Press Conference Australia-New Zealand Foreign Ministers’ Consultations

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-New Zealand bilateral relationship, Venezuela, China, Pacific Step Up, DPRK, 5G, Hakeem Alaraibi, Jerusalem embassy.
09 February 2019

RT HON WINSTON PETERS: I'd like to formally welcome Minister Payne to New Zealand for the first of our six-monthly Foreign Ministers' Consultations since she became the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Australia. We last met in Papa New Guinea at the APEC conference in November of last year. These regular discussions are important because they provide a chance to discuss in depth the many regional and global issues where we have shared values and interests with Australia. The trans-Tasman relationship is New Zealand's most important – as our Prime Minister has said, we are family. We have always had a special relationship that continues to benefit us both. Our economies are among the most integrated in the world and strong trade, people and investment flows still happen. And we are stronger as two countries together [indistinguishable].

Minister Payne and I had a very warm and productive meeting today. We discussed how we plan to work together in the Pacific and the wider region amongst other things including trans-Tasman relationship, including New Zealanders in Australia, the Pacific Regional cooperation plans we both have, international security issues, climate change and above all, determination to see the world as it really is with our eyes wide open and to be ready as two countries to play our full role. Minister Payne.

MINISTER PAYNE: Thank you very much Minister Peters. Winston, it's great to be back here in New Zealand to participate in my first formal Foreign Ministers' Consultations and terrific to meet again with my friend and counterpart Winston Peters. I really appreciate the great warmth and hospitality which is of course always extended to Australians in New Zealand but particularly to me and to my whole delegation who have been here this week. And I hope that I can reciprocate as soon as possible and return the favour in Australia.

As Minister Peters has indicated, the relationship between Australia and New Zealand is a strong and an enduring one. We have a common heritage rooted in our shared values and our strong trans-Tasman sense of family. It's a topical word that keeps popping up. Our two countries' approach towards frank, open and direct communication I think it's fair to say characterised today's consultations and I appreciate that.

Close personal ties also underpin that connectivity. In fact I'm advised that the average Australian who visits New Zealand will return three or four times. I have exceeded my quota so I hope you'll keep inviting me back Deputy Prime Minister. But I think it very much reflects the strong affinity Australians have with this country. As the Deputy Prime Minister said, our partnership is nowhere more important than here in the Pacific. We share a commitment to the development and prosperity of this region, so it is therefore fitting that we are partnering with our Pacific neighbours to support a Pacific region that is secure and stable and prosperous. In fact by working together, which is something we have discussed today, we can maximise our efforts to deliver greater and more effective impact. In fact strategic collaboration across governments, businesses and communities is, in our view, vital to success.

In Australia the design and implementation of our recently announced Pacific Step Up initiatives will be coordinated by a new Office of the Pacific within my Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and supported by our strong diplomatic network in the region. I'm very pleased, as many of you will know, to have announced that senior DFAT officer Ewen McDonald, who is currently the High Commissioner here in New Zealand and here with me today, will be the head of our new Office of the Pacific.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the chance to come back to New Zealand again, and Minister, thank you very much for enabling today's productive engagements on a series of very important matters for Australia, for New Zealand, and for the Pacific region.

RT HON WINSTON PETERS: Thank you very much. Could I ask for any questions please?

JOURNALIST: I just wanted to ask if Venezuela was discussed at all, and regardless of that, whether Australia would like New Zealand to stand with Australia and the US in recognising Nicolás Maduro as the interim President?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well Australia has taken our own position on Venezuela. We are very concerned at the deteriorating political and security, economic and humanitarian situation in Venezuela. I've spoken about this before – it's having a very significant impact in the Latin American region and we joined earlier in the year with the Lima group's calls for Mr Maduro to refrain from taking up the presidency and relayed that through appropriate diplomatic channels.

So our approach is to urge all parties to work towards, and constructively towards, a peaceful resolution of the situation. But particularly a return to democracy, respect for the rule of law and frankly, the human rights of the Venezuelan people.

JOURNALIST: Ministers, a number of senior intelligence officers were in attendance at this meeting – was their participation at the meeting to raise concerns and share intelligence about China's activities in the Pacific, and what's your view – do you agree with the recent report by the Director of National Intelligence in the United States who has accused China of currying favour with numerous Pacific Island nations through bribery, infrastructure investment and diplomatic engagement with local leaders?

