Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

E&OE

9 October 2008

Joint Press Conference - Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, Australian Minister For Trade Simon Crean, Philippines Secretary Of Foreign Affairs Alberto Romulo, Philippines Secretary Hermogenes Esperon, Philippines Undersecretary Thomas Aquino 

ROMULO: Distinguished members of the press ladies and gentlemen before we take your questions … let me speak briefly about the Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting or PAMM as we call it and the highlights of our segment together.  First we have a joint ministerial statement which we will issue later on. But let me be as brief as possible.   

PAMM was conducted at the ministerial level involving the foreign affairs ministries and the trade ministries and the ministers and secretaries of the Philippines and Australia.  Since its inception in 2005, PAMM has become an important vehicle for discussing a wide array of issues and concerns affecting Philippines-Australia relations at the bilateral and regional level. 

At the second PAMM, the first PAMM was held in Sydney in 2005, the second PAMM enabled us to examine Philippine-Australia relations across a broad range of areas among others.  We noted the significant progress and reaffirmed our commitment in our common fight against international terrorism and other international crimes.  We noted the deep level of cooperation in defence, law enforcement, transport and security and the importance of the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement in strengthening and broadening our existing defence and security programs.  We exchanged views on developments in the Mindanao Peace Process and acknowledged peace as a precondition to the future prosperity and stability of the southern Philippines and the country in general.  We welcome the significant increase in Australia's development assistance and noted how such assistance greatly helps the Philippine Government in enhancing economic opportunities for poor families especially in Mindanao.  Last, but not least, we affirmed the importance of our continued cooperation in regional and multilateral fora to effectively address trans-boundary issues such as climate change.  We also affirmed our shared commitment to interfaith dialogue and let me announce that Australia is a full member of the Ministerial Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue for Peace and Cooperation.  This is a means of promoting peace.  We will be issuing a joint ministerial statement which summarises the key points of our meetings today.  I thank and commend our senior officials from both sides for helping us work in finalising this statement.  Thank you and before we answer questions we would be asking our counterpart the Foreign Minister of Australia Stephen Smith for his opening statement. 

SMITH: Thank you very much Secretary Romulo.  Firstly can I thank you and Trade Secretary Favila for the hospitality and for the productive meetings that we've had.  Trade Minister Crean and I are very optimistic about taking Australia's relationship with the Philippines to an even better level - to a higher level.  Australia and the Philippines have a very good and long-standing friendship and partnership as reflected by the formal meetings that we have with the Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting - this is the second one we've had. 

We've had diplomatic relations for over 60 years and our trade and commerce relationship, our defence, security and counter-terrorism relationship and our development assistance partnership are in good order.  But we believe there is more that we can do.  In the trade and commerce and investment area, the trade between Australia and the Philippines and investment between Australia and the Philippines has increased substantially over the last half a dozen years or so but if you take for example the decade period between 1996-97 and 2006-07, trade between Australia and the Philippines increased by nearly 20 per cent, the trade between Australia and ASEAN countries as an average increased by over 100 per cent.  So we believe there is much more that we can do.  We think economically there is a lot of potential in agriculture, in mining, in education services and in financial services.  

The relationship that we have in defence, security and counter-terrorism arrangements is first class. We are both allies of the United States and I think it is true to say that after the United States, Australia has the closest defence and security partnership with the Philippines. But that too can be improved.  We are both very enthusiastic about the Senate giving approval to the Status of Forces Agreement which will put training of Filipinos in Australia by Australians and training by Australians in the Philippines on a much better basis.  

So far as development assistance is concerned, in recent years Australia has increased its development assistance almost two-fold, almost double. Now that development assistance is in the order of AU$110 million per year. Half of that goes to Mindanao to the south and about one third is spent on education, both basic education and scholarships. This morning I went to Baseco School where I saw some of the good practical achievements which arise out of the result of our education development assistance.  

