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Transcript of press conference: United Nations, New York: 22 September 2011: Australia's Statement to the UN General Assembly; the Middle East; Commonwealth relations; Leadership; Ministerial travel arrangements

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Minister’s Office: 02 6277 7500 or 0466 745 615 Department: 02 6261 1555


The Hon. Kevin Rudd MP




Subjects: Australia’s Statement to the UN General Assembly; the Middle East; Commonwealth relations; Leadership; Ministerial travel arrangements


KEVIN RUDD: Firstly, Australia is a founding member of the United Nations and we are pleased to be back in New York at this General Assembly to deliver our statement to the world on what we stand for as a nation, what we stand for as a member of the international community.

In my remarks today of course we are frank about what we see to be some of the failings of the United Nations as well and I draw attention to my remarks on the Food and Agricultural Organisation.

But I’m always reminded of what Winston Churchill said years and years and years ago about democracy, which he described as the worst system of government in the world except for all the others. I think that it is a bit like that with the United Nations, which is that it is probably the worst system of international government in the world, except for all the others.

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Our job as Australia is to make this international system work, with a global and regional rules based order which advantages the entire peoples of the world. In my remarks today I chose to particularly emphasise the current state of the global economy.

Many question the relevance of making a statement of that nature here at the General Assembly - well there’s a very simple reason for doing so. The state of the global economy is absolutely fundamental to the ability of the international community to engage in the rest of what it does.

We are particularly concerned about the implications of the most recent IMF report about the new and difficult phase which the international economy is entering right now. We’ve seen of course the impacts of this in Australia. We see stock market volatility of an extreme nature right across the world and this affects people in their retirement incomes; it affects people in all countries in their retirement incomes as well. So we have a direct and fundamental interest in the stability of the global economy and its return to growth.

And my remarks therefore contained a range of measures which we believe the international community should embrace to stabilise financial markets and furthermore to deal with the next drivers of international growth and their ability to generate the jobs of the future - important for the world; important for the Asia Pacific region; important for Australia.

Australia of course is well positioned against these international challenges.

The economy is strong and my understanding is the most recent IMF report says that we’ll have the fastest economic growth in the period ahead of all OECD countries.

Nonetheless, we must remain absolutely vigilant as we’ve learnt from the experience of the last several years through the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, this is a wild beast, the global economy. Our job is to tame the beast to the greatest extent we can. In Australia we are well positioned and we are strong in so doing.

On the security front I spoke at some length of the particular challenges that Australia faces in terms of the nuclear weapons program of North Korea. This is not an idle matter. This is a matter that we follow intensely. It is arguably the greatest single flashpoint in the Asia Pacific region. Not just in terms of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program but also in terms of North Korea’s missile development program and its long standing interest to develop an intercontinental range ballistic missile.

We in Australia, together with our friends and partners in the United States, in the Republic of Korea and in Japan, are watching these developments very closely. As I said in the GA, this program by North Korea on nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles is a threat to the security of the region, including Australia.

Elsewhere I emphasised of course the continued global significance of climate change.

Very simply two options for the international community and for nation states: you either stick your head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening or you act and you put a price on

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carbon. And more broadly I emphasised that when it comes to carbon pricing there are other challenges that affect our planetary boundaries as well, and the state of the world’s oceans is one of them. It’s one of those areas where I’m currently at work with various foreign ministers and leaders from around the world in my membership of the International Panel on Global Sustainability.

Finally, on the question of Australia’s overseas developmental assistance, I pointed to the rolling challenge we face - those billion plus people around the world who still today live in poverty. Therefore, while this does not reach the front pages of the worlds’ newspapers other than in a crisis, these challenges are real.

The international community is not on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

I made one particular recommendation in terms of how we do so in education. Seventy million kids out there in the world not going to school. How do we focus the global effort on that? We’ve done well in health by creating institutions such as the global fund which brings the global private sector together with public finance to deal with critical diseases across the developing world. I believe the time has also come for a global fund on education, to bring together public finance and private finance and expertise and the support of NGOs and faith based communities and individuals to bring about this important goal of giving every kid an opportunity to go to school. You do that, it’s the right thing for the kid, it’s the right thing to do for the families, it’s also an essential piece of future economic development of the world.

Tomorrow we have an important session here on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which Australia has been active on since the beginning. We need to move toward ratification of that treaty.

Furthermore I will be dealing in Washington tomorrow afternoon with a meeting of the finance and development ministers on the development challenges that we face at the G20 summit in France in November.

On Saturday we have also a high level meeting on the Horn of Africa. We are proud of the fact that in Australia we are the 3rd or 4th contributors to the global humanitarian effort in the Horn of Africa. This week I was spoken to by the President of Somalia, the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia about the challenges which still lie there. This is a major unfolding humanitarian disaster and all countries of the world might step up to the plate to do their bit.

