Transcript of doorstop interview, Chicago
SUN 20 MAY 2012
President Karzai and I signed a long-term partnership between Australia and Afghanistan. As I've said to the Australian people on more than one occasion, Australia will stay engaged with Afghanistan to the end of this decade at least, but the nature of our engagement will change after 2014.
At the end of 2014, the Afghan people will take responsibility for security in their nation, but we will continue to be engaged in Afghanistan, and the comprehensive partnership that I have signed today specifies the way in which we will work together.
It commits us to working together to combat transnational threats such as terrorism, narcotics and people smuggling. It commits Australia to supporting Afghanistan’s security after 2014, to supporting Afghanistan's development through an increased aid program, encouraging business and investment links, cooperating on migration issues and fostering people-to-people links and helping preserve Afghanistan's cultural heritage.
In line with that agreement, I can today announce that we will be increasing our aid and development assistance to Afghanistan. Whilst some gains have been made in aid and development in Afghanistan, it continues to be one of the poorest countries on earth. Life expectancy is 48 years old.
So there is much to do to assist the people of Afghanistan with services that Australians would take for granted, basic health and education services. Our aid commitment will rise from $165 million a year to $250 million per year by 2015/16.
That aid money is already doing good work in infrastructure, in the education of children, including girls, and in the provision of health services.
I've also had the opportunity today to engage in a range of bilateral discussions. I’ve met with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, the President of France, the Prime Minister of Slovenia, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the Commander of ISAF, General Allen, President Karzai of course, and later today I will meet with the President of Pakistan and the Chancellor of Germany.
I'm looking forward to the NATO Summit tomorrow and during the course of today's bilateral meeting I've had the opportunity to share perspectives on Afghanistan as we move towards the summit meeting tomorrow and I've had the opportunity to talk to my counterparts about questions in the global economy, particularly as we prepare for the forthcoming G20 meeting.
So I'm very happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when you meet with President Zardari later today will you be urging him to re-open supply lines?
PM: I will certainly be indicating to the President that those supply lines are necessary for Australia and our work, that we've got an interest in seeing those supply lines opened.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe there's grounds for an apology to Pakistan for the deaths of those Pakistani soldiers in November?
PM: Look I’m not going to involve myself in these issues between the United States and Pakistan, but it is in our interests, I believe, in everybody’s interests, to see those supply lines open.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, did you discuss the possibility of ongoing role of Special Forces, our Special Forces in Afghanistan?
PM: As I’ve made clear consistently, we're starting transition in Uruzgan province and that will take between 12 and 18 months. By the end of 2014, the ISAF mission as we know it now is at an end and Afghan people will be leading security and providing security for their own nation.
But I've said beyond 2014 we'll continue to be engaged with Afghanistan, we'll continue to be engaged in training, particularly in the artillery school and in a UK-led venture to train Afghan army officers.
I have said we are leaving the door open for a potential role for Special Forces under the right mandate, but in my discussions today, whilst I've restated in those discussions the same position I've put publicly, there is still some time to work through what all of those arrangements post-2014 will look like.
JOURNALIST: What is the right mandate? (inaudible)
PM: In respect of the engagement post-2014, this is still early days. There is discussions to be had and work to be done, but it may be that there is a role for Special Forces to assist with continuing counter-terrorism after 2014.
There will be, I believe, and certainly we support and this will be a topic of discussion at tomorrow's Summit, a continued NATO engagement for training and advice and assistance beyond 2014.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister in respect of the partnership agreement you’ve signed today, how certain are you that Afghanistan can maintain the sorts of standards that Australia want (inaudible)?
PM: Well I think we’ve just got to take a fairly common sense approach here, which is Afghanistan is an incredibly poor country and so, whether it's infant mortality or health care for women and girls, circumstances in Afghanistan are very, very different from circumstances in Australia. It's a very poor nation.
We have seen improvements though. We've seen improvements in the provision of health care and the reach of basic health care to the population. We've seen improvements in child mortality, we've seen improvements in access to education including for women and girls.
The agreement that I've signed today does talk about the importance of appropriate governance, it does talk about the importance of equality of women and making sure that women can take an appropriate role in the society in Afghanistan.
So we want to see continued development work to build on what has already been achieved, but I do want to be very clear, we are coming off an incredibly low base. This is a very, very poor country.
JOURNALIST: Does that mean that if some of the gains that have been made for women and girls in particular are wound back under any political settlement with the Taliban or whatever, that Australia's support, financial, aid and the rest of it may be reviewed?
