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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView



June 19th 2005


MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER PAUL BONGIORNO: Hello and welcome to Meet the Press. The Nationals about
to get the balance of power in the Senate and already feeling the squeeze from their supporters in
the bush. Today Trade Minister and Nationals Deputy Leader Mark Vaile on his party's and his own
future. Businessman Dick Smith and his crusade for a return to a traditional fair go. But first,
what the nation's press is reporting this Sunday June 19. The 'Sunday Telegraph' in Sydney reports,
"Detainees in bloody Villawood protest." As many as 13 Chinese nationals cut their wrists in a
human rights protest. The Adelaide 'Sunday Mail' has, "Labor wins in a Northern Territory
landslide." The once dominant Country Liberal Party is in danger of losing the seat of its leader,
Denis Burke. In Melbourne the 'Sunday Age' leads with, "Adler inside trader." Disgraced businessman
Rodney Adler has breached prison conditions and is to be moved to a maximum security jail. In
Perth, the 'Sunday Times' has, "Minnows shock Aussies." Bangladesh has posted its greatest ever
win, overhauling Australia's 5/249 with five wickets and four deliveries to spare in a one-day
international in Cardiff - and do not adjust your set. That's true. The Nationals have long seen
their base eroded in regional Australia by Coalition partners the Liberals, but this July the party
has two new Senators coming into the Parliament, seemingly determined to make their presence felt.
That could prove a mixed blessing for the federal leadership. Welcome back to the program, Deputy
Leader Mark Vaile.


PAUL BONGIORNO: Thanks, Minister. Just going to the Nationals and the New South Wales State
conference just concluded. There was some expectation, I must say, that I picked up, that John
Anderson would announce his retirement from politics. He didn't do that. Do you expect him to see
out this full term?

MARK VAILE: Look, there's always speculation floating around in the media for one reason or another
and we've seen that in the past. But at the moment the leadership in our party is very, very strong
delivering for rural and regional Australia and very well received at the New South Wales State

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, on the Liberal side, everyone says that Peter Costello is the natural
successor. Are you the natural successor?

MARK VAILE: I have to leave that to others to make that comment, Paul, I'm afraid.

PAUL BONGIORNO: There was a report that John Anderson's long-time press secretary is moving on.
Some people see that as a straw in the wind.

MARK VAILE: Look, we all have staff movements that take place from time to time. It is a very
stressful job working in a minister's office, let alone in the leader's office. I know that Paul
Chamberlain has been working for John Anderson for many, many years. And obviously he felt it was
time for a change, but I wouldn't expect that that should be taken as any indication.

PAUL BONGIORNO: OK, well, let's move on to other matters. On Thursday the Prime Minister phoned his
counterpart in Iraq to thank him for his military freeing Australian hostage Douglas Wood. Both men
reaffirmed it as a sign of a new and positive stage in the relationship. But three ships loaded
with our wheat were held up on spurious grounds they were contaminated. That really doesn't auger
well for our multimillion-dollar wheat trade, does it?

MARK VAILE: No, but it reinforces the point that the Prime Minister made in the Parliament after he
spoke to Prime Minister Jafari last week. And that is as soon as the new government came into
office, and I was able to speak directly over the telephone with Minister Basset Karim about the
delay in unloading the ships, within one week the ships were being unloaded, and so what we have
now is a Government in Iraq, a democratically elected Government in Iraq taking control of that
country and that situation, and that's something that the rest of the world should rejoice in. And
we've been a part of assisting them to develop that circumstance. And so we have a democratically
elected Government in Iraq taking decisions and they're going to take their place in the world and
we see that as the significant positive.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Isn't it is a fact that we've lost half our market share to the United States in
the last two years?

MARK VAILE: No, we haven't lost half our market share. But what I do say is that it is a commercial
market, it's the market conditions prevail. AWB Limited must compete in the tendering process with
others, including exporters from the United States. So far they've held their market share. But it
is going to be a competitive marketplace and of course the Iraqi Grains Board is going to be
looking for best deal they can get.

PAUL BONGIORNO: But is it going to be more than that? Trevor Flugge, the former chairman of our
Wheat Board, told ABC Radio a month or so ago that the Americans are saying to the Iraqis, "Buy our
wheat or else."

MARK VAILE: Well, I'm sure that the Iraqis will make their decisions on the merits of the deals
being proposed. They have a great history of buying wheat from Australia - Australian wheat growers
have been supplying Iraq for over 50 years. But we've got to be prepared to compete. There's been
no evidence of that sort of influence being exercised.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Don't you see that in the ship situation?

