Transcript of Joint Press Conference with Secretary General of the Commonwealth Kamalesh Sharma

CHOGM, Perth

Subjects: CHOGM; Gambling reform; Australian teenager detained in Bali

Transcript E&OE, proof only.

26 October 2011

KEVIN RUDD: Well good morning ladies and gentlemen of the press. 

I'm sorry if my voice sounds a little bit like Mae West this morning.

I welcome the Secretary General of the Commonwealth to be with us here today and I welcome him to Perth as we have a very large agenda before us.

The 53 nations of the Commonwealth gather here in Australia. This is a global institution. We represent more than one quarter of the world's population. We represent one third of the world's countries. We represent about one fifth of the world trade. We represent about one quarter of the total membership of the G20.

We encompass all the major faiths of the world, we also come from continents across the globe and we share a commitment to democracy and human rights. 

The theme of this Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth is building national resilience, building global resilience and because the Commonwealth brings together nations from across the world, it's important that these themes are considered together.

We, as a Commonwealth of nations, need to take the opportunity presented by this gathering in Perth to build greater resilience to economic shocks; to build great resilience to the impacts of climate change; to build greater resilience to the looming challenges of food security, and to build greater democratic resilience in a world where democracy continues to be under challenge.

On the challenges of the global economy, we are familiar. Our friends and counterparts in Europe are gathering, as we meet here in Western Australia, to consider the future of the financial crisis in the European continent. What happens in Europe very much will shape what happens in the rest of the world economy and world financial markets. Therefore the decisions taken there are of fundamental relevance to our deliberations here. 

I spoke before about building resilience on climate change. The global environment is under challenge. Scientists tell us not just about the challenges that we face to the global planetary boundaries affected by carbon emissions but by other planetary boundaries as well including the marine environment.

Global food security: we live in a food insecure world and if ever there was a potent reminder of that fact, it is what is unfolding before us in the Horn of Africa but beyond food crisis such as we see in that famine, the food insecurity which wracks most of the world, contributes to still an appalling high level of malnutrition across the world including in many Commonwealth countries.

So we, the nations of the Commonwealth, gather in Perth fully seized of the breadth of these challenges and therefore the actions necessary to address them. 

As we gather here in Perth it's important to reflect on the agenda which is before us as well. The meeting of the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers beginning here today marks the start of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2011 in earnest. 

For more than 60 years the Commonwealth has placed democracy, the rule of law, at the heart of its shared values. At the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, leaders asked the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, a small group of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers, to provide recommendations on how CMAG, as it is called, could play a more proactive and preventative role to strengthen democracy around the world.

In 2009 leaders also commissioned an Eminent Persons Group to recommend reforms to sharpen the impact and strengthen the networks of the Commonwealth worldwide. Foreign Ministers in the two days ahead, today and tomorrow, will consider these reports and the recommendations that they have made and the best way ahead in the deliberation on them by heads of government now and into the future.

We'll also focus our efforts on revitalising the Commonwealth's development priorities to ensure it effectively meets the needs of member States both today and into the future. 

Our discussions here in Perth will focus on some of the most serious challenges facing individual Commonwealth nations. 

I've referred already to food security; I've referred to climate change. I've referred also to sustainable economic growth. However, the challenges of health and therefore the threat which communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases represent to the peoples of the Commonwealth will be at the forefront of our agenda as well, together with the challenges of education.

Worldwide today it is an indictment on us all that 67 million children are not attending school as we speak. These are children of primary school age. 

Furthermore, as we meet here in Perth, we must be mindful of the fact that half the world's hungry live in the Commonwealth itself and therefore it makes sense for us to set out a vision for how we address the critical challenge of improving agricultural productivity, reducing excessive food price volatility and enhancing humanitarian food supply.

Foreign Ministers will discuss how we can promote more effective natural resource management through greater transparency and through better governments and the measures we need to eradicate diseases such as polio and HIV and to address other prevalent diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.

