Media conference with the Foreign Minister of New Zealand Murray McCully. Subjects: the Australian-New Zealand bilateral relationship, New Zealanders in Australia, Syria, people smuggling, Fiji, Afghanistan and AusAID

Subjects: the Australian-New Zealand bilateral relationship, New Zealanders in Australia, Syria, people smuggling, Fiji, Afghanistan and AusAID.

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

2 October 2013

MINISTER MCCULLY: Well it's been my great pleasure to welcome Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to New Zealand for formal talks today. Our two countries obviously have a good relationship and the signal that she's sent by making this formal visit so early in her term, I think, underscores the importance of the relationship to both governments.

We've had the opportunity to work together in the past; we've kept in contact, and so it's been from my point of view extremely easy to pick up the reins with the incoming foreign minister. I want to thank her and her officials for the priority they've placed on the relationship and the cooperation that's already taken place. Over to you.

MINISTER BISHOP: Thank you Murray. I'm delighted to be here in Auckland meeting with my counterpart, Foreign Minister McCully. Australia and New Zealand have the closest and deepest friendship and partnership, but I wanted to come here very early in my term as foreign minister to underscore the fact that the relationship should never be taken for granted and that there are no two closer countries in the world than Australia and New Zealand, and we want to maintain that level of friendship and partnership and cooperation.

Australia and New Zealand have many common attitudes and approaches to not only regional matters, but also international matters, and I was pleased to spend time with Foreign Minister McCully in New York at the recent United Nations General Assembly Leaders' Week, and of course Australia was chairing the Security Council during the course of that week. I found that on the many occasions that Foreign Minister McCully and I spoke and worked together, we had common interests, common approaches, and common attitudes to many international matters.

Economically, New Zealand is extremely important to Australia. New Zealand is among our top in trade and investment partners. There are some 17,000 Australian businesses operating in New Zealand. Today we had a wonderful opportunity to have a long discussion with our officials and our High Commissioner and the Secretary for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia, Peter Varghese – he's also here – and we talked about bilateral issues as to how we can enhance our cooperation to make it easier to do business in Australia and easier to do business in New Zealand. We talked about some specific initiatives, including joint action on the global roaming issue regarding mobile phones, which is an important issue for business people that are travelling between Australia and New Zealand. We also had a very deep discussion about regional issues: our approach to a number of challenges in the region, but also international, because of the matter of Syria, for example, which dominated so much of the discussions in the United Nations Security Council General Assembly. It's a matter where Australia and New Zealand hold very similar views.

So I want to thank Foreign Minister McCully for his warm and gracious welcome. We'll continue to work exceedingly closely with New Zealand on a whole range of matters. We have no dearer, closer neighbouring friend than New Zealand, and the Abbott-led Government wish to confirm the strength of that relationship by having me visit New Zealand at the same time that Prime Minister Key is visiting Australia. Any questions?

QUESTION: One of first things is the rights of New Zealanders in Australia. Are they going to increase, are they going to improve any time soon do you think?

MINISTER BISHOP: I can assure you that Foreign Minister McCully raised that matter with me, and we discussed that at length. The way we see it, there is a unique arrangement with New Zealand that no other country has, from Australia's perspective. New Zealanders are free to travel and live and work and study in Australia, and they have a level of access that is afforded to no other country. New Zealanders are entitled to a range of benefits, and the arrangement that currently exists was an agreement between the Australian and New Zealand governments, and I can assure you that Minister McCully did raise it with me.

QUESTION: So that will improve do you think? That we will expand on that?

MINISTER BISHOP: Well, we obviously have budgetary constraints and we'll work closely with New Zealand on any issues of concern. The wonderful thing about this friendship and partnership is that we work through issues together, in consultation with each other.

QUESTION: You have no intention of opening up the aged pension and welfare payments to New Zealanders over there?

MINISTER BISHOP: Already New Zealanders in Australia under these arrangements do have access to a number of benefits and entitlements. There is limited access to the aged pension, but the idea behind it in the first place was to give New Zealanders the opportunity to work and study in Australia, and that's where most of the benefits are associated – with working or study in Australia. And we believe that we have the balance right, but we're always prepared to listen to our friends from New Zealand.

QUESTION: What aspects of Syria did you cover and what are the positions that you've come to an agreement on?

MINISTER BISHOP: We were both very pleased to find that the UN Security Council was able to pass a unanimous resolution on the issue of the chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria. That passed the UN Security Council when Australia was in the chair of the Security Council. As a result of that issue being resolved, to the extent that there's now a unanimous UN resolution, we believe that the organisation for the prohibition of chemical weapons should be given international support so that they can get on with the job of identifying, securing and ultimately eliminating those stockpiles.

Secondly, the humanitarian aspect of this has been very much on our minds and Australia has been co-authoring a presidential statement on humanitarian access and humanitarian aid in Syria, and I believe, as we speak, that is passing through the Security Council. So the humanitarian side of it is very important. Australia has made a significant contribution to humanitarian needs in Syria to the tune of about $100 million.

