TIM MCMILLAN: Well the ink is barely dry on that Free Trade Agreement signed yesterday between Australia and Japan. Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe is here in our fair state of WA today, he’s heading up to a mine site in the Pilbara, a Rio Tinto site, he will be getting a guided tour there this afternoon. This dual lifestyle of course has caused some concerns though, particularly how it might affect our relationship with China. I want to welcome our next guest, the Foreign Minister to the program, Julie Bishop joins us on the line.

Minister, thank you for your time this morning. It looked like a great day, a triumphant day to be in Parliament yesterday?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it was a very historic day in a number of respects. There was a joint sitting of both the House of Representatives and the Senate and Japanese Prime Minister Abe addressed the audience. It was a very powerful speech - gracious, generous, positive - and it was a message from Japan not only to that audience but to the Australian public more broadly and so it was a very heartfelt speech. The Prime Minister spoke in English and he’s not a natural English speaker, and he obviously worked very hard to ensure that he could deliver his speech in English, so that was deeply appreciated.

Then there was the signing of the historic Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement, and it’s the first such agreement that Japan has undertaken with a developed economy. And it’s very good news for Australia because it means that this huge economy and huge population in Japan will be trading more closely with us. It will mean our economy will grow and that will mean more jobs in Australia because so many of our export goods will now have preferential treatment, or zero tariff treatment into Japan. That means our exporters, our service providers, our businesses in Australia will have more enhanced markets, greater opportunity to sell their goods into Japan and of course that means more jobs in Australia.

TIM MCMILLAN: I’ve got to ask you about the elephant in the room, China, our major trading partner. There’s been some concern expressed that this new cosy relationship with Japan is going to hurt our relationship with China. Would you agree, even in a small part, with that statement?

JULIE BISHOP: No, I don’t agree, because China is a sophisticated nation, we have a very open line of communication with China. We talk to China all the time about our relationships in the region and we embrace China as being one of the most important players in our region and we want China to be engaged regionally and internationally in the peace and prosperity of our region. So as long as we keep talking to each other and advise each other what we’re doing, then there’s no chance of misunderstanding.

So I believe that China and Australia’s relationship is as strong as it’s ever been, yes China is our number one trading partner, but Japan has been our most important trading partner for decades and it’s now our second most important two-way trading partner, and that it’s our third largest investor in Australia. So these are important economic relationships, they’re also important security relationships and Australia’s view is that we can all work together for the greater peace and prosperity of our region.

TIM MCMILLAN: There has been some comment though that this alliance with Japan and also the US is largely for the purpose of keeping tabs on China, is that just completely wrong?

JULIE BISHOP: I don’t believe that that’s a fair way of characterising it. Australia’s security alliance with the United States goes back to the 1950s and all countries in our region have benefited from the United States security umbrella over the Asia Pacific region. This has enabled economies, including China’s, to grow in a time of relative peace and so while the United States has been our alliance partner since the 1950s, our economic relationship with Japan commenced in 1957 when the Menzies Government signed what was then a very significant milestone in international relations. That is embracing Japan as a trading partner, and China more recently - we had resumed diplomatic ties in the 1970s - we have increased our trading relationship more recently so that China now is our number one trading partner, but we’re also more engaged with China in security matters. For example, China recently took part in joint defence exercises, it was called RIMPAC, with Australia and so we do engage with China in military exercise and we have to keep engaged with China. It is a significant powerful nation in our region, and it’s in our interest to maintain the very best relationships with China, Japan, the countries of South East Asia, the United States and beyond. Australia is about making friends with people, not making enemies.

TIM MCMILLAN: Is it possible to be mates with everyone? It seems like almost school playground politics at play here. Some say that we can’t be friends with US, Japan and China all at once. We’ve chosen the US and Japan over China, is that a massive simplification of how it really is?

JULIE BISHOP: We’re not choosing and nobody has asked us to choose and I think it was John Howard that always said that you don’t have to choose between your history and your geography. Well I agree, we don’t have to choose between nations, and nations aren’t asking us to choose. So I think it’s a bit of a false debate that goes on in Australia and we pontificate over this, when in actual fact, in the reality of things, we get on with the business of trading, of engaging, of communicating and that’s what my job as Foreign Minister is. I’m the relationship manager for Australia and so I’m determined to ensure that our relationships are in as strong and positive position as they can be.

TIM MCMILLAN: The Japanese Prime Minister on his way to a Rio Tinto site up in the Pilbara today, is that an indication that investment in major projects, particularly in the mining sector, here in WA in particularly, very much on the agenda. What are you hoping will come from this new alliance with Japan?

