PAUL MURRAY: Great pleasure to welcome Bob Carr, Foreign Affairs Minister, into the studio. Bob will be with us until 9.30 this morning, so after we've got through the first part of this procedure he'll be open to take some calls from you. So if that's your wish, 92211882 is the number and I'm sure Bob will be happy to answer some calls from listeners.
Good morning, Bob.
BOB CARR: Good morning, Paul.
PAUL MURRAY: Last time I saw you, you were Premier of New South Wales and I was a newspaper editor over there. I think you held a — you hosted a reception for some Indonesian editors and we were — I was over there having a meeting with them.
BOB CARR: Yeah, I remember that vividly. I thought it was a terrific investment of time to talk to Indonesian editors. And Indonesia's made huge progress since then. It's going to be a very, very important [indistinct] for us; the …
PAUL MURRAY: Very different place, isn't it? Yeah.
BOB CARR: … the checking up six per cent annual economic growth. They're a very important partner.
PAUL MURRAY: You're in town today for some domestic reasons, I think, as well as foreign affairs reasons. Let me just start off — I think you've come — just come from a breakfast with Mark McGowan.
BOB CARR: Yes.
PAUL MURRAY: What was that all about?
BOB CARR: Terrific — well, I've known him since he was schools minister and we spoke about curriculum issues at the time. That's going back some years. I was very focused on getting quality into school curricula and he was interested in that agenda.
Since then I've kept in touch with him. He — I said to him once, don't let them make you leader of the opposition too early; you've got to have them straighten out uranium policy and policy on shopping hours. And then, in a flash, he was made leader; he resol…
PAUL MURRAY: Changed him on day one.
BOB CARR: … he resolved those two issues on the day he was made leader. So I thought, this guy's a first class political talent.
PAUL MURRAY: Yep. Yep…
BOB CARR: Because I favoured the party changing its approach on both those issues.
PAUL MURRAY: Yeah, and I think he said to them, that's — you either take it or leave it, you know. If I'm going to do the job these things change on day one. And they did.
BOB CARR: And that left me very, very impressed with his political talent because I thought the more likely thing is — would be that he'd be thrust into the leadership and then have to battle on both those fronts to get a change through the party conference. But the party showed a lot of wisdom in moving on those issues on which they'd been deadlocked.
PAUL MURRAY: Did you talk to him today about the carbon tax?
BOB CARR: Yeah, he said that the position he is taking is to reserve judgement and to see how it works. And he reminded me that the State Government has increased electricity charges by 62 per cent and that has got nothing to do with the carbon tax.
PAUL MURRAY: Yeah.
BOB CARR: So they were both — they were both valid points. I said, I'd probably do the same if I were state opposition…
PAUL MURRAY: Oh, really?
BOB CARR: … leader; and I'd been a state opposition leader for seven years; I know the difficulties.
PAUL MURRAY: Because the word went out here that one of the things you wanted to talk to him about was coming on board with the carbon tax, because it's seen as being unhelpful by his Canberra colleagues…
BOB CARR: No. No…
PAUL MURRAY: … that he's not on board.
BOB CARR: No, no, no; that's up to him and no-one — none of my colleagues in Canberra asked me to pressure him on that. And if they had I would have said, look, for seven years I'd been leader of the opposition in New South Wales and from time to time I had had to say about Bob Hawke or Paul Keating, I've got a different approach. I've got a different approach because there is a difference between state and national politics and if you're proposing yourself as a leader of a state government, you will, of necessity, disagree with federal colleagues from time to time.
PAUL MURRAY: Yeah. You're not here expressly for that; you do have an interesting venture that you're embarking on here in Western Australia. What can you tell us about that?
BOB CARR: Yeah, I'm very interested in how we can use — how we can project our mining boom as a force for us in foreign policy. And in some weeks we're going to be hosting an Africa Down Under Conference here in Perth and we'll have mining ministers and mining officials from African countries turn up to hear how we do it here.
There are mining companies doing well in Australia who are investing in Africa. If they make money from good investments in Africa — and when I last saw figures, there was $40 billion of Australian investment proposed for African mines — they'll have more capital to invest on good projects back here.
