Sky News, Canberra - interview with Kieran Gilbert

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

Subjects: Australia's relationship with China, China FTA, Australia's relationship with Indonesia, meeting with Cambodian Foreign Minister

26 February 2014

KIERAN GILBERT:… first of all, China. The Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs last week at the annual Human Rights Dialogue raised concerns about Australia's treatment of asylum seekers. Normally, of course, this was set up for us to raise issues like Tibet. He said we have proposed the question very candidly. We asked if these refugees will be illegally repatriated to other countries. It was quite, well, it was a very blunt way to raise these concerns. What did you make of that, last week?

JULIE BISHOP: This Human Rights Dialogue was set up back under the Howard Government, and the whole point of it was for us to raise issues of concern with China and China to raise issues of concern with us and from time to time, they do. And from time …

KIERAN GILBERT: But it's not done publicly, is it? Normally?

JULIE BISHOP: It is usually …

KIERAN GILBERT: [Talks over] Those updates are not done on a public basis, are they?

JULIE BISHOP: The conversation is behind closed doors but then the topics discussed are made known. So if there were topics about Tibet, if there were issues about Uighers, those topics are made known. And this was apparently raised in the Human Rights Dialogue. I was not there, but we were represented on a bipartisan parliamentary delegation. But China is free to raise those issues on human rights with us; we are free to raise issues with them, we raise our concerns.

But we are convinced that the work we are doing under Operation Sovereign Borders is not only legal, but it is fulfilling an election commitment that we gave to the Australian people in detail. We said what Operation Sovereign Borders would involve. It's designed to stop people getting on boats, paying criminal syndicates, and stopping deaths at sea.

KIERAN GILBERT: But doesn't the comment - the fact that the traditionally, well, very diplomatic Chinese are willing to do that publicly and then another comment I want to put to you - the Commerce Ministry spokesman last week saying that their priority for the year is free trade agreements with Japan and South Korea, no mention of Australia after being very positive about a free trade agreement with Australia late last year, now no mention. A spokesman from a think tank affiliated with the Commerce Ministry was quoted in the Financial Review last week saying: If China was positive on reaching an agreement this year, they would have mentioned it.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I had a very positive discussion with the representatives of the Chinese embassy this week, and they spoke in very positive terms about a free trade agreement with Australia.

KIERAN GILBERT: This year?

JULIE BISHOP: This week.

KIERAN GILBERT: But are you confident it can still be done this year, though?

JULIE BISHOP: The conversation was on Monday.

KIERAN GILBERT: Are you still confident that free trade agreement with Beijing can be secured by September?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, hopefully our Minister for Trade and Investment will have the opportunity to devote his attention to it, because he's currently engaged in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, which is a significant free trade agreement involving at least 12 countries including Japan and the United States, and others. So currently we are pursuing a very, very ambitious free trade agenda. We've just concluded …

KIERAN GILBERT: Sounds like there's doubt over China, then.

JULIE BISHOP: No, not at all. We've concluded one with South Korea. That took a lot of time and effort and resources. We're now in the midst of the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We have Japan negotiations afoot. We have the China negotiations. We have negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council and the European Union.

KIERAN GILBERT: [Interrupting] Is the Prime Minister still going to Beijing in April?

JULIE BISHOP: That's our plan that the Prime Minister will be …

KIERAN GILBERT: [Inaudible].

JULIE BISHOP: visiting China as soon as possible. I don't have details of the schedule, but I know he'll be there in the first half of this year.

KIERAN GILBERT: Let me turn our attention, if we can, to Indonesia. Dr Natalegawa has said the relationship has deteriorated since the Coalition came into office. David Hurley, the Chief of the Defence Force, says we're in a bit of a go slow at the moment. Have you received any return on the initial draft of that code of conduct that you put to Indonesia? Because it seems it still hasn't got past the first hurdle.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, see, let's put this in context. The issues of concern between Australia and Indonesia were inherited by this Government; the live cattle trade ban, which is raised with me constantly; the Snowden allegations - the conduct is alleged to have occurred under the previous government; and the complete resurgence of the people-smuggling trade occurred under the previous government. So we've got these challenges. We're doing our best to work through them. And the Indonesian government recognises that, that these are issues that we inherited and we have to manage them, and that's my job.

KIERAN GILBERT: But has the government - has Indonesia - Dr Natalegawa - responded yet on that first draft? Have you got past the first point of the code of conduct?

JULIE BISHOP: We've … Well, it's not the first. I think it's the third. We sent the draft understanding - it's a memorandum of understanding - and we sent that to the Indonesian government last year. I've spoken to Minister Natalegawa about it on a number of occasions, and we're waiting for it to come back from Indonesia. In the meantime, Indonesia is focusing on its elections. They have domestic elections in April. And so my expectation as to when we would be able to resolve it has to be seen in the context of the attention that will be given to it. In the meantime …

KIERAN GILBERT: [Interrupting] It's a go slow, though, isn't it? As General Hurley said, it's a go slow for now? It's a protest, isn't it?

JULIE BISHOP: No, only in the three areas where they said that they would suspend activities. In the sixty other areas, we are continuing to engage at the deepest possible level. There are at least 60 areas across 22 government departments and agencies on our side and on the Indonesian side who are continuing to work together, to cooperate. It's a very comprehensive, constructive engagement.

KIERAN GILBERT: What do we know about the favourite to win the presidency, Jokowi, the governor of Jakarta? Is he going to be anywhere near as friendly to Australia as SBY? It's a real risk isn't it, for our relations with Indonesia?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, clearly there will be a number of candidates for the presidential election. Some are being touted in the Indonesian newspapers. I'm not going to give a running commentary on domestic political circumstances in Indonesia. But we, as the Australian Government, will seek to work cooperatively and constructively with whomever the people of Indonesia choose as their president.

KIERAN GILBERT: Finally, you requested of Cambodia that they take some group of asylum seekers from Australia. Are you comfortable with that, given the Prime Minister is accused of overseeing a brutal crackdown in Cambodia?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, it's interesting that you should take that as a statement of fact. Indeed …

KIERAN GILBERT: Well the Cambodian Foreign Minister said so.

JULIE BISHOP: Well …

KIERAN GILBERT: I'm just taking his word.

JULIE BISHOP: Did you actually read what the Cambodian Foreign Minister said? He said we had a conversation about Cambodian refugees, in fact, we did not, but the Bali Process was most certainly discussed, and the memoran …

KIERAN GILBERT: But he said that you requested that they take some asylum seekers from Australia.

JULIE BISHOP: No, I think you should read what he actually said. The Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and Cambodia that was signed in 2002 was most certainly discussed, and in fact throughout my visit …

KIERAN GILBERT: So you didn't make that request?

JULIE BISHOP: Throughout my visit in the ASEAN countries of Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia, the issue of the Bali Process and how people can cooperate to stop the people-smuggling trade in that region was discussed extensively. The situation in Manus Island and Nauru was also discussed extensively. And as part of the Bali Process, there's to be regional cooperation. That's what we discussed. Regional cooperation, whether you're a transit country …

KIERAN GILBERT: So then you didn't make that specific request? No?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not going into the specific details of what I said or didn't say, but my point is, we discussed the Bali Process.

KIERAN GILBERT: Foreign Minister, thanks for your time.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you very much.

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