Transcript of joint press conference with Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa

CHOGM, Perth

Subjects: Commonwealth and Developing Small States Meeting; Climate Change; CHOGM; Sri Lanka; Africa; Australian teenager detained in Bali; European debt.

Transcript E&OE

25 October 2011

KEVIN RUDD: Well good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm very glad to be here with my friend of many years standing, His Excellency the Prime Minister of Samoa, who is also the Foreign Minister of Samoa. And we come to report to you on our deliberations held just now on a meeting of small developing states from around the world — not just the Commonwealth — on the critical challenges facing us in terms of climate change and sustainable development.

Firstly we should indicate to our friends in the media that while we've had sixty or seventy small states gathering here, small states also wanted to say a lot, and that's why we're an hour or so late from our original scheduled time.

We face, as an international community, critical conferences in the period ahead. The Conference of the Parties on Climate Change occurs in Durban in December, the G20 meets very soon in France and on top of that, in the middle of next year, we have Rio+20, which considers the broader challenges of sustainable development, and not just in terms of climate change, but more broadly as well.

Often the countries who are left out of these deliberations are those who are most affected by climate change and the broader challenges of sustainable development. The small island countries, the small developing states, fall into precisely that category. Forty-eight small island states and small developing states that we have had gathered here, together with other partners from around the world.

Those forty-eight small developing states represent less than one per cent of global carbon emissions, less than one per cent. However, what they experience is a huge impact on their own shores and in their own countries of climate change as it unfolds. To put that one per cent into perspective, these small developing states together in their total global emissions, all forty-eight of them, represent less than the carbon footprint of Australia alone. Australia contributes presently about one-point-five per cent of global emissions; these countries about one per cent, the forty-eight states combined.

But when we look at the impact of coastal inundation, we look at the impact on natural disasters and their intensity and their frequency, it is these small developing states which often bear the brunt. On coastal inundation we heard again with eloquence today, presentations from governments in the Solomon Islands, governments from Kiribati and governments from the Maldives, about the current and immediate impact of coastal inundation on them.

In terms of the intensity of storm activity we also heard contributions from others about how the whole question of resilience against the greater intensity of storm activity and extreme weather events affects the long-term sustainable development of those economies.

These are therefore big challenges facing small countries. So why are we gathered together here? To form a collective view to the greatest extent possible across these small developing states, so that we, Australia and the other Commonwealth members of the G20, can reflect a common view about what best serves the interests of our friends who live in these countries.

Furthermore, to do the same as we begin to develop our views on the outcome we want for the Conference of the Parties in Durban, and similarly on the Rio+20 conference next year. In this sense, Australia in particular senses a particular responsibility as acting as a voice for the interests of small developing states around the world.

Australia uniquely, as a developed country, twenty-two of our twenty-four nearest neighbours are developing countries, and the largest proportion of those in fact come from small island states in the South Pacific. It is our habit, it is our custom, it is our practice to listen carefully to the needs of these states and we now do so more broadly across the Indian Ocean and into the Caribbean and other coastal littoral states which are experiencing difficulties in terms of the impact of climate change.

The messages we take forward on behalf of this group to foreign ministers of the Commonwealth, heads of government of the Commonwealth and more broadly into the meetings I've just referred, broadly fall into two categories.

The first is that when it comes to climate change, we need to see the emergence of a balanced framework recognising the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, but which sees further concrete action by both developed and emerging economies to bring down carbon emissions worldwide.

Second, for the least developed countries and for small island developing states, that we in particular reflect the need for those countries from the developed world which have committed finance to our friends in the smaller developing economies, to be transparent about their commitments, to indicate what projects they are funding in which countries, and to be fully accountable to the obligations they have undertaken both at previous conferences in Cancun and earlier at Copenhagen.

Many of our small island developing countries are faced with the real problem of how do you prevent coastal inundation, how do you preserve fresh water, how do you preserve, frankly, arable land for food production? And that is where Australia's own climate change finance is currently being directly, principally to the economies of the South Pacific, but more broadly as well.

