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Transcript of doorstop interview: Auckland, New Zealand: 5 August 2007: Trans-Tasman integration.

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DATE: 5 August 2007

TITLE: Doorstop interview, Auckland, New Zealand - Trans-Tasman integration

Reporter: What advice can you offer the National Party?

Mr Downer: That’s not for me to offer anybody advice. They are the Opposition Party here, we have had long standing links with the National Party that go back decades and decades and, we obviously know a large number of politicians in New Zealand. We try to avoid giving them advice.

Reporter: I was going to say, it must be a bit of a red letter days for the kiwis to call in Australians for help and advice?

Mr Downer: Well indeed, I don’t think they are calling me in for help and advice, but we have people from the National Party come over to Liberal Party conventions and conferences, that’s always been the case, and we sometimes make visits here to theirs, and, we have a very strong relationship with the National Party. That’s not of course, to reflect on our relationship with the Government, that doesn’t include the National Party. We have an excellent relationship with the Government as well. And it’s in Australia’s interests and our long term interests and this is true the other way around to make sure we have good relations with all those politicians we can build good relations with. It might be a bit difficult at the extremes of politics because we are not in the extreme of politics.

Reporter: Are you likely to discuss issues like the trans-Tasman therapeutic (inaudible)

Mr Downer: Well I think that in terms of being trans-Tasman is probably not really progressing now so that’s a pity. But having said that we’ll be putting in place the reform system in Australia and, you know we would rather it had gone ahead with New Zealand but if it’s not possible to do a deal there. Well that’s a pity, but it will go ahead nevertheless.

Reporter: Are you aware of Winston Peters’s compromise option, and would it have suited Australia?

Mr Downer: Well I will tell you what I am aware of. I am aware that there has been quite a lot of controversy here in the last week about who said what to whom and how, why and

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when and so I don’t want to be a killjoy but I think I might just pass on all of that and say that in the end it was a question of whether we could reach agreement with New Zealand and that of course doesn’t just include the New Zealand Government itself, but it includes the majority of the Parliament. And when we couldn’t reach agreement, then we obviously couldn’t proceed and that’s a pity but I am not going into the different proposals that people may or may not have put forward and who said what to whom and why and when.

Reporter: Can I ask you whether it will be back on the agenda in the future in your mind?

Mr Downer: Well, look, I think we’ll see. I mean our door is always open, I mean there’s a, a design that we need to have to protect it as we see it. I mean New Zealand politicians may not agree and that’s a pity but a we see it there’s a design that we think will work in the interests of both the industry and the Australian public and we’ve been discussing that with New Zealand for a while but they want to have a different type of design because of different conditions here in New Zealand I suppose and that’s fair enough. But if they do then we can’t have a trans-Tasman authority, that’s all.

Reporter: Do you accept a sovereignty argument at all?

Mr Downer: Well, do I think New Zealand is a sovereign country? Almost goes without saying it very certainly is. And where we make these arrangements, we have to agree on them. I mean if you want to build a strong trans-Tasman market you have to get the agreement of both countries to do that and ultimately that isn’t just agreement between the Governments that’s in many cases where it requires legislation agreements between Parliaments, at least the majority of people in our Parliaments, and sometimes we have been able to do that and in this case we haven’t been able to do that and as I said that’s a pity but we would have liked New

Zealand to have been involved, and it be a trans-Tasman arrangement but you know, that’s just the way it’s turned out.

Reporter: What (inaudible) cast a pall over future progress in trans-Tasman harmonisation?

Mr Downer: Well let me make this clear in all the time we’ve been in Government, which is nearly eleven and half years, we have had excellent relations with the New Zealand Governments of that time. There has been the National Party Government to start with, and the Labour Government, and Labour and Winston Peters and so on now. In all of that period we have really excellent relations and I think we’ve taken the relationship forward in a lot of different ways. Everything from exceptional cooperation through the Pacific I often say, New Zealand has been a great mate and a great partner for us in so many of the difficult things we have had to deal with in the Pacific and East Timor and even beyond. And you just couldn’t fault successive New Zealand Governments in their cooperation with Australia and the way we have worked together. We have been very successful over the last eleven and a half years in continuing to develop trans-Tasman integration but I mean at the end of the day Australia and New Zealand, a decision was made in the end of the nineteenth century that Australia and New Zealand would remain separate countries. And New Zealand is a sovereign nation. It’s not part of Australia or states of Australia and so integration won’t be as though we were one nation but nevertheless I think we’ve made great progress and in the future I am sure we will continue to do so. We remain very committed, whatever’s happened on this particular issue, we remain very committed to continuing to strengthen the bi-lateral relationship and closer economic relations overall and, and, trans-Tasman harmonisation as best we can. Can’t

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always be done of course, because there are a lot of different factors that play in the different countries but we’re in favour of it.

