Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms


2 April 2008

Radio Interview with Alexandra Kirk, World Today ABC

Subjects: Zimbabwe, PM visit to Japan, Fiji

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr Smith, good afternoon.

STEPHEN SMITH: Afternoon Alex. 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you believe that the Opposition has won both the parliamentary and the presidential polls in Zimbabwe?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, they have certainly done very well. Obviously I am not in a position to verify their victory but certainly Mr Tsvangirai and the Opposition are very, very confident that they've done very well. The individual polling results that have been published by the Democratic Zimbabwe movement certainly are very, very encouraging and supportive, which is why we've been saying that the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission should publish the results. Publish them as a matter of urgency.  The last result I saw for the parliamentary election was effectively 85/85. That shows the opposition doing very well but we haven't yet seen a result for the presidential election.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: You've said that the military isn't motivated, you don't think, to rescue President Mugabe this time round. So in your judgement, is Mr Mugabe likely to mount a coup to hang on to power?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I was very careful in what I said and I'll repeat it which is we have to take this step by step. Currently the various reports and commentary seems to be that the military is not motivated to move in. But we've seen Mr Mugabe use both electoral rorts and military force before. So in the first instance, certainly whatever outcome occurs, we want it to be a peaceful, peaceable outcome. We don't want there to be violence or the use of military force.

Secondly, we are obviously very concerned, as we have been for the last few days, about Mr Mugabe seeking to steal the result. Not by use of force but by rorting the counting of the vote and the announcement of it. Which is why we keep saying the weights have to remain on the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission to publish those results as quickly as possible.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But you have no power to do that?

STEPHEN SMITH: Which is why I've been either speaking to David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, making that same point with which the British are in screaming agreement and wanting to speak to some of the Southern African Development Community nation states like South Africa, Zambia and we are making arrangements to speak to those foreign ministers in the course of the day.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: There were reports that foreign diplomats had been asked to attend a conference with the Government today. Has Australia's ambassador in Harare, John Courtney been invited?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I spoke to our ambassador late last night. That wasn't part of his report to me. He made the point, as others have, that it is very difficult to get a clear picture of what is effectively occurring behind the scenes. It is very much, I think, a bit of moving feast. The international community needs to keep the weights on, as I put it. It is now the early hours of the morning in Zimbabwe so there are lots, lots of rumours, lots of speculation.

What do we know with certainty? We know the Opposition has done very well. We know that Mr Mugabe is not the retiring type. This is not a bloke who is going to volunteer to retire overnight. So the weights have to be put on him to respect the will of the Zimbabwean people to not rort it so that we can see in Zimbabwe a government which respects the will of the people but in some respects, more importantly, wants to do good works and good deeds for its people - starting with its economy.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: If we could move to another diplomatic, major diplomatic concern for Australia and that is that Kevin Rudd has now managed to secure a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Prime Minister Fukuda in June before the G8 summit in Hokkaido - is the 20th of June the set date?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, my most recent advice is early to mid-June. So I am not in a position to publish the Prime Minister's diary - either the Prime Minister of Japan or of Australia. But we've been saying for some time, there will be two meetings: one at the G8 and another, a formal bilateral. We've been trying to get dates, both Australia and Japan, since January and I'm pleased we've not got a date for early to mid-June.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And June coincides with the International Whaling Commission meeting in Chile, so will the whaling agenda end up making for an awkward atmospherics?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, can I make this point? I've made this point about the fundamentally good relationship between Australia and Japan and the two governments. If we didn't have a fundamentally good relationship, nation to nation, government to government, we would not have been able to go through the last two or three months having a very strong disagreement about whaling. And when I was in Japan, when I spoke to the Japanese Prime Minister, to my counterpart the Foreign Minister and to the Chief Cabinet Secretary, we all agreed. The fundamentals of our relationship were very strong and we would agree to disagree about whaling. It's one of those things which frankly, the strength of the relationship, nation to nation, government to government, enables us to have such a strong disagreement.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the difficulties over whaling have been suggested as one of the reasons put forward for Mr Rudd not going to Japan before the G8 summit. But it seems now in the end, the concerns that Mr Rudd was bypassing Japan in his overseas trip visiting China, were more important to dispel quickly.

STEPHEN SMITH: Can I make this point. I haven't seen that concern expressed by the Japanese Government. On the contrary I've seen Japanese officials make the point that I've been to Japan, Simon Crean has been to Japan. Two or three more of our ministerial counterparts have or are in Japan, and that's been very well received.

Both nation states have known all along that two things would occur this year. One: That the Japanese would invite the Prime Minister to attend the G8 which is unusual if not unique. That reflects the very good relationship. And secondly that we would do a bilateral. I'm as pleased as everyone that it is sooner rather than later.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Finally, if we could go to Fiji and Fiji's Human Rights Commission has released a report recommending Australia be investigated by the United Nations for its actions before and during 2000 coup. More specifically there are allegations that Australian SAS troop entered Fiji illegally. Is that a concern for you? That Fiji is thinking about taking Australia to the UN.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we've seen these spurious allegations before from, effectively the interim regime which took power through military force, not through democratic means. They have been rejected in the past. We reject them again. We have previously, the Australian military have previously made the point that Australian military were effectively on stand-by so as to ensure the safety and welfare of Australian nationals should that have become necessary. This is just another device, another potential distraction to put the interim Fiji government, the military government in the position of sliding out a faithful undertaking that it gave to Pacific nation states at the Pacific Island Forum in Tonga in 2007: they would have an election by the end of March next year.

They are trying to slide out of that. They need to meet and fulfil that faithful undertaking. The best thing that can happen in Fiji is not spurious suggestions about Australian activity, but having an election, returning Fiji to democracy, respecting human rights and democracy and allowing a potentially very prosperous nation to get on with the job of providing for its citizens.

Stephen Smith, thanks very much for joining The World Today.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Alex, thank you.


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