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Prime Minister discusses Mumbai terrorist attacks; Afghanistan; COAG; tilt train crash in Qld; and water.

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Prime Minister of Australia


Interview with Madonna King Radio ABC, Brisbane

28 November 2008

Subject(s): Mumbai, Afghanistan, COAG, Tilt Train Crash, Water


KING: Kevin Rudd, good morning.

PM: Good morning, Madonna.

KING: What’s the latest you have on the situation in Mumbai? Particularly the missing Australians?

PM: Madonna, I spoke this morning to Australia’s High Commissioner to India, John McCarthy, who is on the ground in Mumbai. He has a team of about ten or a dozen Australian staff who are working around the clock in shifts.

And what they are trying to do is this - deal with the local hotel authorities, the local Indian authorities, to cross reference lists of Australian registration to hotels, put that together with other information that we’ve got, and simply to check one against the other.

That work continues as well as other support services we are providing to Australians in the area.

The death toll for the overall terrorist attack in Mumbai is now at 125, and more than 300 people have been injured.

This is a terrible assault on not just India, but the entire international community.

KING: The Australian victim is a Sydney businessman who was on a trade delegation. Is there any word on the rest of that delegation, Prime Minister?

PM: I don’t want to go into individual details Madonna, for the simple reason that this is the last area in which you want to infer any incorrect information. We have been very careful about what we have confirmed so far. And we wish to be very, very diligent about details before going further.

Suffice to say, that all support that can be physically provided is being provided to Australians in this area. And, we have staff working around the clock on the ground.

And I spoke to the High Commissioner last night who was physically standing outside the Taj Mahal, directing operations. It’s that level of difficulty, complexity, in fact, chaos, on the ground.

KING: Can you tell us how many Australians remain unaccounted for?

PM: I don’t wish to go into that because we haven’t finally got a comprehensive list. What we do know is that a significant number of Australians have been registered as living in the area with the Australian consular authorities in the past. We are working our way through that carefully as well.

One other thing I can say Madonna is that as Australians return from Mumbai, we, through Centrelink, will provide a family support team at airports at the point of entry. A lot of people who have been caught up in this terrorist attack will be traumatised by it understandably. Therefore, we are providing teams of social workers to assist those returning to provide support through counselling, personal support, or referral. And practical levels of assistance. And the Minister for Family Services Jenny Macklin will make a further statement on that today.

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KING: We’ve just put our guard down perhaps on terrorism and this happens. Do we know much about those claiming responsibility?

PM: I had a meeting of the national security committee of the Cabinet yesterday. I think, as I indicated in the parliament yesterday, the name of this organisation is generally not known to the officials that work in this area. There are other known terrorist organisations in India. What is unclear is that who ultimately the perpetrators of this cowardly and murderous attack have been.

On the question of travel advisories, which is the information provided to the Australian public, our travel advisory for Australians seeking to travel to India as of the 31st of October advised Australians to exercise a high degree of caution in visiting India. It went on to say in its summary that we had unconfirmed information suggesting terrorists may be planning attacks in Mumbai, possibly against hotel and tourist sites.

I then simply use that as an illustration as why it is really important for all Australians travelling anywhere to consult the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade travel advisory on the DFAT website. Read it carefully, because that contains the best information that we’ve got about countries abroad, cities within countries where we’ve got information about the threat of terrorism and other threats to security.

KING: Now, you’ve offered help to the Indian Government. What kind of assistance can Australian provide?

PM: Well, through the Australian Federal Police liaison, we would offer the full range of policing assistance as would be required. When you are dealing with complex hostage environments there are a range of expertises within the police establishment which are very important. What I’ve indicated through the Indian High Commissioner here in Canberra, and separately the Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has indicated to his counterpart Foreign Minister Mukherjee in India, is that any form of police and/or security assistance that our Indian friends would want we would be willing to provide. That offer lies with them, the Indian authorities have expressed their appreciation for that and we stand ready to assist. Of course, we still at this stage do not know how long this will endure.

KING: This, still while on international news, a seventh soldier dead in Afghanistan. What’s your updated information there?

PM: As I indicated last night, we had the terrible and sad news yesterday of the loss of this young Australian soldier and he was killed in operations. Two of his comrades were injured, wounded, during those operations. His family have been advised but we are not authorised at this stage to release this brave soldier’s name. This is still a very difficult and dangerous operating environment for Australian forces and I’m sure the Vice Chief or Chief of Australian Defence Force staff will make a statement as soon as further can be said on this matter.

KING: There’s certainly no backing down on our commitment there?

PM: As for the future, we have indicated that we will be in Afghanistan for the long haul. It’s important to draw these threads together. The reason we went into Afghanistan in 2001 was on the back of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and elsewhere which claimed thousands of lives, including from memory, nearly 20 Australians. And that was because Afghanistan was offering safe havens, sanctuary and a training base for Al-Qaeda’s operations around the world.

That’s why you can’t simply stand back and allow that country once again to become an unfiltered, free to roam, terrorism operating base for the future. That’s why we’re there, that’s the mission. It’s a difficult and dangerous mission but as I’ve indicated to our friends in the United States, we are there for the long haul. But from Australia’s point of view, this is not a blank cheque. We’ll subject our commitment to regular review.

KING: You are listening to 612 ABC Brisbane, the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. You’ve caught a cold, have you?

PM: I’ve got a bit throaty in recent days, I think it’s fair to say Madonna. It’s been -

KING: All that air travel perhaps.

