Speech - Press conference Australian PM Julia Gillard and The Commonwealth SG HE Kamalesh Sharma
Julia Gillard: Thank you very much. I'm here with the Commonwealth Secretary-General to provide some remarks on the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting today, when the leaders met in a retreat session. In retreat today, we have had the first and second session of the leaders' retreat. This morning we had a very good set of discussions on sustainable development, climate change, food security and issues facing small states.
On climate change we agreed that the threat of climate change is a threat to all of us, large and small states, developed and developing. We talked about our approaches to the upcoming UN Climate Change meeting in Durban. Of course we do have, within the Commonwealth, the President of South Africa and that meeting is in South Africa. We agreed to advocate for legally binding outcomes on emissions eductions.
We also recognised the importance of markets in maximising global emissions reductions at least possible cost and the need to facilitate international funding for mitigation and adaption.
We also recognised that food security is one of the most difficult and pressing challenges facing the world. Half the world's one billion hungry are in the Commonwealth and we've all seen incredibly distressing humanitarian situations in the Horn of Africa and that crisis in the Horn of Africa highlights the challenge.
Leaders noted that population growth and scarce land and water are intensifying pressures on food security. The challenge is simply huge. Global production will need to increase by 70 per cent by 2050 to feed an expected global population of 9.3 billion people.
Leaders agreed to the Perth Declaration on food security, setting out principles that should guide us as we grapple with this challenge. The declaration commits us to the importance of reducing barriers to trade in agriculture, improving agricultural productivity and making it easier for farmers in developing countries to grow food and to get it to markets. That is, it addressed food security both in the sense of immediate issues of aid, but also in the sense of improving capacity for food security through agricultural research, lifting productivity and through the better functioning of markets.
In our afternoon retreat leaders addressed the Eminent Persons Group report. Leaders welcomed the report as a timely contribution to leaders' efforts to ensure the Commonwealth continues to be relevant and vital both today and into the future. Leaders warmly thanked the EPG members for their dedication and hard work.
I'm very pleased to be able to announce that leaders agreed that there should be a charter of the Commonwealth. This was a central recommendation of the EPG report. There will be a process of consultation on the content of the charter as was recommended by the EPG. The charter will be finalised in 2012 and it will bring together the Commonwealth's values, principles and aspirations in one clear and powerful statement.
Leaders also addressed the EPG recommendation for a commissioner for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Australia and a number of delegations indicated that they were supportive of this proposal, but there were a number of delegations concerned by it, and the Commonwealth is an organisation that involves consensus for its decision making that works by consensus. Amongst the concerns raised was the possible overlap between the role of such a commissioner and that of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and the Secretary-General. To address these concerns leaders agreed that the Secretary-General and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group should further evaluate this proposal and report back.
Leaders also considered the other recommendations of the Eminent Persons Group. There are 104 recommendations in all. Leaders have discussed these recommendations and have determined that they will continue that discussion tomorrow. In the intervening period, leaders have asked foreign ministers to do some further work on those 102 recommendations. Leaders did this because they wanted to make sure that in the leaders' meeting there was the most comprehensive discussion possible about the vast range of recommendations here.
There are a large number of recommendations, 102. A number of them do have financial matters associated with them so they will need to be worked through, but leaders wanted to have the best possible material in front of them for the most comprehensive discussion possible, and that's why we've asked foreign ministers to meet tonight.
With those words, I'll hand over to the Commonwealth Secretary-General.
Kamalesh Sharma: Thank you, Prime Minister. I pay tribute to Prime Minister Gillard for her skilful and effective way in chairing all the sessions of the Perth CHOGM. Not every international summit day finishes 10 minutes early and her commitment to the continuing process of putting in place reform and renewal of the Commonwealth to ensure relevance and to build resilience.
What was striking about the meeting was the level of collective wisdom which the leaders brought to bear in evaluating the report of the Eminent Persons Group. Do not underestimate the value and impact of the Perth Declaration of the food security principles. In 2009 the CHOGM agreed to promote a fast start fund for small and vulnerable states affected by climate change. That Commonwealth contribution became a significant outcome of the global summit in Copenhagen. This declaration today has similar potential. Thank you.
Julia Gillard: Thank you. We're happy to take questions.
Reporter: Thank you Mr Secretary-General and Miss Prime Minister. Given that two key recommendations which were supposed to come out of this forum, one to decriminalise homosexuality and two to introduce a commissioner for human rights democracy and law have failed, has this forum got the potential to be known as a failure rather than a success? Thank you.
Kamalesh Sharma: It's not at all a failure. The gains made in substance by the earlier agreement by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group about which we spoke yesterday, in which the template of engagement in the area of the culture of democracy and the rule of law and human rights has been lifted. In the Commonwealth, there has to be a matching mechanism. The matching mechanism has to be deliberated and studied in the way it is now required to meet the higher ambition levels of the organisation. It is not sufficient to say that a post or the other which may have been recommended in another context, whether or not it was approved, constitutes a failure or success. It is a recommendation in the same direction but it has to be evaluated in the totality of the need which has now arisen, which is why the heads have said this recommendation is fine but let it now be evaluated by the Secretary-General and the Chairman of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, the two personalities on whom devolves a responsibility of carrying the expectations of the new template to which I referred. They will look at it. They still have to do a job description. Please do not forget that in the report of the Eminent Persons Group, it says only creation of such a commissioner but the report is entirely silent on what you might loosely call the job description and responsibilities. So, all of this work has to be done in a comprehensive and coherent way.