PM: I don't think we can engage in those kind of hypotheticals. We want to see for Afghanistan - it's in our national interest and what took us to Afghanistan in the first place is that it is no longer, never again becomes, a safe haven for the training of terrorists.
For the future of the Afghan nation, for building a democracy and a stable nation, this is the work of the Afghan people. But we can help and we will be helping through aid and development monies. We've seen some changes to date and of course we'd want to see further improvements.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on a matter back home, Craig Thomson’s speech to Parliament today, do you think he’s going to convince (inaudible) will you invite Craig Thomson back to the Labor Party (inaudible)
PM: Look, I’ve dealt with all of these questions in almost every iteration imaginable before I left Australia and so I'll leave it at that. My focus here is on the Summit and associated meetings.
PM: Look, I dealt with that question very directly when I was back in Australia so my focus here is on the work associated with the Summit.
JOURNALIST: What about once he’s spoken, will you be speaking to us them about your response?
PM: Look, my focus is on the work I need to do here. Obviously I'll be returning to Australia for the second half of the parliamentary week.
JOURNALIST: Do you urge him not to name names in this statement, because that could open the prospect of giving people the right of reply?
PM: Look, I’m not engaging with these matters half a world away and Mr Thomson's statement is a matter for Mr Thomson.
PM: Look, my focus is on the very important work I've got to do here on Afghanistan, the work of the summit.
JOURNALIST: Just on Afghanistan, the statement, the long-term partnership statement, does talk about the need for a political settlement. How does that fit, having a political settlement with the Taliban with the fact that the fighting is going to continue by the very nature you're considering keeping Special Forces there?
PM: I think we’ve got to be fairly clear in our minds about what we mean by political settlement. We've said for some time now that if there are elements of the Taliban who are prepared to renounce violence, cut any links with international terrorism and accept the Afghan constitution, then they should be involved in reconciliation discussions.
This needs to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. That's nothing new in that. We've said that for long period of time.
We also have said for a long period of time that it is possible for individuals to reintegrate. So people who have perhaps been involved in fighting, not necessarily highly motivated combatants, but people who have become involved in fighting, this is a poor country, there would be people who have been involved in fighting because they're seeking to find a way for themselves and a way for their family in a very difficult country and difficult place who, at a local level, can become reintegrated into local community activities.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) happen in the middle of the congress on the peace settlement with the Taliban?
PM: It’s difficult. It’s a very difficult process and it does need to be Afghan-owned. We are ultimately talking about the political composition of the leadership of the Afghan nation. So, yes, this is a difficult issue but we do believe that endeavours need to continue to be made to seek political reconciliation.
JOURNALIST: What you said to the French President and what you'd say to Australian people who'd look at the French withdrawal of combat troops and think, ""Why can't we get out at the same time?"
PM: The President of France will speak for himself in his own words. I had a good discussion with him, it was of course the first time that I've met him. I had a good discussion with him both on Afghanistan and we had a discussion on circumstances in the European economy.
What I believe he is saying is that he will keep the commitment that he gave the French people about withdrawing combat forces, but there are other ways of supporting the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, including through training, so it is possible to play a role supporting the work of ISAF in Afghanistan other than through the provision of combat troops.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) the Australian people, if the French can leave, why can't we?
PM: Well, to the Australian people, my argument continues to be the same as to why we're in Afghanistan. It is in our national interest to be there.
We went there because of our national interest, of course to stand by our ally the United States, but also because it was in Australia's national interest to go to the country where training had happened of terrorists who came and took Australian lives.
In 9/11, in Bali, we can actually trace the connections and trace the taking of Australian lives by terrorists to training that happened in Afghanistan, so it's unambiguously in our national interest to no longer see Afghanistan be a safe haven for terrorists.
And given all that we've done and all that we've lost, it makes sense for Australia, in our national interest, to see the rest of the job through.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, I understand that when you were speaking to British Prime Minister David Cameron you delivered something of a rebuke to him about an impersonation of you once?
PM: I did chide him very gently on impersonating my very Australian accent. He was doing it, I think, for comedy and enjoyment of the British people. I joked with him when I was in Perth at CHOGM about supporting a sheila, being the monarch of Great Britain, should a girl be the first born, if Will and Kate have a child and a girl be the first born.
He took it in very good spirits. I certainly indicated to him I will not be endeavouring to mimic his accent wherever I go.
Thank you very much.