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Transcript of doorstop: Brisbane: 28 July 2004: The Philippines; East Timor; FTA.



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MEDIA RELEASE

KEVIN RUDD M.P.

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security

Doorstop - Brisbane

28 July 2004

E & OE - Proof only

Subject: The Philippines; East Timor; FTA

Rudd: The Labor Party like the Australian Government believes that when it comes to terrorists, you shouldn’t be negotiating with terrorists at all. On that there is bipartisan agreement. Where we don’t agree with the Australian Government is the way in which they’ve handled their diplomatic relationships abroad, in particular with the government of the Philippines here in South-East Asia.

We think that the proper role of diplomacy is to communicate privately in disagreements you have with other governments, like the government of the Philippines. Instead what we’ve got is Alexander Downer the Foreign Minister broadcasting his displeasure at Manila. But where does that get us? Gets us nowhere really other than a deterioration in the bilateral political relationship which is a real problem in terms of working together with Manila in the future. This frankly is just not good enough given our interest in the regional fight against terrorism. It’s time Mr Downer stopped acting as a political commentator on the Labor Party, Spain and the Philippines and started acting as the Foreign Minister of Australia, Australia’s chief diplomat. Frankly, what Mr Downer is doing is acting like some sort of Rambo foreign minister and at the same time putting our regional counter-terrorism strategy right on the chopping block. It’s just not good enough.

Here in South-East Asia, we face continued terrorist threats and challenges from Jemaah Islamiah, from Abu Sayyaf, from the MILF and other organisations. All three of these organisations have some active operational presence in the Philippines and to deal with this presence and to eliminate

these organisations root and branch we’ve got to be working with the government of the Philippines. I ask a pretty basic question: How on the one hand can you have a fully developed, fully integrated counter-terrorism strategy jointly with the government of the Philippines and at the same time you’ve got Mr Downer and now Mr Howard ripping in to the very same government of the Philippines on their terrorism credentials. Ripping in to them publicly. This just doesn’t make any sense as far as I’m concerned. Foreign Minister Downer acting as Rambo Downer and at the same time putting our counter-terrorism strategy in the region right on the chopping block.

Reporter: Is Manila’s calling in the Ambassador going to be the end of the story do you think?

Rudd: Well, what Rambo Downer has got us into here is one deepening, diplomatic crisis and where it stops, nobody knows. What Mr Downer should do is draw breath, calm down and realise that Australia’s long-term strategic interests lie in working with the Philippines government in dealing with terrorism here in our own region, our own neighbourhood, our own backyard.

I think it’s time for Mr Downer just to draw a deep breath, calm down and realise that as foreign minister of Australia he should be preserving our diplomatic relationships so that we can work with the Philippines in the common fight against terrorism.

Reporter: Do you think that the stance he’s taking in terms of the terrorist leaders would deter them from any actions against Australia?

Rudd: Well Mr Downer, if he’s got any intelligence information on this question hasn’t yet briefed me on it. That is, what causes and what motivates this particular terrorist organisation and what it may take to deal with them. I’ll leave that to Mr Downer. All I can say is this: The Labor Party, like the Government, has a firm view that you don’t get into the business of negotiating with terrorists but where we disagree with Mr Downer is his view that it’s smart politics to somehow take the megaphone to the Philippines Government - thereby placing in jeopardy our long term counter-terrorism strategy with that government.

Mr Downer constantly seems to be attracted to playing the domestic political card by acting as some kind of Rambo Foreign Minister for the domestic political audience, having no regard whatsoever for the damage he’s doing to our relationships in the region with countries we need to work with in defeating terrorism.

Reporter: [Inaudible]

Rudd: Once again we’ve got John Howard and Alexander Downer playing domestic political politics in Australia with our foreign relations, in this case with the government of East Timor.

Frankly, it’s time John Howard and Alexander Downer stopped seeing foreign policy as some domestic political game. That’s the way in which they are handling this whole issue of East Timor and it’s time they just stopped it. Australian Labor Party’s policy on East Timor was framed at our National Conference in January this year and it was plain and as clear as day for all to see. We at that stage announced a policy that we would be aiming to conclude negotiations with the East Timorese Government over the seabed boundary in between three and five years and secondly, that we would conduct those negotiations on the basis of all relevant international legal principles, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Now Mr Downer was aware that we adopted that as a resolution in Conference six months ago and now he’s jumping up and down as if that represents some sort of new policy announcement. Well it’s been there, in the ALP publications since that time. John Howard and Alexander Downer are purely interested in using foreign policy to play a domestic political game

here in Australia in the lead-up to the elections. Pure and simple.

Reporter: So if Labor gets in to government you will renegotiate the borders of the Greater Sunrise Project?

Rudd: Well our policy was laid down in our Conference resolution in January this year which is first of all contract the negotiating time down from what the Government currently says which is an indefinite period of time down to three to five years and secondly, to conduct those negotiations in a manner consistent with international legal principles, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. These are the governing principles which guide the way in which we will conduct these negotiations and those principles were made very clear at our National Conference in January of this year.

Reporter: Woodside is now threatening to pull out of the project and the Government is blaming that on Labor’s stance on the issue.

Rudd: Well, John Howard and Alexander Downer take delight in acting as domestic political commentators on the Labor Party, East Timor, Spain, the Philippines and Uncle Tom Cobley. It’s time they started running

the country instead.

Reporter: So do you take any responsibility for Woodside backing away from it?

Rudd: Well let’s see if there’s any authoritative statement from Woodside on this matter. I don’t see a spokesperson standing up and issuing a formal statement on this subject and secondly, if there is any concern on the part of Woodside then let them say specifically what the basis of those concerns are.

