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Transcript of doorstop interview with the Minister for Foreign Affairs: Adelaide: [Racing with Russell Ingall.]

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DATE: July 1 2005

TITLE: Doorstop with Russell Ingall

Journalist: First of all how was the race lap?

Downer: Really exciting, I think you know Russel Ingall is a great driver. I had complete confidence in him, there wasn’t a moment when I felt anxious so I just found it extraordinarily exciting driving, great braking, great acceleration, fantastic handling, that exciting feeling being in a car as good as that with a completely professional driver who knows exactly what he is doing.

Journalist: Were you nervous at all?

Downer: No, no, well you know the usual sense of slight anxiety getting into the car diminished by the difficulty of getting into it but no, I mean Russell is of course a nationally famous driver, he obviously knows what he is doing and just good to be with him.

Journalist: How fast were you going?

Ingall: 265 kilometres an hour before (inaudible), so now Alexander Downer is the fastest politician in the country I think.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Ingall: Well I mean a high profile person like Alexander is a little bit nerve racking, like you don’t want to end up on the front pages because you’ve speared off the race track driving at 265 kilometre an hour. But no it was good but on the other hand I wanted to make sure he got a good ride so we were only probably a second off our race times we’ll be doing on Sunday. So it was a pretty decent lap actually, so hopefully he brings me a bit of good luck over the weekend.

Downer: I’ll be watching on Sunday, seeing how it goes.

Journalist: Is that the fastest you’ve been in a car?

Downer: It probably is I suppose (inaudible).

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Journalist: Can I just ask you about another issue - I’m just wondering what your reaction is (inaudible)? Are you concern about that?

Downer: I don’t really know anything about it. I mean I think you would have to ask Mr Ruddock about it (inaudible)

Journalist: And the Iranian President- the US is raising the (inaudible) he may have been involved in a hostage situation in the past?

Downer: Well I’ve read that and we look forward to hearing an explanation both from the Iranians in particular and the Americans as to whether that is true or not. Obviously it would be matter of concern if the Iranian, the now Iranian President has all those years ago been involved in the taking of American diplomats hostage at the American embassy in Tehran. So we’ll be interested to hear what the investigations reveal. I mean some Iranians are denying this I would just note that and some of the Americans who were taken hostage claim that he was there. So we look forward to hearing what the truth of the story is.

Journalist: And is there much that you could do anyway?

Downer: Nothing you could do about it, no. But you know the thing about Iran is that it needs to work in well with the international community, we don’t want to see a confrontation with Iran of any kind. We’ve had diplomatic relations with Iran through all of these difficult times, I’ve been there a couple of times myself. But the thing is Iran shouldn’t go ahead with a nuclear enrichment program and we support the European Union’s efforts to stop Iran proceeding with an enrichment program. If they do proceed with an enrichment program, well in the end they’re likely to end up in the Security Council and it will lead to a considerable diplomatic confrontation with the international community. So I hope that the new president, whatever his reputation and whatever his past that he understands the importance of going along with the mainstream of the international community.

Journalist: And finally July 1, (inaudible) senate, what is your reaction to that?

Downer: Well first of all the Chief of the Defence Force General Cosgrove is now retiring and I’m going to miss him. He’s been a wonderful Chief of the Defence Force, and a good friend. And he and the Prime Minister and I and Senator Hill, we’ve been through some pretty extraordinary times in Australian history together. And Peter Cosgrove has always been an extraordinarily professional man and I wish him well for the future.

Journalist: On that (inaudible)

Downer: He’s made a great contribution in a number of ways, because whatever administrative issues there may have been in the defence department and there always are because they employ an enormous number of people, it’s a difficult department to administer. As the Chief of the defence Force he has ensured that when we’ve called on the Australian Defence force it has been ready and able to do that job and it has done the job spectacularly well. Our defence force men and women, they did a wonderful job in East Timor and he was their commander- they did the job in a diplomatic way as well an effective way military.

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They’ve done an extraordinarily good job in Solomon Islands and Iraq, an enormously difficult environment. Well trained, well organised, thoughtful, diplomatic and effective is the way that I would describe our defence force in Iraq and General Cosgrove is their boss. And he’s made sure that all of that has happened. So he will be very much missed.

