Transcript of Joint Press Conference
FRI 19 OCTOBER 2012
Prime Minister, Minister for Trade and Competitiveness
Subject(s): Successful United Nations Security Council bid; Houston review into asylum seekers; Foreign aid budget
PM: I’m joined by the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Emerson. This is a great day for Australia. We have succeeded in our bid for the Security Council.
It has been 27 years since Australia served on the Security Council and that is far too long for a nation of our status and our contribution to the United Nations.
We were a founding member of the United Nations and we have been involved in UN activities around the world, including peace-building and including alleviating poverty around the world.
I am delighted that Australia's campaign for the Security Council has succeeded.
What it shows is that our reputation is high. It also shows that our bilateral relationships are in good repair.
The UN is important to us because it is the body globally that builds the rules-based order under which we seek to live, and consequently it is a force for peace and stability.
The UN will be particularly important to us over the coming two years.
So as we are on the Security Council, we will be dealing with issues of importance to our nation, including the UN engagement with the mission in Afghanistan, and the future of that mission beyond 2014; the UN engagement with East Timor and what that holds for the future; the UN's approach to sanctions regimes to deal with the scourge of proliferation in our world, and particularly the circumstances in Iran and North Korea.
The continued fight against global terror will also be on the agenda of the Security Council over the coming two years.
And it is the Security Council which will have to continue to wrestle with the violence in Syria and the way in which that violence can be brought to an end.
So, this is a proud day for Australia with a lot of people to thank for having got this tremendous result overnight in New York.
I would like to thank the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for having the foresight to launch Australia on this campaign for election to the Security Council, and for all the work he did as Foreign Minister to pursue that campaign and to pursue our election to the Security Council.
I would like to thank Stephen Smith, who in his time as Minister for Foreign Affairs, was also a tireless advocate of this campaign.
I would like to thank Bob Carr who has travelled endlessly and has put his shoulder to the wheel in the closing stages of this campaign, including in New York this week. He has been a very firm advocate for Australia's interests and done a lot of hard work.
I would like to thank Dr Emerson in his capacity as Minister for Trade who has managed to advocate for Australia's election to the Security Council, even in the context of discussions that were supposedly about something else.
I would also like to thank Parliamentary Secretary Marles who has done a tremendous job in our region of the world in the Pacific and beyond to represent Australia in this campaign.
I would like to thank the large number of special envoys that we sent around the world to advocate for Australia.
And I would also like to thank those from our diplomatic corps who have gone above and beyond for this campaign, particularly Dennis Richardson for his leadership at DFAT, Gillian Bird for her leadership of the bid at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade here.
They've both put in remarkable efforts and I've had the opportunity to thank the two of them personally during the course of the morning, as I thanked the departmental staff generally for their efforts.
I would like to particularly mention the efforts of Gary Quinlan, our Ambassador to the United Nations. He has been truly magnificent.
Running a UN campaigns requires a lot of work, a lot of skill, a lot of fortitude, there is a lot of tension involved and Gary has been absolutely tremendous through that.
I would also like to thank Caroline Millar who has been an indispensable part of this campaign and without her hard work alongside Gary, I cannot see us having succeeded in this campaign.
I would also like generally to pay tribute to Australian diplomats here and around the world.
This is a victory for Australian diplomacy and our staff here in Canberra but in missions and posts around the world have all been central to our effort in this campaign to holding the reputation of Australia up high.
I would also like to thank the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, a key reason why Australia has such a high reputation around the world is because of the work the ADF does.
I would like to thank our aid workers. They, too, working in the poorest and most difficult regions of the world, help build a perception of our nation and help build our name as Australians.
And I would like to thank the men and women of the Australian Federal Police who go around the world and do policing work and police training work.
Once again, we send them often to very difficult, sometimes dangerous places, but they too build Australia's reputation.
This is a victory for all of those people. This is a great victory for our nation. It is a very exciting day and I'm very proud to be here and able to speak about it. I will take some questions now.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in your speech to the General Assembly, you singled out inaction of the Security Council over Syria.
Will a priority of our membership be to back the United States and UK in pressuring the Chinese and the Russians to take a more active or interventionist approach to the Assad regime?
PM: During our two years on the Security Council, we will take an Australian voice, an Australian accent into the Security Council, and in our Australian voice we will say the same things in the Security Council that we have said beyond it.
We do believe that there needs to be action to address the violence in Syria, and so we will certainly advocate for that.
Our active advocacy will start from the start of next year. The term formally starts at the start of next year.
We will, from the start of November, 1 November, start to attend Security Council meetings for the purpose of observing, that's the way of working your way into the agenda, and then our active role starts from 1 January next year.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, we're told that nations who sit on the Security Council bring their own strategies for that two-year term. What's Australia's broad strategy for the Security Council?
PM: Well, our strategy is the same as our strategy for Australian diplomacy generally. We, as a Labor government, are very proud of Labor's track record in the United Nations.