We had a good and productive meeting, we traversed the array of issues between us bilaterally, regionally and multilaterally. We spoke about our joint desire and joint belief that we can take our relationship to a better level particularly in the trade, economic and investment area and we committed ourselves to a continuing long-term partnership. We had good discussions about Mindanao and the Government of the Philippines desire to effect a long-term, enduring peace solution in the south and Australia remains supportive of that aspiration and objective which we regard as being very important, not just for the Philippines but also for the region. We committed ourselves to working even more closely in the regional forums, whether it's the ASEAN-related forums or the multilateral forums, the WTO, the United Nations and we remarked upon the fact that the Australia-New Zealand-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement is of very deep economic and strategic significance and we think that will enhance the economic and trade relationship between our two countries.  

Mr. Crean and I have been very pleased to be here.  The hospitality extended to us and the Australian delegation has been first class.  The meetings have been very productive and we look forward to working closely with Foreign Secretary Romulo and Trade Secretary Favila as we pursue these joint endeavours. Thank you. 

CREAN: Just to reinforce a couple of key points. Firstly the extent of the trade investment relationship has been under-done over the last decade. Just to give another perspective of the ASEAN which is collectively our biggest trading partner worth $71 billion per year, only $2.5 billion of that is engaged with the Philippines. When one looks at the historic ties, cultural ties, people ties and of course the huge resources in this country there is clearly considerable room for improvement. The framework for developing that renewed commitment to strengthen the agreement is the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, an agreement that was concluded in Singapore in August. We had undertaken on the conclusion of that agreement to see how our bilateral relationships could be used more effectively to add the pluses to develop the implementation of that new framework and so this meeting over the last couple of days has been important, particularly fortuitous.  

We have talked about initiatives in the mining area, how we can encourage greater investment, greater certainty to encouraging that investment. We've talked of the opportunities that present themselves in the automotive sector because that's been the key framework development in the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement and we've also talked about the, in addition to facilitating people movements between our countries, to try to link that more effectively to the training and skills formation associated with people movements.   

We see not just real opportunity in the resource sector, but also in the manufacturing product markets as well as the services sector.  The services sector is a huge part of both of our economies now.  The opportunity to expand trade in those areas really presents itself very effectively.  So I share with my colleagues a sense of encouragement, opportunity, and a sense of real outcome from today's meeting.   

We've taken longer to meet again than we should have but I think that all of us have resolved that we now have established a new framework for going forward and that was the point reinforced on us with our call with the President just before we came here. Thank you. 

AQUINO:  A pleasant good afternoon to the men and women of Philippine press.  I am happy to inform you of the outcome of the trade and investment aspects of the second Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting that was fruitfully concluded by our trade ministers this morning. 

Our Trade Ministers had very frank and engaging discussions on the promotion and expansion of trade and investment relations by both our countries.  They agreed to take full advantage of the opportunities or (inaudible) with the ASEAN-Australia-New-Zealand Free Trade Agreement that was successfully concluded in Singapore last August.  

Our leaders would design this agreement when they meet with their ASEAN and New Zealand counterparts in Bangkok this coming December.  The momentum gained from these positive discussions, driven by both the Philippines and Australia on the chapter on the movement of natural persons we concluded, the ASEAN-Australia New Zealand FTA has been sustained in this morning's bilateral meetings. 

The Trade ministers of both sides have committed (inaudible) … that would promote freer but orderly movement of labour in each other's territories that have mutual interest to both countries.  As you know, certain states in Australia have been experiencing shortages in certain priority skills and professions which the Philippines will be eager to fill in.   

Our Trade Ministers have also agreed to give closer attention to collaboration in the areas of education and technical and vocational training.  More specific collaboration was identified in bridging courses and twinning arrangements between the Philippines and Australian universities and training institutions.   

Our Trade Ministers were also agreed to look into the issues relating to the recognition of qualifications and (inaudible) for mutual recognition of priority skills and vocations(inaudible) ... 

