Transcript of Press Conference
MON 24 SEPTEMBER 2012
New York City, USA
Subject(s): United Nations General Assembly leaders’ meeting; Security Council bid; International aid; Tenix; Address to the Economic Club of New York and Asia Society; Pre-selections
PM: Well I’m pleased to be here in New York after more than 20 hours of travel. It is good to arrive. I’m here for the United Nations General Assembly leaders’ week.
The United Nations matters to Australia. We knew that when we joined as a founding member more than 60 years ago. The United Nations mattered to us then and it matters to us now.
The United Nations is the body that deals with issues like global security, the fight against global poverty and the fight to tackle climate change. So what happens at the United Nations matters for us.
Across the more than 60 years since the United Nations was founded, and we were a foundation member, Australia has made a strong contribution to the work of the United Nations.
We have been a leader on development assistance and striving towards the millennium development goals; a set of goals to try and do some very basic things for our planet that would make a difference for the people of the world, including addressing the circumstances of those who live in absolute poverty, getting kids into school, spreading clean water, safe drinking water for people.
We have been a strong contributor too to the peace building work of the United Nations. In the life of the United Nations more than 65,000 Australian Defence Force personnel and police have contributed to more than 50 UN and multilateral missions. So we've got a proud track record of engagement in the United Nations.
The United Nations General Assembly leaders' week is the time that leaders come together to make clear their views on the work of the United Nations. It's anticipated around 140 leaders will be here.
During the course of the week I've got five themes that I intend to be working on. First, I will be pressing on achievement of the millennium development goals. Much has been achieved to date but much remains to be done as the target of 2015 looms. I was asked by the UN Secretary-General to play a role in advocating the millennium development goals with a final push to see how much more we could do before the deadline of 2015. So I will be participating in discussions advocating the achievement of the millennium development goals.
Second, I will be involved in discussions about the work of the United Nations in its peacekeeping, peace building role. Here Australia's got very practical experience to share through the many missions we've been involved in including our mission in East Timor.
A third, I will be addressing the UN General Assembly and making clear Australia's view on a set of contemporary issues in our world.
Fourth, with so many leaders gathered in one place it's a good opportunity to have bilateral discussions to catch up with leaders and to exchange views.
And finally, I am here to personally advocate for Australia to be elected to the UN Security Council. The UN Security Council is at the core of what the United Nations does. So whether it's authorising a peacekeeping mission, whether it's prescribing a terrorist organisation, whether it's dealing with contemporary issues in our world like the threat of nuclear arms in North Korea, the violence in Syria, the nuclear issues in Iran, it is the Security Council that is at the centre of that work.
Australia, with its proud track record of work within the United Nations, has put itself forward for election for the Security Council and I will be personally advocating for that. We are encouraged by support we've received around the world, but this is a tight, close contest and I will be engaged in direct advocacy during the course of the week.
And then last, whilst my program here is very focussed on the United Nations I do look forward to the opportunity tomorrow to address a combined meeting of the economics club of New York and the Asia Society where I will be speaking about the Australian economy, our role in our changing region and the growth in Asia.
I'm very happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister (inaudible) we don’t really have much of a chance at getting one of those two spots on the Security Council. What do you think? What do you think our chances are?
PM: As I said, it’s tight and it’s close and it will go right down to the wire. So we’ve got to be there putting Australia’s case. Look we are encouraged by support we’ve received from many places around the world.
We’ve been endorsed by the Pacific Island Forum, by the nations in our region in the Pacific. We've received the support of the Caribbean Island nations, that's significant. We do have support from many places around the world. But it's tight and it's tough and so I'm here personally to advocate for our election to the Security Council.
JOURNALIST: If you had to rank it Prime Minister, do we have a greater than 50 per cent chance of getting this spot?
PM: Well, back home in Australia people this week will be interviewing coaches for the AFL grand final and the NRL grand final and you won't hear any of those coaches speculating on the results of the match. They’ll be talking about what they're doing to get in there and win. I'm playing the same role on a very different stage.
JOURNALIST: Why is it important, why is it in the national interest?
PM: It's certainly in Australia's national interest to be on the Security Council. Is it is at the core of what the UN does. To take some very practical examples, we've been engaged in Afghanistan now for more than a decade and that is under a UN set of resolutions, and as our mission changes there and we look to the days beyond 2014 what the UN resolves as the further mandate for the mission is important.
So a really practical example of what the Security Council does that matters to us. Another really practical example: fighting global terror. It was through the UN Security Council that JI in Indonesia was prescribed as a terrorist organisation. JI, of course, having been involved in the Bali bombings which took Australian lives.
Then there's a set of issues that we are concerned about as a nation that affect the peace and security of our world. North Korea, Syria, Iran, these issues are important to us and they are dealt with at the Security Council.
