Doorstop - University of Western Australia

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP I would like to give you an update on the situation in Nepal which of course suffered such devastation in the wake of an earthquake. On the question of the number of Australians in Nepal, I can confirm that 1450 Australians have now been accounted for. In Nepal when you consider that only 549 had registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at the outset, this demonstrates the extraordinary work of our consular staff in Nepal in locating and ensuring that all 1450 Australians that we know of in Nepal have been accounted for. So all known Australians in Nepal have now been accounted for.

In terms of transport, we have taken two planes from Kathmandu to Bangkok carrying 106 people, about 66 Australians and the others were foreign citizens. Those two transport planes, C-17s, are in Bangkok. One will remain in Bangkok pending further assessment of evacuation needs. The other will come to Australia with Australians on board.

On the humanitarian front, I can announce today that Australia will provide a further $5 million in humanitarian support. This will bring our contribution to $10 million, which places us as one of the highest donors in terms of money for humanitarian relief. This $5 million will comprise $2.5 million to the UN Flash Appeal, $1.5 million in further funding for Australian NGOs, $0.5 million or half a million dollars to an organisation called RedR Australia, who will provide humanitarian experts and volunteers in a range of fields and a further half a million dollars to Australian Red Cross for their work.

Two transport planes, C-17s, arrived yesterday with 15 tonnes of supplies. Shelter is very much in need so blankets, tents, tarpaulins, as well as other humanitarian supplies and more personnel, more workers. So Australia has a team on the ground, we are providing relief and we are working with other countries and other agencies to ensure that relief can reach those in need as quickly as possible.

I understand that the circumstances are extremely challenging. Transport communications are all disrupted but I have spoken to our Ambassador in Kathmandu and the Australian team is working exceedingly well with other organisations, other countries on the ground.

I remind the people in Nepal, the Australians in Nepal, to check their travel insurance. I trust as many people as possible thought to take out travel insurance and they should check the details of their travel insurance to ensure that they get appropriate cover. Also, the Smartraveller travel advice has been amended to reconsider travel, so if there is it no need to go to Nepal then I would reconsider travel if you were intending to do so.

JOURNALIST What's the reaction to the Indonesian Ambassador's expression of sympathy over the deaths of Chan and Sukumaran?

JULIE BISHOP There are a number of people in Indonesia who regretted the circumstances that have taken place. I'm aware of a number of Indonesian politicians, business people who were deeply disturbed by the events of the last week. It is time for us to seek to move on, we will need to build relations at the government level, the people-to-people level and I think that we need to look at the long-term future of the relationship.

What happened this week is to be regretted, deeply regretted. I spoke to the family members last night and they are devastated and one can't help but feel so deeply for what they are going through, but we must focus on the long-term relationship with Indonesia.

JOURNLIST Have you or anyone else in the Australian Government at a high level spoken directly to the Indonesian Ambassador?

JULIE BISHOP I have not for I left Canberra. I believe he was travelling back from Indonesia and I left Canberra yesterday, so no I haven't had an opportunity.

JOUNRLIST Did you know about the letter reportedly sent to President Widodo offering bipartisan support to grant clemency to the Bali Nine ring leaders?

JULIE BISHOP I'm aware that a number of Indonesian politicians and former politicians were expressing very grave reservations about this matter to the President and to other members of the Indonesian Government. This is an issue that has divided opinion in Indonesia and Australia, it is very challenging issue.

What the Australian Government has sought to do is uphold the values that we believe in. We oppose the death penalty for Australians at home and abroad. It was incumbent upon us to make that position known to the Indonesian Government.

JOURNALIST Did the Australian Government ask for that intervention that was just referred to?

JULIE BISHOP No, we did not.

JOURNALIST Where do you go in terms of moving forward and repairing the relationship with Indonesia and how long will that take?

JULIE BISHOP As you are aware we recalled our Ambassador for consultations and he will arrive home this weekend and I and the Prime Minister will spend time talking with the Ambassador as to the way forward.

JOURNALIST Given we are in your home state, do you empathise with the Premier's position that the iron ore practices by BHP and Rio are driving down prices which are bad for the State and country?

JULIE BISHOP We encourage our iron ore producers to trade, to sell their goods overseas. We are focused on enhancing trade liberalisation in our region. We are concluding free trade agreements that will enable Australia to sell our goods and services into the region.

