LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Foreign Minister Bob Carr are wrapping up their week of meetings in New York aimed at shoring up Australia's chance to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
But the Government won't know if its multi-million-dollar bid is successful until mid-October.
Earlier today, I was joined from New York by the Foreign Minister, Senator Carr.
Bob Carr, after your charm offensive in New York, how confident are you of Australia securing a seat on the Security Council?
BOB CARR, FOREIGN MINISTER: Only very guardedly optimistic. 193 nations vote. It's a secret ballot. The ambassadors in New York might vote differently from the commitments made by Foreign ministers. Always competitive for Australia to win in international forums, and, it's hard, it's competitive, but there's lot of good will towards Australia.
LEIGH SALES: Is Australia still committed to increasing its foreign aid budget to 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2016?
BOB CARR: Yes, that's our commitment and we're one of the few nations in the world. I can't think of any other nation that could make this claim to have increased its aid budget in the last year. In the last budget our aid budget – our aid spending went up by $300 million, and we're proud of that and even prouder of the effectiveness and the adaptability, the responsiveness of the way we invested.
LEIGH SALES: Does that mean foreign aid will be quarantined in the spending cuts that are necessary to bring the budget back to surplus?
BOB CARR: I'd like it to be, but I won't speculate, I won't speculate for a moment about what is in future budgets. But we are very, very proud that Australia's got a big and generous aid budget and we'd have that – let me make this point: we'd have that because it's the right thing to do regardless of whether we were running for a seat on the Security Council or not.
LEIGH SALES: There would be some Australians who would question why we need to dedicate $9 billion to foreign aid within the next four years when there are some very pressing needs at home in areas like health and education.
BOB CARR: I'd say because it's in Australia's interest. I was in Indonesia. I spoke to the Foreign Affairs committee of the Indonesian Parliament. Every member of that committee had been educated in Australia. And some members of that committee spoke about children or grandchildren being educated in Australia. If any Australian thinks it's not in this country's interest to have a reputation for that sorta generosity in our immediate region or elsewhere, I think they need to think again.
LEIGH SALES: Senator Carr, can you please give us the latest information that you've got about the Australian aid worker who was detained in Libya?
BOB CARR: Yeah, I understand that she was questioned by police as she was attempting to leave Libya. She lives there. She works for a non-government organisation that works on migration. They've not detained her, but they've prevented her leaving the country. They want her – they want to question her more. She's had contact with our consul in Cairo and he's reported that all the representations he's made – the conversation he's had with her indicates that she's in good spirits and doesn't require further assistance, but we stand ready of course to provide any level of consular assistance that she needs.
LEIGH SALES: The former Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner was on this program last night discussing his new book. You've said that you think the time has passed for books exploring what's wrong with the Labor Party, but Lindsay Tanner is a former senior figure within the Parliament. Why shouldn't he say what he thinks he needs to say?
BOB CARR: I'm not saying he shouldn't say it. And I admire Lindsay very much. I enjoy conversations with him very much. I think he was an excellent minister. But I just think – I just think there've been so many books on the subject "What's wrong with Labor?," it's become like other – it's just become another genre, it's like vampire fiction. I've dug out a quote because I knew you were going to raise Lindsay's book with me. The earliest book written analysing the experience of Labor in government is called How Labor Governs, by Vere Gordon Childe. It came out in 1923. And here's one sentence from it: quote: "The Labor Party, starting with a band of inspired socialists, degenerated into a vast machine for capturing political power, but did not know how to use that power when attained except for the profit of individuals," unquote. Now, this line of indictment has been used against every Labor government, against Ben Chifley's government, against John Curtin's, against Gough Whitlam's, against Hawke and Keating, until years after the government has passed, it's seen as being a champion of Labor values. The tradition of writing books lamenting the decline of real Labor is almost as old as the party itself.
LEIGH SALES: One final matter: Julian Assange gave a video link address to a UN side event today. Are you satisfied with the level of assistance he's receiving currently from the Australian Government?
BOB CARR: I've checked this. There've been – I think I last said 60 consular – points of consular contact between us and him. The issue he's got is not with the Swedish Government but Swedish judicial authorities who are independent of the Swedish Government. His argument is with them – and it's not over anything to do with WikiLeaks, anything to do with American intelligence. It is preposterous to think that what the Government of Sweden is doing is a front for the United States. It's outrageous to think that if the US were about extraditing him, they'd somehow be manipulating the Government of Sweden to do it when they could complete an extradition more easily from the United Kingdom where Mr Assange has been residing for the last, I understand, two and a half years. So, I'm not sure that he is addressing the United Nations – any forum, any corner of the United Nations, but it's not a diplomatic issue for Australia. He's received consular support and his issue is with the Swedish judicial system, upheld in the courts of the United Kingdom.
LEIGH SALES: Bob Carr, thanks for making time to speak to us.
BOB CARR: My pleasure, Leigh. Thank you.
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