Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at the National Press Club

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: National Press Club of Australia, Canberra
Source: (1) Thatcher Archive: speaking text (2) Thatcher Archive: transcript (extract) (3) Daily Telegraph , 2 July 1979
Journalist: (3) Denis Warner, Daily Telegraph , reporting
Editorial comments: 1700-55. MT delivered a speech before answering questions. Her remarks on Rhodesia - fully transcribed in (2) - dominated domestic British coverage of the event. Material from the Daily Telegraph (3) has been paraphrased for reason of copyright. There is a copy of the speaking text as annotated for delivery in the National Archives in PREM 19/2.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2482
Themes: Monarchy, Commonwealth (general), Commonwealth (Rhodesia-Zimbabwe), Commonwealth (South Africa), Economic policy - theory and process, Energy, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Australia & NZ)
(1) Thatcher Archive: Speaking text:

Mr. President,

I am grateful for this opportunity to address the National Press Club and through you a much wider audience of Australians, to all of whom I send my greetings and those of my countrymen in Britain.

I have been asked why I have come to Australia within two months of taking office as Prime Minister. There are two reasons.

First, and most important, I believe that Anglo/Australian relations matter: and, secondly, you in Australia and we in the UK have a shared interest in many international problems which I was glad to have this opportunity of discussing with your Malcolm FraserPrime Minister and his colleagues.

To take our own relationship first: the purpose of my visit is to underline its closeness, its importance and its continuing relevance to the issues we both face. [end p1] I have come to show that we value the strong ties we have with Australia, ties which embrace so many aspects of our lives.

We have historical, democratic, ethnic, legal and cultural ties—and also family ones.

This is my third visit to Australia. I came here first as Minister for Education, then as Leader of the Opposition and now I come as Prime Minister. Although I like my present job best, I find that, regrettably, as my visits increase in frequency they diminish in length.

As a result there are many people and places in Australia that I have not been able to see this time. A Prime Minister does not have it all her own way. But although my visit has to be brief, I was at any rate able to insist on coming and in this way to show that I do not take our partnership for granted. [end p2] So I hope that Australians will see in my visit an earnest of the British Government's determination to continue that effort and remain true to our old friendships. I have every confidence that our specially close relationship can be maintained. [end p3]

Our links matter because they bear on the fundamentals of our free way of life—things like free speech, free elections and equality under the law. And if anyone is disposed to be sceptical or cynical about the value of these things, let them reflect on the misery which the loss of them has brought to ordinary people in less fortunate countries.

Our ties are also practical and business-like. As evidence, may I mention the size and importance of British investment in Australia, which is still continuing, and our close trading relations. I know there have been setbacks in some areas: but there are also plenty of new opportunities for growth. One important example is uranium. We in Britain already have an important nuclear power industry. We wish to diversify and buy from assured and reliable sources of supply such as Australia. Of course there must be reasonable safeguards against accident and misuse and I am proud of the British record in these respects. Australia now has a chance at one and the same time to make a major contribution to meeting the world's growing energy problems and to building up Australia's influence in the world, greatly to your own benefit and that of the international community as a whole. [end p4]

This leads me to the many pressing international problems which I am very glad to have been able to discuss with your Government in the talks we have had yesterday and today.

As you know, I came to Canberra straight from the Economic Summit Meeting in Tokyo. I should like to tell you a little about it.

This was the Energy Summit.

It was ironic that the OPEC countries should have announced their plans for a further major increase in the price of oil while we were still in session in Tokyo. This put into sharp focus the problems and the dangers of the energy situation in a world economy which is in any case slowing down. Three linked themes kept recurring during our discussions:

—First, we all recognised that the problems of the fourth quarter of this century are very different from those of its third quarter. [end p5]

In the 1950s, the free world's market economy was rebuilt and this was followed, in the 1960s, by the fastest period of economic growth which the world has ever seen. Now, as we approach the 1980s, our pre-occupation is with beating inflation and with coping with the energy shortage. This calls for new solutions and strong nerves: but the economy of the free world is resilient: it can adapt and adjust to this new challenge if we are patient.

