The World, ABC News - interview with Beverley O'Connor

  • Transcript, E&OE

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: Aidworkers in Papua New Guinea say an entire generation of children are at risk ofmissing out on proper education after last month's deadly earthquake. The 7.5magnitude quake late last month killed at least 125 people in the remote Highlandsregion. The damage in Hela Province indicates schools may not fully reopen thisyear. Many residents remain in cramped makeshift care centres where men, womenand children are all sharing basic facilities.

The Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, has been visiting PNG, announcingsignificant additional support for both recovery and reconstruction efforts inPapua New Guinea's highlands region. And we spoke to her from Port Moresby. Iasked whether this was a bid to counter the region's growing dependency onChina.

JULIEBISHOP: We arevery close friends and partners of Papua New Guinea, and when they are in need,Australia comes to their aid, and there was a devastating 7.5-magnitudeearthquake in the Southern Highlands in Hela Province. And so Australia hasbeen assisting throughout in response to requests from Papua New Guinea.Indeed, we've had a RAAF plane here, a transport plane, a C-130, a number ofhelicopters delivering urgently needed supplies into those affected provinces.So this was in response to a request from the PNG Government. As one of theirclosest friends and neighbours, of course, we would respond with assistance.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: Hasthere been consideration, though, to China's big spending, what appears to bean attempt to buy influence in the region?

JULIEBISHOP: There'san enormous need for infrastructure investment in the Pacific and we welcomeall donors to either provide aid, development assistance, or indeed, invest in infrastructurein the Pacific, because there's an enormous need for it in our region. Our onlyconcern is that the rather vulnerable economies in the Pacific be able towithstand any loan arrangements or financial arrangements, and that any loansdon't add to the debt burden of these nations, a debt burden that they wouldn'tbe able to repay. So, Australia operates on the basis of grants in partnershipwith parties. Other donors offer loans, but our only concern is that it doesn'tadd to an unsustainable debt burden. We work, for example, with China on an aidproject here in Papua New Guinea. The Chinese Government, the Australian Government,and PNG are working together on a malaria project here. So, that's an opportunityfor us to work in partnership with other countries.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: Andwhat would be your fear if that debt burden became too high, and you sawnations like Papua New Guinea beholden to China?

JULIEBISHOP: Well,we are concerned that the countries are very clear eyed about any financialarrangements they make with other countries. And from my conversations withPrime Minister O'Neill, and other ministers, they are very clear eyed aboutwhat they need and the countries with whom they will develop partnerships.There has been investment in PNG from China for some time but Australia isstill the natural partner of Papua New Guinea. We are their largest aid donor;we are their closest defence and strategic partner.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: And doyou believe Australia still enjoys the strongest relationship with Papua NewGuinea than any other nation?

JULIEBISHOP: Ibelieve the relationship has never been stronger. All my discussions with ForeignMinister Pato, and Prime Minister O'Neill, and the other ministers lead me to believethat they see this as the strongest the partnership has been. And I met with anumber of the ministers last evening. We are getting together in Brisbaneshortly for the annual Australia-PNG ministerial dialogue and we discussed awhole range of issues across PNG politics, the economy, society, and Australiais there at every step of the way. So, we are as close as we've ever been.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: Whenyou have toured PNG and you've talked about the support you've needed to givethe country, how concerned are you that they are going to be able to manageAPEC, it's $310 million they are looking to get facilities ready for this?

JULIEBISHOP: Theundertaking to host APEC is enormous, and PNG have been seeking support from anumber of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan and others, and weare providing that support. Australia is focusing on the security aspect,whether it be physical security or cyber security. Other nations are providingsupport as well. It's an enormous undertaking for any country at any time, butPNG has particular logistical problems and they're working very, very hard toovercome them.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: ThePapua New Guinea Government has made it very clear that they want a deadlineput on resettling of the refugees on Manus Island. Have you been able to givethem one?

