JULIE BISHOP: I'm delighted to be here in Jakarta for the Ministers' Meeting for the Indian Ocean Rim Association on the eve of the inaugural IORA Leaders' Summit that will be held here tomorrow. There is also a business forum here and this underscores the importance of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Australia.
Of our 15 top trading partners, six of them are members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association and in this 20th year of the establishment of IORA, we can look back on the achievements that this group has made, particularly tackling challenges such as maritime safety and security, natural disaster, risk management and fisheries management but also the opportunities that greater engagement with the Indian Ocean Rim countries brings, including in the area of trade and investment, in tourism and cultural exchanges, but also in the area of academic, scientific and technology cooperation.
Today I was particularly pleased that IORA was able to tackle one of the significant regional and global challenges and that is countering terrorism and countering and preventing violent extremism. We adopted the first ever Declaration on these topics and committed to share information, share best practice, and cooperate on countering terrorism and countering violent extremism. A number of Indian Ocean Rim Association countries are at the forefront of the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.
The Indian Ocean Rim is of significance to Australia for trade, for investment, for security, and so I am here to support this only Minister-level organisation that focuses on the Indian Ocean and we wish for a more stable, secure, prosperous and connected Indian Ocean Rim through this organisation.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask about the South China Sea. Before the President flew to Sydney just over a week ago, he did mention the possibility of joint patrols on the South China Sea near Natuna Islands with Australia. Has that now been canned or was that discussed and will that proceed?
JULIE BISHOP: The President, I believe, was talking about cooperation. He wasn't talking about joint exercises as such, he was talking about cooperation in maintaining freedom of overflight and freedom of navigation throughout the South China Sea, because both Indonesia and Australia have a deep interest in unimpeded trade through these waters and through the skies of the South China Sea area.
JOURNALIST: So joint patrols would never happen in those waters?
JULIE BISHOP: I don't believe that's what he was suggesting.
JOURNALIST: It was what he was suggesting, because he said exactly that, joint patrols.
JULIE BISHOP: Well, I have been told that he was talking about cooperating to ensure that there was freedom of overflight and freedom of navigation.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask about the free trade deal with Indonesia. Is there actually a dollar figure Australia can put on there and how much that would be worth for the Australian economy if it proceeds this year?
JULIE BISHOP: Indonesia is already our 13th largest trading partnerand it's a country of some 240 million people and so obviously there is a huge opportunity for us to increase trade and investment opportunities. Indeed Trade Minister Steven Ciobo will be here this week for the Indonesia Australia Business Week. He's leading a 120-strong Australian delegation to five cities across Indonesia. So we see huge potential for a greater level of trade and investment cooperation and both the President and the Prime Minister committed to concluding a high quality comprehensive economic partnership agreement by the end of this year. And I think that any details on the negotiation should be directed to the Trade Minister, because he's of course in charge of the negotiations. But it will be of great value to us and already we've seen Prime Minister Turnbull announce after his meeting with President Widodo of the reduction on tariffs for Australian sugar, which is good news for our cane growers and also greater access for live cattle into Indonesia.
JOURNALIST: How important is that one-on-one relationship between the President and the Prime Minister in terms of getting this trade deal across the line?
JULIE BISHOP: Personal relationships count for a great deal in diplomatic relationships generally and that's why the Prime Minister and I and other ministers spend a lot of time building those relationships, and managing them, and ensuring that we always act in Australia's interest in promoting Australia to our friends and partners and allies. The President and the Prime Minister get along very well and their personal rapport will of course be very helpful for us. But at the end of the day we are negotiating a free trade agreement that will be in Australia's interest, it will be of benefit to Australian exporters and will provide more jobs for Australians working in small, medium and large businesses that will be able to trade more of their goods and services into Indonesia.
JOURNALIST: Minister, when President Jokowi was in Australia he said that the key issue as far as Indonesia was concerned with the free trade deal was removing barriers, trade barriers, to the import of palm oil and also paper. Is that something that you would like to see?
JULIE BISHOP: These are all issues to be negotiated and the Trade Minister is responsible for the negotiations. We have officials carrying out negotiations but I'm not going into the details of it until such time as we have a document that we can agree is a high quality comprehensive economic partnership agreement.
JOURNALIST: I noticed last week the Head of ASIO expressed deep concern about foreign fighters returning to Indonesia from the Middle East. I mean how big a threat do they pose for Australia and is that something that you will specifically talk about, and the Prime Minister for that matter, when he comes tomorrow?
JULIE BISHOP: We have already discussed this matter with Indonesia, in fact it's a topic of discussion on each occasion that we meet. It's a matter that I've raised in the United States, in Britain, with other partners, because as the Iraqi Security Forces push ISIS out of Iraq and take back the land that ISIS once claimed as a caliphate some of these foreign terrorist fighters will seek to return home. Some of them are Australian citizens, and others are from Indonesia, Philippines and elsewhere. So there is a very high level of cooperation between a number of countries to ensure that foreign terrorist fighters do not cause harm to the countries to which they return, and that includes Australia. There is a very high level of cooperation between Australia and Indonesia in particular.
JOURNALIST: How skilled are they and do you think the monitoring of returnees in Indonesia is good enough and can Australia do more to help the Indonesians keep track of these people as they come back into the country?
JULIE BISHOP: As I point out there are also Australian foreign terrorist fighters, not just Indonesians. And so we are working in close cooperation to ensure that we can monitor the activities and the movement of people who we believe present national security threats, not only to Australia but to our region. There is a very high level of cooperation, sharing of intelligence and information in that regard. If these people do return home – because many of them have been killed and have already been part of terrorist attacks and have been taken into custody, so there are a whole range of different situations – but we are certainly doing all we can. I have cancelled about 165 passports of those who are either over there or seeking to go over to the Middle East and we continue to work very closely with partners in our region and with the Coalition to defeat ISIS to ensure that we can keep Australians and our region as safe as possible.
JOURNALIST: Which leaders will the Prime Minister be meeting tomorrow in bilaterals?
JULIE BISHOP: He has meetings with a range, a number I understand, but I'll leave that to the Prime Minister to confirm because obviously these meetings are always subject to availability. So I'll leave it to the Prime Minister to announce who he will be meeting with.
JOURNALIST: There's been some criticism of IORA that it's…because it's just so diverse, and there's a consensus group that it can achieve…it can't actually achieve very much. I mean what do you say to those criticisms?
JULIE BISHOP: I disagree. I think its sheer diversity gives it strength. There are very few meetings where Australia can interact with some of the countries that are members of IORA. So this is a unique opportunity in many ways for Australia to connect with countries that we otherwise would not have such a close opportunity to do so. And for example, the Declaration on Countering Terrorism and Countering and Preventing Violent Extremism, I think is an indication of the maturity of IORA as an organisation, that we can come together and tackle one of the great regional and global challenges of our time.
JOURNALIST: Is there any push to have a sort of code of conduct within the Indian Ocean? I know Indonesia said that they don't want the Indian Ocean region to be another South China Sea.
JULIE BISHOP: There has not been discussion about that. There haven't been the tensions in the Indian Ocean Rim caused by competing territorial claims as there has been in the South China Sea, and there certainly hasn't been the scale of land reclamation or militarisation that we have seen in the South China Sea.