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Foreign Minister discusses Mohamed Haneef; John Howard biography; opinion polls; and Greens preference deal.

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DATE: 24 July, 2007

TITLE: Interview - ABC with Jon Faine - Haneef case, Howard biography, polls, Greens preference deal.

PRESENTER: Alexander Downer is the Foreign Affairs Minister and one time, in fact, was Leader of the Federal Liberal Party, before John Howard. Alexander Downer good morning.

MR DOWNER: Good morning Jon.

PRESENTER: Queensland Premier Peter Beattie this morning is calling for a senate inquiry into the Mohammed Haneef case. Will the Government agree?

MR DOWNER: No, we won’t because this is just party politicking by Mr Beattie. Obviously his office and Mr Rudd’s office have cooked all of this up, where Mr Rudd goes out there and says he supports the Government and then gets Mr Beattie to go out there and attack the Federal Police and by one removed, the Federal Government. This is an investigation which was actually a joint investigation by the Federal Police and the Queensland Police so if Mr Beattie thinks there should be a Senate Inquiry, then the senate inquiry would presumably include an investigation into what the Queensland Police have been up to.

Jon, can I just make this one point? If Mr Beattie had some concerns about the Federal Police and the Queensland Police joint investigation, he could just ring the Queensland Police Commissioner and ask him what is going on but he hasn’t done that. He’s gone out and

denigrated, not the Queensland Police but the Federal Police for party political reasons and I think reflects very badly on him.

PRESENTER: Are you entirely comfortable with the handling of the Haneef case?

MR DOWNER: I’m entirely comfortable. I think the Federal Police are enormously professional and there may have been newspaper reports about this, that and the other - which you and I are familiar with and most of your listeners are - but the point here is that the Federal Police, with the Queensland Police, have conducted a joint investigation, charges have been brought, this is a case that should go to court and the court should make a decision. It is as simple as that. There shouldn’t really be any more debate about it.

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PRESENTER: Even your own colleagues yesterday couldn’t sing from the same song sheet, Alexander Downer. The Deputy Prime Minister and the Immigration Minister were in disagreement over the reasons for Dr Haneef’s visa being cancelled?

MR DOWNER: I didn’t hear what they said yesterday.

PRESENTER: Well they contradicted each other. I’ll tell you.

MR DOWNER: I didn’t hear what they said but I just make the point that in terms of the Immigration Minister’s decision to withdraw the visa, he made that on the grounds of character. This is a matter that is though now being appealed through the Federal Court and will be considered in that court so I’ll leave it at that. But look, the overall issue here is, other than the merits of the Haneef case, the overall issue here is a broader question of the Government’s approach to terrorism. We take a very tough approach. I, for example, as the Foreign Minister, went up to Bali straight after the Bali bombing, I went to our Embassy after it was bombed in Jakarta, I’ve seen the carnage of terrorism. I’ve met the families. I’ve felt the pain of it through them indirectly and if there is a terrorist attack in Australia, then the next big campaign will be why didn’t the Federal Government take more responsible measures to make sure that such an attack didn’t happen? So look, we are risk averse in terms of terrorism. We don’t want to see terrorist attacks in Australia so we’re tough on this issue.

PRESENTER: So if that means that someone’s rights are trampled upon, that’s a worthwhile sacrifice?

MR DOWNER: We don’t want people’s rights to be trampled on but let me make this point.

PRESENTER: But that’s what’s happened here with Dr Haneef though?

MR DOWNER: I don’t think so. I think the law has been followed strictly by the Federal Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions. I don’t think - and obviously by the Immigration Minister - I don’t think the law has been broken by anybody. Those laws are made by the Parliament. They were made by the Parliament under careful consideration and

the sort of issues you mentioned - the civil liberties issues - are obviously enormously important to all of us. But so is stopping people being - no reflection here on Dr Haneef, I’ll leave that aside - but not only are civil liberties important but so is protecting the Australian

community from terrorism. It is difficult, I’ll be frank with you, to get that balance right. It is always going to be difficult. But I think we need to work at getting it right and making sure it is right and the community is protected.

PRESENTER: Alexander Downer, the latest opinion polls published today suggest that although there is a slight nudging upwards in the standing of your party in the preferred party stakes for the next election, it is an almost impossible task for the Prime Minister, who turns 68 on Thursday. Have you had a look at the extracts published so far from his biography, which goes on sale today?

