TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID SPEERS PM AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 4 July 2013
TOPICS: Korea, Indonesia, Alannah MacTiernan
DAVID SPEERS: Stephen Smith, thank you for your time. Let's start with your talks there in Seoul. Things have calmed down in recent months, it seems, on the Korean Peninsula. From what you're hearing there, the talks you've had, how would you characterise the current state of play?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, certainly the worst of the tensions and the belligerent provocation by North Korea is over for the present, but South Korea remains alert. It has been the subject of ongoing provocation from North Korea, and in the course of my Defence Ministers’ Dialogue with Defence Minister Kim yesterday and our historic and inaugural 2-plus-2 with the Foreign Ministers today, the Republic of Korea has underlined the point that it remains very concerned about North Korea's provocation, very concerned about its nuclear program, very concerned about its ballistic missile testing. So those tensions, which have been there for a long period of time, remain.
DAVID SPEERS: And indeed, South Korea has been trying to establish some talks with the North about re-opening that industrial complex, Kaesong Industrial Park. So far no answer from North Korea. What does that tell you about the North's attitude to re-engagement on any level?
STEPHEN SMITH: South Korea has been the subject of very grave provocation over the years. It’s repeatedly shown great restraint. It's turned the other cheek. And it has, as you correctly identify, put out feelers to see whether talks can commence on that issue and others. Regrettably at this stage there's been no response from North Korea.
We are very pleased with the approach that the new President, Madam Park, has taken. She's made it clear that while she will respond firmly to any further provocation from North Korea, she does want to see talks occur. She does want to ultimately see unification on the Korean Peninsula. So we have strongly, in our talks, endorsed the approach she's taken and given our support both privately and now publicly for her approach.
DAVID SPEERS: Can I turn to another regional matter, Indonesia, the Prime Minister arrives there shortly. One of the things he'll be discussing with the Indonesian President is the asylum seeker issue. From your perspective, is there more that can be done in cooperation between Australia and Indonesia, particularly on the defence front, in tackling this asylum seeker problem.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the meeting that Prime Minister Rudd is having with President Yudhoyono of course has been in train for some months. We now do Annual Leaders Summits between Australia and Indonesia. I have now committed to doing, as has Defence Minister Purnomo, doing annual Defence Minister's Meeting. We also participate with Indonesia in 2-plus-2 meeting.
So our high level interaction and engagement is very strong. I'm not going to cut across those things which Prime Minister Rudd might be wanting to talk about publicly and in the course of his talks with President Yudhoyono. But quite clearly the issue of people smuggling will be one of the issues that falls for consideration.
We've seen a large jump in numbers in recent times. This is obviously of considerable concern to Australia but it will no doubt be also of concern to Indonesia. But those talks will go ahead. We've been very pleased over the years with the very good cooperation that we've had from Indonesia, but as Prime Minister Rudd has made clear, and new Immigration Minister Burke has made clear, there are always more things that you can do. You learn from the experience of the past and we're now looking to what more we can do given the spike in numbers that we've seen in recent months, particularly from Iran.
DAVID SPEERS: Now, Stephen Smith, you are leaving at the election, you have been for nearly six years, Foreign Minister and then Defence Minister. This must be one of your last overseas trips. Are you going to miss this aspect of the role?
STEPHEN SMITH: I made my decision basically on my view that I couldn't bare the thought of getting on the plane from Perth to Canberra for three more long years. I've been very privileged and very honoured to be both Foreign Minister and Defence Minister. It's not the burden or the workload or the overseas trips, which in the end have caused me to announce my retirement. It's the repetition of 20 long years of every week going from Perth to Canberra.
DAVID SPEERS: And in your seat, that you will hold until the election, the seat of Perth, the Labor Party in WA has now confirmed Alannah MacTiernan will be the candidate. Is that a good choice?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely. I spoke to Alannah earlier this morning. I congratulated her on her endorsement. I again undertook to be her campaign director. I've known Alannah since the mid-1970s. She'll be a terrific candidate. She'll be a terrific local Federal Member for Perth. She lives in the area, local Mayor, but she, as an individual, has got an outstanding record as a former State Minister, Minister for Planning and Infrastructure.
DAVID SPEERS: Thank you for joining us Minister.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you, thank you very much.