Press Conference, Rose Garden, UNHQ

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

25 September

SENATOR CARR: Just a few things on what I’ve had to do today. I’ve chaired a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Australia — the forum we’ve got with the nations of the Gulf. We’ve got billions of dollars in trade flowing to the Gulf, we provide them with food security. They’re excellent markets for us.

The relationship has developed strongly. We spoke about security matters as well; Iran, Syria, a good exchange of views, the Middle East peace process, or the want of it. The kind of exchange you can only have when you’re together at Leaders’ Week in the United Nations.

The second meeting of some interest was Women and Disarmament. The work we did on getting towards an arms trade treaty — not yet complete, sadly — has got implications for women who are the disproportionately victims of civil wars and the breakdown of order, as in many of the states of Africa, the Sahel region of Africa. And so it was a discussion where Australia and the Caribbean were able to talk about things they have done; initiatives we’ve taken to position women where they have a role in negotiating better arms trade treaties. And again Australia, working with a part of the world we don’t often work with — the fifteen nations of the Caribbean who, like us, want an arms trade treaty out of the United Nations.

I thought President Obama’s speech was — and I say this as someone with a passing interest in American politics and American history — one of the finest pieces of Presidential oratory I’ve ever experienced or read about. His speech was eloquent. I think it was eloquent because it was authentic. It was about the values that he subscribes to. It was a great speech; an eloquent and a persuasive speech and a great way to pay tribute to an American ambassador who paid with his life for the values the President spoke about.

QUESTION: But the President probably didn’t deliver what many were hoping, including Israel, in regards to setting a time line for Iran. What did you think of the … ?

SENATOR CARR: Well we don’t believe in a time line as an answer to the challenge of Iran. We believe to persisting with sanctions. The sanctions are working, they are hurting. And persisting with negotiations. If it’s agreed that Iran, the Iranian leadership, has not yet made a decision to go for a nuclear weapon, then we have every reason to persist with negotiations backed by sanctions. I don’t think it serves any purpose — and Australia doesn’t support — a so-called red line.

QUESTION: What evidence do we have that sanctions are having an influence on the leadership, as opposed to the ordinary people?

SENATOR CARR: I didn’t say they were having an influence on the leadership; I said they are having an impact on the economy. I wouldn’t argue that they have had an impact to date on the leadership. That’s a distinction. They are having an impact; they’ve resulted in fluctuations in the exchange rate, a shortage of product, and the loss of sales, cancellation of investments in the country. But it is true there is not evidence of a shift of policy of the regime.

QUESTION: You’ve met with the members of the Gulf States today. Was live exports in the agenda?

SENATOR CARR: No, it wasn’t.

QUESTION: You don’t believe that they’re concerned about, I suppose, the backlash back home?

SENATOR CARR: No, they didn’t raise it. We moved through a plan for lifting our relationship. We discussed those issues of Syria and Iran. I’m going to do some more work on Syria. I hope before long to come to you with a plan with some measureable progress on Syria that Australia can sponsor, but it’s not ready yet.

QUESTION: Do you have any view on Julian Assange giving a lecture on the side lines? Ecuador apparently is going to facilitate this tomorrow.

SENATOR CARR: No, he has every right to do that. That’s a matter between him and Ecuador. We’ve continued to provide consular assistance. We’ve continued to search for the letter that his counsel said he sent us. The High Commission in London says it never received it and it has sought on six occasions to have his counsel provide a copy of the letter without success. But this is a matter between him and Ecuador.

QUESTION: But is the UN the right kind of forum for a side show like that?

SENATOR CARR: I wouldn’t think there’d be a great deal of interest in it and in what is a legal dispute between Mr Assange and Sweden. I wouldn’t think there’d be any resonance for his case in a UN forum devoted to weightier and more substantial matters than the desire of Sweden to have him to answer questions in Sweden about allegations of a criminal matter.

QUESTION: Lindsay Tanner has had a serve at the Labor Party about direction and leadership. What do you … Does he have a point?

