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Transcript of press conference: 22 April 2008: [Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum]



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MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON STEPHEN SMITH, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 22 April 2008

TITLE: Media conference

STEPHEN SMITH: Just after midday a number of my colleagues and I will fly to Madang in Papua New Guinea for the Australia - Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum.

This is the first Forum that's been held for over two years and it's a very good sign that the Australia-PNG relationship is back on track. And I think it's a matter of record that in the recent period the Australia-PNG relationship had faltered and was not in a good state of repair.

Now, it is in a very good state of repair. The Prime Minister and the Prime Minister Somare had a very good bilateral at the margins of the Bali Climate Change Conference in December. Since then I've had a number of meetings with my Foreign Minister counterpart, Mr Sam Abal, and have also had a bilateral in Canberra with the PNG Deputy Prime Minister.

So this is a very important Ministerial Forum. As I say, a number of my colleagues are attending: Simon Crean, dealing with matters related to trade with Papua New Guinea and in the region; Penny Wong with important climate change and deforestation issues; and Peter Garrett on the Kokoda Track. I'll have the very great pleasure as well of staying in PNG after the forum to attend the Anzac Day ceremony at the Port Moresby war cemetery on Anzac Day, so I'm very much looking forward to that.

I've just got some remarks to make on a couple of other issues and then I'll happily respond to your questions. Firstly, can I just make some remarks about the conviction of the two senior JI members overnight. Can I firstly compliment Indonesia on the very good work that it's been doing so far as counter-terrorism is concerned. Indonesia

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has a very good track record in the last half a dozen years and Australia has been working very closely with Indonesia. This is reflected by extending our counter-terrorism memorandum of understanding at the signing of the Lombok treaty in Perth earlier this year.

And so we very warmly welcome the very good efforts that the Indonesian Government is making so far as counter-terror measures are concerned. Australia is cooperating very, very well with Indonesia and their efforts have been very effective with over 180 terrorists arrested, tried and convicted in the last half a dozen years. And we hope that the decision of the court will give the Indonesian authorities even greater capacity to continue their very good work.

Further, can I just make some remarks about Zimbabwe. Can I say frankly that it is now absolutely apparent that Mr Mugabe will do anything to steal this election. We've become increasingly concerned about the rise in incidences of violence. It is quite clear that the so-called recount is nothing but a sham. Australian officials observed the first day of the recount, but it's quite clear from other reports from people who've been watching the recount over the last couple of days, that it is nothing more or nothing less than a sham; a blatant attempt by Mr Mugabe to either avoid a Presidential run-off or to have a Presidential run-off in which intimidation and threats, thuggery, in order to pervert the will of the Zimbabwe people.

I'm very pleased to see that the African Union has called upon the results to be released immediately and I welcome very much the strong remarks that we've seen in recent days from Kofi Anan; from Ban Ki-moon; from Secretary of State Rice, and

from my counterpart in the United Kingdom, Mr Miliband; and also expressions of support and concern through the G8 and also in the course of the Security Council debate on peace and security in Africa.

So we continue to urge the African Union and the South African Development Community to keep the pressure on the brutal Zimbabwe regime and continue to urge the international community to keep the pressure on so as to ensure that Mr Mugabe doesn't steal this election either by a rorted count or recount or by violent means.

I'm happy to respond to your questions on those or other issues.

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QUESTION: Human rights groups are claiming that people are being tortured for voting the wrong way. What are you hearing about that?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I've got no advice or information, or evidence on that front. But given that you're dealing with the brutal Mugabe regime with the track record that it has, nothing would surprise me.

QUESTION: Are you disappointed that one of the runners has pulled out of the Olympic torch relay and particularly the fact that she's citing human rights concerns about China as her reason?

STEPHEN SMITH: I'm not disappointed at all in her conduct, for this reason: it's a very good example of peacefully making a point. Which is what I urge anyone who turns up to watch the torch relay in a couple of days time, I urge them to conduct themselves as well. We've seen today an Australian citizen express a point of view consistent with Australia's commitment to freedom of expression, to peacefully express a point of view. That's her point of view, she's entitled to it. She's entitled to make that point without anyone intimidating her.

