JOURNALIST Ms Bishop, Andrew Probyn from The West Australian, thanks very much for your speech and forgive me if I immediately take you off topic. I have learnt on Monday or about Tuesday you have received a letter from the Secretary-General of the Arab League officially protesting George Brandis’ renunciation of the policy. I want to know what your message will be with regards to East Jerusalem to the Arab League and others in the region. And secondly, were you aware of the new policy before it was enunciated by Senator Brandis?
JULIE BISHOP First, there is no new policy. The Government has not changed our policy which is a commitment to a two-state solution where the Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace behind internationally recognised boundaries. That has always been our policy and will remain our policy.
I have replied to the letter I received and you also received and I am meeting with the Arab Ambassadors tomorrow to reaffirm our commitment to the two-state solution. We remain committed to United Nations Resolution 242 which was after the 1967 events. We remain committed to UN Resolution 338 after the 1973 events. And we urge the people of Israel and the Palestinians to come together and urge their leaders to come together to negotiate a just and lasting peace.
That’s what we want for the people of the Middle East, that’s what we want for the people of Israel and those living in the Palestinian Territories. We want to bring them together, define those boundaries and the issues that are at the heart of the final stages of negotiations should be concluded and I don’t intend to make the job of the negotiators any harder. I want to ensure that we can encourage the parties to come together for a just and lasting peace.
JOURNALIST The second part of the question was whether you were aware of the new policy?
JULIE BISHOP No I answered that. My first sentence was there is no change in policy so I can’t be aware of something that doesn’t exist.
JOURNALIST Were you aware of the new enunciation of the old policy then?
JULIE BISHOP I was aware of the reaffirmation of the same policy.
JOURNALIST Brendan Nicholson from The Australian, Ms Bishop. One of the key roles of the Australia Network was to project soft diplomacy into the region. Now that the Government has taken that contract away from the ABC how does it intend to actually fulfil that task?
JULIE BISHOP Thank you for the question Brendan. There were a number of victims of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, not the least being the Australian people, the Australian economy, Julia Gillard’s career, Kevin Rudd’s legacy, also the ABC because through that ongoing dispute between the leaders of the former Labor Government, there was a scandalous tender process involving our public diplomacy contract.
You see, this is an appropriation of funds to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for public diplomacy initiatives and it was put out to tender and in a tender process that drew the criticism of a number of our accountability organisations, it was awarded to whomever Kevin Rudd didn’t want it awarded to. I could not in all conscience continue to provide Australian taxpayers’ money under a tender that – I have to say it – was not meeting the contractual obligations that were required.
So we are taking a new approach to public diplomacy. As a result of the merger between AusAID and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade we now have a significant public diplomacy section. One of our public diplomacy initiatives is the New Colombo Plan - $100 million over five years – sending young Australians and undergraduates out into our region to live and work and study amongst the people of our regions and be ambassadors for our country – I can’t think of a better way of promoting soft-power diplomacy than through our brilliant young Australian undergraduates who are taking part in the New Colombo Plan.
But we are also planning other ways of enhancing Australia’s image and reputation in the region for that is what the public diplomacy contract was all about. And fortunately with advances in technology should the ABC wish to continue its broadcast into the region – and I certainly hope it does – than technology will be on its side. Apparently you just have to lift the geo-block and you can watch AFL football and if that is what people think public diplomacy is all about then you can watch it in the region.
So I think with technological advances and the kind of technological competition that is out there we will see opportunities to continue to promote Australia’s image and reputation in the region. But I still think the most powerful way of doing that is through our people – through people-to-people links – and that’s where our focus will be.
JOURNALIST So there won’t be a broadcast?
JULIE BISHOP Not funded by the taxpayer other than the funding that already goes to the ABC.
JOURNALIST Thanks Ms Bishop, Catherine McGrath from the Australia Network and ABC television. Can I bring your back to aid for a moment, in terms of the recipient countries, what are you asking from them in terms of governance and can you be specific? You have talked before about PNG, can you tell us what you discussed with them, what plans you have for governance there? Also, in terms of the benchmarks, can you be specific on that, what do you expect to be met on the benchmarks, what are the percentages and if they are not met what will be the procedure?
