JOURNALIST: The quest for a non-permanent seat was first launched by Kevin Rudd when he was Prime Minister and several years on he remains a very strong advocate. Kevin Rudd joins us now from Beijing and to speak with him political editor Alison Carabine in Canberra.
ALISON CARABINE, POLITICAL EDITOR: Kevin Rudd welcome back to RN breakfast.
KEVIN RUDD: Good Morning Alison.
ALISON CARABINE: Kevin Rudd it’s been a quarter of a century since Australia was a member of the UN Security Council. Why is it so imperative that we get a seat at the top table now?
KEVIN RUDD: It’s pretty important for us all to recognise Australia around the world is seen as middle power, as a middle power with regional interests and with global interests. Australia’s voice in the world is a respected voice and frankly a quarter of a century is just too long for Australia to be absent from the number one body in the world to deal with global security issues. The other point is this though, on the agenda of the UN Security Council in the two years in which we would be a member, if we win the ballot, are critical questions like the future UN mandate for Afghanistan where our troops have been for such a long period of time and where we have a great interest in the future arrangements of that country. All underpinned by Security Council resolutions of the United Nations. We need to be at that table.
ALISON CARABINE: That the UN Security Council is increasingly regarded as a toothless tiger, the most recent example of its impotence being its inaction over Syria, how much power and influence could a middle ranking power like Australia realistically exert over world affairs if we do become one of the non-permanent members?
KEVIN RUDD: Well I’d just dispute the proposition, remember Australia’s entire engagement for example in the independence of East Timor depended on a resolution of the United Nations Security Council, that was the basis upon which we did not end up in conflict with Indonesia because the United Nations international community spoke with a single legally authoritative voice. Similarly with Afghanistan that’s why we’re there because it is underpinned by a UN Security Council resolution and most recently the UN Security Council did reach agreement for the international intervention in Libya. You are absolutely right about Syria and nothing is ever easy in the UN Security Council. And Russia and China of course continue to oppose and threaten to veto any particular action by the Security Council to bring an end to the appalling oppression of the Syrian people by the Assad regime.
ALISON CARABINE: There is criticism that winning a seat could distort our international priorities. You wrote on the weekend that the core objective of the Asian hemisphere will be to avoid instability, conflict or war between China and the United States. Could Australia for example be forced to choose between our two most important allies and partners if indeed we do win this seat?
ALISON: You know I think people just need to take a long deep breath about all of this and just apply a bit of historical perspective. We’ve been an ally of the United States since 1941. We’ve had diplomatic relations and an increasingly close relationship with China since 1972. That’s for the last 40 years and you know we’ve always been smart enough in Australia to walk and chew gum at the same time. I find this whole notion of a choice between China and the United States increasingly ludicrous in the Australian domestic debate. We’ll do both, respect our alliance with the United States and develop a comprehensive relationship with China. That’s what Australia’s national interests and our values require.
ALISON CARABINE: Australia has served four times on the Security Council on each occasion there was bipartisan political support here at home but not this time. The opposition has branded this bid a waste of money. Do you think that that could cruel any chance we have of winning this seat?
KEVIN RUDD: I said when I launched our bid for the UN Security Council way back in 2008 that it would be difficult to win and that’s because all of these ballots in the United Nations for the Security Council are hotly contested. Remember last year the Canadians lost in their attempt at a non-permanent seat themselves and this therefore can never be taken for granted. Therefore having everyone united in Australia, as we have always been in the past for United Nations Security Council bids, is important. For me it’s disappointing again Mr Abbott has chosen to play domestic politics on a fundamental national interest question. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, it is further evidence of the fact that Mr Abbott has neither the policies nor the temperament to be the Prime Minister of Australia.
ALISON CARABINE: The Prime Minister says it will be a very close, tight contest. Will it be humiliating for the government if we lose to either of our main rivals, Finland or Luxembourg? Would that be a diplomatic disaster?
KEVIN RUDD: I said from day, people just have to look at the statement I made in New York in 2008 about this being tight and difficult. People will say, well Finland is a smaller country and Luxembourg is a tiny country but the truth is the way in which people vote around the world is shaped by many, many different factors. The Europeans for example tend to vote as one. Then of course you have a natural sympathy for small countries around the world by the forty of fifty micro-states around the world or small countries. It’s a very, very complex procedure. All we’ve got to do is to get in there and give it our best shot. We’ve been doing that since 2008.
