Doorstop - Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP: I am very pleased to be here in London in the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting that will take place later this week. I arrived here on Monday and in that time I've had a series of significant meetings that certainly underpin the importance of the Commonwealth of Nations. It is worth remembering that the Commonwealth is made up of 53 nations, 2.4 billion people across six continents. We make up a quarter of the membership of the United Nations, so when the Commonwealth acts collectively it can make a global difference.

I spoke at the Commonwealth Business Forum on Monday and talked about the potential for greater trade and investment between Commonwealth countries and also the need for the Commonwealth to promote and advocate for the benefits of free and open liberalised trade and investment. I also spoke at a Youth Forum and met a number of young Australians who are here as part of the Australian youth delegation and it is heartening to see so many young people involved in Commonwealth activities.

This morning I attended a meeting chaired by Fiji on climate change. This is a significant concern of Commonwealth nations in the Pacific and I also attended a small ministerial level meeting hosted by Amber Rudd the Home Affairs, Home Office, Minister here in the UK on preventing the use of the internet for terrorist activity and this was a very useful dialogue.

I've just been at a meeting of Pacific Island leaders, a very positive discussion about how the Pacific as a block within the Commonwealth can make its voice heard on issues of concern to Pacific Leader – a very warm and positive discussion.

I've also attended a couple of side meetings on the issue of orphanage volutourism - this is a scam occurring in our region and elsewhere where by unwitting volunteers are traveling overseas to work in orphanages, but they're not genuine orphanages. And I have also spoken at an event about modern slavery and the steps that Commonwealth countries can take to eliminate modern slavery. In fact the Australian Government will shortly introduce modern slavery legislation that will contain reporting requirements for Australia's largest businesses to raise awareness about the surge of modern slavery, to encourage disclosure, identification and disclosure, on instances of modern slavery and to clean up supply chains.

This afternoon I will speaking at an event co-hosted by the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Girls in Emergencies, and given the Pacific - our part of the world – is the most natural disaster prone on the globe this is going to be a matter of some interest, and tomorrow I will begin the more formal Commonwealth meetings.

JOURNALIST: On the sidelines of CHOGM, four of the five eyes members are here, the PM is meeting the other three tomorrow. How big an issue is Russia on the sidelines, as you would expect it to be today and the next few days?

JULIE BISHOP: We are concerned about recent malicious cyber activity that has taken place and we stand in solidarity with the United Kingdom and others in what appears to be a malicious cyber attack emanating from Russia. Of course, this reflects a pattern of behaviour over a long period of time on the part of Russia. The recent support of the Assad regime, the support of Russia in defiance of clear support for a UN Security Council resolution to carry out an investigation into the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Syria. This was blocked by Russia. That's unconscionable. We're also very concerned about the role Russia has been playing in trying to put hurdles in the way of the investigation into the cause and those responsible for the downing of MH17 which affected so may Australians. So this pattern of behaviour on the part of Russia is of concern not only to Commonwealth countries but globally.

JOURNALIST: Is there a concern that the United Nations is becoming dysfunctional because of Russia, its behaviour?

JULIE BISHOP: There is a concern that the UN Security Council is being used by Russia to shield Syria from investigation, from accountability. In fact Russia has used its veto in the Security Council on numerous occasions to shield Syria for its own purposes and this clearly is intolerable. We have to have a clear direction from the Security Council on these issues, like the use of chemical weapons – Australia's position is that the use of illegal chemical weapons, anywhere, anytime by any nation cannot be tolerated.

JOURNALIST: Is there a role for CHOGM in taking some action, you know, making a statement about Russia and also Chinese influence in the Pacific?

JULIE BISHOP: The concern of course in trying to gain consensus in that you have 53 nations from six continents of varying sizes and experiences and they all have their own connections and alliances and networks, but we are certainly all joined to a commitment to a set of values and principles: democracy, the rule of law, good governance, human rights, gender equality, sustainable economic social development. If you able to get consensus on issues we will, but I have to point out that is very difficult to gather consensus at any time amongst 53 nations.

JOURNALIST: Just to change gears just a little and to ask you to reflect on the Queen. She doesn't travel at all for CHOGMs anymore. Obviously this is a home CHOGM and she'll be at Buckingham Palace. What is the significance of what may be one of the last of her CHOGMs that she resides over?

