KIERAN GILBERT I’ll start with that news this morning - the passing of Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore.
JULIE BISHOP Very sad news and I certainly extend my sympathies to his family, including the current Prime Minister of Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew was a towering figure, not only in Singapore, but in our region and globally and he will be missed. He had a profound influence over Singapore’s development, quite an extraordinary tale, the development of Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew was responsible for so much of that and he certainly will be sorely missed. I know he had been ill for some time but nevertheless the passing of a giant like Lee Kuan Yew is the end of an era.
KIERAN GILBERT And to other news, and you obviously visited Vanuatu at the weekend as we have been reporting this morning, what did you find? Are the locals being able to recover?
JULIE BISHOP It was a devastating scene. This was clearly a massive cyclone and Vanuatu was right in the eye of that cyclone and the devastation was quite widespread - roofs off buildings, houses flattened, schools that were also flattened, government buildings, roads. But the people are very resilient, they were out cleaning up their yards, cleaning up the roads, getting on with the recovery of it which will be extensive. I was delighted to see so many Australian support personnel there, civilians and defence force personnel – probably about 600 will be there today when HMAS Tobruk arrives and so there is a massive clean-up effort and then of course the long term recovery will be the challenge.
KIERAN GILBERT Will Australia provide everything that is necessary to ensure that that recovery is successful?
JULIE BISHOP We are working with a number of international partners, the United Nations is convening a meeting on Wednesday, other international partners including New Zealand, France, Britain, PNG will be there and we’ll work out how we can assist the Government of Vanuatu in that longer term recovery. Its two main economic areas are agriculture and tourism and they are areas where Australia can assist.
KIERAN GILBERT You are going to be announcing something more broadly in terms of aid today – an innovationXchange – can you explain to us exactly what this is about? It seems that the core of it is basically to spend our aid money more effectively.
JULIE BISHOP Exactly. What we are seeking to do is get the best and brightest minds internationally and across government to come together to solve some of the intractable aid problems that occur in our region. In the past people tend to continue to spend money, whether or not they are getting the right outcomes. What we want to do is take a number of specific projects, really difficult aid challenges, and using the creative thinkers that I’ve got on an International Advisory Group, come up with some solutions so that we do spend our aid dollar in the most effective and efficient and creative way. We need to think outside the box.
KIERAN GILBERT So these thinkers, are they from government, public service or business? Or where are they from?
JULIE BISHOP Michael Bloomberg - the former Mayor of New York is on our advisory committee, Ryan Stokes - one of the CEOs of Channel 7. We have Bjorn Lomborg who is an economist experienced in the delivery of aid, we have the Director-General of the PNG Museum Andrew Moutu, so people from all over the world who are keen to ensure that the aid dollar spent in the Pacific, in our region is effectively done. So it is a very exciting new way of approaching development assistance and I’m looking forward to Australia really coming up with some breakthrough ideas that will assist people who need help.
KIERAN GILBERT Bjorn Lomborg though, he is a climate policy sceptic, he is criticised by some in the Australian political discourse, including the Labor Party, questioning why he is involved in this today. What do you say in response to that?
JULIE BISHOP He is a highly experienced, renowned economist with extraordinary experience in the delivery of aid. If Labor is worried about his climate change views well then they should be delighted that Michael Bloomberg is also on the Committee and Michael Bloomberg was appointed by the UN, Ban Ki Moon, as a climate change expert. So we are looking for a whole range of ideas, not this sort of ‘Stalinist groupthink’ that the Labor Party believes should be dictating public policy. We want there to be an exchange of view and ideas and challenge the status quo, come up with innovative, creative thinking and that is why you have some of the brightest minds on this advisory group who will be helping us with these challenges in our aid program.
KIERAN GILBERT You would be encouraged by the data suggesting Australia is going to meet our five per cent target in reductions by 2020 on emissions reductions. Is it time now for Australia to be more ambitious, to set the next range of targets? Given the US and China have led the way and leading into the Paris Summit.
JULIE BISHOP Well we are pleased that the indications are that we will meet our target, as we said we would, through our Direct Action program and now we can look at what we will do post-2020. We have a committee, a whole-of-government group set up to consider what would be responsible and reasonable and achievable and we will be announcing our position in the middle of this year, as other countries are doing as well.
KIERAN GILBERT In the middle – June/July is that what we’re thinking?
JULIE BISHOP After the Budget, that’s right, in the lead up to the Paris Summit but we will do what is reasonably achievable, that doesn’t damage the Australian economy and we will make our contribution to global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
KIERAN GILBERT Minister thanks for your time.
JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.
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