No Role For United Nations: Howard

John Howard, Prime MinisterIt is not the role of the United Nations to oversee aid process in Southern Asia in the aftermath of the Tsunami, according to the Prime Minister, John Howard.

Speaking at a press conference after the ASEAN leaders’ meeting in Jakarta, Howard said: “The UN for example won’t be overseeing the implementation of the partnership between Australia and Indonesia and that’s not meant disrespectfully of the UN. But it’s just not practical.”

Howard said his mantra “is what works and what works is Australia offers $1 billion over five years to Indonesia, we have a joint commission, we jointly approve the projects, we have people working within the Indonesian agency, the two governments work together, you don’t need that to be overseen by the UN, the UN’s aware of it and the UN will obviously take it into account in relation to the programmes that it puts in place. But it’s just unnecessarily bureaucratising the situation and also frankly unacceptably passing control of the Australian taxpayers’ money into the hands of others for us to deal with that on a bilateral basis.”

This is the transcript of the press conference given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at the Mulia Hotel, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Well ladies and gentlemen, the special meeting convened by the President of Indonesia has finished, it’s been an extremely successful meeting, called in very tragic circumstances, it had three main beneficial outcomes.

It’s confirmed and facilitated the need for co-operation amongst all of those countries and agencies that are contributing to the relief effort. I’m sure that it has both accelerated and lead to an increase in pledges and commitments made by countries and organisations. It has formally laid the groundwork for the establishment of an Indian Ocean tidal wave warning system which is obviously needed in the wake of this terrible disaster.

For me personally not only has it been an opportunity of course to finalise and announce on behalf of Australia the largest ever aid package, the $1 billion commitment we are making to the reconstruction of those parts of Indonesia and generally for Indonesia over the next five years a partnership of historic proportions in the relationship between Australia and Indonesia and as always at conferences such as this it’s been an opportunity to further confirm and renew bilateral links with leaders on a smaller level, but nonetheless of immense importance to the country concerned.

I’ve been able to confirm that Australia will provide between 10 and 15 school teachers to the Maldives to assist with the recommencement of the school year in that tiny country that has been so badly affected.

I’ve also responded positively to a request from the Prime Minister of the Maldives for assistance in relation to the ecological challenges that are now faced in relation to the reefs that surround that country and because of Australia’s experience and expertise through CSIRO and other organisations, which would be obvious to all of you, we’ll be able to provide assistance to that country.

I mention that as an illustration of the smaller yet nonetheless very important ways in which a country such as Australia can help and it’s only by actually being here and having a personal discussion with the prime minister of one of the smaller countries affected that we find out that we are able to help in these intensely practical ways.

And it’s been my mantra from the very beginning that Australia is in the business of helping in a practical way and to send volunteer school teachers to be able to help in the restoration of the reef, which is so important to that tiny country which depends so very heavily on tourism, that’s one side of it, the other side of it of course is the huge assistance package we’ve provided to Indonesia and it was also of course an opportunity for me to talk informally to the Prime Minister of Japan, the Prime Minister or Premier of China, the Prime Minister of Korea, the American Secretary of State and all the other leaders that were present, the British Foreign Secretary who I know well and the President of the Philippines.

It has taken a very tragic event to bring all of this about of course, we all would have hoped if we could turn the clock back it wouldn’t have been necessary, but the world has come together in a remarkably compassionate and effective way and we should all be very proud of the contribution that different people and different countries have made, not least of course the contribution that’s been made by Australia which has been widely applauded and respected as it should be because it does represent an extremely generous contribution from a country that has been blessed by providence and good fortune over the years and we’re in a position to help but it’s one thing to be in a position, it’s another thing to actually provide the assistance.

And could I just conclude my introduction by saying this, that I continue important though it is for Australia to help other countries, I continue as Prime Minister of Australia to have my principal thoughts for those Australians who are still going through the agony of not knowing whether their loved ones have died in this tragedy or not, in the human experience there is nothing worse than that and I would want those Australians to know that they are very much in my thoughts and in the thoughts of my wife and the members of my Government. Thank you. Any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, it’s one thing to pledge money, I’m not referring to Australia, it’s one thing to have pledged money but the other thing to go all the way, the UN Secretary General almost seemed to be saying show me the money.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that won’t be a problem with Australia. I think the world has been very generous and I have no doubt that, I mean obviously Australia will deliver every dollar of what it has promised and I believe that countries like the United States will, I mean I can’t believe that any countries will go back on their pledges. Can I just say that I think some of the criticism that has trickled out about the United States has been completely unreasonable, when it comes to the deployment of assets, of helicopters and men and materials to use an expression beloved of American English they’re second to none and I think it’s a pretty sorry thing that people use every occasion to have a swipe at them.