PM: - a bit fast and furious. Well we had the G20 Summit in Washington on the global financial crisis a week or so ago, then I came back to Australia, then we had the APEC Summit in Lima, Peru also on the global financial crisis and then we’ve had Parliament and we’ve got the Council of Australian Governments meeting on health and education here in Canberra tomorrow. (inaudible) matters that we’ve just been talking about.

KING: Yeah, can I just ask you about that COAG meeting and a couple of domestic issues quickly. Given the financial crisis, do states - are you expecting them to come tomorrow reigning in their requests?

PM: I believe from the Premiers and the Chief Ministers there should be an understanding that all of us are under grave financial pressure in the course of the global financial crisis. We’ve been completely upfront with the Australian public by saying that the global financial crisis has reduced Australian Federal government revenues by $40 billion over the next

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four years. That’s a huge amount of money. That’s what’s happened. Governments around the world, based on my discussions with those heads of those governments are in the same situation. Therefore, when it comes to our long term national reform program, building better hospitals and for the federal government to be playing more of a role than in the past, building the education revolution through schools, TAFEs and universities - we’re on, still, the national reform bus.

We will be investing, but this is not a blank cheque. There are limits to public finance and I’m confident our state and territory colleagues will understand that.

KING: People listening will want to know about this financial crisis. Are we on the way out of it do you think? Have we reached the (inaudible) of it?

PM: I wish I could give you a direct answer about that. This is very, very difficult. The advantage of having spent a lot of time with heads of government from the major economies around the world and the region in the last week or so, is that everyone senses and knows that we’re in this together.

I think it’s fair to say that 2009 is going to be a very difficult year. What began as a financial crisis in credit markets in the United States has through these, shall I say, extreme forms of capitalism, reached now through the entire financial system across the world.

The second phase of this global financial crisis is that when it affects the real economy. That is, through stock markets and property markets resulting in reduced demand in the economy and less economic growth.

The third phase is the impact on employment. The reason why the Australian Government has been so actively engaged a month or so ago in launching our stimulus package of $10.4 billion, containing support for pensioners and for families and for first home buyers, is to get ahead of the curve and to provide stimulus into the economy, to support jobs at a time when we fear that the impact of the global financial crisis will make it harder and harder for jobs in the year ahead.

And that is why we intend to continue to provide economic stimulus into the future.

KING: And as you say it is difficult to read where we are in that cycle but Barack Obama has talked about trying to limit the number of golden handshakes, some of the pay packets of our CEOs. A survey came out yesterday showing that our average CEO who walks away in the last year receives $3.4 million in a golden handshake. Is that something that you need to look at given people are opening their super and seeing how much their shares have fallen?

PM: What I have done most recently in Washington is in the agreed action plan across the 20 major economies in the world, one of the reforms for the financial system in the future attacks this very question of executive remuneration packages within the finance sector.

Particularly where you have these massive payments to merchant bankers around the world which have been upped hugely almost disproportionately whereby the amount that a person is remunerated seems to go up with the amount of risk that they are taking, forgetting about the consequences of that risk, either for the shareholders of that company or for the general economy and financial system which gets affected by the collapse of any such institution.

That proposal which we worked a lot on behind the scenes. Has now been taken up by the G20. It is one of the items of work to be put into the global system of rules for the future and when the G20 meets again, of major economies in the next three months, that is work that we will have to confirm the conclusion of.

You are right to raise it. It is obscene. It is wrong. But more than that, we have been at the lead internationally, in getting action on this.

KING: Very briefly, there are a couple of local issues. A train crash involving a tilt train and truck near Cardwell. Would any of your infrastructure funding go to financing boom gates at level crossings or redirecting highways so you don’t have trains crossing highways?

PM: On the details of this particular tragedy around Cardwell, of course, I don’t have confirmation of the details yet apart from the tragic loss of life and for the families of those who have been killed, if I could through your program pass on my condolences, this is terrible news.

On the details of what has happened, I understand that the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has been asked by the Queensland Government to form part of the investigation into what has happened and I am sure the Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese would act on any recommendations.

Beyond that, when you talk about our investment in future infrastructure, the scope is broad. We are interested in long term investment in roads, rail, ports, national high speed broadband, our hospitals, our schools.

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But on this particular one Anna, ah Madonna, I would rather look at very much the detail of what comes out of the Transport Safety Bureau investigation.

KING: Were you just promoting me to Premier of Queensland? Speaking of the Premier of Queensland -

PM: You have an interest in politics have you?

KING: No, no, no. The issue of recycled water has created all sorts of emotions in Queensland. The National Water Commissioner has come out urging states to look at recycled water. You are looking at taking over health, is the issue of water something that you need to have a look at and see whether states on masse should recycle water?

PM: Every state jurisdiction has its own view in terms of the appropriateness of recycling - and when recycling water for what purposes, human consumption or industrial usage. And different investments have been made in different parts of the country.

When you talk about our support for state Governments on water, what we have been doing since we have got into office is to get up and running our proposals for investment support with the states for desalination plants around the country to the extent that they are necessary to support, urban water supply.

In terms of the rest of the water system within the country, a huge amount of our effort this last year has been spent on the Murray Darling. Australia’s greatest inland river system, where we have engaged in, for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth, the buyback of water entitlements to take some of the stress and pressure off the system.

We have begun that work. None of it was done prior to the change in Government. That is one solid step in the right direction but there is much more work to be done.

KING: Kevin Rudd, thank you.

PM: Thanks Madonna.

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