Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of press conference: United Nation, New York: 30 March 2008: Australian foreign policy; United Nations Security Council; United Nations assistance mission in Darfur; climate change; East Timor; global financial crisis; Japan; Tibet; China; Kosovo.

Download PDFDownload PDF

Prime Minister of Australia


Press Conference, United Nations, New York

30 March 2008

Subject(s): Australian Foreign Policy, United Nations Security Council, United Nations assistance mission in Darfur, Climate change, East Timor, Global financial crisis, Japan, Tibet, China, Kosovo


PM: Thanks everyone. That went Okay. Well, the Permanent Representative, Mr Hill, and myself, have just spent the last hour with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and we have been discussing a range of matters including Australia’s involvement in the United Nations overall; the question of the UN Mission in Afghanistan; the question of

climate change; and the question of also the UN’s operations in Darfur. If I could just touch on each of those and then I’ll happily take your questions.

I informed the Secretary-General of the United Nations today that Australia will be seeking election to the United Nations Security Council for 2013-2014. That will be a ballot which will be held in 2012. The reason for indicating our interest in proceeding with a candidature for the UN Security Council is that the pre-balloting processes begin very early and that’s why it’s important to declare Australia’s intention at this stage.

If Australia is elected to the UN Security Council at that time, it will nearly be 30 years since Australia was last on the Security Council. We were last there in 1986. Australia was a member of the Security Council in the 1940s, in the 1950s and then again in 1973, and then again in 1986.

It’s been a long time between drinks, and therefore the time has come to put our best foot forward and we believe that to be a fully effective member of the United Nations you need, on a regular basis, also to be an effective member of the Security Council as well. This will be a difficult candidature because there are also two states which have put their name forward and I imagine there will also be others.

There is no guarantee whatsoever of success of this particular bid, but I believe, very simply, if you are serious about wanting to become a non-permanent member of the Security Council you have to declare your intention and run like fury, and that’s what we intend to do.

The second reason for putting our name for the UN Security Council was that the Australian Government is a strong supporter of the United Nations system. Many people criticise the United Nations for its failings. I believe it’s important to see the cup as being half full, rather than half empty, and for people of good will to support the activities of the United

Nations around the world.

We need to enhance the United Nations activities in terms of multilateral security, multilateral economic engagement, and also in the area of social policy and human rights as well. And on top of that, climate change and the environment. To be fully effective in that, we have to be fully engaged with the United Nations, and that is what we intend to do.

On the question of Afghanistan, which was a subject of considerable discussions between myself and President Bush, and the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Defense yesterday in Washington, I also discussed with the Secretary-General of the United Nations the UN Mission in Kabul.

We want to see the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan become fully effective and fully operational as soon as possible. There has been a recent appointment of a Norwegian diplomat to head that Mission after the difficulties which arose concerning the appointment of Paddy Ashdown.

We want to see this Mission become fully effective and fully operational and the reason for that is that for a long-term effective strategy for Afghanistan we need to have the full integration of the civilian effort and the military effort in a coordinated strategy in order to ensure success in that theatre. And the Secretary-General and I will again be attending the Bucharest Conference very soon, where these matters will be again discussed.

Page 1 of 5 Prime Minister of Australia - Interview - Press Conference at United Nations


On the question of Darfur, I indicated to the United Nations Secretary-General our concern and frustration, together with that of other states, about the continued obstruction being provided by the Government of Sudan. The people of Darfur are suffering. We need to give effect to the resolve already achieved by the United Nations to employ a force.

The Secretary-General asked the Australian Government for some support for that force. I have indicated that a modest level, that is a commitment of military officers up to a threshold of nine military officers, will be made available to assist with that force in Darfur. That will be made as part of the UN contingent, which is UNAMID - the United Nations Assistance Mission in Darfur. The Government of Sudan generally has not welcomed any more substantial military commitments than that from western powers. I regard this as unfortunate but that is the reality. Our commitment along these lines is consistent with that which has been provided by the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of Canada, in both cases about nine military officers to assist with the overall preparation of the wider force.

In addition, I indicated to the UN Secretary-General we would be providing a further $5 million in humanitarian assistance to the people of Darfur. Darfur is a continuing humanitarian tragedy. The international community has a responsibility to act. That action is currently being frustrated still by the Government of Sudan and our Government is of the view that these matters soon need to be brought back to the UN Security Council so that the Government of Sudan can be held properly to account for its continued obstruction.

