Thursday, September 17, 2009

A highlight from today's Rudd-Beazley-Nelson love-in

"Dr Nelson, you started out in the Labor Party, of course, and then did a period of time as a Liberal politician. Have you come home now?"

His reply was about serving Australia.

Full transcript below the fold.

Photo: Brisbane Times





PM: Today it's my intention to appoint two greatly respected Australians to two important positions for Australia abroad.

These two men have represented Australia at the highest level. Both have been Defence Ministers in the Cabinet, both have led their parties and both have earned the respect and the trust of the Australian people.

Today, both men have reaffirmed their commitment to public service and national leadership by agreeing to represent Australia at the highest levels abroad.

Today, I'll be asking the Governor-General to approve the appointment of Kim Beazley as Australia's next Ambassador to United States of America.

Today, I'll also be asking the Governor-General to approve the appointment of Brendan Nelson as Australia's next Ambassador to the European Communities, as Australia's representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, as Australia's Special Representative to the World Health Organisation and as Australia's Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg.

These two appointments will ensure two respected and proud Australians continue to serve their country in the highest capacity.

Our relationship with the United States is Australia's most important relationship. Our interests with the United States are broad and they are deep and they extend back many, many decades, a relationship which has earned the support of both sides of Australian politics, in times of war and in times of peace.

And therefore I am delighted that Kim Beazley, given his distinguished career, has accepted this appointment.

To our friends in the United States I believe it confirms the seriousness with which - the seriousness we attach to this relationship and I believe that Kim will discharge the functions of ambassador there with great distinction.

Last year as Prime Minister I paid a visit also to Brussels. I indicated there, in my discussions with President Barroso, that Australia would be enhancing its relationship with the European Communities of the European Union.

Also, as you know, together with the ISAF forces and through NATO we have common interests in Afghanistan and therefore it has been a decision reinforced by the advice of the Foreign Minister that we needed a person of distinction and with great experience to discharge this function as well.

I'm delighted that Brendan Nelson has accepted this appointment. I believe to our friends in Brussels, again, it will underpin the importance which we attach to our relationship at the economic, the foreign policy level and in terms of NATO, the security policy level, in terms of that relationship with Australia and for the future.

I've said to you many times before that I do believe in a government of - which harvests the talents of the nation. I'm serious about that. These two men represent distinguished Australians with great capacity who I believe will serve Australia's national interests well.

Whatever their political backgrounds may have been, they have now entered into the public service of the Australian nation and I commend them for it. Foreign Minister.

SMITH: Well thanks very much, Prime Minister. I'm very pleased to add to your remarks. We are, of course, very pleased to this afternoon, to formally recommend to the Governor and the Executive Council the appointment of Mr Beazley as Ambassador to the United States and the appointment of Mr Nelson as Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, the European Union and, of course, Australia's representative to NATO.

The Australia-United States alliance is, of course, the continuing bedrock of our strategic security and defence arrangements. It's one of our most - one of our most important posts and Mr Beazley is, of course, eminently suitable and suited to discharge those serious responsibilities and we welcome very much the fact that Kim has accepted the Government's request to serve the nation again.

So far as our Ambassador-Designate to Belgium and the European Union and Special Representative or representative to NATO is concerned, as the Prime Minister has indicated, we have taken considerable steps since coming to office to enhance our engagement with the European Union.

Last year I signed with Foreign Minister Kouchner when France was the chair of the European Union, the Australia-European Union Partnership Framework which sets the basis for the modern day relationship between Australia and the European Union.

Mr Nelson, of course, is eminently suited and suitable to that appointment , not just because of his general capacities, but because in Brussels we also have our relationship with NATO. And as a former well-respected and well-regarded Defence Minister he brings the additional attribute and qualification of that experience and we're also very pleased that Brendan was happy to consider the appointment and very pleased to be able to make it.

Thank you.

PM: If I might ask now the Ambassador-Designate to the United States of America, Mr Beazley, to make some remarks.

BEAZLEY: Thank you. Well firstly, Prime Minister, can I thank you and your Foreign Minister for the enormous honour that you've done me in presenting me with this challenge in public life to be Ambassador to the United States. I can't think of anything that I would rather do at this point of time and it's an expression of confidence which I profoundly appreciate.

The United States is a country for which I have very great affection and I have had dealings with the United States as a Minister, as an Opposition Leader, as a politician, as an academic, for a very lengthy period of time.

There is always an immense and complex agenda on the table between Australia and the United States. We are one of the strongest allies of the United States and we speak to the United States with the authority of a friend.

I thoroughly recognise that I'm there to represent the Australian national interest and represent that through the instructions that come to me from the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. I therefore recede from endless expressions of opinion to being in the foreign policy equivalent of what Speaker Lenthall was in the House of Commons: I have neither eyes to see, nor mouth to speak, nor ears to hear except as the Commons directs me. In my case that applies to the Australian Government.

PM: Thank you, Kim. If I could ask now, the Australian Ambassador-Designate to the European Union, Brendan Nelson, to speak.

