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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Hon Alexander Downer: 13 July 2004: Iraq, Bali Intelligence, Nuclear Waste, Philippines hostage.



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MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: July 13 2004

TITLE: Doorstop - Adelaide (Iraq, Bali Intelligence, Nuclear Waste, Philippines hostage)

Downer: I want to say something about Mr Latham’s policies on Iraq. In a period of four months, Mr Latham has had nine different policy positions on the Australian troops in Iraq. And his ninth position, which he announced last night, is a position which is as confused as his other eight positions. He now says that we should stop training the Iraqi security forces, which is the highest single priority that the international community has in Iraq. The United Nations, in a Security Council resolution called on the international community to help train Iraq’s security forces. Mr Latham’s ninth policy is to abandon that task. He wants to send in more Australian civilians, unarmed civilians, and pull out our military contribution. I would have thought that this wasn’t a time to be sending unarmed customs officers to monitor Iraq’s 3,500 km border - but a time when we should make sure that there was proper security provided in Iraq. Security is the key issue in Iraq. And having unarmed customs officers manning the borders, I think is an unwise policy. So here we have Mr Latham continually playing politics with the issue of Iraq and troops, having made an impulsive hot-headed statement on March the 23rd that he’d pull the troops out, ever since then he’s been tacking like a yacht, trying to find the policy that’ll get traction with the Australian community for electoral purposes. This isn’t an electoral issue. This is a serious issue. And I think Mr Latham does himself a great disservice having nine different policies in four months - an average of more than two policies per month at this stage, on troops in Iraq.

Journalist: …will this help Labor in the election….?

Downer: What will Labor’s policy be when the election comes? I assume that Labor’s policy won’t be this policy, because they’re changing policy on average more than twice a month. But I wouldn’t be in favour of sending unarmed customs officers in to man the borders - borders across which al-Qaeda are moving, and withdrawing all our armed forces from Iraq - I would have thought that was moving in entirely the wrong direction. And to abandon the training of the Iraqi Army is the wrong thing to be doing. We need that Iraqi Army up and in place, we need proper Iraqi security forces operating as effectively on the ground. The faster we can train these people, the better we are to withdraw that training component. It’s a senseless policy.

Journalist: …reaction to Mr Beazley’s recall….?

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 1

Downer: Mr Latham is the Leader of the Labor Party, not Mr Beazley. The Labor Party had the opportunity to elect Mr Beazley as their leader in December last year. And for whatever reason they chose not to. So I think all countries around the world will look to what Mr Latham says as the Leader of the Labor Party. Now Mr Latham is opposed to the Proliferation Security Initiative. He is opposed to the American missile defence initiative. He is opposed to the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. I haven’t actually heard him come out and endorse any single policy, either joint policy between Australia and the United States, or any United States policy. That’s Mr Latham’s position. What Mr Beazley said to Mr Armitage, when he was in Washington, we’d all love to know. We’d all like to see the record of that conversation, because after Mr Beazley and Mr Rudd met with Mr Armitage, Mr Armitage said the Labor Party was rent down the middle. I don’t know what that means - but it must be based on something someone told him.

Journalist: What of the revelations that the FBI knew of the threats of Bali-style bombings?

Downer: This is an old story, which goes back to earlier this year. And it’s been discussed in the Senate Committee, including by the Head of ASIO. This information was not passed to the Australian agencies or Government. It was just passed to the relevant governments in South-East Asia at the time. But it provided no additional information to the information we already had - that is it didn’t warn of an attack in Bali. It warned of the possibility of attacks on Westerners in places where Westerners congregated - bars and clubs and so on. And all that was already incorporated into our travel advisory at the time of the Bali bombing. So whether we had had that information, or whether we didn’t have it - which was the case - is immaterial in terms of the warnings we were able to give, because that information didn’t add to the warnings that we were already providing.

Journalist: Inaudible

Downer: Well it wasn’t an additional warning. It was passed by the Americans to the governments involved. There was no reference to the best of my knowledge in that information to Australians being targeted. It was passed to the Indonesians and the Thais and the Singaporeans and so on, the South-East Asian governments. But it was in the mix there. There was a lot of information around about possible terrorist attacks. And that information was incorporated into our travel advisories at the time.

Journalist: Inaudible.

Downer: But that was all already accounted for in our travel advisories at the time. So whether we’d had that information or not, it wouldn’t have led to any change in our travel advisory. And that was not information that was specific to Bali of course.

Journalist: Inaudible.

Downer: They always have passed - the Americans be it the FBI or the CIA have always passed information to us in vast quantities. So we can’t complain about the general flow of information. That particular information was passed to the relevant governments in South-East Asia, those countries which were identified. It wasn’t passed to Australia.

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 2

Journalist: Inaudible.

Downer: Can I just say with the greatest of respect, this is a) an old story and b) provided no information in relation to a specific attack in Bali; and c) didn’t add to the sum total of knowledge, which was that there were threats of terrorist attacks in South-East Asia. And that was all accounted for in the travel advisories, not just of Australia, but of other Western countries that produce travel advisories. I think more is being made of this particular information that the FBI had than it’s worthy of.

