SENATOR CARR: Ladies and Gentlemen.
I'm honoured to be talking to you about something as important as Australia's bid for the Security Council. We think it's appropriate that Australia put its virtues before the world. We are a creative middle power and we think that we've got quite a bit to contribute to discussions in this highest of international fora.
It's a matter of Australians being modestly proud of the things we do around the world. The fact that we fund the training of police in the Pacific; that our nurses work in Cambodia to train midwives to bring down the rate of maternal deaths; that we contribute to peacekeeping, in an exemplary fashion if you look at the Solomons or East Timor. The fact that we are the biggest non-NATO contributor in Afghanistan - doing our bit in very challenging and sometimes awful circumstances to build peace in that country. That we make a contribution to inter-faith understanding around the world - reflecting our multiculturalism.
I make the point when we put Australia's case that we are not America, we are not Europe. We're a multicultural country between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and we've got our own perspective to put to the world. We're a creative middle power that, it might be said, punches above its weight. And we haven't been on the Security Council from the mid-80s.
That's our case.
It is hard going to get Australia up in any ballot whether it's to host an international sporting event or to do something like this, because we are not part of a trading bloc or a cooperative bloc of nations. It's not as if we are going into the ballot as a South American nation with the almost guaranteed support of every Latin American country or as a member of ASEAN with a bloc of ten votes behind us, or as a member of the European Union. Australia is not part of a bloc.
The other challenge is that we took our merits into this race sometime after our competition declared that they were in the race, six or five years after they had made their declaration. And many nations have already committed to the people we're running against. But in good spirits we're in this race as a long term supporter, in fact a foundation member, of the United Nations.
QUESTION: Senator, what do you make of Tony Abbotts comments back home in Australia, beside the fact they are [inaudible] what do you make of the general attitude that this isn't a priority and we should be directed to talking about boat people?
SENATOR CARR: I just tell Tony Abbot he's too fixated on the Anglosphere. We're engaging with the world at the United Nations. I've got a meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council - I'm chairing the meeting. Later in the week I'll be chairing a meeting of the Commonwealth - there are fifty-five nations in the Commonwealth and about twenty of them are small island states. We've got the endorsement of the fifteen nations of the Caribbean. They like us. And we've got much support from African countries and at a recent meeting with African countries in Perth talking about our common interest in mining, I was able to say to them, "We're Australia, we are not Europe, we are not America we've got our own perspective and we want to build cooperative partnerships with you."
Tony Abbot understands none of this. Tony Abbott sees Australia as being part of the Anglosphere, being comfortable with our friends, our long term friends the other old dominions, but not looking to the rest of the world. And if Tony Abbott became Prime Minister of Australia still talking about the Anglosphere and saying we shouldn't be talking to the rest of the world; that we shouldn't be moving outside our region, it would send the message that Australia had gone back to its colonial origins, we are retreating from Asia, retreating from Africa, retreating from Latin America where we've got terrific relationships.
QUESTION: Do you actually think we are punching above our weight because there have been some senior Australians, just quietly, who have said we are naïve to still think that?
SENATOR CARR: Well we are the thirteenth largest economy in the world; we are a member of the G20. We took - this is Kevin Rudd's work - we took a lead role in expanding the East Asia Summit by getting the admission of America and Russia. These were big, and with the establishment of G20, these were major diplomatic achievements by Australia. In terms of aid we are variously measured as being the eighth or the ninth biggest contributor in the world. That's punching above our weight.
SENATOR CARR: No, that is precisely confirmation that we are punching about our weight. The fact that we are the largest non-NATO contributor in Afghanistan confirms that too. I think the access I've seen Australia enjoy, getting a meeting with the new president of Egypt three weeks ago, confirms that the world is ready to engage with Australia.
QUESTION: What about the Prime Minister's role in advocating the Millennium Development Goals, did that lose a bit of clout given the slippage in our timetable for meeting those set goals?
SENATOR CARR: Well no because so many nations had actually cut their aid budget, we've actually increased ours. We've increased ours. In the last budget aid went up another $300 million. That was on top of some very steep increases in the previous years and that's acknowledged. There are other countries - I'm not going to mention them, that might be considered impolite - that have actually cut their aid budgets because of these things we are all grappling with, the slowing of the world economy.
