Transcript of interview with Kerry O'Brien, 7.30 Report
Subjects: Travel advice; threat of terrorism; visit to Brussels; Pakistan; ASEM; Australian politics
Transcript, E&OE, proof only
11 September 2010
KERRY O'BRIEN: Kevin Rudd was sworn in as Foreign Minister in the new minority Gillard Government just short of a month ago. He's already been to Pakistan to help raise awareness about the plight of flood victims, the UN and Washington, and leaves again tomorrow night to visit Tokyo, Brussels and then on to Rome where he will lead the Australian delegation to the canonisation of Mary MacKillop.
But tomorrow is also the eighth anniversary of the Bali bombing, and Kevin Rudd says he is concerned that Australians should not become complacent about the ongoing threat of terrorism.
The Foreign Minister joins me now from Parliament House in Canberra.
Kevin Rudd last month was the ninth anniversary of September 11 and tomorrow is the eighth anniversary of the Bali bombing, as I said. The so-called "War on Terror" has also in that time been waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is the world more or less safe from terrorism today than it was eight or nine years ago?
KEVIN RUDD: Well I think the important question there Kerry is what would the world be like had we not engaged in this rolling campaign against terrorist organisations? Intelligence agencies around the world, were they permitted to do so, would give you a list as long as your arm of events and incidents that they've prevented through their fine and professional work.I think the key thing to remember is that this threat of terrorism remains alive and well. The reason why I spoke about this when I was in New York is because you've seen recent changes to US travel notices, to its own public about concerns of terrorist activity in Europe.
I'm simply reflecting that, as my department has, in the travel advisories for all Australians. This threat hasn't gone away. It's real and people should continue to exercise genuine vigilance, particularly as they travel abroad to destinations where the travel advisories warn them of terrorist activity.
KERRY O'BRIEN: Do you believe that Australians, Australian tourists don't take those warnings seriously enough? And have you got any reason at this time to be raising that awareness in particular?
KEVIN RUDD: Well the Australian Government doesn't change its own travel advisories on the basis of a whim and a frolic.
We do so on the basis of considered analysis of all the information which comes to us. We're not in the business of double standards - holding some information privately and then telling the Australian public it's all fine and dandy out there. We seek to be as transparent as is humanly possible, consistent with our obligations to our intelligence relationships with other countries, to get that information out there.
On your question about the Australian public, each Australian makes their own decisions and their own mind about what to do and about where to go. Our responsibility as a government is to place the information before them about what the threats are, and around the world in many destinations they remain real, and in recent times there's been an intensification of reporting.
KERRY O'BRIEN: You're obviously very much at the heart of the debate in Australia about Australia's involvement in Afghanistan.
We know that that is a very complex and troubling debate, or issue - challenge. Al-Qaeda had no real presence in Iraq nine years ago. It does today. We're told it no longer has a presence in Afghanistan, while Australian and Coalition troops are still fighting there, but Al-Qaeda does have a real presence in Pakistan, the Yemen, Somalia and who knows where else. Is there evidence to demonstrate that Al-Qaeda is less dangerous than it was at the time of September 11 and Bali?
KEVIN RUDD: I think the best answer to that question, Kerry, is that it's much more monitored in terms of its activities around the world. It's much harder for Al-Qaeda to operate than it was in the past.
There's a far, shall I say, more seamless web of international monitoring and collaboration with governments around the world, many of whom we've had no contact with in decades gone by. Of course that doesn't mean that the Al-Qaeda threat has been removed; it hasn't. Nor has it been removed in relation to other terrorist organisations.
We cannot say that the world's going to be terrorism-free - that'd just be foolish and simply not in accord with the facts. What we can say is that the level of collaboration between governments around the world has made it infinitely harder for this group and groups like it to operate.
Prior to 2001, they treated Afghanistan basically as a free-range training park where they could deploy, exercise and then conduct operations around the world. And remember, so many of the Australians, the more than 110 Australians killed in terrorist attacks around the world, many of the perpetrators of those attacks were trained in Afghanistan. So let's bear that in mind.
