Doorstop interview - New York

Subjects: United Nations General Assembly, meetings with Indonesian Foreign Minister and United States President.

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

24 September 2013

FOREIGN MINISTER: It has been another busy round of meetings here at the UN General Assembly Leaders’ Week. This morning I met with the French Foreign Minister Fabius and we discussed issues including Syria and our hope for a resolution on the chemical weapons issue.

I then attended the General Assembly speeches, particularly the speech by President Obama.

I have now just co-hosted a meeting of the non-proliferation and disarmament group - and that initiative was set up in 2011, and Australia has been actively involved in pursuing the non-proliferation and disarmament initiatives.

And I am now about to attend a luncheon and co-host a table, put on by the Secretary General, and then I will be meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister. This evening I will be co-hosting a function with William Hague and Prof Peiris of Sri Lanka, for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka later this year.

JOURNALIST: OK, could you give us your reaction to what you heard President Obama say today? Does it give you any hope that there might be a breakthrough?

FOREIGN MINISTER: We are certainly hopeful that the discussions between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov are continuing and that they will come up with a resolution that will be acceptable to all.

Once that resolution is concluded, Australia hopes to put forward a statement on the humanitarian issues in Syria. And that is obviously an ongoing concern to Australia and other countries and there are some practical and pragmatic outcomes that need to be achieved.

And then of course the political solution to the ongoing conflict in Syria can then be debated hopefully with a timeframe for Geneva II. So it is important that there be an enforceable resolution in relation to the incident on the 21st of August, and also the elimination of the chemical weapons program that Syria has currently got underway.

JOURNALIST: OK, it was interesting to hear the Indonesian Foreign Minister this morning - he’s saying… he has actually warned Australia against implementing the Australian Government’s policy on ‘boat people’. Is that what you understood from the meeting yesterday?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I had a very productive and positive meeting with Foreign Minister Natalegawa. We agreed on a range of issues including trade and economic ties, we spoke about the new Colombo Plan, and Indonesia has agreed to take part in the pilot program that we will be establishing next year. And we also spoke about Prime Minister Abbott’s visit to Indonesia.

We also agreed that both Indonesia and Australia want to see an end to the people smuggling trade. We both want to dismantle these criminal syndicates and we both want to see an end to the tragic deaths at sea. I put to Foreign Minister Natalegawa that Australia will be making changes to the laws in Australia so that we take away the product that the people smugglers are currently selling - and that is permanent residency in Australia. I also spoke of our support for efforts that not only Indonesia but other nations up the pipeline are making in terms of dismantling the people smuggling trade. I am not going into the operational details of our policy, but I had a very broad ranging discussion with Minister Natalegawa and I am confident that we will be able to implement our policies.

JOURNALIST: Was it clear to you that he was not happy with the decision?

FOREIGN MINISTER: There can be some misunderstanding as to what our policy is, and it is certainly not to, in any way, show disrespect for Indonesian sovereignty. And for anyone to think that that was our policy, that would be a mistake. Our policy respects Indonesia’s sovereignty, respects Indonesia’s territorial borders, just as Indonesia respects ours.

JOURNALIST: Were there warnings involved, is that part of the..?

FOREIGN MINISTER: We had a very positive and productive meeting. And Scott Morrison, our Immigration Minister, will also be going to Indonesia after Prime Minister Abbott’s visit. Prime Minister Abbott will be meeting President Yudhoyono at the end of this month, and they will discuss a range of issues as I did with Foreign Minister Natalegawa.

JOURNALIST: It seems like there is going to be a lot of work to be done, however, on this particular issue given their stance.

FOREIGN MINISTER: There is no question that the Labor Party left us with a complete mess in border protection, and the current laws under the Labor Government only encourage people smuggling, so there is a lot of work for us to do to put back in place the laws that worked. And that’s what we will be doing and one of the first issues that will try to achieve, is to take away the permanent residency status and implement our policy on temporary protection visas. So you are right, there is a lot of work to be done as a result of the six years of Labor chaos in the area of border protection.

JOURNALIST: Did the Indonesian Foreign Minister give you any idea of how he would like it handled, rather than how you want it handled?

FOREIGN MINISTER We had a very productive discussion. We talked about the issue generally, specifically, but I am not going into the details of what essentially are operational issues. But we had a very cordial meeting, I can assure you.

JOURNALIST: Was there tension there though? From reports today it suggests that he wasn’t happy with the outcome of the discussions.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Not at all, not at all. We spoke very warmly, we know each other well and I am looking forward to meeting with Foreign Minister Natalegawa during Prime Minister Abbott’s visit to Jakarta. I will be attending that meeting as well, and I am sure Foreign Minister Natalegawa will be there. We agreed to continue discussing the range of issues, including closer economic cooperation, our New Colombo Plan and other matters that will broaden and deepen and enhance the already significant relationship between Australia and Indonesia.

JOURNALIST: Last night was there a meeting, did you get to meet President Obama?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Yes I did. I attended a function hosted by President and Mrs Obama and it was a delightful evening. I spoke with the President and Mrs Obama. I had my photograph taken with them, they are a very elegant and gracious couple, and I certainly enjoyed my discussion with them. And President Obama said he looked forward to Tony Abbott visiting the United States and I will certainly pass that back to the Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: That’s right. Anything more that he wanted to say about the new Government?

FOREIGN MINISTER: He was very warm; he congratulated me and certainly spoke in very affectionate terms about Australia. As we know, the alliance with the United States, our friendship is across all governments. It does not matter who is in government in Canberra or which administration is in power in Washington, the relationship endures and that was evident from our discussions last night.

JOURNALIST: Can we get a critique of the President’s address today to the UN? From your personal point of view?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think the President confronted many of the issues that are the subject of debate here. He was very firm on what he expects from the P5 over the resolution on chemical weapons in Syria, he set out a framework that he would like to see implemented, and the United States taking the lead on this issue is very important.

He also referred to the focus on Iran and we will hear today, when the President of Iran makes his speech to the General Assembly, whether there has been a change in tone or an actual change in direction in the case of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, or its nuclear program. And then he also spoke of the need for the Israel and Palestinian issue to be resolved, and most certainly it has been evident that Secretary Kerry has been putting a lot of time and effort into that issue.

JOURNALIST: Just finally, are you quite aware as you go through the halls here at the United Nations that everybody there is aware that there is a new government in Australia, that there are new people in power?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well I have been delighted by the number of people who have taken time to come up and meet me and congratulate me. I am honoured to be Australia’s representative here. This is the most significant meeting of world leaders, and I have met many of my counterpart Ministers, not only in our region, but I will be meeting all of the P5 Foreign Ministers and others. So it is quite a remarkable opportunity to get to know a lot of people that I hope to be dealing with over the next three years.

Thank you.

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