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NewsHour With Jim Middleton -

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Newshour with Jim Middleton

Interview with Stephen Smith MP.

9 December 2008

JIM MIDDLETON: It's been a turbulent first year in office for the Australian Labor government of
Kevin Rudd from tackling climate change to the global economic crisis, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
and now the prospect of establishing a new relationship with the US Administration of Barack Obama,
all major international challenges that have involved both Prime Minister Rudd and his Foreign
Minister Stephen Smith.

To review the year gone by and the challenges ahead for Australian diplomacy, I spoke to Foreign
Minister Stephen Smith in his office in Canberra.

Minister, thanks once again for your time.

STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure, Jim.

JIM MIDDLETON: You're off to Fiji for a Ministerial Contact Group meeting, I think, on Wednesday.
Fiji budget's just been brought down, there's no provision for an election in 2009 as Frank
Bainimarama has promised. What do you think about that?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I've made the point before that it's very disappointing that there's not, in
our view, sufficient provision for an election in their own funding arrangements. But, we've also
made clear that not just Australia but the Pacific Island Forum remains ready, willing and able to
assist on the election. So, it still remains my view that if the political will is there, then an
election could be held. The problem, of course, is ...

JIM MIDDLETON: But, there is no will. So, does that that mean you'd be prepared, or the Ministerial
Contact Group would be prepared to see the elections put off until 2010?

STEPHEN SMITH: Our starting point will be: we want Commodore Bainimarama and the interim Fiji
government to satisfy the faithful commitment they gave to the Pacific Island Leaders Forum in
Tonga in September 2007 that they'd have an election before the end of the first quarter of next
year. That's still possible if the political will is there, the problem is the political will seems
to be absent. So, I think, we've got to have the conversation with them directly and then make a
judgment as a Ministerial Contact Group and make a recommendation to the Pacific Island Leaders
Forum. At Niue the leaders wanted us to go back in and wanted the chance of considering it, either
before the end of this year or early next year. There'll be consequences which flow from Fiji not
holding an election ...

JIM MIDDLETON: What consequences?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Forum will have to give very serious consideration to what reaction or
response it gives ...

JIM MIDDLETON: But, what more can you do? I mean, there are sanctions, there's outside the Forum
and yet they just keep on thumbing their noses at you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there'll be consequences in terms of the Forum; there'll be consequences in
terms of the Commonwealth because the Commonwealth also has an interest in this matter. You can't
break a faithful, unconditional commitment and not expect that there won't be consequences from
neighbours in the region. What those consequences are time will tell.

JIM MIDDLETON: Fair enough. Let's move on, but before we broaden this out. Some more asylum seekers
have turned up off the Australian coast. What do you say to those people who suggest this is a
consequence of this government's decision to go soft on border protection?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we haven't gone soft on border protection and if the suggestion is that the
government's change of the temporary protection visa arrangements led to an influx then presumably
that would've occurred in the immediate aftermath of the government's policy change in that
respect. But, we had to wait seven or eight or nine months to see boats arrive following our
change. We made the change so far as temporary protection visas were concerned because we thought
that was the sensible thing to do so far as refugees were concerned in Australia. We've kept very
strong border protection arrangements, we've kept Christmas Island, we've kept the excision of the
various islands, and we've done done that because we think that plays into one aspect of the
government's approach which is strong border protection.

But, the other aspect of the government's approach which is, in some respects, much more important
is recognising what brings people to Australia seeking asylum are the so called push factors. We
know we have considerable difficulties in Afghanistan, emerging or growing difficulties in Sri
Lanka and so people are being pushed away from their country of origins.

What we've found over the years is that when we sit down and have good cooperation with our
neighbours, particularly in Indonesia, then we can either reduce or stem the flow. So, we've been
working very closely with Indonesia, but also with other neighbours and partners in the region.
And, we're doing that assiduously.

So, we don't accept the suggestion that what's occurring is occurring as a result of any change of
policy. What's occurring is occurring because we've got seasonal factors but also because the
people smugglers are using different approaches, different techniques. Frankly, their becoming more
sophisticated and we need to become more sophisticated in our cooperation with other governments,
other agencies to stop the flow and that's what we're doing.

JIM MIDDLETON: One of the first things you did on ... or the Rudd Government did on coming to office
was to agree to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Now, China-the Chinese for example-are saying that
Australia's undermining the whole process by effectively demanding developing countries status for
cutting emissions. They're right about that aren't they?

STEPHEN SMITH: No, they're not ...

JIM MIDDLETON: Why not?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly we ratified the Kyoto Protocol as the first act of the new government
and that sent a very good message internationally and regionally that at last Australia had a
government that believed that abating climate change and confronting dangerous climate change was a
sensible economic and social environmental thing to do. And our approach since then has been
consistent which is not just Australia but the international community generally needs to work
together to put in place arrangements to abate dangerous climate change ...

