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Downer evasive on request for road works at Anzac Cove.

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Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security 16 March 2005


Over the last week, Foreign Minister Downer has made three separate statements in Parliament outlining his Government’s position on the earthworks currently underway at ANZAC Cove.

On 8 March, Mr Downer made no reference to the fact that the road works being undertaken by Turkish authorities had been requested by the Australian Government. He simply chose to ignore that fact.

Two days later Mr Downer, realising that the truth would eventually out, referred to a letter from the former Veterans Affairs Minister to Turkish authorities which said she thought there was a need for improvement in some of the road systems. Yet in referring to this letter Mr Downer did not indicate that the Minister was acting formally on behalf of the Australian Government. The truth is the Minister’s letter was conveyed in a formal diplomatic note to the

Turkish Foreign Ministry as a formal request from the Government of Australia last year.

Then we come to Mr Downer’s third statement on 14 March when the Minister stated that the road works were “essential” but for the first time went on to indicate that: “Maybe some sort of rehabilitation work will have to be done in time if there is scarring as a result of the road. These issues all have to be worked through.”

The key questions are whether the Government formally requested the controversial road works at ANZAC Cove; and whether in making that request it stipulated stringent heritage protection conditions which should be met by the Turkish authorities.

We now know for a fact that these road works are underway at ANZAC Cove specifically because the Howard Government has requested them.

On the second question, Defence Minister Hill briefed Shadow Veterans Affairs Minister Mark Bishop today on the contents of the Australian Government’s letter to the Turkish authorities in August 2004.

The Government has so far refused to provide Labor with a copy of this letter.

But it appears the formal request for road works did not contain any stipulation of the heritage requirements which would need to be met (ie the protection of human remains; the protection of the cliff face; the protection of the beach etc) if the Turkish authorities agreed to widen and upgrade the road.

No wonder the Howard Government is reluctant to release publicly the text of this letter. Based on the briefing Labor has had on its contents, the letter does not contain any significant heritage stipulations at all.

And our fearless Foreign Minister’s response to the above has been simply to state that he is satisfied Turkish authorities will take all necessary steps to protect the dignity of the site.

In reality all Mr Downer has done is place this expectation on Turkish authorities without providing any substantive direction to them as to what minimum heritage conditions were to be met in the first place.

Ends. 16 March 2005

Media contact: Alister Jordan 0417 605 823