MARK VAILE: No, I don't see that in the ship situation. I was dealing with the interim government
and the newly-elected government on this. There were some areas that we still need to get to the
bottom of in terms of the allegations of contamination. But I say again, once the new Government of
Prime Minister Jafari took office we were able to deal directly with the ministers in control, the
issue was very quickly resolved.

PAUL BONGIORNO: The Douglas Wood affair which ended very happily for everybody, but doesn't it
point up the real danger that Australian business people would have going to Iraq? I mean, what
advice can you give them?

MARK VAILE: Well, it still is a very, very dangerous place. And our travel advisory indicates that,
obviously. But we have been - different Australian companies and Australian individuals have been
operating and working in the region for decades and in Iraq for decades. But people expected to
travel or do business or work there need to contact the Government and take notice of the travel
advisory. It still is, in terms of the insurgents that are operating still inside of Iraq, is a
very dangerous place. But we should take heart that the new democratically elected Iraqi Government
was taking control of the situation. That was evidenced in their activity and involvement in
freeing Douglas Wood.

PAUL BONGIORNO: During the week the National Farmer's Federation at their conference released a
report into Telstra's service levels in light of the Estens inquiry. The NFF found that the
Government's claims Telstra has implemented 28 of Estens' 39 recommendations is wrong.

NATIONAL FARMERS FEDERATION PRESIDENT PETER CORNISH (June 19): We don't want to enter the debate in
regard to the Government's sale of its interest in Telstra until it carries out its commitment of
implementing all 39 of those Estens recommendations. That was a promise that was made to us by the
current government. Two years down the track they've got a long way to go before they deliver on
that promise.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, Minister, that puts enormous weight, does it not, on the National Party? I
mean, the National Party could hardly give the green light to sale legislation if the NFF is saying
and finding that sort of reality?

MARK VAILE: I don't say that there's enormous pressure, Paul, I wouldn't agree with that. What I
would say is we have said right through this whole debate that this debate is about services, it's
about ensuring that people living in rural and regional Australia and particularly on the land and
operating in remote areas, have access, reasonable access, to current-day technology as far as
telecommunications is concerned. If we expect our nation to be efficient and competitive on the
global stage we need to ensure those services are delivered. And that remains the case. Peter
Cornish is just reinforcing the point that we need to ensure that those services are put in place.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You know your constituency. Is it still the perception in the bush that services
aren't where they should be?

MARK VAILE: There's a range of issues that are still generating the expression of concern. But
certainly if we look at some of the core issues through the life of this debate, we had the issue
of mobile telephony throughout regional Australia, and to a large extent that has been fixed. There
are still areas where there needs to be improvement. But it's certainly 1,000 times better than
what it was when, for example, Michael Lee was the communications minister in the Keating

PAUL BONGIORNO: But is it good enough for the Nationals in the Senate to vote in August for the

MARK VAILE: We're not at that point and we're not going to speculate on what's likely to happen in
the months ahead. What we are focusing our energies on is ensuring we address the deficiencies and
the critical one that we need to be addressing is the availability of bandwidth in the bush.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Coming up - is free trade with China too big a price to pay for jobs and human

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet The Press with Trade Minister Mark Vaile. And welcome to the panel,
Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National Breakfast, and Matthew Franklin, the 'Courier-Mail'. Two weeks ago
one of Australia's biggest unions linked the Government's reluctance to grant political asylum to
defecting Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin to our eagerness for a free trade deal.

AWU NATIONAL SECRETARY BILL SHORTEN (June 12): What is it that we're going to sell China in the
future that we're not selling them now? And how many Australians are worth putting on the scrap
heap so we can help sell more iron ore or gas to China? I think that it's look before you leap.
100% scepticism is the way to approach this free trade agreement.

PAUL BONGIORNO: That raises questions for Fran Kelly.

FRAN KELLY, ABC RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST: Minister, Bill Shorten has a point, doesn't he? Already
70% of our clothing comes from China. Our shops are choc-a-block full of Chinese imports. Why do we
need a free trade agreement with China? What more can we get from there?

MARK VAILE: It's much broader than just market access from the two-way trade, Fran. China is the
fastest-growing market in the region and in the globe. They are our fastest-growing export market
and this is about consolidating our position in that market ahead of competitors as well as
expanding our opportunities, but most importantly, taking the opportunity in this negotiation to
break down some of the behind-the-boarder barriers to trade that cause so much concern,
particularly to our agriculture exporters going into that market.

