Doorstop interview

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP: I'm really pleased to be here with my Cabinetcolleague Senator Nigel Scullion and we are in the second day of the diplomatsvisit to Darwin and the Northern Territory. Today we were hosted by Inpex, asthey explained to our delegation the significance of the Inpex LNG project herein Darwin, the jobs, the investment and the future opportunities that thismassive project brings, the largest Japanese investment outside Japan andobviously the largest Japanese investment here in Australia. We have alsovisited Charles Darwin University and have been treated to the examples of theworld class research here through the Menzies School of Health Research andalso the specific activities on supporting indigenous culture, indigenousemployment. It has been fascinating for our diplomats and I know that therewill be many more visits here to continue to find opportunities to engagebetween the Northern Territory and the rest of the world.

This really is the gateway to Asia. Australiasets great significance on our engagement with Asia and Charles DarwinUniversity is exquisitely positioned to nurture that engagement. I alsoannounced the 2019 Mobility Grants under the New Colombo Plan. Over 11,800students will travel overseas under the New Colombo Plan to undertake part oftheir studies in universities in 36 locations in the Indo-Pacific as well asundertake work experience and practicums.

Thisprogram, an initiative that I established in 2013, will see over 40,000 youngAustralians between 2014 and 2020 live and study and work in our region, andwhat an extraordinary investment that is in our engagement in the Indo-Pacific.


JOURNALIST: Minister, New Zealand has todayhighlighted China's growing influence in the Pacific in a strategic outlook andsays nations there will increasingly depend on Australia to support theirsecurity, is Australia ready for that task?

JULIE BISHOP: I welcome New Zealand's White Paper. Theyhave been through a process similar to the one we undertook in 2017 and wereleased our Foreign Policy White Paper last November. I am particularlypleased that New Zealand has confirmed that it has no better friend thanAustralia and we feel similarly about our friends across the Tasman. Of course,our part of the world is becoming more contested, more congested, morecompetitive as the economies in the Indo-Pacific increase in size and dynamism,so too will their strategic challenges. We look forward to working closely withNew Zealand to ensure that ours is a prosperous stable and secure region.

JOURNALIST: New Zealand statement notes Chinahas "views on human rights and freedom of information that stand in contrast tothose that prevail in New Zealand" – is that the same position as Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, it is self-evident that China has avery different political system to Australia. We've made that clear in thepast. That is a statement of fact and we certainly look forward to continuingto work with China where we have differences of opinion over various matters.It is how you work through those differences that counts. On human rights, wehave a human rights dialogue with China, I think the only ministerial humanrights dialogue China has with any other country and Australia works throughour concerns through that dialogue.

JOURNALIST: Defence Chief Mark Binskin saysBeijing has broke its promise not to militarise the South China Sea, means it hassquandered the trust of its neighbours and undermined its aspirations toregional leadership, do you believe that?

JULIE BISHOP: President Xi Jingping had said that Chinawould not militarise the South China Sea Islands but we have been concerned bymilitarisation of some of the features. These are matters we have raised withChina privately and publicly and our position on the South China hasn'tchanged. We are not a claimant nation but we urge all countries to resolvetheir differences, their various claims peacefully not unilaterally and mostcertainly resort to the international tribunals established under the UNConvention of the Law of the Sea if they are not able to resolve them.

JOURNALIST: Is it encouragingto see Wellington call out China for not adopting the traditional governanceand values championed by the existing international order?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is a champion, promoter anddefender of the international rules-based order. This is the network ofalliances and treaties and institutions underpinned by international law thathas evolved since the Second World War and China and every other country overthe last 70 years has benefited from that international rules based order. Inthe case of China, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out ofpoverty under that international rules-based order. Australia along with NewZealand and other likeminded nations will continue to seek to strengthen therules-based order. It is undoubtedly in our interests to do so and it seems,from New Zealand's Foreign Policy White Paper, they agree that championing andstrengthening the international rules based order is in New Zealand's interestas well.

