JOURNALIST Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, good morning.
JULIE BISHOP Good morning, how are you today?
JOURNALIST I’m well, thank you very much for calling. As you know I’m anxious to get your reaction on Clive Palmer’s comments on Q&A last night when he referred to the Chinese as ‘mongrels’ and ‘bastards’. What did you think?
JULIE BISHOP Well, China is central to Australia’s economic and strategic interests and our Government has successfully expanded engagement with China across the range of Australian interests. So Mr Palmer’s comments are offensive, they are unnecessary and it is unacceptable for a Member of Parliament to make such comments, particularly on a national television program. I think he’s using his position to demean the Chinese people because he’s in a legal dispute with a Chinese company. So I think we should aim to treat all our trading partners – our strategic partners, our neighbours – in fact, all nations with whom we have friendly relations with common courtesy. Australians are not naturally discourteous and I think this choice of language is unacceptable.
JOURNALIST What are the dangers here? How will China react?
JULIE BISHOP Well, China has a right to be offended. It is abusive and unnecessary language, and Mr Palmer is in the middle of a bitter legal dispute with China, with a Chinese company and I don’t think he should use his public position as a Member of Parliament to insult one of our major strategic and trading partners. Hopefully China will ignore it and I really shouldn’t give it any more oxygen either. I think the comments are best ignored. They were completely unnecessary, unacceptable and we should move on.
JOURNALIST Will you make contact with any of the Chinese officials to make those views known?
JULIE BISHOP Yes I will, I will contact the Chinese Embassy to point out that these views are not representative of the Australian Parliament and I don’t believe representative of the Australian people. As I said, Australians are not naturally discourteous. We respect other nations with whom we have friendly relations and China is of course very important to us. It is our largest merchandise trading partner and it is not inevitable that China will always look to us as its supplier of choice. That’s why we are working hard to complete a free trade agreement with China. That’s why we are working hard to engage with China in a range of areas, not just economic but people-to-people links. For example, China is becoming part of our New Colombo Plan where Australian students will have the opportunity under a Government scholarship to live and work and study in China. So it’s a very important relationship to us.
JOURNALIST Yes, but the Chinese understandably have been known to take these sorts of things very seriously. Do you think you can avoid that?
JULIE BISHOP I hope to, I will contact the Embassy and let them know that these were the comments of one Member of Parliament and not representative, I’m confident to say, of the majority of the members of parliament and certainly not the majority of the Australian people. So it isn’t really appropriate for him to use a national television program to vent his bitterness about a legal dispute he’s having with a Chinese company.
JOURNALIST Will you have any contact with Clive Palmer? Maybe he needs to apologise?
JULIE BISHOP That’s a matter for Mr Palmer. He’s a grown-up adult, he’s now a Member of Parliament and that has a significant responsibility attached to it. So I’m sure that he’ll reflect on what he’s said and take appropriate action.
JOURNALIST Do you intend to speak to him or not?
JULIE BISHOP Not on this matter, I intend to speak to the Chinese Embassy about it and explain that it is just one Member of Parliament. I’m sure they’ll put it in the context of the legal dispute that Mr Palmer has with a Chinese company.
JOURNALIST So you are confident that you can avoid any serious damage?
JULIE BISHOP I’ll certainly work hard to avoid it.
JOURNALIST Ok. I’ll just ask you something else quickly by the way – Julian Assange has said that he might be coming out of the Embassy, the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Has the Australian Government been notified of any development there?
JULIE BISHOP I haven’t been notified of any change in Julian Assange’s plans, only what I have read in the media and he’s referring to a change in the British law. I will get a briefing on what that impact, or what the impact is of that change in the British laws on people in Julian Assange’s position. But no, I haven’t been notified by Mr Assange.
JOURNALIST Ok. And what is the Australian Government’s position – we heard a lot from the previous Government on Julian Assange – what’s yours?
JULIE BISHOP Well, we have provided consular assistance to Mr Assange but he hasn’t requested any such assistance for some time, and so our position is to provide an appropriate level of service according to the circumstances that he is in. But that doesn’t extend to intervening in British or Swedish legal processes.
JOURNALIST Thank you for your time. I hear you’re in an airport – you must be thoroughly sick of airports?
JULIE BISHOP Oh, I’m very busy working on behalf of the Australian people but I’ve just landed in Melbourne, so it’s a bit of an overcast day here and the plane took a little while to land but nevertheless, on with the job today.
JOURNALIST Thank you very much for your time.
JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.
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