KERRY O'BRIEN: But you would see intelligence information all the time. Isn't it also true, because certainly there is a clear impression of it, that Al-Qaeda is now more widespread, now has more recruits than it had in those pre-September 11, pre-Bali days?
KEVIN RUDD: As I said before, Kerry, Al-Qaeda and groups like it have not been eliminated; they continue to exist. Our job ...
KERRY O'BRIEN: No, no, but my question was, are they stronger? It might be harder for them to operate, but in terms of their numbers and their spread, are they stronger?
KEVIN RUDD: I think the relevant question, and I don't wish to go to intelligence reporting in my answer to your question. The relevant answer though to your question is that it is much harder for them to operate. In the past, their communications with one another was reasonably uncurtailed.
These days, it's very tough and rough, these folk out in the field. Therefore, we've made progress, real progress. But let us be responsible and vigilant about this. The threat hasn't gone away. This is going to be with us for a long, long, long time. Our responsibility as governments is to do everything we can in the field of military operations, in the field of preventive diplomacy, in the field of intelligence collaboration, hard and good police work, as well as providing transparently as much information to the travelling public as possible. We're rising to that challenge and we owe a debt of gratitude to so many of our professionals in the field doing this day in, day out.
KERRY O'BRIEN: Now I know you went to Pakistan primarily to raise more awareness. You felt that the Pakistan - that the full disaster of the Pakistan floods hadn't totally penetrated the world's consciousness. But there is a sense on this ongoing issue of Pakistan's in security terms that the US is seriously hamstrung in what it can do to counter the growing threat from Islamic extremism in Pakistan, with friends and allies of that extremism embedded inside Pakistan's military and intelligence community. Now, that is so, isn't it: that this is - this an incredibly tough situation and a dangerous situation for America and its allies to deal with?
KEVIN RUDD: Well that is one of the reasons why I'm going to Brussels in a couple of days' time. We have a meeting of friends of democratic Pakistan, which brings together foreign ministers from I think 30 or 35 countries from around the world, in there supporting the Pakistani civilian government and their military to build their capacity to deal with the terrorism threat within their own borders. This work has only really got going in earnest in the last couple of years. But we're in there big time, playing our part as well. Of course you're right to say that there are still parts of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border which are highly permeable when it comes to terrorist movements across the border. We're working on that. Sometimes there are successes and sometimes there are not. But let me tell you we're now seized to the challenge, and together with the Government of Islamabad, working together on it.
KERRY O'BRIEN: Julia Gillard, essentially, when you mentioned Brussels, made her foreign policy debut in Brussels last week at the Asia-Europe summit. Did you consider going with her? Who decided you shouldn't go or wouldn't? And were you startled by her admission on this program that foreign policy was not her passion and that if she had a choice, she'd rather be back home in a school watching kids learn to read than sitting in a meeting in Brussels?
KEVIN RUDD: Well let me start on that last one; I think it's been grossly overblown. The Prime Minister's absolutely right; education is a core priority of this government. It was a core priority of the government which I led as well. And I think that's the only point and the core point that she was making.
On the other questions you raise, which is Brussels and whether or not I should've been there for the inaugural meeting of the Asia-Europe meeting, look, let's just call a spade a spade here. Foreign ministers in the past, whether it's in the period that I was Prime Minister or the period Mr Howard was Prime Minister, rarely travelled with the Prime Minister to major international gatherings. It's just our convention and our custom to do it that way. And it's entirely appropriate that it should have been handled that way.
By the way, the Asia-Europe meeting, Australia's been gunning to be at that table for a good decade plus. And again, it's important that we've landed a seat at the table at one of the many forums which bring together the governments of our region and those of Europe, but the governments of our region in particular with Australia with a seat at the table.
KERRY O'BRIEN: On a personal note, Mr Rudd, in an interview with the Brisbane Courier-Mail at the weekend you talked about what was going through your mind as you sat through the swearing in of the new Gillard ministry. It wasn't something you appeared to be enjoying, I must say. Is that a reasonable observation?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, I'm not sure that I actually said that in those terms to the Brisbane Courier-Mail. I can't quite recall the interview in all of its detail.