And so I just hope that on Thursday when the torch relay is here that everyone who attends follows her example. If you want to make a point about a personal view that you hold, make it, but make it peacefully. Don't seek to impose or intimidate others. And I hope that you don't see any counter or contrary examples.

QUESTION: Do you know how many Chinese attendants will be looking after the flame and what action, you know, will the police take if they [indistinct]?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly, the Prime Minister's made it clear and the ACT relevant authority have made it clear that the flame attendants will have no role in security. There is a requirement for the flame to be attended to when it is exchanged, and that's been detailed by the ACT authorities. But they will have no role in security. And we are absolutely firm on that point. It'll be the Territory authorities who will be responsible for security. They will have no role in security.

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QUESTION: Minister, do you know the source of the $800,000 in Alfredo Reinado's account in Darwin? If so, why haven't you passed that information on to the East Timorese Government, who are desperate to know?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly, personally, I don't know of the source and I don't know whether the account exists. That's the first point. Secondly, from the middle of March, the relevant Australian authorities have made it clear to East Timor that if they require information for purposes of their investigations, whether that information is telephone records or financial transactions, then all they have to do is to follow the well-designated appropriate procedure and that information will be made available to them.

In the case of telephone records, my understanding is that has been made available. In the case of financial records, all the East Timorese authority need to do is to follow the well set out appropriate procedure, and that information will also be provided to them. That has been made clear to the East Timorese authorities since the middle of March.

QUESTION: Are you saying that the assassination attempt on a head of state of near neighbour, the investigation of that's been held up essentially by paperwork?

STEPHEN SMITH: No. The investigation is being conducted by the East Timorese authorities. That was their desire. They have asked the Australian authorities to provide some assistance to them. That has in the main, been assistance in a specialised technical area forensically. They wanted to - as is entirely appropriate - to conduct that investigation as an individual nation state would want to.

QUESTION: Are you saying the Australian authorities were not aware that the $800,000 had been lodged in a Darwin bank account?

STEPHEN SMITH: I don't have any personal knowledge of any of those matters, and nor would you expect me to. I'm simply making this point. In recent days, suggestions have been made publicly that there was a bank account which Reinado held in Darwin of considerable size. That is relevant to the East Timorese Government's inquiries and investigations. They want access to those financial records. It's a quite straightforward point.

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The East Timorese authorities have been told since the middle of March that if they want information along those lines, there is a standard procedure in process designated by the Attorney-General's office and department, which they need to

follow. All they need to do is follow that procedure and the information will be provided to them.

QUESTION: And would the same procedure be applied if say if it was George Bush had been in that situation?

STEPHEN SMITH: This is a matter for the Attorney-General's department, but there is a standard memorandum of understanding procedure which applies when requests are made offshore for information of this nature. All they have to do is follow the procedure.

QUESTION: So when Jose Ramos Horta criticises you, the Australian Government's lack of progress on this, he's being unfair?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I can understand the President's frustration. I can deeply understand the President's frustration. But the Australian Government and the Australian people more generally, I think, have done everything that they can to help

ensure that the resident is returning to a speedy recovery and also to assist the East Timorese authorities in the course of their investigation. But there is a simple procedure here that needs to be followed.

The East Timorese authority had been advised on my understanding, since the middle of March, if they want access to phone records, which I understand have been made available to them, because they followed the procedure, then the Australian Government stands ready, willing and able to assist. If they want financial transaction records, all they simply need to do is to follow the well designated, well established procedure.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] an attempted political assassination…

STEPHEN SMITH: [Interrupts] And I'm talking about, I understand that. And the Australian Government understood the significance of that all too well. You might recall the additional troops and Federal Police that we deployed, together with HMAS

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Perth. You might also recall all the efforts that we made to ensure the President made a recovery.

