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Transcript of doorstop interview: Adelaide: 16 February 2007: US Alliance;[Comments made by Mr Rudd and Mr Garrett].



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MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 16 February 2007

VENUE: Adelaide

TITLE: Doorstop - US Alliance.

MR DOWNER: I want to make some comments about some remarks that both Mr Rudd and Peter Garrett have made today. There is, I think, a new political philosophy breaking out in the Labor Party called ‘Ruddism’, which is where you tell everyone what they want to hear and don’t have any strongly held positions on any issue. Mr Garrett was, of course, a great campaigner against US bases in Australia and sang many songs about it. Sold a lot of songs

against the US bases in Australia - no doubt he made a lot of money out of it as well. Today Mr Garrett comes out and says he supports a new US base in Australia and he supports US bases in Australia. Overnight Mr Rudd, clearly rang him up and told him he’s to go out and say this because they are concerned about negative publicity. Mr Garrett used to make the point that if you are a politician you go into politics and you hold a view and you hold to that view strongly and you should stick with it. I think Mr Garrett’s credibility is shot as a politician, having just, on Mr Rudd’s instruction, gone out and told the public that he supports something that for the whole of his adult life, he has apparently opposed.

Mr Rudd though on the Sunrise program this morning, summed up his own philosophy, really, of ‘Ruddism’, of telling everybody what they want to hear. Mr Rudd says the Iraq war is wrong, we were wrong to go there in the first place, the Americans are wrong to continue fighting there, we should all get out. Mr Rudd also said that he would keep 900 troops in Iraq if he were elected the Prime Minister. He cannot on the one hand, say that the Iraq war is wrong - you think the Americans should withdraw their troops and that we should withdraw our troops - and on the other hand, we’re going to keep 900 troops there in Iraq if Labor wins the election. You cannot run a country that way, saying that you believe something is wrong but you are going to do it nevertheless. You have to stick with what you believe in. If you believe the Iraq war is wrong, if you believe the Americans are wrong, they should pull the troops out. The Government has a quite clear position. We believe pulling troops out of Iraq, particularly pulling American troops out, would be a security catastrophe. We believe, as an ally, we should make a contribution and we do make a contribution. Last point I’d make about Mr Rudd is that Mr Rudd says he would bring 500 out of 1,400 troops out of Iraq because they are needed for Papua New Guinea or Fiji. Mr Rudd has some plan to attack Papua New Guinea or deploy troops into Papua New Guinea or Fiji. I’ve never heard such a preposterous idea. There’s no sign that the Fiji Government, illegal as it might be, or the Papua New

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Guinea Government would allow or want Australian troops to march into their country. These sort of easy lines are ok when you are an opposition spokesman, but when you are the candidate to be the Prime Minister of Australia, you cannot get away with making lazy, idle comments like that. A backbencher can say those things in opposition and get away with it. Somebody who is trying to be the Prime Minister of this country can’t. The fact is, this is not

a way you could govern a country. You cannot govern a country running such contradictory and populist lines and I think it’s a shameful day for the Labor party, and in particular for Mr Rudd and Mr Garrett

JOURNALIST: What do you think about the decision … (inaudible)

MR DOWNER: They are all in combat. The HMAS Toowoomba isn’t a non-combat vessel. It’s not a hospital ship. The C130s, the P3C Orians, they are all involved in combat or combat-related operations. It just makes no sense. He says that the reason we need to bring the troops back is two-fold - one he is opposed to the war - he didn’t oppose the war initially

but anyway, that’s by-the-by. He’s opposed to the war, he’s opposed to the Americans being in Iraq, he thinks the Americans should get out of Iraq, he thinks everyone should get out of Iraq and obviously that would leave the place in a most appalling state and destabilise the whole of the Middle East even further. But he thinks that’s the right strategy and he thinks we should leave 900 troops there. I mean you can’t get away with that. You can’t get away with that. You cannot run a country that way, telling the public you believe something very passionately but you are going to do something different. It’s not acceptable.

