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Steven Smith joins Insiders -

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Steven Smith joins Insiders

Broadcast: 15/06/2008

Reporter: Barrie Cassidy

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith joins Insiders to discuss recent political developments in Zimbabwe
and the Federal Government's efforts to halt Japan's whaling program.

Video not available due to technical problems.

BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: And now to our program guest, and the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith,
has just returned to the country after two weeks overseas.

He's been to Rome, Paris, London and the Middle East, including both Iraq and Afghanistan.

And he joins us now from Perth.

Minister good morning, welcome.

STEPHEN SMITH, FOREIGN MINISTER: Good morning, Barrie, how are you?

BARRIE CASSIDY: We'll start where the news began and that is in Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe says
the opposition will never govern and he's prepared to go to war if necessary.

That does seem to be quite an escalation in the tensions there.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well he has said things along these lines before. But this is really the starkest
he's said it.

And it just confirms my feeling for the last few weeks which is that the brutal Mugabe regime won't
accept the will of the Zimbabwe people.

I think it puts more pressure on the neighbouring African states, the South African Development
Community states, and the African Union states to really try and put pressure on Mugabe to accept
the will of the people.

We've seen since the first round run-off a climate of intimidation, oppression, the arrest for the
fifth time of Mr Tsvangirai, the arrest of their Secretary General of the party, Mr Bitti.

So all of this is just Mugabe making it clear he won't accept the will of the people.

I think the African Union states and the South African Development Community states now have to up
their efforts to try and ensure we get something close to an election, where there's some
reasonable participation so far as the Zimbabwe people is concerned.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And beyond those African nations and they haven't done a whole lot up until now,
beyond those Australia, countries like the UK, what can they do?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well Australia, the United Kingdom, we've been at the forefront of trying to put
pressure through sanctions and diplomatic measures and if Mugabe continues along these lines, I'm
quite happy for Australia to be looking at what further measures we can take.

But the problem, Barrie is this, whenever the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia act, and
we act in advance of or separately from the African Union states, Mugabe seeks to use that in a
domestic political way to get an advantage.

So the primary responsibility in our view has to start with the South African development community
and African Union states and we urge them, given these most recent remarks and the arrest of
Tsvangirai and the arrest of Bitti, to start placing more pressure on the brutal Mugabe regime.

BARRIE CASSIDY: There was a survey out this week that showed that 87 per-cent of Australians want
your Government to take international legal action against Japan over whaling.

Now, with such an extraordinary level of support, why don't you get on with it?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, because I'm sure Barrie, if you took a poll you would probably find that 99 to
100 per-cent of Australians would want whaling by the Japanese in the great Southern Oceans to
finish.

And that's our commitment, that's our public policy objective.

That's what we want to do. We want to stop the Japanese whaling.

And we've announced a range of measures where we're seeking to persuade the Japanese to do that.
International legal action is one possibility. Currently, with the agreement of the Japanese, we're
going through to see whether we can exhaust both bilateral and multilateral diplomatic measures to
see whether we can come to an agreement or a solution.

So we haven't...

BARRIE CASSIDY: What's stopping you from moving right on to the international action, the legal
action?

Is it that the relationship is important to do any more than simply say we agree to disagree?

STEPHEN SMITH: We're not saying just that we agree to disagree. We're also saying we're pursuing
diplomatic measures to see if we can find a solution.

We have not discounted international legal action. It's one of the array of measures that we have
out there.

And I've made it clear to my Japanese counterpart, Mr Komura, I've been to Japan twice, I saw him
again in Paris over the last few days.

We've made it clear that we want the Japanese to cease whaling. We've also made it clear that
international legal action is one of the measures that we have available to us and we continue to
give consideration to that.

But what we want, and I'm sure what Australians want is to get the Japanese to cease whaling and we
are applying an array of measures to try and achieve that objective.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But fact is though that you're doing no more than what the Howard government did.
You're adopting the same rhetoric and yet you gave a very clear impression in the run up to the
last election that you would do more?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I don't think that's right, Barrie. We know that over the 10, 11, 12 years
that the Howard government was in office, they effectively did nothing.

And the Liberal Opposition were very critical of us when we announced that we would send the
Oceanic Viking down as a monitoring exercise to gather evidence for potential use in an
international legal case.

I think that the action you have seen over the last six months has gone far and above the inaction
that we saw over the preceding 10 years.

But we continue to have as an objective the cessation by the Japanese of whaling in the Great
Southern Oceans. We're using diplomatic measures to try and achieve that, but we have an array of
other measures, whether it's the appointment of an envoy, whether it's international legal action
to affect that.

There is also of course the discussions coming up in the next few weeks in the International
Whaling Commission where again Australia will be playing a very robust part. They will be part of
our multilateral measures to seek to persuade the Japanese to stop wailing in the Southern Oceans.

I think the key thing here, Barrie, is what's the ultimate objective?

The ultimate objective is to get them to stop whaling.

Whether that's achieved by diplomatic measures, achieved by international legal action, is in some
respects neither here nor there. The key thing is the objective and we continue to pursue that and
pursue that very diligently and actively.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay. The Prime Minister then went on to Indonesia, and the travel advisories
became a bit of an issue. The Indonesian President himself said the country has returned to normal.
You'd have to give weight to that point of view, wouldn't you?

STEPHEN SMITH: It's not the first occasion that the Indonesians have expressed that point of view.

When I had a formal meeting with Foreign Minister Wirajuda in Perth in January February when we
formally signed the Lombok Treaty he made the same point when we had our joint press conference.

But our travel advisory whether it's for Indonesia or any other country, we do objectively. We
consider all the relevant circumstances.

They're reviewed on an ongoing basis and they're published as advice to Australians. So we of
course understand what they're saying, but we continue to set our advisories in the manner in which
they've been set for some considerable period.

