Press conference, Christchurch, New Zealand

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

Subjects: Christchurch earthquake; Afghanistan

25 March 2011

KEVIN RUDD: It's heart wrenching to be here in the middle of Christchurch and to see what has [indistinct]. This is a beautiful city. It means a lot to Australians. I spoke to my daughter last night, and she's been married for a year or two now, but her husband proposed to her on the steps of Christchurch Cathedral when they were here on a holiday together. So this city means a lot to us in Australia. It means a huge amount to the people of New Zealand, and it means a huge amount to the people of Christchurch itself.

It's pretty hard to describe how it feels walking through a war zone like this. It's just bad. We've been talking about the good things too, which is how people have pitched together. You've heard the story many times before, and I won't repeat it.

But as Australians, and as members of your wider family, for us it's been a privilege to be here to help in whichever way we've been able - whether that's with search and rescue or in other ways.

The task really lies ahead of you. It's massive. I was just saying to John that I don't know what I'd do if I was in his shoes or the New Zealand Government's shoes; I just really don't know what I'd do. It's just so big. And I really have admiration for the New Zealand Government in dealing with something of this order of magnitude.

One other thing I'd say is this: if you look around the region and around the world, these things are happening just far too often.

None of us know where it's going to hit next. Some time ago, a few years ago, when I was Prime Minister, I raised with our friends and colleagues across East Asia how we can better coordinate our natural disaster response, because the truth is none of us know where it's going to hit next. Absolutely none of us know where it's going to hit next. And the key to it is how do we scramble immediately to help, because as Steve and John have said to me, it really is what happens in the first day or two that's so critical.

Now our men and women who form part of the search and rescue team today are fantastic.

But across our wider region - whether it's Japan; whether it's northern Honshu; whether it's Sichuan in China, with earthquakes a few years ago; whether it's here in Christchurch; or floods and devastation across my own home state of Queensland, with cyclones at one end, floods at the other - as nations we'll work together on how we can continue to do this better.

I'm here at the invitation of the Foreign Minister. I'd originally planned to come after the last earthquake here in Christchurch, and Foreign Minister McCully was keen that we came here and had our bilaterals, which is an annual meeting of the two foreign ministers of the two countries.

And we do it here in Christchurch in order to underline the fact that we in Australia are with you, and not just for the upfront bit. We'll continue to work with the New Zealand Government and the authorities here in any practical way we can help with the rebuilding of this great city, given the great challenges you face.

Over to you, folks.

JOURNALIST: Have you any idea what sort of form that help might take?

KEVIN RUDD: Look, we're just keeping in close contact with the Kiwis. We have a pretty seamless relationship. Within an hour of this thing hitting, and I saw it on - I was at the National Press Club in Canberra, I was on the phone here to Murray, my colleague, and I said, I don't know how big this is, but what I know from experience is that we need to button, and it's far better that we do that and do it quickly.

So that's from the beginning, and that's with the search and rescue and that's been what our teams have been doing, but from here on in we will be in daily, weekly, regular liaison with the Kiwis on what else can be done. Because this is part of the heart and soul of New Zealand; it's part of the heart and soul of our part of the world. Christchurch means a lot to Australia as well.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned as well before that it's important when we've had a series of disasters, you know, around the Pacific. Does that really underline how important it is for countries like Australia, New Zealand, Japan to work together so that when these disasters strike we are ready to help each other?

KEVIN RUDD: I believe there's a wider family of us who need to work better and better together. The effort here has been terrific, and hats off to all those who have been involved.

But when you look at the capabilities like urban search and rescue, we've got capabilities, the Kiwis have got capabilities, the Japanese have capabilities, the Chinese have capabilities, the Koreans do as well and a number of other countries - of course, our common ally the United States. We need to work more and more on how we do it better and better together.

As I said to John before, if this were to hit a city like, you know, Brisbane in Australia - we're not in an earthquake zone, but if we had a large-scale municipal disaster - it would lie well beyond the capabilities of any national government or any, municipal authority to deploy the assets you need there and then to deal with it on your own. So the reality is because of the scale of these things none of us can ever have enough national capacity, so therefore we need to be able to deploy rapidly the international capacity.

So in answer to your question, yes.

Now, have you got a question?

JOURNALIST: Yeah, just quickly. I mean, on Australian news media at the moment Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan have posted racist comments on Facebook, some of them aimed at yourself. Do you - and the Defence Force has launched an investigation into that. Do you think that's going to be enough?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, the bottom line is this is revolting, it's appalling and it is to be absolutely condemned.

The Defence Minister has done that this morning in Australia; as the Foreign Minister I do that as well. It doesn't help one bit the campaign in which we're involved and New Zealand is involved in Afghanistan.

I was in Kabul and in Uruzgan Province only two weeks or so ago, and men and women in uniform there are doing a fantastic job. And we have some Kiwis embedded with us in Tarin Kowt as well. They are doing a great job. This sort of stuff doesn't help them do their job, it just doesn't help it at all. And so it's appalling, it's revolting and to be condemned absolutely.

END

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