Press conference with Timor-Leste Foreign Minister H.E. Dr Dionisio Babo Soares

  • Transcript, E&OE

DIONISIO BABO SOARES: Honourable Minister Julie Bishop, it's a great honour for me to welcome you here to Dili, Timor-Leste. As a matter of fact, this is the first visit to Timor-Leste by an Australian Foreign Minister for quite a while. Your visit and the historical signing of the Maritime Boundary Treaty between our two countries are indeed milestones in our bilateral relationship. Timor-Leste and Australia have historical relations, rooted in people-to-people connection and deep hands to each other in times of needs. Today, Minister Bishop and I had very fruitful discussion, during the meeting we discussed a range of issues and develop our relations between Timor-Leste and Australia and we agreed and committed to open a new chapter for friendship and revitalise our partnership.

We are very pleased to make a stronger connection in relations between our two countries, which include cooperation in many areas. As close neighbours and regional partners, we agree to have structured and regular dialogue between foreign ministers every year, as well as meetings of senior officials, which the bilateral relations and cooperation of the two countries will be assessed. Australia has been the main partner of Timor-Leste and [indistinct] restoration of independence until today, which we are very, very thankful and appreciate.

So, welcome the renewed commitment from the Government of Australia to provide opportunities for both Timorese to participate in the Seasonal Workers Program, which benefitted both Australia and Timor-Leste workers, in terms of gaining skills and economic growth by assisting Australian employers to address labour shortages and keep up their businesses. We also recognise significant interest from Australian companies in the private sector to invest in Timor-Leste such as TL Cement in Baucau and other private operated business around Australia and Timor-Leste. We will work with the Government of Australia to encourage private sector growth and [indistinct] opportunities for [indistinct] and investment in democracy. So Honourable Minister Bishop, Timor-Leste will put priority on the ratification of the Maritime Boundary Treaty as signed on 6 March 2018. So, non-state [indistinct] arrangements and domestic [indistinct] will be needed. Once again, I'd like to reiterate our commitment and the priority of our government of Timor-Leste to have also the pipeline of the Greater Sunrise Timor-Leste and looking forward to discussing with a joint venture. Last but not least, we are looking forward to organising an event in 2019 to commemorate the strong bonds between the two people and two countries, which will be held [indistinct] 20th anniversary of the landing of INTERFET. So I will invite Minister Bishop to make her statement.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you Foreign Minister Soares for your very warm welcome here and I'm absolutely delighted to be in Dili. I was here about five years ago and so it's wonderful to be back and we have now committed to ensure that we will have annual foreign ministers meetings and annual senior officials talks, so that the dialogue between our two countries will continue to deepen. I'm particularly pleased to be here so soon after the formation of the new government and I congratulate you on your appointment as Foreign Minister and I'm really looking forward to working closely with you, on not only bilateral but also regional and global matters, as Timor-Leste and Australia have many common interests and shared values and we will work closely together to embrace opportunities but also to meet the challenges of our region.

The historic signing of the Maritime Boundary Treaty, in New York on 6 March, does usher in a new era and we have agreed to open a new chapter in our longstanding relationship. Australia is very proud of the role that we played almost 20 years ago in INTERFET and I look forward to working with you to find ways to commemorate that important milestone in the nationhood of Timor-Leste. As far as the Maritime Boundary Treaty is concerned, I tabled it in the Australian parliament on 26 March. It is now going through the committee process and I hope that Australia will be in a position to ratify the treaty by the end of this year.

In the meantime, Australia stands ready to support you in your discussions with the joint venture partners to ensure that you can find a pathway to maximise the economic potential for the people of Timor-Leste. Greater Sunrise is a significant resource for you and we are very keen for its benefit to be realised for the people of Timor-Leste. The treaty was fair and equitable and in accordance with international law and as Minister Pereira and I know, it was roundly applauded by the international community, and particularly the Secretary-General of the United Nations, for this was the first time that a Conciliation Commission had been used in this way. So we have set a standard for others to follow.

On economic development more broadly, we are very keen to see a prosperous, sustainable economy and we want to continue to ensure that our development assistance drives economic growth and encourages private sector investment here in Timor-Leste. We have embraced you as a partner in the Seasonal Workers Program and about 800 people from Timor-Leste have taken part in that program. You have expressed a desire for there to be a greater number of places available for Timor-Leste, so hopefully I'll have something positive to say about that this afternoon.

We also are very welcoming of your students under the Australia Awards program and you, as an alumni of the Australian Awards, are a shining example of what can be achieved if you spend some time studying in Australia. We are very delighted that a number of the new government are in fact alumni of the Australia Awards and we discussed ways that we can enhance the number of scholarships available to Timor-Leste.

Likewise, Australia's New Colombo Plan, which is an opportunity for Australian undergraduates to live and study in the Indo-Pacific, has proven to be very popular here in Timor-Leste. Between 2014 and 2019, over 660 young Australian undergraduates will have lived here and undertaken internships, practicums, work experience in fields as diverse as agriculture, medicine, scientific research, education and the like.

