25 May 2009
Joint Press Conference with Mr Bernard Membe, Tanzanian Foreign Minister
Subjects: Trade, investment and economic ties between Australia and Africa, Australia's bid for a UN Security Council seat, Hugh Borrowman, FTAs and the unions, Somalia, the European Union, whaling envoy, New Zealand and ASEAN FTA and Pakistan.
STEPHEN SMITH: Can I firstly officially welcome Tanzania's Foreign Minister, Bernard Membe, to Australia and Bernard this is not the first time we've met. We met in Addis Ababa at the meeting of African Union Foreign Ministers in January of this year and we'd previously spoken on the phone.
But this is a landmark visit. This is the first visit of an African Foreign Minister to Australia under the current Government. It's the first visit by a Foreign Minister from Tanzania in 20 years and it reflects the Australian Government's very deep commitment to enhancing our engagement with the continent and the countries of Africa.
In January Foreign Minister Membe was the Chair of the African Union Foreign Ministers meeting in Addis Ababa where I had the honour and the pleasure to be the first Australian Foreign Minister to speak at an African Union Summit of Foreign Ministers.
I there made the point that Australia wanted to and needed to enhance its engagement with Africa and the countries of Africa and we've had a very good bilateral meeting this morning where I've reinforced these points.
There's a lot of trade, investment, economic and commercial opportunity for Australia so far as Africa is concerned. Australia is a continent of 20 million people. Africa is a continent of nearly a billion people and for a country like Australia, which has survived economically by being a great trading nation, there are very many opportunities in Africa.
Indeed the people to people exchanges and the economic exchanges have gotten ahead of the government exchanges.
Foreign Minister Membe will spend time in Canberra, Sydney and Perth and in Perth at the end of this week he'll visit the super pit in Kalgoorlie and spend time with Australia's mineral resources industry in Perth. That is one of the great economic opportunities that Australia and Africa and Australia and Tanzania have.
We've also spoken today about areas of great complementarity between Australia and Tanzania: a keen interest in enhancing our development assistance and our capacity building in and with Tanzania in child and maternal health care, in agriculture, in water and water sanitation. So we've had a very productive and enjoyable session.
We've also spoken about some of the issues of keen interest to Australia and Australians so far as Africa is concerned, in particular Zimbabwe. I complimented Foreign Minister Membe and President Kikwete privately and I do publicly, on the very strong stand they've taken in arguing for Zimbabwe to return to democracy and for the international community to render Zimbabwe economic and social assistance.
And I'm very pleased to announce that today I'll be announcing a further six million dollar contribution from Australia to the transitional government in Zimbabwe to Prime Minister Tsvangirai to assist the ongoing development of Zimbabwe. This follows on from the ten million dollars that I announced a month or so ago and I'll detail that six million dollars later this afternoon.
So Bernard, we're very pleased to have you here. Of course we finish today's activities by jointly celebrating Africa Day. The 25th of May marks the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union and today is the 46th anniversary of the formation of the African Union or the Organisation of African Unity. So we'll mark that at a celebration ceremony at the Egyptian Embassy later this evening.
So we're very pleased to see you here. We're very pleased you're here on Africa Day and we look forward to enhancing not just Australia's engagement with Tanzania, but also continuing to enhance our engagement with Africa and the African Union.
I'd be very pleased, Bernard, if you could make some opening remarks.
BERNARD MEMBE: Thank you very much Steve. I'm coming from a continent known as Africa. A continent that is known for its poverty, diseases and conflicts, and those are not exaggerations, there it is on the ground.
I have known Steve since January because of his commitment and Australia's government commitment to address those three issues that I've just said, poverty and underdevelopment, conflicts in the region and diseases.
Australia is a great friend of Africa. Steve came, as he has just said, he came to address the executive council and to convey the deep commitment of the Australian Government towards addressing these issues and towards consolidating the relations between Australia and Africa.
The situation on the ground is realistic, that Australia has made significant contributions to the continent in those areas of peace in conflict, development and poverty. You are there in the Darfur region for peace operations. You are helping my country, Tanzania, on secondary school education materials, offering of scholarships and of fellowships.
You are addressing the education issues in Tanzania, let alone the young ambassadors of Australia who I engaged in helping other primary and secondary schools in Tanzania, 12 of them digging and preparing wells and offering classrooms to those needy people in Tanzania.
But we have also, that is Australia, you have also made this substantial contribution on water development issues in Zimbabwe, five million dollars and one million also related to health issues in Zimbabwe.
