Doorstop interview

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

14 July 2012

Bob Carr: Well folks, I am very interested in the National Community Empowerment Program. It's a flagship program of the President of Indonesia and it's a very big commitment.

Indonesia provides core grants to communities like this one totalling $1 billion a year. What we do is provide $215 million over four years to drive innovation in these programs and improve performance and you've seen some examples today of how we've done that.

I think every Australian should be proud to have helped a village like this recover from volcano damage by developing little industries and diversifying income. And this opens up opportunities for people, lifts the community above rural poverty. And there's nothing like building a bridge because the bridge means access to markets and more money flowing into a village. That's the key to it-it means them being able to get products to market and get more money to invest in their own little vulnerable community.

There's no greater gain for a community – we've seen this in Africa, we've seen it throughout Asia – than in helping them with a road or a bridge. We're seeing it in Vietnam at the present time, where Australia's biggest infrastructure aid project is transforming local economies because they can get across the bridge and they can get their products to market and revolutionise the local economies. So I am very pleased to see that and to see a community recover so resiliently.

We're lifting our cooperation in this region when it comes to natural disaster recovery. It was one of the things we discussed at ASEAN. Australia's got experience in lifting our skills in dealing with natural disasters, we intend to go on sharing it with our partners in Asia and what you saw of this volcano certainly qualified in 2010 as a very serious disaster.

Question: Mr Carr, you've chosen to make aid and Australia's effort in that department the subject of the first day of your first official visit to the country that we all agree is the most important, to our bilateral relationships. Why?

Bob Carr: Well because Australians deserve to see what their aid, intelligently spent, is doing for people with fewer opportunities than Australians have had.

We're a very lucky nation, we've got a moral obligation to share that luck with people who've never been so lucky. And if we can do a bit then it gives us goodwill, but it's worth doing. It creates goodwill for Australia. If we do a bit like this it creates goodwill for Australia but listen, it's worth doing in its own right because it's the good thing.

Question: Is that goodwill necessary to, perhaps, get more cooperation on people smuggling efforts?

Bob Carr: No, I wouldn't link the subjects for a moment. But I want to levitate the Australia-Indonesia relationship above these regular transactional issues of people smuggling, live cattle exports and Australians who are charged with drug offences.

This is far more than that and if I'm associating my name as Foreign Minister with any idea, any notion, it's that our relationship with this most populous and important of our neighbours is about far more, far more, than those occasional irritant issues.

Question: What about in terms of Papua then, does it extend to Papua? And this is not a question about respecting sovereign rights, we know the Australian Government's position on that…

Bob Carr: It's not a question about it, but it's part of the answer you're going to get.

Question: Well, no, that's not the answer I'm seeking because we know that answer: Australia respects Indonesia's sovereign right. Hillary Clinton has called for greater transparency when it comes to human rights in Papua, is that something the Australian Government supports?

Bob Carr: We're….

Question: The Australian Government seems silent on this.

Bob Carr: No, we're very comfortable with that. We recognise Indonesian sovereignty in the Papuan provinces but at the same time we have a dialogue with Indonesia with what they do in response to any unrest in those provinces. And we think Indonesian sovereignty can be firmly stated without doing anything that breaches human rights standards.

In my first bilateral meeting with Marty Natalegawa, he stated his interest in this, in observing human rights standards, even before I got to the subject on the agenda. I think that says a lot about Indonesian recognition of the Australian, focus on human rights, our concern with human rights.

So, we do absolutely recognise Indonesian sovereignty, it's in the Lombok Treaty, there's no argument about that. But we quietly work with Indonesians to see that there, as elsewhere, reasonable standards of human rights protection are maintained.

Question: And what, specifically, do you mean by human rights protection? What would you like to see Indonesia doing more of?

Bob Carr: Fair and transparent court process when Indonesian laws are breached. And the Indonesian Foreign Minister accepted that in our first meeting back in March, in my first days as Foreign Minister, and I recognise his sincerity and that of his President.

Question: Would you support the case for NGOs and journalists to be allowed into Papua? Journalists are currently effectively banned. I myself, I've applied four times and been rejected every time, is that something….

Bob Carr: I think more transparency would help and not hurt the Indonesian case, which is based on their sovereignty over that part of Indonesia.

Question: Minister you talked about lifting the relationship beyond the transactional issues. But the problem is of course that it gets bogged down in the transactional issues much to the disappointment of the Indonesians. How can you make the Australian relationship with Indonesia more sophisticated?

Bob Carr: I'll be talking about far more than those transactional issues. I'll be talking about far more than those transactional issues. I'll be speaking to my Indonesian counterpart for the first time on Indonesian soil.

