Press conference, Canberra

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-PNG Ministerial Forum; Australia-PNG visa processing; Australia-PNG security treaty; Fukushima water release; US-China relations; Australia’s relationship with China; Lombrum Naval Base.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you all for coming and I thank the Deputy Prime Minister Rosso, Foreign Minister Tkatchenko and Minister Giles for joining me – as I throw my glasses off the lectern – for joining me at this press conference. I want to say a couple of things about the bilateral relationship and then I will throw to colleagues. Can I first thank Justin for co-hosting the forum today, Deputy Prime Minister, for leading a delegation, a very substantive delegation to Australia, and just reiterate what we have been discussing last night and today about the importance of the relationship between our two countries. We're neighbours, we're friends and we're partners. It's a relationship of equals. We've talked about our history, and we've talked about Papua New Guinea's independence. It's a profoundly important moment in Australia's history, as well as in Papua New Guinea's history obviously. And that those who ensure that it happened, that those who led that were of course two of our political forbearers, forefathers. On the PNG side, the Grand Chief Michael Somare, Sir Michael Somare, and on our side, Gough Whitlam. And I reflected that one of the things Gough Whitlam said was, if I may paraphrase, that if he did nothing else in his life, he was happy to have participated in ensuring and facilitating independence of Papua New Guinea.

We seek that this be the next stage in this relationship of that sort of stature. A partnership that is close, open, honest and ensures that we work together to enable Papua New Guinea to achieve its aspirations. Economic security ensures national security, ensures regional security. They're all interlinked. The fact that we're late speaks to the dialogue. We had an excellent Ministerial forum, we could have gone at least an hour longer and we were really pleased to have it. As I said, we hope this is the next stage of the relationship and we have two Prime Ministers, Prime Minister Albanese and Prime Minister Marape, who are determined to ensure that it is. And I want to reiterate again, publicly, how honoured, not just our Prime Minister was, but the whole country was, by the Prime Minister being invited to speak to your Parliament. It was a very big moment in our relationship.

I just want to make two points and then I'll throw to Minister Giles to answer the announcement and then our colleagues from Papua New Guinea will speak. First in relation to the security treaty, the two Prime Ministers, when they met, charged Minister Tkatchenko and I with finalising a bilateral security treaty. We're pleased, we exchanged draft text. We are in the process of working through that and we're going to be doing a lot more work in the coming weeks. So, we're pleased that is being progressed and we see this, as I said, as a natural progression in our community partnership.

The second thing I want to indicate is, last night and today, we had a very frank and open discussion on visa related issues and ministers recognised that high quality, timely visa services were an important underpinning of our bilateral ties. So, we have agreed to open in-country visa processing in Papua New Guinea. I know that this is something that the Prime Ministers discussed, particularly that the Deputy Prime Minister – Deputy Prime Minister Rosso is very keen to progress with Minister Marles and we're pleased to announce that. We are also establishing a joint high level ministerial working group to oversee these changes and to continue work on these related issues. Richard Marles described this as the 'cut through committee' and it will involve Ministers Marles, Wong and Conroy from our side and Deputy Prime Minister Rosso and Minister Tkatchenko from the Papua New Guinean side, and we will co-opt Ministers such Minister Giles as necessary. I'll hand now to my colleague Minister Giles and then to the Deputy Prime Minister.

ANDREW GILES, IMMIGRATION MINISTER: Thanks very much Foreign Minister. In addition to the very significant announcement about in-country visa processing in Port Moresby, a number of other matters related to the immigration portfolio have been discussed and advanced today and last night. The 'cut through committee' will obviously have a critical role in this but realising some broader aspirations. I'm very pleased at the progress we have made since coming into government in bringing down visa processing times for PNG nationals coming into Australia. But there's more to be done. There's more to be done and we recognise and have recognised that the closeness of our relationship needs to be reflected in visa standards and services. In particular, that we will aim to achieve 75 per cent of completed visitor visas being processed within fourteen days. This will be a big step forward, facilitating the more efficient relationship between individuals as well as between our countries.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Thanks, Andrew. Deputy Prime Minister.