Journalist: Is the Federal Government divided over the nuclear dump issue?

Downer: I don’t know that divided is the right word. We’re still considering what to do in response to the decision made recently by the Federal Court. Nuclear waste needs to be stored safely. And at the moment every State is saying - we have six states and two territories, that’s what makes up Australia - and they’re all saying they don’t want it stored in their state or their territory. So it does present the Federal Government with something of a dilemma. We can’t leave nuclear waste unstored. We should not leave nuclear waste in South Australia lying around in buildings on North Terrace, or wherever it may be. It should be properly stored, whether it be low-level waste or any other sort of waste. And we’ve got to find somewhere to store it.

Journalist: What was your argument as a South Australian politician in Cabinet?

Downer: Cabinet discussions obviously, as the tradition of the Westminster system going back several hundred years, are private. The Government will make a decision and announce a decision at an appropriate time.

Journalist: What about your position?

Downer: Well I have my position which I’m not articulating publicly - I articulate in the Cabinet being consistent with the traditions of the Westminster system. Hundreds of years of Westminster tradition I am upholding by not announcing publicly what I said in the Cabinet meeting.

Journalist: What about prior to the election? Will you announce your personal position on that?

Downer: The Government will announce its position.

Journalist: What about your position?

Downer: I’d support the Government’s position. I’m a member of the Government.

Journalist: ..as a resident of South Australia, I would have thought may have had views on it?

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 3

Downer: I have many views on many South Australian issues, you can absolutely rest assured. And one of the views I have is that it is irresponsible to leave low-level nuclear waste scattered around metropolitan Adelaide, and other parts of South Australia. It should be stored properly and safely. And at the moment, that nuclear waste is not stored properly and it’s not stored safely. And here we have a situation in South Australia where the State Government - the present State Government, not the previous State Government - is playing politics saying it doesn’t want a nuclear dump. In other words it wants to leave nuclear waste just scattered around metropolitan Adelaide. I’m sorry I don’t go with that. But where the dump will be as a result of the Federal Court decision we’ll just have to wait and see.

Journalist: Looking further afield to Papua New Guinea, the Centre for Independent Studies says it’s on the brink of collapse. What’s your view on that?

Downer: My view is that - I wouldn’t use that phrase myself - that’s what Helen Hughes has said. I have a lot of respect for Helen Hughes I’ll say that. And I’ve been concerned about Papua New Guinea and that’s why I’ve initiated the Enhanced Co-operation Program, which involves sending 230 Australian police into Papua New Guinea, sending in officials to help with public administration in many government departments (inaudible) Papua New Guinea. Because our aid program has been generous over many years but it hasn’t been effective enough. And so, as she rightly says, we need to make a stronger effort to try to help the Papua New Guineans achieve the sorts of reforms they want to achieve.

Journalist: (Inaudible) - Solomon Islands comparison with PNG.

Downer: No, the situation was different in the Solomon Islands. The Solomon Islands became a failed state, and we had to send in military, police and everything to rebuild the state more or less from the ground upwards. And that has been a spectacular success in a short period of time. Papua New Guinea isn’t in the same situation, but we do need to make sure that our aid program there is more effective and we get, as Australians, better value for our money - but the Papua New Guineans are able to achieve the sorts of reforms that the Papua New Guinea Government enunciated. And through the Enhanced Co-operation program I think as a country we’ll be able to make a much more effective effort than has been the case in the past.

Journalist: Inaudible.

Downer: Essentially the economy has grown over the last year in Papua New Guinea. So I would say there are a lot of structural reforms that are needed. The Government’s committed to those reforms. And we’re doing what we can to help them. And the Enhanced Co-operation Program, I think, will make a decisive difference. I really do. They have enormous law and order problems. And sending in the police will be a very big help in terms of enhancing the capacity of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary to address those law and order issues.

Journalist: …Philippines hostage situation…?

Downer: I’m not sure about the announcement, by the way. That hasn’t been confirmed from Manila, and I’ve tried to get that confirmed this morning but have not been able to do so.

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 4

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 5

The Philippines Foreign Minister yesterday, she was saying that the Philippines was going to stick with their current scheduled program, and they weren’t going to change it in the context of a hostage being taken. I can answer your question this way, in saying that I thought - and I’ve said this to their Foreign Minister - the South Koreans suffered when a South Korean, Kim Sung Il his name was, was executed recently. But the South Koreans did the world a favour by saying that they wouldn’t be bullied by terrorists. And if countries cave in to terrorists’ demands then that only encourages the terrorists to become more strident and more aggressive towards other countries, as well as that country itself. So I think we all have to be resolute in standing up to terrorism. And if our citizens are taken hostage, making it clear to the terrorists as we do, that we will not be blackmailed by terrorists. We will not be blackmailed by them. And we’ll have to wait and see what the Philippines policy is, but that has been the Philippines position up until now.

ENDS…………………………………………………………………July 13 2004