—Second, the Seven governments whose Heads met in Tokyo are very conscious that the new situation damages everybody, producer and non-producer countries alike. [end p6] The developing countries will suffer most of all, suffer from the risk of greater instability in the world. We in Britain, although we shall soon be supplying 85%; of our requirements from North Sea oil, identify with the interests of consumers.

Britain is not an island in this matter: nor are the oil producers.

—Third, we were all deeply conscious of our responsibility to give a lead to our respective countries and to tell them very frankly what they and we ought to do as well as what governments can and cannot do.

We knew that if we left the impression that we were failing to face up to facts, or that we were taking refuge in pious platitudes, our meeting in Tokyo could easily have done far more harm than good.

Inevitably, every multilateral negotiation must involve an element of compromise: but I think the Tokyo Declaration largely achieved our objective of combining realism and candour, spelling out the targets and the goals at which we shall be aiming between now and 1985 in order to bring the demand and supply for oil into better balance. [end p7]

In the field of overseas policy we share membership of the Commonwealth, and, in this connection, I want to pay tribute to Mr.Fraser's initiative in calling the first Commonwealth Regional Conference in Sydney last year. I also welcome the successor conference planned in New Delhi in 1980. We both see the Commonwealth as a unique bridge, a bridge which spans so many of the chasms that normally divide the world—divisions of colour, creed, climate and economic opportunity.

One regional concern that we share is our common indignation and distress at the tragic problem of refugees in this part of the world.

We are concerned by its cause and we are concerned in its cure.

We are appalled by the sufferings of the thousands of refugees who have been cast adrift in South-East Asia. And we, of course, have a special anxiety for the position of Hong Kong on whom an extra and utterly disproportionate burden has been placed. Hence my initiative in proposing a conference under [end p8] United Nations auspices, a call to which there has been growing response.

Next month, Commonwealth Heads of Government meet in Lusaka. It will be an important and a challenging meeting. We have a positive approach to the difficult problems on the Lusaka agenda. Britain's particular concern is to bring peace and stability to Africa: this is one of our major priorities in the field of foreign affairs. Southern Africa presents two particularly difficult problems.

On Namibia we are working with other Western countries to reach early agreement on the five-power plan for UN-supervised elections.

The other problem is Rhodesia.

My Government are determined to bring the country back to legality with the widest possible international recognition. [end p9] We also intend to do everything possible to end the war, which is causing such terrible suffering in Rhodesia itself and in neighbouring countries. No way of achieving these aims is excluded.

We have embarked on a programme of intensive consultations. Lord Harlech has recently returned from Africa where he had constructive discussions with leaders of the countries most closely concerned. We have a senior official in Salisbury, based in London, to keep in touch with Bishop Muzorewa, to provide him with encouragement and support in his difficult tasks.

There will be further consultations at the Heads of Government Meeting in Lusaka—and that will not be the end of the process.

We are taking full account of the views of our friends and partners in the Commonwealth and outside. But our first responsibility must be to the people of Rhodesia—it is their future which is at stake.

I should like to end by telling you something of the aspirations and visions I hold for Britain because I know many of you have for Britain the sort of affection that I and many of my countrymen and women hold for Australia. [end p10]

We are determined to turn the British economy round and put an end to the debilitating decline of the past decade.

This will not be easy.

But the turn has begun and the British people have seen and responded to the new course we are taking. This will help us to achieve our second aspiration, which is to enable Britain to play her proper part in the world, after years during which our economic weakness severely limited the extent to which we could play a constructive role in the world's affairs. We shall do so now as a whole-hearted member of the European Community and as a Commonwealth partner committed to its ideals. A more prosperous and a more internationally effective Britain will be in Australia's interests as well as in those of our own people. We intend to achieve it. [end p11]

(2) Thatcher Archive: transcript (extract)


“There is not a strict timetable on recognition of Rhodesia. We are clearly anxious to take as many nations with us as possible. I think most nations realise that something different has happened in Rhodesia with the holding of these Elections. There were Elections in which there was one person, one vote for four different political Parties and in which 65 per cent of the people turned out to vote. Now that is quite good in any nation anywhere in the world. It is particularly good in a nation in Africa. Now a number of people are being slightly critical of the constitution. Most people realise that the holding of these Elections and their success and the turnout were in fact an event which no-one can ignore, and that something very different has happened in Rhodesia. Now that is the basis on which to build.

