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Downer reluctant to comment on Corby case -

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Downer reluctant to comment on Corby case

Reporter: Tony Jones

TONY JONES: Back now to our top story. Schapelle Corby has made an emotional final plea to her
judges who are reported at different times during her short address to have listened impassively,
chatted animatedly with each other and in one case read a book. This against the backdrop of the
daily circus of police, media and audience participation which has turned their courtroom into a
public theatre. Moving at times from lows for to high drama and while all that was happening, in
the same town the parallel drugs case of the 'Bali nine' was continuing to produce its own steady
diet of headlines. Today's were in response to police allegations that some of the accused had
travelled to from Indonesia last year on false passports. Well, joining us now from his home in the
Adelaide Hills is the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. Mr Downer, what went through your mind as
you watched Schapelle Corby's final appeal to her judges?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well , it was a very emotional appeal, of course. I could see that, and all I saw
was a grab on the ABC News tonight, so I haven't seen more than that. I have some concern with this
whole idea of trials in the media. I suppose in our country we tend not to do that and cameras
typically aren't allowed into our courts because, you know, sections of trials are taken and
presented to the public and the public becomes - they draw their own conclusions, whatever those
conclusions may be. Whereas in a court, typically, it's a matter for the judges and where there's a
jury system, which Indonesia doesn't have, the jury to consider the evidence put by the prosecution
and the defence and weigh that up and make a decision. There is obviously a lot of evidence being
presented to the court and the judges will have to consider all of that, not just one piece of
evidence that's presented.

TONY JONES: Do you share any of the doubts and disquiet expressed by many Australians about the
case against her?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I'm not going to say what I think because that's really not the issue. The
issue is that this is a matter before the court in Indonesia. There are three judges presiding over
this case and those judges are hearing the case for the prosecution and for the defence and they'll
have to make a decision. I'm not, you know, privy to all of the presentation that's been made to
the court. I obviously know a certain amount about the case. But, look, this is a matter for the
court. We use an expression in our country "sub judice" and we do not in our country talk about
cases which are before the courts and speculate on them. We leave those cases to the courts and to
the judges and, in our case, the jury. So in this case I'll take the Australian approach and leave
it to the judges to resolve.

TONY JONES: Of course in this case there's an element of open theatre to all of this. It is
reported the judges were completely unmoved. They were talking among themselves. One even chose to
read a book during the short few minutes of her appeal. Given that there is widespread sympathy for
Schapelle Corby in Australia, does the Corby case have the potential, do you believe, to damage
Australian-Indonesian relations?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I'm not sure about that. I mean, I agree with the kind of theme that you're
running here that there is quite a lot of emotion about it. I get an enormous amount of emails
about the Schapelle Corby case and I've just been to a meeting tonight where people have been
saying to me that they think she is innocent. Of course that's on the basis of what people hear in
the media and this is really a matter for both the prosecution and the defence. You have to look at
the totality of the information that's presented to a court even to draw your own conclusions, let
alone for the judges to draw their conclusions. What we do is we, under our consular
responsibilities, keep a watching brief on the case and if there are any anomalies in terms of the
justice of the case, in terms, if you like, of the legal procedures, then we would always take
those up with the relevant government. In this case, the Indonesian government, but we haven't had
so much complaints about the actual procedures in the court or the way the case has been handled.
What we've had is complaints - well, really an expression of view from many people in Australia
that they believe that Schapelle Corby is innocent. But, you know, there are other Australians
before courts. There's an Australian, for example, who's been sentenced to death in Singapore. It
hasn't been on TV, so I don't get any emails about that.

TONY JONES: No.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: So you can't really allow the media or, you know, the fact that things are in the
media to determine the outcome of court cases. You've got to leave that to the judges.

