JOURNALIST: Minister, so you mentioned there some opportunities that will arise between Ireland and Australia as a result of Brexit. Why is it that there will be opportunities as a result of Brexit? People may have thought that the priority would be to do business with the UK.
JULIE BISHOP: In fact our priority is to conclude a free trade agreement with the European Union and we see Ireland as a great opportunity for us to work with countries of the EU through Ireland, We have so much in common. We have very similar systems, we have a common world view, we are both liberal democracies and export oriented market economies. I think there is much that Australia can do with Ireland in relation to freeing up trade between not only our two countries but Australia and the EU, and Brexit gives us that opportunity to re-set the relationship and enhance our trade and investment ties.
JOURNALIST: You also mentioned there the rise of economic protectionism and nationalism. What kind of threat do you think that poses on the international community at the moment? How much consideration is the Australian government taking into account that?
JULIE BISHOP: We are committed to a free trade that is in the interests of the Australian people. It grows our economy and it provides jobs, particularly for young people. Australia’s economic strength, our standard of living, depends on our ability to sell our goods and services into the marketplaces around the world and I believe Ireland has a similar outlook. So we take very seriously this rising sentiment of protectionism and economic nationalism. We are pursuing free trade agreements. We concluded a number including with the north Asian giants of China, Korea and Japan and will continue with a Free Trade Agreement hopefully with the EU, but also bilaterally increasing the trade with countries like Ireland where we have so many similarities and complementary economies. It is a concern and that is why we have to make our business environment in Australia as attractive as possible. I certainly note the corporate tax rate here in Ireland, and global capital can travel so easily around the globe we must work very hard to ensure that we have a business environment that attracts capital into our country.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that Brexit occurred as a result of that sentiment, that growing nationalism that is taking place in certain countries around the globe?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, from my observation Brexit occurred for a whole range of reasons but possibly it came down to a question of control, the British people wanting more control over their destiny but I am sure many factors play into that.
JOURNALIST: You just came from the United States. You met with Vice President Pence and other very senior players in the administration. What conversations did you have with them about Australia’s concerns regarding nationalism, exclusive nationalism, the type of negative things that we are hearing from the United States?
JULIE BISHOP: I had very constructive discussions with Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Tillerson and I think we need to put some of the campaign rhetoric into context. President Trump will continue to do free trade deals – he just wants to make sure that they are unapologetically in the interests of the American people and to claim America first. Well, most national leaders would claim their country comes first in their considerations. I believe there is a lot of potential for us to continue to engage closely with the United States. After all, they are our second-largest trading partner and our largest foreign direct investor. The United States remains the world’s largest economy and likewise benefits from the ability to sell its goods and services around the world. So I came away feeling very confident that the United States will continue to be deeply engaged as a guarantor of the international rules-based order that has allowed so many countries around the world to prosper.
JOURNALIST: But when you look at TPP, for example, something that was supposed to give great advantage to the United States against China, do you think that it was a mistake that Donald Trump pulled out of it and do you think it’s now irreparably damaged?
JULIE BISHOP: I deal with the hand that we receive and the President has indicated that they will be withdrawing from TPP and so we must work with those circumstances, but I also note that the United States is keen to conclude a free trade agreement with Japan and so it is not as if they are against free trade agreements but the President wants to ensure, I understand that they are a better deal for the United States. I hope that we will continue to engage with the United States on the benefits of free trade and liberalised investment and most certainly, given its size and status as the world’s largest economy, that will continue.
JOURNALIST: I suppose some people never knew about the relationship with the United States and Australia when it came to the refugee crisis and the deal that President Obama had done with the Prime Minister of Australia. Can you just explain to us a little bit about that? I suppose the only thing we heard of for the first time was the different characterisations of that infamous phone call so just talk us through the deal first, if you don’t mind.
JULIE BISHOP: Australia is one of a few countries around the world that takes a significant number of people on humanitarian and refugee visas. It is about 13,750 per annum out of a significant overall immigration base. It is increasing to 18,750 plus. We have also offered 12,000 humanitarian refugee visas to people in Syria who are fleeing the conflict in Syria. So Australia is a very generous country when it comes to resettling people from all around the world on humanitarian/refugee grounds. There are only a few countries that can claim that status and the United States is one of them. We have a policy that people who pay criminal networks and people smugglers to reach Australia will not be resettled in Australia and the purpose of this is to stop people smugglers from plying their trade, which causes enormous misery. Indeed, 1200 people died trying to get to Australia via these people smuggling networks. So our policy is anyone who pays people smugglers and criminals will not be resettled in Australia. We have worked with the United States in the past and will continue to do so to take those who have been deemed to be refugees and so the United States, under President Obama and now agreed under President Trump, will take a number of people who have been deemed to be refugees and who are currently living on Nauru in the Pacific.
JOURNALIST: So that deal is going ahead even in spite of protestations by President Trump.
JULIE BISHOP: My understanding is the United States is honouring the deal.
JOURNALIST: And what was your impression of the outrage that President Trump brought to the situation?
JULIE BISHOP: The matter was not raised in any of the meetings or discussions I had while I was in Washington. It is being dealt with at officials’ level and the agreement is progressing.
JOURNALIST: So just one final question – so tell us about some of the areas that Australia seeks to engage in trade with Ireland.
JULIE BISHOP: I believe we both have a need for increased investment in infrastructure and I am hoping that we will be able to cooperate in greater two-way investment in infrastructure - productivity enhancing infrastructure. Ireland has an innovation agenda and so does Australia. I would like to see greater research and development collaboration, exchanges between our young people, in particular, who are working in high tech industries. I also think in tourism, which is a significant part of the Australian economy and I am sure likewise here in Ireland, we can see more Australian tourists coming to Ireland and more Irish people coming to Australia. I know it is a long way but it is really worth it once you get to Australia and I can say from my visit here that it is really worth it once you get to Dublin.
JOURNALIST: Thank you very much, Minister, I appreciate that.
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