Uppermost in our minds here is the safety and security of Australians when they're travelling
overseas. We publish that advice and that's to enable them to, enable Australians to take that into
account when they're making their judgements about travel.

BARRIE CASSIDY: You've just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places. Are you
absolutely convinced that Australia's job in a combat sense was done in Iraq?

STEPHEN SMITH: Yes. I spoke to some of our troops who are returning from Iraq. I told them that the
Government and Australians were very proud of the fine work that they'd done.

When I spoke, for example, to General Petraeus, the International Force commander, he was very,
very complimentary of the good work that our troops had done.

But we've implemented our election commitment to withdraw the Overwatch Battle Group but at the
same time when I was there, I announced $165 million package over three years to increase our
contribution on the nation building or civil reconstruction front.

And we think that's a very important contribution.

We of course remain open to what more we can do on the civil or reconstruction or capacity building
front. We believe that's very important. But I had a very good meeting with the Iraqi Deputy Prime
Minister, and I have to say that all of the advice I got in Iraq was that things are much better
now than they have been for some considerable period.

And people were, whilst they understand it's a difficult security situation, were very optimistic
about the potential future that the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people now have.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well you probably can't say that about Afghanistan. You're clearly worried about
incursions from Pakistan into Afghanistan and then retreating again.

What can you do to better protect Australian troops from that sort of activity?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, clearly and this is a point that I made not just in Paris for the Afghan
conference, but we've made it previously, we have to have in Afghanistan both an international
community commitment on the military enforcement side, but also, an international community
commitment on the nation building or capacity building or reconstruction side and that's what the
Paris conference was all about.

When we now look at Afghanistan, in some respects we look at Afghanistan stroke Pakistan, because
our troops are in the south, adjoining the border area and we are very worried about conditions in
Pakistan on that border area.

I think we've now got to start looking at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, not just as
a bilateral issue between those two nation, but a regional issue on which the international
community has to play a role.

I happened to have a conversation with the Pakistan Foreign Minister when I was in Paris for the
Afghan conference. I think the Pakistan Government is only too well aware of the significant
Australian and international community concern about what's occurring in that border region.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Are you saying they won't necessarily resist that sort of approach then, if you
take a more regional approach to it?

STEPHEN SMITH: No, I think we do have to now engage very substantially the Pakistan Government.

At the very beginning of this year of course we were all shocked by the assassination of Mrs
Bhutto, and I thought in the immediate aftermath of that that in my conversations with Pakistan
officials that there was a realisation that this was now a threat to Pakistan itself not just a
threat in the outlying regions or a threat to Afghanistan.

And I think that point needs to be driven home, that this is potentially a threat to Pakistan
itself.

I think we've got to engage the Pakistan Government more on this front, both Australia, but also
the international community. Because it does present not just risks to Australian troops in the
south, but there's no doubt that the Afghanistan area is now the hotbed of international terrorism,
and it's really that point which makes Australia's commitment to Afghanistan a long term
commitment, so strong, because that terrorism can move very quickly to the south, to the south east
of Asia, where we have already been on the wrong side of terrorist activity in Indonesia.

BARRIE CASSIDY: The one other issue that the Prime Minister raised on his trip. In retrospect, was
it a mistake to link this idea of an Asian union with the European Union, to even mention the
European community in this context?

Did that send a wrong signal to the region and in fact raise suspicions?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I don't think that either his speech or his supplementary comments did that. I
mean, the point that the Prime Minister and I have been making about the Asia Pacific community and
the regional arrangement is we've got currently a series of diverse arrangements which overlap. But
there's not one, and all of those play their role. There's not one particular regional arrangement
where all of the key players are involved, where we can talk about not just economic matters, but
also strategic and security matters.

So, for example, you don't have India in APEC. I mean one of the things looking forward as you look
at this century being a century where economic and strategic influence potentially shifts to China
and India, where is, for example, the one regional arrangement where we have

China, Japan, India, the United States, Australia and Indonesia all sitting round the table at the
same time?

It's really that sort of objective that we're looking down the track to.

And I thought the Prime Minister's initiative was very positive and important in this sense - we
know that those changes are occurring in this century, and for Australia's long term national
security and strategic interests we're much better off being active than simply waiting and
responding.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Just finally, on support for the car industry and it does appear as if there is
protectionist sympathy within the Government at moment, you don't see the support for that car
industry in any way hypocritical?

You're pushing trade talks or liberalisation of trade through the Doha round but you're keeping up
the tariff walls at home?

STEPHEN SMITH: No, absolutely not, Barrie. We are absolutely committed to getting a good outcome
from the Doha round. We've been making that clear.

And when I started my recent overseas trip, I started in Rome with the Food Security Conference,
and one of the key points we made there was to make sure we have got decent food supply and food
security, further trade liberalisation in the agricultural area is absolutely important.

What we're doing...

BARRIE CASSIDY: But that's what you're saying overseas, but I make the point that what you're doing
at home, you're giving $35 million to Toyota and the suggestion is that the tariffs will stay at 10
per cent.

STEPHEN SMITH: None of that is inconsistent with what we've been saying on the trade front.

For a long time successive Australian governments of both political persuasions have made available
to the car industry research and development assistance.

It's not inconsistent with what we do in the WTO and in the case of the green car fund, what we're
trying to do here is offset climate change, is have new technological developments which will be
emissions friendlier and also cheaper when it comes to petrol prices.

But there's nothing that we're doing on that front which is inconsistent with our trade
liberalisation arguments, whether it's in food security, whether it's in the agricultural industry
or whether it's generally.

We very strongly believe that trade liberalisation is to Australia's economic interests, but also
in the interests of the international community generally.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay, we're out of time but thanks for your time this morning.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Barrie. Thanks very much.