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Transcript of interview with Howard Sattler: Radio 6PR Drive: 3 September 2009: Afghanistan; Stern Hu; Peter Gray; Africa DownUnder; Indonesian earthquake.



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The Hon Stephen Smith MP AUSTRALIAN MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Transcript: E&OE

3 September 2009 

Interview: Radio 6PR Perth Drive, with Howard Sattler 

Topics: Afghanistan, Stern Hu, Peter Gray, Africa DownUnder, Indonesian  earthquake. 

HOWARD SATTLER: Well, here's a bloke I've been waiting to catch up with for some time; the boy from Narrogin.

STEPHEN SMITH: [Laughs]

HOWARD SATTLER: Stephen Smith. Do you go back to Narrogin any time these days?

STEPHEN SMITH: Occasionally for hockey carnivals with the kids.

HOWARD SATTLER: Do you?

STEPHEN SMITH: Yeah.

HOWARD SATTLER: Haven't forgotten your roots, eh.

STEPHEN SMITH: No, no. Well, my two sisters and I were born there. Dad was in the PMG. In Narrogin in those days, it was either PMG or railways. So the old man was…

HOWARD SATTLER: PMG.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, only you and I, Howard, are old enough to know what it stands for.

HOWARD SATTLER: My mum was in the PMG.

STEPHEN SMITH: Yeah. And then dad went into Telecom - was the post office-telecom split - and retired before it became Telstra.

HOWARD SATTLER: Yep. There you go. Well, you've come a long way from Narrogin.

STEPHEN SMITH: I don't know about that. But I played hockey there, as did my dad. And so my daughter is a serious hockey player, so every year for the last three or four years until this year she's played in a hockey carnival in Narrogin because they've got a terrific Astroturf.

And one of the Australian key Olympic players, who retired recently, Bevan George, comes from Narrogin so they've named the stadium and the facility after him.

HOWARD SATTLER: All right. So it's - when you go to sleep at night, you say, hockey one, hockey two.

STEPHEN SMITH: Oh, the game's changed a lot, Howard, including that bit [laughs].

HOWARD SATTLER: Yeah, I reckon. Okay. Now, let's talk about a few issues which are important.

Afghanistan; what are we doing there? Should we pull the pin? Even the American generals now are starting to query whether we're making any progress there.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's difficult, it's dangerous and it's tough. But the reason we're there - and when we came to office 18 months ago, we sat down and did our own review trying to make a judgement as to whether it was in our national interest to be there. And we came…

HOWARD SATTLER: Worked out that Iraq was a mistake.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we knew that Iraq was a mistake. We came to the conclusion that terrorist attacks that had seen Australians killed, whether it was Bali or London or the World Trade Centre, had emanated in terms of training and organisation from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. We very strongly formed the view that it was in our national interest to stay, that we've got to be part of the United Nations mandated force to try and stare down Afghanistan.

We think that we're in a better strategic position now than we were some time ago. When Obama came to office he affected a review, known as the Riedel Review. That narrowed the focus to trying to get the strategy on reducing the threat of international terrorism and understanding that you can't do that just by military enforcement action. You've also got to help try and build the…

HOWARD SATTLER: Got to win the minds.

STEPHEN SMITH: Exactly. You've got to try and build the capacity of the Afghans to look after their own affairs, particularly their army, the police force, the administration of justice, and the like. But also ordinary everyday services, health, education.

But also your point, and I've made this point strongly, at some point in the cycle there has to be a political reconciliation or a political rapprochement between the Afghanistan people themselves.

Not everyone who is currently associated with the Taliban is an international terrorist…

HOWARD SATTLER: No, but down the track is the Taliban going to be part of the solution? Because there seem to be so many of them, and no matter how many we wipe out there's still more coming along.

STEPHEN SMITH: The current Karzai Government, and all the analysts and observers of Afghanistan, come to the conclusion that there are people who are associated with the Taliban and with extremists because they see no other option, no other road. What - whether

the Karzai Government is re-elected or whether there's a new government, the new government has got to show a better way.

We've been very concerned in the last 12 months or so about the lack of progress on narcotics, on corruption, on governance. So there's been an ebbing of confidence in the Karzai…

HOWARD SATTLER: Some people in the Government are involved in that, aren't they?