Ladies and gentlemen of the press these therefore are the many challenges we face here in Perth. These are practical challenges which require practical responses and I look forward very much to working with my foreign ministerial colleagues in the two days ahead on how we shape the agenda for when heads of government themselves meet later this week in Perth.

Secretary General, if I could ask you to address the gathering, hopefully in more resonant and dulcet tones than I have done myself this morning.

KAMALESH SHARMA: Thank you very much, Minister Rudd. As you're going to chair the Foreign Ministers Meeting today and tomorrow I wish a very speedy recovery to your vocal cords. 

We are looking forward to an exhilarating CHOGM. 

I would like to remind you this is the third time that Australia is hosting CHOGM after '81 in Melbourne, 2002 in Coolum and now this is an extraordinary record of service to the Commonwealth and the previous two CHOGM's have been marked with very remarkable results and this is one is not going to be an exception.

In fact, I am convinced that this is going to be a landmark CHOGM in respect of what it puts in place on reform, on renewal and on resilience. 

The theme is global resilience, national resilience, which points to the interconnectiveness of the two and also to the fact that a series of crisis have impacted upon the member States of the Commonwealth as to the rest of the world.

So the aim is for the Heads to be free for in-depth engagement on a wider stage and the Foreign Ministers will prepare the scene for it building Commonwealth consensus around pressing contemporary global concerns.

The phrase which I have used earlier which captures the visions of the Commonwealth as a great global good and the Foreign Ministers have a special part to play in working for this common good among the member nations. 

The two reports that have been alluded to, one as it were is from the inside which is the Commonwealth Minister Action Group, and the other one from the outside of the Eminent Persons Group and the latter report is an extensive one and covers the entire scope of our work in the Commonwealth which is democracy, development and diversity because the aim of reform is to strengthen the culture of democracy and advance resilience and sustainable development and embrace and celebrate diversity.

Particular mention must be made of Commonwealth concerns for small and vulnerable States and this has been emphasised yesterday in a conference which was hosted and chaired by Foreign Minister Rudd, but looking forward there is also a need to see what value the Commonwealth can bring to the global discourse on these matters and the events that are coming forward immediately after the Commonwealth and the G20 summit in Cairns, and there's the COP17 in Durbin. 

There is the WTO Ministerial and the Rio+20 and there are UN resolutions that could benefit from the work which is done here and Foreign Ministers do much of the preparatory work which goes forward to the Heads and I look forward to being of assistance to Foreign Minister Rudd.

Thank you.

KEVIN RUDD: Thank you very much, Secretary General. Open to you for questions. Michelle?

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, do you think a consensus can be reached on the recommendations for the Eminent Persons Group? How much division is there at the moment and what are going to be the main sticking points?

KEVIN RUDD: On the question of the Eminent Persons Group - this is the first occasion on which Foreign Ministers will be deliberating formally on those recommendations. I would envisage therefore that we will have a substantial process going forward into the future concerning various of those recommendations but this will be very much a matter for the Foreign Ministers from across the world.

It will also be very much a matter for the Heads of Government. 

Remember, the process of reform and renewal in the Commonwealth has been going on for some time. 

The Eminent Persons Group represents an important part of that but it's important that their recommendations are properly deliberated upon in a time and in a manner which is to the satisfaction of participating States and therefore it's important that we take each of those recommendations on its merits and in a time frame which is acceptable.

In terms of sticking points I think we'd be in a better position to reflect upon those later in the week but I think member Governments are approaching this in a spirit of goodwill, a spirit of seeking to have practical outcomes but I believe we have to be very realistic about the timetable associated with those as well.

JOURNALIST: How much in danger is the Commonwealth of decay unless it addresses the [unclear] of Human Rights?

KEVIN RUDD: Well that question about the Commonwealth in decay has probably been put to every hosting foreign minister back to the days of the Empire Foreign Ministers Meeting back in the days prior to World War II. 