Finally on the question of climate change, the Secretary-General and I exchanged views on the difficulties which exist between now, along the Bali Road Map, through to the Copenhagen Conference, which is due at the end of next year. The significance of the Copenhagen Conference at the end of ’09 is to develop a long-term post-2012 set of arrangements for the international community on climate change including carbon targets.

The Secretary-General is concerned about delays which are now occurring in the negotiating process. He himself has decided to convene a number of representatives of the critical host states, mainly Indonesia, Poland and Denmark, to assist in facilitating this process of bringing it to a more rapid conclusion and to achieve more substantive progress on the way through. He’s also considering the appointment of two special envoys to accelerate the climate change negotiating process.

On Australia’s part, I committed ourselves to fully supporting the activities of the Secretary-General and the process under the Bali road map. The global community has a responsibility of climate change. There must be a global response to climate change, with all states participating, both developed and developing States, and therefore I indicated to the Secretary-General that we would be, as Australia, being fully supportive of the efforts of the United Nations to bring about a successful conclusion. The planet’s interests depend on that.

I’m happy to take your questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, given our arrangement with Canada and New Zealand, is it more realistic that our best chance of joining the Security Council would be 2018?

PM: Well, there’s always going to be a debate about when it’s the best time to run. My view is pretty simple. You’ve got to be in it to win it and have a go. We’re about to have a go, and I think 30 years is a fair enough old wait between drinks and I think it’s time we actually got cracking and see what support we can get. Remember, as I said before, there is absolutely no guarantee of success in this, but what I can say is that we absolutely guarantee to fail if you don’t put your hand up.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, can you outline what benefit there is to Australia being on the Security Council for two years?

PM: Yes. If you are a member of the United Nations Security Council, you are an active and direct participant in the key decision-making body of the United Nations on all security policy matters. As you will recall, whether it was the debate over the Iraq war; whether it’s the consideration of particular actions against the Government of Iran; whether it’s other

matters; this is the critical decision-making body of the United Nations. Therefore, if you wish to be an effective member of the United Nations organisation, it means that you must express a regular interest in being a member of the Security Council. All security policy matters of multilateral significance are before the Council from time to time. Australia has an interest, therefore in being there.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, did you talk to the Secretary-General about your express desire for Australia to be more activist as a middle power state and more creative in its diplomacy?

PM: What I said to the Secretary-General was that he would find us active across a range of spheres of policy. Our conversation ranged across climate change, security policy challenges - obviously in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with the humanitarian challenges in Darfur, and other areas as well concerning the actual physical organization of the United Nations. He would have, I think, concluded from that, Australia’s back in business. We take the UN multilateral system seriously.

Remember, there are three pillars of Australia’s foreign policy. Our alliance with the United States, our membership of the United Nations, and our policy of comprehensive engagement in Asia, and we are prosecuting all three.

Page 2 of 5 Prime Minister of Australia - Interview - Press Conference at United Nations


JOURNALIST: You didn’t mention East Timor, but President Ramos Horta has been quoted as being somewhat critical of both the UN Police and separately of the Australian troops, in terms of the attempt on his life. One, was this with Mr Ban, and two, are Australian troops under UN control there and what’s been learned from the events that took place?

PM: Firstly, yes, we did discuss East Timor. I didn’t run through the entire list. We were scheduled, I think, for a half hour discussion and it ran for about an hour, so there was a lot to talk about. It’s my second meeting with the Secretary-General, in fact my third meeting with the Secretary-General. On the question of East Timor, the United Nations expressed its appreciation for the early action by Australia in deploying further troops and further police to East Timor within 24 hours of the attempted assassination of Jose Ramos Horta and on Xanana Gusmao.

On the particular matter which you raise, which was statements attributed to Jose Ramos Horta concerning the attempted assassination on himself, the UN already has underway its own internal investigation into the security arrangements concerning him at the time.

I have said before, and I have said again, that I have absolute, unqualified, confidence in the absolute professionalism of all Australian military personnel associated with the events of that day, including ensuring that Jose got to hospital in order to have his life saved by a hospital which was located on the Australian military base in Dili.

JOURNALIST: Mr Prime Minister, thank you. Welcome to you on behalf of the United Nations correspondents who are here.

