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Transcript of doorstop interview: Department of Foreign Affairs, Canberra: 11 May 2006: [Meeting with Indonesian counterpart in Singapore].



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MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 11 May 2006

TITLE: Doorstop, Department of Foreign Affairs, Canberra

QUESTION: On Monday you’ll be meeting with your Indonesian counterpart in Singapore.

What are you hoping to achieve?

DOWNER: Well we’re still working on the details of that. It’s possible that we might but we’ll just wait and see. I’ll be going onto Singapore to make a bilateral visit there. I’ll be meeting with my Singapore counterpart and with the Prime Minister, and the senior minister Goh Choc Tong and others. So if there’s a chance of meeting up while I’m there with the Indonesian Foreign Minister that would be a good plus. And so that’s something we’re just working on. So some of the reporting is possibly running ahead of the final conclusions, but I’d be happy to do it.

QUESTION: What are your expectations if that meeting goes ahead?

MR DOWNER: Well if it goes ahead, I think - we need, I’ve said this before - we need to take the relationship steadily forward again and work to get it back to where it was before the asylum seekers issue blew up. Look, that’s just going to take a bit of time. It’s important to show a bit of patience and just take things step by step. After the Secretary of my department visited Jakarta, I felt that, and I think Hissan Wirujuda felt that the next stage should be that we’d get together at some time. This might be a convenient time to do that, we’ll just have to wait and see. Then at a certain point the Prime Minister and the President would get together, and I think that’s the way to take things forward -just take them steadily forward.

QUESTION: What more can Australia do to appease Indonesia?

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MR DOWNER: Well, we’re not trying to appease anybody. I mean, we have our laws and we will stand by our laws and the way we do things. But, I’ve often made the point, look, both Australia and Indonesia have a vested interest in a constructive bi lateral relationship. They gain a great deal out of their close and strong relationship with Australia and obviously we gain a lot out of a similarly close and strong relationship with them. So, there are going to be differences from time to time and those differences can play into the political process and the task for us all is to manage those differences. You can’t help it when countries are neighbours, I mean - and I look at the relationship between countries throughout East Asia and there are situations in their bi lateral relations which are a lot worse than the difficulties we’ve been having with Indonesia recently - so, it needs to be kept in some perspective.

QUESTION: Minister, are you concerned at all about Indonesia hosting one of the world’s largest sponsors of terrorism at the moment?

MR DOWNER: Well look, Indonesia and Iran have quite a historic relationship and that relationship has to be understood in that context. It goes back many many years and they worked together in the non-aligned movement in particular. So, there are sort of bonds of history there. They’re both predominately Islamic countries and that’s another bond that they have. So, we don’t need to fear their bi lateral relationship at all. But it’s a matter for them really.

QUESTION: Minister, what is the Australia’s current position on uranium sales to India and what position will we take to the nuclear supplies group when that (inaudible)?

MR DOWNER: Our position hasn’t changed. And I saw an article in the newspaper today suggesting that our officials had been suggesting to the Indians that we were planning to change policy and I’ve checked that out with the officials cause the newspaper reports

surprised me. The officials have assured me that that’s not correct.

QUESTION: Has there been any pressure from the Indians to say look, we’ll sign up to everything except the agreement in terms of, we’ll allow inspections and do everything to the letter except signing it?

MR DOWNER: Well I’ll answer your question by putting to you what their general position is - which I suppose you can extrapolate from that - but their general position is that they will sign up to International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, but, they will only allow

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inspections for, if you like, non-sensitive or non-military reactors. So that’s one issue. And the other is that the Indians have made it clear that they have no intention in the foreseeable future of signing the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Now our policy has always been that we’d be prepared to negotiate nuclear safeguards agreements with countries that have signed up the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. That is our position and we’ve not indicated to the Indians any planned change to that position. What happened was that our officials went to India as a result of the visit by our Prime Minister and discussions he had with Prime Minister Singh. Those officials have come back, they’ve provided a report. Those officials are also going to talk to the Americans about the agreement so we have a better understanding of it all.

QUESTION: With the Americans, is it time for Guantanamo Bay to be closed? We’ve seen a senior British politician call for exactly that today.

MR DOWNER: Who did?

QUESTION: The Attorney General.

MR DOWNER: Lord Goldsmith, yes. Well, that’s, I think, something he’s said on a number of occasions before, but, look that’s a matter for the Americans. I mean, I think how they handle people who they are especially concerned about is - it’s a difficult thing. You know, what you can’t do is let people who you are very concerned may commit acts of terrorism and kill people out on the streets. And, I can understand that. There’s a war against terrorism, and in war, holding the enemy prisoner of course, is quite legitimate. Now, definitions of war and some of these questions are difficult questions, but, we’ve been prepared to go along with maintaining the facilities they have at Guantanamo Bay and the context of the war against terrorism. If they make other arrangements that’s fair enough. We’d be prepared to go along with it.

QUESTION: Do you know what has held up the return of the Bosnian body to ..

MR DOWNER: … No, I know nothing about that.

QUESTION: Do you know if there is a suggestion that the Australian Government could be sued over…

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MR DOWNER: …. I don’t know anything about it, I’m sorry. I think the Prime Minister said earlier today that he would look into it and see if there is anything we could do to be helpful. We’d obviously like to be helpful if we possibly can to the Bosnians, but, as I understand it, the body’s back in Kuwait now, so I’m not sure there’s anything much we can

do. It’s really a matter between them and the Kuwaiti authorities.