JOHN ROSSO, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Thank you Minister Wong. I would like to say thank you for everything. Hosting us here in the ACT, capital. The talks have been fruitful, very positive and continue to enhance our partnership, ensuring both countries are strengthened and work closely together furthering our ideals and our partnership moving forward. One of the biggest things that we have had is the visa issues that have been niggling in the back of our heads and I'd like to say thank you for the visa approvals and processes moving forward. Having 75 per cent of our visas being approved and within the space of fourteen days is a huge step forward. I would also like to say that we're very glad to have the high-level profile ministerial working group that will be able to chase up and sort out a lot more niggling issues on the visa processes.

On a reciprocal arrangement, I would also like to announce from the Papua New Guinean side that we will also issue multiple entry visas for Australian businesses that currently do not have it, moving into Papua New Guinea, Australian businessman. That makes business easier for Australia when you go to Papua New Guinea to do business. It will be short term visas over a period of twelve months issued, instead of issuing it every month when you need to come to Papua New Guinea. We'll also adhere to the 75 per cent mark and turnaround time for visas to come to Papua New Guinea for Australia, and this will be also on a reciprocal treatment. It will be fourteen days turnaround time with 75 per cent of achievement if we can. And then we'll work towards strengthening it a lot more to make it easier for Australians to come to Papua New Guinea.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Foreign Minister.

JUSTIN TKATCHENCKO, FOREIGN MINISTER OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Thank you. Well, it's been an absolute pleasure to have finally this Ministerial Forum after nearly three or four years here in Canberra at your capital with my counterpart, Minister, Senator Penny Wong. It's been very, very productive. We have had our different ministers from the different – colleagues as well, having their meetings, sorting out long outstanding issues in many different sectors, which will – still going on as we speak.

The announcement of the new processing in Port Moresby, the new processing for visas in Port Moresby, is going to be very welcomed by Papua New Guinea in a major way. This will allow our Papua New Guineans to have direct access to applying for a visa to Australia and we greatly appreciate the approval of that today. And with that, we will work together, foreign affairs, we'll work together with immigration to assist in ensuring that everybody that wants to come to Papua New Guinea can come in a shorter period of time, more productive time, and show our relationship and this process working forward.

For the bilateral security treaty. It's a work in progress. Remember, this is not just about the security – security in respect to policing and defence, it's also about many other security issues, climate change, biosecurity, gender equality. Security issues that face our country, and economic security as well. So, once we finalise that with all the different departments and going through, and with the Prime Ministers, both Prime Ministers deadline in April, both Minister and I will work very closely together to achieve that goal for the benefit of Australia and also for the benefit of Papua New Guinea.

But otherwise thank you, Minister. This has been a historical Ministerial Forum and we look forward to the outcomes going forward for the benefit of both our countries. Thank you very much.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Just a question for the Papua New Guinea delegation first. Do you have any update on these negotiations for the security agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea? And to Minister Wong, recently, Australia and the US have been moving at different speeds on their relationship with China. Australia's been moving much closer, much warmer towards China compared to the US who've had a few problems recently. Are you concerned of the potential wedge between Canberra and Washington on its relationship with Beijing?

TKATCHENCKO: Firstly, Australia is a traditional security partner going back to World War II and always will be. We have that relationship in depth with us and this security treaty is only going to enhance our security in the region together, internally, externally and for the region. As I said, it's a work in progress. We have a deadline of April to achieve, on both sides. To ensure that we have that going forward. We're working with all our other brothers and sisters in the Pacific on this as well. So, we look forward to ratifying this treaty agreement in the not too distant future.

FOREIGN MINISTER: First, as you would probably anticipate, I don't agree with the way in which you constructed the question. We have sought to stabilise the relationship for the reasons I've spoken about at length. I think it's actually very consistent with the Biden Administration's approach to the China relationship. The language is a little different. I think they speak about putting a floor under the relationship. They talk about the importance of guardrails, which is a term I have also used because it really goes to the central point, which is we want the US and China to manage their relationship, their competition, in a way that ensures there is no escalation because of the risks and consequences of escalation or miscalculation. I think that's very consistent with what Secretary Blinken has said, with what their National Security Adviser has said, and what President Biden has said. It is the case, obviously regrettably that Secretary Blinken’s trip was deferred, given the events involving the balloon, but I do note that the US made clear that they stand ready to engage diplomatically with China and we welcome that.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you mentioned that you're engaged in consultation with brothers and sisters of the Pacific on the security arrangement. Can you give a bit of detail about how that consultation is happening? Is it in contrast to the way Solomon Islands and China negotiated their deal? What will characterise the way that you seek regional consensus on this?

