Stott Despoja, Former Democrats Leader, Appointed Ambassador For Women And Girls

The Abbott government has appointed the former leader of the Australian Democrats, Natasha Stott Despoja, as the next Ambassador for Women and Girls.

Stott Despoja

In announcing the appointment, the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, said “gender empowerment is a priority for the Australian Government’s overseas development program”. She said it was the government’s wish “to be at the forefront of efforts to promote the empowerment of women and girls, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region”. [Read more…]


Tony Abbott’s Weary Dunlop Speech To AsiaLink

The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has given a wide-ranging speech about Australia’s relationship with Asia.

Abbott delivered the Weary Dunlop lecture to AsiaLink in Melbourne.

Abbott

He reiterated his earlier remarks that his approach to foreign policy would have a “Jakarta not Geneva” focus.

In the speech, Abbott discussed Australia’s relationship with Indonesia, India and China. He touched on foreign aid, international students and the study of Asian languages in Australian schools.

Abbott said Australia’s policy was not to take sides in territorial disputes in Asia.

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Transcript of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Weary Dunlop lecture to AsiaLink.

It is an honour to deliver this Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop Asia Link Lecture. “Weary”, apparently was an ironic nickname. People called him “Weary” because he never was.

There is nothing ironic, though, in naming the Asialink lecture after “Weary” Dunlop.

As a prisoner on the Burma Railway, he could hardly have had a worse introduction to Asia. Yet, as a medical specialist, he returned repeatedly to Asia to help train surgeons under the post-war Colombo Plan.

Weary Dunlop was a surgeon, prisoner of war, philanthropist and Victoria’s first ever rugby union international. He could inspire hope when all seemed lost and he could forgive those who had been his implacable enemies.

Instead of disappearing into the prosperity of comfortable, post-war Australia, he reached back into Asia. On trip after trip, he helped to hone the skills of his medical colleagues across our region and helped to forge some of the connections that have transformed the way we see our neighbours and the way they see us.

Weary Dunlop wasn’t the only Australian of the war time generation to transcend magnificently any bitterness towards the Japanese.

My former constituent and local Liberal Party branch president, the late Captain Norman White, another POW, was the much loved convenor of a monthly Japanese business lunch in Sydney.

The suggestion that Australians of that era regarded Asia as a place to fly over (or to sail past) on the way to England is just dead wrong.

Our society has not been entirely free of misunderstanding, prejudice, and perhaps even racism in its darker corners. It’s also marked by curiosity about the wider world, impatience with received truth, and a willingness to give almost anything and anyone the benefit of the doubt. The easy going disposition of most Australians plus the beginning of backpacker tourism in the 1950s and the rise of the global village has made Asia an exhilarating place for us to visit and to make friends more than somewhere exotic and sometimes strange.

The parties I lead have long been more alive to Asia’s opportunities than its challenges. It was, after all, Sir Robert Menzies who first called the “far east” the “near north”.

It was Sir Percy Spender who established the Colombo Plan which educated the leaders of our region here in Australia – perhaps our greatest ever exercise in soft power.

It was Menzies and Sir John McEwen who negotiated the 1957 trade treaty with Japan.

Japan’s then-prime minister Kishi, the grandfather of today’s prime minister Abe, observed that the trade treaty and the Colombo Plan were proof of Australia’s “awakened Asia-mindedness”.

It was Harold Holt who ended the White Australia policy.

It was Malcolm Fraser who began large scale Asian immigration.

And it was John Howard who signed the deals which led to China becoming our largest trading partner.

As John Howard observed in his 1997 Weary Dunlop Lecture, “history that is written with a chip on the shoulder tends to be very poorly balanced”.

Like Prime Minister Howard, I acknowledge the achievements of all previous governments, not just Liberal ones.

Australia’s deepening relationship with Asia started with Menzies and has continued without substantial interruption ever since.

Under my leadership, the Coalition has emphasised the need for our foreign policy to have a “Jakarta not Geneva” focus.

