National Press Club Address
The following is the transcript of the address that Dr Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial, gave at the National Press Club, Canberra, on 18 September 2013. The compere was Mr Laurie Wilson.
Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the National Press Club for today's National Australia Bank Address. It's a great pleasure to welcome back Brendan Nelson to the club. This is the 11th occasion, in fact, on which he's addressed our members, the first being back in August 1991 as vice-president of the Australian Medical Association. Of course he went on to be elected president of the AMA, before shifting from medical politics to federal politics as the Liberal member for Bradfield, serving in the Howard Government, both as Minister for Education and Minister for Defence. And then, of course, after the election in 2007 for a period also as Opposition Leader, leader of the Liberal Party.
Another career change saw Dr Nelson appointed by the Rudd Government as ambassador to NATO, to the European Union, to Luxembourg and to Belgium and then in December last year he was appointed director of the Australian War Memorial. That's the role that he joins us today in, so would you please give a warm welcome to our guest, Dr Brendan Nelson.
BRENDAN NELSON: Well, thank you very much, Laurie, and I thank, very much, the board of the National Press Club for the invitation to be able to speak to you again today. And if anything else, you must be very committed to have me back so many times, so thank you very much. It's a privilege to be here and I particularly welcome my dear friend, colleague and mentor Dr Bruce Shepherd.
Today I'm going to speak largely about three areas with which I have had and now have significant engagement, and each of them relates to the other. But it's essentially the importance of values to our nation in a changing world. The world has changed. It's changed in ways that in returning to Australia I think that we don't yet fully appreciate, nor indeed understand. But most importantly, it's not going to be changed back. Paul Kennedy is the Yale Professor of History and head of its Security International study centre, and just under two years ago published what I thought was a quite provoking essay on changes and changes in history. And he made the observation that at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and the end of the Second World War, it was obvious that the world had changed. It was not going to ever be the same again.
But, equally there are other times in history when there is change and it's very difficult for people who are living through this period of change to fully appreciate the scale and pace of it. As an example, a person who lived in 1480 would not possibly recognise the world of 1530, the formation of nation states, the splintering of Christendom, the expansion of Europe into the Asias and North America, and the Gutenberg communications revolution amongst many others.
The argument that he prosecuted is that we are now living through such a period, and as evidence of which it's not the revolution in telecommunications which has swept this world certainly through my generation, but amongst other things the US dollar which was once 80 per cent of global reserve currency is now barely 60 per cent. The United Nations Security Council and the key instruments of the Second World War world are barely serving the world we have, let alone the one that's coming. The Eurozone crisis has necessarily meant that the Europeans are even more focussed on themselves in this existential challenge than they would normally be, and that has consequences for the rest of us, Europe as it does representing more than half a billion people who live on this planet, but most importantly, that the world of 1500 is about to come to an end. That Asia and Asia-Pacific is moving to centre stage.
When I was in Europe and I had the privilege to be Australia's ambassador to the European Union and also to NATO, I remember when I was frequently meeting, as you would expect, in some cases, leaders of nation states and certainly commissioners from the European Commission and senior officials, and those from the European Council, I'd always talk about the issue of the day, so to speak, and on this particular occasion I'd been talking about economic issues. And as was always the case, I then raised the importance of the Asia-Pacific, and the person to whom I was speaking and meeting, a very senior individual, said to me ambassador, it will be years before Europe will be able to turn its attention to Asia in any serious way, and I said oh, really? I said, because if that is the attitude that Europe does take, Asia is going to find you sooner than you think in ways that you might least expect, because the region is replete with very deep geostrategic uncertainty.
As Henry Kissinger observed in his book on China, there are similarities between our region, the Asia-Pacific, and late 19th century Europe that after two cataclysmic wars of the 20th century, divergence of opinion in Europe does not result in anyone talking about war. Kissinger made the observation that in the Asia-Pacific region with nations recently emerged from colonialism and, understandably, with a deep sense of independence and commitment to it, and the re-emergence of China which he regarded as being analogous to formation and the unification of Germany in 1871, that in our region no one, of course, is looking for a war, but Kissinger makes the observation that no-one's ruling it out. And we are in this decade, in fact before the end of the decade that lies ahead, we will live in a world that we've not lived in since the Franco-Prussian War and the Qing dynasty. We had, after the Second World War, two superpowers for 20 years or so. We are just about to finish the unipolar moment and, before the decade is out, it is likely that we will live in a world where the United States is not the dominant economic power globally. And the most relationship in the world to Australia is that between the United States and China. In fact, I would argue the most important to the world itself, and the template for that is being forged now in our region.
Amongst the many changes that have been worked into our society, and indeed to our world, is an understanding that China on so many fronts is surpassing the United States, whether - its economy is now about half the size of the United States, having been barely nine per cent in the early 1980s. Net foreign reserves, of course, exceed that of the US. Fixed capital investment, exports, manufacturing, energy consumption and within the decade we'll see retail sales and imports in China exceed that of the United States. It's likely to have more companies in the Fortune 500, the capitalisation of its companies is likely to exceed that of the United States by 2020 and, of course, Defence expenditure at the moment is likely to equate to that of the United States toward the end of the next decade. And we are moving into a world which will be unfamiliar territory, certainly for us as Australians.
Australia's history with the European Union has been a mixed one. We invested very heavily in a peaceful Europe, 70,000 Australians lie in Europe from two wars as silent witnesses to the future that they have given us and which we have a responsibility to shape. When Robert Schuman enunciated in 1951 his vision of a way of avoiding war with a common coal and steel community, particularly between France and Germany, Australia signed onto that. But then, of course, in the early '70s, perhaps for the second time in the 20th century, we felt let down by Britain. After the fall of Singapore in 1942, of course, we knew we would have to look across the Pacific to the United States for the protection and security of our nation. And I've said to the Americans in particular in various roles I've had that not a day goes by in this country where we don't give thanks and gratitude for American sacrifice in this part of the world.
But when Britain joined the common market in the early '70s it deeply scarred our political class and indeed our nation. Suddenly markets that we had enjoyed, particularly in agriculture, had all but dried up. And the European Union, the supra-national construct that it is, is an anathema to many of us Australians. The idea of handing over some of your autonomy and your sovereignty to another body, in this case in Brussels, is not something that we in Australia can easily adjust to. And we narrowly defined our relationship with Europe around conflict in market access and agriculture.
But the currents of political and economic power that was shifting from North America and Europe over the last 25 years have been rapidly accelerated by the global financial crisis. And it demands that Australia now have quite a different approach to the European Union and relationship with it. There are a number of reasons for that. As we emerged from the global financial crisis, Kevin Rudd, then as Prime Minister and, I think, to his immense credit, played a significant role in seeing that the existing G20 at Finance Minister's level became a grouping of 20 at leaders' level for global economic governance, which would see Australia as the 13th largest economy in the world as being a part of that G20 grouping. The European Union itself has a seat at the G20 table, the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council.