KERRY O'BRIEN: I said it wasn't - I said myself it wasn't something you appeared to be enjoying.
KEVIN RUDD: Well, I think what I said to the Courier and - was when they asked me more broadly about the questions of the change in my position, is that this was a great job to have. It's a great opportunity to continue to make contributions to the Australian national interest.
And also I think what I said in that interview was that in politics you get to make some choices, and that's whether you're on about something a bit bigger and broader than yourself and your own career, or whether you're just in the business of, you know, as I said in the interview, climbing up the greasy pole of politics.
I hope I'm in the former category, which is that I'm interested in a wider public interest, and for me and the job that I'm executing now, there are big issues on the table, concerning terrorism, we've talked about, concerning development for the poorest countries in the world, concerning our place in the region and a highly dynamic strategic environment with the rise of China. There's plenty in the in-tray to occupy my day, Kerry, and I'm glad to have the opportunity to do so.
KERRY O'BRIEN: What you also were quoted as saying that as you sat there watching the swearing in, you were reflecting on your former colleagues who had lost their seats at the election.
KEVIN RUDD: Well that's true. There are many in Queensland who are first-class members of Parliament who are no longer in the Parliament, and the question I was put was, "Well, how did you feel?" - that's me. Well, the question was I think better put: "What about individual members of Parliament who are first-class members who weren't returned?" I think of people like Chris Trevor in Gladstone, I think of Jim Turner up in Cairns and Kerri Rea in Brisbane and Jon Sullivan in Longman and people like that. Brett Raguse in - these are first-class members of Parliament who were swept out of office. So, I was thinking of them, frankly, because these are really good people.
KERRY O'BRIEN: I'll put the question as gently as I can, but did you feel any personal responsibility for that loss?
KEVIN RUDD: Knowing you, Kerry, when you say ...
KERRY O'BRIEN: My propensity for gentle questions.
KEVIN RUDD: Knowing you when you say you're about to put a gentle question, open bracket, it's about to be not, close brackets. Look, I'm a member of the Australian Labor Party. I led the government which was elected in 2007. The government which I led obviously made mistakes. I've said that before. And so therefore it's a collective responsibility. I don't walk away from that. The key challenge is to rise to the occasion and deal with the many practical issues that are out there for the Australian people today. And that's what the Government's on about: getting on with the business of delivering effective administration for the working people of Australia, and that means how the world impacts on us as well.
KERRY O'BRIEN: Are your own wounds healing, and what in particular got you through what must've been an incredibly tough period in the weeks after you lost the prime ministership?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, Kerry, I'm not about to sort of reopen and re-litigate how one felt on a particular day. I don't think that's of value to people. I really don't.
There are big challenges for the country and for the community today. I'd much rather focus on those things. Besides, folk like you and others will be writing copious articles on what happened.
There are books coming out. Someone tells me that your friend and colleague Barrie Cassidy has a book coming out this week. Knowing Barrie, as I did, as a bloke who declared war on me before I became Prime Minister and in the week after I became Prime Minister and on the record, I'm sure I won't do well out of that one either. But you know something ... ?
KERRY O'BRIEN: I'm asking the question on the basis that I'm assuming there are a lot of people in the audience who were quite shocked by the way all of that happened and who I think would probably have a very genuine concern and not prurient interest in knowing whether the wounds have healed and how you are.
KEVIN RUDD: Well, Kerry, I wouldn't be sitting here before you as Foreign Minister of Australia if I was not made of sufficient stuff to do that job. I'm a person of deep conviction, I'm a person who has a sense of responsibility, I'm a person who believes that we've got important matters to look after for the Australian community. And my job is to get in there and do my bit. It's not to go into a corner and mope about what may or may not have happened.
As I said, there's a bevy of people and journalists and writers about to rake over all those coals. Good luck to them. That's their prerogative. I don't intend to be part of that. My job is to attend to the responsibilities of this office.
KERRY O'BRIEN: Kevin Rudd, thank you very much for talking with us.
KEVIN RUDD: Thanks very much, Kerry.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555