Press Conference, Adelaide

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Bali Process Ministerial Conference; Türkiye earthquake; AUKUS; meeting with President of Kiribati.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Thank you very much and apologies that we’re running late, in part all the members of the delegations wanting to have a chat to me and with me and others but also Dr Forrest, who I’m very grateful is with me, is carrying an injury, so he’s not as fast moving as he usually is.

Can I say, it’s just fantastic to be home and I am really proud and privileged to be hosting the Eighth Bali Process Ministerial Conference here in Adelaide and to have participated this morning in the Government and Business Forum. As I said in my opening remarks, this is a process that brings together business leaders and government leaders, to confront crimes which are abhorrent – people smuggling, human trafficking and modern slavery. And I think the important point to recall is that no country can tackle these issues alone. No country can tackle these issues alone. So I am really grateful that we have Indonesia represented with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi as my Co-Chair, as well as leaders and ministers from many other countries here in South Australia – 45 member governments represented here in Adelaide and at the first ministerial level meeting in five years. This morning, as I said, the focus has been on what business and government can do together, co-chaired with Minister Marsudi and myself and also Dr Forrest and also Pak Garibaldi here from the Indonesian business community. This process ultimately, this discussion is about partnership. Regrettably, the work of the Bali Process remains as necessary as ever and, in fact, what we have seen if you look at the data is modern slavery, for example, actually more people in slavery now than in 2016, and that’s a really sobering thought for all of us.

Now, the value of this engagement was really made clear to me this morning. We had in 2018, before my time, the business community and governments at that time established a framework, they called it the AAA framework and what is it – Advance, Act…

Dr Andrew Forrest: Yes, it is ‘Acknowledge, Act, and Advance’.

Foreign Minister: Acknowledge, Act and Advance. And what we had is business leaders and governments talk to the group about what they had done since, and it made me really understand the value of this process – that by coming together and agreeing voluntarily what they wanted to do, we saw progress in companies and in jurisdictions around the world. A lot more to do. A lot more to do, but it is a really important place for that work to be done.

I would now be very happy to pass over to Dr Forrest to make some remarks.

Forrest: Thank you, Foreign Minister.

Foreign Minister: Limp over here.

Forrest: I can limp over here. I can only speak for the business side of the Government Business Forum of the Bali Process, but I can say that Minister Wong witnessed unity uncommon, unity which just above the heart of all of us to recognise that all forms of modern slavery is, in fact, psychopathic is an ability to call for economic level playing fields. And where a country or a company practices slavery, forces labour, does not reward services, does not free people, then without exception, over time those countries and companies go backward. Those who free their people in every way from bonded labour, forced marriage, child marriage, inequality of education among sexes, those countries excel economically. There just is no precedent to object to that economic fact.

So, we in the business community are asking to work closely with every government in the Bali Process family to level the playing field for all of us to bring in modern slavery acts across the region like Minister Wong’s government has strongly endorsed and strengthened today with the appointment of a Modern Slavery Commissioner. It was strengthened before, but we are so delighted it has occurred. I really want to thank all the governments and particularly my own for their leadership to eliminate modern slavery.

The region the Bali Process speaks for is the key region in the world for slavery, where 70 per cent of the world’s slaves are incarcerated, without bars but true incarceration. So, this is the region which can make the biggest difference and with the leadership of Minister Wong and the Government, and the governments across the Bali Process family, we’ve set ourselves to work to make 2025 where you, Minister Wong, I hope will be able to witness a greater acceleration in achievement by the business community and by the government community as we set sail towards 2030 to see the end of modern slavery. It won’t come to an end, but the mechanics will be in place. Thank you.

Foreign Minister: Thank you, Andrew.

Journalist: You mentioned earlier, Mr Forrest, the need for goals. How important is it to have a goal, even a very aspirational goal, to end slavery?

Forrest: Look, it’s a very erudite, meaningful question. I don’t think we’ll end slavery by 2030, but what we can do is have the structures in place or falling into place that you can see the end of slavery from 2030. And Minister Wong and I did discuss the importance of projects, for businesses, for all of us to put the line in the sand and set ourselves targets against that line in the sand, and it is a critical motivator for the human personality and, of course, the businesses and so we will be accepting that line in the sand.

Journalist: Minister, can I ask you please, what can Australia do better to help end slavery? What solutions could be done? Has anything been agreed to today to accelerate that process?

