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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 23 May 2006: Australian wheat exports to Iraq.

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KEVIN RUDD M.P. Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and International Security


23 MAY 2006


Subjects: Australian wheat exports to Iraq

RUDD: Australia’s hardworking wheat farmers are paying the price for the Government’s mismanagement of the wheat for weapons scandal. This is a $4 billion dollar wheat export business for Australia, this is an $800 million dollar wheat export market in Iraq and this is a $100 million dollar contract which seems to be, and we hope not, going down the gurgler.

What is the Government’s response? The Government has said that this is a commercial matter - it is something that does not involve politics. Well, the government can’t have it both ways. Mr Vaile when he came back to Parliament two months ago beat his chest and said I, Mark Vaile, have done the deal with the Iraqi Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, have done the deal. That’s what he said. And now two months later when it all turns sour, Mr Vaile says it’s not my problem, its someone else’s, it’s a commercial matter. You can’t have it both ways.

Mr Vaile can’t come to Canberra and take the plaudits for this wheat contract and then duck responsibility when it all goes wrong. I repeat again - this is the Australian people and Australian wheat farmers having to pay the price for Mark Vaile’s incompetent handling of the wheat for weapons scandal.

REPORTER: But why should he as a Minister drive through a contract which for growers is simply not profitable enough?

RUDD: The question is what conditions are the Iraqis imposing and are those conditions unreasonable? The Iraqi Grains Board is 100 per cent owned by the Government of Iraq. Last time I looked, this Government had spent $AUD 1.6 billion on the Iraq war, occupation and other forms of aid. Now if John Howard and Mr Vaile can’t make use of the enormous contribution which the government has made to that country in terms of humanitarian effort and primarily in military effort in terms of getting a better deal on the wheat contract, well frankly they don’t deserve to be getting their contracts.

REPORTER: So he should be dictating to the Iraqi Government the terms of their sale contracts?

RUDD: I know that Mr Howard says overnight that these negotiations are not dead yet. For the sake of Australia’s hardworking wheat farmers, I hope that they are not dead. The challenge is how you get these negotiations back on track? Now this involves negotiations both at a political level and at a commercial level. All that I am saying is that when it comes to the political level Mark Vaile should stop swanning about Paris, take the flight to Dubai and jump on the nearest connector to Baghdad.

In fact, if you are in Paris so you could get the Air France flight at 1.15 this afternoon from Paris to Dubai, then organise a connection from Dubai to Baghdad. We are quite prepared to make the bookings for him. On ground transport within Iraq is a matter for Mr Vaile, he looked after that himself last time. But it’s either a sunny day in Paris in the spring or doing your job in Iraq for Australia’s hardworking wheat farmers. I think his duty lies in Iraq.

REPORTER: On Iraq, the new leader there overnight has suggested that local forces could take over or start taking over by the end of the year. What have you made of those comments?

RUDD: Well the security situation in Iraq is a mess and we are now more than three years since the invasion.

Of course we hope that the Iraqi Government can look after its own security as soon as possible. We would also hope that the politics of Iraq stabilises. That’s what all people of goodwill hope will happen.

However, if you look at the analysts in terms of what they are saying about the situation in Iraq on the ground, this is a country which is on the verge of, if already not in the middle of, civil war.

So what the security situation for the future holds, we do not know, but it is plain for the Australian Labor Party what our policy is. When this current deployment in Al Muthanna province is completed, our troops should come home and not provide a further rotation to Al Muthanna province.

REPORTER: You were calling yesterday to see the black and white details on the treaty with Indonesia. Any success on that yet?

RUDD: Not so far yet and we have to extract some information from the Government and the Department in the days ahead. As I said, this is a major matter and involves a major partner of Australia in Indonesia and it is important for people not just to shoot off in the mouth about important negotiations.

I would say this, however. I seem to remember Foreign Minister Downer ripping to shreds Paul Keating having had the audacity to negotiate a security treaty with Jakarta. And now the Government is looking at negotiating a security treaty with Jakarta? I mean, am I understanding the Government correctly? So it is wrong for Paul Keating to negotiate a security treaty with Jakarta but it is right for this government to negotiate a security treaty with Jakarta. Very interesting set of double standards, but this is par for the course in the Costello/Howard Government.

REPORTER: Based on what you saw yesterday in the Parliament, has Peter Costello done anything to assert his claims to that Prime Ministerial seat?

RUDD: Look Star Trek has got Captain Kirk and the Liberal Party has got Captain Smirk, I will leave it at that.


Contact: Alister Jordan 0417 605 823