Press Conference with Salman Khurshid, India's External Affairs Minister

Hyderabad House, New Delhi

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

18 November 2013

MINISTER KHURSHID: Thank you, allow me to welcome Julie Bishop the newly elected Foreign Minister of Australia who I had the privilege to meet in Perth on the 31st of October this year for our framework dialogue where we discussed the entire range of issues, bilateral issues, and also we had already met previously in New York during the UN assembly, and then subsequently in Perth for the IORA meeting, which has been renamed from the IORARC association, that we are both members of. We have handed over the chair to Australia, and we continue to work as part of the troika with Australia and Indonesia.

We again met at CHOGM which was the last three days in Sri Lanka where again I think we were able to work very closely together in a spirit of the Commonwealth, looking at a host of issues that concern the world and certainly the Commonwealth.

I also had the privilege to meet with the new Prime Minister of Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who had a very good meeting with our Prime Minister in Brunei on the margins of the East Asia Summit. We are looking forward to welcoming the Australian Prime Minister to our country. We are greatly, greatly impressed and indeed grateful that he thought of an early visit to India and perhaps he could have found a slot at this time, but for a large number of visits that were already slated. And therefore are looking at a very early slot next year, both of us have agreed that we will work on that slot it's very important that we get the Australian Prime Minister to come here in response of his very, very, generous invitation that he wants to begin a very fruitful (inaudible) in regard to India.

We have a host of things which are on the landscape for us now, civil nuclear energy cooperation talks and the Minister will tell you more about this, this is on the 26th and 27th of November. We have both worked hard, and as I said the Minister will tell you more about it, we are scheduling the energy dialogue for early part of 2014 when Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia will visit Australia.

We welcome the positive investment regime for Indian investments in energy and resources sector. We already have I think an impressive footprint on the Australian soil and I hope that the larger of the Indian companies will look forward to investing in Australia.

The CEO's Forum will meet very soon, and this will be the necessary combined effort of private sector cooperation, to compliment and supplement what we can do as governments together.

My colleague Mr Pallam Raju has been to Australia recently and he is very, very, keen on the growing knowledge and skills sector cooperation that we have.

I want to share with you our interactions in ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, IORA which I just mentioned, and of course G20- Australia will now take the chair. We hope that in G20 Australia's future will help many of the ideas that we are working on together to find a route to (inaudible)

I am very grateful to the Australian Government and I want to thank the Foreign Minister for the very successful Pravasi Bhartiya Divas that we just concluded in Sydney, this was on the 10th and 12th of November. And of course for those of you who were encouraged by our conversation here, by our press conference, to travel directly to Australia, I can recommend to you Air India which now has direct flights to Sydney and Melbourne- an important signal that I believe we have given to our friends. We believe that we have an extremely fruitful, growing relationship and it must be reported both symbolically and substantively by both public and private sectors of our country.

I look forward to many more discussions and working together in various areas for our side of the investment. I am sorry that the Minister is only with us for a few hours here in Delhi, but I am sure she will tell you about her exciting trip to Mumbai and I hope that whatever she hasn't been able to do this time she will come back soon and then we will have more time to present Delhi and other parts of India, and now (inaudible)

MINISTER BISHOP: Thank you Foreign Minister Khurshid for your very warm welcome on this, my first visit to India as Australia's Foreign Minister. I have been here before but I wanted to ensure that I was able to visit India very early on in my tenure as Australia's Foreign Minister to underscore the significance that we attach to the Australian-India relationship.

As Foreign Minister Khurshid has indicated, Australia and India's economic and security and strategic interests are converging in unprecedented ways. The signing of these two agreements is just an indication of the breadth of the deeper engagement that we want to see between Australia and India. When we met in Perth at the Indian Ocean Rim Association meeting, our dialogue on the day before and then at the IORA meeting, we found that there are so many areas where Australia and India are working closely together.

In the economic field we see a significant increase in investment from Indian businesses in Australia. We very much welcome the around 10 billion dollars worth of Indian investment in the Australian economy, particularly in the mineral and resources sector. And we also encourage Australian businesses to invest in India, and during my meetings here in Delhi, and also in Mumbai, I was struck by the enthusiasm that Australian businesses have for investing in India and doing business here.

We hope that Australia and India will be able to include a closer economic cooperation agreement or free trade agreement. I think both our governments can be ambitious yet pragmatic in approaching the negotiations for such an agreement, and ensure that it will be in the interests of both countries, mutually economically beneficial for our two countries.

In the area of, on security cooperation, we're seeing a deeper engagement between our navies, they will begin joint exercises in 2015, we're also working closely together on maritime security, not only through IORA but bilaterally on counter terrorism, on cyber, and these are issues where we can support each other, share information, share ideas, and have a deeper, closer engagement.

We see great opportunities for Australia to be a trusted and reliable supplier of energy and resources for India's needs and we recognise India's need for energy security. Not only are we supplying coal, hopefully LNG, for Australia is a significant export of LNG, we also hope to include our civil nuclear cooperation agreement for supply of Australian uranium. It has been the consistent position of the Coalition in Australia that we should supply Australian uranium to India.

