Interview with Phil Kafcaloudes, Radio Australia

Subjects: Regional Processing Centre, Bilateral relations with East Timor; live cattle trade; people smuggling

Dili, East Timor

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

11 July 2011

COMPERE: Let's go to the Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd. He's just had a busy weekend, been in Jakarta for talks with a range of officials on a range of topics.

One of them, of course, was about the ban on live cattle exports which has just been lifted.

He then went to East Timor for talks with East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta and fresh back from the trip Kevin Rudd joins us now. Thanks very much for giving us your time.

KEVIN RUDD: Good morning, thanks for having me on the program.

COMPERE: You've had talks with President Jose Ramos-Horta. Does this mean the regional processing centre is still on the agenda?

KEVIN RUDD: Obviously not, because we have worked with other governments in the region, consistent with the regional framework agreement we negotiated at the Bali Conference in March.

That's why the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, has his negotiations underway with regional countries such as Malaysia.

My trip to East Timor was to view the overall bilateral relationship.

We last week in Australia released the Government's response to our aid effectiveness review.

We are East Timor's single largest international aid partner so it was important to run through the totality of the economic development relationship with the East Timorese while I was in Dili, where I met the Prime Minister, the President, the Foreign Minister and others.

COMPERE: And how is the relationship going?

KEVIN RUDD: It's a good relationship. We have worked with our friends in East Timor for more than a decade on the challenges of building a new and independent state from a small country, a small population of just over one million.

We have been long term security partners of East Timor. We still have 400 members of the Australian Defence Force on the ground in Dili as part of the International Security Force.

We also have a defence cooperation program running with the East Timor Defence Force and we also have a cooperation program running with the East Timorese police force as well.

Then there's the development assistance relationship which we've just spoken of and our wider foreign policy cooperation with East Timor around East Asia and beyond.

COMPERE: So was there any damage done to the relationship at all about the processing centre?

We've had various politicians in East Timor saying right from the very first day, the day after Julia Gillard announced that she was in talks with Jose Ramos-Horta about it, we've had politicians saying it's not on the agenda, we're not going to do that. Is there any residue from that?

KEVIN RUDD: I don't believe so and frankly it didn't form part of my discussions with anybody of substance within the East Timorese government and so, therefore, what we were discussing was the breadth of the bilateral relationship and it's a big period ahead for East Timor.

First and foremost there are national elections due around about the middle of next year both presidential and parliamentary.

On top of that, next year you will see the ultimate withdrawal of the United Nations mission in East Timor.

This is an important period of political transition and therefore what we are seeking to do, as Australia, as a longstanding, close friend of the people of East Timor and of their government, is to work through the challenges of this new phase of transition both in the security area but critically in the economic area, and a lot of my time yesterday in East Timor was spent with Jose Ramos-Horta, the President, looking, for example, at core programs that we are running in East Timor.

One is called Seeds for Life. In and around Maliana, not far from the Indonesian border, the President and I visited a Seeds for Life program which is a program which we have been working on for nine years now but the result is this: in key staples in East Timor, in crops such as corn, crops such as rice, crops such as sweet potatoes, cassava as well as peanuts, we've been able to increase the crop yield by anything between 20 and 100 per cent.

That means that East Timor is on a better path towards overcoming what is still a horrendously high malnutrition rate among its people and among its children where we still see evidence of stunted growth.

COMPERE: And last week you announced changes to the aid package across the region and the world and we talked about last week with China and India becoming less of a focus and other countries such as East Timor becoming more of a focus.

KEVIN RUDD: Well, for the future, as we say in the Government's response to the aid effectiveness review, we will obviously continue to attach the highest priority to the Asia Pacific region and, within that, to countries like Indonesia, East Timor and, of course, Papua New Guinea.

We are now running a $4.8 billion program each year. It is the eighth largest in the world. We are projected to increase our aid funding into the future as well, therefore, our overall concern as an Australian government is to make sure that these aid dollars are invested effectively and programs like the one that I just mentioned are the best examples of how that is done but, more broadly across the region, we're investing in large scale education programs, large scale health programs, maternal and child health, for example, is a big emphasis, immunisations, vaccination as well as food security in the area that I just talked about in East.

COMPERE: Before you went to East Timor you were in Indonesia and you were having talks there too. I assume that the live cattle export ban was part of your talks?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, when I travelled to Indonesia last Friday we had already made some good progress with the efforts of the Agriculture Minister, Joe Ludwig, and his Indonesian counterpart as well as the Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, and his Indonesian counterpart as well.

We had not had, however, the reissue of import permits from the Indonesian side.

I'm glad to record that the Indonesian government decided then to do that. On top of that we also worked at an industry to industry level in Indonesia on ensuring higher animal welfare standards, including the progressive introduction of stunning procedures for the treatment of Australian cattle into the trade.

COMPERE: So I just want to check then. You've said that Indonesia has announced now that permits will be granted to live cattle to be exported to and from Australia.