We are both maritime nations and regional security depends upon our ability to work together, Timor-Leste and Australia, but also with other countries to combat illegal fishing, transnational crime, countering terrorism, countering people smuggling, human trafficking, a whole range of challenges. Australia is very supportive of our military and police cooperation and we are delighted to be gifting to you two Guardian Class patrol vessels, that will be delivered to Timor-Leste over time. We have a lot of work to do between now and the actual delivery of the boats; building infrastructure, a new wharf and also skilling and training your personnel, but that will be another example of Australia wanting to ensure that Timor-Leste can be a confident, prosperous, independent nation.

You are a young nation, both in terms of nationhood, but also your population and I understand about three-quarters of the population of Timor-Leste is under 35 years of age. That is a huge demographic opportunity for you and we want to be a partner with you in building strong societies, building strong communities. Today, we committed anew to ensuring that we are reliable partners and trusted friends. I'm looking forward to welcoming you, the President and the Prime Minister to Australia for a visit, hopefully this year. I'm very much looking forward to my stay here in Dili and thank you for hosting me today.

JOURNALIST: Is your arrival here with a good faith to facilitate the negotiation for a pipeline to Timor-Leste?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm here to renew our friendship and partnership with Timor-Leste. After the formation of the new government, this was an opportune time for me to be here. Now that we have signed our Maritime and Boundary Treaty, it is an opportunity for us to focus on economic development for Timor-Leste. The government of Timor-Leste will be negotiating with the joint venture partners in relation to the development of Greater Sunrise. Our interest is to ensure that we find a pathway to maximise the potential benefit of the Greater Sunrise development for the people of Timor-Leste, but it is a matter for the government of Timor-Leste to negotiate with the joint venture partners.

JOURNALIST: I was wondering whether the prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery was discussed in your talks this morning? I was wondering. Minister Bishop, too, where you see East Timor's democracy and economy in 10-years' time as opposed to now?

JULIE BISHOP: The matter of Witness K is a domestic legal issue for Australia, it is a prosecution that is underway so I don't intend to say anything about it that would compromise it in any way. It is not a matter in relation to Timor-Leste. It is a matter for domestic legal processes within Australia.

JOURNALIST: So it wasn't discussed?

JULIE BISHOP: It's not a matter that involves Timor-Leste. The other point about where we see Timor-Leste in 10-years' time? It is our hope that in partnership with Timor-Leste we will see a confident, prosperous, independent Timor-Leste, taking part in regional discussions, regional associations, having membership of relevant groups that will enhance Timor-Leste's standing in the region. We hope that there will be a vibrant and thriving private sector here to drive economic growth and job opportunities and we hope that the democracy will continue as it has, demonstrated by the most recent elections, free and open and fair. And that is our wish for Timor-Leste and I hope it's a shared wish, and Australia will do all we can as longstanding partners to support Timor-Leste in their aspirations.

JOURNALIST: There was a letter saying that Australian Government has been colluding with the oil companies to bring the pipeline to Darwin, or to Australia. Is that true?

JULIE BISHOP: No that's not true and we made it quite clear at the time when that letter was published that that was not the view of the Conciliation Commission, that is not what the Australian Government was seeking to do. We are determined to ensure that the development of Greater Sunrise maximises the benefits for the people of Timor-Leste. How that is done is a matter to be determined by the joint venture partners and we stand ready to support Timor-Leste in finding that pathway to ensure that the development of Greater Sunrise maximises the potential benefit for the people of Timor-Leste.

JOURNALIST: I have another question for you Minister.

JULIE BISHOP: Are you allowed two questions?


JOURNALIST: Is Australia aware that there is a Chinese company that's going to build the LNG plant in Beaçu. Are you aware of that Minister Bishop? Are you worried that the Chinese are involved in building this stuff?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not sure that I am aware of the particular project you're talking about.

DIONISIO BABO SOARES: Yeah, me neither.

JULIE BISHOP: Well if he's not aware of it, I'm certainly not.


JOURNALIST: Did you also talk during your meeting about the East-Timorese's desire to join ASEAN? Minister Bishop, what will you be telling ASEAN country members Jakarta about East Timor's desire to join ASEAN?

DIONISIO BABO SOARES: There's - we are - need to talk about Timor-Leste needs to join ASEAN and Minister Julie actually had a way to [indistinct] with the Australian Government to support Timor-Leste and as a matter of fact, has been a very strong advocate in this part of the world for Timor-Leste to join ASEAN.

JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely. We discussed Timor-Leste's application to join ASEAN and we would most certainly support it wholeheartedly. We think that the ASEAN group of nations is absolutely vital to the peace, stability and prosperity of our region. It makes sense to us that Timor-Leste should be a part of that very important association. I will be attending the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meetings in Singapore this coming weekend and on the issue of potential membership - even though we're not a member, we are quite a strong advocate in relation to matters pertaining to ASEAN - and we'll certainly be making our views known that we think it's absolutely appropriate for Timor-Leste to be a member of ASEAN and you have our whole hearted support.

DIONISIO BABO SOARES: Thank you, thank you.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

- Ends -

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