I would simply draw to your attention the fact that the Commonwealth continues and therefore if you ask member States what value added it delivers to them they will all have quite different answers.

For example, across the continent of Africa the Commonwealth continues to deliver valuable electoral assistance, democratic assistance as well as institution building relevant to the electoral process, political processes in those countries.

There are other Commonwealth development initiatives in the health sphere which directly benefit many, many people across the Commonwealth. So therefore it's important not to simply view the Commonwealth through a single lens but I do make this point, the fact that here in Perth we still have absent from our number Fiji, represents that this family of democracies has some fundamental rules when it comes to those who use extra-democratic means, namely a military coup, to seek to replace democratically elected Governments.

That is why Fiji is not with us and therefore I think it's important that you take a longer view about the value which the Commonwealth provides, both in developmental areas, both in democracy building and drawing an absolute line when it comes to military means of solving political problems such as we've seen in Fiji where you had a democratically elected Government overthrown.

KAMALESH SHARMA: I would just like to add, if I may, the Commonwealth has never been in danger of decay. It's been a very contemporary organisation throughout its history since its inception in 1949. The great historical transformation in Africa; the great debt question; multi-lateral and bi-lateral debt; the HIPC was an idea which came from the Commonwealth.

The vulnerability and resilience indexes which the World Bank uses now came from the Commonwealth. Many of the protocols on migration of skills which are used by UN organisations came from the Commonwealth as well.

I give you one fine example, last week the Mo Ibrahim Foundation released its latest assessment of the countries that are doing the best in good governance, cultural democracy and the rule of law. In the first eight countries seven are from the Commonwealth and in the last 10 countries there's not a single Commonwealth country. This cannot be by accident.

This is as a result of the sedimentation of the culture of democracy over time which Commonwealth members have been able to generate among themselves.

JOURNALIST: Mr Sharma, the Foreign Minister, Mr Rudd, has said that he would be realistic about the timetable when it comes to these human rights questions. What do you say to those who say that to have a permanent conversation about it is simply to delay real action on real human rights issues?

KAMALESH SHARMA: The recommendation that is now coming forward from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in fact is on the direction of disengagement. This was something willed by the heads themselves at the last CHOGM, please give us your recommendations.

They worked over it for 18 months and this is coming up to them so that you are able to lower the bar of engagement, as it were, with member States on serious or frequent violations of your principles.

KEVIN RUDD: Can we just take this one at a time? You. Yeah. 

JOURNALIST: Sorry. My question for you is, Michael Kirby who's part of the Eminent Persons Group last night said HIV and AIDS posed an existential threat to the Commonwealth itself. I'd like your reaction to that. 

But also he said that the Commonwealth CHOGM had become invisible to most Commonwealth citizens. When asked they can associate the Commonwealth with the Commonwealth Games but virtually nothing else. When it comes to values, you expose values but when transgressions happen the Commonwealth is silent.

KAMALESH SHARMA: We are ready to work much more in the area of HIV AIDS. 

In fact the EPG recommendations are very, very particular and very specific in that regard.  

We would like to work with other organisations as well so that there's no duplication; the Commonwealth adds value where it is due. 

As for the communication side of the Commonwealth, it is true that all institutions are challenged to make the work they do better known. I said the Commonwealth is a great global good but to convey it to others is a challenge before us which we hope to do. But there's so much which can be conveyed about the extraordinary global value which the Commonwealth has brought to the world and this can be done. 

This year we are releasing a booklet for the first time in the Perth CHOGM called making a difference. In that booklet, which you will all get during a future press conference you'll be able to see what this difference is. Starting from now we are going to try and make sure that the word about the Commonwealth gets out. But I must say that I don't always agree when people say that the Commonwealth is not very well understood because I get a lot of communication from Commonwealth citizens which in fact knows quite a lot about the Commonwealth. I have - on my website a question thing saying 'ask Sharma' and I get a lot of questions asked. The Commonwealth citizens in fact know the Commonwealth quite well but are very ambitious about it.

