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Transcript of doorstop interview: Adelaide: 7 June 2006: East Timor; nuclear power.

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DATE: 7 June 2006

TITLE: Doorstop, Adelaide

Topics: East Timor, nuclear power.

MR DOWNER: I just wanted to say two things about East Timor today. The first is that I have authorised a further one million dollars to be spent by AusAID on purchasing food for the World Food Programme in East Timor. The idea here is to ensure that there are substantial supplies of food that can be distributed to the internally displaced people there. It’s not that at the moment there is a major problem with food shortages, it’s that we are concerned that a situation could arise in the not too distant future. So in order to make sure that there are adequate stocks of food we’re providing a further 1 million dollars to the World Food Programme.

Second thing I want to say is in relation to the security situation. We are making a major effort to increase the number of police in East Timor. First of all, there are one hundred and six Australian police, Australian Federal Police, in East Timor already. We are endeavouring to increase that number now to around 200 as soon as possible, although that will include some people from the various state police forces in Australia. We’re also talking with the Malaysians, and they have 250 police who they believe they can make available to send to East Timor, in addition to the people they already have there. The New Zealanders are looking at providing additional police - probably a much smaller number than that, you might be talking there about 30 or 40 and the Portuguese have 120 paramilitaries there already.

Not to say though, that by just getting more police onto the ground in East Timor that that will automatically solve the problem. At the moment the Australian police are assisting the East Timorese with their investigations. In order for day to day police work to be conducted by foreign police, there will almost certainly have to be a change in the law of East Timor to provide for the foreign police to do police work. Just as happened in Solomon Islands, where we sent the police into the Solomon Islands. So we’re in discussions today with the East Timorese about how they can change the law - we’re not going to change it - they’re going to have to change it through their parliament. If they can change the law - if they are prepared to

change the law, and if they are prepared to change the law to facilitate the direct involvement of foreign police on the ground in East Timor… We’re also in discussions with the United Nations with a view to, in time, having the foreign police operating in East Timor under the auspices of the United Nations. But that is more of a medium term project, that is something

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that is going to take quite a few weeks. In the immediate term we hope we reach an agreement with the East Timorese, using the parliament to allow foreign police to operate on the streets.

I think the Australian Defence Force and the Malaysian Defence Force and the New Zealanders have done an excellent job, but these are military people not police people and the problems that we have of law and order in Dili are problems that can be dealt with perhaps more easily by police than by the military - although the military are doing a very good job and they are now detaining people. I think seven people have had their cases heard by a magistrate who were originally detained by the Australian Defence Force. Despite the fact that they are doing all that sort of work very well, it would be better if that work was done by police. So we hope that our policing initiatives will bear fruit.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the allocation of more food aid, does that suggest that (inaudible) getting worse?

MR DOWNER: It suggests that I am concerned that there are still a lot of internally displaced people. There is food and water being provided to those people at the moment, but I don’t want to take any risks about supplies running out. It would be terrible if we let the situation arise where supplies just ran out and then we’d have to send in emergency supplies - people going without for perhaps several days. If we put this million dollars into the World Food Programme, then we can ensure that there are ongoing supplies for the people.

JOURNALIST: What’s your response to the 48 hour deadline (inaudible) resignation?

MR DOWNER: These are really matters for the East Timorese and for the political parties and in particular the Fretilin party which is the dominant political party in East Timor, and for the East Timorese parliament and President. We studiously tried to avoid taking sides, whatever we might think privately - and obviously we have our own private views - but we don’t want to take sides in the political disputes between the East Timorese. But we made the point to them - it is one thing to have political differences and political disputes - we have them in this country between the Liberal and the Labor Party, and other parties - but the important thing is that those disputes are managed peacefully, constitutionally - not outside the bounds of the constitution - and according to the rule of law. People can argue as much as they like with each other and disagree with each other as much as they like, but they must operate within the law and we do have a lot of concerns about the gangs that are roaming around in East Timor. I am concerned that some of those gangs may have some links to politicians. I can’t prove it. But I have some concerns about that and it’s very important that whatever differences there are, that these differences are resolved peacefully and within the rule of law. You know, you can lay down a 48 hour (inaudible) for the Prime Minister to resign, but whether he resigns or not, that is a matter to be handled within the rule of law and the constitution of East Timor.