JULIE BISHOP First there are the benchmarks – the document Making Performance Account: Enhancing the Accountability and Effectiveness of Australian aid – and it is all set out in this little book and there is another here and another one here, so there is plenty of information available as to how this will work.
But what we have been doing is consulting with our partner countries and sitting down with them and talking through our expectations of their governments in terms of the implementation of the aid program and these have been very frank and honest discussions that I suggest that we haven’t had in the past.
I have been delighted by the realisation, the acceptance and the enthusiasm of the partner governments to work with us, they don’t want to see Australia aid wasted. They don’t want to see corrupt practices diverting funding away from those who need it most. And they are very willing to work with us, to raise standards, accountability and transparency in governance and they will be tailored to meet each country because no two country is the same. They have different institutions, different challenges, different opportunities. So we are tailoring our expectations country-by-country and I must say there has been an enthusiastic reception to our ideas.
You mentioned Papua New Guinea and I see my very dear friend the High Commissioner from Papua New Guinea Charles Lepani here and Charles knows that on my visits to PNG – and I have had a number from when I was Shadow Minister and again as Foreign Minister – I’ve spoken frankly with the Ministers in PNG. We’ve come up with innovative ideas and ways that we can roll out our program. We’ve aligned our priorities with their priorities and I believe that we will see a new partnership, an economic partnership with PNG, that we have not been able to achieve in the past.
That’s the story with each country that we are working with in an economic partnership and even the language makes a difference – get away from these old stereotypes of “we are the donor, you are the recipient – this is the way we are going to do it”. You work in partnership with them and I am confident that we will get some pretty good results, indeed, I want the best available results for every dollar we spend.
JOURNALIST Hi Ms Bishop, Phil Currie from the Australian Financial Review. A domestic question in your capacity as a senior member of the Abbott Government. It wasn’t that long ago that Prime Minister Abbott was holding up a veiled threat of a double dissolution election. In the last hour the Senate has handed you your first trigger by blocking the repeal of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation for the second time. Given the Coalition’s current standings in the polls, is there any circumstances you can envisage that the double-D threat being carried out or was it the whisky talking – figuratively speaking – at the time?
JULIE BISHOP I won’t adopt your analogy. The Australian people elected us in a resounding outcome last September to fix the budget debt and deficit disaster left by Labor. They didn’t elect us to continue with Labor’s economic policies, they didn’t elect us to continue with Labor’s border protection policies, they didn’t elect us to continue with a carbon tax or a mining tax – they elected us on the platform that we promised and that’s what we are doing. We are getting on with the job of fixing the budget, stopping the boats, repealing the carbon tax and the mining tax and building the infrastructure of the 21st century. My Prime Minister will be proud of me that I got all four in the right order!
Just because you are given a trigger doesn’t mean you have to pull it. I think the Australian people – my judgement – were sick and tired of the instability and the uncertainty that was the hallmark of the last five years of the previous government. For business confidence, for investment confidence and for consumer confidence, we owe it to the Australian people to get on with the job they elected us to do.
JOURNALIST Mark Kenny, Ms Bishop, from the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, thanks for your address. Can I ask you about the UN Security Council – our membership there has about six months to run, there was a lot of controversy associated with Australia’s bid for it, the cost of it and the effort that went into it and so forth – I wonder whether you think it has been worth it? How important has our membership been and I supposed in Security Council-related business – looking at the crisis in Iraq at the moment – what lessons can the west draw from what happened the first time and where we are now and what the international community might now consider to address the Iraq situation?
JULIE BISHOP Whatever controversy there was about us pursuing a seat on the UN Security Council – it wasn’t about pursuing the seat, it was about the manner in which it was done and I alluded to that so subtly today in my address when I talked about the aid budget being used for purposes unrelated to poverty reduction. Buying votes on the UN Security Council is not my idea of an aid program.
But we are there and the Coalition said from the outset that we are determined to serve with distinction on the UN Security Council and I believe that our team in New York has done just that and I pay credit to Ambassador Gary Quinlan and our team of diplomats at the United Nations for the work they have done over the past 15 months or more.
