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Foreign Minister discusses death penalty; and Bali bombers.

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DATE: 10 October, 2007

TITLE: Interview - 2GB with Ray Hadley - capital punishment, Bali bombers.

PRESENTER: … He’s been trying to blame everybody but himself for the backlash at Labor’s stance on opposing the death penalty for the Bali bombers. Now the Shadow Minister, Robert McClelland, made a speech on Monday night that Labor would campaign against the death penalty in Asia. That was days away from the fifth anniversary of the Bali terror attacks.

As you can imagine, victims and their families were horrified that Labor, so close to the anniversary, would be fighting to save the lives of those responsible for the Bali bombings. The timing of the policy announcement was in bad taste - there’s no arguing with that - but all Robert McClelland was doing was confirming Labor policy and the views that Kevin Rudd had expressed for some years. But when push came to shove for Kevin Rudd to back up Robert McClelland, he went missing in action. In fact, Robert McClelland got a rap over the knuckles for it and so did one of his staffers who wrote the speech and a staffer in Kevin Rudd’s office who saw the speech but apparently didn’t tell the Opposition Leader about it.

Now Kevin has had a memory lapse. When Saddam Hussein was hanged in Baghdad in December, Kevin Rudd sighted Labor’s opposition to the death penalty when he said the former dictator deserved to rot in gaol, not be executed. He said at the time, ‘it’s not possible in our view to be selective in the application of the policy’. The Greens and the Democrats, who support this policy, by the way, piled in on top of Kevin Rudd for being weak kneed.

Now I find myself in a difficult position over this. I’m opposed in general terms to the death penalty - I’m opposed to it - but then when people say to me ‘what would you do with either Milat or the copy killers’, I suspect they’ll probably want to put them to death so I’m having a

bet each way to a certain extent. And I think that the Government probably finds itself on a similar situation. It is a very vexing question.

The Foreign Affairs Minister has afforded us some time this afternoon. Alexander Downer’s on the line right now. Minister, good afternoon to you.

MR DOWNER: Good afternoon, Ray.

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PRESENTER: It is a difficult one, in terms of policy, if we are as a nation opposed to the death penalty but then we hedge our bets to a certain extent when we find the most reprehensible people, either in our society or in other societies.

MR DOWNER: Look, I think it is pretty straight forward. I’m an in principal - as everybody knows and Mr Rudd keeps reminding people - I’m opposed to the death penalty. I never said I supported it but on the other hand, there’s a separate question here and it is what will I, as the Foreign Minister of Australia, do about the execution of three Bali bombers, the three key people involved in the Bali bombing and my answer to that is look, they are in Indonesian jurisdiction, not our jurisdiction, they did an absolutely appalling thing - no one would argue with that, they killed 88 of my fellow countrymen and women, I feel very passionate about that - and if they are going to be executed well that is, you know, too bad. My attitude to that is I will not use any resources of the Australian Government or the Australian taxpayer and I will not use up our good relationship with Indonesia lobbying on behalf of people who killed 88 of my fellow citizens. I won’t do it.

PRESENTER: So it is a fairly pragmatic view in other words - you are opposed to it on the basis that you don’t want people to be put to death but when you find people who have done such abhorrent things, you won’t lobby on anyone’s behalf to have them executed?

MR DOWNER: No. Look, I’m philosophically opposed to the death penalty and I’ve said that all my life, even when I was a child I was. But on the other hand to be realistic about it, when Saddam Hussein was hanged, I didn’t shed a tear for Saddam Hussein after all the people he murdered and butchered and the wars he started. If the three Bali bombers are executed by firing squad, there won’t be a lot of sympathy coming from me for them.

PRESENTER: So is Kevin Rudd showing his political hem in that he takes a different view to the pragmatic view expressed by you, and I think expressed by me - I don’t give a bugger what happens to the Bali bombers - but he says oh well look, I don’t feel the way Alexander Downer does however I don’t want that view being expressed by my Minister or by the Shadow Minister representing that portfolio?