You’ve got to be in it to win it. Mr Downer as you may recall was about to launch a bid for the UN Security Council in the past and then pulled back. Mr Downer though and I would thank him for this publicly, has gotten behind this bid by the Australian Government. It requires a united team Australia effort. He’s been part of it. Many members of the Australia Liberal Party have been part of it, who we’ve had working as special envoys around the world but there’s no guarantee of success. We’ve just got to get in there and try our best because we do have a voice to contribute to the important decisions made in world.
ALISON CARABINE: Has Julia Gillard given it her best shot? Did the Prime Minister harm Australia’s chances by not attending the African Union meeting in July, especially with 53 African votes in play?
KEVIN RUDD: Well I’m not familiar with the decisions surrounding the Prime Minister’s call not to attend the African Union, I’m sure that there were important considerations which she had to have in mind. Everyone vote is important and we’ve made a particularly strong effort of course with our friends in Africa. You might recall that one of the decisions that we took in recent years was to convene the commonwealth heads of government meeting in Perth last year. That brought together African heads of government from 20 African states who are also members of the Commonwealth and we of course take very seriously our relations there. But I keep going back to the point, Alison, there’s no such thing as an easy ride on these matters. It’s hotly contested. It always has been. It always will be but when were we as Australia of the mindset which said because it’s hard you don’t have a go. We’re having a go. We’re having a strong go and I think the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Bob Carr have been in there supporting it fully.
ALISON CARABINE: It is twenty minutes to eight on Radio National Breakfast. Our guest this morning is Kevin Rudd who is on the line from Beijing. Kevin Rudd thoughts are already turning towards next year’s election and the LNP has pre-selected the high-profile medico Bill Glasson to contest your seat of Griffith, you hold the seat by about 8.5%, but someone of his calibre wouldn’t be in it unless he thought he could win it. How seriously are you taking Dr Glasson as an opponent?
KEVIN RUDD: You know Alison, I’ve been in elected politics for quite a while now and I have never forgotten the fact that the first time I ran for the seat of Griffith I lost against the Liberal National Party. This has always been an electorate where you take your Liberal National Party opponent seriously. And from way back then with a gap of 2.5% which I had to win back in 1998, through to where the seat lies today, each of those elections has been hard fought, this next election will be hard fought as well.
I think this Liberal National Party candidate though has a particular challenge as a former head of the Australian Medical Association, I think he’s going to find it very difficult to explain the massive cutbacks to health in Queensland by his Liberal National Party Newman Government, the cutbacks that he himself, that is the Liberal National Party candidate, has supported, and including in my own seat of Griffith where you see cutbacks at Princess Alexandra Hospital – 50 staff going from the Queensland Tuberculosis Control Centre, staff going from Pathology Queensland, staff going also, remarkably, under the Organ Transplant Authority work at that Hospital as well. I’ve got to say that this is disappointing, how a former head of the AMA can get out there and defend these slash and burn attacks, on public health in Queensland and in Brisbane’s Southside, defies my imagination.
ALISON CARABINE: Well, Kevin Rudd, last week when you asked about the leadership, you referred journalists to what you said in February this year. Can you repeat now what you said back in February?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, the guts of this is very simple Alison. The leadership was dealt with in February of this year. My job now, is to get out there, as it has been, to ensure that we do everything physically possible to prevent Mr Abbott from becoming the next Prime Minister of Australia. That’s what I’ve been doing, that’s why I’ve been engaging in a public debate, as appropriate around the country and in my own community, particularly in Queensland, where as I have just said, the Liberal National Party have really revealed the colours, in their slash and burn approach to the State. As I’ve said before, with Ted Baillieu, O’Farrell and Newman, what you’ve got with the Liberal National Party is the entree and with Mr Abbott, you’ll get the main course in terms of what they do to basic services around Australia.
ALISON CARABINE: Kevin Rudd, you did say in the Party room after the ballot that, quote: “Julia, you will have my absolute support in your efforts to bring us to victory. I will not under any circumstances, mount a challenge against your leadership.” Kevin Rudd, is that still the case?
KEVIN RUDD: I’ve said before and I’ve said since, I stand by my remarks in February and I make no exception to that whatsoever. As I said, it’s up to all of us to roll up our sleeves, and get behind the effort to ensure that Mr Abbott who, I’ve said before Alison, doesn’t have the policies and doesn’t have the temperament to be Prime Minister of Australia , to prevent him from sliding into office through the back door. That’s why I’m engaged in a public fight. You may recall that’s why I recontested also, the 2010 election, because I believe I’ve got responsibilities in this area as well.
ALISON CARABINE: Kevin Rudd, thanks very much for your time.
KEVIN RUDD: Thanks for having me on the program.