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Transcript of a doorstop interview at Mayo Electorate Office: 9 June 2004: UN Security Council Iraq resolution; SA Anglican Church issue,Mark Latham and Peter Garrett.



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MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: June 9 2004

TITLE: Doorstop Interview, Mayo Electorate Office TOPICS: UN Security Council Iraq resolution, SA Anglican Church issue, Mark Latham and Peter Garrett

Downer: The Government very warmly welcomes the passage of the Security Council resolution. This shows that the international community is now getting right behind the new Iraq. It shows the international community is getting behind the multi-national force there. It shows the international community backing the interim government. It gives us great heart now that the international community, the world at large, is supporting the efforts that we’re making in Iraq. And I think Australians will take great comfort from the Security Council resolution. Because in spite of the debates in the past in our country about this issue, and all sorts of different positions taken on it by different people, I think most Australians can identify with the fact that now the United Nations Security Council is backing the new Iraq, backing what we’re doing in Iraq. That will give them a great deal more comfort with the decisions that we’ve been making.

Journalist: Is this the circuit breaker to end the quagmire in Iraq?

Downer: I think the situation in Iraq is better than it’s often portrayed, when inevitably - and I don’t say this critically - but inevitably the international media focus on an explosion here and an explosion there and when people die. It’s tragic and it is news. But I think this does remind people that there is a plan for the new Iraq. That things are heading in the right direction despite the best efforts of the terrorists and some of the former Saddam Hussein regime elements, I think this should encourage the whole of the international community, that we’ve got to be very determined in standing up to these terrorists and not allow them to determine the future of Iraq. Now it will be the international community backed by the United Nations Security Council that will play such an important part in determining the future of the new Iraq. And that’s great news for the Iraqis. And it’s good news around the world because you’ve got - which of course you haven’t had always in the past - you’ve got broad international support now for what’s happening in Iraq.

Journalist: What does this do to strengthen or weaken the case for out troops staying there in short or longer term?

Downer: It would be, frankly, little short of bizarre if Australia decided to pull its troops out on the basis of some political decision, at a time when the United Nations Security

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Council’s authority underwrites the presence of our troops and the multi-national force in Iraq. This is a time when the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and obviously the Coalition of over 30 countries who are there, are calling on still more countries to participate. What a bizarre thing it would be if Australia decided that, of all the countries in the world, a significant and a powerful country like Australia decided it was just going to pull out, it was going to cut and run. I think it would do Australia’s international reputation - not just our reputation with the Americans and our alliance - but I think it would do Australia’s international reputation a great deal of harm. We would look very bad in these circumstances.

Journalist: Do you think this decision will moderate Mark Latham’s views?

Downer: Let me say this. We are today offering Mr Latham a briefing on the Security Council resolution and on the implications of the Security Council resolution for the future of Iraq. And we also repeat our offer of a briefing to Mr Latham on what our troops do in Iraq. He’s still not had such a briefing. So I would hope that now the United Nations has endorsed the plan for a new Iraq, have endorsed the Iraqi interim government, endorsed the multi-national force including of course therefore the Australian troops there, that Mr Latham will reconsider his position. I think this is a great opportunity for him, not perhaps to climb down in a humiliating way which he may think will do him political damage, but a great opportunity for him to start this issue afresh, and to support a bipartisan position of backing our troops there.

Journalist: Do you think it could make countries such as Spain, for example, rethink its involvement?

Downer: I don’t really know. I’m not sure in the case of Spain, and remember the Government there got elected on this issue more than any other single issue. There were very special circumstances surrounding what Spain has done.

But I think more generally this will encourage other countries to make a contribution. I noticed today, yesterday new York time, a spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said that a number of countries have come forward and offered to provide troops for the protection of the United Nations in Iraq. So it’s interesting that countries are coming forward at this stage - additional countries - are coming forward to offer troops for that purpose. I just think with the Security Council resolution that you do get much wider international support. And I hope more countries will come forward and provide support, be it through humanitarian assistance or through troops. And for us to do the reverse, for us to be the one country, a significant country in the world that decided to cut and run at this time, that would be little short of bizarre.

Journalist: The Governor-General has criticised George Bush for buying into Australia (inaudible), should the Governor-General be commenting on (inaudible)?

Downer: No, I don’t think that’s what the Governor-General said actually. No, no, no that’s not right. I think the criticism of the Governor-General is, isn’t it, that the Governor-General said that what President Bush said was a reasonable comment by President Bush. I don’t think he criticised it.

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Journalist: OK, sorry.