FRAN KELLY: But in our rush to get there, did we give away things like market economy status too
quickly? I mean, no-one really believes that that China at this point is an open market. That's why
the EU, the US haven't gone to that length.

MARK VAILE: The answer to that question is no, and I've said that on many occasions. And it's the
way it's been contextualised. I mean, the agreement with China out of the economic framework, was
that we would enter these negotiations as equal trading partners and that's the requirement in
terms of recognition of market economy status. We still have in this country domestic laws that
enable Australian industry to take out anti-dumping actions in a timely way if they can prove up a
prima facie case - and that is the case. In terms of our competition with China, over the last
couple of decades consecutive governments have opened up the markets in Australia. We are already
competing with, in many ways, with the industries that are being developed in China. We are seeing
the Chinese economy grow at 8% or 9% a year and so the cost base is also increasing in China, and
we can compete in that marketplace, and we can find niche areas to go and compete in that
marketplace. And because of the size and the significance of this economy we've got to take this
opportunity for the benefit of future generations of Australians.

MATTHEW FRANKLIN, THE 'COURIER-MAIL': Well, Minister, there surely is plenty of money to made
there, but there are still, aren't there, real questions about the human rights treatment, the
ability of workers to organise in China. Is money more important than principle?

MARK VAILE: We run these two arguments and two debates, if you like, bilaterally on separate paths,
and we do it with a number of countries. We need to recognise that the relationship between
Australia and China now, if I can put it this way, is a very, very robust relationship. There's a
high level of respect and understanding of each other's points of view. We have a human rights
dialogue with China and we have our economic relationship that we're working on, and we keep those
separate and we focus our energies on those, and certainly we're not selling out our views on human
rights in the interests of getting a better economic deal.

MATTHEW FRANKLIN: Well, just turning to matters to do with the National Party. Incoming Queensland
Senator Barnaby Joyce appears, to me at least, to be at odds with your party federally on a number
of issues including industrial relations with regard to State rights, and he's got a lot of
concerns about Telstra. He's making a big noise, he's not even here yet. Who's standing for the
real National Party here?

MARK VAILE: We all are. And Barnaby is part of that team. And I can assure you of that and if you
ask Barnaby he would assure you of that as well. He was elected as a Nationals Senator from
Queensland by himself - he wasn't on a joint Senate ticket. He was on a National Party ticket from
Queensland with our full support and he'll come down to Canberra in a couple of weeks time and be
part of our party room and part of our team prosecuting the case on behalf of rural and regional

MATTHEW FRANKLIN: But Minister, he's at odds with you on a number of issues.

MARK VAILE: No, he's not at odds and I think there is a bit of a misconception and people try to
read too much into the circumstances where there's a comment made out over here and other comments
and positions over here. Just remember, we're a democratic organisation and we encourage different
points of view to be fed into the system as we develop a policy position. And that's what has
enriched our party and our government and certainly given our government the strength and the
longevity we have as we moved into a fourth term, is our ability to be able to bring all those
differing points of view together and then have the discipline and the unity as we move forward and
govern Australia for all Australians.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, in this fourth term the Nats could almost work as a balance of power party in
the Senate, especially the Queensland Nationals perhaps. There is no time like now for the National
Party to assert itself on some of those iconic issues for the bush, is there? You've got a strategy
for that?

MARK VAILE: We certainly have increased influence within the Coalition. We have increased our
numbers. We have two extra Senators. There are now a majority of Coalition Senators - or as of 1st
July there will be in the Senate -and we are part of that. So, yes, we will be able to exercise
increased influence, but I say again and I say to my colleagues, that it's important to recognise
the strength of what we have done over the last 9.5 years in Australia's national interest, and
that includes the interest of rural and regional Australia. We need to continue to operate in that
balanced way and focus on our objectives and work within our system and within our party to deliver
on what we need to deliver for rural and regional Australia.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, if I can just ask a question on trade. Mineral prices, commodity prices at
record highs - without that our terms of trade would be looking sickly right now, wouldn't they?

MARK VAILE: But it's an important part of our trading make-up, if you like, Fran. The thing is, you
can't discount it.

FRAN KELLY: But we're relying very heavily...

