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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView



3rd April 2005-04-03


MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER GREG TURNBULL: Hello and welcome to Meet The Press. Today, the Minister
for Justice and Customs tells why he's revamped our approach to protecting Australia's maritime
assets and coastline. Defence and Customs working more closely together but still no coastguard.
We'll also talk about the ramifications of the Schapelle Corby case nearing its end in Bali. And
later an expert view of this week's big picture foreign policy speech from the Prime Minister. But
first to what the nation's press are reporting this Sunday April 3. And what a big news day it is,
with the breaking international news that Pope John Paul II has died. The Vatican says the Polish
pontiff died at 5:37 this morning eastern standard time, in his private apartment. John Paul II who
was the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics for 26 years, was the first non-Italian Pope in
450 years. He was the third-longest serving Pope in history. Pope John Paul II dead after a long
illness at the age of 84. In Melbourne the Sunday 'Herald-Sun' like many papers around the country
covers the tragic Australian Navy helicopter crash in Indonesia which has killed nine Australian
defence personnel and injured two others seriously. The helicopter was ferrying an Australian
military medical team on to Nias Island to help earthquake victims. In Sydney the 'Sun-Herald'
carries the details of the drink-driving charge against State Planning Minister and wannabe-premier
Craig Knowles. And the Melbourne 'Age' says the cancer-stricken father of accused drug smuggler
Schapelle Corby will fly to Bali this week to comfort his daughter, who is reported to be suicidal
in a Denpasar prison. Well, our guest this morning is the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator
Chris Ellison. Senator, welcome to the program and thanks for being up so early in Perth.

JUSTICE AND CUSTOMS MINISTER CHRIS ELLISON: Good morning, Greg, good to be on the show.

GREG TURNBULL: First, you reaction to the death of the Pope?

CHRIS ELLISON: Well, I think all men and women of goodwill will mourn the Pope's passing, not just
Catholics. As a Catholic myself, I believe the Pope has been one of the best leaders of the church
that we've seen. He's been a remarkable man, a man who's been accessible to everyone, people from
all walks of life, religions, backgrounds and, of course, as a man who's fought for freedom. His
remarkable work in Eastern Europe and in other places too. He's stood up to totalitarianism and I
think has brought the Catholic Church into the modern age. He will be a hard act to follow. We
certainly mourn his passing.

GREG TURNBULL: Well, how hard an act to follow will he be? Do you think the Church will be looking
for somebody to fill his shoes in his image, or will this signal a change in Church direction?

CHRIS ELLISON: Well, I certainly think that if they can find another John Paul II we'd be doing
very well, because over 26 years he's dealt with so many different problems and done it so well.
Early in his reign he was nearly murdered, he had that assassination attempt, he withstood that.
He's been an outstanding symbol for many people, not just Catholics. But I think if they can find
another John Paul II we'd be doing very well.

GREG TURNBULL: Well, Senator, on this, as I say, very big news day, can we move to the tragedy
that's afflicted the Sea King helicopter in Indonesia last night. What can you tell us about this
accident which has claimed at least at this stage nine Australian Defence Force personnel lives?

CHRIS ELLISON: Well, it's certainly a very sad start to our Sunday with the news not only of the
Pope but of the loss of nine Australian personnel in Sumatra. I understand that a Sea King
helicopter was delivering a medical team to the island of Nias as part of Operation Sumatra Assist.
The Sea King helicopter was from the HMAS 'Kanimbla'. As a result of that crash two personnel were
evacuated, nine are missing, presumed dead. Those two have been evacuated have been taken to the
HMAS 'Kanimbla' which has extensive medical facilities and they're being treated for a number of
injuries, fractures, and, of course, they will receive the best of attention on the 'Kanimbla'. At
this very sad time our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who've been involved in
this crash, not only those who are presumed dead, but those who have been injured. And I think it
highlights yet again just how dangerous the work is that our Australian personnel do overseas and I
think that sometimes we forget that. We've seen recently in the Solomons with the loss of two
officers there and with the officer recently returned from overseas serving with the British air
force, these are reminders of just how dangerous the work is for our people serving overseas. We
can be very proud of the work that they're doing. And in this case we have Australians who have
presumed to have died in what was a humanitarian exercise in the north of Sumatra.

