Press conference - Africa Down Under Conference
JULIE BISHOP Good morning, delighted to see so many people here in Perth for the 13th Africa Down Under Conference. This is a very important opportunity for African and Australian investors, mining companies, business, government, to come together to talk about the opportunities for trade and investment between Africa and African nations and Australia.
Australia has world-leading expertise in mining practices, equipment, the services sector, as well as some of the largest mining and resources projects in the world, and so this is a great opportunity for us to pursue common interests, for the growing economies in Africa, as well as providing an exchange of information and expertise.
I was pleased to be able to make a speech here today on the third day of this very important conference, and identify the common interests, the challenges, but the opportunities that exist between the countries of Africa and Australia.
JOURNALIST Minister, do you have any information regarding an ABC report that an air strike in Iraq [inaudible]?
JULIE BISHOP I am aware of this report and I'm aware that Australian and US authorities investigated this incident and there has been no confirmation that civilian casualties occurred.
Australia's Defence Forces operate under very strict rules of engagement which are designed to not only to protect our forces but also to ensure that we abide by our Australian and international laws relating to the protection of life and property.
I am aware that our Australian Defence Forces operate in very challenging circumstances, but they are amongst the most professional defence forces in the world, but that's all the information I have at this stage
JOURNALIST Barnaby Joyce has called on Australia to take more refugees from Syria. Would you consider that?
JULIE BISHOP This is a matter under consideration. Australia has taken about 4500 Syrian refugees in recent times and obviously the humanitarian disaster in the Middle East, including in Syria, is unprecedented and so Australia will continue to work with other countries to see what possible solutions can be arrived at, but Australia will play its part along with other countries and I'm sure this matter is under review by the Minister for Immigration.
JOURNALIST What do you think of Labor's proposal to increase foreign aid to the region, specifically helping the UNHCR?
JULIE BISHOP We are working with other countries in relation to the best way to resolve this humanitarian crisis. I think it is going to require a global response and Australia will certainly play its part.
JULIE BISHOP As far as Zimbabwe is concerned, Australia would like to see nothing more than a peaceful and prosperous Zimbabwe. There are many Zimbabweans living in Australia, indeed many of them living here in Western Australia and we have long ties going back many, many years. Australia is prepared to work with a Zimbabwean Government that is committed to the peace and prosperity of the Zimbabwean people, and I know Australian companies are interested in investing in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has so much potential as a country with so many natural resources. It was once the bread basket of Africa, and we would like nothing more than to see Zimbabwe realise its potential.
So we appreciate that there are many challenges in Zimbabwe, but there is great affection between the people of Australia and the people of Zimbabwe and we hope that we can play our part in Zimbabwe returning to a much more prosperous situation than it is in now.
JOURNALIST Minister, should Australia's citizenship laws be applied retrospectively to already convicted terrorists?
JULIE BISHOP Well, as a matter of principle, I don't support retrospectivity, but there may well be circumstances in relation to the citizenship situation that would warrant consideration of that, but as a matter of principle, I wouldn't support retrospectivity. However, we would need to look at the number of convicted terrorists and what their citizenship status was before we could make a definitive statement on that.
JOURNALIST Will you be planning to speak about that at the upcoming UN Assembly?
JULIE BISHOP I haven't got any specific plans to talk about that. Citizenship could well be part of overall discussions because a number of countries are considering this, but there will be discussions on a whole range of topics that focuses on counter-terrorism at the upcoming UN General Assembly Leaders' Week.
JOURNALIST If it was to be applied retrospectively who should it be applied to?
JULIE BISHOP This is a discussion we haven't yet had so I won't go into hypotheticals. My inclination is not to support retrospectivity, but there could well be compelling reasons, there could well be advice from our security and intelligence agencies which could require a review of that.
JOURNALIST On Syrian air strikes, can you give us an update?
JULIE BISHOP We are going through the process of considering this formal request from the United States. There are a number of aspects that need to be considered, the legal aspect, and we are well aware of the basis upon which the United States has launched air strikes in Syria. That was contained in a letter from the United States to the UN Security Council, citing collective self-defence.