JULIE BISHOP: I note that the Royal family has quite a presence at this Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, in fact HRH Prince William was at one of the events last evening, the Business Youth Forum event and made a delightful speech. Having the Queen preside over this Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, I think has meant renewed interest in regenerating the CHOGM and the Commonwealth more generally. And so I believe this is the first time that all 53 leaders have been present for a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting since the establishment of the new Commonwealth, the modern Commonwealth in 1949, I think that is a tribute to Her Majesty and to the importance of the British Monarch in maintaining the cohesion that underpins the Commonwealth of nations, the family of nations.

JOURNALIST: There are reports that the 53 nations are going to be asked to make some sort of decision on the future or the um of the crown in the Commonwealth after the reign of the current monarch ends, if I could put it as delicately as that. Is Australia part of those conversations at all, or will it be?

JULIE BISHOP: I cannot confirm that this will be raised as an issue at the Leaders' Summit. Obviously it has been discussed by parties because of the fact that the Queen is hosting this Summit and I don't think London will host another CHOGM for 20 years. And I know she's an extraordinary woman, but that would be a remarkable outcome if she were to host a CHOGM again. So it is obviously a discussion that people are having. Australia's position has been long standing. It's a bipartisan position and that is that we would support the continuation of the British Monarch as the Head of Commonwealth Heads of Government.

JOURNALIST: Are you expecting your UK counterpart tonight to ask Australia to do more in Syria if needs be?

JULIE BISHOP: No I'm not expecting that. Australia was not part of the air attacks over Syria in relation to the use of chemical weapons. We don't have any air assets that would be capable of carrying out such attacks in the Middle East at present and we're not expecting to be asked to do more. This was a targeted, calibrated, proportionate response by the United States, the United Kingdom and France, all permanent members of the Security Council, in response to undeniable use of chemical weapons against civilians. And so the message has been sent, as the three countries have made clear, it was not about regime change, it was not about bringing an end to the conflict in Syria per se, it was sending a very clear message that the use of chemical weapons in these circumstances will not be tolerated.

JOURNALIST: On cyber-attacks are you seeing any advice about further attacks of that kind coming from Russia, any warnings about that? And are there any concerns that Australia should feel about the exposure that they may have to those attacks?

JULIE BISHOP: In the recent malicious cyber-attacks Australian assets were not targeted, but we share a general concern that cyber space is being used for purposes other than for which it was intended, that is for e-commerce, for connecting in a positive way communities around the world. At a meeting today, at a ministerial meeting, on the use of the internet by terrorist we likened the internet to the global commons of the oceans. It is another a global good, another global common and there was discussion about whether it should be treated similarly with a universal approach, such as we have with the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, a universal approach to how cyber, how the internet should be used.

JOURNALIST: Your comments on Russia and its use of the Security Council are we now at the state at the UN, or the structure of the UN is as much part of the problem?

JULIE BISHOP: I think the use of the veto by one country to prevent action being taken, in an example like this, the resolution was for an independent investigation in to the use of chemical weapons against civilians, and to have that blocked by a permanent member of the UN Security Council raises obvious concerns. The permanent five hold a unique position to uphold international peace and security and yet the veto is used to prevent the maintenance of peace and security, well it makes the problem quite evident. Australia has been part of a number of discussions with a number of UN countries to reform the United Nations more generally, but to also look at this issue of the UN Security Council veto.

JOURNALIST: In that context was there a symbolism that Britain, France and the US performed those bombing raids, those three P5 members, was it a deliberate sort of-

JULIE BISHOP: I believe it is self-evident that the three permanent members who voted for an independent investigation, carried out by the UN, in to the use of chemical weapons were those that took action to send a very clear message that this won't be tolerated.

JOURNALIST: Just on the question of aid, Ms Bishop, does Australian want Britain to spend more aid, particularly in the Indo-Pacific after the Brexit move?

JULIE BISHOP: Almost certainly this presents an opportunity, most of the United Kingdom's aid is delivered through the EU, through a collective mechanism. Now that the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union we see it as an opportunity for the UK and its aid budget to be focused elsewhere, obviously in accordance with its national interests and its priorities. But 11 of the 15 Pacific Island forum countries are members of the Commonwealth and I think that the United Kingdom is focusing again on its responsibilities and its interests in the Pacific. We are encouraging them and in fact this was a topic of discussion at the meeting that I've just attended – how to attract British overseas development interest into the Pacific. And I think you'll find that Britain is resetting its engagement with the Pacific and we certainly welcome that.

JOURNALIST: Minister isn't it Australia's obligation and role to lift its own contribution. Britain commits 0.7% of GDP whereas 0.23 and under during your own tender we've seen massive cuts to foreign aid to historic lows. Before we tell Britain how to be spending their aid, shouldn't we be increasing ours?