Julia Gillard: Can I just make a comment on that too. With respect, I don't accept the premise of your question. If we were solely to look at the area of strengthening the Commonwealth, and remember that was one of the themes that we set ourselves to talk about in this Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. We said we would be talking about strengthening the Commonwealth. We said we would have a big focus on the development agenda, and we said we would have a focus on bringing the Commonwealth voice together to project into important forthcoming meetings like the G20 Durban and the Rio+20 summit next year.
But if we just look at that top stream, given your interest in it: strengthening the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, more than 30 recommendations to strengthen its role, all about strengthening the Commonwealth. Every one of them got the tick.
Eminent Persons Group recommendation about charter, a charter for the Commonwealth with a further process of consultation, the Eminent Persons Group recommended that, that has got the tick. On the commissioner position that you've spoken of, we've outlined the further process here and the Secretary-General has taken you to some considerations about role and mandate that need to be worked through.
On the other recommendations of the Eminent Persons Group, the leaders are still deliberating and have asked foreign ministers to do some work overnight to assist those deliberations.
Reporter: Miss Prime Minister, correct me if I'm wrong, but Sri Lanka faced a lot of static as the next host about the Sri Lanka's human rights record, etc. On the subject of the Human Rights Commission, correct me if I'm wrong, but was this [all] because of the majority of the membership which backs Sri Lanka felt that this was an unfair witch hunt coming at this time, coinciding with this moment in time where Sri Lanka has got so much static, that this Human Rights Commission is being mooted now? It has been rejected in a sense, because it wasn't approved at this CHOGM. Is this because a majority of the membership felt that this was unfair to Sri Lanka?
Julia Gillard: I think you are drawing a connection between two questions when, in the deliberations of leaders, that connection was not there. To go back in time, the Eminent Persons Group was created by the last Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to provide a report and recommendations on strengthening the Commonwealth. That is what is because leaders and we are dealing with it, and we've dealt with the charter today and we've dealt with the proposition about a commissioner too, so those things have been dealt with.
In terms of leaders' motivations for making decisions in this area, I think you would be wrong to suggest you can guess what leaders' motivations were. I think you're trying to draw a link there in your mind, which I don't think you can assume was there in the minds of leaders. Leaders have been talking about the appropriate way of strengthening the Commonwealth and that is what has driven the conclusions that we've announced here this evening.
Reporter: Can you give us an idea of the time frame involved for sorting out this issue of the commissioner?
Julia Gillard: The report back on the charter - I've just got to make sure I'm getting it right - the charter will be finalised, so it's been agreed that there'll be a charter. The process for the charter takes us through to a meeting of foreign ministers in September 2012 with approval then to happen by leaders effectively on the papers. There won't be need for a further meeting. On the work of the Secretary-General and CMAG on the role of the commissioner, that work will happen as CMAG and the Secretary-General defines.
Reporter: So just on the EPG report, in retrospect, do you think the report should have been released much earlier given that the criticisms of the members of the group and could you have given them a bit clearer direction on the process of producing that report?
Kamalesh Sharma: In the course of the preparation of report, it has been one of the most open processes. What's coming as main recommendations in the report were included. In fact our website and responses were received from civil society, citizens, and institutions. A good 600 responses were received to the initial query, which we put on the website. It's been one of the most participative exercises that have been undertaken. So the outside world knew very well the direction in which the report was going and it was not just only keeping them informed but it was also seeking their opinion on this exercise.
As far as the leaders are concerned, the leaders have commissioned the report to come to them in order to take decisions on it and deliberate on it, which is what they've been doing. The whole of the day today was taken up in this exercise. Leaders have gone through the report line by line and before that the foreign ministers did a similar exercise. In New York, the foreign ministers had had a discussion on it as well. The significant results are now beginning to come out. So, it is quite to be expected that, having commissioned the report for themselves, the leaders study the report, examine it, take the decisions required before it becomes a public document. But as I said, for the large part what's in the report was well known much in advance.
Julia Gillard: Okay. We'll take a question here and then come to the front.
Reporter: Prime Minister, the Eminent Persons Group sat in here earlier today and said that many of the CMAG recommendations for the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group had actually been in place; the powers were available to the group since 1995 but had lacked the political will to actually carry them out. Now given that you have said that Australia was keen to see this commissioner stand up, isn't the risk now that with a new charter for the Commonwealth, it'll be seen as a charter without any teeth?
