15 June 2009
Joint Press Conference with Rosemary Museminali, Rwandan Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Subjects: Minister's visit to Australia; Rwanda's membership of the Commonwealth; reasons for Minister's visit; Australian representation in Rwanda; NSW State Government issues - China; Israel; peacekeeping.
STEPHEN SMITH: Can I officially welcome to Australia Rwanda's Foreign Minister Rosemary Museminali and Rosemary, it's good to see you here.
ROSEMARY MUSEMINALI: Thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: We've met before, both in New York, in the margins of the General Assembly and also in January, this year, at the African Union Executive Council Meeting of Foreign Ministers.It's not your first visit to Australia.
ROSEMARY MUSEMINALI: No.
STEPHEN SMITH: You've been here before and both you and Rwanda have a good connection with the Davos Foundation and so you've been to a couple of the Davos Summits. But we're very pleased that you're here for your first official visit to Australia as Rwanda's Foreign Minister. Australia and Rwanda have a developing relationship. We established diplomatic relations in the mid-2000s, and so we are at the beginning of our relationship. But we believe there is a lot we can do together to enhance and deepen and broaden that relationship.So today we've spoken about the areas where we think that can occur and there are three today that we focused on. Firstly, education. Currently, there's a very small number of Rwandans in Australia and a very small number of students. There's one or two Rwandan students on scholarships and we're proposing to increase the number of scholarship applications available to Rwanda, to 10. And that is an initial increase and we look forward, in the future, to going behind that.The Minister is also very keen for Australia to see what assistance it can give the higher education authorities and regulators in Rwanda. And we're very pleased to do that as well. So our first area, where we want to try and enhance the detail of our relationship, is in the education area.
Secondly, in agriculture and agri-business. And in the course of her time in Australia, the Minister will be not just in Canberra, but also visit Melbourne and Sydney.And both in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney, will not just come in contact with some of our universities, the ANU, Monash and Sydney University, but also be meeting with agri-business and agriculture from industry. Again, both through AusAID and through ACIAR, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, we believe there's a lot of capacity building that we can do with Rwanda.
The third area is in minerals resources and, again, Rwanda has an emerging mineral resources industry. Given Australia's expertise in this area, we're looking at what we can do to enhance Rwanda's capacity in this area.All three of these areas focus on capacity building. All three of these areas will add to Rwanda's capacity to expand its economy. But also add to the capacity between Australia and Rwanda to enhance our economic trade investment and people-to-people exchanges.We also spoke about the work that we do together regionally and internationally. Australia very strongly supports Rwanda's application to become a member of the Commonwealth, a point that we've made publicly and privately before. And we continue to support Rwanda's claim and will do so in the run-up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the Caribbean in November this year.
We also work close together in the United Nations. Given the tragic events of the mid-'90s in Rwanda, Rwanda very strongly supports pursuing the responsibility to protect notion within the forums of the United Nations, as does Australia, so we have been working closely on the responsibility to protect principle.
We've also spoken about some of the difficult peace and security issues that Rwanda and its region faces, dealt with Rwanda itself and from the terrible events of the mid-'90s, Rwanda has made great strides, which Australia welcomes and supports. But the difficulties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on Rwanda's borders, has seen the need for Rwanda and the DRC to work closely together to deal with very difficult peace and security issues.
Those issues have seen a very large number, hundreds of thousands of displaced peoples on Rwanda's borders and I've, today, announced that Australia will make a further contribution of $5.5 million both to the World Food Program, $3 million, and $2.5 million to the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to assist DRC and the region in dealing with the large number of displaced people on Rwanda's borders as a consequence of the difficulties in the DRC.
So Minister, it's great to see you in Canberra. We look forward to enhancing the relationship that Australia and Rwanda have. The three areas that we've agreed to focus on, I think, are areas where Australia has great expertise, but also areas which can help build Rwanda's capacity. And the fact that your delegation includes your key officials in education, in agriculture and in mineral resources, reflects those priorities.
So we're very pleased to see you here and if you could respond by making some opening remarks and we'll then respond to questions from the media.
ROSEMARY MUSEMINALI: Honourable Minister, I'm here with our delegation, indeed, as you rightly said, a delegation that comes in to discuss, with your government, on those three crucial issues and other areas, especially agriculture, education and mining. But also to discuss wider issues, wider issues relating to developing our country.
As you rightly said, we experienced a tragedy 15 years ago in 1994, where we had genocide of one million Rwandans. But since then we've come a long way. Rwanda has come a long way in rebuilding our institutions, in reinstating services like education, like health and, indeed, agriculture and we are looking at other areas like mining and important areas that we think will develop our economy and, therefore, give a better future for our people.
And it's indeed, why we come to your country, to see how we can work together to move these areas forward. Our higher education, we think, is very, very important and crucial and this is why we think that we can learn from your experiences, but also we can benefit from the support of Australia.
In agriculture, we come to look to you to increase our productivity, but also to be able to deal with that produce that we have improve its value and, therefore, be able to export it, or even be able to store it for better use for our people.