At some level, Australia is engaged wherever there is a citizen to protect, a value to uphold, or an interest to advance. Australia does have global interests, so developments in America, Europe and the Middle East often concern us.

That said, we need to focus our efforts where we can make the most difference.

For some years now, the centre of world economic power has been shifting decisively and dramatically to Asia and to our part of the world.

Today, seven of Australia’s top ten trading partners are in Asia. Together, they account for just over 50 per cent of our trade.

On current trends, China is on track to become the world’s largest economy within a couple of decades.

There is much to welcome in this. As with Japan, Australia has played a part in the rise of China. Our iron ore furnishes much of the steel that’s building its cities; our coal and gas powers much of its booming industry; and our universities and colleges have opened their doors to many of its people.

Yes, our friendship with China is more recent than that with Japan and less developed than that with the United States. Nevertheless, it is more and more important to us.

Our relationship with China has come further in the past 40 years than that with any other country: from a country with which we did not even have diplomatic relations to our biggest trading partner and largest source of immigrants.

China’s rising economic power has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Indeed, the emergence of the Chinese middle class in little more than a generation may qualify as the most remarkable transformation in human history.

Inevitably, economic success means more integration with other countries as well as more competition with them.

We accept the modernisation of China’s armed forces because that is what all countries want for their military. Of course, the more successful the country is, the more capacity it has to throw its weight around; but it also has less reason to do so and more to lose from the attempt. Growing power is accompanied by increased responsibility.

In Australia’s experience so far, a stronger and more confident China has been a better friend and there is no reason why this shouldn’t be the experience of other countries too. We already have a strong relationship with China based on shared interests and I would hope that, over time, it might be based more on shared values.

The rise of China, of course, is just one part of the more general rise of Asia.

Within 50 years, another Asian giant – India – is likely to be among the three largest economies in the world.

With India, Australia has democracy, the rule of law and the English language in common – not to mention cricket! India is also a source of our migrants to rival China and the United Kingdom.

Partly because of India’s long preoccupation with the non-aligned movement and statist economics; and partly because of Australia’s historical amnesia and fascination with China, this relationship has been neglected.

There was the Rudd-Gillard Government’s off-again/on-again attitude to uranium sales on our side; and on theirs, the fact that no Indian Prime Minister has visited – even for a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – since Rajiv Gandhi.

Still, no one should underestimate India now; nor its potential to be a global superpower in this century.

Although Japan has hardly grown economically in the past three decades, it remains the world’s third largest economy, a mature liberal democracy, Australia’s second largest trading partner, and an important military ally.

Japan is understandably anxious about China’s ambitions in the China Sea. Australia, for its part, takes no sides in territorial disputes but insists that they be addressed peacefully and in accordance with international law. Whatever the historical rights and wrongs, no one’s current best interests would be advanced by threats of force, let alone use of it.

Then there’s Indonesia, Australia’s nearest large neighbour, a country whose size, proximity and potential makes it our most important overall relationship.

Although one hundred million Indonesians still earn less than $2 a day, its GDP already matches ours (at least in purchasing power terms) and, most likely, will be several times ours in a few decades.

With India, Indonesia is the emerging, democratic superpower of Asia.

Being Indonesia’s “trusted partner” is easier said than done, given the media’s tendency to play to stereotypes and past disagreements over East Timor.

Still, there is already a very wide range of military and academic interaction plus the affinity born from hundreds of thousands of Australian tourists in Indonesia each year and tens of thousands of Indonesian students here in Australia.

Over time, I hope to see more Australian students in Indonesia and more Indonesian tourists in Australia as Indonesia’s economy grows and our mutual understanding expands.

In the meantime, the new government is working on structures that can absorb the passions unleashed when Australia could be made to seem oblivious to Indonesia’s good will or when Indonesia could seem hard on an Australian citizen.

Challenged over whether he was pro-Asia or pro-America, John Howard famously observed that Australia did not have to choose between its history and its geography – particularly as America remains deeply engaged in the Asia-Pacific region.

Almost uniquely for a great power, America has used its strength not to weaken others but to strengthen them. That’s why a strong America is good for Australia and for our friends and neighbours in the region.

