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Kevin Rudd interview - transcript

Published: 3:16PM Sunday March 27, 2011 Source: Q+A

  • Kevin Rudd (Source: Q+A)
    Kevin Rudd - Source: Q+A

Guyon Espiner interviews Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd

GUYON Thanks, Foreign Minister Rudd, for joining us. We really appreciate your time.

KEVIN RUDD - Australian Foreign Minister Thanks for having me on your programme.

GUYON You were one of the earlier and more vocal proponents of the no-fly zone over Libya. We now have sustained air strikes against Gaddafi's regime. What is the desired outcome in all this?

MR RUDD Well, look at the UN Security Council resolution itself, and it's worthy of a read. Security Council Resolution 1973 is about protecting the Libyan people from attack or threat of attack by the Libyan regime. It does so in two ways: it authorises participating states to establish a no-fly zone over Libya, and that in turn is designed to protect the Libyan people from air strikes, from strafing, from bombing or the use of aerial reconnaissance by the Libyan armed forced to guide their land assault, which has been underway against quite a number of cities which have been in opposition hands. But the second part of the resolution is very important as well. It also authorises participating states - the NATO countries and others - to undertake wider measures to protect the Libyan people from threat of Libya attack as well.

GUYON Now, the British have interpreted that to mean that Gaddafi himself is a legitimate target. Do you believe that the West should be trying to depose Gaddafi and, in fact, trying to kill Gaddafi?

MR RUDD That's not within the remit of the UN Security Council resolution.

GUYON So the British are wrong on that?

MR RUDD  Well, as reported, that remark is beyond the remit of the Security Council resolution. It's very specific. It goes to a humanitarian doctrine call - the responsibility to protect civilian populations when their regimes turn on them and deploy mass force, and, as a consequence commits crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes of genocide or whatever. That's the remit.

GUYON The question now is being asked why Libya and why not, say, Syria where you moments ago denounced the violence there as unacceptable. Now, are you proposing a no-fly zone and military air strikes in Syria?

MR RUDD Well, this question is raised each day about a different country across the Middle East, and the reason why Libya so far falls within a different category is because of the mass use of the full armed forces, the full security forces against innocent civilians in mass levels of destruction right across the Libyan state.

GUYON And it hasn't got to that point in Syria?

MR RUDD  Well, the doctrine of humanitarian law which is at work here, and I spoke about this at length at the Canterbury University forum I attended yesterday, is based on the precedence of Dafur, the precedence of Rwanda, the precedence of the Balkans and Srebrenica, where you saw mass levels of violence by regimes turning on their own people at a mass level. Each of the states that we're referred to in the discussion, and you've just raised Syria, of course will be assessed against those benchmarks over time.

GUYON Because some don't see it that way, do they? Some see the prospect of an oil-rich nation as one that warrants special attention. In fact, the Turkish prime minister has said, 'I was those who only see oil, gold mines and underground treasures when they look in Libya's direction would see through glasses of conscience from now on.' Isn't he right that oil is a big factor here?

MR RUDD  Well, let's look precisely at what Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey is saying in those remarks. Those remarks, I presume, make reference to the fact that the reservations which many in the international community had about participating in this UN action against Libya were in fact being driven by their concerns about continuity of oil supply. Libya provides some 2% of global oil exports. However, what the international community then did was stand up through the UN Security Council and said, 'No, we will intervene.' And they have done so, and therefore the argument which has been put around by some in the Middle East that the West and NATO are so compromised by their interests in Libyan oil that they would never act against the Libyan regime frankly have been proven to be wrong.

GUYON So let's look at their credibility in the West on this issue, because isn't it true that the same Western leaders that armed and did business with Gaddafi are now promoting and conducting air strikes against him. I mean, is that a credible position to have?

MR RUDD The reason why Western countries in recent times - the United States and others - have relaxed their overall relationship with the Libyan regime was because a negotiation occurred concerning the continuity of the Libyan regime's weapons of mass destruction programme. That was the reason why Western nations changed their attitude towards Libya, and also because of Libya's undertakings in terms of its support of international terrorist organisations.

GUYON And we got it wrong?

MR RUDD Well, let me go back to those two points. On the question of Libya's support for international terrorist organisations and its weapons of mass destruction programme, I think international analysts would conclude that the behaviour of the regime on those two questions changed. However, what didn't occur at that time and has occurred since is the Libyan regime has deployed mass violence against its own population. That's an entirely different matter, and I think you'd grasp that, and it invites, therefore, the application of a doctrine of international humanitarian protection to be applied. That's why the UN Security Council has acted, and that's why NATO forces are at work now.