We'll be talking about a weighty agenda, I'll be talking about strategic cooperation, we'll talk about relationships in the region, we'll be talking about ASEAN, we'll be talking about the South China Sea and shared views on those matters.

We'll talk about economic cooperation, about ways to lift Australian investment, especially in eastern Indonesia. We'll talk about cooperation on counter-terrorism. We'll talk about defence cooperation – it'll be a broad agenda.

It'll probably disappoint those who can only raise the issue of people smuggling or Australians charged with drug offences. But we're going to make certain that the Australian-Indonesian relationship goes well beyond those well trodden paths.

Question: The problem is that Indonesia feels that the finger is pointed at it unfairly, time after time. There's a perception in Australia that Indonesia is the problem. How are you going to make it seem more like a collaboration, a partnership for the Indonesians and also for the public in Australia?

Bob Carr: Well I think we can do that. That's all I'll say at this stage. I think we can do that. Don't forget the Australian Government has brought forward an arrangement with Malaysia that sees that there is offshore processing done in a humane fashion, done in a transparent fashion, that relieves the pressure on Indonesian ports, minimises the chances of death at sea, makes easier the work of Australians engaged in naval surveillance and border protection, and provides a humane alternative to risks at sea for irregular maritime arrivals.

And I won't engage in a political dialogue while I'm outside Australia, but I want to underline again the advantages to all concerned of the Malaysian arrangement.

Question: You're going to lift the discussion above those subjects you've just raised. Are you saying Kevin Rudd failed to do that?

Bob Carr. No, not at all. Not at all. In fact Australian governments going back some time have worked very hard at the Indonesian relationship.

John Howard deserves credit for the billion dollars in post tsunami aid. Kevin Rudd made his first visit as Prime Minister to Indonesia. Now that was for the summit on climate change. But even without that he would have been here as his first visit. He developed a very good cooperative working relationship with the President and with the President's Foreign Minister.

There's a continuity here with big contributions by Australian governments from both sides of politics. In a modest way, I'll be building on that.

Question: To revert briefly to the transactions, the Indonesian search and rescue agency has proved less than capable of effecting rescues at sea of asylum seeker vessels and Australia has been carrying the weight of that, particularly in the last few weeks. Is there something that Australia is looking to do to assist BASARNAS to improve its performance in that area?

Bob Carr: I can't take that discussion further than it went with the very important summit between our Prime Minister and President Yudhoyono. You saw the communiqué.

And again, if I started picking over that, I'd be interpreting the relationship in those terms. This relationship is about far more than people smuggling, important though that is.

Question: And again, transactionally, we've got the clemency bids in now from both Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran who are on death row in Bali. Do you intend to raise that question and our position on the death penalty?

Bob Carr: Our position on the death penalty is well known. It applies in all jurisdictions with all countries. It would apply if an Australian were in the US prison system.

It's applied in that case in the past. Australia simply is opposed to capital punishment. And we'll make that point as we always do. That point is made in every meeting between an Australian leader and an Indonesian leader.

And we'll quietly, politely make that submission this time round as we've made in the past, recognising again that Indonesian jurisdiction applies when offenses are found on Indonesian soil. But recognising as well that Australia will continue to be, in all circumstances, opposed to the death penalty.

Question: Minister what do you hope to actually achieve in this, your first visit, to one of the most strategic partners to Australia?

Bob Carr: It's just the hard slog of working on a most important relationship for Australia. Nothing grand. A lot that is workmanlike.

There is just constant attendance to the Indonesian-Australian relationship. That it's in good repair. Keep your friendships in good order. It's old advice.

But it applies to this relationship. I think since March 2007, we're getting close to 50 Ministerial visits by Australian Ministers…more than that, I'm advised. So since 2007, we're looking at more than 50 visits by Australian Ministers to Indonesia.

Question: It's sometimes said that the high-level relationship is good but the people-to-people links and the ballast in the relationship is not good. You've recently changed – I think one of your first acts as Foreign Minister was to change – the travel advice to Indonesia. Is there anything you, at the high level, can do to improve that?

Bob Carr: I'd be careful about dwelling on the travel advice. I don't change it. That is advice from Australian diplomats that goes straight out there. We don't adjust it, we don't shape it, as a result of Indonesian representations or any political considerations.

The safety of Australians abroad is too important for that. It's objective advice and there's no political input.

So I think the people to people societies will improve as our societies become less different. The fact that Indonesia's achieving over six per cent economic growth per annum is going to mean that the relationship will be more explored, it'll become deeper.

And with more economic activity there'll be more people-to-people contact. I think that's what's going to open a field of opportunities up to us.

The Indonesian economic take off. The symbolism-and the Indonesians haven't highlighted it-of Indonesia not being in debt, of Indonesia making a contribution to the IMF, is very important.

Thank you.

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