More or less openly, almost every Asian country wants to retain a strong American presence. Even China understands how much it has benefited from the global stability and economic freedom that US power has largely brought about. Any significant decline in the United States’ influence and interest in our region would be significantly destabilising and therefore bad for everyone.

The growing economic strength in our region gives Australia more opportunities but, if not matched by commensurate strengthening of our own economy, it also makes us more vulnerable.

A stronger economy is the foundation of successful foreign policy as well as of successful domestic policy. Cutting taxes and reducing red tape to boost productivity is ultimately as relevant to our international standing as it is to our domestic prosperity. The Coalition’s economic reforms are not at odds with any aspect of our foreign policy but are necessary to make all our policies work to their best.

Redirecting flagged future increases in spending from foreign aid to domestic infrastructure should actually boost our influence in the region when it helps to bring about the stronger economy on which our international standing rests.

After all, Australia’s international clout does not rest on the size of our aid budget but on the size of our economy and the weight it gives us in the wider world.

Regardless of the relative size of the aid budget, during disasters and emergencies Australia will always be there to lend a helping hand.

John Howard’s swift gift of $1 billion to help Indonesia recover from the Indian Ocean tsunami was an important element in the growing rapport between our countries.

Indonesia is Australia’s largest recipient of foreign aid. At some point, Indonesia’s overall economic strength will make further Australian aid unnecessary – as has already become the case with China and India.

As far as possible, Australian aid should be designed to enable other countries to stand on their own two feet as quickly as possible. It is good that Australian citizens contribute to a range of charities dedicated to improving the individual lives of poor families in poor countries. The Australian Government’s aid,
however, should be directed towards improving other countries’ governance and strengthening their economies.

Reducing the rate of increase in the aid budget over the next few years will enable the new government to ensure that our aid really is best targeted and most effective.

Aid must mean doing good for donees rather than merely feeling good for donors. The government retains the Millennium Development Goal aspiration of spending 0.5 per cent of gross national income on aid but is concerned that it not reinforce stereotypes of a rich first-world and a poor third-world that are already rapidly being overtaken by events.

In any event, trade rather than aid is the best way to sustainably boost poor countries’ prosperity – as the extraordinary success of Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and more recently, China and India demonstrate.

The more quickly countries can integrate with global markets, the better for their citizens.

Australia generally allows the products of our Pacific island neighbours freely to enter our markets. We support freer trade on a multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral basis.

We already have free trade agreements with New Zealand, the United States, Singapore, Thailand, Chile and Malaysia, and are working on them with Japan, China, India and Indonesia. Then there’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiation that’s making good progress.

Tonight, I can confirm that a free trade deal has been negotiated with South Korea, subject to detailed consideration by the Cabinet and by the Parliament.

This is a significant breakthrough towards a deal that started in 2009 but has been stalled for eighteen months. Better access to Korea for Australian agricultural produce will help Australian farmers and Korean consumers; while better access to Australia for Korean manufactured products will help Korean workers and Australian consumers.

In this way, the desire for a better life can drive the kind of interactions which ultimately change human hearts and build a better world as well as a richer one.

The universal dream of a more peaceful, harmonious world will only be achieved if people everywhere are more aware that what unites us all is more important than anything that divides us. It means encouraging people to put themselves in others’ shoes so that everyone is more drawn to the golden rule of ethics: to treat others as you would yourself be treated.

In our own region, this means more Australians who can speak Asian languages, catch cultural meanings and navigate local networks.

It means starting with children at school. The decline in the study of foreign languages is a worrying erosion of Australia’s broader international literacy.

In 1960, for instance, 40 per cent of year 12 students studied a second language compared to just 12 per cent today. Asian language take-up has been steadily declining over the past decade such that barely 1000 year 12 students across our country are enrolled to study Indonesian.

The new Government will work with the states to reverse this trend.

Last year in Bali, I was part of a high-level meeting between Indonesia and Australia. Of the seven people in the room, six had been educated in Australian universities.

