Rudd: We must act now on Pakistan

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has given his first press conference since being given the role by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, singling out the Pakistani floods as an immediate issue, while biting back at journalists who pressed him on losing the role of PM.

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He said it is a great honour to act as the Foreign Minister, and said his predecessor Stephen Smith had been an “excellent foreign minister”.

Pakistan floods a focus for Rudd

Mr Rudd focused on the issue of Pakistan’s devastating floods, and said he is going to Pakistan as AusAid officials told him there was a “slow burn humanitarian disaster”.

“The great danger AusAid officials see is the real prospect of a mass outbreak of water-borne disease,” Mr Rudd said.

He stressed that Australia is currently the fifth largest donor at $35 million, and said that the international community needs to do more.

“The time for action is now,” he said.

He said that Prime Minister Gillard shares his “deep humanitarian concern” for the flood survivors.

Australia ‘committed’ to Afghanistan

Set to travel to the US over the weekend, Mr Rudd said he will meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other officials in Washington, with Afghanistan “high on the agenda”.

When asked if Australia would commit to bringing troops back in two to four years, he said it is contingent on Australia’s mission statement; training Afghans to take responsibility for Oruzgan Province.

People are ‘starving to death’

He also said he will meet the UN Secretary General’s high level panel on sustainability while visiting the millennium development goals summit.

“It’s fair to say it’s giong to be tough to realised the goals that were set back in 2000,” he conceded, but stressed that Australia is “committed”.

We need to bring “billions of people around the world out of poverty”.

“There are people ‘starving to death,” he said. The goals are not just a slogan, but ‘core’ to changing people’s lives.

On East Timor and offshore processing he said the policy is clear; that such a centre would be compatible with the UN Convention, have the support of the UNHCR, and the support of “relevant regional countries”.

He said this meant there would be no “lurch to the right”.

However, Mr Rudd said, it will take time.

Climate change ‘optimism’

Asked about climate change, he called it a challenge for all countries, developing and developed, but said that being optimistic is one of the hardest things you can do in international relations.

He would not be drawn on retrospective “questions of domestic politics”.

“‘I’m the Foreign Minister… I intend to get on with the job.”

When pressed by journalists on how happy he looked during yesterday’s swearing in ceremonies, he hit back, asking one journalist what their qualification was, adding that he loved all these “psychoanalyses”.

When asked, he reiterated that he was not the source of the cabient leaks during the campaign.