Press Conference East River Walk, UNHQ

New York

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

26 September

Senator Carr: Ladies and gentlemen, some of the responses to the Prime Minister's speech around the General Assembly were delegates saying, "You've made your point. You are not America. You are not Europe. You are Australia. You have got your own perspective. You are in the Pacific, in the Indian Ocean. We like that sense of independence about the Australian world view." It is nice to have that confirmed because we have been underlining it in recent months.

The attention to issues like getting rid of malaria from the world, the upcoming malaria conference we've got, that aspect of Australian aid, Australia development assistance is very welcome because it is so practical. The Prime Minister of the Solomons came round to congratulate our Prime Minister and malaria is a living reality, a real danger in that island country, that island state. Those themes have got a real echo.

And I am very pleased she raised Syria. I was in a meeting on Syria today. The humanitarian crisis is escalating. You've got a situation where even the World Food Programme is under attack in Damascus. They are crouching in their offices. They can't get out and about. When an aid organisation is getting food to people and can't do its job, that is one measure of how desperate the situation in Syria is becoming. Meanwhile we've got this deadlock in the forums of the UN that prevents much needed, vigorous intervention that will get the parties to abandon weapons and come together. I deliberately say the parties. It is a message directed at both sides of this sad and savage conflict.

Journalist: Mr Carr can I ask you about the case of an Australian woman who is being detained in Libya at the moment. What can you tell us about her?

Senator Carr: What I have been advised in the case of Alexandra Bean at Tripoli airport. I'm advised that it relates to no charges against her but as part of an investigation of a senior Libyan official. She was not arrested; she is not the target of the inquiry. She has now been released but she is unable to leave the country while police investigations are underway. She's spoken with Australian officials in Cairo and our consul is assisting her in liaison with the Libyan authorities and naturally she will continue to be a focus of our work and we are ready to make further representations to the Government of Libya about her capacity to leave the country.

Journalist: Are you concerned about her wellbeing?

Senator Carr: I think she ought to be in the position to leave the country as she wants and we will continue to make representations about that. They're pursuing an inquiry into another matter.

Journalist: Can you explain that association between her or the alleged association between her and the man that they are pursuing?

Senator Carr: No, I can't. I'm not going to venture to define that, but a police investigation into an official. They are obviously seeking to question her and they've got some questioning to continue. They don't want her to leave the country, out of the concern that she won't return. We will protect her in these circumstances as we protect any Australian in this sort of position.

Journalist: Minister, Australia, in the speech in the General Assembly and in the last few days Australia's been emphasising a lot of the issues that, say, some of the smaller states might be concerned about. Are we positioning ourselves as the voice of the little guy? Is that the pitch you're making for the Security Council bid?

Senator Carr: I spoke to the Caribbean nations today. Fourteen members in CARICOM. All but two of them in the Commonwealth of Nations. We've had a lot of interaction with them over climate change, over the health of the oceans, environmental health of the oceans, over our support of the arms trade treaty, the attempt to rein in the growth in small islands of light weapons, and they like that agenda. And they've endorsed us. They told me at this meeting today that their 14 votes will be behind Australia.

And that represents our outreach to this part of the world, where in the past Australia hasn't had any intensive diplomacy. Now that is good feedback to get. They see Australia as a defender of vulnerable states, small states and small island states which have got a stake in this big environmental question of the health of the oceans – an issue I addressed in my inaugural speech in the Senate.

Our rivals will attempt to do as well as we're doing in that space. I'm quietly proud that Australia is seen as an advocate for small countries, and for small island states, in particular. The Foreign Minister of Seychelles is very supportive of Australia, as is the Solomons. And they look at this - I just use them as two examples, I could take others – they see Australia as an advocate and as a champion.

Journalist: So based on this commentary that you've been receiving and on the Prime Minister's address today, where would you place Australia's chances as we move…

Senator Carr: I can't pin it down because of the variables in this. The fact that it's a secret ballot, it's a decision that involves the Ambassador of a country here, … [inaudible] the view of the foreign minister or the government in the capital. There are a lot of political cross currents in all of this. I would find it even harder to tip than a hard fought Labor Party branch rank and file pre-selection. Which brings us of course to the subject on everyone's lips – over to you, Simon.

Journalist: On that issue, before you became Foreign Minister you were a strong advocate of the release of a report you co-authored yourself into the Labor Party's problems after the election. Do you still hold the view that that report should be released now, maybe it might bring an end to the introspection and the flagellation that the party seems to be engaged in at the moment?

Senator Carr: Yeah, I can't retreat from that view. I held the view at the time and actually I hold it now.

Journalist: Senator you said in your opening remarks that it has become apparent to other people that we are not America and we are not England. Has that been a perception that we've had to fight from the outset, that we're some sort of extension of the United States and England and that we've had a different policy?

Senator Carr: It could be a perception. When we engage with Africa, and we've got 50 or by some estimates 70 billion dollars of mining investment either there in the ground or about to be approved, or about to be constructed in Africa. When we talk about that and we talk about our 1000 Australian Award scholarships to Africa, it is nice to remind them that we've got our own perspective when we talk about these things. We approach Africa not as Europeans and not as Americans.

