Joint press conference with New Zealand Acting Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

  • Transcript, E&OE
12 July 2019

MINISTER PETERS:

Thanks for being here. The Australian Foreign Minister that you all know, The Honourable Minister Marise Payne.

We had valuable and fruitful discussions for both our countries and our right of contributions for security and well-being of the people of the Pacific.

Have you got any questions? Tell us who you want to ask the question to, who you are and then ask the question.

JOURNALIST:

Thank you very much Katie Bradford from Television New Zealand. What where the particular areas that you discussed today?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Well, we've obviously canvased the value of the Indonesia's Pacific exposition here in Auckland. Having walked around the expo myself this morning, there is a real dynamism in that room, a real excitement both from the Indonesian side but most importantly from the broad Pacific and it's actually worth a stroll if you have time while it's in town.

So we focused on that. We obviously have upcoming Pacific Island Forum Foreign Ministers' Meetings, Pacific Island Forum Leaders' Meetings. I've just returned from the Commonwealth Ministers' Meeting in London. We've discussed aspects of that as well, so very broad ranging and of course our mutual security and regional interests which form part of every conversation that we have.

JOURNALIST:

Minister Payne, do you think this is about Indonesia trying to have more influence and more of a role in the Pacific in view of China and other big nations?

MINISTER PAYNE:

I think it's reflective of the change in our region more broadly than that. When you think about the modernisation and the growth of countries like Indonesia in the region then it's only logical that their engagement and their roles grow with that as well. Foreign Minister Marsudi and President Widodo are well known for their interest in and engagement of Indonesia as an economic player and the economic position they hold. They want Indonesia to be strong, and forward leading so part of their engagement is to say 'we're here, we're here to stay, we are growing, we are engaged and we want to work the Pacific; it's where we live'. As I think most of us said this morning, in one way or another, we are all part of the blue Pacific and it's great to see their engagement. In fact there was a really nice comparison between Foreign Minister Peters and Foreign Minister Marsudi in the opening statements about how diverse the communities are in both countries and you can see reflected in the strengths of Jakarta and the strengths of Auckland, that exact diversity, so it's a really strong message.

JOURNALIST:

Do you plan to bring up the issue West Papua when you meet with the Indonesian Foreign Minister and are you concerned about the human rights breaches in that country?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Well I don't usually go into the details of issues I'll raise with my Foreign Ministerial colleagues in advance of our meetings, but obviously Australia has a very strong view about our position on West Papua. We have a treaty between Australian and Indonesia which recognises Indonesia's integrity, the Lombok Treaty, but at the same time we are always encouraging of Indonesia, as we are of our counterparts everywhere, to observe human rights of all members of their community. From the perspective of our Post in Jakarta, we have the opportunity from time to time to visit West Papua and we take that up.

MINISTER PETERS:

Can I just say in answer to your question, I was asked this question before I had a meeting with my colleague Marsudi, but since that time obviously as I said we would we have raised this issue. I have also mentioned there is a certain focus of New Zealand media, I suppose the Australasian media, when it comes to that issue. The great news is that of course there is a group of journalists there as we speak in Indonesia from Africa and the Pacific. They are also going on to West Papua and have a look for themselves, so it's progress.

JOURNALIST:

So when you say it's progress, are they independent journalists and are they being given the right to go and have a look at what's going on and speak to protestor leaders?

MINISTER PETERS:

What was the first question about them?

JOURNALIST:

Are they independent journalists? Are they going in and having a chance…?

MINISTER PETERS:

An independent journalist is a sub-species I've got to see myself.

JOURNALIST:

But are they…

MINISTER PETERS:

Well I would expect them to be professionals regardless of whether they are independent or otherwise, to report accurately as you all should on what you see. That's the essence of reporting.

JOURNALIST:

Foreign Minister Peters, Jackson Williams, independent journalist from Sky News Australia. Did you raise the issue of deportation in your meeting?

MINISTER PETERS:

With who?

JOURNALIST:

Foreign Minster Payne?

MINISTER PETERS:

Well not to the extent that media keeps putting it.

JOURNALIST:

Why wasn't it raised given it's...

MINISTER PETERS:

Well give me an instance of what I would be saying.

