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Transcript 16605

Joint Press Conference with Senator John Faulkner Parliament House, Canberra

Photo of Rudd, Kevin

Rudd, Kevin

Period of Service: 03/12/2007 to 24/06/2010

More information about Rudd, Kevin on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 05/06/2009

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 16605

PM: Can I begin by making some remarks about Chris O'Brien and then talk about the position of Minister for Defence. And then I'll make some concluding remarks about Chinalco and then John will make some remarks and then over to you.

It was exceptionally sad news for the nation last night to lose Chris O'Brien. This bloke was out of the ordinary, he was an extraordinary Australian. He single-handedly turned adversity, personal adversity into national opportunity in advocating a cause of integrated cancer care across Australia.

I benefited enormously from my engagement with him over several years now. I first met him when I had become Leader of the Opposition and he'd just been diagnosed as having inoperable cancer. They gave him then six months to live so he told me and he soldiered on and soldiered on for two and a half years. A remarkable man, absolutely remarkable.

And I remember a long conversation I had with him that first night, which was mainly about literature, history and anything other than what he came to talk to me about, was he was a man who was of wide learning, deep interests, with an abiding passion about how we can work better on this great challenge to Australia's and the world's public health. Early detection, better treatment, integrated cancer care.

And I think he first explained to me as a lay-person what it was all about, and how you bring together the best brains in the country into single centres of excellence which have the best diagnostics, the best therapeutic applications, the best scientific research, all working in a virtuous circle, one reinforcing the other and doing that with large centres of excellence.

Which is why the Government, prior to Chris's death indicated that we'd be investing in the new Sydney Cancer Centre. And it's a large part of why you saw in the budget $1.2 billion invested nationwide in integrated cancer care. Not just in Sydney, not just at RPA, not just at the Garvin not just at Peter MacCallum but right across the country.

And the nation should know that that $1.2 billion investment in integrated cancer care nation-wide has been shaped so much by this single man's life and testimony. May he rest in peace.

I saw him last night just before he died and I went to Sydney and he is supported by an extraordinary family, an extraordinary family.

Cancer visits too many Australians and it's an extraordinary irony that a surgeon, a scientist, a pioneer such as him who has worked in this field for decades and decades, should himself become victim of the self-same disease.

I spoke to his wife Gail last night and again this morning. I have offered the family a state funeral. The family have accepted that offer and arrangements will be announced in due course.

Today I am pleased to announce that I will be appointing John Faulkner as the Minister for Defence. Senator Faulkner is a man of great character and of great integrity and one of the most experienced and accomplished ministers in cabinet. When it comes to experience John has served with distinction in portfolios including Veterans Affairs, as Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, in the previous Labor Government as well as having been Leader of the Opposition in the Senate between ‘98 and 2004.

Beyond that, John Faulkner is a man of unquestionable integrity and strength of character and that has been reflected in the multiple portfolios he has been responsible for both in Government and Opposition over a long and distinguished parliamentary career.

John Faulkner has a tough job ahead of him and that is to implement the reforms outlined in the Defence White Paper carefully crafted by Joel Fitzgibbon when he was Minister. This is a blueprint for the Australian Defence Force out to the year 2030. The construction, the building, the development of a new Australian Defence Force with the capital needs which it has, army, air and navy as well as in the critically important field of cyber-security.

Senator Faulkner will also have the critically important job of being a strong voice in Cabinet for our men and women uniform, many of whom are fighting in theatres abroad as we speak now. I have absolute confidence that Senator Faulkner will discharge this responsibility with absolute professionalism and integrity for which his career has already been known. I will be making further announcements concerning other changes to the executive in the coming days.

Finally, just some remarks in terms of Chinalco and Rio. I note that there has been a statement put out by Rio today and by jointly by Rio and BHP. This of course has been a commercial matter between Rio and Chinalco as is now a commercial matter between Rio and BHP. Any proposal concerning BHP would be very likely to require further consideration by the Foreign Investment Review Board.

The Government would take the same national interest approach to any future proposal which is put before it, whether it involves BHP or any other applicant. I'd like to state again the Government's policy that we welcome foreign investment, because foreign investment has been and always will be an important part of the generation of Australian jobs for the future.

As for Chinese investment in Australia, we welcome Chinese investment in Australia just as the previous Government approved some $15 billion worth of Chinese investment into this country as well. I also would like to indicate that Chinalco beyond this particular proposal of course have a range of other interests in this country and the President of Chinalco is in Australia at present and has requested to see me and other Ministers and I'll be meeting the President of Chinalco later this afternoon.

Enough from me, I turn to Senator Faulkner and then we'll take your questions.

FAULKNER: Thanks very much Kevin. Well ladies and gentlemen I think it is indeed a great honour, certainly a responsibility and I would acknowledge, a challenge to be Australia's Defence Minister.

I am delighted that the Prime Minister has asked me to take on this responsibility, though of course like him and my colleagues, disappointed in the particular circumstances.

I look forward as Defence Minister to leading the implementation of the White Paper, the implementation of the defence reform program. Of course to ensure immediately I focus on ADF operations, particularly in Afghanistan and our region. I'd also acknowledge to you of course that I am now right at the bottom of a very steep learning curve for a new portfolio. And in the weeks and months ahead I'll have another challenge in clambering up that learning curve.

JOURNALIST: Senator Faulkner did you discuss with your old colleague Robert Ray before accepting the job?