PM: Thank you, good to see you.

JOURNALIST: Three quick questions?

PM: Oh, three!

JOURNALIST: For those of us who don’t know or haven’t been keeping track of who else has their hat in the ring for the Security Council seat that you are interested in, could you tell us that?

And in terms of Darfur, which you dwelt a lot on, one of the things that the Secretary-General has been seeking is helicopters and attack helicopters, and I wonder whether he asked you for any and whether you had a positive response for him?

This is your third meeting with the Secretary-General. We were all looking at your comments about what you had to say about President Bush after you met him, calling him a fine lad and a straight-forward fellow, I was wondering how you would characterise your relationship and your thoughts about the Secretary-General?

PM: All right. Gee, that’s an interesting menu! The first question is, and my understanding is and advice is that those states which have nominated for election to the UN Security Council at the same time are Finland and Luxembourg, but as I understand it, other nominations may be forthcoming.

On the second question about Darfur, the Secretary-General today was appreciative of our offer of those nine military officers and also that commitment of humanitarian assistance support, and I think it’s fair to say that the Secretary-General and his staff are fully appreciative of the constraints being imposed by the effective operational limitations being opposed by the government in Khartoum on any greater commitment by Western military powers. That’s the second point.

On the third, which is how do I characterize the Secretary-General of the United Nations, he seems to me to be a fine bloke, a decent fellow, and I’ve met him before when he was Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, prior to meeting him in his current responsibility. Being Secretary-General of the United Nations is a very tough job. You are ultimately at the disposal of the Member States. Secretary-Generals are often criticized for failing to act on X, Y and Z, A, B and C.

Actual political will, ultimately, resides in the hands of Nations States themselves and I think that should always be borne in mind for those to choose to unnecessarily attack the principal office bearers of the UN.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, you say the Secretary-General is very worried about the delays in implementing the Bali road map. How about you? How would you characterize progress on implementing Bali in terms of us doing what we need to do in time for Copenhagen?

PM: Well, Bali, of course, was last December and we have Copenhagen scheduled for the end of next year, so there is a stretch of time ahead of us, but if you look at the absolute complexity of the Bali road map and the matters which require resolution, it’s fair to say that progress across the international community is slow.

Therefore I support the Secretary-General’s statement to me of his concern about that. I support the actions he is taking in seeking to deploy the political engagement of the heads of Government of Indonesia, Poland the Denmark to provide

Page 3 of 5 Prime Minister of Australia - Interview - Press Conference at United Nations


further impetus to getting towards a successful conclusion. But this is also going to require the active, much more active, engagement of other member states, including the developing countries as well - China, India and others. Progress so far is too slow, but we’ve still got time to turn the corner, but let me tell you we’ve got to get cracking and I think the Secretary-General is being realistic in his concerns.

JOURNALIST: How did the meeting with Ben Bernanke go? Has it changed your outlook for the international economy and has it influenced what you want to do in terms of financial regulation and transparency?

PM: First of all, I would thank the US Administration for the range of meetings I was able to have in my first 24 hours in DC. Apart from the President, I was pleased to be able to meet with the Vice President, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Adviser, and then the Secretary of the Treasury, the Chairman of the Fed, and then, this morning, over coffee, with the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the SEC.

The meeting with the Chairman of the Fed was a good, long and focused discussion. Obviously, the matters near and dear to my own heart was: one, the extent of the challenge to global liquidity; two the extent of the challenge in terms of the global response to the adequacy of transparency arrangements across the financial institutions given the particular nature of the financial products involved and the use of these particular instruments.

I would say that I was more than satisfied with the way in which, to date, the US Administration is cooperating with their international counterparts in developing an integrated global response to the global financial crisis. Work being done within the Financial Stability Forum; work being done among the G7; work being done also in coordination with the IMF; work being done also in coordination with the G20; and there is a working group there that Australia also chairs. This work will start to come to fruition over the next month or two. This is a difficult time, but I am pleased by the extent to which the US Administration, through the Fed and through the Treasury, is working closely with its economic partners, including Australia.

JOURNALIST: So, after those discussions, what is your read on how vulnerable Australia’s economy is to what’s happening globally?