It's very good that we can look across the Indian Ocean towards Africa and say as I've been saying — and I've spoken to Africans — Australia's of interest to you; we're not America; we're not Europe; we're here as an Indian Ocean power and among the things we've got in common is a great interest in mining.
Later today, I'll be going to the University of Western Australia to talk to people at the International Centre for Mining Development[sic] to look at how we can assist developing countries get their mining regulation right to use Australian approaches as a benchmark.
PAUL MURRAY: So in some ways, Bob, that shatters the conventional wisdom that Africa's the challenger to us; Africa's a big competitor of ours and eventually our mining boom might dribble off in their direction because of their lower costs.
BOB CARR: No, we're too good at it; we're too good at the technology; we're not… and we're very, very good at getting the development approval process right.
When I was talking to people in the United States recently, they said, we've got to become as efficient as you in the environmental assessment of mining projects. And I thought of America as the home of the free, the home — you know, the home of the brave…
PAUL MURRAY: Mmm.
BOB CARR: … the cutting edge of enterprise. They, in fact, think we've got it right and they've got to catch up with us.
So we've got a lot to talk about. I mean, when I was in Myanmar, Burma, talking about how we could assist them, I was speaking to people who were looking at mineral investment, mining investment, to lift the standard of living of that terribly poor country. I said to them, you ought to look at the regulatory framework we use for mining in Australia. Probably the most effective way we can assist you is to give you best practice as we apply it. And they were very interested.
PAUL MURRAY: Let's move on to some of the big foreign affairs issues confronting you at the moment Paul Keating, former Prime Minister, on Monday launching a book, basically said that we still slavishly American foreign policy, that it dictates our foreign policy.
BOB CARR: Yes well he's probably being shaped in that by the way John Howards's Government supported the American invasion of Iraq. I was opposed to that, there in the time when I was Premier of New South Wales, and my party was opposed to it. Since then I've got to say we've had a pretty comfortable working relationship with the Obama administration because many of their priorities are our priorities. And it would be hard to point to big differences with Obama and Hillary Clinton because we generally have the same view of the world. I…
PAUL MURRAY: What, a Labor Democrats' view of the world or an American Australian view of the world?
BOB CARR: An American Australian view of the world because I've developed some good contacts with the Republican side of politics, so meeting recently with Mitt Romney, which I was privileged to get. There'd be a lot of other countries that would have wanted their Foreign Minister speaking to someone who may be the next president. And we pride ourselves, Australians, on having a tradition of Liberal Prime Ministers here being able to talk to Democratic presidents, as John Howard did with Bill Clinton. And Australian Prime Ministers like Bob Hawke being able to get on well with Republican administrations. And why? Because we all recognise that the Australian American relationship is a very important part of Australian security, and it transcends party political differences.
PAUL MURRAY: But that relationship also can be seen by others as a threat, and certainly the build up of the marine presence in the north of the country, the talk about America wanting access to Cocos Islands to run spy flights out of, the latest discussion around the Defence paper in the US about HMAS Stirling are becoming more than just a frequently visited area by the Americans. The potential there or an option that was put up to the American Congress that they might actually base part of the fleet there.
There seems to be a lot of noise around increasing American presence here because of their strategic concerns about China.
BOB CARR: Yes Stephen Smith made it very clear in his [Indistinct] speech the other day that there's no talk of basing or home porting American vessels here, there'll be increased visits but no bases.
PAUL MURRAY: But is that just the thin end of the wedge?
BOB CARR: No it's not, no it's not. And in fact…
PAUL MURRAY: That's the precursor…
BOB CARR: …it's not our view, we don't want it and the Americans don't want it because they've moved beyond the old fashioned notion of bases; big expensive bases that tie them down in one part of the world, they want flexibility, so it's not in their interests.
Cocos Island is pure speculation, and I've got to say Australians would want to pause before they'd see an American presence on Cocos Island. It's not required, it's not on our agenda, the Americans haven't sought it from us and we're not prepared to yield it up.
