Doorstop interview

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning. I am here at the Australian Government's innovationXchange with Deputy Prime Minister Hue from Vietnam, launching a number of innovative projects through our innovationXchange. This is a way of delivering development assistance but involving the private sector by coming up with new and creative ways of solving some of the most intractable development assistance problems in our region. We come up with an issue, we take a new approach to it, we scale up and pilot ideas and in this way our taxpayer funded development assistance scheme is more cost effective and delivering better outcomes. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: UNHCR has accused the Federal Government of breaking a promise to resettle refugees with close ties to Australia. Is that True?

JULIE BISHOP: The Turnbull Government's position has been clear and consistent throughout and that is that those who seek to come to Australia illegally, who pay people smugglers that are criminal networks and have then gone to regional processing centres not be resettled in Australia. That's been our clear and consistent position throughout.

JOURNALIST: Does that mean the UNHCR has made it up? Or is there a misunderstanding? I mean, it is a fairly reputable agency.

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not casting aspersions. I'm saying that my understanding is that the Australian Government's position has been clear and consistent throughout and I've not heard any change to those arrangements. If people seek to arrive illegally, if they pay criminal people smuggling networks and they are transferred to a regional processing centre, they will not be resettled in Australia.

Australia is one of the most generous resettlement countries, we're probably second or third after the United States and Canada. Since the Second World War, about 865,000 people have come to Australia as refugees but we must have an orderly immigration system, otherwise you end up with the situation that we did under the Labor Government when there were 50,000 illegal arrivals on 800 boats and 1,200 deaths at sea.

The success of Operation Sovereign Borders has been sending a powerful message to the people smuggling networks that they will not be able to have their people who pay to come to Australia, they will not be able to have them resettled in Australia and that has been fundamental to our success in dismantling the people smuggling trade.

JOURNALIST: Minister, China has never hesitated to criticise other countries for what they perceive as moving into their maritime backyard or their near-waters. Now that a Chinese spy vessel has come into Australia's EEZ and watched Exercise Talisman Sabre, is Australia within its rights to call out as sheer hypocrisy the next time Beijing criticises any Australian activities?

JULIE BISHOP: My understanding is that the ship didn't enter territorial waters and Australia has long been an advocate of the right of nations to exercise freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight in international waters and I'm advised that this ship had no impact at all on our naval exercises.

JOURNALIST: What sort of conversations will you be having with the Deputy Prime Minister about the situation in North Korea?

JULIE BISHOP: I am meeting with the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Huệ today and we are discussing a whole range of issues. Not only the regional challenges but also opportunities and I have no doubt the issue of North Korea will come into my conversations with Deputy Prime Minister Huệ and we will put forward Australia's position and that is that we call upon North Korea to cease its illegal and provocative behaviour and instead of focusing on developing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, they should support the impoverished North Koreans who have been long suffering under this regime.

JOURNALIST: What will you be discussing with Boris Johnson tomorrow and will you be discussing the new Home Affairs portfolio?

JULIE BISHOP: I have a bilateral meeting with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tomorrow in Sydney and then the following day Defence Minister Marise Payne and I will be meeting with our counterparts, Boris Johnson and Sir Michael Fallon for the Annual Australia UK Ministerial Dialogue, it's called AUKMIN. We will likewise discuss a whole range of issues from global, regional and bilateral issues and I have no doubt that the issue of a Home Affairs-style initiative here in Australia will come up in conversation, but our focus will be very much on what we can do together and our collective approach to some of the challenges facing our region and globally.