JOURNALIST:

Well you said this morning that you'd be raising it in the meeting, that concerns still linger about Kiwi criminals being deported from Australia.

MINISTER PETERS:

No that was not raised in terms of the big picture, no. Because I made it very clear to you that the time [indistinct] going to happen happen circa 2001, 2002 there had been prevalent warnings of this from my country about what we were doing wrong where Australia was concerned. All these journalists know full well, they were warned what would happen with a loose policy that would allow New Zealand to come a bolt hole to go onto Australia. That's precisely what happened so you're asking the wrong guy in that context and it wasn't raised this time either because we have a lot of things to discuss but this didn't come up.

JOURNALIST:

Has the New Zealand Government given up on trying to press Australia on this issue, as more and more Australians come over here, being deported here.

MINISTER PETERS:

No we haven't given up. But I mean the point is that we have to begin on the basis that Australia has got, as we have, every right to write its own domestic policy. That said, of course we've got to keep on focused to get a far better understanding and what we believe is a far fairer legal outcome, particularly when people who arrived in Australia when they were three, four, five, six or seven years of age. If they are arriving at age 18, 19 years of age that's a different story. So yes we're going to keep that dialogue up but sometimes there are a whole lot of other subjects to discuss and we had quite a long discussion.

JOURNALIST:

Foreign Minister Payne, is the Australian Government open to softening its stance in regards to section 501 of the Migration Act and concerns that do exist in New Zealand around the deportation of Kiwi criminals? Are you at least sensitive to those concerns?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Well these are issues that are discussed from time to time but they are always discussed in the context of the unique Australia-New Zealand relationship. The depth and endurance of that relationship which is so significant between us. And, in terms of whether we would take any approach to amending our own legislation, Australia, like New Zealand, would always consider its legislation in the context of our national interests and our national security. I think any sovereign nation would do so and there's no intention to review those aspects of our legislation, no.

JOURNALIST:

Minister Peters, any comment on the North Korean vessel being held in American Samoa. Have you been briefed on that and have you any concerns?

MINISTER PETERS:

No I haven't been briefed on that.

JOURNALIST:

Minister Payne, for Channel 9, what concerns do you have on the Chinese spy vessel that is off the coast of Australia at the moment?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Well I think there's been a number of comments made about that while I've been in London this week. But ships that are operating in international waters in accordance with international law, are exercising rights to freedom of navigation, are doing what they are able to do. It's not the first time that interested parties have sent vessels to a location like that off the coast of the Talisman Sabre activity, but as long as they are complying with the requirements of international law, then those who are participating in Talisman Sabre will manage their activities appropriately and that is something which we have spoken about before.

JOURNALIST:

Are you monitoring its movements?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Well I don't think you would expect the Australian government to tell you what we do and don't do in the context of an exercise like Talisman Sabre or operational activities.

MINISTER PETERS:

The fact is they're paying us a compliment. Look on the positive side – we've got a major exercise between our countries here and the Chinese are in international waters and they're paying us a compliment.

JOURNALIST:

Minister Payne, Jake McGee Newstalk ZB. Coming back to relationships between New Zealand and Australia, what about Kiwis that are living in Australia and the welfare restrictions over there for Kiwis there, any plan in the future to move on that, compared to less restrictions that Australians have here?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Well, it's not been raised with me before. It's not actually my portfolio responsibility but I'm not aware of any plans which would change those circumstances.

Can I say I think it's a good test of how close New Zealand and Australia are if unprovoked I can walk into a conference in Auckland and compliment New Zealand on reaching the finals of the Cricket World Cup in the face of my own anguish on that matter.

JOURNALIST:

Minister Peters, Leah here on behalf of Tova O'Brien, Newshub, given France has been threatened by the US over its digital services tax, are you concerned New Zealand could face a similar threat from the US if we implemented a similar tax?

MINISTER PETERS:

Well that hasn't arisen on our radar screen at this point in time. We don't deal in hypotheticals, we deal in facts.

JOURNALIST:

But have you had any advice the US could implement regulatory tariffs if New Zealand introduces the tax?

MINISTER PETERS:

Me? No, I haven't.