Reporter: Sir what are you going to talk about tonight, and did you ask for the media to be excluded?

Mr Downer: I would never ask for the media to be excluded. I am always happy to talk to the media. I am sorry about the media being excluded, and, included or excluded, that’s a matter for the hosts of the evening. Look I really want to focus on the great challenges that political parties face internationally. My view is you know, regardless of what political Party you are you have to be a Party which is focussed on the great challenges of the era. You have to be a Party that is able to lead your community in terms of economic reform, ensuring that your country can operate effectively in a globalised economy and make the most of the globalised economy. You have to deal with the issue of terrorism that’s a major problem internationally and it affects all countries directly and indirectly and, there has to be widespread cooperation in that area. We all have to work together in addressing global

environmental issues like climate change and any political Party needs to have good and sound policies to address those sorts of issues. That’s really my theme.

Reporter: A very light after dinner speech by the sounds of it.

Reporter 2: Yeah.

Reporter 3: The challenges probably don’t come (inaudible).

Mr Downer: I remember now that you have given me a bit of advice to insert some jokes but if the ABC’s allowed in the jokes could resonate rather poorly around Australia so I always have to be careful of being funny

Reporter: Speaking of challenges, the Liberals in Australia face a fairly monumental one themselves, aah

Mr Downer: mmm.

Reporter: The Nationals here are traveling a good deal better, is there something John Key could perhaps tell you?

Mr Downer: Well I wouldn’t get into the politics of New Zealand I would say in Australia, true we are behind in the polls. We relish the challenge in Australia and, we know that we’ve got our work cut out for us but nobody in the Labor Party and none of their supporters, would

want to under estimate our determination, and the amount of work that we’ll put in between now and polling day, and, there is one other point I’d make about Australian politics, and that is that in Australia in the end what is going to matter is substance not stunts. The Leader of the Opposition in Australia is a master of stunts. He does stunts very well. But he doesn’t do substance he has he either agrees with the Government or he agrees with the Trade Union leadership but he never develops a policy of his own. Imagine what he would do if he were the Prime Minister and didn’t have the Liberal Party of Australia to guide him as to what he should do. All that would be left (inaudible) the Liberal Party would be gone and all that would be left would be the Trade Union bosses. I think people understand that as time goes on.

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Reporter: Presumably the Party faithful here and Mr Key himself, will be campaigning on the need for a change, time for a change, same apply in Australia?

Mr Downer: Well I don’t know what they are going to campaign on here. I mean that’s nothing to do with me, that’s not my job to get into those kinds of issues. I mean circumstances are different some of the issues are different, it’s very had to compare country with country by the way.

Reporter: (Inaudible) your Leader seemed to do the trick for the National Party here?

Mr Downer: Well (light laugh) I couldn’t possibly comment on that except I can read the newspapers, I can see that John Key is doing very well and is proving to be effective according to the New Zealand public, in the job. But it’s nothing to do with us. The election isn’t due for a year or so in New Zealand and we’re focussed on our own election, not New Zealand’s election. We’ll watch that during the course of next year.

Reporter: Will you be inviting Mr Key to come over and perhaps campaign?

Mr Downer: I think look, at the end of the day from my experience as a Foreign Minister who has seen elections in an enormous number of countries, foreigners tend to have very little impact on voting patterns in other countries. I am sure I, if I ever campaigned in New Zealand it would be likely counter-productive. I mean people don’t want to be told by outsiders how they should vote in an election. People want to work it out themselves with their own political leadership.

Reporter: What are you going to talk to Winston Peters about tomorrow?

Mr Downer: Well I’m having lunch with Winston and we’re going to have our formal six monthly sessions that we have. We are particularly focusing in our discussions on the South Pacific, on obviously the difficulties we are both having with Fiji. We have been outraged at the way the New Zealand High Commissioner has been expelled from Fiji and I think the response of the New Zealand Government has been entirely appropriate. I think New Zealand is showing itself (inaudible) in resisting Commodore Bainimarama. We’ve coordinated our policies on Fiji very well. For example, the sanctions that we have particularly in relation to visas for people associated with the regime couldn’t work if we went in different directions. The fact that both of us have (inaudible) if not identical, there might be some difference but essentially identical policies on that issue that’s enormously important. We’ll obviously be talking about Tonga and Solomon Islands, the review of RAMSI that’s been taking place, the situation in East Timor; they’ve just had their elections and are in the process of forming a Government. We both have troops in East Timor and, no doubt we will talk about Afghanistan as well because New Zealand has a provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan and I have just been there myself recently. Um, Winston Peters I know is planning on a visit to North Korea. I have been there a couple of times myself and I think it would be good to have a talk with him about the issue of North Korea as well.

Mr Downer: Okay.

Other: Good.

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