Over the past couple of decades, Australian universities have built a $15 billion a year export industry around fee-paying students. The number of Asian students in Australian educational institutions has grown from 170,000 a decade ago to 320,000 now. Of the two and a half million international students in Australia over the past decade, 1.9 million have been from Asia.

It is a largely market-based version of the old Colombo Plan.

The new government wants international education to be a two way street. Our New Colombo Plan will be different and better than the original, adding an outward bound component to the original inward one. Yes, our region has much to learn from us, but we also have much to learn from our region.

So, under the New Colombo Plan, thousands of Australian undergraduates will study at the universities of Asia and the Pacific, complementing the thousands who come to Australia to study each year. We will return the compliment that the region has paid to us by learning as much in their countries as they have learnt in ours.

Over time, a period of study in the Asia Pacific should become a “rite of passage” for Australian undergraduates.

Over the next five years, the Government will invest $100 million in the New Colombo Plan. A pilot scheme involving Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan and Singapore will operate in the coming academic year with a full roll-out in 2015.

Another important element of the New Colombo Plan will be an internship programme involving the business community.

It’s all part of restoring our focus and reinforcing our mindset to reflect our geographic reality and our economic future by deepening our links with our neighbours.

This is hardly news to the supporters of Asialink. You have worked for many years to deepen relationship with our region.

I thank you and congratulate for all you have done; and hope that the work of the new government might complement yours.

This is always the challenge: to keep faith with the best values of our forebears, and to build on them to face the challenges of today and tomorrow. Weary Dunlop was a great teacher for his time and an inspiration for ours and would, I’m sure, be pleased with what we have in mind.


Bishop Says AusAID Abolition Heralds Alignment Of Foreign, Trade And Development Policies

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, says the integration of AusAID with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade marks “a significant milestone for Australia’s international engagement.

BishopUnder the Abbott government’s new administrative arrangements, AusAID is abolished as of today and responsibility for foreign aid returns to the department.

AusAID was established in 1974 by the Whitlam government as the Australian Development Assistance Agency. It underwent a number of name changes until the Keating government settled on AusAID in 1995.

In a statement today, Bishop said: “DFAT is now responsible for development policy and the delivery of Australia’s aid program. The outcome of this major change will be the alignment of Australia’s foreign, trade and development policies and programs in a coherent, effective and efficient way.”

Statement from Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

A new era in diplomacy

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the integration of AusAID with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on 1 November marked a significant milestone for Australia’s international engagement. [Read more…]


East Timor Troop Numbers To Be Cut

Australia is to reduce the number of troops in East Timor to 650 by early 2009. The announcement was made today by the Minister for Defence, Joel Fitzgibbon. [Read more…]


Rudd Sends More Peacekeepers To East Timor

More Australian peacekeeping personnel will be sent to East Timor, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced today.

The decision follows the assassination attempt on the East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta.

Speaking at a press conference in Canberra, Rudd emphasised the significance of an attack on the democratic process in one of Australia’s near neighbours.

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Howard Statement On Tsunami Anniversary

It is one year since the Indian Ocean tsunami devastated areas of the sub-continent and South Asia.

Around a quarter of a million people lost their lives in one of the most deadly natural disasters of recent times.

This is the text of a media statement from the Prime Minister, John Howard.

FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF THE INDIAN OCEAN TSUNAMI

I invite all Australians to join me today in marking the first anniversary of the terrible events of Boxing Day last year, when the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami caused loss of life and property on an almost unimaginable scale. [Read more…]


Australia To Provide $100m For APEC Bird Flu Measures

Australia is to provide $100 million for initiatives to combat the threat of pandemics, including avian influenza.

The announcement of the aid came from the Prime Minister, John Howard, at the Australia Pacific Economic Co-Operation forum (APEC) in Busan, South Korea.

Text of a media release from the Prime Minister, John Howard.

APEC 2005: AVIAN AND PANDEMIC INFLUENZA

I am pleased to announce Australian support for initiatives to combat avian and pandemic influenza and to further liberalise trade and investment.

