Interview on Offsiders with Barrie Cassidy
Transcript, Proof copy E&OE
28 February 2010
BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, right along side in the subcontinent, India. And India has its problems with the current threats from terrorists. The IPL is about to get underway. The men's world hockey, I think, begins today; Commonwealth Games in October.
The Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, joins us now from our Perth studio.
Minister, good morning. What's the current thinking in the Federal Government about all of this?
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning, Barry.
Yes, there are some very significant sporting events in India in the course of this year. Our travel advisory for India alerts people to the risk of terrorist attacks which we've seen in India in the past.
So, we've been working very closely with the sporting associations; whether it's the Hockey association, whether it's the Commonwealth Shooting association, a Commonwealth Federation sporting competition's just finished; or the Commonwealth Games Association itself; making sure the players, the athletes and the associations are armed with all of the most recent and up to date advice so that they can make decision about participation.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Now, there is a bit of an issue, though, isn't there, with the - particularly with the cricketers? That those who are affiliated cricketers get advice from the Federal Government, but then you have the freelancers; the people like Matthew Hayden and so on. What happens with them?
STEPHEN SMITH: We've been very careful since the terrible attack on the Sri Lankan team, which included some Australians - a couple of umpires and Trevor Bayliss, the coach - to make sure that Australian cricketers who are participating in events like the IPL, that through the Australian Cricket Association and through the state associations that they have access to the same advice that an Australian touring team would have on a formal tour.
And we've done that. We changed that procedure in the aftermath of the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore last year. And we're in the process of doing that now, so that individual players can make their own judgement armed with our advice so far as IPL security matters are concerned.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Now, it does seem that you're sufficiently concerned enough about this that you're planning, as I understand it, a trip to India. Is that as early as tomorrow?
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes, I'll be leaving Perth tomorrow for my third trip to India as Foreign Minister. We have a very important relationship with India. We have a strategic partnership with India. We're trying to take that to the front rank of our international relationships. But also, we are suffering very much in terms of our reputation and standing in India because of the recent difficulties we've had with attacks on Indian students in Australia, particularly in Melbourne.
But also I want to have conversations with relevant Indian Ministers about the planning for the Commonwealth Games. I'll also be inspecting some of the Commonwealth Games facilities.
But, I'll also be taking the opportunity of having a look at one of the Australian games: the Australia versus India game which we've turned into a friendship game as part of our public diplomacy in India, one of the World Hockey Cup games. Because in very many respects, we're using the World Hockey Cup as in a sense a dry run for preparations for Commonwealth Games security arrangements.
So, I'll be leaving tomorrow and I'll be in India for three days in the course of this week.
GIDEON HAIGH: Minister, I note that you've made reference to the attacks on Indian students in Australia. Do you encounter the attitude among Indian officials that Australia is ill-placed to be calling anywhere unsafe these days?
STEPHEN SMITH: No. If you like, at Government or official level there's very much an understanding that, behind these attacks is not an all-pervading racism, or racist approach. We have acknowledged that in some small number of these attacks there have been some racist overtones. But we regard ourselves, and hold ourselves out, as a safe place where people, whether they come from India or elsewhere, can get a very good educational and Australian experience.
The Indians are very conscious of security matters, whether it is associated with sporting events or other things, and I've been very pleased with the cooperation that we've had with the Indian authorities in terms of the coordination and run-up to planning for the Hockey World Cup, but also the Commonwealth Games. And so we're satisfied with the coordination, the cooperation that we've received to date.
We're certainly not lecturing India or anyone else. It is a most regrettable fact of modern life that any major sporting event, whether it's a Hockey World Cup in Delhi, or a Sydney Olympics, or a Melbourne Commonwealth Games, there is a threat of terrorist or other attack, and we have to be absolutely vigilant in terms of our preparations, in terms of our preparations so far as security's concerned.
ROY MASTERS: Minister, with relation to that threat that you refer to there, an International Tennis Federation report on terrorism said that sport has more to fear with contests between nations as opposed to contests between champion individual athletes. In other words, where national flags are waved.
So, we've got more to fear, say, from the Commonwealth Games in Delhi than with international - with the I - with the Twenty20 competition, the IPL, in India, where it's - you know, it's a contest involving champion athletes from diverse nations.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we don't graduate them in that way. Whenever we've got Australians travelling overseas, or athletes participating in sporting events, we try and make sure that we alert them to the travel advice that we have.
We also, when it comes to organised sporting events, if we receive any particular threats, we do an exhaustive assessment of those threats and make that available as well. So, we don't distinguish or discriminate between organised, nation versus nation events, or the IPL, because you've got high-profile Australian involvement and we need to discharge what we regard as an obligation to those Australians.
Of course, there's also a personal obligation. In the final analysis, it's a matter for individual cricketers, or athletes, or sporting bodies to make a decision about whether they will take part or not.
But we are in what is the regrettable modern world, doing everything we can to make sure that that advice is available, not just to the general Australian travelling public, but to individual sportsmen and sportswomen, whether they're involved in an organised national team or international competition like the Hockey World Cup, or whether it's an individual high-profile event like the IPL.
GERARD WHATELEY: So, further to that, Minister, did a member of the - a senior member of the Department of Foreign Affairs address the Australian cricket players in their Christchurch hotel yesterday? And what is the specific advice those players are operating under at the moment?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as I say, we always try and make sure that the players who are about to contemplate taking part in such an event get our most recent advice. Administratively and logistically, it was easier for us to send one of our officers to Christchurch to brief those players involved in the current tour of New Zealand who are contemplating going to the IPL, to give them an up to date assessment.
We obviously go, in terms of what the advice that we give to those individual players, go to what is contained in the travel advisory, which is there for all to see. But also go through any specific threats, and we have seen some specific threats made against sporting competition in recent times from India.
So, our officer went through all of our most recent advice to them. It was convenient to do it. We're also making sure that the same advice is available to other individual players who aren't in Christchurch, or aren't on the New Zealand tour, so that they can make their own judgements as well.
GERARD WHATELEY: So, the word out of that meeting was that the players were told that the most recent threat is not credible. Is that the case?
STEPHEN SMITH: This is the so-called 313. We have, as other individual nation-states have done , we have done an exhaustive assessment of that, and the conclusion we've come to and the advice we've given those players is we don't regard that threat as a credible threat.
Having said that, we continue to underline that there is a risk - a high risk of terrorist attacks in India. That's reflected by our travel advice and that's reflected by the general advice we give any Australian who is contemplating travel to India and they make their judgements accordingly.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Minister, we do appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Barry. Thanks very much.
- Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7500
- Departmental Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555