GREG TURNBULL: Any word yet on any indication of the cause of this accident?

CHRIS ELLISON: There is an investigation being conducted into the cause of the accident. I
understand that the Sea King helicopter had undergone a major refit, a major upgrade, but certainly
details as to the cause of the accident are yet to be ascertained.

GREG TURNBULL: Clearly the crew of the 'Kanimbla' will be deeply shocked by this. Will that ship be
staying on?

CHRIS ELLISON: The 'Kanimbla' will be staying on and of course we will continue with our
operations, Sumatra Assist, of course. This is a tragedy but nonetheless we have a job to do there
and we will continue to do that. And as I've mentioned in other cases, we've had loss of personnel,
but we've continued to do the good work that Australia does in the region. And we can be very proud
of the work that our men and women are doing in the Australian Defence Forces and the Australian
Federal Police.

GREG TURNBULL: Well, Senator, yet more news out of Indonesia. Overnight I understand some arrests
of people involved in a people smuggling racket and the prevention of a boat or at least a group of
people, Pakistanis or people from Afghanistan, from coming here. What can you tell us about that?

CHRIS ELLISON: Yes, I can confirm that 14 people have been detained by Indonesian police suspected
of being of Pakistani-Afghanistan background. This is an alleged attempt to bring people illegally
to Australia and demonstrates the very good working relationship that we have with the Indonesian
authorities. Of course we have Australian Federal Police and Australian Immigration authorities
working with the Indonesian authorities. They've done an excellent job in this case in thwarting
what is an alleged attempt to bring people illegally to Australia. It demonstrates that we can't be
complacent and we have to be ever vigilant in protecting Australia's borders. And very good work by
the Indonesian authorities, and we deeply appreciate their cooperation.

GREG TURNBULL: It has one other implication, just quickly before we go to a break. For some time
now the Government's been saying, "Look our policy, our hard-line border protection policy has been
working - there have been no more boats." But here was another one about to come. Do you think we
are seeing the start of another wave?

CHRIS ELLISON: Look, I think it just demonstrates the fact that we have to be ever vigilant and
that our strong border protection policy has to be maintained and people will not rest in
attempting to make money out of people smuggling. That is why it is so important we maintain our
efforts. But we've had a remarkable success in this area. When you compare that we were getting
some 4,000 illegal entrants a year, and, what, in the last four or five years we've only had two
vessels successfully reach the mainland.

GREG TURNBULL: Well, Senator we'll come back to that and other issues after the break. When we
return - another boost for border protection, but, protection from what?

GREG TURNBULL: You're on Meet The Press with Senator Chris Ellison and we're joined by our panel
Radio National Breakfast host Fran Kelly and Jennifer Hewett from the 'Australian Financial
Review'. Well, Senator Ellison, you and your colleague Senator Robert Hill got together through the
week to launch the new Joint Offshore Protection Command, coordinating the Customs and Defence
maritime surveillance operations. Why was such a command centre needed?

CHRIS ELLISON: Well, this came about as a result of a review that the Prime Minister had in
relation to maritime security, and of course it builds on the very good relationship that Customs
has with the Australian Defence Forces. We have a Rear-Admiral in charge of Coastwatch. And, of
course, Russ Crane, who is the Rear-Admiral of Coastwatch, will head the new Joint Offshore
Protection Command. It is making best use of the assets we have and bringing together the very good
personnel that we have in the protection of Australia's borders.

JENNIFER HEWETT, THE 'AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW': Senator, why not go the whole way and have a
coastguard? After all, it's good enough for the US?

CHRIS ELLISON: Well, the US is a very different situation, Jenny. It's a much larger country than
Australia. And of course, we don't want another bureaucracy. We have very good personnel, very good
assets in the Defence services and in Customs. We want to bring them together and maximise the use
of people and assets that we have. Creating another bureaucracy just won't work. When you ask about
a coastguard, certainly Labor's not identified what sort of a coastguard that they want. They have
had five different versions of it, and that's the problem when you talk about a coastguard.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Now, you talked about not being complacent. Obviously we're seeing a bit of a rise
with illegal fishing vessels. The Opposition does say it's a kind of tag and release system. We're
seeing greater numbers and yet nothing really much seems to happen to them.

