6 April 2008
Insiders - Interview
Subjects: Zimbabwe, UN Security Council, Tibet
BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: Time to join our feature interview, and this morning, we're joined from Perth by the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith.
Good morning and welcome.
STEPHEN SMITH, FOREIGN MINISTER: Good morning, Barrie.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Can you bring us right up to date, what's the very latest that you're hearing out of Zimbabwe?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I spoke to our Ambassador in Zimbabwe in the last hour. On the streets, things remain pretty calm, people going about their business, but there is a tension when people start to contemplate what now might happen.
I think people are now coming to the conclusion that Mr Mugabe and Zanu PF are making it clear they're proposing to contest the second round. We're still of course waiting for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to public the presidential results. But it looks as though where we're heading is for a second round, and I have to say I'm becoming increasingly concerned that it looks as though some of the old approaches may well be emerging that we're now worried about if there is a second round, intimidation and there not being a full, free and fair election with complete participation from the Zimbabwean people on a free basis.
So I am now starting to worry about the dangers of intimidation, when it comes to a second round, if that's what unfolds in the next few days.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Could it be that the crackdown has already started?
STEPHEN SMITH: There have been some worrying incidents, and it looks like potentially some untoward conduct developing.
I think the international community is trying to make it clear, and we've seen overnight the conversations from the Progressive Leaders meeting in London that if there is to be a second round on the basis of an objective assessment of the result, then that has to be full, free and fair.
I've made the point previously that that should be the subject of international observers. And last night in Perth, I spoke to my South African counterpart, the South African Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister Dr Dlamini-Zuma, and while there is a limit to what I can indicate from that conversation, I think it's clear to say that South Africa is very focused on these issues. They're of course the most important member of the African Union or South African Development Community when it comes to Zimbabwe.
President Mbeki did some good work in improving the arrangements for the election, and I made the point to my South African counterpart that we need to make sure if it goes to a second round that it's full, free, and fair and we do have a very healthy complement of observers on the ground.
The South African Development Community observers are still there, pending the announced result of the presidential election. I think the international community has to look very, very closely at beefing up those observers if we do go to a second round, because as I say, I'm becoming increasingly worried with some untoward developments that Mr Mugabe may be trying to steal the election through intimidation, if it goes to a second round.
BARRIE CASSIDY: You mentioned still no presidential results. Were the South Africans able to shed any light on that? When can we expect those results to start flowing?
STEPHEN SMITH: The South African Foreign Minister, like us, was waiting patiently but I made the point, as I have publicly and as I did earlier in the week, to my Tanzanian colleague, that we think, Australia thinks, it's very important that those results are out as quickly as possible.
I notice overnight Mr Tsvangirai himself holding a press conference in Harare, making the point that those results have to be out there but also making the point that he thinks more African Union and potentially even United Nations people have to be on the ground to ensure freedom and fair participation in any second round. So I think we've really got to put the weights on here as best we can to make sure that Mr Mugabe doesn't get away with resorting to his very bad brutal habits of old.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And if Mr Mugabe was to lose that run off, would it be appropriate for the new government to offer him a quiet retirement in return for a peaceful transition?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the last thing we want in Zimbabwe is an outbreak of violence or military enforcement or actions. Now, what occurs to Mr Mugabe if he ultimately loses a presidential election or if there's a transition to a new government, in the first instance is a matter for the Zimbabwean people, and the Zimbabwean government and the Zimbabwean Parliament. That's in the first instance a matter for them.
In our case, we're looking more broadly, and we've made the point as the United Kingdom government has made the point, that if we do get a Zimbabwean government that respects the will of the people, that does want to do good works for its people, then obviously, we're in the marketplace for development assistance and trying to reconstruct or rebuild Zimbabwe. The British in particular have made it clear that in the right circumstances, they'll put on the table a substantial offer, because what we have to do here is on the basis that we get a government that reflects and respects the will of the people. We've now got an international responsibility to seek to rebuild the Zimbabwe economy, and rebuild the Zimbabwean nation with very many of its people now living effectively in abject poverty, let alone the taking away of any of their freedoms or human rights.