So I don't think that anyone should be thinking that the Australian Government doesn't appreciate the significance of what has occurred. But there is an investigation underway by the East Timorese authorities at the request of the East Timorese Government. They want access to information about financial transactions of Reinado. All they have to do is to follow the appropriate procedure and that will be made available to them. That has been made crystal clear by the relevant Australian authorities to the East Timorese authorities since the middle of March.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] that Ramos Horta is again having another spray, giving Australian…

STEPHEN SMITH: No, I feel nothing but regard, affection and sympathy and concern for the President. We were deeply shocked, deeply shocked, when he was attacked. We were deeply concerned and moved when we thought that he might lose his life. I understand entirely the frustrations of the President. But I'm just simply making clear that if the East Timorese authority follow the appropriate procedures, the relevant information they want to be made available to them for the purposes of their investigation, will be made available.

QUESTION: If the Australian authorities, how quickly could that information be provided once they go through this procedure?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's a matter for the Attorney-General's department; it's a matter for the relevant authorities. I'm simply saying if they follow the procedures, the information will be made available to them, as have the telephone record information which they previously requested. And that was requested when they followed the appropriate procedure.

QUESTION: Did the Australian authorities alert President Horta and the East Timorese authorities before the attack of the whereabouts of Reinado, and asked do you want us to do anything about…

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STEPHEN SMITH: The Australian Government and International Stabilisation Force had some considerable time before the attack on the President and the Prime Minister, were expressly asked, requested by the East Timorese Government to not seek to ascertain the whereabouts of Reinado or to round him up and bring him in.

The President himself believed that a compromise could be affected if Mr Reinado. And you might recall when I spoke publicly in Darwin with the Foreign Minister from East Timor, Zacharias da Costa, that I said that the decision of the East Timorese Government to not have international stabilisation force seek to bring Reinado in, was something that with hindsight, they may want to reflect on. Now that was the decision of the East Timorese Government. The President himself believed that compromise

could be effected with Reinado. In the event, that clearly didn't occur.

But the International Stabilisation Force, the Australian authorities in East Timor, were expressly requested, indeed effectively directed by the East Timorese Government, to leave Reinado to them.

QUESTION: Minister, the Australian Workers' Union appears to have re-thought its opposition to guest workers coming from the Pacific Islands. Has the Government re-thought it? And will you be opening that possibility in discussions in Papua New Guinea?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's not so much a matter of re-thinking it. You might recall that when we came to office with a commitment to carefully examine the New Zealand pilot programs so far as labour mobility was concerned. We're doing that.

When I was in New Zealand recently for the Fiji Foreign Ministers' Forum, I had conversations with my New Zealand counterpart and New Zealand officials about the effectiveness of that scheme, of that pilot program. Some of my colleagues have likewise made consultations. So we're having a look at the New Zealand labour mobility pilot program.

It's obviously something that we have under consideration and we also be aware that over the weekend, at the 2020 Summit, it was one of the issues that a range of people in the Security and Future Prosperity stream had a view about. And that view was that it should be progressed, and we're having a look at the labour mobility New Zealand

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pilot program in accordance with what we've said in the run-up to the election. We'll be looking at that very carefully and closely, it's something that we've had conversations with a number of our Pacific Island Forum nations, it's also been raised with me by Mr Abal in our bilateral conversations, and I expect that the topic will come up in the course of our Ministerial Forum in Madang.

QUESTION: The PNG Foreign Minister has acknowledged that aid money there could be better spent, when you're at the Ministerial Council, will you be reviewing the aid budget and the projects on which it's spent?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, our development assistance, and what we'd like to do in the future, will obviously come up. One of the things we are pursuing with Papua New Guinea is a Pacific Partnership for Development. Papua New Guinea and Samoa are the two nations that we're pursuing the Pacific Partnership Development Program with in the first instance, and so I'm sure development assistance in that context will come up.

We are a significant development assistance provider to Papua New Guinea; it's the second largest contribution we make. Part of that contribution entails infrastructure, just as it entails health, in particular HIV AIDS education, but also capacity building and governance issues. So I'm happy, very happy to have that conversation.

QUESTION: Mr Smith, is rivalry between China and Taiwan undermining efforts to deliver greater governance in PNG, and also, do you have any concerns about China's diplomatic footprint in East Timor, where the amount spent is I think some $45 million on the Defence Ministry, Presidential palace and patrol roads?

STEPHEN SMITH: I don't have any concern with nation states that operate in the development assistance area, with a long term, enduring program. What we've always made clear we have difficulty with, is what we describe as cheque book diplomacy.

