JOURNALIST: …how concerning is that particularly for the 5,000 Australians in that country?
JULIE BISHOP: Well there are 5,000 Australians who are registered in Thailand. I believe that there are probably up to 28,500 Australians at any one time in Thailand and up to 10,000 in Bangkok. So we are gravely concerned by the announcement by the army chief that the military have taken over the functions of government in Thailand, a curfew has been imposed, the constitution has been suspended, local media has also been suspended and only army media is being shown.
We are urging all Australians if they are traveling there or if they are already in Thailand to exercise a high degree of caution, to register their travel plans on the government’s website - www.smartraveller.gov.au - and look out for their personal safety and security. It is a volatile situation, it has been for many months. The military is now in control but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be protests. We hope that people stay away from demonstration sites and protest sites and stay away from large public gatherings.
JOURNALIST: Also the Peter Greste case, over in Egypt, it is described as farcical the showing of some evidence, his lawyer had to leave for emergency reasons. Are you concerned?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes I am very concerned by this case and I’m very disappointed that Peter Greste remains in detention after such a long time. I have made representations as recently as this week to the Egyptian Foreign Minister. We have been constantly in touch with the authorities in Egypt. We are also told by them that the legal system must allowed to proceed, that they don’t appreciate interference in their legal system and of course that is understandable, likewise in Australia we would not expect there to be outside interference in our legal system.
However we are greatly concerned that he is still in detention, we are continuing to make representations to the Egyptian authorities but also to other governments who have closer relationships with Egypt, we have talked to a number of governments and asking them to press our case with the Egyptian authorities and they have assured us that they have done that.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned by the evidence emerging, some sort of suggestions of doctoring, you know, photos?
JULIE BISHOP: Well I don’t want to comment on the details of the case, I don’t think that would help Peter Greste’s situation if I were to comment on the details. My concern is to get him home as soon as possible. It doesn’t reflect well on Egypt’s claim to be returning to democracy when journalists are being detained for, what I can see, doing their job.
JOURNALIST: Just back on the Budget, are you personally disappointed that one of the toughest decisions had to be about foreign aid?
JULIE BISHOP: Well in fact I made a decision going into the last election that we needed to stabilised our foreign aid budget. The previous Labor government made grandiose announcements about increasing the foreign aid budget to meet a particular target of 0.5% of gross national income. But then when no one was watching, they would push the funding out beyond the forward estimates and so this was unsustainable.
What we have done is stabilised the aid budget – it is responsible, it is affordable, it is sustainable. We are working with partner countries to ensure that our aid is well targeted and that performance benchmarks will be put in place so that Australian taxpayers can be reassured that their aid dollar is being used in the most efficient and effective way possible and we have been in consultation with all of the partner counties and regions and they understand the position.
JOURNALIST: Have any specific countries expressed concern to you?
JULIE BISHOP: Well in the case of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea – the two largest recipients of our aid dollar – that money has in fact increased particularly in the case of Papua New Guinea. In the case of Indonesia we are focussing our efforts on education and in PNG it is on health and education.
In the Pacific we have ensured that our dollar is well targeted to lift people out of poverty and try and improve living standards through economic development. So we are focusing on leveraging the private sector who are already involved in a lot of development assistance, we are seeking to empower women and girls because if women can take part in the labour markets and in the economy, then that’s a great opportunity to make an economy sustainable. And we’re also focusing on aid for trade initiatives to give these countries the ability to be economically self-sufficient.
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