It was Labor that took our nation into being a founding member in the United Nations. It's Labor that has held those values up high, of multilateral engagement through the UN. So we will take our philosophy about foreign affairs into the Security Council.
It as a philosophy about seeking to strengthen the global rules-based order. It is a philosophy about being prepared to be engaged in peace-making and peace-building, understanding that that is a pre-condition for development and the true alleviation of poverty.
It is a philosophy about being prepared to take your energies and efforts into the humanitarian realm, that you don't stand by when disaster strikes and you don't stand by when there are pressing circumstances of poverty, famine and the like.
We've got a proud track record around the world of taking a humanitarian perspective, a fair-go perspective.
And then of course on the security front, we have been strong supporters of sanctions against regimes that would seek to proliferate nuclear weapons.
We've been strong combatants in the fight against global terror and that fight is also engaged in, in the UN Security Council through the work it does in Afghanistan and the work it does on sanctions regimes for individuals associated with al-Qaeda, and other agencies of global terror.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Rupert Murdoch has tweeted, "Big deal. No Aussies care."
Could you give us your response to that comment, and also, average Australians might be thinking this is all a bit esoteric, why should we care. Why should they?
PM: Well, Mr Murdoch is entitled to his view. Obviously I don't share it.
Why should Australians care? Well, I think Australians care about our soldiers in Afghanistan. They care about the mission there and they care about its future and that will be on the table at the UN Security Council.
I think Australians care desperately about the future of East Timor, particularly our veterans care desperately about the future of East Timor.
If you want a discussion about East Timor, take yourself to an RSL. And part of the future of East Timor will be worked through at the Security Council.
We are people of peace. Australians care about living on a planet that is a peaceful planet, and that relates to the work of the Security Council.
Australians are concerned about nuclear weapons being in the wrong hands, in the hands of a regime like North Korea, in the hands of a regime like Iran.
These issues concern us, as they concern the peoples of the world, and they are dealt with at the Security Council.
Australians are big-hearted people. We care about humanitarian disasters; we care about the fight against global poverty. This is the work of the UN.
And Australians, I think, too, understand that in an increasingly interconnected planet, the way in which we can make our way in the world is increasingly defined by the circumstances of the world generally.
It's never been true that you can be just your own island and a fortress.
We've always had to engage with the world, but that is more true today than it has ever been in the history in the planet on which we live, and that's why the Security Council is important.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, it's often said that at some point Australia will have to choose between America and China. Is it likely that on the Security Council that choice will actually be crystallised and are we ready to make that decision?
PM: I think that analysis is infantile. I know that it's pursued in the media from time to time but I think it's infantile and in the face of the facts.
Here we stand today with a strong defence alliance with the United States of America which is understood and known in our region.
We didn't sneak up on anybody with this defence alliance.
It's been there for decades and decades and decades and known in the region for decades and decades and decades, so we have a strong defence alliance with the US, and we have a robust relationship with China.
And I know that it's fashionable in some parts of the media to talk this relationship down. That analysis is infantile.
We are engaged with China deeply at every level. Strongly economically, government to government links, people to people links, military to military links, academic to academic links, and the list goes on.
So let's not create a world of silly analysis and false choices. That's not the world we live in.
JOURNALIST: You've come back from a highly successful state visit to India and you now have this diplomatic triumph. Do you regret or have you moved on from your earlier statement that you do not have a passion for foreign affairs?
PM: What I said then I absolutely stand by because I was describing the things that motivated to me to get into politics and what's truly closest to my heart and, yes, what got me into politics and truly closest to my heart is creating opportunity and making sure that we get every child in every school a great education.
That was true when I was 20 at Adelaide University. It’s true as a 51-year-old Prime Minister. And if I get the opportunity to live to 80 or 90 it will be true then.
That shouldn't be interpreted to say that I don't have an enthusiasm for working in other areas.
For example, as a minister, workplace relations, where the men and women of the press gallery would be able to say I showed a great deal of enthusiasm and as Prime Minister on Australia’s reputation in the world.
I’m a fiercely proud Australian and I'm proud of Australia today. This is good for us and we should be proud of it.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, could I ask your attitude towards the Opposition's statements about the bid, particularly given there is an election next year and it's possible that there could be a Coalition government during our position on the Security Council?
PM: We're elected to the Security Council now for two years, so full stop on that sentence.
I think it is disappointing that the Opposition today hasn't had the generosity of spirit to say that this is a great day for Australia. It is.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in relation to the Middle East, there was some discussion about how we would vote in relation to Israel and Palestine during the year. Will Australia be taking into the Security Council its traditional position on Israel?
And secondly, just on a personnel matter, would Mr Quinlan be expected to continue through the full appointment to our Security Council?
PM: Well, if I can take them in the reverse order, I think provided he is willing to continue to serve - this is a big and stressful job - but provided he is willing to continue to serve, I think Gary Quinlan is the right person to continue to represent our nation in New York.
And having done so much to ensure that this campaign was successful, I think it's well and truly fitting and appropriate that Mr Quinlan gets to represent our nation on the Security Council. So, that's the answer to your second question.