Foreign Minister: Look, the main thing we can do is to strengthen our domestic legislation and to improve and strengthen the Modern Slavery Act, and I want to acknowledge not just Andrew but his daughter Grace and the work that Walk Free has done because I met with them during the campaign and talked in detail with them about an area that, to be honest, I only knew a bit about, so it was really useful. And we announced at the election campaign a range of policies, the appointment of an Ambassador against modern slavery and to amend the act, which is actually in Mark Dreyfus’s portfolio so he has got responsibility for it now and my recollection is there’s a review underway about how we implement that strengthening.

In Opposition, we moved a range of amendments to that legislation to try and strengthen it and I’m hopeful that we will see a stronger piece of legislation which will put a greater onus on all of us, government and business, to make sure that our supply chains are clean, are free of slavery, because, you know, nobody wants to make money out of slavery and no one wants to enable profit from it by what we purchase. So, that means we have to, as consumers, know that what we’re buying is free of that taint. Businesses need to know that their supply chains are free of that taint and government needs to know that the regulation we put in place will enable that to occur.

Journalist: Is there anything that came out of today, any concrete measures that can – or is it just a matter of getting everyone in the room and talking about the issue for the first time in many years?

Foreign Minister: Look, I think the benefit of today from my perspective – and I can’t speak for others in the room – was we had governments say what they’ve done since 2018, business say what they’ve done since 2018 and the shifts that have been made, which is about sharing that. But we will have the ministerial plenary this afternoon and I’m hopeful we might see more out of that, that we can give you once ministerial delegations have had a chance to talk about the strategy going forward.

Journalist: Minister, do you believe enough has been done since the last conference?

Foreign Minister: There’s never enough. I mean, the fact that we’re at 2023 and there are still millions of people living in slavery is shocking, isn’t it? And I actually think if you walk down Rundle Mall and you talk to most shoppers out there and said, ‘Do you know how many people are still working in slavery, possibly to produce the items you’re purchasing?’, I think most South Australians, most Australians would be shocked. I was shocked the first time I understood the extent of it. So, of course, it’s never enough until there is no one in this world who is working in those sorts of conditions.

But there has been more done in the last few years than I thought and that’s pleasing, and that’s certainly down to not just governments, but the leadership of business. Pak Thohir, the Indonesian business leader, was talking about work that he’s seeking to do with the entrepreneurs in Indonesia. This is really encouraging and it’s going to take a lot of people to try and resolve this.

Journalist: The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh has told the ABC in a recent interview he’d like Australia to accept more Rohingya refugees. What more can Australia do and commit to as part of the Bali Process?

Foreign Minister: First I want to acknowledge the burden that Bangladesh has worn, has carried, as a consequence of the Rohingya crisis. And that’s not just recently - we’re looking at five years. We’re looking at over a million people, and Bangladesh has carried a heavy burden as a consequence of this crisis, and we really acknowledge that.

We have provided substantial additional humanitarian assistance to Myanmar and Bangladesh since 2017. I think it’s over $350 million since that time and, in fact, after we came to government, in our first Budget I announced $135 million as a contribution to both Myanmar and Bangladesh for the current financial year in recognition of what is occurring. So, Australia has been under both parties of government one of the top donors since the crisis began and that’s appropriate as a country of the region.

On resettlement, we have a generous program of humanitarian places by global standards. We obviously have – that program is much more oversubscribed than – that program is oversubscribed. There are many more people who wish to come to Australia than we have places for and that’s a reality of the world in which we live.

Journalist: Minister, you were saying how shocked you were about the extent of the problem. Is it a problem in Australia per se, or is it an issue of people, the public, buying goods that may have been or services that may have come out of smuggling or slavery or any of those types of –

Foreign Minister: Look, we’re not immune from human trafficking or people smuggling here in Australia. We’re not immune from these challenges and we have to be vigilant. But I think where we can do a lot more than we’re doing – and, you know, I think the recent report said that Australia had very good structures and legal processes to try to resolve and ward against these issues, but what we can do better is to ensure that our supply chains for goods and services are free from the taint of slavery. Does anyone else have a question?

Journalist: I’d like a couple of questions. Foreign Minister Marsudi released a video statement saying that she’s used the talks with you asking Australia to be more transparent about the nuclear submarines, AUKUS. Can you elaborate or tell us what’s been discussed in the 2+2 meeting on this, and what steps can Australia take I suppose to show greater transparency to Indonesia?