RT HON WINSTON PETERS: Well first of all we decided as this was a preliminary meeting for the Prime Ministers' meeting coming up in about two weeks' time, in this country, that it was important to be comprehensive in our approach to the issues that we would discuss and so that's why these officials were here, to ensure that we were up to date, not just in our, well, how should I put it, you can't say narrow portfolios, but in the wider sphere of, for example, security issues and in all aspects we'd be capable of being, to the best of our departmental knowledge, capable of being up-to-date, which they did. Now, on the other issue, that's a comment from an American and he's entitled to have it. We all have our views of the behaviour of various countries in the Pacific and we have not been hesitant to call out when we see it. But I cannot say that I'm here to substantiate what he said.

MINISTER PAYNE: I think you covered that very well.

JOURNALIST: Is there anything you'd like to add Minister Payne?

MINISTER PAYNE: I think the Deputy Prime Minister has covered it very well.

JOURNALIST: Does Australia share the view of the Director of Intelligence in the United States about China's activities in the region?

MINISTER PAYNE: So I met with Director Dan Coats in Washington a week or so ago. We discussed a number of matters and I obviously don't canvas publicly matters relating to intelligence.

JOURNALIST: Minister Peters, obviously last year when you spoke at the Lowy Institute you made a call asking New Zealand's allies including Australia to engage more in the Pacific. There's obviously been more overt gestures on Australia's part in the later part of last year, for example the $2 billion infrastructure fund. They seem to have gravitated more towards the Pacific, do you feel that the reshuffle in Australian politics last year has now moved to align Australia more closely with New Zealand's intentions in the Pacific?

RT HON WINSTON PETERS: Could I just say that Australia put out a White Paper in 2016 on their intentions with respect to everything elsewhere. Then they refreshed it later in 2018 so in that context it may be seen to be a coincidence but it did happen and of course we welcome the increased focused and expenditure from Australia.

JOURNALIST: Ms Payne do you have anything to add on that?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well the Deputy Prime Minister is correct. In 2016 we released a Defence White Paper which spoke very clearly about the primacy of the Pacific in terms of our region and in terms of security issues and our focus. In 2017 we released our Foreign Affairs White Paper which reflected the same trajectory and what we've been working towards and announced in the context of our Pacific Step Up is an enhancement if you like, or a development of further activities in key areas where Australia and the Pacific, and frankly also New Zealand, have natural connections and natural synergies.

Whether it is in the need to look at a very large infrastructure demand in the region. If you look at World Bank estimates, by 2030 we're talking about tens of billions of dollars of infrastructure demand. If you look at the challenges that the Boe Declaration set out after the last Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru around regional security initiatives, we're also very focused on that. We are going to do work with schools, we're going to do work in relationship building through the churches between our two countries. We have a very strong Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Workers Program which enhance Pacific labour mobility and this week I've been in the Solomon Islands, in Tuvalu and here in New Zealand. I know the Deputy Prime Minister is travelling relatively soon also into the region and they are very powerful connections, particularly through labour mobility. So I'm very pleased to be working in this space and I think there's more to do and I look forward to doing it together.

RT HON WINSTON PETERS: Can I just emphasise this, there are those who have been critical of Australia and New Zealand's investment in the Pacific. Nothing could be more representative of a narrow, short minded [indistinguishable] view in my humble opinion, because of the security and the wealth of the Pacific Island countries is in our national interest as well.

JOURNALIST: My question is just regarding North Korea for both Ministers and I think President Trump has today confirmed the date for a summit. Do you agree given the lack of any real meaningful progress towards denuclearisation that now is the right time for another summit with North Korea and what's your view on whether now is also the right time to relax any sanctions and finally what would be the view of both countries to some sort of peace declaration with North Korea given that we both have an involvement in the North Korean conflict?

MINISTER PAYNE: Again, this is an issue where Australia has been very clear. We support complete, irreversible, verifiable denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula and we have not changed our view in relation to that. We are also focused on continuing enforcement of sanctions and the work that we have done with our partners and allies in that regard is well known and that has not changed either.

