Joint doorstop with Netherlands Minister for Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans

Parliament House, Canberra

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

Subjects: Signing of a Declaration of Intent establishing a Strategic Dialogue, Australia-Netherlands relationship, Manus Island incident, Afghanistan, Cambodia and asylum seekers, QANTAS

27 February 2014

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning ladies and gentleman. I'm delighted to be here today with the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, Frans Timmermans. We had a very positive and constructive, productive discussion and you have now just witnessed the signing of the Declaration of Intent for Strategic Dialogue between Australia and the Netherlands.

In 2016 we will mark the 400th anniversary of the historic landing on the coast of Western Australia of the Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog. This demonstrates that the connection between the Netherlands and Australia is long standing, but it has deepened over the centuries, and indeed decades.

Today there is a strong Dutch community in Australia, about 15,000 strong, and in terms of trade and investment and economic ties the Netherlands is the fourth largest source of foreign direct investment for Australia. It is the second largest export market from Europe for Australia, and we hope that through our strategic dialogue we will strengthen those economic ties and ensure that they are even more resilient than they are today.

Australia and the Netherlands are aligned in so many ways. We share a common view on many matters of foreign and trade policy. On matters of international security we have worked side-by-side to resolve some of the trouble spots around the world. We share similar views on overseas development assistance and we have just had a very fruitful discussion about leveraging the private sector, about aligning aid and trade. In the case of the Netherlands the focus is on Africa, and in the case of Australia the focus is more on the Asia-Pacific, but nevertheless our views are very similar and we had some experiences and ideas to exchange.

The Netherlands is active in the Asia-Pacific and we discussed a number of opportunities for us to work together. We have similar views on various issues in our region, and again we were able to exchange views and opinions on various issues. Likewise we had a detailed discussion about the Middle East, of our concerns in Syria. We also spoke about the situation in Ukraine and I welcome the EU's leadership in dealing with that issue that appears to have no obvious solution at this point, but the involvement of the EU is very welcome.

The signing of the Declaration of Intention for Strategic Dialogue gives us an opportunity to build on the very strong foundations in the Dutch-Australian relationship. The Netherlands is a beacon of freedom, democracy and strong trading and export-oriented culture and we have many views in common. This is our opportunity to provide even more ballast and resilience to a very strong relationship.

FRANS TIMMERMANS: Thank you very much and thank you very much for your hospitality. It's been wonderful to be here and to talk about some of the issues that, where we share the same views. And I have to say our relationship goes back 400 years, but specifically the last 100 years have been extremely important between our two countries. I look at my parents' generation, everybody in my parents' generation has a relative or friend who chose to emigrate to Australia after the Second World War, especially in the 1950s and the early 1960s.

I had the opportunity to visit a Dutch care facility yesterday in Melbourne, where you can see many of the first generation Australians with strong feelings about the Netherlands and with their heart in two places, in Australia and the Netherlands. That is really inspiring, it's also something that I will take back and never forget.

We've been in a number of conflicts together. Our soldiers operated shoulder-to-shoulder in Afghanistan, but also earlier in Korea and even before that during the Second World War we had some of the same experiences in fighting for freedom against Japan. In all sorts of aspects our two nations are linked and also in other ways – we both love sports. Australia is extremely successful in the Summer Olympics, and we seem to do very well in the Winter Olympics, especially this year.

But sports and an outlook on life based on shared values is something that really binds our countries. If you mention Australia in the Netherlands you will bring a smile to everybody's face. Very few countries in the world immediately have that reaction, but that goes to show that the connection we have goes beyond shared interests and goes to the heart of our common values. And that is what binds us also in the international challenges we face, when we speak about the Middle East, about Syria, about the Ukraine, it is always in the same starting point that we want people to be masters of their own destiny, that we want human rights to be respected, that we want the rule of law to be respected, that we want to invest in global security.

Also in terms of wanting to create better lives for people, we strongly believe in combining aid and trade, and wherever we can we will join efforts, also in bringing together our diplomats to make sure that this world becomes a better place based on the values we share. Thank you very much.

JULIE BISHOP: Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, can I ask you to reflect on the situation in Afghanistan, given the great commitment that the Netherlands made and given the security issues now on the ground in Afghanistan?

FRANS TIMMERMANS: Well you know, the ball's in the court of the Afghanistanis, they need to tell us what they want to do after 2014. Until they do that it is very difficult for us to commit to the future. I fully share President Obama's views that unless President Karzai is very clear on what he wants to do, unless he's very clear on wanting to sign an agreement with the United States, it's going to be very difficult for us to commit troops or other efforts to Afghanistan beyond 2014.

JOURNALIST: Is there a feeling in Holland that it has been worthwhile?

FRANS TIMMERMANS: I think if you look at the facts on the ground, there is no disputing that it's been worthwhile, simply because we faced a direct threat of terrorism, based on training camps that were found in Afghanistan. It was a direct threat to our security; it was a direct threat to global security; that threat has been removed. If you look at the position of many people in Afghanistan today, especially women, the position of women has improved markedly in Afghanistan as compared to before. There were always attacks on the position of women. Always you see, especially in an election year that they're trying to claw back, but I think we've achieved something here that it worthwhile trying to maintain and strengthen in the future.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, can I ask you, did you – have you asked Australia for anything specific while you're here, in terms of increasing aid commitments to Syria, or any involvement in the troubles in the Ukraine?

