Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1988 Aug 5 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference in Brisbane

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Press Conference
Venue: Media HouseEXPO 88, Brisbane, Queensland
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: Between 1500 and 1615 MT gave a press conference and interviews.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3075
Themes: Agriculture, Civil liberties, Commonwealth (general), Commonwealth (South Africa), Defence (general), Monetary policy, Trade, European Union Single Market, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Australia & NZ), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Northern Ireland, Terrorism, Trade union law reform

Prime Minister

This has been a very busy British National Day at EXPO '88 and I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to open it. It's a truly magnificent exhibition and later today I shall be seeing our further British contributions to EXPO and the Australian Bicentenary; Young Endeavour and the last night of the Proms and the Royal Ballet.

This is my second visit to Brisbane, yet another of Australia's extremely impressive cities. It comes at the end of a very enjoyable tour of Australia and I thought, therefore, I would take this opportunity of summing up my visit.

I shall depart for home via Kuala Lumpur and Thailand and shall go with a feeling of having achieved what I set out to do. As you know, or as you have deduced from the many speeches, I wanted to set the relationship between our two countries on a new course. A course that was right for us both in the future. I thought the time had come for that. [end p1]

The response showed that to be so. Mr Hawke immediately accepted my proposal for a very substantial return visit to Britain next year. He and every State Premier welcomed my call for a stronger relationship, a closer political relationship, a stronger and expanding trade, more two-way investment, indeed stronger links of every kind between Britain and Australia.

In defence, British and Australian roles are complementary, with Australia taking a lead in the Pacific but Britain still retaining a strong interest there, as evidenced by the current Naval Visit that will soon visit Australia, that we saw in Singapore.

We can work together on bringing down the barriers to international trade. Britain and Australia can together be a very powerful force against protectionism in GATT.

In the political field, I have spoken of freedom being on the offensive, a peaceful offensive. Australia has a key contribution to make in carrying that forward in South East Asia and the Pacific. I discovered that Bob Hawke has similar views to me on the Soviet Union and we believe that Mr Gorbachev 's reforms should be encouraged and supported. [end p2]

Mr Hawke and many other political leaders, including Mr Gryner last night and Michael AhernMr. Ahern today, have paid full and generous compliments to the tremendous contribution made by Britain to Australia's development.

That contribution makes us doubly proud of Australia's great achievements, some of which are displayed for you in the exhibition today.

It has been marvellous to visit this strong, confident, country once again and to find that we both want the same things, that Britain and Australia should work more closely together to build the future.

Now your questions. [end p3]

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, the human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has used EXPO to focus on the human rights record of various nations. They have had some criticisms of your nation in relation to its role in Northern Ireland and also for the slaying of IRA people in Gibraltar. Have you any comment to make on their criticisms?

Prime Minister

I have not seen their criticisms, but let me tell you this:

The IRA's policy is to shoot, to bomb, to maim, to kill. They don't like the result of the ballot, therefore they turn to the bullet. Even as I have been here, they have been bombing and shooting and killing in Britain and in Northern Ireland. Those tactics have lost something like 2,000 people killed by bombing, shooting, maiming. [end p4]

It has nothing to do with democracy or freedom of speech. It is the negation of both and I hope you will think it right not to give them any publicity, enjoying yourself freedom of speech under a rule of law and hoping, I believe, that you have a duty to uphold it.

Question

You think Amnesty International are wrong, then?

Prime Minister

I told you I have not even seen what Amnesty International has said, but I indicated what I feel.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, Michael Dukakis has said that he is considering listing South Africa as a terrorist nation along with Libya and other countries. Can you understand why he would consider listing them as such?

Prime Minister

You must ask Michael Dukakishim. You know my views on South Africa. I have set them out many times. We are totally against apartheid, we abhor apartheid. We do not think that making South Africa either a terrorist nation or by imposing comprehensive sanctions would do anything to help—it would only make things a lot worse. [end p5]

We believe that you need to have—and will eventually have—a dialogue with all peoples in South Africa in return for a suspension of violence and that is the way forward and that is the way the moderate black leaders espouse as well as myself and many others.

Question

What will it take for you, Mrs. Thatcher, to change your mind on the matter of trade sanctions against South Africa?

Prime Minister

I shall not change my mind. I do not believe it is for political leaders, in comfort, in a nice country, to impose poverty and starvation on people in another country because they happen to think that that is the way to go. I think it would be a totally wrong way to go. I think it would be a callous and cynical way to go.

Question

If there was an escalation of violence in South Africa, would that prompt you to change your mind? [end p6]

Prime Minister

I think that if you were to impose sanctions and you got more poverty and more starvation, that would be a way to getting more violence. It would not get the end of apartheid.

