Indian Ocean Rim Association Press Conference

  • Transcript, E&OE

AUSTRALIA FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOPThank you for joining us this afternoon. I'm delighted to confirm that we have just concluded a very successful and productive Indian Ocean Rim Association Council of Ministers meeting and I am joined by my Foreign Minister colleagues from Singapore, Sri Lanka, Seychelles and the Secretary-General from Mauritius.We did achieve a number of key outcomes and possibly among the most significant was an IORA Economic Declaration where the member states all agreed on the importance of what we call the 'blue economy' - marine economic activity - which is an issue of common interest to us all. Australia has supported the economic declaration by establishing a fund of a million dollars to support economic diplomacy initiatives and activities in the Indian Ocean region. We discussed a number of those opportunities today.

A number of member states also signed a Memorandum of Understanding on search-and-rescue cooperation and given the tragic events of MH370 in recent times, it's understandable that we want to see more cooperation in this area. Australia also announced a $2.6 million initiative to strengthen search-and-rescue capabilities in the Indian Ocean region to support the MOU.

IORA is the only ministerial-level forum that spans the Indian Ocean. It is uniquely positioned to shape the way our region forges closer ties and delivers peace and prosperity for our region. We enter our second year as Chair and Australia is pleased to see IORA operating as a stronger institution. It has a stronger international profile, there is renewed interest from other countries in our region to join IORA and we welcome the increased engagement of our dialogue partners, who play a vital role in the region's future prosperity.

IORA Ministers heard from a number of business leaders this week – from Australia, from India and Indonesia – on the future of regional connectivity. This came as we concluded a week of business-related activities, as this is the first time we have had IORA business as a centre of our discussions. So the blue economy was talked about as ways to leverage our incredible shared resource – the Indian Ocean. The issues of ports, the fishing industry, renewable energy opportunities, tourism, all featured in our discussions.

We are promoting economic cooperation but we also focus very much of maritime safety and security, on search-and-rescue, on disaster relief management, fisheries management, a whole range of issues. We also took up the matter of women's economic empowerment and the empowerment of women generally and held a session on what we call a cross-cutting issue. All our priority areas are bolstered by our focus on women's empowerment and Australia and India both convened IORA workshops, bringing together women from across the Indian Ocean to share experiences and recommendations on the most effective ways to empower women in our region.

I'll ask my colleagues to say a few words and then I'll take some questions. Minister Shanmugam from Singapore.

SINGAPORE FOREIGN MINISTER K. SHANMUGAMThank you Julie that was very comprehensive. Whatever way you look at it, the Indian Ocean is significant. And it means a lot to each of our economies to promote the income status of development in each of the member countries. And we discussed very useful ways, practical ways in which we can try to help each other increase trade facilitation globally. I think we've made a good start. Thank you.

SRI LANKA FOREIGN MINISTER G.L. PEIRISI think the distinctive feature of this gathering has been a focus on practical measures and objectives. On this occasion we have committed ourselves to identifying practical courses of action, clear objectives that we have identified as being as priority things like trade, what we can do to help each other be focused on economic cooperation.

We also discussed protecting the security of sea lanes in order to strengthen the international economic system. As Julie pointed out, the empowerment of women including the emphasis on entrepreneurship is important. But also we gave some attention to the cultural richness of the region. With so many different cultures and traditions, we asked ourselves how we can exploit this particular resource.

SEYCHELLES FOREIGN MINISTER JEAN-PAUL ADAMThank you very much. I think that the focus within this conference held in Perth, particularly on the blue economy is a mark of the ambition of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. Because we all share this ocean. It's a space that is indicative of all the potential of what we can do and I think there is a feeling as well that we've all said what we want to do a lot more.

Seychelles- we are the smallest country represented here – but we don't feel small because of the ocean around us. We have 1.3 million square kilometres of ocean and we're still not the largest oceanic space, there are other countries that have large spaces as well. I think that the real mindset shift that is happening in the Indian Ocean Rim is about saying that perhaps to an extent we have now exhausted the land possibilities.

But the ocean is a new frontier with huge new avenues for development. I think Australia is very well placed as co-chair of IORA, and I really thank Julie for putting this cross-cutting item on the agenda. I think it gives us a new push towards areas of the Indian Ocean Rim which ultimately can create more growth and I think sustainably.Thank you very much.

