Interview with Frances Suni - GMN TV

  • Transcript, E&OE

FRANCESSUNI: Minister,welcome back to Timor-Leste, and thank you very much for giving us your timefor this interview. Just to quickly start, five years after your first visit,what difference can you tell now?

JULIEBISHOP: I'm delighted to behere, and thank you for having me on your program. I'm pleased to be here at atime when the new government is being formed and after Australia andTimor-Leste have signed the historic maritime boundary treaty in March of thisyear. The difference that I am seeing now is the level of cooperation betweenthe Australian Government and the government of Timor-Leste and I'm very muchlooking forward to working in partnership with the new government, and toenhance our already strong relationship. It's coming up 20 years sinceINTERFET, when Australia played a lead role in Timor-Leste's pathway tonationhood, and this is an opportune time for us to recommit to our bilateralrelationship.

FRANCESSUNI: So what message are youtaking back to Canberra?

JULIEBISHOP: I'm taking back amessage that Australia is viewed as a reliable partner and a trusted friend,and that together, Australia and Timor-Leste can achieve much in peace,stability and increasing prosperity here in Timor-Leste. From the highestlevels of the Australian Government across the Australian public, we wantTimor-Leste to be a confident, prosperous, independent nation with a verybright future.

FRANCESSUNI: This visit has beendubbed a new chapter for the bilateral relationships between the two nations.What does that mean? Does that mean more cooperation, anything else, maybe?

JULIEBISHOP: It means we're lookingto the future. It means that we are together going to work to diversify theTimor-Leste economy, build opportunities for young people here, promote goodgovernance and democratic values. Specifically, it means greater dialogue andfrequency of meetings between the Australian Government and the Timor-LesteGovernment. For example, the Foreign Minister and I have agreed to annualforeign ministers meetings and our senior officials are going to meet on anannual basis to ensure that we keep up a constant dialogue about challenges andopportunities for our two nations. It also means that we're increasing oureconomic partnership, doing more to help Timor-Leste attract private sectorinvestment here. We're also doing more for the security of the nation, andTimor-Leste has agreed to accept two new Guardian Class patrol boats and apackage of training and infrastructure to support those two new boats. In fact,it's valued at about $200 million dollars with 25 years' worth of maintenanceof the new patrol boats, and they will assist Timor-Leste in patrolling itsborders, preventing illegal fishing, transnational crime and the like.

Also, the SeasonalWorkers Program. Last year, about 800 places were allocated to workers fromTimor-Leste to come to Australia in areas of labour shortage - agriculture,horticulture - send their remittances back here to Timor-Leste. We've announcedthat we'll increase the number of places available to Timor-Leste to 1500, andwe've also announced $20 million in more health initiatives for research intocommunicable diseases, into supporting women on maternal health and also endingviolence against women. A number of really positive initiatives. So it means adeeper partnership across a whole range of areas.

FRANCESSUNI: Anychallenges in the partnership, in the programs that you and Australia andTimor-Leste have agreed to work together on?

JULIEBISHOP: Timor-Leste is a youngnation, you're coming up to 18 years since independence and it's a youngdemographic - about three-quarters of your population is under the age of 35.So there are challenges for a developing country and that's why Australia isvery keen to partner with Timor-Leste across economic, social, security areasto provide that support, so that Timor-Leste can be a strong, prosperous,independent nation.

FRANCESSUNI: Youhave also mentioned the people to people relationships that has been verystrong between Australia and Timor-Leste. With the initiatives that have comeout of that relationship, is the government, is the Australian Government readyto support those kind of relationships? There have been a lot of initiatives indifferent sectors, health for example. How ready is the government of Australiato support those [indistinct]?

JULIEBISHOP: We have the existingprogram of Australia Awards, they're scholarships that we provide opportunitiesfor students in Timor-Leste to study at Australian universities and gainqualifications in a whole range of fields from health and agriculture andeducation, science, medicine and we are increasing the number of AustraliaAwards to 20 this year and we're hoping to provide opportunities for undergraduates,masters and postgraduates. We have developed a significant cohort of healthprofessionals here in Timor-Leste. So we'll continue to provide that supportthrough scholarships and funding, but also through the Seasonal WorkersProgram, people are working in areas to gain skills that they can use when theycome back here, in hospitality and accommodation for example.

