KARINA CARVALHO: Richard Marles is the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and he joins us now from Canberra. Richard Marles, good morning, thanks for your time. Now…
RICHARD MARLES: A pleasure, Karina.
KARINA CARVALHO: … what level of support is the Federal Government offering Julian Assange?
RICHARD MARLES: The Federal Government is offering exactly the same support to Julian Assange as it would to any Australian citizen overseas who is caught up in a legal process.
We've been monitoring the process, we have been making offers to Julian Assange of consular assistance and we will continue to do that. I've heard comments overnight that Australia ought to be doing more and that, because of his particular status, there is a difference in the way we are treating him. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are completely blind to what has occurred in relation to Julian Assange. All we see is an Australian citizen who is overseas, who is caught up in a legal process and we are providing him precisely the same consular support we would provide any Australian in those circumstances.
KARINA CARVALHO: What’s the message from the Americans given that’s one of the key issues here, is if he is extradited to Sweden, whether, in fact, that then leads to an extradition to the United States to face espionage charges.
RICHARD MARLES: We've been monitoring the process of the Bradley case in America. There is a dialogue with the US and, obviously, the content of that is confidential. But that is from the point of view of providing consular support to Julian Assange. At this point in time, there is no indication from the US authorities, or the US legal system, that he is being indicted and there would be an extradition. And I note the comments of the US Ambassador in the last 24 hours, saying that, in essence, the decision that’s been made in London in the last 12, 24 hours is not an issue for America.
KARINA CARVALHO: Does the Federal Government need to come out and give their support to Julian Assange? His supporters, including John Pilger, say that the lack of support from the Federal Government is what’s most wrong with this saga.
RICHARD MARLES: The Federal Government and all the institutions of the Australian Government is supporting Julian Assange as an Australian citizen overseas caught up in a legal process. He is getting the support associated with that, and he’s getting it in exactly the same way as any other Australian citizen in his circumstances would.
You know, for Australians who are caught up in legal processes, we don't go into the rights and wrongs of the circumstances which have led them to be in court. What we do is provide consular assistance for the process they find themselves in. That is exactly the support that we are providing to Julian Assange today.
KARINA CARVALHO: Richard Marles, let’s just move onto the Prime Minister’s speech that she gave to the Minerals Council last night. The PM had the opportunity, given the fractious relationship with the industry at the moment, to take a more conciliatory approach. Why didn't she do that?
RICHARD MARLES: I think the Prime Minister was making the case out in a robust way, which is what we would expect our Prime Minister to do, that the minerals of this country are the sovereign property of the people of Australia, that the role of the Government is to make sure the benefit that flows from those – and there is a considerable benefit at the moment – flows to every Australian.
Now, I think she’s perfectly entitled to say that. Indeed, I think the Minerals Council dinner is exactly the place to say that.
There can be no doubt about the way in which the Federal Government is working with the mining industry to support them in the very good role that they are playing in relation to our minerals resources boom. But it’s also right to make the points that she did. She did that in a very robust and up-front way which I think would have been appreciated by the Minerals Council but I think is what would have been expected by any one of the Australian electorate.
KARINA CARVALHO: Well, the mining industry now is warning of a racist innuendo over the Government’s handling of its enterprise migration agreements. You're the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Is that of concern to the Government?
RICHARD MARLES: I don't think there is any racist innuendo at all in terms of the handling of the EMAs. We've been very clear that the handling of the EMAs is about facilitating these projects. They're massive projects. They bring enormous opportunity to Australia and, frankly, we've been going about this in a way which promotes Australian jobs. There’s nothing racist or inappropriate about that. Nor is there a racist attitude in terms of saying that we do want to have EMAs in place which facilitate these projects being completed.
To be honest, this is not something which is any different to the way in which countries around the world are going about the exploitation of their minerals where they have a similar resources boom. We're doing this in the way that you would expect. It’s obviously completely blind to race and I don't think there is any sense of that from countries abroad.
KARINA CARVALHO: Yeah, you haven't experienced that from any of the discussions you've had with your counterparts in Asia?
RICHARD MARLES: Not at all.
KARINA CARVALHO: Okay, let’s move on, and you're going to make a trip to the Pacific nations shortly. What do you make of the situation in Papua New Guinea?
RICHARD MARLES: I think the important point to note in relation to PNG, Karina, is that the PNG Government has made the very important decision to hold elections on time and in accordance with the constitution. The writs were issued in relation to that a couple of weeks ago. In all that has transpired over the last few weeks and, indeed, the last few days, everybody has been consistent in saying that the elections must be held on time.
PNG has faced a very difficult set of circumstances over the last 12 months. They've had the giant figure of PNG politics in Sir Michael Somare, who in office became unwell, was in Singapore for a number of months, his capacity to continue in the job was unknown. Indeed, his own family thought that and issued a press release saying they thought he would not be able to continue in that role.
This is a difficult situation for any country to deal with. They have dealt with it in the way that they have. You know, we made it clear we think that the constitution has been put under strain in PNG. But, the way through this was always to have elections in accordance with the constitution and on time. That’s what PNG is doing.
Our Foreign Minister said yesterday that was an enormous source, or should be an enormous source of pride to PNG. I know that it is and those comments are exactly right. Our focus now is on providing all the support we can to the people and the Government in PNG, to make sure the elections are able to be held on time, and they will be.
KARINA CARVALHO: You're heading to Samoa to the celebrations of 50 years of independence there. How strong is the relationship between Australia and Samoa?
RICHARD MARLES: We have a very, very good relationship with Samoa and Samoa is a government that is performing extremely well in the Pacific. It’s a country which is doing well in terms of their economy and their development. They are about to graduate from being a least developed country and, indeed, that would have already occurred but for the 2009 Samoan tsunami.
That event has been, obviously, a very tragic event but a very significant moment in Samoan history and a significant moment in the relationship between Australia and Samoa. We provided a significant amount of assistance to Samoa in the face of that tragedy and we did that very quickly.
I was in Samoa not so long ago where the point was being made that this was really a turning point in the relationship between Australia and Samoa. So, we're heading – when I say we, myself and Julie Bishop, Shadow Foreign Minister – are heading off tonight for the celebrations tomorrow.
It’s a significant moment, not just in Samoan history but in Pacific history, because this was the first country in the Pacific to achieve independence. This fiftieth anniversary of Samoa’s independence in 1962 is actually a moment to take stock and to look at the whole Pacific. It'll be a very significant gathering of the Pacific family.
KARINA CARVALHO: Richard Marles, safe travels and thanks for your time this morning.
RICHARD MARLES: Thank you.
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