We are also aware that Turkey has now taken part in these Coalition air strikes based on individual and collective self-defence, so there is already a legal principle for us to consider, but we will take our own legal advice on that, and then when that's available, we will consider that.
We also need to speak to all of the Coalition partners, and some other stakeholders in this as well to ensure that we understand what is expected of us, should we agree, and what the likely outcomes would be, and of course there is the question of capacity and capability where we will need advice from the CDF, the chief of our Defence Force.
JOURNALIST Minister, you've suggested more countries joining the air strikes in Syria to help stop the flow of refugees to Europe. Can you expand on that?
JULIE BISHOP Well clearly people are being displaced and are leaving Syria, Libya and other countries because of the conflict in those countries. Much of the conflict in Syria is being driven by Da'esh, the terrorist organisation that calls itself Islamic State. And so if we were able to defeat Da'esh and it was no longer able to carry out its barbaric terrorist attacks, then we would be a step towards restoring some kind of peace in Syria, and people would no longer wish to leave. So it's only one element of an overall military and political solution that is required in Syria, but clearly defeating the terrorist organisation is an important part of that solution.
JOURNALIST Minister, in your speech you talked about renewable energy. What is Western Australia doing to take steps towards renewable energy generation?
JULIE BISHOP Well, the State Government?
JULIE BISHOP That's a matter for the West Australian State Government. I wouldn't have the details of what Western Australia is specifically doing, but most certainly at a Federal level, we have a renewable energy target, we have a whole range of policies in place. Western Australia is the home of mining and resources and energy, and the Western Australian economy helps drive the Australian economy. We are responsible for such a significant proportion of our export income, and so my point today was that while renewable energy has a role to play, the fact is there is still enormous demand for coal and for other forms of energy and that Australia will be well positioned to supply that demand for decades to come. However, obviously renewable energies and clean coal technologies are also on the rise so I think it's important not to write off the huge opportunities that will still come from the generation of coal in helping developing countries reach their potential.
JOURNALIST What about Australia's view on nuclear power generation?
JULIE BISHOP Australia has some of the largest uranium reserves in the world and we have entered arrangements with countries seeking to develop civilian nuclear power capability to supply our uranium. For example, we have a civilian nuclear supply agreement with India and that will be Australia's contribution to India's effort to develop a civilian nuclear program that will help India bring electricity to the millions of people in that country who currently don't have access to electricity. So as nations develop they require significant access to electricity, to energy and Australia is well positioned to provide a significant amount of that through our natural resources.
JULIE BISHOP Australian mining companies will obviously seek to invest where the conditions are most attractive. They are like any other form of global capital, they go to the most attractive conditions and invest. It's in the interests of African countries that are looking for global investment, including Australian investment, to have the most attractive environment for business – that includes transparency, no corruption, an opportunity to obtain licences freely and fairly, subject to appropriate regulatory frameworks and environmental standards and labour standards. So I think Australian companies are well positioned to make judgments as to where they wish to invest.
But our message of course to African nations looking for foreign direct investment, if they wish their country to compete with other regions in the world also looking for that mining related investment, is to ensure that the governance standards are high, the transparency is integral to the government and that corruption is stamped out and we are pleased that the number of Australian companies are making significant progress in Africa.
JOURNALIST Minister there was a recent report published by Paris-based magazine indicating that many Australian companies are linked to injustices and [inaudible] in Africa. What do you have to say about that?
JULIE BISHOP I'm not aware of that report but if you've got a copy of it I'd be very interested to see it because that doesn't coincide with my understanding of the operations of Australian companies overseas.
JULIE BISHOP Australian companies must comply with the laws of our country and the laws of the country in which they operate and if there are examples of Australian companies not doing that, well then they should be brought to the attention of the authorities in those countries. Australian companies would be subjected to the laws of the countries in which they operate, just as countries operating in Australia are subjected to our laws, so if there are such instances I hope that our diplomats in Africa are made aware of them and follow that through.
JOURNALIST Minister, back to Syria, for a period in September last year [inaudible] on Australia's humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis found that Australian funding has not been [inaudible] nor has it kept up with the needs of the escalation of the crisis. What [inaudible] is the government doing to correct that?
