Transcript of doorstop, Washington DC

  • Transcript, E&OE
03 October 2018

FOREIGN MINISTER: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I wanted to just spend a couple of moments talking about Australia's engagement with Indonesia in the aftermath of the most recent tragic events and then say a few words about my visit here in Washington this week.

First of all in our discussions with the government of Indonesia, we know now there about 1,234 identified as dead. We know over 61,000 people appear to have been displaced and the impact is likely to affect over 2.6 million people so this is a very significant natural disaster in our neighbour Indonesia.

During our discussions we have determined to provide a secondary support package of up to $5 million which follows on from the $500,000 we committed earlier through the Indonesian Red Cross. That $5 million package will included emergency healthcare support in the initial phase –up to 21 days –that is 54 medical professionals from Australia. In Indonesia, establishing a temporary emergency and surgical-care field hospital where they will be able to treat and support the Indonesian authorities with emergency healthcare. Primary healthcare mobile teams who will be able to be deployed into the field –three teams of up to four people who can treat up to 50 patients a day in that capacity. We will also increase our contribution of humanitarian emergency relief supplies, things like shelter and water, hygiene kits and generators. Those supplies are currently in Australia and will be transported by ADF C-130 to the location. Those air assets will also be able to work with the TNI as required.

We will also be providing additional funds to the UN and to local partners which will be used to provide water, shelter, psycho, social and health support as well.

This is a very significant disaster, it's an extraordinary challenge. I've spoken before about the remoteness of the location in Sulawesi in particular, so we are looking forward to, as best as we can, to supporting our Indonesian neighbours at this time of great need.

I do want to say a couple of things about my engagements here in the United States, in Washington this week. Of course I spent last week at the UN General Assembly. This week in Washington, I've had meetings yesterday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and with National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton –both very focussed on the strength of the Australia-US relationship and very focussed on the work that we are doing together in the Indo-Pacific.

Particularly, my meeting with Secretary of State Pompeo was an opportunity to build on our very recent AUSMIN engagement in Palo Alto in July of this year where we had a very significant focus on the work we're doing together across the Indo-Pacific. We've reaffirmed those engagements, we had work plan out of AUSMIN and we continue to work through that. We're very focussed on our engagement in the upcoming ASEAN and East Asia Summit processes, including looking forward to welcome Vice President Mike Pence to the region.

I'm undergoing further briefings, or making further briefings today with key agencies, with key senators and members of the House on Capitol Hill and looking forward to all of those.

I'm happy to answer a couple of your questions.

REPORTER: On Indonesia, What's your sense of sort of where we're at in the situation? Is it likely to get worse in terms of numbers? What are your counterparts telling you about that?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Our Ambassador in Jakarta Gary Quinlan has been working in very close contact with the Indonesian government. I think in circumstances such as this, and, unfortunately we've seen them all too often in our region, there is the initial period of identification of the nature and size of the disaster and then the painstaking work of determining its full extent gets under way. I understand there are significant challenges from liquefaction –so solid earth turning effectively into quicksand –that makes movement and engagement very difficult. The remoteness which I refereed to earlier of course does the same.

We will be working very closely with the Indonesian government to make sure that the support we are providing is highly targeted, is addressing their needs and certainly that we engage with them very closely.

REPORTER: Minister, why is the Australian government supporting a new Australian-US business council when the AAA has been doing that role for many years?

FOREIGN MINISTER: The AAA is a very strong, very well engaged organisation based out of New York. I had the opportunity to visit with a number of them last week in a breakfast hosted at Morgan Stanley. I think they do a fabulous job and if there's a prospect of further activity then I look forward to being briefed about that and we'll discuss it further in Australia.

REPORTER: Have you been briefed on this new council?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I've had initial briefings and having seen the AAA at work I was extremely impressed with the work that they do and if there is a suggestion that further engagement is necessary then I'll have a look at that. I think maximizing engagement between US business and Australian business representatives engaged on both sides of the Pacific is an important focus. The people I met last week ranged from the largest businesses in town to some of the smallest start-ups and it seemed to me like a very good cross section.

REPORTER: Yesterday the Pentagon said that the Chinese ship had an unsafe maneuver near a US ship –are you concerned about this and the way China is approaching issues in the South China Sea?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think more broadly I would always encourage, and certainly did in my previous role, those working and moving and engaging in that part of the region to do so safely and professionally. I think actions which don't exhibit safety and professionalism are not conducive to stability and not conducive to security so I would be concerned if that was the case.