MR DOWNER: Well let’s just understand - people who are thinking of voting for Labor, led by Kevin Rudd at the next election, let them just think about this - Kevin Rudd’s actual position is articulated on many occasions over the last few years is that he thinks we are inconsistent because we lobby for Australians on death row, we lobby for their lives, but we will not lobby for the three Bali bombers and that has always been his position. Now Robert

McClelland - who I often don’t agree with, as you can imagine and I don’t on this issue but is a perfectly decent person - came out and he, as the Shadow Minister articulated yet again the Labor position. Now he put out a press release with one of his other shadow ministerial colleagues just a month ago, less than a month ago, on this issue making exactly the points he made in this speech this week. What is incredible is that the real author of this policy wasn’t Robert McClelland but it was Kevin Rudd himself when he was the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. Now Kevin Rudd saw the headlines, he heard what the Australian people said, and so suddenly not only did he sit down Robert McClelland - in I thought a completely

disloyal way and a completely unreasonable way and embarrassed and humiliated him - but

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he decided he wanted to change the policy. Now, the thing is if you want to be the Prime Minister of Australia, you have to be strong enough to stand up for your convictions.

PRESENTER: So it is politically expedient simply to sacrifice McClelland’s reputation by Tuesday, having heard what he had to say on Monday?

MR DOWNER: Yes, but I mean McClelland is supposed to be the man they are putting up to be the Foreign Minister of Australia. It is the third most senior position in the Government - the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Foreign Minister - and to say this is the man, to try and persuade the public this is the man we’d like instead of Downer as the Foreign Minister and Australia will be better off with him than Downer. But then to go and cut him down in that sort of way and more than that, Robert McClelland is a decent bloke,

he’s a colleague of mine in the Parliament, a political opponent but a good bloke and to treat him in that way, just to embarrass and humiliate him before the Australian public, I just think that’s the wrong thing to do and it makes me feel a little angry.

PRESENTER: You are a seasoned campaigner in every sense of the word and to a certain extent on this program I’ve ignored polls - I think they only poll that is going to count is the one to be called by the Prime Minister sometime soon we expect - but what do you make of them? I mean you have been here before, you’ve seen it all, you’ve seen it on both

sides of the fence, what do you make of the honeymoon that Kevin Rudd is enjoying with the electorate?

MR DOWNER: Well he’s articulate and he’s something new and to be honest, John Howard, Peter Costello and me in particular, we’ve been on TV night after night for 11 and a half years and somebody new and articulate comes along and people think ‘oh well, that’s a sunny, happy face’. But I don’t think, in the end, that will work for Labor because people I think - well not everybody but most people - think Australia is heading in the right direction and to change the Government is to change the country, is to change the whole direction of the country and you’d be putting in a very inexperienced Prime Minister in Kevin Rudd and of course 70 per cent of his front bench is made up of former trade union officials. I think - look, I may be wrong and then I’ll be out of work I suppose - but my guess is that in the end for the Australian public, what they want is the stability and the security of being able to see Australia keeping on in the same direction that it’s going now and a change to Labor, it will change the direction of the whole country.

PRESENTER: Just turning things around, back to Bali in particular and Indonesia, we do enjoy a much better relationship with Indonesia than we did previously. You’re not prepared to lobby as a Government to have the death penalty removed for the Bali bombers. Your reading of the matter, do you see any softening from Indonesia in relation to executing these fellows?

MR DOWNER: I think there are mixed messages coming out from Indonesia about that. The sense I have is that the Attorney-General in Indonesia is not a great supporter of capital punishment full stop. The President is though and many of the Ministers are and the public certainly is very supportive of capital punishment in Indonesia. I think, to be honest with you,

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that is a bit of an internal debate they are having at the moment. But it’s not my job to weigh into that…

PRESENTER: But you are an expert in the area and you do read it particularly well because of your relationship with that country so you would understand how they are looking and what they are feeling at the moment. The other thing that people forget, you and I have focussed on the 88 Australians who were killed, many Indonesians lost their lives.

MR DOWNER: Well there were 202 people killed - so I’m not going to be able to tell you off the top of my head…

PRESENTER: There were other nationals involved.

MR DOWNER: There were and 30 or 40 I think of those killed were Indonesians and then there were people from a whole range of countries, mainly from Europe. I think all of the appeals processes for these three Bali bombers have now been exhausted. All that is left is a

plea to the President for clemency so we’ll just have to wait and see. Just leave it up to them.

PRESENTER: Ok. I appreciate your time as always.

MR DOWNER: It’s a pleasure.