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Meet The Press -

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July 2nd 2006


MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER PAUL BONGIORNO: Hello and welcome to Meet the Press. Dili burns as our
troops and police struggle to maintain the peace.

FOREIGN MINISTER ALEXANDER DOWNER: We welcome the fact that the East Timorese are endeavouring to
solve their problems at the political level, and we encourage that. But the details of how they do
it we leave to them.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Back from talks in Europe and Indonesia, the Foreign Minister is our guest. And as
the new welfare to work laws kick in, the President of the National Welfare Rights Network Michael
Raper joins us. But first, what the nation's papers are reporting this Sunday July 2: The 'Sun
Herald' reports - Israel shuns demands to release prisoners as air raids continue. Palestinian
militants are demanding the release of 1,000 prisoners in return for the freedom of a captured
Israeli solder. The 'Sunday Mail' has - shuttle launch postponed. NASA called off the launch of the
space shuttle 'Discovery' due to thunderstorms in the Florida area. The 'Sunday Herald Sun' has -
union used IR law on me. A former official claims he was sacked by his union by means of John
Howard's new laws. A former Queensland secretary of the Australian Institute of Marine and Power
Engineers alleges he was sacked on trumped up charges after 30 years service. The 'Sunday Age'
reports - bomb rips through market. At least 60 people were killed and 76 wounded when a car bomb
struck the Baghdad Shi'ite district of Sadr city. The 'Sunday Mail' in Brisbane reports - Timor aid
to run out in two weeks. The United Nations has warned food supplies for thousands of refugees will
end as donor nations fail to deliver on $3 million of promised relief. The crisis in our tiny
neighbour East Timor is just one of the major issues on the Foreign Minister's plate, and welcome
back to the program, Alexander Downer.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Thank you, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Mr Downer, if I could just go to that report on East Timor, there is no doubt
Australia is putting in in a big way with our 1,800 police and troops there. But if the donor
nations don't come good, will Australia fill the breech?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, there is a problem. It's not perhaps quite as melodramatic as it's
described in the newspaper report, but I have decided we'll have to increase the amount of support
we give to the World Food Program and to humanitarian assistance for the 150,000 internally
displaced people in East Timor. We've given $2 million so far, and we're - $4 million so far - and
now we're going to double that to $8 million. So that should help bide them over for the time
being, in any case, and hopefully other donors will come to the party as time goes on.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Does it surprise you that donor nations aren't delivering on what they've promised?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I'm afraid it's rather a common phenomenon, that countries make commitments
and they make headlines but it takes a bit of time for the commitment to be implemented. That is a
very common phenomenon in the area of overseas aid. But, look, from our point of view, we live next
door to East Timor. We've had some reports, not that food is running out, but food supplies are
getting lower, and, as that report suggests, if nothing is done for several weeks, then this will
become a real problem. So I think by us doubling the amount of humanitarian assistance we're
providing, to distribute in particular to the internally displaced people, that's a sensible
initiative for us, and it will cost us an additional $4 million