JOURNALIST: On the GST, what was your reaction to NTTreasurer Nicole Manison claiming that it looks like the NT may be $30 millionworse off under the new GST system?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, she's wrong. The Northern Territorywill be $189 million better off. It is disturbing she is a treasurer and shecan't get the stats right. They will be $189 million better off and I hope thatthe Northern Territory Government sees this as a once in a generationopportunity to put the GST formula on a sound footing. More certainty, lessvolatility. There will be a floor put in place so that no State or Territorysuffers the experience of Western Australia where we receive 29 cents out ofevery dollar we generated in GST. The Territory received $4.50 from everydollar it generated from GST. So, we have put in place a floor that will startat 70 cents and increase to 75 cents. We have also ensured that the GST pool ismuch larger. In the past it has just been derived from the GST, the consumerand consumption tax, but now the Federal Government will be topping up the GSTpool with Federal Government funds for the first time. So that means the poolwill be much larger. No State or Territory will be worse off and I am sureNigel would love to have something to say on that point.

NIGEL SCULLION: Certainly. Thanks Julie. What Territorians expect is some adultsin this conversations. Now, with an $11 calculator you can work out exactlywhere the Territory is up to. Before I agreed to this process I knew that thisis going to be something better for the Territory. So, if Nicole Manisonbelieves that we are $30 million worse off, it looks like she's saying that weare sticking with the old formula and of course, every Territorian will besaying – why are we doing that? It just doesn't add up. So I call on the Treasurerto be a bit fair dinkum to Territorians and to be a little more sensible aboutthese utterances. This is really important for Territorians and she should beable to rise above some petty stunt because her calculator doesn't work. Thisis really important for Territorians. We are going to have a confident andpredictable future for Treasurers up to eight years in advance and in everyyear we are doing better so this is just silly nonsense and I feel a little bitashamed sitting next to Julie from Western Australia when I have to talk aboutour Treasurer and the Territory, frankly, just looking a bit silly about allthis. This is a really important conversation. A lot of people have put a lotof work into this and I think what she needs to do now is come up with a sheetof paper so she can actually explain what is nothing more complex thenarithmetic about how she actually came out with a $30 million loss because allof the Commonwealth Treasury officials who are very experienced in thesematters have provided documents and details to myself and the Cabinet Ministersthat I have seen. Now, if she is saying that some of those formulaic processesare incorrect then she should demonstrate where the error is and she should doso soon.

JULIE BISHOP: We are absolutely confident that the NorthernTerritory will be $189 million better off during the transition period.

JOURNALIST: One of the reasons the Northern Territorygets such a big share of the GST is because of the number of seriouslydisadvantaged ingenious people who live here, do you think there should beaccountability for the Northern Territory Government about how that money isspent and whether it actually goes to actually addressing -

JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely. Every government should beaccountable for the tax payer funds that they utilise. The Territory Governmentis no different and that is exactly why the Territory gets more, about $4.50for every dollar generated in GST, whereas an economy like Western Australiahas received 29 cents – it is improving somewhat – but every government shouldbe accountable to the taxpayers for the money they spend. Just because it isGST funds that has been distributed by the Federal Government doesn't let theTerritory Government off the hook and more importantly, the indigenouscommunities across the Northern Territory deserve that kind of transparency andaccountability from the Territory Government.

JOURNALIST: So you'd support an audit of thatfunding?

JULIE BISHOP: The Territory Government should beaccountable for every dollar they spend in GST like every other StateGovernment should be.

JOURNALIST: The situation in Thailand at the moment,obviously we've just heard of a tragic death there, you've said that you'veconsidered sending more AFP agents over there, is that something you willreconsider now that there has been a tragic death of a navy seal?

JULIE BISHOP: First, we are deeply saddened to learn that aformer Thai Navy Seal who volunteered his time to assist in the rescue has diedand we send our condolences to the Thai Government and of course to the diver'sfamily. This just underscores how dangerous this rescue mission is. We are at avery critical stage. Some very serious decisions are going to have to be madeover the next few days, hopefully not weeks, to see how these boys and theirsoccer coach can be rescued safely. Australia already has 14 personnel on theground from the Federal Police, from the Defence Force and also from theDepartment of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We have offered to send medicalpractitioners as well. We are workingclosely with the Thai Government and with the Thai Navy Seals in this rescueeffort but it is at a very crucial time, it is very dangerous, as the death ofthe volunteer diver who was a very experienced Thai Navy Seal, hasdemonstrated.

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