Media conference, with New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully

  • Transcript, E&OE

MURRAY MCCULLY Very briefly, thank you, I just want to take the opportunity of welcoming, formally, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to New Zealand. We've had this morning what are regular, formal talks, but they are of course supplemented on a frequent basis by text messages, telephone calls and so on. It's good to have such an opportunity to sit down and work through a structured agenda and we've taken that opportunity this morning; we'll be continuing it over lunch.

This is an important year in which to be having a gathering of this sort. First of all, our two countries are commemorating the ANZAC legend, which was forged 100 years ago, and there's a big year ahead in that respect.

This is also the occasion of the annual Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum and this is the 10th anniversary of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum, so it's a special occasion in that sense.

And some of you may have observed that there's a small sporting contest taking place tomorrow between our two countries, which will no doubt be the subject of considerable interest and competition as well.

We've managed to work through a pretty busy agenda this morning. We've touched on some bilateral issues. We've spent some time on Pacific regional issues where we work very closely together. We've effectively picked up on the baton from Australia in terms of our service on the United Nations Security Council, so we've managed to really supplement previous discussions we've had, to, if you like, ensure that there's continuity between the two countries in the service we give on that important body.

So, Julie, welcome to New Zealand. Great to have you here. Thanks for the constructive dialogue this morning, and please, make some remarks.

JULIE BISHOP Thanks Murray. I'm delighted to be here as part of our annual discussion on the bilateral relationship between Australia and New Zealand. As Foreign Minister McCully indicated, this is one of the closest partnerships that the region and the globe knows. Australia and New Zealand work so closely on a range of issues, and that level of cooperation continues to broaden and deepen.

This is also the occasion for the 10th Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum, and we are both taking part in that later on this afternoon with our respective Prime Ministers.

One of our foreign policy priorities is the Pacific, and both Foreign Minister McCully and I discussed a range of issues around the Pacific. This is our region. It's our neighbourhood. It's where we can make the biggest difference and where we can have an influence over the sustainable economic development of the Pacific, and we spent some time discussing areas of further cooperation.

We also discussed regional security, as part of the global insecurity that the world is currently experiencing. We also have significant issues, here, in our region, with this phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters. We discussed the responses that both our governments are taking to ensure that our citizens and our countries are kept safe from terrorism. We discussed some of the specific actions that Australia has undertaken in terms of cancelling passports of those who are seeking to leave Australia and head to Syria and Iraq to take part in the terrorist conflict over there. And we also discussed the steps that New Zealand is taking to be part of a coalition of those who are determined to stop these brutal terrorist organisations like Daesh and assist the Iraqi Government take back territory and protect their citizens who are being subjected to so much misery and atrocities.

We also discussed the role of New Zealand on the UN Security Council, and we certainly congratulate New Zealand again for being elected to a temporary seat on the Security Council. Australia's experience was very positive. We felt that we made a significant contribution in a number of areas, and we look forward to New Zealand not only taking up where Australia left off on some important matters, including the prosecution of the MH17 case; finding the perpetrators of that atrocity. Also the work that we were doing in the humanitarian effort in Syria. But we look forward to New Zealand pushing its own agenda of issues that are of national interest to New Zealand.

We also discussed the joint work that we did in the Ebola Treatment Centre in Sierra Leone. Again, Australia and New Zealand worked as partners in the establishment of that Ebola Treatment Centre, that has had some success in treating people with the disease. There have been some tragic losses. What has been important, though, is the way the evacuation process has worked with Great Britain as our partner in that regard. Both Australia and New Zealand were determined to ensure that the appropriate guidelines and standards were in place before we allowed our health professionals to be in Sierra Leone, and the evacuation plans have worked exceedingly well - another example of Australia and New Zealand working as partners, as the closest of friends in tackling issues, whether they be bilateral, regional or global.

Thank you.

JOURNALIST James Massola from The Sydney Morning Herald. A question for both of you, if I may. Mr McCully, late last year Australia and the US voted the same way on a UN resolution, they both opposed a UN resolution calling for the creation of a Palestinian state. Now that New Zealand is sitting on the Security Council, would they vote the same way as Australia and the US, were that motion to come up again? And a question for Ms Bishop. Is the leadership of the Liberal Party a gift of the party room or of the Australian people?

JULIE BISHOP That's an interesting segue-way from Palestinian territories to the leadership of the Liberal Party.

