• Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP: I have just concluded a very productive meeting with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina and we discussed our very strong bilateral relationship and we also discussed our role at the Global Summit of Women which I opened last evening. She will be receiving a leadership award this evening.

This Global Summit has 1250 delegates from 65 countries and it is focusing on the empowerment of women and girls worldwide. The Prime Minister and I also spoke about the Rohingya issue and the number of displaced people from Rakhine State. We discussed steps that we could take to return the Rohingyas to Myanmar and what more the international community can do to resolve this most troubling and disconcerting issue that has affected almost a million people from Myanmar and across the border into Bangladesh.

Today I note that the North-South Korean Leaders Summit is underway. It is the first time in 65 years that a leader from North Korea has crossed the border into South Korea and it is the first time in over 10 years that the leaders of North and South Korea have met.

We see this as an opportunity for North Korea to demonstrate verifiable steps that it will take to denuclearise - not only to stop its illegal nuclear weapons and ballistic missile testing, but also to denuclearise. I had a conversation with earlier this week with the Republic of Korea's Foreign Minister Kang and she assured me that the issue of denuclearisation is on the table and we await with anticipation the outcome of these talks.

Earlier this morning I took a phone call from the newly confirmed United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It was a very productive discussion. We spoke about the Australia-US alliance, we spoke about some of our regional and global challenges, we talked about the opportunity for AUSMIN, the Australia-US ministerial forum to take place this year, we discussed the Korean Peninsula issue and the summit that is under way. Secretary Pompeo also took the opportunity to reassure me that the appointment of a US Ambassador to Australia was one of his highest priorities. He was confirmed only a few hours before leaving the United States to travel to a NATO meeting, and he made the phone call to me during his flight. I understand it was one of his earliest calls since his confirmation and we were reassured that the Australia-United States relationship is the strongest that it has ever been and we committed to resolving challenges as partners, as friends, as allies, wherever and however we could do so.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you mentioned the North Korean summit. How confident should the global community be that that is going to lead to any tangible outcome given North Korea's past examples of walking away from commitments?

JULIE BISHOP: I think we should maintain our expectations. This is a first step, a preliminary step, and as you point out, North Korea has in the past made promises, signed agreements, yet failed to honour them. So we cautiously welcome this summit. It is a first in many years for the two leaders to meet. For a North Korean leader to cross the border into the southern side of the demilitarised zone is quite some progress, but we will see how the discussion progresses and whether there are any particular outcomes.

I have been assured by South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang that we will receive a briefing on the meeting next week.

JOURNALIST: And on another issue, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service is arguing against the release of classified documents from operations in East Timor 40 years ago. Why should they remain secret given countries like the US have regularly released documents like this?

JULIE BISHOP: It is not a practice of the Australian Government to comment on intelligence matters and so I won't be doing so in this instance, but secondly, this is a matter currently before the Administrative Appeal Tribunal and it would inappropriate for me to provide running commentary.

JOURNALIST: Would Australia consider suspending any military operations or relationships with Myanmar?

JULIE BISHOP: We don't have any military operations with Myanmar. We provide militant training to some members of the Myanmar military but we have weapons, arms embargo in place against the Myanmar military, we don't have operational exercises with them. What we are seeking to do is to engage in dialogue as we do with Aung San Suu Kyi, when she was in Sydney for the ASEAN-Australia Leaders Summit. We are working with other countries. When I was in London last week I attended a meeting that was convened by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and the Bangladesh Foreign Minister Ali, and we worked out what could be done to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh, find a way for the Rohingyas to return to their home if they wish to return home, and also to ensure that there is an independent investigation into the allegations of breaches of human rights, violations and atrocities that occurred in Rakhine State.

JOURNALIST: There about to face monsoon season, will Australia consider increasing any aid ahead of that?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has contributed over $31 million, about $31.4 million, to Bangladesh for humanitarian support. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina thanked me for Australia's support. We continue to have the situation under review.

JOURNALIST: And finally, will foreign aid be exempt from any cuts in the Budget?

JULIE BISHOP: The Budget will be handed down on the 8th of May and any announcements about the foreign aid budget, as with everything else, will be made on that day.

JOURNALIST: One last question Minister has there been any reason provided to the Australian Government on why we have been blocked from joining the Malabar naval exercises?

JULIE BISHOP: That is a matter you will have to raise with the Defence Minister.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any comment on the Bangladesh Prime Minister's leadership?

JULIE BISHOP: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been invited to address the Global Summit of Women that is being held here in Sydney, and which I formally opened last evening. I understand that she is to receive an award recognising her leadership as the longstanding Prime Minister of Bangladesh, and the commitment she has given to women and girls, and her focus on educating women and girls in Bangladesh, and ensuring they have opportunities to take part in the formal labour market. She has been an inspiration to many women around the world.

JOURNALIST: Does Australia push Myanmar to bring back Rohingya in Myanmar-

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is part of an international effort to encourage Myanmar to live up to its responsibilities for people who were living in Rakhine State, who have now been displaced. We urge Myanmar to allow their peaceful return and to provide them with the support that they need so they can return to their homes and reunite families. In the meantime, we are working with others to support Bangladesh as it hosts millions of displaced people. It is a great burden on Bangladesh and we are working with others to ensure that the people are receiving humanitarian support, but there is also a pathway for them to return home.

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