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Minister discusses Thailand; and terrorist attack in Mumbai.



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THE HON SIMON CREAN, MP

MINISTER FOR TRADE

ABC 2 NEWS BREAKFAST

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

1 DECEMBER 2008

BARRIE CASSIDY: Many Australians have been caught up in the violence in India, while in Thailand, the closure of Bangkok's international airport due to protests has left 100,000 passengers stranded, many Australians among them.

We're joined now from Canberra by the Acting Foreign Minister, Simon Crean. Good morning.

SIMON CREAN: Good morning, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Thailand first, and Qantas has offered to send planes. That's happening tonight, is it?

SIMON CREAN: Yes, it is, and that was an initiative of the Australian Government to contact Qantas. Qantas, to their credit, have been fantastic. They've scheduled an Airbus to take people out of Phuket, capacity of about 300. We understand that that there are something around 400 people stranded.

So every effort is being made to get people out. We have been very frustrated with the Thai airport authorities, the closure of the international airport and the adjoining domestic airport, but we're making every effort to use alternate approaches, not just the Phuket option, but also at Utapao Airport, which is the military airport that's taking planes, as is Chiang Mai.

BARRIE CASSIDY: That's going to take some coordination because, as I understand it, I think it's about a 14-hour bus trip from Bangkok to Phuket.

SIMON CREAN: Yes, and obviously we're ensuring the safety of the passengers on the way. We have to obviously do that long trip, but there are alternatives as well that we're looking at, Barrie.

So I think what it demonstrates is that, apart from the frustration, and it's very hard to do these things if you haven't got the full cooperation of the local authorities, then taking initiatives like these can at least give people some confidence that alternatives are being developed.

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BARRIE CASSIDY: Now, you say you're frustrated with the airport authorities, but they've got quite a situation developing there, and you would think that one false move and that could really develop into something quite ugly.

SIMON CREAN: Well, that's right, and obviously the Government and its handling of the situation, we're watching that very closely. But if we were able to get a better handle for how the Government was proceeding to deal with it and communicate that effectively with the airport authorities, we might have been able to move a bit quicker on this.

But I think that what we've demonstrated over the weekend is the preparedness to act quickly to develop the alternatives.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And the situation in India now with Australians still in India, has that situation now settled down?

SIMON CREAN: It has. We have accounted for all of the known Australians, the 84 that were known to us, apart from the two obvious, the casualties, the fatalities. It has settled down. I think the fallout now is focusing on the way in which the Indian authorities dealt with it.

We've had the resignation of the Indian Minister for Home Affairs and the offered resignation of the head of security. But I think it is important that we get to the bottom of how this happened, but more importantly, how we bring those associated with it to justice and how we combine effectively to try and prevent these sorts of things happening again.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Simon Crean, Trade Minister and acting Foreign Minister, thanks for your time this morning. Appreciate it.

SIMON CREAN: Thank you, Barrie.

[Ends]