Transcript of Doorstop, Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, London

Subjects: Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group; G20; Syria; Libya; Royal Wedding; Republic debate

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

28 April 2011

MR RUDD: Firstly, I have been here in London with the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and we are of course engaged in detailed preparations for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be held in Perth later this year. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group will be issuing its own statement in the immediate period ahead. Of course, we have discussed the usual range of challenges lying before the Commonwealth, particularly in relation to Fiji. And again the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has affirmed our decision to maintain Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth. The reason being that we have seen no measurable change whatsoever by the Fiji military regime, in terms of the restoration of democracy in that country.

In the last two or three days, I have been in both Paris and London. In Paris, with the Secretary General of the Elyssee, as well as Finance Minister Lagarde, discussing the future of the G20. France hosts the G20 at the end of this year. Australia is a founding member of the G20. And as a consequence we are ourselves directly engaged with our partners around the world on preparation for the hosting of that event in Cannes later this year. The agenda of the G20 is of fundamental significance not just to Australia, but to all G20 countries given the fragility of the global economic recovery. Also the G20 has on its agenda a development item, which goes to the future development needs of poor countries around the world. And we are directly engaged with the French on that, and the rest of the agenda as well.

Finally, both in Paris and London, I have been in discussions with French Foreign Minister Juppe and British Foreign Secretary William Hague on the unfolding situation in the Middle East: Syria, Libya and elsewhere.

A comment or two on Syria: the Australian Government, together with those of France and the United Kingdom, condemn absolutely the deployment of violence by the Syrian regime against its own people. As far as measures going forward are concerned, we have noted that there has been an open session conducted by the United Nations Security Council on this matter.

Furthermore, we believe the time has come for the international community now to consider the use of sanctions against the Syrian regime. Furthermore, we believe that it is important that all countries of the world register through normal diplomatic means, their views about the actions taken by the regime against their civilians.

That is why earlier today in Australia, we called in the Syrian Charge d’Affairs to register Australia’s fundamental opposition to the violence being deployed by the Syrian regime against its own people. On top of that, I will be writing to the UN Secretary General requesting the UN Secretary General consider the deployment of a UN Special Envoy to Syria. The media does not have universal access in Syria. We therefore need to have a comprehensive report on the ground as to what is happening, centre by centre, city by city. And that I believe is the next appropriate step.

Finally in relation to Syria, the Australian travel advisories are clear: don’t go. If you’re there, use commercial aircraft to get out. That is what we are saying to Australian citizens. Secondly, we also now have four Australian consular officials on the ground in Damascus to co-ordinate arrangements with the Canadian Embassy there, which has responsibility for Australian consular affairs in Syria. Those officials are hard at work. In the last 24 hours, we have sought to make telephone contact with all Australians registered as being in Syria and we have done so far, I am advised, with about 60 per cent of those Australians. The number of registered Australians is just under 300, but we expect there are more there as well.

Finally on Libya, we believe that what is required for Libya is to certainly affirm publicly the position taken by Foreign Minister Juppe and Foreign Secretary Hague, that what is required is patience. Time is not on the side of the Qaddafi regime. It is important that we pursue a consistent diplomatic, political and military strategy in our dealings with the campaign in Libya. Australia remains the third largest humanitarian contributor to the Libyan people and those seeking to exit Libya in the world, after the US and the EU. We will continue to remain engaged with our partners and friends in this important challenge. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, how long can the international community go on hoping the Syrian President halts the violence and hoping that he embraces reform?

MR RUDD: The key challenge now is to establish a factual basis on what is transpiring on the ground, not just in the suburbs of Damascus, not just in the Southern parts of the country, but right across the country. That is why I believe it is urgent that we have the UN Secretary General dispatch a Special Envoy for these purposes.

We need a clear basis of fact across the country as to the extent of the violations of fundamental human rights occurring in that country now, and the deployment of violence by the regime against the Syrian people. That is where our focus should be right now, as well as the consideration now of sanctions: whether those be authorised by the United Nations Security Council or not.

JOURNALIST: As a country, Australia has experience with the Alternative Vote system… (inaudible) maybe to choose one or not. What do you think … ( inaudible)

RUDD: Democratic.

JOURNALIST: Could you elaborate?

