Transcript of interview with Sabra Lane, Beijing
THU 28 APRIL 2011
Subject(s): Visit to North Asia; Royal wedding; Budget
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve just wrapped up your meeting with President Hu, what did you talk about and what did he say about human rights?
PM: This was a very positive meeting. We talked about the economic relationship between our two countries. We certainly talked about the free trade agreement and endeavouring to inject new momentum into the negotiations on our free trade agreement. We talked about collaboration in the G20, of course Australia and China both believe that the G20 must continue as the premier economic forum to continue to drive global recovery and growth. We did talk about our defence security cooperation and what is happening there with, for example, the Chief of our Defence Force now meeting annually with his counterpart in China
I did also take the opportunity in the context of a broader discussion about the United Nations and the role that it plays and Australia's contribution in the United Nations to advocate our bid for election to the Security Council and I did mention the question of human rights during the course of these discussions.
JOURNALIST: And how did the President take your comments about human rights? Did he give you any sort of response?
PM: Look, I don't believe it is appropriate for me to put words in President Hu's mouth, but I believe his reaction clearly showed that he understands that Australia is concerned about human rights and has consistently raised these concerns.
JOURNALIST: Premier Wen yesterday said that China wasn't taking a backward step. Are you satisfied with those assurances?
PM: I think what is important is that we continue to raise our voice on human rights. We do that because we believe in it. It is part of who we are, it is part of our culture, our system, what we believe in as Australians, and I do believe whilst we are one voice in the international community, our voice should be heard and as the international community raises these issues, I do believe that China does listen to and respond to international opinion.
JOURNALIST: How does it respond?
PM: Well, I don't think you can just quickly draw lines between cause and effect, but I do believe that the views of the international community are important to China and so it is important, when we've got clear views, that we put them.
JOURNALIST: You've said that you talked about defence and more cooperation on that. How is that likely to manifest itself?
PM: Well, we have seen increased defence cooperation. This is taking the form of discussions between counterparts. It is also taking the form of some shared exercises, including live firing exercises.
JOURNALIST: And the free trade negotiations? You tried to inject some new enthusiasm into those talks. The reality, is it going to be a long way off? A year? Five years?
PM: This is not easy, and so it’s going to take consistent work. These free trade negotiations have been going on for a number of years now – a number of years – but ultimately I believe free trade is good for Australia. Freer trade is good for Australia and China, so we will keep working through it, even though it is an agreement with some areas of sensitivity.
JOURNALIST: TBA, basically.
PM: Well, I do think that having political leaders meet and agree to inject momentum into the talks does help.
JOURNALIST: You've said on this trip that you would like to see Australia play more of a role in regional issues like North Korea. What kind of a role are you anticipating there? Is it kind of like a cop on the beat?
PM: For example, the issue with North Korea, there is a forum for discussions on those security questions. That is the Six Party talks and we are not one of the six parties, but I do believe, as consistent with what I've said to you about human rights, that we should raise our voice on issues that we are concerned about and security on the Korean peninsula is an important issue to our region. We are part of the region. It is an important issue to us, so we should have our voice heard on the unacceptable nature of North Korean aggression, and we should have our voice heard, too, on calling on North Korea to seriously show that it is prepared to de-nuclearise, to abide by UN Security Council resolutions, and to get into meaningful dialogue on better security on the Korean peninsula.
JOURNALIST: And with Japan, you’ve talked about, while we were there, wanting a new vision on Australia-Japan defence cooperation. What exactly does that mean?
PM: We have defence cooperation with Japan now, so I did talk to Prime Minister Kan about continuing that defence cooperation, which has been of long standing, so we will continue working with Japan.
We did particularly talk at this difficult time about furthering cooperation on natural disaster preparedness. We’ve worked together in Christchurch. We’ve worked together in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami, and we believe that we can focus on the best way to work together in the face of future natural disasters, not only in each other’s country, but potentially in other third countries we could go to assist.
JOURNALIST: Did you that particularly difficult, visiting Minami-Sanriku? The cameras didn’t show it, but when you left the mayor gave you a hug. What did he say to you?
PM: It was incredibly difficult, and the mayor was very generous in saying to me, at the end of the visit, that I had helped to cheer people up. It was pretty humbling to hear that, because you see people in such desperate circumstances, so I know it seems almost token in some ways to be there just shaking hands and playing with kids, handing out some koalas and kangaroos, but if that even raises one smile in such difficult circumstances then it’s very much worth doing.
JOURNALIST: And you found it, it seemed to be at times you were pretty close to, keeping things contained, shall we say.