JOURNALIST: The UN obviously has some concern with the Australian Government. Does it affect our prospects for a seat on the Human Rights Council?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe that Australia has run an exceedingly professional campaign to obtain a seat to serve on the UN Human Rights Council and there were three competitors - France, Australia and Spain. I was very confident that we had received a significant number of written pledges and I believe France assessed their prospects and pulled out of the race. So there still has to be a vote in October, but I am confident that we will receive a significant amount of support and that's because we have campaigned on our record. Australia is seen as an open, liberal democracy, committed to freedoms and the rule of law and democratic institutions and I believe that that has been recognised by the level of support we've received to date.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the situation on the China-India border seems to be getting worse. Did you have any discussions with the Indian Government about that when you were there last week and is Australia concerned about how tense that is and that maybe an outbreak (inaudible)?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, the matter was raised with me and I listened to the Indian Government officials describe to me the situation. Of course we're always concerned about any tensions in our part of the world and I call on all parties to de-escalate tensions. We don't want there to be any miscalculation or misjudgement.

JOURNALIST: Just on the investigation into Russian election possible tampering is intensifying, do you think it's time for Australia to take a serious look at our measures and safeguards?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has these issues under review. We are constantly reviewing any foreign interference in cyber and through any other means, and so it is a matter of constant review by the Australian Government, our intelligence and security agencies.

JOURNALIST: Back on the Chinese spy ship. I understand what you're saying that they have arrived there under freedom of navigation and it would be hypocritical for us to criticise but is it concerning that they've come all the way down to off the coast of Rockhampton to observe naval exercise, is that the sort of actions of a country we supposedly have friendly relations with?

JULIE BISHOP: I recall that Russia had a vessel off the coast of Australia during one of our meetings here, I believe it was the G20 meeting, so it's not unusual for foreign ships to traverse international waters. The point that Australia makes consistently is that we respect the right of countries to exercise freedom of navigation and freedom of oversight in international waters and I make the point that the ship didn't enter Australia's territorial waters and it had no impact at all on our naval exercise.

JOURNALIST: We're not exactly friendly with Russia either. Isn't it a signalling thing?

JULIE BISHOP: We didn't see it that way. China is entitled to have its vessels navigate international waters, just as Australia is entitled to navigate in international waters. The United States has a global FONOPs program, we do not, China does not. Countries are entitled to navigate international waters. If it impacted on Australia's naval exercises, if the ship entered Australian territorial waters, our reaction would be different, but it didn't.

JOURNALIST: Just back on India, was there any discussion about a quadrilateral dialogue?

JULIE BISHOP: We had a discussion about closer cooperation on a number of levels. We talked about our increasing engagement with Japan, and India's increasing engagement with Japan. Most certainly we discussed Prime Minister Modi's very successful visit to Washington and that was a matter of much discussion - the deepening engagement between the United States and India. We discussed bilateral, plurilateral engagement on a number of levels.

JOURNALIST: There were four countries that you just mentioned. That adds up to quadrilateral. Do you think -

JULIE BISHOP: I will add another one. We had a very deep conversation about engagement with Indonesia and we talked about our engagement with Singapore, so we discussed it on many levels. There are bilateral, tri lateral, quadilateral, plurilateral engagements. Our point is that Australia is prepared to work with countries in our region in a way that will lead to greater peace, stability, prosperity and security.

JOURNALIST: Just returning to your meeting with the Vietnamese Deputy PM, the BBC was reporting this week that Chinese threats have forced Vietnam to pull oil drilling off its own coast in the South China Sea - is that likely to come up and there are some Australian countries with acreage around there as well – has your Department had discussions with them about tensions in that area and whether they should give that ground up?

JULIE BISHOP: I've not yet met with Deputy Prime Minister Huệ, so I am not going to pre-empt our discussion, but I assume we will discuss the South China Sea because Vietnam is one of the claimants and it is a matter that is raised regularly with our Vietnamese counterparts so I imagine that will come up in discussions today.

JOURNALIST: Will you discuss a free trade deal with Boris Johnson?

JULIE BISHOP: No doubt the issue of Brexit will arise and Australia is seeking to negotiate a free trade agreement with the European Union. As I understand it any discussion of a free trade agreement with the UK or negotiations would have to commence after the conclusion of Brexit, so we will discuss deeper UK-Australia engagement, of course, but I will leave the finer details to our Trade Minister. Thank you.

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