MARK VAILE: One of our competitive advantages in this nation is we have enormous wealth in our
resources sector. And when the market is such as it is at the moment, of course we're going to take
advantage of it. I mean, we say China's competitive advantage is a low labour cost. Ours are our
resources. When there's a resources boom on we should be taking advantage of it and using that to
bring down our trade deficit, as is happening at the moment.

MATTHEW FRANKLIN: Speaking of minerals, the Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane said last week that
he wants to really push for increases in the exports of uranium, particularly to China, which has a
requirement for uranium. How can you guarantee that that uranium would be used for power, not
weapons? Well, we've already said unless the Chinese Government is prepared to sign up to the
nuclear non-proliferation protocols treaties then we can't sell them nuclear material, we can't
sell them uranium for their power generation. They've accepted that position of ours and of course
that's a precursor to any trade. But I agree with Ian Macfarlane. I agree with him in the fact that
Australia - and it goes to Fran's previous question - this is one of our competitive advantages. We
have over 30% of the global resources as far as uranium is concerned, and it must become part of
the future energy requirement or energy delivery mechanisms across the world as we confront the
issues of global warming.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, just going to another energy source, ethanol. We know that at the
Nationals State Conference the questions were asked if the Government is going to deliver on
getting ethanol into our petrol, into our cars. There seems to be consumer resistance. Is the
Government picking up that and is it a bit reluctant to act?

MARK VAILE: We've maintained since prior to 2001 a position that we want to see the use of 350
billion litres of bio-fuels across the fuel mix across Australia by 2010. There are studies coming
to the surface now that indicate that ethanol has got environmental advantages, it has economic
advantages in terms of industry development in regional Australia, and of course it's got the
opportunity to replace imports. Our trade deficit on petroleum products now stands at about $5

PAUL BONGIORNO: Can you achieve that goal?

MARK VAILE: Yes, I believe we can. Because we've got to continue to work on the oil companies to
ensure that consumers get choice at the bowser. Consumers that want to be environmentally
responsible as far as removing extra greenhouse gases from the environment. And consumers that want
to see new rural industries start up. And of course our party particularly in at the Gunnedah
conference wholeheartedly endorsed the Government's position of introducing bio-fuels into the
Australian fuel mix.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you very much for joining us today, Trade Minister Mark Vaile. Coming up -
Dick Smith joins the crusade for more compassion in our asylum seeker policy. And in the cartoon
this week, Nicholson in the 'Age' picks up on the theme of human rights and trade. Alexander Downer
in the guise of Lady Liberty carries the banner 'Freedom and democracy for Iraq'. Street vendor
John Howard is open for business, especially with China. He says, "Off to the costume hire place
again, Alexander."

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press. Businessman and adventurer Dick Smith has visited
long-time detainee Peter Qasim in an Adelaide mental hospital where he's been treated of severe
depression. The illness linked to 6.5 years behind bars without charge and no timetable for
release. Welcome back to the program, Mr Smith.


PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, after the Prime Minister's announcement on Friday, would you expect that
Peter Qasim should be the first detainee let out?

DICK SMITH: Yeah, I think he should be one of the first. It's interesting, there's a pending
removal visa which was made available a number of weeks ago, and Amanda Vanstone has offered it to
other people in Baxter who don't want it. Whereas Peter Qasim does want it but it hasn't been
offered to him. So I'm hoping in the next few days or few weeks he'll get one.

MATTHEW FRANKLIN: Mr Smith, you invited John Howard to come to Baxter with you and check this out
for himself. As I understand he didn't take you up. Are you disappointed?

DICK SMITH: No, well, it was a long one to try and get him to try and go to Baxter detention
centre. I think he said it would have been a media - you can imagine what would have happened
there. But in talking, I've spoken to John Howard twice personally about this and he reflects what
most Australians reflect and that is that we want a strong border protection, but we're all
surprised that people have been locked up for seven years. I think that's the extraordinary thing.
Most Aussies would think well, if you go to any country without any paperwork, whether it is New
Zealand, England, America, Bangladesh, you will be locked up until they resolve what to do with
you. Normally two or three days. But to lock someone up for seven years is not on, and that's what
the Prime Minister believes and it is what most Aussies believe.

FRAN KELLY: Dick Smith, these new changes give the Minister more discretion in allowing people out.
But that of course really means giving the department more power in this and in recent times we've
seen that that's problematic. What do you think of that?