Late in 2009 after a decade in development, the Lisbon Treaty took effect which would be unknown to most Australians, but what that significantly did is redistributed the patterns of power and authority in Brussels so that there would be a permanent president of the European Council which would chair the meetings of the then 27, now 28, leaders of the member states. And it has met almost monthly through the period of the Eurozone crisis. In addition to that, the European Parliament, 750 members of that Parliament, now have real power in 85 different areas. So all kinds of issues which affect us in terms of treaties, passenger name record agreement for example, which is an essential part of border protection architecture, had to go through the European Parliament. Chemical standards, food labelling, kangaroo meat imports, a whole variety of things that affect us in day-to-day life are now determined in significant part by the European Parliament, and it demands we engage it more effectively.
And the Americans got their wake-up call in February 2010 when the European Parliament exercised its new muscle by knocking over the swift agreement, the terrorist finance tracking agreement which is so essential to US efforts in counter-terrorism, and the US vice-president Biden actually had to go to Brussels and speak to the European Parliament and undertake a flurry of diplomacy to see it be renegotiated in parts. In addition to that, the European External Action Service was formed so that Europe would have its own chief diplomat, currently Baroness Catherine Ashton, and what that will do in my very strong view with the passage of time is give coherence to European diplomacy.
And you see glimpses of it, the way in which the European Union has brought together its member states to deal with Iran, and sanctions on Iran, and having Australia and Canada and other countries working hand in glove with it is a glimpse, in my view, of the future. And I'd often noticed that you'd see foreign ministers from certain countries who are members of the European Union in their own member state criticising the European Union and then arrive at the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels, or the Berlaymont, and say to the world how important the meeting would be in driving consistency of foreign policy and determination of action in relation to Iran and other particularly important issues.
I constantly when I was ambassador there, constantly was saying to the Europeans and to NATO, to the North Atlantic Council, that you need to understand that the scale and pace of the transformation in the Asia-Pacific is something that has already changed the world as Kennedy observed. And I said to the senior interlocutor who said it would be years before we could focus on Asia in any serious way, I said, well look could I just run through a few things for you; the Taiwan Strait, the Korean Peninsula, Kashmir, the Sea of Japan, East China Sea, the South China Sea, the straits of Malacca, terrorism, 80 per cent of the world's natural disasters and, as one example, the South China Sea through which travels half of the world's merchant maritime traffic, and $960 billion of European trade almost all of it into North Asia goes through the South China Sea. If it's closed down for a couple of weeks you're going to know about it. And, apart from anything else, the United States presence in the Western Pacific which has guaranteed security and been the bedrock for prosperity in our region since the end of the Second World War. The United States is arguably the key partner in the NATO alliance, apart from anything else, will have particular interest if there were, God forbid, any conflagration emerging from our region.
I said to then Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in early 2010 that I thought we Australians had two threshold questions in relation to the European Union. The first was whether we should seek a tier one relationship. The Europeans were attracted very much to Kevin Rudd's early ratification of Kyoto which was strongly supported by the Opposition led by me at the time. The real head-turner was the parliamentary apology to forcibly remove generations of Indigenous Australians in February 2008, and Kevin Rudd's early visit as Prime Minister to Brussels enunciating a vision for the future of the relationship.
But I said to Stephen Smith the two threshold questions is whether we should seek a tier one relationship, we're the only G20 country that doesn't have it. And the second is whether we should seek a free trade agreement. I said to officials here back in Australia, and I said certainly to the then minister and the Prime Minister that traditionally in Brussels what we had done is just bang them over the back of the head about agriculture and market access. Not unreasonably, but if the only thing you ever do is complain about something and the same issue, and we have every reason to do so, then it's not surprising that we're not going to make a lot of progress.
And after 30 years we finally got a breakthrough in 2010 with high quality grain fed beef quota which was a product of the fact that Catherine Ashton had a very good relationship as Trade Commissioner with Simon Crean and also we were broadening our engagement beyond that which we had traditionally pursued.
So we have negotiated a treaty framework agreement with the European Union. It's the one language that everyone does speak in Brussels. And that sets a shared vision and a legal architecture around the relationship in foreign affairs, security, trade, economic issues, in overseas development of assistance of which the EU is the source of 56 per cent globally, of climate change, environment, research, innovation and science, to have a broader and deeper engagement.
And for the Euro-sceptics in our country where we are fed largely on an entire industry which operates not only in Brussels but in member states throughout Europe, I say to you firstly the EU has a seat at the G20. It has speaking rights at the United Nations. Its high representative is active involved in the Middle East peace process. It also now has real power in its parliament, as I have described.
But most importantly, in our region we need not only the United States to be supporting multilateral architecture as China re-emerges into what should be a rules-based world for us and for it, we also need a coherent European engagement in our region, an understanding of it, and it's important that the nations in this region, the ASEAN nations and those of the rest of us, including China, know that the liberal democracies of this world represented still largely by those countries within Europe, are working with the United States in seeing that we have a broad stable multilateral dialogue in our region. And that is the fundamental reason why this is important.
The other reason, in terms of a free trade agreement, we have to have a treaty framework agreement in place in order to seek a free trade agreement. Fifteen per cent of Australia's two-way trade is with the European Union and its member states. We've negotiated pretty much everything, but one thing that the Europeans will not give ground on is what they call essential elements, noncompliance provisions, and my strong view is that the Europeans need to have a very serious look at this. The idea that we would link all of our existing agreements and future agreements to any accusation of noncompliance on human rights and rule of law and other things of which Australia can be very proud is in my view nonsense.
So and then in relation to NATO, very similarly, we went into Afghanistan in 2001, we went back in in 2005 and I remember as Defence Minister midway through 2006 saying to Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the Chief of Defence, I said look, I think we'd better go to Brussels and have a talk to these NATO people. Now, at that stage we dealt with Washington, London, Kabul and, of course, The Hague because we were partnered with the Dutch. And Angus said to me, he said, oh minister, there's a lot of red tape there, and I said, yeah I know, but they're running the war, I think we'd better go and have a look.
So we went to Brussels and we went to the Mons, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, and I came back and recommended to our then government we should become a contact country. In hindsight, NATO didn't understand us and we didn't understand them. We had virtually no relationship with them at all and yet we went into a NATO-led war which has become our longest war and the low point was when Prime Minister Rudd in 2008 was excluded from the discussion on Afghanistan at the NATO summit and his request to me when he asked me if I'd go to Brussels was, in relation to NATO, can you bust down the door and make sure we have a seat at the table and we are heard?
We've now done that. We've negotiated what's called a high-level political declaration with NATO and the Secretary-General of NATO came here last year to specifically sign that with our then Prime Minister Gillard. What that means in plain language is that we will never be in a situation again where we go into a NATO-led war and have no relationship with the alliance that's actually running it. But it also means that we not - we have regular dialogue at the highest level with our Prime Minister and the NATO leadership, with our ministers and their counterparts at NATO, and then with our officials and also, of course, with our military level.
