remind you of the wider ramifications for winning the confidence and the understanding of the Islamic world if we can achieve a settlement in the Middle East and it is a day of real hope but there is a long way to go and we have seen these hopeful signs before. In fact the last time I personally visited the area was a time of hope in 2000 when I was in fact encouraged to go to Ramallah by the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to meet Yasser Arafat and others and that of course all fell apart when it was impossible to achieve the lasting settlement that we hoped might be possible at the time. But tragically many people have died since then and I can only hope, as the rest of the world does, that we are seeing something of a new dawn in the Middle East and the possibility of some sort of lasting settlement.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister are you looking forward to hosting the 2007 leader’s summit?

PRIME MINISTER:

Jim, I think the Australian Prime Minister will host that meeting with great skill and great alarm, I am not going to comment on that except to say that I’ll continue to occupy this position for so long as my party wants me to.

JOURNALIST:

Why Sydney and was…

PRIME MINISTER:

Why Sydney?

JOURNALIST:

…it because this situation is unprecedented for Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Will the security operation be…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there’ll need to be a lot of security.

JOURNALIST:

Why Sydney?

PRIME MINISTER:

Why Sydney? Because on balance it offered the broader range of facilities. It’s a very spectacular city and it’s got some very well known international icons. The city of Brisbane put forward a very significant proposal, a very good one, great cooperation from the Queensland government. I think it’s fair to say although Victoria was keen to participate, Victoria is hosting quite a number of things over the next year or two and given the drain on conference and hotel facilities, realistically the range of possible locations is fairly limited. I think Sydney will do it very well and I’ve no doubt that we’ll have the full cooperation of the New South Wales government.

JOURNALIST:

What swung Sydney ahead of Brisbane?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think just a range of things including the facilities and I think the location of various facilities, the Opera House and the NSW Government House, other facilities, Darling Harbour, they’re all in fairly easy proximity of each other and they’re very substantial facilities and of course the hotel facilities of Sydney. I am not denigrating the hotel facilities of Brisbane for a moment. I use them very frequently and I am always given a very warm welcome in Brisbane, in Queensland. I think it’s fair to say that politically I receive no warmer welcome anywhere in Australia than I do in Queensland. But these things are always hard to make judgements about, I rang the Premier of Queensland, I spoke to him in Mackay this morning, and he understands the government’s decision.

JOURNALIST:

The shirts [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I have to give a lot of thought to that, it may not be shirts.

JOURNALIST:

When you spoke to Peter Beattie this morning, did you mention the Rau case?

PRIME MINISTER:

No no it didn’t come up in my discussions with any of the Premiers I spoke to this morning.

JOURNALIST:

With the Rau case one of your own Liberal backbenchers Petro Georgiou thinks that the asylum seeker policies of the government are no longer needed and that they should be set free so to speak. What is your opinion of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well our policies will continue.

JOURNALIST:

Labor is suggesting that the troops should now be pulled out of; at least some of the troops should be pulled out Baghdad because they say that they are just now guarding an empty building.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we take advice on these matters from Defence and the latest advice we have from the Chief of the Defence Force that under current circumstances the best option was for the security detachment to remain where it is and I really think that at the present time and I know Oppositions feel the need to try and score political points but given the democratic dividend that’s been won in Iraq by the Iraqi people and the tremendous step forward that the Iraqi people have made over the last few weeks. So far from talking about pulling troops out, if we want to secure and reassure, we shouldn’t be talking about that. This of all times is a time for reinforcement and reassurance rather than to be talking about pulling troops out. I think if you want to send a message to the Iraqi people and a message to those who are trying to destroy the hopes of democracy in Iraq you don’t talk about pulling troops out.

JOURNALIST:

Would you see a different role for those troops there Mr Howard if they’ve been on [inaudible] duty?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well once again they are matters that we will take advice from Defence on.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister on Xstrata, your cabinet colleague Mr Vaile’s got concerns about the national interest in developing our … what are your thoughts on that issue, the national interest issue and the current…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well this is a decision which under law must be taken by the Treasurer in accordance with the law and it will be treated in that fashion. Welcome back, good to see you. We liked your replacement but also good to have you back.

JOURNALIST:

Good to be back.

PRIME MINISTER:

Now what’s your question?

JOURNALIST:

The removal of Stephen Kenny from David Hick’s legal team this morning reportedly because he was too combative with your government and Hick’s legal team is seeking a more cooperative relationship with the Australian government, does that change your attitude at all to the way things should be dealt with.

PRIME MINISTER:

I have nothing to do with that and I have no comment.

JOURNALIST:

No but that was their action and…

PRIME MINISTER:

I have no comment; the engagement of somebody’s lawyer is a matter for that person, for the client. I don’t have any comment to make about that at all, the first I knew about it was when I read it in the papers.

