Joint media conference with Pedro Villagra Delgado, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps

Subjects: Diplomatic Corps visit to Queensland, Climate Change, Qantas, Tourism, ASX merger decision

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

Brisbane

6 April 2011

KEVIN RUDD: Well, first of all if I could use this opportunity to welcome, not just the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps here to Brisbane, but also the deans of the various regional groupings, which make up the diplomatic corps in Canberra, and I thank them for their presence here today.

This is the single largest gathering of the Australian based diplomatic corps in Queensland ever. And the purpose of this gathering is very simple: it is to demonstrate to the world that the Queensland economy is back in business. It's open for business.

People of the world know that the Queensland economy took a huge battering through the combination of floods and cyclones, and we had expressions of concern and solidarity from right across the world, countries large and small, from every region of the world.

But what struck me, when I was actually in Uruzgan in the middle of Afghanistan not long ago, when the provincial governor of that province, the poorest province in Afghanistan said, how are things going in Queensland? That was his first question to me. I said, well, we're fine, we're back at work. He said, well, we're deeply concerned about the damage in Queensland, everyone here is talking about it.

And I looked around, in the middle of a war zone in the poorest province in Afghanistan and it caused me to think, because what has happened with the extensive media coverage of the floods and cyclones in Queensland is that there has been often an impression carried abroad that the devastation here has been so extensive that, in fact, the economy is barely back functioning.

It's important therefore to set that image to rights around the world, which is why I invited the diplomatic corps to be with us here in Queensland for the next two or three days. Two days in Brisbane and a day, of course, in Far North Queensland.

The second purpose is for them, having been briefed by State Government and by local authority officials about the great opportunities which exist for trade and investment, for them to take that message back to the far flung parts of the world. This, therefore, is important for us as Queenslanders, it's important for those of us in Brisbane today.

The other set of invited guests we have are those from the international media. We have something like a dozen or so representatives of international media organisations from most continents on the planet and they are very welcome as well. Because their assistance in getting a message back to the rest of the world that Queensland is open for business, is as important as the work done by our distinguished diplomatic colleagues as well.

So I conclude before turning to Pedro for some remarks by saying this: this is the single largest gathering of the diplomatic corps in Queensland ever and the purpose is to demonstrate to the world that the Queensland economy is open for business.

Now Pedro, I will invite you to make some remarks and then we'll take some questions.

PEDRO VILLAGRA DELGADO: Thank you very much.

On behalf of the diplomatic corps, I want to thank the invitation. This is a very good initiative.

It allows the Ambassadors and High Commissioners based in Canberra and as well as some Consuls-General around the country to join in the Foreign Minister to see the opportunities that we have to do business, mutually beneficial business, in Queensland.

And certainly it is always a pleasure to be in Brisbane, it's one of the most dynamic and beautiful cities in Australia. With this kind of weather, of course, you would like to be here many times as well.

And we will have the opportunity, in a very packed program, we will meet with officials of Queensland and in a range of issues going from science and technology to business and also to learn from the mayors of the most affected areas from the floods how the process of recovering is going on.

So I thank very much the Foreign Minister for this initiative. It is a great thing and a great opportunity for the corps to visit a state, in this case Queensland, and to have this practice of taking us into the different parts of regional Australia and Australia in general. So thank you very much for that.

KEVIN RUDD: I thank the Ambassador of Argentina, in particular, for acting as — let me describe it as Caucus Whip — in bringing together the entire corps, or a very large part of it, to Brisbane today. Now, folks, happy to take some questions and then we'll get back to business.

QUESTION: Ambassador, what do you see is the primary opportunities for a country, such as your own, Argentina…

ARGENTINIAN AMBASSADOR, PEDRO VILLAGRA DELGADO: In the case of Argentina, you have clearly the key sectors, I would say, are science and technology, things that we can cooperate.

For instance, biotechnology is something you are very good and we are very good as well.

You have in some of the universities here — I mean, Griffith in Queensland, University of Technology and in University of Queensland, you have some of the most important research centres for biotechnology, nanotechnology. We have been in touch already for a few years.