KEVIN RUDD: I now have a standard response to all future questions. Ask Sharma. 

But to answer your questions, as well, two points. It's very easy to extrapolate from, say, countries like Australia and their view of what the Commonwealth means to the peoples of the Caribbean, the peoples of the South Pacific and people of Africa. But they all have different perspectives on what the Commonwealth has meant for them. 

If you go to South Africa and ask what the role of the Commonwealth is they'll say fundamental in assuring the end of Apartheid. That's what the answer will be. If I was to go to countries like Malawi they would say very important what they do for election monitoring. If you go to other countries for example in the Caribbean they say the Commonwealth is an important voice for us in the global forums, for example in the UNFCCC on climate change. Each of the Commonwealth countries, small and large, have a different buy-in to what we are on about as an entire enterprise. 

The second point in terms of HIV AIDS. It is a simple fact that HIV AIDS represents a huge threat to a number of countries in the world including Commonwealth countries. That is why many Commonwealth countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia and others are such large scale contributors to the global fund and in terms of other communicable diseases through the global alliance on vaccines and immunisation. Australia for example, on the latter, is currently funding the vaccinations for seven million children around the world which ultimately we believe will contribute to the saving of literally hundreds of thousands and probably millions of lives. So therefore action is occurring whether it's visible or not to everybody and badgeable to everybody is a separate matter. 

JOURNALIST: One of the key recommendations from the EPG was for the appointment of a commissioner for democracy and rule of law and human rights. 

The Australian Prime Minister said yesterday that she urged the Commonwealth nations to adopt these key recommendations. Do you - this is for you, Mr Sharma, do you support the appointment of that commissioner which seems to be the main issue of contention in the lead-up to this meeting?

KAMALESH SHARMA: That recommendation refers to creating a mechanism whereby the Human Rights [unclear] and rule of law recommendations from the CMAG are coming forward. What would be the best way in order to ensure the processing of the rule of law evidence and the facts of the case which have to be looked at in a credible manner, it depends upon the Heads ultimately as to what they feel is something they would like to see on the ground.

KEVIN RUDD: Over here and then you.

JOURNALIST: Question to both of you; it was sort of asked but how important is it to have a human rights watch do you think and then also are you concerned about Sri Lanka's human rights record…

KEVIN RUDD: Well, on the question of Commonwealth values - you will see through multiple Commonwealth declarations over the years the importance which the institution places to those basic democratic values. Already we have a mechanism through the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group which makes recommendations concerning those which have departed fundamental democratic values as we've seen in the past and at present with countries like Fiji. So there are mechanisms at present which deal with this which are anchored in previous Commonwealth declarations on democracy and human rights and the executive agency of that which is the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, what the Secretary-General refers to as CMAG. 

On the particular question of Sri Lanka that you raise, the Australian national position when it comes to human rights problems in Sri Lanka is well documented. We simply say very clearly to our friends in Sri Lanka that it is of fundamental importance that the upcoming reconciliation commission report deal with the various questions which have now been raised in the UN report on allegations of human rights abuses within Sri Lanka and furthermore the Australian national position is that the human rights council needs to revisit its earlier deliberations on this matter. 

These are generally the position of many governments across the world and when it comes to the Commonwealth agenda itself the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers' Meeting, Heads of Government Meeting provide opportunities also to raise these matters. Any other questions?

KAMALESH SHARMA: Sorry, can I just…

KEVIN RUDD: Sorry, yeah.

KAMALESH SHARMA: I just wanted to add that respect for fundamental human rights is one of the core values of the Commonwealth and leaders have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment with respect to human rights most recently in the 2009 - which was the last CHOGM - affirmation of Commonwealth values and principles. 

