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Transcript of doorstop: Parliament House, Canberra: 25 May 2004: Guantanamo Bay; polls; draft UN Security Council resolution on Iraq; parliamentary travel.



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Kevin Rudd Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP - PARLIAMENT HOUSE

25 MAY 2004

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

SUBJECTS: GUANTANAMO BAY; POLLS; DRAFT UN SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION ON IRAQ; PARLIAMENTARY TRAVEL

RUDD: I’ll talk briefly about Hicks and Habib and the draft UN Security Council resolution in New York that's just been tabled. On Hicks and Habib first. Mr Downer has rejected our proposal that independent medical experts be sent to Guantanamo Bay to form a judgment about the current state of Hicks and Habib's

physical and mental condition.

For the life of me, I can't understand why. Surely this is a good way of simply putting this matter to rest once and for all. We've had now some weeks of claim and counter claim about prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay, claim and counter claim about prisoner abuse of the Australian prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Surely the best thing is simply to lay the facts bare by having an independent medical advisor, an assessor go in, and establish this once and for all. Of course, on top of that, my call to Mr Downer remains to release to the Australian public what agreement he reached with the government of the United States at the outset when it came to the protocol for the treatment of any Australian prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the compatibility of that agreement with the Geneva Conventions and what monitoring arrangements were put in place to ensure that the convention was applied for the treatment of these individuals.

It would be very helpful if Mr Downer simply laid all this bare in the public domain, because if he doesn't what we're going to have to go through is this torturous process through Senate Estimates of seeking to extract one piece of information after another. Surely, it's better in terms of the Australian people's confidence in this government's handling of these matters if they simply laid all these matters on the table now.

And on the dispatch of an independent medical advisor, I for the life of me can't understand any rational reason why he would refuse to send such a person in. It's the best way to establish the facts.

REPORTER: He's saying that medical officers have already visited both Hicks and Habib and that's why there’s no need to dispatch a medical officer.

RUDD: Well, can I just say the allegations of prisoner abuse have been made recently. I think this matter is now a matter of considerable controversy now in the

Australian public domain and in the international domain. I think it's very important that this occur now in order to set these matters to right. As I said, we've got claim and counter claim from the government on the other hand and Hicks' and Habib's legal advisors on the other. We've also got apparently some observations about external human rights watchdogs and other international institutions about conditions at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

Look, let's just put all the facts on the table and let's establish clearly what agreement was reached between the government of the United States and the government of Australia on the actual terms of treatment of prisoners. Did it stipulate that the Geneva Convention would be applied? And furthermore, what did Mr Downer put in place - as the responsible minister of the government, that he is responsible for consular services to Australians overseas - what arrangements did he put in place to monitor conditions at Camp X-Ray and other like institutions?

REPORTER: So, today's (indistinct) poll vindicate Labor's plan to pull the troops out by Christmas?

RUDD: When we took this decision about troop withdrawal by the end of the year, we took it because we felt it was the right thing to do. When we took our decision twelve months ago to oppose the war in Iraq, we took it because we thought it was the right thing to do. We took these decisions about Iraq because that was our belief of what was best for the Australian national interest and that position hasn't changed, whether it proves to be popular or unpopular in the opinion polls, so our position won't change as a result.

REPORTER: Has the prison scandal, the Abu Ghraib scandal, helped you, do you think? Has it helped you? Has it seen that shift in the polls?

RUDD: I think at the end of the day, the Australian people just make a judgment about whether they think the government, or the alternative government of Australia, has got the right bearings as far as Iraq policy is concerned. The Australian people don't make judgments overnight. They may come over a long period of time and there's still a long period of time yet to go before an election.

All I would say is we took our decision to oppose the war in the first place because it was an invasion of Iraq which did not have the support of the United Nations Security Council. If you look back at the debate at the time, that was the basis of why we did not support this particular action in Iraq. Now, that position I believe has been subsequently vindicated. Furthermore, when it comes to the position we've taken most recently about troop withdrawal by the end of the year, we took that decision because we believe that was the most appropriate allocation of Australia's military resources at this stage.

Bearing in mind our troops will have been in Iraq by that stage for nearly two years.

REPORTER: On that same poll, Labor's twelve points ahead of the Coalition. Is that significant?

RUDD: All I know, having been around politics long enough, is that things change very quickly and there's a long way to go between now and when we go to the election, so I don't think there's any popping of champagne corks as far as Labor is concerned at all. We've got a long way to go and there's a lot of hard campaigning to be done between now and the federal election. And who knows when the Prime Minister's going to call this election now. It seems to change by the day and by the hour.

