Doorstop interview, Smartraveller launch, Sydney

Subjects: Consular support, China, Indonesia and Aung San Suu Kyi

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

28 November 2013

JULIE BISHOP: ...just into consular support more generally because the number of Australians travelling overseas has increased, and we have to ensure that we have the resources to match that. And also people's expectations have changed over time but there are a number of areas where we want to ensure the service is appropriate, the resources are there, and we want feedback from the public about their experiences, good, bad, positive, negative. We want to hear from people so that we can provide the services in the most efficient and cost effective way.

QUESTION: One of the criticisms that you sometimes do hear is that the Smartraveller website isn't that easy to navigate, and that some people don't want to use it because of other reasons, such as that they think that it's going to be used for other purposes, or the Government is going to try and use it for other purposes. Can you, how do you encourage people to use the website?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I can ensure people that the Smartraveller website is used for travel purposes. Registering on it is merely to inform the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of your presence overseas, that's very important. When you think of some of the natural disasters that have occurred in our region in recent times, let alone elsewhere, having your travel plans registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is absolutely essential.

But we don't use it for any other purpose, and I understand it's quite simple to use. Believe me; if I can use it, I think it should be quite simple for most people. But if they do have trouble accessing it, please just give the Department a call and we'll assist.

QUESTION: Minister, there's been suggestions from China that the United States applied some sort of pressure in order for you to make those comments about China's new Air Defence Zone. How do you respond?

JULIE BISHOP: No, this is long-standing Australian policy to oppose any unilateral or coercive action by any country that could add to the tensions that currently exist in the East China Sea, so I'm following long-standing Australian policy in raising our concerns over action taken by China to announce an air defence identification zone without warning, without notice, without consultation. And I think we were right to raise our concerns. We called in the Chinese Ambassador to Australia to ask him to clarify the situation and to explain the timing and manner of the announcement.

QUESTION: Are you surprised by the amount of criticism that is being levelled towards Australia? We've had Indonesia, now China, and also East Timor. Is Australia being currently used as a whipping boy when it comes to foreign affairs issues?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, they are all three different circumstances so, case by case. In the instance of China, this is long-standing Australian policy to be concerned and to oppose any action that would escalate tensions in a disputed territorial zone and we have a key stake, a key interest, in ensuring that there is peace and stability in the East China Sea, in our region.

In relation to Indonesia, these matters have been well canvassed and I'm delighted that President Yudhoyono responded so positively to Prime Minister Abbott's letter, and we're working through those issues and I hope that the relationship will be further enhanced in years to come. It's a very important relationship for both Australia and Indonesia and I'm looking forward to a positive outcome.

In relation to the allegations involving Timor-Leste, they are in fact subject to international court proceedings and I wouldn't want to say anything that would jeopardise those proceedings in any way.

QUESTION: When it comes to Indonesia, there are some suggestions that you and Marty Natalegawa may be considered as the special envoys to try and work through problems with the relationship. Can you elaborate on that?

JULIE BISHOP: These details haven't been worked out yet. It's in the early days. We received President Yudhoyono's letter and we're working through with the Indonesian Government on how we can best advance the matter. But we're doing it in a spirit of cooperation, it is a positive step forward and we're looking forward to normalising relations with Indonesia as soon as possible. As I said, the relationship is vitally important for both sides. Indonesia and Australia cooperate on many levels in many different areas and we want that to continue.

QUESTION: Is it true that a senior Australian diplomat was called before China's Foreign Ministry yesterday over the East China Sea issue? And how does this affect the Australia-China relationship?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I understand that our Deputy Ambassador was asked to explain my comments, and also the fact that the Chinese Ambassador had been called in to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia to clarify. So it's part of the ongoing discussion about our concerns over this issue. We are not the only country to have raised concerns, we join with other countries in raising our concerns, and we have to ensure that peace and stability is paramount in our region. There are significant interests at stake, and Australia has key interests in ensuring peace and stability in the region, and we would raise concerns if any other country had done something similarly.

QUESTION: Would it not be in Australia's interests to take a more neutral position?

JULIE BISHOP: We don't take sides on the territorial dispute, we've never taken sides in relation to the competing claims. Our concern relates to any unilateral action or, indeed, any coercive action that could escalate tensions and run the risk of a miscalculation that would be deeply concerning. So Australia has appropriately raised its concerns privately with the Ambassador, and I've raised it publicly, to assure the Australian people that the Australian Government is continuing this policy of being opposed to unilateral action that could increase the tensions in this disputed territorial zone.

QUESTION: Are you worried that this will overshadow your upcoming trip to China?

JULIE BISHOP: No, I expect this to be a matter of discussion but we have raised this issue before, and I've had discussions with the Chinese Government previously about this matter. So we will continue to raise our concerns whichever side of the dispute, or whichever country takes any unilateral action that could possibly increase the tensions.

QUESTION: Is this dispute with China, though - do you think this is going to be a setback for Australia given that Tony Abbott has said that he's trying to negotiate a free trade deal within the space of a year?

JULIE BISHOP: This is an ongoing issue and there has been an occasion for us to ask the Ambassador to clarify the situation. The Chinese Government have responded, but our overall relationship continues. China is our major trading partner, we have a very deep and longstanding engagement with China, but it is appropriate that each side be able to raise concerns with each other and we do it in a way that hopefully will receive appropriate consideration, and that there will be a productive outcome. But it is entirely appropriate for Australia to raise concerns whichever country acted in this way, and as there had been no notice or no consultation it was the question of the timing and manner of the announcement that had raised our concerns.

QUESTION: And what will this mean for, say, Australian airlines that are flying into China, will they be confined by regulations requiring them to notify Chinese authorities of their flight plans?

JULIE BISHOP: This will be a matter for Australian airlines to take appropriate advice.

QUESTION: Would Australia consider a code of ethics with Indonesia when it comes to dealing on intelligence matters?

JULIE BISHOP: These are early days in our discussions, and I expect that that's the sort of matter that will be negotiated over coming days.

Thank you.

- Ends -

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