So I'm focused very much on building trading relationships, enhancing existing trading relationships. And Australia is a powerhouse economy and I can understand why the West Australian Premier is very keen to ensure that Western Australia continues to drive growth for this State and for in country. But I'm not going to comment on particular practices of individual corporations.

JOURNALIST Just one more question about the death penalty. How will you campaign against the death penalty? Will you be talking to countries other than Indonesia?

JULIE BISHOP I have mentioned in previous interviews that I think it is appropriate at this time for countries in our region to have a discussion, a dialogue about the issue of the death penalty. Just as we meet to discuss the challenges of people trafficking and people smuggling through the Bali Process, I think it would be appropriate to have a dialogue about law and order and law enforcement issues that would include the death penalty. I think it would be a useful discussion to have and the Attorney-General and I are discussing the ways that we could do this.

And it's not unusual for Australia to speak to have such dialogues. For example, the Attorney-General will be hosting a summit in Sydney in June on countering violent extremism in our region and will be bringing countries in our region together to discuss that challenge.

So I think that the death penalty is one of those issues that we could usefully discuss in the kind of dialogues that Australia is used to hosting and used to attending in our region.

JOURNALIST Just on Nepal - we've had reports that there are Australians stranded on mountains there. How difficult is it to get Australians out especially from those in remote areas?

JULIE BISHOP Exceedingly difficult. When Australians travel to these remote regions, I hope that they take out travel insurance and I hope that they put in place contingency plans should things go wrong, and the Australian Government will do what it can but there are limitations to what we can do.

We are working with other countries. We are assisting other countries with their consular needs, they are assisting us with our consular needs but these are exceedingly challenging and difficult circumstances in a very dangerous place. This was a significant earthquake and has it a devastating impact on Nepal and surrounding regions.

JOURNALIST During your speech you referred to something of an expert group on aid and you mentioned some of the names there. Could you expand on that for us?

JULIE BISHOP Yes. We have established what is called the innovationXchange. It is an idea that I was inspired to implement after visiting Stanford University. It is in a separate location from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The people who work in the innovationXchange are seconded from across the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, across the public sector more generally. We're looking to second people from the private sector. Indeed we have seconded Chris Vein who was the Chief Innovation Officer at the World Bank in Washington to work with us.

The idea of the innovationXchange is to take what are seemingly intractable aid problems that have not been resolved by the investment of billions of dollars of aid in the past and try and think of creative, innovative, different ways of tackling these problems, particularly by leveraging the private sector with its creative, innovative approach to problem solving. And we also have an international advisory board of some of the best and most creative thinkers in the world, including Michael Bloomberg.

In fact, Michael Bloomberg and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have announced the first project that the innovationXchange will consider and we've called it Data for Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies has invested $80 million into this project. Australia has invested $20 million, we've identified 20 countries. Through the use of the latest and smartest technology, we will be gathering fundamental data in relation to the health of these nations, data that doesn't currently exist in a useable form, such as birth rates and cause of death. In many countries the cause of death is not noted, in many countries births are not in fact identified – get all of this data together through the use of technology, and then we can start to have evidence-based health policies that will actually make a difference. So it is ground breaking work and I'm delighted that we're able to do it with the international support of people such as Michael Bloomberg.

JOURNALIST Did you mention Bjorn Lomborg?

JULIE BISHOP Yes, Bjorn Lomborg, Sanjay Reddy, Andrew Moutu, Ryan Stokes, Sam Moslyn, there is a whole range of international experts and creative thinkers who will be part of this innovationXchange and will be providing advice to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to me. As Minister, I will in fact chair the International Advisory Group.

JOUNRALIST How involved were you in the decision to grant $4 million to UWA to have a Consensus Centre here based on Bjorn Lomborg's model?

JULIE BISHOP I was not involved, I wasn't aware of it.

JOURNALIST The Consensus Centre, do you support it?

JULIE BISHOP It is a very good idea. I think universities are places for creative thought, for freedom of expression, for the battle of ideas and you don't want people who all think the same, a group-think approach. Universities are incubators for ideas and challenging norms and challenging the status quo. So I think it sounds like a very good idea.

