KEVIN RUDD: First of all I think we should all be sparing a thought for all those who have suffered rain and flood damage here in Brissie, in south-east Queensland. We should continue to acknowledge the work of the SES, who are doing a fantastic job. But also the clean up for so many people is really awful, and I've been speaking with a number of people this morning who are going through that ugly business of cleaning up the wreckage. So this is a time for neighbours to lend a hand. And for friends to lend a hand as well.
Today also marks the anniversary of the Bali bombings, and it's very important that we bear in mind the continued challenge of international terrorism. There are a whole lot of families in Australia today who are grieving on this anniversary. Let us keep them in our thoughts and our prayers, as the loss of loved ones has an enduring impact on people's lives and the well being of families.
That of course reinforces the need to maintain vigilance in our continued global efforts against terrorism, and our efforts within the region as well.
One of the reasons I'm leaving Australia this evening to head to Brussels is for a meeting of Friends of Democratic Pakistan. This brings together foreign ministers from around the world who support the Pakistani Governments encountering the insurgency within its country, because if we don't do that the capacity for terrorists then to operate worldwide is enhanced.
So countries from around the world are lending a hand to Pakistanis to build up their counter-insurgency capabilities, to persist in their development needs in a vast country, with a vast population, where terrorism remains a real challenge.
Also on travelling to Japan. And it's important that I have an opportunity to spend some time with new Japanese Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister Maehara. We met briefly in New York recently. We've had many other common interests between Japan and Australia to pursue during my time in Tokyo.
I'll also be seeing other Japanese government officials. This is a major relationship for Australia. Japan is our second largest trading partner. It is a huge source of foreign investment into Australia. And the Japanese Government represents a strong partner of Australia in so many international and global forums: G20, the United Nations, the East Asian Summit, and APEC. Japan itself will be hosting APEC later this year. Also one of the interests we're prosecuting with our Japanese friends is a free trade agreement. It's a vast economy — and Australia's interests lie very squarely in completing a free trade agreement with Japan.
Negotiations are tough and hard. But I look forward also to having discussions on that while I'm in Tokyo as well, in conjunction with my colleague and friend, the Minister for Trade Craig Emerson.
If I might just make one final personal remark, and that's about the passing of Dame Joan Sutherland. Dame Joan just is an extraordinary legend in Australian music, in Australian opera, and Australian song. She had the sweetest voice of any Australian opera singer, I believe, ever. And as someone who's enjoyed her performances over many years I think I speak in conjunction with so many Australians who love music that we mourn her passing — but also honour her memory and her legacy as one of Australia's greatest.
QUESTION: Are you confident that we can continue bipartisan support for our troops in Afghanistan?
KEVIN RUDD: I hope that's going to be the case — because our troops in the field are doing a fantastic job. I've been to Afghanistan many times myself, and the current field commanders, General Cantwell, and the regional commander, General Evans, I know well. I believe it's important for our troops in the field to know that they have the support of all sides of Australian politics.
The mission is a hard one. But this mission is also doable. And we must continue to support our troops in the field in what is a difficult, dangerous and bloody operating environment.
QUESTION: The exchange between Gillard and Abbott lately, it probably hasn't been very much to help the troops or [indistinct].
KEVIN RUDD: My experience of our troops is that they are very focused on the task at hand and it's difficult each day. It's acting against insurgents, it is training Afghan National Army troops, it is training Afghan National Police, it is building schools and bridges and health clinics. That's the day-to-day tasks which these good women and men of Australia are doing each day in Tarin Kowt and more broadly, across the Province of Uruzgan. Therefore, they deserve our complete and continuing support.
It doesn't mean we can't debate the future of Afghanistan policy; that's proper in a democracy…
KEVIN RUDD: …but number one priority, number one absolute priority is that our troops in the field deserve one hundred per cent support from the Australian people and their political representatives. Let us always bear in mind the sad example of Vietnam where our troops did not enjoy that support, bipartisan in the field.
QUESTION: Does the role of certain elements in Pakistan cause concern, given their possible relationship with the Taliban and other radical elements?
KEVIN RUDD: In Pakistan you have a very porous border between the eastern provinces of Afghanistan and places in Pakistan up in what's called the Farah areas, as well as places like Waziristan and Baluchistan. These are very, very dangerous areas.
But the challenge we face in support of the government in Islamabad is to make it easier for them to discharge this counter-insurgency function.
A little known fact is that Australia currently is the second largest trainer abroad of Pakistan military officers. After the United States, Australia comes second. We're training some 200 such officers each year in counter-insurgency. It's a very practical thing that we do to help our Pakistani friends deal with a very difficult challenge, because unless we are dealing with that at the same time as the operations on the ground in Afghanistan, our strategy is incomplete.
QUESTION: What do you make of Christopher Pyne's comments the other night that the Prime Minister specialises in back-alley bitchiness?
KEVIN RUDD: Well look, I think Australian politics is much better if we don't have such remarks in our public discussion, public debate. I think the Australian people just want their politicians to get on with the business of governing the country, and those sort of remarks I just don't think have a proper place in the way in which we conduct our national business.
QUESTION: Do you think Tony Abbott's comments recently are leading to a change in attitude from the Coalition in the way that they're responding to such situations, using perhaps language which wouldn't have been previously used?
KEVIN RUDD: Well look, on the question of Coalition tactics, I think you'd best direct your questions towards the Coalition. And if you want a response on overall tactics from our side of the house, then of course we have a very capable and able leader of the house in the person of Anthony Albanese.
I simply express the view of a Queensland member of Parliament, as a minister in the Cabinet, that I believe the Australian people, the people of Queensland, just want to get us — want all of us to get on with the business of governing the country and doing the right thing in dealing with the needs which people have — families, schools, communities.
Why am I here today? This school community, 600 or 700 kids, are excited about the fact that we have a new multi-purpose hall. You see outside here? It's wet. My experience of Queensland is that over many, many seasons, schools haven't been able to get together because of bad weather; either it's too hot or it's wet or whatever.
Now for the first time, many of these schools have facilities in which they can get together for their school performances, their school plays, their school sporting events, or simply something as basic as school assembly, and bringing the whole school community in together.
That's why these are the sorts of practical things which I believe mums and dads across the country would much rather us focus on rather than slur and counter-slur in Australian politics.
QUESTION: Do you think it's fair to call Julia Gillard a street fighter?
KEVIN RUDD: I think it's far better that we have a civilised, polite discourse in Australian politics. I think the Australian people are decent folk and they expect their politicians to behave decently as well, and I just don't think that sort of language helps in our national political debate.
Now, are they waiting for me over there? Okay.
QUESTION: Can we ask, will you be speaking to the Japanese about whaling when you go over?
KEVIN RUDD: Obviously our different approaches to whaling will be a part of my conversations with the Japanese Foreign Minister. Australia and Japan have different approaches. Prior to the '07 election, we said we'd sought to resolve this diplomatically; that did not work. We said if diplomacy would fail, we'd take it to the International Court of Justice; we have. It's now with the independent umpire; let the umpire decide.
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