BARRIE CASSIDY: I want to move on to one of the early issues that Kevin Rudd raised while overseas, and that is Australia's bid to win a seat a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
What's the benefit to Australia? Why would you bother?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I think there are considerable benefits. It puts Australia around the table at the key peace and security environment of the United Nations. So there are a lot of benefits but I believe we've got a responsibility here as a nation, Barrie. I mean, you would've heard often that phrase, "Australia punches above its weight". I have to tell you frankly it's a phrase that I hate. I don't think we punch above our weight. I think we can do and have to do more.
Yes, we might only be about the 50th largest country in the world in terms of population, but we're in the top 15 economies. We're in the top dozen military and peacekeeping spenders. We are a significant country. We're a robust parliamentary democracy with well-developed, prosperous economy. We should be taking our values and our virtues to the world, accepting our responsibility as a regional leader, and making our points about international and global issues.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But given the history of the UN, can you launch a successful bid without paying a very high monetary price, and a very high moral price?
STEPHEN SMITH: Certainly, we're not going to pay a moral price. We won't be compromising on our values, our virtues or our foreign policy or our public policy to buy a vote.
Certainly, when it comes to costs, for example, we're not going to be opening a post here or there just to buy a vote. It's a four to five year campaign. There are a whole range of things that we can do. One of the points that I think we can make is that we want the United Nations to be a modern, relevant institution. We don't want it to reflect the 40s and 50s.
Yes, Australia sat round the table at the Security Council's first meeting. We sat round the Security Council table the first time the United Nations commissioned a peacekeeping force in the Suez. We sat round the Security Council when South Africa was expelled on the basis of apartheid.
These are issues in the past that we sat round the table on, and for the modern issues of the future, whether it's climate change, whether it's millennium development goals, whether it's international trade, these are the sorts of issues we should be sitting around the table now, but also, the modern Australia can make the points that the United Nations needs to be modern. It's not just the non-permanent membership of the Security Council. We think the permanent membership should be changed to reflect the modern reality, having on the permanent membership Japan, for example, and India, for example.
That much more reflects the modern world than the current institution, but our attitude is, be in there, be active, be robust. That's a much better approach than the approach of the immediate past, which was to stand outside and throw rocks at the building. That doesn't actually help.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Will that be part of your negotiating process, then, you will be arguing for the inclusion of India and Japan as permanent members, as you go about trying to win a seat as a non-permanent member?
STEPHEN SMITH: We're not going to compromise foreign or public policy to buy or win a vote. Those points about modernisation of the Security Council and our view that India and Japan should be permanent members, Mr Rudd, the Prime Minister and I have made those points publicly and privately before, and we'll make them again.
We think Australia can be a significant country with a modern outlook, taking a modern view to the United Nations. Of course we accept the United Nations is not a perfect institution. That's why we want to put our shoulder to the wheel and start arguing for modernisation of the United Nations, more effective and more efficient peacekeeping arrangements. We want to return the United Nations to a rightful central place in international affairs, just as we want to return Australia to its rightful place in international affairs, whether that's in the Asia Pacific region or whether that's in multilateral institutions, like the United Nations.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Kevin Rudd's visit to NATO in Romania, what did that achieve, apart from getting a better handle on how the others see the Afghanistan conflict?
STEPHEN SMITH: We think that it was a very good outcome, and we welcome very much the result. For the first time as far as Afghanistan is concerned, we've got a coherent political, military and strategic plan. And we're very optimistic now that the drift over Afghanistan has stopped.