TKATCHENCKO: What happened between Solomon Islands and China is really nothing, is irrelevant to Papua New Guinea as such. But just last week, the Foreign Minister of Solomon Islands and myself signed the Bilateral Policing Agreement, meaning that PNG police officers can be called at any time to go on Solomon Island’s request to help them with their security needs. And these are the sort of partnerships that we're having with our Pacific Island countries, with Papua New Guinea to secure the region. And also, as Papua New Guinea has bigger land mass, bigger population, all the rest – we can see as being the big brother in the Pacific, assisting where needed, not only on security, but economic and other things like that. So, we look forward to the Pacific Islands Forum retreat coming up in the next coming days in Fiji. And that will bring all our brothers and sisters together from the Pacific to reunite, especially from Micronesia and Kiribati and all the rest, our Pacific Island leaders, to come back as one voice, one group, for the benefit of moving forward together.

JOURNALIST: You plan to brief them on the broad outlines of the agreement, so it's understood?

TKATCHENCKO: Absolutely.

JOURNALIST: Ministers, just on the Pacific Island Forum, I believe that Japan has paused the release of some nuclear contaminated water while it consults with the Pacific Island Forum. Just on that, are you able to outline what, Senator Wong, what Australia will be doing and what PNG will be doing? And what representations you would make to Japanese Officials to ensure that you're satisfied about any environmental damage? And likewise, are you able to speak to potential environmental damage or what will be raised on either country's behalf when it comes to deep sea mining or deep sea drilling in the region?

FOREIGN MINISTER: So first, on the Fukushima water release, I'm encouraged that Japan is pausing to enable consultation and that's really important. And it's consistent with our encouragement for transparency on these issues. The Pacific has a history when it comes to nuclear matters and understandably, is very focused on ensuring that the Rarotonga Treaty is observed. But as importantly, that there is proper transparency, accountability about any matters which go to nuclear facilities, nuclear power, nuclear materials and we respect that. If you go to, just for example, if you go to the Marshall Islands you understand why the peoples of the Pacific are so focused on this. So, it's a good thing that there's going to be transparency and trust and trusted briefings, and we’d encourage that.

The deep sea drilling issue, this has been raised with me a few times in my visits to parts of the Pacific, different Pacific islands have different views about this and the view Australia takes is that these are matters that the Pacific family will need to work through. Obviously, sovereign countries have different views on how they wish to deal with their sovereign resources but there will be, I’m sure, dialogue as there always is on these matters.

TKATCHENCKO: I support fully Senator Wong's comments, but also with that as well. I've already had meetings with the Foreign Minister of Japan, as well as our own Ambassador to Japan in Papua New Guinea on the issue. We've discussed it. In respect to the problems that it might cause or will cause, and also getting their guarantee of how nuclear is this water that's going in, or radioactive, sorry. Is this water going into the sea and what have they done to fix it? So, the Japanese have made it very clear to me that it is harmless what they're doing. They’ve treated it, they've gone through the right process, but that's for them to also explain and communicate more to the other Pacific Island leaders as well.

JOURNALIST: Ministers, an Australian naval vessel visited the Lombrum Naval Base, I think, in the past couple of weeks. Are there any plans under the current security treaty between the two countries to expand Australian usage of that base? And secondly, just for Senator Wong, former Prime Minister Scott Morrison is giving a speech in Tokyo relatively soon, where he will call on Australia to start sanctioning officials in Xinjiang and he suggested that Australia should be demanding an end to trade sanctions with China, rather than being thankful for them for any changes. What do you make of that intervention?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I'm not sure how much advice it would be sensible to take from Mr Morrison on foreign policy but certainly, one on sanctions, we don't speculate, but I outlined at length our position on sanctions as one of the ways, not the only, but one of the ways in which Australia will express and assert its values. We have a set of national interests of which obviously human rights is central. In relation to trade, I have made clear, we believe it is in the interests of both countries, including China for the trade impediments to be removed. That remains our position.

TKATCHENCKO: Just on Lombrum, Australia has been always a traditional partner when it comes to defence and security for Papua New Guinea. Years ago, there was an agreement signed to help build up the capacity of Lombrum which is currently going on as we speak. The capacity of the PNG Defence Force and building that up to get our long run down and the facilities up and going again for the benefit of the Police Force, and to be a strong – sorry Defence Force. And being a strong advocate moving forward to protect ourselves and also the region as a whole. So, it's a partnership that we'll continue to have and continue to grow.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you very much.


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