JULIE BISHOP:           Good morning. I was pleased to be able to launch a paper on labour mobility in the Pacific which will help inform our Foreign Policy White Paper as we design a foreign policy for the future of Australia over the next decade or more. This particular policy paper focuses on the idea of enhancing our Seasonal Workers Programme for Pacific Island workers to fill labour shortage gaps and the employer demand for workers. And I think that the ideas on the program are certainly part of the public policy debate that should be proceeding in this country. Any questions?

JOURNALIST:             Minister, what can you tell us about the Heads of Mission returning to Australia as part of this Foreign Policy White Paper?

JULIE BISHOP:           As you would be aware, our foreign diplomats have the opportunity to return to Australia from time to time. What I have asked them to do is to all come back to Australia at the one time in March, so that we can harness the experience, the intellect, the observations, perspectives and insights of our most senior and experienced diplomats from around the world. So they will be here in Canberra. We will spend two days on focusing on the challenges and the opportunities and the national interest that they seek to serve in countries around the world, and then they will go to other states, territories and to regional and rural Australia and get feedback and provide input into the regions that they will be visiting.

JOURNALIST:              What can you tell us about the budgeting for that? It does seem like an expensive activity.

JULIE BISHOP:            Well in fact it will be completely absorbed within DFAT's existing budget because we will be cancelling other meetings that would have taken place, and so there will be no new money required. It is to be absorbed within the existing budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

JOURNALIST:             Is Tony Abbott a narcissist?

JULIE BISHOP:           I'm sorry?

JOURNALIST:             Is Tony Abbott a narcissist?

JULIE BISHOP:           That's not how I'd describe him.

JOURNALIST:             What would your response be to Amanda Vanstone who has described him as that this morning?

JULIE BISHOP:           I don't have a response.

JOURNALIST:             Is it appropriate for her to paint Tony Abbott in that way?

JULIE BISHOP:           It's a matter for Amanda Vanstone to answer for her words.

JOURNALIST:             Replacing all of those regional meetings and smaller meetings with 113 people here in Canberra for two days, it's a lot of people and not very many days. Are you going to be able to actually hear from them all?

JULIE BISHOP:           Indeed. We hear from them through communications all the time, but what I am seeking to do is replace the meetings and the regional meetings that occur in the region or around the world or indeed back here in Canberra with one significant meeting to gain the insights and perspectives of our most experienced diplomats. In fact, it's within the budget, there is no new money required and I believe it's a very efficient and effective way of hearing from them on their experiences, observations, their real-time experiences. These are people who are situated in countries, in our missions across the globe – over 100 missions – and they are coming back to Australia to be part of our White Paper on foreign policy.

JOURNALIST:             Was the decision partly made then to save money?

JULIE BISHOP:           The decision was made because we needed to hear from our diplomats. I believe, as a significant G20 country, we should have our diplomats back here feeding back into our White Paper process, but also going out to rural and regional Australia and discussing ways that our missions overseas can assist our communities, in economic development, job opportunities as well. So it's a very significant event. Most of our comparable economies do it: the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand, many G20 countries do this on an annual basis. It will be the first time Australia has done it and I think it's entirely appropriate for a nation of our size and our significance in security and economic terms globally, to carry out such an exercise.

JOURNALIST:             Will you look to do it more regularly in future?

JULIE BISHOP:           At this stage I've only planned this meeting, I've not made plans for any further meetings.

JOURNALIST:             On yesterday's report on racial discrimination laws, clearly there's a wide spectrum of opinion in your own party about how that law should be amended or whether it should be amended at all. What's your personal opinion on that?

JULIE BISHOP:            I understand that there is a report that has presented a number of options. It will be a matter for Cabinet consideration to look at the options that the report tabled recommends.

JOURNALIST:             Some of your colleagues are still pushing for changes, specifically to 18C, removing those words 'offend' and 'insult'. Is that a view that you agree or disagree with?

JULIE BISHOP:           This is a matter for discussion by the Cabinet and then our Party Room.

JOURNALIST:             Is there too much focus on it at the moment coming from some of your colleagues?

JULIE BISHOP:           Well that's a matter for them, what their priorities are is a matter for them. I'm focused on developing a Foreign Policy White Paper to protect and promote our interests around the world as an open, liberal democracy focused on human rights, the rule of law, democratic institutions, and as an open, export-oriented market economy. So these are the priorities that I have as Foreign Minister.

JOURNALIST:             Is section 18C an issue in your electorate? Do people raise it with you?

JULIE BISHOP:           It is rarely raised.

JOURNALIST:             Minister, yesterday in Estimates we heard that there are public servants working at a McDonald's outlet in Armidale. How appropriate do you think that is?

JULIE BISHOP:           I'm not aware of the detail.

JOURNALIST:             The APVMA staff that they moved to Armidale as part of Barnaby Joyce's decentralization push. They don't have an office; they are working out of McDonald's and using its Wi-Fi. Is that good public sector management?

JULIE BISHOP:           It sounds like transition arrangements. I'm not aware of the detail.

JOURNALIST:             On the diplomatic White Paper, you say that it's been budgeted for, can you tell us how much it's going to cost to bring everyone home and, conversely, how much it will save?

JULIE BISHOP:           Yes, the figures were released today. We have found $440,000 that would have been spent on regional meetings and meetings back to Australia that we have reallocated to this. I believe all up it will cost $1 million.

JOURNALIST:             One of the recommendations in this report that you've launched today is that we might spend some foreign aid money on flying people from the Pacific to work into Australia. Does spending that aid budget on those flights somewhat negate the cost benefit of using foreign labour in the first place?

JULIE BISHOP:           The foreign aid budget is designed to promote economic development and sustainability in the Pacific Island nations. I'll look at the recommendations in the report in some detail but our focus is on economic development and sustainability in the Pacific, and about 90% of the aid budget is focused on our neighbourhood. It's in Australia's national interest for us to be in a prosperous, secure, stable neighbourhood, and that's the Pacific, that's where our interest and responsibilities lie.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555