So for all of these reasons we believe it's appropriate for our voice, the Australian voice, to be heard at the Security Council. We've got a proud track record of contributing to the work of the UN, development work, peace building work, we're a supporter through financial assistance to the work of the UN, the United Nations budget, so we think right across the board we have a strong case for election to the Security Council.
But it's not easy, it's tight, it's tough, and I will be here advocating it this week.
JOURNALIST: At the risk of throwing you a Dixer, is it the case that Australia being in the Asia Pacific region and a lot of the focus nationally going to the Asia Pacific region now, particularly the fact that there are a lot of development countries in that region, looking at the – do you think in this day and age necessary for a country like Australia to have representation on the council in a region that is now becoming so important?
PM: Well Simon, I might take you around as we do our advocacy work during the course of the week but you're right, one of the ways in which we are putting forward our bid is to say that we are in the region of the world that is growing strongly.
Global economic weight is shifting to our region of the world in terms of a set of strategic issues that matter to the world, for example, the issues with North Korea, they are something that are very much the focus of our region. So whether you look at the Pacific, whether you look at Asia, we believe Australia is placed to bring a perspective to the UN Security Council that our competitors could not.
Our competitors are Finland and Luxembourg so obviously they do not have the same kind of geographic positioning and long-term relationship with our region of the world.
JOURNALIST: In terms of the global representation the UN is supposed to provide, what message does it send if two European countries are elected to the UN Security Council?
PM: Well, I think really it comes back to the answer I've just given to Simon's question. Number one, we are encouraged by the support we're receiving and we're there striving for election and I will be advocating for that strongly this week so I'm not going to agree with the premise of any question about what the result might be and key amongst the many issues we bring as our credentials for election is our ability to be a representative for a growing region of the world.
PM: Prime Minister do you expect any reaction to the Treasurer describing some Republicans as cranks and crazies? And are you happy (inaudible)?
PM: Look, I dealt with this in Australia on Friday.
JOURNALIST: You don’t believe the Treasurer has strained relationships (inaudible)?
PM: I dealt with this in Australia on Friday.
JOURNALIST: Just going back to question of the Security Council. Some people have maybe unkindly described it as the diplomatic equivalent of a World Cup soccer bid. Is it that based, is the lobbying at that level where countries are throwing around aid money just to get a vote?
PM: Well we certainly do not. Our aid priorities are about the millennium development goals, about doing very practical things. Educating children, getting food assistance to people in crisis, vaccinating kids so that they don't die of the kind of diseases that we've eradicated in our own nation, but around the world so many children continue to die of – diseases like polio, which no longer blight our country but still blight parts of the world.
So the focus of our aid and development work is on very practical things. Our focus of our aid and development work is also on empowerment of women because that's important to dragging countries out of poverty and I will be participating in an equal futures partnership event with Hillary Clinton during the course of the week.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you could tackle many of those issues much closer to home than in the Caribbean for example.
PM: We do tackle those issues very close to home.
JOURNALIST: What about the money being put into the Caribbean is money well-spent (inaudible)?
PM: We tackle those issues around the world and we tackle those issues close to home. I did very recently attend the Pacific Island Forum where I announced a more than $300 million investment in empowering women because we live in a region of the world where many of our small island neighbours do not, as yet, have fully integrated into their national parliaments, women as true equals.
So whether you're talking about disaster relief and assistance which we provided in our region, whether you're talking about support for schools in Indonesia, whether you're talking about climate change adaptation financing or support for the empowerment of women in Pacific Island nations we do work intensively in our region of the world.
But there is poverty and there is need beyond our region of the world and we respond to it.
JOURNALIST: There's a report today (inaudible) may have been involved in some kind of bribery offshore in the Phillipines. Following on from the security issue and (inaudible) concerned this might not just be one off, there might be a number of companies representing Australia, organisations representing Australia, involving questionable practices? (Inaudible)?
PM: Look, I've been advised of the report you're referring to which does state that the Australian Federal Police is looking at this matter, so in those circumstances I will leave it to the Australian Federal Police.
JOURNALIST: Can you clarify for us the amount spent on the campaign? There’s been a few figures bandied about.
PM: The allocation we made for the campaign was around $24 million over five years.
PM: Well that's the budgeted figure, that's the resources available, around $24 million over five years. Obviously our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which is resourced as the ordinary workings of Government, has put very, very strong efforts into the Security Council bid.
JOURNALIST: Quick fast forward to tomorrow and the speech (inaudible)?
PM: Right well we'll make this the last question.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) give us some idea of what you’re going to be talking about (inaudible)?
PM: I'm addressing the Economic Club of New York in a combined meeting with the Asia Society, as I understand it I might be the first leader from another country to do that, and I believe I've been invited because we've got a close Australian perspective on what is happening in our region.
So I will be talking about the dynamic changes in Asia, the rise of the middle class in Asia and what that means for the future of the Australian economy and the future of the world economy.
JOURNALIST: Looking on the domestic front, do you support Morris Iemma (inaudible)?
PM: Look, pre-selections are all for the ALP.
Thanks very much.