TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH ASHLEIGH GILLON, SKY NEWS
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
TOPICS: CHOGM; Sri Lanka; Obama.
REPORTER: Joining me now from the Perth foreshore is the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith. Minister, thank you for joining us. No doubt, of course-
STEPHEN SMITH: A pleasure, Ashleigh.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: -this CHOGM event is a great event for Perth, but is the Commonwealth really relevant any more, do you think? There are, of course, a range of countries all coming to the talks with very different agendas. So, how much can talks like this really achieve?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's a great day in Perth, it's a great day for Perth and a great day for Western Australia and a great day for Australia hosting CHOGM for the third time. The first time a country's hosted CHOGM on three separate occasions.
Whenever you get 50 world leaders together, you always make progress. So, every time there's a CHOGM meeting, people always talk about the relevance of the Commonwealth.
But the Commonwealth's enduring feature is adherence to democracy, respect for the rule of law, respect for human rights, and that's one of the reasons, for example, there's been so much focus on the aftermath of the civil war in Sri Lanka.
So, whatever the outcomes, when leaders who represent a third of the world's population get together, you do make progress and that's a good thing.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: There are reports today, Minister, that despite this push for an independent Commonwealth Human Rights Commissioner to be established, it appears from reports today that that now looks very unlikely. We've seen push back from India and South Africa, along with a number of other countries.
The reports today suggest that, instead, a current Ministerial grouping will just be given more human rights powers added to their already long list of responsibilities. How disappointing would that be for Australia if we didn't see a new Commonwealth human rights watchdog established out of these talks?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the report of the Eminent Persons Group, which was commissioned at the last CHOGM meeting in the Port of Spain, has been considered by Foreign Ministers over the course of the last couple of days. It'll now be formally considered by leaders, by the Prime Ministers and Presidents in the course of today, and tomorrow and Sunday. And so, it's a matter now for the leaders to make judgements.
But whether the leaders choose to appoint a commissioner, or whether they give the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, the group of Ministers who, during CHOGMs, essentially have the executive responsibility for the Commonwealth, whichever path they choose. My own judgement is that it'll still be progress, so far as the Commonwealth's traditional role has been concerned in making sure that human rights in individual Commonwealth countries, and elsewhere, are respected and protected. And historically, we've seen the Commonwealth take action on Rhodesia, initially, Zimbabwe, and also, Fiji.
But it'll be a matter for the [indistinct] to make judgements about the detail of the Eminent Persons Group report.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Would you support a push for Australia to boycott the 2013 CHOGM talks planned for Colombo if Sri Lanka doesn't introduce human rights reforms?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well originally, as you would know, Sri Lanka was proposed to hold this year's CHOGM, the 2011 CHOGM in the Port of Spain. There was concern from Commonwealth countries that given Sri Lanka was going through a civil war, that that might not be appropriate. So, the leaders in the Port of Spain chose Perth for 2011, as an Indian Ocean capital city and Sri Lanka for 2013.
Now, whether leaders determine over the course of the next two years to stick with that or make another judgement, time will tell. I think that will very much depend upon the robustness and the transparency of Sri Lanka's response to the report that it has commissioned after the civil war, its so-called lessons learned and reconciliation commission report.
That's due to come down in November and it's important that Sri Lanka have a robust and transparent response to that report. And not just the Commonwealth but the international community will be keenly interested in Sri Lanka's response to that report.
There's also, of course, a United Nations advisory panel which has done a preliminary report on the aftermath and the closing stages of the war in Sri Lanka. But I think it'll be very important for Sri Lanka to have an appropriate response to that report that it's commissioned.
The Sri Lankan Government, has won the war, now they need to win the peace. And to win the peace, they do need to have the confidence of not just the people of Sri Lanka, but the people of the international community as Sri Lanka moves forward and addresses a range of serious issues that have bedevilled Sri Lanka for decades, not just years.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Minister, just looking at your portfolio, of course, Defence is backing up WA police this week. No doubt you hope that your fellow West Australians will be conducting peaceful protests today. But what advice have you got from authorities as to just how disruptive these protests might be, just how many people we might see turn out today?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, time will tell. The primary responsibility for security is, of course, the Western Australian police. They've been working closely with other agencies, including the Australian Federal Police and other Commonwealth agencies. They've got back-up support from police officers from other states of the Commonwealth.
And so far as the Defence Force is concerned, we're effectively, held in reserve and on standby. But the people of Perth have seen Black Hawk helicopters and Hornets, and the like. But in the normal course of events, assistance from Defence would not be required.
People are perfectly entitled to protest, provided they do that in a peaceful way and in a lawful way. And, I must say, in my own observation, in the course of the week since CHOGM started, with some of the associated events at the last weekend, some of the sporting events, the hockey and the netball, but through the week I think the police have done a very good job in terms of security.
Mostly, it's been friendly exchanges and interaction between the Police and the people of Perth, and we very much hope that that continues.
People are perfectly entitled to protest, to make their point of view, but they need to do that in a peaceful and civilised manner.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Minister, just finally - of course, it is a very busy time at the moment. World leaders obviously seeing Australia as something of a hot spot at the moment. President Obama is due in Australia next month, of course.
We've learned today that he's going to Darwin. He's not here very long though isn't he - is he? This is the second - the third time he's tried to come. We're expecting this visit will go ahead as planned after two false takes. Would you like to see him here a bit longer considering those close ties we have with the US and that this is his first visit?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we obviously welcome President Obama to come to Australia whenever he wants to. He's hosting APEC in Hawaii. He's then coming to Australia. He'll visit Canberra, stay overnight, address a joint sitting of the Parliament, and on his way to Bali for the East Asia Summit, the White House have announced overnight that he'll drop into Darwin and spend some time in Darwin.
That's a terrific thing for Darwin and the Northern Territory, but it also makes the strategic point that the whole world is moving in our direction. The rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the ASEAN economies combined, and the ongoing importance of South Korea and Japan.
So, choosing Darwin to drop in on the way to Bali, I think, not only is that a terrific thing for Darwin and the Northern Territory, which has expanded significantly in recent times, particularly with petroleum resources, it does show that the focus of the world is moving to the Asia Pacific, and the fact that the President is reflecting that, in my view, is a very good thing.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, thank you for your time, despite having to battle with those flies down on the Perth foreshore there. Appreciate that, Minister, thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: You're welcome, thanks very much.