Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr joins Insiders to discuss the International Criminal Court's discussions with Libyan authorities over detained Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor, the asylum seeker boat tragedy and Julian Assange's fight against extradition to Sweden.
BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: We'll go straight to our program guest, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, who joins us from our Sydney studios.
Good morning, welcome.
BOB CARR: G'day, Barrie.
BARRIE CASSIDY: This statement from the ICC (International Criminal Court), is it in any way a breakthrough?
BOB CARR, FOREIGN MINISTER: It's what we were after. The talks in The Hague between the ICC and the Libyan authorities, including their attorney-general, were very constructive. They did result in a statement that had the ICC expressing regret, effectively an apology, for any misunderstandings that may have occurred.
The Libyans are returning to their country through Istanbul. I think, and I regret to have to say it, that they will need some time to work this through their political system. And that means more anxious waiting for John and Janelle, Melinda's parents in Brisbane, and her husband Geoff in The Hague. But we are pressing on a daily basis to have the Libyan government move faster on this and to give Melinda the right to make phone calls to her family.
BARRIE CASSIDY: When you say it's effectively an apology, is that an apology for a misunderstanding or do they concede that there might've been some misconduct?
BOB CARR: No, not misconduct. But clearly, there was a gap between the way the ICC saw its role in Zintan in interviewing Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and the perceptions that the Libyans had.
My view is that Melinda Taylor doing her job with three colleagues would've been better protected if there'd been agreement between the Libyan authorities and the ICC around protocols and procedures that governed the ICC personnel's involvement in the case. The Gaddafi name is hated in Libya, especially in Zintan, where the militia, the armed militia did so much to precipitate the uprising across the country that brought the Gaddafi regime crashing down.
BARRIE CASSIDY: So if documents are handed to a Gaddafi, then there's a feeling that their national security has been breached?
BOB CARR: I can't wade into the disagreement between Libya and the ICC about what happened. I've spoken to Libyan ministers and the Libyan prime minister about this and I know that they've got deep concerns. The ICC is prepared to concede, I think that's a fair way of putting it, that they might've managed the procedures and protocols better than they did. Not a reflection on Melinda but a reflection on what they sent her in to do, the circumstances that prevailed when she was carrying out her job as ICC defence lawyer for Saif Gaddafi.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And is there any prospect that the family can talk with Melinda Taylor in the near future?
BOB CARR: Well, I've just had a communication from David Ritchie, our ambassador, who spoke only hours ago to the deputy foreign minister, Aziz. He and I have found a decent person to deal with. He is somewhat awkward, somewhat embarrassed by the fact this hasn't been delivered. Despite the assurance the prime minister and he had given me when I was there briefly. Clearly we're looking at the difficulty of a central government asserting its authority, given that the lines of communication are somewhat clouded.
Nonetheless I'm told that there has been a communication with Zintan to the effect that those telephone calls should be allowed.
Barrie, I just hope that we can get what we all want; and that is the reunion of a lawyer doing a job for an international organisation with her husband and with her 2-year-old to the satisfaction of her mum and dad in Brisbane. And that's what we continue to work for on a daily basis, indeed on an hourly basis.
BARRIE CASSIDY: OK. On the boat disaster the asylum seekers boat disaster, do events like this face further stresses on the relationship between Australia and Indonesia, given that the one lesson out of this, and certainly this is the view of one former diplomat, is that Australia should accept that Indonesia's search and rescue agencies are under resourced?
BOB CARR: I think the inquiry being conducted into this affair will clarify that for us.
I won't criticise Indonesia because without the Malaysian arrangement, we're left with an improvised, wholly inadequate Indonesian solution. Without the Malaysian orderly processing of asylum seekers, we are loading problems, including increased people smuggling, into Indonesian ports. And that results in tragedies like the terrible one that the Australian public's coming to terms with now.
Without the Malaysian solution, you've got a cobbled-together Indonesian solution that is wholly unsatisfactory. It's not protecting the borders, it's not saving lives. And I just hope that this week we can reach out across the Parliament and settle on something that's satisfactory to both sides.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But the Malaysian solution ...
BOB CARR: Namely, protection for our borders, an orderly processing; and I can't see a better way of doing that than the Malaysian solution. It's a disincentive.
You see if people smugglers can hold out the hope that after a perilous ocean voyage you're end up on Australian territory and one way or another come to Australia, then there will be a huge increase in the numbers of people prepared to hand over $10,000 to people smugglers. But if they know that their human cargos aren't going to get to Australian territory but are going to be processed in Malaysia and be detained there, then that is a huge disincentive. It's the disincentive we need.
And surely after this tragedy there can be a reaching out across the Parliament to get a resolution around this, which is — with wholly unsatisfactory alternatives available to us — the least bad option.
BARRIE CASSIDY: I want to ask you about Julian Assange now. How have you satisfied yourself that the United States is not interested in extraditing Julian Assange?
BOB CARR: Well, he's been in the United Kingdom for two years. And the US has an extradition arrangement with the United Kingdom. There has been no attempt by the US to extradite him to their shores. In fact, there's a view that it would be easier for the US to extradite him from the UK than it would be from Sweden, where he's wanted for questioning about something wholly unrelated to anything to do with WikiLeaks or state secrets.
