TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH GEOFF HUTCHISON, ABC 720 MORNINGS
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 27 OCTOBER 2011
TOPICS: CHOGM; Sri Lanka; Republic.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: I'm joined by the former Foreign Minister, now Defence Minister, Stephen Smith. Good morning to you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning, Geoff.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Is that a justifiable concern?
STEPHEN SMITH: Every time you have a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting there's always questions about what's the relevance of the Commonwealth. My own judgment is that whenever you get 50 Foreign Ministers, 50 leaders, 50 countries together, some good will come of it.
As Foreign Minister - and you're very kind - I played a small role in making sure CHOGM came to Perth but we also established the Eminent Persons Group and I nominated, as Foreign Minister, Michael Kirby, a great Australian, to be Australia's representative.
The leaders will consider the Eminent Persons Group in the course of their formal meetings on Friday and Saturday and we'll see the outcome of that on Sunday. But I think any time you get, as you said, a third of the world's population, but also importantly a lot of the new world, where we're seeing economic development - India, our largest-growing trading partner, Africa where there's now very considerable development and lots of investment by the Western Australian mineral resources industry into Africa - we're now in these places on the ground floor. So getting countries together but also having a focus on what has been the traditional values and virtues of the Commonwealth - democracy, rule of law, respect for civility and dignity and human rights - even if the Eminent Persons Group report is not adopted in part or in whole, good will still come of it.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Okay. Am I splitting hairs when I say we know the Indian Prime Minister is not here and we know David Cameron is unlikely to turn up till tomorrow morning, perhaps at the earliest, because there is the summit of European leaders, an event that is considered, obviously, profoundly important but I guess the question then, isn't it time for some plain speaking here? Because there are a lot of mission statements and doesn't CHOGM have to really commit to this idea of holding countries to account for those violations?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, no organisation, particularly a regional or a multilateral or an international institution, no organisation is perfect but I think if you look back at the sweep of history, the Commonwealth has actually done quite a good job in holding countries to account.
Rhodesia and then Zimbabwe, and I choose my-
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Yes.
STEPHEN SMITH: -my names carefully, Fiji, and it's also the case that so far as Sri Lanka is concerned, where there's been a lot of focus in terms of this CHOGM, that what this meeting is doing is putting focus on Sri Lanka's response to the allegations about breaches of human rights in the concluding stages of the civil war.
Now, there's already been a United Nations advisory panel report. Sri Lankahas committed itself to publishing what it calls a lessons learned and Reconciliation Commission Report in November.
The focus of the Commonwealth on these issues and the fact that CHOGM is meeting will I think require Sri Lanka to have a transparent and a robust response to that and so, again, whatever the formal resolution of the Commonwealth so far as Sri Lanka or any other country is concerned, there is good which comes of a focus of the Commonwealth's traditional values and virtues so far as democracy and human rights is concerned.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Can Sri Lanka assume the mantle of CHOGM leadership for 2013 when there have been such high level calls for this investigation and when it comes to the human rights abuses and the war crimes allegations, those allegations have been made on both sides?
STEPHEN SMITH: That's right. It was a long and bitter civil war and serious allegations have been made in respect of both parties.
How I describe it is that the Sri Lankan Government having won the war, they now need to win the peace and the only way that you'll bring reconciliation truly to Sri Lanka is by firmly addressing and standing and responding to the allegations and the issues that occurred in the course of the final stages of the civil war.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: My guest is Stephen Smith. It's 21 minutes to nine. I guess my question for you, as listeners to this program, we're getting to the pointy end of all this and I wonder if you see value in what the Commonwealth represents and I'm not talking about our relationship with the Queen. That's a separate conversation and we've had that-
STEPHEN SMITH: A good conversation though.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: It is a good conversation and we've had that before. Now you've said it's a good conversation I'm going to ask you about it. But we are talking about 54 countries and loose links but what do you think CHOGM should be existing for? What is its purpose? What should it be trying to achieve? 1300 222 720. I'd like you to tell me your thoughts on what you want to hear at the end of this week.
You do understand, Stephen Smith, though, you know, a CHOGM that has member nations where homosexuality is considered a crime, a CHOGM where it's okay in something like 12 of its countries for girls to endure early and forced marriages, all Sir Ronald Sanders is asking for is a Human Rights Commissioner to look closely and you've got some of those countries going no, we don't want that, can't do that.
STEPHEN SMITH: As I say, that will be formally considered by the leaders in the course of Friday, Saturday and Sunday and we'll see the outcome but where these issues arise insofar as discrimination against homosexuals is concerned, Australia makes these points publicly and privately to the countries concerned.
So it's not as if Australia as a country or the Commonwealth itself is perennially or eternally silent. The gathering of 50 countries, the gathering of 50 leaders, the gathering of 50 Foreign Ministers enables Australia to make these points in the course of what we call the bilateral meetings and that occurs on a regular basis, as the opportunity arises for other countries as well.
But in terms of either presence or absences of particular leaders, we know that British Prime Minister David Cameron has got European issues on his hands. That's understandable. There'll always be some absences from the Commonwealth.
But it's an organisation which is not just linked through shared history but through the fact that of the over 50 countries there are very many challenges that we share: economic development, climate change, counter-terrorism and the like.
So I just have a very strong view that whether it's APEC, whether it's the East Asia Summit, whether it's ASEAN, whether it's the Commonwealth Heads of Government, good comes from the fact that people get together to share their concerns and share their issues and to advance things internationally.
It's worth bearing in mind, I think, that once you go past the General Assembly meeting of leaders every year, once you go past the African Union, the Commonwealth - CHOGM - is the largest gathering of international leaders that we see internationally.
So far as Perth is concerned, CHOGM also brings with it the business forum, so this will be the largest gathering of business and industry and investors in the southern hemisphere this year and so good will come of this for Perth and Western Australia and Australia as well.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Okay. And your own republican sentiments or your constitutional monarchy sentiments? This is a trip that I think a lot of monarchists have delighted in because they realise that most people who claim to have republican sentiments don't really care enough to do anything about it.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I've said previously publicly that it's inevitable that Australia will become a republic but I think the time that we'll take that opportunity will be when the current Monarch's reign ends. She is very well-regarded. She's highly respected. I had the honour of meeting her on the tarmac yesterday. I've met her before in London when we celebrated the 100th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and the United Kingdom and I think most people just proceed on the basis that she's a terrific personality and been a fantastic head of state for the United Kingdom and also a fantastic head of the Commonwealth so she'll get a tremendous welcome in Perth as she's got every previous time she's been here.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Thanks for talking to us today.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Geoff.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Stephen Smith, the Defence Minister, who as Foreign Minister played that role in bringing CHOGM to Perth.