And so the contribution of Australia to Africa's development and emancipation from poverty is beyond words and so I've come here to really convey to the Australian Government our commitment to work with the Australian Government and our dedication to work together to mitigate the crises that are facing Africa today.
Diseases are there. We have the Australian Surgical Mission that is offering flying to Dar Es Salaam, to Tanzania to make operations, conduct operations to our patients. These are the issues that we need to come from friends, best of friends, like Australia.
So I have just come to appreciate to the Government and to my colleague, Steve, that we very much appreciate and very much realise that there is deep friendship between Australia and Africa. Thousands of miles away though you are, we appreciate the long range development and humanitarian assistance that you have been giving.
And we are ready to take questions.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much. If we can just have questions on the bilateral relationship or Africa generally first and then I'm happy to respond to whatever domestic questions you have. Sandra?
QUESTION: Mr Membe, because the Rudd Government's announcement of this sort of deeper engagement and commitment to Africa has coincided with its running for a temporary seat on the UN Security Council there's been some suggestions in Australia that the two issues may somehow be linked, this greater friendship towards Africa has come at a time when Australia needs a significant block of votes from Africa for the Security Council bid.
Do you think that's a cynical portrayal of the relationship? During your meetings with Stephen Smith both now and previously has that issue been discussed?
BERNARD MEMBE: Yes. I don't think that the assistance that has been rendered by the Australian Government has anything to do with its bid to the Security Council. The assistance that has been rendered by Australia to the continent has been there since a very long time, Tanzania and elsewhere.
We have enjoyed the scholarships and the fellowships from the Australian Government even before they had any thought about bidding to the Security Council. Australia has been engaged, as I've said, in the peace keeping missions in Africa long ago, even before they even contemplated bidding for the Security Council.
Australia's bid to join the Security Council has been appreciated in Africa because of its merits. You need - you certainly need all these continents to join the Security Council. Africa is now vying to have at least two positions in the Security Council together with a veto.Remember, six per cent of all issues that are discussed in the Security Council are about Africa and yet we are not represented in the Security Council. Now we've found a friend, Australia. Australia is also bidding to join the non permanent members of the Security Council in the UN.
And the deal is this. If Australia wants better position we have asked Australia to help Africa also secure their positions in the Security Council. That is the deal. It's not in between development issues or even [indistinct] issues and the Security Council position, it is between them joining the Security Council and Africa joining the Security Council so that together we can transform the world.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you very much Bernard. If I can add to that, firstly we've made it clear that we think the United Nations Security Council needs to reflect the modern world. It can't reflect the 1940s and the 1950s.
That's why for example we've said that India should be represented on the Security Council. That's why we've said Japan for example should be represented on a reformed Security Council. That's why there should be representation from Africa on a reformed Security Council.
If I can go to the question of our bid for a temporary spot on the Security Council for the term 2013/2014, our relationship with Africa transcends that and it has to.
I've made the point from day one that whilst it is the case that particularly with some countries from South Africa or Southern Africa, including South Africa itself and Tanzania, Australia has historically had a longstanding and a good relationship.
Australia frankly has neglected the continent and many of the countries of Africa in the modern day. Australia cannot afford, for economic reasons let alone security or strategic reasons, to ignore and neglect a continent of over 50 countries with a population of nearly a billion people.
And that is at the heart of the Government's very strong commitment to enhancing our engagement with Africa and the countries of Africa. And there is a lot of economic and other complementarities between Australia and Africa; in some of the areas that Bernard mentioned, our world class capacity in education which sees very many African students being attracted to Australia.
It's why we have increased the number of scholarships available for African students to a thousand over the next four to five years. It's why we think we have a lot to offer in terms of water and water sanitation expertise. It's why we think we have a lot to offer in child and maternal health care. It's why we think we have a lot to offer not just in terms of food aid in crises or emergencies, but also the development of food security and the development of agricultural capacity.
All of these things point to the need for a long term engagement, an engagement which frankly Australia has neglected in the past. That has to be rectified in the long term national interest of Australia, not rectified in the short term for the purposes of a Security Council ballot.
QUESTION: Are there any plans to open any new Australian embassies or high commissions in Africa or in Tanzania?
STEPHEN SMITH: We are underrepresented in Africa diplomatically in terms of our presence and our mission and you would have noticed that in the most recent budget we had a modest increase of resources to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade including a modest increase of resources for our regional engagement including Africa.
One of the things that I am contemplating in that context is our capacity to enhance our diplomatic presence in Africa including in Tanzania. We are underrepresented in Africa and we need to start the job now of fixing that problem into the longer term.
BERNARD MEMBE: In fact I can also add to that, that even we in Tanzania are seriously contemplating opening an embassy in Australia so that we together can make a difference.