MURRAY MCCULLY I can be very brief with you. We've made it very clear that we'll deal with any resolution that comes forward on the status of Palestine, based on the words that are employed in the resolution and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. In other words, if there's a better process underway, we wouldn't want to cut across it. And that was essentially the approach we took as a United Nations member to the issue on the observership status for Palestine. We'll work methodically through that process in the same way.

I visited Jordan just a couple of weeks ago. They, of course, are the Arab Group member on the Council. We're keeping closely in touch with them; talking directly also to the Palestinian Foreign Minister, who I will be meeting again soon. And I took the opportunity in New York a couple of days ago to get updated.

So we're not going to go forecasting our position; we're gonna wait and take this in good faith through a careful process.

JOURNALIST Just so I'm clear, based on what you're saying – depending on the wording, and the process, New Zealand could recognise the Palestinian state?

MURRAY MCCULLY No. I'm saying that we will look at the resolution based on the wording within it and any other processes that are underway at that time, and there are a variety of tacks that such a resolution could take – that is only one of them.

JULIE BISHOP Might I take this opportunity to commend the Foreign Minister on adopting such an approach in the United Nations Security Council; I'm sure it will serve New Zealand well.

On the question that you posed to me, it is self-evident that the individual members of the party room are able to elect the leader and the deputy leader of the Liberal Party. That has always been the case and I imagine it will continue to be the case.


JOURNALIST Minister McCully, clearly there's obviously a political drama unfolding in Australia. Are you worried that it's going to overshadow this important visit?

MURRAY MCCULLY I'm not at all concerned as to what's happening in Australian politics. That's entirely a matter for the elected parliamentarians in Australia. All I can say is that Minister Bishop and I have had a very good discussion about the issues we've outlined this morning, and we're going to continue those discussions this afternoon and then appear together at the Leadership Forum later in the day.

JOURNALIST Does it weaken though any potential deals or arrangements between the two countries that there is this uncertainty in one camp?

MURRAY MCCULLY Oh look, as I say, both countries have to deal with their own destinies in terms of their political situations. New Zealand focusses on dealing with its own politics, and we worked very hard to make sure that the trans-Tasman relationship is a good and effective one, and that's certainly the case at the moment.

JOURNALIST Dennis Shanahan from The Australian. Two questions from me. The first one on the Liberal leadership. You've just said that it's unhelpful speculation and that the spill motion did not succeed last time. Do you believe that your colleagues should now provide Mr Abbott with more time and that they should not be pressing for further change at this stage? And secondly, on a foreign affairs matter, Helen Clark is campaigning to become Secretary-General of the United Nations. Would Australia support her candidature, and would that support continue if there was an Australian candidate?

JULIE BISHOP Do you have anyone in mind? [laughter]

JOURNALIST Well, do we support Helen Clark?

JULIE BISHOP I'll take the easy one first, on the leadership. [laughter] The motion for a leadership spill did not succeed, and I urge my colleagues to get on with the job of governing the people of Australia. There are a whole range of issues that we must deal with in the lead-up to the Budget. There have been a number of reviews and a number of reports that should lead to Government responses in particular policy areas, including childcare, including in disabilities and welfare – a whole range of areas. So there is a lot of work to be done, and that's where my focus is: on our domestic political agenda and in my specific role as Foreign Minister.

As far as the second question is concerned, I will need to wait to see who puts their hand up to be considered as an applicant for the Secretary-General's job. Of course, if an Australian were to indicate that they wanted to be the Secretary-General of the United Nations, well we would consider that at the time. I understand that there is a lot of interest in Helen Clark taking on the role, but she's not formally approached Australia for support. So, at this point, your question is hypothetical – but nice try.

JOURNALIST Ministers, on the talks today. Katie Bradford, One News. Did you discuss how New Zealand and Australia can work together to fight or counter terrorism in both countries?

JULIE BISHOP We certainly discussed the regional and global threat of terrorism. The terrorist threat that we see today is more dangerous, more complex, more global in its reach than ever before. We're now seeing terrorist organisations claim territory, claim a caliphate over the territory belonging to sovereign nations. This is a completely different kind of threat than we have experienced in the past. And we know in our region, in countries including Indonesia and Malaysia, that there have been a significant number of foreign terrorist fighters - indeed, people who have come back to the region as hardened terrorists and have sought to carry out terrorist acts, and in some instances have succeeded. So we both have a national interest in keeping our respective countries and citizens safe, and of course we discussed what Australia is doing and what New Zealand is doing in our domestic legislative sphere, but also the steps that we're prepared to take to deter and defeat ISIL, Daesh at its source.