We also have an ambassador now to NATO. We have a two-star military appointment in Brussels. And, of course, apart from anything else, our key ally, the United States, is the key player at NATO itself. But we worked very hard to see that NATO took a global approach to Euro-Atlantic security. For the NATO leadership I kept saying to them you've got to understand that threats to Euro-Atlantic security can come from any part of the world including our region.
In addition to that it needed a template to work with partners. We turned up in 2005 with military capability, political will, and money and NATO basically said, as if it was running a golf club, we don't know how to deal with you guys. That has all changed and we will not have that problem with NATO again, but in terms of cybersecurity, maritime security, counter-terrorism, disaster relief, and a whole variety of things, my very strong view is the Secretary-General of NATO and the NATO leadership need at least to be regular attendees at the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore on an annual basis to get an understanding of the very, very deep geopolitical uncertainty that exists in this region.
Not because we would ever expect nor want any sort of NATO-led operation in our region, but in the same way we would never have expected to be in central southern Asia 12,000 kilometres from Canberra in our longest war where 40 men have given their lives in our name. So, too, NATO and the Euro-Atlantic alliance cannot afford to place itself in a situation where it finds that some kind of conflagration occurs in this part of the world and it has little if anything understanding of it.
Almost every day when I was in Brussels someone would ask me Brendan, what are you going to do when you go back to Australia? And I thought a bit about it and the closer it got to the end of my deployment there it became more front of mind and the government, the previous government very generously offered me the opportunity to stay longer, but I felt that almost three years would be enough. I said to the person who spoke to me that I didn't think I would be able to achieve anymore for Australia if I stayed another year and it was time to think about what would come next.
I then had a conversation with my wife Gillian, one of those things, and I said, look, whatever I do next I've got to do something meaningful. The medical profession and the taxpayers of this country have invested a lot in me and if I simply take what I've done and turn it into money I'm not going to be happy. I need to do something that is worthwhile. And through complete serendipity I discovered that Steve Gower, my predecessor, his towering contribution was ending and I immediately applied for the job. I went through the process. No one had tapped me on the shoulder and said Brendan, do you want to be the director of the war memorial? I went to interviews. I did all those things.
And it was put to me when I then came to the position that perhaps I should be doing more, that there are more important things that perhaps I could do than look after the Australian War Memorial. I certainly don't see it that way. Of all the things I did in Europe, the thing that I enjoyed the most was the time that I spent in cemeteries, battlefields. I went - I didn't count them, but on the last night we were in Belgium we went to the Menin Gate in Ieper again where there 6169 Australian names engraved, bodies never found, and the chairman of the Last Post Association leaned over and said, Ambassador, this is your 73rd visit. I said, really? He said, we've never known anybody like you to come here so often. And I said, Benoit, if this was in Brussels, I would have been here every night.
And so in terms of the Australian War Memorial, it is about our past, it is about our history, but more importantly it's actually about our future. A people that neither knows and nor, more importantly, understands its history, in my view, is dangerous. And I spent a lot of time in those cemeteries and I know many of you have and I always read those epitaphs and I'll never forget the epitaph for Private ID Hart who, at the Arras Cemetery - sorry, the Guard Cemetery near Arras in France, and his mother I discovered wrote it at a kitchen table and he was killed on 30 November 1916 at the age of 26. She said, I gave my son, he gave his all, his life for Australia and empire.
And for us in this century, those of us who perhaps have something to offer in this regard, we owe it to them and we owe it to ourselves to look beyond the broad brush strokes of our history to individual sacrifices that have made in our name.
You may have noticed that we've had a few changes at the Australian War Memorial in things that we are doing and we remain true to the vision of Charles Bean, the founder of the Australian War Memorial who landed with the troops at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. He stayed with the front right until the very end of the war and in 1916 in Pozières in the depths of the bloody fighting conceived the idea of the memorial. And he wrote at the time, many a man lying out there at Pozières and in the low scrub at Gallipoli, through his poor tired senses barely working in the fever of his brain in his last moments thought well, it's over, but in Australia they will be proud of this.
And then he set the vision for the memorial in 1948. What informs leadership, of course, is vision. Management is about getting results, vision is what informs leadership. What are we trying to achieve, why do we want to do this? And he said, here is their spirit in the heart of the land they loved and here we guard record which they themselves made.
We now live in a world that Bean and John Treloar, the first director until his death in 1952, could not have imagined, but what's important for us in this century is to be clear about our values. We've just been through an election campaign, much of it dominated by issues with which we are all very familiar, but in the end our destiny as a people is not going to be determined by the economic indices with which we are so understandably obsessed, but it's our values and beliefs, the way we relate to one another and see our place in the world.
When people came to the Australian War Memorial - in fact I had the Chief of Air Force recently with the Chief of the Turkish Air Force and I said to him, Geoff, you know, it's not until you come to the Australian War Memorial and you stand in the commemorative area and you look around the wall and you see the name in bronze of those places where Australians have fought and died over a century, Sudan, southern Africa, Gallipoli, Borneo, Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, and ask yourself, why were Australians there? In answering the question you get a sense of who we are and what makes us tick.
And in relation to the Europeans, and to the members of the NATO alliance, amongst other things I said to them the export of foreign policy, predicated on western ideology, and an obsession with certain issues, particularly into Asia, is one that will not succeed. Lecturing other people about their values is the wrong way, definitely the wrong way, to approach particularly diplomacy in Asia.
But the single most important thing is to be clear about your own. And the Australian War Memorial, in my view, represents the soul of our nation. Almost two million Australian men and women who've worn the uniform of our three services over 100 years, and 102,700 names on the bronze role of honour.
So a number of things have already been done, and there are others to come. You'll see that we now have a Last Post ceremony every night. And amongst other things, beyond singing the national anthem and having a uniformed member of the Australian Defence Force there every night, we tell the story behind one of those 102,000. Who was this person, where was he or she born, where did they live, what did they do, how did they grow up, and then how did they die for us?
To see that Australians young and not so young look beyond the broad brush strokes to understand there are real people who had real lives, who were loved and loved behind that role of honour. We've also - the Council of the Memorial also has decided to add those to the role of honour who were not killed in war-like operations, but those killed in peace keeping and other operations. So 48 names have been added to the bronze panels, which include seven peacekeepers.
In addition to that, when I first arrived I asked the staff, when are we going to present Afghanistan? And the staff, very professional, very diligent said well basically it will be a few years away. I said we're doing it now, we're doing it this year. And there are two reasons we have to do it - first we've got to educate Australians about what's been done in our name over the last decade. But importantly, whilst not being captive to history, we have to learn from it. I suspect that those men returning from Vietnam might not have suffered quite as much as they have if the memorial had been able to more deeply and broadly tell the story of their engagement and what they did sooner rather than later.
