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Transcript of doorstop interview: Wollongong, NSW: 16 May 2006: University of Wollongong; Prime Minister in the United States of America; Iraq; relationship with Indonesia; East Timor.

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E and OE

16 May 2006


Doorstop Interview - Wollongong

Topics: University of Wollongong, Prime Minister in the United States of America, Iraq, relationship with Indonesia, East Timor.

JOURNALIST: Well perhaps you could start with a bit of a spiel about

why you've come down here to Wollongong tonight?

MR DOWNER: Well I've come down to give the inaugural lecture for the centre and I'm delighted to do that. I think it's a University that all of us have been very impressed with. As the Foreign Minister I've been particularly impressed with the University of Wollongong's international engagement and bearing that in mind, I absolutely want to give it my support and long may it prosper. But I think it's proving to be a very dynamic University and setting up this

centre which we're helping to fund - a new building and funding scholarships and so on, I think it's going to be a very good way of building Australia's profile internationally in these areas of trans-national crime, but also Wollongong.

JOURNALIST: Minister, what role will the new centre here play in the

fight against trans-national crime?

MR DOWNER: I think it will actually be enormously important because it will not only help train Australians, but it will train people from around the Asia-pacific region, and it will become a real resource which the Asia-pacific region will be able to draw on to help develop skills, which is what you need to counter trans-national crime. And we're not here just talking about terrorism, we're talking about drug trafficking, we're talking about people trafficking, a whole list of different kinds of crime. And when the Vice-Chancellor came to me to see me about the idea of this centre, he came with what I thought was a very modest proposal and I said to him, ‘look, there is no other University in Australia which is quite doing this, you should come back with a big proposal - a big plan, to turn this into a real centre for the Asia-pacific region'. And he clearly did. We're funding the new building. We're providing additional AUSAid

scholarships here. So I think it's going to become a centre for the Asia-pacific region, not just a centre for Australia, or for that matter, for New South Wales.

JOURNALIST: How many new scholarships is the government

announcing today?

MR DOWNER: There are going to be 40 new scholarships, so, that's quite a lot of scholarships, coming out of AusAID, and I think that will be worth about a million dollars a year for the University, and specifically to the centre. It's partly that, it's partly of course a way of supporting the centre, but much more importantly, it's bringing people from the Asia-pacific region here to Wollongong, to learn about fighting trans-national crime, to improve the skills of crime fighters in our region - that's in our interests as well as their own interests. And by the way, those people having spent some time in Wollongong will go back to their country with a little place for not just Wollongong, but Australia in their hearts and that will be great for the Illawarra region, but it will be great for Australia, most importantly.

JOURNALIST: I guess it really puts Illawarra at the front line in the

fight against trans-national and national and international crime.

MR DOWNER: Absolutely. Certainly in terms of training and education it absolutely does, and I think the university here - look, I suppose you get politicians coming to the Illawarra and saying nice thing abut the Illawarra, and why wouldn't they - but I say this without any exaggeration - this university in Wollongong has been a credit to the Illawarra. They have

been creative. They've been dynamic. They've been outward looking from their campus in Dubai, which is an enormous success, to their centre. Now, to deal with the issue of trans-national crime, this is a university which is really making its mark in the Asia-pacific region and in the world. That is good for Wollongong, and it's good for the Illawarra.

JOURNALIST: Just picking up on a couple of things in your speech, you

mentioned the war in Iraq, and to pull out now would be to invite disaster. It's something you're obviously constantly re-accessing, the Prime Minister has had I guess a little bit of criticism over in the United States this week…

MR DOWNER: … One demonstrator. There was one demonstrator. (Inaudible)…

JOURNALIST: … can you fill us in on the latest there?

MR DOWNER: I know that it was controversial for us to participate in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and look; we in the Government think it was the right thing to do. We think for all the difficulties there's been in Iraq it would have been worse to have walked on

the other side of the street and left Saddam Hussein in power. People have different views about that. But bearing in mind that has happened, the last thing we want to do, as an international community, is hand Iraq over to the Al Qaeda backed terrorists and Saddam Hussein loyalists. That will be a catastrophe in the fight against terrorism. We've got to stay the course. We've got to

support the twelve million Iraqis who went out and voted in the elections there. The Iraqis who have put their faith in reform and democracy. To walk away from them would, of course, be a catastrophe for the Iraqis, it would be a disaster for the Middle East, and it would be a disaster for international security. So, it's tough, I have no illusions about that, I can understand people having different views about this, but I've never thought that to cut and run was the right policy.

JOURNALIST: And finally I guess, someone in the audience mentioned

kindly the relationship between Australia and Indonesia. You mentioned a heartened meeting last night, but also the promise of talks between the President and the Prime Minister; can you just re-iterate what you said there?

MR DOWNER: Yes, I had dinner last night for I think about three and a half hours, with Hassan Wirajuda, who is my Indonesian counter-part. We're good friends. We've built up this relationship over the last five or so years, I think very effectively and I think both of us agree we don't want to lose what we've built up - the co-operation in counter-terrorism, dealing with trans-national crimes of one sort or another, the development assistance and humanitarian assistance we provide to Indonesia, the contribution Indonesia makes to the security of the region. Both of us benefit from these things and we don't want to throw them away. We've obviously have had some disagreements over the granting of asylum to 42 Papuan asylum seekers, and we need to work this through. I think we are working this through. I think if diplomacy - it's always wise to exercise a little bit of patience, I don't think you can expect - we haven't had of course, instant solutions to this problem, but I think we are making real progress now, and both of us recognise the enormous investment we have in the bilateral relationship and we don't want to loose it. So, finally, the Prime Minister and the President will meet, fairly soon, and that will be part of the process that we put in place, first of all with the Secretary of my Department going to Jakarta on the 21st April, our dinner last night, between the two Foreign Ministers, and then finally, the meeting between the two heads of Government. I think we're working on a process, I think we're doing it patiently and maturely and constructively, and I think we can work this through.

JOURNALIST: Can I just quickly clarify with you, the new AusAID

scholarships, you announced 40 new ones, is that 20 for next year and 20 for the following year?

MR DOWNER: That's right, yes.

JOURNALIST: So it's more (inaudible) continuing the programme

rather than you…?

MR DOWNER: … that's right. We have some scholarships already, and so we're going now to have 20 a year additional scholarships.

JOURNALIST: And are you able to give us an update at all on the troops that are on stand-by to go to East Timor?

MR DOWNER: I'm happy to answer your question about it. We just put in place a contingency plan; I think that's just sensible planning. We haven't been asked by the East Timorese Government to send in any troops to provide stability there, and I don't think it's likely we will be. And we haven't had to evacuate people from East Timor with the assistance of their military. But we just want to make sure that we're got contingency plans in place. In case those things happen. If we don't have contingency plans in place, then it's going to take us week or two to deal with those problems. Now, back in 1999, it took us a little while in that case to persuade the United Nations to allow in Australians troops into East Timor. A lot of damage was done while the debate was going on to get the permission. We feel that if the worst happens - and I think it's very unlikely it will - that there is a really serious outbreak of violence in East Timor, and the East Timorese want us to come in an help, in that situation, the sooner we get there the better. So it's just a question of prudent and sensitive planning. We don't wish to alarm people, we're not about to rush into East Timor - we certainly wouldn't go there uninvited.


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