JOURNALIST: Should the police have been sent in from the outset? Has the Australian Government taken the wrong response (inaudible) East Timorese?

MR DOWNER: No. That would not have been a good idea to send in the police right at the beginning. Initially, we had to deal with the problem of the East Timorese Defence Force

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and the rebels and what is called the petitioners - those 595 people who were sacked from the East Timor Defence Force. It would not have been a good idea to send in police to deal with that problem. Now we have the East Timorese Defence Force back in its various barracks, the rebels and the petitioners are in cantonments, in areas - confined areas. The problem now is gangs on the streets, the problem is getting better all the time, but it is still there. I think a lot of that work can be done by the police rather than just the military. Sure the military are doing a good job, not to diminish what they are doing, but at the end of the day, as somebody said yesterday, I think it was Major General Mike Smith - soldiers are trained as war fighters, not as policemen. Policemen are trained as policemen, not as war fighters.

JOURNALIST: Minister, in retrospect, during those very early days, would martial law have been a better idea?

MR DOWNER: I don’t think so, no. I think what has been done is probably the best that can be done in the circumstances. Let’s not walk away from this - at the end of the day the East Timorese are responsible for their own actions and their own destiny. We can help them,

but if they choose to manage their country in a way that encourages violence, or they choose to go to the streets and act violently, then that is their choice. We don’t make the laws of East Timor, we are doing our best to help their legal system, but you have to understand that, that is away from the fact that they are responsible for their own actions.

JOURNALIST: Are you pleased there will now be a United Nations investigation into (inaudible)?

MR DOWNER: Well a United Nations investigation - the United Nations is looking into the idea of an investigation into the deaths of the police who were gunned down the other day. I think that’s good. We have Federal Police there assisting with that investigation already. Obviously the investigation is well and truly under way. If the United Nations is interested in becoming involved, well we appreciate that.

JOURNALIST: Minister, this 48 hour deadline (inaudible) potential for much further instability?

MR DOWNER: I hope that whatever happens within those 48 - we’re nearly half-way through - whatever happens during that period, that at the end of it people will express their views as they may wish. But not in a violent way and not in a way which is outside the law of East Timor. And it’s very important to the future of the country that people do learn to express their differences peacefully and legally - not go outside of the law. And if they do that they will destroy their whole country. And whatever I may think about the Prime Minister or other people in East Timor, these are matters for them to resolve, not for us to resolve. I don’t think it would be right for us to go in there and tell them who their senior politicians should be. But in resolving those issues they must do so peacefully and according to the rule of law.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) nuclear. What’s your personal view of it?

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MR DOWNER: I think the criticism comes from people who are just trying to make a party political point and score party political points against the Liberal Party. I don’t think it’s anything to do with the intellectual issues involved. I think intellectually it’s important that as a country we have a look at these issues and we have a mature discussion about the issues. I know some people - a lot of people - are opposed to nuclear power. They’re opposed to uranium mining, they’re opposed to enrichment and so on - and it’s fair enough. I’m not out there abusing those people. I think we need to look at the totality of what the arguments really are. The world is a changing place. Australia is not going to get very far as a country if it’s resistant to every single change that’s ever considered on the basis that a scare campaign is run by oppositionist groups in Australia.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) expansion of uranium mining, or at least enrichment in this country?

MR DOWNER: I think it could. I think there is obviously a very strong case for expanding uranium mining. It’s non-sensical to have a three mines policy in Australia. If we’re going to export uranium - and we are - then why wouldn’t we have more mines if more mines are economically viable? By having a three mines policy as a country we are just costing ourselves jobs and an income. I mean, you’ve got the Labor Party on one hand complaining about the trade deficit, but on the other hand, standing in the way of trying to resolve those problems by saying that they’re not interested in further uranium mining. Enrichment makes prima-facie common sense. To enrich uranium, to process the raw material to a higher level of processing - would be good economically, but it would be something that would also have to be negotiated internationally. So there are a number of hurdles we’d have to get over before you got into the enrichment gap.

JOURNALIST: Thank you.