And as an addition to that, by the way, I've asked the chief of Army - and we've already started this - we have a couple of soldiers who've returned from Afghanistan at the Australian War Memorial now. They spend a month with us, we give them a program through all kind of things. I think it's therapeutic for them, in fact I know it is, but I also know it's good for us and our staff to see someone in a uniform there every day, so we never lose sight of why we're there.
On the First World War we - I know Laurie is getting anxious, thinking - he's twiddling his pen, he's thinking Brendan, come on, I've got to get to questions, but - it's OK Laurie, relax, relax.
As you know we have got a $32 million redevelopment of the First World War galleries that's now well in train. At the moment it's under budget and its ahead of time, so let's hope it remains that way. But, without going into too much detail, my very strong view is that whilst most of it is about the military campaigns and enlistment and Rabal and the embarkation and Egypt, Gallipoli, Western Front, Palestine and so on - it's important that we tell the story of who we were in 1914. Why did we join the war so readily? And what happened in Australia domestically through the course of that war? And how did we change, emerging from it, as we did, so damaged but proud in 1918?
And you will see that when the exhibition opens late next year. And the dioramas have been fully restored, and we have got a brilliant new lighting technology we're applying to them. We're bringing in new things that people will not have seen before for the exhibition.
But on that note, I've said to the directors of the other cultural institutions - the National Gallery, the National Library, Sound and Film Archive, the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum for Democracy, if all Australians do over the four years of the centenary is come to the Australian War Memorial, we've failed. Because it's important that we understand what happened in these four years and how it informs who we are now. What music were we listening to, what sort of work were people doing, how was the war reported? And what was the reaction of Australians to it and who were the whistleblowers? What was our culture? All of those very things that give you a comprehensive sense of who we were and how it informs who we are now.
We've also installed a modern - particular speaker technology in the cloister where the First World War panels are. 62,000 Australians lost their lives in the First World War for us, another 60,000 died within a decade of returning. We've got year six students the length and breadth of Australia, and we've started a trial and we want to, over the next few years, have these young Australians - 10, 11 and 12-year-old, record the name of each one of them, and their age at death. And so we will be playing that in the First World War cloister, just softly but evocatively. So as you walk along it you will hear these young voices; John Luff, aged 21, Robert Smith, age 19. Again, to link our past with our future.
We're also going to project the names of those 62,000 onto the front of the memorial at night, and scroll them through for four years. And we're also building a travelling exhibition for the centenary of the First World War, which will include things from our national collection. We want to travel our Mark IV tank. The Queensland Museum has agreed for us to travel the Mephisto A7V, the only one left in the world - the German tank. We'll have an electronic storybook, we'll do projections into communities that we visit, and many other things.
It may seem - what I'm about to say to you might seem surprising to some of you, but I regard one of the most significant speeches given by any Australian Prime Minister in any era since Federation as the eulogy given by Paul Keating as Prime Minister in November 1993 for the unknown Australian soldier. I said to Paul Keating recently that not only will it stand the test of time, it already has. The magnificent leadership and work which he gave for that speech, and the craftsmanship put into it of course, by Don Watson, has given our nation a legacy of which all of us can be proud, irrespective of our political allegiances.
What we are doing with the Keating eulogy for the unknown Australian soldier is it's now being struck in bronze. And it will be placed on the Hall of Memory, on the left hand side as you walk into the Hall of Memory. The Hall of Memory of course being that magnificent byzantine dome designed by Napier Waller, and which houses the unknown soldier reinterred from the Adelaide Cemetery in France in 1993. In addition to that, the surround around the tomb of the unknown Australian soldier, at one end currently has 'Known unto God'. At the other end it has 'He symbolises all Australians who've died in war'. We are removing those, and replacing, from the same quarry stone, and into one end we will engrave 'We do not know this Australian's name, we never will'. And at the end as you walk into the hall it will say 'He is one of them, and he is all of us'.
Paul Keating has accepted my invitation to give the commemorative address on Remembrance Day this year at the Australian War Memorial. And we will also, on that occasion, be officially inaugurating, permanently, this remarkable eulogy which he gave to us - our nation.
I should also say in relation to the Last Post ceremony that that is broadcast every night throughout Australia on a web cam. And we have joined up with the RSL and services clubs of this nation to see that we can get it out to Australians whenever they are, all over the world. And particularly create opportunities for people in communities the length and breadth of Australia to actually see and experience that Last Post ceremony.
I think at that point Laurie - you've even stopped flicking your pen - it's probably time that I should finish and answer questions, so I'd be very happy to do that. Thank you.
LAURIE WILSON: Thank you very much Brendan Nelson. Yes it is time for questions. Just before I go to that though, in terms of the context of many of the things you've been talking about today, and the changing global relationships, the fact that former friends - former foes I should say, have now in many cases become close friends. We did announce the German Government's grant for an Australian journalist this week, it was won by Joanna Heath from the Australian Financial Review.
And I - she's not able to be with us, she's about to leave for Germany in fact this week. But I do acknowledge the presence of representatives from the German embassy, and also a former German ambassador, who I think has actually retired to this country, so welcome to the club.
So questions now. And our first question is in fact from the Financial Review, John Kerin.
QUESTION: Dr Nelson, thank you very much for that speech. At times I was wondering which government it was you were a minister in, given all the praise for Kevin and Paul and co.
But I just wanted to take you back to the China-US relationship. You laid out a very stark picture of the rise of China. I'm just wondering whether the formula that Australia has used up until now is going to continue to work under those circumstances?
You also referred to the UN Security Council as a body which was barely up to the task. And we're on it for the next two years, and obviously great power rivalry is going to play out there. So I just wondered whether you thought that was actually worth the worry for us?
BRENDAN NELSON: Well, thank you very much John. Most parts of your question sound dangerously close to Government policy, and I'm sort of now in the public service. So - but then again I figure, well the worst thing is I can get sacked.
In terms of our approach to China - look I can say that Europeans, for example, have been very impressed with the way in which Australia has been able to manage our economic relationship with China with our concerns for civil liberties and other issues with China, without lecturing the Chinese about any of that. I actually feel, and I think we should feel, confident about China's re-emergence. I think we need to have the imaginative capacity to see the world from the point of view of Beijing. And if you think about China and its history, its nine neighbours, you think about the challenges that the Chinese leadership has in managing corruption, urban pollution, collapsing age dependency ratios, an immense divide between the wealthy down the eastern side of the country with those still desperately poor in the provinces numbering in the order of 150 million or so - it gives you some, if you think about it in those terms, it gives you an understanding from a Chinese perspective about what its priorities and challenges are. And then, of course, maintaining energy and supply lines and then re-emerging into this world and shaping that relationship, as I said, with the United States.