MR DOWNER: Yes, I’ve flicked through it. I don’t think it is much of a book myself. I’m very disappointed, I thought it might be a little more insightful. I know there’s been a

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little bit of controversy and media excitement about it. Look at the end of the day though, that’s fair enough - people will report all of those things and I’m not critical about that - but at the end of the day, the public are concerned about their own lives, their own livelihoods, issues like interest rates, their jobs, their children’s’ jobs, their income, their mortgages. These are the issues that are really important to people, not a bit of gossip about whether John Howard said this, or Peter Costello said that, or I said something else years ago.

PRESENTER: And on those issues that you’ve just listed, it would seem people think Kevin Rudd is more likely to manage them to their advantage than your Government, the incumbents?

MR DOWNER: I don’t think in the end people do think Kevin Rudd is much more than somebody who is very good at kind of media stunts. He says that he now supports the Government on issues like the Northern Territory intervention, in the Haneef case he supports the Government, he supports the Government on Tasmanian forests or whatever it is. He apparently thinks the Government is doing a very good job, manipulates stunts like we’ve seen over vegetable prices knowing that he can’t do anything about vegetable prices and I think in the end, people look for more substance than that in Government.

PRESENTER: Wishful thinking it would seem Alexander Downer. In the latest polls published today, well according to commentators and analysts in all newspapers, the gap is almost unreachable and even if Peter Costello was to be installed as the leader of your political party, you still wouldn’t get within cooee of Kevin Rudd.

MR DOWNER: We’ll see whether that’s right or whether that might be on some people’s part, wishful thinking. I’ve been in Parliament with John Howard for over 20 years and I don’t know how often I’ve been asked that question by John Howard - it looks as though he’s finished, it looks as though he’s had it - people were saying that to me 15, 16 years ago.

PRESENTER: And as for the biography that you’ve just said is an unimpressive book, which I’ve also been reading, the biography says he has been constantly underestimated.

MR DOWNER: Yes. The thing about John Howard is he’s extraordinarily energetic, he’s very determined and in terms of policy delivery, while some of the policies have been at times unpopular and controversial, they’ve been very successful. I think of all the government’s we’ve had since Federation, this Government has been pretty much the most successful that Australia has had. Now commentators are saying ‘well John Howard has had it, he’s going to be cast off, the public are sick of him and so on, the challenge is insurmountable’. I think in the end, well we’ll see. We’ll see whether those commentators are right - they’ve always been wrong in the past - so let’s see if they are right this time.

PRESENTER: Well if they are right and John Howard is defeated at the next opinion polls, will you toss your hat in the ring as a potential leader of the Liberal Party?

MR DOWNER: I’m absolutely determined to win the election and I’ve never even thought about it. I can genuinely say that it has never even occurred to me. If we lose the next election, I might have lost my seat.

PRESENTER: You can think about it now. Would you be a contender?

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MR DOWNER: No. I’m thinking about winning the election. I’ve been the Leader of the Opposition. I’ve had that unhappy experience. I have no intention of repeating it anytime soon. But I certainly take the view that the Government has a good chance of winning the

election but it is going to be very tough. But ultimately I think the record of the Government and the very practical balance and sensible way it approaches difficult issues is likely to prove to be much more popular than some commentators claim at the moment.

PRESENTER: And just finally, Bob Brown - Senator Bob Brown, the Leader of the Greens - has told us this morning that he will call for an open ticket for Greens voters in two key Tasmanian electorates after Kevin Rudd’s announcement of a shift in Labor Party forestry policy yesterday. Do you think that is going to make any difference?

MR DOWNER: I think it is very hard to tell actually. Greens voters tend to give their preferences to Labor in any case and I also think that perhaps people don’t follow the how-to-vote cards in the same slavishly way they used to years ago - 20 or so years ago - I’ve had this experience in my own electorate where parties have given preferences to usually my opponents, they like to do that.

PRESENTER: Well you nearly got knocked off, didn’t you?

MR DOWNER: Yes because Democrats organised a deal with the Labor Party and One Nation all to preference against me. But actually, the reason I didn’t get knocked off is because quite a lot of people didn’t follow those how-to-vote cards. So it is very hard to tell what the meaning of Bob Brown’s statement would be on polling day, to tell you the truth.

PRESENTER: Thank you for your time this morning.

MR DOWNER: It’s always a pleasure.