We've been making the point in the run up to the Bucharest conference that there had to be a greater military and strategic commitment from the NATO countries, but also, we had to link that in a much more coordinated way with what we were doing in terms of trying to rebuild Afghanistan. So we also had to coordinate and have a much greater commitment from the international community for humanitarian assistance and development assistance and capacity building.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But is it so much more coherent now though, that you're more confident of a successful outcome?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Afghanistan is complicated, complex, difficult and dangerous. And it's not going to be solved overnight, which is why we say we're pleased that we've now got for the first time, a coherent strategic approach.
One of the things which encouraged me when I got feedback from our own people who'd been sitting around the table, was there seems to be very much a strong resolve, a strong resolve from the countries sitting around the table that it is in their own national interests, and in the international community's interest to hit head on the problems that we face in Afghanistan.
I think we do need to just stand back and appreciate; it's actually in Australia's national interest to be in Afghanistan. It's unquestionably the case that in the past, mistakes have been made where the international community has been in Afghanistan, then turned its back or turned a blind eye. Now we're fronting up, understanding that that is where currently effectively the hotbed of international terrorism is. And I think there's now a greater appreciation that that terrorism is much more mobile. Mobile to South East Asia and our region, but also mobile to Europe.
So, the feedback I've got is a much greater resolve, but also the coherence. It's not just about getting peace and security for peace and security's sake. In the end to solve the problem for long-term, we've got to allow Afghanistan to rebuild itself as a nation. That means humanitarian assistance, but also development assistance, capacity and governance building, and training. Whether it's police training, giving them greater capacity to manage their own law and justice administration and the like. You have to do both at the same time. That's why we think it's a pretty good result.
BARRIE CASSIDY: We're running out of time, but I wanted to raise China with you, and that country has just jailed a key dissident for three and half years. Will Kevin Rudd be comfortable about raising human rights issues while he's in China?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely. We have traditionally and consistently raised human rights issues. We have a human rights dialogue with China. We've got another one scheduled for later this year. I raised human rights, including Tibet and the Dalai Lama, when I had our first strategic dialogue with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Minister Yang, in Canberra in February. And both the Prime Minister and I have been making our points about Tibet. I have to tell you those points have been noticed by the Chinese authorities both here and in Beijing, both in Canberra and in Beijing. And the Prime Minister's made it clear that not just on this trip, but on an ongoing basis, where there are human rights issues that we think have to be raised, either publicly or privately, so far as China is concerned, we will raise them.
And Barrie, don't be under any illusions. They have noted the seriousness of our comments that they need to be more open and transparent when it comes to these matters, and they need to have a positive, constructive dialogue with the Dalai Lama and others about the future of Tibet.
BARRIE CASSIDY: On the question of being open and transparent, do you think the world will see the real China during the Olympics, or only the China they want you to see?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I think the importance of the Olympics, Barrie, is this: it might be an old-fashioned view but I think the more that China engages with the international community and the more the international community engages with China, the better off China will be and the better off the international community will be.
And I have a very strong view which I have expressed. We can be expressing all the views on human rights and Tibet to China publicly and privately that we like, but I don't believe that boycotting the Olympics, for example, would be a sensible thing to do. We can use the Olympics not just to capture the general spirit of the Olympics, but also to extend that engagement internationally with China. It will be another example, I think, another possibility of persuading them that openness, transparency, engagement is the best approach for them, and the best approach for the international community.
BARRIE CASSIDY: You're opposed, as you said, to a boycott by our athletes. What about a boycott by our Prime Minister?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, he's been invited, as have I. I haven't made a decision yet as to whether I'm able to go and nor has he, but those decisions will be made on the basis of availability, they won't be made on the basis of boycotting the Olympics because of Tibet or other human rights issues.
We think the Olympics can be used to engage China, to make the point to China that openness, transparency, whether that's by the international media or diplomats, in the case of Tibet, that these are sensible things to do. It's in the international community's interests that China engages in the world, and in some respects, there's no better example of that than the Olympics themselves.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Thank you for joining us this morning, very early Perth time. We appreciate it.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very
much, Barrie. Thank you.
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