NELSON: Thank you very much, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. It's also an honour for me to accept this appointment as Australia's Ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg, to NATO, of course predominantly prosecuting the war in Afghanistan in which we're heavily involved, and I also feel privileged to be able to play a role as Australia Special Representative to the World Health Organisation.

I said last night in my valedictory speech that it's always been the case for me to do whatever I can in terms of public service and I didn't expect this offer to be made, it's one that I accept with a great sense of honour and I will do my utmost to represent Australia's best interests in the European Union and in particular, being familiar with many of the key figures in NATO that are prosecuting the war and the conflict in Afghanistan, to be able to do my very best on behalf of the Australian people, the Australian Government and the Australian Defence Force personnel who have their lives on the line every day for us, on our behalf in the war against terrorism and support of the Afghanistan people.

It is an immense honour and one that I accept very willingly and, as with Mr Beazley, I also - I also congratulate Kim Beazley very much on his appointment. I think that it is one that will be very well received by the Australian people and I would say right across the political spectrum. Thank you.

PM: Thank you, Brendan. Over to you, folks.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister when did you first raise, discuss these appointments with the two gentlemen, in particular with Brendan Nelson? Was it before he announced his intention to leave Parliament?

PM: The discussions with Kim have occurred recently, and similarly with Brendan. Brendan indicated some time ago that he was going to leave the Parliament before the next election and subsequent to that we spoke to him about this possibility.

The Foreign Minister was very strong on this point. Given our expanded relationship with the European Union, underpinned by the Framework Agreement to which he's just alluded, given in particular the challenges that lie ahead for us all in Afghanistan and our partners in NATO, having a representative in Brussels who is a former Defence Minister and who knows the political and policy terrain on Afghanistan well, commended him for that position and I'm delighted that Brendan has accepted that invitation.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said that you want to harvest the talent, you said. Do you think people will be cynical about politicians being appointed, ex-politicians being appointed to these roles? And how important is it to you that when you try to bring former politicians in, they are, as most people would agree with these two, qualified, particularly for that particular post rather than it just being some kind of reward?

PM: When I've said previously that I believe in a government of the national talents, it's actually what I mean. Whether it's in the civil service, public service, or whether it's in beyond that, whether it's in business or whether it's in political life, on either sides of political life, what the Foreign Minister and I have an eye for is talent, applied to particular positions. No one could suggest that the gentleman standing to my right would anyway fail to discharge Australia's interest well in the United States.

There are very few people in this country who know the US better than Kim Beazley. There are very few people in this country who are more respected in the United States than Kim Beazley. And this is not a matter of the last several years but of the last several decades. In the case of Brendan, I mentioned before, his qualifications as far as the defence portfolio is concerned, and our current challenges with Afghanistan. Secondly, I believe that in dealing with the complexity of politics in the European Union, it is also helpful having someone who has experience both in policy and in politics to negotiate those often very complex shoals to secure the best outcomes for the Australian national interest.

Of course the third point is this, we know that we have challenges also in terms of global pandemics, therefore the decision to appoint Brendan as a special representative from Brussels to the WHO which is of course based in Geneva, enhances our representation of the WHO because we do not know what pandemic challenges lie ahead.

This is both a technical challenge, in terms of the work which we collaborate on around the world, as far as our health authorities are concerned in dealing with pandemics, but secondly, to have also someone with his background as head of the AMA, I think, adds something considerable to that as well.

So the answer to your question is, these two appointments, and I believe Tim Fischer's early on for the Holy See, demonstrate it's a question of applying the talents that are available to the nation wherever they come from to the tasks which the nation needs discharged.

PM: Prime Minister, what have you got in mind for Peter Costello?

PM: A cup of tea, a Bex, and a quick lie down. Well, as I think Peter indicated earlier and I have as well, a question of being a government for the national talents applies to a number of bows currently in political life, business life as well as our public service. But there is still, of course, the question of what might be most appropriate depending on his decisions concerning his future. But I am firmly of the view that you can't simply rule people out on the basis of where they happened to have served in politics before.

There is something called the national interest which, though we are tribal beasts at one level, in terms of where we come from politically, in our more sober moments, realise, we realise that these national interest transcend our engagement in the trench warfare of national politics.

PM: Take one here for Kim and then I'll (inaudible).

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, when we raised this with you recently, the prospect of you taking this job, you said something like 'Oh, don't wish that upon me, mate'.

PM: (Inaudible) calling you mate, oh, sorry, (inaudible) point you were making.

BEAZLEY: We're close.

SMITH: I think it was a different response when I spoke to him.

JOURNALIST: But has your plan all along been to ensure that your daughter gets through Year 12 before even considering such a role?

BEAZLEY: Right, well, of course Rachel is enormously important to me as all three of my daughters, the other two of course are married. And we're always mindful of how Rachel responds to these things and she said she'd be very cheerful of that outcome. That's the first point I'd make. The second point I'd make is if I did say that to you - and I am sure I did, you wouldn't report that inaccurately - it was to keep - it was partly motivated by a desire to keep you off my back. And the second thing I'd say is it is daunting.

