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Transcript of doorstop: Darwin: Wednesday 5 May 2004: visit to NT by diplomatic corp.

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DATE: Wednesday, 5 May 2004 TITLE: Doorstop, Darwin

TOPICS: Visit to NT by Diplomatic Corp

FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER, ALEXANDER DOWNER: This is to talk about the visit by the ambassadors of the Canberra diplomatic corps. I've brought 45 ambassadors from Canberra up here to Darwin, and also to take them out to Kakadu. It's an opportunity for them to get to see the Top End and meet people here and understand this part of Australia, its economic potential, the fact that Darwin is increasingly Australia's gateway to Asia.

So it's good to promote parts of Australia outside of Canberra to ambassadors, so they can take back to their countries reports of what our country offers - what the Top End has to offer.

So, I hope it will be successful.

QUESTION: What do you think some of the potential spin-offs could be for the Territory?

DOWNER: It's particularly giving those people who are the representatives of their government, that's representatives of 45 governments, some idea about what the business opportunities are in the Northern Territory; what the tourism potential is; mining resources sector; the fact of course of the gas coming onshore here and what could flow from that in the fullness of time; agriculture sector, and tourism.

They all get a strong sense of that, and they report that back to their governments. It means that within their governments they have a broader understanding of what Australia has to offer that in time can lead to business coming to Darwin.

QUESTION: How much is it costing the Australian Government?

DOWNER: It doesn't cost the Australian Government very much. And it's rather a precious question in the sense that they are paying for themselves, we're not paying for them. So the Australian Government provides logistical support and buses and things like that. So it's not really so

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much a significant expense for the Australian Government. But I think that the ambassadors don't seem to mind paying themselves; they're quite happy to do that.

QUESTION: Do you think there's a lack of recognition of the Territory overseas?

DOWNER: Ah, yes, definitely there is. Outside of Uluru, and to some extent Kakadu, but I'm sure Uluru is well known overseas. I think when people overseas think about Australia they think about Sydney, Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, the Barrier Reef.

I don't think when they think about business in Australia, they very often think far beyond Sydney and Melbourne. And so for those of us - I come from Adelaide - for those of us who don't come from Sydney and Melbourne, we've just got to pedal a little bit faster to make sure internationally we're well known.

And, in the Northern Territory, there's been a tradition going back to - I think the time when Marshal Perron was the Chief Minister - of having ministers responsible for Asian affairs, Asian engagement. And I think that's always been a very sensible thing for the Northern Territory Government to do, to have a minister who develops networks in particular South East Asia, but also China and Japan.

And, and so I would urge the Territory Government to, to stick with what they, I guess they have been doing for a long time, but to stick with the strategy of making sure they have outreach programs into Asia just so in Asia there's a good recognition of the Territory.

QUESTION: Do you think they can take further, doing what they're doing at the moment?

DOWNER: They could reappoint somebody I think as, you know, [indistinct] with their own government, so it's not really for me to be too gratuitous about this, but I think they could reappoint a minister for Asian relations. I think that would be a good idea. I think that would be a sensible thing to do, because then there'd be somebody who dedicated his work, or her work, to networking in Asia.

Look, that's a matter for them, not a matter for the Federal Government. But I think that would be quite a good idea.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] have an Asian relations minister?

DOWNER: They have a minister for industry business and any range of things, including Asian relations don't they?

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UNIDENTIFIED: Asian relations and trade.

DOWNER: Okay, yeah, well they need to have somebody I think who focuses specifically on Asian relations. I think that, there's a lot to be said for that.

QUESTION: Can we ask about another issue? The Prime Minister has said this morning that he's, that he's been advised that Qantas did actually approach Denis Richardson about, about travel warnings in Bali. Is that unusual?

DOWNER: I would have thought so. Denis Richardson isn't responsible for travel advisory. I'd have to say, I think this is one of the more extravagant beat-ups that I've seen. Qantas had contact with - it's a big airline, Australia's international airline - they have contacts with any manner of people in the Australian Government.

But whatever Qantas say, or any other company in Australia says, the travel advisories are put together on the basis of national security and the security of Australians, not on the basis of corporate lobbying. But I don't think that, in the case of my department, Qantas ever asked them to change the travel advisories.

QUESTION: In which case is it unusual that Qantas seems to have gone to ASIO?

DOWNER: Well Qantas has spoken to ASIO haven't they? I mean why do we assume that Qantas' explanations are just a pack of lies? Qantas went to ASIO - has explained they went to ASIO to get clarification on the security situation in Indonesia, or in Bali. That's what I heard.

I just think this is a non story, I mean this was all canvassed in the Senate Committee back in September of last year, and the ABC has sort of dug up this story again, heated it up again and presented it as some sort of an exclusive. And what's the point of that? I mean that Qantas are in favour of people being killed in Bali? That ASIO didn't really care, that ASIO buckled to Qantas pressure? ASIO don't even produce the travel advisories.