With the rotating marine presence in northern Australia nobody realises that we had 14,000 American troops training in Australia last year, it went unremarked on, 14,000. And at the most we're going to have 2,500 for only part of the year passing through the Northern Territory. I think everyone's made too much of that. I just see it as a natural reflection of the partnership we've got with America. And I think, again as Stephen Smith has said, it's going to be useful to engage with the Indonesians and others, even the Chinese, when it comes to military exercises. And when it comes to exercises on natural disaster relief, which is an Indonesian [Indistinct] that we want to pursue using those American marines.
PAUL MURRAY: Got a call for you, Bob. Let's take a call here, we might take a break and come back with some more if that's what the listeners want. Stewart from Miranda. Bob's listening, Stewart. Hello, Stewart. Good morning, Stewart.
CALLER STEWART: Good morning, good morning, Bob.
BOB CARR: Good morning, Stewart.
CALLER STEWART: Bob I followed your career throughout the New South Wales sector. I had great admiration for you back then. The way you came back into politics this time around stunk like a rotten rat, but the reason I call is…
BOB CARR: That's very vivid language, eh.
PAUL MURRAY: [Laughs]
CALLER STEWART: Well basically we — I would question the reason why you're here on 6PR. But anyway, you know why you're here and the listeners do as well. I want to talk to you very specifically about one thing, Bob, is I — when that Libyan lawyer was doing it tough in Libya you jumped on a plane and you left no stone unturned to get her out of there. With Julian Assange, irrespective of his what people might think or otherwise or whatever, have you actually made any effort to do anything at all?
BOB CARR: Yes, I'm glad you asked that question. Julian Assange has received more consular support in that timeframe than any other Australian involved in a consular dispute. No other Australian has received more support than he.
PAUL MURRAY: But he says not one on one.
BOB CARR: Yeah well, not one on one, what…?
PAUL MURRAY: Not one on one. He says he hasn't seen any consular officials. I might — there might have been work on his behalf, but I think when you said that last time, he came back and said he hadn't seen anyone personally.
BOB CARR: They were in court, they were in court. When he was in court he had the number two at the Australian High Commission in London in court seeing what was going on. And with the Swedes we made direct representation to the Swedish Government to get the guarantee that were he to be extradited to Sweden for questioning he would have all his rights respected. In particular he'd be able to speak to his lawyers and his family if he were to be detained.
We asked that due process be applied and we had the guarantee from the Swedes that that would be the case.
Now if you're in trouble in a foreign jurisdiction we can't run your court case for you. We can make those sorts of consular representations.
Let me make this clear. He's got an argument with the Government of Sweden over allegations of sexual assault, that's what it is. It's got nothing to do with releasing secrets, nothing to do with the United States. And in fact if the United States were about extraditing him he's been sitting in the UK for two years with which America has a robust extradition arrangement. So he's no more likely to be extradited by America from Sweden, and in fact it would be harder for the Americans to take him out of Sweden.
No he's received full consular support. But I just make it clear to Stewart; we can't fight his case for him, and this is a case with the Swedes and it's about a sexual assault matter alleged to have taken place in Sweden.
PAUL MURRAY: We'll take a break. Back with more of Foreign Minister Bob Carr. It's 19 minutes past 9.
My guest for a little longer is Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr — he's in the studio. Got some calls for you Bob.
Robert in Canning Vale. Morning.
CALLER ROBERT: Morning.
BOB CARR: Good morning, Robert.
CALLER ROBERT: Good morning, Minister.
Look, my biggest thing is United Nations. Now are they setting a good example, eg. all the countries involved in the fighting — in their fights? Immigration is virtually out of control and they're all coming to our Western countries. Now, why isn't the immigration — the United Nations setting a better example in getting all the countries involved in to stop the fighting?
BOB CARR: Look I can understanding people despair the United Nations, but I tell you what, my experience a few days ago being up in northern Jordan meeting wretched Syrians who, their homes bombed had straggled across the border under fire with nothing but the clothes they wore because if they'd had a backpack they would have been identified as people fleeing the regime and shot dead.
