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Stephen Smith on Indian terrorism threat

Broadcast: 28/02/2010

Reporter: Barrie Cassidy

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith discusses the terrorism threat for India, which threatens to disrupt
Australia's sporting schedule.

BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: The Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, joins us now from our Perth studio.
Minister, good morning.

What's the current thinking in the Federal Government about all this?

STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning, Barrie. Yes, there are some very significant sporting events in India
in the course of this year. Our travel advisory for India alerts people to the risk of terrorist
attacks, which we've seen in India in the past. We've been working very closely with the sporting
associations, whether it's the hockey association, whether it's the Commonwealth shooting
association ... Commonwealth federation sporting competition's just finished, or the Commonwealth
Games Association itself making sure the players, the athletes and the associations are armed with
all of the most recent and up to date advice so they can make decisions about participation.

BARRIE CASSIDY: There is an issue though isn't there, particularly with the cricketers that those
who are affiliated cricketers get advice from the Federal Government, but then you have the
freelancers, the people like Matthew Hayden and so on. What happens with them?

STEPHEN SMITH: We've been very careful since the terrible attack on the Sri Lankan team which
included some Australians, a couple of umpires and Trevor Baylis, the coach, to make sure
Australian cricketers participating in events like the IPL, that through the Australian Cricket
Association and through the state associations, that they have access to the same advice that an
Australian touring team would have on a formal tour. We've done that; we changed that procedure in
the aftermath of the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore last year.

STEPHEN SMITH: We're in the process of doing that now, so that individual players can make their
own judgment armed with our advice so far as IPL security matters are concerned.

BARRIE CASSIDY: It seems you're sufficiently concerned enough about this that you're planning as I
understand it a trip to India. Is that as early as tomorrow?

STEPHEN SMITH: Yes. I'll be leaving Perth tomorrow for my third trip to India as Foreign Minister.

We have a very important relationship with India. We have a strategic partnership with India. We're
trying to take that to the front rank of our international relationships. But also we're suffering
very much in terms of our reputation and standing in India because of the recent difficulties we've
had with attacks with Indian students in Australia, particularly in Melbourne.

But also I want to have conversations with relevant Indian ministers about the planning for the
Commonwealth Games. I'll also be inspecting some of the Commonwealth Games facilities, but I'll
also be taking the opportunity to be having a look at one of the Australian games, Australia versus
India game, which we've turned into a friendship game as part of our public diplomacy in India.

One of the world hockey cup games. Because in very many respects, we're using the world hockey cup
as in a sense a dry run for preparations for Commonwealth Games security arrangements.

So I'll be leaving tomorrow and be in India for three days this week.

GIDEON HAIGH, CRICKET COMMENTATOR: Minister, I note you've made reference to the attacks on Indian
students in Australia. Do you encounter the attitude among Indian officials that Australia is ill
placed to be calling anywhere unsafe these days?

STEPHEN SMITH: No. If you like, at government or official level there is very much an understanding
that behind these attacks is not an all pervading racism or racist approach. We have acknowledged
that in some small number of these attacks there have been some racist overtones, but we regard
ourselves and hold ourselves out as a safe place where people, whether they come from India or
elsewhere, can get a very good educational and Australian experience.

The Indians are very conscious of security matters, whether it is associated with sporting events
or other things.

I've been very pleased with the cooperation we've had with the Indian authorities in terms of the
coordination and run up to planning for the Hockey World Cup, but also the Commonwealth Games.

So we're satisfied with the coordination, the cooperation we've received to date. We are certainly
not lecturing India or anyone else. It is a most regrettable fact of modern life that any major
sporting event, whether it's the Hockey World Cup in Delhi or a Sydney Olympics or a Melbourne
Commonwealth Games, there is a threat of terrorist or other attack. We have to be absolutely
vigilant in terms of our preparations so far as security is concerned.

ROY MASTERS, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: Minister, with relation to that threat that you refer to there,
an International Tennis Federation report on terrorism said that sport has more to fear with
contests between nations, as opposed to contests between champion individual athletes. In other
words, where national flags are waved. So we've got more to fear say from the Commonwealth Games in
Delhi than with international ... with the Twenty20 competition, the IPL in India, where it's a
contest involving champion athletes from diverse nations.

STEPHEN SMITH: We don't graduate them in that way. Whenever we've got Australians travelling
overseas, athletes participating in sporting events, we try and make sure we alert them to the
travel advice that we have.

We also, when it comes to organised sporting events, if we receive any particular threats, we do an
exhaustive assessment of those threats and make that available as well. So we don't distinguish or
discriminate between organised nation versus nation events, or the IPL, because you've got high
profile Australian involvement, and we need to discharge what we regard as an obligation to those
Australians.

Of course there's also a personal obligation in the final analysis. It's a matter for individual
cricketers or athletes or sporting bodies to make a decision about whether they will take part or
not. But we are in what is the regrettable modern world doing everything we can to make sure that
that advice is available not just to the general Australian travelling public but to individual
sportsmen and sportswomen, whether they're involved in an organised nation or international
competition, like the Hockey World Cup, or whether it's an individual high profile event like the
IPL.

Further to that, Minister, did a senior member of the Department of Foreign Affairs address the
Australian cricket players in their Christchurch hotel yesterday and what is the specific advice
those players are operating under at the moment?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as I say, we always try and make sure that players who are about to
contemplate taking part in such an event get our most recent advice. Administratively and
logistically, it was easier for us to send one of our officers to Christchurch to brief those
players involved in the current tour of New Zealand who are contemplating going to the IPL to give
them an up-to-date assessment. We obviously go in terms of what the advice we give to our ... to
those individual players go to what is contained in the travel advisory, which is there for all to
see, but also go through any specific threats and we have seen some specific threats made against
sporting competition in recent times from India. So our officer went through all of our most recent
advice to them. It was convenient to do it. We're also making sure that the same advice is
available to other individual players who aren't in Christchurch or aren't on the New Zealand tour
so they can make their own judgment as well.

GERARD WHATELEY, ABC SPORTS COMMENTATOR: The word out of that meeting was the players were told the
Middle East recent threat is not credible. Is that the case?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well this is the so-called 313. We have as other individual nation states have done
... we have done an exhaustive assessment of that and the conclusion we've come to and the advice
we've given those players is we don't regard that threat as a credible threat. Having said that, we
continue to underline that there is a high risk of terrorist attacks in India, that's reflected by
our travel advice, and that's reflected by the general advice we give any Australian who is
contemplating travel to India. They make their judgments accordingly.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Minister, we do appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Barrie. Thanks very much.