Finally, beyond ensuring that we take action at these upcoming conferences, which produces a balanced framework for both developed and emerging economies to cut their carbon emissions. And secondly, beyond the question of making sure that financial allocation to the most vulnerable economies in the world are actually distributed and allocated and used effectively, as Australia is doing.

There is one final area which has been the subject of much discussion today as well, and where the Prime Minister of Samoa has been a strong contributor. And that is on the whole question of the Blue Economy, that is the marine environment, that is the whole impact on marine ecosystems of not just climate change, not just ocean acidification, but the overuse of fish stocks, as well as a whole range of other pollutants finding their way into the marine environment.

The Blue Economy has lagged behind the Green Economy in proper global and regional attention. That must stop. It is not just that we wish to preserve marine ecosystems, it also represents the fundamental source of food security for many of our friends and partners in the South Pacific, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean as well. This also, therefore, will be a key area of priority for Australia as we move forward into the critical conferences that I referred to before.

So in summary, Australia sees its role as acting as a voice for small developing states in the world. We've used this meeting of CHOGM here in Perth to bring together not just Commonwealth, but non-Commonwealth small developing states, some forty-eight in all, together with other participating states, to hear their views. We now intend to use the councils of the world to reflect their views.

If I could ask my friend and colleague, the Prime Minister of Samoa, to add his remarks and then we'll take your questions.

SAMOAN PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. I think Kevin Rudd has essentially spoken of all the items that we talked about this afternoon, but I want to stress again the consensus that has emerged amongst all the member states that we ought to speak with one voice, and to present to the future meetings, which involve G20 countries that happen to be the most gas emitters, for them to take note of the damage they are responsible for, and for which all of us are not responsible and suffer the most consequences.

The most disturbing revelation at our discussions this afternoon includes references to two biggest countries that are almost responsible for about close to forty per cent of emissions and do not seem to be forthcoming in their commitments to restricting their gas emissions.

So this is an area that we would need to speak with one voice because we have seen that of the projections of the damage done, for instance, in the disappearance of the glaciers, we have noted in the video presentations that what has been projected to take place in 2050 has already been happening now.

So we no longer guessing. We are definite with the scientific evidence available to us that we ought to act now. Another major focus of attention by the small states is the need to ensure that the funds that have been mobilised could be released speedily to the most disadvantageous, the most affected countries.

This we have been very grateful to see that Australia is taking the leap. For instance, if we Start [Fast Start Funds], Australia's contribution is to make it about six hundred million. They have already committed to over five hundred million of their target and we have been most grateful for that because we had seen these things happening with Australia's assistance to the Pacific Island countries in the building of sea walls, in education, in water, in health projects, in energy and we would like the G20 also to take note that the many funds that have been proposed, we feel ought to work through the system of bilaterals that have been in existence. In that way we can be assured of the speedy commitment and speedy disbursement.

So perhaps with that addition we can now take questions.

KEVIN RUDD: Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST: May I ask you, you mentioned the two countries, the biggest countries that are not doing [indistinct], that's China and Pakistan?

SAMOAN PRIME MINISTER: That's right, yes.

JOURNALIST: Do you feel let down by those countries and also in the context of what you are saying, how important do you think it is that Australia stays true to pricing our emissions here?

SAMOAN PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Of course we have been in Copenhagen, we have been in Cancun and the achievements of those, particularly Copenhagen, have been outstanding in the sense that for the first time the world has been committed to a target of less than two centigrade increase in temperature. That agreement had been reached on Fast Start Fund of the regional thirty billion with one hundred billion by 2020.

The first time that the leaders of the world have all assembled together to talk about this global issue, and of course the mechanisms for follow up of what the countries are doing and this is where we have been informed by the Chinese of their own proposals, plans to carry out a large replanting program and although no definite commitment has been made, but the undertaking by that country has remained.

Vis a vis the United States which is more of a problem and we do not have the same confidence in the sense that compared to what the Chinese have committed to do for their own national interest.