I think that Australia has managed its relationship with China extremely well from Mr Whitlam's early recognition, through our successive governments. And, as with any relationship, there are going to be periods of disagreement with it. But as I said, I think it's extremely important that we have not just the United States - that has always been in our region since the second of the Second World War, but we need to have the Europeans coherently engaged here. And to be active participants in the forums in which particularly the European Union itself is already a member - the ASEAN regional forum in particular. And I said to the Europeans, as far as relationships in our part of the world, that they need to understand that Asia is a lot more than China and India, that the ASEAN countries are extraordinarily important, and diplomacy, I've found, is difficult. It's like marriage, it's quite difficult - my wife will tell you that. But one of the essential prerequisites is to turn up, and I think it's very important that we have consistent participation by - as we obviously do from the Americans, but also by the Europeans in support of multilateral dialogue in our region.
The Europeans, I know, have some ambitions in relation to the East Asia Summit. I think it's extremely important we remember it's an East Asia Summit, and also that the ASEAN countries in particular - their views about any expanded membership beyond Russia and the United States I think need to be foremost in anyone's mind.
LAURIE WILSON: Mark Riley.
QUESTION: Mark Riley from the Seven Network Dr Nelson, thanks very much for your address.
I'm just struck by the juxtaposition today of you speaking at the National Press Club while the man, but one, who succeeded you as Opposition leader is being sworn in as the Prime Minister. And I'm wondering if I could ask for your reflections on what the Opposition was able to achieve from 2007 to today, to become the Government? Whether you have any regrets about leaving politics, and just if you could share your reflections on what the Coalition has achieved in those six years?
BRENDAN NELSON: Well, look, Mark, I've made a few promises to myself and one of them is I don't want to be a commentator. I've taken a very strong view throughout my life and the things I've had the privilege to do. From the day that Dr Bruce Shepherd put the chains of the office of the President of the Australian Medical Association on my shoulders, I put my heart and soul into it. And then the day I handed those chains over to David Weedon, I left… I stayed right out of it. These jobs are hard enough without people offering free public advice.
I also noticed that the commentariat space is a fairly crowded one for ex-ministers and the like. So I'm not going to comment on what the Coalition's achieved. But what I will say, though, in relation to my period; it was extremely difficult. I was of the view that the most important thing we had to do was to protect and defend the Howard legacy, to understand why we had lost office, which was principally longevity, people basically respecting John Howard, but wanting a change.
It was, secondly, overreach on WorkChoices, which I corrected on behalf of the then Opposition in Christmas 2007. And the third principle reason was we were monstered on the symbolism around climate change, around the non-ratification of Kyoto, notwithstanding the very solid intellectual position we'd had through government in the Howard period in actually meeting our targets on climate change.
I also saw the key challenge early on was we had people that were exhausted, who'd been in Cabinet for many years, in my own case, for seven years. We'd been through an election campaign. We had people in grief and bereavement. A lot of people who thought that the new government would be in government for many years. And so my challenge in part was to manage them through this process. And then of course, early on, to bring my party to support the apology in the Parliament which was no easy task, I can tell you. But I'm very proud we did that.
Then there were other things. As you know, I had a view of climate change at the time which was that I felt that Australians were yet to be introduced to the economics of climate change, that wanting action on climate change was exceeded only by their ignorance of what it was going to cost. And I didn't see logic in us going ahead of China, the United States, Russia and India in that regard. And as you know, that's why I'm now director of the Australian War Memorial instead of some other capacity.
BRENDAN NELSON: And in terms of regrets, look there's always a couple of things you'd do differently. But I realise I don't get much credit for it, so I might as well give it to myself. It was a tough period and it was bloody tough, I can tell you, and you guys didn't make it easier. But as the editor of one of the newspapers said to me at the time, Brendan, why should we give you a fair go when your own colleagues won't? So I thought, well that's fair enough.
My wife, by the way, has absolutely no regrets about leaving politics and I think - when I was thinking about leaving the Parliament I consulted a number of people whose opinion I respect, and one of them said to me, Brendan, you're not bad or mad enough to be Prime Minister.
BRENDAN NELSON: So, I take it as a compliment.
LAURIE WILSON: Yes, I think there's the comment you wanted, Mark. Michael Brissenden.
QUESTION: Michael Brissenden from ABC. Dr Nelson, just a reflection, I think probably everything's politics and the AWM is probably politics enough too. Its mandate is to help remember Australians remember, interpret and understand the nation's war experiences. In that respect, why is it that the War Memorial continues to refuse to acknowledge the fierce battles between Australians and Australian Aborigines and pastoral settlers - the Frontier Wars? Is there any suggestion that that will change? It's estimated 20,000 - the conservative estimates are 20,000 Aborigines died in those wars, massacres right up until the latest in the 1920s. Surely that's a very significant part of Australia's military history and if that is not the War Memorial's mandate, then why not change it?
BRENDAN NELSON:Well, Michael, look, it's a very good question and I'm glad you asked me it. I referred in part to Charles Bean and, of course, the origins of the War Memorial itself, and Australia, as we all know, was federated in 1901, and prior to that we had sent troops from the colonies overseas to Sudan and to do some other things overseas.
But the Australian War Memorial is the story of Australians in war deployed on behalf of Australia overseas, not a war as it is described within Australia, in this case against colonial militia, in some cases British forces and Indigenous Australians. And you're absolutely right, I think our nation needs to reflect on the fact that the story is not told.
But I put to you the Australian War Memorial - and amongst those 102,700 names are several thousand Indigenous Australians who to their immense credit when you think of the First Fleet in 1788, you think of the diseases and all of the things Paul Keating described in his Redfern speech so eloquently, and you think of the consequences of our European ancestors arriving here, building the nation as they did from remarkably difficult origins, the cost borne by Indigenous Australians, in particular, is a story that has to be told.
But the Australian War Memorial is not in my very strong view the institution to tell that story. The Australian War Memorial, as I say, is about Australians going overseas in peace operations and in war in our name as Australians. The institution that is best to tell those stories, in my view, is the National Museum of Australia and perhaps some of the state-based institutions who are most likely to have whatever artefacts or relics that exist from this period in our history.
I think those who argue for the story to be told are absolutely right, absolutely right. But I strongly believe the Australian War Memorial is not the institution that's doing it. So, look, I've got, what, four years and two and a half months to go. So in four years and two and a half months, whoever's next, bowl the question up.
LAURIE WILSON: Next question from David Wroe.
QUESTION:David Wroe from The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Dr Nelson, thank you for a fascinating speech. I'd like to ask you to reflect a little on the recent conflicts of our times, the post-9/11 conflicts, if you will. It seems to me you have a unique perspective having been through all of these different roles over this period. You were a Cabinet minister when decisions were taken to join the Americans and our other allies in Afghanistan and Iraq. You moved onto being defence minister. You were then our representative to our northern hemisphere allies in Afghanistan. And now you're the sort of custodian of our memories of these conflicts and the sacrifices that they entailed.
