Joint Press conference, Christchurch, New Zealand

  • Kevin Rudd, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs
  • Murray McCully, New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

Subjects: Visit to New Zealand, Syria, Libya, New Zealand domestic politics

26 March 2011

MURRAY MCCULLY: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning, good afternoon. It's my pleasure to welcome Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to New Zealand. This is a six-monthly ministerial engagement we have with our close friends from Australia.

Today, we've had the opportunity to start by thanking the Foreign Minister for all of the support that Australia has given New Zealand during some very difficult times earlier this year. We've had 600 Australian military and police people here over recent weeks.

We've had continuous solicitous phone calls from the Foreign Minister offering help, and it's been an opportunity for us to say thank you, appropriately, but also to show Mr Rudd some of the damage that has been done, and let him get a first-hand impression of the contribution his people have made.

I'm not going to traverse the topics we've covered this morning. We've covered the full range of bilateral, regional and global issues, but in particular we've spent some time on the Middle East, where the Foreign Minister has spent a good deal of time in the early part of this year, so it's been good for us, being deeply interested in these developments ourselves, to spend some time on those topics.

The other thing that we've reflected on is the fact that we both host important meetings. This year we're hosting the [Pacific] Forum Leaders' Meeting here in September and Australia, of course, is hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, a little later in the year, so we've been comparing notes and working very cooperatively in those respective leadership roles.

I'll say no more, other than, Kevin, you're very welcome here, and we appreciate the gesture of coming to Christchurch as a statement of solidarity for the holding of these talks.

KEVIN RUDD: Thank you very much.

First of all, if I could just say how moving it has been for me to spend some time wandering the streets of Christchurch. The damage here is much bigger than I had thought, and to see with your own eyes changes your views. You see these things through the television screens of the world - that's one thing - when you see the devastation to the entire central business district, and to a number of the suburbs of Christchurch, that's something else.

So to the good people of Christchurch and this region, all I can say is, having seen with my own eyes, I have some sense of the dimensions of the challenge which lies ahead of you; how telling this must be in its emotional impact for people, and for families and for communities; and how hard the road to recovery will be.

As I've said to both the Prime Minister, this morning, Prime Minister Key, and to Murray, the Foreign Minister, we in Australia will always be just across the water to help in any practical way that we can in the formidable challenges which lie ahead.

And we are pleased and we are proud to have been able to play a small part in the difficulty of the recovery effort which you have been through. These have been devastating times for so many local families, and it has been an honour to have been part of this form of help which we've extended to the members of our wider family, in which we regard New Zealand as being.

Bilaterally, the Foreign Minister and I have reviewed the overall status of our bilateral relationship: it's in first-class working order. And we have a range of bilateral initiatives which are underway to further enmesh our economies, and to further coordinate our foreign policies in the region and across the world.

Regionally, we've spent a long time this morning discussing New Zealand's hosting of the Pacific Island Forum, which will occur later this year. Two years ago we hosted the forum in Australia.

There are large development challenges which lie across the Pacific. In terms of these countries of the Pacific and their progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, that progress is patchy, but one of the things that we have done as a result of the Cairns Compact a couple of years ago in - or a year and a half ago - in Cairns, was to maximise aid transparency from donor countries to the region, and also maximise the reporting by individual countries on what progress has been made in health indicators, in education indicators, in employment indicators and in infrastructure indicators.

So that the taxpayers of Australia, the taxpayers of New Zealand, the taxpayers of other ODA partners can point to where progress has occurred in a measurable way, and where progress has not occurred, and to inquire as to why, and what we need to do better with our partners in the region.

And so I look forward very much to New Zealand's hosting of this Pacific Island Forum. I know our Kiwi friends are going to do it fantastically well, because this country is deeply enmeshed across Polynesia and the rest of the south-west Pacific.

Globally, of course, our discussions have focused on the future of the G20. They've focused on the future of the East Asian Summit and recent developments in the Middle East. And if I could make some comments here about what's unfolded in Syria overnight.

The violence that we see unfolding in Syria right now is unacceptable to the international community. The killings that we have seen reports on overnight from the city of Daraa are unacceptable to the international community. The test is now for President Assad to respond peacefully to peaceful protest activity on the basis of a genuine program of political reform.

Syria has been under military rule and martial law since 1963. That is a long time. It's time to bring about normal political engagement in Syria, whereby the people of that country have as much right as anybody else to freedom of political expression, and we'd call upon the Syrian regime to employ peaceful means in their response to peaceful protest, rather than continue the acts of violence of which we now have many reports from Daraa, in the south of that country, but also now reports from elsewhere in the country as well.