Agriculture is another area which we are perceived as competitors with Australia because we produce some of the same things. But that creates enormous opportunities to do things together for third markets and to share the experiences we have. So it is mining, of course, it's a big thing as well, and tourism.

So it is — there are many opportunities and Queensland, by the way, in the case that you ask me, as Argentina, Queensland is the state in Australia most engaged with Latin America.

KEVIN RUDD: Given I have the Ambassador for Indonesia next to me, I might ask him to answer your question as well, with no notice. I'm sorry.

INDONESIAN AMBASSADOR, PRIMO ALUI JOELIANTO: For us, also, it's very amazing.

I happen to visit Queensland maybe for three days after the flood. So it was amazing that in three days, Queensland is back to normal. So this is a very good lesson for us. You know that Indonesia is very prone to the natural disasters, so this is a good lesson for us, how Australian Government, especially the Queensland Government, recovers from the disaster.

But of course, on the other side, Queensland is one of the important states for us because in terms of mining cooperation.

What was mentioned by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, that Queensland is now developing the new technology of coal. You know that Indonesia is a big producer of coal also. So by this recovery, so the cooperation of course will continue.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

KEVIN RUDD: Can we take some other questions on why we're here and then I'll go to politics, if you like, because I know that's where some of you may be interested. Yeah?

QUESTION: Foreign Minister, [indistinct] scientists agree that extreme weather events are worse than climate change. Why is Australia doing so little about climate change when it impacts you so badly?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, in Australia, the debate is between those who accept the science on climate change and those who do not. Without wishing to be partisan in the presence of so many distinguished diplomats, let me make a partisan point, and that is that the Government accepts without qualification that the science, that climate change is real. This is still contested by the Opposition in Australia.

The Government believes that, therefore, we must put a price on carbon, as do so many other countries around the world. The Opposition in this country does not accept that.

The Government believes that we must act now, both nationally and in partnership with the international community. The Opposition has a different view.

We therefore have a clear position on this.

The problem we've experienced so far in Australia in terms of national action is that the conservative dominated Senate has rejected on two occasions the passage of an Emissions Trading Scheme through the Australian Parliament. That has not stood in the road of Australia being active, both in Copenhagen and Cancun, on both the Copenhagen Accord and the subsequent declaration in Cancun through the UNFCCC.

For us, climate change is real. The consequences for Australia are real. There's no alternative but to act. The Australian Government is getting on with the business of acting.

Any further questions?

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

KEVIN RUDD: You mean to international businesses?

Well, the Queensland Government is very active and my knowledge of it, having formally been the Director General of the Cabinet Office in this government, half a lifetime ago, is that they have probably of all the Australian states, the most extensive network of offices around the region, around the world.

I think there's five or 10 of them run at a state government level around the world.

What they do in terms of their investment attraction policies and trade promotion policies, is often offer specific incentives for individual investments. Now, it would be wrong of me to detail each one of those — shall I say incentives — because that's a matter for the Queensland Government and the Queensland Treasurer.

But my knowledge of their work in the past is that they are very active in business attraction, whether it's their offices in Shanghai, their offices in Hong Kong, their offices in Japan, their offices in the west coast of the United States, their offices in Europe, they are very active and offices in the Gulf as well. So I would encourage international businesses thinking of investing here or trading here to also get onto the Australian Trade Commission, AUSTRADE, but also the local Queensland Government office as well, because this state, Queensland, is open for business.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister, why is this tour necessary and how much is it costing?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, first of all, all of our friends from the diplomatic corps, as Pedro has reminded me, are paying for themselves. So you know, this is a matter which the corps has joined with me in, but the corps is funding its own travel and accommodation. What we are doing, is simply providing receptions and hospitality.

On the core point though, why bring the largest single gathering of the Australian diplomatic corps to Queensland ever? It's pretty basic. We need to get a clear message out to the rest of the world that this economy is open for business.

