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5347Re: [GreenLeft_discussion] ALP will pull troops out of Iraq....

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  • Peter Boyle
    Mar 23, 2004
      Below is the actual transcript of Latham's radio interview (thanks to
      Damien Lawson of Greens Senator Kerry Nettle's office).

      Peter Boyle

      ***

      Radio Interview with Mike Carlton
      Transcript - Radio 2UE - 23 March 2004
      CARLTON: You don't like Alexander Downer a lot do you?

      LATHAM: Well I don't like what he had to say about the Federal Police
      Commissioner Mick Keelty, because he said that he Keelty is just
      expressing a view which reflects a lot of the propaganda we are getting
      from Al Qaeda and that's an outrageous thing to say and its an improper
      thing to say. And that Mick Keelty is someone who has dedicated his
      working life to protecting Australians against Al Qaeda. He was the main
      man in terms of the investigation that followed the Bali bombing he is a
      fine police officer he is a fine person who doesn't need to be
      associated with propaganda from Al Qaeda, it's an outrageous thing for
      the Foreign Minister to say and I thought Mick Keelty had been hard done
      by and I went into fight for him, fight as hard as I could in the
      Parliament ...to force the Government to retract those comments.

      CARLTON: Well the Government fought back from that. They spent the rest
      of last week saying he was the best thing since sliced bread though
      didn't they?

      LATHAM: Well Alexander Downer hasn't withdrawn those comments from the
      public record or apologised for them and he had a 15 minute speech in
      the Parliament yesterday where he danced around them. I think it's just
      wrong to detract from the record of Mick Keelty and the work of the
      Australian Federal Police in such a partisan way and to associate the
      Commissioner with the propaganda we are getting from Al-Qaeda is
      absolutely outrageous, it's an outrageous thing to say and in our robust
      parliamentary debate that's the point I was making.

      CARLTON: Do you find Alexander Downer a hard man to like?

      LATHAM: He's not my cup of tea. I've got to say that, and I don't really
      know him that well but when he says those things about a good person, a
      good public servant in Mick Keelty, I'll always go into bat for someone
      who has been hard done by. And I'll fight as hard as I can and use the
      forums of the Parliament to get my point across.

      CARLTON: But when you use language like you are a disgrace, a rotten,
      lousy disgrace, is that the right sort of language to be coming from the
      alternative Prime Minister?

      LATHAM: I think the comments are a disgrace, the comments that were
      levelled at Mr Keelty are a disgrace and in the parliament I thought
      they were a good description of Mr Downer's position.

      CARLTON: But you said Downer himself was a rotten lousy disgrace, not
      his position.

      LATHAM: Well for saying those things it is a disgrace, it is a disgrace
      to try and associate Mick Keelty, a man who is spending so much of his
      time to protect Australia from the terrorist threat in Al Qaeda to try
      and associate him with their propaganda. It is a disgraceful thing for
      the Foreign Minister to say and it is indicative of the way in which the
      Howard Government has handled this issue. And played politics with our
      national security.

      CARLTON: You didn't lose your cool a bit? Because that is the charge the
      Government is levelling at you, that you lost your cool that you cannot
      be trusted, that you are unstable, explosive?

      LATHAM: I think the unstable things are the things Mr Downer says about
      Mr Keelty. That is the thing that is unstable. It is just plain wrong
      and in the Parliament you have the right to stand up and express
      yourself to right the wrong, to try and correct the record and force the
      Government into retraction. I was very upset with those comments and in
      the Censure Motion, which is one of the toughest forms of debate in the
      Parliament it is a spontaneous thing and the place was roaring and I was
      trying to get my point across. I didn't feel like I had lost my cool. I
      was making my debating points as best I could and trying to stand up for
      a good man, Mick Keelty against the attack that had been levelled
      against him by the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

      CARLTON: Why did they make that attack, do you think? It is acknowledged
      that Keelty, eventually he said it, that Keelty is a devoted police
      officer, a dedicated Australian. Why did they make that attack what was
      the justification for this sudden onslaught on Keelty?

      LATHAM: I think really a Government of control freaks. Mr Keelty said
      something that most Australians would agree with. There is an opinion
      poll today that says that two thirds of Australians take the view that
      we were a target at the time of September 11 but the folly of Iraq has
      made the situation worse since then. So that is a fairly common view in
      the Australian community. Mr Keelty said words to that effect in
      relation to the bombing in Madrid and the Government tried to jump on
      him for political reasons. Not in the national interest or for our
      national security but because they thought they had a political problem
      and the independent Police Commissioner was saying something different
      to the Liberal Party line. Well that is no way to run the Government, no
      way to run the country and no way to jump on the Federal Police
      Commissioner and then try and attack his good reputation in the community.

      CARLTON: To use an American phrase, was the Government indulging a
      little ass covering?

      LATHAM: I think that is a good description. And it is a good guide to
      the way in which the Howard Government operates. We have seen it so many
      times, they are very loose with the truth and when it doesn't suit their
      political purposes there is always manipulation of the processes behind
      the scenes. We found out about this case with Mr Keelty and it is just
      plain wrong to play politics with Australia's national security.

      CARLTON: Has our part in the Iraq war made us less safe, put us more at
      risk of terrorist attack?

