JOURNALIST Minister we’re drawing towards the end of a week where the Prime Minister wanted to reset and give the Government some momentum. How much of a blow has it been to lose a signature policy like higher ed reform in the Senate?
JULIE BISHOP I believe that we need to continue to talk with the cross-benchers about the benefits of the reforms that we propose for higher education. As a former Education Minister I know how important it is to give our universities the flexibility to provide a high quality educational experience for our students. So I hope that the Minister for Education Christopher Pyne will be able to continue to work with the cross benchers to encourage them to see the bigger picture when it comes to our higher education reforms.
JULIE BISHOP We are faced with a daunting challenge and that is billions of dollars of savings in our budget are being blocked in the Senate. If we want to maintain our Budget, as we do, if we want to continue to repair the Budget so it’s in a sustainable position, we will have to find savings and I make this point – loud and clear, if Labor do not pass our savings reforms in the Senate, including savings that they themselves had identified, then the Government will have no alternative but to look elsewhere for savings.
So if savings are found from my Department I will hang that around the neck of Tanya Plibersek each and every day until the next election because she has a choice – pass the Budget proposals that we took to the Budget and have been arguing for. Otherwise if there are savings from my Department, she, as the shadow foreign minister, will be accountable for them. She will be responsible.
JOURNALIST Hasn’t foreign aid already done its fair share of the heavy lifting?
JULIE BISHOP You are quite right in the last Budget, we capped our foreign aid budget at $5 billion a year. What we have been able to do within that $5 billion has been much more effective, much more efficient, much more targeted and I believe that through our new aid paradigm we will have a sustainable aid budget into the future. My point is this – if there are savings from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade it is because we cannot get our Budget reforms through the Senate. I will blame Labor, I will blame Labor for not being responsible enough to see that they pass the savings in the Senate and they won’t need to look for savings elsewhere.
JOURNALIST What sort of savings are you being asked to make?
JULIE BISHOP I didn’t say I was being asked I’m saying ‘if’ I’m being asked. Every Department is having to look at areas where we can help support the Budget because Labor has refused to pass Budget reforms that will involve savings. Now, they have a choice, they can pass the Budget reforms, or they give us no alternative but to look elsewhere.
JOURNALIST Minister could you clarify? Are you talking about further cuts to your Department generally or foreign aid?
JULIE BISHOP I’m not going into details. That’s a matter for our Expenditure Review Committee. I hope the message is loud and clear. If there are cuts to my Department, if there are cuts to the foreign aid budget it will be Tanya Plibersek, Bill Shorten, Tony Burke, their responsibility. They were Cabinet Ministers in the previous government that left the Budget in a state of utter disrepair. They vandalised the Budget. We had Budget surpluses. We had money in the bank. They trashed the Budget. They must wear the consequences.
JOURNALIST You’re off to Peru next week. We’ve just had the hottest Spring on record I believe. Are you going to start the conversation on Australia’s post 2020 targets? Is the Government prepared to reconsider contribution to the Green Climate Fund, especially after Canada, a like-minded country, has pledged money?
JULIE BISHOP We will most certainly be involved in the conversation about post-2020 targets, that’s what the Lima Conference is all about in the lead up to the Paris Conference next year. What I’ll be particularly interested in is hearing from the major emitters as to their targets and whether they’ll be binding targets. It’s all very well for Australia to be lectured by countries that won’t meet their Kyoto targets and refuse to be committed to binding targets, but we will most certainly be involved in the conversation as to what is do-able, economy-by-economy, country-by-country. That’s why both Andrew Robb and I will be there because this has significant economic impacts, and so both the Trade and Investment Minister and Foreign Minister will be there and that also underscores the importance we place on this Lima Conference because it’s where we expect to get initial indications of where the major emitters in particular will go post-2020.
JOURNALIST There were reports yesterday that an Australian has been arrested in Lebanon [inaudible]?
JULIE BISHOP I understand that the person in Lebanon has now been released. I can get confirmation of that but that was what we heard overnight, that he’d been released. As for the other one I don’t have details at this point. We’re certainly looking into it. This is another point we have to make – if they are in Syria, or in Iraq we have very limited consular access to both of those countries. I know Lebanon of course we have a consular post, but we have very limited access and once people get involved with a terrorist organisation, they are working, living with the ISIL organisation it’s very hard for us to get information.
JULIE BISHOP No I don’t have those details. I was told that he was released but I’ll get back to you if there is more.
JOURNALIST Minister, the UN Environment Program, is it correct that Australia will be reducing its contribution by $4 million over four years?
JULIE BISHOP Yesterday, the shadow minister for foreign affairs put out a press release to alert the media she had found there was a cut to an environmental program - except that I’d announced it 11 months ago. So I’m not suggesting that the shadow minister is not up to the job, I’m just saying she should do her homework.
But what she failed to tell you is that in the last year of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government, Labor cut around $70 million from global environmental programs so I don’t intend to be lectured by Tanya Plibersek or anybody else on cuts to environment programs when Labor itself, in its last year, cut global environmental programs by $70 million.
JOURNALIST Minister can I just ask, Minister, just on Peter Gardner the Chinese [inaudible].
JULIE BISHOP I’m not going to say anything about that for very good reason, for very good reason.
JOURNALIST Why not? Is he facing charges?
JULIE BISHOP Because of the court proceedings that are underway and in the interests of the individuals concerned I don’t intend to make any public comment on it.
JOURNALIST Is he receiving consular support?
JULIE BISHOP Of course.
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