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Transcript of doorstop interview: 26 July 2007: India and uranium; PM's birthday; DPP review of Haneef case.



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MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 26 July, 2007

TITLE: Doorstop - India and uranium, PM’s birthday, DPP review of Haneef case.

MR DOWNER: First of all, there’s a story on the front of The Australian newspaper today about the possibility of Australia selling uranium to India. If Australia were to sell uranium to India we’d, first of all, have to negotiate a nuclear safeguard agreement with India so that uranium exported to India could only be used in civil nuclear facilities. We would never sell uranium to India for military purposes, either for nuclear weapons or for military vessels that may be nuclear powered. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that we have not been selling uranium to India over the years because India has not been subjected to International Atomic Energy safeguards. If on the other hand through an (inaudible) of an

agreement with America, India is going to subject some of its nuclear power plants to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and United Nations Safeguards, consistent with the rules of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, in those circumstances, it is a possibility that we would begin negotiations with India over supplying uranium for those power stations which were subject to United Nations inspections and to the regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency. But we haven’t made any final decision about this. It is still something we are considering and we certainly will have to wait and see what the conclusion is of the negotiations between India and America over nuclear power and in particular, the extent to which a successful agreement between India and America provides for United Nations inspection of Indian civil nuclear facilities.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you (inaudible)?

MR DOWNER: There’s no reason to believe, by the way, of all the countries in the world that have nuclear power and including countries with nuclear weapons that India would behave irresponsibly. It is worth making this point. One of the great challenges the world faces is the issue of nuclear proliferation, spreading onto nuclear technology and the exporting of nuclear - I mean nuclear weapons technology - the exporting of nuclear weapons technology illicitly. India has no record of having exported nuclear weapons technology to anybody. It’s own nuclear weapons technology is sui generis so India has always been pretty responsible. It would depend on what agreement we could make with them.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MR DOWNER: It is possible - I’m certainly not ruling it out - it is possible we will get into negotiations with India if these negotiations that they are currently having with America, which relate to UN inspection, if they are successful and there’s some indication that they are

heading in the right direction, then we will certainly consider beginning talks with India about

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that. Look, India is one of - it is the second biggest country in the world in population and the economy is growing at nearly 9 per cent a year - it is going to be a massive consumer of energy and we want to deal with the issue of climate change. We need to reduce CO2 emissions, including from fast growing, developing countries, and nuclear power is definitely going to be an option for India. And that means exporting uranium from South Australia, and from Australia more generally, to India is a real possibility.

JOURNALIST: The (inaudible) is apparently furious about this decision.

MR DOWNER: Who is?

JOURNALIST: The Premier.

MR DOWNER: He’s furious? But I thought the Premier was in favour of exporting uranium.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MR DOWNER: So he’s now furious about exporting uranium?

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MR DOWNER: When he was, (inaudible) Mr Furious Premier help you out here.

JOURNALIST: I don’t think furious was his word.

MR DOWNER: Furious was your word?

JOURNALIST: It was my word, yes.

MR DOWNER: Why, he was really angry (inaudible)? His face was red?

JOURNALIST: Reportedly not happy.

MR DOWNER: Reportedly I think we could use another phrase, couldn’t we? Playing politics. The Premier of South Australia has been one of the great political game-players on uranium. He is a real political games-player on uranium. Back in the late 80s, early 90s when Labor was the Federal Government, Labor was exporting uranium to France which was a nuclear weapons state and not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and apparently that was alright. The Premier thought that the Roxby Downs mine was an outrage and we shouldn’t mine and export uranium and most recently he’d been a big champion of expanding uranium mining. This is not somebody who has a belief system which is weighing him down. This is somebody who is just playing politics. The Premier - I’m glad you asked this question - he is out there on climate change every day, the waves are going to sweep over Adelaide, we’re going to boil to death on the one hand and on the other hand, he doesn’t want a fast growing economy like India, which is growing at nearly 9 per cent a year with nearly a

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billion people, to use clean energy. He’s quite happy for them to pump CO2 into the atmosphere. See in the end, it doesn’t wash with the public.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MR DOWNER: The Prime Minister has made a number of public comments about this. I think you’d be aware and I refer you back to those. I think the Prime Minister, not surprisingly, the Prime Minister and I are ad idem on this issue.

