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Extracts of transcript of press conference: Perth: 18 July 2010.



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Stephen Smith, MP  Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade 

Extracts of transcript of press conference Perth

18 July 2010

STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, it's my sad duty to confirm that a 53 year old Australian man from South

Australia has been confirmed as dying in the hotel fire in northern Iraq. The 53 year old South Australian

has been a permanent resident in Thailand for some time. And Australian officials are providing consular

assistance to his family in Thailand, to family members in Australia and also providing consular assistance

to his employer, which is based in Dubai.

So we regret very much this sad death. We extend our sympathy and condolences to this man's family,

both in Australia and in Thailand, and we will continue to provide every assistance to his family and to his

employer.

I also indicate that we have no information, evidence or suggestion that any other Australian has been

caught up in this terrible fire in the hotel in northern Iraq.

QUESTION: There's an ASEAN forum in Vietnam coming up. I understand this [indistinct]. Is - are you

going to that and will [indistinct] going?

STEPHEN SMITH: Let me make some general remarks about travel in the course of the election

campaign. I was originally scheduled to travel over the weekend to Afghanistan for the foreign ministers'

Conference on Afghanistan in Kabul, and to travel from there to Hanoi for the ASEAN- related meetings.

Because of the calling of the election, I'm not proposing to travel to either Afghanistan or to Hanoi.

At the Kabul Conference in Afghanistan, Australia will be represented by our special envoy for Afghanistan

and Pakistan, Ric Smith, and he'll be accompanied by our Ambassador to Afghanistan. In Hanoi, Australia

will be represented by our Ambassador to ASEAN, Gillian Bird, Deputy Secretary of the Department of

Foreign Affairs and Trade.

As a general proposition, when the election campaign is on, I'm not proposing to travel. But on a case-by-case basis, I will give consideration to travel overseas to events which may be occurring and where there

may be a national interest for Australia to be represented at ministerial level.

QUESTION: [Indistinct]…

STEPHEN SMITH: I'll make those judgements on a case-by-case basis - that's the first point - and I'll

announce them as I make them on a case-by-case basis.

Secondly, any overseas travel will be conducted in accordance with the caretaker provisions.

Caretaker provisions do not require that if the Minister for Foreign Affairs travels overseas, that he or she is

accompanied by the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. So I'm not proposing to invite Ms Bishop to any

travel which I may undertake.

But my starting point is that I'm not proposing to travel, firstly. Secondly, I'll make a judgement on a case-by-case basis about any exceptions to that, and I'll let the media and the public know on a case-by-case

basis as these judgements arise. But any travel will be conducted strictly in accordance with the caretaker

requirement.

QUESTION: How [indistinct] asylum seeker question [indistinct] in Australia if it's out there in the suburbs.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it'll be one of the issues that will fall for consideration, but so far as asylum

seekers are concerned, let me make a couple of general points.

Firstly, you have the Government progressing its offshore processing centre proposal, and within the

constraints of the caretaker provision, that will continue in the course of the campaign. I was in Indonesia,

in Jakarta last week. I had discussions with my Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa. Yes, we had

agreed that I would have further discussions with him in Hanoi during the ASEAN-related meetings, and I'd

also agreed with Zacarias da Costa, the Foreign Minister from East Timor that he and I would have

discussions in Hanoi as well.

We've had officials in East Timor and Indonesia in the course of last week, and I propose over the next

couple of days to speak by telephone to Zacarias da Costa, and to speak by telephone to Marty

Natalegawa to progress those discussions.

In the meantime, our officials, including our officials in the Hanoi-related meetings, will continue to let our

friends and partners in the region - continue to let them know of our proposal. So those discussions at

officials level will be ongoing, but, obviously, the intervening of the election won't enable us to draw those

matters to a conclusion over the election period.

QUESTION: Are you worried that there was [indistinct] clear plan in place with regard to this issue going

into this election. Would you have preferred that things had been bedded down with a country like East

Timor?

STEPHEN SMITH: Anyone who believes that a proposal for a regional processing centre in the context of

a regional framework for dealing with asylum seekers, human trafficking and people smuggling, anyone

who believes that these matters could be bedded down in a short period of time doesn’t live in the real

world.

These discussions were always going to take some time. I would, from a personal point of view, very much

have preferred to have gone to Hanoi to continue my personal discussions. The election has intervened.

My judgement is that it's not appropriate for me to leave Australia in the course of a campaign for those

purposes. But I will continue those discussions by telephone, as our officials will diligently and assiduously

also pursue discussions with other countries in the region.

We need to get up a workable, practical solution in this area. We need the support of the United Nations

High Commissioner for Refugees, discussions with the UNHCR will continue at officials level, and we need

support of countries in the region, either through the Bali process, or generally.

Those discussions will continue at officials level, as is appropriate within the constraints of the caretaker

convention.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

STEPHEN SMITH: Whether David Hicks takes legal action either in the United States or in Australia is

entirely a matter for him and for his legal advisers, and I wouldn't be proposing to comment on any legal

action, actual or prospective, that he might want to take. As a matter of course, I don't comment about

matters which are before the courts or which might be before the courts. So that's entirely a matter for him

to pursue either in the United States or here.

QUESTION: In view of the fires [indistinct], have you got any information about how the fire started?

STEPHEN SMITH: No, I don't. I'm proceeding on the basis that there will be the usual exhaustive

investigations as to the cause of the fire and what steps need to be taken to make sure that such a terrible

incident doesn't occur again. Our primary concern over the weekend has been to work very closely with

Iraqi officials to satisfy ourselves as to whether any Australians were adversely affected.

In the event, tragically, one Australian has died in the fire, but we've got no information, or evidence or

indications that any other Australians have been caught up in it. And I'm just getting on the basis of the

relevant Iraqi organisations and authorities will conduct the usual inquiries into such a terrible event.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

STEPHEN SMITH: As I understand it, he was there for work purposes. His employer is based in Dubai.

And whilst he's an Australian, has for some time been a permanent resident of Thailand, so he has family

both in Thailand and in Australia. His employer is in Dubai.

Our officials are giving assistance to the family, both in Thailand and in Australia, and officials in United

Arab Emirates are working closely with them assisting the company.

Right, thanks very much.

Media inquiries Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7500 Departmental Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555