JIM MIDDLETON: Foreign Minister, welcome to the program. First up, can you shed any light on this complaint from the Vanuatu government which has resulted in the threat at least to expel Australian Federal Police officers working with the Vanuatu Government in Port Vila?
BOB CARR: Yes, I'm disappointed in it and I would like the Government of Vanuatu to think again. Apparently it arises from an incident at Sydney Airport, a law enforcement incident. I would like them to think though about the value of Australian aid which is helping train their police.
We're spending, by the way, $97 million training police officers across the Pacific. It's very, very valuable aid and if Vanuatu has a grievance with what happened, a law enforcement incident at Sydney Airport, then I'd be happy to facilitate ways of them expressing that grievance to save them from any self-inflicted damage that expelling our Federal Police personnel might render them.
JIM MIDDLETON:Have you conveyed that message, that offer to the Government of Vanuatu?
BOB CARR:No, I haven't. I'd prefer to seek further advice and perhaps let the dust settle before I do that. But I'm disappointed and I hope we can salvage it.
I'm very proud that across the Pacific it's Australian aid that is giving professional police services to these peoples and I wouldn't like Vanuatu to be without that assistance because I know how deeply valued it is.
JIM MIDDLETON: Do you know why the Prime Minister of Vanuatu was required to fill in immigration and customs forms in Sydney — at Sydney Airport even though he was only in transit between Vanuatu and a third country?
BOB CARR: No, I haven't had that explained to me and I can understand completely that he would have found that insulting and an irritation. But there was a law enforcement incident that affected a member of his party beyond that and I'm not sure how the issues are separated. But the key question is it would be very disappointing if the people of Vanuatu and the government of Vanuatu lost some valuable Australian aid quite unnecessarily as a result of this.
JIM MIDDLETON: To the changes in Australia's aid commitments. Aid agencies are suggesting this broken promise will cost lives. That's a pretty grim charge to live with, I'd have thought.
BOB CARR: Yes, but you can't accept that, Jim. I respect the people who work in the aid organisations enormously. I think they're among the most inspiring Australians I've met. But Australian aid — and our budget is being increased, we're increasing aid despite all the pressures on the Budget — is going to, for example, provide enough money to sustain 30 million people who might be affected by humanitarian disasters in the next three years.
We're going to have the money because of our big aid budget, increased in this Budget, to look after 30 million people who might be affected through famine or war or floods — the sort of floods you saw in Pakistan or famine you've see in the Horn of Africa, wars you've seen in Sudan and South Sudan, across the Sahel.
I would like to have it said that Australians, when other people are cutting aid around the world, Australians are increasing aid and 30 million people stand to benefit with sustenance in the context of humanitarian disasters as a result. And that's only one measure of the extent to which we're investing big in humanitarian aid.
JIM MIDDLETON: But if it is the case, as the Gillard Government keeps saying, that Australia's economy is the envy of the developed world, aren't these the very circumstances under which Australia should be sticking to very serious commitments made to the United Nations?
BOB CARR: Our aid is going up by $300 million this year and our aid will reach shortly $7.7 billion. It's increased by 60 per cent since 2007. The onlyfalling short is it will take us 12 months longer to reach that noble goal of 0.5 per cent of gross national income going on aid.
So there's only a 12-month delay in getting to that very important target and I think given that economic circumstances have taken off five billion dollars from federal revenues this year, five billion next year, that's a pretty good landing.
JIM MIDDLETON: And can you guarantee then that this is not the thin edge of the wedge, as some aid agencies fear? Because it is the case that when you defer the target once that makes it easier to ditch the entire commitment in a future budget.
BOB CARR: No, but we get there within this Budget. We get there within the forward estimates. The money has been allocated and the people who represent the aid organisations are, as I said, the most admirable Australians I've encountered, but they're obliged to make a fuss even if we fall short by 10 millimetres. They're obliged to make the sort of fuss that you'd expect if we fell short by 10 kilometres.
This is a very modest postponement, only 12 months, in circumstances where — well, if I can put it this way, you can't spend money you haven't got. And if five billion dollars are carved off federal revenue this year and five billion next year, then you really are forced, you're really forced to look at all your expenditure. But even in that context, aid has gone up, it hasn't been cut.
You look at the record of other countries, I've got a list here: Canada, a comparable country and a generous one, will cut its aid budget by $180 million in '12-'13, then $242 million and then $327 million. Now, we're not cutting aid. We're increasing it.
JIM MIDDLETON: You're off to China shortly. How extensively will you canvass the question of human rights, especially given Australia's expressions of concern over time about the treatment of the dissident, for example, the dissident Chen Guangcheng?
BOB CARR: Human rights will always figure in discussions between an Australian Foreign Minister and his Chinese counterpart and other officials I'll meet in China. They'll always be on the agenda. I'm attached to the human rights dialogue which we have with China because that's a way of exploring human rights questions in detail.
They will figure on the agenda but they won't be the only matter and they won't be the dominant matter because this is a big and important and multi-dimensional relationship for Australia.
JIM MIDDLETON: Doesn't the Chen case though and, indeed, the reported behaviour of Bo Xilai while he was still in power in Chongqing, don't those incidents highlight the persistent absence of justice as we'd know it in Australia in China and, therefore, of persistent problems for the broader relationships into the future for Australians, Australian businesses dealing with China?
BOB CARR:I think someone said in the discussion around the Asian Century White Paper, for the first time we have a dominant economic relationship with a nation that has different values from our own. If you think in the past, the British Empire, our relationship with a democratic Japan, or the United States, the relationship was with nations that had parliamentary government, the rule of law and the Chinese don't have that in the sense, at least, that we understand it.
So that is a challenge but we do have human rights on the agenda. They're not perhaps the dominant part of the agenda because we have other dimensions to the relationship.
The Chinese, I might say, accept the fact that it's legitimate for us to raise these questions and they've been part of this formalised human rights dialogue.
Everything you highlight represents a challenge but I think the relationship has got enough momentum to easily manage the fact that we will challenge our partners with matters we raise, including human rights, and they will challenge us with matters they'll insist on having on the agenda that might leave us somewhat uncomfortable.
JIM MIDDLETON: Foreign Minister, thank you very much indeed.
BOB CARR: My pleasure, Jim, thank you.
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