And that's got a resonance. It's used by Prime Minister Gillard, it's used by Kevin Rudd and it is used by me. It's got a resonance. Therefore, any sense that we're returning to whatever's meant by the Anglosphere undercuts this outward looking and confident Australia engaged with all corners of the world. That's the point I've been trying to make in the last few days.

Journalist: The Prime Minister has made a big deal of the Millennium Development Goals and the outward support for them. In the context of a tight budget, do you as a government guarantee that there will be no further slippage in honouring our commitments under the MDGs or as made?

Senator Carr: Kieran I won't speculate about budget measures. I'll just say that I'm proud that in tight budget circumstances in May, we increased and didn't reduce the aid budget. And there aren't many countries that can say that.

Journalist: Do you expect that the Mid Year Economic Forecast, as well that that will be the same?

Senator Carr: Look I am not going to speculate about that. I'm just going to say again that I am proud that Australia is a very generous donor – that is appreciated by the countries here. The Prime Minister talking about our programs on education, on gender and on malaria referred to what Australia does to help poorer countries. It's in our interest to do that, it's in our interest to do that.

Journalist: Can I put it another way? Will you be a strong advocate, even though you're not on the ERC, but will you be a strong advocate for [inaudible] of that nature?

Senator Carr: All ministers advocate strongly for their own portfolios and I would be no exception.

Journalist: Senator during your time here in New York have you had the opportunity to or has the topic of Julian Assange arisen from any international…

Senator Carr: No. I think my program has gone out each day. You've seen my program. I think today, by the end of today I will have had meetings with 26 foreign ministers, probably more if you count the corridor discussions – so called pull-asides. No one has raised it.

Journalist: Any plans of meeting Ecuador?

Senator Carr: No.

Journalist: Why not?

Journalist: We heard from President Ahmadinejad in the General Assembly earlier today. Did you hear any of the speech that he made?

Senator Carr: No I didn't. Neither I nor the Prime Minister were there for his speech. When it comes to his speeches there are certain red lines that if crossed result in the walking out of the Australian delegation. I will not tolerate Holocaust denial from him or anyone else. I will not tolerate that from him or anyone else and were Australians to be in any forum where he says the murder of 6 million Jews did not take place, we're on our feet, out of there before anyone else hits the door. He didn't say that so a walk out wasn't called for today.

Journalist: So are you saying that you actively chose not to be in the chamber because of his attitude towards Israel?

Senator Carr: No, no I had other engagements. You have seen my program, you've seen the meetings I've had. That was the reason I was not there.

Journalist: Were there any other Australian representatives in the chamber at the time?

Senator Carr: I think there were, yes.

Journalist: So you're saying that…

Senator Carr: Our policy is not to be absent when he's there. Our policy is to walk out when he crosses what we see as the red lines.

Journalist: And to clarify, that was the instruction that those officials had?

Senator Carr: It's our practice, it's our practice, it's our practice.

Journalist: Senator, Canada as well as the United States and Israel withdrew their entire delegations. You don't think in the current circumstances that a stronger gesture is called for?

Senator Carr: No, we adhere to that position, we adhere to that position. That's our policy, and I don't think that there can be any serious objection taken to it.

Journalist: Is that a reflection of Australia's changing attitudes or a reflection of how Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn't really deliver on some of the firebrand speeches that he has delivered in the past?

Senator Carr: You'd have to ask him. I'm sure he'd be happy to sit down and give you a long and candid interview.

Journalist: Perhaps because it wasn't the right forum. The one thing we haven't heard much about of if at all, to be honest, is climate change.

Senator Carr: Well, it certainly was when I met the Caribbeans. I spoke about how we, how I have been a passionate advocate of the reality of anthropogenic climate change, manmade climate change, and they live with the consequences of that as small island states. And climate change figures in our aid, both prevention…

Journalist: In the general discussion here at the UN, it appears to have slipped down the rankings quite a bit since last time.

Senator Carr: That could be the case. Overtaken, probably, by concerns with the difficulties of world economic management.

Journalist: Senator, have any of the developing countries expressed concerns about the collapse of the CDM, the UN Carbon Market?

Senator Carr: No, no.

Journalist: Senator, the Prime Minister this morning specifically commended the Palestinian President and Prime Minister, I think one of whom is a member of Hamas, and didn't give any commendation to Binyamin Netanyahu. Was that a deliberate snub?

Senator Carr: Which one is a member of Hamas?

Journalist: I thought the Prime Minister was.

Senator Carr: That's not my understanding. I've met the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, I've met the Foreign Minister in Ramallah and I've met the President. I've met the Foreign Minister here and I've met Ambassador Mansour, their Ambassador to the UN, on several occasions.

Journalist: So why would the Prime Minister mention those two with a specific commendation about progress they've made and not give any encouragement to the Israeli Prime Minister?

Senator Carr: Well, I didn't see those comments, but let me re-state our position on Israel and the Palestinians. We want, as the Prime Minister said in the speech, a two-state solution. You won't have security for Israel, you won't have fulfilment for the Palestinians without a two-state solution. And a two-state solution is most likely to be arrived at through negotiations between, direct negotiations between the two sides without threats and without provocations and with mutual recognition of the security of the other. That's the Australian position. I visited the Middle East and I've spoken along these themes candidly to both the Israeli and the Palestinian leadership. Thank you.

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