JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, good morning to you. This was a key diplomatic meeting with Mr Tillerson. What was top of the agenda?
JULIE BISHOP: Good morning, Lisa. It is evident that there is enormous goodwill towards Australia and in my meetings, both with Secretary Tillerson and with Vice President Pence, we discussed in depth ways that Australia and the United States can work together to meet challenges and opportunities. With Secretary Tillerson we spoke particularly about efforts to combat terrorism, to defeat ISIS, and to work against terrorist activity in our part of the world, in South East Asia. We also discussed other regional and global challenges, but it is clear that the relationship is in very good shape. We are strong defence and strategic allies, trade and investment partners and very close friends.
JOURNALIST: On that note, Donald Trump has ordered a new plan to defeat ISIS to be delivered next week. Given our strong support of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, did Rex Tillerson fill you in on what that plan consists of, and whether he wants Australia to play a very strong role?
JULIE BISHOP: The United States are looking for ideas and input from their partners, and I certainly took the opportunity to give Australia's perspective. We have been involved in Iraq and Syria for some time now. We have been in the fight against terrorism for many years, and so I took the opportunity to give our perspectives, our experience, our ideas, our insights and they seemed to be very welcome, but we talked generally about how this would be achieved, a review is under way, I believe to be completed by next week.
JOURNALIST So was there a request for increased Australian troops in the region?
JULIE BISHOP: No, there was not.
JOURNALIST: None at all?
JULIE BISHOP: No, there was not.
JOURNALIST: OK. Now I want to ask you about the deal to send Australian refugees from Manus and Nauru to the US, and for Australia to take US refugees currently being held in Costa Rica. Now, Mr Dutton speaking on Sky News said, and I quote: ‘We wouldn’t take anyone until we have assurances that people are going to go off Nauru and Manus’. And when he was asked if this deal was a people swap deal he responded: ‘I don’t have any problem with the characterisation’. Now, he is the Immigration Minister, so we are going to call it a people swap. But something that has not been made clear is what exactly are the terms of this deal? If we have 1250 that we are wanting to send to US, how many of these US refugees from Costa Rica has Australia agreed to take?
JULIE BISHOP: In fact, Peter Dutton clarified this morning that statement, and I understand he said that they were separate issues, and my understanding is that there is no people swap. We have a long-standing arrangement to take humanitarian and refugee applicants. We have issued many visas over the years and will continue to do so. So we have an independent humanitarian and refugee resettlement program and we will continue to take humanitarian and refugee applicants from around the world. In the case of the US agreement, they have agreed to take a number of people from Nauru, consistent with Australia's stated policy that we will not accept into Australia those claiming to be refugees or seeking humanitarian visas if they have paid people smugglers to seek to come here. So as Peter Dutton has clarified, there is a separate agreement with the United States, and then we have our overall humanitarian program which involves taking refugees from around the world.
JOURNALIST: How many of those refugees will come from the US, that are currently in Costa Rica?
JULIE BISHOP: Well those details are still being worked through. It is part of our overall humanitarian program and we have about 13,750 places available. That will increase to 18,750 over time and any request from the United States would be part of our humanitarian program.
JOURNALIST: What is the timeline on the refugees from Manus and Nauru? How long before they will work out what their fate is?
JULIE BISHOP: Our officials are currently working on this with the United States. They are going through the process of vetting those people that they will take as part of the agreement.
JOURNALIST: This is the extreme vetting that Donald Trump has talked about?
JULIE BISHOP: They are going through a process of determining which of the people applying for a visa to the United States will be accepted. That was always going to be the case under the Obama Administration as well. It would be up to the United States to carry out their own assessment, as it would be if Australia were in that position. So they are going through the process of health, security and other checks.
JOURNALIST: Did you tell Rex Tillerson that this was now getting urgent given how long these people have been waiting?
JULIE BISHOP: The matter wasn't raised. It has been dealt with at officials’ level. Our officials are progressing the agreement.
JOURNALIST: Okay, Foreign Minister we will have to leave it there. We appreciate your time this morning.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you, Lisa.
- Ends -
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555