JOURNALIST Apparently protests today as far away as New York and Berlin on the issue of remote community closures. I wondered if, in your talks with foreign leaders or representatives from other countries, has this ever come up and do you think there is the potential for that to cause problems?

JULIE BISHOP No, in none of my discussions has this issue been raised. In fact, I have just returned from a visit throughout Europe and no, it wasn't raised at any time.

JOURNALIST Do you think that the comments that Mr Barnett has just recently made in The Australian today bringing some nuance and detail to that issue might calm things down a bit?

JULIE BISHOP Premier Barnett is always very nuanced and chooses his words wisely. So I'm sure that whatever he says will be a productive addition to the discussion.

JOURNALIST On this eminent persons group, Bjorn Lomborg has attracted quite a bit of attention in relation to the Consensus Centre here at UWA. Do you think use of his ideas in that group might also attract some controversy?

JULIE BISHOP Well it's an advisory group. I'm looking for people who challenge the status quo. You see, we have spent, invested billions and billions of dollars through our foreign aid budget in our region and in some notable instances, the development indices are going backwards. In maternal health, in infant mortality, the outcomes are worse, not better.

We cannot continue to do what we've always done and expect a better outcome. So I decided that we needed to challenge some of the assumptions underlying the delivery of aid and come up with much more creative and innovative ways to deliver aid effectively, with better outcomes. We can't continue to spend billions of dollars and get worse outcomes. So I selected a group of people that I know challenge orthodoxy, challenge the status quo, come up with different ideas.

Bjorn Lomborg is an economist and he has written and spoken on numerous occasions internationally about the way to approach the delivery of foreign aid. His name was suggested to me by a number of eminent people and I was delighted that he accepted. He is one of about 14 people who will be on a board and I want different ideas.

I want people to think outside the square, I don't want everybody to sit and agree with each other. That's why you get people who are prepared to put forward different views, challenge ideas, come up with different thinking and you get a better result, I believe.

JOURNALIST Just quickly on Bali, Professor Yudhoyono obviously wasn't or decided not to attend the forum today. Obviously a sign of how strained relations are at the moment?

JULIE BISHOP I have a high regard for former President Yudhoyono. I personally got along very well with him and I thought his statement today was very gracious. But it does indicate that there is considerable disquiet in Indonesia about the decision of the Government. As I said, there's a range of views on this in Australia. There are certainly a range of views within Indonesia, aAnd I know there are a number of people who are deeply disturbed by the outcome as there were in Australia.

JOUNRALIST Do you agree it would have been counterproductive to have turned up?

JULIE BISHOP That is a judgment that he made, I was certainly looking forward to meeting him here. We had in fact arranged to meet to discuss a whole range of matters, including the role he intends to take here at UWA in the future and I would very much look forward to seeing him again shortly.

JOURNALIST Some parents of teenagers stranded in the far west of the northern regions are talking about paying to get helicopters to get their children out. Is that a course of action that you would recommend or is it not as simple as that in terms of resources?

JULIE BISHOP Well, obviously patients will take whatever steps they think necessary. Presumably before their children left to go to Nepal, they would have had in place contingency plans should something go wrong. I'm assuming that. If they didn't, they obviously should have thought about what would happen if there were an avalanche on Mount Everest or something like that. I'm hoping that people have travel insurance.

What the Australian Government does is provide a very high level of consular support within the resources that we have available. Our Embassy and consular staff have been working around the clock to locate the now 1450 Australians that we now know were in Nepal. At the outset we thought there were 549. They are the people who had actually let us know had registered that they were there. Obviously another 900 hadn't. So we've been working very hard to identify and locate all Australians to make sure that they were safe, tragically as you know, there was one death and our thoughts and condolences still extend to the family of the woman who died and of course to all of the people in Nepal who've been through such tragic circumstances.

We have set up lines of communication, where communication is very challenging at present. We have Facebook, Twitter, websites, phone lines where people can contact the Embassy if they need assistance. But there are limitations as to what the Australian Government can do. We have arranged for people to be evacuated from Kathmandu on Australian Government-funded airlines, on our C-17s. We've taken them to Bangkok and some are taking commercial flights but others we are bringing back to Australia.

So if there are particular challenges that people have, of course they can contact the Embassy but there's a limit to what Australia can do in terms of getting people out, of course, we check that they are safe and we provide whatever consular support we can.

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