JULIE BISHOP Australia has committed $155 million in humanitarian support to Syria. We are making a significant commitment to seeking to defeat the terrorist organisation that is causing so much hardship and misery and the source of the displacement of so many people. Australia is, I think, the second largest contributor to that effort.
There are many countries in the region, many wealthy countries in the region, who are directly impacted by the situation in Syria and I certainly look forward to their increasing contribution to trying to find a military and political solution to the situation in Syria. This is a global problem. Australia has provided $155 million. If every country had provided that kind of funding then we might see a greater attempt to stem the humanitarian crisis.
It's now got to a point where countries in the region, countries in Europe, must take collective action to do what they can to resolve it but it is not as simple as saying Australia must provide more aid, that is simplistic. This is a global issue that requires a global response and the lead must be taken by the countries directly effected in the region, as I said, Australia is the second largest contributor to the military effort in Iraq that is having an impact in Syria to defeat this terrorist organisation that is at the heart of so much of the misery.
JOURNALIST Should part of that be though, committing to take more of the refugees, I mean Germany has agreed to take 800,000 compared to 4000 in Australia.
JULIE BISHOP There are calls in Europe for there to be an agreement that all European countries take a share of refugees so we'll obviously work closely with our partners in Europe and other likeminded countries to see what can be done. But the Europeans are in the process of reaching an agreement where they will take the refugees on a mandated allocation, as I understand it.
JOURNALIST New Zealand has axed aid to Nauru's justice system. Will Australia follow suit?
JULIE BISHOP No.
JOURNALIST Minister, can I ask you about the Canning by-election. Would you like to see the Prime Minister back in Canning and also are you hoping for a swing towards the government like Arthur Sinodinas has suggested?
JULIE BISHOP By-elections notoriously see a swing against the incumbent government. I believe that has been the experience on many occasions in the past and so I would not be surprised if there were a swing against the government, in fact that is what the experts are predicting.
What I do know is that we have a remarkable candidate in Andrew Hastie. He is living in the electorate with his family. He has left the SAS in order to contest this seat. He's moved his family into Dudley Park in the electorate and he is working very hard to win the trust of the people of Canning.
This is not about who visits Canning from Canberra. This is about who the people of Canning wish to have represent them in the Federal Parliament, who they see as their elected representative. So the important point for this campaign is for the electors to meet Andrew, to raise their concerns with him and to assess his capacity to be their representative. I believe he has the character, the temperament, the life skills, his experience as an SAS officer makes him an outstanding candidate, and hopefully member, for the seat of Canning.
JULIE BISHOP I think this year marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and Ethiopia and so we have a longstanding connection over many years and we are pleased that we now have a diplomatic mission in Ethiopia, and I think it was opened in 2011, and the opportunities between our two countries are obviously increasing.
Again, our focus is very much on private sector development. We believe that the private sector drives economic growth, drives GDP, drives investment and so the closer the connection can be between the government of Ethiopia and the Australian Government then we can work together to ensure that the business enabling environment in Ethiopia attracts Australian investment. So that's the process we're undertaking. I've just spoken with our Head of Mission in Ethiopia and had an update on the current situation there and state of the relationship which is in a good state.
JOURNALIST Minister, given that Australian mining companies are investing widely and are profitable in Africa, doesn't Australia have a responsibility to restore the current aid budget to Africa?
JULIE BISHOP Australia is providing over half a billion dollars in support for development and security in Africa. Our focus is on our region, our new aid program focusses very much on the Pacific and South East Asia and we are providing over half a billion into Africa. As I said, at the height of Australian investment in the aid program into Africa it represented 0.7 per cent of the total aid budget for Africa.
So we believe that through our Australia Awards program which is about building capacity, building capability, Africa remains a focus of the Australia Awards program and we believe through our support, through NGOs and regional and international programs, Australia is doing its fair share.
Our belief is that economic development drives poverty alleviation. That has been shown time and time again and so therefore we are supporting the private sector from Australia in Africa we are also supporting the growth of the private sector in the countries of Africa.