DAVID SPEERS Julie Bishop, thank you for your time this afternoon.
You’ve opened a conference there in Auckland looking at how the region should and does respond to natural disaster events in the Pacific. Are you also discussing whether climate change in particular is causal or contributing to the impact and the intensity of some of these natural disasters?
JULIE BISHOP Good afternoon David.
Yes we are. I’m here in Auckland at the Pacific Regional consultations which are part of a World Humanitarian Summit dialogue that will take place in Turkey next year. The Pacific is an area of particular interest when it comes to disaster risk management, preparedness for natural disasters because four of the top 10 countries in the world that are at the greatest risk of natural disasters are here in the Pacific. Vanuatu is number one, then there is Tonga and Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea all in the top 10. So what happens in the Pacific and how we respond to natural disasters here will be information that we can feed in to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.
Of course, the issue of climate change is on the agenda, but the focus has mainly been on what we have done in response to particular natural disasters in recent times, including Vanuatu which is quite a case study.
Australia has committed about $50 million in recovery efforts and in rebuilding Vanuatu. There is a significant emphasis on preparedness because if you are prepared, that can save lives and protect economies.
I’ve announced today more funding, $2 million, for what I’m calling a Humanitarian Innovation Challenge – asking the delegates here to come up with the very best ideas, the most effective and efficient ways to deal with natural disasters and we will trial these ideas, scale them up and take them to the World Humanitarian Summit next year because the Pacific has a voice and should be heard on this topic.
DAVID SPEERS Have any of the recent foreign aid cuts from Australia impacted on these sorts of programs?
JULIE BISHOP We have protected the Pacific, we have made the Pacific our primary focus in terms of our aid program. It is our neighbourhood, it is our region. Australia takes primary responsibility for supporting the Pacific. So we’ve been discussing ways that our aid dollar can go further. I’ve been discussing our more innovative and creative ways of dealing with some of the more intractable aid problems.
But overall Australia’s efforts in disaster management relief, the preparedness we’ve done, the prepositioning of supplies, the fact that we’ve funded things like SMS early warnings systems have all been deeply appreciated here and we are discussing ways that we are continuing to support our friends and partners in the Pacific because this is such a high risk region in terms of natural disasters.
DAVID SPEERS Let me just go back to climate change, a lot of the tiny Pacific nations obviously want the world to do more. What has your message been to them about where Australia is going to go post-2020? You and Greg Hunt, as I understand it, in the coming weeks are going to take a position to Cabinet on this. What is your message about where Australia is going to go?
JULIE BISHOP My message is a very positive one. Australia will meet our 2020 targets. I’ve been informed here that there are about 100 countries that apparently didn’t even have a target for 2020. Australia had a target and we will meet that target. So that is positive news.
I’ve also explained that we are looking to take our post-2020 targets to the Paris meeting at the end of this year, the COP21 meeting as its been called, that there will be a discussion within our Cabinet, that we’ve had very broad consultations with business, with industry and NGOs and individuals. Greg Hunt and I have held a number of roundtables in capital cities around Australia so we can get feedback to ensure that our targets post-2020 are economically responsible, are proportionate to Australia’s contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and will also be achievable.
What we are looking for is a commitment from all countries, from competitor economies, from everybody to say how they will go about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and Australia will take a responsible position, and that is well received here.
DAVID SPEERS Just one technical question on this, your view on whether the target should be binding or not, or whether China in particular should also be bound to a particular target to reduce emissions?
JULIE BISHOP I think we have to be realistic about what can be achieved. I would like to see all countries sign up to an agreement, to a framework. There will of course be binding aspects to it. It will be binding upon countries to have a target. It will be binding on countries to publish them. It will be binding on countries to do a whole range of things but whether or not those countries would be in breach of international law should they not meet those targets is obviously a question for discussion in Paris.
We have to take a pragmatic approach, we have to be realistic but Australia will certainly do its share in coming up with a target that we believe is achievable, just as we did with the 2020 targets that we will meet. Now there are some countries that put forward targets and won’t meet them. Many countries didn’t even put forward a target. Australia put forward a target and will meet it.
DAVID SPEERS Just a few other issues, all eyes are on Greece at the moment as to whether they are going to default or not. I’m just interested what you think as Foreign Minister about the Greek Prime Minister’s decision to put the latest bail-out proposal to a referendum rather than make a Government decision on this himself. Do we need to have a referendum in Greece on this?
JULIE BISHOP Well clearly that will be a matter for Greece. I do know that European leaders and European Finance Ministers are working around the clock to ensure that Greece remains in the EU, remains in the Eurozone. There have been a number of deadlines come and go. I believe that there was a debt due today that Greece was not able to pay. There are a series of deadlines coming up and clearly it’s a very challenging position.
