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Transcript of doorstep interview: 3 September 2009: Indonesian earthquake; Africa DownUnder; Stern Hu.

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3 September 2009

Doorstop Press Conference, Africa DownUnder Conference, Sheraton Hotel, Perth

Subjects: Indonesian Earthquake, Africa DownUnder Conference, Stern Hu

QUESTION: Can we ask your reaction to the Indonesian quake. Was any Australian...

STEPHEN SMITH: Our sympathies obviously go out to Indonesia and the Indonesians who've been adversely affected. The most recent advice I had was that we were very worried about obviously, fatalities and casualties. We fear that they'll grow. We've indicated to Indonesia that we're very happy to provide assistance if that's requested or required.

Currently, there's been no request for assistance.

To date, we've got no information to suggest that any Australians have been caught up in it, but obviously we're monitoring that very closely. So our officials, through our Embassy in Jakarta, are in very close contact with Indonesian officials.

We fear that the fatality rate will rise, but we'll just have to be patient in that respect. But obviously, our hearts go out to Indonesia suffering this terrible tragedy.

QUESTION: Minister, what's the latest on Stern Hu?

STEPHEN SMITH: Stern Hu continues to be in detention. We continue to make representations at officials’ level to the Chinese authorities that his case should be dealt with expeditiously.

QUESTION: When's the next consular visit due?

STEPHEN SMITH: The next consular visit will be due, on the 30 day program, early next month.

QUESTION: And what...

STEPHEN SMITH: To date, the Chinese authorities have conducted themselves in accordance with the consular agreement that we have. The consular agreement allows for consular access every 30 days. I'm very happy to give the precise date. But to date, the two consular visits have been effected within the 30 day timetable.

QUESTION: What's your opinion on Australian troops doing military exercises in China?

STEPHEN SMITH: I wouldn't put it that high, and it's a matter that I'm happy to leave, in terms of the details, to my colleague Senator Faulkner, the Minister for Defence. But Australia has Defence cooperation and contact with a range of countries. And Admiral Keating has said overnight, there's no reason why that can't be contemplated with China.

QUESTION: The activities of mining companies in Africa, is it aid by other means?

STEPHEN SMITH: No. There is a very fundamental point here. The need for Australia to engage much more substantially with Africa is driven by our economic interests and our strategic interests. We're a trading nation. We're 21 million people. The only way we can survive as a prosperous nation into the future is by continuing to be a great trading nation. As a consequence, we can't ignore a continent of nearly a billion people made up of more than 50 countries. And the minerals resources industry has been leading the way with our economic engagement to Africa. But there are lots of economic complementaries, lots of economic opportunities. It's not just minerals, resources and petroleum resources, it's also agriculture and agribusiness. It's also health care and health services, particularly child and maternal health care.

In my conversations with my African counterparts, what they are most interested in is not a handout, but development assistance along the lines of capacity building. And in the minerals resources area, where they would like our expertise is in the regulatory arrangements which our States and Commonwealth are very good at.

So yes, we a substantially increased development assistance program to Africa. But this reflects two things: one, the need for Africa to develop economically and to build its own capacity, but secondly, there are, of course and continues to be, a range of humanitarian tragedies in Africa, and we're a good international citizen and we should do our bit to help

and we do.

QUESTION: Just turning back to Stern Hu, how would you classify Australia's relationship with China at the moment? Would you still say it's a bit frosty on a diplomatic [indistinct]?

STEPHEN SMITH: We have a very good economic relationship with China, and that will continue, as reflected by the Gorgon deal announced a couple of weeks ago. And as I've said publicly, we have a number of difficulties in the relationship with China. The Stern Hu issue initially was one of those. We now continue to make representations, so far as Stern Hu is concerned to Chinese officials, and I've made that clear.

Our relationship with China will always see, from time to time, issues arise where there's a difference of view, and most recently the Rebiya Kadeer visa issue has been very high profile in that respect. But the long-term beneficial nature of the relationship, both to China and Australia, will, in the end, prevail over any of these difficulties. We need to take a long-term view of our relationship and we need to be patient. That's the sensible thing to do and that's what we're doing.


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