I want the end of apartheid and I want to work with moderate people to get it and those people who suggest comprehensive sanctions have never suggested for one moment how they could possibly work when tackled with the actual proposition: “Why do you think adding poverty and starvation to many many people as a calculated act? What makes you think, therefore, it improves things?” It would probably go totally the wrong way.

The best way to achieve the objectives we all want to see is to work with the moderate people and to work for a cessation of violence, for a dialogue. Many many years ago, South Africa had a kind of constitutional convention. After the Boer War, we handed over the Federation of South Africa to the people of South Africa to run but not with the kind of constitution which we had many many years later with other peoples. They had a constitutional convention then and I think they would have to have a dialogue now which would lead to a similar kind of convention with all peoples represented. [end p7]

Question

Prime Minister, I realise that you have not seen all the candidates that might be running for Commonwealth Secretary General, but should Malcolm Fraser decide to run, would he be a strong candidate?

Prime Minister

I, in fact, give you the same reply that I gave to the Press Club: I think we shall be asked to support quite a number of people whose names may come forward for the Commonwealth Secretary General. We have no particular candidate to put forward ourselves. We shall wait to see what people are put forward and then see who, in our view, would be best for the job itself.

Question

The Prime Minister would have seen Australian trade in recent years affected in some ways by subsidies in both the United States and Europe. With the breaking down of trade barriers within member nations of the European Economic Community, is that going to get better or worse, the trading situation for Australia, with both the UK and European nations? [end p8]

Prime Minister

Breaking down the barriers within Europe does not mean putting up extra barriers between Europe and the outside world, so there should be no difference as far as the outside world is concerned except that they, too, will have single sets of standards for all products in Europe; they, too, will be able to see what they are; they, too, will have a very big market to which they as well can export. So in fact it is an extra opportunity for them as well as for the people inside Europe.

Tariff barriers between Europe as a whole and other countries must be negotiated down in the GATT, but the whole philosophy behind the EEC is not to make the EEC a protectionist club. The original hopes of those who built it and the hopes of many of those of us still in it, were that by getting down barriers within Europe we could act as an example to get down barriers between Europe and other countries, so that we may work towards freer and more open trade. That, I think, would give you hope rather than anything else.

Agriculture, yes. Agriculture has been protectionist. It has been heavily subsidised. It has in the United States, it has in Europe, it has in Japan.

We made great strides forward in our last European Council Meeting, both to get rid of the surpluses and to prevent new ones from being accumulated. We have dropped the price for agricultural [end p9] commodities and if we have a surplus of any the price is dropped even further. We have got particular quotas for milk products and so we are taking steps to deal with these things. That should have a great impact on the world price.

So as far as the normal non-agricultural products are concerned, 1992—which we steadily work towards—should actually be an extra opportunity for Australia and other countries because they know what the standards will be to get into Europe, and we shall talk about agriculture and getting down remaining barriers at the GATT and the next meeting will be at Montreal before the end of this year.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, could you comment on your visit to the refugee camps in Thailand and what immediate action Britain will be taking about refugees in Hong Kong at this stage?

Prime Minister

I cannot really comment on the refugee camps in Thailand because I have not yet been there. I am going there for very obvious reasons to see them and to see the great international and voluntary effort that is going on to help the people there. Also, I hope to see Prince Sihanouk and to have some talk with him about the prospects for an independent future for Cambodia—a very sad country with a very tragic history. [end p10]

Refugees in Hong Kong: the Vietnamese boat people who have continued to go there have continued to go there in such numbers that I am afraid we have had to say that Hong Kong really cannot go on taking any more and that people who make for that country should not assume that they will have any right to stay there. We have to do that because it would not be fair for Hong Kong otherwise.

Apart from that, obviously we shall have to try to help Hong Kong for those people to go to other countries, sometimes where they would wish to go if they will be taken and some perhaps we shall have to try to see if other countries will relieve the great pressure on Hong Kong.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, considering your good relations with Premier Gorbachev and your comment this morning that you would not find a Silicon Valley in the Soviet Union, do you think that goes well or don't you believe that the Soviets have better economic potential than that?

Prime Minister

I'm sorry! I didn't hear the last point. What I said was a matter of fact. Mr. Gorbachev is trying to work towards more initiative and more personal responsibility and trying to work towards a better market economy. It is obviously going to be a [end p11] very difficult task; it is obviously going to take a time. When you have a country which not only for seventy years but before that has never known a market economy, has never known freedom but has lived under one regime after another where the people have been told what to do, it obviously is not easy to get people who can manage an organisation or who would know what to do to run a freer society or industries on their own initiative because they have no experience.

