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Transcript of doorstop: Sydney: 23 April 2004: North Korean train crash; troops in Iraq; terrorist threat to Australia; ASEAN.

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Kevin Rudd Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs


23 APRIL 2004



Rudd: The reports today from North Korea are particularly disturbing. My office is currently in contact with the North Korean Embassy in Canberra in seeking to establish the facts of what has happened with this reported train crash somewhere between the Chinese border and the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

If these reports are in anyway accurate this represents an extraordinary and profound loss of life and whatever political disagreements may exist between North Korea and Australia, it is important that on an occasion such as this we express our profound regret for any loss of human life. Also, following our discussions with the North Korean Embassy, if these reports are confirmed, I’ll be seeking contact with Mr Downer’s office to identify forms of assistance we may be able to provide by way of any humanitarian aid through our embassy in Beijing.

Overnight in the United Kingdom we have a statement by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to the effect that British forces are likely to be in Iraq for another two years - and perhaps longer. What we have from Jack Straw is a person who has got the guts to tell the truth to the British people about how long British troops may be in Iraq. But in Australia, Alexander Downer doesn’t have the guts to tell the Australian people how long our troops will be in Iraq. Despite reports that the British Foreign Secretary has been upfront with the British people in indicating that this is a very long-term commitment indeed on the part of British forces, what we have from Mr Howard and Mr Downer and Senator Hill are simply open-ended statements about the job being done. Well, it’s time for Mr Downer to level with the Australian people. It’s time for Mr Downer to square with the Australian people and say our troops will be in Iraq for a given period or time, a fixed period of time, to define when exactly he means the job has been done.

You see John Howard and Alexander Downer have a vested interest in not providing any benchmarks at all for the Australian people to know when the job might be done. That’s so Mr Howard has the political flexibility to determine at the time of his choosing when he deems the job to have been done. I draw your attention to the fact that back in the year 2002, John Howard, Alexander Downer and the Australian government unilaterally decided to withdraw from Afghanistan despite large-scale, high-level diplomatic protests from the Government of Afghanistan at the time about the job not being done. Well apart from those double standards what we now face today is the Howard Government needing to front to the Australian people and indicate clearly and precisely what they mean by the job being done. What are the benchmarks for it? And how long is it likely to take? The British foreign secretary has fronted the British people and said that the British troop deployments will take a couple of years and perhaps longer. It’s time for Alexander Downer to have the guts to do the same.

Reporter: Isn’t that a bit hard though, I mean, everything’s so volatile in Iraq, it’s hard to fix a timeframe?

Rudd: Well, if it’s so difficult to put any form of timeframe on it then why has the British Foreign Secretary chosen to do so? The British Foreign Secretary is responsible for a British troop commitment of more than 8000 troops. Currently within in Iraq we have something like 250 and in the broader region something less than a thousand directly relevant to this theatre or perhaps a lesser number in terms of those directly relevant to operations in Iraq.

My simple point is this: the British Foreign Secretary has said that British troops are likely to be in Iraq for a least a couple of years, perhaps longer. It’s time for Alexander Downer to have the guts to say the same and not simply deliver platitude after platitude to the Australian people about some indefinite commitment about when its Prime Minister deems the job has been done.

Reporter: [Inaudible]

Rudd: Jack Straw has levelled with the British people and indicated precisely what he believes will be a likely timetable, a broad timetable, for the British troop commitment in Iraq. Now that’s a matter for the British people and for the British public debate. All I’m saying is that if that’s possible for Mr Straw in relation to a very large scale deployment of British troops in Iraq, surely the same is possible here as far as the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister are concerned.

And could I just say this, about a year ago when Saddam Hussein’s statue came tumbling down in the main street and central square of Baghdad, the Foreign Minister of Australia said that as far as any future commitment to Iraq was concerned, it would be a commitment of economic and

humanitarian assistance and not a military role. That’s what the Australian Foreign Minister said twelve months ago on the day that Saddam Hussein’s statue came falling down. Twelve months later for politically opportunistic reasons, the government now changes its position and changes it fundamentally. Well now they have a responsibility to simply square up to the Australian people and have the guts to tell the Australian people what precisely they mean by the job being done. Or is it simply domestically politically driven, as we’ve seen so often from this Prime Minister in the past?

On the question of this morning’s reports about a letter delivered to the South Korean embassy in Bangkok, could I simply say this: we have no information at our disposal as to whether this purported organisation exists or whether the threats it’s made are real. We’ll be seeking briefings today and over the course of the weekend from both the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs as to the

basis of this particular letter and as to any particular action other than that which has currently been taken is appropriate for Australians at home and Australians abroad.

Reporter: [Inaudible]

Rudd: We are in no position to make that judgement. I think the sober and sensible course of action is to seek a briefing from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, I’ll be contacting Mr Richardson later today to see what the story is, and I’ll also be seeking to obtain a briefing from relevant officers within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade so we can assess this matter. I think it’s important that we all remember that the worldwide war against terrorism is not yet over, in fact, there are many, many obstacles yet to be overcome.

Reporter: [Inaudible]

Rudd: Well this is a matter for the Australian Government. All I’m saying is that the report has only come to light overnight, the sensible course of action is to establish the facts: is the organisation real, are threats contained within the letter real, and these appropriately lie within the province of the Australian Government’s intelligence community at this stage. Once I’ve obtained a briefing and my colleagues have obtained briefings as well, we’ll make further comment. I assume the Howard Government is taking all prudent measures necessary based on what is contained in this letter and based on their knowledge of its authenticity.

Reporter: [Inaudible]

Rudd: On that matter I’d prefer to defer to the Shadow Minister for Homeland Security Robert McClelland. I’ve just returned from Tokyo this morning where I’ve been offshore with the Japanese and Chinese Governments for a week. I’d rather be briefed before commenting but I’m

sure the Shadow Minister for Homeland Security Robert McClelland will have further comment on that during the course of the day.

Reporter: [Inaudible]

Rudd: I’ve seen that report in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning and we’ll be seeking further briefings as well. I think at present, and for a long time now, we’ve had a danger of Australia being excluded from some of the principal trading arrangements of our region. The ASEAN, all ten countries, currently have negotiations well under way with Japan and China. That has not been the case as far as Australia is concerned. We’ll be seeking briefings as to whether this is a well-founded report. I notice Foreign Minister Downer’s note of caution in this morning’s Herald report saying he doesn’t know yet whether the negotiations or the invitation extended to the Prime Minister to attend a regional meeting with ASEAN heads later in the year will materialise. I notice the Foreign Minister is using cautious language. Let’s establish the facts first.

Reporter: [Inaudible]

Rudd: Again I’d defer to Shadow Homeland Security Minister Robert McClelland on that question. There are important legal processes at stake with all of this. There are important investigatory processes at stake with all

of this as well. These matters are not a Sunday school picnic. We are dealing with serious issues (inaudible) with the potential to harm our country. It’s important to be prudent about this so I’d defer substantial comment about this to our Shadow Minister for Homeland Security, Robert McClelland.

Thanks for your time.