This is a very tough ambassadorial job. I had not realised until this morning that Brendan was about to join me and I do congratulate him. He has got a multiplicity of jobs, I have one. This is just about the toughest ambassadorial job that we have, China, I suppose, is up there with it. And it is a complex one, you're addressing a multiplicity of constituencies in the United States and they don't all agree. And to filter the Australian national interest in, through that process and to keep your bosses happy is a very difficult task indeed, but I look forward to it.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) priority Mr Beazley, what do you see, obviously the relationship is in - obviously the relationship is in good hands and good standing. What do you see as the priority and do you think that Afghanistan, particularly with Dr Nelson's appointment to NATO is - how far up is that priority?

BEAZLEY: The priority is what the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister tell me are the priorities. Obviously, Afghanistan will be a matter of considerable interest to the President and I will conform to my instructions as to what I should A, prioritise and B, how I should.

JOURNALIST: I was going to ask that question, but when will the appointments be effective, is it still November for the US and Dr Nelson (inaudible)?

SMITH: The current Ambassador to the United States, Dennis Richardson, is of course the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade designate. Ambassador Richardson will return to Australia in November to start his duties as secretary of the department. Mr Beazley will commence early next year in February.

And in Dr Nelson's case, the current ambassador to the European Union finishes his term in January, Dr Nelson will commence in February. Can I just add to the remarks, you will see in the paper, in the formal press release, I've also asked Dr Nelson to pay special attention to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is advancing our relationship with a security organisation in Europe and that will be in addition to the responsibilities that we previously outlined, that's also in the press release. But Dr Nelson will also start in February when the current ambassador returns.

PM: So no time for Brendan to ride his Harley across Europe.

JOURNALIST: Dr Nelson, will you be toeing the Australian Government's line on climate change in your new post and, in particular, the need for an emissions trading scheme?

NELSON: Well, my job, obviously, will be to represent Australia's interests and the priorities of the Australian Government and to prosecute the position of the Australian Government on all issues in relation to the European Union, to NATO and the World Health Organization. I'll do that to the very best of my ability and as you can also see fro the number of jobs that I'll be undertaking I'll be working extremely hard.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, at the meeting of NATO in Bucharest last year, you laid down a series of markers for what you saw as progress. Has Afghanistan gone forwards or backwards since that time last year and how long should Australia stay engaged before you draw a line under it?

PM: I think the best answer to that question- I did an interview with a German newspaper a couple of days ago about the debate in Germany about NATO at the moment. The best that, about the engagement in Afghanistan at the moment, the best we can say about Afghanistan at the moment is that it is a work in progress. It is a very difficult work in progress. Now we all understand the complexities which have just become clear through the Afghan electoral process; they are still working their way through. That's the first point.

Secondly, I have said and said consistently we are in Afghanistan for the long haul. None of us, least of all so close to the anniversary of September 11, should ever forget the reasons we are there. This is an important and foundational reason for being there and it has to do with terrorism and the training of terrorists as well as our obligations to the United States.

I think the other things to say about our mission in Afghanistan, however is that it is not a blank check. The mission statement which concerns the training of an Afghan national army brigade to, in time, resume responsibility for the security of Oruzgan Province is our mission to then effect a transfer of security responsibility in that province. That will take some time. But when I say we are there for the long haul, I mean it. Sorry, there was one over here and then to you, Michelle.

JOURNALIST: Dr Nelson, just to clarify the Prime Minister's response to the very first question, did this job officer influence the timing of your departure from Parliament?

NELSON: No, it certainly didn't. In fact, earlier in the year when I announced that I wouldn't recontest the next election, I had a cup of tea and a conversation with the Prime Minister about a range of things in his office and he asked me when I do leave would I be interested in, our prepared in some way, to serve Australia and I said, well, yes I would but it depends on what it would be. And then the Prime Minister contacted me on the initiative of the Foreign Minister last week to specifically talk about this issue.

JOURNALIST: And to Mr Beazley, I guess, dinner's off tonight is that right, at the ANU?

BEAZLEY: No, mate, not at all, I am looking forward to seeing you.

JOURNALIST: Dr Nelson, did you give Mr Turnbull any warning of this announcement?

NELSON: I informed Mr Turnbull this morning that I had been offered this position, that I have agreed this morning to accept that position and that we would be announcing it. And I should also correct something that the Prime Minister has said. I have a Triumph Speedmaster, not a Harley.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) remembered the title?

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, changing views somewhat, given this new era of bipartisanship on foreign appointments, can you think of somewhere suitable that perhaps Barnaby Joyce could be sent as an Australian envoy?

PM: Queensland.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, did you-

PM : My home state, yeah.

JOURNALIST: Dr Nelson, you started out in the Labor Party, of course, and then did a period of time as a Liberal politician. Have you come home now?

NELSON: That's pretty rough. The - I thought you guys'd start to lay off.

PM: I think they're just warming up.

NELSON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I am working for Australia, for Australians, in the best interest of our country. Nothing more, nothing less.

PM: Thanks very much, folks. Gotta run.