JOURNALIST:

A question for both Foreign Ministers, both Australian and New Zealand are among a group of 22 countries that have issued a joint statement urging China to stop the mass detention of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in China's western Xinjiang region, what prompted both countries to sign this statement?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Jackson, I think the statement reflects an increased international focus on concerning developments in Xinjiang. Australia, for our part, has raised our concerns about those human rights situations with China in a number of contexts and of course it is an appropriate international forum for those issues to be raised and a number of nations, as you have mentioned, 22, have issued a letter to the Secretary-General on those matters.

JOURNALIST:

And Minister Peters on behalf of New Zealand, why has your government also decided to sign this agreement?

MINISTER PETERS:

Well because we believe in human rights, we believe in freedom, and we believe in the liberty of personal beliefs and the right to hold them. Whether they're a religious or otherwise.

JOURNALIST:

Do you believe China believes in human rights?

MINISTER PETERS:

Well that's a different question. Perhaps you should ask them.

JOURNALIST:

But this pertains to human rights, a very prominent human rights issue in China?

MINISTER PETERS:

And I'm giving you our reason – or I'm giving you my reason anyway why the New Zealand government would see it that way. Now if you want to know what the Chinese think, you should ask the Chinese.

JOURNALIST:

Just back on West Papua, some of the smaller Pacific Island nations have started speaking out about their concerns about what is going on there. Why is Australia and New Zealand so reluctant to do that, to speak out about concerns about human rights abuses in West Papua?

MINISTER PETERS:

We speak out about human rights abuses wherever it might happen in the Pacific and there are a lot of examples where you would regard the human rights, in particular where women are concerned, for far less a concern to some [indistinct] as we would regard them as being a central issue of political concern. So we don't just start with one country. The logic of it really is if we're to make a judgement then we've got to look at all countries fairly in that respect. What I do believe and I think its [indistinct] we have got a media group that is going to be in West Papua very shortly, and second, there are alternative variations to that happening which I think are in the pipeline and that I discussed with the Indonesians today.

JOURNALIST:

What are those alternative [indistinct]?

MINISTER PETERS:

Well, a chance to reassure the world that some of the concerns expressed by outsiders are not in fact correct. The only way to get to that understanding is to provide the evidence of it.

JOURNALIST:

Would you like to go in and see for yourself?

MINISTER PETERS:

Well, yes I would if I had the time. Yes, I would. But it's a question of when you've got a week and a half off.

JOURNALIST:

You said in a March letter that all the violence in the different regions in West Papua would have to end before peace talks could start. Is that still your position? Do you think that's the only way forward?

MINISTER PETERS:

If it's all war, war then you're not going to get any jaw, jaw, jaw, as Winston Churchill put it, to rephrase him. So you need to stop the violence and then get to negotiation and discussion.

JOURNALIST:

Was that violence discussed today with Retno Marsudi?

MINISTER PETERS:

Not today, no. Alright, one last question.

JOURNALIST:

What about refugees there on Manus and Nauru – is it a realistic offer, New Zealand's offer to take some of them, is the Australian government actually looking at it?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Australia's focus is on continuing to reduce the numbers of refugees, numbers of people, on Manus and Nauru and that has been our consistent approach now since we were elected in 2013. This is something which is very, very important to our government and that is evidenced by the reduction in numbers. We will continue to work with all of our partners, particularly the United States, which we are in the course of working with to continue to resettle individuals, but with all of our partners, and have discussions with New Zealand when it's appropriate on options that might be available but that's not something we discussed today.

JOURNALIST:

Is there any point in New Zealand keeping the offer on the table given Australia's reluctance to accept it?

MINISTER:

I think that was the last question, Jackson and I think I've answered it.

MINISTER PETERS:

Okay, thank you very much.

JOURNALIST:

Who will you be backing in the Cricket World Cup final, Minister Payne?

MINISTER PETERS:

She's promised to support New Zealand.

MINISTER PAYNE:

Well I was given a Joe Root cricket shirt signed yesterday, and that was before the match started, and I wasn't sure I was going to need it, but now I'm going to take one from New Zealand.

JOURNALIST:

So you are going to support, New Zealand?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Yes.

MINISTER PETERS:

I'm glad we managed to get that important matter discussed.

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