JOURNALIST: You said last year though that it was a political (inaudible) not to export uranium to India. Are these inspections enough for you to throw that good policy away?

MR DOWNER: To make an even better policy. Let’s have a look, let’s be satisfied with what the United Nations is (inaudible), the International Atomic Energy Agency is able to do with its inspections before we make any final decisions. But we’ll see. We haven’t made a decision to export uranium to India but the Premier is (inaudible) for us exporting uranium to

China so I don’t know that you need to worry about him too much.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) the deal would be off?

MR DOWNER: If the inspection regime doesn’t look credible, we wouldn’t be able to export uranium to India. That’s true. We’d have to be happy that the nuclear power stations we were exporting to were subject to United Nations inspections in the way they are in countries like Britain and America and France and so on, China, to whom we do export uranium, so the same conditions would apply.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MR DOWNER: There are several motives for being interested in this issue. I would start with the issue of climate change. We are very focused on the fact that there is a rapid growth in CO2 emissions coming from India and that issue needs to be addressed in the interests, not just of India, but of the whole world including Australia. India needs to access to energy but it needs clean energy. Nuclear power is definitely there in India and it (inaudible) to expand. In those circumstances, if we can play a role in ensuring role that India’s nuclear power industry is not just clean - which it will be - but that it is safe and that it is subject to UN inspections, then that is a very good thing for Australia to do for the environment and in the interests of nuclear non-proliferation. That’s the way to think about it.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MR DOWNER: We’ve made no decision on that. We will have to make up our minds about that. It would be conditional on there being inspections by the United Nations of nuclear facilities which we export to. So let’s talk about the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Australia exported uranium to France in the 80s and the early 90s when France wasn’t a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. So let’s just make this clear - the Labor Party, when it was in Government, was in favour of exporting uranium to countries that hadn’t

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signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We haven’t done that in our turn in Government and the only circumstances in which we would move away from our policy is if we were satisfied that the nuclear power stations that we export uranium to, or nuclear power stations that are subject to the provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, in particular the provision of inspections. Inspections is the issue.

JOURNALIST: Just on the Prime Minister, have you sent birthday greetings to him today, number one. Secondly, do you think his sudden departure to East Timor on his 68th birthday is that him running away from something he doesn’t want here, ie make a big fuss of him being 68?

MR DOWNER: No. It doesn’t matter whether he’s here or in East Timor - let me help you out - his birthday will still happen. Or if he were in South America, it would still be his birthday today. Mr Howard is the sort of person who works on his birthday. That’s the type of person he is. He doesn’t take a day off on his birthday, in fact, he doesn’t seem to me to take a day off on any day. He is always working.

I think what he’s doing in East Timor is very valuable. They’ve just had a democratic election in East Timor for their parliament. They are in the process of putting a government together. We have a lot of troops there - around 1,000 troops there - we have a lot of Australian police. It is a very wise thing for the Prime Minister to go there. On the contrary, I think it would have been strange if the Prime Minister had decided to abandon his trip to East Timor because it was his birthday.

JOURNALIST: Did you send him birthday wishes?

MR DOWNER: No, I haven’t actually. Thank you for reminding me.

JOURNALIST: For any particular reason?