Our Trade Ministers were also very strong to continue efforts in addressing issues affecting the market access of each other's exports.  Australia market access issues between both of us have been associated with quarantine and food certifications in bananas and pineapples (inaudible) … 

On food certification, the meeting this morning also paved the way for the Philippines side to present the (inaudible) … the Filipino Food Development Center as an agency that will conduct (inaudible) … analysis of dairy-based products among others that have been exported to Australia.  In this regard, cooperation between the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service and the Filipino Food Development Centre as well as the Bureau of Animal Industry on certification (inaudible)… 

Our Trade Ministers, lastly also had productive discussions with how Australia can impart its expertise to sustainable mining practices with the Philippines. 

REPORTER: Impact of global financial crisis 

SMITH: [In Australia's case it's because] we were not exposed to any great extent to the subprime mortgage issue and secondly our financial system prudential and regulatory arrangements have been very rigorous for a considerable period of time and finally when the new government came to office we applied ourselves diligently to what was then the most pressing domestic and international economic issue which was inflation.  

I think in terms of ASEAN countries and Asia of course we saw a decade, a decade and a half ago, the Asian financial crisis and as a consequence of that which was felt very harshly in Asia, a range of Asian countries have made comparable financial, regulatory and prudential structural changes and this is holding them in good stead. 

And the Philippines for example, is not to any great extent exposed equally to the subprime mortgage issue. Will there be adverse consequences? Yes of course it will be for both Asia and for Australia, for the Philippines and for Australia. At this stage we're hopeful that in Australia's context and in the Philippines' context is that will essentially be the adverse consequences of slower economic growth and the adverse consequences don't go beyond that. One of the adverse consequences of the financial crisis is, of course, lack of investor confidence and that doesn't help countries like Australia who are trading nations and who survive and prosper as a consequence of being attractive places for capital investment and also being a great trading nation. So there will be adverse consequences but with a bit of luck some of the structural changes made by Australia previously and by Asian countries in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis a decade and a half ago we'll see the adverse consequences spared to some extent. 

REPORTER: May I ask the Philippines panel about the Mindanao peace process?  And I see the Presidential Adviser to the Peace Process here. 

ESPERON: Yes we are thankful for the expression of concern, support and assistance of the Government of Australia in so far as the Mindanao problems and concerns in the Mindanao peace process. We have clarified some of the issues and concerns, including the matter of when we could restart talks.  There are conditions that we would like to achieve before we could restart, we have explained this.   

There are concerns also on the ongoing operations as well on the international monitoring team, as well as on matters of facilitation.  I would like to take note of the exchange between Foreign Minister Smith and the President herself on the matter of how we are addressing the three commanders that have remained recalcitrant.  And who are expected to become recalcitrant and become a split group anyway even if we have signed the peace agreement. We look at the operations that we have now against the three commanders as necessary steps that we have to take if only to achieve more lasting peace for Mindanao rather than having a peace now which could be easily disturbed by these recalcitrant commanders. 

The range of topics that we discussed is very substantial but we still have another session on that, so we will see.  We will try to address the concerns of Australia on the matter. 

REPORTER: Are there job opportunities for skilled workers in Australia, in which sector and how many?  Filipinos are always interested to find out. 

SMITH: The answer is yes.  Firstly, in terms of an expatriate Filipino community in Australia, or the Filipino diaspora, there are two hundred thousand Filipinos in Australia out of a country of 20-21 million people so it's a significant proportion of our population. Secondly, in terms of temporary skilled migrants to Australia, Filipinos make up the third largest group so it's a substantial core proportion or portion already of temporary skilled migrants to Australia and that's across a range of skilled areas - professionals, accountants, technical, IT, and also in one of the areas touched upon by the Undersecretary; nurses, delivery of health care.  So yes there are opportunities for temporary skilled employment in Australia. Equally, we see significant investment opportunities for Australian companies in the Philippines, particularly in the minerals industry and in agriculture and in education services, so the complementarities we think are very good and we encourage Australian companies to invest in the Philippines, just as we encourage skilled Filipino workers to contemplate temporary work in Australia under our temporary skilled migration program 

REPORTER: I would like to address this question to Australian delegation please.  You're giving $100 million for five years for roads in Mindanao and another $13 million for Muslims and Indigenous people.  Is this different from what you are already giving under the ALIVE program and when you say $13 million for Muslims and then $100 million for roads in Mindanao, how can this project be implemented such that they are separate considering that there is some kind of interfaith problem going on in the area? 

