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Transcript of doorstop interview: Botannical Food Company: 11 April 2006: Export success on the Sunshine Coast; developments in the Cole Inquiry.

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



Subjects: Export success on the Sunshine Coast; Developments in the Cole Inquiry.

RUDD: Well it is great to be here in Palmwoods today to talk about a great Australian export success story, Gourmet Gardens. This has grown like top seed in the past five years and it is a great concept - to take quality herbs and spices, package them and manufacture them to send to markets right across the world? This company now has succeeded in securing 800 distribution points in the United States and is starting to contribute also to the major retail trends in the United Kingdom, as well as having a significant market within Australia itself.

So altogether now we see a company which is now selling something like $14 million dollars and with great prospects in terms of growing the business. Also, having looked at the quality of the food processing facilities here at Palmwoods today, you can see that it is providing not just quality processed foods for domestic and foreign markets, but also jobs for this local area. This company now in all of its divisions is providing something like 100 local jobs, which is important particularly in an area like food processing.

And I say this as far as where it fits in with our overall national objectives. For Australia, we need to make sure that we have got a vision for our economic future which is bigger than Australia just being the world’s quarry and the region’s beach. We need to have a presence in manufacturing; we need to have continued manufacturing and part of the success of our manufacturing business

is to ensure that food processing occupies a core place. I have got great confidence in this team’s ability to take this successful local business and turn it into a genuine world leader. The quality of the product is good, the local workforce is committed, the capital investment here is first class and there is a vision and a passion for how you take this brand, Gourmet Gardens, and turn that into a world brand and they are well on the path to doing that. I will also add one final point as well. I have also asked today the level of assistance being provided by Commonwealth and State Governments and there seems to be a good Team Australia effort - that is, good support from AusTrade, good support under the Export Markets Development Grants and good support from the State Labor Government as well. This is important because we need a Team Australia approach to make sure that there is a viable long-term approach to Australia’s food processing business because we have got to take on the world. To do that effectively we have got to do that together.

Now to developments in the Cole Inquiry today. The Foreign Minister, Mr Downer, has been appearing today at the Cole Inquiry in Sydney. The Foreign Minister has a very big problem on his hands. The Foreign Minister has either misled the Inquiry or he has misled the Australian Parliament. In his evidence to the Inquiry today, Mr Downer has said that he has no recollection of having received or read a critical cable of January 2000. That cable was the first UN warning about Canadian concerns that the AWB was paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime. Mr Downer today says he has no recollection of having received or read that cable.

The problem is that Mr Downer was asked about this in February this year in Parliament. And in February this year in Parliament, he said that he would have read that cable. We asked him specifically about the 13 January cable and he said in Parliament that he would have read it. So, in Parliament Mr Downer said that he has read this critical cable containing warnings, but in the Inquiry he makes a statement saying that he has not read it at all.

There is only one of two alternatives here: either the Foreign Minister has misled the Australian Parliament or he has misled the Cole Commission of Inquiry. And I have got to say that Mr Downer must clarify this as a matter of urgency.

On top of that, Mr Downer’s statement to the Inquiry today is an interesting document in itself. On 27 occasions, the Foreign Minister of Australia says that he can’t recall or has no memory of reading critical cables warning the Australian Government of what the AWB was up to in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. On 27

separate occasions the Foreign Minister says that he can’t remember and can’t recall.

Yesterday, we had the Deputy Prime Minister on 41 occasions saying that he can’t remember anything. Today, the Foreign Minister says on 27 occasions he can’t remember anything. My question is, can the Howard Government remember anything at all about this $300 million dollar wheat for weapons scandal?

You have the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and a Trade Minister who have been directed to appear in front of a Royal Commission, directed to give sworn evidence to that Royal Commission, but at the end of the day they say they heard nothing, they saw nothing and therefore they could do nothing to stop this $300 million dollar wheat for weapons scandal. I mean, give us a break.

REPORTER: Do you think that Mr Downer has a selective memory here?

RUDD: Well, what I have pointed to today is that there is a basic conflict in the evidence that he has presented to the Inquiry on the one hand and his statement to the Australian Parliament on the other. I have got to say that Mr Downer has got a major challenge on his hands right now to reconcile the conflicting accounts.

You can’t say one thing to the Australian Parliament and say completely the opposite to a Commission of Inquiry. It simply is not acceptable. And the cable in question is a critical cable. The cable of January 2000 was a warning from the Australian Mission to the United Nations to the Australian Government in Canberra saying look, the UN is concerned that the AWB is providing kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime. This is no ordinary cable. It is a highly sensitive cable. It was one that would have been distributed to the Foreign Minister’s office and today he says in his sworn statement that he did not receive it and he did not read it.

REPORTER: The Foreign Minister is delivering his statement to the Inquiry today. Do you expect that the Prime Minister will also be taking the stand?

RUDD: Well, that is a matter for Commissioner Cole as to whether the Prime Minister is called to give evidence. The Prime Minister’s core challenge is this: if he has nothing to hide will expand Commissioner Cole’s terms of reference so that he can give him the powers to make determinations not just about the AWB, but determinations about whether Howard Government Ministers have done their job under Australian law.

REPORTER: Would it have been pre-organised that the Howard Government Ministers would go into the Inquiry and state these lines throughout their appearance?

RUDD: Collective amnesia seems to be a very big complaint across the Howard Government right now - 41 times yesterday from the Trade Minister, 27 times today from the Foreign Minister. And these are the guys who run our country.

REPORTER: How will the Foreign Minister respond to your suggestion that his answer was described differently?

RUDD: Well the challenge there is both with the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister. You can’t have a Foreign Minister who stands up in Parliament under Parliamentary privilege and says that one thing occurred when it comes to this critical cable and then front to a Commission of Inquiry and say that something else occurred. It just doesn’t wash.

You see, the political strategy being employed by this Government is the Sergeant Schultz strategy - I saw nothing, I heard nothing and therefore I could do nothing about it. Well, frankly that just doesn’t wash with the Australian people. Howard Government Ministers received 21 cables from around the world over a five year period, warning them about what the AWB was up to. And they ignored each one of them.

Mr Downer today has a big question to answer as to why what he said to Parliament is not consistent with what he has now provided by way of evidence to the Cole Commission of Inquiry.

REPORTER: What do you see as the ultimate outcome of all of this?

RUDD: That is a matter for Commissioner Cole. Our challenge to the Prime Minister is to give Commissioner Cole fair dinkum powers, fair dinkum powers to make determinations about whether Howard Government Ministers have done their job under Australian law. So far, the Commission doesn’t have those fair dinkum powers - the only powers that he has got is to determine whether or not the AWB has committed a criminal offence.

Ends 11 April 2006.

Contact: Alister Jordan 0417 605 823