I've seen those reports, and again, we would encourage all parties who are active in the area to engage in freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight according to international law –as we always have.

REPORTER: The Chinese say that it's the Americans that are creating a dangerous situation there. What's your response to that?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I'm not going to try and second guess the military engagements.That would not be appropriate, nor is it in fact is it my role. But I would repeat what I've just said to Cameron which is that all participants should work safely and professionally, contributing to the stability and the security of the region and I would certainly encourage them to do so.

REPORTER: Minister, just back on Indonesia. That $5 million –is that sort of a cap on Australia's Aid in the situation or does Australia stand ready to offer other forms of assistance if it's required and the situation gets worse?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think I've said we would continue to work with the Indonesian government as the details unfold, in fact in response to Zoe's question. And I think that that is something that we need to be alive to. We will take information as it comes to us through our Head of Mission in Jakarta. We will work closely with our counterparts. I've been in contact with Foreign Minister Marsudi and I know the Prime Minister has been in contact with President Widodo, to determine if and where Australia needs to provide further assistance and that will be considered on a case by case basis.

REPORTER: The buoys that are supposed to monitor sea level rise apparently have not been working for several years for various reasons. Is that a concern to the Australian government and is there any way Australia could get involved in rectifying what is a regional issue for, not only Indonesia, but lots of countries who might be affected by tsunamis?

FOREIGN MINISTER: If we can provide any professional assistance in a case like that we most certainly will and I'm sure the agencies in Australia who typically work in that area will engage on that, yes.

REPORTER: Minister, apologies if the question has already been asked –have you addressed the question around the ambassador to Canberra for the United States.

FOREIGN MINISTER: No a question hasn't been asked on that.

REPORTER: Is that a concern? Are you worried about why it's taken so long? Where's that process at from your understanding of your talks this week?

FOREIGN MINISTER: It is a matter for the United States but most importantly we're getting on with the job here and the job in Australia. Ambassador Hockey and the charges d'affaires in Canberra, James Caruso are both doing very good jobs and we have the highest level engagement and relationship. As you'd be aware, as I said earlier, I met yesterday with Secretary Pompeo and National Security Advisor Bolton but it is a matter ultimately for the United States.

REPORTER: Did they raise it with you? Did they indicate they were working on it?

FOREIGN MINISTER: It's not a matter which we discussed again in detail. It's been raised before.

REPORTER: Further to that, I did ask Mike Pompeo, I think it was at AUSMIN, and he said soon in relation to an ambassador. Has there been any further discussion of timing?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think there are a number of appointments which they're working through in the State Department and I'm sure we'll be advised accordingly when they've resolved it.

REPORTER: What do you say to people though who say it's been two years? We're clearly close allies, do you…

FOREIGN MINISTER: I say we're getting on with the job. I say we're getting on with the job. And I say I've just had my second very productive engagement with Secretary Pompeo and consistent productive engagements with Secretary Mattis in the years preceding that and the Australian government and the US Administration are getting on with the job.

REPORTER: A quick question on Timor which apparently is looking at buying a 30 per cent stake in the Sunrise gas fields and is looking to then pipe the gas to its own shores. Any sort of view of that kind of plan and also that they apparently looking for Chines funding –is that a concern?

FOREIGN MINISTER: We would say that that is a commercial decision for the business and a sovereign decision for the government of Timor-Leste. In relation to engagement of other nations in terms of providing funding, I will go back to that set of three criteria which I think Australia always tries to apply when we are engaged in and making contributions in our region, and that is: Do they contribute to regional security? Do they contribute to regional stability? Do they contribute to the prosperity and the growth of the region? I think if countries who are recipients and countries who are donors apply those criteria or similar then we end up with good outcomes.

REPORTER: Just one more –given that you're here just a few weeks before the mid-terms –one of the subjects de jour if foreign interference and the President has been discussing Chinese interference as well Russian, is that a subject that's come up in your discussions? And just sort of how much shared information is going on between the five eyes on that front?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think it is certainly in interest in members of senate with whom I met yesterday. It's obviously been discussed, as you say, discussed here in the context of upcoming elections. From Australia's perspective, we have been engaged in protecting our national interests with the most recent legislation around foreign interference in Australia which, I reinforce, is not targeted at any one nation. It's about protecting Australia's national interest from any who might try to threaten or engage against them.

From the United States perspective in terms of Australia's engagement, we have certainly from government to government shared the actions which we have taken and we would always do that in an appropriate way.

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