FRANS TIMMERMANS: Well we've – you know, because we have different neighbourhoods, we have different focuses. And what I really enjoyed this morning is exchanging views on our neighbourhoods, and, you know, Ukraine is very much my daily business. The situation in the South China Sea, the situation in this part of the world is very much your daily business. And since we share the same values it is very important that we exchange view on this, and I think the document we signed gives us an opportunity to continue that dialogue and learn from each other because I've learned a lot this morning.

JOURNALIST: Minister Bishop can I ask you to update us on the situation in Cambodia, with – in terms of the requests you asked, and the information out of Cambodia as the government is considering, specifically whether or not they can house refugees in Cambodia.

JULIE BISHOP: Your question is based on an assumption that I have never conceded, I have said that our discussion with Cambodia centred on the Bali Process and that is a regional solution to a regional problem. Australia is talking to all of the members of the Bali Process to find ways to deal with the scourge of people smuggling in the region.

While I was speaking in Malaysia, in Vietnam, in the Philippines and in Cambodia, I sought the views of the respective governments, what ideas they had, what thoughts they had, and what more they thought we could do, and they were very constructive discussions across the board. But your assumption is not made out by any statement I have made, and I certainly made it clear the topics that were discussed in my various meetings with Cambodia.

But there is considerable interest in our region, without question, of the arrangements in Manus Island, and the arrangements in Nauru, and also the situation with Indonesia, and how we can all work together to stop people taking that dangerous journey by sea in unseaworthy boats, to Australia.

Something like 1100 or 1200 people have died, that we know of, taking that journey and the Australian Government is determined to stop people risking their lives in this way. It also risks the lives of our navy personnel who are involved in Operation Sovereign Borders. So we are absolutely determined to do what we can to stop this criminal trade preying on people, extracting their money. They will not be resettled in Australia and they should not be taking this dangerous voyage to Australia.

So, that is something that we are discussing with all countries that are parties to the Bali Process. In the case of Cambodia we also have a separate memorandum of understanding that was signed in 2002, relating to returns and bilateral issues specifically.

JOURNALIST: And in terms of PNG and the handling of the Manus violence last week, in an early police report that seemed to indicate that, possibly, local security were involved. But obviously there's a question mark about that. Can you comment on PNG's handling, and how this is going to affect Australia's image as a country that is providing or not providing support?

JULIE BISHOP: These matters are currently being investigated, so I don't want to pre-empt the outcome of any report into that incident, but I do want to place on record my thanks to the Government of Papua New Guinea – they entered into an arrangement with the previous government.

Let's not beat around the bush here, the people are on Manus Island and Nauru as a result of the failures of Labor's policies. The arrangement was entered into by the previous Labor Government but there was no substance around it, so we have had to go through the procedures of putting in place, implementing the arrangement that the former Rudd Government made with Papua New Guinea. I have no criticism of the Government of Papua New Guinea, I thank them for agreeing to be part of a solution for dismantling the people smuggling trade. We have to send a very strong deterrent message, and will continue to do so.

But I work closely with Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato, I was in PNG recently and I had the opportunity to thank them for the work that they are doing in very difficult, very difficult circumstances, and the Papua New Guinean government is doing what it can to fulfil his side of an agreement that he entered into with the Rudd Labor Government.

JOURNALIST: Just on that issue, is Australia any closer to getting clarity as to what will happen to asylum seekers in PNG who are officially certified as refugees? What's going to happen? Are they going to be settled in PNG? How's this going to happen?

JULIE BISHOP: That is part of the arrangement that was entered into by the former Labor Government. It was not only a centre for processing applications, but there was also a resettlement element to it, and so we are going through the implementation process of that agreement.

JOURNALIST: But that agreement currently doesn't really seem to have much detail in it. Do we know, eventually, what's going…

JULIE BISHOP: [Interrupts] Well that was one of the problems we inherited, the agreement was the bare bones and we're now having to fill in the detail, and so that's what we're currently doing in conjunction with our counterparts in Papua New Guinea. And it's a process that we're going through – Mr Morrison is working on the matter, his officials are – and we are getting good cooperation from the Papua New Guinean Government.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you on Qantas, how much responsibility does the board of Qantas need to take for the position – the financial position the company is in now?

JULIE BISHOP: I understand that as we were coming here the executives of Qantas were giving a press conference. So I understand that there has been an announcement on job losses. That is deeply regrettable and any job loss in Australia is a matter of deep regret. What we must do though is find ways to create the environment that will allow new jobs to be created and that is the Abbott Government's plan.

There will be decisions for the board of Qantas to make, and it will be the decisions of Qantas that determine its future, and its outcome, not the decisions of the Australian Government. However, we of course will discuss any proposal that Qantas put to us, in Cabinet, should there be a specific proposal. There has been talk around the Qantas Sale Act, these are kind of matters that the Australian Government can consider, but the day to day operations and management of Qantas are a matter for the board and executive.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a view around the lifting of the Sale Act?

JULIE BISHOP: I will consider the proposal once it is put to us.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any sort view as to whether it should stay or go?

JULIE BISHOP: As a statement of principle, I believe that we should ensure that Australia is as internationally competitive as we can be. We are in a global economy, our companies have to compete internationally, and the role of government is to ensure that it is easier to do business in Australia, not harder.

I'm well aware that Qantas received a massive bill, courtesy of the carbon tax. So one of the first things the Government should do is repeal the carbon tax, so that Qantas does not have to pay this massive bill that is not going to add to a reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions, because under the former Labor Government's own economic modelling, greenhouse gas emissions are set to rise, not reduce, from the carbon tax.

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