CHRIS ELLISON: Well, certainly we've had apprehensions in relation to Indonesian fishing vessels in
the north and forfeiture of the vessels. We've been speaking to the Indonesian Government about
this and it was raised at the Indonesian ministerial forum just two weeks ago. And it's certainly
an issue I'll be raising in my visit to Indonesia. But, look, I think we're doing a very good job
in looking after Australia's borders. We've had no evidence of any security threat from these
fishing vessels. Of course we're seeing a surge in the fishing activity and we're addressing that -
we've deployed more assets to the region.

FRAN KELLY, RADIO NATIONAL: Minister, can we turn to the Schapelle Corby case now? We've had the
evidence from the Victorian prisoner John Ford. A lot of people weren't that convinced by it. Is
the AFP still seriously investigating the allegations that there is a drug smuggling ring operating
from our airports and how far along now is that investigation, is it getting anywhere?

CHRIS ELLISON: Well, Fran, the Australian Federal Police take those allegations very seriously.
That investigation is ongoing. I can't comment on the detail of that. But the Australian Federal
Police are continuing to work with the Queensland Police in relation to this. Mr Ford made an
allegation during the course of his evidence in Bali that there was an involvement of a baggage
handler in relation to the drug trafficking concerned. And of course, the Australian Federal Police
take that seriously and they're investigating it.

FRAN KELLY: He also implicated one man Ron Vigenser who said owned the drugs that were in Schapelle
Corby's luggage. Channel Nine has reportedly paid Ron Vigenser some thousands of dollars to be on
'A Current Affair', I think it is. As Justice Minister, are you concerned about that practice, does
that worry you at all?

CHRIS ELLISON: Well, certainly it does concern me where there's an ongoing investigation. Mr
Vigenser has been spoken to by the Australian Federal Police and was named by Mr Ford. But there is
an ongoing investigation. This sort of public airing of operational aspects is not helpful, and I
think that it's best left to the Australian Federal Police to carry out this investigation rather
than some public parade of what people say and who says what. And look, really, it is a matter for
the Australian Federal Police. They're the authority to deal with this.

GREG TURNBULL: If I can interrupt here, Senator Ellison, let's look at what the Federal Police
Commissioner Mick Keelty said some days ago on this very question of the John Ford evidence.

MICK KEELTY: The prisoner made the conclusion that it was connected to the Corby case and overheard
other prisoners talking about the Corby case. So, it's at best hearsay evidence.

GREG TURNBULL: "At best hearsay evidence." I'm just wondering whether you think the Commissioner
was a bit out of line in himself prejudging publicly evidence that was subsequently given in the

CHRIS ELLISON: I think the Commissioner was talking in the context of the investigation at hand and
what the Australian Federal Police had to investigate. You also have to realise that John Ford has
now gone into a court, given evidence and now mentioned a baggage handler and, of course, there are
other aspects of the evidence which need to be investigated. Now that's being followed up by the
Australian Federal Police in conjunction with the Queensland Police. Those comments of the
Commissioner's I took to relate to the investigation and not the case at hand.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Senator, this has obviously captured the public imagination so much, if Schapelle
Corby is found guilty or even if just the current situation, do you think this risks damaging
Australian attitudes towards Indonesia and damaging our relations with Indonesia?

CHRIS ELLISON: Well, I must say that the Indonesian authorities have been very co-operative in
relation to this matter. When I called the Minister for Justice in Indonesia we had a quick
response in relation to the proposal, the discussion we had, and of course that facilitated the
transfer of John Ford from a prison in Victoria to Bali to give evidence. Now, of course, I can't
pre-empt the outcome of a court case in Indonesia, but if there is a finding of guilt, then of
course we'll be looking at a transfer of prisoner agreement with Indonesia, which we're doing

JENNIFER HEWETT: But there is a very strong public perception that the Indonesians are not behaving
correctly in this view and there seems to be a great public view that she's being unfairly treated.
I mean, how do you deal with that as a Government and do you think this risks a backlash from the

CHRIS ELLISON: Well, certainly we respect the Indonesian judicial process and I think that all
Australians would expect other countries to respect our judicial process. In Schapelle Corby's case
she's been represented, she's had the opportunity to bring in evidence. The court adjourned the
hearing to enable fresh evidence to be brought before it. Look, I think the Indonesian authorities
have cooperated with our requests and I don't think a finding of guilt will affect our relationship
with Indonesia.

