Interview with ABC World Today
Topics: Investigation into Australian passports, UK expulsion of Israeli diplomat, Stern Hu.
24 March 2010
ELEANOR HALL: The British Government's action has increased the pressure on Australia's Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, to take a similarly bold approach. The Minister is now in our Canberra studio, to speak to him, Samantha Hawley.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Stephen Smith, thanks for joining The World Today.
STEPHEN SMITH: My pleasure.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband this morning revealed he's spoken to you about his decision to expel this Israeli diplomat. Did you discuss the possibility of Australia taking similar action?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well no, he gave me the courtesy of letting me know that he was proposing to make his statement to the House of Commons, also indicated that he would make the report, the report of his investigative authority, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, available to our agencies, in particular to the Australian Federal Police. I thanked him for his courtesy, it's not the first time we've discussed the matter generally, I was in London with him, when the story broke publicly.
So we've discussed it on a couple of occasions, but he wanted me to know, because he obviously knew we were conducting investigations of our own, and at some stage in the future, we'll have cause to contemplate that report from the Australian Federal Police, and to contemplate what action, if any, Australia will take.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: And to contemplate expelling diplomats from here?
STEPHEN SMITH: I think it's very important to take this step by step. The decisions that the United Kingdom Government have made are of course a matter for it. They've obviously taken the matter, correctly, very seriously. They've made decisions in a way in which they regard acting in the United Kingdom's best interest. We have a similar process we need to follow, we have an investigation underfoot, and we will await the results of that investigation by the Australian Federal Police…
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: And how much longer will we need to wait?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I'm not proposing to put a timetable on it, that's a matter for the Australian Federal Police. What we do know of course is that we were alerted to this as a difficulty for Australia, about 10 to 14 days after the United Kingdom became aware, so there's a natural lag or gap there. But I'm not putting a timetable on it, that'll be a matter for the Australian Federal Police.
Obviously the AFP have been liaising with their British counterparts. Obviously they will take this report into account when they make and conclude their investigations, but we'll take it step by step, I'll get their report, we'll then make judgements and decisions, which we regard as being in Australia's national interest.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Well Britain says it's intolerable, and no country can stand by such a situation. You've made similar statements, so surely you will have to act, and have to act strongly?
STEPHEN SMITH: I've made it very clear to the Israeli Ambassador privately, and to the Australian public and the Parliament generally, that we take this matter very seriously. But we will take it in a sensible, methodical approach, and normally of course, when another Government makes decisions, I wouldn't comment publicly on them, or reflect on them. In this case, I think it's doubly important, because to make any commentary or remarks upon what the United Kingdom Government has done, would necessarily cut across our own investigation, and what decisions we might make.
I think suffice to say, we're treating this matter very seriously. Israel understands that, and when I receive the report, we'll make judgements which will be in Australia's national interest.
Obviously we'll take into account what other countries have done, and the United Kingdom is not the only country caught up in this, regrettably there's also France, Ireland and Germany.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The British investigation has found compelling evidence that Jerusalem had cloned the UK passports used in that assassination, do you think Mossad was involved, do you think it was state-sanctioned?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well again, to comment on that, to be drawn on that, would be to preempt the Australian Federal Police inquiry, and the Government's consideration of it. One thing I am happy to say, as I did at the outset, we have not, as a Government, received anything to indicate to us that the four Australian passports concerned, and the Australian passport holders, were anything other than innocent victims. I think it's important to reaffirm that point, but to be drawn on anything else, would be to pre-empt our investigation.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: So you probably won't be drawn on this, but I will ask it, if it is found to be a state-sanctioned killing, will you condemn Israel for that?
STEPHEN SMITH: I think the prescience of your preamble is right, I won't be drawn on that.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Do you, like David Miliband, want a public assurance from Israel, that this type of forgery will never happen again?
STEPHEN SMITH: Again, that assumes a conclusion, which we're not yet in a position to arrive at. Very many of these questions are perfectly appropriate, and obvious questions, but at the correct time, which is once I've received the Australian Federal Police report, and we've had the chance to consider it. That's the process which the United Kingdom Government followed, that's a sensible process, and we'll be doing the same.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: And on travel advice for Australians in Israel?
STEPHEN SMITH: We already have in our travel advice for Israel, and for other countries, a general warning about people having to be aware of the importance of their passport, and take careful steps in its use, and to avoid handing it over to others. There's a general warning there, whether advice in respect of passports needs to change generally, or indeed for a particular country, again, I'll consider that in the context of the report to me by the Australian Federal Police.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Okay, well can we turn to the matter of the Stern Hu trial in China? Were you surprised that he admitted to some part of the bribery charges there?
STEPHEN SMITH: This may be a recurring theme of this interview, so I regret that, but I've made it clear through officials that I'm not proposing to be drawn on a commentary on the trial, until the trial processes have completed. Now we expect…
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Okay, well can I ask you, are you confident that it wasn't an admission by him made under duress?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we expect the trial processes in terms of the hearing, to conclude today. The courts made it clear that it expected a three day hearing, today is the last day of that scheduled hearing. Regrettably it also coincides with that part of the trial to which Australian officials don't have access. We regret that, and we've made that point to Chinese officials. But I'm not proposing to be drawn on a commentary of any of these matters, until the trial processes have concluded.
Now we expect that the trial hearing itself will complete today. We're also expecting, in the normal course of events, that the court would adjourn to consider its verdict, and to consider sentencing if that is required. So there may well be some time, a matter of days between the end of the hearing today, and those further processes. But I won't be drawn on any of these matters, until we've seen those processes completed. And then I'm happy to discuss the matter in detail, which is appropriate, given the importance of this matter to Australia, and given the importance of our responsibility to act on behalf of an Australian citizen who is caught up in these matters.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Alright, Stephen Smith, thanks very much for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much, thank you.
ELEANOR HALL: That's the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, speaking to Samantha Hawley in Canberra.
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