Australia has played a leading role in developing a coordinated regional response to avian and pandemic influenza. In recognition of the threat, APEC leaders have made an unequivocal commitment to transparency and regional cooperation to prepare for a possible influenza pandemic.

Australia will provide $100 million over four years for initiatives to combat the threat of pandemics and other emerging infectious diseases within the region. [Read more…]


Tsunami: John Howard Address to the Nation

Australia is playing a leading role in the one of the biggest humanitarian operations since World War II, according to the Prime Minister, John Howard, in his Address to the Nation tonight.

Howard’s address was broadcast at 7.30pm. In it he said “Australia, in its distinctive practical way, will remain in the forefront of helping those who have lost and suffered so much.” The emphasis on “practical” assistance is in keeping with Howard’s approach to issues such as Aboriginal affairs, preferring to downplay ideology whilst emphasising practical issues.

Howard said: “This catastrophe has brought the world closer together in a spirit of common humanity. It has been a brutal reminder of the force of nature but also of the inspiring capacity of mankind to ease the suffering of others in their hour of need.”

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This is the transcript of the Address to the Nation by the Prime Minister, John Howard.

Good evening.

Tonight I want to report to you about Australia’s response to the Asian tsunami disaster which has decimated the lives of so many people across the nations of our region.

More than 150,000 people have been killed, while millions more are injured or homeless. Whole communities have been washed away. And we are in a race against time to prevent further deaths from water-borne diseases such as cholera.

This has been one of the greatest natural disasters in modern history. At this stage the final number of Australians who, tragically, have been killed or injured remains unclear. We are working as fast as possible with the identification of victims and to ascertain the whereabouts of those Australians originally reported as missing.

I know that the thoughts and prayers of you all are with those who have lost loved ones or endure the terrible agony of waiting for further news.

The response of the world community – and not least Australia – to this heartbreaking tragedy has been swift and generous.

Along with other governments, international agencies and non-government bodies, Australians are now playing a leading role in one of the biggest humanitarian aid operations since World War II.

I express the thanks of the nation to the many Australians working night and day to provide relief to victims. I especially thank the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, officers of the Australian Federal Police and their State colleagues, medical workers, staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and many other Australian Government departments and agencies who have come together in a great national effort.

This crisis has seen the Australian Public Service working at its dedicated and professional best.

Thanks also are due to the large number of Australians working for non-government relief organisations, often as volunteers.

The Government’s initial response was to provide emergency aid of $60 million and to send medical relief teams and defence personnel into badly affected areas, particularly Indonesia but also the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

A tragedy of this magnitude, however, requires a long-term commitment of resources if shattered communities are to be rebuilt and survivors provided with some hope for the future.

The loss of life and destruction in Indonesia, our nearest neighbour, has been truly staggering. At least 110,000 people have lost their lives in Aceh alone.

The recovery challenge facing this developing country is immense.

The Government has therefore decided to commit $1 billion over five years in both grants and highly-concessional loans to assist the Government and people of Indonesia in the mammoth task of recovery and rebuilding.

This will be the largest individual aid package in Australia’s history.

Under a plan to be called the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development, this $1 billion amount will go directly to areas of need through programs that must be approved by the Australian Government, in conjunction with the Government of Indonesia.

This process will ensure that resources go where they are most needed.

As well as being the right response to an immediate humanitarian crisis, this Partnership is an historic step in Australian-Indonesian relations.

Australians were the first foreigners on the ground in Indonesia after the disaster – a fact gratefully acknowledged by President Yudhoyono during our recent meeting in Jakarta. We will stay as long as we are needed.

Our nation will continue to help other affected countries. For example, Australian police officers are playing a leading role in identifying victims in Thailand and arrangements are in hand to send school teachers to the Maldives and scientific experts to help in repairing the damage to that country’s coral reef system.

The spontaneous outpouring of generosity from individual Australians in the last two weeks should be a source of pride to us all. Well in excess of $100 million has been pledged by individuals and companies in a great expression of the decency and good heart of the people of our nation.