And finally on Saturday I’ll be spending some time with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and we’ll be working through our long standing interest on matters concerning China.

So over to you folks for some questions.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you two foreign policy questions. One is, on the issue of Palestine, it’s a big thing tomorrow, Mahmoud Abbas will speak - obviously you’re not on the Security Council - but in the GA, on the vote to make them an observer state, how would Australia vote and why?

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And also I know there is a request to have Sri Lanka removed from the Commonwealth on the basis of this war crimes report that emanates here from the UN. What do you think of it in terms of the Commonwealth is that an appropriate move to bring about accountability?

KEVIN RUDD: Let me go to Israel-Palestine first - this obviously constituted a significant part of my address just now to the General Assembly.

We in Australia take these matters seriously because we have both Jewish and Palestinian and broader Arab communities in our country. Also, at a level of foreign policy, as I indicated in my address, I’ve been into and out of the region at least three or four times over the last nine to twelve months. I’ve had long discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu, long discussions with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, which I also did again this morning here in New York.

Our position is very simple. It is that we need to ensure that this two state solution is delivered through direct negotiations between the two parties.

Secondly, we believe that such direct negotiation should occur on the basis of the 1967 boarders plus appropriate and agreed land swaps.

Furthermore, we believe that the other final status issues concerning the right to return, concerning the status of Jerusalem, concerning the holy sites as well as appropriate external security guarantees, should be concluded within those direct negotiations.

There is a further point that I want to make, and that is, from the point of view of Israel’s national security interests it is important also to reflect carefully on the changing geopolitics of the Middle East.

I referred just before to the deterioration in relations between Egypt and Israel - the recent fire fight across the border; the storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo; the burning of flags, and recent statements about questioning the future of the peace treaty between Cairo and Egypt and Israel - this is a significant development. If you follow the history of the Middle East, and the impact which the Egyptian Israeli peace agreement has had on overall stability in the region for the better part of thirty years, these are significant developments, as are the deterioration in relations between Turkey and Israel as well as other problems in the wider region as well. Can I say this: unless we can secure an outcome through direct negotiations soon, I do fear for the consequences in terms of a spiralling of violence.

Furthermore, can I say that if we do secure an agreement, let us consider what lies on the positive side of the equation.

One, according to the Arab Peace plan, automatic recognition of the state of Israel by the Arab world.

Two, on top of that, you have the opening of hundreds of millions of people who live in the Arab world as natural markets for Israeli goods and services - good for the Israeli economy, good for the Arab economies.

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And three, if the question of Palestine is finally put to rest through delivering to the Palestinian people an independent homeland, with secure borders alongside an independent, secure Israel, then the strategic focus of the Middle East then ends up where it ultimately, truly belongs - and that is, focusing on the threat to the region represented by Iran, Iran’s support for terrorist organisations and the Iranian nuclear program.

On the question of any resolution to the Security Council or General Assembly, the first thing is to say that it remains uncertain as to if and when the resolution reaches the General Assembly, and that is based upon my discussions with multiple parties to these discussions over the course of the last several days.

Australia will, as the Prime Minister has indicated back in Australia, review the content of any such resolution based on its merits, and the reason why it’s impossible to speculate effectively at this stage as to what our vote might be is because it may well be that in the course of the month or so ahead, that the content of any such resolution changes and changes potentially significantly.

You mentioned also I think Sri Lanka - a word on that. On the question of human rights, the Commonwealth takes seriously its human rights credentials. Member states of the Commonwealth have watched carefully developments in Sri Lanka over the course of the last one to two years. We’re acutely conscious of the report delivered by the United Nations. We are acutely conscious of the fact that the Sri Lankan government has established a commission itself in terms of its response to recent developments in Sri Lanka. We have said repeatedly and to the Sri Lankan government, that it is important that report deal with many of the issues, or the core issues which are raised in the UN report. That is, we believe, fundamental.

Furthermore, there will be many conversations still to be had between other Commonwealth member countries and Sri Lanka in the days and weeks ahead and we will continue to work our way through these issues. As I said, the next step in this process by and large lies with the content of the Lessons Learned report from the Sri Lankan’s themselves, and the effectiveness of their response to the many issues raised by the UN report.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, you started off by saying that democracy is imperfect, and the United Nations. Hillary Clinton and President Obama have both said that the way to settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not in New York but surely the very purpose of the United Nations is to resolve issues like this. Why hasn’t it been raised before?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I think there are many answers to that and at various stages in the history of this dispute going back to 1947, there has been a lack of political will on the part of various parties to bring this to conclusion.

I believe the time is now closing in on us to reach conclusion. As the President of the United States said, what happens on the ground in effective and real negotiations on these five critical final status issues is fundamental.

