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Shadow Minister discusses foreign policy role in South-East Asia.

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Friday, 1 April 2005




FRAN KELLY: As we have just heard on AM , John Howard gave a major foreign policy speech last night where he was optimistic about China’s rising power and relations with the US, and predicted that the Pacific Rim would be the major arena for world affairs in this century. So how well placed is Australia to take a leading role in this scenario? Labor’s Foreign Affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, joins us now to discuss this prediction and other issues.


Kevin, good morning.


KEVIN RUDD: Good morning, Fran.


FRAN KELLY: What do you make of the Prime Minister’s foreign policy vision laid out last night, especially his prediction that this century history will have no bigger stadium than the Pacific Rim?


KEVIN RUDD: Well, I think it’s a statement of the bleeding obviously, which has been clear for any analyst to see, for the last half decade to decade. What surprises me is that it takes until 2005 for the Prime Minister to make such a statement. More broadly in the speech—and here I am relying on press reports because I haven’t had an opportunity to review the text yet—the emphasis seems to be on, nonetheless, Australia assuming a global role, not just a regional role. On that question I would simply say that the first responsibility of Australian foreign policy should be to secure our own region, our own neighbourhood, our own backyard and then, beyond that, pursue a global role.


FRAN KELLY: He also did describe Australia as an ‘anchor of stability and prosperity in our region’.


KEVIN RUDD: Well, that’s another statement of the bleeding obvious. I am looking for the new policy coming out of the Prime Minister’s speech, and I don’t see much.


In our own region, when he says we’re the ‘anchor of stability’ within the region—well, apart from that being, as I said a statement of the self-evident—beyond Australia itself in South-East Asia, which is the area of great strategic importance to Australia and has been since the last world war, we still lack, for example, a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy across South-East Asia; capability gaps right across the region in terms of policing, border security systems as well as intelligence sharing—and this is where Jemaah Islamiyah is still planning to do us harm and Australians in South-East Asia harm. That’s an area where I think if the Prime Minister was to match his rhetoric with reality we’d see much more direct government effort.


FRAN KELLY: Isn’t there clear signs, though, that the relations between Australia and the region have been improving on a number of levels, including counter-terrorism, since the Bali bombings? The Australian government signed a number of memorandums of understanding with a number of countries in the region. This week we’ve got a visit to Australia by the new Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which is from anyone’s view, a diplomatic coup for John Howard, isn’t it?


KEVIN RUDD: Well, external circumstances have assisted the Prime Minister on a number of fronts but external circumstances don’t add up to efforts which you’ve undertaken yourself to improve Australia’s diplomatic standing in and long-term security and economic interests within the region.


FRAN KELLY: But that’s a bit churlish, isn’t it? I mean, this is….


KEVIN RUDD: No, no, it’s not….


FRAN KELLY: It’s significant, isn’t it, to have a visit by an Indonesian President? That’s pretty rare.


KEVIN RUDD: When I say the external factors have changed—you have the election of Bambang Yudhoyono in Indonesia, you have, after more than two decades, the replacement of Prime Minister Mahathir in Malaysia and, on top of that, you have the extraordinary event of the tsunami and the extraordinary reaction by the Australian government and public to it—entirely justifiable under the circumstances.


When I say external factors have obviously assisted the Prime Minister on a number of fronts—that is true. What I am concerned about is the efforts the Prime Minister has taken off his own bat. And remember, in the region, they still haven’t forgotten the Howard doctrine of military pre-emption, they haven’t forgotten the Prime Minister describing Australia’s security policy in South-East Asia as being a deputy sheriff of the United States nor have they forgotten the Prime Minister’s performance at the end of last year at the Vientiane Summit of the Association of South-East Asian States when he said that Australia was not interested in having a look at a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with ASEAN and that itself being a necessary precondition, in the eyes of some, for Australia to become a full member of the emerging East Asian Community.


FRAN KELLY: Will Australia become a full member of the East Asian Community? And if it does, doesn’t that signal that this government really has built the bridges back to Asia?


KEVIN RUDD: Can I just say, from our point of view, we would love to see that happen. I mean, we have a long-term view of Australia’s national security and foreign policy interests in our part of the world, whether we are in government or whether we are in opposition.


But I was in Bangkok last week and spoke to the Thai foreign ministry and, plainly, the views across the region differ greatly about whether Australia should or will be invited to the first East Asian Summit due in Malaysia at the end of this year. You have the Indonesians, I think, supporting Australia; the Malaysians have sent out some mixed signals through their Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister; the Thais I have got say, were somewhat sceptical when I spoke to them.


I think it is very fluid at this stage for John Howard to overcome the problems he has c reated off his own bat; problems concerning his doctrine of regional military pre-emption, problems concerning his attitude that he took, at the Vientiane Summit on this Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which the Japanese and the Koreans have been happy to sign. But frankly, if he doesn’t deal with that I think it makes it that much harder for Australia to be part of what is the emerging, I think, major regional organisation over the next quarter century.


FRAN KELLY: Okay. Can we turn briefly to another issue that has emerged this week? We’ve learnt another Australian, a second Australian, quit the Iraq Survey Group in protest at what they describe as political interference from the Americans. Now, you’ve accused the Australian government of playing politics with the Iraqi Survey Group but just because two public servants are resigning doesn’t necessarily compel a Foreign Minister to change tack, in a policy sense, does it?


KEVIN RUDD: I would have thought that it would send a very large flare up into the sky to say that there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. If you have … let’s put into context what the Iraq Survey Group is supposed to have done. After the invasion of Iraq it was to establish the truth of this government’s pre-war claims about Iraq’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons as the justification for war. It went into the field and had Australian participants in it although it was led by the CIA.


What we now know, and have only found out since the last election, is that we didn’t just have one Australian official resign over his concerns about political interference and the independence of the Iraq Survey Group but now we discover there was a second one as well—someone who originally worked in Mr Downer’s department—and on top of that a person, who when he returned to Australia, had a face-to-face interview with Mr Downer expressing his deep concerns, apparently, about the independence of the Iraq Survey Group’s operations.


FRAN KELLY: Okay. Kevin Rudd, thanks very much for joining us.


KEVIN RUDD: Good to be with you.


FRAN KELLY: That’s Kevin Rudd, the shadow foreign affairs spokesman for the Labor Party.