QUESTION: Minister, how disappointing is it that the media and the public will be kept at a distance from the torch relay this week?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's a matter for the relevant ACT authorities, to take whatever security precautions they regard as appropriate, but I haven't noticed, for

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example, the media having any difficulty putting to air what's occurred with the torch relay in other nations. I just hope that what the media puts to air on Thursday or Friday from the torch relay in Canberra, is civilised and dignified, which reflects the spirit and dignity of the Olympics, and which, if people so choose, also reflects the right of people to peacefully, put a point of view.

QUESTION: Do you think it's appropriate though that the media coverage will be done mostly by Olympic sponsors?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'm just not aware of the arrangements that have been made, frankly, it's a matter for the relevant ACT authorities and the Olympic Organising Committee.

QUESTION: Mr Smith, are you concerned at all about the apparent involvement of the Chinese Embassy, in actually hiring buses, there's been a suggestion that that was being done, and have you called anybody in to have a chat about it, any of your staff?

STEPHEN SMITH: Look, if people want to turn up to observe the torch relay on Thursday, whether they want to turn up to make a point about Tibet, or whether they want to turn up to make a point about China, or whether they want to turn up to make a point about the Olympics, they're perfectly entitled in Australian society, to turn up and make that point.

And people are perfectly entitled in Australian society, to make arrangements for transport, whether it's by bus, by car, by boat, or by bike. What they're not entitled to do is to conduct themselves in an inappropriate manner. They're not entitled to threaten or intimidate or assault, or engage in anything which impinges upon another

person's right to freedom of expression.

So people are entitled to turn up, people are entitled to turn up, and to put it in an Olympic sporting context, they're entitled to turn up and cheer their own team, if that's what they want to do. But they're not entitled to be violent, they're not entitled to

impose their views on anyone else who's there, peacefully expressing their own point of view.

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QUESTION: Have you or any of your departmental staff put that to the Chinese Embassy, or have they given you any assurances?

STEPHEN SMITH: Look, the views of the Australian Government, about how people should conduct themselves, are crystal clear; they've been made abundantly clear by me over the weekend, they've been made absolutely crystal clear by the Prime Minister yesterday. People are entitled to turn up and put a point of view, they're not entitled to turn up and act like football hooligans, and they're not entitled to turn up and act in an inappropriate or criminal way.

QUESTION: Has the Chinese Government accepted this Government's view willingly?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well they know what our view is and I've got no evidence to suggest that the Chinese authorities are encouraging people to do anything other than to turn up and put a point of view.

QUESTION: On Indonesia, the court rulings there, how will this stop Jemaah Islamiyahs' operations? Is this a sort of a major turning point, do you think?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I certainly think it's significant. Obviously we want to have a detailed look at the court decision itself. I think the longer term ramifications of the decision will take a bit of time, and obviously people in Indonesia, both the authorities there and the Government there, will also be looking carefully at the decision and its full ramifications. I just think that it's just another example of how effective and how well Indonesia has conducted itself, as far as counter-terrorism is concerned, in the last half-dozen years or so.

QUESTION: Do you think Indonesia should go that step further and out all Jemaah Islamiyahs?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well that's a matter for the Indonesian authorities. It's a matter for the Indonesian authorities, what steps if any they take, as a consequence of this decision, but I just again make it clear we warmly welcome their efforts, we've been cooperating with them very, very well. The signing of the Lombok Treaty recently in Perth, also carried with it extensions of our memorandum of understanding so far as

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these corporation matters were concerned, So we're very happy with the good work that they've been doing. I'm going to miss a plane shortly, so…

QUESTION: What Government Ministers will be meeting with the Chinese Ambassador at Parliament House tomorrow?

STEPHEN SMITH: I don't know, I don't know who, if any. I'll be in Madang.

QUESTION: Minister, you've heard rumours, no doubt, of staffers particularly being worked to death in the Rudd Government, are you feeling the pinch, are your staff looking bleary eyed, and complaining?

STEPHEN SMITH: I'm conducting myself in the same manner that I have from day one, which is this, work hard, do good deeds, have fun.

Cheers.

[Ends]