LIAM COCHRANE: First of all, with the budget coming up, can I ask you about the decision to close onshore processing centres but keep the offshore centres like Manus and Nauru open, which are vastly more expensive?
JULIE BISHOP: Well I am not going in to the detail of budget decisions. All will be revealed next week when the budget is handed down. The Government has been absolutely determined to stop the people smuggling trade and stopping boats coming to Australia. That will mean that we will need less spaces in detention centres as we close down the people smuggling trade —that’s what we promised the Australian people we would do, and that’s what we are in the process of achieving.
LIAM COCHRANE: But why go for the more expensive alternative?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, these are matters that Mr Morrison will be revealing during the course of budget week. We’ve made a decision that we took to the Australian people, that we would stop the people smuggling trade. We have been successful in stopping boats—we don’t take that for granted, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. I’m here in Papua New Guinea today and working closely with PNG on the implementation of the Manus Island detention centre activities as well as the resettlement agreement.
LIAM COCHRANE: I understand that the administrative review into the centre is quite close to completion. Can you give some information about how that will be released and when?
JULIE BISHOP: They’ll be matters for Minister Morrison to determine but we did have a briefing today about that and I’m sure it will be released in due course, but the details of that will be a matter for Mr Morrison.
LIAM COCHRANE: One of the other investigations was coming from the Papua New Guinean police force which hasn’t revealed anything, has it? There’s been no report from the PNG police. Are you disappointed about the lack of results there?
JULIE BISHOP: No, I understand that that process is underway as well and that there will be a report released at some point.
LIAM COCHRANE: On to matters outside of Papua New Guinea, if I may—does Australia need a soft diplomacy network?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia has a soft diplomacy network—it’s called our embassies and missions overseas. Here in PNG we have a very large mission in Port Moresby and many of the activities that the mission undertakes are what would be considered soft diplomacy. For example, this afternoon, I will be launching a program as part of our Rugby League in Schools program to ensure that this project becomes part of the PNG national curriculum. We’re using rugby league as a conduit to better educational outcomes. I’m also opening a midwifery course at a private university—the Pacific Adventist University. These are examples of Australian aid, Australian diplomacy, working hand in hand for better outcomes in countries like PNG.
LIAM COCHRANE: Another possible way to engage in soft diplomacy obviously is through broadcasting and the Australia Network in this case. Will the budget be cutting the Australia Network?
JULIE BISHOP: Well there is a contract in place between the Government and the ABC to deliver certain public diplomacy outcomes in the Asia Pacific and that contract was the result of a flawed and botched tender process about which I have been very critical in the past. There’s also the question of whether or not the Australia Network is fulfilling the obligations required under that public diplomacy contract. But of course the ABC is more than entitled, more than capable, of projecting into the region and Radio Australia and the ABC do that now. There is a separate public diplomacy contract and I have said in the past that I had concerns about that. The details of what the Australian Government proposes to do in terms of the budget will be revealed next Tuesday night when the Treasurer hands down the budget.
LIAM COCHRANE: Would removing the geo-block on ABC News 24 effectively make the Australia Network redundant?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, that’s a technical issue for experts to advise upon. I do understand that the ABC has in the past lifted the geo-block, for example they did it during the Western Australian Senate election so that expatriates and people who concern themselves with the outcome of the Western Australian Senate election living in this region were able to follow proceedings on the ABC. So that’s obviously a decision for ABC management.
LIAM COCHRANE: Finally, there’s been a lot of conjecture about why the Prime Minister didn’t travel as planned to Indonesia. Can you shed some light?
JULIE BISHOP: We are in the middle of the budget process. We had budget Cabinet yesterday. We still have a lot more Cabinet meetings to go. This is the Abbott Government’s first budget. It will be a tough budget. There are no easy choices to be made to fix the debt and deficit disaster that Labor left us. We’re in the process of doing a lot of work to try and put our national accounts back in order after those shambolic six years under Labor. The Prime Minister has been closely involved. He rang President Yudhoyono yesterday. They had a very cordial discussion. I’ve had feedback from a number of people in Indonesia that it was a very good conversation and they are planning to meet again shortly.
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and I will be holding a meeting shortly as well—the two plus two—the Foreign Minister and Defence Minister of both countries. We have a very cordial and constructive relationship with Indonesia and I think it’s fair to say that the Prime Minister and the President have a very good relationship.
LIAM COCHRANE: Did the conversation between the Prime Minister and SBY cover the on-water incident that’s been quite widely discussed?
JULIE BISHOP: Well I wasn’t part of the conversation. The report that I’ve had of the conversation is that they covered a number of bilateral issues and it was very positive and very cordial. Australia has made it very clear that we will dismantle the people smuggling trade. We will not be enhancing and encouraging the people smuggling trade so that they take money off those seeking asylum, put them on leaky boats and send them on a very dangerous journey to Australia. It’s estimated that about 1200 people lost their lives, and as a result of the policies that we’re putting in place we’re putting an end to that kind of tragedy.
LIAM COCHRANE: Minister thank you very much for your time.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.
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