Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News
Topics: Australia-Indonesia relationship, Israeli settlements, Middle East Peace Process
11 March 2010
KIERAN GILBERT: Foreign Minister, thank you for your time this morning.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Indonesian President yesterday gave a commitment to criminalise people smuggling. Did you get a commitment on the timeline for that? When will that be achieved?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, we welcome the announcement by the Indonesian President. Foreign Minister Natalegawa advised me of it in the course of this week. We welcome that decision.
It'll be a matter for the Indonesian Government to now put that through the Indonesian Parliament, so it's subject to their parliamentary process.
So we're not putting a timetable on it, but the indication from Indonesia is that they're proposing to introduce legislation in the near future.
KIERAN GILBERT: But Minister, they've been talking about that for a number of years now, as I understand it, five or six years it's been discussed. Would you be hoping to get some sort of indication on when it will be achieved?
STEPHEN SMITH: It's subject to their parliamentary processes. We of course welcome the decision. We think it's a good decision. We've been in discussions with the Indonesian Government for some time about this matter, but just like our law is subject to parliamentary processes, so is Indonesian law.
We of course would prefer sooner rather than later, but we'll leave that process to the Indonesian Parliament.
KIERAN GILBERT: But it could drag out, couldn't it? That's the reality given the complexities of Indonesian democracy?
STEPHEN SMITH: That's not our expectation, but as you say, one of the points of the President's visit has been to reinforce and underline the fact that we're dealing with a President who's been directly elected for the second time, who's doing a lot to entrench the institutions and the values and virtues of democracy, and part of that is a Parliament.
We're not expecting any lengthy delay, but just as Australian law is subject to parliamentary processes, so is Indonesian law. And that's a good thing. That's been one of the fundamental developments and changes so far as Indonesia is concerned over the last 20 years.
KIERAN GILBERT: Indonesian officials are apparently still disappointed after the talks that there's been no movement on softening of the security warning on the travel advisory. Is that something that they raised with you?
STEPHEN SMITH: It was raised in passing, and the Australian Government's position remains the same, which is our travel advice is advice to the Australian travelling public and is done on the basis of our best assessments as to security and to threats. And it's there for the Australian travelling public to be aware of. But the Australian travelling public make their own judgements.
Indeed, a point that was made on a number of occasions is that very many Australian tourists travel to Indonesia - to Jakarta, and to Bali in particular. It's there to provide advice to Australians, and they choose to either take that into account and to travel, or not travel. That's a matter for the exercise of their judgement, but we continue to work very closely with Indonesia on counter-terrorism.
Indonesia in very many respects has been the most successful country over the last half dozen years in terms of arrests and convictions. And they continue to work very closely with us, and we continue to be very pleased with the substantial contribution that they make against the terrorist threat in Indonesia, and in Southeast Asia.
KIERAN GILBERT: But there's obviously a lot of frustration there, still, within official ranks about this security warning, this travel advisory. There is a palpable frustration there, though, isn't there?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well a view of an official is one thing, a view of two Governments is another. The President and his Government understand the reasons behind our travel advice. But we ourselves have made the point, as I said - it was made on a number of occasions both privately and publicly - the advice is there for Australians to contemplate.
Very many Australians take it into account and then exercise their judgement to travel. One of the very strong features of exchanges between Australia and Indonesia are the very large number of Australian tourists who go to Indonesia.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, a couple of other issues out of the President's visit. He gave a frank assessment of the outdated stereotypes in Australia towards Indonesia. Do you agree that that is the case, that the perception of Indonesia is outdated?
STEPHEN SMITH: I certainly agree that there's something of a lag between the appreciation that we have together as Governments, and the appreciation that the Australian people have of the modern Indonesia, and the Indonesian people have of the modern Australia. So I think this is an area where we do need to do a great deal of work.
But what we saw with the President's visit was, I think, the emergence of a democratic Indonesia, the emergence of an Indonesia which is not just a regional influence, but is now emerging as a significant global influence.
And the importance that that presents to Australia, not just in terms of our bilateral relationship with Indonesia, but also the work we can do with Indonesia regionally through ASEAN and APEC, but also internationally through the G20 and the United Nations.
One of the things that Foreign Minister Natalegawa and I agreed upon was that we would do a comprehensive review of all the people to people exchanges to see where we can improve the cultural exchanges, sporting exchanges, and the like, so that the Australian people more fully appreciate the modern Indonesia and Indonesian people more fully appreciate the modern Australia. That is an area where I think we do need to do some more work.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, what did you make of Tony Abbott's comments in the Parliament? He took a swipe at Kevin Rudd with the President standing by.
STEPHEN SMITH: I always take the view that when we have a guest in our country, we conduct ourselves appropriately.
I'm not proposing to be drawn on the Leader of the Opposition's remarks. People can make their own judgements as to whether they were appropriate. I don't want to seize on that issue because that would potentially see an issue while the President is still in Australia.
But I think all Australians expect that when we have a guest in our country, we conduct ourselves appropriately. I was pleased with some of the remarks from the Leader of the Opposition which made it clear that in Australian politics there is a firm bipartisan understanding that our relationship with Indonesia is a seminal one. It's one of the most important relationships that we have and people can make their own judgements about how people conduct themselves in public.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. One final issue on the Israeli settlement. The Israeli Interior Minister has announced 1600 new settlement homes in East Jerusalem during the visit of the Vice President of the United States Joe Biden. Is this another slap in the face from Israel?
STEPHEN SMITH: Let me just deal with the settlements question generally. The Australian Government, since November 2008 when we changed Australia's vote before the United Nations General Assembly, has supported a freeze on settlements. We believe that a freeze on settlements would assist the peace process. That's been our view for some time.
I share the view that this is a bad decision at the wrong time, and it's not a helpful contribution to the peace process. It's not a helpful contribution to the very hard work that's been going on behind the scenes, including from the United States, to try and get Israel and the Palestinian Authority together for so-called proximity talks.
Issues of settlement and East Jerusalem and Jerusalem can be part of a final agreement. What we are very, very desperate to achieve in the Middle East is a long term enduring peace where Israel has the right to exist as a State in a context of peace and security, and the Palestinian people have their own State as well, also existing in a context of peace and security.
But the starting point for that has to be an effective peace process, and this has not been a helpful contribution to try to get the peace process back on the road.
KIERAN GILBERT: Foreign Minister, thank you for your time. I know we're not in the sports section of the bulletin, but you'd be pleased with your namesake making the Australian Test cricket team?
STEPHEN SMITH: I'm very pleased with young Steve Smith from New South Wales making the touring team, the Test touring team for New Zealand.
I saw him train in India last year, when New South Wales were playing in the Twenty20, and I said to Simon Katich, the New South Wales captain but a Western Australian who's been chosen for that team as well, that I thought he was a very good prospect.
And young Steve Smith presented me with his New South Wales jumper, or his shirt, and I undertook to Simon Katich that when he made his Test debut I'd wear it, which is a very unwise thing for a Western Australian to do, particularly someone who has the WACA in his local electorate.
But I will, when he makes his Test debut, I will fulfil that commitment to Simon Katich and wear a New South Wales Blues jumper.
KIERAN GILBERT: Stephen Smith good on you. We look forward to seeing the pictures. Thank you for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much.