STEPHEN SMITH: That is a very serious cause of concern, and I've made the point that if Karzai is re-elected, the international community will require much greater progress from him than we've seen over the last 12 months

HOWARD SATTLER: And most of our drugs are still coming from Afghanistan, I think.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, actually most of our drugs I think come from Burma.

HOWARD SATTLER: Oh Burma, yeah. And what can you do about Burma.

STEPHEN SMITH: But it's quite clear that the narcotics issue is a serious issue. And we've got to get much better at the anti-narcotics strategy.

But also winning the hearts and minds and building the institutions of Afghanistan so in the end they can look after…

HOWARD SATTLER: Got to learn from the mistakes of Vietnam, haven't we.

STEPHEN SMITH: …their own affairs.

HOWARD SATTLER: Yeah. Stern Hu, all right, the bloke from Rio, not from Rio the place but Rio the company. What are we doing on his behalf, if anything? What can we do? Is he innocent? Is he guilty? What's the story?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I can't make that judgement. He's been arrested and detained under Chinese law. He's been formally arrested for offences under their criminal law relating to commercial or economic…

HOWARD SATTLER: Has he been charged?

STEPHEN SMITH: He's been formally detained. It's what you and I would say is a charge. They call it a formal detention.

The next step now will be bringing him to trial.

Now, we've been continuing to make representations to the Chinese authorities. We've had consular…

HOWARD SATTLER: What do we say to them? We say, come on, bring him to trial?

STEPHEN SMITH: We say you need to deal with this matter expeditiously; you've got to bring this person to... if you're going to try him, bring him to trial quickly.

Under the consular agreement that we have with the Chinese, we're entitled to consular access. We've had two consular access visits to date, and we have another one that's due early this month. I think publicly this morning I said early next month, still thinking it was August

rather than September. But it's early this month. So in a matter of days rather than weeks.

And the last two occasions we've seen him, he's been in good health.

We've also continued to give assistance to his wife and his family.

HOWARD SATTLER: Has he got a lawyer?

STEPHEN SMITH: He's legally represented. Once he was detained formally, or charged as you and I would say, he was entitled under Chinese law to a lawyer. He's legally represented. His lawyer has been in consultation with him and now that he's legally represented we continue to make our representations to the Chinese authorities that it's in China's interest in terms of international business community view of China, but also in, obviously in Stern Hu's interest for the matter to be dealt with as expeditiously as possible.

But as is the case with very many Australians who get into difficulties overseas he now finds himself before the criminal justice system in China.

HOWARD SATTLER: Yeah well he's only been there a few months. A bloke called Peter Gray who I've made representations to your office about, has been in Mauritius detained for four years.

This is a bloke who originally was alleged was involved drug smuggling because he happened to be travelling alongside a lady who was actually convicted of drug smuggling. Now it's conspiracy to do something but this guy hasn't been convicted of anything and he's there for four years.

I mean, isn't there a point where you can go to your counterpart in Mauritius and say to him, it's long enough?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well this is case, it's a very bad case and we've been following it closely as you have and other people in the media have.

HOWARD SATTLER: Yeah, I've spoken with him.

STEPHEN SMITH: And that's not said critically at all. One of the problems about Mauritius, whether you're a foreign national before their criminal justice system or a Mauritian, is they do have, unfortunately, very lengthy delays.

So it's not a different system for Australians or for foreigners. They have very lengthy delays and we try and make that point clear in our travel advisory.

We've been giving him consular assistance, Peter Gray, doing our best to make sure that his welfare's looked after.

We've also been in close contact with his lawyers and you drew attention to the fact that recently in the last month or so, couple of months, the charges have been downgraded.

HOWARD SATTLER: Yes.

STEPHEN SMITH: As a consequence of that his lawyer initiated an abuse of process action in the Mauritian courts. But we've been in close consultation with him and because of your interest and other people's interest and the family…

HOWARD SATTLER: I could not be interested in it.

STEPHEN SMITH: …I've gone through the file essentially so I've had a look at all of the details and after last…

HOWARD SATTLER: But you cancelled his passport, why did you do that?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I didn't do it; it was done by my predecessor.

HOWARD SATTLER: Why did they do that?

STEPHEN SMITH: Let me come to that - let me make one more point before I come to that. After his most recent court hearing, which was sometime in July, our officials in Mauritius sat down with the lawyer and spoke to the lawyer.

