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Transcript of joint press conference: 5 October 2011: Melbourne: Horn of Africa drought; death in New York; Nobel Prize winner; Brian Schmidt; Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka; Tax Forum; Japanese whaling



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Minister’s Office: 02 6277 7500 or 0466 745 615 AusAID: 0417 680 590

Transcript of Press Conference with Kevin Rudd, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laura Smyth, Labor MP and Tim Costello-CEO World Vision Australia

MELBOURNE, 5 OCTOBER 2011

Subjects: Horn of Africa drought, Death in New York, Nobel Prize winner Brian Schmidt, Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Tax Forum, Japanese Whaling

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KEVIN RUDD: Let me say a few things. Firstly, it is great to be here with Laura Smyth, a good friend of mine and a parliamentary colleague with a deep commitment to what we do about poverty at home and abroad, and also with the Reverend Tim Costello, who everyone knows from World Vision, and all these other good folk representing various aid and community organisations around Melbourne and out in this part of Melbourne as well.

The point of today is just very simple. We've got 12 million people in strife in the Horn of Africa; three-quarters of a million at death's door.

What are we going to do about it? The Australian Government has been out there doing a fair bit; we're the third largest national donors to this crisis. But we now want to partner with the aid agencies in Australia. So that's why this dollar-for-dollar campaign is so important. We want to take every dollar as far as we can to save children's lives and their mother's lives in the Horn of Africa.

And every Australian can make a difference, and we're out there providing that additional support as well. And that's basically it. Over to you folks.

QUESTION: With the amount, can you give us a target of what sort of dollars you're hoping to get in during this appeal?

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The Hon. Kevin Rudd MP

Minister’s Office: 02 6277 7500 or 0457 791 556 Department: 02 6261 1555

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KEVIN RUDD: Well, that's in Tim's department in terms of how much they think they can raise, but we set no limits.

However much they raise, we're serious about it; we'll match it dollar for dollar. In the past, what's been your biggest appeal?

TIM COSTELLO: Tsunami, $105 million. It won't break the bank.

KEVIN RUDD: We're serious about dollar for dollar, whether my Treasury colleagues are happy about that is a separate question, but we're serious about dollar for dollar, so however much is raised.

QUESTION: With the money that is raised, is there the infrastructure, equipment and resources in place there to deliver the aid [indistinct].

KEVIN RUDD: Let me put this in a global picture for you. I recently spoke at the Horn of Africa high-level summit in the United Nations in New York, and I spoke to the heads of the agencies there.

Globally, they estimate that to deal with this crisis on the assumption of the return to normal rains next year, that we will need a total of about $2.4 billion.

So far the international community has delivered $1.1 billion. And we represent more than 10 per cent of that as the Australian Government.

So we're about a billion bucks short around the world, and that's why all other governments need to lift their own efforts.

The agencies are all on the ground, ready to go, and are working hard already: World Food Programme, UNICEF, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, together with the World Visions of this world as well. So the infrastructure is there; the money is what's needed to keep it rolling.

Any other questions, guys?

QUESTION: Mr Rudd, it's not just lives in Africa. There's a woman from Sydney in New York who's been involved in a helicopter crash, has your Department received any information about her? Are you trying to contact the family?

KEVIN RUDD: I've through my Office been in communication with our Consul-General in New York. This, as I'm advised, is a complete tragedy involving the death in an accident by a woman celebrating her birthday. I've instructed the Consular-General in New York to do everything physically possible to support the family and to extend the full range of consular services.

I think this is a very acute personal tragedy for the family concerned.

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QUESTION: Mr Rudd, what made you launch the initiative here at the Uniting Church of Tecoma?

KEVIN RUDD: Let me see - Laura asked me; is that pretty good?

LAURA SMYTH: That's fairly good.

QUESTION: Perhaps you could tell me a little bit more about the Uniting Church.

KEVIN RUDD: Well, the Uniting Church has a huge tradition of social justice. If you go back to the history, and its founder, John Wesley, Wesley was the bloke who first set up what he described as apothecaries for the sick and schools for the poor in the London of the mid-eighteenth century.

Am I right?

TIM COSTELLO: That's right, yes, 1760s.

KEVIN RUDD: Therefore there is a great social justice tradition in the Uniting Church. But also, the great thing about the Uniting Church in localities such as this is they also reach out to a whole bunch of other community organisations, and together they represent a strong voice for the local community.

And I know in Laura's case, she remains really anchored into them, in terms of what they do for need here in the local area, quite apart from need that we've been talking about in a different country today.

QUESTION: Mr Rudd, something else to celebrate, I suppose, is that Nobel Prize to Brian Schmidt for physics.

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I was delighted when I saw this on the news late last night. I am a huge supporter of science and, as Prime Minister, we made significant investments into our national scientific and research establishments around the country.

And one of my privileged opportunities was to open a new stage of the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University in Canberra, where I understand our new Nobel laureate hails from.

I understand that some may query his accent and why he speaks a little bit American. I don't care; we're a broad church - we'll take anybody, and he married an Australian, what, 20 years ago, and discovered a better life out here, and his research work, of course, has been done in collaboration with others based here in Australia.

