Interview with Chris Uhlmann, ABC Radio 'AM'
Period of Service: 03/12/2007 to 24/06/2010
Release Date: 18/02/2008
Release Type: Interview
Transcript ID: 15765
UHLMANN: Prime Minister, good morning.
PM:Good morning Chris.
UHLMANN: Last year you declined an invitation - you said you had declined an invitation - to have Brian Burke arrange a dinner with journalists because you were uncomfortable about it, but these emails show you first accepted it.
PM: Well, that's absolutely right. I did say that I would be prepared to attend such a function and it was only after that, that I became concerned about it and changed my mind. And that is reflected also in what we communicated to Mr Burke.
UHLMANN: Why wasn't your discomfort immediate?
PM: Well these things take a little while to sink in. I reflected upon it, I saw, or I was told by my office about what was being proposed, said, ‘oh that sounds fine' and then it just started to sink in, that this was appearing to me to be too much. And that is why I then subsequently said that there are some reasons and in fact I probably used a diplomatic pretext for saying I couldn't be there in order to attend the dinner and we should do it some time in the following year.
UHLMANN:When you discussed this at a very lengthy press conference last year, the impression that you gave was that you ran into Brian Burke at another dinner, that you had been at another couple of occasions where you had seen him by accident. But the impression you gave about this particular arrangement was that it was almost immediate that you had a sense of discomfort.
PM: Well I cant sort of go to (inaudible) day by day sort of unfolding of it but what I do recall is the proposal coming in from him, saying ‘ok that sounds fine' and then as I started to think through the detail of it after that, then changing my mind because for me it started to sound like just too much was being organised. And that's why I indicated that it would not be possible to proceed with it.
I then went on to say give this diplomatic reason for not attending and it was my intention of course, not to proceed with any such dinner the following year.
UHLMANN:Now who wrote the emails because in fact many of them are in the first person?
PM: Normally what I would do under these circumstances - because our life is pretty busy - is someone would come in from the office and say XY and Z has come in and I'd say, ‘ok, why don't you put back a note along the following lines.' So that probably would have been my PA. But it is a note from me.
UHLMANN:Were there other phone calls, were there other conversations with Brian Burke, is this all the emails?
PM: For the email this is everything. As I said last year there would have been from time to time some telephone contact but not a whole lot. And the three meetings that we, that have extensively been canvassed on the public record about 12 months ago. Chris with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight you just wouldn't have done this but of course, the fact of the matter is that when this contact was had between myself and Mr Burke, and none of the matters which are currently on the record through the triple C inquiry were on the record. I was unaware of them. But I think this was a mistake on my part. Back last year I took it on the chin and that's what I am doing now.
UHLMANN: I guess the essence of the question is that you will be asked now though is not about the invitation or the refusal, it's the question about how you responded to this last year when you were questioned at length about it.
PM: Well my, the bottom line is, I didn't go to this fourth function and the reason is that I became uncomfortable about it. The reasons I extended to Mr Burke for so doing were diplomatic in tone. But the bottom line is I started to feel uncomfortable. That is just the truth of it, Chris.
I didn't go. And people can draw whatever conclusions they wish to from that but that is just as it unfolded. And I just believe in being clear about the fact that I didn't want to proceed with that and that's the way in which it was transacted.
UHLMANN: Now Prime Minister yesterday the Treasurer released guidelines for reviewing foreign government investment proposals and one of those is the extent to which a prospective foreign investor operates at arms length from the relevant - how can a Chinese government-owned investment company divorce itself from the will of its political masters?
PM: Well therein lies the question, Chris and that is why we have a Foreign Investment Review Board to make independent recommendations based on their analysis of the company in question and I make no remarks at all in relation to current moves on the part of particular companies.
The reason why the treasurer has put forward these foreign investment guidelines concerning the operation of foreign government related investment in Australia, is there has been legitimate interest from the community and the business community in particular for a more precise definition of what the public interest is in shaping the FIRB's recommendations on (inaudible) application.
UHLMANN: But aren't Chinese sovereign wealth funds an extension of Chinese foreign policy?
PM: Well remember, when it comes to sovereign wealth funds we have had investments in this country before from them. Each of them has to be analysed on its merits and therefore the FIRB will be doing so in the case of the merits of any application it receives. And of course, one has been lodged in relation to the move by Chinalco in relation to Rio Tinto.
This has to be assessed each on its merits. And on the facts pertaining go each one.
It's not a matter of one size fits all in the case of entities from any particular state. For example, in Singapore we had a significant investment from SingTel. SingTel operated an instrument of the Singapore Government. These are matters to be determined on the facts of the matter in each particular investment - when they proceeded with their investment in Optus.
UHLMANN: But you're an expert on China, Prime Minister, what's your assessment? Don't you think that these vehicles would be vehicles of Chinese Government foreign policy? Doesn't that just follow?
PM: My judgment, Chris, is this - and it makes no reference at all to the current manoeuvring by Chinese corporations on various stock markets - it's that, China's long term strategic interest is to secure its own resource and energy interests into the very long term future. That has been a stated part of Chinese Government policy for a long, long time.
When I go to China - and I'll be going to China, I believe, in the not too far distant future - one of the matters I want to discuss with the Chinese leadership is how do we fashion this long term resource and energy relationship between our two countries.
China does depend on the reliable sources of supply from Australia in a whole range of commodity areas. This will continue into the future. And what I want to talk to the Chinese leadership about is what is their long term strategy and what are this country's long term strategic interests as well.
UHLMANN: Prime Minister, just briefly, is an independent Kosovo a good thing?
PM: We believe that it will be. And that's why we've already indicated to our diplomatic representatives around the world that this would be an appropriate course of action.
The sorry history of Kosovo means we've got to do whatever we can do to ensure that citizens of that part of the world are protected into the future. This would appear to be the right course of action, that's why diplomatically we would extend recognition at the earliest opportunity.
UHLMANN: Prime Minister, thank you.
PM: Thanks very much.