Transcript of doorstop: 11th Meeting of the Indian-Ocean Rim Association of Regional Cooperation Council of Ministers

Bengaluru, India

Transcript E&OE, proof only.

15 November 2011

KEVIN RUDD: First of all I am pleased to be here in Bangalore. I am pleased to be here for this important foreign ministerial council meeting of this association of Indian Ocean states. This is an important gathering. It brings together the foreign ministers of the Indian Ocean region to discuss matters of common concern and to resolve on common courses of action.

From Australia's perspective, we are an Indian Ocean country. We are a three-ocean country. We face the Pacific, we face the Southern Ocean, we face the Indian Ocean. If we look across the Indian Ocean, we see our great strategic partners, and economic partners. In South East Asia, in South Asia, the Gulf, as well as East Africa, and the particular challenges of the Indian Ocean island states - the challenges which they face in development, but also existential challenges relating to climate change.

Also, for Australia, we see in this ocean region common challenges to regional security. It is critical for Indian Ocean states to maintain freedom of navigation, and to deal with challenges to freedom of navigation, that includes the threat of pircacy. The facts on piracy are disturbing for us all. In the first nine months of this year alone we've had some 185 vessels attacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean region. We've had 27 of those vessels captured. We still have some 18 of those vessels which remain under the control of pirates. Individual ransoms are increasing all the time; now more than $5 million a person.

And of course this all has a huge impact on the cost of martime insurance and that cost then flows through to the consumers of the world as we deal with this threat. And so it is incumbent upon us as members of this regional community to frame common responses to the threat of piracy and any other threats to the freedom of navigation.

Beyond our common security challenges, this economy around the Indian Ocean has many strengths and we have an opportunity to deepen and broaden our economic engagement with each other. And that means in trade and investment, but also in development cooperation.

And finally, in this Indian Ocean region there is this challenge of the blue economy. Ensuring that the countries of the region take proper care of this great ocean, which our creator has given us all to share, and which therefore carries with it particular responsibilities. Harnessing its resources, but at the same time ensuring we're doing that in a sustainable fashion and that particularly applies to the fishery resources of the region and that is particularly irrelevant to the island countries.

Therefore these are the challenges, both security and economic, as well as environmental that we face here. Australia has just been elected as Vice-Chair of this association of Indian Ocean states. India has been elected the Chair. I look forward very much to working with India over the next two years, and then for the subsequent two years as Chair ourselves, to revitalise, to reform, and to provide a fresh strategic direction for this important regional institution. The challenges are great, but so too are the opportunities and we believe we can make real progress cooperatively for the future.

Finally, in our bilateral relations with India let me make this point. The Australian Prime Minister has in the last 24 hours written to the Indian Prime Minister indicating that a proposal would be considered at the National Conference of the Australian Labor Party that would allow, if passed, the sale of Australian uranium to India. This will be an important debate at the National Conference of the Australian Labor Party.

On one side of this argument there are many passions, of course, concerning non-proliferation. The other side of this argument of course there are deep concerns about the strategic importance of India, and how we further strengthen our relationship with India.

Let me put it in these terms. On this debate, in Australia we recognise the importance of the Australia-India relationship. As Prime Minister myself I oversaw the upgrading of our relationship to that of strategic partnership in 2009.

In Australia we're also conscious of the fact that India has an impeccable record in not proliferating nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons-related technologies to other countries. Also, in our country and in our political party there is a legitimate concern about the fundamental principles alive in the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Of course also in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Optional Protocol of the International Atomic Energy Agency. All important principles in the overall cause of arms control and disarmament, a cause which the Australian Labor Party has stood behind for the better part of half a century.

This therefore will be a major debate at the Australian Labor Party Conference to be held in Sydney next month. For my own part, of course, I support the position of the Prime Minister.

QUESTION: Minister, what has been the reaction of the Indian delegation to this statement overnight?

KEVIN RUDD: I spoke last evening with the Indian Foreign Minister about the Prime Minister's letter to Prime Minister Singh. The Indian Foreign Minister has indicated that the Government of India welcomes this initiative by the Australian Prime Minister.

QUESTION: Sir, why the change of heart? Is this purely a business decision?

KEVIN RUDD: There are two relevant factors here as far as this proposal is concerned.

The first is that, on the question of nuclear non-proliferation, the international rules of the game changed when the United States initiated with India a set of arrangements to sell nuclear materials to India, notwithstanding India's long-standing opposition to signing and ratifying the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That occurred some years ago. And in many respects that is a change in the strategic and treaty environment in which we operate. That is one point.

The second is this. We the Australian Government, because we are deeply committed to the principles of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, have studied very carefully India's national record of not selling or transferring nuclear weapons technologies to third countries. India has an impeccable record on this question. I believe these are important considerations.

The third is this – that we value the strategic partnership with India, but I emphasise again this is a proposal to the National Conference of the Australian Labor Party. The delegates to the Australian Labor Party National Conference will ultimately make this decision. And that conference occurs next month.

QUESTION: How confident are you to overcome the criticisms within the party, which have already started?

KEVIN RUDD: The great thing about Australia and India is they are both robust democracies. I think the Government of India is used to being criticised on everything. The Government of Australia is used to be criticised on everything. That is the nature of our democracy. We have a free press, and we welcome public debate, and we engage those debates responsibly. I think that is an entirely appropriate way to go.

QUESTION: In the context of the under performance of the organisation in previous years, it very much looks like poor cousin of APEC. What are your views on the membership of the organisation? Australia and India are pushing again to have a bigger role, but there are clearly big parties outside.

KEVIN RUDD: On the future of this organisation of Indian Ocean states, this was back in the mid 1990s, an Australian diplomatic initiative. If you recall the history of APEC back in 1989, that was an Australian diplomatic initiative, supported of course by a range of other countries. In the last 15 years we've travelled some distance here in the Indian Ocean. I think it's fair to say we've travelled a further distance with the institutions of the Pacific through APEC. In the last week I've just travelled from the APEC meeting in Honolulu and I've come here to this Indian Ocean meeting here in Bangalore.

We should be optimistic. When APEC began 20 years, ago there was very little consensus across the economies of the Asia-Pacific about future directions of open trade, open investment, and the ingredients of long-term economic growth. Twenty years later that has radically changed. Look at the decisions taken in Honolulu about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A new trading arrangement, open trading arrangement which would affect many, many economies in the Pacific.

Here in the Indian Ocean we've started later but I believe the economic impetus is there for us to now do more. One of the reasons why both India and Australia have expressed interest in becoming Chair and Vice-Chair, over the next four years of this institution is to participate in a process of reform, revitalisation, and a new strategic direction.

What we want for the Indian Ocean is for this to remain a zone of peace and stability, of freedom of navigation. We want for this to be a zone of prosperity, whereby we share the fruits of open trade, open investment and strong development relationships, and also because this massive ocean resource, the Indian Ocean, is itself a subject of enormous environmental challenges to act together to preserve this commons that we have for the region and for the planet in a way which sustains livelihoods, but does it consistent with the principles of development. That's what we're on about here, that's what we intend to get on doing.

ENDS

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