Transcript of doorstop – The launch of the Caritas' Project Compassion Campaign
Subjects: Syria; Air Australia flight cancellations; Queensland election; domestic politics.
Transcript, E&OE, proof only
17 February 2012
KEVIN RUDD: I'm going to say something first, a couple of things.
The first is today Australian time the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on the situation in Syria.
This General Assembly resolution parallels the one which was rejected recently by the UN Security Council. That resolution is important because it reflects the sentiment of the vast majority of the international community – that it is time for President Assad to go. It is time for peaceful political transition to occur in Damascus because we cannot stand idly by while tens, hundreds, thousands of Syrian people are slaughtered.
I'm pleased to report that Australia's permanent representative chaired the UN General Assembly session which adopted this resolution.
Our permanent representative, Ambassador Quinlan, has been active on this matter throughout the Syrian crisis. I commend him for his diplomacy in New York. I also underline the fact that Australia was an active co-sponsor of this resolution on the ongoing crisis in Syria.
It is time for the international community to wake up to itself and to realise that we cannot stand idly by and allow innocent civilians to be slaughtered.
On the events here today in Brisbane, it's great to be here with our local state member Grace Grace as well as these fine representatives of Caritas including Mr de Groot and Sister Joan.
This is very basic stuff for Australia. It's very basic stuff for the entire Australian community, and that is to dig deep and support Caritas for the important work it does around the world, bearing in mind that this day today in Australia, 22,000 children will die around the world as a result of avoidable causes; starvation, malnutrition and related diseases. Supporting Caritas is one way to bring that number down.
Over to you folks.
KEVIN RUDD: On Air Australia we're deeply concerned about the implications for the Australian public.
I've asked the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and relevant posts around the world, not just in Honolulu, not just in Bangkok but elsewhere, to provide every form of consular assistance possible.
We've been advised by Qantas that those who are affected by this dispute, by the actions of Air Australia, should present themselves to a local Qantas desk at the relevant airports, and Qantas have indicated to us that they'll do everything possible to make it feasible for people to get back to Australia.
JOURNALIST: Regarding Syria you said Australia can't stand idly – you said Australia can't stand idly by in Syria. Do you support sending in peacekeeping troops?
KEVIN RUDD: The position of the Arab League, which was adopted recently at their extraordinary meeting in Cairo, called for a combined UN and Arab League peacekeeping force, the purpose of which was to 1) ensure that a ceasefire was honoured, and 2) that no further bloodshed was allowed to occur.
Australia, through the Australian Government, fully supports this initiative by the Arab League.
JOURNALIST: Would you send Australian troops there?
KEVIN RUDD: The first thing is to gain consensus through the UN Security Council. That's where the action now stands. China and Russia, for their own reasons, have decided to block a UN Security Council resolution dealing with related matters on Syria.
This subsequent initiative by the Arab League will be discussed, I believe, further at a meeting of the international contact group on Syria, a meeting which Australia will be represented at, probably by myself, in Tunisia coming up this Friday.
JOURNALIST: Syria seems to think that the resolution would open the way for more terrorism, for more anti-government protests.
KEVIN RUDD: Well can I ask – just ask this question to President Assad. When the UN says it can't keep up with the count of how many people have been slaughtered in the streets of Damascus and Homs because so many are being slaughtered each day, I think it's time for President Assad to frankly have a good long hard look at himself, do the right thing and go. It's time for political transition to occur.
JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, you're out campaigning again for local candidates.
KEVIN RUDD: This morning I have been with our State Member for Ashgrove, Kate Jones, at Marist Brothers Ashgrove actually, and talking to the local school community, emphasising two practical things in that school community.
Number one, we the Federal Government in partnership with the States have delivered in that school alone, a new $2 million plus science centre. As well as that we have funded a new trades training centre at Marist College Ashgrove, as we have done for schools and colleges right across Brisbane and right across Queensland.
This was voted against by Mr Abbott.
If you want to know what a key difference is – if you have a Labor government committed to education doing these things understand this very clearly – the Liberal National Party in Canberra voted against it.
Very simple difference.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Anna Bligh went too far by saying in Parliament the other day – under protection of parliamentary privilege – that Campbell Newman should, is going to go to jail because of his family's financial interests.
KEVIN RUDD: Well first of all I have had a few things on my mind in Canberra including Syria and including other foreign policy challenges we're faced with at the moment.
I haven't seen the full text of what the Premier said or others said in the Queensland State Parliament. What I would say is this – Campbell Newman must front the media and answer all questions as all of us have to do all the time.
The Liberal National Party strategy with Mr Newman for a long period of time is to open up a shoe box, put Campbell in it, put the lid back on, and hope that nobody notices he's there – all the way through to election day.
It doesn't actually work that way. If you want to be the Premier of Queensland you've got to front. And one thing I'd add on that by the way – out in Ashgrove today there was a public forum involving representatives from all schools in the electorate of Ashgrove, involving cleaners and support staff, and administrative staff for all schools for all candidates in the state election running for the seat of Ashgrove.
All candidates were there except one – Campbell Newman. His excuse? He got his diary entry wrong.
Can I just say, if you can't manage your diary, how on earth are you going to manage the state?
JOURNALIST: Did he get his diary entry wrong, or did someone give him a wrong date?
KEVIN RUDD: Well I'll let others answer that at the local level, but can I say when there is a big forum in the local community on something like that it's very important that local members and candidates present.
I've run for election now many, many times. When there are local candidate forums, you present – and you answer questions.
JOURNALIST: Will you challenge Julia Gillard any time soon?
KEVIN RUDD: As I have said 1000 times, I am very happy being Foreign Minister of Australia.
It is a position which keeps me well and truly occupied.
I've been talking today about Syria. What else is on the international agenda today? A coup in the Maldives which Australia, as current chair of a Commonwealth Foreign Ministers' Meeting which represents 54 nation states, has just dispatched a ministerial mission to the Maldives to ascertain whether in fact a coup occurred. They'll be meeting the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in London in the middle of next week.
On top of that I've been preoccupied with the upcoming meeting of G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting which occurs in Los Cabos in Mexico starting on Sunday night.
There are a few things on my agenda as Foreign Minister, and as I've said 1000 times before and I'll say 1000 times again, I am very happy being the Foreign Minister of Australia.
JOURNALIST: You're very popular as Prime Minister here today…
JOURNALIST: Definitely rule it out? [Indistinct].
KEVIN RUDD: You know, it's always great to be in Brissie because the local folk are always very kind to me. But the most important thing…
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] Brisbane school children are yelling at you, you should be Prime Minister Mr Rudd.
KEVIN RUDD: Well school kids are always nice, and they're well mannered, and they're friendly – as are the people of Queensland. I just – this is my home town. This is where I am from. I'm here supporting local members. I'm doing some further work with Grace in the campaign as well.
But in answer to your fundamental question, I'm very happy being the Foreign Minister of Australia, and as they say in the classics, I've got to zip.
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