GUYON Don't we lack some credibility in this, though, in the West, given Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom all took place in an illegal war in Iraq and are now using international law to justify their actions?

MR RUDD Well, as a foreign minister and former prime minister of an Australian Labor government, from day one, we did not support the invasion of Iraq because it did not have UN Security Council backing. Our position on this has been absolutely consistent.

GUYON But your allies haven't, have they, with respect? You'd acknowledge that.

MR RUDD Well, if you go to my statements at the time as shadow minister for foreign affairs and then as leader of the Opposition, my position and our position as the Australian Labor Party, then in Opposition, now in Government, has always opposed the occupation of Iraq based on the absence of UN Security Council authorisation, including the deployment of US and then British and then Australian forces.

GUYON But would you accept that, say, America lacks some credibility in this? I mean, you have been pushing the UN Security Council to take Libya to the International Criminal Court - a court that the United States itself doesn't even recognise.

MR RUDD Well, our position remains with the ICC that all states should become signatories to the Rome Statute. Some have elected not to, and the United States is not alone. However, remember Libya - also not as a participating state in the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court - can also be brought to justice by a resolution of the UN Security Council, and I note on that point that the Chinese, the Russians and others chose not to veto that resolution. The ICC - the International Criminal Court - again being drawn out of the horrible experiences of Rwanda, of the Balkans and elsewhere was created in order to provide a mechanism of international law to bring tyrants to justice. It's imperfect, but it is better than the absence of it.

GUYON And what's your view on the fact that the world's superpower doesn't recognise it?

MR RUDD Our position has been consistent throughout this, and that is that all states should ratify the Rome Statute. Hasn't changed.

GUYON When we strip away the legal niceties, and I know that these are pertinent - the UN security resolutions, etc - but what now? We've had the air strikes over Libya. Are we going to need boots on the ground? Are we going to need to be part of a political solution to this? Or is it simply that responsibility to protect, and then we wash our hands and walk away? Because we're not going be thanked for doing that either, are we?

MR RUDD Well, with respect, international law does not equal what you describe as "legal niceties". It's actually much broader than that. If there was no authorisation for the UN Security Council through that resolution, today you and I would be discussing the butchery of Benghazi. That's what we'd be discussing - the deaths of thousands of civilians in Benghazi and subsequently in Tobruk as Gaddafi undertook to show no mercy towards those who had risen against his regime in a cry for freedom. That is not a legal nicety. That is the authorising mechanism to allow states to intervene and to defend and protect civilians.

GUYON And what next?

MR RUDD Well, the protection of civilians is core to the UN Security Council resolution in the two ways that I discussed earlier in the interview. What the Libyan people then do in relation to the future of their own regime and what may occur within the regime itself as it begins to debate its future is a matter for them. We proceed on the basis of what international law authorises us to do. That's why there is an international coalition now at work. And let's bear a thought for brave pilots who are now giving effect to that resolution as they conduct their targeting bombing raids over Libya to disable as many as possible of the Libya regime's military apparatus.

GUYON What is the wider goal here? Is it to spread democracy throughout the Middle East or should we allow the Arab revolution to do that independently as much as possible?

MR RUDD Well, countries like Australia and New Zealand are amongst the oldest continuing democracies in the world, and we both hold the universality of democracy as a principle to be aspired to. And beyond that, that is anchored also the UN Declaration on Human Rights, the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, etc.

GUYON And in fact you say it's not simply the preserve of a certain culture or&

MR RUDD  That's true.

GUYON Yes, but why don't we tell the Chinese that?

MR RUDD We have said robustly and on a continuing basis to our friends in Beijing that our attitude to human rights is equally universal. For example&

GUYON But not democracy, with respect, Foreign Minister, because we don't tell the Chinese that they should be a democratic country, do we?

MR RUDD With respect, the Australian government does, in the appropriate forum, say exactly that same thing. Let me give you&

GUYON That they should be a democracy?

MR RUDD Let me give you an example&

GUYON Sorry, I think that's an important point before you move on, and I'd love to hear that. Do you tell the Chinese that they should be a democracy?

MR RUDD If you look at the definition of human rights&

GUYON Sorry, could we get an answer to that, please? Do you tell the Chinese&?