The events of last Boxing Day and their aftermath have brought tragic loss and grief to many Australians. We have all been touched in different ways. Next Sunday, the 16th of January, will be a national day of mourning and reflection for the victims of the tsunami. I ask all Australians to mark this occasion in the way they think fit.

This catastrophe has brought the world closer together in a spirit of common humanity. It has been a brutal reminder of the force of nature but also of the inspiring capacity of mankind to ease the suffering of others in their hour of need.

Australia, in its distinctive practical way, will remain in the forefront of helping those who have lost and suffered so much.

Good night.


HMAS Kanimbla Sets Sail For Banda Aceh

The Defence Minister, Senator Robert Hill, has met with the Australian Defence Force contingent who will sail on board HMAS Kanimbla, taking relief aid to the Banda Aceh region of Sumatra, in Indonesia.

The crew of the Kanimbla will take the number of Australian Defence Force personnel to over 860 in the Indonesian region.

This is the text of a media release from the Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Hill.

DEFENCE MINISTER VISITS HMAS KANIMBLA IN DARWIN

HMAS KanimblaDefence Minister Robert Hill today met with men and women from the Australian Defence Force contingent who will set sail on board HMAS Kanimbla this evening, taking much needed relief aid for the people of Sumatra in Indonesia.

Senator Hill said the number of Australian Defence Force personnel now in the Indonesian region had grown to over 460, and this number will increase by another 400 once the Kanimbla arrives at Banda Aceh.

“The Government is continually reviewing the ADF contribution to make sure it provides the most appropriate level of assistance to the people of Sumatra,” Senator Hill said.

“ADF operations staff continue to meet with their Indonesian, Singaporean and United States counterparts to make sure that military relief efforts are fully coordinated and delivered to where the needs are greatest”.

“ADF personnel are doing an outstanding job in delivering much-needed humanitarian assistance”.

“The arrival of the Kanimbla with her crew of 250 sailors and an engineer detachment of 150 soldiers with heavy plant equipment will further strengthen our relief efforts”.

“We already have Army engineers in Banda Aceh examining the area, identifying and prioritising the reconstruction requirements. The ADF engineering effort is likely to focus on repairing port facilities, clearing debris, and constructing camps and accommodation for displaced people.”

Along with much needed relief aid, HMAS Kanimbla will carry the following personnel and assets:

  • 250 Sailors;
  • Two Sea King helicopters;
  • Two landing craft (LCM8’s) capable of carrying 54 tons of cargo each and delivering supplies directly ashore without the use of wharf facilities;
  • an engineer detachment of 150 personnel;
  • Ten 4WD Unimog Trucks;
  • Six Mack trucks;
  • Four bulldozers;
  • Three front end loaders;
  • Twelve Land Rovers; and
  • Various other construction supplies.

Facts About HMAS Kanimbla

HMAS Kanimbla ships badgeThe HMAS Kanimbla was originally built for the United States Navy and acquired by the Royal Australian Navy in 1994. The ship has undergone extensive modifications for its new role as helicopter capable amphibious transport.

Its primary roles are to transport, lodge ashore and support an Army contingent of 450 troops, their vehicles and equipment. Kanimbla is fitted with helicopter hangers capable of supporting up to four Army Blackhawk or three of the larger Navy Seaking helicopters. Two helicopters can operate simultaneously from the aft flight deck, while a third can operate from the flight deck located forward of the bridge.

Two Army LCM8 landing craft can also be carried on the forward flight deck to provide ship to shore transport. They are lifted on and off by a 70 tonned crane. Accessed through a stern door, 810 square metres of storage space is available on the vehicle deck for Army vehicles and other large items of equipment.

For Army and Navy exercises the ship has additional operations and planning rooms that provide for both an Amphibious Group Commander and a Landing Force Commander. A comprehensive and modern array of communications equipment is fitted to support these joint operations.

Kanimbla is fitted with the largest and most comprehensive medical facilities in the fleet.

Source: Royal Australian Navy


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.