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But let us also be clear of the fact that negotiations which occur in and around the United Nations in New York are not irrelevant to those dynamics. We will watch carefully what unfolds here, as I said we are in the deepest consultation with those associated with the Quartet process as well as the Israeli government and the Palestinian authority as well. This is a serious issue. It needs effective resolution. And I’ve just outlined before what could happen if we actually get a landing point. And every ounce of diplomatic energy which this Foreign Minister has and given the extent of Australia’s engagement on these matters will be directed towards that outcome. The critical thing though is the two parties themselves. I would urge both parties to enter those two way negotiations on the basis that I outlined before.

JOURNALIST: On Israel, in speaking to Mr Abbas today, did you come away with anything positive from those talks with Mr Abbas? And second, these persistent reports that numbers are building for you to return to the Labor leadership, is that so, and if not, are you going to ask Labor back benchers to lay off? Is your support for Prime Minister Gillard unconditional until the next election?

KEVIN RUDD: You’ll be surprised to know that this was not a feature of my conversation with Mahmoud Abbas. I think Mahmoud Abbas had other priorities on his mind, and rightly so.

The discussions I’ve had with President Abbas are not the first, and I’m sure they won’t be the last. We’ve met on many, many occasions, as I’ve met Prime Minister Netanyahu on many occasions. Obviously they are following developments closely in terms of the drafting by the Quartet on the way forward to the Middle East peace process and they are also considering the most recent proposal by President Sarkozy of France which was articulated in the General Assembly yesterday. So, what I detect from the Palestinian Authority is a cautious wait and see approach as to the way forward. But it would be irresponsible to comment on the precise content of diplomatic conversations with you.

On the question of Australian domestic politics which you go to, let’s just be very clear about this.

I support the Prime Minister.

I’m a member of the Cabinet, I support the decisions therefore of the Government.

And I would just think it would be a good thing if everyone seriously had a cup of tea and a bex and a long lie down, because there are many other priorities before us and those priorities include what I began my comments on this evening, which is the state of the global economy, what’s rocketing around the global share markets at present, the impact on Australia and the great uncertainty we have in terms of this rolling economic crisis. That’s where our focus should be. That’s where mine is, and it will continue to be as well.

JOURNALIST: Just a clarification on something, or an explanation. Yesterday -

KEVIN RUDD: What didn’t I clarify before mate?

JOURNALIST: No this is a clarification on something regarding yesterday.

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KEVIN RUDD: Oh, okay. I thought you meant with Brad, I thought I answered his question directly.

JOURNALIST: We were talking about this letter from Ms Gillard to you. You said that there had been no exchange between your Chiefs of Staff and that she hadn’t directly contacted you. Nevertheless, the letter does specifically talk about direct monetary amounts involving you, so it was a direct letter to you, wasn’t it?

KEVIN RUDD: Can I say that - let me make a general point of principle, then I’ll come to the specifics of what you’ve just said - the first is, as I said yesterday, the business of foreign policy means that you do travel a lot.

And that is the experience I think of my colleagues right around the world, as I said yesterday.

And to re-emphasise the point, I live in Brissy. The Foreign Minister of China lives in Beijing. The Foreign Minister of France lives in Paris, and the Presidents of Israel and Palestine that we just spoke about before live respectively in Jerusalem in Ramallah. And if you look at the map, the Jacaranda Atlas, they’re a long way from home. So as a Foreign Minister from Australia, you travel a lot in order to do your job, for which I make absolutely no apology.

Secondly, as I did say yesterday, the Prime Minister hasn’t raised these questions with me in question in terms of conversation, and so far as my discussions with my chief of staff are concerned, nor with him.

The correspondence you refer to of course exists, but furthermore, if you listen to what the Prime Minister’s office has said in the last day or two, these are standard requirements of all Ministers that in engaging in what you do, you minimise your expenses. That’s exactly what I would have done, and did do when I was Prime Minister of Australia as well.

And that is why, as I said yesterday, when this little bunny travels around the world, whenever we have an available and close Australian Embassy residence, like the one just up here in New York, I stay here, I don’t stay at hotels.

And that it why when I’m in Washington, whenever it’s possible and available, I’ll stay at the residence rather than hotels, whenever you can physically do that. Mexico City, I stayed in the residence. Where were we before that? I can’t remember. In Paris, I’ve stayed at the Embassy residence, and in London I stay at the High Commissioner’s place. That’s part of what you do.

But, you know something? To do your job well, as Foreign Minister of Australia, and given that we are, as we said in remarks earlier today, a middle power with global interests, and given where geography has placed us in the world, any responsible Foreign Minister gets out there and engages, for which I make no apology. It is absolutely important that these things are done on behalf of the nation, and I will continue to do them.

Okay folks? All done, thanks.