PAUL BONGIORNO: Going to that other long-running issue, the issue of David Hicks, on Friday Mr
Hicks' US military lawyer Major Michael Mori said virtually everyone except Australia required
basic protections before the law for their citizens at Guantanamo Bay. Here's how he put it. MAJOR
MICHAEL MORI: The US requires it for its citizens, Britain requires it. Every other country except
Australia requires it. And it's taken an act of the US Supreme Court to set the Australian
Government straight.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister Downer, one of the reasons that we give, and a very good reason I must say
for being participants in Iraq, in Afghanistan and the war on terror, is to protect our fundamental
freedoms and, of course, freedom and rights before the law are fundamental to that. It is beginning
to look bad for Australia, is it not, in regard to Hicks?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: No, it's not. No, it's not. I think we have to understand the enormous importance
of being successful in waging the war against terrorism. A lot of these issues are difficult. But
where somebody has been involved with training with al-Qa'ida and has faced very serious charges,
we think that person should face those charges in a court of law. Some people are saying, "Well,
Hicks should just be released and let off into the Australian community." This is somebody who has
trained with al-Qa'ida, who's been up before, if you like, been up before charges of conspiracy to
commit war crimes and attempted murder, and I do think they are very grave charges, and it's our
preference that in those circumstances that Hicks be brought before a court of law. Now, in the
case of Habib, in the case of Habib, when the Americans said they wouldn't bring any charges
against him, we said in those circumstances that he should be released. But in Hicks' case, let's
wait see what the Americans do in relation to the Supreme Court ruling and make a judgment then.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, isn't that the exact problem, the waiting and the seeing? It's now 4.5
years. You yourself said on Friday you want to see him quickly brought to trial. A lot of the
experts - Mori, but not only him - other jurists are saying it could be another two years.
Certainly if the President tries to get Congress to pass a law it could be even longer. Isn't
justice being denied?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, look, I do agree with the point that this case needs to be heard in a court
as quickly as possible. But remember that, if you like, the irony of this situation is that the
delays have been caused by the civil litigation that has been brought, not just by Hicks, but
specifically by Osama bin Laden's assistant and driver Hamdan, and that has gone to the,
eventually, through a whole series of the courts in the US from the Court of Appeal to the US
Supreme Court. Inevitably that has taken time. There's not much that can be done about that. You
can't argue that, on the one hand, justice has to be sped along as quickly as possible but , on the
other hand, people should be simply released because they are making appeals to higher courts.
People are entitled to appeal to higher courts, and that takes time.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Just on Iraq, in the latest exclusive nationwide Ipsos Mackay poll for Meet the
Press, we asked, should to 460 Australian troops withdraw from Iraq at the same time as the
Japanese engineers they were protecting. 60% said they should withdraw, 28% said they should be
redeployed elsewhere in Iraq while 12% didn't know. Minister, public opinion is clearly at odds
with the Government, isn't it, on this issue?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I think it depends how you put the case to the public. I do think the
public understand, and I think this is the mistake that the Labor Party, in particular Mr Beazley,
makes. The public actually do understand that if there was a complete withdrawal now from Iraq
overnight from Iraq of all of the coalition forces, the consequences would be that the al-Qa'ida
terrorists and the Saddam Hussein insurgents would be victorious. I do not think, I do not think
defeat is an option for the coalition in Iraq, I really don't. Quite apart from anything else,
progress, difficult as Iraq is - of course it's difficult - progress is being made in Iraq but
defeat would be of course a massive setback for the people of Iraq, first and foremost, secondly, a
catastrophe for the Middle East and, thirdly, equally, a catastrophe in the war against terrorism.
I simply don't think the public do support it when you put the proposition to them like that.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Coming up when the panel joins us - is Australia making all the effort in our
relations with Indonesia?

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, and welcome to the
panel Glenn Milne, the 'Australian' and Peter Hartcher, the 'Sydney Morning Herald'. The Prime
Minister and Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono seemed to break the ice at their
meeting last week on the resort island of Batam. Both wrote letters to each other spelling out
their positions on the Papuan asylum seekers and the treatment of terror suspect Abu Bakar Bashir.
But the Indonesians ceded little ground while Australia is offering to change our law to deter
Papuan asylum seekers.

OPPOSITION LEADER KIM BEAZLEY: John Howard's done something in recent times, which in my experience
of dealing with the Indonesians, is a very bad thing to do. He's appeared to act in a way that
admitted error. He's appeared to act in a way which suggested to the Indonesians that what they had
to say about our laws in relation to asylum were correct. You must never do that.