Downer: I think the point to remember with President Bush’s remarks was that he’s not so much buying into Australian politics as talking the American book, and I think the international community’s book. And that is he’s making it clear that if a really significant country like Australia decided that suddenly at this time it was going to abandon its obligations in Iraq, that would be disastrous. I think an awful lot of people around the world would agree with that proposition. They might not have always agreed with it. But I think most Australians today, with the passage of this Security Council resolution which gives even greater credibility, if you like, to our military presence in Iraq, they will be more supportive of what we’re doing there. And so I think what President Bush is doing is really expressing a view that if countries decide to cut and run at this critical time, that would be as he says, disastrous. I don’t think it’s so much buying into Australian politics as really talking the American book.

Journalist: On another topic, you are very close to the Anglican Church. I presume you are. Do you support the calls for Ian George to resign?

Downer: I think in the end, as I said with Archbishop Hollingworth, when he was the Governor-General and was embroiled in a very similar controversy, that people in positions like that, including Ian George, have to reflect on what it means for the institution of the Church and what it means for public confidence in the Church if they’re to stay in the job or if they’re to resign. They’ve got to weigh those things up. The institution of the Church and the issue of child abuse is a much more important issue than any individual. So the individual has to reflect on that point and act in a way which is in the best interests of the institution and the people who were the victims of that abuse. And so I would only say that. He will have to reflect on…

Journalist: ..his behaviour and the Church’s behaviour?

Downer: Obviously the behaviour, as the report - I haven’t read the report myself but I’ve read the media coverage of the report - and it’s perfectly clear that the report exposes terrible failings in the Church. And I think everybody, be they in the Anglican Church, but importantly through the broader community, would want that rectified immediately.

Journalist: The answer to the previous question was all but resign, wasn’t it?

Downer: No, my answer to the question is as I said with Archbishop Hollingworth when he was the Governor-General - and of course as you know he did resign - that people in positions such as this - I’m not a decision maker here, I’m a commentator - people in positions such as this need to reflect very carefully on what the implications are for dealing with the issue of child abuse, as well as the reputation of the Church by them continuing to remain in office.

Journalist: Related to that is John Mountford. Is Foreign Affairs tracing his progress..the former chaplain?

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Downer: We would have to get from the police and from the court a request for extradition. And we would obviously process that, but the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade doesn’t actually manage those issues. We would just pass on (inaudible).

Journalist: That hasn’t occurred?

Downer: That hasn’t occurred, no.

Journalist: On Peter Garrett, how much of a threat do you think he’ll pose if his political career comes to fruition?

Downer: I think we’ve had a lot of high profile people go into politics in the past. And a lot of them have crashed and burned. So I don’t know in his case what he’d be like. I think that problem - I don’t want to repeat what I said yesterday or to be gratuitous about it - but can I just put it to you this way. I think that if he were to become a Labor candidate, there would be enormous scrutiny of his record. You see I think what this issue does is expose what Mark Latham is about. Mark Latham doesn’t really believe in anything. He thinks Peter Garrett is a high profile person who has popularity amongst a certain age group in Australian society. And if he could run him as a candidate that might help to win votes. But does Peter Garrett stand for the same things that the Labor Party stands for? Does he believe in the same things the Labor Party believes in? And I think the answer to that is he doesn’t. He hasn’t believed in the things the Labor Party has articulated over the years. But Mr Latham doesn’t care. Mr Latham doesn’t care what people believe in. He’s just interested in votes for the sake of votes. I think he’s a very cynical Leader of the Opposition, Mr Latham. And I think this toying around with Peter Garrett is an illustration of that.

I’ll say one other thing too. Mr Latham has made great play of his commitment to community politics. But community politics apparently doesn’t apply to Latham’s Labor Party. The community in Kingsford-Smith aren’t important to Mr Latham when it comes to who their local candidate and presumably because it’s a safe Labor seat, their local MP should be. You can’t on the one hand pretend to the Australian public you believe in community politics, and on the other hand when it comes to your own Party, show complete contempt for the community of the Labor Party in the electorate of Kingsford-Smith. Some people might spot that.

Journalist: (Inaudible)…St Peters College….?

Downer: Look I’m the Foreign Minister and I’m the Member for Mayo. I can only say to you that some of my constituents, but it wouldn’t be many, send their children to St. Peters College. But I’ll leave St Peters College to speak for itself. I can’t offer you any comment on that.

Journalist: You’re an old scholar aren’t you?

Downer: I am not an old scholar at St Peters College.

Journalist: A recent old parent.

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Downer: Right, I’m an old parent. But I’m certainly not an old scholar.

Journalist: …were you a parent there during the Mountford time?

Downer: No. Not for that time. 1991? No, my son finished there last year and he would’ve gone there in about 94.

Journalist: But still then as a parent then you must have ….?

Downer: All schools, whether it’s St Peters or local schools in my electorate in Heathfield or Mt Barker or wherever, all schools have got to be absolutely vigilant in making sure these issues don’t arise. And if they get even a hint of an issue like this of abuse of the children on the school, they should be absolutely decisive in how they deal with it.

ENDS………………………………………………………………….June 9 2004