PM: The take-out for the Australian economy is still good. We have, of course, limited exposure to sub-prime, we have excellent balance sheets in terms of our principal corporations and the banks themselves. The default rate in Australia is miniscule by OECD standards. Furthermore, we have of course Governments to committed to continued budget surpluses and top of that, we, in our own East Asian hemisphere, because of the concentration of intra-regional trade involving Japan, China, India and others, and the higher growth rates projected for a number of those economies, we have a better set of economic prospects than a number of other economies. So, the economic message for Australia is still sound, strong and good.

JOURNALIST: I would like to defer my question to Junko Tanaka of NHK in Japan.

PM: Can you explain this conspiracy to me?

JOURNALIST: I am representing NHK in Japan and I’m based in Sydney. I have a question about your itinerary. One of the three pillars of your foreign policy is Asia, but you are spending only four days out of two weeks, all in China, and not a single day in Japan.

I know that you mentioned that the Japanese Government is not concerned because you have sent already four Cabinet Members to Japan, but I’ve been speaking to many people both in the Government and public (inaudible) Japan and there are some concerns and uneasiness about the lack of communication between the two leaders because there hasn’t been any telephone conversation between you and Prime Minister Fukuda.

And also the overall message we’re getting is you’re focused on China and not very interested in Japan. Do you think the Japanese are wrong to have that impression, or do you think there were some miscalculations on your side about Japan’s reaction.

PM: I think let’s put all this into a bit of context. My predecessor, when he was Prime Minister, I think on four or five separate occasions, visited China without visiting Japan. On four or five occasions my predecessor visiting Japan without visiting China. It’s simply the way in which visits are organised. Secondly, it is the current intention of both our governments for me to visit Japan twice this year, and I’m looking forward very much to those visits.

I think the other thing to say about our excellent relationship with Japan is that the Government, both in Opposition and since becoming Government has confirmed the absolute importance of the trilateral strategic dialogue that occurs between our three countries - Japan, the United States and Australia. I look forward very much to our Government’s continued participation in that dialogue and further more to our two upcoming visits to Japan, which I am sure will be excellent visits.

JOURNALIST: Should there have been a telephone call with the Japanese Prime Minister?

Page 4 of 5 Prime Minister of Australia - Interview - Press Conference at United Nations


PM: Well these telephone calls are arranged as needs arise, and I am sure they will arise from time to time. There are a number of foreign heads of Government with whom I’ve not had telephone contact and there are a number of telephone contacts scheduled ahead. This is entirely normal.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, on China, you’ve recently, or in recent days, you’ve toughened your talk on Tibet, saying it’s absolutely clear there are human rights abuses. What’s convinced you in recent days that there are human rights violations by Chinese authorities and won’t your comments make for some fairly awkward times when you get to Beijing?

PM: On the first point, I’ve said from day one there are human rights abuses. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think when this matter was first raised at a press conference in Canberra, I said let’s just be, without having the transcript of what I said at the time, let’s be clear about it, there are human rights abuses in China. Anyone here (inaudible) say that, I think that’s what I said.

And secondly, therefore, on that question, I don’t either my perception of what’s occurring or my description of what’s occurring has changed. The truth is that we’ve had human rights abuses in China over time. I have said that in the past. At present they are particularly manifest when it comes to Tibet.

I believe the right course of action is for the Government in China to exercise restraint. I also, as I indicated in my remarks yesterday with the President of the United States, that it’s important for the Chinese, through their intermediaries, to engage with the Dalai Lama and his intermediaries. I think that would be a right and useful way ahead.

JOURNALIST: Have you or anyone in your government had any reaction from the Chinese Government since your comments of yesterday?

PM: I’m unaware of any such reaction, and I think I’d better zip. That was about it, got to run.

JOURNALIST: From the other side of the world, Kosovo, that you did recognise on the second day, is being blocked in the Security Council. As a country seeking membership of the Security Council, what would yours do on the Security Council in that regard? You are aware of the poverty and they are looking to the membership of the international (inaudible)

PM: Well, you’re right to say earlier indicated its diplomatic recognition of the Kosovo state. The reason for that lies in the appalling recent history of the people, the poor people of that country. I think there is a body of opinion around the world which says this is the right way to go. I understand there are difficulties with the UN Security Council but I think our first interest would always be in terms of the fundamental rights of the people concerned and those rights have been sorely oppressed and abused in times past. Thank you very much.


Page 5 of 5 Prime Minister of Australia - Interview - Press Conference at United Nations