PETER HARTCHER, THE 'SYDNEY MORNING HERALD': Minister, how important is it to the bilateral
relationship that Australia now deliver the changes to the asylum seekers law to implement the
Pacific Solution, and will you personally be urging Coalition senators to pass that legislation?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, look, first of all, the Indonesians, and I have been with them myself
during the week at the Australia Indonesia Ministerial Forum with quite a lot of Indonesian
ministers, their position is that this is an internal matter for Australia, and it's a matter we're
going to have to work through with our Parliament. But I think where we and Indonesia actually
share a point of view, it's not a question of anybody doing what anyone else asks - the Indonesians
haven't asked us to do this - where we share a view is that we don't want to see the generosity of
our refugee arrangements being exploited for political purposes. So if people genuinely are fleeing
oppression, that's one thing, and obviously those people, if they are genuinely fleeing oppression
anywhere in the world, won't be returned to where they came from. They'll be protected. That's our
obligation. But, secondly, if people are going to use the generosity of Australia's protection
system to make political points and run political campaigns, we want to stop that. So this is a
tough measure but I think that it's a good compromise measure that will hold us in good stead, and
we do it in our interests not in Indonesia's interests. It's not in our interests in the region for
Australia to be exploited for political purposes, and it's in our interests to make sure that
people who genuinely need protection are given protection.

PETER HARTCHER: If it is if our interests so strongly, then will you be making that case to the
Coalition Senators who've got concerns about the legislation?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I have spoken to the members about it - the members of Parliament about it
- and we're obviously in the process of talking this issue through with them during the winter
recess, and when the Parliament resumes we'll see where we're at. But let me just make the point to
the Indonesians. In the meetings I had with the Indonesians, they didn't labour this issue through
those meetings. We touched on the issue, particularly in the bilateral meeting I had with the
Foreign Minister. But they made the point that they understood that this was an internal matter for
Australia, and this whole issue of internal matters for foreign countries is very much part of
Indonesia's approach to international relations.

GLENN MILNE, THE 'ASUTRALIAN': Mr Downer, on his recent visit to Indonesia, did the Prime Minister
give any guarantees to the Indonesian President that these laws will pass the Senate?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, We can't give a guarantee because that's not a matter for the Prime
Minister or me ultimately, that's a matter for the members of the House of Representatives and the

GLENN MILNE: What happens if they don't pass?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, we'll cross that bridge if and when we come to it. But the Indonesians know
what our position is, which I have articulated, and they know that this is a matter that's being
discussed in our Parliament and they know it hasn't gone to a vote yet. I'm sure they'll be
interested in it but they, as I've explained, do see this as an internal matter.

GLENN MILNE: On the issue of Bashir, and the Prime Minister expressed his disappointment about his
release from prison, is there any further pressure we can put on Indonesia on that matter? In that
context, Hambali, the mastermind of the Bali bombings, is being held by the US. Why can't we, with
our special relationship with the United States, pressure them to repatriate Hambali back to
Indonesia so that he can help perhaps convict Bashir again?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: First of all, can I just say to those people in Australia who express outrage
about the - what they see as the premature release of Abu Bakar Bashir from prison - that I can
absolutely understand their dislike of this person and their antipathy towards him and their
disappointment at his release. But, on the other hand, can I also say to those people in Australia
who might be supporters of democracy and human rights and the great cause of freedom, that you
can't just - the Indonesian Government rather - can't just lock people up these days because they
feel like it. Abu Bakar Bashir faced several charges in the court a couple of years ago. He was
acquitted of some of those charges and he was convicted of another. He served a sentence on the
basis of the charge for which he was convicted. He served a sentence of, I think, about 25 months.
Now, over and above that, Indonesia has international obligations under the United Nations Security
Council resolution 1267 to make sure that Abu Bakar Bashir doesn't have access to weapons, to
freeze his assets, to deny him international travel - and the Indonesians obviously will fulfil
their obligations. The last point I'd make is in relation to him being monitored. The Indonesians
are not going to put out press releases, and nor are we, about who is being monitored and when by
the police or other agencies.

GLENN MILNE: And Hambali, Minister?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I was just going to come to that. In relation to Hambali, I have spoken to the
Americans about - well, not so much about repatriating him to America - but about Indonesian
prosecutors, police, having an opportunity to interview Hambali. I would like to see that, not just
in relation to Abu Bakar Bashir but to assist the Indonesians in gathering still more information
which could lead to charges being brought against people in Indonesia. The Indonesians have asked,
and I have asked as well, the Americans on a number of occasions to provide that access. But
ultimately that is a matter between the Indonesians and the Americans.