FRANCESSUNI: Withthe awards program, a year before I left Melbourne for my study, there was adecrease in the number of- in undergraduate intakes. I have seen that theawards program has really benefited the Timorese, many Timorese. If you look atthe leadership circle in Timor-Leste, a lot of the- the key position holdersare indeed Australia university or New Zealand university key graduates. Wouldthe Australian Government reconsider putting the undergraduate back to theawards program?

JULIEBISHOP: I am aware that a numberof members of the Cabinet are in fact Australia Award alumni, and ForeignMinister Soares studied his PhD at the Australian National University inCanberra for example. Yes, we are increasing the number of Australia Awards andthe feedback that I've had is while Timor-Leste appreciates opportunities for Mastersand PhD students, they're also looking for undergraduate students to study inAustralia. So we're taking that on board. We want to be flexible and respond tothe needs of Timor-Leste.

FRANCESSUNI: Awayfrom the awards, despite the Timor-Leste Government's recent position and yourstatement on Witness K case, a number of figures both within Timor-Leste andAustralia, such as Dr Jose Ramos-Horta has urged Australia to drop the case.What is the reaction of Canberra, the Australian Government, to do those pleasfrom those individuals or groups?

JULIEBISHOP: This prosecution wastaken on the advice of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and aprosecution is now underway. It is a domestic legal matter. It is for theAustralian courts to determine and it's a matter for the Australian prosecutorsto take the case. So it's not related to Timor-Leste. It is domestic legalprocesses within Australia.

FRANCESSUNI: Anumber of these people have accused Australia of not being fair, because as DrRamos-Horta mentioned, they revealed the information and it shows one of thebest examples of Australia. Do you think moving ahead with the case wouldaffect in any way the relationship between Australia and Timor-Leste?

JULIEBISHOP: The case has been takenon advice of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and theAustralian Government has accepted that advice. As it is now before the courts,it's a domestic legal matter. I don't want to say anything that wouldcompromise those proceedings. But I point out that it's an internal Australianlegal matter and I don't believe it will have any impact at all on ourrelationship with the Timor-Leste Government. Indeed, the government here hasacknowledged that it's a matter for Australia.

FRANCESSUNI: Backto the cooperation, with the launching of a number of assistance programs, howmuch is Australia prepared to spend on East Timor in the future?

JULIEBISHOP: At present thedevelopment assistance budget is over $91 million a year. That funding istargeted into areas where we think we can make a significant difference to thestandard of living and the strengthening of communities in Timor-Leste, as wellas giving opportunities particularly for the young people. As I said, ourdefence cooperation program involves the gifting of two Guardian-class patrolboats and that's got a value of about $200 million. We also have military andpolice cooperation. We work together across a whole range of fields. SoAustralia will continue to be a reliable partner and a trusted friend forTimor-Leste.

FRANCESSUNI: Youhave also made a statement of behalf of the Australian Government onAustralia's position regarding Timor's trying to find a path to develop greatersunrise. In practical terms, what does that mean?

JULIEBISHOP: We signed the historicMaritime Boundary Treaty and that is going through a ratification process. Itabled the treaty in the Australian Parliament on 26 March and it's now goingthrough the parliamentary process and I hope that we'll be able to ratify thattreaty very soon and likewise I hope that the Timor-Leste parliament willconfirm ratification of the treaty. In the meantime, there are transitionarrangements with the Joint Venture Partners that need to be taken into accountand then we will support Timor-Leste in its negotiations with the Joint VenturePartners as to the best way to develop greater sunrise so that it maximises theopportunities for the people of Timor-Leste. So we will support Timor-Leste inits negotiations and provide assistance where we can.

FRANCESSUNI: Doesthat mean Australia's ready to support East Timor's wish to bring the pipelineto Timor's shores?

JULIEBISHOP: That will be a matterfor the Joint Venture Partners to discuss with Timor-Leste. Australia isprepared to support the best outcome, the pathway that maximises the greatestreturn and greatest benefit to people of Timor-Leste. As far as the technicalaspects of it, that will obviously be a matter for the companies involved. FRANCES SUNI: Thank youvery much for your time.

JULIEBISHOP: My pleasure.

FRANCESSUNI: Wewish you all the best and have a safe trip back to Australia.

JULIEBISHOP: Thank you. I lookforward to coming back.

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