JULIE BISHOP: I’m very pleased to be here in Cairns co-hosting with the Queensland Government a visit of about 75 Canberra-based foreign diplomats to Far North Queensland. This is an opportunity to showcase the trade and investment opportunities in Far North Queensland to 75 countries and more around the world. This is the fourth time I have hosted a diplomat corps visit to regional Australia and on each occasion, you can see increased awareness of the diversity of the Australian economy, and the focus on increasing two-way trade between Australia and other countries.
We are an open export-oriented market economy, we depend for our standard of living and our economic growth on selling our goods and services around the world, and so this diplomacy corps visit is a unique opportunity for us to showcase Far North Queensland. This evening the Premier will be hosting a dinner for the diplomats and tomorrow we will spend some time at the Great Barrier Reef. This is one of two world heritage sites in Queensland and it is absolutely vital to the important tourism industry in Australia. Tourism is valued at about $130 billion of our economy and the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most iconic tourist attractions that we have in Australia. I want our foreign diplomats to have a deep appreciation and understanding of our commitment to preserving, conserving, maintaining and managing the largest coral reef eco-system in the world.
Already we have had some very positive feedback from the diplomats and I’m looking forward to introducing them to James Cook University and our innovative and creative ways in food production and tropical medicines. So, all in all, I’m looking forward to a very successful visit of the diplomats to Far North Queensland.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, do you have any thoughts on the latest missile that's been launched out of North Korea?
JULIE BISHOP: North Korea poses a threat to our region and to the globe. Its provocative behaviour in conducting missile tests is not acceptable, and we must urge North Korea to cease going down this path of creating instability in our region. Australia will work with the international community to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table. We want to see a denuclearised Korean Peninsula and we want to see peace and stability in our region. And while ever North Korea continues these dangerous, risky, provocative acts, including ballistic missile testing, we have an unstable region, and that is not acceptable.
JOURNALIST: Are you worried about the threats to Australia, given the range and the height of this missile launch?
JULIE BISHOP: We are deeply concerned by all the tests that North Korea has conducted to date and we can take no comfort in the fact that some of the tests failed, because on each occasion they are gaining more information and more understanding of how ballistic missiles should work. Clearly the aspiration of the North Korean regime is to development of an inter-continental ballistic missile that has the capability of dumping a nuclear payload on the United States. If it were ever to gain that capability, it would present one of the most serious global risks we’ve seen in a very long time.
JOURNALIST: And what do you think of the US response to this? The Secretary over there called North Korea a “flagrant menace for far too long”. What do you think of the US response?
JULIE BISHOP: It is absolutely right, North Korea is in flagrant disregard of numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions, it is acting against the interests of our region, it is a threat to global security.
JOURNALIST: The fact that they indicated a couple of days ago that they might talk to the US, do you think that potentially there might be a diplomatic solution to the problem now?
JULIE BISHOP: We hope that through dialogue and diplomacy, North Korea will cease going down the path of being a global risk to security. We hope that diplomacy and dialogue can be backed up by economic sanctions, and that's why we’ve been calling on China, as a key player in this matter, to increase the economic pressure on North Korea to make it change its behaviour.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, on the cyber security threat that’s impacting the world at the moment, have you had any on the Australian Government’s susceptibility?
JULIE BISHOP: Fortunately, Australia has not been significantly affected by this particular ransomware, although there has been a report from the Australian Cyber Security Centre of one instance of what we believe could be this ransomware. There have also been other reports made to our online cyber security network, and the difficulty is of course there are literally hundreds of instances of ransomware in Australia each week, so we are currently seeking to confirm whether these are examples of the particular ransomware that has caused so much havoc, for example in the United Kingdom.
JOURNALIST: Back to this event, if I can ask about that. Are you having to work harder, with bringing all the diplomats and ambassadors, to keep these countries out of the clutches of expanding Chinese soft power?
JULIE BISHOP: This is part of our economic diplomacy. Australia uses our networks of diplomats around the world, as well as here in Australia, to encourage greater two-way trade and investment between Australia and our region and the globe. We depend on our ability to sell our goods and services overseas for our standard of living, and so our effort is in fact part of our economic diplomacy efforts to encourage trade and investment, and I’m delighted that the Queesaland Government has put on a showcase that will encourage greater two-way trade and investment and economic growth in Australia. It’s about creating jobs for Australians, it’s about growing our economy.
JOURNALIST: And why Cairns in particular?
JULIE BISHOP: Well this is my fourth diplomatic corps visit that I’ve hosted since being Foreign Minister, and Far North Queensland is vital for our tourism industry. Tourism is valued at about $130 billion to the Australian economy, hundreds of thousands of Australians are employed in the tourism industry and in fact, a number of overseas people on working holiday visas are also employed in the tourism industry. Far North Queensland is home to the Great Barrier Reef, the wet tropics and is clearly a gateway into Asia. So a number of the diplomats will not have an opportunity to visit Far North Queensland during their term, they often visit the capital cities, and I think it’s important for regional Australia to be showcased and Far North Queensland is a great example of innovation and exciting trade and investment opportunities.
JOURNALIST: Have you explained to the diplomats and ambassadors that are here the justification for freezing the foreign aid budget?
JULIE BISHOP: That matter hasn’t been raised because the foreign aid budget continues to increase by $84 million this year and by $98 million next year. All our bilateral aid programs are not losing money; we’ve increased funding to the emergency and humanitarian funding. So our funding for aid goes up from $3.8 billion this year to $3.912 billion next year, to $4.01 billion the year after, so our aid budget is continuing to increase. Thereafter, the aid budget will pause at the 2018-19 level until we get the Budget back into surplus, which we estimate to be in 2021.
JOURNALIST: So you’ve had no concerns about the foreign aid budget from international diplomats?
JULIE BISHOP: The matter has not been raised, because the aid budget is continuing to increase next year and the year after.
JOURNALIST: Have you had discussions with either the US or the South Koreans regarding what would be the trigger to initiate their missile defence system on North Korea?
JULIE BISHOP: We are continuing to engage closely with the United States, South Korea, Japan and China and other countries who are concerned about North Korea’s behaviour. That includes most of the international community. But we recognise the right of allies to seek to defend themselves, and South Korea has a missile defence system purely in response to the provocative and threatening behaviour of North Korea.
JOURNALIST: Thank you.
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