PETER HARTCHER: Minister, if we can switch to East Timor, what's the latest situation on the ground
in East Timor and, secondly, if I may, does it trouble you that we have a power struggle going on
between East Timorese politicians, with Australian troops risking their lives to protect them in
the process and Australian taxpayers paying for it?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Yes, the short answer to that is it does, and that's a point that I've made to
the East Timorese myself, that they've got to sort out their political problems and sort them out
as quickly as possible bearing in mind that we've sent in troops to stabilise, as best we can, the
security environment there, and the security environment is a good deal better. In the last 24
hours it's been - 48 hours - it's been a great deal quieter. But we don't want to be just there
while they continue to squabble at the political level. What I can say is from the last
conversation I had with the East Timorese, which was the day before yesterday, was on Friday night,
they are resolving their political problems. Of course it is traumatic to have the Prime Minister
resign, and the Foreign Minister told me on Friday night that they hope to have a new Prime
Minister in place around the middle of next week. That obviously is - there are processes they have
to go through - and the situation at the political level should be more or less resolved fairly


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Now, I hope that's right - I hope that's right - and we continue to urge them to
do that.

PAUL BONGIORNO: On that more optimistic note, I have to thank you for being with us today, Foreign
Minister Alexander Downer. Coming up, welfare expert Michael Raper. With industrial relations a hot
issue, we tested what Australians thought of the impact of the WorkChoices laws would have on their
pay and conditions. A nationwide Ipsos Mackay poll of those in jobs found 3% felt more secure, 39%
less secure, 50% about the same, 5% felt it didn't apply to them and 3% didn't know. In the cartoon
of the week, syndicated cartoonist Zanetti continues the theme. John Howard to Premier Wen Jiabao,
"What type of work place agreements do you have in China?" "Work cheap and you live." "Australian
workers don't know how super-duper they've got it."

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press. The new 'welfare to work' regime came into force
yesterday, and it's very much carrot and stick. Some of its features, according to a NatSim model,
are $35 a week less for jobless single parents and $45 a week less for jobless disability
pensioners. New activity requirements for single parents, long-term unemployed and mature age
unemployed people. A new compliance regime, which involves a maximum eight-week no-payment penalty,
and additional investment in employment assistance and childcare services for these people. Welcome
back to the program, Director of the National Welfare Rights Network Michael Raper.


PAUL BONGIORNO: Mr Raper, yesterday Minister Andrews said that the best welfare is a job. Hard to
argue with that.

MICHAEL RAPER: Absolutely hard to argue with that. Bit surprising that they've left 700,000 people
on disability support pension without any of the supports to help them get a job, they've abandoned
them, and they've put a lot of pressure on to parents and people with partial capacity to work
without enough resources to help them get the job, and that's our main argument. Not that we don't
want that direction, we do - we do want those people to have the opportunities to get employment -
but we think the Government has underinvested in the childcare and the employment assistance and
the training and the education, and they've gone about it with a really harsh penalty regime that
says, "We don't trust you, do what you're told," rather than, "We're here to help you." That's the
problem we have with the approach they've taken.

GLENN MILNE: Mr Raper, you mentioned disability pensions there. Part of the Government's
justification for this package is that there are 700,000 people on disability pensions who can't
work. Do you really believe that that's the case?

MICHAEL RAPER: No, there are 700,000 people on disability support pensions certainly. Many of those
could work and many of them want to work.

GLENN MILNE: Isn't that the Government's argument?

MICHAEL RAPER: No. But you see, the Government has abandoned them, put them aside, left them,
parked them on disability support pension and said, "We're going to stop people getting on to the
pension in the future. We're going to provide people with a payment of $45 a week less and we're
going to require them to look for work and take those jobs regardless of whether they're really
appropriate and suitable and for a very, very small return, income return." They've got a much more
harsh income test. So rather than losing 40 cents in every dollar that you earn, they're going to
be losing 60 cents and they're going to be on $45 a week less. So how does that actually help these
people - people with partial capacity to work, people with disabilities and sole parents - to
actually take up the opportunities? They've not invested sufficiently and they've made it a very
harsh regime. That's our point.