PM: It was just such a devastating scene, and I can summon a vision of it sitting here now. It will live with me for the rest of my life – just such amazing devastation, and then to see these incongruous sights like a boat on top of a building, a fishing net on the top of a 4-storey building, and to hear the mayor tell me about how he’d actually clung on to the stairs on that building, the outside stairs, for dear life, I mean, these are very emotionally powerful stories, and it’s hard to imagine how you would feel if you lived in a township of around 20,000 people, to see half of them washed away never to be seen again.
JOURNALIST: Here in China there has been a lot of interest on your visit. Did anyone raise with you the issue of Kevin Rudd and why he wasn't prime minister anymore?
PM: No, they did not, and look I've been here pursuing productive discussions with President Hu, with Premier Wen, with leading figures from the business community, advocating Australia's national interests, so our discussions have centred on that.
JOURNALIST: Your styles are very different. When Kevin Rudd made his first appearance here as prime minister he went to Peking University and lectured them. You have taken a very different approach. Why?
PM: Look, I am who I am and my style is my own.
JOURNALIST: While you've been here as well, on your entire trip you've set aside a couple of hours every day; you've been working away on the budget. Wayne Swan has predicted that you'll take a political hit. What do you think?
PM: Look, this is not an easy budget to put together and the Treasurer has made that clear back home in Australia. We are in a set of economic circumstances where our economy, our underlying economy, is very strong and we are going to move to a situation over the next few years where our economy is running at almost full capacity with all of the pressures that that can bring.
At the same time, it is what I call a patchwork economy. We've got some areas with really strong growth, hungry for skills, hungry for infrastructure, hungry for new workers, whilst other parts of the nation really do need assistance to make sure that people have got the full benefits of economic opportunity and then, of course, we have got the immediate pressures on us from our own natural disasters – the cyclone, the floods - and then the economic consequences of the huge disaster in Japan.
So it is quite a mixed scene as we put the budget together but we are working hard to get it right for the economy and for the opportunity and prosperity of Australians.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Mr Swan? Do you think you’ll take a political hit?
PM: Look, I’ll allow Australians to absorb the budget and to digest and see what they think for themselves. I understand we are dealing in a difficult set of circumstances to put the budget together, and Wayne is reflecting that.
JOURNALIST: Does it irk you that as a republican, now, that you are getting on a plane and heading off to London to attend the wedding?
PM: It will be a delightful time, I'm sure. Two happy young people in love, a lot of pomp, a lot of ceremony and I'm sure I'm going to enjoy it.
JOURNALIST: But does it irk you, though, that as a republican that you're going to this event?
PM: I think if we look right around the world, whether people are republicans or not, whether they've got any natural connection with the United Kingdom or not, people are getting excited about the Royal wedding. Here in China I've had people talk to me about the Royal wedding, so the excitement is everywhere and I think I'll get caught up in that excitement too.
JOURNALIST: One last question – I know that you’ve said that your comments about not having a passion for foreign affairs are the most over-interpreted comments in history, but are you developing an attachment to it, given the warmth of the receptions you receive, not only in Japan, but also in Korea?
PM: I’ll always be interested in advocating Australia’s national interest. That’s what I’ve been doing on this trip, and I’m always happy to do that.
Of course, I’ve always been interested in the affairs of the world, but I have made comments in the past which continue to be true – the thing that brought me into politics, the thing that first made me think I wanted to be involved in politics, was caring about opportunity, the fair distribution of opportunity, making sure that every child got a fair chance, and that will be what continues to drive me.
But I understand for Australians to have opportunity we’ve got to make our way in a competitive world. We’re doing that, and having me out talking to our major trading partners and countries in our region is part of that.
JOURNALIST: How do you think this trip’s gone?
PM: Look, I’ve been very pleased. I set myself a number of objectives. Of course, I’m talking to three countries, in terms of export destinations the top three countries. Between them they take around 50 per cent of our exports, so I set myself objectives about working through our economic relationship, seeking to add to it with each country by talking about our free trade agreements and prospects for bringing them to conclusion. I wanted, on this trip, to talk to Japan, South Korea and China about collaboration in the G20 and the East Asia Summit, and I’ve been able to do that, as well as collaboration in APEC.
Each has had its particular characteristic. Of course, in Japan the natural disaster was such a big theme of what I did there; in South Korea, Anzac Day and commemorating the events of the Korean War, particularly the Battle of Kapyong; and here in China it’s had a particular business focus because of the chief executive officers’ forum at the same time as my visit.
JOURNALIST: Lovely. Thanks for your time.
PM: Thank you.