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Transcript of doorstop interview: Electorate office, Adelaide: 22 September 1998: Malaysia

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Mr Downer: I just want to say that first of all the Australian

Government is concerned about the unrest that is taking place in Malaysia at the moment and we hope that these disturbances can be resolved as soon as possible. In particular in relation to Anwar Ibrahim,

of course his, future is a matter for the Malaysian Government, the Malaysian people, the Malaysian judicial system. It is not at the end of the day a matter that the Australian Government should interfere in directly and all that we are saying is that we hope his case can be dealt with according to the normal protocols of natural justice and the rule of

law. It is important in terms of Malaysia’s international reputation as well as the consideration of the strong traditions of democracy that Anwar Ibrahim is dealt with in the context of both of natural law and the rule of law within Malaysia itself. This morning I spoke with the Malaysian High

Commissioner about the decision by Malaysia to cut off the

communications from Australian television stations sent to Australia. I understand that the satellite feed from the ABC, Channel 7 and Channel 10, they all share the one satellite feed has been cut off as was the

satellite feed to the BBC and New Zealand television station. I’m not sure what the situation is in relation to the BBC and the New Zealand television stations. I said to the High Commissioner that I would like that satellite feed resumed as it is important for Malaysian international

standing that there is a continuation of the free flow of information in and out of Malaysia and the High Commissioner has undertaken to pass that message on to the Malaysian authorities. Our High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur will also be making the same point to the Malaysian

authorities during the course of this morning.

Question: _ When will that satellite feed be resumed ?

Mr Downer: I would hope that link would be resumed during

the course of the day. Certainly sooner the link is resumed the better. I


think it is important from the Malaysian prospective apart from our own that those sorts of links are resumed.

Question: (inaudible) ?

Mr Downer: Yes I am optimistic that it will happen, but we

have a long standing relationship with Malaysia. We have worked well with the Malaysian Government over the last two and half years. This is a civil disturbance that is a matter of concern to us. It is legitimate given that we are a regional neighbour of Malaysia and Australians would want to know what is happening in one of their regional neighbours and to cut

of the satellite link so that our television stations can’t transmit news from Malaysia, I think, is unfortunate and I would like to see it resumed.

Question: What about the safety of Australians in Kuala

Lumpur (inaudible)?

Mr Downer: Well the first priority is always the welfare of

Australians and we, so far to the best of my information, have no incidents where Australian’s have been harmed. But it is important that during this difficult period that Malaysians and Australians take care and we have issued a consular warning along those in the last 24 hours.

Question: (inaudible) ?

Mr Downer: That’s what we do. No matter what the country,

we try to give our best non-political advice on the security situation in that country and we can only do that in one way, and that’s by issuing consular warnings which we sometimes try to transmit information through the media. The point here being that for Australians in Malaysia and there are no doubt very many at the moment at the end of the Commonwealth Games, they need to take care where they go. I don’t think that Australians are going to be a target. Demonstrations or civil

actively has nothing to do with Australia directly but there is obviously is unrest in Malaysia and people should be careful.

Question: (inaudible) ?

Mr Downer: Well I’ve seen some scenes on television with

tear gas being used and so on. Look I would only say we hope that the situation in Kuala Lumpur would return to normal. And it is important in the process for case of the former Deputy Prime Minister to be dealt with in according, to natural justice and the rule of the law. And the sooner

that process is assumed the better.


Question : How well do you know Anwar Ibrahim ?

Mr Downer: I know him quite well. I’ve dealt with him fairly

extensively during my time as the Foreign Minister. Every time I have visited Malaysia as Foreign Minister I have called on Anwar Ibrahim and I would say that I have had close and friendly relations with him and he has been an important figure naturally in the Malaysian Government


Question : (inaudible) personally with Anwar Ibrahim ?

Mr Downer: Well, I don’t want to get into that to much, which

is what you want me to do. That would be a little unwise in this very difficult environment and suffice to say that here the deputy prime minister of Malaysia is a matter for the Malaysians. We could only say that we want the situation on the ground to stabilise and obviously in the

case of Anwar Ibrahim as I said that he be dealt with according to the rule of law and natural justice.

Question : (inaudible) charges against him (inaudible) ?

Mr Downer: Well, we have all seen people over the years in

our country and in a lot of other countries charged and some have been convicted and some of them have been acquitted, but you know in our system it is not for somebody like me to cast judgement I would say and equally have the same basic legal system as we have inherited from the

same roots as our legal system, that’s my whole point. That he hasn’t been charged yet. Once he is charged and once the court has heard the evidence and we don’t want to get centred on that (inaudible) it can be resolved and that is really a matter for the judicial system. I just repeat

what I said though, that we do expect the case to be dealt with according to the principles, the rule of law and natural justice.