FAULKNER: Well as a matter of fact, as a matter of fact I did. Robert Ray is a very, very good friend of mine. There are two former Ministers for Defence in the Hawke and Keating Governments that I've served within this parliament, Robert Ray and Kim Beazley. And I did speak to both of them. The one thing I can say to you however is that I rang Robert for a bit of a chat about this and I can confirm to you that Kim rang me - five times.

JORUNALIST: Senator the Defence portfolio has the particular challenge of being one where you have this element of sending people into mortal danger. What are your thoughts, what were your thoughts on that, have you considered whether you were the sort of person, whether you would have the ability to be able to do that?

FAULKNER: I think parliamentarians have huge responsibilities as they go about their public duties. There is no doubt about that. I hope I am a Parliamentarian and a Minister who treats those responsibilities with the utmost seriousness. And what you have said of course is an ultimate responsibility, not just for a Defence Minister, but I think clearly for a Defence Minister, as a Defence Minister recommends along with a Prime Minister, to their Cabinet, what approach a Government should take in these circumstances, not just for a Defence Minister, of course for a Prime Minister, all members of a Cabinet and the Government.

And I treat, and I treat such a responsibility, I have in the past, when I have been involved in all those decisions and I can assure you I will in the future, with the utmost seriousness and utmost responsibility.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) what happens to your Cabinet Secretary role?

FAULKNER: Well Michelle, I think the Prime Minister has indicated and it is really a question better directed to him, because I think the Prime Minister will be able to confirm that I am not responsible for the allocation of ministerial portfolios in the Rudd Government.

PM: And given that question wasn't referred to me, I will refer you to the answer just given by the Minister.

FAULKNER: But Michelle, just can I just say to you, the Prime Minister has made clear that he is going to announce at a later stage some other, Ministerial changes and I am sure he will tell us all about that and I look forward to hearing what he has got to say.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: As I said before, nice try. And we will make a comprehensive statement about any other ministerial changes over the next few days.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) large agenda in your own, in your previous portfolio, which was very dear to your heart (inaudible)

FAULKNER: It is true. I did have an agenda that for me personally was very important. That is true. I think it was very important for the Government. But it is an agenda that I am sure will continue to be prosecuted regardless of who the responsible Minister is in this case, the cabinet secretary and Special Minister of State.

Of course these are the sorts of considerations that Ministers bring to bear when they make assessments about a change of portfolio or when a Prime Minister requests you do so. I remain very much committed to the Governance reforms that I have been responsible for, the issues continuing to be (inaudible) as a Minister. And I will be a strong voice for that reform process in the Cabinet as Defence Minister.

JOURNALIST: Senator, Joel Fitzgibbon seems to blame Judas's in the department and in his own office for his downfall. How will you deal with those elements if they exist?

FAULKNER: Well of course I don't want to comment directly on what Joel has said. I would only say this to you Mark, I will have very high expectations of the Department of Defence as its new Minister and I also have absolute confidence that those expectations will be met. What I have had I think throughout my time as a Minster in a range of portfolios and as the Prime Minister has said, for a very, very long time, I think and I believe, a very professional, respectful and appropriate relationships with the Departments that I have administered.

That is my expectation in Defence, who I have had a long association with, a long association with, as a former Minister in that portfolio and also a very considerable engagement with Defence in parliamentary and parliamentary committee business. I know that Defence as well, will work very, very hard to have that sort of relationship with me.

JOURNALIST: Minister, there is a culture in Defence, are you confident you will be able to (inaudible)

FAULKNER: I will, as I have said, have high expectations of my new department. I have high expectations of Defence and I have a very high level of confidence that those expectations will be met.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: The office are already referring to him as Field Marshall Faulkner but where he go with baton sticks is a matter for him. Look John is an exceptionally experienced Minister and member of parliament and he will deploy all of those skills in his engagement with the Defence Department and with the Australian Defence Force.

As I said to you yesterday, the relationship between the Cabinet, the Defence Department, the Defence Force is important and the relationships with senior Defence hierarchy, civilian and military are important - these are relationships to which I attach a great importance and have spent a lot of time engaging at that level.

The Minister is going to do exactly the same and will be drawing upon his vast experience. The other thing about John's background, two of those portfolios I have mentioned to you before are deeply engaged with elements of the wider defence establishment, the wider defence family.

John is well known in the Defence community, very well known. But also in his work in Opposition in terms of intelligence matters and others, he is a person who is well qualified for this new position, well respected within the defence community and I believe will make this job every success.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: Not that I am aware of, can I say that these matters are always considered on their merits, first point. Secondly, what has occurred most recently is entirely a commercial matter between Rio on the one hand and Chinalco on the other. That is the truth of it, that is waht has happened here.

The Government maintains a policy of openness towards foreign investment. We will always make decisions in the national interest, as I assume the Chinese Government makes decisions in the national interest about what form of foreign investment it welcomes into its country at any given time.

But can I just say this, this has been a commercial decision, reached by Rio in terms of its evaluation of the proposal put to it by Chinalco. It is a commercial matter and I think it is very important that our friends in China focus on that fact.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: Well we are addressing coverage in India and in China, you know, life is a complex and varied feast. But our policy on foreign investment in Australia is non discriminatory. Our policy on foreign investment in Australia is open and it is welcome.

But consistent with all previous Australian Governments, we will make judgements in the national interest.

But on this, let me just underline it again, this is the nature of the commercial transaction, the commercial discussion, the commercial negotiation between Rio on the one hand and Chinalco on the other. That is where this has been transacted, and as I said before, in terms of what has been put out by way of public statement, in the joint statement today by Rio and BHP, it is highly likely that that too will become subject to separate deliberation by the Government through the Foreign Investment Review Board, it is the right way in which these things should be approached.

Transcript 16605