Doorstop interview

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Just tell me, what did you think of this Ministerial Forum and did Australia get what it wanted?

JULIE BISHOP: It's the 25th PNG-Australian Ministerial Forum and it was very productive in that we had five Ministers from Australia and a corresponding number of Ministers from PNG, to discuss a whole range of issues that are of common interest and concern across Papua New Guinea and Australia. There's hardly an aspect of government that isn't covered in the relationship between Papua New Guinea and Australia. We focussed on trade and investment and economic links and of course it was very useful to have a dialogue with business representatives from both the PNG and Australian business communities before the meeting. We discussed security issues, we discussed preparations for the APEC meeting that PNG will host in 2018, we discussed specific projects, the work we're doing at the ANGAU Hospital, where we are redeveloping that hospital to a very high standard and I was able to visit the hospital today to see the work that Australia is funding. So it's always a productive use of time for Australian Ministers to meet with Papua New Guinean Ministers, given the close engagement across a whole range of areas, defence police, aid, health, education, trade, investment.

JOURNALIST: Their request, the big thing they wanted to put at this meeting was Australia provide support for programs through the PNG budget, how did you receive that request, what's your initial reaction?

JULIE BISHOP: That's not a model that we have engaged in for some time, and so I wait to see the detail. Australia provides a significant amount of funding to PNG through our aid and overseas development program, over half a billion dollars a year, and we are targeting specific areas including health, education, transport, infrastructure, and the empowerment of women, as well as law and justice issues. And these are priorities that we've worked through with the PNG Government in the past and we are looking forward to continuing to work closely with them, to ensure that we invest in areas that makes a significant difference to the standard of living and economic growth in PNG but also provides value for the Australian Tax payer dollar that it is invested in this way.

JOURNALIST: What did you think of the timing coming as it does on a real revenue crunch for Papua New Guinea?

JULIE BISHOP: We have a review of our aid partnership in 2017, so at the end of this year we would be reviewing the arrangements between PNG and Australia, in any event.

JOURNALIST: Another thing that Papua New Guinea Ministers were saying was that they want Australia's help, they want Australia to come with something new about how to resolve the situation of the men on Manus who won't be resettled in the United States, which could be up to half the refugees. About 100 people who PNG can't involuntarily return to places like Iran and Iraq. Was Australia able to offer anything new about how to get those men out of the centre so Papua New Guinea can close it?

JULIE BISHOP: This is a matter that we work in partnership with the PNG Government, it's a matter that is ongoing. The Immigration Minister was here, Peter Dutton was in PNG and he met with his counterpart Minister Rimbink Pato, the PNG Foreign Affairs Minister and Minister for Immigration and so they discussed the issues. Australia is doing what it can to meet the closure deadline of 31 October, and we're working very hard to resettle these people who will not be resettled in Australia. They came by the people smuggling trade and that is a policy that we have emphasised over time, but the Coalition Government has made enormous gains in closing detention centres that were opened under Labor when they lost control of our borders. We have removed all children from detention, there were up to 2000 children in detention at one point. So we are working now very closely with the Government of PNG, to ensure that we can close the Manus Island detention centre that was set up under Labor when they lost control of our borders and essentially contracted out Australia's border protection policies to the criminal networks that make up the people smuggling trade.

JOURNALIST: The resettlement so far in PNG hasn't gone very well though. If, you know, the US is making assessments based on vulnerability and doesn't pick up the bulk of men from Manus Island, as part of that twelve hundred and fifty or however many it eventually does take, what happens to those people? Is there any alternative?

JULIE BISHOP: I am not speculating on immigration policies, you had the Immigration Minister here and available for interview.

JOURNALIST: [interrupts] He didn't want to talk.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, it's the Immigration Minister's portfolio. What I can say is we're working closely with other countries including the United States, very closely with PNG, to work through this caseload of people and some who have been determined to be refugees, others who have not. Those who are not found to be refugees should return home, and we work with the source countries, to ensure that their citizens can return home.

JOURNALIST: Does Australia think long-term resettlement in PNG is viable?

JULIE BISHOP: We believe that there are some who have been resettled here successfully and that's my understanding that a number of people have been resettled here, but it's always been the case that there would have to be resettlement options in other countries.

JOURNALIST: Is the relationship now….you know, are these issues, the ones of aid and the ones on Manus Island, are they causing any tension between Papua New Guinea and Australia.

JULIE BISHOP: The relationship between PNG and Australia is as close and strong as it's ever been in my experience. We are working as a partnership and the old paradigm of the aid-donor/aid-recipient is a matter for the past. We work as partners in economic, security, defence, policing, and development assistance and I think that the relationship between our governments is very, very strong.

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