On the Senate, well we’re obviously pleased that the Australian public have put faith in the government. So many people voted for the Liberal and National Parties and the CLP at the last election and of course the task for us is to make sure that we deliver for the public and they’ll make their own judgement when the next election comes. But there is no point in the Labor Party and the political Left complaining. I mean the task for them is to try and win elections, if they lose they should concentrate on trying to win the next election not complaining about the results of the last elections. For us we’ve got to make sure we administer the processes of government in a sober sensible and effective way and we’ve been doing that for that last nine years and we’ll endeavour to do that over the next three.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Downer: Well clearly the Industrial Relations reform is going to be a big issue. I think there is a childish scare campaign that is being run at the moment, I don’t think most Australians are likely to believe the kind of claims that are made by the unions and made in rallies and made on television. I mean nobody in the government wants to see anything but the living standards of working Australians gradually increase as they have in the life if this government. We’d just like to keep that going and to make Australia more competitive and more productive in the process. It’s the ambition and I think our reforms will achieve that and its going to be the biggest issue for us, getting our industrial relations reforms through. And you know there will be issues like the future of Telstra and voluntary student unionism and so on that will all come before the Senate as well.

Journalist: Are you concerned about some of the rallies at your offices yesterday?

Downer: Well I mean I think they reminded me of ground hog day really, I can remember years ago the unions were all out there chanting and shouting. You see the thing is - Australia has moved on from that, there are of course tens of thousands of Australians who are still unionists and active supporters of the unions and they’re an important part of our life. But there are more self employed and contractors these days then there are members of trade unions, Australia is a very very different place from the Australia in the 1970s and 1980s, we’ve just moved on. They are just running a scare campaign about reducing peoples’ living standards -we’ve been in government for nine years and they’ve, almost everybody in Australia has seen their living standards increase and increase quite considerably. So we’re just going to try and keep that going, we know that the task for us is to make sure people’s living standards gradually improve. And those people who are struggling a bit that they get better opportunities. And we may have reduced our employment very substantially in our time in government but we still have to work at that, we’ll work at getting it down even further. That can be done.

Journalist: (inaudible)

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Downer: Well I mean their judgement ultimately won’t be made on the basis of a lot of claims made at rallies, obviously their judgement about industrial relation reform will be made on the outcomes, will be made on the outcomes of once they’re introduced they lead to

improvements in productivity and higher living standards or whether they don’t. And that is the test that should apply here. I mean we were told the GST was going to bring Australia to a grinding halt, it was a shocking thing, terrible, we were all going to go bankrupt and broke

and the poor would get poorer -that proved to be completely untrue. And now we’re told that industrial relations reform is absolutely impossible, that will prove to be untrue as well. We’ll see living standards continue to rise. And I think under these reforms, we’re told that

privatisation was going to lead to complete collapse of services, the economy would nose dive, that hasn’t happened. We have faith in what we believe in and we have confidence that the policies we’re implementing will work just as they have over the last nine years.

Journalist: (inaudible) Indonesian fishermen. Is that one of the main focused of this marine research centre?

Downer: Well I think this whole issue of illegal fishing is going to be an issue, it has many aspects to it but an issue that they will be able to focus on, of course. I mean here are sort of two categories of illegal fishing. There is perhaps the more traditional Indonesian fishers, there are some provision for traditional fishing in Australian waters but some of that fishing is illegal. I’m more concerned about the more corporatised illegal fishing that takes place, much more organised fishing. I mean with the price they can get in Indonesia for shark fin, something like $200 a kilo, they feel there is an enormous incentive to run the risk of coming to Australian waters to catch shark. But what we’re concerned about is that this is going to be unstainable fishing, this will deplete our stocks and what is more it will unbalance the ecosystem. So I think the facility that opened yesterday can make a contribution to finding out more about those particular issues. And we need to work and we have been working but we need to continue to work with the Indonesian Government to try to stop this illegal fishing. They’re not just Indonesians by the way, they’re largely but they’re not just Indonesians.