JOURNALIST:

His legal team says though that they would like the government to make representations to Washington about Mr Hick’s release, what do you say to that suggestion?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there is a difference between Mr Hicks and Mr Habib, the difference is that Mr Hicks was charged and he’s charged and he is going before a military commission which will have procedures which were changed as a result of negotiations between the Australian Government and the United States Government and there is a vast difference. The reason why we requested Habib’s repatriation by the Americans was that they indicated to us that they did not intend to charge him. Now there is a vast difference between the two and I don’t see any alteration.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister just on Australian schools… Do you think that rejecting Xstrata’s bid for WMC would send a bad signal to the international investors?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not going to answer those questions of a specific kind about an individual case. Look there is a strict legal procedure and it has to be followed by the Treasurer and he will follow it, the foreign investment review board will make a recommendation and I then I am sure he will take a decision will be taken by him in accordance with the law which requires him where appropriate an assessment of the national interest.

JOURNALIST:

Will there be an announcement before the West Australian election?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t know you would have to ask the Treasurer I don’t know precisely where the thing sits at the present time, it will be determined in accordance with the law, with the foreign investment law of this country. Now foreign investment is important to this country but we have a law that governs decisions in relation to these matters. Sam, I think you were trying to get a word in?

JOURNALIST:

Do you believe that improved sex education in Australian schools would cut the abortion rate? On a separate matter, what’s your response to a senior NSW teacher who fears that teachers are failing their students because they’re voting for the Coalition and for the Howard government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ll come to that second one not surprisingly first. I mean this is the very sort of comment that does public education great damage. I mean this kind of comment drives more people out of the public education system. This only confirms suspicions that people have that the public education system lacks the balance that’s needed. Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that what he said is representative of the views of English teachers generally, I certainly hope it’s not. But it’s the sort of unbalanced, politically driven comment that does a great disservice to public education and as somebody who believes very strongly in a dual system and who believes very strongly we should preserve and strengthen our public education system that sort of comment just feeds a growing view in the community that the system has been too radicalised through the attitudes of some teachers. Now I repeat again in case it is misunderstood, I don’t think for a moment he represents the views of English teachers generally, I certainly hope he doesn’t, but I think it’s a very regrettable comment, particularly given the position he holds.

Now as to the question of abortion. I think a greater, or a more effective level of sex education could have an impact, yes. I think anything that encourages greater levels of responsibility and a greater understanding of the implications of sexual behaviour can, (impossible to measure it) can have an impact on the abortion level. I think anything that can be done to discourage and prevent unwanted pregnancies and therefore obviate the need for people to choose terminations is something that people who are opposed to abortion should support very strongly. I certainly support it very strongly.

JOURNALIST:

Will it apply to all children?

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Will it apply to all school children?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you have to take into account the views of parents and I mean different parents have different views. I mean ultimately the best environment for sex education is the home but not always, it’s not always possible, it’s not always conducive, not all parents feel the same level of ease in talking about these matters as others but however it is done my view unqualifiedly is that the greater understanding there is, the better. Abortion is never I’m sure an option people would want and the more therefore that can be done to prevent unwanted pregnancies the better.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard there’s still some concern within the coalition particularly among women about the nature of this abortion debate and the selection of it, despite the fact that you said there’ll be no change of the law. What do say to reassure those people that the debate isn’t going to be damaging?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look people feel strongly about issues and I’ve made it very clear in a democracy like Australia you can’t stop a debate and I had never said the debate should stop, I have just stated that there won’t be a Government sponsored change to funding arrangements and that if a private members bill comes forward then it will be dealt with at every stage, including the stage of whether or not it’s going to be debated, as a matter of conscience because that is the way in which we have traditionally approached these things and I have naturally encouraged people on both sides of the argument to exercise courtesy and politeness in putting their views. You no doubt may have some sources of your own but I was present at the meeting yesterday and I didn’t detect acrimony. I mean there’s feeling but I didn’t detect acrimony and political parties worth their socks are big enough to have debates of this kind without losing their stability and without the debate suffering in terms of being a comprehensive one. I mean we had a debate a few years ago about a republic where there was a free vote in the Liberal Party and as you know there were some celebrated different views inside the Liberal Party, what that was November 1999 and this is February 2005. And you know fair go.

JOURNALIST:

Given what you just said about sex education would you like to see the Commonwealth government get more involved with improving education in the states and may be more money?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t… more money? Well the states have got a lot of money for education; the states are rolling in money. I mean let’s not kid ourselves, the states are rolling in money as a result of the GST and look I’m not trying to tell the states how to do their job in relation to this. I’m expressing a view as Prime Minister and as a citizen about the desirability of things – how you actually work it out and who pays for it and precisely what form it takes – well that’s got to be determined by the teachers and the parents and the experts. I am simply stating my very strong view about the role of sex education and the need to do all we can as a community to prevent people having to make this choice. And I also want to reinforce something I said on Sunday and that is that if you believe in choice, if you are pro-choice to use the language of this discussion, then you would have to agree that if there were greater opportunities available for people who might be in a genuine quandary about whether or not to have a termination the option of keeping the baby, being clearly one of the two choices, then if there were more assistance available for people who might be disposed to keep the child, all the better.