We are monitoring the development in Syria very closely with our partners in the international community, and this is an important season ahead, as we see how these protests in the future are responded to by the regime.

More broadly in the Middle East, we are in unchartered waters across the Middle East in the period ahead. We see what's unfolding on our television screens in Libya. We see the brave actions of opposition forces within Libya. We see the brave actions of NATO air forces implementing the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 on the ground.

Had that not occurred, right now we'd be debating the butchery of Benghazi, and the butchery of thousands of civilians from Qaddafi who said he 'would show no mercy' to the people of Benghazi.

Of course, elsewhere within the wider region we continue to monitor developments closely as well. The international community, through the United Nations, must remain seized with these matters, and the views of all states - the views of all stable democracies, such as New Zealand, such as Australia - remain important in these international deliberations.

I'm happy to take any questions you have.

QUESTION: Having seen the red zone, for example, and the destruction there, first-hand, and then having a chance to sit down with Minister McCully, have you identified any perhaps new or more specific ways that Australia can help, beyond what you've already offered?

KEVIN RUDD: No. I don't think it's a time to go into those specifics. We have what I'd describe as an open invitation to our friends in New Zealand, as you work through the details of your recovery process. But if practical matters arise where we can assist, we will. And that is the open invitation of one friend to another.

I know the difficult decisions which lie ahead for the New Zealand government in terms of the organisation and the implementation of the recovery and reconstruction effort. I'm from Queensland, I know a bit about what this is about, and it's going to be hard.

As I said to both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister this morning, any city in the world which cops a disaster like this is going to find it really hard. If this was to happen in a city like Brisbane, where I come from, we'd find it really hard. Given the dimensions of the destruction which I've seen, not just to businesses, not just to the civic architecture and the civic heart of the Christchurch community, but also to people's livelihoods, their homes, their streets, the ability of their schools.

I spoke with the Bishop here, yesterday, who told me that something like 16 or 17 Anglican churches are now rendered unsafe as a result of the earthquake, and across the church community, within the central parts of Christchurch, 20-25 churches. Well that cuts a hole in what communities do.

Now, in response to your question, we have open ears and open hearts in terms of what we can do in the future, but I'd much rather do so in response to what our Kiwi friends request of us, rather than suggesting this, that or the other.

QUESTION: So are you likely, Minister McCully, to request anything specific at this point?

MURRAY MCCULLY: Look, the most important help that we could ask for was in the very early stages of the search and rescue work here. And during those days not only did Australia respond immediately to the request - they offered immediately to send two search and rescue teams here.

But the phone calls from Kevin Rudd were continuous, saying, 'what more can we do to help?'

Our two systems were in close dialogue. They remain in close dialogue. So as we move from the phase we've been in to the next one, I'm sure there'll be further discussions that we'll hold.

KEVIN RUDD: Yeah. Any other questions? I'm very delighted if there are none. [Laughter]

QUESTION: I do have one more on a slightly unrelated matter.

KEVIN RUDD: These always worry me. [Laughter]

Slightly unrelated is, watch for the incoming [inaudible]. Last night I was at Canterbury University with a whole bunch of students - I don't know if any of you were there - and called for questions from the student body, and the second question was, what I was going to do about Australia's policy towards our undisclosed UFO files.

QUESTION: Well, it's not about that.

KEVIN RUDD: It gave me pause for thought.

QUESTION: It's regarding - you're possibly aware - some leadership issues within the Labour Party here, and we wondered if you had any advice for Phil Goff at the moment?

KEVIN RUDD: The first law of foreign policy is: don't interfere in anyone else's stuff, and I don't intend to. The second law of foreign policy is to say this, and I say this knowing the terrain in New Zealand politics as I know it in Australia: Phil Goff is a long-standing friend and colleague of mine who demonstrated to me great decency when he was Foreign Minister of New Zealand, when I was a political nobody in Australia. He is a person for whom I have the highest regard. So he is a good person. I know that from my own experience, and I wish him well into the future.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Minister McCully, what about the New Zealand government's approach to the Syrian situation? Are you on the same page?

MURRAY MCCULLY: We're very much so, and we've kept in touch, obviously both our systems, and we personally keep in touch on these developments as they unfold. We've supported strongly the initiative for the no-fly zone and the arms embargo in Libya.

We can see that there are now some other theatres in which these similar tensions are going to be played out. We find ourselves thinking in similar ways, and voicing our concerns in a similar way, and promoting similar solutions.

KEVIN RUDD: Okay, folks. Thank you very much.

END

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