QUESTION: What conditions do we attach to our aid to Middle Eastern countries where there has clearly been a change of attitude and temperature in regard to America's role in the region and leaders like Mohammed Morsi saying America needs to change the way it engages in the region?
SENATOR CARR: Well we provided humanitarian assistance to the people of Libya when they were pulling out of a very destructive civil war. We see it's a standard tradition in fact that none of our aid would ever reach and organisation associated with terrorism. One aspect of aid to the Middle East that I'm very proud of, that all Australian's can be proud of, is our support for those wretched, suffering refugees in camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. They are being forced to flee over the border from Syria where their homes are being bombed, their neighbours, family members killed. Australia - this is another example of us punching above our weight - Australia is the fourth largest contributor in aid to the Syrian refugees.
QUESTION: You're meeting with the Palestinian delegates today in light of the riots in Middle East. What is Australia's stance on their push for greater recognition in the United Nations, and will you be supporting their push to become a non-member state?
SENATOR CARR: We would need to see the resolution. No resolution has been presented. We want a two-state solution and the two-state solution of course requires concessions on both sides. Our favoured position is to get the two sides talking to one another; that's what we want to see most of all. So we're looking for wording on that and I'll draw your attention that I think on a total of nine UN resolutions since 2007 Australia has changed its voting position.
QUESTION: Senator you mention that Finland and Luxemburg have got five years head start on Australia in terms of this contest for this seat, these seats. How do you rate Australia's chances at the moment and how significant is that five year gap really?
SENATOR CARR: Well it's a very fair question but it's hard to say because we can get a sympathetic hearing from a foreign minister from a country that seems well disposed to us but that's got to translate itself into a voting decision in a secret ballot on October the eighteenth here. There is, in previous ballots for the Security Council, a phenomenon, I guess you would call it, of promised support being somewhat higher than support that's actually recorded for a candidate on the day. This is a phenomenon not unknown in ballots for caucus positions and other contests in politics.
QUESTION: You mentioned that Tony Abbot signalled a possible return to our colonial past or words to that effect. Isn't that over cooking it a bit, he was just sort of highlighting the need to focus on our region as a priority?
SENATOR CARR: He keeps returning to this idea of the anglo-sphere, that's what I'm referring to the anglo-sphere. Like an infant reaching for its mother's skirts. You've got to see what he said recently in the context of that longing for an old colonial relationship where Australia thinks only of its great and powerful friends.
I've got to tell you that we've got good lines of communication with diverse countries and they appreciate it when we say, "We are not America, we are not Europe, we're Australia with our own perspective as a creative middle power, our own perspective on the world."
That's why we engage with Africa. Like getting that conference a month ago of African ministers and officials in Perth talking about what we've got in common in managing mining. That's why we are running cooperative work on climate change with the small island states. Over twenty nations in the Commonwealth fit that description: small island states. The reason we have been endorsed by the fifteen islands of the Caribbean is that they see that all these things are true, that Australia's not America, not Europe and we have got a sympathy with small and medium-sized countries, small island states included. That's what we're engaged in. And that's a contrast to Tony Abbott who says we shouldn't be talking to Africa.
I think he got caught out badly by the way, I've got to say this in saying the Prime Minister should be up in Indonesia talking to the President and not in New York, when the President of Indonesia arrived in New York on the same day as our Prime Minister.
QUESTION: Well you will be seeing the President of Indonesia tonight, how do you expect that conversation to go in the context of … [inaudible]?
SENATOR CARR: It's not a formal meeting with him, it's a tribute to him. And of course I'm going to be there for my interest not only in Indonesia as Foreign Minister but my interest in the nature conservation agenda. It's a meeting sponsored by the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund to pay tribute to a leader from a developing country who has made a stand in the nature conservation cause and battle.
QUESTION: Would you expect the asylum issue to come up in that conversation?
SENATOR CARR: I wouldn't think so, I really wouldn't think so. But we've had a lot of engagement with Indonesia, most recently with a Ministerial visit about safety at sea issues.
QUESTION: Relying on the sympathy vote is not normally seen as a really strong suit to play …
SENATOR CARR: Nor is talking up your prospects wildly and extravagantly, so let me fall between the two.
QUESTION: There seems to be an effort to prepare us for another disappointment.
SENATOR CARR: No. I think both the contentions I put to you are easily defended. It is tough for Australia in international ballots, if some of you took an interest in sport you'd know what I'm talking about. And second, we did get into the race a little after our major competitors.