STEPHEN SMITH: And we welcome that possibility very much.
BERNARD MEMBE: Yes.
QUESTION: Maybe move on to a domestic issue, but on the issue of the company Securency. It's been suggested that you were asked to lobby on their behalf, the foreign governments including India. Is that true and would it be appropriate?
STEPHEN SMITH: Securency is a company which has a very strong interest from the Reserve Bank of Australia and I'm very happy to provide the precise details on notice but on at least one occasion I have made representations on their behalf to have countries contemplate using their expertise in terms of the development of currency. I'm quite happy to check the record and detail that for you or anyone else. That's the first point.
Secondly, I see in the press today that suggestions or allegations have been made which the board of the company have quite properly and appropriate referred to the Federal Police for investigation. That's a matter for the Federal Police and we should await the outcome of their investigation.
But I'm very happy to detail for all concerned whatever representations I've made on Securency in the case of either colleague foreign ministers or in other nations I'm very happy to check the record and do that as quickly as I can.
QUESTION: Was that with India?
STEPHEN SMITH: I can't recall which is why I'm saying I'm very happy to provide the precise details. I know I've done it on at least one occasion. I'm very happy, as I say, to check the record and provide that detail as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Sorry, there's one other question. Is it appropriate for a government organisation or a company linked to basically a government organisation to be paying commissions into [indistinct] accounts …
STPEHEN SMITH: That assumes an outcome of which we don't know and which will be the subject of an Australian Federal Police investigation. Other people can make conclusions. For myself I'm happy to wait for the outcome of the Australian Federal Police investigation.
QUESTION: Mr Smith, did the issue of Somalia come up given that the African Union is having a really tough time in Mogadishu right now? Perhaps the support of providing defence support to ...
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes, we spoke about Somalia in two respects. Firstly the very deleterious state in Somalia itself and how that has deteriorated in recent times and secondly the difficulty we're now finding with the activities of pirates off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden.
I made the point to Foreign Minister Membe that Australia is giving consideration to what, if anything, we can do by way of assistance with the International Maritime Force in the Gulf to add to that. That's something which the Defence Minister has under consideration but we did speak about Somalia on both those fronts and I'm happy, Bernard, for you to add if you want to.
BERNARD MEMBE: Yes, we discussed this as one of the major hot spots in Africa. We discussed the triangle of crises in Somalia, the crisis of security which the government of the day finds itself spending most of its time in the bunkers and not outside because of the civil war that has erupted between clients and landlords. That's one crisis, security crisis.
Now we have the second crisis of poverty. Poverty is reigning in Somalia because the people have no time at all to engage in economic activities. Thanks to the World Food Program that over the past six months has provided more than 3,500 tonnes, but when this piracy crisis came in they reduced their sending of the ships to the coast of Somalia for those reasons.
But the third crisis of course is piracy, just as Steve has said and I'm so thankful for the commitment of the Australian Government to that effect. On the ground we have the Burundian forces and Ugandan forces with a total number of 3,000 soldiers to try to resolve the crisis in Somalia. It's not enough.
We have Nigeria, Ghana and the Malawi countries that had pledged to send in more soldiers to Somalia to address the security crisis but they've not done so because the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations in general has not provided logistical support, financial support to these troops that needed to go and engage the crisis in Mogadishu.
And so we are calling upon the Security Council not to evade its responsibility for addressing issues in a failed state of Somalia but we are also grateful to the friends outside the continent who are ready and willing to give humanitarian assistance to the much needed people in Somalia, and that includes your company.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Bernard. Just a couple of weeks ago I announced a two million contribution in that respect.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that the Whaling Envoy's contract is going to be extended and if so what are the reasons for that ...
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, the detail of that is a matter for my colleague Peter Garrett, the Minister for Environment. That's the first thing.
Secondly, the Budget papers show that funds have been provided for his contract to the end of June this year, as I think Peter Garrett, my colleague, made clear over the weekend. At the end of the next financial year there'll be an accounting as to what additional funds, if any, have been allocated for the whaling envoy beyond 30 June this year.
So that's something that we will give consideration to. From my own perspective I have found the work of the whaling envoy very helpful. We continue to press Japan both bilaterally and multilaterally including through the International Whaling Commission of our public policy objective which is for Japan to cease whaling in the Great Southern Oceans.
So that is detail which we will see unfold after 30 June this year, but as I say, from an accounting point of view, these things are accounted at the end of each financial year, not at the beginning of them.
