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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Minister for Foreign Affairs: Launceston: 21 April 2005: Corby, Australian death in Iraq,

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E and OE

21 April 2005


Minister for Foreign Affairs

Doorstop Interview - Launceston

Subjects: Corby, Australian death in Iraq,

Downer: Well first of all let me just talk about a couple of national issues and then I'll say a little bit about being here with Michael Ferguson today and what I am doing here.

First of all in relation to Schapelle Corby, the Federal Government's pleased that the prosecutors haven't asked for the death sentence. We had hoped that the prosecutors wouldn't do that and we had made contact with the Indonesian Government and made it

clear to them that we didn't want to see any Australians sentenced to death if they were to be found guilty. I won't say much more about it because the case is currently before the courts, the next hearing is on the 28th of April. And there will be further submissions from both the defence and the prosecution and this is what the prosecution is asking for - remember this is not the court's decision and the judges obviously have the responsibility of making the decision, first of all as to whether Schapelle Corby is guilty or innocent, and secondly they will have the responsibility if she is found guilty of determining the sentence, not the prosecution. So this is the submission of the prosecution.

But I repeat we are pleased that the prosecution has not asked for the death penalty because we don't support the death penalty. In any case we would always plead for clemency if an Australian was sentenced to death, no matter what the circumstances. But it is important that people are careful in what they say publicly about this case as it is still before the courts. Whatever sentiments people in the community or the defence team

may have, remember that submissions are to be made by the defence and the prosecution to the court. And that the decision here will be made by the Indonesian court. It won't be and can't be made by anyone else. Under Indonesian law if a person is sentenced to, is convicted and sentenced to prison for more than two years the president in consultation with the Supreme Court is able to exercise clemency. But we don't really want to say more about that at this stage, (inaudible) we will allow this case to follow the normal path and that it must follow in the courts. Australia can't intervene, the Australia Government can't, Australians individually can't, it is a matter for the defence and the prosecution and when the court makes a decision, the decision of the court can of course be appealed as well. So there is a long way to go in this case.

Second point that I want to mention is that very sadly a 34 year old Australian security contractor from New South Wales has been killed in Baghdad in a small arms attack near the Baghdad International Airport. The Australian family have been informed of his

death and we're providing consular assistance to them but the family have asked that the name of the Australian not be released. That would only be done with the approval of the family. The man was a member for the Australian Army at one stage, also an army reservist, he was discharged from the army in the late 1990s, and has in recent times been working as a security contractor for an international firm in Baghdad. It's a sad situation but it does remind us that. I think it's quite obvious that the risks of working in Baghdad are high, there clearly are dangers there and people who work there obviously have to do so with a great deal of care. But it's a sad thing to have to report.

Journalist: How was he killed?

Downer: He was killed by small arms fire. The company he was with was taking several vehicles out to Baghdad International Airport, I understand to meet a senior manager from their company, it's an international company and they were shot at by somebody in a sports utility vehicle. And the vehicles at the front and the rear of the convoy were hit and the

Australian was in the rear of the convoy. And he was not in an armed vehicle I understand and was killed. Two other people were also killed in the incident, the Australian and, I won't say the nationalities on the other two because it's for their governments to deal with that. But one of the others was killed instantly and the third died subsequently from wounds.

Okay, Now look I might just say on a sort of lighter note, well a much lighter note, that it's a pleasure to be here in Launceston today with Michael. I've been out to Gunns today to have a look at a project of theirs which is to build timber housing for the victims of tsunami and I think it's a very entrepreneurial and enterprising project and I've already discussed it with Ausaid and there may be some real scope for these houses, these small houses built by Gunns to be part of our aid program in Aceh. So we will have to see as there is quite a bit of process to go through yet before we decide who will get the contract to provide additional housing. But Gunns have come up with a very good product and Michael has brought me down here today to have a look at that and to talk with Gunns and I've done that.

So, and of course it's always a pleasure to come to Launceston and it's a wonderful place and decent wonderful people. And Michael's got of to a flying start as the local federal Member of Parliament. I am sure he will be there for a long time to come.

Journalist: (inaudible) the recommendation from the Government about foreign workers in Iraq?

Downer: We advise people in our travel advisories not to go to Iraq because of the dangers there. That's what our travel advisory says, obviously some people will inevitably go there. I can't tell you exactly how many but there would be well over a hundred, there might be over two hundred Australians working in Iraq. I don't know if you remember we did a check on that a few months ago. But there would be about two hundred I think, Australians working in Iraq and it's obviously extremely dangerous. Quite a lot of them work for the security companies there, some of them are aid workers.

Journalist: Where was the Australian from?

Downer: He was from New South Wales

Journalist: (inaudible)

Downer: I can't say, I can only say he is from New South Wales. I am not sure where in New South Wales.

Journalist: Do you know what company it was?

Downer: Yes, I can tell you the name of the company. They are called Edinburgh Risk and Security Management Company.

Journalist: Bali, the Bali nine, I understand that (inaudible) on the five of the nine (inaudible).