I think the second question in relation to the bilateral aid by Australia, following up on climate…

JOURNALIST: Sorry, it was more about Australia's own policy. How important it is given that there are large emitters by not doing the right thing, China and Australia. How important is it in your view that Australia stays true to the path of pricing carbon?

SAMOAN PRIME MINISTER: Well in as far as we are concerned, I am not familiar with your politics in Australia, but I can say that…

KEVIN RUDD: Lucky man.

SAMOAN PRIME MINISTER: … we are all in this in the sense that we want to take this message to G20, not just in Australia, but all of us in our own bilateral dealings. Also with the G20 countries and all meetings related to climate change in the future.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what do you want the CHOGM communiqué to say specifically on climate change? What action do you want it to call for and do you want an extension of Kyoto and are you concerned about the hundred billion dollar a year Green Climate Fund?

SAMOAN PRIME MINISTER: Yes, we like to ensure that what countries have promised to do, do own up to provide the vitally important help to the countries most affected.

JOURNALIST: What do you want the communiqué to say? How strong should this communiqué be on climate change?

SAMOAN PRIME MINISTER: As strong as it could be. What should be remembered that this is a message that we want to tell the whole world that we are all one in the countries that emit, that do not have proper schemes of controlling emissions, to do likewise.

KEVIN RUDD: If I could add to the Prime Minister's response and underline what he said before. The critical thing is that we speak with one voice. The small developing states who met here today with us, in the international forums of the world, often do not have a voice. That's the problem. They contribute practically nothing to the problem itself, that is in terms of their own emissions, but let me tell you, they feel the impact big time.

Therefore, what's the outcome of all of that? We, on their behalf, need to argue as effectively as we can. As members of the G20 and other global institutions that we must take action on two degrees centigrade because, if we fail to do so, we kiss goodbye, longer term, to a number of the forty-eight small island states.

Secondly, in the meantime, we have to provide whatever we can by way of practical adaptation systems to small developing states to help them on the way through. That's the bottom line here. That's what we are arguing about and forty-eight states around the table, I've got to say, had much the same message. Further questions?

JOURNALIST: Minister, can I ask you a question on another matter?

KEVIN RUDD: Depends what it is.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you if you have had discussions with the Sri Lankan President since allegations of war crimes against him?

KEVIN RUDD: I met President Rajapaksa briefly when I was at the United Nations in New York in September, but it was a very brief discussion. I've only exchanged pleasantries so far with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister. I'm sure I will be seeing him between now and the formal deliberations of the Commonwealth Heads of Government later in the week.

Our position in terms of Sri Lanka is clear. We have already said that the Human Rights Council's, earlier, examination of these matters should be revisited. I note that from my most recent advice that the HRC in Geneva is now looking at these matters again. We also have made it very clear that we, together with other members of the international community, want the Sri Lankan government's own Reconciliation Commission Report, which is due out within the coming months, to respond to the matters which have been raised already by the UN report which has been received so far. These are two positions which we've articulated clearly before, they remain our position now.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, just following on from that, would you consider pulling out of CHOGM in 2013 in Sri Lanka as the Canadian Prime Minister has said he is considering doing if there aren't improvements in human rights in Sri Lanka?

KEVIN RUDD: If we go to the human rights report itself and then I'll go to your question. The human rights report itself delivered by the UN — here I'm referring to the UN proper, not the HRC, the Human Rights Council. The UN report spoke of potential crimes against humanity and war crimes, both on the part of the Sri Lankan government and on the part of the LTTE. It made conclusions I think in terms of six findings of fact against the Sri Lankan government, seven in relation to the LTTE. I stand to be corrected on the precise numbers.

Secondly, that is why we have called upon the Sri Lankan government, together with other governments around the world to respond to each of the matters which affects them in their Reconciliation Commission Report, which is due in the months ahead.

What we will all be looking at very carefully, is the content of that report once it's delivered and how it deals with specific matters and allegations contained within the earlier UN report. That's where the discussion currently lies between ourselves and the government of Sri Lanka and that's, I believe, where it should lie until we receive the content of that subsequent report.

JOURNALIST: How would the federal government raise the issue of the war crimes allegations with Sri Lanka at this CHOGM?