Yes, it is going to take a time. Yes, they are going to need management, and we shall have to do all we can to help or to have joint ventures or to have visits from them, which we already have, and I hope one day that they will work towards something much much more akin to the kind of economic freedom that we have, but it is going to take much much longer to bring about perestroika than it is glasnost.

Question

Prime Minister, I am sure everybody, especially those of us who live in Brisbane, are quite delighted by the fact that you totally enjoyed EXPO today, but I am just wondering about your traffic accident today. I understand you received quite a jolt. [end p12]

Prime Minister

I didn't!

Platform Speaker

I was in the same car and you didn't notice it; it was very very slight.

Prime Minister

I didn't even recognise what you said! It didn't even jolt me!

Same Questioner

The Queensland police had said that you were involved in a traffic accident this morning. I was simply enquiring as to what happened.

Prime Minister

I did not even notice a jolt.

Platform Speaker

It is perfectly true that on the way from the airport to the hotel this morning, as we were driving along in a convoy a car came out of a side road and grazed the edge of the Prime Minister's car, my side. I noticed it. The Prime Minister, as you see, clearly did not notice it at all. [end p13]

Paul Weatherspoon (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Prime Minister, have you any complaint about the security arrangements on your tour in Australia following the Melbourne incident?

Prime Minister

No.

Same Questioner

None whatsoever? The British press have been criticising the Australian police for the security arrangements. You do not agree with that?

Prime Minister

I have seen these things with a few Irish before. I know what they are. I have indicated what they are. I should not give them too much publicity. They don't succeed. What they do is get a great deal of sympathy for us and our cause.

Same Questioner

So you believe that the security arrangements were adequate in Australia?

Prime Minister

I have no complaints about the security arrangements at all. [end p14]

Question

Prime Minister, the trade unions still play a more central part in the life of this country than they do now in the United Kingdom. Is it your opinion that the Australian Government should go down the road that your own Government has in dealing with the unions?

Prime Minister

It is not my job to tell the Australian Government what to do. I think if they want the kind of unions which we now have, the kind of reduction of restrictive practices which has gone on, far fewer strikes because we have put the trade unions into the hands of their members, then they could in fact have a look at our legislation and see whether it would apply to their circumstances. That is a matter for them.

Question

Prime Minister, what ideas for celebrating the year 2000 in Britain have you been given by your visit to EXPO? Will the Government play a part in the planning of those celebrations or will it be something private? [end p15]

Prime Minister

You have to remember that you do not have more than one EXPO in the world at a time. It is something that goes round. The last one I went to was Vancouver. This is another one.

I suspect that we shall all be celebrating the Millennium, each in our own way. It will really be rather a different kind of celebration from something which is unique in the world at the time it happens and we are beginning to think about how we shall do it and there will be many ideas coming forth.

Question

Prime Minister, you have said that you set out to set a new course for Australian and British relationships. Where do you think they have gone off course?

Prime Minister

I think perhaps we have not had quite such a close relationship as we should have had. I had not realised that I was the first Prime Minister to come on an official visit since Mr. Harold Macmillan came. Perhaps that is a little bit too long.

I think perhaps it has been that we have taken one another for granted. There is a fundamental friendship there, not only because of history but because we have common ideals and really, therefore, we have a common heritage. It is no more our heritage than theirs—it is their heritage too when we talk of things that went on before people came to Australia. [end p16]

When you take things for granted, I think all of a sudden you come up with a jolt—to coin a phase—and see whether things have gone quite right and because we felt very strongly that there is perhaps a new sense of confident nationhood in Australia, as evidenced by the tremendous Bicentennial which has gone the world over, then we thought we could perhaps set ourselves on a new course based on common ideals, mutual respect and high regard and affection and work more closely in the future, and I think both sides have felt that simultaneously, and therefore I think there is a very good chance of us making it happen.

Question

Prime Minister, you said on television yesterday that you would be very surprised if Britain's inflation went up to the Australian level of around 7 percent. When do you think it will start coming down in Britain again and by how far? [end p17]

Prime Minister

As you know, one never makes forecasts of this particular kind.

We, unfortunately went up—just touched 7 percent—for a time in 1985 and, as you know, it came down fairly fast again. We have already taken the steps necessary to bring down inflation. Unfortunately, the way our retail price index is calculated, the steps which bring it down are steps which have the appearance of putting it up because we are one of the few countries that puts the cost of mortgage interest into the RPI, so when you put up the interest rates ultimately to bring a little surplus demand out of the economy, it has the effect of putting it up before it brings it down.

Question

You would not tell me a time at all for when. …

Prime Minister

I should not be so unwise as to accept your invitation to do so!