JULIE BISHOP: I’m here in Washington to attend Secretary Kerry’s Our Oceans Conference. I’ve been invited as an Ocean Champion and I’ll be representing Australia in that role. I’ll be announcing this afternoon that Australia will be joining two US led initiatives on combatting illegal fishing also seeking to end fishing subsidies that distort markets and lead to overfishing.
I have also announced here at the WWF the winners of an Innovation Exchange Global Challenge that we initiated in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We put out a challenge to the world on how to make aquaculture more sustainable but also environmentally sustainable. We had over 220 applications from over 40 countries and we narrowed it down to nine winners that I announced today. This is new creative, innovative thinking to help with economic development as well as environmental sustainability.
I’ve also taken the opportunity to meet with representatives from the Clinton and Trump teams and had broad ranging discussions with them on matters of deep interest to Australia.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us a little bit about those meetings? What areas of policy have you been focusing on during those meetings?
JULIE BISHOP: I’ve certainly focussed on foreign policy and strategic and security issues. So far I’ve met with Bill Burns and Kurt Campbell from the Clinton team and also with Mike Rogers from the Trump team. I’ll be meeting with other representatives in New York next week.
We’re focussed on issues of interest and concern to Australia. I have certainly made it clear that Australia sees our relationship with the United States as economically and strategically vital. The United States is our largest foreign direct investor, our second largest trading partner and is our ally in terms of the ANZUS alliance - these are all vital interests for Australia. I took the opportunity to present to them the importance that we will place on working closely with the new Administration.
JOURNALIST: One of the key areas of policy that’s been talked about a lot here in the United States is obviously the TPP – have you talked about the TPP in those meetings? and, if the candidates which they have both said repeatedly, back out of the deal, is it dead in the water or can be salvaged?
JULIE BISHOP: We certainly did raise the issue of the Trans Pacific Partnership. Twelve nations have committed to this free trade agreement. It’s currently before our Parliament – as it is before the parliaments of a number of the countries. I know that both candidates have said that this particular free trade agreement is not in the US interest. However I believe that President Obama is committed to passing the TPP through the Congress and the Senate and we certainly urged both camps to see this as not only economically important but strategically vital for our region.
JOURNALIST: Presumably you would have gotten a fairly sympathetic hearing from Kurt Campbell on that, given that he was one of the architects on it?
JULIE BISHOP: I had a fairly sympathetic hearing from all of the representatives who see that free trade is the basis of US economic success in many instances, and countries like Australia need to press the case for liberalised trade and I believe the Trans Pacific Partnership is a comprehensive high quality agreement that will be of benefit to the people of the United States in promoting more jobs and economic growth.
JOURNALIST: If the deal did fall over what would be the economic costs to Australia? And would you want to see actors like China for example being brought into deal in place of the US?
JULIE BISHOP: Well invariably, if there is no Trans Pacific Partnership, we will be looking for other free trade agreements and continuing our quest for a free trade zone in this part of the world – in the Asia Pacific.
There is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that is being promoted by the ASEAN countries of South East Asia. But we still want to see the Trans Pacific Partnership passed through the US Congress and we’re certainly urging both the Clinton and the Trump camps to do just that. In the meantime, President Obama has made it clear that he will seek to pass it through the period from the Presidential election to the Inauguration.
JOURNALIST: You’re going to be heading the UN next week. Can you tell us a bit about what you’re hoping to gain from the meetings that you having there?
JULIE BISHOP: This will be my fourth UNGA Leaders Week and I will continue to underscore Australia’s commitment to the rules based international order.
I’ll be attending a number of meeting and forums, making speeches and interventions, on many occasions throughout next week: on the humanitarian issues; on peacekeeping, peace building; on the issues to do with the empowerment of women; all the areas where Australia has been a significant global player and a strong voice.
I’ll also be holding many bilateral meetings with counterpart foreign ministers – particularly with a focus on promoting our campaign to join the Human Rights Council from 2018 to 2020. It is a fantastic opportunity – an unprecedented opportunity - to meet your counterpart foreign ministers in the one place. It’s a very efficient use of a foreign minister’s time.
JOURNALIST: Are you expecting to meet with Kevin Rudd while you’re in New York?
JULIE BISHOP: I haven’t planned to but if Kevin is in New York no doubt I’ll see him but I haven’t planned to.
