MINISTER BISHOP Ladies and Gentlemen, I am meeting today with Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister, the Honourable Samaraweera and we are talking about bilateral and regional issues affecting both Sri Lanka and Australia. We have this morning launched the first of the Asian Sports Partnerships, a program under the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which will see Australia providing development opportunities for countries in our region through sport. We will also discuss a range of other matters of interest to both countries and this is Foreign Minister Samaraweera's first official visit to Australia and I'm pleased that we could meet here at Kirribilli House in Sydney. So are there any other questions?
JOURNALIST Ms Bishop, as the field for the UN Secretary-General job becomes clearer, does the Government have an understanding of Kevin Rudd's intentions to run?
MINISTER BISHOP The full list of candidates is not yet known. In fact last week when I was in Washington there were indications that there were a number of potential candidates whose names are yet to be put forward. So until the UN holds its first round of presentations, I believe on 14 April, we won't know who the candidates are. So when we see a full list of the candidates, the Prime Minister and I will make a recommendation to the Cabinet and then Cabinet will consider whether Australia will support any particular candidate or nominate a candidate but Cabinet will make that decision. As for the intentions of candidates, until their names are known and announced it's just speculation.
JOURNALIST Do you thing think Mr Rudd has some of the qualities needed for the job?
MINSITER BISHOP Most certainly the UN Secretary-General's job requires a deep understanding of international affairs. It requires great administrative skills. I think the range of issues that Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has been involved in indicates the breadth and the depth of the experience and the background required.
JOURNALIST Has the Government had any discussions about whether or not they would support Kevin Rudd's bid for that position?
MINISTER BISHOP There hasn't been a discussion in Cabinet, no there hasn't.
JOURNALIST On bilateral talks, is asylum seekers likely to be brought up?
MINISTER BISHOP I will certainly thank the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister and his government for the assistance that they have given Australia in dismantling the people smuggling trade. In previous years, under the Labor Government, literally hundreds of boats left Sri Lanka, and that part of the world, heading for Australia via the people smuggling trade. Through close cooperation and collaboration with Sri Lanka, we have managed to stop the flow of boats. The civil war in Sri Lanka is over. We are working closely with the Sri Lankan Government to support their aims of reconciliation and restoring peace to the beautiful island of Sri Lanka. So we've worked very closely together on the matter of people smuggling so that will be a topic of discussion.
JOURNALIST Ms Bishop, how much detail are we expecting to hear about the future submarines project ahead of the election?
MINSITER BISHOP That is a completely separate process. There's a competitive evaluation process underway. It's being done according to the documentation that was provided, the process is underway and so it doesn't have any bearing on the Australian federal election. The submarine process will continue and I expect that we will be able to nominate an international partner sometime this year but the timing of the election of course is not yet known and so the competitive evaluation process will continue to proceed.
JOURNALIST With this new minister are you going to bring up alleged human rights violations during the civil war?
MINISTER BISHOP We most certainly support Sri Lanka's co-sponsorship of the UN resolution in relation to human rights in Sri Lanka and we work closely with the Sri Lankan Government in ensuring that the conflict is not only over but the peace in Sri Lanka is continuing to be built so that all Sri Lankans can live in peace and harmony and hopefully increasing prosperity. And that's another issue that we'll discuss – increasing trade and economic ties between Australia and Sri Lanka. It's currently quite low, there's a lot of potential for it to increase and the people-to-people ties with Sri Lanka are also important. So we have consistently raised issues of human rights with the Sri Lankan Government and we're very pleased to see the progress that has been made towards full reconciliation.
JOURNALIST Ms Bishop, just back on to the submarines. Will the Government be hoping to accelerate the competitive evaluation process to be in line with the election date?
MINSITER BISHOP The competitive evaluation process is separate from the political process. It has nothing to do with the electoral process and so the competitive evaluation process will continue. The technical experts will take the time they need to come up with a recommendation to the Australian Government so their timing is not dependent one way or another on the election.
JOURNALIST Is there any specific trade ideas or anything that have come out of the - that the two governments are working towards?
MINISTER BISHOP We're about to have our bilateral meeting. I'm looking forward to sitting down with the Foreign Minister and discussing a whole range of issues including the sporting program that we've announced today, but we are looking to increase our trade and investment ties. There are a number of Australian businesses already working in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has a significant demand for more infrastructure, particularly in the north which was the scene of so much of the conflict in the civil war that raged there for about 30 years. So there are a lot of opportunities for Australian businesses, particularly in the infrastructure field, to be involved in Sri Lanka and we'll discuss some of those prospects today.
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