Honestly, I just dismiss it as just a complete ABC beat-up, I really do. Sorry to say that, but I mean I watched it on the news last night, by the time it got to LateLine it'd taken on an even more extravagant life of its own. I mean if there's so little news in Australia that every little thing like this has to be beaten up, I mean seriously. Get onto some serious issues, the big issues that Australia faces.

QUESTION: The Prime Minister's announced that 400 million dollars is going to be spent on spy agencies. He's also suggested there could be more money in the budget for intelligence services. How much? And where will it be going?


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Well all that will be announced on Tuesday, but as the Minister responsible for the Australian Secret Intelligence Service I've increased their budget by 100% in the time I've been the Minister. I think it was very under-funded when I became the Minister.

I've upgraded ASIS very substantially and will continue to do so because I still think that relative to our size, ASIS is not as big as it could be. It doesn't have the bigger networks as ultimately I'd like to see it have, but it takes a long time to build up an organisation like that, because you've got to recruit people and train people, and you can't just recruit anybody. It takes a bit of time to do all that.

QUESTION: But specifically is there some particular area that is in need of additional money on top of the stuff that's been announced today?

DOWNER: Well I think - we are building up ASIS, which is one I'm responsible for. We're building up ASIS as fast as we can. You couldn't, in my view, build it up much faster because you could provide more money but then you'd be spending it for the sake of spending it, and that's taxpayers’ money.

I think in terms of the number of personnel involved, we're doing a good job in expanding our recruitment for ASIS, but we've still got further to go.

QUESTION: Again, [indistinct] you've already spoken about this morning, but Richard Clarke appeared on LateLine last night…

DOWNER: Oh yeah, another one.

QUESTION: and he said that…

DOWNER: That issues just out there today, not you personally necessarily.

QUESTION: …said that the head of the FBI made similar comments to Commissioner Keelty?

DOWNER: Look, I have no idea. I think again the ABC is just trying to reheat an old story.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you about today's Bulletin article, about the East Timor leaks?


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QUESTION: How did you approach those leaks with DIO? Did you confront Frank Lewincamp about those?

DOWNER: I was unhappy about the leaks. It was four years ago though, I don't - haven't kept records of every conversation I've had with people, particularly telephone conversations I don't keep records of. But let me try to think back to that time.

Well when there were leaks taking place I was unhappy about that, because they were selective leaks and they were being selectively leaked for political purposes. But the point I'd make here is for the last few weeks we've had all these claims which have been pumped through the media about how Lance Collins and others believe that DIO only tells the Government what it wants to hear.

But during that period in - let's think, in 2000 - the very same magazine that's been promoting this story about how DIO only tells the Government what it wants to hear, the very same magazine - the Bulletin - was publishing articles saying these terrible things have been happening in East Timor, and what did the Government do about it? And this is what DIO said.

Look, you can't have - the one magazine is saying on the one hand the Government didn't like what DIO was telling it, and on the other hand, it's arguing that DIO only told the Government what it wants to hear. They can't both be right. In fact, neither are right. DIO tells the Government what it assesses to be the situation.

In 1999 for the record, not only were various ministers and senior officials sent to Indonesia to lobby the Indonesians about the relationship between TNI and the militias, but the Prime Minister organised a summit in Bali with President Habibi, with General Wiranto, with Ali Alatas, me and John Moore - the relevant Australian Ministers - to complain to the Indonesians at the highest level specifically about the TNI activities in East Timor.

Now, so this again is another example of just complete rubbish being pumped through the media. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot argue that on the one hand the Government ignored the warnings given by DIO, and on the other hand that DIO only tells the Government what it wants to hear. And yet one magazine in Australia has been running both those propositions.

QUESTION: Frank Lewincamp suggested that you were on DIO's back because you wanted to get rid of the organisation. Is that true?

DOWNER: I didn't want to get rid of the organisation, I was very worried at the time about the leaks. And I found out though, subsequently, that the leaks didn't come from DIO. I found out where they did come from, but they didn't come from DIO.

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QUESTION: Did you apologise to Mr Lewincamp?

DOWNER: Don't be ridiculous. Honestly, seriously. Apologise to him for what? For being unhappy about the leaks? Of course not, I was unhappy about the leaks. And the thought that I would be happy about the leaks is just absurd. Of course I was unhappy about the leaks, they were leaks which were selective, designed to attack the Government. They were politically inspired and they were - and also, the theme of the leaks was completely false.

I mean look, if people are interested in the facts on East Timor, they should sit down and read the book that we produced on East Timor in about 2001. And I would challenge the journalists who are pushing these stories - these contradictory stories - to read that book. I'd hazard a guess none of them have even bothered to read it. Find out what did happen during 1999. Find out who did say what to whom and what initiatives the Government took.

And as for complaining about the leaks, of course I wouldn't apologise for complaining about the leaks, I would not be in favour of the leaks.