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Transcript of doorstop interview: Adelaide Airport: 12 December 2003: [Jon\nJohanson to fly his plane back to New Zealand].

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12 December, 2003


Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer

Doorstop - Adelaide Airport

Downer: I just want to say something about Jon Johanson. I’m off to New Zealand now and I’ll be with the New Zealand Foreign Minister tomorrow. And I’m hopeful we’ll be able to square away arrangements which will allow for Jon Johanson to fly his plane back to New Zealand. It’s now turned out that a British aviator called Polly Vacher, has made available some fuel which she has pre-positioned at McMurdo Station. And she’s prepared to sell this fuel to Jon Johanson, so he will actually be able now to access proper avgas, that will be suitable for his plane. This fuel is already at McMurdo, it was pre-positioned there by Polly Vacher, who is a British aviator, who herself has been planning a similar type of trip, and hadn’t needed the fuel. We’ve been saying to the New Zealanders that now that fuel is available, and the question of non-availability of fuel isn’t relevant any more, we would be very grateful if they would give approval and facilitate the loading of the fuel into Jon Johanson’s plane. And the messages we’re getting back from the New Zealanders are that they might be prepared to do this. Now we’re not absolutely sure New Zealand is going to be prepared to do this, but we’re a lot more optimistic now than I was 24 hours ago.

Journalist: If New Zealand doesn’t allow it, is there another option?

Downer: We have some real problems if New Zealand won’t do it. No, because presumably he wouldn’t be able to do it himself, and I’m not sure that he would be able to access the fuel at McMurdo Station himself. We do need the New Zealanders to facilitate the loading of the fuel on to the plane. The owner of the fuel is the British aviator, Polly Vacher. And she’s prepared to sell the fuel. So that problem is solved. There is fuel there. And the New Zealanders are not being too resistant at this stage. So I’m optimistic, without being absolutely sure, that in the end the New Zealanders will allow the fuel to be loaded on to the plane.

Journalist: Is he aware of this?

Downer: I think he is. I’ve spoken to his partner and he (Johanson) is aware of this, yes.

Journalist: And what’s his response been?

Downer: I think he feels that it’s possible he might be able to leave McMurdo Station tomorrow. It’s possible, but let’s just hope we don’t have any more problems in terms of getting the approval of the New Zealanders to allow the fuel to be loaded. We’ve sent a message to the New Zealanders. They know that we feel anxious about this. And we hope that the matter can be resolved rather quickly. This is all, as you know, part of a broader international issue. And that is that both New Zealand and the United States, and Australia historically has supported this position -we want to try discourage sort of ad-hoc, unorganised adventurism or tourism in Antarctica. It’s all very well for people to undertake expeditions there, or to make tourist visits, as long as they’re properly planned and carefully put together. As you can see, in Polly Vacher’s case, she had given flight plans and information about her trip, and so on, to various authorities. But there is some inconsistency I think, in the way different countries are applying policy in relation to adventurers going to Antarctica. And I’ll be having this issue raised early next year when the Antarctic Treaty parties meet. We’ll be meeting in May next year. And I’ll make sure that this is raised at that meeting, so that we can try to get a much better international policy in terms of dealing with these sorts of problems in Antarctica. Because, I frankly think this has all been rather unsatisfactory and an enormous amount of trouble over what I would have thought a fairly small issue. It can’t be that complicated just to refuel a little plane like that and have him go on his way back. That’s not an unreasonable proposition.

Journalist: What about rumours that he actually (inaudible)?

Downer: That I don’t know. I don’t know and have not heard those rumours so I couldn’t really comment on that.

Journalist: Inaudible -regarding possibility of prosecution, fines and possibly jail

Downer: (Inaudible) under Australian law. (Inaudible) under New Zealand law. I think that would be a little unlikely. Of course New Zealand is a claimant state to Antarctica. They claim a part of Antarctic Territory, as does Australia. But you need to remember that the legal (inaudible) of Antarctica is a little uncertain, because the Antarctic Treaty basically allows the claimant and non-claimant (inaudible) competing claims. So there would be some uncertainty about that. I’m not really aware of any particular New Zealand laws that he may have broken.

Journalist: …some confusion about the level of support…sleeping in the plane rather than in the re-fuelling station?

Downer: I heard him on the radio late yesterday afternoon, and it seemed to clarify it for me -that he was sleeping in a re-fuelling shed, in a storage shed. And I hadn’t heard that the physical conditions were particularly uncomfortable. I mean, I suppose McMurdo Station is not one of the more luxurious locations on earth. But I think the main thing is he’s OK and he’s had access to food and drink and he’s been able to walk around McMurdo Station. I think I’ll leave the

minute detail of his circumstances for him to explain when he gets back home.

Journalist: …400 litres of fuel of British aviator. Is this damaging her plans?

Downer: No, she’s agreed to allow Jon to use that fuel. So she presumably doesn’t need the fuel. She’s agreed to sell it and that’s the important point here.

Journalist: Inaudible.

Downer: This is just a periodic trip. I meet with the New Zealand Foreign Minister once every six months. Five months ago we met up at Flinders Ranges and had a series of discussions there about in that case, the Solomon Islands. I’ll be briefing him on our initiatives on Papua New Guinea and we’ll be comparing notes on how the deployment in the Solomon Islands is going. And our view is that it is going very well. We don’t have any particular bilateral problems with New Zealand. So just catch up. (Inaudible)

Journalist: Inaudible -regarding Democrats.

Downer: That’s entirely a matter for the Democrats. I think I’m right in saying that of the seven Democrats, five of them have been the leader at some time. There are only two that haven’t been leader. (Inaudible) ..I think if Andrew Bartlett stood down and one of those two became the leader it would put the other one in a very embarrassing position. (Inaudible). I think the problem for the Democrats isn’t Andrew Bartlett himself, I think the greater problem with the Democrats is that as a political party they (inaudible) a party of the left, rather than a party of the centre. (inaudible).

Journalist: Inaudible.

Downer: Secondly, though they have made it clear that companies from a number of other countries will get contracts. And Australia is one of those countries. I’m pleased with the way we’re going in terms of winning contracts in Iraq, including from the Americans. We’ve got a number now. Some of those are publicly known, some of them are commercial-in-confidence. But I think we’re doing well in terms of getting contracts in Iraq. What about France, Germany and Russia? I would only say, France, Germany and Russia opposed the policy that led to the liberation of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Now they’re entitled to take whatever position they like in a free world. But France, Germany and Russia opposed the policy that led to the liberation of Iraq. And those three countries refused to provide any financial support for the rehabilitation of Iraq at the Madrid Donors Meeting. And it’s not altogether an entirely reasonable proposition for them to complain that after all of that they are not getting a share of American-funded contracts in Iraq.

Journalist: Inaudible.

Downer: I doubt that that’s true. I think that you could look at that in

entirely the other way around, frankly. I think these countries need to remember what Kofi Annan said, ironically in Germany. (Inaudible) I think it has to be a global effort. I would like to (inaudible) France, Germany and Russia could make a real practical, on the ground contribution through personnel, or if they won’t provide personnel, through financial support to help with the rehabilitation of Iraq. They refused to provide financial support for the rehabilitation of Iraq, and now they’re complaining that the American aren’t giving them American funded contracts in Iraq. I think once they get on board and become a mainstream part of the process of rehabilitating Iraq, well then no doubt they’ll be able to get contracts of one kind or another as well. But I mean their attitude is that they want to keep right out of it, have nothing to do with it -oh, excuse me, except that they would like (inaudible) commercial contracts with the Americans. The Americans aren’t always right, but on this occasion I can understand the point of view. Inaudible.