SMITH: In terms of Australia's development assistance to the Philippines, our program is now about AU$110 million per year.  Rule of thumb, half of that goes to Mindanao to the South, and rule of thumb, a third goes to education. What I've announced today is that we'll be spending an additional AU$13 million for Muslim and indigenous education projects.  At the Baseco School I went to this morning, one of the presentations I received was a presentation from a class of young Muslim boys and girls who have been taught Arabic language, who have been taught Islamic and Muslim values and virtues and that program, of course, not just applies in Manila, it applies in Mindanao.  Indeed it started in Mindanao and has spread because of its success to the Philippines generally, so that's an additional AU$ 13 million. 

The AU$100 million for infrastructure or for roads again in the South is over a five year period.  What we've done there is to essentially dedicate or allocate in advance $20 million per year of the $100 million and indicate that is for infrastructure, roads, rural development in the South.   Half of our development assistance does go to the South. What is our rationale for that?  Our rationale is firstly disadvantaged people, but also an understanding of the following, that whilst there needs to be a counter-terrorism response to terrorism there also needs to be a response by nation-states to some of the causes of terrorism and some of the reasons why  people are attracted to extremism, whether that's extreme religious views or extreme ideology. And that's why Australia puts a lot of its development assistance effort into disadvantaged areas, into education, and why we work very closely with the Philippines on interfaith dialogue.  Proselytising the view of respect, of religious tolerance, of respect and tolerance of the views of others, and both in the regional interfaith dialogue with New Zealand and Indonesia, Australia and the Philippines work very closely together and now internationally as Secretary Romulo indicated.  At the United Nations Interfaith Ministerial Meeting which Secretary Romulo chaired, Australia indicated its intention to go from observer status to full membership status and that is in part a result of the good working relationship that we've experienced in the regional interfaith dialogue with the Philippines 

So there needs to be a response at two levels.  We need to have robust defence and security and counter-terrorism arrangements but we also need to ensure that we minimise the number of people who are attracted to extremists' ideological or religious views and that's why we pay so much attention in our development assistance program to education and why we pay so much attention to interfaith dialogue matters. 

REPORTER: Are you yourself identifying who will implement the project in the field level? 

SMITH: Well so far as the schools program is concerned, our development agency is AusAID, the Australian Development Assistance Agency.  The education program is implemented in conjunction with the Philippines Education Department - Secretary Lapus was at the school I visited this morning - and it's implemented in conjunction with local school communities.  One of the good things about the Baseco School this morning was that the school community was there, armed with the school improvement program.  So it's implemented by AusAID in conjunction with the Education Department of the Philippines but in conjunction with the school community itself, the principals and the staff.  

So far as the roads infrastructure program is concerned, again that will be implemented in conjunction with the Philippines Government and it may, depending upon contractual arrangements, also be implemented with other contractual or development assistance partners. 

REPORTER: Would either the Bangsamoro Development Agency or the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) be implementers of such projects? 

SMITH: It would depend upon precise contractual arrangements.  It may or may not be the case.  Over the next five years we will of course be hopeful of a much improved position in Mindanao so in that respect the potential is there.  In the first instance I would expect the answer to be no but we had a very good conversation, as the Secretary who has responsibility for peace process matters has indicated - Secretary Esperon.  And Australia is very supportive of the Philippine Government's efforts to put the peace process back on track.   

We are very supportive of the Philippine government's commitment to establish a long term enduring peace in the south and we see this as being very important not just for the Philippines but also for our region. We don't want difficulties in the south to run the risk of becoming a wider regional problem or difficulty attracting third party from outside so we had a good conversation a good production conversation about those matters. We understand the difficulties but we are also very supportive of the peace process and very supportive of the government's efforts to effect a long term sustainable peace settlement in the South and that of it self will necessary involve conversations with the Moro groups as the secretary has made clear. 

