SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Maybe if we could start then just briefly with the purpose of your visit? It’s going to have a bit of an education focus, focus on women…?
JULIE BISHOP: This is my second visit to Myanmar. The first was 19 years ago, and now I am coming back as Foreign Minister. This is the 40th year of relations between Australia and ASEAN countries and Myanmar is the host to a number of events this year, and so it is appropriate that I should visit Myanmar. Also, although we’ve had diplomatic relations continuously since 1952, our contemporary relationship, which began in earnest in 2011, has very much been focused on helping Myanmar build peace and prosperity. And so I will be visiting a number of areas, going to Nay Pyi Taw to meet political leaders, and also making a few announcements about our support in the area of education. We are also focusing much of our aid effort on economic development here. There are great opportunities for trade and investment in Myanmar.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Still I guess Myanmar is moving towards democracy but has a long way to go, and a number of very serious human rights concerns still exist here. Of course, in Rakhine state there are very concerning stories coming out of the camps there. Will you raise concerns about the treatment of, particularly, the Rohingya Muslims while you are here?
JULIE BISHOP: In fact I am meeting with representatives of the Rakhine state and also representatives of the Rohingya community. So I will hear firsthand from them. And of course I will continue to press for a path to democracy that is inclusive, that respects human rights and that empowers the entire community. That will be the strength of Myanmar for generations to come.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: So can Myanmar really move towards democracy when these human rights abuses are still continuing?
JULIE BISHOP: Most certainly with the support of countries like Australia to ensure that as Myanmar embraces democracy it embraces the freedoms, the inclusivity of the democratic institutions that comes with being a true democracy. And we are providing support for the peace process. We are providing support for Myanmar in a number of ways to enhance its ability to become a fully engaged, peaceful, prosperous member of our region.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: You will raise this issue directly with Thein Sein, with the President?
JULIE BISHOP: I am meeting with a number of political leaders, not only President Thein Sein, but also with the Speaker, with the Foreign Minister. I am meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi and a number of the Government ministers and I will raise concerns about ethnic communities, my concerns about ensuring that Myanmar embraces an inclusive democracy as it goes down the path of constitutional reform and political reform.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: There have been some suggestions. Sorry just two brief ones. Some suggestions that the arms embargo might be lifted sometime soon…
JULIE BISHOP: That’s not a matter that I will be discussing on this visit. But Australia was among the first nations to lift sanctions with our embrace of Myanmar since 2011, although, as I said, we have had diplomatic relations continuously since 1952. But a significant focus of my visit will be on educational opportunities. In fact Burma was one of the original contributors to the original Colombo Plan back in the 1950s, so I will be discussing opportunities for Myanmar to be part of the New Colombo Plan from 2015. So these are the kind of positive matters that I will be discussing with the political leadership here.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Just domestically, as a senior and well regarded lawyer, what do think of the possibility that your government could send asylum seekers back to the places that they have fled from?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia will always abide by our international obligations and our focus in stopping the boats is to ensure people do not take dangerous journeys at sea. Under Labor’s watch we saw about 1200 men, women and children die at sea, drown in un-seaworthy boats coming to Australia. We must stop that, but of course Australia abides by its international obligations.
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