KEVIN RUDD: Well the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting has a flexible agenda where I'm sure it will be impossible to restrain various member governments from raising these matters where the agenda so permits. It does permit under general items of the agenda, both at the foreign ministers' level and at the heads of government level. It's then a matter for Commonwealth members to use that facility in a way in which they choose. As Chair of the Foreign Ministers' process, that's the attitude I will adopt. I'm confident the Prime Minister would have a similar approach in the meeting which she chairs as well.

JOURNALIST: Back to climate change. You've spoken about the small island nations and the neighbours of Australia. But I just want to know what is the feeling and the sentiment from the African nations from the countries from Africa [indistinct]?

KEVIN RUDD: Well many countries of Africa have spoken eloquently and effectively about the immediate impact of climate change on them. We have presentations from distinguished representatives from Djibouti, from Ghana, from Kenya and from elsewhere in the continent, all pointing to the fact that climate change is real, is affecting their livelihoods now and the need therefore for climate change adaptation assistance now. Therefore it goes back to the point I made earlier: that often the small and developing countries, whether they are island states or non-island states, is where the brunt of the climate change impact is being felt first.

Therefore that's where we as an international responsibility — international community, have two responsibilities. How do we bring down the level of greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and effectively as possible, because therein lies the cause? And what do we do in the meantime to provide practical assistance for adaptation? That's very much the sentiment of the meeting and to again, draw upon the comments by the distinguished Prime Minister of Samoa just before, this room spoke very effectively with a single voice on these matters.

JOURNALIST: Did you get a sense from the people at the table, or did anyone say specifically that they thought putting a price on carbon was the right thing for Australia to be doing?

KEVIN RUDD: Many delegates attending the conference, or representatives, spoke positively about the decision to put a price on carbon in this country, given the challenges which lie elsewhere.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, given the…

KEVIN RUDD: Can I get this one first; you've had a go mate. Yes?

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask [indistinct] as well, have you had any more updates on the Bali boy situation?

KEVIN RUDD: On that I've — if I could just go to my notes on where this one stands. The responsibility for the case has now been formally passed from the police to the Prosecutor's Office. As I have indicated on a number of times before, it's therefore important that we all proceed calmly, steadily and be prepared for this to take still some time to resolve. The prosecutors have up to twenty-five days to prepare a prosecution. There are twenty more days in which the brief can go back to the police for review with input from the prosecutors. We respect Indonesia's laws and will continue to work with the Indonesian legal processes.

It's therefore I think not responsible, as I've said from the beginning, to speculate on possible timeframes for the resolution of this matter. The boy remains at the immigration detention centre at Jimbaran with his parents. We are also grateful for the intervention by the Indonesian authorities to ensure the boy has been held in appropriate detention facilities. The case remains a top priority for the Australian government as I've indicated on earlier occasions. Okay folks, if there's not much else, I think we'd better zip and do something else.

JOURNALIST: May I ask one question about sovereign debt?


JOURNALIST: Do you believe the Europeans are doing their best at this time to solve the sovereign debt crisis?

KEVIN RUDD: The challenge — I don't know if you saw the text of my remarks today at the Commonwealth Business Forum. I spoke at some length about the challenge which currently lies with our European colleagues. I outlined there what I thought and the Government believes are four areas where we need to see movement from our friends in Europe. As you know, critical meetings are occurring in Europe over the course of the next thirty-six hours. We are watching the outcomes of those particularly closely. Because if we do not get a satisfactory outcome there, the next stage of course will be the responsibility felt by all members of the G20 when they meet at Cannes. This is a serious time for the global economy; it's a serious time for global financial markets. I think the prescriptions for policy are relatively clear. The political difficulty of each of those prescriptions is a different matter.

Therefore we await with keen interest the outcome from Europe. Because I said in my remarks earlier today, what happens in Europe in the financial markets and the stability of those markets, affects Australia. It affects Asia, it affects the rest of the world, including Africa, Latin America and all of the countries represented here at this Commonwealth Forum. Thank you very much for your time.


Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555