Some people are being critical of the constitution. Everyone accepts there is a majority of black Africans in the Rhodesian Parliament and that we have a black Abel MuzorewaPrime Minister and that therefore there is a black majority Government. A number of people would hold that perhaps there are too many white people in positions within that Parliament and will object to there being perhaps 28 out of a hundred. That is what I have heard some people say.

No-one questions that there is a majority of black Rhodesians in Parliament, a majority of black Ministers in the Cabinet and a black Prime Minister. Now, starting from that basis, it [end p12] means that there is a possibility of getting some agreement on going forward.

I would say this very very firmly. Unfortunately, there is still terrorism operating. We must make certain that the bullet does not beat the ballot and that therefore those people who are still operating terrorism do not have a veto over any constitution whatsoever. That ultimately what we get in Rhodesia must be what the people of Rhodesia themselves want. Now it is in that spirit that we are trying to consult with all our Commonwealth partners and some outside the Commonwealth and of course with America on the best way of going forward.

Now there is not a strict timetable for recognition. As you know, President Carter has some problems over the resolutions on sanctions and British sanctions would lapse in November and we doubt very much whether a renewal of sanctions would go through the British Parliament. That goes for sanctions. Recognition is a slightly wider problem and could take just a little bit longer.”

(3) Daily Telegraph, 2 July 1979:

[Article paraphrased for reason of copyright]


Queen's visit to Zambia for the CHGM in August still uncertain.

“Obviously the safety of Her Majesty is of paramount importance,” MT told Press conference at end of two-day visit to Australia. “We hope very much that she will be able to go and will attend.”

MT said she had not yet got final advice on Lusaka security. She would take that into account before giving final advice to HMQ.

The meetings with Mr Fraser, Australian Prime Minister, and other senior ministers, resulted in agreement on energy crisis, inflation, refugees and bilateral trade, but evident that though UK and Australia share goals in Rhodesia, they are following different paths.

Sanctions to go

“Our first responsibility must be to the people of Rhodesia,” Mrs Thatcher told the National Press Club. “Democracy is what the people want to be the future of their country”. Something has changed with the election.

“Sixty-five per cent, of the electorate turned out. That is good in any part of the world, particularly in Africa.

Britain had to make certain that bullet did not beat ballot and terrorism had no veto over ballot. That was why we were consulting others on the best way forward.

“British sanctions will lapse in November, and we doubt very much whether any renewal will go through the British Parliament,” she said.

Influencing Pretoria

Settlement of the Rhodesian question would have a tremendous impact on South African policies.

“I loathe apartheid and everything connected with it and I hope we can influence it by showing them a different way,” said Mrs Thatcher.

“I'm sure that one of the greatest factors would be bringing Rhodesia back to full legality and keeping a democratic government there consisting of black people in the majority but still with the white people staying there. That would have a tremendous influence on the future of Southern Africa.”

The Australian Government, while agreeing Rhodesian elections important development, stops well short of Mrs Thatcher's view of their significance. If Australia is one of the countries going forward with Britain on Rhodesia, progress is likely to be very slow.

‘Callous’ Hanoi

On Indo-China refugees, Mrs Thatcher got full support from Australian Government in calling for international conference and need to deal in a humanitarian way with the problem.

But on television and in her Press conference, Mrs Thatcher went further than Mr. Fraser has ever done in describing the Government of Vietnam as cruel, cold and callous. Britain likely now to follow Australia's lead in cancelling aid to Vietnam and switching it to refugee assistance.

Mrs Thatcher explained the significance of Britain’s place in Europe as a loyal colleague to her European partners, and stressed it reinforced long-standing relations with Australia.

Only one British Prime Minister has ever visited Australia in office and that was Mr Macmillan who came 21 years ago.

“At least I've been able to show that I don't take our partnership for granted,” said Mrs Thatcher. That her visit has strengthened Anglo-Australian ties seems beyond doubt.