In mining, you correctly mentioned that we come to seek your support and capacity and build on our own capacities. We have resources, but which resources have not been comprehensively surveyed and evaluated and we know that you have good capacities in this area and this is why we come to you, to look to you.We look to you Australia for your support, but we are also looking for capacities that we can also be able to pay for some of them and be able to use them, because we know they are there, they are developed and we can benefit from your own experiences.
We are grateful, Minister, that we had this contact, we had these discussions, because there is beginning to be interest from even Australian investors. We have an Australian investor who is investing in building our rice growing capacities. And indeed we call on Australians to be able to come to Rwanda, look at all those areas and be able to invest in those areas.
So we are a country that is benefiting from aid, but a country that is also trying to use that aid to build our own capacity to produce. And this is why we look to countries like your own country, and we welcome the way you have welcomed us in your country, the discussions that we've had, and we believe that we are going to grow together in those three areas and we'll be able to benefit the development of our people.
Regarding the security in our region, Rwanda is engaged in Darfur. We have 3200 forces in Darfur, not because we are such a huge country or not because we have such a huge army but because we would like to contribute to the peace in Africa.
We suffered a tragedy where Rwanda was ignored. We don't think Rwanda can have the luxury of ignoring anybody. So that's why we are in Darfur.
We are working with Somalia to see how we can also have an input in training their police and be able to support them to find peace in their country.
We are working with the DRC. We just had a joint operation to hunt the people who killed one million people and therefore went into the whole of eastern Congo to continue their genocidal agenda. We believe that that is what we can do as Rwanda in DRC, but what the international community also must do, because some of the people who help them to fundraise are in the western world and indeed we thing that they should be arrested; they should be curtailed from continuing to fuel the war within our region. And indeed, Minister, this is why we welcome your support in all these initiatives, and we hope that we can continue cooperating on that.
And we appreciate your support to join the Commonwealth. And of course we are happy to be here for these few days and we hope that we can interact with many more of your institutions, your investors, the officials that we've been interacting with, and we believe that is going to help us achieve our mission of visiting you, but also building a stronger relationship with your country and also building these crucial linkages to help us move faster, as a country that is determined to move faster with its people, a country that is determined to provide a better living for our population, but also a country that knows that there is capacity and strength in friends and a country that wants to draw from those capacities.
So I thank you for your hospitality and for receiving us very well.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Rosemary, thank you very much for that. We're very happy to respond to questions if you have questions about the bilateral relationship and then I'm happy to respond to any other domestic questions before we go.
QUESTION: Mrs Museminali, Mark Dodd from The Australian. What are the benefits for Rwanda from membership of the Commonwealth?
ROSEMARY MUSEMINALI: We would like to join a Commonwealth which has a bigger population and therefore if we can get that population interested in investing in Rwanda, that will have helped us to move faster in attracting investors. But we also are aware that it's an organisation with several people, several cultures, lots of capacities to draw from, lots of good experiences to learn from, whether it's in governance, whether it's in the rule of law, whether it's in the areas that I've been talking about, in agriculture in mining.
If you talk about the number of Commonwealth countries that we see today, there is a lot of what we can benefit from by interacting with them.
So we think that it's a community of a lot of people, a community of a lot of capacities, a community where we can build linkages whether it's economically, whether it's socially, whether it's even politically, so that we can work - be able to work together in a bigger community.
Plus the neighbours that we have today, apart from one or two, most of them are Commonwealth countries, and we find ourselves working together on many fronts. So we think that it's a good organisation to join, for Rwanda.
QUESTION: Minister, I'd imagine it's quite some time since we've had a representative of the Rwandan Government come to Australia. Is this part of Australia's push to be more engaged with Africa, but specifically for the cause of moving towards the UN Security Council? Are you trying to shore up support for it?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly I think the last Rwandan Foreign Minister to come to Australia came in 2007 to coincide with the Davos meeting. But I think is the first stand-alone bilateral meeting or visit by a Rwandan Foreign Minister and we certainly welcome that.
Secondly, I make the point very often: Australia has to enhance its engagement with Africa, both the continent and the countries of Africa. Australia is a continent of 20 million people; Africa is a continent of nearly a billion over 50 countries. Rwanda, for example, I think geographically is about the size of Tasmania, with more than double Australia's population.
So this is a continent that Australia can't ignore; and we can't ignore it for very good reasons.
Australia has survived as a prosperous country by being a great trading nation and we can't ignore the economic, trade and investment opportunities that Africa provides for us, whether it's in minerals and petroleum resources, or agriculture or in other areas. And that long-term ambition transcends any Security Council campaign that we might be running.
The Security Council campaign will come and go by 2013 and 2014, but the need for Australia to rectify what has been in my view a public and foreign policy failure of the past, to enhance and deepen its engagement with Africa, will remain ongoing.
Having said that, we're very pleased that Rwanda has indicated both publicly and privately, that it supports Australia's ambition to be a member of the Security Council for the 2013-2014 term; we're very grateful for that support. But our need to engage with Africa as a continent and the constituent countries of countries transcends that, not just in the economic area but also in peace and security.