I think the calling of a further meeting between the President and Kim Jong Un is an important way to continue communication and to continue engagement on these issues. Anyone who thinks that this is easy or is going to happen quickly, I think is under a serious misapprehension. So obviously it's a painstaking process, it's a complex process, it's a difficult process and one in which we support the efforts of the United States and Japan, and the Republic of Korea, China and other partners who are seeking that denuclearisation.

RT HON WINSTON PETERS: Can I just say that's really a summation of New Zealand's view as well. We think that verification is critical and that we should not lighten up our demands for that and the clear pathway for denuclearisation before we change, for example, our sanctions. We've got to go for broke here in the interest of humanity and as Winston Churchill once said, it's better "draw draw draw" than "war war war" but now on this matter we want to see it coming to finality. And we would be supportive of any group of countries, or the American nation if they can do that and bring it to, as I was saying, and bring it to finality that does not see the nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and the wider [indistinct].

JOURNALIST: Just in regard to Huawei, both countries have made decisions around that and one of these is for I guess Minister Peters but the other for both of you, do you think that China's inability to find time for Jacinda Ardern to visit is retaliation for that decision, and also has either country got any expectation of trade measures by China in response to that?

RT HON WINSTON PETERS: Well can I just say that when people ask me questions framing China in that way, my response is always to say I don't believe that's the way they're going about it because they promised not to act that way. The second thing is that we've made it very clear to the Chinese government and the Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand that the Huawei decision was a decision not made by the Prime Minister or any member of Cabinet or any politician. To do that would have been against the law in this country for a start and there needs to be a grasp of the way our system works and third I think the Prime Minister will be happy to go off to China at some point. I don't know quite when, but you know she's been busy and she at this time hasn't been to the United States for example, hasn't been to Japan, [indistinguishable] of the top five economies in the world I think she's only visited two but she'll get around to it and no I'm not concerned about that because that's something that has to be held up to the world as a way of acting by the Chinese and they would not want that in my opinion.

MINISTER PAYNE: We've had a constructive set of recent visits to China and particularly to Beijing, to Shanghai by senior Australian cabinet ministers. I was there in November myself. The Trade Minister, Minister Birmingham, attended and supported the import expo in Shanghai and in recent weeks the Australian Defence Minister has also visited Beijing so I think that the engagement is at a high level and a good tempo. In terms of the decision that we made in relation to our 5G network, again, based on very clear advice from key agencies in relation to national security and Australians expect their government to make decisions in relation to protecting their national security I think in that way.

JOURNALIST: I'd like an update please Minister Payne on the footballer Hakeem Alaraibi who is detained in Thailand. I understand that the Australian cave divers who participated in that heroic rescue in Thailand of the Thai boys and won Australian of the Year have sent a letter imploring for their release. Do you think this letter is going to make a difference, in what way, and what do you know of the contents of this letter?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well I think the letter is a matter for its authors.

I think in relation to our engagement with Thai government, we have engaged at the highest levels to ensure that Mr Alaraibi is returned to his home in Melbourne, his family and his friends as soon as possible. I did that myself when I was in Bangkok last month. Obviously there are legal proceedings underway and we are monitoring those. We are providing the necessary assistance to Mr Alaraibi's defence lawyer to ensure he does have the best chance of returning home and I remain in close touch with our Post in Bangkok on that.

JOURNALIST: What about if you were to fast track his Australian citizenship - do you think that would help or is that something that you have considered?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well I think the provisions of the Australian Citizenship Act are reasonably clear on that and it's not a matter of discretion.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you that he will be returned to Australia?

MINISTER PAYNE: I'm not going to engage in conjecture on that. I am seeking the support of the Thai government along the lines I've outlined.

JOURNALIST: Another question, new details have emerged about October's Israel Embassy announcement and its possible move. What is your reaction to these new details and how do you think this possible embassy shift announcement could have been handled differently?

MINISTER PAYNE: The matter has been addressed by the government and the decision has been made and announced, in relation to that. If you're talking about reports today, my response would be to say that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade did their job as they always do and stepped up when asked by government.

JOURNALIST: What way do you think they did their job, because there were concerns there were going to be increased security risks and then two days later there was an announcement that the embassy would be possibly shifted from Tel Aviv?

MINISTER PAYNE: They did their job by engaging with international counterparts. That's what we ask of them.

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