You can read reports to that effect or you can see it with your own eyes. I take the view, it's far better seeing it with your own eyes and it's not just these good folk with me today and all the other diplomats who are here from Canberra today, it's also the representatives of the international media we brought along as well, getting the message out that this state is open for business.

If, as a result, we can convince — let's just say — 100,000 people or more around the world that you can book a holiday to Queensland tomorrow and there's no problem in terms of flood affected infrastructure, that's an advance. And that's why we're doing this practical business because the tourism industry in this state is hurting.

QUESTION: Mr Rudd, at the same time as you're doing this exercise in the tourism promotion, unions are flagging a really disruptive campaign against Qantas. Does that concern you?

KEVIN RUDD: I'm not familiar with the detail of that particular matter, other than one media report I've seen today. So I'll defer to my colleague who's responsible for workplace relations on that. As far as tourism is concerned though, my general view is all hands to the pump. We need to get more tourists coming to Australia.

When I was recently in the Gulf for example, Queensland the Gold Coast is very attractive as a destination for family based tourism from the various countries in the Gulf. We need to lift our effort there. New incoming large loads of tourism, tourists coming to Queensland from China. We need to do more there. The opening of the China southern link to Queensland has been fantastic but we need to do more.

QUESTION: Mr Rudd, is this stage-managed event also part of you rebuilding and repairing your credibility and reputation?

KEVIN RUDD: I'll come back to that in politics in a minute. So bottle that question. I'll come back to that in a minute. I'm just asking the international media and other Australian media if they've got further things to ask about this.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

KEVIN RUDD: Well, individual foreign investment decisions are assessed by the Australian Government based on the advice of the Foreign Investment Review Board and a decision then taken independently by the Treasurer of Australia. That's been the case since Adam was a boy.

This country will always act in its national interest and the Treasurer's indicated what the nature of the advice he's received from the FIRB board is. He's also indicated his call for further information and he's also indicated when he's likely to be making a decision.

Each country acts in its national interest and I've noticed in the past and in times past that the British Government, mindful of the interest of the city of London, has often done the same.

QUESTION: Do you think this will provide a good example for New Zealand…

KEVIN RUDD: For New Zealand and Japan? Well, far be it for me to provide any sort of suggestions to our friends in New Zealand and Japan.

But, you know what, on how to respond to natural disasters, the order of magnitude in those two countries is vastly different than what we have here. Let's just be honest about it. I mean Japan is just a rolling tragedy and the New Zealand experience in Christchurch is truly horrific.

I think what it all reminds us of though, is this: when natural disasters hit we are reminded that we are a community of peoples around the world, we are a community of nations around the world.

Let's look at for example the search and rescue operations both in Christchurch and in Japan in Honshu. No single national government can immediately deploy the search and rescue capabilities necessary to deal with something of that size. It reminds us that when you're dealing with huge events from nature, we are so bound up with each other that we must automatically deploy and work with each other.

So I'll answer your question in a slightly different way, the big challenge for the international community now is this, to coordinate infinitely more effectively how each of us respond when a major natural disaster hits in any other country in the world.

We should have a system whereby if a disaster hits country X, we push a button and automatic standard operating procedures take over whereby the search and rescue teams are immediately deployed from participating states to the location.

Why is that necessary? The first 24 hours after an event hits or an earthquake hits, for example, is the critical one in terms of searching and identifying the remaining human life. And it gets worse and worse from that day on.

Our current arrangements are not — I'm talking here not in any individual country but across the region, across the world — sharp enough for that response to be as rapid and as large scale as it needs to be.

If we had a huge event affecting a major capital city in the region, or across the world with large scale loss of life, large scale loss of life, the international effort which would then be required would be massive. And I'm not confident that currently the international system of cooperation and coordination is up to it. There's work going on at present with the ARF, the ASEAN Regional Forum. There's work underway in the East Asian Summit. There's work under way through the United Nations and I've met the representatives of all those on this matter. So as an international community we need to lift our effort.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

KEVIN RUDD: Yes, I was recently in Jakarta, meeting the President of Indonesia and the Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa on this very subject.