JULIE BISHOP: First, I'm not telling anyone how to spend their aid, I'm making suggestions to the United Kingdom that post Brexit, when it will no longer be delivering aid through the European Union there will be opportunities for Britain to deliver directly. The European Union already delivers significant aid in the Pacific. My point is that the United Kingdom, separate from the EU, will have an opportunity, and the United Kingdom has already talking about expanding its diplomatic footprint in the Pacific. And as far as Australia is concerned we deliver an aid budget that is affordable and that is targeted. And the majority of our aid is invested the in the Pacific now and will continue to be so while I'm the Foreign Minister and I made this a priority when I became Foreign Minister five years ago that the majority of our aid would be spent, invested, where we could make the biggest difference, and that is in the Pacific. And we are the major donor in the Pacific. Our aid is targeted, it is deliverable and it is affordable. It is designed to make a significant difference in the Pacific by alleviating poverty through sustainable economic and social development, and I believe that we're meeting these aims.

JOURNALIST: When meeting the Pacific Island Ministers did you discuss Chinese aid and gifts to island nations?

JULIE BISHOP: That wasn't a matter that was raised. We talked more generally about the Pacific's priorities and they are very much focused on the impact of climate change. Australia is already working very closely in partnership with Pacific Island nations to ensure that the aid we provide, the overseas development assistance we provide, meets their concerns in terms of resilience against climate change and when you see the impact of the natural disaster in our region, these are very serious issues for them. Australia was thanked numerous times during this meeting for the response that we provide to our Pacific Island friends when they are hit by natural disasters, whether it was in Tonga or Vanuatu, Samoa or Fiji. Australia is the first there with humanitarian support and we are still there providing reconstruction and work for these nations that are devastated by cyclones, earthquakes, even tsunamis.

JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied we are doing enough on the causes of climate change?

JULIE BISHOP: I attended a meeting this morning that was hosted by Prime Minister Bainimarama, because Fiji is the chair of CO 23 this year, and we have done numerous things to support the Pacific in their response to climate change, including a billion dollar climate fund, including co-chairing the Green Climate Fund, that is a global fund to ensure that the Pacific was in the minds of those handing out the money from this global fund. We have been working very closely with the Pacific nations for a number of years now, and of course Australia's role at the COP23 and COP22 was very much appreciated, particularly our commitment to the Paris agreement ensuring what we do in the Pacific is in accordance with what they see is their priorities.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you would have seen that in the Commonwealth Games that some of the athletes raised issues with the fact that homosexuality is illegal in so many Commonwealth countries. Is there a role for CHOGM do you think, or indeed Australia, to apply some pressure in that regard?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe so. Most certainly this was one of the pillars on which we campaigned for our place on the UN Human Rights Council and consistent with that it is an issue that we raise here at the Commonwealth. In fact, I attended a meeting of our Youth Forum with delegates from Australia, a number of who are specifically here to promote acceptance of changes of law when it relates to gay rights in the Pacific, in Commonwealth countries beyond the Pacific, in the Commonwealth more generally. So there is a role to play. We are sharing experiences, sharing information and there is a great more trust between Commonwealth countries as we draw on each other's experiences and best practice.

JOURNALIST: But how do you apply the pressure?

JULIE BISHOP: By advocating in forums such as this. By ensuring that at every level these issues are raised and also in private sessions bilaterally with leaders of Commonwealth countries, talking about these issues openly amongst friends. We are all committed to a common set of values and those values involve equality, rule of law, human rights. In fact, the Commonwealth charter requires all member nations of the Commonwealth to embrace the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and so they work closely together – the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Commonwealth Charter and nations of the Commonwealth.

JOURNALIST: Ms Bishop, just on a domestic issue you'd be shocked to know that Scott Morrison doesn't want to as Santa Claus for the upcoming budget. How do you describe this year's budget? He also says he's not the Grinch, so how would you describe this year's budget?

JULIE BISHOP: We will be having a budget in 2019 and the next election is due in 2019. This budget will be responsible. We must continue to drive towards delivering a surplus because that affects our AAA credit rating, that affects interests rates. So of course we must ensure that we can deliver a surplus as targeted and we're on track to do that. We must also begin the arduous task of paying down the debt that we inherited from Labor and ensuring that our books balance. So I believe that the budget will be responsible, now how that translates into a front page of the Daily Telegraph I'm not sure.

JOURNALIST: Minister, what conditions need to change for you to lift the aid budget and are you interested in committing to a higher target at any point?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I think we should wait to see this year's budget.

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