Australia has been involved in United Nations and regional peacekeeping for over 60 years, as the Minister alluded and referred to.
Africa, through the African Union and its regional peace and security missions, is now just embarking on its own peacekeeping exercises, and we think there is a lot that can be done to share our experiences in that respect.
So we're very grateful for the support, but our need as a nation to change the past policy failures, so far as Africa is concerned, will endure well beyond the Security Council election.
QUESTION: Have you thought of increasing Australian representation in Ghana?
STEPHEN SMITH: Not at this stage.
QUESTION: Just on another issue, the New South Wales plan to get an overseas [indistinct] services for their departments, or would [indistinct] participating comes first. Is this something that worries you - are you worried that it could damage our relationship between China?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, I've seen the newspaper report. Frankly, I'd prefer to wait to see the details announced or released in the Budget tomorrow. And it may well be the case that the reporting bears no necessary relationship to the detail of what the New South Wales Government is proposing. That's the first point.
Secondly, Australia as a nation needs to conduct itself consistently with its international obligations, and that includes both World Trade Organisation obligations and also any Free Trade Agreement obligations we have with individual countries. And part of those obligations generally require that you can't discriminate against one particular country.
More generally, I make the point which the Prime Minister has made and my colleague, Simon Crean, has made about trade matters; this is not the time for any nation state to retreat to protectionism. On the contrary, at times of slower economic growth, at a time of international economic downturn, this is precisely the time to maximise and enhance our openness and our engagement.
So the New South Wales Government is not in a position to do anything which is inconsistent with our international obligations, but I think we might just need to wait for 24 hours to see what the precise detail is that the New South Wales Government is proposing.
QUESTION: And if that is the case, will you speak to your counterparts in New South Wales to urge them, you know, to be a bit more open [indistinct]?
STEPHEN SMITH: Let's have a look and see what tomorrow brings. I've made the point very clearly earlier in the day, and I'm very happy to repeat it; it is inconsistent with our international obligations and inconsistent with our general approach for any of these measures to be aimed at one particular nation. Anything which the New South Wales Government proposes to do needs to be consistent with our international obligations. And I'm sure the New South Wales Government is aware of that, so let's see what tomorrow brings.
QUESTION: Minister, is Benjamin Netanyahu really [indistinct] the prospect of a two-state solution that Israel and Palestine a step forward, or is he just playing for [indistinct]
STEPHEN SMITH: I think it's a significant speech; that's the first point. Secondly, I'm sure the international community also wants to spend a bit of time just focusing on and looking at the detail. But I think the key point to Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech overnight is that this is the first occasion that Prime Minister Netanyahu or the Netanyahu Government has said that peace in the Middle East is predicated on a two-state solution.
Australia strongly supports that. We strongly support a state for Israel within defined borders in a context of peace and security and we strongly support a state within defined borders within a context of peace and security for the Palestinian people.
And the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu has acknowledged that, now, in our view, sets the scene for what should be an urgent reconvening of the various peace processes. There'll be no enduring or just peace in the Middle East unless it is predicated on a two-state solution.And together with the oversight of the Obama Administration, we believe that the peace processes should now resume and resume in earnest and resume urgently.
QUESTION: And will Julia Gillard be conveying any particular message to [indistinct]?
STEPHEN SMITH: Julia Gillard will be conveying the same messages that the Government of Australia conveys on this matter, which is the Australian Government strongly supports the peace process and the Australian Government very strongly believes that a just and enduring peace in the Middle East can only be found on the basis of a two-state solution.
Negotiations and the peace process should now commence within that framework. So we welcome that acknowledgement by Prime Minister Netanyahu. All of the other various issues should now be the subject of negotiation because everyone knows that in the end there'll only be an enduring peace which is effected through a negotiated settlement. We urge that process to commence and we strongly support the efforts of President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and Ambassador Mitchell to that effect.
QUESTION: You mentioned assistance with [indistinct] peacekeeping. Do we have any Defence relationship at present in regard to improved peacekeeping?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, what I actually said was together with the African Union, which is now developing its peacekeeping arrangements through its regional peacekeeping missions, we believe we have a lot of expertise and experience that we can share with the African Union and the peace and security regional missions.
My visit to Addis Ababa in January was closely followed by our Defence Minister who established contacts with the relevant African Union Commissioners and made those same points. So we think that there's shared expertise and experience that we can share with the African Union and the regional peacekeeping missions.
QUESTION: Is there any [indistinct] to better resort [indistinct] peacekeeping missions come forward to support [indistinct]?
STEPHEN SMITH: We make our own contribution as Rwanda makes its contribution. It's a very difficult situation, as you know.
We've recently indicated to the international community, last year we indicated to the international community we were proposing to add a small number of additional personnel to that effort. From memory it was nine, I'm happy to stand corrected on that.So we make our contribution, but as the Minister herself has indicated, what's occurring in Sudan, what's occurring in Darfur is very difficult both for Africa and the region; and difficult for the international community.
Thanks very much.
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