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Transcript of interview with Fran Kelly: Radio National: 10 September 2009: Balibo 5 investigation; Sri Lanka and UNICEF.

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10 September 2009

Interview with Fran Kelly, Radio National

SUBJECTS: Balibo 5 investigation, Sri Lanka and UNICEF

FRAN KELLY: Now for a government response to this news of the war crime and investigation into the 1975 Balibo killings, Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith joins us. Minister, good morning.

STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, will this AFP investigation damage our relationship with Indonesia? Because the Indonesian Foreign Ministry seems to think so.

STEPHEN SMITH: I don't believe that's the case. I was actually together with Prime Minister Rudd and Indonesian President on their first meeting in Bali in December 2007. This was one of the issues where both our countries agreed would potentially come up. It's one of the issues that we put in the same category, for example as, the Bali Nine and the question of capital punishment. This is an issue that, of course, we need to address

sensitively, we need to manage. But the strength now of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia is such that I'm absolutely confident that we can deal with this issue in a calm and sensible way, given that we are primarily dealing here with the independent decision of the Australia Federal Police.

FRAN KELLY: Well we've already had a response from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry saying that it will undermine the relationship. That sentiment was echoed by a fellow called Theo Sambuaga, the head of an Indonesian parliamentary committee.

STEPHEN SMITH: I think there's a difference between an official and the response, a mature response of the Indonesian Government.

Look there's no point, in a sense, beating around the bush. Indonesia is somewhat surprised by this decision.

Surprised because the Indonesian framework they're dealing with are the events of nearly 35 years ago. But the reference point here is an independent Coronial inquiry in November 2007 which effectively asked the AFP to investigate the matter.

The AFP, when it announced during the week that it was proposing to conduct an investigation, made the point of all the difficulties of expiration of time, difficult and complex matters.

So what Australian officials have outlined to Indonesian officials, and indeed what I've outlined to the Indonesia Ambassador, is we're dealing here with independent exercise of judgement by important Australian institutions, a coronial inquiry and the Australia Federal Police. They need to be dealt with in that manner, but we don't regard these as issues which will disturb the fundamentals of the relationship.

Yes of course they need to be managed sensibly and that will occur. It is occurring.

FRAN KELLY: So have you spoken to your counterpart about this yet?

STEPHEN SMITH: No I haven't spoken to…

FRAN KELLY: Will you?

STEPHEN SMITH: …Hassan Wirajuda. Well I speak to him regularly. I spoke to him for example on a range of issues last week and the next time we speak, of course this will be a matter almost certainly we will discuss.

But in some respects, the nature of the relationship now is such that we can deal with these difficult issues in a sensible, calm and mature way. It is particular fact that Indonesia is an important friend, partner and neighbour and from time to time in a relationship between two countries who are close, geographically, but close in terms of relationship, issues will always come up where you need to manage them. This is one of them.

And as I said, my starting point was observing the meeting between the Prime Minister and the President where this was mentioned as one of those issues.

We do need to deal with it calmly and that is what is occurring. We've explained the independent nature of the Australian Federal Police to the Indonesian Ambassador and to Indonesian officials, both here and in Jakarta.

And as appropriate on the next time that I meet with Hassan Wirajuda I'll speak to him, of course, I'm very happy to have the conversation but…

FRAN KELLY: Minister…

STEPHEN SMITH: …it's a mature relationship and we deal with these issues maturely.

FRAN KELLY: If it's a mature relationship then is Indonesia under moral pressure to cooperate? I mean if this leads to a request for extraditions would you expect that to occur?

STEPHEN SMITH: I think it's very important here that we take this step by step. These are tragic events of nearly 35 years ago, the families have had to deal with this for a long period of time, and the issue that we're dealing with now, questions of repatriation.

I think it's very important to not get ahead of ourselves in any way. The AFP made it clear when they announced their decision, and when they advised the families of their decision to conduct an investigation that this would be difficult. They were dealing with events of a long

period of time, the standards of proof are high and access to evidence is difficult.

So I'm not proceeding on anything other than the next step will be what the Australian Federal Police say is the outcome of their investigation. That may or may not lead to further processes and we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves, either in terms of extradition or in terms of prosecutions.

FRAN KELLY: Sounds like you don't expect this to get to the point of request for extradition.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well it's not a matter of my expectation. It's a matter here of just as we were dealing with the independent exercise of judgement by a New South Wales coroner, we are now dealing with the independent exercise of judgement by the Australia Federal Police and we should let them do that.

I'm not an investigating officer and it's not a matter of my expectation or my view. It's a matter now of waiting for the AFP to conduct this investigation and to go forward from there if that is appropriate.

FRAN KELLY: Do you have a view? Do you think war crimes were committed at Balibo in 1975?

STEPHEN SMITH: My view is essentially irrelevant. There are plenty of views out there that have been articulated over a long period of time. From my perspective the only issue now is an independent Australian Federal Police investigation and the need that I have as Foreign Minister to ensure that that process is fully understood by Indonesia.

The last time I stood side by side with Hassan Wirajuda in Cairns recently at the Pacific Islands Forum, I said that our relationship between Indonesia was at an all-time high and I think that's right, but there were two dangers; complacency and surprise.

In some respects this has been a surprise to Indonesia and that's why we need to manage it carefully and that's what we're doing.

FRAN KELLY: And was it a surprise to you?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I knew that the Australia Federal Police were contemplating an investigation, were looking at it.

I also knew that the array of issues and difficulties that they had to look at are complex, complicated, both in terms of fact and law. In the end it was a matter for them.

At some point in the cycle after the report of the New South Wales Deputy Coroner in November 2007, a decision by the AFP was inevitable. A decision either to commence an investigation or to say there was no basis for commencing an investigation.

At some point in the cycle, the AFP had to make that decision. They made that decision recently, they advised the families in the course of this week, they advised the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that that's what they were proposing to do and we then, sensibly, took the opportunity of alerting the Indonesian authorities to the AFP decision in advance of it becoming public.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, just another issue. In Sri Lanka an Australian aid worker James Elder, he works for UNICEF, has been threatened with deportation after speaking out on human rights violations.

Can the Australian Government do anything to help James Elder?

STEPHEN SMITH: He's an Australian citizen so our officials have been in contact with him in Sri Lanka to ask him whether he needs any assistance. I'm advised that his response has been that at this point in the cycle he doesn't need assistance.

We've also spoken at officials’ level, to the United Nations and they've also indicated at this stage no intervention from us is required.

The question of a visa is, of course, a matter between effectively, Mr Elder, the United Nations and Sri Lanka.

I've also seen suggestions that somehow he's said or done something which is inappropriate. I, of course, haven't seen all of the things that he's said and don't have knowledge of all the things that he'd done. But the things that I have seen him say, I regard essentially as someone making the point that the Australian Government has made which is, it's very important that the international agencies have full and complete access to the displaced people's camps, whether it's UNICEF who does great work, or the International Red Cross.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Fran. Thanks very much.


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