JOURNALIST: Mr Downer, can you give us any more details on the charges David Hicks is facing?

MR DOWNER: Well a charge sheet, I think that’s why you probably asked the question, a charge sheet has been released by the Americans today. I think that will be available. I assume that’s being published. I would only say that I would recommend people look at the charge sheet and they are very serious charges. That’s not to say that we think Mr Hicks is guilty. It’s just that these are very serious charges and he should face those charges. That’s our view. These are not just jay-walking offences. These are serious charges and they cause us enormous concern. Here we are, dealing with terrorism, trying to secure Australia and trying to secure the countries of our allies and our friends around the world and here are serious charges in relation to terrorism that at least need to be tested and we would like to see this case proceed. It has taken far too long to come to trial and we want to see this trial come on as quickly as possible with these very serious charges to be tested. If people want to know about the charges, they can read the charge sheet - I’m not going to go through it myself - but they can read the charge sheet, they can understand the gravity of the charges and they can understand why we want them to be tested in law.

JOURNALIST: The Hicks legal team is actually questioning the seriousness of the charges that’s been described. They are saying ‘what’s so serious about surveillance of a building which hasn’t been occupied’?

MR DOWNER: Well I would not look at the charges selectively. I would take the whole charge sheet and I would encourage people to read the whole of the charge sheet. I mean there are allegations of training with al-Qaeda, which is the world’s most evil terrorist organisation

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by a very, very big measure, and association with that organisation. There are allegations that he - and these are allegations right, they need to be tested - but there are allegations that he was involved with Lashkar-e Tayyiba which is a terrorist organisation responsible for killing many Indians in Kashmir, as well as in Mumbai and New Delhi. They are charges, they are

allegations but they need to be tested. His defence team is his defence team. I respect that they are going to put up the best possible case for their client. It simply illustrates my point that we want this to be a fair trial and we want the defence team to be able to have a fair go and I think the defence team is getting a fair go. They deny and they claim and all sorts of things which is fair enough. We just want the process to be heard as quickly as possible. It has taken far too long and we’ve, it was revealed in the Estimates Committee yesterday, in the Senate Estimates Committee, that there have been many occasions that we’ve complained to the Americans about how long this has all taken.

JOURNALIST: The defence team is actually trying to apply for the charge of attempted murder to be removed, saying there is no evidence and the prosecutors have admitted that. Would you be concerned if that wasn’t to be tested in the Military Commission?

MR DOWNER: Well they can do all of these things. I mean there are courts that they have access to. They can argue their case in the Military Commission. Look, we have Australians who’ve faced courts, who’ve faced allegations, who’ve faced prosecutors all around the world and in every case we expect them to have a defence team, we expect their defence team to be able to have full access to the use of the law and in this particular case, we’re satisfied that Hicks has a defence team. The defence team is very active. We’ve spent $300,000 of taxpayer’s money supporting the defence team so we just want the trial to be heard, the legal process to be gone through. We don’t want any more delays.

JOURNALIST: Mr Downer, there seems to be a fair amount of public sympathy for David Hicks. What do you think the public will perceive him as now, if they find out the seriousness of these charges?

MR DOWNER: I couldn’t comment on that. I’m not a commentator. I think people have different views about this issue. I think where we’re on the same page as most people in Australia, is that we just want the charges to be tested, to be heard in the Military Commission and then Hicks would have an option of, if he was convicted, of appealing to the Supreme Court of the United States - it’s obviously an option available to him. So what we want is him to have access to legal processes, not just to be sitting in Guantanamo Bay so we’ve been making a great noise about this with the Americans for a long time. There are all sorts of excuses and explanations, I know, for why this has taken so long but it has taken too long in any case and we just want this matter dealt with quickly. So they are giving an indication they are dealing with it as quickly as they can. But obviously they had to operate themselves - and

you can’t expect the Americans to try to by-pass the law, to circumvent the law. It’s got to be done according to the law of the United States.