JOURNALIST: Are you able to say who Australia will be supporting for the UN Secretary General position?
JULIE BISHOP: We haven’t made a decision because there are still a number of opportunities for other candidates to put their names forward. I imagine that over the coming weeks we will see more candidates, not less.
JOURNALIST: In your meetings here Minister is the topic of South China Sea coming up? Are you meeting with defence agencies or their intelligence or anyone like that while you’re in Washington?
JULIE BISHOP: I’m not, but I will be meeting with a whole range of people next week and I’ve no doubt that the South China Sea will be a topic of discussion – not only with Australia but amongst many other groups. The topic of the South China Sea did come up in my conversations with the Trump and the Clinton teams.
JOURNALIST: Is there a concern that between now and the US election before Obama exits office that the Chinese could use that as a window to be more assertive?
JULIE BISHOP: We are certainly urging all parties to exercise restraint, to ensure that tensions are not escalated and that parties negotiate their differences peacefully. That will continue to be our message – as it has been consistently throughout. We are not a claimant state. We don’t take sides. We note the findings of the Philippines arbitration. We believe those findings to be final and binding on both parties and we hope to see China and the Philippines working constructively to resolve their differences as well as all other claimants.
JOURNALIST: How close are we to getting a deal on the pay negotiations between the US and Australia on the marines in Darwin? It’s been dragging on for a long time – a little bit embarrassing for both sides frankly.
JULIE BISHOP: I don’t see it as embarrassing. I think that we have issues to resolve and we’re continuing to negotiate in good faith and I have absolutely no doubt we’ll be resolving it shortly.
JOURNALIST: Have you had any conversations with US officials about the collapse of Tarin Kowt and Urugzan Provence to the Taliban? And if so, what are your feelings on that? It must be a painful setback in some ways – after putting so many resources and so many lives into those two areas.
JULIE BISHOP: We will continue to work in Afghanistan to build the nation’s capacity to maintain its own security and any setback is troubling but we are absolutely committed to ensuring that Afghanistan does not again become a haven for terrorists.
We have been discussing this with our counterparts in the United States but also on my visit to the United Kingdom recently we also talked about our commitment to Afghanistan.
JOURNALIST: Minister, in Geneva this week the United Nations WIPO agency resolved that an investigative report into France Gurry an Australian diplomat would be made public by the 26th September? Does the Australian government support the release of that report?
JULIE BISHOP: I’m taking advice from our Mission in Geneva on this particular issue. We have certainly supported Frances Gurry and I’ll be taking advice on the proposal to make the report public.
JOURNALIST: Australia was not a signatory unlike the US and Germany to push for that report to be made public. People are saying that behind the scenes Australian diplomats in Geneva are actually pushing for that report not to be released publicly.
JULIE BISHOP: Who is saying that? Which people?
JOURNALIST: A number of diplomats and sources in Geneva are telling me that.
JULIE BISHOP: I’m not aware of that.
JOURNALIST: Backed up by the fact that Australia did not sign that letter for the report to be made public. Is that in the interest of transparency?
JULIE BISHOP: I’m taking advice on the circumstances surrounding the request for the report to be made public.
JOURNALIST: Just on Julian Assange – is the Australian government providing any consular assistance to him?
JULIE BISHOP: We have a standing offer to provide consular assistance to Julian Assange and he’s not taken it up. I met with his lawyers in London last year and repeated our offer for consular assistance, as any other Australian citizen is entitled to ask for and receive consular assistance. So the offer stands.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly on domestic politics - George Christensen has come under fire over comments suggesting that Islamists from countries affected by extremism should be banned from migrating to Australia. What’s your response to those remarks? Do you think they’re appropriate?
JULIE BISHOP: I’d have to read his remarks, I hadn’t heard about that. But if it’s as you just put to me then, I wouldn’t agree with it. I believe we should have an open and transparent immigration system and we certainly don’t discriminate but we ensure that all necessary steps in terms of health, security, safety and character tests and checks are carried out. I would think that our immigration system has the integrity and the orderly nature that is required.
JOURNALIST: Are you catching up with Bill Shorten while he’s in town Minister?
JULIE BISHOP: I don’t believe so. I’ll be heading off to the Oceans Conference and I don’t believe that he’s attending the Oceans Conference so it doesn’t sound like our paths will cross.
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