So much of the UN Security Council schedule has been focussed on Syria during our time and I believe that we were able to achieve a great deal as a temporary member of the Security Council in actually bringing the United States and Russia together to agree on a commitment to humanitarian aid into Syria at a time when there was significant tension between the permanent members of the Security Council on Syria. You will recall that the circuit-breaker was an agreement to pursue the chemical weapons in Syria – Australia at that time was able to steer a humanitarian statement through the Security Council and that was no mean feat. But still so much of our work on the Security Council is focussed on Syria and now I expect on Iraq.
But we have also had the opportunity to pursue other ambitions of the Australian Government including in relation to the illicit arms trade, illicit small arms trade. Australia had now ratified the Arms Trade Treaty that we co-authored back in 2006, so in one sense that whole issue has come full circle.
I hope that we will be able to use the remaining few months in a positive way as we have in the past. I hope to be there for the Leaders Week in September and hopefully in between the G20 and every other forum that is on in November, I might get there for our final presidency. There is something quite symbolic about Australia sitting at the chair of the UN Security Council at such a challenging time in geopolitical and strategic circumstances. So of course Australia pulls its weight in the UN, we always have and we always will and next time we seek a seat on the Security Council I can assure you the Australian aid budget remains intact.
JOURNALIST Just to go beyond the Security Council per se to the other aspect of Mark’s question about our history of involvement in the Middle East and the position that we find ourselves in today which is not where one would have assumed we have wanted to be or at least where we wanted the Middle East to be. I think the question was about lessons from that – what lessons do you get from that?
JULIE BISHOP Well I don’t believe that when the Iraqi Government asked the United States to leave in 2011 anyone could have foreseen what was going to occur in Syria and then flow on into Iraq in terms of this terrorist organisation ISIL or ISIS as it is also know. Obviously at that time the Iraqi Government believed that its security forces were in a position to maintain security and stability in Iraq. But the Syria conflict – this sectarian civil war that is going on inside Syria – is having an impact on the region and it has now had a direct impact on Iraq. For this terrorist group is an offshoot of Al Qaeda and as unbelievable as it might seem it is even too extreme for Al Qaeda because it has parted company.
But this idea of a caliphate or some kind of Islamic state across Syria and Iraq is deeply disturbing and Australia will do what it can – as it has in the past – in working with the international community to try and bring some peace to the – in this case – the Sunni and Shi’ite sides that have locked into this disastrous conflict.
We have to provide support to the Iraqi Government – there is a sovereign government in Iraq – we have to provide support to them as their security forces seek to repel this particularly brutal terrorist group. Australia stands ready to provide humanitarian aid to Iraq should a request be forthcoming. Likewise, we stand ready to support the United States should they need our assistance to get diplomatic staff out of Iraq but this will be subject to a request from the Iraqi Government.
JOURNALIST Daniel Hurst from Guardian Australia. Minister, you have been speaking today about improving the overall effectiveness of the aid program. How can the overall effective be improved when it comes at the same time as the pursuit of such large savings from the aid budget overall? And secondly, in relation to aid-for-trade how will you ensure that the benefits that flow from that – those investments – actually flow to the people who are most in need in those countries?
JULIE BISHOP Well you talk about savage cuts – no. There was a trajectory of proposed funding that the Labor Government was never going to deliver. In actual fact in January, we announced a $107 million cut from the actuals of the previous budget and that was spread across areas that are not our priority. So we are not going to embrace Labor’s trajectory of spending – that was never Labor’s intention either – for in the last 15 months of the previous Labor Government they announced and then withdrew $5.7 billion in aid funding. That creates uncertainty and instability and causes real problems for aid organisations.
So we have stabilised the aid budget – and I have been saying this for so long I don’t think anybody in this room would miss it - $5 billion over the next two years and then increasing by CPI thereafter. So we believe in that way with the performance framework that we have put into place we are going to get better value for money and the stability and the certainty surrounding the aid program will benefit the recipients as well as those having the deliver it.
You see we are not going to, for example, raid the emergency fund of $740 million as the previous government did to fill its budget hole in onshore processing under the immigration program. I believe it is scandalous for the government to take money out of our emergency fund - $740 million – the Labor Government made itself the third largest recipient of Australian foreign aid by that little practice and putting it into a budget where they have lost control. So I think the certainty and stability that we are providing will be of great benefit.