When I've raised it, and I think I have raised it on two occasions with US officials, I've received no hint that they've got a plan to extradite him to the US.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But he talks about this grand jury, the secret grand jury proceedings. Can you be satisfied this is not happening?
BOB CARR: Barrie, there's not the remotest evidence that that's the case. There was one allegation that appeared somewhere of something called a sealed indictment. No US figure has confirmed that to us. I suppose you could argue that they wouldn't confirm it to us till the last moment.
But can we just return to the crux of the matter? And that is that it's Sweden seeking his extradition to face questioning about allegations of sexual assault. And that's got nothing to do with secrets, with WikiLeaks, with political persecution.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But if you talk to diplomats, does it necessarily follow that the diplomatic community would know if everything that the Justice Department is doing?
BOB CARR: Well you could say that the Justice Department's proceeding on this, and US officials in state or in a diplomatic mission like in Canberra wouldn't be aware of it. Certainly that can't be discounted as a possibility.
But I can say, what I've said to a senior US official: Assange is an Australian citizen, we've got an interest in this, have you got plans to extradite him? They haven't said they have plans to extradite him. They haven't been able to rule out that one corner of the American administration might not be considering it, but I would expect that the US would not want to touch this.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But given that it's a possibility, you've conceded that, if he was to go to Sweden would you say to the Americans this guy is an Australian citizen could keep your hands off him?
BOB CARR: That would be a position we'd take when we heard that the US had the remotest interest in touching him. They know we're concerned about it. They know we don't want an extradition of Assange from anywhere. They know that's the well-worn Australian position, but he's — if the US wanted to extradite him they would've done it in the two years he'd been available to them in the United Kingdom. With which they've got a robust extradition arrangement.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Why is that our position, to oppose extradition if in fact Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister, has conceded he may have done something illegal?
BOB CARR: That's between the United States and Assange. We've — the only thing on the table is an extradition from Sweden. We've made representations to the Swedes that he should be treated with due process. And in situations like this, consular cases like this, the only option available to Australia is to argue that in these foreign jurisdictions, an Australian citizen be treated no differently as the citizen of the country concerned would be treated. We've done that in respect of China or Indonesia, we've done it in respect of Sweden and Assange.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Now, Julian Assange has said of you and the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister in fact that you've used slimy rhetoric against him. What do you personally feel about Julian Assange and the work that he has done with WikiLeaks?
BOB CARR: Well, I've got no personal response to that. I'm — I would say that releasing a whole batch of secret material without assessment and without justification raises profound moral questions. For example, if that secret material reveals secret talks between an American diplomat in the Middle East and a politician in the Arab world, and the release of the material puts at risk the life of the Arab politician for simply talking to Americans, then that's a very worrying concern. That has been raised with Assange. His response has been, well, so be it.
This is not like Daniel Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers which revealed huge American deception, huge deception by the American government of the American public. There's an amorality about what's been at work here; secrets being released for the sake of being released without inherent justification.
But that said, we will take a position to defend an Australian citizen if faced with an extradition request that hasn't got justification.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Now the media has been a big topic this week. You've got a strong background in journalism; what would be the effect or the impact if Gina Reinhart was to effectively take control of Fairfax?
BOB CARR: I think a degradation of the quality of those mastheads. I think Australians would be entitled to be very, very concerned. I think it would be impossible to separate her position as a controlling influence on the board, if it comes to that, a controlling influence, from the way the paper behaves. I think the independence of Fairfax, which has been its glory, its boast, its pride, would be diminished.
BARRIE CASSIDY: What sort of a go do you think that the Labor Party gets from the rest of the media particularly News Limited and in Sydney with the Daily Telegraph?
BOB CARR: I think very tough. Although the Daily Telegraph would argue that it's been as tough with a Coalition government at the state level, but certainly it's for the Federal Labor Government it's hard going when you look at the media treatment it receives.
The gap between this country's economic performance, the low unemployment, the lowest interest rates in memory, debt being — debt the envy of any other country in the world, any other country I can think of, except Singapore; the gap between its economic achievement and the way it's treated in the media is quite striking. But as politicians you're not entitled to complain about it. There's nothing you can do about it. It's a fact of life. When I hear politicians complain about the media I think that's wasted space.
BARRIE CASSIDY: What the Commonwealth is saying, though, according to the Australian in the Peter Slipper and James Ashby case is that James Ashby worked with the Telegraph to construct a case against Peter Slipper. Now if this was shown to be the case, what would be the consequences of that?
BOB CARR: We'd have to see how that emerges. I'm happy that that matter now in the court. It's where it should've been and not being handled through the political system. Let's see what emerges from the court. But I would think people want to pick over the implications of what looks like a matter being set up for media treatment and political impact and not being legitimate expression of concern about harassment in the workplace.
BARRIE CASSIDY: You said very early on that James Ashby; well you likened him to a Kabuki actor, so I guess you're not surprised by anything that's coming out of this at the moment?
BOB CARR: I'm not surprised but I think it is now in the court and I won't comment further. It should've been revealed in the court in the first place, not worked out through political rehearsal.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning. Appreciate it.
BOB CARR: Good Barrie, thank you.
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