JOURNALIST:

On interest rates, do you see any link between the Reserve Bank’s stated desire to increase interest rates and the amount spending promised the May budget and the election campaign last year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I mean if you want to know the thinking of the Reserve Bank you’ll have to ask the Reserve Bank. I read the monetary policy statement and I think you can draw your own conclusions from that. I didn’t see any particular reference to that issue.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard on APEC what impact will it have on the timing of the next election given that it is due around the same time as APEC?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well obviously you have to juggle these things. I mean I’ve faced this before and no doubt I faced it in relation to the CHOGM meeting, it was scheduled to be held in October. Now that was predetermined that date. We’re proposing to have it in September. We’re paying. Obviously I recognise that there will be an election due around about the latter part of the second half of the year. I also recognise that Ramadan falls during the period under question, we’ve had an APEC meeting in September before, the APEC meeting held in New Zealand in 1999 was held in September. Now we’ve got to talk to people about various dates; we’ve got to establish the convenience of other leaders, it’s not only my convenience that’s important it’s the convenience of other leaders as well.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard is there any movement on the free to air telecast of the Ashes?

PRIME MINISTER:

Any movement on the what?

JOURNALIST:

The free to air telecast of the Ashes, is there any chance the government…

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh that continues to engage me. I think that’s all I can say at the moment. I would like to see the Ashes on television – there are a number of things I’m looking at.

JOURNALIST:

The ABC or SBS [inaudible] legislative.

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven’t really sort of got to that.

JOURNALIST:

Would you like to see ABC telecast it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t want to be more specific at this stage.

JOURNALIST:

Has the ABC asked for some money to specifically telecast the Ashes?

PRIME MINISTER:

The ABC is always asking for money – no disrespect to the ABC.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister you’ve made some good inroads in western Sydney in recent years why not get your strength in the seat of Werriwa?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Steve, a decision on that will be made by the New South Wales organisation – the New South Wales executive of the Liberal Party after we’ve finished discussions with local people. There are some discussions going on at present; some of the local people involving Brian Loughnane, the Federal Director, and others. And we have to take into account the point you’ve made and that’s an important point. We also have to take into account the availability of good candidates, the need, as you’ll appreciate, to have the resources to run a strong campaign. We have made inroads into Western Sydney. It is also fair to say though, that one of the areas we didn’t make big inroads into the last election was the seat of Werriwa. In fact there was a tiny swing I think in favour of the then sitting member. Now that may have been due to the fact that he was the Leader of the Opposition and therefore a very high profile person. We’ve got to balance these and take into account other political considerations. But in the end our strength in Western Sydney is based on what we have done to benefit the people of Western Sydney; their high wages, their full employment, not full employment but very high employment, their low interest rates, their tax cuts, the university assistance, all of those things that we have done for Western Sydney. That weighs more heavily on the minds of voters than anything else.

JOURNALIST:

What’s your feeling Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look I don’t want to tilt my hand at the moment, I respect the processes. I think the organisation has to be listened to on these things and I respect the fact that when it comes to policy matters the organisation leaves things to us, but when it comes to these things you’ve got to listen to the party organisation. They’ve got to raise the money and carry the heat and burden of a campaign and I don’t think they should be treated contemptuously.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard you’ve had the first day back against your old opponent returned, what’s the verdict?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I think there’s, I don’t deliver the verdict will be delivered on us in three years time.

JOURNALIST:

Have you started to warm to the canal project?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ve never been cold to that, I think the concept of…

JOURNALIST:

What about paying for it?

PRIME MINISTER:

The concept is a great one and I think it’s something that ought to be considered sympathetically by the Federal Government. But clearly we have to look at it and we have to make a proper assessment. But I think what Colin Barnett has endeavoured to do is to reach out to the concerns that people in Western Australia have about their water and power supplies and it’s a bold idea. I do know something of the proposal. I received a briefing on it from the company months ago but you know clearly if Mr Barnett wins, and I hope he does, I’ll be very happy to sit down and talk about it.

JOURNALIST:

What do you rate the chances of the Ashes being shown on free to air tv?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t want to go more, go further than what I have already.

JOURNALIST:

Are you positive about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no I would like to see them, I would like to see the Ashes available on free to air TV, now whether it’s possible to bring that about I don’t know but it is something that I am engaged upon. Last question.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have any in-principle opposition to a foreign company owned or controlling Australia’s largest uranium mine?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I’m not going to make a comment on that particular proposal which… Yes it might, I mean come, come on.

Righto, see you later.