QUESTION: Notwithstanding the comments you've already made about the Ambassador to Sweden, how crucial do you think language skills are to an Ambassador to any nation and is the Government considering making language skills more of a prerequisite for those appointments?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well language is a relevant material criteria. Let me make some general remarks about appointments to Ambassadorial positions or to High Commission positions.
Firstly in accordance with longstanding practice, the Minister for Foreign Affairs makes recommendations to the Governor General and Executive Council. In accordance with longstanding practice often the Minister for Foreign Affairs will consult with the Prime Minister, but once that decision is put before the Governor General and Executive Council and that's approved by the Governor General and Executive Council a statement is made announcing the appointment.
I've announced an appointment of Mr Borrowman as our Ambassador to Sweden. He's a very good officer. He'll make a very good Ambassador and Sweden is an important post.
We are seeking to modernise and enhance our engagement with the European Union, reflected by the Australia European Union partnership framework agreement which I presented with Foreign Minister Kouchner last year when France was the President or the Chair of the European Union.
From 1 July this year, Sweden will be the chair of the European Union so Mr Borrowman will go to Sweden with an important job to do and with all of the resources of the government available in that post.
Language is an important criteria for appointment to overseas positions. It's not the only criteria, but it is an important criteria.
The final point I make is this. I never have and I don't propose to, and this has been precisely the practice of previous governments, to get into conversations with anyone about the merits or demerits of candidate or candidates for Ambassadorial positions.
Sometimes people put themselves forward themselves. Sometimes they put themselves forward courtesy of a newspaper or a journalist. I never comment on the merits of people until I have made an announcement about the appointment of a person as an Australian Ambassador or High Commissioner and in the case of Mr Borrowman, he's a very good officer, he'll make a very good ambassador in an important post.
QUESTION: Mr Smith, the situation in Pakistan, is there anything more you can tell us?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well Australia of course continues to be very concerned about developments in Pakistan. We continue to render our support to Pakistan. You might recall that last week I announced additional humanitarian assistance for displaced people in the Swat Valley and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, some twelve million dollars.
At the same time last week the Minister for Defence, Joel Fitzgibbon was hosting a visit by the Pakistan Chief of Armed Forces because when I went to Pakistan earlier this year, Foreign Minister Qureshi and I agreed that we should enhance our bilateral relationship and Australia should do its part or play its part in seeking to help Pakistan confront its economic and security challenges.
I spoke to Foreign Minister Qureshi on Thursday or Friday of last week. He was very grateful to receive the additional humanitarian assistance for displaced people. He was very pleased, as I was, that the visit by the Chief of Armed Forces of Pakistan had been a successful visit where views and information was exchanged. He was very pleased with Australia's ongoing support.
He told me that he believed that the Pakistan military was making good ground against the extremists and terrorists in the Swat Valley but that the number of displaced people was very, very large. And Pakistan needed not just Australia's assistance but the assistance of the international community to deal with that very significant humanitarian issue and crisis.
I told him that as I had committed at the Friends of Democratic Pakistan meeting in Tokyo in April, Australia had committed itself to doubling its development and humanitarian assistance to Pakistan, that given the large numbers of peoples now that we're dealing with, over a million, some say over a million and a half, I would look at what more Australia could do to further assist the displaced people from the Swat Valley.
I continue to press upon Foreign Minister Qureshi the importance of Pakistan making progress against the terrorist and extremist threat in the Pakistan Afghanistan border. I welcomed the fact that there was better and ongoing cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I advised him that we had recently appointed a Special Envoy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the former Defence Secretary and Deputy Secretary in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Rick Smith, and he would be attending a meeting of envoys in the last couple of days and he welcomed the appointment and welcomed the contribution that Australia was making.
QUESTION: Mr Smith, there are reports that the union movement will be urging the government to halt negotiations on free trade deals because of the current economic climate. How would the Rudd Government view …
STEPHEN SMITH: We've made the point I think absolutely crystal clear. The Prime Minister's made it and the Treasurer's made it. I've made it and the Minister for Trade has made it, that this is the very last point at which there should be a retreat to protectionism or a move away from open access to trade.
At times of economic constraint and difficulty, it is precisely the time to push forward with openness and access and we've been strongly making that point whether it's in respect of the Doha round which we continue to want to bring to a successful conclusion, or whether it is the striking of free trade agreements with other nation states or with organisations which are at least compatible with multilateral outcomes.
And in that respect we've very pleased with the striking of the Australia New Zealand ASEAN Free Trade Agreement at the end of last year and we continue to progress our negotiations on the free trade front very rigorously indeed.
Thanks very much, Bernard.
BERNARD MEMBE: It's been a pleasure.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you.
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