5 August 2009
Interview: ABC2 TV, News Breakfast
Topics: Pacific Island Forum, arrests of suspected terorrists in Melbourne.
JOE O'BRIEN: It's day two of the Pacific Islands Forum in Cairns today. Climate change, the situation in Fiji and trade are the main topics on the agenda.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: The Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith, is in Cairns for the Forum and he joins us now. Minister Smith, good morning and thank you for joining us.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you, Virginia.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Now there's already some talk amongst the smaller islands that they want Fiji, the suspended country of Fiji, to be included in these talks. Any chance that will happen?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I think what that is focusing on are the so-called PACER Plus talks. Now, PACER Plus is our ambition to try and increase the size of the Pacific economy generally, to make the economy greater, and to give the Pacific Island countries and nations more economic opportunity.
The argument, which we accept - and this has been an issue both for Foreign Ministers and for Trade Ministers - is that we don't want to do anything to hurt the people of Fiji. And obviously, if we're going to have a so-called PACER Plus agreement which expands the Pacific's economy, we'd like Fiji to be part of that. But this is a discussion as part of the Pacific Islands Forum.
Because Fiji has moved away from democracy it's been suspended from the Forum and so, as a consequence, it can't take part in those discussions. But we want to try and find a device whereby the people of Fiji won't be disadvantaged. So one of the things we are looking at is - how do we manage to keep Fiji in touch with these developments, but do that in a way which is consistent with Fiji's suspension from the Forum?
But we don't want to do anything which adversely impacts on the people of Fiji. On the contrary. One of the adverse events we've seen since Commodore Bainimarama seized power militarily has been a serious decline in Fiji's economy.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So therefore ,maybe not formally involved in the talks, but the economic consequences that you - or the arrangements that you reach with the other islands, they will flow to Fiji nonetheless. Is that one way of skinning this cat?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, there's a long way to go. What Leaders will consider over the next couple of days is the commencement of the so-called PACER Plus discussions. It's certainly not looking at any conclusions or final agreements.
We'd like to start those discussions because we see those discussions as being good for the economy of the region.
We've got to find some device, some method, of keeping Fiji in touch with those developments, with those discussions, without breaching the unanimous decision of the Forum leaders to suspend Fiji from the Forum.
This problem, if you like, could be solved very easily if Fiji was to return to democracy. But unfortunately, under Commodore Bainimarama not only have we not seen progress towards that in recent months, we've of course seen a very serious step backwards from it, with Commodore Bainimarama saying he won't contemplate an election until 2014. And we've also seen recently very serious rounding-up of members of the Methodist Church which was very, very concerning.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I want to move you to the other very big topic of discussion in the country following the raids yesterday on homes in Melbourne. Do you hold serious fears for the radicalisation of Somali Australian youth?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I obviously don't want to be drawn too much on the detail. I'll leave the detail to…
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: No, I don't want to talk about the case itself…
STEPHEN SMITH: …the Federal Police.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: …and I'm not asking you to talk about that. It's just about that issue of whether you believe, whether you have information that Somali Australian youth are being radicalised in this country?
STEPHEN SMITH: It's very important, I think, to make that point because whilst people have been detained and one has been arrested, there's a long way to go in any legal or judicial process and, of course, we start on the basis of a presumption of innocence.But radicalisation and counter-radicalisation is one of the things that Australia works very strongly at and very carefully at, not just in Australia but also in our own region and we work, for example, very closely with Indonesia, also with the Philippines, on such matters.
I don't want to draw, at this stage, any links between the arrests yesterday and what's been occurring in Somalia. What we do know in Somalia is that we have had, for effectively two decades, a lawless and a stateless society. The transitional government in Somalia is effectively a government in name or on paper only and we know that Somalia has very serious risks so far as a breeding ground for international terrorism is concerned. But the general efforts that Australia and other countries make so far as counter-radicalistion are concerned are very important to our counter-terrorist effort.
It can't just be an effort so far as enforcement or military or combat action is concerned. It also needs to be things like interfaith dialogue but also looking at some of the causes of why people in the world are attracted to extremism or terrorism. And that's to lift poverty and to lift opportunity and, as with here in Cairns, for example, with the Pacific Islands Forum, one of the things that we are looking at very carefully is how we make our aid contributions to the Pacific, not just from Australia but from other countries, much more coordinated. So it's not just confronting terrorism, it's also trying to look at some of the causes or the reasons why some people might be attracted to extremism or terrorism.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: When the United States added the group al-Shabaab to its terrorism list, its leader, one of its leaders, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow described that as an honour and said they were honoured to be added to that list and it's been described by some commentators as an error because it simply draws the disaffected to a group like al-Shabaab. What do you think? Do you think it was a mistake for the United States to do that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I'm not going to be drawn on that…
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Why not?
STEPHEN SMITH: …largely because we haven't listed or proscribed that particular group in Australia but these things are always under consideration. So I don't want to be saying anything which might be seen in the future to cut across any consideration of that matter. But we make no…
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Is it under consideration now? Is it under consideration by the Australian Government?
STEPHEN SMITH: These things are always under constant review and we've seen in Melbourne in the last couple of days very serious efforts made which are driven by a serious concern for Australia's security and the security of Australians. And our concern for Australian security goes not just to Australians overseas but Australians living and working in Australia itself. That's reflected by the terrorism level or the security alert level which has been at a medium level for more than half a dozen years. So these things are always kept constantly under review. But we make no apology whatsoever to labelling terrorists or terrorist groups for precisely what they are. They are extremists and, as we saw for example in Jakarta recently, the only label that can be applied to them appropriately is brutal, cowardly murderers. So we make no apology whatsoever for labelling people for precisely what they are.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Stephen Smith, good to talk to you this morning. Thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Virginia, thanks very much.
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