JENNIFER HEWETT: You don't think so, even though it is such an emotional issue? You don't think
that even if she is found guilty that the Australian public will be very upset and concerned about

CHRIS ELLISON: I think that Australia and Indonesia enjoy a very close relationship and I think
that can deal with issues such as the Schapelle Corby case.

GREG TURNBULL: Even if there is a death penalty, Senator? Even if there's a death penalty?

CHRIS ELLISON: Well, if a death penalty was imposed then of course the Government makes very strong
representations in that regard. I mean, that is what Australian governments of all persuasions have
done over a period of time. Recently, the Prime Minister, John Howard, made personal
representations to Singapore over the death sentence in relation to an Australian national in that
country. Now, I'm not going to pre-empt any outcomes, but I can tell you what the Government's
policy is in relation to any sentence relating to the death penalty. That is, we go into overdrive
in making representations to avoid that being carried out.

GREG TURNBULL: Senator Ellison, we're just about out of time. I thank you sincerely for braving the
Perth dawn to come in and talk to us this morning, particularly with so much important news around.
I wish you well in your visit - I think today you're going to China to talk free trade and then on
to Indonesia where you'll be talking with your counterpart on a range of matters including that
prisoner transfer.

CHRIS ELLISON: Yes, that's right.

GREG TURNBULL: Thanks very much indeed for coming in.

CHRIS ELLISON: Good to be on your program, thank you.

GREG TURNBULL: Coming up after the break - Dr Malcolm Cook from the Lowy Institute casts an eye
over John Howard's landmark foreign policy speech. And our cartoon of the week is from Bill Leak in
the 'Australian'. It also goes to foreign policy. He has deputy sheriff John Howard saying with an
American drawl, "Yo, Lex, seems a lot of folks believe we're getting too Americanisated." With
Foreign Minister Downer's New Yorkish response, "Say what?"

GREG TURNBULL: You're on Meet The Press. John Howard's big foreign policy speech to the Lowy
Institute on Thursday was keenly scrutinised by analysts around the nation. Among them, the Lowy
Institute's own Program Director for Asia and the Pacific, Dr Malcolm Cook. Dr Cook, welcome to the


GREG TURNBULL: Well, this speech was it just steady as she goes, more of the same, or was there new
territory covered?

DR COOK: I think it was mostly a review of the foreign policy since 1996. The new things was it was
delivered in a more confident comprehensive manner. So I think it was mostly steady as she goes
with a little bit more gusto and confidence.

FRAN KELLY: Malcolm, the visits this week by both the Indonesian and the Malaysian leaders have
been hailed by some as proof that Australia's stocks in Asia are rising. Yet just prior to the
visit, the Indonesian Prime Minister Badawi has told ABC television, made a few comments, one of
them, while Australia is always talking about wanting to be part of Asia he says it just hasn't
been able to show it. Do we have another Dr Mahathir in the making here?

DR COOK: Yes, that certainly took Australia by surprise. I think when Dr Mahathir retired after 21
years there was great hope that this would open up the flood gate of warmer relations with Malaysia
- like the pre-Mahathir period. I think Badawi's comments showed two things. First of all there's
deeper ambivalence towards Australia's role in Asia within the Malaysian foreign policy and foreign
policy administration, and also if I was the first Malaysian prime minister to visit Australia in
21 years I may make those kind of comments domestically before coming to cover myself from any kind
of nationalist criticism.

FRAN KELLY: There is an important summit though, coming up at the end of this year The East Asian
summit. Australia doesn't have a seat at the table yet. It wants one. Do these comments suggest
that Malaysia may not necessarily be backing Australia's presence there?

DR COOK: It's particularly important as Malaysia is hosting it in Kuala Lumpur next year. I think
it was two weeks ago Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak mentioned that he wasn't sure whether
Australia, New Zealand or India would be invited. If you look at those comments and Badawi's, I
wouldn't quite call it broadside, but questioning of Australia's position, maybe there's a problem
in the problem coming.

GREG TURNBULL: Let's call it a broadside and part of that broadside was directed at Australia's
close relationship with the United States. Let's have a look at how the Prime Minister, the
emphasis he put on that relationship in that speech to your institute on Thursday night.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD: From the moment of our election in 1996, as a deliberate act of policy,
my Government intensified Australia's post-Cold War relationship with the United States. Australia
today has never been better placed to put our views to the United States and have them heard.