JOURNALIST But is there more than can be done, New Zealand and Australia working together?

JULIE BISHOP We have a very high level of cooperation anyway in terms of information exchange. Our law enforcement agencies exchange information. Our intelligence and security agencies exchange information. We already work very closely together. But as is always the case with Australia and New Zealand, we constantly review how we can do things that add to even greater levels of cooperation. But we had a general discussion about what each country is doing in a legislative and security sense.

JOURNALIST But Ms Bishop, Audrey Young, New Zealand Herald, we were led to believe that Australia is going to increase its deployment to Iraq to work with Kiwis in a non-combat training role. What is the glitch? We thought it was going to be announced the same day as the Prime Minister made his announcement on Tuesday. We've been expecting it all week. Is there some problem?

JULIE BISHOP Well, I'm sorry that the Prime Minister of Australia hasn't made announcements according to your expectations. We already have 600 Australians involved in the fight against ISIL in the Middle East. Four hundred have been involved in the air strikes for some months now. Australia has been involved in a significant number of strikes. There has been considerable success in turning back ISIL or at least being able to disrupt its columns of fighters, and so the air strikes will continue. We also have around 200 special forces in Iraq now. They've been there since late last year and have been involved in advising and assisting the Iraqi Defence Forces to ensure that they have the capacity and the capability to take on the terrorist organisations. So Australia already has a considerable presence there, and as the Prime Minister has said, we will continue to review the composition of our presence and what more we can do to assist.

You see, we are there at the invitation of, and with the consent of, the Iraqi Government. So it's not a matter of Australia making a unilateral decision as to how it wants to deal with its defence forces in Iraq – it is done with the consent of, and at the invitation of, the Iraqi Government.

JOURNALIST Minister, could I ask about Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan? There are reports that the isolation cells on the prison island are ready for Saturday. Do you have any update on the situation?

JULIE BISHOP No, we've not been given any timeframe. We understand thatin these circumstances 72 hours' notice is given to the prisoners and their families, but we've not been informed that any such timeframe has been decided upon. We will continue to make representations at the highest level across the Indonesian Government, across the departments in the Indonesian Government that are involved in this matter – there are a number, and those representations will continue. As you are aware, the Prime Minister spoke to President Widodo again recently. There have been a significant number of personal representations, written representations and face-to-face meetings.

JOURNALIST Minister McCully, can I ask you just about, the illegal fishing Custom officers have boarded the boat Kunlun today – Australian Customs officers; the same boat boarded, I believe, by New Zealand authorities. Do you think Australia can get real evidence of the origins of that boat?

MURRAY MCCULLY I've had only a very top-line report on that boarding this morning. We're of course delighted to see that the Australian vessels have been able to gain access and to add to the evidence that we hope to mount. We want to put these people out of business, and anything that's going to contribute to that process is very welcome, but I'm sorry, I haven't had a more detailed briefing that that top-line report this morning.


JOURNALIST Minister, one foreign policy question, if I may. If the Islamic State took an Australian hostage, would Australia pay a ransom?



JULIE BISHOP Australia does not, as a matter of principle pay ransoms for hostages. It would only be providing funding to a terrorist organisation that would then be used against others. We would negotiate and use what other options have been available. There have been Australians taken hostage in the past in other circumstances, and it is the policy of this Government and previous governments that we do not succumb to the barbarity of ransoms being demanded in exchange for life – we negotiate.

JOURNALIST And do you think that other governments should also have a similar policy in order to assist the enforcement of that one?

JULIE BISHOP That's a matter for other governments. Other governments make their own decisions based on their laws, their precedent, their national interest. I can only speak on behalf of the Australian Government.

JOURNALIST Minister Bishop, the Iraqi Prime Minister has said this morning that he's spoken with Mr Abbott about Australia's engagement in Iraq at the moment. Are you aware of what it was that was discussed and how might this affect any possible announcement about an expansion of Australia's involvement?

JULIE BISHOP We are in constant communication with the Iraqi Government. We have 600 of our Defence Force personnel involved in Iraq, at the invitation of and with the consent of the Iraqi Government. So of course we have constant communications with them. Indeed, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister Jaafari, was in Canberra recently, and he met with the Prime Minister and met with me over an extensive period of time to discuss the day-to-day operations in Iraq, and indeed the Prime Minister was in Iraq earlier this year. So I'm not going into specific details of conversations that the Prime Minister has had with the Iraqi Prime Minister, but they are in communication over the issue of our commitment to supporting Iraq take back territory and defeat ISIL.

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