Sunday, May 07, 2006

Our troops will stay in Iraq

Alexander Downer: Our troops must stay while Iraq struggles

Many Australians would sympathise with calls for Australia to withdraw its troops from Iraq. But such a withdrawal would be wrong for Iraq and wrong for Australia. Regardless of whether or not people supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein – and I understand the different views of Australians on that question – what is at stake now is the emerging democratic nation of Iraq.

The Iraqi people have stared down murderous intimidation in order to turn out in ever-growing numbers to vote in three separate elections since Hussein was defeated. More than 70 per cent of eligible Iraqis (about 12 million people) voted last December in what was a clear, brave and optimistic endorsement of the future they want for their country and their children.

For the world to abandon these people now would be an act of cruel and inhumane neglect. Worse still, by cutting and running, Iraq's security partners would hand victory to the Saddam loyalists and extremist terrorists whose very aim is to defeat democracy and create chaos in Iraq.

Again, no matter your view about the overthrow of Hussein, most of us would agree that the Iraqi people deserve a better fate than to be left in the hands of terrorists.

We saw on September 11, 2001, how terrorists who are harboured in a remote and failed state can inflict a terrible toll on distant and innocent targets. Just as Afghanistan was a haven for international terrorists under the Taliban regime, Iraq would become a secure staging post for extremists if the terrorists are able to destroy its fledging democracy.

Therefore it is in the interests of all free countries, including Australia, to make sure that democracy, moderation and the rule of law triumph in Iraq.

Many of the arguments put for cutting and running from Iraq can be summarised into two simple points: the Iraq conflict has become too hard; and others are quitting anyway.

First, it is right to say this is a difficult task. The Iraqis, the Americans, the British and others, such as the Italians, have suffered terrible losses. And sadly, we saw last month that Australia has not been immune.

But no battle is easy. No war is fought without a cost. Just as Australia has been stoic in the past, we must show strength with our allies again. Especially now, when the Iraqis themselves are making progress towards forming a truly representative government and in preparing their own security forces to take over the tasks that Coalition forces now support.

Second, more than 25 foreign nations still have troops on the ground in Iraq, so Australia is far from alone. Key among these are our traditional allies of the U.S. and Great Britain.

Two of our major Asian trading partners, Japan and Korea, are also there, undertaking important tasks. The Japanese are still working in co-operation with Australian troops in the southern province of Al Muthanna.

The Italians, too, still have many troops on the ground.

Certainly, some countries have withdrawn their troops, for various reasons. But regardless of what countries like Spain, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic have done, Australia must make decisions based on its own values, its own goals and its own interests.

We do not want to be in Iraq indefinitely. We do want to see the job through to its conclusion. It won't always be easy. However, we are confident that with the support of countries like Australia, Iraq can emerge as a free and democratic nation which is capable of looking after its own security.

The Advertiser 05 May 2006

Monday, May 01, 2006

Australia warns China and Taiwan

Correspondents Report - Australia warns China, Taiwan against chequebook diplomacy

HAMISH ROBERTSON: Australia has warned China and Taiwan against chequebook diplomacy in the South Pacific, describing it as completely unacceptable.

The Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says claims that Taiwanese bribes influenced the leadership vote in the Solomon Islands and triggered the violence there, will be investigated by police.

He says that Australia has been robust in telling Taiwan not to interfere in local politics in its quest for diplomatic recognition in the South Pacific and he added that he's had similar discussions with China's Foreign Minister.

Graeme Dobell reports.

GRAEME DOBELL: Taiwan and China wage an intense, sometimes destabilising fight, for diplomatic recognition in the South Pacific. China's Premier, Wen Jiabao, held the first China-South Pacific summit in Fiji this month to reward those island countries which recognise China.

But Taiwan has been doing well in the diplomatic battle. Six South Pacific countries recognised Taipei, one those states being Solomon Islands. And it's alleged that bribes from Taiwanese interests decided the vote for Prime Minister in Solomon Islands last week, setting off violence that swept across the Solomons, with many Chinese shops and businesses burnt by rioters.

Australia's warning against the dangers of China-Taiwan chequebook diplomacy in the Pacific was issued by the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer at the Canberra Press Club, with China's Ambassador to Australia in the audience.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Any funding of politicians or political parties and so on, that kind of activity I think would be very damaging and we obviously make that point to the Chinese. And, I don't myself meet with Taiwan's Foreign Minister. I can see the Chinese Ambassador smiling with approbation there.

But we do communicate with Taiwan, unofficially, and we make that point to them. And we make that point pretty robustly to them as well.

GRAEME DOBELL: Mr Downer released a policy paper setting the principles for Australian aid over the next decades. It gives special emphasis to Indonesia, saying Australia will give more support to Indonesia than any other Asian country, to help Indonesia cement democracy and build security.

The Foreign Minister says Australia is going to use time and "studious quiet handling" to improve diplomatic relations with Indonesia after the split caused by Australia granting protection visas to 42 people from the Indonesian province of Papua. That action has caused Jakarta to withdraw its ambassador from Canberra.

Mr Downer says the Secretary of Australia's Foreign Affairs Department, Michael L'Estrange, went to Jakarta last week to explain Australia's actions and begin the rebuilding process.

The Foreign Minister says Australia puts great importance on its relationship with Indonesia, but Jakarta should also remember what it gets from Australia.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: It is Indonesia's interests that a country like Australia, if I could put it this way, puts in a good word for Indonesia around the world, which we do.

I mean, one of the points I make when I go to North America, to the US in particular with my American friends and also with the Europeans, one of the points I make to them is, don't overlook the importance of Indonesia in the context of all the great issues we're dealing with in the world today.

Here is the world's largest Muslim population in any one country and Indonesia is now the world's third largest democracy. Now, Indonesia hasn't had a better friend than Australia in pushing that message.

GRAEME DOBELL: The White Paper sets out principles to double Australia's aid budget to $4 billion by 2010, maintaining the traditional focus on the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. One change, though, is an end to the policy that Australian dollars often enter and leave target countries in the pockets of Australian consultants.

The new policy unties Australian aid, meaning it'll no longer be delivered exclusively by Australian companies and consultants. Mr Downer says scrapping the Australia-only policy for aid delivery is a controversial change.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Importantly, the net benefit we get for the dollars we spend on foreign aid will be greater than it would have been if we'd stuck with the old system, though I acknowledge, you know, this will be somewhat controversial but I've thought about it a lot and I feel very strongly that this is the right thing to do.

HAMISH ROBERTSON: Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer speaking during the release of a policy paper last week on Australian aid to Asia and the Pacific.

ABC Correspondents Report - Sunday, 30 April , 2006