Then there is the issue of the overall resolution of the conflict in Syria, and we hope that as a result of the resolution on chemical weapons, the statement on humanitarian aid and access, there will be a renewed commitment and momentum toward the Geneva 2 Conference, which is designed to find a political solution to the ongoing conflict.

QUESTION: And did you talk about asylum seekers as well?

MINISTER BISHOP: I certainly gave Minister McCully an update on Prime Minister Abbott's recent visit to Jakarta. The visit was extremely successful, in that there was a renewed commitment on the part of the Indonesian Government and on the part of the Australian Government to work together under the Bali Process to ensure that we can dismantle the people-smuggling trade that is a burden on Indonesia. And as President Yudhoyono described it, both Australia and Indonesia have been the victims of these criminal syndicates that are preying on people's lives. We also both want to see an end to the deaths at sea that occur in the waters between Australia and Indonesia. And so from that point of view, we were very encouraged by our meetings in Indonesia, and now it'll get to an operational level where Australian officials and the Minister for Immigration will be travelling to Indonesia, a special envoy on people-smuggling issues will be travelling to Indonesia, and we will keep working to resolve these issues so that we can stop this people-smuggling from happening.

QUESTION: What was said in relation to Fiji, and did the two of you agree on the way forward for the conflict there.

MINISTER BISHOP: We had a discussion about Fiji. This was a discussion that Minister McCully and I have had over some time, and we discussed it in New York, and Fiji was the subject of discussion by the Commonwealth in New York as well. Our collective position, our joint position, is that we want to see a normalising of relations as soon as possible, and that will mean a return to democracy as soon as possible in Fiji. So we want to see a credible election held as soon as we can; in the meantime we'll continue to talk on the best way to achieve that, and that will involve discussions with other Pacific Island nations who have a stake in this as well.

QUESTION: What other Pacific issues were discussed?

MINISTER BISHOP: We've discussed our joint cooperation in a number of areas. We very much welcome New Zealand's support in PNG and Bougainville, and we work closely in the Pacific Islands' Forum, and of course in RAMSI as well – we appreciate New Zealand's continuing Police presence in the Solomon Islands as we come to the end of RAMSI.

QUESTION: In the lead-up to the Fijian election, are there things that New Zealand and Australia are prepared to give, concessions you're prepared to make, to encourage that transition back to democracy?

MINISTER BISHOP: Well we're very keen to identify the date of the proposed elections. I think once we can establish when the elections are going to be held, there are many things that we can offer, and perhaps Minister McCully can talk about the offers that you've already made to Fiji in that regard.

MINISTER MCCULLY: We announced the relaxation of sanctions about two weeks ago, including the revocation of the sporting sanctions, a feature that wasn't on the Australian books [?10.11] but was something enacted here in 2006. In doing so, we made the point that we would be looking to recognise ongoing progress towards the holding of elections in Fiji by taking appropriate steps to bring about further relaxation. And so we took the opportunity today to have a high level discussion about the way forward. I think that we've agreed that we'll keep in contact on this. It's going to require ongoing thought and discussion and that's something that will be high on our agenda as we go forward.


QUESTION: Minister, the big news in Australia today is the apprehension of Hekmatullah, the Afghan National Army soldier who gunned down three Australians. What's your reaction to that?

MINISTER BISHOP: We welcome the news that the former Afghan soldier, who is alleged to have killed the three Australian soldiers in 2012, has been apprehended, detained and has now been transferred to Kabul. That is good news. I'll pay credit to our Defence Forces, to our intelligence agencies and also to the Pakistan ISI that was involved in this. I understand that the families have been informed, and we will then work closely with the Afghan authorities to make sure that the case is prosecuted and that we're obviously abiding by the outcome – but it is welcome news. And it shows that Australia is determined to support efforts to locate and bring to justice those who are accused of murdering Australian soldiers.

QUESTION: And how did you find your time on the UN Security Council, recently, chairing?

MINISTER BISHOP: It was a great experience, and one that I hope our friends from New Zealand will be able to share in due course. [laughter]

QUESTION: And could you ever see yourself offering Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd a diplomatic post?

MINISTER BISHOP: Nothing springs to mind at the moment. Okay.

QUESTION: Minister McCully, just one last question. Australia has recently announced plans to merge AusAID with DFAT; you did something similar here. How successful was that merger here, and what sort of advice would you have for the Australian Government?

MINISTER MCCULLY: I wouldn't give any advice to the Australian Government. I think those are matters of domestic policy, and I certainly wouldn't offer an opinion. The decisions that the New Zealand Government made early after the Key Government was appointed I think have been highly successful, and we're very very pleased to see diplomatic and development arms working much more closely in unison, particularly within our own region of the Pacific.

QUESTION: Sorry Mr McCully, would you consider a political appointment to replace Martin Dunn?

MINISTER MCCULLY: I don't have a political appointment in mind, no.

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