JOURNALIST: Has the timing of the Federal Election forced your hand in coming out and making stronger comments to have the trial brought on as quickly as possible?

MR DOWNER: No, we’ve been making these comments long ago and actually, let me make this point to you. Go back to the Senate Estimates Committee yesterday. I know these

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things don’t generate very much publicity when they are favourable for the Government but go back to the Senate Estimates Committee yesterday and look at the number of times we’ve made representations to the Americans over time this has taken. When the Americans wouldn’t charge Habib, we said to the Americans you cannot hold him indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay, you have to release him. And they thought about it for a bit and eventually they agreed to release him. But at the same time we said you can only convict him if you are going to charge him. They did charge him, as you know, and the Supreme Court found that the Military Commission had been established by a Presidential decree instead of by an act of Congress and it had to be established by an act of Congress so they had to establish it by an act of Congress. It has taken an interminable time, I understand that. Five years is a long time for these charges not to have been heard. But the charges are there now, the charge sheet has been issued so people can look at that and see why we think that the charges need to at least be heard and let the Military Commission of the American courts make their decision but let’s get on with it.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Hicks will ever come home?

MR DOWNER: I think Hicks absolutely will come home because if he’s convicted, he’ll be able to serve his sentence in Australia and if he’s acquitted, he’ll be released.

JOURNALIST: Mr Downer, Malcolm Fraser said last night that Hicks will not be found innocent because it will be too embarrassing for the Americans. What’s your response to that?

MR DOWNER: Well that is not how the Military Commission works. I’m not going to comment on Malcolm Fraser’s constant commentary on these things. The Military Commission is established by an act of Congress, the defence has access to the normal vehicles that the defence has, and ultimately they can appeal to the Supreme Court of the

United States. I’d just like to make this point. The Executive of the United States Government cannot tell the Military Commission what findings it should make and it cannot tell the Supreme Court of the United States what decisions it should make. It is completely out of the question and impossible.

JOURNALIST: Mr Downer, in relation to the Solomon Islands … (inaudible)

MR DOWNER: Not at all. Look, there’s a headline in one of the newspapers today which is somewhat misleading, which is quite a surprise really. Somewhat misleading but it suggests that we just said to them ‘no’ . What we’ve said is that I’m hoping to meet with the

Solomon Islands foreign Minister, I think it is the week after next, not absolutely certain about this. But we’re planning to put together a Pacific Island Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting for the week after next but primarily to talk about Fiji and assuming that Mr Oti, the foreign minister, comes to that, we can talk this through and we can see what the best way forward is. Look, we’re obviously happy to talk to the Solomon Islanders. On the contrary, they have refused to talk with our High Commissioner there so I would have thought the first thing they should do is receive our High Commissioner, allow our High Commissioner to operate fully and effectively in the Solomon Islands and then we’ll look forward to talking to them.

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JOURNALIST: How shaky is RAMSI?

MR DOWNER: Well I think RAMSI is in a difficult position and I’ve said before, there is clearly some opposition from what you might call elements of the political class in the Solomon Islands to RAMSI. There is enormous support amongst the ordinary people of the Solomon Islands for RAMSI, enormous support and I would, if RAMSI is forced to withdraw from the Solomon Islands, then the Solomon Islands will return to where it was before the middle of 2003. That would be a disaster for the country. It will be the end of a lot of the health clinics, it will be the end of a lot of the schools, it will be the end of a growing economy, getting improvements in people’s living standards - that will be gone.

JOURNALIST: But the meeting for next Tuesday is not confirmed yet though?

MR DOWNER: No, no, I think it’s the week after - it’s not confirmed. The reason being that the Eminent Persons Group, which has been in Fiji, hasn’t yet finished its report. We were hoping to have a meeting next week but they haven’t finished their report so just to wait till they’ve finished their report. So we think that’s likely to be the week after next.

[Ends]