Doorstop - Parliament House, Canberra

  • Transcript, E&OE
10 July 2018

JULIE BISHOP: We have had more good news overnightregarding the rescue operation in Thailand of the young boys and the soccercoach who have been trapped inside a cave in Chiang Rai for 15-16 days now.Following the successful rescue of four boys, four more were successfullyrescued last night. It is wonderful news that we now have eight boys from thecave but five still remain. It is a high-risk operation but I understand thatthis last phase was able to be achieved far more quickly than the first phase,because of changing conditions and also because of the efficiency of the rescueteams. There are still 19 Australian personnel directly involved including DrRichard Harris who is playing a critical role in the health assessment of theremaining boys and the soccer coach in the cave. Last evening Thai PrimeMinister Prayut visited the site and he specifically thanked the Australianpersonnel and he expressed the deep appreciation of the Thai people and thework that the Australian team has undertaken. Prime Minister Prayut is wellknown to us. He was here in Sydney for the Australia-ASEAN Leadership forumearlier this year. The operation is ongoing. It still will take some time forthe last phase to be completed but we wish all of the rescue teams the verybest. Our thoughts are with the boys, their parents and families, and therescue teams who are working tirelessly to achieve what would be a remarkableoutcome if all are able to be rescued from the cave safely.

We have also had news overnight that UK's Foreign Secretary BorisJohnson has resigned. The United Kingdom is one of our closest allies andfriends, and Boris Johnson is a great friend of Australia. He was reshapingBritain's foreign policy including in relation to deeper engagement in thePacific announcing more UK posts in our part of the world. We will miss Borisin his role as Foreign Secretary. I developed a very close personal rapportwith him. We worked closely together on many regional and global challenges anddeveloped a strong friendship. I look forward to welcoming the new ForeignSecretary Jeremy Hunt. I look forward to working with him and I hope to makecontact with him as soon as is appropriate.

JOURNALIST: Minister, what impact might BorisJohnson's resignation have on the upcoming AUKMIN meeting in Edinburgh?

JULIE BISHOP: We are yet to work out whether AUKMINwill proceed in its current format and so we are working with our counterpartsin the UK in relation to that matter.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned this is the beginningof the end for Theresa May Government?

JULIE BISHOP: There are obviously significantchallenges in relation to the Brexit matter. First, there are negotiations tobe had within the Government to agree on a negotiating mandate and then ofcourse there must be negotiations with the European Union. So there are some challenging times ahead forthe Government but I am confident that the British Government will achieve anegotiating mandate and then negotiate a positive outcome with the EuropeanUnion. I hope that Australia will be able to continue our discussions with theUnited Kingdom regarding a free trade agreement with Australia when the time isappropriate.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned about how under MrJohnson that he had put a Pacific focus on British foreign policy. Are you worriedthat could be lost under the change to a new Foreign Secretary?

JULIE BISHOP: I am looking forward to talking to thenew Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt as soon as possible about some of theinitiatives that we achieved with Secretary Johnson and what continuity therewill be. He will of course want to put his own stamp on Britain's foreignpolicy, but we have achieved much together over a number of years. I have beenForeign Minister of Australia for five years, there have been a number ofBritish Foreign Secretaries in that time, and there is always a close and deepengagement between Australia and the United Kingdom. We are close friends, weare close allies, we are very strong trading partners.

JOURNALIST: We have heard from New Zealand's ActingPrime Minister that he believes a spill is on over in the UK. Do you thinkBoris Johnson would make a good alternate Prime Minister?

JULIE BISHOP: I am not going to enter into a commentaryon the internal workings of the Tory Party. What Australia wants to see isstability and certainty, and we want to continue working with the UK Governmenton matters of concern to us, and that includes a free trade agreement when thetime is appropriate.

JOURNALIST: On that free trade agreement there hasbeen a view put that the soft Brexit proposed by Prime Minister May, in factmakes a free trade agreement with the UK unworkable because the UK remainsrelatively enmeshed with the EU. Are you concerned that the soft Brexit willactually compromise Australia's opportunities in that regard?

JULIE BISHOP: It is very early days. The negotiatingposition within the Government has to be determined, then there will be verylong and protracted negotiations with the European Union, so it is very earlydays. We are obviously watching the matter very closely, but we hope to be in aposition to negotiate a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom after theyhave exited from the European Union.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about the Thai rescue - haveyou had any personal contact with any of the Australians involved? Will youhave any personal contact? You must be enormously proud of the role theAustralians are playing?

JULIE BISHOP: I am very proud that the Australianteam have been able to play such an important and critical role in the rescue.Dr Harris, for a start, has been intimately involved in the health assessmentof the boys. Our Australian Federal Police divers have been part of the daisy-chainof rescuers. The Navy clearance divers have also been involved and we havecrisis response teams on the ground. I have not made contact directly withthem. Their priorities are on the rescue, but our Embassy in Bangkok isinvolved. We have people from our Embassy there. At some appropriate time, I will most certainly makecontact with our team and thank them for the extraordinary work that they haveput in. This is part of an international effort. We are not the only rescueteam there. We are working under the guidance of the Thai Government and theThai Royal Navy specifically, but there are also rescue teams from the UnitedStates, and from China, and Great Britain, and others.

JOURNALIST: Would you like to see them recommendedfor their bravery and perhaps will the Australian Government reward them orrecognise them for their bravery?

JULIE BISHOP: Our focus is on ensuring that all ofthe boys and their coach can be rescued safely, so that is our focus. That isour priority at present.

JOURNALIST: Minister, can I ask what you make ofMark Latham's robo-calls overnight?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, it is an interesting turn ofevents, isn't it, when even Mark Latham is calling Bill Shorten a liar. This isa man that the Labor Party wanted the Australian people to have as the Prime Ministerof this country. So, for the first time in a long time I agree with MarkLatham.

JOURNALIST: Mud starting to stick for Bill Shorten?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, let's see. We are focused oncreating jobs, on growing our economy, on fixing challenges like the GSTdistribution, that is our focus. Mark Latham and Bill Shorten can enter into aslanging match, calling each other names, but our focus is on ensuring that theAustralian people have job opportunities, that we get on with prudent, fiscalmanagement, getting the budget back into surplus, paying for essential servicesand ensuring that our nation is safe and secure. They are our priorities.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask about another matter – formerAFL star Brian Lake is in a Japanese jail at the moment. Can you confirmwhether we are providing consular assistance?

JULIE BISHOP: I wont go into details but we alwaysprovide consular support should we be contacted.

Media enquiries