JULIE BISHOP I’m delighted to be in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia for the 15th Ministerial Meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. For the past two years Australia has chaired this association and today I will hand over to Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi of Indonesia. They will then take up the Chair for the next two years.
During our time as Chair of this association, we have focused on a range of significant issues that affect the 20 member nations of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, particularly focusing on the ‘blue economy’; that is using our ocean resources to sustain economic growth. We’ve also focused on maritime security and safety, tourism, a heavy emphasis on business, trade and investment ties and also the economic empowerment of women.
Last year we announced a $1 million economic diplomacy fund for the Indian Ocean and I’m delighted to say that there are now six projects underway involving 18 of the 20 member nation states, focusing on tourism, port operations, marine research and the like.
Today I will also be announcing that Australia will provide a $3 million fund for a Global Challenge to the best and brightest and most creative thinkers around the world to come up with ideas to support the blue economy in aquaculture -how we can better establish prawn farms, fish farms, oyster farms and use aquaculture to sustain economic growth and jobs in Indian Ocean Rim countries.
I’m pleased that our Innovation Xchange in Canberra will be able to host this Global Challenge - $3 million to find the best ideas, the most innovative and creative ways to sustain aquaculture as part of the economy of the Indian Ocean Rim countries.
Under our leadership the Indian Ocean Rim Association has a higher profile than ever before. Indeed we are welcoming our 21st member in Somalia today and our seventh dialogue partner in Germany, so there is significant interest in this important part of the world.
Australia is home to two borders of oceans: the Indian Ocean to the west, the Pacific Ocean to the east and Perth my hometown is Australia’s Indian Ocean capital, so I’ve been delighted to be able to chair this important association for the past two years and look forward to working with Indonesia as they take over the chairmanship of this association.
JOURNALIST You would have noticed the haze no doubt. What do you think of Indonesia’s handling of this rather large environmental crisis that’s ongoing?
JULIE BISHOP Clearly Indonesia has a challenge in front of it and they have asked for Australia’s support and we did provide firefighting equipment in the form of a lead plane and a Hercules that was here for a week. It carried out about 22 runs and dropped about 300,000 litres of water over some of the forest fires so we stand ready to assist Indonesia.
It’s a regional challenge and I know that other countries in the region are helping Indonesia fight this environmental challenge.
JOURNALIST The disaster management authority here has told us this week that they will be asking again for aircraft support. They’ve nominated Australia, Canada and Russia as people they hope will come to their aid. Is Australia in a position at this season to assist in that way?
JULIE BISHOP I’ve not been asked for further assistance. On the previous occasion Foreign Minister Marsudi contacted me and asked for assistance and we provided it as soon as we could. We have made it clear to the Indonesians that we also face a challenging time as we go into the bushfire season in Australia and of course there are fires in New South Wales and Victoria, so we will assess any request that is made of us but most certainly in the context of our capacity to assist. But I’ve not yet met with Retno Marsudi today and I’ve not yet been asked to provide any further assistance. As I said, we did respond to the last request by providing two planes, including a Hercules. This is firefighting equipment that comes from the states in Australia, so we have to coordinate any effort with the state governments as well.
JOURNALIST Do you think more pressure needs to be brought on Indonesia though to stop these fires which are a yearly event. I mean, they’re going to happen again next year, the year after. Does the international community need to do more to assist Indonesia in actually bringing a stop to these yearly fires?
JULIE BISHOP Well clearly this is an issue for the Indonesian Government to deal with and also with neighbouring countries. Australia has been asked to assist and we certainly will do that, but as for the issue more generally, that’s a matter for domestic policy for Indonesia.
JOURNALIST We understand that you’re meeting with Ms Retno in the sidelines today for some bilateral discussion. What’s on the agenda? What will you be talking about with her?
JULIE BISHOP I will be very pleased to meet with Retno Marsudi. This will be the fourth meeting we’ve had since August, so four meetings in just over two and a half, three months and we will continue our discussions on how we can work together on the Indian Ocean Rim Association.
We also have a very good understanding of what we can do together on countering violent extremism; the issue of foreign terrorist fighters. Most recently I met with Retno Marsudi in New York and we discussed the role that Indonesia could play as a bridge in being a moderate Islamic community - a bridge to other Islamic nations, and I will explore some of those ideas that she raised at that time. And of course our two way trade and investment is always a matter of interest and concern to us both and we have a range of issues that Australia and Indonesia collaborate upon and work together.
The New Colombo Plan – by the end of next year around 2000 Australia students will have undertaken work and study experiences here in Indonesia. I think it’s one of the most popular destinations for our Australian students under the New Colombo Plan.
So across a range of issues -security, counter terrorism, trade, investment, education, cultural ties - we have much to discuss.
JOURNALIST What has the Foreign Minister said to you during those meetings about the change of leadership in Australia, if anything?
JULIE BISHOP I’m just trying to remember whether… yes I did meet with Foreign Minister Marsudi after the change of leadership in Australia. We were both delighted that President Widodo and Prime Minister Turnbull were able to have a conversation shortly after the change in leadership; it was very positive. I understand that the Prime Minister is looking to visit Indonesia at some point and I know that President Widodo and Prime Minister Turnbull will meet during some of the summits that are coming up in November. There is the G20 for a start and they’ll both be attending the G20 as I understand it.
JOURNALIST There’s a convention now that the Australia and Indonesian leaders meet annually in a bilateral sense. Is that going to happen this year or not?
JULIE BISHOP Well I assume that will be a topic for discussion should Prime Minister Turnbull be able to visit Indonesia this year. They can discuss whether that will continue on an annual basis, but I know they will be meeting at the G20 and of course there’s APEC, the East Asia Summit, a number of summits where they have opportunities to meet and discuss the ongoing relationship. But I understand the phone call that President Widodo and Prime Minister Turnbull had shortly after Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister was very warm, very productive, very constructive.
JOURNALIST So there is a possibility Mr Turnbull could visit Indonesia this year?
JULIE BISHOP We are looking at all possibilities: obviously we want to continue the strong relationship we have with Indonesia and if there’s an opportunity for Prime Minister Turnbull to visit Indonesia I’m sure he will take it. But forward travel still has to be resolved because there are so many summits and demands on the Prime Minister’s time between now and the end of the year.
Question: Ibu Retno said that she was really buoyed by the fact that you had said in August that there would be a minister visiting every month. Is that something that will continue next year?
JULIE BISHOP Well we have certainly exceeded that. I believe that by the end of the year there will have been nine Australian ministers visit Indonesia and I believe about five or six Indonesian ministers visiting Australia. So the extent of the exchanges of ministerial visits is quite deep and I hope to continue to see a steady stream of Australian ministers through Indonesia and likewise Indonesian ministers visiting Australia. I have invited Ibu Retno to Australia in December and I hope she will be able to attend for an annual foreign ministers’ meeting and discussion.
JOURNALIST And is that a 2+2 Meeting? Will the Foreign Minister also be in attendance?
JULIE BISHOP That’s what we’re planning - a 2+ 2 meeting, and it will depend on availability. Trying to get two ministers in the same place at the same time is a challenge. Four just doubles the challenge , but we are working on a 2+2 meeting.
JOURNALIST Just on the…Obviously this is your first visit since the executions. Have both nations moved on from that now, has the tension over that has been resolved?
JULIE BISHOP This is my first visit to Indonesia but I have met Foreign Minister Marsudi on numerous occasions since then; as I said this will be my fourth meeting with her since August, so we are focusing on matters where we can cooperate and collaborate, and there are so many areas of common interest and that’s what we’ll be focusing on.
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