Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Marise Payne and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Stef Blok – Joint Press Conference, Sydney

  • Transcript, E&OE
27 March 2019

MARISE PAYNE: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for joining us here today. I particularly want to welcome my friend and counterpart, the Netherlands Foreign Minister Stef Blok, to Sydney, to Australia and thank him for a very productive discussion this morning. I know that it's not Stef's first visit to Australia but it's always a great pleasure to welcome friends and counterparts back. Of course, Australia and the Netherlands are long-standing friends and partners. We share common interests and values in so much of what we do, and in recent years, we've been able to enhance our cooperation on international security, on trade and investment, on human rights and development issues.

Today, Minister Blok and I have discussed our approaches to a number of regional and global challenges, including our respective and collective efforts to counter terrorism, our support for the rules-based global order. We have discussed improving our shared capacity to detect, to deter and to prevent extremist terrorist attacks, such as those that occurred recently both in Minister Blok's country and of course most recently in our region, in New Zealand.

Today, we also discussed the unwavering commitment of both Australia and the Netherlands to pursuing justice for all those who lost their lives on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, including the 38 people who called Australia home. The downing of Flight MH17 occurred on 17 July five years ago this year, and I do want today to acknowledge the progress being made towards holding those responsible for the downing of MH17 accountable. I want to note that we have held the first iteration of state responsibility talks between Australia, the Netherlands and Russia earlier this month.

I also confirmed that Australia remains a strong supporter of the Dutch national prosecution of the individuals responsible. We discussed our continuing commitment to the joint investigation team and its findings. Of course, the joint investigation team has had the carriage of the criminal investigation of the downing since 2014. We have, from Australia's perspective, full confidence in the impartiality, the independence, the professionalism of the joint investigation team. So, in welcoming Foreign Minister Blok to Sydney today, I'm going to ask him to say a few words before we take some questions. Minister.

STEF BLOK: Well, I'm very happy to be here in Australia today for a visit both to Sydney and Canberra and speak with my colleague Marise Payne. And I would like to thank you for your warm hospitality. We exchanged views on a variety of foreign policy issues and our discussion today again illustrates our strong friendship, our shared interests, and the enduring spirit of cooperation between our countries.

As most of you know, on the 17th of July this year, it'll be five years since the downing of Flight MH17. This tragedy in which 298 innocent people died, among which 196 Dutch and 38 Australians has marked both our nations. It has also brought us closer. Later today, I will lay a wreath at the MH17 memorial in Canberra to commemorate those who lost their lives on that faithful day. The Netherlands and Australia stand side by side in grief and in resolve. The reason I had a good meeting today, and we spoke at lengths about MH17 and once again reaffirmed our common objective: establishing the truths, achieving justice and holding the perpetrators to account. And to this end, the investigating authorities of Australia and the Netherlands work together as part of the joint investigation team. The JIT independent investigation has our unconditional support. We also appreciate the political and financial support that Australia and other countries have pledged to the possible trial of MH17 suspects in Netherlands.

In May last year, our two countries took the decision to hold Russia responsible under international law for its role in the downing of the Flight MH17. Following this step, we entered into contract with Russia. Talks have started between the Netherlands, Australia and Russia. The first trilateral meeting has recently taken place. We cannot go into the content of this process because confidentiality is vital here. But I can say this: we remain committed to achieving truth, justice and accountability. And the Netherlands greatly values its cooperation with Australia with regards to MH17. We are both fully confident that we will continue to work together closely and productively in the future.

We also spoke about a number of other areas of common interest today. The Netherlands, like Australia, is concerned about threats to our security and about challenges to the multilateral system and the international legal order. We stress our resolve to maintain our efforts to uphold and if possible strengthen the international legal order. We reconfirmed that we will continue our close cooperation in these efforts. We will intensify our cooperation on hybrid threats, cyber governance and countering foreign influence. It is important that we develop more resilience and expertise. We also discussed regional issues, both here in Asia and the Pacific and in Europe, including China and Brexit. We noted that we share many common interest in both regions, be it through respective global trade, international security, or our multilateral cooperation.