MR RUDD Well, if you'd give me some oxygen to reply, I will, and I'll reply in my own terms, and they are as follows: in UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, these contains within them what a democracy could and should be. These are the standards, therefore, to which we, through our own international diplomatic actions and those of other states, hold all governments accountable, including our own, because we have signed up to these instruments. That is the benchmark here so that we engage in an annual bilateral human rights dialogue with the Chinese. They are the benchmarks we seek to apply. That leads, obviously, to us having a different point of view to the Chinese as well.

GUYON Do you tell them that they should be a democracy?

MR RUDD And& I've just answered that question, because the basis upon which we engage the Chinese is the international instruments which have within them the requirement of states to hold fair elections, to have impartial electoral procedures. If you read the instruments, that's exactly what they say. And so what happens when it comes to such things as freedom of expression, which is part of a democracy, we stand up and say& For example, with the likes of Rebiya Kadeer, the human rights activist from Xinjian, she wants a visa to visit Australian to express her point of view. We have robustly said that persons such as that and the Dalai Lama should be allowed into the country to express their point of view. Is that welcomed in Beijing? No, but we do it because we hold that to be a universal value.

GUYON Let's bring this closer to home, closer to our region, but on the same subject of democracy. Fiji - not democratic at the moment, no prospect of an election. Is what our two countries are doing - Australia and New Zealand - is it working, this policy of sanctions? Do you see a need to have a new approach at all to bring about democracy in Fiji?

MR RUDD You know, there's a problem with your question, because it actually buys into a Bainimarama assumption that the problem lies with the rest of us rather than with the Bainimarama regime. That is, what is it that's wrong with Australian and New Zealand diplomacy that we have somehow failed in the Bainimarama test of causing him to conclude that it is not right to sack your entire judiciary, that it is not right, therefore, to incarcerate ministers of religion, that it is not right to interfere with religious conventions of denominations of the Christian religion, that it is not right to close down the media, that it is not right to suspend elections. Bainimarama is the one who must change here, and therefore if we were to so compromise and say, 'That's OK, only if you have half a coup'&

GUYON I didn't ask you that.

MR RUDD  &That is unacceptable.

GUYON I didn't ask you that. I asked you whether you had cause for believe that there was a need to change strategy at all.

MR RUDD My point in response to that - and you're the interviewer; I'm not - is to say there is often a tendency in parts of the region for the question to be put in terms of what should Australian and New Zealand diplomacy be doing? Well, we're doing a lot in holding the line that this country - Fiji - and its people deserve to have freedom of expression. The reverse is that Bainimarama must change if he is to adhere to the standards and the norms of the Pacific Islands Forum, the standards and the norms of the Commonwealth of Nations, the standards and the norms of the United Nations as reflected in the international instruments I was referring to before. Our diplomacy will continue to be active. It will continue to be vigorous in engaging the Fijian regime. We're not in the business of legitimising what has been a very ugly military coup.

GUYON Just a final segment here, because we are running out of time - just a couple of minutes left - climate change is something New Zealand and Australia are grappling with in terms of our policy. Your government in Australia is now looking at a carbon tax. Why is this whole issue, which was so vexed for you when you were prime minister and now for your predecessor, so difficult for&?

MR RUDD Successor.

GUYON You're the successor?

MR RUDD No, you said, 'so vexed for your predecessor.'

GUYON Sorry, for&

MR RUDD For Prime Minister Gillard.

MR RUDD For Prime Minister Gillard, who rolled you as leader. Why is it so difficult for Australian leaders?

MR RUDD Well, the Australian community has, you know, mixed views on this question. That's plain. But what the Australian community expect of their governments is that we put a price on carbon, because we have both nation and international responsibilities to act against climate change. We, in the government that I led, sought on two occasional to introduce an emissions trading scheme through the Australian parliament. We passed it in the House of Representatives on two occasions. The conservative parties in the Australian senate voted it down, on the second occasion, having rolled their own leader - at that stage, Malcolm Turnbull. So on the question of who has responsibility on this question, look no further than that conservative parties in the Australian parliament. The composition of the Australian senate will change after the 1st of July, and therefore there are sound prospects for the Australian parliament to legislate a price on carbon, which is long overdue. We need to get it done. It's part of our national and international responsibilities to act on something which affects us all.

GUYON Final question: there were two recent polls which put you as the most popular leader of the Labor Party. Is that a position that you want again?

MR RUDD You know something? For me, I am very happy being foreign minister of Australia. It's an honour to be foreign minister. It's been an honour to serve as prime minister, and I see no circumstances whatsoever which would bring that about.

GUYON Kevin Rudd, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.

MR RUDD Thanks for having me on the programme.

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