PETER HARTCHER: Mr Raper, for the people who incur the sanction of the eight-week no payment
period, the most vulnerable of those the Government has undertaken to provide case management to
help them through that period. The Government seems to have been trouble contracting out that
function. Who is going to perform that function? The system took effect yesterday. If there's
difficulty performing it, what happens to those people?

MICHAEL RAPER: Well, it certainly is a big worry. About 18,000 or 20,000 people in the first year
are likely to suffer this eight-week no payment penalty. About a quarter of those the Government
says, "Well, they've got kids and that's a bit harsh so we will try and bring in this case
management system and pay their bills for them." Not let them make the decisions, but pay the
bills. Rightly, I think, the community welfare sector and all the big charities have said, "Well,
we're not going near that." I think philosophically they don't want to touch it. But also
practically how can you get these people in and say, what are the bills you've got to pay this
week? Will we pay the rent, will we pay the electricity, will we give you a voucher to go down to
Woolies to buy your food? It's impractical, it shouldn't happen and the reason for it is an
eight-week no payment penalty. That's what we're saying should be reconsidered by the Government.
Get rid of that. Otherwise, yes, we're going to have a lot of people who probably, what's the first
thing that goes? You can't pay the rent. So homelessness follows. That's a bit dramatic but I think
it's likely, it's practical, it will happen. Centrelink, in our view, should be doing this, should
be actually case managing these people, rather than putting that on to the community welfare sector
and charities to be dealing with.

PETER HARTCHER: Is there a prospect that the Government will reconsider this or are these people
going to go into limbo now?

MICHAEL RAPER: I think they'll just have to. It's Centrelink's job. Centrelink should be taking
this on. The first thing though that the Government should be doing is actually getting rid of that
eight-week no payment penalty. That's what we're calling on them to do. OK, the laws are in now.

GLENN MILNE: How many people do you think will be affected by that?

MICHAEL RAPER: Our estimate is 18,000, Centrelink confirmed this, Senate estimates confirmed this.
Of those, only 4,000 will get the case management. So we're saying to the community welfare sector
and the charities, save your resources and energy for the 15,000 odd that won't get case managed.
They're going to be on your door step with eight weeks no payments. They're going to be the ones
that really need looking after and try and get Centrelink to do the case management for the other -

GLENN MILNE: So as of now these people are going to drop into a black hole, are they?

MICHAEL RAPER: Thankfully it's not going to happen all tomorrow. It's going to be over the first 12
months, these 18,000 eight-week penalties. You see, the Government has upped the ante. They've said
- as part of the IR package - they've said, "If you don't accept any job that you're offered, any
suitable job that you're offered," and they've defined suitable so it's not every job, "But if you
don't accept a suitable job you will suffer an eight-week no payment penalty. If you resign, if you
get dismissed, you will have an eight-week no payment penalty." So you've got to see the IR and the
welfare reform laws working together. It's a pretty heavy package that we've got here.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Mr Raper, just briefly, is one of the problems that there just aren't unskilled
jobs out there for these people anyway?

MICHAEL RAPER: Well, that's part of our point, Paul. That we really need a skilled work force. We
shouldn't be actually lowering the payment levels for these people, forcing them into jobs that
probably aren't there for these unskilled jobs. We have should have, in fact, invested, put back
the pensioner education supplement, provided longer term training, take a long-term view of this, a
carrot's approach much more than the stick approach.

PAUL BONGIORNO: 18,000 out of a work force of 10 million is a tiny number. Are these people
unemployable anyway?

MICHAEL RAPER: I wouldn't say unemployable. Everybody deserves that opportunity. But certainly it's
going to be hard, and they haven't had - 40% of sole parents, for instance, haven't had an
education beyond year 10, so that's where we should be investing.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thanks for being with us today, Michael Raper, and thanks to the panel Glenn Milne
and Peter Hartcher. Until next week, good-bye.