The lawyer said to us, I know that you've been getting representations or urging us to take this up with the Mauritian Government, to make representations either publicly or privately. Please don't do that.

It's not in his interest for you to make representations; this matter needs to be dealt with, however slowly, by the Mauritian court. So we've been expressly requested by his lawyer not to intervene, or seek…

HOWARD SATTLER: Not to upset the government there.

STEPHEN SMITH: Not to intervene or seek to invade ourselves in it because…

HOWARD SATTLER: That's threatening isn't it?

STEPHEN SMITH: ...his legal advice is that the best way of dealing this, however slowly, is through their system.

HOWARD SATTLER: This is the country that's encouraging us to be tourists there too, remember that. Doesn't encourage me.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well because no doubt, Howard, you read the travel advice which says if you get into trouble in Mauritius there are very lengthy delays before their court system.

On the passport cancellation, I cancel passports on a regular basis at the request of what is called a prescribed authority, so a police officer or an investigatory body.

More often than not, when a person is convicted or charged, just charged with a serious offence overseas a request comes through to cancel the passport so as to ensure that person doesn't flee the jurisdiction. And that is done on a regular basis and that's what occurred.

I'm not entitled to see the file because it was done by my predecessor but the advice that I had is that that was done on a standard basis.

He was detained in prison for over a 12-month period and he's been on…

HOWARD SATTLER: Sixteen months he was in prison and not charged with anything at that stage.

STEPHEN SMITH: … on bail in Mauritius ever since. So it's a difficult case. I understand all of your concerns.

HOWARD SATTLER: Have you talked to anyone in the Government over there about it?

STEPHEN SMITH: No, largely because, one, his family members have been in a receipt of contra advice from our officials in Australia. He has been in regular contact with our officials in Mauritius and when I searched the file I couldn't, on one occasion, see a complaint from him.

But secondly, having gone through…

HOWARD SATTLER: If feels as though he's been hung out to dry at the moment.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well he hasn't. We have - every time he goes to court there's an Australian official there. We've been, as I say, in regular contact with him and also, importantly, in contact with his lawyers and as I say, after the most recent court appearance his lawyer expressly requested us not to publicly or privately intervene because he didn't think that would be in his interest.

Now in terms of assistance we give Australians, we have to, in a sense, follow the instructions of the individual concerned or his lawyer.

It may well be from time to time different requests or different advice or different views that we get from family members …

HOWARD SATTLER: So if you do get different advice from his lawyer, you'll take notice of that and may be…

STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely, no, absolutely.

HOWARD SATTLER: So if his lawyer says, well I'd like you to talk to someone over here.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well that's something we would obviously give consideration to, but I'm very mindful of the advice that he's got.

HOWARD SATTLER: Oh okay.

STEPHEN SMITH: Which has been relayed to us that our public intervention or our private intervention with the Mauritian authorities would not be in his interest.

HOWARD SATTLER: All right, we'll move on and we'll follow up that with you and also with him and his family.

What are we doing for the Indonesians after the latest earthquake?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's a terrible situation. My most recent advice is that we're looking anywhere between 40 to 50 deaths and that may well increase as the hours and days go on.

We've indicated to the Indonesians that we're happy to provide whatever assistance they need. Currently they haven't asked for any international assistance because they think they're in a position to deal with it themselves.

We're also expecting at some stage that we may well get a request from the NGOs, from the non-government organisations who deal in reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, so the international Red Cross, the UN Agency.

HOWARD SATTLER: World Vision, people like that.

STEPHEN SMITH: People like that, so we're putting ourselves in a position where if we get a request from the NGOs we'll be in a position to respond.

But it's early days. The way disaster relief unfolds is firstly, the immediate urgent assistance of removing people from difficulties so people in the rubble and the like. Then trying to render the urgent humanitarian assistance, shelter, tents, mattresses, food, water etcetera, and then the longer term reconstruction.

But Indonesia is a very close friend, a very close partner. If they need any assistance in terms of the disaster relief, we'll give it. I expect we're not too far away from the NGO saying, to put us in a position to be able to supply the things which we normally supply; the immediate humanitarian assistance, we might need a bit of money from you and we will obviously do that and when we do I'll obviously let that be known publicly.