It was the United Nations that's in there with a food program, with tents. The United Nations High Commission on refugee that's actually doing something for them.
So as much as we despair the UN, and I'm a bit pessimistic because we weren't able to get the unanimous vote we wanted for intervention of some sort in Syria directed at a ceasefire, and we weren't able to get agreement on an arms trade treaty out of the UN. The UN only works by unanimity — it can only go as far as its 193 member nations want it to go. But still, it's indispensable. And in the dust of that refugee camp, I saw why, for all its faults, we need a UN.
PAUL MURRAY: Is that Syrian dispute going to be settled at the barrel of a gun now, not diplomatically?
BOB CARR: I'm pretty pessimistic because with Russia and China vetoing a ceasefire proposition, and political negotiations within the country, you've got a sectarian civil war taking place. And it's vicious. I had some of those refugees talk to me about how their homes had been bombed; had been shot by artillery. In one part of the country, the Government has set up artillery in a sport stadium. And form there, it is systematically levelling homes — villages in which the Government has concluded, there are opponents of the regime.
I suspect that when we know the full story of Syria, after the Assad regime has fallen — whether that's in months or a year, we'll be horrified by the crimes against humanity, by the mass crimes that have taken place.
PAUL MURRAY: Phil in Bicton, Bob Carr's listening. G'day Phil.
CALLER PHIL: Good morning, Bob. Good morning, Paul.
BOB CARR: G'day, Phil.
CALLER PHIL: Look there's a lot of Australians out here Bob that are a bit concerned about this selling off of our national assets to foreign countries. They want to not only come in and grow stuff, they want to also own the bl**dy farm. And you know, the Kununurra(*) actually at the present moment, there's just been, I think, 7000 hectares sold off [indistinct] Chinese, but they wanted the 15, but they wouldn't; apparently there's some blockage.
But where's Bob Hawke stand in this? I heard that he's a bit of a — in a mediatory thing as a real estate, helping the Chinese find investments in Australia.
BOB CARR: Yeah I've heard nothing about that, but you've got to bear in mind that given that China is buying 60 per cent of our iron ore, 25 per cent of our coal, there will be times when like the Japanese before them, they will want to have an opportunity to invest in a mine. That is, to own part of a mine. And it is in our interest to see that they get an opportunity for ownership, subject to all the considerations we want to bring to bear about national interest. Because if they've got a stake in the ownership they're going to keep buying from us and not switch to Africa or Latin America. And that's what we found with the Japanese.
There was a lot of concern in the late '80s, early '90s about the Japanese taking over Australia. But they bought mines…
PAUL MURRAY: And the investment in the North West Shelf Gas was an example of that.
BOB CARR: Yeah. But as a result of allowing them to have part shares in various operations, they buy their gas and they buy their coal from us, underpinning jobs and rising living standards for Australian families.
Let's be level-headed about it; if there's any proposal for investment by a state-owned company or a sovereign wealth fund out of China, then under guidelines we introduced in early 2008, it gets a higher level of attention than other investments. We'll continue to focus on it. There's been very little movement; I think 0.1 per cent rise in foreign ownership of Australian land. We're all concerned about Australians continuing to own the farm, and that's not under threat.
PAUL MURRAY: Last call for you Bob is Neil in [indistinct].
CALLER NEIL: Morning, Paul. Morning, Bob. [Indistinct].
BOB CARR: Morning, Neil. Pleasure to be here.
CALLER PHIL: Bob, just want to ask you a question about pricing. I don't know whether you have any influence with the Federal Government around what Australians pay for products, but I would assume that being the Foreign Minister, you'd be above [indistinct] country in respect to exporting from Australia with raw material or componentry. And things are assembled overseas, and then we're buying it back at twice the price, Bob.
Is there anything that you do on a — I suppose on your level that negotiates that, or negates that in regards to what we pay? Because look, with Australia's strong dollar, you would have thought we'd be buying products in cheaper, but it seems to be we pay more.
