Transcript of doorstop at CHOGM

14 November 2013

Subjects: Kevin Rudd resignation, CHOGM, Jamie Packer

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

14 November 2013

JULIE BISHOPThere are a number of colleagues in the Labor Party with whom I have a good rapport but I have a particular fondness for Kevin Rudd – not for his political views or his political platform but as a friend. We are both members of the political class of 1998 but we became close friends when we were both Commonwealth observers in Zimbabwe in 2002 and since then we've maintained a very close friendship as parliamentary colleagues. We both share a passion for foreign affairs and there were a number of times when we had some robust discussions about what Australia could or should do in the world as a middle power with global interests.

Kevin Rudd was a political enigma. He became one of our most popular prime ministers as a Mandarin-speaking, self-described nerd but his fall at the hands of his colleagues was unprecedented in its brutality. Kevin certainly had his own way of doing things, often unconventional. He certainly changed politics through his embrace of the 24 hour media cycle. I suspect he learned some very harsh lessons along the way. I will certainly miss him but I wish him all the very best for whatever he chooses to do post his parliamentary career.

QUESTION You did know him well, as you say. Did his move today take you by surprise?

JULIE BISHOP In some respects, yes, but I'm not surprised. I wasn't sure what Kevin would do. He was rather enigmatic about it. I questioned him yesterday when we were waiting to meet the Governor-General but he didn't give much away.

QUESTION Has he given you any advice since you've assumed the role of Foreign Minister?

JULIE BISHOP We have had a number of conversations since I became Foreign Minister and they've all been very productive and useful. I seek his advice on certain matters because of course he was not only prime minister but he was also foreign minister for a while and previously he'd been Opposition leader and Opposition spokesman for foreign affairs so he had a lot of advice to give and I was happy to receive it.

QUESTION What sort of advice?

JULIE BISHOP We talked generally about Australia's role in various matters. I mean there was a great deal of bipartisanship between the Coalition and Kevin Rudd when he was foreign minister particularly. And when he was foreign minister I would often meet with him to talk over particular issues. And we had a very good working relationship. There were many things we discussed behind the scenes and agreed with each other's approach that we didn't make public. And I think that our understanding of each other's position benefitted from that.

QUESTIONIt's long been thought that Kevin Rudd's seeking a broader role on the world stage. What do you expect him to do next?

JULIE BISHOPI haven't spoken to Kevin about that particularly but I'm sure that his talents could be utilised. As I've said previously I think that there are some Australian prime ministers who still have a lot to contribute and I believe that Kevin Rudd would be one of them but I haven't raised that specifically with him and he's not raised it with me.

QUESTIONIs there a role that you could see for him working with the current Government?

JULIE BISHOPI'm not sure what Kevin proposes to do. I haven't had that conversation with him and he may well have a job in mind.

QUESTIONJust on a slightly different subject, you spoke today to other foreign ministers here at CHOGM. What was the subject of that speech?

JULIE BISHOPI spoke about Australia's hosting of the G20 meeting in Brisbane next year. I encouraged our Commonwealth member nations to give me input as to what they hoped that the G20 would be able to achieve. I spoke about the importance of being a member of the Commonwealth. It's an extraordinary organisation. It doesn't have a geographic base. It's in fact an organisation that comes together because of its commitment to a set of values: democracy and diversity, and understanding, and tolerance and collaboration.

QUESTIONMinister, you talk about democracy, but there are a lot of allegations about human rights abuses and war crimes and all sorts of repression of political opponents here in Sri Lanka. Will you be raising any of these issues with the Sri Lankans during your time at CHOGM?

JULIE BISHOPI have visited Sri Lanka previously. I have travelled to the former Tamil Tiger territory in the north. I have met with members of the TNA, the Tamil parliamentary party. I have made my own observations about what's happening here. And there was a very bloody civil war in this country for three decades. It finished in 2009 and the LTTE, a proscribed terrorist organisation, was crushed. And of course the Sri Lankan Government must answer for what happened at the end of the civil war but I point out that much progress has been made. And you just have to travel to the north to see the massive investment in infrastructure, in schools, in hospitals, in communications, in road infrastructure, to understand that the Sri Lankan Government has recognised that it needs to invest in the Tamil north areas in order to achieve the reconciliation that the country so desperately wants. There are other nations here who are still going through a very painful process of reconciliation – South Africa, for example, is still going through the reconciliation process. It's been four years since the end of the civil war, and I think that Sri Lanka is working very hard to become a global citizen committed to the values that the Commonwealth upholds.

QUESTIONBut we're still seeing journalists being intimidated. We're still seeing people saying that they've got family members who've been abducted. We're seeing political parties saying they're being harassed. There seems to be a lot of evidence, if we are to believe that, that there is not a full level of democracy here in this country.

JULIE BISHOPThere were elections held just recently in the northern provinces where the Tamils achieved a massive majority and I think that's a very good sign that democracy is underway in this country. As for the allegations, I know that the Government has set up a number of inquiries, including an inquiry into the disappearances. And these allegations should be investigated and I'll certainly be speaking to the Foreign Minister about them when I have a one-on-one meeting with him. Australia is aware that there are concerns being expressed. We raised these allegations with the Sri Lankan Government. But our point of being here for the CHOGM meeting is to engage with Sri Lanka on these issues. We don't believe it serves any purpose to isolate Sri Lanka. We should work with them to ensure that there can be the reconciliation that all of the people of Sri Lanka so desperately are seeking.

QUESTIONHow will you raise these issues here at CHOGM? With whom will you be raising them?

JULIE BISHOPThe Foreign Minister, Professor Peiris. And I've had a number of conversations with him in the past. This will be probably my fifth or sixth meeting with him. And we always have a good discussion that covers a range of areas. And I raise concerns with him and he's very forthright in his responses. And other members of the Commonwealth are here also to raise issues, raise concerns. But the fact is it's only four years since the end of the civil war and already Sri Lanka's been able to host this Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. And I hope that our engagement with Sri Lanka will see better outcomes and that's what we're wishing for.

QUESTIONOne more issue. (recording broken but question related to James Packer and the proposed Sri Lankan casino)

JULIE BISHOP… it's not something the Australian Government has anything to do with. It's a matter between Mr Packer and the Sri Lankan Government.

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