Transcript of remarks to Australian media at the G20 Foreign Ministers' meeting

Subjects: G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Australian Labor Party, Syria.

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

20 February 2012

MR RUDD: It’s good to be here at this G20 Foreign Ministers meeting. I have just been in discussion with the United States Secretary of State, the German Foreign Minister, the foreign policy commissioner of the European Union, Baroness Catherine Ashton, and of course Patricia Espinosa, who is the Mexican Foreign Minister and a good friend.

The purpose of this gathering is underscored by the ongoing financial crisis in the world, particularly in Europe and the continued concerns we all have about the impact of any further difficulties in Greece. We also talked about not just the impact on financial markets, but the impact on the real economy, as well as jobs. And how does an institution like the G20 bring its full weight to bear in making sure these problems are properly dealt with and we don’t have a repeat of a large scale crisis we had in 2008/2009? Back in 2008/2009 we managed through combined global action to prevent that crisis from turning into a global depression. It was a real risk at that time. Those who are familiar with economic jargon can tell you that. We managed to avert the collapse; we managed to avert the fall; but in this institution – the G20 – we have to make sure that we are constantly using the over-the-horizon radar to look at any future development which could impact on jobs and growth both for Australia and also elsewhere around the world.

A final point. Remember that Australia is a member of the G20 for one simple reason: this Australian Government made that possible through our actions with the United States and others back in the crisis of 2008/2009. Australia, together with other countries, has a seat at the top global economic table, and that is why I am here in Mexico for this meeting.

JOURNALIST: Simon Crean has said you are disloyal; he said it is time for you to “put up or shut up”. It is an extraordinary attack from a Cabinet colleague. How do you respond?

MR RUDD: Well, this has been drawn to my attention. As I have said elsewhere, I think Simon Crean is a very good minister of the Government. I am disappointed by his remarks, because they are based on an untruth. That has been underlined by the recent statements by the Prime Minister herself, and furthermore I draw your attention to the statement that has just been released also by Mr Wilkie.

JOURNALIST: How can you work with him if he really thinks that of you?

MR RUDD: I have said all I need to say on that one. I have responded to this specific matter.

JOURNALIST: Did you have a meeting back in November with Andrew Wilkie in which the Prime Ministership was discussed?

MR RUDD: I will draw your attention to what Mr Wilkie has said. And that is, we had a meeting to discuss his long-standing interest in a further inquiry into how Australia got itself into the Iraq War. If you know Mr Wilkie’s history, he was a direct casualty in terms of his career for providing advice to the then-Howard government which they didn’t welcome. And as a consequence, by and large, he lost his job. He has been on the record now for eighteen months wanting a further enquiry. That was the subject of our discussion. Mr Wilkie raised other matters concerning the leadership, and I say, and say with absolute clarity, that at no stage during that conversation – or in any other conversation - have I sought anyone’s support for any concern on that matter as far as the leadership is concerned. And furthermore, I am the Foreign Minister; we have a Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: For the sake of clarity, can you confirm if there is a leadership spill, would you throw your hat in the ring?

MR RUDD: Well, can I say that is not in prospect because we have a Prime Minister, and I am the Foreign Minister. Furthermore, I draw your attention to what the Prime Minister has just said on this matter in Australia. I am here as the Foreign Minister of Australia doing my job. That is a job that I am engaged by the Australian community to do. And it involves important matters such as how do we avoid a second global economic crisis, which rips the guts out of the Australian economy and causes mass unemployment. Our job is to avoid that. The Government is working hard on it.

JOURNALIST: On Syria, what was the sentiment of the meeting so far? Are the G20 countries seeking for as peaceful solution as possible?

MR RUDD: On Syria there is great concern about the fact that the existing structures of the United Nations haven’t delivered an outcome. Namely that we have a UN Security Council resolution albeit a moderate and mild one which was still vetoed by two member States – permanent member States at the Security Council. I would emphasize the fact that, as a result of that, the international community will gather late this week in Tunis. Australia will also be represented , as we seek to bring together not just the Arab League but all concerned member States of the United Nations family with one objective in mind: to place maximum pressure on President Assad to go, to end the butchery that we see day by day unfolding in Syria, and to make sure that we also have a durable and peaceful political transition involving Syrian opposition groups. One of the advantages of this international group meeting in Tunis is that an invitation has been extended to the Syrian opposition. This was an important step forward in the preparation for what subsequently unfolded in Libya. When the Libyan crisis was on, the Transitional National Council of Libya was invited to the original London summit, and the international community is now embracing the same approach when it comes to the challenges we now face in Syria.

My final point is, because I am late for dinner, and I am supposed to be engaging in a bilateral with the US Secretary of State right now, is to emphasize the fact that this agenda here at this Foreign Ministers meeting of the G20 Member States is of fundamental relevance to Australia’s national interests. And if anyone argues to the contrary, frankly they have rocks in the head. And having said that guys, I really do have to go.

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