QUESTION: Minister, what would you say to those who ask why we're spending money on something like this and … [inaudible]?
SENATOR CARR: Well the answer is this.
We are proud, in a modest way, of what we do as Australians.
We are proud of the people, our police in the Solomon Islands who brought order to a place that was being torn apart by civil war with armed gangs firing at one another from different ends of the streets in Honiara. We are proud of what our people did in East Timor. We are proud of what they are doing under enormous pressure trying to get more girls to school in Afghanistan, and protecting people from terrorists and getting Al Qaeda uprooted and out of that country. We are proud of what we are doing training midwives in Cambodia. We are proud of Australia's civilised voice in the councils of the world. We are proud of our multiculturalism which is something of a shining beacon to the world. A lot of the world is interested in how we manage the great diversity of races and peoples and faiths that Australia can boast after decades of ambitious immigration.
QUESTION: Senator Carr, the fact that the alternative Government of Australia opposes our bid for the Security Council is that hamstringing our efforts at all? Has that been raised?
SENATOR CARR: No, I see no evidence of that. To be fair to them - and I strive to be fair to the Coalition - they've said at different times they've supported the bid.
QUESTION: Could I ask you a question on a sort of domestic matter? I did come to this party late so forgive me if this has been asked before.
SENATOR CARR: Sure
QUESTION: Considering that you've been down this path yourself, there are reports of Morris Iemma running for Federal Parliament in the seat of Barton if Robert McClelland retires what advice would you give him?
SENATOR CARR: First of all I would make no assumptions about Robert McClelland, a trusted and respected colleague, retiring. If he were to retire, then I couldn't think of a better candidate than Morris Iemma. I think Morris Iemma was an honest and industrious premier who was badly treated by my party. I think nothing was gained for the party by replacing him as leader especially in those circumstances. Morris Iemma got electricity privatisation absolutely right and could not have done more to have persuaded the party to a sane course. I think he would be an excellent candidate and all that experience in state politics certainly counts.
QUESTION: Senator, do you think Mohammed Morsi, not Morris Iemma, has a point about America's posture in the Middle East and/or is he just providing cover for violent extremists with his remarks?
SENATOR CARR: I think President Morsi has got a very, very difficult job. You've got to look at the divisions in Egypt reflected in that vote of the last election. What he's doing, and I admire him for this, is providing more energetic leadership for Egypt than it's had for decades.
I think he deserves to be praised for that brave speech he gave in Tehran on Syria. I think he deserves to be praised for saying he wants to be President of all Egyptians, that he heads a democratic country and a civil government. He's the first democratically elected leader in Egyptian history. He's the first civilian leader in memory.
QUESTION: What about his position though that there shouldn't be a Christian as leader of Egypt and there shouldn't be a women as a leader of Egypt?
SENATOR CARR: There are cultural differences here but I'm not commenting on the internal affairs, the internal politics of Egypt. I'm just saying that the west needs to be open to someone who's been elected by his people in the first democratic election they have ever had. And we've got to engage with him. Clearly we've got to engage with him, that's the position of the United States, but it's our position - it's an Australian position – we engage with this government.
QUESTION: How do we meet this fellow though? I mean we've got a female Prime Minister and a presumably Christian Prime Minister, I mean how do we engage with this fellow?
SENATOR CARR: I think you ought to reflect on what he's actually said and done as President.
QUESTION: Senator Carr, the notion of a law or an international convention against blasphemy has been mooted before, there's talk of it apparently among some of the Arab world at this assembly currently going to be raised in some speeches, what is your view on any such notion?
SENATOR CARR: Well, we reject it. I don't believe you can have religious anti-vilification laws and religious anti-defamation or anti-blasphemy laws without restricting freedom of speech.
No matter what your faith, it's possible to be offended by artworks or parodies that touch on religious themes or religious values. But I don't think banning it is compatible with the Western tradition, the Western approach.
I think nothing would worsen religious differences, the gaps between the faiths, than hauling people into court and putting them in prison or fining them because of things they say about other religions, about other faiths. Because that's what you're going to be doing with such a law, fining people or putting them in gaol if they express a blasphemous or a disrespectful view about another religion.
I just don't think that's feasible.
Thank you. Thanks folks.
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