QUESTION: On counter-terrorism, the Ambassador for that area…

MR DOWNER: .. Our Ambassador?

QUESTION: Yes, has today suggested that Islamic fundamentalism isn’t quite the threat to Australia that most people believe. What do you make of those comments?

MR DOWNER: Well I haven’t heard what he said and what the context of what he said was. Obviously it’s something we’re very wary of. I mean, Australians were killed twice in Bali by Islamic fundamentalists, we had our Embassy in Jakarta attacked on September 9 2004 by Islamic fundamentalists - although Australians weren’t killed in that attack, Indonesians were. So, a lot of Australians have been killed by Islamic fundamentalists, so we’re very wary of them. In relation to an attack on Australian soil, well, as we say, you should be alert but not alarmed. We put in place very sophisticated series of measures, ranging from improving our intelligence capabilities to strengthening the police and border controls. So, so far so good. But, we’re just not complacent about it.

QUESTION: Some West Papuans are lobbying Senators today over the new asylum seeker laws. Do you think that’s appropriate and would you encourage your colleagues to back this through the Senate?

MR DOWNER: I would, I think this is a good change and I would encourage them to support it, yes.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that there is talk of at least one Senator not (inaudible)?

MR DOWNER: Well I would hope that all coalition Senators would support this sensible measure - I think we’re got to get the balance right. Obviously we want to be humane and we wouldn’t automatically send somebody who makes an asylum claim back without testing that claim, but, where we actually do that testing - where the assessments are

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made, that’s another question. I mean, to be frank with you, we obviously don’t want the system that we have to be - we want it to be effective and compassionate, but we don’t want it to be exploited for political purposes. So, you’ve got to get the balance right here and I think this change helps to keep that balance.

QUESTION: When you meet eventually with your Indonesian counter part, do you expect to ask for the return of the Ambassador to Australia?

MR DOWNER: Look, it’s up to them. Can I just make the point, because people have asked me before about this - our Ambassador in Jakarta, Bill Farmer, he represents our interests and promotes our interests there and so I like to have him there to promote our interests. The Indonesian Ambassador in Australia promotes Indonesia’s interests and looks after Indonesians interests and so, look, it’s up to them whether they think it’s a good idea to have him here or not. I can’t…

QUESTION: … would you like to see him return soon?

MR DOWNER: Well look, it’s entirely up to them. That is entirely up to them.

QUESTION: Minister, back to Guantanamo Bay and the idea that David Hicks might serve his sentence in Australia. What is the likelihood of that?

MR DOWNER: Well, I mean, he’s not going to serve his sentence in Australia if he’s acquitted, he’ll just be released. I think the sooner the military commission trial can take place, the better. But, as you know, it’s being held up now because of a couple of appeals that are going on in the US Supreme Court. I don’t have any timeframe - I think they’re expected to be completed round the middle of the year, so, the next month or two, but don’t hold me to that. But we’ve always said we wanted the trial to be conducted as quickly as possible, but it’s been subject the whole time and - the military commission process is subject to appeals - to the American civil courts. In any case, if he were convicted under that system, then it

would be - under the agreement that we’ve now signed with the United States - possible to serve out his sentence here in Australia, rather than serving it in the United States or in Guantanamo Bay. He might prefer to do that. He’d have to make an application of course, but I would imagine he would make such an application.

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QUESTION: But by signing the agreement Minister, is that the acknowledgement that the military commission’s a kangaroo court?

MR DOWNER: No, no. it’s not about the military commission, it’s about the imprisonment. It’s not an acknowledgment that the prison is a kangaroo prison either. It’s just an acknowledgement that he may, as an Australian, prefer to serve his sentence in his own country - although, I see he’s trying not to be an Australian but to be a Britain. In any case, he’ll continue to be under our law an Australian. We have prisoner exchange arrangements with a lot of countries - there’s a prisoner exchange arrangement with the Commonwealth countries. We have bi lateral prisoner exchange arrangement with Thailand - it doesn’t mean we think all those countries have kangaroo courts - nothing to do with the courts, it’s to do with the serving of the custodial sentence. But, it’s easier for them to see their families, their families to get to them. You know do I think Australian prisons would be better than American prisons - I haven’t had the displeasure of being in either, so I don’t know.

QUESTION: And are you concerned about reports of clashes between police and armed civilians in Bougainville?

MR DOWNER: I am. I think the peace process is working on the whole very well in Bougainville, but, I have been concerned to see those reports. I don’t think we want to exaggerate the situation there - Bougainville is not falling apart, the peace process is not collapsing, but it just shows there’s still work to be done there.

QUESTION: It seems there are a number of flashpoints in our region at the moment.

MR DOWNER: Yes, there are quite a lot. Yes, I have to admit, that is true.

QUESTION: And is Australia playing any role in trying to settle things down in Bougainville?

MR DOWNER: Well we’ve been working with people in Bougainville and in Papua New Guinea for a long time of course for years - ten years, more - 13, 14 years, on this issue of Bougainville and obviously we keep a very close watch on what’s going on there.

ENDS