HOWARD SATTLER: Okay, we're on the cusp of another resources movement in Western Australia. Have you been talking to people with African interest today?

STEPHEN SMITH: Today I officially opened what's called Africa DownUnder, which is the largest minerals or mining conference done by Australians for Africans.

There's a comparable conference which occurs in South Africa every year called Indaba, but this one, there's 900 to 1000 people here.

There is significant…

HOWARD SATTLER: What, from Africa?

STEPHEN SMITH: Mixture, Australian industry, African industry, Australian government officials and five of our Ambassadors or High Commissioners from Africa, three African Mining Ministers. So it's sort of fifty-fifty. A lot of African mining interest, officials and the like.

And when we came to office, very quickly I came to the conclusion that we needed to enhance our engagement with Africa. It's a continent of nearly a billion people, over 50 countries and there's so much…

HOWARD SATTLER: You only ever hear about coups and things like that.

STEPHEN SMITH: You only hear about the bad news but there's actually a lot of good news under the surface and the economic potential between Australia and Africa is one of them.

It's been driven by mineral resources out of Western Australia. They tell me, for example, a place like Ghana, that the geological formations are just like the Kalgoorlie goldfields, so there's a lot…

HOWARD SATTLER: Of the same sort of stuff's under there.

STEPHEN SMITH: Exactly, well that certainly Ghana equals gold so far as the WA mining industry is concerned. But there are lots of economic opportunities between Australia and Africa, that's why we want to substantially enhance our engagement.

But it's not just mining; it's also agriculture and agribusiness.

Also some of the things that we're very good at, where we can help build their capacity. Child and maternal healthcare, education. I announced today that as part of an enhancement of our scholarships, by about 2013 we'll have a thousand scholarships for African students coming to Australia.

We're also increasing the number of fellowships in the mining area from eight to 24, giving young African professionals a chance to come here and do some mining training to help build their own capacity back there.

So it's a significant trading opportunity for WA and for Australia and the truth is, the mining industry got there much sooner than the Government.

Critical's putting it too high, but I have made the point on a number of occasions that Australia has not engaged with Africa enough in preceding years…

HOWARD SATTLER: You're admitting that politicians and bureaucrats are behind the eight ball are you?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well in this area, as in South America where I was last week, the people-to-people contact and the commercial exchanges have got ahead of the government exchange and we now need to catch up, which is why…

HOWARD SATTLER: Nobody even thinks about South America, apart from Rio.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we need…

HOWARD SATTLER: Did you go to Rio?

STEPHEN SMITH: No I went to Brasilia the capital of Brazil and I went to Santiago, in Chile.

And in Santiago de Chile, again you've got Australian entrepreneurs, Australian business forging ahead, making good progress in Chile.

The South Americans used to look north to the United States.

HOWARD SATTLER: Yeah.

STEPHEN SMITH: Now they're looking east and west and they see Africa, they see Asia and they see Australia and they say the same things that a lot of the African countries say, which is we're really attracted to Australia, mineral resources, education, environmental expertise. They're particularly interested in a lot of the things that we've got world-class expertise at.

So again, with South America you've got a continent of over half-a-billion people. We're 21 million people and we survive by trading.

We can't ignore continents of that size and that's why we're enhancing our engagement with them.

HOWARD SATTLER: All right, nice to catch up with you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Good to see you, Howard.

HOWARD SATTLER: Stay in touch too. You're a hard man to get.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, sometimes you try and catch me and I'm either on a plane…

HOWARD SATTLER: You're always on a plane [laughs].

STEPHEN SMITH: Well that's my job [laughs].

HOWARD SATTLER: I suppose so.

STEPHEN SMITH: But it's good…

HOWARD SATTLER: I love it when, they always say, he's on a plane today so where's he going?

STEPHEN SMITH: [Laughs]

HOWARD SATTLER: Oh he's going to Canberra. How long is he taking to get to Canberra?

STEPHEN SMITH: Forever.

HOWARD SATTLER: Yeah.

STEPHEN SMITH: But it's good to catch up, it's good to be in and it's always good to chat and let's hope we can do it again in the future.

HOWARD SATTLER: All right, thank you very much. Good to see you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Howard.

HOWARD SATTLER: Stephen Smith the Foreign Affairs Minister.

[Ends]

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