TONY JONES: What's the policy, though, on getting Australians out of sticky situations in foreign
jails because you'll recall the Prime Minister diverted his plane to the Maldives on the September
of 2002 to make a personal plea to the Maldives President to reconsider the case of a man called
Mark Scanlon who at that time was serving life in a very crowded jail after being caught at the
airport in the Maldives with 57 grams of cannabis oil in his luggage.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, you know, you've asked me about that out of the blue and I can't remember
the full details of the case - which isn't much of a defence - but I can't remember the full
details of the case. I'd have to remind myself of that -

TONY JONES: Can you recall that the Prime Minister diverted his plane to the Maldives to talk to
the President of the Maldives on behalf of Mr Scanlon?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I don't know if the plane was diverted, but the plane went to the Maldives and I
certainly remember raising the case with the Maldives Foreign Minister as well. But I just don't
remember the full details of the case. But, look, it's not a case of us intervening on whether
someone is innocent or guilty. That's always a matter for the courts. If a sentence is handed down
which in the end we regard as completely unreasonable, there are circumstances where we might
intervene. The most obvious case is if somebody is sentenced to death. We will always intervene as
we are in Singapore, pleading for clemency to the President of Singapore and in the case of Vietnam
we are pleading for clemency there. So there are circumstances where we might decide because we are
concerned about the sentence being unduly harsh where we might intervene.

TONY JONES: Well, I mean, the intervention here was pretty clear. I mean, the Prime Minister went
to the island. Mr Scanlon was serving life for drugs in his luggage that he didn't even deny were
his. Now, I'm wondering, therefore, is there some kind of policy where from time to time the
government, even the Prime Minister, will intervene in this case to get a man who admitted more or
less he was guilty out of jail?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Not if somebody is convicted will we intervene and say that person shouldn't have
been convicted unless we have deep concerns about the justice system in that country. We think that
there has been a disgraceful miscarriage of justice. I'm sure that wasn't the case here. I think,
look, my recollection is very sketchy about that case. I could have looked it up if you had warned
me you were going to ask me about that. My recollection is that maybe -

TONY JONES: I should be fair to you here. I mean, I wasn't even aware of this case until this
evening and I received this email about it and started to look into it and of course here we have a
case where the government directly intervenes with the President of another country, a Muslim
country, to get someone who more or less admitted they were guilty out of jail when they are
serving a life sentence. I'm wondering, is that a policy?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: No, it's not. My sketchy recollection of it is it was to do with the severity of
the sentence. Now, in some circumstances - but I don't remember the details of the case at all -
but in some circumstances we might do that after somebody has been convicted if we think the
sentence is unduly harsh. That does happen. That happens very occasionally, but it does happen. But
let me make this point -

TONY JONES: Could it happen in the Corby case if you decide that her sentence is unduly harsh?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, she hasn't been convicted and she hasn't been sentenced. So that's really
at this stage a hypothetical question and I really, really don't think we should be, you know,
giving commentary about the case as it is currently before the court. When that case is completed
and if she's convicted, there'll no doubt be an appeal and once that appeal is resolved, then we'll
have a look at the situation. But certainly during the case - during the time the case is being
heard, it's never going to be appropriate and, frankly, I don't think it would be remotely helpful
to an Australian if we started intervening and trying to, you know, influence the outcome of the
case. The only circumstances I say - it is worth making the point again though - the only
circumstances where we would do that is where we thought the court processes themselves were
particularly egregious.

TONY JONES: Let's move on to the latest claims from Indonesian police about the "Bali nine" trips
to Bali or Indonesia and false passports. Has your department come to any conclusion late today
about these alleged trips?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: We've come to some conclusions about the passports. What the department has been
able to do, it has a very good system in place, it can go back to the issuing of these passports
and it can do analyses as to whether it's possible these people have been issued somehow or another
in a fraudulent way with more than one passport and, first of all, they have established that all
of these people were issued with a passport. There have been cases where some of them had their
passports renewed, but there's no case where any of these people have in their possession two
Australian passports that have been issued by the department. Now, they could in theory have -
well, they could have the passport, of course, of another country that we don't know. They could, I
suppose, in theory -

TONY JONES: Weren't the Indonesian police claiming they were holding passports in false names?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: But whether they're Australian passports or not, that I don't know, and we are
asking for more information from the Indonesian police. We haven't got that information yet. What I
am sure of is that these people do not have more than one passport in whatever name it might be
that has been issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, either in Australia or
overseas.