On your first question, we are long, historic friends of Israel and we will continue to be friends of Israel. We are not friends who never criticise. We obviously talk to Israel, as we talk to the Palestinian Authorities about the pathway to peace.
We would all want to see a durable peace in the Middle East, but we will take with us into the Security Council everything that has always been known about the position of Labor and the Government on Israel.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, further to the question on the Opposition. They've had a gripe about the costs. What do you say to people who say it's just too expensive, the whole thing?
PM: Well, there have been around $25 million devoted to this campaign. Of course the work of DFAT has had to be geared towards the campaign as well, but $25 million spent on the campaign.
To hold Australia's reputation up high and to have us on a body of such importance to the world, I consider that money well spent, and as a proud Australian, I think people do want to see Australia having its own voice, an Australian voice, in the main decision-making bodies of the world, and that is what we've secured.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, a number of foreign aid commitments have been made in the years leading up to this bid, are they all going to be honoured and is there going to be any change to the foreign aid budget when you do the mid-year budget?
PM: We've shown a strong commitment on foreign aid and you should expect us to continue to show that strong commitment and we work around the world with a focus on poverty alleviation, on gender equality, because gender equality matters so much to development.
We obviously work on education around the world.
We are very focused on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in nations that are struggling to achieve those goals about maternal mortality, kids in school, lifting people out of absolute poverty, and we've got a lot of work to continue to do in our region and around the world to achieve those goals.
JOURNALIST: Is the aid budget safe from the mid-year update?
PM: Well, for all the obvious reasons, I don't get into what is a slippery slope here where you put one part of the budget to me and then 50 questions later you've gone through every other line item in the budget, so I would direct you to the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook when it's delivered.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you believe the position on the Security Council opens doors, in terms of bilateral talks with more countries - people come knocking on Australia's door for not only talking to us not only about Security Council issues, but also trade issues and so on, would that be a spin-off?
PM: I think the fact that we have succeeded shows that our bilateral relationships are in good repair, that Australia around the world is valued as an international player, so I think it shows our bilateral relationship are in good repair.
Being on the Security Council is not a piece on the economic table as we go around trade discussions. It doesn't play that role, and we wouldn't seek to have it play that role.
But clearly nations will be wanting to talk to us about matters that are on the agenda at the Security Council, and that's a good thing.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can I ask you about offshore processing. The Coalition has suggested that asylum seekers could stay on Nauru or Manus Island for five years. Is that an acceptable period of time, and how does that compare to Labor's no-advantage policy?
PM: Well, we are implementing the recommendations of the Houston Review. I would remind that that review was delivered by Angus Houston, former Chief of our Defence Force, by Paris Aristotle, a well-known refugee advocate, and by Michael L'Estrange, an expert in foreign policy.
They are the authors of the no-advantage test and we have adopted it as government policy, so we will continue to do what we've promised which is implement the recommendation of the Houston Review - or the recommendations, I should say - implement the recommendations of the Houston Review.
The Houston review doesn’t invite people to make stuff up as they go along. It invites people to deliver an integrated set of policy measures that will deal with the question of people smuggling and asylum seekers, so we're not making stuff up along, as we go, the way the Opposition is.
We are determined to implement the full recommendations of the Houston Review.
JOURNALIST: Well, how (inaudible) is it no-advantage then?
PM: Well, the Houston Review gave guidance on how to determine this question, and said it should be done in discussions with UNHCR.
The idea is to define what is the period of time someone would have waited if they had not moved but had stayed where they were for processing by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, further to Lauren's question, with regards to offshore processing, on current arrivals and arrivals since 14 August you've only got about a 40% chance of being sent to an offshore place.
Don't you need to sort this problem out because you're going to have a system that's already overflowing, and a system that can't cope with the processing threat that your Government has?
PM: Well, you are focused on Nauru and PNG, and I can understand that, but I would remind you that is part but not all of the recommendations of the Houston Review, and we will be implementing or seeking to implement the rest of the recommendations.
And we will, through the existence of processing on Manus and Nauru, be continuing to send a very strong message that getting on a boat, risking your life does not get you an outcome in Australia, because of this no-advantage test.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) this is the point. You've got over 4700 or thereabouts, about 2100 maximum offshore. The other people who aren't sent there are going to be processed here, I take it, and when it that going to start?
PM: Well, the aim here is to be true to the Houston Review and we will continue to make and announce decisions which are true to that review
JOURNALIST: Given what the review said, has the Government made any progress in the further discussions with Malaysia?
PM: We are continuing those discussions. Minister Bowen would be in the best position to give you a very detailed update, but those discussions following my conversation with the Prime Minister were to keep occurring at the level of Minister Bowen to his counterpart, Minister Hishamuddin.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you think Tony Abbott hates his wife and daughters, as a misogynist?
PM: I gave a speech about this in Parliament as you might be aware and I said what I wanted to say about sexism and misogyny.
I stand by every word of that speech and as I indicated in that speech, when I see sexism or misogyny, call it for what it is.