I've also most recently in Geneva met with the head of the UN office for natural disaster management. And we are now at work, Australia, with other countries in the world about how we do this better.

Natural disasters are not going to go away. Earthquakes are not going to stop. Tsunamis will continue. Our challenge is how do we work better as a world frankly, as a partnership of nations to deal with the immediate human tragedy which affects a city when it is knocked over by a major event.

Okay. Now I presume you want to have a chat about politics is that right? Okay.

I might excuse my diplomatic colleagues so they don't get caught in the crossfire if that's okay, and then I'll run after them in a minute. Thanks, colleagues, appreciate it.

Okay a couple of questions now. I think you had one and then you up next. I'll take them in that order. You first.

QUESTION: Did the Prime Minister and the Treasurer pressure you to shelve the ETS and are you concerned about [indistinct].

KEVIN RUDD: Well the first thing I'd say is that on the question of climate change, as I just said in response to a question over here, the big difference between us and the Opposition is that we, as a government, are resolved to act on a climate change by putting a price on carbon and the Opposition remain opposed.

In the period that I was Prime Minister it's no secret there was a diversity of views on this matter when we got to the first half of last year. That's true. It's been out there on the record for a long period of time. I don't propose to elaborate on it beyond the comments that I made the other evening. Yeah?

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

KEVIN RUDD: My comments remain as they were the other evening and I think the key thing here is to get on with the business of putting a price on carbon. You see when it comes to the period of the Government which I led, I will always act as appropriate to set correctly the record.

And the period that we now find ourselves in under the Government led by Prime Minister Gillard, the challenge we have is to put a price on carbon. And we'll get on with that business. And I will lend my shoulder to the wheel as I do, in part because through the AusAID agency we're responsible for international climate change finance. I am therefore engaged in the global efforts on climate change. And I support fully the actions by the Government to bring about price on carbon.

As for the previous government, as the former Prime Minister, I will speak as appropriate to make sure that the record is straight. Over to you?

QUESTION: [inaudible] … you talk about setting the record straight, is this diplomatic event also part of you repairing your reputation and your credibility?

KEVIN RUDD: First of all, the idea of deploying the assets available in my portfolio to assist with Queensland flood recovery was first discussed between myself and I think the editor of The Courier Mail at the end of last year some time. So that's something to bear in mind.

Secondly — and that's before the floods — we talked about how we actually used the assets of my Department to, shall I say, support Queensland's long-term economic prospects through greater trade investment activity in the world.

Then earlier this year, once the floods had hit we had a double challenge on our hands. Not just supporting economic growth here but given the flood damage, to actually get in there and do something much more quickly, hence the decision to convene this gathering of the diplomatic corps here in Brisbane.

It's part of what you do as your job as Foreign Minister and as one responsible for our engagement of countries around the world. I think it's the right course of action. In terms of other interpretations you may choose to put on it, a matter for you.

I'm just doing my job.

Yeah?

QUESTION: Indistinct… made some comments about you wanting to be PM again. Is there anything…

KEVIN RUDD: And you know something? I have had an ironclad policy for quite a number of years, which is anything that that gentleman has to say I never respond to. So that's — I'll just leave it there. It's not worth your while. Yeah?

QUESTION: A question. What was the process of … [inaudible] … not going for the double dissolution being talked about last year.

KEVIN RUDD: I don't intend to canvass those matters any further than I did the other evening.

I was asked a very direct question about whether I got it wrong in the decision to delay the implementation of the Emissions Trading Scheme until 2012. I said very candidly on national television, yes, I got it wrong. I accepted full responsibility for that. That's the right course of action.

As I said when it comes to the record of the Government of which I was the Prime Minister, I will as appropriate make comments from time to time to make sure that the record is clear.

And equally, you will see me lending my full shoulder to the wheel with this Government getting on with the agenda, for which it was elected, including putting a price on carbon.

Thanks folks. My colleagues await.

ENDS

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