JULIE BISHOP Good afternoon.  I am very pleased to be here in Afghanistan on Australia Day, our national day. I can think of no more important place for the Australian Foreign Minister to be than here with our military personnel and civilian personnel and having the opportunity to work with representatives of the Afghan Government. I’ve been honoured to meet with President Ghani today. I have met with Chief Executive Officer Dr Abdullah. I’ve met with the acting Foreign Minister, I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of men and women who are focussed on the empowerment of women here in Afghanistan. Most certainly over the last 10 years or more we’ve seen extraordinary gains in opportunities for women, in education in health, in the number of women who are able to participate in society.

I have been here to reaffirm Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan. We have been here for a long time. We are a country that is prepared to see through our responsibilities. We say what we do, we do what we say and we have invested a great deal of time, resources, money, we’ve made sacrifices here and we intend to continue to support the Afghan Government as it seeks to restore peace and security and stability and ultimately prosperity for people of Afghanistan. We do not underestimate the challenges, we understand the threats but we also see the opportunities and I was heartened by the very positive message I received from the Government. The President has a compelling vision for the future of Afghanistan and I was pleased to be able to reaffirm Australia’s support and our commitment to a brighter future for this country.

Any questions?

JOURNALIST Given you have invested so much in the country, is there concern about the delay in the new cabinet, the difficulties over paying the police salaries?  Are you concerned that the economy is at all-time low, confidence is at an all-time low here.  How do feel as a donor?

JULIE BISHOP Of course Australia shares the concerns of other donors but we are committed to Afghanistan’s future and we intend to support Afghanistan as we have in the past. My conversations with President Ghani gave me hope that he has a plan for the future of this country. He is supported by a Chief Executive Officer who is prepared to be part of a functioning national unity government and I went into some detail about the Cabinet process, about the delays and what that would mean. There is acute awareness on the part of the government representatives of what lies ahead but I was reassured by their frank and forthright assessment of those challenges and what they intend to do to address them.

JOURNALIST There is a lot of concern in Afghanistan about the decrease in Australian aid. That it’s going to jeopardise some of the gains that have been achieved in the past 13 years, especially when it comes to women’s rights. Are these some concerns that you’ve met in your meetings today?

JULIE BISHOP Over the last 10 years, or since 2001, Australia has contributed around a billion dollars in aid. We have also committed $300 million for the security forces between 2015 and 2017. We’re currently going through the process of determining our aid budget for 2015 and beyond.

I am acutely conscious of the needs here and I will ensure that the progress that we’ve made and the gains that we’ve made through programs to empower women will not be lost through the Australian aid program. We are a significant aid donor in anyone’s language. We are in the top 10 in the OECD donors and we will continue to be so. I’m aware of our commitments in Afghanistan and I’m aware of the gains we’ve made and I don’t intend for that to be lost.

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