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Transcript of doorstop interview: Cairns: 19 March 2007

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DATE: 19 March 2007

TITLE: Doorstop interview - Cairns

QUESTION: What's the forum basically? What are the issues that we're looking at? There must be a whole number.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, we're looking at the economic relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea. And that's been going pretty well in recent times. We have a lot of trade and a lot of investment in Papua New Guinea, and the Papua New Guinea

economy has been moving ahead quite strongly, more strongly than on average, historically.

So at the economic level we're quite happy with the relationship. We have a political problem with the Moti affair and we're waiting for the board of inquiry to publish its report, or the Prime Minister to publish the board of inquiry's report, and then take action on the back of that. And then we'll be able to put that behind us as well.

QUESTION: I've got a question on Fiji. Has anyone else got anything on...

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I it's good to have a lot of Papua New Guinea ministers here in Cairns. I think the fact is that Far North Queensland inevitably has very close links with Papua New Guinea and we want to continue to foster those links, and even through difficult times with Papua New Guinea. The contacts between Far North Queensland and Papua New Guinea have always been very strong.

So the Mayor of Cairns was born in Papua New Guinea, his father and his grandfather worked there. And we have a lot of Papua New Guineans spending a lot of time down here in Cairns. And that's good.

QUESTION: That board of inquiry Moti report, I understand that will affect whether a ministerial forum is held?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: That's right. Once the board of inquiry's report has been acted on by the Prime Minister; presumably he will publish the report some time soon. And then action will be taken on the back of whatever... I don't know what the board of inquiry report says. But on the back of that report, as long as there is appropriate action taken, then the ministerial forum can proceed.

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There's not much point in having a ministerial forum before the board of inquiry report has been published and acted on.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, Commodore Frank Bainimarama has told the New Zealand Herald that the Eminent Persons Group that visited Fiji was stacked against Fiji in relation... he pointed out the inclusion of Major General Peter Cosgrove with that.

Do you have any response to that claim?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, the Eminent Persons Group included the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of Vanuatu, and the former Chief Justice of Papua New Guinea, as well as one of Samoa's ministers. And to suggest that the former Chief Justice of Papua New Guinea and the Deputy Prime Minister of Vanuatu, and a member of the Samoan Cabinet are somehow under the control of Australia is obviously untrue. Certainly no question of that. It was an entirely independent report.

I though... you see, the problem here for some people is that this report was a very credible report and it's been endorsed by the Pacific Islands Forum. The Pacific Islands Forum is not a creature of Australia.

QUESTION: Did the delegation from Fiji indicate at all that there was unhappiness on the behalf of their Prime Minister, or interim Prime Minister?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: No, they didn't actually, no. The Fijian representation explained the basis for the coup d'etat that's taken place, and why they thought it was necessary to abolish the Parliament. They explained what their road map was.

Ministers from the Pacific Islands Forum countries then discussed the Eminent Persons Group report and the submission made by the Fijians without the Fijian delegation being there. That wasn't a discussion that was dominated by Australia and New Zealand; not at all. It was a very easy discussion, a very friendly discussion, and there was a very easy consensus that developed at that meeting.

I mean, in the Pacific, we support democracy. That's one of the basic tenets of the Pacific Islands Forum.

QUESTION: Mr Downer, would you accept the actions of the Prime Minister Michael Somare [indistinct] recommendations of the Moti inquiry?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well look, it's essentially... the details of this are essentially a matter for Papua New Guinea. We're not dictating all of the details to Papua New Guinea.

I think the point I'd make is just quite a simple one. The board of inquiry process looks to us from afar to have been a pretty credible process. They presented a report to Sir Michael Somare as the Acting Defence Minister. He asked for it to be... more work to be done on it over a further 10 day period. That 10 day period finished, I think, a couple of days ago. They've presented their report to Sir Michael Somare.

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We looking forward to him publishing that report, and there being action on the back of that report if action is required. I mean, obviously, somebody did get Moti out of Papua New Guinea.

We are very passionate here about child sex issues. If somebody is facing child sex charges, we expect them to face those charges in our courts. And this Julian Moti is an Australian citizen. He's not a Papua New Guinean or Solomon Island; he's an Australian citizen. We expect him to be sent to Australia to face those charges - they are serious charges - and for that to happen as soon as possible.

