Doorstop interview with Member for Brisbane, Trevor Evans MP

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP: This morning in Brisbane I've been joined by my friend and colleague, Trevor Evans, the Member for Brisbane in this upgraded humanitarian supplies warehouse. Through our own experience in responding to nature disasters whether it be cyclone, fire, floods, drought Australia has built up enormous expertise in rapid response, search and rescue and emergency responses to natural disasters and the humanitarian crises that so often follow. Through our own experience here we have built up an expertise that we share with our region.

Our part of the world is prone to natural disasters, cyclones, earthquakes, fire, floods, tsunamis and as a good global citizen and as a partner of the pacific Australia is often called upon to be one of the first responders to natural disasters. So we have this hub here, this warehouse, full of supplies, that can be rapidly deployed to the region and I announce today a new partnership with six Australian based international NGOs so that we can work more effectively in a more timely fashion to respond to natural disasters.

I also announced the winners of a humanitarian supplies challenge that was run through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's InnovationXchange and out of 77 global entries we've come up with 13 products that focus on energy supplies, lighting solutions and shelter and water so that we can respond quickly with products that provide relief to those who have been affected by natural disaster and humanitarian crises. A number of these products are made in Australia so it's a great example of Australian innovation helping our aid budget, our aid programme and helping our neighbours in need. Any questions?

Trevor, did you want to have a say?

TREVOR EVANS: No, just to say how great it is to have the Foreign Minister here in Brisbane. Brisbane is obviously a hub for both Australian and Pacific relations, a lot of our tourism, a lot of our trade, a lot of our foreign aid and humanitarian efforts come through Brisbane and so we're very aware of the importance of the initiatives that the Minister's announced today.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you Trevor.

JOURNALIST: Minister, yourself and your colleagues here today have spoken about how Australia's putting its focus on its humanitarian response and how there's a greater need for humanitarian measures today, how can you reconcile that when the Coalition has continued to cut the foreign aid budget?

JULIE BISHOP: The aid budget increased this year - it increased by over $80 million and it will increase next year – so the aid budget is increasing. We are the 13th largest donor in the OECD and we are emphasising our humanitarian response because the globe, and our region, are facing unprecedented humanitarian crises and as I said, our region is also prone to natural disasters. So we've increased our humanitarian fund by $60 million to almost $400 million out of an aid budget that's going from $3.9 billion to almost $4 billion and it will increase the year after.

JOURNALIST: You talk about focus on innovation in the aid budget, what does it mean to see products like this here today?

JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely delighted to see that the Australian Government can give the opportunity to Australian innovators and innovators from around the world to come up with products that are lifesaving, products that we can use as part of our response to natural disasters and humanitarian crises. I've put innovation at the very heart of our aid programme. There are many intractable overseas development assistance problems, many intractable aid problems, and yet we haven't come up with new answers for a very long time. Now through the innovation program that we have through our innovationXchange we're getting these creative ideas from around the world, trialling them, testing them, and if they work rolling them out. This is a very good use of taxpayer funds.

JOURNALIST: Minister, that example of shelter – the frame and the tarpaulin and it's like an immediate temporary shelter but it can become a long-term shelter with different cladding – how big a departure is that as a shelter solution from what we gave to people in the past?

JULIE BISHOP: This is a very significant innovation. We have learnt from our own experience and through responding to natural disasters, including the recent disasters – Cyclone Pam that hit Vanuatu in 2015, Cyclone Winston that hit Fiji in 2016 – that we need better, more adaptable solutions early on. The first 24 hours can make all the difference in the way a community can respond after a natural disaster and shelter is one of the fundamental requirements, particularly for the women and children who are disproportionately affected by natural disasters, so being able to have stable shelter immediately, or as soon as we can respond, it vital.
We can fit so many more of these kits on to an Australia transport plane, a C17 or C130, or on one of our ships that we use for assisting our neighbours at this time.
It's effective packaging, it's a much more stable piece of equipment and it can be lifesaving.

JOURNALIST: Is the process now these undergo testing before being added to the supplies we see behind us?