REPORTER: Sir good afternoon. I would just like to ask the Australian delegation or even Secretary Romulo. Mr. Smith mentioned that Australia is very much supportive of the Philippines campaign for peace in Mindanao is it safe to say that the Australian government is supporting the new framework which focuses the talks to communities and stakeholders instead of the MILF or the rebel groups? 

ROMULO:  We explained to the Australian delegation lead by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith what we are doing and he was listening attentively and from all indications the support that Australia is giving for development and as he says about 50 per cent of that will go to Mindanao.  There is also the $A100mil for infrastructure for both Mindanao and Visayas and the other projects.  So I imagine they're supporting the peace process that we have in so far as they are continuing with our programs for development and infrastructure, for the educational facilities for the Muslim and indigenous population and for the health projects of malaria and other projects and for education, as he said of course he went to Baseco. The Australian Government believes that education is most important in the terms of the development of certain regions because in fact the Australian Government has offered a scholarship for Filipino students to go to universities in Australia.  And let me also add that we believe in the interfaith process, interfaith dialogue for peace and cooperation. And that is why from observer, Australia is now a full member. And of course you are aware that not only in the United Nations but also in regional and sub-regional groupings that partnership for interfaith between Australia and the Philippines, New Zealand and Indonesia is still ongoing for the last four or so many years. And so I believe that we continue to support our efforts for peace and our efforts for peace of course, as explained by Secretary Esperon, and I have explained, is through the purpose of engaging the communities, Bishops Ulama Conference and the other stakeholders in Mindanao so that the peace process will be accepted by all.  And I believe that what we are expressing in the DDR is something that is beneficial to all so I have no reason to doubt that this will be supported by our development partners in particular Australia. 

SMITH:  I might just say, let me just add to that, what the Australian Government absolutely supports is the determination of the Philippine Government to find a long-term, sustainable, enduring peace.  We absolutely support that.  And the things that we have done in the past and continue to do, our development assistance, our interfaith dialogue support, reflects our support of Philippine Government's determination to secure a long-term sustainable peace in Mindanao.  How the Government gets there is not something that we are proposing to second guess.  We are relying upon the Philippines Government to manage its internal affairs in a way that brings about a long-term, sustainable, enduring peace.  It is not our role, nor our position, to be second-guessing what the Government is doing.  What we do absolutely accept is the Government's determination and commitment to affect a long-term enduring peace.  Of course, Australia, like the international community, was disappointed when the proposed agreement was restrained recently and was not able to be signed and as a consequence the peace process was disturbed.  But, we would be much more concerned if we thought for one moment that the government of the Philippines did not share an absolute determination to effect a long term enduring peace. How it gets there is a matter the international community effectively has to leave to the Philippines and Secretary Esperon and Secretary Romulo went through in a very candid and frank way the governments objective and how it proposes to get their in consultation with the community and there was nothing that we saw or heard which would cause us to be deflected from our long term commitment to be an enduring partner with the Philippines, particularly in the development assistance, interfaith and education areas. 

REPORTER: Mr. Smith do you support the Philippines Government preconditions in negotiations with the MILF that they would hand over the rebel commanders responsible for recent atrocities in the South against civilians, do you support that precondition and does the Australian Government still believe that Dulmatin  and Patek are at large in the Philippines, is there disappointment despite international assistance that Australian  and the US and others of those two individuals remain free. Are they considered a threat to Australians in the Philippines and the regions given their past association with terrorist attacks and bombings? 

SMITH: Well your first question is answered by the answer I gave to the previous question which is we absolutely share and support the Philippines governments commitment and determination to effect a long term sustainable peace in the south and I'm not proposing to second guess how they get there. The second point goes to well known Jemaah Islamiyah, JI operatives, and the thrust of your question would require that I comment on operational matters in respect of terrorists which I'm not proposing to do.  

[Ends]

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