      LATHAM: I think it has made the situation worse, it hasn't made the
      world a safer place. This was a conflict that was designed to identify
      and eliminate weapons of mass destruction. They haven't been found since
      and when you send Australians to war for a purpose that wasn't true.
      This purpose of weapons of mass destruction then obviously it has been a
      distraction. I think the really damaging thing about Iraq is that it has
      distracted resources, diverted attention from the real task, which is to
      target the terrorists, break up their networks, use our best
      intelligence to clean out the terrorists rather than wage war against
      nation states. So that act of folly, that error that was made in terms
      of policy, has diverted us from the real task that would have added so
      much more to Australia's national security.

      CARLTON: I just want to hear you say that again if you would, and make
      sure we are talking about the same thing. You believe the Howard
      Government's act in sending Australian troops to Iraq was an act of folly?

      LATHAM: Yes I think it was a mistake. By their own record, the Prime
      Minister is on the public record saying that it wasn't about regime
      change, it was about eliminating weapons of mass destruction. They
      haven't been found since and all the resources and effort that was put
      into Iraq, if we put that effort into targeting the terrorists and using
      our best intelligence to track them down and eliminate them, then I
      think we would have had a better outcome than all the resources and
      attention that went into Iraq. It really was a side alley that didn't
      need to be the front line in the war against terror.

      CARLTON: So again then, has Al Qaeda and that Iraq war made us less
      safe, more at risk from terrorists?

      LATHAM: Yes I think it has made the situation worse. We were a target at
      the time of September 11, but the errors that were made in participating
      in the Iraq war have obviously made the situation worse since. That is a
      common view in the community and it is something that Tony Abbott
      himself said prior to the war in Iraq and the Deputy Defence Secretary
      in the US said it just last week. So it is not an uncommon view even
      from the conservative side of politics.

      CARLTON: Should we then bring our troops home?

      LATHAM: Well we should. When they finish their responsibilities for the
      post war reconstruction.

      CARLTON: But that may be ten years away. How long do they stay?

      LATHAM: We believe we have a responsibility to rebuild that country and
      as soon as that responsibility is discharged they should be back here.
      Hopefully that will be before the end of the year. Under a Labor
      Government our strategy is to get them back as soon as that
      responsibility is discharged, and you have got a sovereign hand over to
      a new Iraq Government.

      CARLTON: Well theoretically there is going to be a handover in June.

      LATHAM: Yes that is theoretically but we have to look at the timetable,
      things can go wrong and it might be delayed. I am hoping that by the end
      of the year the Australian troops will be back here for the defence of
      Australia, having discharged their international responsibilities and
      back on Australian soil for the good protection of our country.

      CARLTON: But how do you decide? You are being a bit wishy washy there
      leaving us a lot of room to move, how do you decide when they have
      discharged their responsibilities and bring them back?

      LATHAM: Well at the point of sovereign hand over to a new Iraq
      Government. As you say there is a time table a very tentative timetable
      for the middle of the year. Things can go wrong things can get pushed
      back a while, but our intention is to ensure that once the
      responsibility is discharged and that is at the time of the hand over to
      the new sovereign Government in Iraq then Australian troops will come
      back under a Labor Government.

      CARLTON: And you would hope they would be home by Christmas?

      LATHAM: Yes well if that timetable of mid year is adhered to then that
      would be the case. If a federal election is held this year, say the
      election was in September and there was a change in Government, we would
      be hoping to have them back by Christmas certainly.

      CARLTON: What if the Americans put the arm on you and say no, it is the
      ANZAS treaty and we want them there, we need them there and you have got
      to stay?

      LATHAM: The war has not been fought under the ANZAS Treaty.

      CARLTON: The Prime Minister thought it was. He invoked it after
      September 11.

      LATHAM: Well I don't think the Iraq conflict is relevant to the detail
      of ANZAS. What you have got is Australian troops, the decision needs to
      be made by the Australian Government. And it is not as if our troops
      have done nothing, they have been there since the conflict finished,
      well they were there when the conflict started and they have been part
      of the post war reconstruction and in the time since then. So Australia
      has met its responsibility and at the time of a sovereign hand over of
      Government and that is the right and proper thing. I mean nobody is
      forecasting we would stay there forever, they need to come back at some
      point and you need to do the fair thing of saying that when the
      responsibility for rebuilding Iraq is completed and Iraq has got a new
      sovereign Government then that is the appropriate time to bring the
      Australian troops back.

      CARLTON: On the question of who would make the better Prime Minister,
      Howard 43%, Latham 42%. I haven't heard of it ever being that close. Are
      you pleased with that?

      LATHAM: Well it is encouraging of course, but the best encouragement I
      get is when the Parliament is not sitting to be out there in the
      community and travelling around the country talking face to face with
      the Australian people. They have given some good feedback some good
      ideas about what we need to do in Labor policy and that is the thing I
      find most encouraging. These polls have always got a margin of error,
      they always bounce around and you take them with a grain of salt. But
      yes, sure it is better to be moving in a positive direction than in a
      negative.

      CARLTON: And the ALP on 55% after preferences, the Coalition on 45% that
      would have you very comfortably ensconced in the Lodge if not Kirribilli
      House.

      LATHAM: Well the election is not today. We are up against a Government
      that is pretty desperate and they will say and do anything. They are
      spending a lot of money, the Prime Minister is using any opportunity to
      create a political issue. He has even gone to the extent of jumping on
      the independent Police Commissioner because he said something that
      wasn't in line with Liberal Party politics. So Mr Howard is a very tough
      and wiley competitor he will say and do anything and we wouldn't take
      anything for granted in the course of this election year.

      CARLTON: Thanks very much for your time.

      LATHAM: It was a pleasure, thanks Mike

      CARLTON: We will talk again.

      Ends. E & OE
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