JULIE BISHOP: That's right. An expert panel judged the 77 entries we had to our Humanitarian Supplies Challenge and they focused on those that they thought would work best in the Pacific. We had the High Commissioner from the Solomon Islands - Marci over there - was on the panel, and he understood very well what would work in a community in the Pacific and what would not. We've had other experts on board. We've now narrowed it down to 13 products in the area of water, energy and shelter and they will be trialled and testing and if they come up to our very high standards then they can form a permanent part of our supplies that are housed in our humanitarian warehouses here in Brisbane and across the pacific.

JOURNALIST: Minister, Australia's government debt has topped $500 billion for the first time. What is your response to that?

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government is working hard to bring down the debt trajectory. We inherited a massive debt and deficit burden from the previous Labor government after they inherited a $20 billion surplus and no government debt. We inherited a massive burden and we worked very hard to bring down that debt trajectory and we also hope to be in surplus as soon as possible. The Budget of this year laid out the path that the Coalition Government is undertaking to restore Australia's financial position.

JOURNALIST: Reports that your government – your office – were involved in the WA Liberals expunging of, on which the China policy - (inaudible) on defence in Western Australia. Is that correct that your office did – sorry, was involved – in that? In asking for the mention of China to be (inaudible)?

JULIE BISHOP: Not at all. We were asked to give some advice on the wording of a motion, as we often are when it comes to a matter of foreign policy, and one of my advisors suggested wording that would enhance the motion and make it more relevant and more appropriate and just provided some advice.

JOURNALIST: Was part of that advice to remove mentions of China?

JULIE BISHOP: No. The advice was to expand the reference to make it a much improved motion that would reflect reality. It was just a suggestion. It was up to the adopters of the motion to determine whether or not they wanted to accept our advice. I really wouldn't get too excited about it. My office provides advice to people all the time, it's up to those who receive it as to whether they take it.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Malcolm Turnbull's impersonation of Donald Trump that was (inaudible)?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it was very light-hearted, it was very entertaining and I know it was taken in the spirit to which it was intended. I've watched these Midwinter Ball speeches over many years and I can say that Prime Minister Turnbull's was by far the most entertaining that I have ever seen and it was taken in the right spirit.

JOURNALIST: How do you think it might be taken by the United States Administration?

JULIE BISHOP: Australians are renowned for their sense of humour. There were high-ranking American officials at the Midwinter Ball and to my observation they were laughing as heartily as we were, they found it very amusing. The Prime Minister is very entertaining and I thought it was a very good speech. I think the question is – why did Bill Shorten's office leak it? Now, I'm told that it was Bill Shorten's office, I'm sure that Mr Shorten will make that clear – whether it was, or it wasn't – but if it was, what a party pooper he is, really.

JOURNALIST: Who's telling you it was Bill Shorten's office Minister?

JULIE BISHOP: The media.

JOURNALIST: The media told you?

JOURNALIST: Do you think the President would have taken any offence to that seeing as he didn't himself attend the White House Correspondence dinner?

JULIE BISHOP: That's a matter for President Trump. Australians are renowned for our sense of humour and I know that people appreciate the light-hearted approach we take to matters. It was a fun night and the important thing is we were raising money for charity. There was an auction that raised significant funds for charity. I was pleased to be able to assist in the donation of a prize that raised over $35,000 for worthwhile charities. So that is the spirt of it. Let's focus on what was really important and that is that the Press Gallery and the politicians and corporate Australia came together to raise money for charities.

JOURNALIST: Do you know if US sent a message to China not to interfere in politics here?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has in place a framework that is transparent when it comes to political donations. Political donations must be made in the context of the Australian Electoral Commission guidelines and they should continue to be done so.
That's why we have such difficulty with the actions of Senator Sam Dastyari – he had a personal benefactor, who paid his personal debts and he sought to change opposition and government policy at a press conference called with his personal benefactor. Now that kind of behaviour is unacceptable but of course I urge all parties to accept political donations in the context and within the letter of the law set out by the Australian Electoral Commission.

JOURNALIST: What you were saying before, about the level of interference with foreign espionage within Australia, and also what can government do?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I'm a member of the National Security Committee. We focus on issues of national security constantly and there have been allegations about interference in elections around the world so of course Australia takes those allegations very seriously. We have some of the best intelligence and security agencies in the world and I'm confident that they'll continue to brief us on those challenges.

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