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Doorstop interview of the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security: Parliament House, Canberra, 1 June 2005: Indonesian Embassy threat; Vivian Alvarez Solon.



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KEVIN RUDD M.P.

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW - PARLIAMENT HOUSE - 1 JUNE 2005

E & OE - Proof only

Subjects: Indonesian Embassy threat; Vivian Alvarez Solon

Rudd: I have just spoken with the Indonesian Ambassador Imron Cotan and have conveyed to him the Opposition’s and the entire Parliament’s disgust at this apparent attack on the Indonesian Embassy and Indonesian Embassy staff.

This is an appalling event. It is unacceptable and it is un-Australian. I conveyed to the Indonesian Ambassador the feelings of all Parliamentarians and I believe all Australians that this sort of thing simply should not happen in Australia. These sort of things shouldn’t happen here. That’s not the sort of way in which we conduct our business in this country. It’s just wrong.

Reporter: What did the Indonesian Ambassador say to you?

Rudd: In terms of the events of today what the Indonesian Ambassador has told me is that this letter arrived earlier today, it was opened, it contained a substance within it which was then spilled onto the floor. The Australian authorities were called in at that moment to test it. Results of those tests have in part been delivered. The decision has been taken by the authorities in conjunction with the Indonesian mission to quarantine the mission for a period of 48 hours. I understand Mr Downer has said there were 22 staff at the mission. My advice from the Ambassador was that there were 50 staff. I’m not criticising Mr Downer about that and all this has happened very quickly.

Reporter: Was the Ambassador himself there as well?

Rudd: The Ambassador in fact was at his residence as I understand it when this happened. But on the precise details I’ll allow them to clarify later on. The Ambassador indicated to me that obviously he has been in direct contact

with the Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda, who has now assumed direct control of Indonesia’s response to this matter. So I emphasise again that on behalf of every member of the Australian Parliament and the Australian people we condemn this sort of activity as unacceptable and un-Australian.

Reporter: What was Imron Cotan’s personal reaction to what happened?

Rudd: Imron Cotan is a fine diplomat, a professional diplomat and he is highly experienced. He struck me as extremely calm and in command in of the situation and seeking to look after the wellbeing of his staff. He has concerns for the wellbeing of some of his staff. But of course it’s still early days yet. Our

hearts, our thoughts and our prayers go out to them at what is a difficult time.

Reporter: Was this linked to any particular event?

Rudd: The Indonesian Ambassador did not elaborate on that and therefore I don’t want to speculate on any connection with other events. I don’t have any concrete information on that score.

Reporter: Did he tell you what the actual substance was? Mr Downer said it was a biological agent…

Rudd: The Indonesian Ambassador did talk about the initial results which had come back from the Australian testing authorities. But because this is a complex and technical matter, I don’t wish to give a lay version of what the

Ambassador had to say. I’d rather leave it to the appropriate authorities to talk about that. I don’t wish to create any unnecessary alarm by not rendering accurately the results of these initial tests. But the Ambassador has said to me that they need to cooperate with the quarantining of the embassy to allow further tests to occur and for appropriate decontamination processes to be implemented.

On the question of Ms Vivian Alvarez Solon, today we had the extraordinary revelation that Foreign Minister Downer’s Department for 18-months knew that Vivian Alvarez Solon was an Australian citizen. Up until now, Mr Downer has told the Australian people that neither he nor his Department knew anything about the Alvarez case until April 2005. Well guess what? That’s just plain wrong. And it was only today that we have a letter from the Immigration Department that spells out the truth, namely that Mr Downer’s Department was told in September 2003 by the Queensland Police that Vivian Alvarez Solon was an Australian citizen. Now if they were told in September 2003 that Vivian Alvarez Solon was an Australian citizen, you don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to work out that she was therefore illegally deported from this country.

The big challenge in Mr Downer’s in-tray now is: what the hell did his Department do for the 18-months it was told by the Queensland coppers that Vivian Alvarez Solon was an Australian citizen? And what did we have today in the Parliament? Jolly Alexander thinking that this is one jolly big joke. Well it’s not. It’s a serious matter of human rights involving Vivian Alvarez Solon herself and a serious matter in terms of the professional competence of his Department and his management of it.

So this, on top of everything else, demonstrates that Mr Downer misled the Australian people when on 16 May he said that the first his Department knew of this matter was in April 2005; that was wrong by a matter of 18-months. Secondly, Mr Downer didn’t even have the decency to go out in the weeks since 16 May 2005 and correct the public record. And on top of that, we have no explanation as to what the Department did to try and find this poor person, Vivian Alvarez Solon, after they found out that she was an Australian citizen. This underlines our call for a Royal Commission and it should be announced now.

Reporter: Do you buy his explanation that the information didn’t reach him from the far more junior levels of DFAT until much later?

Rudd: Under the doctrine of Ministerial Responsibility, under the Westminster system, Alexander Downer is responsible for his Department. It’s called the system of responsible government. He is responsible for his Department to the Parliament. What he said to the people of Australia was that his Department did not have any knowledge of this matter until April 2005. Mr Downer can’t just hide behind junior officers. If he wants to hide behind junior officers, when he did find out when these matters were passed onto DFAT in 2003 he should at least have the decency to front the television cameras and say ‘well I got it wrong, I didn’t tell you the truth, I’ve now found out the truth’. Instead we’ve had this sneaky, half-baked attempt to have it drift out several weeks later through an Immigration Department letter lobbed into the estimates investigation process.

Not good enough Mr Downer. It’s not being straight forward with the Australian people. Yet most importantly, for 18-months his Deparmtent apparently did nothing to find this poor woman once they knew that an Australian citizen had been illegally deported.

Reporter: [Inaudible]

Rudd: We know so far from the Senate estimates process that they knew back in September 2003 that Vivian Alvarez Solon was an Australian citizen.

What we don’t know yet is what the Department did, if anything, after that. What we know from today is that the Minister for the last few weeks has tried to hide the fact that his Department has known all this time about Vivian Alvarez Solon’s Australian citizenship.

This is a fundamental matter of human rights. It makes me sick. If I was Minister for Foreign Affairs and found out that my department had been sitting on top of information regarding the illegal deportation of an Australian citizen, frankly, I would be taking out the sword and removing a few heads. It’s just plain wrong. And it’s time Mr Downer stopped treating this as one big joke and looked at his responsibilities for this poor woman.

Ends.