Downer: Well no charges have been laid, the police are still investigating. Charges won't be laid for quite some time. The police are able to detain people for twenty days without laying charges and they are able to get a further forty days extension if they need it under Indonesian law. So I wouldn't expect charges to be laid for quite some time. What has happened is that there is a suggestion from the Indonesian Police that some of them could be charged with possession which I think

I am right is saying, in Indonesia can bring a maximum penalty of only ten years, whereas others could be charged with trafficking for which the maximum penalty is a death sentence. But we will have to wait and see. This is really speculation at this stage, we will have to wait and see what the police conclude from their investigations. Because the police will need to talk to each one of them and investigate the circumstances surrounding the allegations that have been made already by the police against them. And once they've done that then they will be in a position to decide on whether task the case to a prosecutor and charges will be brought in those circumstances.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Downer: The death penalty.

Journalist: How do you feel about that?

Downer: I don't support the death penalty, and we will always appeal for clemency. As we have in the case of Schapelle Corby we have made it clear to the Indonesian Government that we didn't want - regardless of how the

case goes because this is to prejudge any of these cases - but if the worst came to the worst we didn't want her to be sentenced to death and so the tiny little shard of positive light that comes through today is that the prosecution there has not recommended the death sentence. And although they have recommended life but there again that is only a recommendation by the prosecution. In the case of the so- called Bali nine it's too early to say.

But I want to make this point - drug trafficking in every country is an enormously serious offence and there is no point pretending otherwise the Federal Government has been very tough on drugs and we have run a very strong Tough On Drugs program. Since 1995 there has been a four fold increase in the number of, in the quantity of heroin that has been intercepted coming to Australia. And there has been a very substantial decline in recent years in the number of people in Australia who have died as a result of using heroin. Now people need to understand that, that ultimately my sympathy lies with the people who are the victims of drug trafficking.

I make no judgement about the Bali nine. I leave that to the courts and they're all innocent until they are proven guilty. But regardless of anybody's nationality they should not be involved in drug trafficking and I say any Australians involved in drug trafficking those people are doing an enormous disservice to young people in this country. They could be costing lives. The fact that other countries take strong stands against drug trafficking - we welcome that. We don't support the death penalty but we do welcome strong action by Indonesia and other countries in dealing with drug trafficking.

Journalist: (inaudible) regarding Greg Evans saying that troops will be targets (inaudible)?

Downer: Well he didn't say that. I read what he said and of course the question was put to him. Look, you can say this about the army. They are going into Iraq. We understand that in Iraq there are insurgents, there are terrorists who want to destroy Iraq's tentative steps towards democracy. We want to see democracy succeed in Iraq. Inevitably for the Australian army contingent going into Iraq

there are risks, there are dangers, but they are people who are extraordinarily well trained and are very competent. And I think they will do an outstanding job there, that is not to diminish the fact that there are risks, we make no attempt to hide that there are certainly risk involved. But the record in Al-Muthanna province, where they are going, is that it has been relatively quiet compared to many other parts of Iraq.

Journalist: Just back to Schapelle Corby, will the Government make an appeal for clemency on (inaudible) on jail or is it only if she gets the death penalty?

Downer: Well the only guarantee we'll make at this stage is that, well we would have made, I mean it's hypothetical I suspect now, but if she was sentenced to death we would certainly have automatically appealed for clemency. Otherwise it would depend on the circumstances of the case and we would just let the case at this stage take its own path. And I would advise all Australians - I'm, grateful for all those thousands of people who've sent me emails on this topic, I'm

grateful but I could take a while to reply to so many emails - but let me just make this point that it's not going to help anybody if we started trying to interfere with other country's judicial systems, we've got to let the courts take their course. And in any case we can provide consular assistance we cannot change the law in other countries, we can't do that.

Journalist: (inaudible) talk to the president?

Downer: Well you can't talk to the president about a case which is still before the courts.

Journalist: Afterwards, would you appeal?

Downer: Well, we'll cross that bridge if we ever come to it. She might be acquitted for all we know.

Journalist: If she is when do you think it might be?

Downer: Well if she were convicted, this is hypothetical she may be acquitted, but if the court decides she's guilty and there is an appeal and she looses the appeal she would serve her sentence in Bali. But nevertheless we are talking to the Indonesians now about a

prisoner exchange agreement, I think that it could take a little while to negotiate to be frank. I mean I don't think we are going to be able to negotiate that in the next two or three months. It could take us as couple of years - or perhaps a bit less than that - but it could take us a fair bit of time to negotiate a prisoner exchange agreement. But if we are able to do that and the Indonesians seem willing to do that, then any Australian who is in prison in Indonesia - with the mutual consent of the Indonesian and the Australian Government - would then be able to serve their sentence out in Australia because they wanted to. They would make an application to do that, it would be considered by the two governments and if that was favourably considered then the transfer would take place. We have an agreement like that with Thailand, I think it's the only country we have an agreement with.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Downer: No, I think that has obviously been a consideration, but there are other cases, I think there are around eleven Australians in prison in Indonesia at the moment. So not just

brought on by the Corby case, I mean remember she hasn't been convicted yet. She is still before the courts and she may be acquitted for all we know, it is a matter for the courts. But there are eleven Australians in prison, most of them I suspect on drug charges so that would obviously apply to them. And to Indonesians who are in prison in Australia.

Journalist: Mr Downer what (inaudible) killed, do you know how long he had been working in Iraq?

Downer: No I'm sorry I don't know that. I assume for a little while. Do you know that? I don't know.


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