REPORTER: There’s a twenty-six year old Melbourne man being held by (indistinct) authorities in Iraq. DFAT doesn’t know why he’s being held, even though they’ve visited him there, and he’s been held there since February. Is the government doing enough to find out and help this man get released or find out … even find out what he’s doing there?

RUDD: I think what I’d best do on that is actually get an immediate briefing from the department on the circumstances surrounding his case, whether it’s a civil matter, a criminal matter or any other matter that concerns him. So, I’d rather do that and come back and make a fuller statement.

REPORTER: It doesn’t seem that he’s been involved in any terrorist activities but they still can’t work out why he’s being held.

RUDD: Yeah. I think I’d rather establish the facts first than rather make … pronounce judgment from the comfortable distance of twelve thousand miles that X, Y and Z should have happened to individual A, B and C. I’d rather get the facts first, but once I have, I’ll make a further statement on that.

REPORTER: What’s your reaction to (indistinct) proposal put by the British and US to the UN Security Council overnight on the handover of sovereignty?

RUDD: Well, the draft text by the UK and the USA has just been released. We’re currently studying it. This is it here. And it is a comprehensive document and we would like to give it some detailed consideration. Can I just say this? At first blush, it appears to provide a good basis for further negotiations in New York. For us, one of the key factors has been the confirmation of the early transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government. That appears to be taken into account in this draft resolution.

There are other matters which need to be resolved when it comes to the precise relationship between the interim Iraqi government and the authority structure of the military force which will … which would continue to operate in Iraq. We will seek further clarification on that during the day, as we subject the text to further analysis.

REPORTER: Would you support tightening of parliamentary travel allowances?

RUDD: Well, Mark Latham’s policy announcement on this is very clear-cut, and that is that we believe what we need is an independent watchdog to set these guidelines and to monitor them. We believe this is a proper responsibility for public servants and not for politicians.

And can I just say, years ago, I used to work up there in the people’s democratic republic of Queensland and … in the state government, and one of the better things that we did back in the early ‘90s was simply establish a public service unit which was responsible for framing guidelines and for enforcing them, in terms of expenditure of ministers and for other public office holders. I think the principle at stake there, which is to have an independent set of public servants responsible for administering these things - that is, setting the guidelines and making sure they’re complied with - is the smart way to go.

REPORTER: Will Labor be pursuing the suggestion that John Howard has misled parliament by suggesting that the trip is within the guidelines when it’s actually only being compared to the domestic travel guidelines?

RUDD: I’ve had discussions with Mr Latham about that matter in the last twenty-four hours. I think at the end of the day, when all this … when all is said and done, this is a matter for individual Members of Parliament simply to be very clear-cut about their own compliance with the regulations which have been set down. And if any individual members have got anything which is problematic, they should deal with that individually.

REPORTER: The Prime Minister (indistinct) yesterday, suggesting that anyone on the Labor side that has made a similar trip should pay the sum back. Do you know of any that have?

RUDD: No, I don’t. As I said just before, it’s a matter for individual MPs to make their own individual assessments of their own travel, as far as study entitlements are concerned, and the compatibility of their travel arrangements with the guidelines which exist.

REPORTER: The Prime Minister heads to the US next week. What are his major diplomatic challenges, do you think, in the face of this poll and in … after this UN proposal has been put overnight?

RUDD: Well, I think the key challenge which the Prime Minister has tried to wriggle out from under in the last week or two in the debate in this country is what actually happened as far as the proper treatment of Iraqi POWs are concerned? I

mean, people may say, well, that is not central to the diplomatic equation. Well, I say it actually is central to the diplomatic equation. Why? Because this is having a profound effect on the political climate within the Middle East and within Iraq, in terms of the acceptability of proposals coming forward for the future of Iraq.

So, what should John Howard do? Seek with the President of the United States to establish clearly the facts. One is, what protocols were put in place for the proper protection of prisoners of war at the outset of this conflict? Two, were the particular protocols which were put in place between Australia and the United States met? Thirdly, what happened to the up to one hundred prisoners that Australian defence forces took when they were handed over to the Americans? And fourthly, can he look the Australian public squarely in the eye and say that each of those individuals has been properly treated under the terms of the Geneva Convention?

That’s our particular responsibility as Australians. Then, there’s a corporate responsibility as one of the occupying powers and as a member of the Coalition Provisional Authority to ensure that the regime for the proper treatment of prisoners is in place.

Now, if you’re talking about the future of Iraq policy, let’s get that one right first because unless it is dealt with, it is a terrible, terrible gaping wound within the overall diplomatic framework for trying to fix the Iraqi problem.

Ends