JIM MIDDLETON: But, you led the Australian electorate to believe in campaigning last year that you
would hit on solid targets and deep cuts. Now it appears that, well the global financial crisis ...
the global financial crisis is being used as a pretext to backslide?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we will hit on targets ...

JIM MIDDLETON: (inaudible)

STEPHEN SMITH: ... we're entitled to do that effectively at our own choosing after very serious
deliberation. We've made it clear that we will publish our emissions trading system or our carbon
pollution reduction scheme; we'll publish the details of that in the near future. We'll publish our
targets in the near future and it will be there for all to see. So, people will be able to judge on
the outcomes. But the point we make is: we're prepared to accept our responsibility as a nation to
play our part in abating emissions and confronting dangerous climate change. Other nation-states
have to do that as well whether they're developed economies or developing economies. We can't do it
by ourselves. The world can't do it without India or China or the United States, we all play our
part. And, everyone understands that this will be the subject of serious-and at times
difficult-negotiations. Bali, itself, was difficult; Kyoto was difficult, some of us are old enough
to remember Rio that was difficult. So, Poznan and Copenhagen, they'll be difficult negotiations
but the key thing is is Australia, are other nations prepared to play their part in confronting the
problem. We say we are in the not too distant future the detailed outcomes of our deliberations on
targets and carbon pollution reduction scheme will be there for all to see and for other nations to
judge.

JIM MIDDLETON: Barack Obama's appointing Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, how do you think
she'll go?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we welcome very much her appointment. We congratulate her on the nomination,
of course, she needs to go through a formal Senate process but we don't expect that that'll take
too much time. So I'm very much looking forward to working closely with her, also, looking forward
to continuing to work closely with Defense Secretary, Gates.

JIM MIDDLETON: That's very interesting isn't it? Obama ... Mr Obama should've chosen to keep such a
prominent person in such a key job.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, he's held in very high regard, he's held in high regard by us. Joel Fitzgibbon
and I have worked closely with him, both individually but also as part of our formal ministerial
talks, the so called Osmond Talks. He's a very effective and well regarded Defense Secretary having
a transition of that nature, given the difficult issues that the US Administration has to
confront-Iraq but Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular-I think, is a considerable advantage.

JIM MIDDLETON: Mr Obama campaigned on effectively a surge of American troops into Afghanistan. I
take it that the Australian position still is that regardless of that there will be no more
Australian troops committed to Afghanistan?

STEPHEN SMITH: We're the largest non-NATO contributor, nearly 1100 troops is Oruzgan province. So,
we've made it clear, we don't see the need for us to increase our compliment.

JIM MIDDLETON: That's fair enough. But how does, for example-or in particular one of the great
tragedies of the year, Mumbai-how much more difficult does that make prosecution of the war,
changing and altering the dynamics between India and Pakistan and Afghanistan?

STEPHEN SMITH: I think, firstly whilst we've made it clear we don't see the need for us to increase
our troop compliment, I have made it clear that we are happy to consider more assistance on the
institutional building or the civil capacity building front and, I think, one of the good things
about the statements by the president-elect is that he sees the need for a comprehensive strategy
not just more troops ...

JIM MIDDLETON: Certainly, he does but things are pretty dire in Afghanistan at the moment and the
Taliban are running pretty rabid particularly in the tribal areas. This does really mean, does it
not, that Pakistan has to get its act together? Does it also mean that Pakistan has to allow it to
be used properly as a theatre of the war?

STEPHEN SMITH: We need three things in Afghanistan itself. We need more troops for peace and
security, more civilian and state institution capacity buildings so that the Afghan government-the
Afghan police, the Afghan Army-can manage their own affairs. We also need at some stage the Afghan
political leadership to engage in a political dialogue for a long term enduring peace and
settlement. As well, what we also need is to confront the Pakistan problem. And, I think, it's
become increasingly apparent and in the course of this year that we're not just dealing with
Afghanistan, we're dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

And, to go back to a couple of questions ago, the great danger of course with-in the course of this
year, a savage terrorist attack on Pakistan, a savage terrorist attack on India-is the people
forget that the enemy here is terrorism, that the difficulty here is terrorism not India and
Pakistan. So we've been urging, as I did upon the Pakistan Foreign Minister in that last couple of
days, the need for India and Pakistan to continue their dialogue, to continue to work together, not
to confront each other but to confront terrorism. It's quite clear that in the Pakistan/Afghanistan
border area we have the current hotbed of international terrorism and that needs to be confronted ...

(ends)

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