Over that period, how has your view of these conflicts evolved? I'm fascinated to know whether you've changed your perspective on them at all; their worthiness, their success, the legacy? And keeping in mind the point you were making about our learning from the past in order to shape our future, what do you think we have learned from those conflicts?
BRENDAN NELSON: Well, It's interesting, you know. You think back through history and the various wars in which our governments have signed us up for, and you think back - the First World War. You know, you sort of imagine if Australia had said, no, we're not going to be a part of that, how different would we be today? We at least know 62,000 men and some women would have lived lives and made an immense contribution to the nation. But what might have been our relationship perhaps with the rest of the world? How would we see ourselves in the world?
And the reason I say that is because if you look at each step when Australian governments made a decision; First World War, Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, Malaya, Confrontation, Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, some of those decisions in hindsight today we say, yeah, it was a no-brainer, yeah, they did the right thing. But there are some of those conflicts in hindsight knowing what we know now where you'd say, no, maybe that wasn't the right thing to do.
But I would argue that our governments, whichever side of politics they were at the time, with the information they had available to them, made the right decision. Look, and I know what you're alluding to, it's Iraq. Yes, I was at the table. I was education, science and training minister at the time, but on the basis of the information that we had, I think we made the right decision. In hindsight I certainly understand and respect people saying, no, it was the wrong decision. Hindsight's a great thing. My kids have got it. You know, it's wonderful.
BRENDAN NELSON: We had a US Republican president in a post-September 11 world. 3,000 civilians murdered - murdered - including 10 Australians. We had a British Labour Prime Minister saying to us, we're going to do this, which side are you guys on? Now, we can all speculate and there's no point doing it. If Kim Beazley had been Prime Minister instead of John Howard, what might have been that answer? We'll never know. Of course we won't.
Saddam Hussein, in hindsight, wasn't an immediate threat, but he was an inevitable one. And of course then, as we know, that period immediately after the invasion, the de-Baathification of the public service, the dismantling of the army, the use of American contractors to provide basic services, a complete misunderstanding of the 7th century Shia-Sunni divide and what that would mean in terms of Iraq.
So - and again, in relation to Afghanistan, I say to the people, there are people, including in our political class, who say, we should get out of Afghanistan, nothing to do with us. Apart from what happened in New York 12 years ago and in Washington, 88 Australians were murdered in Bali of the 226 just over a year later. Two years later, our embassy's bombed in Jakarta; in the order of 10 or 11 Indonesians killed. We had another Bali bombing and all of it with links back to Afghanistan.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of prosecuting our interests in central and southern Asia, if all of us, the 50 countries in Afghanistan suddenly said, right, we're out, we're going. Okay, that might read well with an electorate here that doesn't quite yet understand what's been going on, and that's part of why we're doing what we are at the memorial. But what would Southern Asia look like? What about the Afghans, the relationship with Pakistan, the Pakistan-India relationship, where that would that go? Not to mention the broader issues in Southern Asia.
So, anyway, I will do my best with the staff at the Australian War Memorial and of course guided by the Council to make sure that we tell these stories. And you'll see with Afghanistan, by the way, that we - I wanted to make sure that we told the story why we went to Afghanistan, why we stayed there, to understand it's not just about the sharp-end fighting, that it's working with the diplomats, the aid workers. It's training the Afghan security forces to get Afghan voices into it, and then to tell the story about coming home of post-traumatic stress, the agony of widows and families, to see that Australians, and most importantly veterans, go to see it and feel, see and hear something of themselves.
That's what the exhibition is about, and there'll be more of those.
LAURIE WILSON: Question now from Lauren Wilson.
QUESTION:Lauren Wilson from The Australian, Dr Nelson. Notwithstanding your reticence to become a public commentator, I wondered if you, as former Liberal leader, would share your thoughts no two contemporary policy issues. Firstly, paid parental leave on a broad level, do you think it jars with traditional Liberal economic philosophy? And secondly the issue of foreign investment, given your experience in Europe that you've cited today, what approach do you think the government, as it was sworn in today, should take on the issue of foreign investment?
BRENDAN NELSON: Well, I suppose the simple answer to your question is no. So look, I won't - paid parental leave is entirely consistent with Liberal philosophy. You go back to Menzies and Menzies' vision for the nation is enunciated through Liberal philosophy and families and so on. It's entirely consistent with it. In relation to foreign investment, without commenting on any specifics in particular, our nation relies heavily and always has done so on foreign investors and I would expect that we will have a policy framework that will be supportive of that and can continue to be.
LAURIE WILSON:A question now from Kimberley Granger.
QUESTION: Dr Nelson, Kimberley from the Canberra Weekly Magazine. In terms of more of a local issue, how do you see the parking issue resolving or playing out for the Australian War Memorial?
BRENDAN NELSON: Well…
BRENDAN NELSON: Now, I thought frontier wars was a tough question, but this is really getting to it. Look, the previous government announced through the National Capital Authority that paid parking would be introduced into the parliamentary triangle. A number - and a lot of Australians and the rest of the world would say yeah, so what's your problem? However, a number of institutions, including the Australian War Memorial, are not - are affected by not directly affected. So it is up to the Australian War Memorial, which owns its own land, is governed by its own act, to decide whether we will introduce paid parking or not.
The very strong view of the council of the memorial and, indeed, me, is that we should continue to provide parking free of charge to people who visit the Australian War Memorial. For many Australians I know, if they had to pay $11 to park for the day they'd go oh, well, that's life. But we are dealing with veterans, their families, we deal with people - like, everyday, I walk through the commemorative area, I walk down the role of honour, and I will see people putting a poppy in a panel, tears streaming down their face. I don't think he'd be embarrassed if I told you that when Ron Barassi recently came, the footy legend, of course, when Ron came to see his father's name, having been killed at Tobruk, he himself was very emotional.
Now, that is the environment. The memorial is a shrine, a museum, and an archive. I don't want to live in an Australia where we say, irrespective of your circumstances, you're going to have to pay to come and pay tribute to those who gave us that which too often we take for granted.
Now, in order to introduce paid parking, I've written to the NCA, lovely people…
BRENDAN NELSON: I've written to them to take up their offer because they offered to actually help us install the infrastructure necessary to implement their policy. So I wrote back and said thank you. It's going to cost us a million dollars to implement your policy in order to keep parking free. Now, they've written back and said we don't think there's a problem and the paid parking is a little distance away from the memorial. We'll keep an eye on it.
Now, the truth of it is we've got four car parks, an underground car park, four open car parks. We have to put perimeter barriers around them. The architects tell us we've got a widen entry and exit, we've got to put boom gates in, a validation system, all of this sort of business just to maintain free parking, but we'll fight them in the car parks…
LAURIE WILSON: That almost sounds like a conclusion, but it's not. Look, I should mention that this is - we've just passed our normal concluding time for our events, but Dr Nelson's indicated he's more than happy to take a number of other questions and go on. So we'll take the next question from Mark Parton, which I think might also be a local question.