GREG TURNBULL: Well, there it was from the Prime Minister himself saying, you know, from the moment
he was elected it wasn't all about, but his focus was on improving an already good relationship
with the United States. Is that part of the problem that's dogged the Howard Coalition's
relationship with Asia, and is that continuing?

DR COOK: I think it's continuing but I would think it's probably moderating as well. One of
President Yudhoyono's first foreign policy statements when he was elected last October in Indonesia
was that he wanted stronger relationships with the United States and to have normalisation of
military ties. Indonesia has also supported Australia's invitation to the East Asian summit. So, I
think, there probably still are some worries especially in South-East Asia about our close
relationships with the United States, but I don't think it is probably as severe as a few years

JENNIFER HEWETT: Of course, the Howard Government, Dr Cook, argues precisely the opposite, that our
good relations with the US give us more of a voice in South-East Asia. Do you think there's any
truth to that?

DR COOK: I think South-East Asia's foreign policy landscape is changing quite quickly. In Indonesia
there may be signs that is starting to happen with Yudhoyono's strong comments on better
relationships with the United States, and obviously Singapore has always been a strong friend of
the United States and a strong friend of Australia within South-East Asia. I would think, though,
obviously, Malaysia still may be the one that hasn't been convinced within South-East Asia.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Of course, the relationship with Indonesia is always a very, very sensitive one
for Australia. How do you think that the new government in Indonesia and how we are working with
them is going at the moment?

DR COOK: It seems to be going very well. Unfortunately on the back of a couple of tragedies, of
course. I think there are two things to note. One - that most people are convinced that Yudhoyono
will serve out his 5-year term and he may even be the frontrunner for the 2009 election - so that
may mean he may run Indonesia until 2014. So, if warm relations with leaders are important it seems
we're in a good position. The second thing I think, with the discussions of a bilateral FTA and the
new more comprehensive security agreement, both sides are trying to institutionalise warm relations
between the leaders, which is a little bit different to the Keating-Suharto period which was more

FRAN KELLY: Do you think that's in large part because of Australia's clear economic strength in the
region. Is that why the other countries in the region know now that they need these warm relations
- or is it - how much is it economic, how much is it security?

DR COOK: I would think if you're in north-east Asia, without a doubt Australia's 14 years of
uninterrupted growth - that's quite a record - that's a key factor. Our three largest export
markets, I think, if projections follow out for this year, will be Japan, China and South Korea,
the three north-east Asian giants. For South-East Asia, especially Indonesia, Australia is probably
not a major economic player. I think Australia's undoubted economic success plays larger in
north-east Asia.

FRAN KELLY: Do you think the positive vibes we're getting from President Yudhoyono are reflected in
the Indonesian population? I mean, there was a lot of antagonism towards Australia post East
Timor's independence. Is that ebbing away?

DR COOK: That's a bit hard to measure. I haven't had a poll on that one yet. But I would think
there are certainly deep concerns remaining in Indonesia, not only within the population but even
within the Government, especially in security, military areas over questions about Australia's
interests in the West Papua and so forth. Without a doubt the Yudhoyono relations with Australia
are very strong or seem to be very strong. I'm not sure that spills down throughout the whole
Government or into the population.

JENNIFER HEWETT: In terms of our population one of the things that the Lowy Institute poll
purported to show this week was that Australians are very sceptical about Australia's relations
with America and the fact we follow too much what they said. Were you surprised by that?

DR COOK: I think we were all quite surprised. There were three things that surprised in the poll -
the United States results, the warmth towards China and the strength of the warmth towards China
and the environmental results. If you look at the US results, they were consistent across a range
of questions. There wasn't only one question where Australians raised doubts about our closeness to
the United States and what that means for our foreign policy or even our culture. It was across the
board. That is something I think the Government will have to think about.

GREG TURNBULL: Dr Cook, we're out of time. Thanks very much indeed for joining us on Meet the Press
this morning. That's our program. Our thanks to Dr Malcolm Cook from the Lowy Institute. And to our
panellist, Radio National Breakfast host Fran Kelly and Jennifer Hewett from the 'Australian
Financial Review'. Until next week, goodbye from Meet the Press.