You made a point about what we are going to do to ensure that that the private sector development actually provides support to those who need it most. We are taking on the experience of other countries. We’re certainly taking on the experience of DFID in the United Kingdom. We’re realistic about the role of the private sector, but international evidence reinforced the fact that private-sector led growth is the primary driver of poverty reduction. We will ensure, by our incremental process of embracing aid-for-trade initiatives that we do make a difference to the lives of those who need it most.
JOURNALIST How much confidence do you have in the PNG Government given allegations of corruption against Peter O’Neil and his decision to sack the man who brought forward those allegations? Also if I may, if you could give us an update on the Peter Greste case now that the new Egyptian Foreign Minister has come in?
JULIE BISHOP Papua New Guinea is one of our dearest, closest friends. Papua New Guineans are family. Whatever challenging circumstances Papua New Guinea finds itself in, we will embrace them, and work with them, and partner with them to find solutions. The current matters that you raise are matters for the PNG Government. What we can do as their dear friend and partner and neighbour is provide support, provide capacity training, provide all the kinds of assistance that will help PNG embrace good governance, accountability, and transparency in this program. And I think we have a responsibility. PNG is the only nation-state to have been a colony of this country and we have a primary responsibility to support PNG. Under this Government I intend that we continue to do so.
On Peter Greste – thank you for reminding me, we have made the highest representations that we are able on behalf of Peter Greste to the previous interim Egyptian Government, indeed our Prime Minister telephoned the interim President. I have contacted the former Foreign Minister on numerous occasions and had personal discussions with him, making representations on behalf of this journalist whom I believe has just found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have made representations at whatever level we are able. Attorney-General George Brandis rang his counterpart, we have been in touch with the ambassador here, our ambassador in Cairo is constantly in touch with the Egyptian authorities.
Last Monday night there was a change in Foreign Minister and I am making progress in arranging a time to speak to Foreign Minister Shukri hopefully over the weekend. But we got notice of his appointment on late Monday night and immediately on Tuesday we were seeking to arrange a time to speak to him. I understand that there will be a judgement on Monday or early next week, and I hope that we will have Peter Greste home as soon as possible.
JOURNALIST Minister I wanted to ask about PNG and the benchmarks. PNG is our largest aid recipient, yet in a lot of your own speeches you’ve admitted that they haven’t met any of the MDGs. Under the Governments performance benchmarks, do they stand to have their program cut? And you mentioned they’re our close family – we require them for a number of our programs including the Manus Island detention centre, they’re also a very strong bilateral partner. How easy will it be to actually cut aid to family?
JULIE BISHOP In fact our aid to Papua New Guinea increases this year. It’s about $577 million up from about $519 million, so we’re increasing aid, we’re not cutting it. What we’re doing in this new partnership, and I’ve had, as I said, some very frank discussions with my counterpart Minister Rimbink Pato and with their Planning Minister who is responsible for this area, Charles Abel.
We have worked out new ways that we can work together to ensure that Australia aid is spent effectively. We’re focusing on infrastructure projects, we’re focussing on health and education and we’re doing things differently. But I’ve made it clear to the PNG Government, and they agree, that we can’t continue spending billions and billions of dollars in PNG when they won’t meet any of their Millennium Development Goals by 2015, indeed they’re going backwards.
This is one of the reasons that we need a new approach to Australian aid. We cannot keep doing what we’ve always done and then expect a better result, if the evidence isn’t there to support it. So we have to do things differently. And that’s why our relationship with PNG will only be enhanced through this process; because we’re sitting down, talking through, line by line, what we intend to do, with them as partners. We’re not lecturing, we’re not hectoring. They’re our partners, they’re our family, and we’ll work through it with them to get better outcomes for the people of PNG.
JOURNALIST Will the funding for your new projects that you’ve mentioned in your speech, come from the $380 million allocated in the Budget for cross-regional relationships, or another source?
