Doorstop interview, Kavieng, Papua New Guinea

  • Transcript, E&OE
21 March 2018

JULIE BISHOP: I'mnot aware of any other previous Australian foreign minister visiting NewIreland, so I'm honoured to have the opportunity to meet with Sir Julius Chan,the Governor here and with my friend the PNG Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato andthe Fisheries Minister (Basa). We have had a very good visit. We have moreprojects to see this afternoon but today we went to Nago Island to see the workbeing done by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research andit's all about building sustainable industries for the people of Papua NewGuinea. So on my second day here I have seen how closely Australia and PNG worktogether in building industries and opportunities for the people of PNG.

JOURNALIST: Is Australia trying to re-establishits role as the most influential country in the region?

JULIE BISHOP: You will have read Australia's Foreign Policy White Paperthat we released last year and this was the first comprehensive Foreign PolicyWhite Paper that Australia has produced in about 14 years. This document set out our vision, ourframework for our future international engagement. It set out our values, ourpriorities and our interests and it states very clearly that Australia sees itsresponsibilities in this part of the world, that the Indo-Pacific, with thePacific nations at its heart are a foreign policy priority for Australia. Soyes, we've always been the closest and dearest of friends with PNG, but theForeign Policy White Paper makes it quite clear that according to the TurnbullGovernment, our relationship with Papua New Guinea is one of our highestforeign policy priorities.

JOURNALIST: Is Australia worried that it's been losing ground in thisregion though, (inaudible) that it's being challenged, does it have some way tomake up?

JULIE BISHOP: Back in 2016, Prime Minister Turnbull confirmed to a PacificIslands Forum Leaders' meeting that Australia would step-up its engagement inthe Pacific. While we are the largest provider of aid and foreign directinvestment, we also want to ensure that what we are doing in the Pacific is ofgreat benefit to the nations. So we are engaging more closely. We believe weare the natural partner of choice, along with New Zealand, for the islands ofthe Pacific and that's demonstrated here in PNG where we work across a wholerange of areas, in trade, investment, in agriculture, in fisheries, in security,law and order, justice. Education really is at the heart of this two-wayengagement.

JOURNALIST: You could have gone anywhere in PNG, whyNew Ireland province?

JULIE BISHOP: I was told that this was a veryspecial place, that we had some Australian projects here and that spending timewith Julius Chan would be of great interest and benefit for me – and it hasbeen. We have discussed his vision for New Ireland and as the nationalgovernment here in PNG is implementing a decentralisation program and the movesto autonomy here in New Ireland, I thought it would be important for me asAustralia's Foreign Minister to understand from the people on the ground whatwas being planned. So, I'm so pleased I came here. It's been fascinating andthe people have been very welcoming.

JOURNALIST: How does Australia engage with a region like the Pacificwhen it's got issues with corruption and it's got issues about what happenswith Australian aid, and you might not be competing in the same way as an aiddonor like China, which you know has not been held to the same standards andaccountability? How are you going to counteract that?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has zero tolerance when it comes to corruption inthe aid program, and we work very closely with our partner nations to ensurethat Australian aid is delivered as efficiently and as effectively as possible.We continue to strive to achieve that. It's about working in partnership,respecting the needs of the recipient nation and ensuring that we give valuefor the Australian taxpayer dollar. So ever since I've been Foreign Minister wehave focused most of our development assistance in the Pacific and we haveensured that we work in partnership so that the expectations of the receivingnation and the expectations of Australia as the donor nation are taken intoaccount. But it's away from that old stereotype of donor-recipient. It's apartnership to build sustainable economic development and alleviate poverty andlift standards of living.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)…but your partnering with governments that havesome pretty serious allegations about them, including what happened in lastyear's election. How does Australia feel about that?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia… (inaudible)

JOURNALIST: And sorry, one more question on top of that. Are we going tosee the cuts to aid spending reversed in the future?

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government has an aid budget of about $4billion, and we ensure that every cent of that is directed to outcomes. We workclosely with governments in the region. We have in the case of PNG an annualMinisterial Forum that will be taking place this year in Brisbane and we raiseour concerns, we work through issues together. There is no more importantrelationship for Australia than ensuring that PNG is a sustainable economicnation that provides opportunities for its people. It's a significant Pacificisland nation, about 8 million people. It has immense resources and hugepotential, and given the historic connection between Australia and PNG we wantto ensure that we continue to see good governance and accountability andtransparency in the relationship. Tomorrow I will be opening the three newbuildings that make up a new Precinct. The Australian Government has investedin a Pacific Leadership and Governance Precinct and through this new area weare providing opportunities for the PNG public service to be retrained,reskilled, new public servants to receive training according to Australianstandards. That's been a very popular investment here and I'm looking forwardto launching the new program tomorrow. It's taking on the old Institute ofPublic Administration and the University of Papua New Guinea and building acontemporary 21st century precinct that will see public servants inPNG being given the opportunity to reach the highest possible standards.

JOURNALIST: Have you met Prime Minister O'Neill and a couple of otherleaders, provisionally been briefed on what has happened, what Australia'sfunding to Papua New Guinea is? Are there any others, other issues of concern,or areas of concern with Australia's funding?

JULIE BISHOP: We raise issues all the time with our PNG ministerialcounterparts. We have a very close relationship. I know Prime Minister Turnbulland Prime Minister O'Neill speak often. Whenever I'm in PNG your Prime Ministermakes time to see me, and I'm in constant contact with Foreign Minister RimbinkPato, and I know my counterpart ministers deal on a constant basis with ourcolleagues in PNG. So any issues that we have we work through them together.Australia is a significant development assistance partner with PNG. We're alsoproviding significant support to enable PNG to host APEC, particularly theLeaders' Summit in November. So again, we work together as partners.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)Bougainvilleis going through a serious problem, an issue of referendum. Does Australia haveany concerns about the way (inaudible)?

JULIE BISHOP: We are of course very keen to see the Bougainville PeaceProcess continue and I know that there is an expectation that there will be areferendum at some point in the future. I believe there are some preconditionsthat have to be met under the Bougainville Peace Process but Australia is ofcourse wanting to work very closely. We want to ensure that the peace processcontinues to be implemented and that the Bougainville Autonomous Government andthe national government in PNG continue to talk about the future ofBougainville and its relationship with PNG. So Australia is there to help. Ifthere any issues that we can assist we can certainly make it clear that we'd behappy to do so.

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