TONY JONES: Mr Downer, this was one of the most extraordinary things about this whole affair. The
Indonesian police made these claims as if they were facts. Did they provide the government with any
evidence: flights, dates, times, immigration documents, anything that might have helped your
investigation at all and backup the claims they are making?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: No, they haven't, and we are trying to get more information from the Indonesian
police in the event that - look, there are several things that could have happened here. Perhaps
they have passports of another country in other names. I don't know whether they do or they don't
or they have fake passports, but not real passports that somehow have deceived the Indonesian
authorities. I just don't know that and we're seeking that information. Of course what we are first
of all concerned about is hearing this story in the media, which is how I heard it, the integrity
of our passport system. But I think in this particular case from the work that the department has
done in the last 24 hours, the integrity of the passport system is very much in tact.

TONY JONES: But sounds like the Indonesian police have impugned the integrity of the Australian
passport system with these statements. Not only that, they've made very damaging claims about the
people who are alleged to have done these things. You're telling us they haven't provided you with
any information at all to help your own investigations?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Not yet, no. We are seeking that information from them.

TONY JONES: So it doesn't sound like they are cooperating.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, they are - I mean, they have of course have been enormously co-operative
with the Australian Federal Police in terms of tracking down drug-trafficking syndicates, which is
the task. Now of course whether these nine are guilty or not, that's a matter for the court. But in
any case there's been a very high degree of co-operation. In terms of the statement that was made
by an Indonesian policeman about the passports, we need more information about that, but what we've
done on the basis of that statement is to have absolutely check our own passport system and we can
find no anomalies there at all, including, by the way checking who actually issued those passports
and none of those passports was issued by any relative of any of the people who've been arrested.

TONY JONES: Do you know whether Myran Sukumaran had any access to blank or fresh passports when he
worked in the Sydney passport office for six months in the year 2000?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: No, we don't think he did at all, no. I think that's unlikely in the extreme. We
have absolutely no evidence of that at all.

TONY JONES: Is it true, as the opposition are claiming, that 2,000 passports simply went missing in
the mail during part of that period?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I don't know about part of that period. We issue a million passports a year. A
tiny number - I don't recall the figure, it might be 2,000 - over a period may have gone missing,
but it's a tiny percentage. I'm sure it's a lesser percentage than was the case when the opposition
was once the government of Australia because we have gradually been improving - substantially
improving - the integrity of the passport system and we're about to make one further very
substantial improvement by introducing biometric passports. So, no, all of the time we're improving
the system. The fact they've gone missing doesn't mean they've ended up in the hands of crooks
who've been using those passports. In some cases they would have been returned, you know, to the
sender and so on.

TONY JONES: Does anyone know what happened to them?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I don't have that information with me tonight, but I mean, of course, this
isn't a new phenomenon. I think what we've seen is a progressive reduction in the number of
problems we've had with the issuing and posting out of passports to people. Remember, we're talking
about a million a year that we issue, it's a very, very large number...

TONY JONES: Yes but, Mr Downer, if 2000 of them have gone astray and some of them might be in the
possession of drug dealers, some of them might be in the possession of terrorists. We simply don't
know where they are.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I think you'll find that if there is any passport that has gone missing and
the person you send it to hasn't received the passport, the probability is around 100 per cent that
they would report that and then you can obviously cancel that passport. I mean, it's not a major
problem. It's obviously a great inconvenience to the person - and presented to the public and the
public becomes, you know, they draw their own conclusions, whatever those conclusions may be,
whereas in a court, for the person to whom the passport has been sent, but it's obviously quite
easy to cancel the passport. It's not such a technically complicated thing, even if the opposition
thinks it might be.

TONY JONES: Finally - and judging by one of your earlier answers, it does seem that Myran
Sukumaran's family, who do work in the passport office as well, have somehow been dragged into this
investigation. Is that correct?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I don't know if they've been dragged into an investigation. We can easily
establish through the systems that the department has in place who was responsible for issuing the
passports. That has been checked in the case of these nine people and no relation of his has been
involved with the issuing of any of these passports.

TONY JONES: Alexander Downer, we thank you very much for taking the time to come and talk to us
tonight. We'll have to leave it there. Thanks for that.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: It's a pleasure.