DICK SMITH: I think, well, the Minister and I have met with Amanda Vanstone and what a difficult
portfolio. It would be the most difficult, because, let's look at this. Borders are really -
they're immoral, really, if you analyse it. Everyone should be born with the same right to the
world's resources. Where we're fortunate in the wealthy country. The poorest countries have borders
and border protection, which allows us to get away with it. But how do you make something which is
unfair in the first place fair? It's very difficult - that's the difficulty she's got. I think the
new moves will mean people won't be locked up for too long. It'll be resolved a lot quickly.
They'll either be sent back home or allowed to stay and that's how it should be.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Doesn't the Government have a set on Peter Qasim - they suggest he's lying and not
co-operative. You've met him and I understand you've even seen the video of his interrogation. Is
he lying and does that matter?

DICK SMITH: No, I don't think he is. One of the problems is they can't confirm who he is. To a
bureaucrat that is impossible. They keep saying, he's just got to co-operate, he's just got to tell
us more information. What they're basically saying is, give them something that they can confirm.
Now I can understand that.

PAUL BONGIORNO: He has, hasn't he?

DICK SMITH: No, he hasn't been able to give them anything they can confirm other than they've done
a voice and language test on him and said that he comes from that Kashmir area in India. But
everything else they can't confirm. If he knew where he came from in that border area it is
understandable, but to a bureaucrat it isn't. They're going to spend the rest of their lives and
Peter Qasim would be 80 years of age still locked up if they go down the present track. If they
haven't got in seven years what they want to get out of him, they won't get any more.

FRAN KELLY: Did that video that you saw, did it change your mind at all? The Minister indicated you
might think differently.

DICK SMITH: No, no, it didn't change my mind at all. See, it's quite interesting. It showed that
basically where they said he didn't co-operate he was basically just saying, "The story I told you
all along is true and the reason you can't confirm what I've said is that people in that area of
Kashmir, even if they do know me, won't admit to it, because they'll fear their lives." That could
be true. The difficulty is that the bureaucratic doesn't believe him. I would give him the benefit
of the doubt. But whether you believe him or not, what's the use of locking him up without a trial
or without a charge for seven years. Do you lock him up for 50 years?

MATTHEW FRANKLIN: Speaking of locking people up for a long time without a trial, would you apply
the same argument to David Hicks, the alleged terrorist who's been locked away for a while. Is
justice delayed justice denied?

DICK SMITH: Definitely. I met with Terry Hicks, David's father in Adelaide on Sunday and I'm very
disturbed about that. Because David Hicks has been charged with - the main charge I've got it in
front of me - is attempted murder of Americans and Australians. He should be brought back to
Australia and charged with that. He's no longer in Afghanistan. America is an ally of ours and I'd
like to see him charged here. The reason they don't want to bring him back and charge him here is
they believe - first of all they say there is no law they can charge him under. That's not true.
They can charge him under the law for war crimes, there is no doubt about that, and for attempted
murder. But what they know is if they bring him back the DPP is going to say that there's not
enough evidence that he's done anything. And that's what we should do - he's been locked up for 3.5
years. He was a 26-year-old, very naive, made an enormous mistake. The rate it is going in the USA
at the moment he won't get a fair trial and it will be six years before he does - that is not

FRAN KELLY: There is a suggestion in the US that he may not come to trial, that it is all falling
apart and the US Government is losing interest in this. Have you got any sense of that?

DICK SMITH: No, I don't know anything about that. But what I am really disappointed about is every
other Westerner - the British, the French - have all gone back home. What's Australia doing? It is
almost as if we're so scared of the Americans and we want to so crawled up to them, that we're not
game to say enough is enough, we want him back here. I believe if there is a case he should be
charged, but the Australian way is you don't lock people up without a trial and without a charge.
You charge them, you have a trial and then you decide what will happen.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Dick, What's your impression on what the Prime Minister did announce on Friday? Do
you think this has come a long way to meet concerns or is there still a long way to go?

DICK SMITH: No, I think it's come a long way. You see I'm different to many people - I support
strong border protection. Most Australians would too. If I arrive in any other country without any
paperwork at all I will be locked up, there is no doubt about that, until they resolve. What's
happened, what the Prime Minister has done, and Amanda Vanstone of course, is come up with a system
where they can resolve these issues a lot quicker. I believe you'll find the Minister will be more
hands on. She must know how ridiculous it is to lock people up for so long.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you very much for joining us today, Dick Smith, and thanks to the panel, Fran
Kelly and Matthew Franklin. Until next week, it's goodbye from Meet the Press.