SENATOR CARR: I think it’s getting a little too easy to bag the Labor Party. I’ve got a different approach and that is to talk up what’s good about the Labor Party, about a party in government that’s rebuilt every school in Australia, that’s introduced a bonus for school kids and parents, saved the country from a recession in the global financial crisis and generated 800 000 new jobs. I want to talk up what’s right about the party. And for goodness sake, if you want a case study of a political body without a soul, go to the Liberal Party.

QUESTION: Well how do you quiet the disaffected then?

SENATOR CARR: I don’t think you do, I think you just work on in government, you rebuild the schools, as Labor’s doing, you plan a scheme for disability, you look after the country’s future by having interest rates half the level they were under the Howard government. I think we talk about that record. We talk about the contrast with the Coalition. If you want a party that’s had its soul surgically removed, you should go and look at the Liberal Party. I want to talk about what Labor’s got right. It’s been too easy for too long to focus on negatives related to the Labor Party. I want to talk up what the Labor Party has got right.

QUESTION: This level of discord though, is it undermining the ability of the government to sell its message?

SENATOR CARR: Well someone the other day used that lovely old Australian expression “the galah in the pet shop” — I don’t know who it was, I’ve forgotten — but we went through a stage where every galah in a pet shop had an opinion about what was wrong with the Labor Party. Now I’m sick of that, I think the public is sick of it, I want to talk about what the Labor Party has gotten right, and there’s a lot of things the Labor Party has gotten right in government. I want to talk about what Tony Abbot and the Liberals have failed to do and have got wrong.

QUESTION: You brought your own plan to the UN and we’ll listen to the global protest, the video. Can you update us on how the discussions are going with the leaders in terms of the support?

SENATOR CARR: They’ve gone well and they’ve fused with what other leaders are thinking and saying. Even when I’ve spoken to representatives of Arab countries and to Islamic countries there’s been an appetite for a different way of defending their religion from what they see as scurrilous or blasphemous or disrespectful attacks. A lot of leaders of Muslim majority nations are trying to guide people to channel their anger at attacks on the Prophet into more constructive paths and I spoke to the leader of one majority Muslim nation last night and he was talking about debates in parliament as opposed to rowdy demonstrations and I thought, this is striking that there is a mood there, to express views peacefully rather than resort to that cliché, the demonstration with chants and placards.

QUESTION: I notice some synergy with some of the comments that the President made in his speech this morning.

SENATOR CARR: Yes. The President in his speech said “don’t ask us to censor material”. We’ve got a constitution that prevents that happening, America doesn’t censor free speech. The President said that with marvellous eloquence. And I think that we’ve got to take account of that and he saw lots of room for dialogue and engagement .  He used words far more eloquent that I can manufacture, but that’s one reason that I thought it was a speech that ranked with those of John F Kennedy or — I want to be bipartisan, I’ll do that as Foreign Minister, reflecting on American politics — or Ronald Reagan. I’ve carefully chosen, you’ll appreciate, the view of a Democrat that balances with reference to a Republican President.

QUESTION: Well he did use a quote from Abraham Lincoln. Surely you noticed that?

[unheard]

SENATOR CARR: I just thought that it was a wonderful speech. It summed up some of the points I was trying to make.

QUESTION: Senator, Syria and Iran are seen by many people as the lack of resolution after, you know, more than a year — and several years in Iran’s case — of the impotence of the United Nations Security Council. What, you know, as Australians are being told that the bid is costing more than the $24 million when the time of permanent officials and government officials taken into account. What can you say to assure them that their money and effort is being spent on this body?

SENATOR CARR: First of all, I think it is all together legitimate for Australia given what we do in the world to want to be on the senior body of the UN. You look at what Australia does in terms of aid or leadership, contribution in Afghanistan and Australia lives at risk, and a good cause saving a country from terrorists.  Australia is entitled to say after a quarter of a century, we’d like to serve on the Security Council. We’d like to have our day contributing to solving problems. What you say about the failure of the UN system to produce solutions for Iran and Syria is unarguable. And it’s tragic, especially in respect to hundreds of lives lost every week in Syria. But it’s all the more reason for Australia seeing ourselves as a creative middle power to put our hand up to make a contribution, all the more reason for us to give it a go.