JULIE BISHOP: Prime Minister Abe, accompanied by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is on his way to the Pilbara and he will be going on a site visit to a Rio Tinto mine and this of course harks back to the fact that it’s been growth in the Japanese economy from the 1960s onwards that initiated the mining industry in WA. Arguably the whole development of the North West of our state is due to Japan’s demand for our iron ore back in the 1960s and Rio Tinto of course was one of the first companies that Japan traded with back in those years of the 60s and 70s, so it’s an historic moment for Prime Minister Abe to be visiting a Rio Tinto mine.

He has come to Australia with a very high powered business delegation, the heads of Mitsui and Mitsubishi and other companies that have had long standing relationships with Australia and I think this is a sign of the commitment of Japanese companies to invest in Australia for the long term. Over many decades they’ve invested in iron ore, in coal and now LNG and so it’s an evolving trading relationship and I hope it endures for many decades to come.

TIM MCMILLAN: Can I ask you as well about whaling, has that popped up in discussions at all?

JULIE BISHOP: Well whaling hasn’t been a focus of this visit, because there has been an International Court of Justice decision. Both Australia and Japan are abiding by it and we consider that issues about whaling should be discussed in the International Whaling Commission. This has the primary responsibility for the conservation and management of whales and we think it’s the appropriate forum to address issues relating to whales and whaling.

The Abbott Government remains opposed to all forms of commercial whaling and like many other countries, we support the global moratorium, so issues of whaling should be dealt with and discussed within the International Whaling Commission.

TIM MCMILLAN: I note that the Japanese Government has made some noise about possibly relaunching a whaling program, a scientific whaling program as they call it. That hasn’t popped up at all? You’re not concerned about that, that that may raise some sort of tension between the two countries?

JULIE BISHOP: Well as Prime Minister Abbott has said our bilateral relationship is much bigger than our disagreement over whaling. Australia and Japan are close friends and this is a dispute in a much larger dynamic and strong relationship.

That said, the Australian Government is disappointed at Japan’s approach to commercial whaling, but we are pleased that Japan has committed to respect the International Court of Justice, as we would expect them to do, and we will continue to engage with Japan and other states in the International Whaling Commission to advocate for non-lethal alternatives to whaling. And we believe all the scientific data necessary for the conservation and management of whales can be obtained through non-lethal means. So it’s a matter that we will continue to engage with Japan on, but as I say, I think the place to address these issues is the International Whaling Commission.

TIM MCMILLAN: So you can say categorically and absolutely there has been no undertaking for Australia to soften its opposition to Japan’s potential whaling programs as part of this agreement?

JULIE BISHOP: No, we remain opposed to all forms of commercial whaling, and we support the global moratorium. There’s been no change at all in that.

TIM MCMILLAN: All right, there is a free trade agreement hopefully in the pipeline with China as well, a projected signing date has been put some time towards the end of the year. Is that still on track?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, I understand that our negotiations are proceeding exceedingly well. You might recall that we went to the last election in September promising the Australian people that we will put a focus on concluding free trade agreements with South Korea, Japan and China and Prime Minister Abbott hoped that we will be able to conclude those agreements within our first 12 months in office. Well I am delighted to confirm that we have concluded a free trade agreement with South Korea, that’s particularly good news for our agricultural producers, beef and seafood in particular, getting those products into South Korea at competitive rates and now we’ve concluded one with Japan, and so that leaves China and we’re working very hard to conclude that agreement. 

Maybe we will be able to sign such an agreement when President Xi Jinping comes to Australia for the G20 meeting in November in Brisbane, that would be a milestone that we can aim for. But of course we won’t just sign any agreement, it’s got to be in Australia’s interests for us to do so. But the feedback that I am getting from my colleague, the Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb, is that negotiations are proceeding well.

The previous government was very half hearted about free trade agreements, they wanted a multilateral agreement that included all countries around the world, well of course that would be a wonderful option, but a multilateral free trade agreement has stalled and in the meantime we’re getting on with the business of ensuring that Australia doesn’t stand still, that we’re not overtaken by our competitors and that we are concluding agreements that open up new or enhance existing markets for Australian businesses.

TIM MCMILLAN: Minister, on a much more trivial note, I’m curious to know what’s on the menu when you’re entertaining, wining and dining the Japanese Prime Minister and his delegation there. Do you serve him up the very best of Australia’s Japanese style cuisine, or do you serve him up something that is very Aussie?

JULIE BISHOP: Well in fact it is always Australian cuisine, wine and food. On a couple of occasions there’s been a little Japanese twist to it……

TIM MCMILLAN: ….a little fusion….

JULIE BISHOP: …but last night for example, beautiful Australian beef was on the menu and Australian wines and at a lunch time meeting I noticed that there were West Australian wines on the menu, so that’s good news.

TIM MCMILLAN: Fantastic, Minister thank you for your time this morning, I really appreciate it.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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