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Transcript of interview with Steve Price: Melbourne Talk Radio:1 February 2011: evacuation of Australians from Cairo



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Minister’s Office: 02 6277 7500 or 0434 664 589 Department: 02 6261 1555

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The Hon. Kevin Rudd MP

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH STEVE PRICE

Melbourne Talk Radio

1 FEBRUARY 2011

Subjects: Evacuation of Australians from Cairo

E & O E - PROOF ONLY

STEVE PRICE: Horror stories coming out of Cairo this morning. We spoke to Bridget Dupuy. She is an 18-year-old girl from Abbotsford, there with her mother and sister, had to witness outside her hotel room someone being shot in the head by, she thinks, security forces.

She went with mother - with her mum and sister to the airport at Cairo. They were due to fly out on an Egypt Air flight to Rome. All of those flights were cancelled. They spent 30 hours there with another bunch of Australians, trying to work out what to do.

Now, the federal Government has announced it is going to charter a Qantas 747, we think from London, to fly into Cairo and take as many Australians as possible out. Bridget did tell us that there's more there than the 300 that that flight would be able to accommodate. We've managed to track down, and we really thank him very much for this, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd, who I think is in Istanbul, in Turkey.

Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd, good morning to you.

KEVIN RUDD: Good morning, Steve.

STEVE PRICE: Sounds pretty grim in Cairo.

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KEVIN RUDD: It is. There's no point gilding the lily. There's much chaos at Cairo Airport. What our staff are doing as follows, is that we have had embassy staff out there for a period of time now to provide, first of all, guidance to those at the airport in terms of commercial flights which are still flying, two, to register those who have no easy way out of the country to go onto the charter flight which will arrive in Cairo on Wednesday, and we've already obtained some 240 registrations for that flight.

I'll come back to that in a minute, if you like. And thirdly, we are also through our consular staff providing food and water and other support services for people at the airport but I say again what I said at the beginning, let's not gild the lily here. This is a country which is in meltdown and there is considerable chaos at the airport as people of every nationality are seeking to exit.

STEVE PRICE: Your staff telling you that that flight will definitely be able to get in and you're confident it'll get in on the day you think it will?

KEVIN RUDD: Based on the advice that we've got it's due in on Wednesday and we have no contrary advice at this stage. On the other point that you made, however, Steve, in terms of capacity, the Government of course stands ready to assist further should that prove to be necessary. We have as our first responsibility in this the wellbeing of all Australians and in the multiple interviews I've done on this matter, not just in the last 24 hours but for the last five days, that has been my exclusive focus which is to make sure that all people in the country are being apprised of the current state of our travel advisory. Anyone thinking of going to the country was equally apprised so that we could manage the situation on the ground as best we could.

STEVE PRICE: You know how tough things are when you get into a situation like that. Bridget told us that, yes, she has had a phone call confirming she, her mum, and sister, will have a seat but since that phone call has been struggling to get any further information and there are rumours going all around Cairo and in the hotel she's in, that the flight might not arrive.

I mean, what would your advice be in that circumstance. They're finding it difficult to get through to any of the emergency numbers that have been set up. Should they go to the embassy? Should they stay in their hotel? I know it's hard to give individual advice but she seems a very level-headed young woman and she's struggling a little to keep it together, by my conversation I had with her.

KEVIN RUDD: No, no, look, I actually understand how difficult and challenging this would be on the ground. There's much violence on the streets and you mentioned in your intro, Steve, that she had apparently witnessed someone being killed. This is a difficult and bloody environment.

The second constraint which we have suffered from on the ground, as the Australian embassy, is the fact that the government has episodically turned off and on and off the mobile phone system. The ability to text message, the ability to use the internet and therefore our ability to communicate with people has been really hamstrung and all governments are finding it that way as well.

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What I would say to her, to Bridget - is that her name?

STEVE PRICE: Yes.

KEVIN RUDD: That you mentioned before, is to persevere in seeking to contact the service which we have operating out of the DFAT 24 hour consular emergency centre in Canberra, which is +61 2 6261 3305. I know that there will sometimes be difficulty but we have now that staffed by more 60 Foreign Affairs staff in Canberra and we're processing a large number of calls.

I cannot pretend, Steve, this will be perfectly handled in every single case but we're all - not just Australians but others as well - struggling to deal with a highly fluid, difficult, and dangerous situation.

STEVE PRICE: What's your interpretation, Mr Rudd, of what is playing out there in Egypt?

KEVIN RUDD: Look, Steve, I don't want to mislead you in terms of pretending to know the minds of either Mubarak or the rest of the Egyptian government at this time. Of course there has been a statement by the Egyptian military indicating that they would not under any circumstances fire on people in the streets. That statement of itself is encouraging but it should be tempered by the fact that there are other arms of the Egyptian security and intelligence and police apparatus who are capable of acting inappropriately and with violence in the streets as well.

That's why we in Australia, together with a range of other governments, have been directly saying to the Egyptian to refrain from violence, to refrain from acting in a - in a manner which puts life at risk, with protesters on the streets, for the simple reason that it is our judgment that would simply exacerbate the situation, make it much, much worse, and instead what needs to occur is a major act of political reform within the country, respond positively to the needs and aspirations being expressed by protesters on the streets.

STEVE PRICE: The continuation of the Mubarak regime, how significant is that in terms of its relationship - Egypt's relationship with the United States?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, again, to be perfectly blunt about it, the relationship between the Mubarak government, in the 30 years it's been in office, and the US administration, has been exceptionally close and therefore the nature of the diplomatic cooperation both in the Middle East peace process and other things, has been of an intimate nature.

The problem we now have, Steve, on the ground, not just in Cairo but elsewhere in the Middle East, is the growing frustrations of an emerging middle class or university graduates without any real career or employment prospects, compounded by real and growing income disparity and poverty on the streets, there's people beginning to say enough is enough and they - they want to be able to have their democratic say.

And this we've seen, of course, fully at play on the streets of Tunis, we've seen the change in the regime in Tunisia. In fact, just two days ago I met representatives of the new government who were describing what happened there to me in some detail. But this

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phenomenon is not just linked to that particular Arab country. It's happening elsewhere as well.

We are in a very difficult, dangerous, unstable period in terms of the politics not just of - not just of Egypt itself but others within the Arab world.

STEVE PRICE: And you'll keep our embassy open there, will you?

KEVIN RUDD: Absolutely. We've got no advice that the embassy itself is under physical risk. I wish however to pay public tribute to the Ambassador and her staff who have been working literally around the clock, day in, day out, for the better part of a week, in order to support Australians in need, in order to get the best analysis possible of what's happening on the street.

Where our embassy is, which is on the Corniche in downtown Cairo, is very close to where all the military action has been. The precinct has been buzzed by helicopters and - and there have been tanks in the streets. Amidst of all that, and trying to come to grips with the analysis of the unfolding political situation, the other arm of what the embassy's been doing is to be providing as much practical support to Australians in-country as possible.

And there's one other thing as well, Steve, your listeners should be aware of, at the beginning of this, several days ago, I asked the Ambassador how many registered Australians we had, to which she said about 800. As the crisis unfolded we've had another 400 register but because not all Australians have registered with the Australian embassy we have this uncertain number, between 2000 and 4000 of those who are physically in-country at the moment.

So wrestling with all of that in the absence of specific contact details is a difficult task when you add to that the fact that the telecommunications system has been turned off a lot of the time by the Egyptian authorities.

STEVE PRICE: Good of you to join us, as usual. Thanks a lot.

KEVIN RUDD: Thanks, Steve.

STEVE PRICE: Kevin Rudd there, the Foreign Affairs Minister.

END