Doorstop interview: PNG Emerging Leaders Dialogue

Subjects: East China Sea; Indonesian Relationship

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

26 November 2013

JULIE BISHOP: We have been concerned about the timing of the announcement by China in relation to the East China Sea and we call on the Chinese Ambassador to seek clarification. Australian has a genuine interest in seeing regional stability and the manner of the announcement, given there was no consultation, causes us some concern.

JOURNALIST: Did you get the clarification?

JULIE BISHOP: I understand the Ambassador took on our concerns and will raise it with Beijing but this is a long standing position in Australia that there be stability and peace in the region and that there be no coercive action or unilateral action that would upset the status quo in relation to the East China Sea.

JOURNALIST: Japan is very concerned about the move, do you share that concern?

JULIE BISHOP: I am concerned by any unilateral action and this was done without any consultation as I understand it and we want to understand China’s intentions and why they did it and why they made the announcement.

JOURNALIST: Why kind of tensions could be raised by that zone?

JULIE BISHOP: Well the tensions already exist, there is a territorial dispute. Australia doesn’t take sides in a territorial dispute but we have an interest, as do other countries in the region, to ensure that stability and peace is maintained in that region. So the timing and manner of this announcement has the potential to increase the tensions over an issue that is already causing concerns.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect this to cause you problem when you visit China later this year, because some of the reports we are hearing early out of Beijing is they were surprised the Ambassador was called in and felt it was a little heavy handed.

JULIE BISHOP: It is not unusual for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to seek clarification. When we say he was called in, he was invited in to talk about the issue and that is not unusual. I hope to travel to China in the next couple of weeks and no doubt it will be a matter that I will raise, it is a matter of discussion in Japan, it is a matter of discussion in China. So I will likewise seek clarification from the officials in Beijing, just as we’ve asked the Chinese Ambassador.

JOURNALIST: Minister, can you give us an update on the Indonesia issue, do you know if SBY has responded to Tony Abbott’s letter, or is responding to Tony Abbott’s letter, and there is some suggestions that Indonesia is also considering stopping Australian beef imports.

JULIE BISHOP: No, I am not aware of any decision to stop beef imports at all, but I do believe that President Yudhoyono has received the letter, but I am not aware of any response to date. We are obviously waiting on that.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] for Peter Leahy to have been met in a shopping centre in Canberra to be handed the letter, reportedly, to take to President Yudhoyono?

JULIE BISHOP: I was not involved in the details, I have been in the United States, I have only just returned back, so I am not aware of the details. I do know that we wanted to send a very senior person to Indonesia to convey our concern over the matter and how seriously we were taking Indonesia’s concerns so I think it is entirely appropriate that a very senior person be trusted with going to Indonesia in this regard.

JOURNALIST: So you were not aware that the Indonesian Trade Minister just said that they are looking at other sources of beef?

JULIE BISHOP: No I am aware of that, but I’m not aware of the suggestion that was put to me.

JOURNALIST: It was not only our beef that the Trade Minister was flagging the possibility of looking elsewhere for all manners of food stuff? What would Australia do about that?

JULIE BISHOP: We will continue to work on the relationship as I have said from the outset, this is a very important relationship for both Indonesia and for Australia. Some time ago, Minister Natalegawa and I went through an audit of all the levels of engagement between Australia and Indonesia and it is extensive, about 22 Australian government departments and agencies are involved with an equivalent number of Indonesian government departments and agencies on about 60 different areas of interests between the two countries. Whether it be education or trade or investment, agriculture, environment, the AFP, there’s a deep level of engagement so we want to ensure we can continue to maintain as much of that level of engagement as possible.

JOURNALIST: But if they suspend the imports, that will be very damaging for Australia and Australian farmers.

JULIE BISHOP: Self-evidently.

JOURNALIST: You said you want to maintain the good relationships, but it is fair to say the relationship has gone back hasn’t it?

JULIE BISHOP: The relationship is under pressure because of these allegations, it is the same with the United States. Countries are under pressure of these extraordinarily damaging leaks by Mr Snowden, so that’s not unexpected. But the fact is we will work very hard to ensure that we can build the relationship with Indonesia. The Abbott Government is determined to work very hard to ensure that the relationship can continue and that’s what we are doing.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it is wrong of the media to publish the leaked documents?

JULIE BISHOP: I am not going to comment on the manner of publication of this matter. The fact is, it is there, we have to deal with it.

JOURNALIST: As Foreign Minister, what is your solution to this spying scandal, what can be the circuit breaker?

JULIE BISHOP: I am not going to go into details, we are obviously working very hard, but behind the scenes I am not going to provide any commentary, I don’t think that would help.

JOURNALIST: Has the only correspondence with Indonesia been the letter that the Prime Minister has sent to SBY or have you spoken to your Indonesian counterpart?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, I said yesterday that I have spoken to Dr Natalegawa.

JOURNALIST: Is the Prime Minister considering an apology?

JULIE BISHOP: That is a matter for the Prime Minister. He has made his position quite clear, he has sent a letter to President Yudhoyono, we are waiting for a response to that letter.

JOURNALIST: What impact is this having on Operation Sovereign Borders?

JULIE BISHOP: I will leave that to Scott Morrison to discuss, obviously we are determined to stop the people smuggling trade and we will continue to use whatever policies and initiatives we are able to, to ensure that the people smuggling trade is dismantled because thousands of people have died at sea as a result of the people smuggling trade and on an humanitarian basis we are going to stop this people smuggling trade as well as the massive cost blow-out to the Australian Budget left by the former Labor Government. These policies were a complete and utter failure and we’re determined to set the matter right.

JOURNALIST: Will that be harder when this relationship with Indonesia is under pressure?

JULIE BISHOP: We will be working very hard to do what we can to dismantle the people smuggling trade.

JOURNALIST: The fact that we have had yet another statement from the Trade Minister, the Indonesian Trade Minister, regarding Australian imports of Australian food, it is yet another sign that there is problems with the relationship?

JULIE BISHOP: That’s self-evident.

JOURNALIST: What can you do about it?

JULIE BISHOP: As I said, again, we are working very hard behind the scenes, we are doing a lot to make sure that the relationship will remain one of our most important priorities. Indonesia is a friend, it is a neighbour, we will be working very hard to maintain the relationship. I am not going to go into detail about the negotiations and discussions, I don’t think that’s helpful. I think quite enough damage has been done as a result of the Snowden leaks, so we are working very hard to ensure that Australia and Indonesia continue to be friends and partners in the whole range of areas that I have just mentioned, about 60 different policy dialogues, agreements about trade issues, education issues, they are all there, they are all in place and we want to ensure that it remains in place.

JOURNALIST: But wouldn’t Australian farmers want to know what you are doing about those statements by the Trade Minister?

JULIE BISHOP: We can ensure Australian farmers and the Australian communities that we are working very hard on this Australia-Indonesian relationship.

- Ends -

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555