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Transcript of ddoorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 22 May 2006: Collapse of the Wheat Australia deal with Iraq; Costello in Parliament.

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KEVIN RUDD M.P. Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and International Security


22 MAY 2006


Subjects: Collapse of the Wheat Australia deal with Iraq; Costello in


RUDD: Well, Mr Vaile has failed two tests in a row: he has failed on the AWB scandal and now he has failed to renew Australia’s export contracts with Iraq.

This is a spectacular double failure by Australia’s Trade Minister. He has failed the national security test by allowing the $300 million dollar wheat for weapons scandal to rock on in the first place for five years while he was Minister and now he has failed spectacularly to renew Australia’s wheat export contracts with the new Iraqi Government.

Here is my challenge to Mark Vaile. Rather than swanning around Paris, jump on a plane, get back to Baghdad and fix this mess up. Mr Vaile was very happy to roll back into the Parliament a couple of months ago, beating himself on the chest and tell the Australian Parliament and people that he had brought about peace in our time, that he had in fact fixed these contracts up, that there were no problems now for the future.

Well, Mr Vaile misled the Parliament then, just like he misled the Parliament over the AWB scandal in the first place.

So that is the challenge to Mark Vaile: stop swanning about Paris, put the latte down and jump on a flight to Baghdad. Fix this mess up - it’s your responsibility.

REPORTER: But wasn’t it really Wheat Australia’s decision to walk away - and was that the right thing for them to do?

RUDD: Mr Vaile in his statements to Parliament and to the public said that a deal had been struck with the new Iraqi Government - his language, not mine. When it came to subsequent negotiations with Wheat Australia, they were to execute the heads of agreement reached by Mark Vaile and his Iraqi counterparts.

Mark Vaile you can’t come rocking back into Parliament here saying that you have fixed the problem and the whole thing falls apart.

This is a $100 million dollar, 350,000 tonne export contract for Australia’s hardworking wheat farmers. I have been around the wheat districts of Australia over the past couple of months. This is hard yakka, it’s hard work and these farmers put in a huge effort to get their crop to market. And Mark Vaile has let them down.

REPORTER: Do you really think that the farmers will think that it is Mark Vaile who has let them down?

RUDD: When Mark Vaile comes into the Parliament and takes the credit for fixing the problem, Mark Vaile has to then accept the responsibility for not delivering on the solution. It is as simple as that.

You can’t have it both ways. I challenge you all to look at exactly what Mark Vaile said when he returned from Iraq last time. He accused us of having got it completely wrong.

I have got to say that when Mark Vaile said a few months ago that the Australian Labor Party’s credibility had disappeared with the 350,000 tonnes of wheat, Mr Vaile’s credibility has now disappeared completely under the same non-existent pile.

REPORTER: Could it be that Australia just cannot trade wheat with this country unless they are engaged in kickbacks?

RUDD: Australia has been engaged in the wheat trade with the rest of the world successfully for half a century or more. This scandal with Iraq is a

Guinness World Book of Records breaking achievement. This is a gold medal performance in corruption - $300 million dollars.

That is why it is so breathtaking for the new Iraqi Government. Remember this is $300 million dollars into Saddam Hussein’s back pocket - and you wonder they have been a bit grumpy about it?

That is why Mark Vaile needed to jump on a plane to Baghdad in the first place - to fix it up. He came back here and stood up in the Parliament, ridiculed us, said that he had fixed it up, put out statements to the rest of the country and told

them that he had fixed it up and now we find the whole thing in a shambles and Mark Vaile is safely ensconced in Paris saying it’s not my problem.

REPORTER: What does this do to Australia’s reputation, and by that I mean, what hope is there of securing a deal with Iraq in the future?

RUDD: Well, my challenge to Mr Vaile, because he is the Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister of Australia, is to jump on the plane back to Baghdad and resume negotiations.

You can’t just kiss this goodbye. You can’t just say ‘problem over’. The problem has just begun. He has got to get back to Baghdad, stop swanning around Paris and do it.

You see, because you are dealing with the Iraqi Government, it is important for the Australian Government to re-engage in this and not just wash his hands of it.

I note very carefully from this appalling statement of Mr Vaile just now that there is no indication that he or the Government are going to re-engage on this question.

My challenge to them is to do their job. Mark Vaile gets paid a truckload of money to be the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia - it is about time that he started earning it.

REPORTER: Are you suggesting that there is some element of sovereign risk in this and that therefore could or should be picked up?

RUDD: What I am suggesting is that the government should deploy the full weight of its diplomatic muscle to bring this negotiation to a successful conclusion.

Let me say this. This government, by the time the next couple of years is out, will have expended $2 billion dollars on the Iraq war. $2 billion dollars on the Iraq war.

And if this government through its Trade Minister is incapable of using that as a leverage point for the Iraqis for the recommencement of our wheat sales, then frankly they should go back to school. It’s as basic as that.

REPORTER: One of the West Australian farmer lobby groups are saying that the reason that Wheat Australia failed is that they are not sufficiently distanced from the AWB. Do you think that is an acceptable argument?

RUDD: I am not proposing to comment now on the commercial dimensions of this as far as the construction of the Australian consortium is concerned. I would rather be more fully briefed on those elements concerning the Iraqi’s reaction to the consortium itself.

My concern is here in Canberra, where the Trade Minister has said to the Parliament, it’s all fixed, Bob’s your Uncle, I have flown to Baghdad and its all in the bag. And now we find out two months later, that was simply untrue.

REPORTER: Mr Rudd, we saw the Acting Prime Minister today call one of your colleagues a dropkick. What did you think of his performance?

RUDD: Well, I think Peter Costello is infinitely more in love with himself than he thinks that the Australian people are in love with Peter Costello.


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