DAVID SPEERS: Foreign Minister, thank you for your time. Before we get to your trip to Fiji and your portfolio responsibilities, I know you have been out of the country for a while, but you are obviously aware of what's going on. Let me cut to the chase and ask in all honesty, do you think the Prime Minister is going to survive?
BOB CARR: Yes I do – absolutely. She will survive because she's the best person for the job. And if you want to cast your eye across the chamber and ask yourself what single alternative policy Tony Abbott has got up against Julia Gillard, I think that's a useful exercise.
DAVID SPEERS: Well you've said there that she's the best person for the job. You don't think any other candidate, Kevin Rudd, yourself, Simon Crean, Stephen Smith would do better?
BOB CARR: No. When a government faces reverses in the polls, and when there are negative stories in the headlines that distract attention from the solid substantial achievements in policy terms, then you get this kind of speculation.
I mean, the Opposition exists only one onion skin away from leadership speculation every day of the week. But we've got to cop it as it comes and continue to work at the hard policy slog that Australians expect us to be engaged in. And I think people will be very pleased with both the responsibility and the social conscience of the Budget that they will see next week.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright, well just on the Budget, let's get to your portfolio. You met today with a bunch of international aid groups who are worried about the Budget and the possibility that the strong Labor commitment to increase our foreign aid spending will be delayed in – as part of the effort to return to surplus. What did you have to say to them today?
BOB CARR: Well I said that we can be very, very proud as a Government, as a people, as a nation of our record on foreign aid. We are the number seven provider of foreign aid in the world, and I've been – well I've been in Cambodia where I've seen maternity nurses being trained by Australian experts funded by Australia, bring down the rate of death with mothers giving birth from about 500 per 100,000 births to 200. And they'll help drive it down to where it is in Australia – eight deaths of mothers per 100,000 births. That's what Australian aid means in practice.
And that aid will continue to be rolled out. I think Australians will be impressed by what they see in the Budget about our commitment to aid being continued at a time when Government's under pressure to rein in spending and deliver the surplus we need.
Those aid organisations are among the most admirable people and organisations I've ever met. And we can be very pleased that they're out there, their members knocking on doors, raising money, persuading people to send in cheques, to provide assistance in winding back poverty around the world.
I think they, and any fair minded observer will be impressed by what the Budget manages to do in tough budgetary circumstances on aid on Tuesday.
DAVID SPEERS: Well Tim Costello makes the point that the increase in foreign aid Labor has pledged to deliver, from 0.35 to 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2015, that will save, he reckons, another possibly 800,000 lives. So does that promise still stand?
BOB CARR: Well I'm not going to anticipate what's in the Budget. But I am going to say, when you see the Budget details on aid you can only reach one conclusion, and that is that Australia continues to be one of the most generous nations in the world. Aid will be an area of commitment that all Australians can be proud of. I can't beyond that …
DAVID SPEERS: But it would be a broken promise. It would be a broken promise if you walk away from that though, won't it?
BOB CARR: David, beyond that, I can't tip what's in the Budget. I can't speculate about the Budget. No minister does that.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright. I want to turn to your visit to Fiji. You've just returned from there. It would seem to be a positive step, in and of itself that you went there, and along with some other Pacific Island Foreign Ministers. Tell us what progress there is in Fiji in returning to democracy.
BOB CARR: The foreign ministers of PNG, Tuvalu, New Zealand of course – the New Zealand Foreign Minister being the leader of the group, Samoa and Vanuatu. And we saw representatives of the government, and they repeated to us the commitment to have elections, free and fair elections in 2014. Now that is very, very important. It's important that they repeated – they reiterated those commitments to us.
We underlined the fact that those elections and the constitutional consultation that will precede it – precede the elections – has to occur within a context, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the media. And at every meeting we press that point.
DAVID SPEERS: And do they get that? Do they get that – this issue about media freedom and being able to assemble in groups?
BOB CARR: I think they've got the message, and they've got the message that we can't let this go. We can't give our approval. And in the case of Australia and New Zealand, we can't lift our sanctions until we see that there is freedom, for example, for the Methodist Church to hold a conference where they may discuss political issues. And where there is freedom, where a New Zealand TV team can go in there and report without being kicked out.
We want to see those guarantees so that we know the process of constitutional consultation, which on paper looks authentic, and the elections that will be the climax of that process are going to be free and fair, and conducted in an inclusive and open context.
I am moderately encouraged by the assurances that we've received.
DAVID SPEERS: So the benchmark for lifting those sanctions that you talk about, and they include travel bans on senior government figures in Fiji, that will be what, the announcement of an election date? What will actually be the benchmark for lifting those sanctions?
BOB CARR: We'd want to see that consultation about the new constitution includes giving everyone an opportunity to have their say; that the media can criticise the government-favoured proposals, that critics of the government can get reported in the media. We'd want to know that churches can hold meetings, political groups can hold meeting without running up against government decrees that ban them. And if that's the case, then in the words of one of the government ministers, Fiji may achieve a sustainable democracy.
And we all want that. We want to get rid of this culture of coups that has afflicted Fiji since the 1980s and which makes it stand out among Pacific Island democracies. The Pacific Islands' countries are a community of democracies. Fiji stands out because it's had a succession of coups. And we want to encourage the creation of again, to use the words of one of the ministers, a sustainable democracy in Fiji.
But we've sent a strong message to the Government, and strong message to critics of the Government, the NGOs, the representatives of Civic Society with whom we met, that we will be watching carefully what happens with freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and robust media discussion of politics in Fiji.
DAVID SPEERS: Just like we have here. [Laughs] Foreign Minister Bob Carr, thank you very much for joining us.
BOB CARR: We don't fail on that score, David.
DAVID SPEERS: [Laughs] We try to do what we can. Bob Carr, thank you. Good to talk to you, and we'll catch up soon.
BOB CARR: My pleasure David. Thank you.
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