Can I just say, John Howard and Alexander Downer are always on the look-out for a cheap, domestic, political point and they will pull in any item of foreign policy in order to try and make their cheap, domestic, political point.

It’s just time these guys started doing their job. You get paid a lot of money to be Prime Minister of Australia. You get paid a fair bit to be Foreign Minister of Australia. Instead what we’ve got is a couple of shock jocks who seem to think that it’s smart to play domestic politics out of every foreign policy issue that’s running. I actually think the challenge is more serious than that when it comes to the high matters of Australian foreign policy.

Reporter: So you don’t think that by suggesting that there could be a different outcome for the borders of the project if there’s a change of government, undermines the project?

Rudd: We were absolutely clear-cut about our policy in January this year about the way in which the Labor Party would approach these matters. It was laid down clearly in absolute black and white in our resolution of the National Conference of the Australian Labor Party. Now, the parameters were set at that point. I would have thought that if Mr Downer had problems with those parameters he would have made that point clear then. I don’t seem to recall him doing so. What’s different? We’re just about to have a Federal Election. That’s what’s different. It’s time the Foreign Minister of Australia stopped acting as a rolling commentator on the Labor Party, East Timor, Spain, the Philippines and Iceland. It’s time the Foreign Minister of Australia started acting as the Foreign Minister of Australia.

Reporter: On this coastal surveillance issue, the Government’s made an announcement today about the next step that they’re going to take. What’s Labor’s reaction?

Rudd: As far as the coastal surveillance announcement by the Prime Minister is concerned, our policy and the policy of Shadow Homeland Security Minister Robert McClelland is that our first and foremost requirement is the establishment of an Australian Coast Guard. We need a cop on the beat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, right around our coastline and part of that will be delivered by an Australian Coast Guard. That’s Labor Policy. The Howard Government doesn’t want to have a Coast Guard. We find that puzzling. The United States has a Coast Guard, it believes it’s necessary in addition to a Navy. We believe we need a Coast Guard as well given our requirements for border security.

The other point is this. Mr Howard has announced that over the next three years he’ll be allocating $135 million for a coast watch. That’s $45 million a year. Well, according to Mr Howard’s answers to Robert McClelland the Shadow Minister for Homeland Security in Parliament, Mr Howard has already spent $70 million a year for the last two years on coast watch. So how is it we’ve spent $70 million two years ago, $70 million last year but now according to Mr Howard $45 million next year, $45 million the year after and $45 million the year after that? How does that represent an increase? Now maybe we’re missing something here, but it would be very interesting for the Prime Minister to explain.

Reporter: Just one more thing, the Free Trade Agreement. The Premier today urged Federal Labor to just get on with it and sign up for the Free Trade deal.

Rudd: Well if John Howard was faintly serious about the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, why was it that only one week ago he allowed his Health Minister to give Labor the full details about the operation of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme under the Free Trade Agreement? If John Howard seriously wanted to take the politics out of the FTA why was it that just one week ago Tony Abbott provided the Federal Labor Party with details of how the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme would operate? The Howard Government has had the Free Trade Agreement with the United States in its back pocket for months. It’s known the details for months. And it’s only one week ago however that they’ve been prepared to provide the Labor Party with the details of a key element of how this scheme operates. We’ve always said that the PBS is the deal breaker for the Australian Labor Party. The Government’s known that. If the Government was faintly interested about handling the FTA on a bipartisan basis they

would have given the Labor Party all the details on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme changes under the FTA months ago. Instead, they gave it to the Labor Party days ago.

Reporter: It seems there’s some disagreement within the Labor ranks over the FTA. Do you support the FTA?

Rudd: Well, as far as the FTA is concerned everybody in the Labor Party whether it’s a member of the caucus or a member of the Shadow Cabinet is entitled to their point of view. We’ve had comments in recent days by Kate Lundy appropriately reflecting some of the concerns she’s picked up from the interests which her shadow portfolio represents. Other Shadow Ministers will have other interests to bring to bear on our discussion. But the bottom line is this: We’re united in taking the findings of the Senate committee of inquiry report as our baseline, taking the information which it provides and forming a united view as a Shadow Cabinet. That’s got a little way to run. No-one in the Labor Party is frightened of having a robust debate on the FTA. Nobody is frightened of that at all. We intend to get on with the business of getting information on the table, the Senate inquiry will deliver that to us, we’ll then reach a determination on the policy and then the Australian people will know precisely what our policy is in the lead up to election.

Reporter: So what’s your own opinion on the FTA? Where do you stand?

Rudd: Well when it comes to the FTA, my position has always been that this should be considered on its trade policy merits and not its foreign policy merits. I said that in the Parliament when the Bill went through the House of Representatives some time ago. As for the trade policy merits of it, that is a matter which we’ll determine within the Shadow Cabinet. I don’t intend to engage in a public debate on that because the foreign policy

dimensions of this debate are entirely secondary to the trade policy and industry policy components of it.

Reporter: Premier Beattie obviously sees a lot of benefits to signing up for the FTA. Do you not see those benefits?

Rudd: Well, as far as the state premiers are concerned, it’s good for state premiers to express their view on the part of their particular states and Peter’s done that for Queensland. I’m sure the other premiers have got some views as well. Now we in the Federal Labor Party will be making up our minds in the next couple of weeks and taking the inputs from the various state premiers will be important just like taking the inputs from our friends in

the trade union movement will be important as well. This is a major policy decision for Australia and the Labor Party is taking this decision making process seriously. We are determined to get the right inputs from across the spectrum: the trade unions, the premiers and from various other industry sectors before we determine our final policy position. That’s as it should be on such an important piece of legislation. It’s not something you just wander around to on a Saturday afternoon and say we think this would be a good or a bad idea.

Ends.

Media contact: Alister Jordan 0417 605 823