SECRETARY GENERAL BHAGIRATHI'd like to repeat what the other Ministers have said and to raise two points. First, that the business week which we had, the IORA Business Week, it was the first time and can hopefully be a new feature when IORA Ministers meet. The second is that of course we are expanding as an organisation. A new member Somalia was admitted as a member and there are two other countries who are in the process of applying, Myanmar and Maldives. It is an indication of the organisation expanding, and also I'd like to place on record the dynamism that came from the Chair and personally from the Foreign Minister of Australia, who has also kept her promise and visited us in Mauritius, which was very good to visit the region to get to know it up closer. I think part of the inspiration for putting the blue economy at the central stream of the conference would have come from this. Thank you.

JOURNALIST[inaudible] MH370 how that would streamline that search and allow countries to work together and faster maybe?

JULIE BISHOPEssentially what we are seeking to do is share information, share expertise and ensure that systems are interconnected. So it is a commitment on the part of the 20 member-states of the Indian Ocean Rim to ensure that through search and rescue efforts we can coordinate what needs to be done and the MOU is just the start –we will follow this up with more work to ensure that we have that level of connection, sharing experience, sharing expertise, sharing systems to enable us to streamline search and rescue efforts.

JOURNALISTYou are confident that will… situation like that, really improve the time? Because at the moment the searchers…needle in the haystack and a lot pf precious time was wasted.

JULIE BISHOPEvery situation is different and the circumstances surrounding MH370 are unprecedented in airline industry history, as far as I am concerned. But we hope that this way will be a greater focus, greater effort to share information and share experience and share ideas and assistance. Much more needs to be done on a global level and the Chicago Convention that covers the airline aviation sector is many decades old and may need review among other areas where we need to ensure that we have all our international rules and protocols reflect our 21st century reality. This is an effort on the part of the Indian Ocean Rim countries – the members of this organisation – to ensure that we do what we can to share information, systems and work together to streamline search and rescue operations in the Indian Ocean. It is the third largest ocean in the world, it has some of the remote areas – as we have seen through the MH370 search effort– but through this MOU I believe it is certainly progressing a greater amount of connectivity in this vital area.

JOURNALISTJulie Bishop there is a lot of research on the huge amount of research on the plastic pollution in the Indian Ocean and that was highlighted during the search for MH370 with a lot of the debris that was spotted in the beginning. Was that something that was discussed?

JULIE BISHOPNot specifically but it was discussed among senior officials but not something specifically in relation to debris but we are most certainly committed to the protection and preservation of our oceans – one of the most important, significant assets that we all share. What I think is important about the Indian Ocean Rim Association is that all member-states share this love and this commitment to the preservation of our magnificent ocean, it is part of the work that Indian Ocean Rim Association does. Secretary-General is there anything more specific on that?

SECRETARY-GENERALI think very much what we have discussed in terms of the blue economy, it is very much about ownership of the oceans and ownership by us and the other states. That includes taking management measures that improve the health of our ocean. The blue economy is obviously about creating economic opportunities but also in a sustainable way. So the whole approach that we have taken is let's look at our oceans from a new light, new eyes, with fresh eyes and say let's not accept business as usual. We can have innovative development with new resources while also ensuring that they are sustainable.

JOURNALISTMinister, considering [inaudible] sustainable development of the marine economy is Australia [inaudible] the association of marine economy, how does this fit in with your idea of 'economic diplomacy' and helping the other countries in the organisation?

JULIE BISHOPAustralia as the chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association at present, has been able to place the blue economy on the agenda for this meeting. We are certainly joined by a number of countries who have the blue economy at the heart of their overall economic growth policies. Australia's policy of 'economic diplomacy'fits brilliantly with our focus on the blue economy and I found that so much of what we discussed today also fits in with the G20 agenda, so at every level –from the national level, regionally and globally – I think there is going to be much greater focus on the ocean as part of our economic interest.

I have to say that IORA is leading the way in this regard. A number of the member-states have the blue economy – or the ocean economy – as a central part of their overall economic growth plans. Certainly Australia does – we were at the University of Western Australia yesterday – the Federal Government has committed $34 million to the establishment of an Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre and I believe that is part of our effort to leverage the opportunities that our ocean provides us. The Economic Zone of each country should be seen as part of their economic assets to be used for the benefit of that country – we had quite a substantial discussion about that today.

JEAN-PAUL ADAMWe also talked about really using the expertise of different countries. Australia's investment in the Indian Ocean Research Institute will be a great asset for the whole region. Also building on what other countries are doing, for example, Sri Lanka has its own university looking at many of these issues. So it is really about taking what is in this region and creating more opportunity for all countries to benefit from this shared research.