QUESTION: Are you any more confident today than you were yesterday?

SENATOR CARR: I’m a bit more confident. I suppose I’ve spoken to ten Foreign Ministers today. And I’d say while you’ve still got the facts against us that I highlighted speaking to you earlier, I’m measurably more upbeat about the Australian case being heard. I’ve had positive responses, even from some unlikely countries. But … well I can’t give the names, it could embarrass them.

QUESTION: Why are they unlikely?

SENATOR CARR: Hmm?

QUESTION: Why are they unlikely?

SENATOR CARR: Well they’re a long way away and they haven’t got much history or association with us. But they’re still saying, fundamentally, we like Australia, we like the Australian approach. They say to us, they say to us, “we like Australia because you’re not  Europe and you’re not America, you’ve got your own perspective and we think you understand our problems”. And I’ve got to say, it’s very heartening , as an Australian Foreign Minister, as an Australian, to have countries a long way away from us to say that “we rather like Australia” and I hope this translates into votes, but we’re working hard to see that it does.

QUESTION: So how would you characterise this — are getting any firm commitments or are you just getting good vibrations at this point?

SENATOR CARR: We’re getting a lot of explicit commitments. Because we got into it later than others we’re getting people who say “we’re well disposed to you but we wish you’d come in a few years earlier, because we’ve already made a commitment”. That’s got to be considered a factor but there’s a fair bit of good will. We can’t count on it, we can’t take it for granted. But talking to around ten foreign ministers today and you get a feel that we’re well regarded and our credentials are understood.

QUESTION: Is it likely that we’d, considering that there are countries now putting in bids for 2020 …

SENATOR CARR: And even beyond that …

QUESTION: Is it likely if we’re not successful this time that we’ll abandon pursuing that again for some time?

SENATOR CARR: I’d prefer not to dwell on a negative outcome, if you don’t mind, but your analysis is right. Countries are now bidding way out.

QUESTION: I don’t want to harp on this, just on the Lindsay Tanner thing. Are you saying that it’s time for some of the senior figures in the Labor Party to stop offering gratuitous criticism?

SENATOR CARR: The Labor Party has been anatomised to the last fibre. Everyone has volunteered to say what’s wrong with the Labor Party. I’m saying it’s time to say what’s right about the Labor Party and what the Labor Party has done for Australia. Saving the country from recession, rebuilding every school, getting a disability scheme up and having interest rates half what they were under John Howard. We’ve heard it endlessly.

It would be so easy, if I were in retirement and hadn’t taken on this job, it would have been a push over to have polished off another book, number 20, on what’s wrong with the Labor Party. It’s too easy. I’m sure there’s terrific analysis in Lindsay’s book because Lindsay is very brainy. But it’s got a bit too easy to write another book spelling out what’s wrong with the battered old Australian Labor Party. I want to talk about what the Labor Party’s got right. Interest rates half what they were under Howard, rebuilding every school in the country, saving the country from a recession, I think it’s a very defensible record.

QUESTION: But you’ve got another book coming out shortly from Maxine McKew.

SENATOR CARR:    Well, there must be, I mean, there are a lot of them, state and federal. They’ve flown off the presses. It’s kept printing houses employed, bookshops full, but I’m not sure who is reading them.

QUESTION: Isn’t this an inevitable consequence of you blow out a majority in one term and you fail to put things back together in the following term. That’s kind of inevitable isn’t it?

SENATOR CARR: I know, but if we accept that premise, how many more books do you want analysing that failure? Is anything now being said that hasn’t already been said? That’s the point I’m making.

QUESTION: Thanks.

SENATOR CARR: Thank you.

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