JOURNALIST: Do you know how much all this bailing out, consular assistance, costs us every year and are there any plans to make some of these people pay for any of it?
JULIE BISHOP: There is a considerable cost to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Budget. We of course reserve the right to seek to recover costs but overall the Australian Government does foot the bill for our consular support. It’s at a very high level compared with some other countries in particular.
Our consular officials are very professional but it does come at a cost. That’s why our message today is Australians need to take responsibility for their actions overseas. They can do that by taking out travel insurance and checking that they’ve got the right cover for the activities and the trip they’re undertaking, and secondly to look at the Australian Government travel advice on Smartraveller so that they are aware of local circumstances or conditions that might impact on their travel.
But yes, it does come at a considerable cost but we have to get the message out that the Australian Government cannot pick up your hotel bills or your hospital bills, you’ve got to take out travel insurance.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Crown case, what are the lessons here for Australian companies operating in China – are there lessons in terms of companies perhaps sailing too close to the wind?
JULIE BISHOP: My focus at present is to ensure the wellbeing of the Australian citizens who have been detained and I don’t think it would be productive for me to speculate on some of these matters while there are investigations underway into the three Australians and other Crown employees.
There is a period, I understand, under Chinese law of about 30 days while investigations can take place into allegations into people detained so our focus at this stage is on ensuring that we are able to carry out consular visits and that their wellbeing is looked after.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can you tell me about the circumstances in which they are being held?
JULIE BISHOP: Our consular officials have visited the Shanghai detention centre – it is adequate but it is a detention centre, somewhat like a prison, so the conditions are adequate but it is not comfortable at all. They are being looked after and they are in good health.
JOURNALIST: Are they being treated like common criminals?
JULIE BISHOP: Well I understand that they are being treated well, that they have no complaints about the way they are being treated and we’ve passed on some information to their families. But the consular visits are limited under our consular agreement but we will seek access as often as possible.
JOURNALIST: Minister, have you spoken directly to James Packer about this, and what’s been the nature of that discussion?
JULIE BISHOP: I’ve been in contact with Mr Packer.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you’re going to Indonesia next week, can you give a preview of some of the issues that will be on the agenda during the bilateral talks thing or 2 + 2 meetings with your counterparts?
JULIE BISHOP: I will be going to Bali for the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Meeting. Indonesia is the host of IORA, as it’s called, and that brings together about 20 or more nations from the Indian Ocean Rim to discuss matters of mutual concern, matters such as trade and economic opportunities but also issues such as people smuggling, human trafficking, transnational crime, piracy, illegal fishing and the like.
Then I will remain in Bali for a meeting with my counterpart Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and we have a very broad agenda because the relationship between Australia and Indonesia is indeed very broad and deep and diverse and we’ll be focusing on economic ties and what more we can do to enhance investment and trade between Australia and Indonesia.
We will also look at our counter-terrorism cooperation which is exceedingly important at present because with the Mosul Offensive in Iraq it is likely that foreign terrorist fighters from our region will seek to escape Iraq and come back to Indonesia and Australia. So we will be talking about our joint efforts to manage the return of foreign terrorist fighters as well as our counter-terrorism operations more generally and we will also be looking at other areas of cooperation such as in transnational crime, illegal fishing and the like.
JOURNALIST: Will you be discussing the cohort of 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers who are registered with the UNHCR in Indonesia and are in limbo?
JULIE BISHOP: That’s probably on the agenda, it’s likely to be a subject of discussion because we are the co-hosts of the Bali Process. Indonesia and Australia co-host the Bali Process and that is a group of countries, source countries, transit countries, destination countries, who seek a regional solution to the issue of people smuggling, human trafficking and the like. So, Australia and Indonesia have a common interest in discussing the Bali Process.
JOURNALIST: Is it likely that the ban on accepting UNHCR registered refugees and asylum seekers from Indonesia could be lifted?
JULIE BISHOP: These are not matters that I’ll be discussing during the course of my visit to Indonesia because we will ensure that those who paid people smugglers to try and come to Australia will not be re-settled in Australia. That is a very strong and clear message - those who pay people smugglers to try and come to Australia will not be re-settled in Australia.
JOURNALIST: Just back on today’s announcement, just on today’s announcement again, in the case of people like the Budgie Nine where their own stupidity gets them in trouble, why shouldn’t they pay for the consular assistance they received?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia has always provided consular support to Australians overseas. It’s a very complex area to then judge when cost recovery should take place and when not.
In the majority of cases Australians are in trouble overseas because of circumstances beyond their control but that’s why we encourage people to take travel insurance, to read the Smartraveller website and get as much information as they can.
In circumstances of stupidity and ignorance it becomes a very complex area so that’s why we have a consular strategy, that’s why we publish the Consular State of Play – to give a snapshot of the demands on Australian consular officials. I think people need to be educated and informed before they travel overseas and that’s the role that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade undertakes.
JOURNALIST: Can you give us a sense of what Mr Packer said to you or what you said to him about the employees?
JULIE BISHOP: No.
JOURNALIST: The National Security Advisor, Andrew Shearer, said yesterday that the West hadn’t done enough about Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, that kind of thing, do you agree?
JULIE BISHOP: I’m not sure in what context he said we hadn’t done enough, what was his suggestion?
JOURNALIST: He was talking about the Obama administration hadn’t done enough to counter Chinese influence in the Asia Pacific?
JULIE BISHOP: And did he have a suggestion as to what should’ve been done?
JOURNALIST: I think he was talking about freedom of navigation, that kind of thing.
JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government continues to exercise our rights of innocent passage, freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, through the South China Sea as we’ve made clear. Two thirds of our exports go through the South China Sea so it is very important to us to continue to maintain the right under international law freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight. We exercise that and we will continue to do so.
JOURNALIST: Just back on Crown though, do you have any detail about what the allegations that are against –
JULIE BISHOP: We don’t have those details. There have been reports that it is related to gambling, the casinos evidently, but beyond that we don’t have any specific details.
These matters are continuing to be investigated as we understand it. Our role at this stage is to provide consular support and assistance which we will do.
JOURNALIST: Will you be updating the travel advice to China? Any lessons to be learnt from other (inaudible)?
JULIE BISHOP: The Smartraveller advice is constantly under review and the website is updated in response to advice from our security agencies and our posts in the host country. And that’s the bell so thank you very much.
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