QUESTION:Thank you, Dr Nelson. We've had a pretty interesting day today, of course, with the swearing of a new prime minister and I know that you're certainly not casting yourself in the role here as a political commentator, but it's a fact of life that you've spent much more time with Tony Abbott than most of us and you've seen him at his best and at his worst. The election's over, the gloves are off, no one's trying to win votes anymore, so we're all friends here. Please tell us something about Tony Abbott today that we don't know, whether it's good or bad. This is anecdotal. Please share.
BRENDAN NELSON:Well, look, I - he could tell you lots of things about me, I can assure you. But I - look, I can say that at a personal level I've been a bit distressed about the way that he's been characterised and portrayed over the last few years. He's been described variously as having certain views in relation to women, and other things.
All I can say to you - that having - knowing Tony Abbott as I do, and knowing him very well, he's a person that listens, he's actually got an open mind, he's prepared to listen to a different point of view and respect it, he actually treats people with decency. Over the years I have dealt with, and seen people through my medical and my political and other lives, who treat, you know, the chairman or the president, or whoever, with deferential respect, and treat everybody else like mud, Tony Abbott is a person who is much more inclined to go and say hello to the cleaner, or the attendant, or the person who's running the car park than he is to rush over to say hello to the person who holds the highest office. That's him. It's a natural thing.
He's also a person who's remarkably modest, and in terms of his own achievements and the things that he's done not only in raising his family but also his community service. And I can assure you as an Australian, and I am a member of the Liberal Party and I will be to the day I die, but I also believe that he will very much grow into this role that's so important for all of us, and I think we've all - I think it's fair to say that we've seen him in his public life actually mature politically over the last few years.
And I remember Mark Riley, when I announced the front bench late in 2007, first question was asking about Tony, and I said well he's a fast bowler and we need him in the pace attack, and he's now very much an all-rounder.
LAURIE WILSON: Next question from Ross Peake.
QUESTION:Ross Peake from the Canberra Times Dr Nelson. I wanted to ask you about the proposal for World War One and World War Two memorials down the end of Anzac Parade at the lake end. So, as director of the War Memorial, do you think we need them? Is it going to duplicate what you're doing? And also, if it goes ahead, do you think they'll look good? I mean, it's going to be 20 metres, 15, now down to 12. Do you think they'll look good, or they'll be an eyesore?
BRENDAN NELSON: Well, thank you Ross. Look, I'll give it to you straight. I met with the proponents, wonderful people, proponents of these two memorials, and can I say to you I wasn't aware that anyone was proposing such things until I started at the Australian War Memorial just before Christmas last year, my only excuse being that I'd been overseas for three years.
So I listened very much to the pitch in relation to them and I said well, I said let's imagine for a minute that I'm Charles Bean, and this gentleman here with me is John Treloar, the first director. We both land on the 25th of April 1915, we stay with the troops, we see them falling like flies at Pozieres, 23,000 casualties in six weeks. I say to John, look, I know what I'm going to do, when we get back and this is all over, I'm going to build a memorial, a museum to the finest army that I've ever seen. He comes back to Australia in 1917, convinces the Government to pass an act to give effect to the birth of the Australian War Memorial, he starts collecting things from the soldiers and the battlefields, he goes back in 1919 to Turkey, France, Belgium, collecting things. We emerge from the war very anti-war, we go through the Great Depression, the shadows of another war coming, it's 1941, he's finally got the War Memorial open, we're into the Second World War. And I said to them now, imagine it's 1946, and you guys walk in and say I've head a great idea. We ought to build a memorial to the First World War and the Second World War just down the road here.
My view is that the good intentions of this, and the wonderful motives of it, are exceeded only by the absurdity. I - look I realise that sounds flippant, and I'm sure that - and I don't wish to offend anybody, but to me this is not a sensible proposal. And the Australian War Memorial is, in my very strong view, the place where we guard their record as Bean said. The Vietnam Memorial, the Memorial to the Army, Air Force and Navy, to nurses, the proposed peacekeepers memorial, the Boer War Memorial - and for corporate Australia, those two memorials desperately need support, they are all imminently needed, not just defensible (*), and Anzac Parade, but these two memorials, I - look, as you - I won't go any further, as you can see I don't see the argument for it.
I mean, what's Anzac Day going to look like. You know, we have dawn service at the Australian War Memorial, and by the way those projections, the readings, and all of those things, that'll continue, and then we sort of - we go off down Anzac Parade and have another one?
LAURIE WILSON: Okay, look, time is getting on. We've got three more questions, I'd like to get through all three of them if we could.
BRENDAN NELSON:That's a pity.
LAURIE WILSON:Therefore, members keep their questions short. Roger Hausmann.
QUESTION:Roger Hausmann for Inside Canberra. Given your speech and touching briefly on the future, how do you see cyber warfare, and how does it fit with the National War Memorial?
BRENDAN NELSON: Well, that's an interesting question. I hadn't actually though of cyber warfare in the context of the Australian War Memorial. It's possible with the passage of time it may become a part of our story. Certainly, cyber warfare, and Australia's defensive posture in relation to cyber threats, working with our key allies in the region throughout the world, is a very important part of what our intelligence and security agencies are currently doing.
I suspect if it is ever to be told at the Australian War Memorial, it will be quite some time before those sort of things are declassified enough to tell the story. So, good question, but not one I can easily answer.
LAURIE WILSON: John Millard.
QUESTION: Thank you Laurie. John Millard, freelance. Dr Nelson, directors of the Australian War Memorial have frequently been senior officers of the armed forces, but you have a very different background in medicine, policy, politics, diplomacy and, dare I say, unionism. [laughs]
Will your term as director see possible changes in the policy direction, as well as the technological things that you've signalled? And does the inclusion of former members of peace keeping forces, as well as those of theatres of war, perhaps reflect such a change?
BRENDAN NELSON: Well look, the Australian War Memorial has at times had non-military directors of the memorial. And I think what's important is that yes, there are obvious benefits and strengths in having a former military person. But there are also strengths in having non-military people. And I think what's most important is that there is an understanding of, to the extent that it's possible for a person who's never served in the forces, and a deep respect for our military - that's an essential prerequisite.
But when I went to the interview panel, when I came back to Australia for it, I was asked the question, so, Dr Nelson, how do you feel about the idea of possibly being director of the Australian War Memorial when you actually don't know anything about running these things? And I said well, I've been in positions before where I really have come into a job having very limited expertise and understanding of what's involved. But there are 330 experts at the Australian War Memorial, and they've all forgotten more than I will ever know about any of this.
But I said my experience, both through the medical profession, education and defence portfolios, is that experts tend to see the world through a straw. And in the end someone has to provide vision, management and intellectual rigour to the process of exercising judgement on behalf of everyday Australians.