JOURNALIST:

Are you confident that the UN can oversee this process…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think it’s the role of the UN to oversee the whole process, I mean the UN for example won’t be overseeing the implementation of the partnership between Australia and Indonesia and that’s not meant disrespectfully of the UN. But it’s just not practical, my mantra Ian is what works and what works is Australia offers $1 billion over five years to Indonesia, we have a joint commission, we jointly approve the projects, we have people working within the Indonesian agency, the two governments work together, you don’t need that to be overseen by the UN, the UN’s aware of it and the UN will obviously take it into account in relation to the programmes that it puts in place. But it’s just unnecessarily bureaucratising the situation and also frankly unacceptably passing control of the Australian taxpayers’ money into the hands of others for us to deal with that on a bilateral basis.

JOURNALIST:

So would it be better if everybody was doing it on a bilateral basis rather then…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it varies a bit, it depends on the country, it depends on the situation, it depends on the need. In the case of Australia and Indonesia the way to do it is the way we have agreed to do it and I have don’t think it’s necessary to run that through anybody else and I think it works more effectively if we do it that way. But there will be other situations where UN involvement and UN agency involvement is the better way of doing it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you mentioned that you had talks with several of the leaders…

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Did you talk with Kofi Annan and what did you discuss?

PRIME MINISTER:

Did I talk to Kofi Annan? Yes, I sat next to him at lunch and we had a very pleasant chat and he was very impressed, so he told me, with the contribution that Australia was making, it was a perfectly amiable discussion.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have any plans to contribute, he was calling today for a…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think, we have made a very big contribution and you know judge our contribution according to its quality and its size, not according to the bureaucratic process employed to provide it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, in his speech to the summit meeting SBY made an interesting point, he said talking about the whole situation and the way that the countries have come together he said let’s not go back to business as usual, which I assume was a reference to petty differences or past differences between countries. Do you share that view?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I certainly do. I mean there is no doubt that this tragic experience has brought Australia and Indonesia closer together. That’s not to say we were a long way apart. But when you go through an experience like this and when Indonesia knows and benefits from the fact that Australia was the first country to actually provide help, that I was the first foreign leader to speak to him, that we have offered this extremely valuable and supportive package. The experience of that adds value to the relationships. I think what he was really saying was that a tragedy like this and the unity it brings forth puts our differences into perspective and I think that’s a lesson that all of us can learn, that’s a point that was made by a number of people but I thought he made it most eloquently.

JOURNALIST:

The UN’s saying they’d like to see upwards of $1 billion in the bank this week. Do you think that’s possible?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look, I don’t want to get into you know analysing every single thing that the UN or anybody else has said. I know what we are doing, and I know that what we are doing is as speedy and as prompt and is as practical and effective on the ground as any contribution of any country. I also know that we’ve committed ourselves to an unprecedented level of assistance to the country that is worst affected. So I’m not going to start sitting in judgement on others.

JOURNALIST:

In the short term though do you think the world is doing enough to get the money in now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I think the most important thing is to save lives and that is to get emergency relief into places like Aceh, that’s the most important thing at the moment, let’s not lose sight of it, let’s not get so obsessed with what I might call the aid politics of it to lose sight of that fact and no country has been quicker in providing that kind of assistance than Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, have you been given any information on the risks of disease, the second wave of disease (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think to some degree people are holding their breath about that but the early indications are that the medical help that’s been provided may have acted to prevent it but it’s probably a little too early to be completely confident about that.

JOURNALIST:

… some reports from Australia that Australia may considering taking some of the refugees that could be displaced…

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s not an issue that’s been raised. Look the most important thing that we can do for the affected countries is to rebuild the lives of people that have been shattered in the countries where they are. If you’re somebody who’s lost everything in Sri Lanka or Indonesia you want your country rebuilt and that’s the best thing that we can do.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, there were some concerns (inaudible) about Burma and exactly what the situation..

PRIME MINISTER:

About which?

JOURNALIST:

Burma.

PRIME MINISTER:

Burma?

JOURNALIST:

Yes, and exactly what the situation is there. Were you satisfied with their presentation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well a presentation was made by the Burmese Prime Minister and I have no grounds on which to dispute it, equally I have no independent verification of it. The difficulty with a country like Burma is that it is a rather closed society and it’s inevitable when things like this occur that people will ask questions. But I’m not in a position to say to you that what we were told was wrong, equally I have no capacity to independently verify it.

JOURNALIST:

It seems a very low figure, a death toll of 39, given the loss of its neighbours (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

That is not necessarily given the location of Burma, not necessarily wrong. I don’t know.

JOURNALIST:

Are you concerned of reports from Australia that Australian seismologists are perhaps (inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Where are you, I’m sorry there you are.

JOURNALIST:

There were reports last night that Australian seismologists did have information about the tsunami and mistook it for I think a land earthquake rather than an undersea earthquake. Are you concerned that Australian scientists may have got that wrong?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

Can you update us on the death toll from Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can’t really add anything to what has been previously released, the figures of what some 13 confirmed or is it 16 and then there are others missing. I have no additional information, no I don’t.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister a couple of days ago said that talks were being held with the Australian Navy about the possibility of sending more assets, is there any…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we haven’t taken any decision to send more assets, we could but we haven’t in the last couple of days.

Okay. Thank you.

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