I think - if I've read the research brief correctly, putting yourself up against Einstein in terms of an ever extending and expanding universe, which is the thesis on which he worked, means you're a pretty brainy bloke. So, good on him, but it's a great message to all young budding scientists in Australia; this is a career for you.

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The Australian Government has got a program by the way. If you go to university and you study the sciences, then we'll halve your HECS. And if you go there and you continue to work in the sciences after you've graduated, we halve your HECS again, because we need the young scientists of tomorrow.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Mr Rudd, do you have full confidence in the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka?

KEVIN RUDD: The High Commissioner?

QUESTION: Of Sri Lanka.

KEVIN RUDD: You mean, our's there, or theirs here?

QUESTION: I mean yours there.

KEVIN RUDD: Well I'm not quite sure what the basis of your question is, but I have confidence in every one of Australia's diplomatic representatives abroad.

QUESTION: Have you heard that [indistinct] are handing out certificates for the Sri Lankan military with the release of Tamil prisoners?

KEVIN RUDD: I'm not familiar with the detail of that and I won't comment on it until I've seen a brief, but I believe our High Commissioners and Ambassadors around the world do the right thing in Australia's national interests, and consistent with Australia's national values, and if you're mindful of the complexity of what currently prevails in Sri Lanka - and I remember when I first met Tim he was engaged with the impact of the tsunami in Sri Lanka all those years ago - and you look at the politics, and the military politics, and the problems which have existed in the past in terms of the domestic insurgency, and the violence that we've seen in recent times, this is an enormously complex environment, and so making sure that aid and support is getting to the right people is a complex task, but we the Australian Government have been doing that and I'm confident that our High Commissioner has been working in the appropriate manner.

I will of course review the detail of what you've just raised.

Anything else folks?

QUESTION: What's your view of the tax forum [indistinct]…

KEVIN RUDD: It's in Canberra.

QUESTION: … do you think it's more than a talkfest?

KEVIN RUDD: Well remember that the debate about future tax reform is important for the nation.

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Why? Taxation receipts are fundamental to what we've been talking about here - no taxation receipts, sustainable, then you can't for example support the work which the Australian International Development agency does around the world, and in partnership with great outfits like World Vision.

I think when we're talking about tax reform let's also bear in mind what has already occurred. We've had significant changes already to personal income tax over the last three years. We now have paid parental leave. We now of course have the fact that the aged pension's been adjusted to the equivalent of $148 extra for a fortnight. We've also had a series of tax reductions for small businesses at various times.

So we haven't actually been sitting around doing nothing when it comes to tax - we've been doing quite a lot. The reason why tax reform is important is to give families a fair go and also to give small business a fair go because putting your life on the line, putting your house on the line behind a small business, you've got to make sure you're earning enough in response to the risks that you take.

And to go back to Wesley, Wesley's great dictum was earn as much as you can so you can give as much as you can.

TIM COSTELLO: That's right.

KEVIN RUDD: There you go.

QUESTION: Mr Rudd, Japan's whaling research teams say they're going to go back to Antarctica for the new season. Are you going to speak to your Japan - Japanese whaling counterparts, and what will you ask them?

KEVIN RUDD: Well I speak constantly with the Japanese Foreign Minister, and various foreign ministers who I've dealt with on this subject over the last several years.

The position of the Australian Government is very clear on this and that is we want to see an end to commercial whaling, and the reason why we are disappointed by this action of the Japanese Government is because it flies in the face of international opinion.

The Australian Government said when it was elected at the end of 2007 that we would seek to resolve this matter diplomatically, and if we fail to do so we'd take legal action in the International Court.

We spent two years trying to work on this thing diplomatically with the Japanese. That failed. We initiated therefore a legal action in the International Court of Justice which is where it remains.

Our submission has been lodged, and I think in the process of waiting for the Government of Japan to respond by March next year. And I noticed there was, on the way out here, there was some gratuitous comment from her Majesty's loyal Opposition on this. Can I just say the Howard Government did nothing about Japanese whaling.

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We've taken the Government of Japan to court in the highest court in the international jurisdiction.

There's a difference between words and action, and we're taking action.

Okay, anything else? Thanks folks. Last one.

QUESTION: Just getting back to aid for a moment…

KEVIN RUDD: Yeah.

QUESTION: You've got standing behind you a wonderful array of NGOs, the large with World Vision and the small with AngliCORD. Would you like to comment on the capacity and strength of Australian NGOs to deliver this, the aid particularly through the dollar for dollar program that you announced today?

KEVIN RUDD: Well the Australian Government is proud of the fact we have so many accredited aid agencies in the country who do a fantastic job, and in various parts of the world. And in many respects, as I said inside, they represent the hands on the ground of much of our international presence, so my view is we can do a whole lot better in the future by working even closer with Australia's aid agencies, and those who are active in all parts of the world, because it drives the dollar further.

You harness the enthusiasm and the commitment of the voluntary sector. And at the same time we find that our own policy directions as an Australian Government on aid are shaped and changed by the information we get back from these good folks.

So to each and every one of them who represent aid organisations on behalf of the Government, could I say thank you.

What you do in Australia's name is really important. And I think you cause the world to conclude that this is a country with a heart. Thank you.

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