Doorstop interview

  • Transcript, E&OE
20 October 2017

DARREN CHESTER: First of all can I say it is great to be here with Julie Bishop, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and also to be part of this extraordinary delivery of the Dreamliner here from Qantas today. It is a breakthrough aircraft for this iconic Australian airline and we are certainly looking forward to continuing to see growth in Qantas, growth in the visitor economy, and we will see Qantas go from strength to strength.

We have a rich and proud history in aviation here in Australia, but we also have a great future. It's ministers like Julie Bishop working around the world, the Turnbull-Joyce Government working to secure open skies agreements, working with Minister Steve Ciobo in terms of boosting our tourism industry. It's a constant effort by the Government to create and secure more jobs in the Australian economy, and we're looking forward to working with Qantas and other people involved in the tourism industry to see further growth into the future.

JOURNALIST: Just on other issues of the day, we've obviously reignited the search for MH 370. That's gone out to a new process now. Obviously family members need to be contacted about that. Is that a move that you would welcome?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, first of all can I say that obviously the thoughts and prayers of the Australian Government are with the families and friends of the 239 people who are missing on board MH 370 throughout what has been a very harrowing three and a half years now. We have been involved with the Chinese Government and the Malaysian Government in the search for MH-370. As you are well aware, the search was suspended earlier this year after we completed about 120,000 square kilometres in the Southern Indian Ocean.

I welcome the news that is coming out of Malaysia today, that the Malaysian Government's had some discussions with Ocean Infinity around a further search effort. The Australian Government's indicated that we will provide some technical support, some analytical support. We have some of the world's leading experts in terms of this type of work and we have a great deal of experience garnered over the last three years, so we'll certainly be looking to provide that level of technical support. But this is an agreement that the Malaysian Government has reached with a private company and I'm not aware of any further details.

JOURNALIST: Given though that we haven't had any luck recovering it thus far, do you have much confidence though that the search will actually reap anything, or anything will come from that?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, I am not in the business of raising false hopes for the loved ones of those missing on board MH-370, but we supported the search effort over the last three years. I can say that we searched in the order of 120,000 square kilometres. Keep in mind this has been the biggest search in aviation history, covering some of the most difficult terrain in the world. We are talking ocean depths of 4 kilometres to 6 kilometres. It has been, in many senses, right at the edge of technology and human endeavour.

So the search effort up until earlier this year, coordinated by Malaysia, Australia, and China, was one of extraordinary proportions. Given the Malaysian Government is now seeking to reach an agreement with Ocean Infinity; I certainly wish them all the best. I wish them safe seas as they go about what is a difficult task, but it wouldn't be responsible of me to raise any false hope. I wish them well.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, you said you'd find it difficult to build trust with members of the government that had sought to undermine your government. Do you still stand by those comments and were they wise?

JULIE BISHOP: First, I congratulate Ms Ardern for forming government with Winston Peters and the Greens, and I congratulate her on being elected Prime Minister of New Zealand. It's a great honour to lead a country and the Australian Government is looking forward to working with the Ardern Government because we have such a deep and strong and close connection. Ms Ardern did offer an explanation to me some months ago about the conduct of one of her colleagues, whom I have criticised, and she said her colleague's conduct was wrong, it was inappropriate, it should not have occurred, and they should not have been involved, and I have accepted her explanation and we move on. So I'm looking forward to working with the Ardern Government as Australia and New Zealand continues to deepen and strengthen our most unique bond. Few countries are as close as Australia and New Zealand and that will continue to be the case.

JOURNALIST: Do you regret though that your comments may have complicated the situation?

JULIE BISHOP: I was delighted that Ms Ardern offered an explanation where she criticised her colleague's conduct as being wrong, unacceptable, that it should not have occurred and they should not have become involved, and I agree entirely with her and I'm looking forward to working with Prime Minister Ardern…

JOURNALIST: Were your comments rash though? Were they rash comments?

JULIE BISHOP: When you appreciate Ms Ardern's response when she said her colleague's conduct was wrong, it was unacceptable, it should not have happened, and…

JOURNALIST: But words like conspiracy were being thrown around. They were pretty big words.

JULIE BISHOP: Excuse me, I'm finishing. And that they should not have been involved. I absolutely accept her explanation, I thank her for it, and I'm looking forward to working with the Ardern Government.

JOURNALIST: When will you speak to her to congratulate her?

JULIE BISHOP: When the Foreign Minister of New Zealand has been appointed, I will contact my counterpart. That is the usual procedure and I look forward to Ms Ardern's visit to Australia.

JOURNALIST: Can we move on to North Korea? There's obviously been a letter that has been written by the North Korean regime, they're saying that Australia should be distancing itself from the Trump administration. What's your reaction to that? How do you take a move like that?

JULIE BISHOP: This is an unprecedented step for North Korea to send a letter directly to another government in this way. It's not the way they usually publish their global messages. I see it as evidence that the collective strategy of imposing maximum diplomatic and economic pressure through sanctions on North Korea is working, and this is a response to the pressure that Australia, the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and others are putting on North Korea so that it will refrain from its current conduct of provocative and threatening behaviour and that it will be compelled back to the negotiating table. I see it as a positive sign.

JOURNALIST: Do you think though that it is working? Because the fact that they've actually written to the Government articulating what they want, it hasn't actually refrained, or they haven't come out and denounced any of their form of testing.

JULIE BISHOP: No, this is precisely how economic pressure would work, and for North Korea to take the unprecedented step of trying to divide those who are committed to ending its illegal nuclear weapons tests and ballistic missile tests, this is evidence, I believe, that our collective international strategy is working.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, do you have any information about the New South Wales teacher who has been killed in Nairobi?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, we have been informed of the tragic death of an Australian woman in Nairobi. Our consular officials are providing support to the family, and in the interests of the privacy of the family we will not make any further comment, but most certainly this matter is being investigated and we're providing whatever consular support we can.

JOURNALIST: Can I just take you back to New Zealand, has our relationship been damaged with them?

JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely not Ms Ardern provided an explanation, she said the conduct of her colleague was wrong. She said it was unacceptable. She said it should not have occurred and she said New Zealand Labour should not have become involved. I graciously accepted her explanation, I agree with her entirely, and we move on. Ours is a great and deep and strong relationship and it will continue to be so.

JOURNALIST: Jacinda Ardern said that she didn't have your phone number. Does she have it now?

JULIE BISHOP: My phone number is available on every press release that I put out. It's publically available.

JOURNALIST: Minister, do you agree Australia and New Zealand's relationship hasn't been damaged?

DARREN CHESTER: I agree with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. She's 100 per cent right.

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