A particular subject that was on our minds today is terrorism. After recent attacks in Utrecht in the Netherlands and Christchurch in New Zealand, it is a difficult time for so many families and next of kin. Our thoughts are with all of them. I expressed today again how pleased we are with close cooperation between the Netherlands and Australia in fighting terrorism. We support the new initiative of Australia on the important role of local communities in the implementation of national policies to counter violent extremism. And we are certainly willing to contribute, for instance by hosting an expert meeting in The Hague. Closely related is a subject of ISIS in Afghanistan. We can look back on the years of close cooperation in Afghanistan, as well as in the anti-ISIS coalition. The Netherlands and Australia are true partners in the field of security cooperation.

The Netherlands and Australia are also strong partners when it comes to economic cooperation. I'm happy to say that we are one of the top 5 foreign investors in Australia. Looking towards the future, for both our governments, sustainability and innovation are key priorities. In this regard, we welcome further collaboration. For instance, in the field of sustainable agriculture, logistics and smart urban solutions. So let me conclude by saying this, it's very important to have such close and likeminded friends. The Netherlands and Australia share the same values in many respects. That's why we stand here today, side by side.

MARISE PAYNE: Indeed Thank you very much, Stef. And if there are a few questions, we are happy to answer them.

QUESTION: You mentioned the talks, you might actually discuss what came out of them, but are you able to talk about how aggressive Russian was, how open they were in those talks?

STEF BLOK: Well, I fully understand your question, but in order to obtain the results we are both aiming at, it really is wise not to give any further comments than that those talks have taken place.

MARISE PAYNE: The most important thing is that first step has been taken.

QUESTION: As compensation for the families of victims, is that an objective going into the talks?

STEF BLOK: There, again, I fully understand your questions, but it won't be helpful if we put any more details.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Rutte, he stands firm against far-right sentiments. What do you think of Australia's One Nation Party here and what that might mean for Australia?

STEF BLOK: Well, of course, it's not for me comment on the internal politics here within Australia, that's up to the voters. But where we both spoke about the common challenges we face, in fighting extremism, in fighting terrorism. We are both appalled by what happened both in Christchurch and Utrecht. One far-right motivated attack, the other a troubled migrant of Turkish descent. Whatever the motivation people have to commit those atrocities, we should fight them, we should fight the ideology behind it, and share information in order to prevent such attacks happening in the future.

QUESTION: The ASD, they played a huge role in crushing IS communications. I'm just wandering going forward, this was the first time that this collaboration happened between the ASD and people in the field. Will that be something that will be happening going forward?

MARISE PAYNE: Well, I think you would know that ministers are not in a habit of making comments on intelligence matters of that nature. But I think the most important aspect of that is to say we'll use every tool that is available to us, to address extremism, no matter what form it takes. Where we see it, where we find it. That takes a number of paths. We have seen of course the Australian Defence Force deployed internationally to address that. We've seen efforts from our own law enforcement and intelligence agencies, domestically and internationally, and whatever we need to do, working with partners, important partners such as the Netherlands, Five Eyes counterparts and others. We will continue to do.

QUESTION: How [indistinct] is Australia to get the Coalition to go into that operation into cyberspace?

MARISE PAYNE: That would be a matter which I don't think it's appropriate to discuss, as an intelligence issue.

QUESTION: Does the US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights serve a precedent for other occupying countries to legitimise their own claims, particularly in the case of say, the South China Sea?

MARISE PAYNE: Well I think that is a matter for the United States and Israel, and they've made their positions clear. In terms of Australia's view on the South China Sea, we don't take any sides in terms of claimants. We are not a party to any of those claims. Most importantly, though, we pursuit our legitimate activities under international law and encourage other countries to do the same. Ensure that we are exercising freedom of navigation, freedom of over flight, where it's appropriate to do so and anticipate appropriately in all of the regional fora that enable us to engage in these conversations.

QUESTION: Are you concerned, though, that it could set a precedent?

MARISE PAYNE: Well, I think it's a matter for the United States and Israel. Australia is very much focused on as far as the Middle East is concerned looking to, as we have said, a two state solution, ultimately determined between Israel and Palestine.

HOST: Last question.

QUESTION: [indistinct] just in regards to the recognition by the United States and setting precedents elsewhere?

STEF BLOK: Well, the Netherlands won't follow the United States with regard to their position on the Golan Heights. We are very much committed to a two-state solution within the frameworks of UN Security Council Resolutions.

HOST: Thanks everyone.

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