KEVIN RUDD: Well, what we saw last Friday when I was in Jakarta was a decision by the Indonesian government to issue import permits for 180,000 head of Australian cattle.

That represents more than a third of the entire Australian trade in the last 12 months so we are back on the road towards the re-establishment of the trade.

Secondly, we have also, however, confirmed with the Indonesian government their own domestic animal welfare regulations based on their own animal welfare law of 2009, and these also provide for international, what's called OIE, or world animal welfare standards to be applied within the Indonesian industry.

Specifically within that we have an industry to industry agreement on the progressive introduction of standards even higher than the OIE relevant to the Australian trade and that will involve the progressive introduction of stunning.

COMPERE: That was a pretty close run thing, wasn't it? Because Indonesia was saying that we need to, if we're going to issue permits, we need to get a decision from Australia pretty soon and the Australian Government did seem to make that decision pretty - pretty quickly.

KEVIN RUDD: The Australian Government led off by indicating that it was suspending the trade, suspending the - lifting the suspension on the trade and then, secondly, as I said, when I was in Jakarta we saw the Indonesian response which was to reissue it's own import permits.

Of course the enforcement of animal welfare standards across the trade will ultimately hinge on the future use of Australian export permits on our side and import permits on the Indonesian side and both countries are committed to OIE or global animal welfare standards and, as I said, the industries have worked separately to introduce their own aspirations for standards even higher than global standards in the treatment of Australian cattle and we, the Australian Government, welcome that.

COMPERE: You would have heard certainly that the Cattle Council was quite distressed by what they saw on the Four Corners report about cruel treatment to some of the cattle that were sent there and at one stage the Cattle Council told us that their proposal was to have an Australian in every abattoir, slaughterhouse in Indonesia, just to oversee and make sure these cruel practices don't happen by an errant few within those slaughterhouses too. Is that part of the agreement with Indonesia, to have an Australian inspector presence?

KEVIN RUDD: Let me go to what the governments have agreed to. The governments have agreed to firstly the application of global animal welfare standards within the Australia-Indonesia trade and, more generally, within Indonesia.

Secondly we've also agreed that beasts will be tracked throughout the supply chain from beginning to end and, thirdly, that this will be monitored by and audited by independent commercial auditing firms who do this professionally around the world, that is, to ensure that those international standards are being adhered to.

That's what the governments have agreed to but I emphasise again what the industries have agreed to.

In addition to that both the Australian and Indonesian industries issued a statement when I was in Jakarta last Friday which provides for higher than global standards and also provides for the progressive introduction of stunning devices to be used on cattle related to the Australia-Indonesia cattle trade and that's what the industries are now both working on the implementation of, on the ground.

COMPERE: There are a number of other issues to do with Indonesia as well.

There were the three Indonesian children who were crew members on a boat smuggling people into Australia that were locked up, these three Indonesian children, locked up in the Arthur Gorrie prison with adults. And we've been hearing that x-rays were taken of their wrists to determine if they were adults or children but nonetheless at the time they were locked up with adults.

We spoke to the lawyer for those children. They've now been sent home. The lawyer said the children were quite traumatised. They were 14 and 15 years old when they were first locked up. Was that any part of your talks, the fate of these three children?

KEVIN RUDD: The Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Marty Natalegawa, raised this with me prior to my visit to Indonesia.

In fact, I discussed it with him when we last met at the Organisation of the Islamic Conference meeting in Astana and, as a consequence of his representations, I then asked our own legal system to examine in particular these three cases and, as a result, of course, you know that these three minors and the three juveniles have been now separately treated and are on their way to be to be returned to Indonesia.

What we've now done through the Australian Justice Minister and the Attorney-General is issue new procedures for the proper assessment of minors.

You need to be fair with the Australian law enforcement authorities here too. It is often difficult to establish age when people also have come from various parts of Indonesia in the absence of any form of documentation or our inability to retrieve anything that could link to a birth certificate.

So, therefore, x-rays of a dental nature as well as wrists and other things are now being deployed within those new arrangements to make sure we identify those who are juveniles and for them to be accommodated separately and for them to be, of course, dealt with separately as well.

COMPERE: Wouldn't you think though that if there's a case of doubt about whether a person is a child or an adult, especially if they look like a child, the best thing would be to keep them out of a place like Arthur Gorrie? You are a Queenslander, you know how severe Arthur Gorrie can be.

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I think this is often a difficult challenge for those on the ground and hence why these enhanced processing procedures have been arrived at.

No one in Indonesia and no one in Australia wants to see juveniles badly treated and, furthermore, a number of juveniles, we understand, could well find themselves press-ganged into people-smuggling operations.

Therefore we've got to make sure that our approaches are humane. Therefore with these enhanced guidelines on the ground we're in a better position to do so.

COMPERE: Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd we appreciate you giving us so much of your time. We know you've just arrived back from East Timor. Thank you very much.

KEVIN RUDD: Thanks for having me on the program.


Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555