PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21920

Press Conference United Nations

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 13/09/2005

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21920

PRIME MINISTER:

Well thank you very much Mr Ambassador. I've called this news conference to announce that Australia will embrace a goal of increasing its overall aid allocation to around $A4 billion by the year 2010. This goal if achieved will represent a doubling of Australia's overseas aid from current levels. The aid programme will continue to be subject to annual reviews in the decision making processes of the Australian Budget, and additional aid will be subject to the Government being satisfied that progress has been made in relation to improving standards of governance and reducing corruption in recipient countries.

This decision reflects the overall, very strong commitment that Australia has always made to overseas development assistance. Our priority will remain as it should, the Asia Pacific region, an area which is not only geographically adjacent to our country but also an area where we have invested quite properly the great bulk of our overseas aid over the years.

The generosity of the Australian people in recent months towards others needing assistance was dramatically illustrated in the response of the Australian public to the tsunami disaster, and given the size of our country, the overall of performance, at both a government level and an individual level in response to that disaster was arguably greater than that of any country in the world.

This commitment by Australia over the years to overseas aid and the embracing of a goal represents a continuity of those policies and is quite properly made in the context of this special summit of the United Nations, of which Australia has been a very diligent, not always uncritical member since the organisation was founded in 1948. I'll be very happy to answer any questions.

JOURNALIST:

Thank you sir, on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, welcome. I'd like to ask you about the outcome document. Australia's part of the seven nations that were submitting revised language on the disarmament and non-proliferation section. The last version that I've seen basically rejects everything that you proposed. There's no commitments, there's not even any reference to the non-proliferation treaty. Given that, what do you see as the future, the immediate future for any sort of progress on disarmament?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we're very disappointed at the progress to date, very disappointed. We entered the discussions and remain in them with a relatively open mind, but quite properly we have placed a greater priority on proliferation issues. We think issues concerning North Korea and Iran and proliferation issues are the most important item on the disarmament agenda. And if serious progress is to be made then we've got to make progress in those areas.

JOURNALIST:

Which issues are you so concerned about in your disappointment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the lack of progress on proliferation. I mean unless we make progress on those issues then I don't think we are really being very serious in the whole disarmament area because it's self-evident to me that proliferation issues are the most worrying and therefore, unless we make progress on them then I don't think we're making a serious attempt.

JOURNALIST:

Just a follow up, do you feel that Iran should be hauled up to the Security Council?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we're very supportive of the approach that's been taken by the European Union in relation to that issue. As to how tactically the issue should be progressed is a matter of continuing discussion between those countries and others. But there is clearly an area of prime concern in relation to Iran and North Korea and we need to continue to make progress, and unless we focus on those issues then I don't we're seriously addressing the proliferation concerns that the world has.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Tony Walker, Financial Review. Where does this doubling of our aid commitment leave our overall commitment to achieve 0.7 percent of GDP in terms of our aid allocations by the year 2015? And what would you say to non-governmental organisations which say this will still not be enough?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well many of those organisations will argue no matter what any government does that it's not enough, but we have to balance the effectiveness of aid programmes with other policies which will lift the underdeveloped world out of poverty. It remains my strongest view, strongest possible view that trade liberalisation is more valuable to the underdeveloped world than development assistance. I think it is a real concern that the focus on aid levels at this meeting sucks the urgency out of the debate on trade reform. The more that we elevate the importance of direct aid to the detriment of a focus on trade liberalisation, the greater disservice I think we are doing to the least developed countries. All the evidence that I've seen indicates that trade liberalisation is infinitely more valuable than direct assistance. The first part of your question, I think it would obviously take us closer to that aspiration - I don't think it'd be right to say that we have an unconditional commitment to the 0.7, I think it is there as a broad goal or aspiration. Clearly this might take us closer to it. If it's realised, I think about 0.36 or 0.37, which is closer than what we are now, significantly closer.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Karen Middleton, SBS Television. You've announced that this money will be tied to governance principles. But there has been resistance at this summit to having aid money tied to those kinds of principles. What measure will you use to ensure that governance principles are being upheld and anti-corruption...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's impossible to lay down in advance a blanket approach in relation to that. But what I'm doing is making it very clear that our aid increases will be conditional on those things and I owe that to the Australian taxpayer. The Australian taxpayer does not mind overseas aid going to its target. Australians are very generous, they're very heartfelt in their response to disaster and to poverty and distress, but they resent quite legitimately money that is wasted and I make it clear to the Australian public that these increases will be conditional, and we will have to as a government make a decision in individual cases, I can't lay down in advance generic principles beyond the statement that I've made. But we will address each situation according to its circumstances and its merit. But this goal is expressly conditioned on progress being made in those areas.

JOURNALIST:

Is this separate from our tsunami money or does it include the tsunami money?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the tsunami money is part of it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Associated Press. Are you concerned that the summit this week might not produce anything substantive, you know a document with a lot of language that doesn't make specific commitments?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, my view and the Australian Government's view is that what is important about these gatherings is not so much the document, that's important, if we can reach agreement on a framework document, well that's a good thing but it's the outcomes of this gathering. We have to be realistic about the United Nations reform. Australia would support some enlargement of the Security Council. I'm realistic enough to recognise that the veto-wielding countries will naturally maintain that position - I'm not arguing otherwise, but I'm equally realistic in recognising that if there's to be some expansion of the permanent members of the Security Council, not necessarily of course with a veto, but as permanent members, then they will be hard bargained issues. Australia's always made plain its support for Japan being one of those countries. We think there is obviously merit in a country like India being considered and also a country from South America and one from Africa, and I personally think there's a case for including Indonesia, as being the largest Islamic country in the world - I think that would make a great deal of sense. I think the case for those changes is quite strong. But I accept that we're probably not going to reach agreement on that and the thing will be very hardly bargained and hard fought, and as somebody said to me in a discussion, the pace of movement is slower than glacier.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, John Sawyer, St Louis Post Dispatch. The Security Council expansion is only one of a number of significant issues where the outcomes document has fallen short. How do you account for what's happened over the last six or seven months in negotiating on this document and why the expectations have been so largely unfulfilled?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think probably some of the expectations were unrealistic. I'm very pragmatic in relation to the United Nations. I think it has been, particularly in relation to its specialist agencies has been a remarkably successful institution. But clearly at the end of the day those who believe that you can invest in one multilateral organisation, the potential resolution of all of the world's difficulties are always going to be disappointed. And one cannot ignore the fact that we still live in a world of nation states and that if assets are to be deployed in response, for example a natural disaster in other parts of the world, and this is driven home to me very dramatically in relation to the tsunami. The fact was that nation states, including my own, were the first on the spot because we have the capacity to do it, that's no criticism of international organisations or criticisms of non-government organisations, it's just a statement of the reality. And I think we have to keep those things in balance and perspective, to use a word I know my Australian colleagues accuse me of using too often.

JOURNALIST:

How much of the failure do you attribute to the US negotiating posture?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I think it's unrealistic, unfair to blame the US. It's entitled to put a view and to the extent that the US is focussing on having a realistic outcome, then it's a very understandable view. We don't necessarily endorse or oppose the individual positions being taken in relation to the document - that's a matter for the United States, but it's counterproductive to try and focus, as some seem always ritualistically to do, all of the blame on the United States.

JOURNALIST:

Michael Gawenda, from the Age and Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Prime Minister I understand that you're going to be involved with another group, with other heads of state, in a meeting of the proposed world democracy fund. Can you give me an idea of what sort of commitment Australia is likely to make to the fund. It's been a big deal for the Bush Administration I understand.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we will be making a commitment both of very strong support and involvement in the organisation. And I'll also be indicating a financial commitment, I won't do that now, I'll wait until the meeting. But I welcome this initiative. I'm attending a meeting, it will be jointly chaired by President Bush and the Indian Prime Minister, the largest and the second largest democracies in the world. I think the focus on the expansion of democracy and providing a democratic underpinning to policy is very welcome indeed and to many of us it seems long overdue.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) from the Washington Post. Can you give us some sort of indication of how important you think the management reforms, in particular, are? The organisation has been coming under a lot of criticism, scrutiny, charges of allegations of corruption and so on. If the organisation can't come out, the membership can't come out with a solid document that really kind of increases accountability, I mean is there a concern or risk that sort of public confidence in the organisation will be badly undermined as a result of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

We put a lot of importance on them. There have been suggestions this morning, not in your newspaper but in another, to the effect that there's been something of a breakthrough in the outcomes document - that is not my advice, that is not my understanding. And amongst the issues that we don't believe there's been a lot of progress on, include management issues, our bottom line in relation to progress on the document includes a proper treatment of terrorism, the concept of responsibility to protect, the peace building commission and management issues. Whilst we don't put management issues at the top of the list, we do think change and reform and innovation in that area is an important part of the outcomes document - if it's to be relevant and useful.

JOURNALIST:

Morning, Matt Gnaizda the Epoch Times. Recently, recent Communist Party defectors like Chen Yonglin (inaudible) claim that there's a network of about 1,000 Chinese spies in Australia, how's that going to affect China trade policy and how are you going to bring up this issue with President Hu Jintao?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't think it's quite of that dimension. The person you're referring to, and other people have made some claims, whilst we're not naive in these matters we tend to discount the magnitude of the challenge. We'll continue to have a good trading relationship with China but we're realistic in our dealings with that country. Naivety is not part of our approach.

JOURNALIST:

Are you going to bring it up with President Hu Jintao?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't telegraph in advance what I discuss with President Hu Jintao or indeed any other President.

JOURNALIST:

Hi Jim Traub from the New York Times Magazine. Sir, given the list of issues you just mentioned in terms of your concerns about the reform process. Given what you know about where it is right now, that is the document that the core group is going to be looking at, and given what they've done or not done about those issues. Would you say that as of where it stands now, that constitutes a failure from your point of view?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look in politics as in sport, you never declare success or failure until the game and the debate is over. It's always dangerous, you keep going, you keep trying, you keep bringing about a result that might seem difficult and against the odds.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) from the Independent. What is your opinion on the NPT as far as the US coming out and announcing that they're going to be utilising first-strike options for nuclear weapons and tactical?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think, I haven't come here to give a running commentary on the foreign policy of another country. I think the best thing that we can all do in the present environment is to continue to try and reach, make some progress and probably everybody stating publicly dogmatic positions doesn't help that.

JOURNALIST:

Would you be willing to state a policy opinion on Iran's nukes but not US?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the evidence in relation to Iran's behaviour is pretty strong and I think there is a qualitatively different judgement to be made in respect of the two countries you mentioned. I don't adopt any attitude of equivalence in relation to those two countries, I think that's absurd.

JOURNALIST:

Craig McMurtrie. Just picking up on my colleague's question before, how confident are you sitting here that there will be a document?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you'd have to be, you must always remain hopeful, I think it's difficult but I think it's a big mistake to say, to embrace words like failure, at this stage.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 21920