Press Conference with Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

25 October 2012

BOB CARR: We welcome the statement by the Security Council of backing for special representative Brahimi's bid to get a cease-fire over the holidays. I hope it's confirmed in statements by the Syrian Government and indeed by opposition forces in Syria tomorrow.

It provides a bit of relief for the suffering people of Syria. You've got one and a half million people who've been internally displaced, two million people who require humanitarian assistance, 350,000 refugees in Jordan, in Iraq, in Lebanon and in Turkey, and they need assistance too.

I'm proud that Australia's a big contributor of humanitarian aid. But we need a longer cease-fire. We need a cease-fire with political negotiations that see a transition towards a democratic pluralist Syria.

This has been progress but it's still tentative. It means we've got a good chance of getting a cease-fire over the four days of the holidays. I hope that when I'm on the steps of Lakemba Mosque tomorrow morning at 7.30 that I'm able to confirm that the cease-fire for the holidays is locked into place. But if it can be locked into place for this holiday period it ought to be put into place for a longer stretch, that is permanently, during which time there can be political negotiation that sees a resolution of the dispute in Syria.

QUESTION: Is there any prospect that it will last longer than the holidays?

BOB CARR: I think it requires further work but if we can get it into place for the holiday - and even that requires confirmation - then out of that short-term cease-fire we've got to hope a longer term cease-fire can grow. Just getting the guns quietened and the planes grounded for four days should be an inspiration to the different forces in Syria that a cease-fire is the way to go and political negotiations the resolution.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question].

BOB CARR: I haven't got advice on that, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Just with the Australian lawyer in Mongolia, do we have an update there?

BOB CARR: Yes. There'll be a meeting in Mongolia on Saturday with the authorities. She will be accompanied, if she wants it, by Australian consular staff. The Consul-General David Lawson in Ulan Baatar is in touch with her, I'm told, on a daily basis and we're flying in an additional staffer from Seoul to back up that consular assistance.

I can't talk about the nature of the issue that has got the Mongolian Government denying her the opportunity to leave the country. And there's not much else I can say except that she can be assured of a high level of Australian consular support, indeed as I said, we're flying in staff from Seoul to make sure that there are two officers devoted to this case.

QUESTION: She's told her mother that this could last until Christmas. Do you think it could be that long?

BOB CARR: I haven't had confirmation of that and I don't think I can help by speculating about the nature of the case or how long it might go on to. The important point is she's being supported by David Lawson, our Consul-General in Ulan Baatar and we've got additional staff coming in from Seoul to see that she is accompanied at these meetings and she's given whatever support we can provide.

QUESTION: Have you personally spoken to your counterpart in Mongolia?

BOB CARR: No, I haven't but I stand ready to do that when I get advice that the time is right. We don't want to act before it can have the optimal effect. But certainly the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra has conveyed to the Mongolian ambassador here our concern and our Consular-General in Ulan Baatar has spoken to the Foreign Ministry.

I stand ready to make a call whenever I get advice that it would be timely. The danger is if you make that call before the other side is ready to move, then you've fired your best shot instead of keeping it in reserve.

QUESTION: So, what will you be waiting for? [Indistinct]?

BOB CARR: For advice from a professional diplomat that I can make a difference by making the call.

QUESTION: Do you know how…?

BOB CARR: I don't want to set back a case by a premature intervention in this matter.

QUESTION: Do you know how she's holding up?

BOB CARR: No, I'm not commenting on any personal matters or on the details of the case. The only message I've got is that she is receiving consular support as any Australian in a similar circumstances has done and will do in the future.

QUESTION: Do you know if she still has a passport?

BOB CARR: The last advice I had was that she had her passport.

QUESTION: Has the Department been in contact with her family at all?

BOB CARR: I'd need to confirm that.

QUESTION: On a different topic, a story's just come through saying that your wife has accompanied you on almost every overseas trip as Foreign Minister and that's costing taxpayers [indistinct]…?

BOB CARR: Oh look, I'm proud that Helena has accompanied me on every trip I've done because while I'm talking to the Foreign Minister she's inspecting aid projects or talking to groups of women. In Saudi Arabia for example, she spoke to a group of women who were generating activities in the business sector. So, I can just confirm that it's very, very good that Helena has been there with me.

When I was in Israel, to give you another example, talking to the leaders of a Palestinians on Ramallah, she was visiting a Palestinian family in Bethlehem, talking to them, getting a view of how they live their lives. She's an experienced business person.

I think, by the way, at every stage in our bid for a UN seat it was an advantage for the Australian Foreign Minister to be accompanied by a wife who was born in Malaysia, of Indian and Chinese parents. I think that sent a very positive message.

She's an asset to Australia, and asset for me and I'm very proud that she's accompanying me.

QUESTION: So, that cost is justified?

BOB CARR: Absolutely justified. It's been very useful in all the work that proceeded the Security Council and the Security Council success we had. Here was the Australian Foreign Minister saying Australia is a multicultural country accompanied by his wife, who was born in Malaysia, of a Chinese mother and an Indian father. And that alone sent a powerful message, apart from the meetings and contacts and conversations she had.

But when I've been in countries as diverse as Saudi Arabia or Algeria, when we've been in Indonesia, in China, she's had her own program and she's made a good contribution.

QUESTION: In what capacity has she been conducting some of these meetings?

BOB CARR: Well, as the wife of the Foreign Minister she's been there talking to groups of women, talking to Australian aid workers and being with me at meetings where I've interacted with diplomats.

And one of the reasons we won that Security Council seat was that we had a reputation as being a diverse multicultural country and people like that. The nations who voted for us liked the fact that Australia was multicultural and there accompanying the Australian Foreign Minister was his wife, who's born in Malaysia, had a successful business career as a migrant in Australia, Chinese-Indian ancestry. It was a gently supportive message for what we were saying about this country.

She'll continue to accompany me. She does a job for Australia and she's an asset for Australia.

QUESTION: Ecuador has concerns of Julian Assange's health and wants [indistinct] safe passage to hospital. Is [indistinct]?

BOB CARR: Well, on 27 August we approached the Government of Equador and we said we stood ready to facilitate the attendance in their embassy of any medical professional that Mr Assange required and they thanked us for that. The Foreign Minister acknowledged this only two weeks ago, thanking Australia for its interest.

And that offer to facilitate the medical staff remains. We're not paying for the medical support, we don't do that for anyone, but facilitating access to medical professionals is something we do.

Thank you.

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