JOURNALISTCan I veer on another topic. What is your advice for the public with regards to the possible Ebola case in Queensland?

JULIE BISHOPI understand that case is currently under investigation so I won't make any comment until there has been a specific conclusion drawn about it. Australia has committed significant funding to support the frontline services in West Africa dealing with the Ebola virus. I have said on a number of occasions that the Australian Government would not sending health workers to West Africa until such time we have in place a credible evacuation plan that would enable us to evacuate Australian health workers safely back to Australia. This is currently not the situation – we have not had any guarantees from any countries yet that they would take Australian health workers into their treatment facilities.

In relation to the Australian public, we have very strong border protection controls, we have very strong quarantine and customs management, clearly if anyone has been to West Africa and coming back to Australia they should alert customs that the have been in that area – those countries, Sierra Leona, Liberia and others – and we will take whatever steps we can to protect Australia from any outbreak of that virus. But until we know the specific circumstances I won't comment further on the case.

JOURNALISTAs I understand she was working in West Africa as a health worker. Do you think the necessary precautions were not in place that perhaps she should not have been there?

JULIE BISHOPI'm not aware of the details. I understand that she was working for Red Cross, I would assume that they would have in place appropriate plans for safe evacuation.

JOURNALIST Do you have any more information on the Indian surrogacy case?

JULIE BISHOPI understand there was a situation a couple of years ago where an Australian couple had sought a surrogacy arrangement and unbeknownst at the time the surrogate mother produced twins. They took one of the children and left the other. I understand in those circumstances the Indian Government was responsible for the other child and did take responsibility for it. I also understand that the Australian High Commission in India sought to persuade the family to take both children but the family decided not to.

The family court judge made some reference to a visa. I'm not quite sure where that reference fits into it because in a normal case the child – both children – would be entitled to citizenship, a visa would not come into it, but the Indian Government took over responsibility for the other child. Other than that I have no further details – that is what I have been informed – but as to whether any former Labor minister was involved I don't have any information about that.

JOURNALISTIf the States did ask you to set up an enquiry into surrogacy would you go down that path?

JULIE BISHOPWell the States currently have responsibility for surrogacy laws. The Federal Government as a matter of principle does not support commercial surrogacy arrangements but each State has its own rules. Should the States ask the Federal Government to look at something I'm sure we would – but as to whether it would be appropriate for the Federal Government to have a role in this regard I will leave it for the States to consider. But this is a hypothetical, we haven't been asked to take it on as far as I'm aware.

JOURNALISTDo you believe that the State laws should be changed?

JULIE BISHOPThe State laws differ and it would be useful if they were consistent. One of my concerns that I expressed in relation to case of the Thai surrogacy case recently was that there was some differences between the States and we wouldn't want to see a situation where jurisdictions were being shopped, so if there were consistency among the States then the question of federal intervention probably wouldn't arise.

JOURNALISTCan I just go back to the question about border and disease, was the issue of the Ebola outbreak and treatment of tropical infectious disease more generally discussed during the meeting?

JULIE BISHOPWe talked about research in a number of instances and as my friend the Foreign Minister of Seychelles Jean-Paul Adam just indicated, there are many institutes and centres around the Indian Ocean Rim that have expertise or specialise in particular areas and issues. Of course we have universities in Australia that are experts in tropical disease.

What we did agree to do was put together a list of our strengths in research area –what we can offer others, what our expertise is and what other countries might be looking for in terms of expertise and search capability, a sort of supply and demand list – we agreed to put that together over the next few weeks so that we can share our areas of research strengths in particular fields. In that way the Indian Ocean Rim countries will be able to call on each other expertise whatever the issue is.

JOURNALISTHave you received any information about the boat off Fremantle with sheep aboard – there was a fire and seven people were injured?

JULIE BISHOPNo I'm afraid that is outside my pay grade.

JOURNALISTIn terms of [inaudible], Mr Abbott has mentioned red carding. Is there already a stringent process in place for red carding?

JULIE BISHOPThe Prime Minister was – I believe – referring to the fact that we are seeking to change our laws to include an offence of promoting terrorism. Currently there are a range of offences relating to engaging in terrorism, but he is referring to the proposal that we have to change our laws to include an offence of promoting terrorism. If that were the case we would capture the kind of conduct that has been concerning people for quite some time as to the promotion of terrorist activities.

Media enquiries