Doorstop interview, ANZ MOU signing, Melbourne

  • Transcript, E&OE
19 February 2015

JOURNALIST: Why ANZ and will this give ANZ a monopoly in the region?

JULIE BISHOP: ANZ already has a significant presence in the Pacific. In fact it's the largest and longest standing bank I understand in the Pacific, having been there since about 1880. It has a network that very much complements what the Australian Government is seeking to do in the region and this Memorandum of Understanding will focus particularly on our aid priorities in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa, Fiji where ANZ has a significant presence.

MIKE SMITH: If I can just add a little bit, the Government did also sign an MoU with Westpac but they subsequently sold the business so hopefully ours will be more successful.

JOURNALIST: Minister the Prime Minister seems to have strengthened his language in relation to Indonesia and Sukumaran and Chan. He described Australia's [inaudible] let down. Is there a chance sanctions would be imposed?

JULIE BISHOP: We are not giving consideration to those issues. What we are doing is focusing very much on persuading the Indonesian authorities that there should be a stay of execution for Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan. That is our sole focus at present. There has been a delay, we understand that delay is in the planning for the executions. We welcome that. We believe it will be a great relief to Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan and their families and we will take this opportunity to continue to press the case that no good purpose will be served by the execution of two young Australian citizens who are repaying their debt to society, who have been rehabilitated in a most remarkable way and who are making a contribution to the wellbeing of other prisoners in the Indonesian prison system.

JOURNALIST: Would you consider withdrawing the Australian Ambassador?

JULIE BISHOP: There are a number of options available in these circumstances but we are focusing very much on a concerted effort to have their executions stayed and their bids for clemency reviewed. That is my focus and I am not going to pre-empt any other actions because we are seeking to have these executions stayed.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the delay is a ray of hope?

JULIE BISHOP: While Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan are still alive there is always hope and we are continuing to press the case that just as Indonesia seeks clemency and seeks stays of execution for its nationals who find themselves facing the death penalty overseas, Australia will continue to press for clemency for our nationals. We are asking Indonesia to show the same mercy to Australian citizens as they seek from other countries, for their citizens in the same circumstances.

JOURNALIST: There was talk of sending eminent envoys. Is that an idea that's come out of your office and who might those envoys be?

JULIE BISHOP: There have already been a number of official and unofficial envoys to Indonesia. This has been occurring, particularly since the pleas for clemency were rejected on the 7th of January. So we have a very coordinated, high-level campaign to make representations at the highest level and across government and across the community. This has been occurring on a regular basis. It's been coordinated by our Embassy in Jakarta and of course consular assistance is being provided by our Consul-General in Bali.

JOURNALIST: Now that there is a little bit more time is there [inaudible] I think Ruddock's name was mentioned?

JULIE BISHOP: We have a number of people who have already undertaken this task. I'm not going to indicate publicly who they are but we have had officials, envoys, representatives, making representations to their counterparts at a very high-level for some time. There have been written representations, personal representations, face-to-face meetings.

This has been occurring ever since we came into Government and of course previous Governments since the Howard Government - for these young men were convicted almost a decade ago. Their rehabilitation has been remarkable over that time and I believe that is a factor that should be taken into account in seeking a stay of their executions. These representations have been made by successive governments, successive ministers and prime ministers over many years and now that it would have appeared that their final clemency bids were rejected on 7 January we have obviously increased the level and frequency of the communications. The delay that has now occurred gives us an opportunity to engage even further with the Indonesian authorities about the best way forward.

JOURNALIST: Would you now reconsider going over there? You said that you had thought about that but were talked out of it. Would you now maybe go over there?

JULIE BISHOP: It's not a question of being talked out of it. The best available expert advice was that it would not be productive for me to do that. I am in communication with my counterpart Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. I've spoken to her in face-to-face in meetings and also on the phone on a regular basis over this issue. She made a statement last night about this being a domestic matter for Indonesia. We acknowledge that Indonesia is a sovereign nation. We respect Indonesia's laws, we respect Indonesia's judicial system but just as Indonesia through their Foreign Minister makes representations to other countries to seek a stay of execution for Indonesian citizens on death row, so Australia will through me as Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister and other Ministers, make representations to Indonesian authorities for two of our citizens also on death row.

JOURNALIST: So would you say they're being hypocritical?

JULIE BISHOP: I am only asking Indonesia to show the same mercy to Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan as they seek on behalf of Indonesian citizens who are in a similar situation overseas.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]

JULIE BISHOP: We understand that there is an application to be heard on the 24th of February in the State Administrative Court in Jakarta and we urge the Indonesian authorities to allow all the legal avenues to be pursued and to stay any steps in planning for these executions while all these avenues are being pursued.

JOURNALIST: ISIL have released a video do you believe it shows Australians in it?

JULIE BISHOP: I am receiving a briefing on this. I am aware of reports on this video that purports to show some Australian citizens involved, but the fact is we know that Australian citizens are in Iraq and Syria. We know that some have taken up arms and are fighting with this barbaric, violent terrorist organisation. I have cancelled the passports of a number of people who have left Australia to take up with this terrorist organisation because they present a risk to our national security. They are not martyrs, they are not pursuing a noble cause, they are engaging in criminal, terrorist acts that are just adding to the misery and suffering of the people of Iraq and Syria and they pose a national security threat to Australia. But in terms of the actual detail that's something I'll be briefed on in due course.

JOURNALIST: Do you have an updated number of Australians you believe are overseas fighting?

JULIE BISHOP: We believe that there are about 180 Australians involved in supporting ISIL or Daesh, about half of them are believed to have been in Iraq and Syria in recent times and could still be there so the figure is around 90.

JOURNALIST: Back to the Pacific, a World Bank report that's revealed that backpacker visa extensions and illegal farm workers [inaudible]. Is that something that disappoints you and is there anything that can be done about that?

JULIE BISHOP: We are committed to the Seasonal Worker Program. We want to extend it beyond the pilot phase. We want to ensure that we give Pacific Islanders an opportunity to take up work where Australian employers can't find Australians to do that work and we are finding horticulture particularly, fruit picking – this Seasonal Worker Program works very well. There is more that we can do to expand it and ensure that the quotas are filled including working with the Pacific Island countries. The issue with the Seasonal Worker Program is specifically mentioned in our Memorandum of Understanding because remittances through the Seasonal Worker Program is an important part of the GDP of some of the Pacific nations and Australia plays its part, not only through our aid program, but also the opportunity for remittances.

JOURNALIST: Minister, just one more question on the Bali 9. This morning Prime Minister Abbott sort of mentioned the Tsunami aid Australia gave to Indonesia in the past. Is that something the Australian Government will look to do in the future - stopping aid or reducing aid?

JULIE BISHOP: There are a number of options available to us but I'm not going to pre-empt any. My focus is on ensuring that we can seek a stay of execution. That's where I'm putting my energy and efforts. I understand that these young men committed very serious crimes and they should spend time in jail for those crimes. Drug trafficking is a crime in Australia. There are Indonesian nationals who have been convicted of drug offences in Australia but they will be given the opportunity to rehabilitate. They will be given the opportunity at some point when we believe they've been able to repay their debt to society, to go home. That's what we ask for Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan.

- Ends -

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