JOURNALIST Minister can I ask, as far as the submarine discussions go while you're visiting here, what will you be saying to the Japanese side?
JULIE BISHOP I have just arrived in Tokyo for meetings at a senior level with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister Kishida, I have a meeting with the Minister for Defence Nakatani and I have a meeting with Prime Minister Abe tomorrow. At all of those meetings I expect that the issue of Australia's competitive evaluation process regarding our future submarine project will be raised, and I will thank the Japanese Government for taking part in the competitive evaluation process. I will explain as I am sure they are aware, that the Australian Government's experts are now considering the process, considering the evaluation and we expect that an international partner will be nominated this year. We deeply appreciate the Japanese Government's level of involvement, there is a process underway to clarify aspects of the different bids from the three countries and Japan has taken part in that, so I will pass on the thanks of the Australian Government that they have been prepared to be involved in this process. Our focus is on capability, on the needs of the Australian Defence Force in protecting our national interest and so the bids will be considered against that background
JOURNALIST Is there anything in particular in the Japanese bid that needs clarification?
JULIE BISHOP All bids are being subjected to a formal clarification process. It's been an extensive evaluation process but the Future Submarine Program Office now is getting down to the detail because obviously a decision will be taken some time this year.
JOURNALIST Can you offer them any more information about the timeline for the decision?
JULIE BISHOP I believe that the process has been quite clear, and that there was a date for the bids to be lodged, and they were, and there is a date for this clarification process, and then of course the technical detail will also be subject to pretty rigorous analysis. So we have made it clear that we will seek to announce an international partner this year. But beyond that I don't want to get into too much detail. But they are in regular contact with our team and our office back in Australia.
JOURNALIST Do some of the ongoing tensions within the region still have a consideration in that process of evaluating who gets the contract?
JULIE BISHOP Well, we are looking at capability, quality, the technical requirements that we have, and obviously cost as well, so there are a whole raft of elements that will be considered when we are looking at the future submarine project. I'm also using the opportunity to meet with the senior ministers within the Japanese Government to discuss regional and global security issues. I'm giving a speech at the Japan National Press Club tomorrow where I'll focus on what Japan and Australia have done together in terms of regional security but also increasingly global security and what more we can do in the future. Japan has sought to normalise its defence posture. It is already a significant contributor to peace keeping efforts around the world, humanitarian efforts, and I think there are opportunities for Australia and Japan to do more in a strategic sense in the years to come.
JOURNALIST So to encourage Japan to adopt a more outward-looking foreign and security policy Australia can have a partnership with Japan?
JULIE BISHOP Well we already have a very strong strategic partnership. We have built on that over the years off the back of our strong economic trade and investment relationship. We are strong partners in the region. We are already engaged in joint exercises, we work together very closely, but I think there are more opportunities where Australia and other countries in our region can engage more deeply to ensure that our region is stable, secure and they are the precursors to prosperity. Also working together elsewhere in the world, Japan has taken a deep interest in the humanitarian crisis in Syria for example, and has made an extraordinary contribution to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Middle East. So there are areas where we can work together and engage more closely with Japan.
JOURNALIST Is there room for Japan to take more refugees from the international…..
JULIE BISHOP Well that's a matter for each country to determine their domestic policies. I was in London recently at the Syrian Humanitarian Donors Conference and Japan made a significant contribution to that conference and of course to the humanitarian crisis in Syria that affects other countries neighbouring Syria including Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. I think that Japan's time on the Security Council – it's currently on the UN Security Council as a temporary member – also brings it into sharp focus when it comes to issues in the Middle East. As a member of the Security Council they have to deal with these issues and I think are making a great contribution.
JOURNALIST Minister, on Syria. At the weekend, Turkey was bombing Kurdish positions and the United States was critical of the Russian method of bombing in Syria. What's Australia's position on these developments?
JULIE BISHOP If the conflict does not end, the crisis will continue. In other words, the only way to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria is to end the conflict, that is end the civil war. So Australia's position has been, consistently, that all parties involved in this conflict need to de-escalate tensions. We support a cease fire. They need to end the killing, which will then end the humanitarian crisis. So we have been very supportive of efforts by the United States, by the Coalition to bring about a cease fire that will then lead to an ability to end the humanitarian crisis and focus our attention on the terrorist organisations, ISIL, Daesh and others in that region who are continuing to carry out lawless, brutal activity in that part of the world. JOURNALIST Are you also critical of the Russian method of bombing in Syria?
JULIE BISHOP Clearly we want to see all parties embrace the cease fire and put an end to the civil war so that we can then focus on the humanitarian needs and focus on the terrorist group that is carrying out such brutal acts against civilians in that part of the world. So our priority has always been, we must focus on countering the terrorists, we must support the attempts to end the humanitarian crisis, and there must be an end to the civil war in Syria. There must be a government of national unity that has support across the country, and seek to do what we are trying to do in Iraq and that is support the sovereign government, to protect its own people and protect its own borders. That's what needs to happen in Syria.
JOURNALIST How would you characterise the new front bench and do you think that bodes well for an earlier election?
JULIE BISHOP I'm very excited at the prospect that a re-shuffle brings. I mean, it comes about at difficult times but I am very optimistic and always look forward, and I think that we have got a combination of experience and new talent. Renewal is always a great opportunity for new ideas and fresh thinking and Prime Minister Turnbull is very keen for Australia to be innovative, creative and that also comes from the Government.
The Government must also be able to embrace opportunities and having a number of new people on the front bench gives us that opportunity. I am pleased with the number of woman who are now in Cabinet and also in the Ministry, six women in Cabinet is not enough but it's a very good base for us to work and it's one of the matters I will be discussing here in Japan – how we can empower more women in their workplace, more women can participate in the labour market and then more women in public life. So I think that our new line-up in Cabinet is certainly a great opportunity to promote what women can do in positions of leadership.
JOURNALIST And election timing, do you think that has any impact, having a new line-up?
JULIE BISHOP I don't think this re-shuffle was about election timing, it was brought about by other matters including the retirement of Warren Truss and Andrew Robb so it's an opportunity for renewal and fresh thinking and new ideas combined with some experienced hands. I've been the foreign minister in the Coalition for some time now as a number of other ministers have so it's combining our experience and what we have been doing in the past with the new ideas of new ministers.