What Australia wants to see is the European leaders, the Eurozone Finance Ministers and Greece come up with a solution that maintains stability in Greece. It is an important economy. It is an important part of the EU and of course Australia is a partner with the EU in trade, in commerce and in investment so it would have an impact on Australia were Greece to default and were there an impact on the EU.
My focus has been very much on Australians who are currently travelling or visiting Greece from a consular point of view. I know that the retail banks in Greece have been closed and they are going to be closed until after the proposed referendum so I do suggest to Australians that they have alternate forms of money – credit cards, debit cards, cash because there could be some circumstances where money and payment systems run short or are going to be under a great deal of pressure. So I do urge Australians who are in Greece at present to log on to the Smartraveller website and maintain their focus on the travel advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
DAVID SPEERS Let me ask you about Indonesia, we had Marty Natalegawa on the program yesterday, a former Foreign Minister. He says we are at a key juncture in the relationship not much or any communication going on. What is your response to that? Do you talk much at the moment to your counterpart Retno Marsudi?
JULIE BISHOP I’m in constant contact with my counterpart Retno Marsudi. We text, as I used to text with Marty Natalegawa when he was the Foreign Minister, so our practices have continued on.
Of course there are difficulties and tensions. We had the situation with the execution of Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran which was an issue that we differed upon. Australia opposes the death penalty at home and abroad. Indonesia proceeded with carrying out an execution of two Australian citizens so of course there are tensions. There have been tensions last year, indeed the banning of live cattle exports to Indonesia still rankles in Indonesian circles. But our relationship is much broader and deeper than that. I remember when Marty Natalegawa was Foreign Minsiter we did…
DAVID SPEERS [Interrupting] what about the [inaudible]
JULIE BISHOP I was just going to say Marty and I did actually...
DAVID SPEERS [Interrupting] do you accept that boat turn backs [inaudible]
JULIE BISHOP Well let me put it this way – Indonesia is a victim of the people smuggling trade and when Australia is able to send a message to the people smugglers that we will not accept their business model, we will not take into Australia people who have paid criminal networks to get to Australia then Indonesia also benefits because there is a reduction in the number of people registering as asylum seekers with UNHCR in Indonesia.
It’s not often acknowledged but Australia is the largest contributor to the International Organisation of Migration in Indonesia. That means that Australia is paying at least half of the costs of those who are claiming the services that the IOM provide within Indonesia. So the fewer people there are in Indonesia claiming asylum the less burden there is on Indonesian society and on the Indonesian Government. So there are benefits for both Australia and Indonesia for us to maintain our sovereignty.
And the message I keep giving is that we want to work with Indonesia to stop Indonesian boats with Indonesian crews leaving Indonesian shores, and the level of cooperation between Australia and Indonesia on people smuggling, on human trafficking, on drug trafficking, on counter terrorism is at an all-time high. We are working very closely, particularly on counter terrorism and countering violent extremism. Indonesia is a very good friend of Australia in this regard and will continue to cooperate and collaborate across many diverse areas of endeavour.
DAVID SPEERS Alright, a final issue, same-sex marriage, it’s now legal in all states in the United States, in Ireland, the UK, France, were you are in New Zealand as well. What is your view on marriage equality?
JULIE BISHOP I believe that Australia should make its own way on this issue. Of course the fact that there has been change in other countries influences the way people think in this country. But as far as our legislative process is concerned, because it would require a change to the Marriage Act, our focus in this last term has been on passing the Budget, it after all is the Parliamentary Budget session and so we’ve been focussed on passing the Budget. When we return there will be a legislative priority of matters that have to be addressed. Whether the issue of changes to the Marriage Act becomes a priority will be a matter for our Party Room and in the normal course I would discuss this issue with my Party Room, with my colleagues before I spoke publicly to the media about it.
DAVID SPEERS Alright, plenty of your colleagues you know have taken a position one way or another, most of them. You’re not going to do that until it’s within the confines of the Party Room itself?
JULIE BISHOP I think that that is the appropriate course. Other colleagues have particular views on this. I want to discuss it with my colleagues first. It is a matter for the Party Room as to whether or not it becomes an issue for the Abbott Government to take to the Parliament and in the normal course there would be discussion in our Party Room and that’s where I intend to have my discussion - with my colleagues in the Party Room before a decision is taken.
DAVID SPEERS Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, appreciate your time, thank for joining us this afternoon.
JULIE BISHOP It’s been my pleasure David. Thank you.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555