Foreign Minister: We want to be very transparent not just with Indonesia but the region. AUKUS is a partnership which is focused on technological collaboration, on capacity, pillar one obviously is the acquisition of a new submarine capability and there’s been a lot said about that. I understand, given Indonesia’s history, why they want us to be transparent around that nuclear propulsion. It is a new capability for Australia. It is not a new capability obviously globally, but it is a new capability for Australia. And I have said to Ibu Retno that Australia is – first, we are strong supporters of the Nuclear Non‑Proliferation Treaty. We have an impeccable record when it comes to our compliance with the NPT. We will continue to have a record of that standing and we will work with the International Atomic Energy Agency to make sure we maintain that high standard, gold standard, of transparency and compliance.

Secondly, we do want to be transparent with the region and we will be. And third, and just to re-emphasise this, and Indonesia and others are completely aware of this, nuclear propulsion does not equal nuclear-armed. Australia has no intention of ever seeking to be nuclear-armed.

Journalist: Minister, what – this is a separate matter - what update could you give us about the situation in Türkiye and about the Government’s correspondence with Australian citizens who are [indistinct]?

Foreign Minister: I want to first say I met with the Turkish Ambassador just briefly in the hall. It’s one of the reasons I’m a little bit late to be with you and apologies for that. I know I speak for all of us that we are deeply saddened by what we see in Türkiye and also in Syria, that the loss of life and the destruction is just so deeply saddening and so tragic. The Government has announced, as you know, $10 million in humanitarian aid to the region and we have a DART team, Disaster Assistance Response Team, which has departed this morning and will arrive over the weekend. I also want to say to the members of the Turkish community, the Australian‑Turkish community, I know how many of you would be deeply worried, deeply distressed, by these events. I also know, as I said previously, we have Turkish-Australians who are there. I note, I previously talked about four who are unaccounted for. I’m pleased that I can say one of the four Australians that we were aware of in the region is accounted for and safe. Two remain unaccounted for. And one has been reported as having died in these earthquakes. We’re working to confirm those reports. And I extend my condolences, as a consequence of those reports, and I extend to all those waiting for news, my sympathy and expression of support, not just personal but on behalf of the Government and the Australian community.

Journalist: Minister, how many Australians is the government aware are caught up in the situation in Syria and in Turkey?

Foreign Minister: Well, at the time I spoke to the Parliament, I think it was yesterday – a lot has happened in the last 24 hours – as I said, I only had information of four. It may well be that there are more, but that was all that was provided to me as Minister.

Journalist: Coming back to the subject, you said –

Foreign Minister: Which subject?

Journalist: Slavery.

Foreign Minister: Oh, sorry.

Journalist: You said there was more done in the last couple of years than you expected, but you also said that there’s more slavery now than there was in 2016. Does that mean that the system and mechanisms in place aren’t as effective as you would have hoped?

Foreign Minister: Look, I’m not sure that – I was making two points. My, I suppose, optimism or my comment about there having been more done than I had realised was really a result of the discussion this morning where we had businesses from around the world, as well as governments, and I thought there has been quite a lot of movement. I mean, an example is one of the Thai companies, one of the largest seafood companies in the world who gave a report about what they had done since 2018, and that’s an industry we know which is rife with problems and has been identified as an industry with problems. It’s got a lot of supply chain issues and he talked through what their company had done to try and ensure their supply chains.

But your question is a reasonable one. Of course, there’s more that needs to be done. We need a better Modern Slavery Act in Australia than we have. I’d encourage other countries to improve their domestic legislation, particularly developed countries where you can use the power of business and consumers to try and ensure that we create disincentives for this sort of activity.

Journalist: Minister, this is a separate issue. There’s an Australian citizen who’s in custody in Indonesia, Antonio Strangio. He’s been charged with alleged links to serious organised crime internationally. What update can you give us about his situation? And the second part of the question is, was the Australian Government aware that he was living in the country or had connections to the country over the past few years?

Foreign Minister: I’m sorry. I don’t have any information on that, on that matter. We’ll see if there’s anything we can provide to you.

Journalist: Minister, the President of Kiribati…

Foreign Minister: I’m going to leave after this question, to a lunch I’m late for.

Journalist: The President of Kiribati is here…

Foreign Minister: Yes that’s wonderful, isn’t it?

Journalist: Yes.

Foreign Minister: It is.

Journalist: Do you plan to meet with him on the sidelines, [crosstalk]?

Foreign Minister: Yes, we try not to sort of broadcast every bilateral, but you would anticipate that given we have the most senior representation at a Bali Forum from the Pacific that there has been, and that he is probably the most senior leader here as a head of state, of course I will be very pleased to have a discussion with President Maamau. Very pleased that he’s come to Adelaide and very pleased to host him. Thank you.

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