Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of doorstop interview: Hilton Hotel, Hanoi, 17 November 2006: [APEC; climate change and energy issues; Tonga]



Download PDFDownload PDF

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 17 November 2006

TITLE: Doorstop at Hilton Hotel, Hanoi

MINISTER DOWNER: Good morning, I just wanted to say two things to you this morning. The first is that I hosted a dinner for a number of Foreign Ministers where we discussed the way ahead in APEC on the climate change and energy issues. It was a very productive meeting and we are, as the incoming chair of APEC, going to prepare a work plan for the next year which will include a focus on energy cooperation and climate change issues, so that we

hope that by September next year we will be able to put together a package to help address this issue. That includes dealing with issues such as CO2 emissions but also nuclear technology and the prospect of there being cooperation under the auspices of APEC between those countries in APEC which have atomic energy agencies of one kind or another or nuclear industries or nuclear regulatory authorities. So we had a good discussion about that and there is work to be done and the dinner meeting has really kicked a lot of that work off.

Secondly, in relation to Tonga, I have spoken again to the Prime Minister of Tonga. We have prepared defence force personnel in Australia to go to Tonga if necessary and the New Zealanders have done the same. We have been in discussions here with the New Zealanders and are coordinating very closely. New Zealand of course has very strong ties with Tonga and New Zealand would take the lead rather than Australia in terms of any response but we are certainly prepared to provide resources. That is, we would be prepared to provide some police and some military personnel to reinforce the efforts of New Zealand. If the Tongans want to have some support. Now, at this stage the Tongans believe that they have the situation under control but that their security forces are very stretched, as the Prime Minister said to me. They are having a Cabinet meeting this afternoon, their time, so that is happening now and this Cabinet meeting will work out whether they need any outside assistance, obviously if they can get away without any outside assistance, that will be their preference. Our position is that if they desperately need it, New Zealand and Australia would be prepared to provide support. We will have to provide some development assistance to help them with the reconstruction of Nuku’alofa. In particular, getting power back on - the power system is down there - and provide some other logistical support and the New Zealanders are providing some immediate logistical support so the airport can re-open. That’s pretty much the situation in relation to Tonga.

QUESTION: Did the Prime Minister indicate what might push them to ask for more support?

MINISTER DOWNER: If they feel that the riots are going to flare up again. They are hopeful but not certain that the worst of the rioting is over but it is just too early for us to say. We just simply do not know and we will act on the advice of the Tongan Government, but they seem a bit uncertain.

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 2

QUESTION: This has been characterised as pro-democracy riots. Do you see this as an expression of the fundamental pressures running through much of the South Pacific, the sorts of economic hopes and the youth bulge, those sorts of issues the islands are facing?

MINISTER DOWNER: I was in Tonga myself not all that long ago, it was about March or so this year, and I had the opportunity to look at some of these issues while I was there. There is a pro-democracy movement there, the Government has set up a Committee to prepare a report on the way forward for the Constitution, trying to strike a balance between the traditions of Tonga and the aspirations of the democrats there, that work is not yet concluded Unfortunately the head was killed in a car accident tin the US so that work is still not completed. The parliament itself, much of which it is appointed, not all of it is, will have to consider that and the Government itself, and ultimately the King. They have had the King die

fairly recently and the new King come to the throne , so there is additional political uncertainty, particularly which is a traditional monarchy, when you have a reign in that way.

We have been in touch with the Tongans a fair bit in recent times. We had the Prime Minister of Tonga in Australia a few weeks ago but in response to this the main thing is that they get the situation under control and continue with the work of how best to proceed with the process of Constitutional reform.

QUESTION: How many Australian personnel are on stand by, and it sounds like you don’t think they will have to go?

MINISTER DOWNER: Neither likely nor unlikely. I do not know. I’m not saying whether they will go or not. It depends on the assessment made by the Tongans themselves during the course of this afternoon and they will make an assessment for today. We will have to wait to see another day. How many personnel are preparing to go? We wouldn’t be looking at sending a large number, if we end up sending any troops at all it will be somewhere between about 60 and 120, that kind of dimension. Small numbers. Of course, the New Zealanders looking at sending personnel but I leave that for them to announce, it would be quite wrong for me to do that. But they would be looking at sending some troops as well. It wouldn’t be a very big intervention, Tonga is a small place, it has a small population. The Tongan defence force has about 400 personnel in it and they have a police force.

QUESTION: Are they loyal?

MINISTER DOWNER: They are, there is not a question of them rising up against the Government or the King.

QUESTION: What did the Prime Minister tell you about the death toll?

MINISTER DOWNER: He was not sure about the death toll but my understanding is that there were 6 people killed. The Tongans have said that the remains of 6 people have been found which is consistent with the advice we have received from our High Commission. Those people may have been looters.

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 3

QUESTION: With that nuclear agreement you mentioned, are you talking about sharing technology between APEC members?

MINISTER DOWNER: No, sharing regulatory information in particular and making sure that we have coordinated regulations of nuclear industry in the interests of the non-proliferation regime. Some countries in APEC don’t have any nuclear technology, some like Australia have research reactors, some have nuclear power reactors and two of them are nuclear weapon states as in China and the US. Countries in APEC, other than China and the US have no interest in using nuclear technology for military purposes but some have nuclear power plants and some of them think that is the way to go. If we are going to use nuclear power for power generation then it is very important that there are appropriate safeguards and regulatory regimes in place. To coordinate that on a region-wide basis would, I think, be quite effective, and the model that we can look at here, is a very successful model in Europe called EURATOM and that has been in place for many years. It is, of course, a somewhat different situation but it does serve as a bit of a model of what you might be able to achieve in the region.

QUESTION: Do you think APEC can do a better job that the UN has been doing in relation to (inaudible)

MINISTER DOWNER: I think it’s not a question of saying better or worse, it’s a question of using every vehicle you have to address these issues. I think in relation to APEC it just remains to be seen. It’s too early to say, we’ll see how we go. Australia will chair SAPEC and Australia is very much an ideas country and is very ambitious about APEC as you all know. It’s an opportunity for us to drive the agenda forward as best we can and we will see how we get on. But it’s too early to say. The UN process has been in place since the early 1990’s.

QUESTION: There is a story out of Nairobi that a Chinese delegate has expressed concern at an Australian statement that if Australia reduced its emissions, China would overtake that within 10 months?

MINISTER DOWNER: Well, somebody from Greenpeace Australia says that some Chinese official whom I have never heard of, said something to him, so I wouldn’t respond to that. If I could go up the food chain somewhat, after the dinner last night I met with the Chinese Foreign Minister and in all the issues we discussed - we spent 30 to 40 minutes in the meeting - he didn’t register any complaint about anything anyone had said in Australia about the climate change issue at all. My guess is that this is a classic example of somebody saying something to someone from Greenpeace, and Greenpeace are of course, pursuing a political agenda which is part of life and perfectly legitimate and I think it needs to be seen in that context. I don’t think that this is an issue between Australia and China. Any analysis of China’s emissions is practical and factual analysis, as it would be if it was analysis of Germany’s or Australia’s emissions, and I don’t think that kind of analysis is going to cause offence.

ENDS