MR DOWNER: No. I’m afraid although John Howard and I are very good friends, we’ve over the years been good friends but over 20 years, I must honestly confess this to you since you asked me such a personal detail, I shall confess to you that neither of us tend to send each other birthday greetings. My birthday though, if you are interested, that’s on the 9th of September and it is the same day as President Yudhoyono of Indonesia’s birthday so you could lead the news with that one.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MR DOWNER: I think the Australian people think this - when they really reflect on these issues, this is what they think - they think they want a Prime Minister of Australia who is sensible, who is experienced, who is sincere and who has the strength to do the right thing by this country, to stand up for its interests. I don’t think they care whether that person is 28, 48, 68 or even older. I don’t think that’s the issue for them. We all know people who are young and incompetent. We know people who are middle aged and incompetent. We know people who are old and wise and show great leadership and strength. John Howard is 68. He is somebody who has enormous energy, he brings great wisdom - that’s not a word used very

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often anymore - but he brings great wisdom do the job of Prime Minister. He brings great strength to our country. I think John Howard, if he thinks about his birthday today, he can reflect on this fact - that while he is Prime Minister, Australia has never been richer, never been stronger and never been better respected around the world than it is today. He may be 68

but that’s a pretty impressive record.

I’d just like to say one other thing. I know what the Labor Party is doing. The Labor Party is - and Mr Rudd is driving this, this is Rudd’s strategy - is to run an ageist campaign against Mr Howard, denigrating somebody for being 68. That’s what Mr Rudd is doing. Of course he doesn’t say it himself - he gets other people to do it in all sorts of ways - but basically the

Labor Party is an ageist party which denigrates people who are working in their 60s. I have to say I think as a party we focus on wise people taking up leadership positions in our country, not people who are just running stunts like that, such as Mr Rudd.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about Tamara Broom now? She’s been (inaudible) overnight that she’s going to be freed from (inaudible) the existing charges and coming back to Australia. How do you feel about that? Is the Government going to (inaudible) support in getting her home?

MR DOWNER: We’ll obviously put our consular responsibilities in the normal way, making sure that our consulate provides any help that is necessary and when she is back, then she’ll be able to resume her life I guess.

JOURNALIST: Do you know when she’ll be coming home?

MR DOWNER: I don’t, no. We could find out for you but I don’t know.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MR DOWNER: The consulate has I think, yes.

JOURNALIST: What are they telling you?

MR DOWNER: I haven’t seen anything from them this morning about it but I think she’s okay.

JOURNALIST: If this uranium deal does go ahead, does this mean Australia is ending its push for non-signatories to sign the (inaudible)?

MR DOWNER: No. We would like India, Pakistan, Israel and now North Korea - who are the four countries who haven’t signed the NPT - to sign the NPT. But India, Pakistan and Israel have all made it clear they won’t sign the NPT and you have to face up to the facts though. What do you do about countries that have not signed the NPT? What is the best strategy there - but nevertheless making sure there is not nuclear proliferation - what is the

best strategy? Just putting out press releases saying they should sign the NPT is fine - I’m not against that, I’ve done it myself - but it’s not leading to them signing the NPT. So face up to that. But I would prefer they sign the NPT. Of course I would.

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JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MR DOWNER: No. I don’t. I think it is a matter that is being reviewed by the DPP. That’s what I think. I don’t know anything about it. He’s reviewing the case - I don’t know why he is doing it or his motivators for doing it but I do know the DPP often reviews cases after charges being brought so there is nothing very unusual about it.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MR DOWNER: When you say ‘surely’ that means you believe that but you have no basis for believing that because you haven’t spoken to the DPP about it - unless I’m wrong - I could be wrong.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MR DOWNER: No. I have no concerns because I have, unlike the Labor Party, I have confidence in the Australian Federal Police, I have confidence in our courts and I have confidence in the Director of Public Prosecutions and his office. I have confidence in all of those people and this is a matter that has to be played out by them. So no matter how much the Labor Party tries to turn this into a political issue, this isn’t a political issue, it’s not being guided by the Government, it’s not being run by the Government and the Howard-haters out there know this - that this is a matter that’s being handled by the police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the courts and it’s about time they recognised that as well. It’s not the Government. The Government is responsible for the laws and the Parliament is responsible for the laws and these agencies operate under those laws. The Government is not ringing up the DPP or the Federal Police or the court or the Brisbane Magistrate telling them what he thinks they should do.

Thank you.

[Ends]