JOURNALIST So the reports that this was signed off in Cabinet last night?
JULIE BISHOP There wasn’t a Cabinet meeting last night. What we have done is consider the advantages of signing up to a Memorandum of Understanding which is about negotiating membership. So there are a number of steps in the process and it has been a discussion in Cabinet but no final decision has been made.
JOURNALIST What will Australia’s message to the United States who are concerned about Australia’s involvement in this bank?
JULIE BISHOP We keep the United States informed of our deliberations as we do with other partners and friends. We have been speaking with New Zealand, with the United Kingdom, with Japan and so it is a discussion that is ongoing.
JOURNALIST And Minister since this morning has there been any updates on the plane crash?
JULIE BISHOP No it is now late in the evening in Paris. I am keeping in touch with our Ambassador Stephen Brady. We understand that tomorrow morning the French Interiors Minister will travel to a site – a town called Gap – where they will be setting up some kind of coordination centre. We have permission to send our consular officials to this town. We will be setting up a mobile office. We are assuming that that is where the coordination will take place, it might be another location, but we are certainly in very close contact with French authorities.
But any further information on Australians on board we will of course make available once their privacy considerations have been taken into account. But at this stage we can confirm two Australian citizens – the mother and her adult son from Victoria – but we are making further enquiries as to whether there were any other Australian connections through permanent residents or dual citizens on board that flight.
It was a heartbreaking moment to learn that Australians were on board this flight. Our thoughts, our prayers, our support are with the family and friends of the two Australians and most certainly with all the victims of this terrible tragedy. We are extending our condolences to the governments and people of Germany and Spain – the two nations that appear most affected – and the people of France who are responsible for the thorough investigation that will take place.
JOURNALIST One more question, how was it in Australia’s interest to join up to the Asian Infrastructure Bank?
JULIE BISHOP Well this is a matter of considerable discussion about infrastructure needs more generally. There is a view that our part of the world is in desperate need of more infrastructure. This is in fact the focus of our aid budget - more productivity enhancing infrastructure, so with a number of nations joining up to the AIIB, it is an opportunity for Australia, should we wish to take it, to be a part of this. Of course there are other institutions that provide this kind of support including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and we have traditionally been long and strong supporters of both those institutions.
So this is another opportunity for us to meet infrastructure needs. There are some governance issues, there are a number of questions that we have. Since last October we have been pressing China for more details, for more understanding from the outset. We have been able to gain a lot of information, so it is an ongoing discussion that we are having with China and other potential members of this bank.
But I stress that the next step is to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to be involved in negotiations over the articles of association. So there is quite a way to go before a decision would have to be made to be a founding member of the bank. But we haven’t made the decision yet to join up to the Memorandum of Understanding.
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