Handbags at Ten Paces...
This is a transcript from PM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 5:10pm on Radio National and 6:10pm on ABC Local Radio.
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PM - Wednesday, 22 February , 2006 18:36:00
Reporter: Catherine McGrath
MARK COLVIN: The Australian Government's decision to lock Singapore Airlines out of the trans-Pacific air route has brought an angry response from the Singapore Government.
Singapore's Transport Minister Yeo Cheow Tong has accused Australia of taking the business relationship and the warmth of bilateral ties for granted.
Mr Yeo said protracted discussions had continued for 10 years, and during that time Singapore had been more than generous in helping Qantas fly through and beyond Singapore.
The Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says he wants to sit down face to face with the Singapore Government and talk the issue through.
Catherine McGrath reports.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: With tension in the air, Alexander Downer doesn't want to add to it.
This afternoon he emphasised he wasn't going to get into a public debate with the Government of Singapore.
ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, we look forward to sitting down with the Singapore Government at the officials level fairly soon to talk about this issue. I mean, there are things they want from Australia, there are things we want from Singapore and we'll sit down and we'll have a good talk about those things in an appropriate and a private setting.
We're not getting into a public debate with them at this stage.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: But Singapore's words are strong.
Transport Minister Yeo Cheow Tong has declined our interview request, as has Singapore's newly installed High Commissioner to Canberra, Eddie Teo.
But in a statement, the Ministry of Transport said:
EXCERPT FROM MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT STATEMENT: The Australian Government's decision is extremely disappointing.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: And:
EXCERPT FROM MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT STATEMENT: The fact that the Open Skies Agreement continues to remain outstanding is indeed sad.
The decision is also inconsistent with the many signals from Australian leaders in past rounds of discussions that the issue would be resolved within a reasonable timeframe.
ALEXANDER DOWNER: Singapore, if I may say so, does extraordinarily well out of Australia.
An enormous, there's an enormous amount of Singaporean investment here in this country which is very welcome and they make good profits in this country and we're delighted that they do. We have no problems with that.
No, Singapore is a country which benefits enormously from its good economic and political relationship with Australia and I don't see that changing.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: When he was asked about the decision, Treasurer Peter Costello denied that the execution of Australian drug trafficker, Van Nguyen, had anything to do with the Cabinet decision.
PETER COSTELLO: I can say to you that we don't link executions to aviation policy. Aviation policy stands and is considered on its merits. Our policy in relation to the death penalty stands and is considered on its merits.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: But it's also the length of time this has all taken that has angered the Singaporeans.
In his statement, Minister Yeo Cheow Tong says.
EXCERPT FROM YEO CHEOW TONG STATEMENT: I am naturally very disappointed with this decision, especially after 10 years of protracted discussions.
Singapore has also been more than generous in facilitating the growth of Australian carriers to and beyond Singapore.
It's disheartening to see that they have taken this and the warmth in our bilateral relationship for granted.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: With the Government only saying that the Singapore access issue is closed for now, there are still question marks over what the Government will do when the Canadians apply for access to the same route.
While suggestions from Transport Minister Warren Truss yesterday, that Singapore and Qantas consider merging, has been rejected by both carriers.
Labor leader Kim Beazley says the Government has failed to act.
KIM BEAZLEY: I don't think they made a decision. I think the truth is what they've decided is not to make a decision, and leave Qantas uncertain, leave Singapore Airlines uncertain.
The Commonwealth ought to make a decision on that. They ought to make it clear-cut.
MARK COLVIN: Kim Beazley, ending Catherine McGrath's report.