In the context of that, and consistent with our desire to conclude such an agreement, the Australian Government has decided that we will support India's membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and I informed Foreign Minister Khurshid tonight of the Australian Government's decision. We have given it detailed consideration since we came into office and we believe that it is appropriate given India's strategic importance in our region and globally, given India's record of no- proliferation we think it's appropriate that they should have membership of this group, so Australia will give its support.

We hope that the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement can be concluded. The negotiations will continue for the third round on the 26th of November, and both sides will continue to negotiate in good faith, and I feel sure that we will be able to conclude an agreement that suits both sides.

There are so many other areas of engagement that we hardly touched upon this evening but have been the subject of detailed discussions between us over our meetings, that number about three or four at this stage, including in the agricultural area, in education, particularly as we welcome so many Indian students to Australia in the Higher Education sector and in our VET sector.

The Abbott Government has also announced that we intend to introduce what's called Australia's New Colombo Plan which will be a government backed programme to provide young Australian undergraduates with the opportunity to undertake some of their studies at a university in the region, and while undertaking those studies they'll also have the opportunity for an internship with a business operating in the host country, either an Australian or host country business.

We have a pilot programme to commence this rather grand initiative, because we're talking about thousands of students over time, a pilot in 2014 and we hope that shortly thereafter India will come on board as one of our partners in Australia's New Colombo Plan so that we will see a generation of young Australians going the other way, coming to India, to study in your Higher Education institutions.

We also talked about the water partnership that Australia and India have and it's going to its second phase, there'll be a whole range of issues where we are cooperating extremely well.

Our trilateral arrangement with Indonesia- Australia- borne out of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, will also see us spending a lot of time discussing matters of mutual interest, whether it's maritime security, trade and investment, disaster relief management and the like. So I look forward to a broader, deeper, and more diversified level of engagement with India, and I truly believe that as the Prime Minister makes arrangements to come here early next year we will see even greater cooperation between our two countries, and I am confident that the best days in the Australia-India relationship still lie ahead of us. Thank you.

QUESTION: Good evening to both of you. There is a perception that the civil nuclear negotiations between India and Australia are getting delayed because of Australia's insistence on IAEA+ guarantees which India is reluctant to commit to. So did this issue come up in to the discussions today, and have the two sides been able to agree on any kind of timeframe by when the negotiations will be completed and an agreement signed?

MINISTER BISHOP: I don't see any delay in the negotiations, in fact they are reaching the third round on the 26th of November and I believe that those negotiations are going ahead, I'm sure our negotiators are preparing to be here on the 26th of November, so I don't see any delay at all. There is no specific timeframe because we want to get the agreement right, but I won't go into the details of the negotiations because of course I don't want to pre-empt our negotiators. But I feel sure and I feel confident that we will be able to reach agreement and conclude such an agreement.

As far as Australia's attitude towards selling uranium to India is concerned we have long held the view that our country should be supplying uranium to India and I think that our announcement tonight that we support India's membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group indicates the level of support that we have for India, its record of Non-Proliferation, and its strategic importance.

QUESTION (Stephanie March, ABC): Minister Bishop today Indonesia has recalled its ambassador to Australia following revelations that the Australian Government has been spying on the Indonesian President, his wife and senior ministers. The Indonesian Government has asked for an apology and explanation, China's also asked for an explanation- how concerned are you about the damage done to the relationship and what are you going to do to repair it?

MINISTER BISHOP: I certainly take on board the concerns expressed by the Indonesian government, we note their deep concerns. But as I have indicated on previous occasions it is not the practice of any Australian government to comment on intelligence matters, and I intend to maintain that practice and that principle.

QUESTION (Stephanie March, ABC): This has gone beyond intelligence matters though it's become a massive diplomatic incident. What are you going to do, have you spoke to Marty Natalegawa? I understand he's been trying to call you this evening.

MINISTER BISHOP: I'm not going to give a running commentary on this matter but I can assure you that I'm aware of Minister Natalegawa's concerns, I'm aware of the concerns of the Indonesian Government. I take them seriously, the Prime Minister takes them seriously.

As we've said on other occasions we value the relationship with indonesia and the Abbott Government will work very hard to ensure that that relationship continues to be strong, it's in the interests of both nations I suggest that we continue to cooperate as much as we can across a whole range of areas, and we are determined to ensure the relationship continues to flourish.

We are aware of their concerns and we take them exceedingly seriously but I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters.

QUESTION (Stephanie March, ABC): Minister Khurshid how do you feel about the revelations that Australia's been spying on the leaders of its friendly neighbours? Are you concerned that Australia may also be spying on India's leaders and would you also like an explanation from the Australian Government about these revelations?

MINISTER KHURSHID: We are really looking at a positive relationship, we are looking at signing an agreement on nuclear matters, civil nuclear cooperation- that's not something that happens between nations that don't trust each another.

We have trust, we have a very fulsome working relationship- I do understand that periodically between nations issues arise, sometimes blown out of proportion, sometimes based on some act of an individual, sometimes systemic failures, but these issues arise and it is for nations between themselves bilaterally to settle these issues.

We know each other, Foreign Ministers know each other, just for this, to work together for a better destiny and future for their respective people, and indeed to be able to address anything that happens which may cause an impediment, or a derailment or a slowing down of relationships. So I think that I can say this with confidence that I'm sure that two friendly nations, Indonesia and Australia, if there is an issue between them they will be able to find appropriate solutions and appropriate ways to address them.

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