We have offered our support to Sri Lanka in the past and remain available to assist if the Sri Lankan government so wishes. Sri Lanka is aware that the Commonwealth has considerable expertise in areas such as promoting reconciliation between communities, constitutional legal assistance, strengthening the capacity of national human rights organisations and advising on models of devolution in local government and indeed we are active in some of these areas.

KEVIN RUDD: There was a question here then back to you.

JOURNALIST: What powers could a human rights body have and is there a risk that it could be seen as toothless? What would it actually do and if I could also get Mr Rudd to comment on Malcolm Fraser's call for Sri Lanka to be - accept a deferral of hosting the next CHOGM for about two years?

KAMALESH SHARMA: The emphasis in the Commonwealth is always on engagement and whatever it is that additionally comes to the Commonwealth and the secretary and the member states in this respect will always emphasise the necessity of engaging member states in the various of the rule of law with priority perhaps on some of them so that if there's any deviation from the principles of the Commonwealth they can be corrected. That would be the spirit in which that's going to be done. In other words not so much censoriousness as engagement towards improving the record.

KEVIN RUDD: More broadly on the question of human rights let me just make this point. 

No Commonwealth country looks forward to the prospect of being suspended or expelled from the Commonwealth. If you were to go into the domestic debate within Fiji right now and ask whether this is a potent matter for them domestically, it is. 

Therefore there is a moral suasion associated with Commonwealth membership which goes back to its fundamental democratic principles. When those democratic principles are suspended by a military coup replacing a democratically elected government the Commonwealth has well-established procedures whereby such countries are removed from the Councils of the Commonwealth. It has, therefore an effect. 

The second part of your question dealt with reported comments of former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser. I think as I said before on the question of Sri Lanka, it is open to member states both at a foreign ministers level and at a heads of government level to raise matters concerning any country that they so choose. That's the first point. 

Secondly a decision on the hosting of subsequent CHOGMs was taken back in Port of Spain and not just for the next two years but for the subsequent two years as well where the subsequent CHOGM's planned to be held in Mauritius. Therefore it will be a matter for individual governments how they then view matters unfolding in Sri Lanka between now and when that next CHOGM is held. 

You will note statements already made by various prime ministers on this matter including the Canadian Prime Minister. It will be a matter for individual governments. 

But I think our friends in Sri Lanka are mindful that there are a range of views on this across the Commonwealth and as I said, the agenda makes it possible for individual governments to raise these matters both in the next two days but also when the heads of government meet as well. This gentleman here.

JOURNALIST: You talk about the threat of suspension and expulsion from the Commonwealth but isn't it time for the Commonwealth to have more tools in its kitbag to deal with human rights abuses and step in early before coups as part of - this is one of the recommendations in the EPG - so is it time for the Commonwealth to have more teeth to be able to tackle these issues?

KEVIN RUDD: Let me separate out a couple of different factors here.

One is the Eminent Persons Group report which as I said will for the first time be formally considered by foreign ministers and heads of government in the two or three days ahead.

There is also a separate body of work which is being undertaken through the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group itself, that is its own internal reform program and therefore the whole question of what might be described as pre-emptive diplomacy is alive in those discussions within CMAG and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group will be making its own recommendations to foreign ministers and heads of government on the way forward there. There is potency to the argument that there is a danger in the Commonwealth simply being reactive rather than proactive, that is once a military coup occurs then the one blunt instrument available to the Commonwealth is one of suspension or expulsion. 

On the pre-emptive diplomacy side there may be other means that we can deploy, other engagements which can occur if it is identified by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group that real difficulties are emerging which may point in that direction. 

However, how other foreign ministers respond to CMAG, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group's own recommendations for reform quite apart from the broader recommendations contained in the eminent persons document will be determined in the days ahead.

JOURNALIST: Is it Australia's [vision] to support Human Rights [unclear]?

KEVIN RUDD: You mean in terms of the Eminent Persons Group? Well, the recommendation is for a commissioner for democracy and human rights and…

KAMALESH SHARMA: And rule of law.