We obviously were very unhappy that somebody in Papua New Guinea whisked him out of Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Islands. How that happened is a matter that's been investigated by the board of inquiry. The board has finished its report, and we look forward to seeing what the report says.

QUESTION: What do you think about claims that David Hicks was sedated or authorities told him about the charges...

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I... you know, I say two things about it. First of all, I'm not familiar with the details of it. But, secondly, the sooner this trial takes places, the better.

And I know there are legal issues and procedures and things that the defence want to get into. But my advice is if David Hicks's lawyers are concerned about conditions in Guantanamo Bay, then let's get him out of Guantanamo Bay. And let's get him out as quickly as possible, not delay getting him out of Guantanamo Bay.

Now, he can be out of Guantanamo Bay soon. And he can be out of Guantanamo Bay soon because the trial is about to take place. Once the trial is concluded, no matter what the result of the trial - conviction, acquittal - no matter what the result of it, or if there's a plea bargain, no matter what the result, David Hicks will be out of Guantanamo Bay.

The only thing that's going to keep him in Guantanamo Bay is delay in the legal processes. And we've made it clear to the American administration that we've had enough of the delays. But we can't instruct the defence counsel, if they want to make sort of appeals to other courts and so on.

Those delays, if there are delays instituted by the defence team, well that's a matter for them, not a matter for us. But if the delays are instituted by the American administration, then we will be very aggressive in our response to that.

But, to be fair, so far the process is now at long last, and far too late, it's going ahead. And let's get the trial out of the way and then Hicks will be out of Guantanamo Bay.

QUESTION: Well, his lawyer is saying that [indistinct] last month, just before [indistinct] told him how he's facing fresh charges. And his lawyer is saying he took the medication because he was told it was for a stomach complaint, but soon after he became drowsy. So will you be asking your... US authorities [indistinct]...

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, we're happy to hear... but I've only heard them through the media. If Mr Mori... Major Mori wants to provide details to our officials, we'll obviously investigate those claims, as we have done with previous claims that Major Mori has made.

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But... see, Major Mori's basic proposition is that he wants to see Hicks out of Guantanamo Bay. And so I would have thought the best thing to do was to get on with the trial as quickly as possible, get Hicks out of Guantanamo Bay, and then, you know, these claims that... look, there have been lots of claims made and many of them have been investigated, and a lot of

assertions and claims haven't been found to be true. I have no idea in this particular case.

If Major Mori wishes to provide us with the information, we will ask the Americans to investigate it. He's not being... Hicks is not being held by Australians though, he's being held by Americans.

So I would have thought Major Mori should do two things: he should provide this information to us, and we will ask the Americans to look into it; but he should provide the information to the Americans.

I mean, Major Mori is an American and Hicks is being detained by the Americans. And, in the end, Major Mori can get Hicks out of Guantanamo Bay. Major Mori can get Hicks out of Guantanamo Bay by allowing the trial to proceed as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: On to Zimbabwe, what will the Government be doing with regards to the latest developments there?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, as you know, we have been deeply disturbed by what we've heard of the violence that's taken place in Zimbabwe and the way the Opposition has been treated.

We hope that it will be possible for the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to pass an appropriate resolution expressing concern about what's happened, and condemning it. I don't know whether that will be possible, but we hope it will be.

We also hope that now the SADC countries, the south... southern African... including South Africa, but the southern African countries, will be proactive in trying to persuade Zimbabweans generally, I mean not just the President of Zimbabwe, but other Cabinet members in Zimbabwe, that this sort of behaviour just is not acceptable anywhere in the

world. And that the international community is truly focused on this issue.

So beyond that, you see, economic sanctions on a country in which 80 per cent of the population are unemployed and living below the poverty line, they're not an option. That would just be a death sentence.

QUESTION: Do you think an Australian cricket team should go ahead there in September?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: We'll get into the cricket tour issue once the World Cup is over. But, as you know, I've not been a great fan of cricket tours to Zimbabwe. But... and the final decision has to rest with the Australian Cricket Board and the International Cricket Council. A lot of issues tied up there; contractual issues and so on.

But once the World Cup is over, we'll talk to the Australian Cricket Board about this, but we won't be doing that while they're focusing on the World Cup.

I mean, they've done a fantastic job against the Netherlands. May not be a cricket titan, but others have lost to cricket minnows, and Australia hasn't, so [laughs] let's just let them get on

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with winning the World Cup for the time being, and then we'll talk to them after the World Cup