BOB CARR: Yeah it's interesting. I'd like to look at some examples of that. Our whole thrust, being pursued by Craig Emerson, the Minister for Trade rather than me, isn't getting us more access. So [indistinct] Free Trade Agreements enable the products of Australian farms to hit the supermarket shelves of economies like South Korea, Japan, and above all, China recently concluded an FTA with Malaysia that just makes it easier for us to get our product into their markets. And we don't lose from these deals. I mean, we are such an efficient producer that smoother access translates into more jobs and more business opportunities back in Australia.
I know that's not a direct answer to your question, but I think I'd need…
PAUL MURRAY: It was a trade question, yeah.
BOB CARR: Yeah…
PAUL MURRAY: Bob, let me ask you just one last question because we're almost — we are out of time. About — your Governments committed to lifting the foreign aid that Australia pays to the rest of the world as a percentage of GDP, so more money.
Many callers to this programme over the years question what we get out of our foreign aid, right. They'd like it to be tied more closely to some outcomes, and in particular they instance the relationship with Indonesia, our biggest beneficiary of foreign aid, and they wonder why we don't leverage things out of Indonesia against — diplomatically against our foreign aid. Why is that not done?
BOB CARR: Yeah, let me assure them that we do. Let me assure them that we do. It would be a disaster for Australia if Indonesia ended up with an extreme Islamic government, or an extreme Islamic political force in opposition. And as a result of Australian investment, we've had schools built across Indonesia where there's a secular education available, or a government — or education with a moderate Islamic slant.
I go to Indonesia, I sit down with a group of politicians who'll be making policy for decades into the future; every one of them had been educated in Australia. And that is a huge benefit for us — a massive benefit for us.
Our standing in Indonesia is very good. A Lowe Institute poll confirmed that 70 per cent of Indonesians had a positive view of Australia. Now this country's going to be enormously important to us. If it were to go bad, we would suffer. And we have to respond in all sorts of ways.
Our aid program into Indonesia, let me put it bluntly, is in Australia's interest.
PAUL MURRAY: The simple question would be; we're paying your $500 million a year, stop those boats coming in our direction.
BOB CARR: Indonesia is a transit destination, and it is exerting itself very, very hard. High level of co-operation with our police to intersect — to disrupt that trade in people smuggling. If we didn't have their co-operation or worse still, if they wanted to make things bad for us, we'd face a situation far, far more drastic.
But as Indonesia said, the court decisions in Australia have made Australia more attractive to a regular arrival. And they're telling us straighten it out. And that's why our Government is saying, after that High Court decision which made it a whole lot harder is we'll get legislation to have processing in Malaysia. And the Malaysians are putting their hand up to do it.
With that block by Tony Abbott in the Parliament — Tony Abbott and the Green Party in the Parliament — we're left not with the Malaysian arrangement, but a wholly unsatisfactory cobbled-together Indonesian solution. The Indonesians don't want it, not satisfactory to us. The alternative is to get that Malaysian arrangement approved by the Australian Parliament.
PAUL MURRAY: Yeah, the other side of that argument of course is the problem of this Government's making because you changed the Howard Government's plan that they said was working.
BOB CARR: Nauru exhausted itself. We negotiated an alternative, which is to say to the people smugglers, nah uh, you won't get your people into Australian waters. They're going to be detained in Malaysia. If they're apprehended in Australian waters, it's to Malaysia they will go, in line with the treaty we've negotiated with Malaysia, which Malaysia told me only recently they still want to see in place. They're still well disposed of seeing in place.
That disrupts the business model of the people smugglers. They're no longer getting $10,000 out of people and saying we'll take you into Australian waters. They'd be getting — they'd be attempting to get $10,000 out of people, but having to admit you'll only end up in a Malaysian camp. We need that, and I just urge sensible Liberals again to think carefully about this and do what's in Australia's national interest. Disincentive to people smuggling, offshore processing in Malaysia. Malaysia wants it, and without it you've just got this mess in Indonesian ports.
Danger at sea; danger not only for the irregular arrivals, but danger for the Australian personnel who've got to go out there and intercept them.
PAUL MURRAY: We could argue about this one all day, but we won't.
Thanks Bob, great to talk to you again.
BOB CARR: Good.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555