KEVIN RUDD: And the rule of law. The - that forms part of the overall fabric of recommendations within the Eminent Persons Group report would do with a whole range of other matters as well. 

Australia's position always, as you've reflected before in comments by the Prime Minister, is to enhance the ability for the Commonwealth to act proactively. The precise form and shape which that takes will be determined by others, that is the other foreign ministers when we meet and when those recommendations are taken forward to the Heads of Government. 

Australia's national position is one thing. What we, as chairmen of the Commonwealth and therefore the custodianship of the process for the next two years are capable of doing is another. Remember the Commonwealth governs itself on the basis of the principles of consensus.

JOURNALIST: [Unclear] Australia's actual position is based on your role as chair, is simply that you're interested in the broad issues of democracy, human rights and rule of law but not specifically attached to there being a high commissioner [unclear].

KEVIN RUDD: Well, the proposed position is for a commissioner for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. 

As the Prime Minister has indicated, Australia's position has always been in support of an enhanced engagement on democracy, human rights and the rule of law such as contained in that recommendation. Therefore that is very much reflective of our national position. 

What is therefore achievable both at this CHOGM and in the period going forward will depend very much on the consensus which is able to be reached among foreign ministers and among Heads of Government in the days ahead. 

John Kerin, then yourself if that's okay, yeah.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, do you expect a strong [unclear] in relation to the [unclear] a reliable statement [unclear]?

KEVIN RUDD: On the question of the communiqué deliberations on Doha I'd rather take advice on where that stands with the relevant officials and the inputs of foreign ministers and Heads of Government. 

You would have heard the statement overnight by the Prime Minister on these questions about what the best course of action is, going forward. The first part of your question, john, again, was…

JOURNALIST: Just on the euro crisis…

KEVIN RUDD: I think it would be unusual in the extreme for 50 or so heads of government gathered in Perth including the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and others not to be on the record on the importance of Europe dealing with the crisis which we are all too familiar with in this room. Sorry.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask a non-CHOGM question?

KEVIN RUDD: Any other CHOGM questions? CHOGM question then we'll go to the other end of the pack. 

JOURNALIST: Secretary-General, you said you expected this to be a landmark CHOGM. Can I ask why you expect to be that?

KAMALESH SHARMA: I think in all the three areas of democracy, development and diversity I expect the signposting and the direction setting will take place in Perth.  When people look back as to what the Commonwealth is doing now as 21st century organisation, people will see that this was indeed a landmark meeting and a turning point. From technology - where we are launching in Perth a huge infinite gateway and a portal for connecting all the points within the Commonwealth to the things which we've been talking about just now and in the place of - in the rule of law and what value the five members of the Commonwealth within the G20 can bring to the deliberations within the G20 of the concerns of the outside world. All of these, I think, will see a significant advance.

KEVIN RUDD: Any other questions on CHOGM? Yeah, sorry, up the front here.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask for your reaction to Tony Abbott's comments overnight that he would rescind any pokies legislation to end problem gambling?

KEVIN RUDD: There are responsible ministers who deal with these matters. I'd put those questions to them. I don't think that's relevant to my current portfolio responsibilities and because I've been focussing on this agenda, frankly I haven't seen the text of what Mr Abbott has said. Any other questions, yep.

JOURNALIST: Minister, did you personally intervene to the Indonesian President not to send the Bali teenager to Kerobokan Prison?

KEVIN RUDD: No, I did not personally intervene. I think it's fair to say, though, that the Australian Government has remained actively engaged with our Indonesian counterparts on this and a whole range of other consular issues that we have in Indonesia at present. This has been done through our Ambassador in Jakarta and our Consul General in Bali. These are highly professional individuals who engage their counterparts all the time and as I said yesterday we welcome the intervention of the Indonesian authorities concerning the appropriate accommodation of this young Australian while the legal processes continue in Bali in relation to his case. 

Now, there being no other questions I'm going to go and take a throat lozenge. Thank you very much.

ENDS

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