JULIEBISHOP: Wehave been discussing this issue and I know that the Minister for Home Affairs,Peter Dutton, was here recently and we're working together to ensure that thecaseload of people on Manus can be cleared. A number of them have been foundnot to be refugees, not to be owed protection. So, we're working to ensure theygo home and others can be part of the US resettlement or could take aresettlement option here in PNG. And we're continuing to look for third countryoptions as well.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: Isthere a time frame that you think you can work towards?

JULIEBISHOP: We obviously wantto do this as quickly as possible, but these are matters the Home AffairsMinister has been discussing with PNG.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: Whatdid you make of Donald Trump's call to Vladimir Putin, congratulating him onhis election win?

JULIEBISHOP: Well, it's anoverwhelming win, and it's not unusual for one world leader to contact anotherworld leader. I certainly hope that President Putin will take Russia'sresponsibilities as a permanent member of the Security Council very seriously.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: Would you expect the PrimeMinister or yourself to convey similar messages to Vladimir Putin?

JULIEBISHOP: It'snot something that I would do as Foreign Minister, no.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: Now, both yourself and thePrime Minister have made it clear that you held very robust conversations withthe leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi. Has your estimation of her diminished?

JULIEBISHOP: She's in a verydifficult position and her government is facing a crisis, a humanitariancrisis, in relation to Rakhine State. And so we have tried to work with her, wehave made our concerns known. Australia has provided humanitarian support toBangladesh and to Myanmar to see if we can help resolve this crisis. It'sobviously an enormous challenge for Aung San Suu Kyi, and I hope that she canfind her way clear to resettle the Rohingya people back in Rakhine State. Thosewho want to go home, that they have a safe and peaceful place to return to.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: What sort of support didshe seek from Australia with regard to assisting resolving this issue?

JULIEBISHOP: Well,most certainly we offered humanitarian support. She's very concerned to seeRakhine State rebuilt, and so she was seeking support in that regard, but alsoto work with Myanmar to try and resolve the situation. We'll continue to workwith our ambassador who seems to have very good access to Aung San Suu Kyi andto her government. So, we'll continue to offer whatever support we can toresolve this situation and work with other nations. Indeed, it was the topic ofmuch discussion at the ASEAN Leaders Meeting in Sydney.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: Ms Bishop, the AustralianGovernment demanded answers over the death of Justine Damond. How satisfied areyou with the news today that charges have been laid against the police officerthat shot her?

JULIEBISHOP: Iam pleased that justice is being seen to be done, and we're certainly workingwith Justine's family to provide whatever support we can. This was a terribletragedy and I'm pleased to see that legal processes have begun. And I'm surethat that will give the family some relief, that at least the personresponsible will be held to account.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: And will Australia assistin the family's representation at that trial?

JULIEBISHOP: We willprovide consular support to the family in accordance with our consular charter,and we have been doing that to date and we'll certainly maintain contact withthem.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: Before we leave, GeorgeBrandis is off to the UK shortly to take on the role of High Commissioner. Weunderstand he tears up the dance floor a little. Are you worried about how he'sgoing to represent Australia at the Royal wedding?

JULIEBISHOP: [Laughs]Well, I'm not sure that we're invited to the Royal wedding, but if he were, I'msure he would make a fine representative. George Brandis is eminently qualifiedto take on the role as High Commissioner to London and I look forward toworking closely with him. The United Kingdom is a significant trade partner forus in a post-Brexit world. I believe that we will have an even strongerrelationship with the United Kingdom, particularly in the area of trade. We'relooking to conclude a free trade agreement with the UK at the appropriate time.We're very close security and defence partners, and I feel sure that GeorgeBrandis, having been on the National Security Committee of our Cabinet is wellqualified to take on the role as High Commissioner and will do it with styleand professionalism.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: So, that's a no comment onhis dance skills?

JULIEBISHOP: [Laughs] Well, I haven't observedthem myself, so I won't add to the speculation.

BEVERLEYO'CONNOR: Sounds like you might belucky. Great to talk to you. Thanks for joining us.


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