RUDD: Look, each country chooses its own voting system. We don’t claim to have the best voting system in the world, but it has served the Australian democracy well over many, many decades. We are one of the oldest continuing democracies in the world, probably one of the five oldest continuing democracies in the world, with a voting system which has served us well. But I would be the last person on the planet to tell the good people of Britain how they should vote politically, let alone what sort of voting system they should be using. It is a matter for them.

JOURNALIST: On British matters, where will you be watching the Royal Wedding, or will you be watching the Royal Wedding?

RUDD: This is the Commonwealth. Strewth. I am heading out to Jerusalem and Ramallah this afternoon, in fact as soon as I leave you good people in six minutes time, and I will be in discussions there with the Israeli Government and the Government of the Palestinian Authorities, so that’s where I will be through most of tomorrow. The extent to which Abu Mazen and Prime Minister Netanyahu will have the Royal Wedding on in the background, I will let you pose that question to them.

By the way, I wish the Royal couple to be all the very best. As I said earlier today in Australia, everyone loves a lover and young people in love, and it is a great thing to see.

JOURNALIST: You had an experience meeting with Prince William. What did you take away from that meeting in Australia when you were Prime Minister?

RUDD: As I said somewhere earlier today, Prince William struck me as a very decent bloke. What do I mean by that? We sat down for an hour or so with homeless young people in the city of Sydney. We kicked out the media, and just sat on the floor and talked to them for an hour about their experience. And the Prince as I understand from our conversations then supports similar charitable work in the UK. I think that he strikes me as a man with a social conscience and therefore from our perspective, strikes me as a pretty decent bloke.

JOURNALIST: Do you look forward to welcoming a future King William to a republic of Australia?

RUDD: Now how many hypotheticals is that? I think we have Prince Charles next, don’t we? Then we have got…

JOURNALIST: Not if Prime Minister Gillard has her way though.

RUDD: Then you have if and when we become a republic. We will just take all these things step by step. The Royal Family are always welcome in Australia, as is the Queen, and she will be made very welcome when she visits Australia for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting later this year.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you whether you or Australia will consider going it alone on sanctions on Syria, if there is no possibility from the United Nations Security Council, and what kind of sanctions are you thinking of?

RUDD: Well under Australian legislation, we are capable of deploying sanctions either under the United Nations Security Council or what we call autonomous sanctions, and we recently legislated to provide the full legal backing to that latter course of action. Therefore we are open to the consideration of either or both. When it comes to the specific content of sanctions, I am liaising closely with our European friends. I know this is on the agenda of European Leaders or Foreign Ministers when they meet, as I understand it in the days ahead, in the military and consultative processes of the European Union. We would seek to do it in concert with our European partners.

The core message is this: to get a clear message out to Damascus, this is just not on. You can’t go around and thug people to death and expect the international community to just turn a blind eye. We don’t. And where you start is by an open session of the UN Security Council; then you go to sanctions; then you go and investigate through a Special Rapporteur or Envoy what is happening on the ground. We take this step by step.

JOURNALIST: How do you think the Prime Minister performed on her visit to China, do you think it was right to push so hard on human rights?

RUDD: Absolutely, it is the right course of action. We have so much in common with our friends in China with whom we have been developing a strong diplomatic, political and commercial relationship for the last 40 years almost. But the bottom line is that we have two quite different political systems. China is a one party state; we are not. Therefore we have differences. And we have made it very plain, time after time again, that we will not resile from raising these questions. And that is the right course of action for any democracy, including ours, and I assume here in Europe as well.

JOURNALIST: Hypotheticals aside, would you like to see Australia become a republic, and if so when?

RUDD: Yes and in due season. I was asked this, this morning on BBC radio, and when I say in due season, let’s just be very clear that there are a whole bunch of issues in Australia at present: there is such a thing as the state of the economy; there is such a thing as dealing with a major security and political developments in Asia; there is an upcoming G20 Summit; we have the odd spot of bother in the Middle East, which we have been talking about. So there are plenty of other things to wrestle with on the global agenda and the domestic policy agenda. This is therefore not a top priority issue for Australia.

Secondly, when it is eventually put to the people, it is for the Australian people to decide. We are a pretty mature democracy, we sort these things out in due season. As I said to the Beeb this morning, BBC sorry, as I said to the BBC this morning, our job is not to provide them with rolling entertainment in terms of when or when not we wish to become some sort of republic. That is a matter for Australia’s democratic processes, in due season. Thank you very much.

END

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