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Transcript of doorstop interview: Sunshine Beach, Queensland: 10 January 2007: Iraq; Traveston dam.



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FEDERAL LABOR LEADER KEVIN RUDD MP

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, SUNSHINE BEACH QUEENSLAND 10 JANUARY 2007

E & O E - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Iraq; Traveston Dam

RUDD: We’re nearly four years into the Iraq war. Mr Howard said when he deployed Australian troops first off that they would be deployed for a matter of months, not years. John Howard’s words - not mine. It’s nearly four years since our men and women in uniform were deployed to Iraq and still we have no sign or a mission statement. No sign of when that mission might be concluded. No discussion from the Prime Minister publicly about when our troops might be able to return safely to their loved ones.

Today we have reports, and confirmed by the Prime Minister himself, that President Bush rang Mr Howard this morning Australian time for a 20 minute conversation about future strategy for Iraq. Well, Mr Howard has spoken to President Bush about future strategy on Iraq. My challenge is: will Mr Howard now speak to the Australian people about his future strategy for Iraq?

We have more that one thousand Australian men and women in uniform, brave men and women in uniform in that theatre, but we still don’t have a clear-cut statement from the Prime Minister about what his future strategy is for Iraq. Furthermore, we had the AusMin meeting recently in Washington where the Defence Minister and the Foreign Minister met with their American counterparts. My question is this: what advice did they provide to our American allies about what the future strategy in Iraq should be? We got no answer from that either. And today we have a further report of a Prime Ministerial conversation with the US President and no statement from the Prime Minister about what the future Coalition strategy will be in Iraq.

So, it’s okay for Mr Howard to have a private conversation with President Bush about future strategy for Iraq but he won’t tell the Australian people what our future strategy for Iraq will be in our own right. This is simply unacceptable. It’s nearly four years since this war began. A war initiated by the United States and supported by Mr Howard. And yet, still as of today, we have no clear-cut statement of the mission statement. No clear-cut statement as to what the future strategy will be. My challenge to Mr Howard is this: if you’re having a conversation with President Bush about future Coalition strategy for Iraq, please

also now have a conversation with the Australian people about future strategy for Iraq. The challenge more basically is this: what is Mr Howard’s strategy for winning the war in Iraq? Our troops have been there for a long, long time. He says that they’ll be there for an indefinite period. What is the strategy therefore under which those troops are deployed?

JOURNALIST: You hear him talk about increasing the number of American troops over there, do you think that’s a possibility to increase Australian troops then?

RUDD: Well the challenge for Mr Howard is to make clear to the Australian people what is the strategy for winning the Iraq war. Mr Howard got us into the Iraq war. Mr Howard’s responsibility now for the Australian deployment is to tell us how and when we’ll get out of the Iraq war. That’s the bottom line here. Instead Mr Howard, four years into this war, is saying: simply

take us on trust. If we look at this is overall terms, look at the number of Iraqi civilian causalities; look at the number of American military causalities; look at the overall destruction in Iraq itself as this country degenerates into civil war. And I ask this question: what are Mr Howard’s benchmarks for future success? What has to be achieved in order to justify a reduction or a withdrawal of Coalition and Australian troops? Mr Howard, pursuing a political strategy because he is a clever politician, doesn’t want to announce any specific benchmarks against which we can measure the success of an Iraq strategy. He wants to keep it as vague as possible.

JOURNALIST: Do you fear it will be just all the way with America again?

RUDD: My concern is that Mr Howard has had a private conversation with the US President, but is refusing to tell the Australian people what the future strategy for Iraq will be. There are thousands of Australians who are concerned about our continued troop deployment in that country, a troop deployment which still operates without the Prime Minister levelling with us as to

what is his strategy for winning the war.

JOURNALIST: If you were in Howard’s position would you pull the troops out?

RUDD: Our position on this is clear. If Labor is elected to Government at the end of 2007, we would initiate discussions immediately with our American ally and agree on a timetable to withdraw Australian troops - Australian combat troops. We said we’d do that within a reasonable timeframe so that we wouldn’t leave our American ally immediately in the lurch. That’s what we’d do. It’s clear-cut and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again Mr Howard won’t give any clear-cut statement about what his future strategy is for Iraq.

And on the way through I simply note this: US Democrats have been the subject of conversation recently between members of the press and Foreign Minister Downer and when Foreign Minister Downer was asked what his reaction to US Democrats putting up a timetable for US withdrawal as a necessary ingredient for US strategy, what was Mr Downer’s response? Mr Downer refused to criticise them. So, on the one hand Mr Downer is very free with his criticism about Labor policy on Iraq, which seeks to see our troops come home, but seeks to be silent when it comes to US Democratic Party policy on Iraq when that same US Democratic Party and its representatives are also talking about timetables.

Mr Downer, once again is simply being hypocritical and double standards. But leaving that to one side, what the Australian people want to know is: Mr Howard, come on national television and tell us, what is your strategy for winning the war in Iraq? Why are our troops still there, what’s their mission statement and when are they going to be coming home?

JOURNALIST: If I could just touch on briefly on (inaudible) Traveston Dam, are you confident, what are you thoughts (inaudible)

RUDD: I haven’t been fully briefed on the details concerning this particular Dam. I understand it’s a matter of great local sensitivity. I have family who come from this part of the world - I can’t help but hear about bits and pieces of it locally. But I like to be fully briefed by my colleagues in the Queensland State Government to know exactly what the proposals are, what the environmental consequences are, what the impact on local landholders would be and on top of that its impact in solving this greater region’s water problems in the future.

JOURNALIST: It’s been in the news already though that the Labor Party would support a Senate enquiry.

RUDD: Well we think that it’s important that all the facts are placed on the table with this and of course there are other appropriate mechanisms for looking at these issues as well. I’m confident that the Queensland Government will be properly investigating these matters in consultation with the local communities. I’m confident that we’ll get to the bottom of all of the detailed environmental concerns and water management concerns which impact on the local community. And I have a degree of confidence, a strong degree of confidence that those ministers responsible in the State Government for this, have these matters well in hand.

JOURNALIST: Anthony Albanese and Peter Garrett of course, they would have their particular views in relation to this dam?

RUDD: Sure, when we talk about proposals like dam proposals let’s face it, none of them are easy for any local community and for any wider

community, none of them are easy. We’re talking about, how do you secure long-term water supply on the one hand and how do you do that in a way which minimises the impact on land holders and minimises the impact on local environmental concerns. None of that’s easy and therefore, I think we should all place some trust and confidence in the way in which this has been progressed through the local community consultation process.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

RUDD: Look, on the question of how these matters are properly examined in the future, the key question is simply getting to the facts. Facts on the water supply question; facts on the overall water management system; facts on the overall catchment; facts on the environmental implications. Facts when it comes to the impact on the landholders who are going to be affected and the adequacy of what compensation would flow should this project proceed. I think the key thing is to make sure we get all that nailed down and nailed down properly, through the appropriate inquiry mechanisms.

JOURNALIST: Do you have confidence in the current process where the EIS is investigated by the Federal Government, the Federal Environmental Minister?

RUDD: Can I just say this on the details of Traveston as soon as I indicated in my earlier remarks. I would much rather be fully briefed by the relevant Ministers in the State Government, that hasn’t occurred yet. So I know from longstanding experience, don’t shoot your mouth off about things which you haven’t been briefed yet on the detail and for me that hasn’t yet occurred. Thank you.

ends