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Rudd on Middle East unrest -

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Rudd on Middle East unrest

Broadcast: 21/02/2011


Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd joins the program to discuss the wave of dissent sweeping
through the Middle East and North Africa.


HEATHER EWART, PRESENTER: A short time ago I recorded this interview with the Minister for Foreign
Affairs Kevin Rudd here in our Parliament House studio.

Kevin Rudd, what's the latest information you're getting from Libya? Is it a bloodbath?

KEVIN RUDD, FOREIGN MINISTER: It's very bad. Not only have we had deaths in excess of 200 in and
around Benghazi, but we've also had what can only be described as a threatening public performance
by the son of Colonel Gaddafi, Saif Gaddafi. And essentially the threat, if you read the text of
his remarks carefully, is that, sure, there'll be some dialogue on more democratic reforms if
people get off the streets, but if they don't get off the streets, watch out. And if we've seen the
lethal force deployed by Libya so far, this is a frightening prospect. That's why the international
community has rallied today in absolute condemnation of these measures from the Gaddafi regime.
This is beyond the pale.

HEATHER EWART: So, do you have any sense that Gaddafi could go the same way as Hosni Mubarak in
Egypt recently or is it a very different situation?

KEVIN RUDD: The truth is right across the Arab world the political differences, the cultural
differences, the institutional differences are vast. But in Libya, let's just face facts: if you've
got a 40-year-long reign held together by the authoritarian powers which have been wielded by it in
the past, despite recent changes in direction, for example, Libya's profile on international
terrorism and its profile on weapons of mass destruction, for example. If - for the domestic
population of Libya, I doubt whether there is mass satisfaction with the extent to which reforms
have occurred. But, the countervailing factor, like we've seen in Iran, is this brutal preparedness
to deploy massive lethal force against student protests or popular protests.

HEATHER EWART: Did the CIA and other intelligence agencies, including ours, see this coming; and if
not, why not?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, Heather, you know what the convention is; we never discuss the contents of
intelligence information, either our own or that which we share with partners around the world.

Let me answer your question a different way. I think more broadly analysts failed to grasp the
depth of the social movement that was underway in the Arab world. Let's just be blunt about it. And
to be fair to those who work professionally in this area, it's always difficult to get a handle on
what's happening in the proverbial Arab street, when you've got not just a huge youth demographic,
for example in Egypt, but the proliferation now of new social media communications, which enable
the turbo-charging of social movements. But even in the absence of that, 20 years ago most of the
analytical community, for example, got it wrong when it came to Tiananmen in China.

And so let's just be clear about this: the challenge now, given the new realities, is how do we
support the interim Egyptian government and the Egyptian people in what is going to be a very
difficult process of transition between now and the end of the year?

HEATHER EWART: Because of course it's not just Libya; there's a wave of pro-democracy protests
going on throughout this region. Is it possible that the results could not always be what the
Western world wants?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, entirely. I made some remarks on this in the Australian Parliament today. We
welcome and celebrate the cry for freedom, and it's real. Young people in these countries want to
have the same freedom of expression that we are enjoying on this television program right now, and
to have that reflected in their political processes formally as well. But on the other hand, what
you also face is some genuine concerns. For example, if democratic processes are used and abused by
effectively non-democratic forces, then obtain power and then roll back the freedoms which have
been so secured, we have a problem. Look at the Iranian regime as the classic case study.

So, why do I say this? It's imperative that we in the international community work to support
Egypt, the biggest state in the region, with practical areas of assistance, food security, various
job programs, as well as other forms of practical help, and it's a critical year ahead. If it goes
wrong, it could go really wrong.

HEATHER EWART: Mr Rudd, just moving on to another area: yet another Australian soldier killed in
Afghanistan. You were reported in WikiLeaks last year that you told US politicians you were scared
as hell about an unwinnable war. Are you more scared as hell than ever?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, Heather, I've never discussed the content or the accuracy of anything that has
been reported through WikiLeaks and that's been my consistent practice from the beginning.

But on the broader question of Afghanistan, I think both myself as Prime Minister and Prime
Minister Gillard have been very frank about the risks our men and women in uniform have faced right
from the beginning. We've all been there a lot. We've spoken to our troops on the ground a lot.
This is a difficult and dangerous environment. I wish I could say this was the last fatality. I
fear it won't be, because these are very, very tough conditions.

The other thing I'd say thought is that in the last year or two, the fact that the International
Security Assistance Forces have finally integrated an effective political, military and economic
strategy to transition the country for handing over security responsibilities to the Afghan forces
by 2014, that is coming together.

HEATHER EWART: And finally to internal ALP matters, why do you think the ALP should release the
results of a review into what went wrong at the last election, including elements of what perhaps
went wrong with your Prime Ministership? Is that a bit risky for you?

KEVIN RUDD: I just think it's transparency. I think it was a fairly public airing of some of these
things in the middle of last year, and so I don't see the problem. The Australian people also have
an interest in these things. I think members of the Australian Labor Party have an interest in
these things. The key thing is not to rake over the coals of the past so much, it's actually to
learn from all that from the future. And as you know, one of the things I have argued is for the
future we need to move beyond a party which is dominated by factional power. And our party members,
rank and file, as well as members of Parliament, need to know that they can stand up for themselves
without fear of factional intimidation, left, right, Callithumpian, whatever. I think that's what
the Australian people would like as well.

HEATHER EWART: Well on that note, you'd be aware of images televised of the Australian Workers'
Union national conference in Queensland last week ...

KEVIN RUDD: I've heard of them, Heather.

HEATHER EWART: ... where the leadership was openly condemning a Government minister. Should that be
the modern public face of trade unionism?

KEVIN RUDD: Should neither be the modern public face or the private face. I mean, let's face it: I
mean, you've had a Labor government labouring in the fields for some years now, getting rid of
WorkChoices, bringing in the Fair Work Act, acting on superannuation, acting on child care benefits
for working families. I would've thought that ministers working hard, as Dr Emerson is working, and
he's a very good Trade minister, deserved a bit better than that, a bit of respect.

HEATHER EWART: So does the trade union movement and factional powerbrokers for that matter, in your
view, still have too much power in terms of preselections?

KEVIN RUDD: I am a big supporter of the role of the Australian trade union movement. I always have
been. But on factional powerbrokers, I think what people who belong to this very old party of ours
- and I've been a member now for 30 years - want, as do members of Parliament, is their own voice,
free of fear and intimidation from factional leaders.

HEATHER EWART: Mr Rudd, we'll have to leave it there, but thankyou for your time.

KEVIN RUDD: It's been a pleasure.