Question : (inaudible) ?

Mr Downer: Well, let’s not get into the hypothetical we look

forward to this matter being dealt with expeditiously and effectively and it is up to the Malaysians to do that not up to Australia to do that.

Question : (inaudible) ?

Mr Downer: Well, look its hard for me to make much of an

assessment of that because that takes the question of how much opposition "there is to the Government and how much support there is for the Government and I would can only that its clear that Anwar Ibrahim


has quite a significant body of support. On the other hand there is a lot no doubt that the Prime Minister and the Government have very strong support and the best way to deal with this in Malaysia is calmly and effectively.

Question : (inaudible) ?

Mr D ow ner: (inaudible) and be frank with you and say that

there have been a number of rumours that these sort of events could emerge after the end of the Commonwealth Games. This doesn’t come well, out of the blue.

Question : (Inaudible) ?

Mr D ow ner: Well I think that if we to start making submissions

to the Malaysian Government about how they should do things, that it would be meet with the resounding rejections. I think all of us know Malaysia well enough that they don’t need foreign countries preaching to them on how to handle there internal affairs. We have of course some

concern about the situation in Malaysia because it is important partner of ours and a friend of ours in the region, so we have some concerns there. But you have got to be careful how you handle these situations.

Question : Are you in discussions with other countries as to

whats happening there and what might be (inaudible) ?

Mr D ow ner: countries.

Question :

Mr D ow ner: countries.

Well, we are always in discussions with other

(inaudible) ?

No, but we are in discussions with other

Q uestion: Does

recalcitrant (inaudible) ? this whole (inaudible) evidence of

Mr D ow ner:

Question :

I am definitely not going down that path,

(inaudible) Australia’s relations with Malaysia ?

Mr D ow ner: We can only explain to the Malaysians that not

only under the Howard Government but over many years we have a very long and a very fundamental tradition of freedom of speech and freedom of expression in this country. I have also explained to people in the region that if I can control the use of the Australian media and to their


benefit I would start off by controlling the views of the Australian media to my benefit before I worried about them. But you can’t and that’s how it should be of course. We don’t want to have a society in our case where the media are controlled and it is important for other countries which deal with Australia to understand that the principle of freedom of speech and

discussion and expression is a fundamental and non-negotiable principle in this country - this is the way we live our lives and when dealing with Australian you have to take this into account.

Question : (inaudible) ?

Mr D ow ner: Look I don’t think so, I mean as I have said to you

in the end in our country the Government neither wants to nor could tell the media what to print or what not to print or what to report or not what to report they will do what they want. So they obviously operate according to certain ethical principals, but otherwise it is not up to the Australian Government to start dictating to the Australian media how they

should operate. As I said you know if you could, you would tell them to report nice things about the government, but you wouldn’t want to do that. It wouldn’t be a good way to run a society.

Question : (inaudible) ?

Mr D ow ner: Yes, but when this has happened in the past we

have made the point to the Malaysians and even in the case of the ABC and SBS which are owned by the Government, the government doesn’t control those organisations. We know only to well, and you know people in other countries just have to understand that is the way Australia works.

And terrible (inaudible) incidence over the years that you would be aware of that governments in our region have complained about things that have been written, I can’t say though that every day of the week I am always grateful for everything that is written in the regional media about Australia, but I understand that there entitled to express their view. Their media and our media are entitled to express a view, that is just the

way society works.

Question : (inaudible) ?

Mr D ow ner: Well that is not a matter for me, I’m not a


Question : Are you concerned though that the leadership

there is coming unstable (inaudible) ?


Mr D ow ner: Well look you know, in the end they are going to

have to work out there own future in Malaysia. It’s not for the Australian Government to start getting into that type of speculation.

Question : (inaudible) ?

Mr D ow ner: Look we have some private assessments about that sort of thing. I mean if we to start to commenting on every

government in the world then we wouldn’t have to much in the way of relations with those governments. You just can't do that, diplomacy is the proper way to go.

Question : (inaudible) ?

Mr D ow ner: Well, obviously been an upsurge of civil disorder in Malaysia as a result of first of all the dismissal and subsequently the arrest of the Deputy Prime Minister. For the Deputy Prime Minister to be dismissed is a big event in the politics of any country. We have been monitoring the situation every closing and will continue to do so on a day-today basis.

Question : (inaudible) ?

Mr D ow ner: Well there have been demonstrations around the country. Obviously as you know Kuala Lumpur as you know and also the Penang area which is the home constituency of Anwar Ibrahim.