Julia Gillard: I think there too on the question of political will, clearly I wasn't here for the Eminent Persons Group press conference so I can't deal with really detailed statements that were made at that press conference. But in terms of the broad proposition that you put, I think you saw an exercise of political will when leaders accepted all of the recommendations of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group about strengthening its role and about strengthening its role in a way which would enable the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to get involved when a country was starting to veer off the path of democracy and the rule of law, rather than waiting until it had gone entirely off the path and was in a category for suspension or expulsion. So I think you've seen political will shown by the adoption of every part of the recommendations of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group.
Leaders are still working through the Eminent Persons Group report, but you would see from the two items discussed today that the charter has been approved with a process involving the kind of consultation the Eminent Persons Group recommended.
On the commissioner, it's certainly true to say that there were a variety of views amongst leaders. The Commonwealth is a consensus organisation and so the proposal has been referred to the Secretary-General and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group as we've outlined.
Kamalesh Sharma: I just want to add. These two things are separate and linked at the same time. They're separate in the sense that the charter is a document of aspiration for the Commonwealth and will collect bits from all the documents and conventions which the Commonwealth has entered into in terms of its principles and values since 1970, so that's a charter, as it were, of aspirations.
But the Ministerial Action Group and what it has been mandated to do, is linked in the sense that if this is your ambition levels, how are you going to realise it, and now we have a very credible aspiration template for that as well in practical terms.
Julia Gillard: We'll take a question, one here and then we'll take one more and then we'll have to go because we are actually due at another commitment.
Reporter: This is [18:53 Adjulla Padre] from Amar Ujala, India. My question is to Prime Minister Gillard. In the morning, as you already had said, that you were not present here but I was present here in the press conference. Certainly the Eminent Persons Group felt that the kind of treatment they should have got at the hand, they did not get that. They felt a little I think upset and they said that apart from two of the 106 recommendations have not been touched at all. So a) whether more recommendations have been touched upon and b) that they said that we are not reporting to the foreign ministers, we are reporting to the head of states. Therefore they were very cheesed off when the CMAG references came about. So what is the stand and whether they were mandated properly in the beginning itself to whom they will report and how the report will be examined, there is confusion about it.
Julia Gillard: Okay. Well I'm happy to deal with that. The Eminent Persons Group was commissioned by leaders. It has reported to leaders. The Eminent Persons Group met with leaders yesterday in executive session. They were able to report there and were able to be asked questions by leaders. The Eminent Persons Group was also invited to attend the barbecue lunch, the informal lunch at the leaders' retreat today. That was so that they could be there, mingling with leaders and able to answer questions if leaders had those questions, so that did happen.
The leaders, in the afternoon session today, have focused on the Eminent Persons Group report. We've dealt with two of the recommendations. There are 102 others, that's correct and that is why there is more work happening overnight and the leaders will consider the Eminent Persons Group work again during the course of the retreat tomorrow.
We'll take the last question over here and then we seriously will have to go.
Reporter: Just in terms of the suggestion of appointing a human rights commissioner to improve the Commonwealth's record on addressing human rights abuses within the Commonwealth, are you concerned that key amongst the very few countries which actively opposed and therefore blocked the creation of a human rights commissioner was Sri Lanka? This is a country which itself would very much expect to be one of the first topics to be discussed by such a human rights commissioner, because of course the government there is itself accused of severe human rights abuses, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the fact that the country which perhaps focuses the need for a human rights commissioner is the country which was itself able to block that?
Julia Gillard: Well, can I say the following. First, in accordance with the conventions of the Commonwealth, there is not reporting out from the leaders' retreat session about the position of individual leaders, so I'm not going to breach that convention by reporting out of the discussions held by leaders today.
What I can say is the report we received from foreign ministers when were in executive session yesterday did indicate to us that there had been a broad range of concerns raised about the commissioner position and that range of concerns was reported to us by foreign ministers after they had had their discussions. Consequently, when leaders met today, they were aware that concerns had been raised from across a broad range of countries and had to work their way through as to what to do in those circumstances. And what I've announced to you is what leaders have determined.
On the question of Sri Lanka, I've been asked this question over the last few days and let me state Australia's position again here. We are concerned about reports of human rights abuses during the end stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka. We are aware that Sri Lanka has underway its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission process. We've been very clear that that process has to address the material that was comprehended in the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Panel report, so there is an expectation there about what should be done through the lessons learnt and reconciliation process.
I think I said yesterday and I'm very happy to say again, it seems to me to stem from the very title that if you are going to learn lessons, if you are going to achieve reconciliation, then that starts with truth telling.
Thank you very much.
Kamalesh Sharma: Just one word, Prime Minister. It's worth emphasising that the new elevation position of CMAG is all about engagement, of stepping up the level of engagement at all times. This will happen because one of the concerns was that this body appears to be too [censorius] and too punitive. After all, it's not sufficient to point to a train wreck. Everybody can see it. But it's when the wagons are wobbly on the rail tracks, that's when you have to take an interest. It's easy to point to broken crockery but when it's rattling on the shelves, that's when you have to take an interest. So there will be engagement with all the countries in this positive way.
One last fact it is worth remembering, the CMAG which recommended to the heads that they be allowed to work on a higher template of expectations in the field of rule of law, Sri Lanka was a member of that group. Thank you.
Julia Gillard: Thank you. Thank you very much.