JULIE BISHOP The $380 million for cross-regional allocation is funding that – self-evidently – benefits a number of regions, including some of those in the announcements that I’ve made today. Funding for the Global Development Innovation Venture, funding for the Innovation Hub, and cross-regional allocations also includes the direct aid program, which means funding that we give to our embassies and missions. Most of the Australian Award Scholarships, some health, education and gender programs that are cross-regional, also in the area of disabilities, fisheries and agriculture, the Aid for Trade will be in there as well, and the Global Partnership for Development program. There are also some multilateral funding replenishments that we haven’t yet announced but that will also come out of the $380 million.
JOURNALIST I was wondering whether, in terms of our international relationships; is there, probably, a need for a more specifically defined Australian foreign policy? At the moment we have obviously a lot of mobility from Cabinet members who travel the world which you as Foreign Minister probably would see would’ve been some of your tasks in the past but have been now taken up by more specific Ministers – be that Trade or the Prime Minister himself?
JULIE BISHOP Well there has always been a Trade Minister for as long as I can remember and the last Trade Minister in the Howard Government – I recall Mark Vaile – was very active on the world stage in pursuing Free Trade Agreements. Regrettably there was a lapse of about six years where the Labor Government didn’t have the same enthusiasm for trade agreements as the Coalition and so you are probably used to seeing a Trade Minister who spent more time on Sky news than out and about around the world negotiating Free Trade Agreements.
But we now have a Trade and Investment Minister who is proactive and doing precisely what he was appointed to do and that is attract more investment into Australia and undertake negotiations and conclude more formal Free Trade Agreements to the benefit of our exporters, our businesses, our people – more sources of capital for businesses in Australia – so Andrew Robb is doing an outstanding job, precisely what I would have wanted him to do.
Likewise the Prime Minister, I don’t recall a time when a Prime Minister didn’t travel extensively overseas. We had one that was even named Kevin 747 who did so much travelling. So I think the Prime Minister has focussed his efforts on building relationships in areas that promote our national interest – his first overseas visit was to Jakarta, quite rightly, Indonesia is a very important relationship for us – and on each occasion that he has been overseas for a bilateral relationship he has taken with him a significant Australian business contingent – that’s different taking 700 business people to Shanghai for Australia Week was a huge success and sent a very strong message to China.
So I am delighted that my Prime Minister and the Minister for Trade and Investment are undertaking a level of travel that most certainly promotes our bilateral and multilateral relationships and I can assure you it hasn’t meant that I have spent time twiddling my thumbs, I have had quite a lot of do during a very packed foreign affairs agenda.
If you want a simple straightforward statement about Coalition foreign policy, it is unmistakably to project and protect Australia’s reputation as an open export-orientated successful market economy and an open liberal democracy committed to freedoms, democratic institutions and the rule of law. That is what our foreign policy is designed to do.
JOURNALIST Karen Barlow, ABC news, thank you for your speech Julie Bishop. Well aid be applied to the imminent Cambodia refugee re-settlement deal. If so, what standards would be applied, what would happen if those standards are not met, and overall what would happen when standards are not met with all the aid innovation development projects, will countries be left adrift?
JULIE BISHOP The relationship with Cambodia has not been reduced to a written agreement and so we are still discussing with Cambodia the way in which it wants to contribute to the Bali Process and be a constructive regional partner. Cambodia is a country that has great aspirations for its citizens and from my discussions in my visit there in February they are very keen to grow their economy as other countries in Asia have done and they are determined to become a constructive and productive member of our regional community.
Hence, they are prepared to be part of the regional solution under the Bali Process and accept a number of people seeking refugee status. Now the details of that are still being worked through but I am sure that Cambodia sees this as an opportunity to promote its economic development. We already provide Cambodia about $80 million in aid assistance and that will be applied in accordance with the benchmarks and the framework and the policies that I set out today.
Your next question was about our innovative programs. If they don’t measure up. Well obviously we will manage our funding very carefully, we will analyse our expectations and we will analyse performance and it is not meeting expectations and we can’t see a way that it will then we will stop funding it and we will come up with another way to do it. This is what has been missing in the past, honesty about what we were achieving, and papering over programs that were not achieving.
Someone mentioned the fact that PNG is not going to meet its Millennium Development Goals and that infant mortality rates are increasing, maternal health outcomes are decreasing. Well clearly the aid programs designed to change that were not working. We have got to think differently, innovatively, creatively about how we can make a positive difference to the lives of the people in our region.
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