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Transcript of doorstop: Adelaide: Sunday, 22 October 2006: [Iraq; Solomon Island; PIF; Stott-Despoja]

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DATE: Sunday 22 October 2006

TITLE: Doorstop, 30 Probost St, North Adelaide

MINISTER ALEXANDER DOWNER: I just want to make a couple of points about Mr Rudd, the Labor spokesman for Foreign Affairs's interview on television this morning. Mr Rudd makes two things clear - first of all that Labor wants to surrender in Iraq in the teeth of terrorists and insurgents. And secondly he wants to split Australia from our traditional allies - the British and the Americans.

The government's view is that we need to ensure we can win in Iraq; that the Americans can win; the British, and us and the broader international community; and that the Iraqis eventually are able to look, look after their own security.

Secondly, we are very committed to our traditional alliances. Our government is deeply committed to our alliances with America, and our traditional ties with Britain. And we don't think it is in Australia's long-term security interests to abandon the British and the Americans. We think working in with them is in Australia's long-term security interests.

Mr Rudd, when asked what the consequences of abandoning Iraq were, was, as usual evasive. Mr Rudd has been asked that same question eight times on radio during the week; he's been asked that question on television this morning. Mr Rudd will never answer the questions 'what will be the consequences of defeat and surrender in Iraq'? He never answers that question.

You cannot present yourself as a political party, wishing to take control of the government of Australia, and therefore taking over responsibility for national security, without being able to tell the public what the consequences for national security are of your policy. And Mr Rudd has no idea, or if he has an idea, it's clear he thinks the consequences of Labor's policy will be bad. After all, Mr Rudd opposed Mr Latham's cut and run policy in 2004, so I wonder what he might

privately think, and perhaps that explains why he is evasive and refuses to answer questions that are put to him about the security consequences of Labor's surrender policy.

QUESTION: Couple of Solomons Islands questions Minister. Mr Sogavare said the raid on his office was provocative and unnecessary. Would you agree with that?

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MINISTER ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well that's a matter for him to take up with the Solomon Islands police. I mean Mr Sogavare, like all of us, is subject to the rule of law. And the police act on the basis of the laws of Solomon Islands, not the laws of Australia, and the police in Solomon Islands don't act on the instructions of the Australian Government. This is purely a question of the laws of the Solomon Islands, and Mr Sogavare and everybody else in the Solomon Islands is subject to those domestic laws.

QUESTION: And the other question was, the Foreign Minister there says support for RAMSI has diminished. Yes? No

MINISTER ALEXANDER DOWNER: I think with the ordinary people of the Solomon Islands there is enormous support for RAMSI. I think some politicians see RAMSI standing between them and their ambitions. But, for the ordinary people of Solomon Islands there is enormous support. I think for the ordinary people in the villages of Solomon Islands who have got health services restored; who have seen schools opening; new buildings being built; the end of RAMSI would be a catastrophe for their lives.

For some of the political elites, they'd like to see it off the block because it stands in their way.

QUESTION: What sort of message will the Australian Government be giving the, the Solomons, and also PNG Governments at this Pacific Island Leaders Forum?

MINISTER ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well our message has always been the same, and that is that we are very committed to seeing the living standards of the ordinary people of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands improve.

And, we are spending a great deal of money helping those people. We've spent getting on to a million dollars - a billion dollars rather - we're getting on to a billion dollars supporting the restoration of the living standards of the people of Solomon Islands since 2003.

We've spent as a country $10 billion on aid to Papua New Guinea since its independence. What do we ask in return? We ask a commitment to the rule of law and good governance from the political elites of those countries.

So, and it's always been our position. We, we don't want to transgress on their sovereignty, we just want laws upheld and the decision makers in those countries to apply the rule of their land.

QUESTION: So you, you'd reject any assertions that the Australian Government's attitude on these countries is hardening or has hardened in recent times?

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MINISTER ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well we've just made it clear that if Australian taxpayers are going to spend billions of dollars on aid to countries in the South Pacific, we understandably expect there to be good and appropriate standards of governance.

I don't think the Australian public, reasonably, can expect their money to be used to support corrupt practices, or to support a break down of the rule of law. And, the fact is that if we spend our aid money there, the taxpayers' money there, and the laws are upheld by the political elites in those countries, then gradually you will see living standards rise.

QUESTION: Mr Downer, Natasha Stott Despoja today signalling she's not going to run again. What's the, does that signify for the Democrats as a whole, and parliament to perhaps...

MINISTER ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, first of all I'd count her as a friend of mine. I think she's been, although a left-wing, she has been a very effective member of the Federal Parliament. She's been a very effective Senator. I think she's shown a lot of passion and a lot of integrity for the

causes that she supports.

I don't, haven't always of course agreed with her, but I've found in disagreeing with her an easy charm in discussing, discussing those disagreements with Natasha.

So she will be a real loss to the Federal Parliament. Secondly, I think she is the last real asset that the Democrats have. So, it probably marks an end of an era. There are the, the Australian Democrats will have two bookends - Don Chipp at the front, and Natash Stott Despoja at the back.

QUESTION: Will they be a spent force without her?

MINISTER ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I don't, they haven't got anybody else with anything like her abilities and her intellect. So, you know, people can barely name anyone else in the Democrats other than Natasha. So, you know, they made her the leader; they trashed her as the leader; they treated her abominably, and having trashed her as the leader, well, you know; can we name the other leaders that they have had since then?

You know, we're thinking about it for a moment, all of us. We can, I think, on reflection, but, only just.