So I think at times there are things, as a non-military person, that I look at - like the listing people Australians killed in non-war-like operations on the Roll of Honour. To me it seemed like something we should be doing. If Australian families give their sons and daughters to the Australian Defence Force with pride, and a sense of ambivalence, and then throughout the course of that they emerge having lost their lives on an operation sent by the Australian Government, named by the chief of Defence, their sacrifice for our nation is no less worthy than those who have been killed in wars.
In fact Ben Roberts-Smith, as you know Victoria Cross, Medal of Gallantry, Ben said to me when I was grappling with this issue, he said, mate he said you know what I'd do, at least you've got an idea. I said yeah. He said I'd rather be doing what I'm doing than be an unarmed peace keeper on the Golan Heights. And I think there's a lot of truth in that.
LAURIE WILSON:And our final question today from Mark Kenny.
QUESTION: Mark Kenny, Dr Nelson, from The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. I can't have been the only one who noticed here today that you didn't refer to notes once during your very detailed address. I know there's a tradition in the House of Commons where people get up and ask questions of the executive without reading them out, and I notice for example that one of your party's representatives was not so good at naming even the second of a six point plan. And he only named the first one, because that was name of the policy.
So I guess what I'm asking you is to reflect on whether we get the quality we expect out of our elected representatives, given that they're, you know, earning $200,000 a year base salary. So I just wanted your reflections on that.
BRENDAN NELSON:Yeah, well thanks Mark. Look, I must say, in 2008 when I was Opposition leader and, as you know, it was a very challenging time for all kinds of reasons. And I remember one day Brian Loughnane, the director of the Liberal Party, he said to me - I said to him, I said Brian look, we've got all of these challenges, I said Peter, for reasons I understand and respect, Peter Costello has chosen not to be the leader, Mr Turnbull is a particularly ambitious individual, and Kevin Rudd is immensely popular. I think still the most popular Prime Minister in modern polling history, as he was in 2008.
And I said I always knew this was going to be tough, but this is much more difficult than I expected. And he said it is tougher than it normally is, for a lot of reasons, and he said Brendan you've got to understand you're now in the entertainment space. And what he meant by that is that politics is now, in the last few years, has moved into entertainment.
I had been overseas in Brussels for just over a year when I made my first trip back to Australia. And one of the striking things that I observed was I could turn on the television, and there were people endlessly commenting on what was going on. One panel after another, some of my former colleagues popping up, having views on all sorts of things. And we went into an environment where I found myself, just in that year, as Opposition leader, having to comment on things that aren't important in terms of our national life and in particular in terms of the national governance of the country.
And I think at times I - we've got - it's the T.S. Eliot thing, you know, where is the knowledge we've lost in information, where is the wisdom that we've lost in all this information. And I think that that's, if - the last thing I'm going to do is to give my party, and certainly the new Prime Minister, Prime Minister Abbott and his colleagues free public advice.
But I think I'm already observing a Prime Minister and a Government that's thinking less is more. And you - the other things that's happened, you don't need me to tell you this, is the media landscape has radically changed, and not for the better.
You know, we've got the print media, and those of you employed… still employed by it are having to work even more desperately. And the stories are becoming, in my view, more polarised, more colourful. The stories are often at the expense of people. And, in fact, when my leadership group at the Memorial first say the Afghanistan Exhibition and that physical and emotional landscape in terms of telling the story, when they first saw it - I've been to Afghanistan eight or nine times, but they hadn't. Apart from the tears and the emotion in what they had seen and heard, the first one said to me, I had no idea! I had no idea we were doing all those things in Afghanistan. Why didn't somebody tell me? And I said, well, it's not for lack of trying.
BRENDAN NELSON:But the reason for it is that in Afghanistan what's reported is causalities, things that are said that are a little bit erratic by President Karzai from time to time, what might be going on in the Pakistan/Afghan border, but that's about it. You know, people learning that we're educating young Muslim girls, that we're standing up for values for which our nation stands. All of those things - barely told. And if they are, it will be to the Chris Masters and Mark Riley trying to pack it into a small package in some of the stuff he's doing.
So, in terms of any sort of advice I would give to the new government, which seems to be one that they already have, and that is that less is more. I thought when I heard that Prime Minster Abbott had not done a full press conference for 10 days or a week or something, I thought, that's good. So he's probably hearing me saying that and thinking, oh, perhaps I've done something wrong.
BRENDAN NELSON: So, anyway, look, thank you, Laurie. And thank you to all of you. And one other thing I should have said because I know Jeremy Newman's here from DFAT. In relation to the free-trade agreement and the prospect of it with the European Union, an essential pre-condition, as I said, is this treaty framework agreement. We've done all of the negotiations, but Australia is a modern democracy with a free independent press. We also have a free judiciary. We are a leader in terms of human rights, and being a good global citizen.
For the European Union to say to a country like Australia, to say to my country, you can't have a treaty framework agreement unless you sign up to non-compliance clauses around human rights, rule of law, democracy and link all of your existing agreements to it, is madness. And, in fact, I said before I left - as you can see I'm not planning on another diplomatic career - as I said to them before I left, I said the risk that Europe has is having meaningless agreements with people who are not your friends and no agreements with the people that are.
Our nation and Europe needs a free trade agreement. It's 15 per cent on average of our two-way trade, the EU trade, and it's our largest source of foreign direct investment, about $140 billion a year. We can both benefit from an FTA and it's one of the few levers the Europeans have got to pull. But if anyone thinks that any Australian government, whatever side, is going to sign up to something that opens up our wine agreement - sparkling wine, not champagne - exchange of classified information, our passenger name record agreement, and the other agreements we've already signed, then they are mad and they don't understand us.
The Europeans have a problem they've created for themselves, and this is something that has to be fixed. The Canadians know that, the Japanese know that and the Koreans know that. And if anyone thinks that the US Congress, in starting on this trade investment agreement across the Atlantic, which we all hope and pray is finally finalised, if anyone in Brussels thinks the European Congress, let alone the leadership in China when it comes to China, 19 per cent of its own exports going to Europe, is going to agree to any of that, well then they're not living in the same planet I'm on.
LAURIE WILSON: Thank you very much.
LAURIE WILSON: I think I did notice our friends from the European Union taking a few notes at that point.
LAURIE WILSON: Look, Brendan, I hope you don't mind me calling you by first name, we known one another many years. So, look, it is a pleasure to have you back at the club. It's been quite a few years since you were here. Let's hope it's not so long again. The first opportunity we've had to formerly welcome you back since you returned to Australia, and an opportunity to welcome you back to membership at the club as well. So, thank you very much.
BRENDAN NELSON:Thanks, Laurie. Thank you.
BRENDAN NELSON: Thank you very much, everyone.
- Wednesday 18 September 2013
- Dr Brendan Nelson