JULIE BISHOP: I am delighted to welcome to Sydney Gerry Brownlee, the New Zealand Foreign Minister, for his first visit to Australia as Foreign Minister. Gerry is well known to us in his former role as the New Zealand Minister for Defence. This visit is a part of the regular ministerial engagement that Australia and New Zealand have across the Tasman and I'm looking forward to meeting with Minister Brownlee on a regular basis, as I did in the past, and we will continue to have frank and open discussions about matters of concern and interest to Australia and New Zealand. This is one of the closest relationships that could exist between two countries and the recent meeting on the 17th of February between Prime Ministers Turnbull and English underscored the significance to both our countries of this deep and strong and diverse bilateral relationship.
We discussed today how we will continue to work together to promote peace and stability in the Pacific, in our region. Obviously we work very closely together in the Solomon Islands, in the RAMSI engagement, and we work together to promote peace and security and stability further afield, in Iraq and Afghanistan for example. I recently returned from the Gallipoli commemorations of the heroic undertakings of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in World War I and over 100 years later we are still working very closely together as friends, partners and allies.
We are both open, export-oriented market economies and Gerry and I spoke about the benefits of the open global trading system, the free trade agreements that our countries both have with other countries, but on a bilateral basis we have a very strong economic relationship. Two-way trade is over $24 billion, about $24.5 billion, two-way investment about $138 billion and our business and industries work exceedingly closely together.
We are also advocates, defenders and promoters of the international rules-based order and Gerry and I discussed a number of areas where Australia and New Zealand's view of the world aligns.
We discussed what's happening in the Korean Peninsula, South China Sea, and further afield and, as always, I'm delighted to share views, exchange ideas, and work closely with my counterpart from New Zealand. So Gerry welcome to Sydney and I look forward to working more closely with you in the future.
GERRY BROWNLEE: Thank you very much Minister Bishop. Can I say what a privilege I consider it in my first outing as Foreign Minister you've generously made time available when obviously it’s at relatively short notice but it does I think confirm the closeness of our two countries and the interconnectedness of the people from Australia and New Zealand with one another.
We have as the Foreign Minister has pointed out very, very strong trading relationships as well. More importantly, roles that are complementary when it comes to views on many of the bigger issues that the world faces and we are both very strong voices for free trade and for the freedoms that that will afford countries to develop better lifestyles for their people in an environment like that. New Zealand very much appreciates the way in which we are able to work in a complementary fashion with Australia in so many areas and that's best demonstrated at the moment by the way in which we are cooperating in a training mission in Iraq. Australia is leading that mission with New Zealand providing about a third of the training force in that particular group. There are many other places where we have had past engagements together over the last few decades that build on that long history that goes back to the early part of last century.
The discussions we've had today have been in my opinion quite easy on the basis of being friends as opposed to the mutual respect that you might - beyond the mutual respect I should say that you might expect in these circumstances.
I do need to mention a couple of issues that we have had with Australia in recent times and put them in the context of the very long relationship that we have and the fact too that sometimes in our two countries we forget that we are separate governments and that we do have responsibilities to our separate populations. These are not things that can't be sorted out or worked out or discussed in the future and we have agreed today that officials from both countries will consider both of the countries' domestic policies in relation to how it might affect our citizens living in those countries as we move forward.
I do want to say that the warmth of our discussions today re-affirms the deep friendship between our countries and that is certainly from our perspective to our benefit.
JOURNALIST: Ministers, the New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English said on Tuesday there is now significant uncertainty about the arrangement meaning the trans-Tasman travel arrangement. Is that still the case or has that been resolved do you think?
GERRY BROWNLEE: I think we've made a lot of progress. Sometimes with all due respect to the fourth estate you are reacting fairly quickly to something that comes through in a relatively concise way then you may not see it for its full benefit. Mr English is quite clear that Australia is a good friend of New Zealand. His relationship with Mr Turnbull is superb. I don’t think we can see that the travel arrangements are a problem, I think there is always going to be an issue about entitlements in each other’s countries but reality is we are separate countries.
JULIE BISHOP: Might I add that Minister Brownlee and I discussed this morning the close engagement between officials, between ministers, to ensure we understand each other's domestic policies. Recent announcements have been made in the context of the Australian Budget and we clarified, lest there be any misunderstanding, that the Pathways to Citizenship agreement made between Prime Minister Turnbull and Prime Minister Key and re-affirmed with Prime Minister English stands; that Pathways to Citizenship arrangement stands.
In relation to some of the higher education reforms that have been the subject of reporting in the paper in fact New Zealanders across the board will have greater opportunities to access the Australian higher education system and greater access to the Higher Education Loans Program. So these issues underscore the fact that there is a special relationship between Australia and New Zealand and that will continue.
JOURNALIST: What specifically will Ministers on both sides be reviewing?
JULIE BISHOP: They are not reviewing anything; they are continuing to discuss matters of mutual concern between Australia and New Zealand and with a new Foreign Minister we took the opportunity to confirm that our officials will continue even closer engagement on domestic policies of our respective governments as they impact on our respective citizens.
JOURNALIST: I meant on the specifics of the entitlements as they apply to citizens on both sides.
JULIE BISHOP: We only have the issues that have come up in the context of the Australian Budget and that relates to higher education reforms and Gerry and I had a discussion about that this morning and it's very clear that changes are being made in the context of the Australian Budget to ensure that our higher education sector remains high quality and sustainable. What we have is an exception in the case of New Zealand for subsidised places – for those New Zealanders who arrive here as children and have been here longer than 8 of the last 10 years will have access to government-subsidised places that are otherwise only going to be available to Australian citizens. In terms of our Higher Education Loans Program New Zealanders across the board have greater access to what is a very generous Higher Education Loans Program and so my expectation is that more New Zealanders will be seeking to obtain a degree from an Australian university. But it is not a free service and so our loans system will enable New Zealand citizens and Australian citizens to access a loans scheme that doesn't have to be repaid until the graduate is earning $42,000 a year. That's a pretty generous scheme.
JOURNALIST: There has been some concern that there will be further changes in the pipeline around changes in pay for state schools can you…
JULIE BISHOP: That’s speculation.
JOURNALIST: Mr Brownlee, what assurances can you give that you won’t be blindsided by changes from the Australian Government again?
GERRY BROWNLEE: Look, I appreciate it's very difficult if you are putting together a Budget that you can't necessarily go off and having international bilateral negotiations about what's going to be in that budget so I think this is a bit of a one-off. As people become more familiar with how that scheme is going to work in the future I think the prediction made by Foreign Minister Bishop is probably going to be right. What I would say is we've got roughly a similar amount on a percentage basis of Australians living in New Zealand and New Zealanders living in Australia. The reason for that is often because of the assimilation of our two economies and the experiences that are required one side of the Tasman to the other because of that so we just want to know a lot more about how that - how those two groups of people are affected in each country and I think it's quite reasonable, there’s no big deal about it, it’s just something that goes onto the radar screen.
JULIE BISHOP: Can I just point out we are talking about the Australian Budget which is to be delivered next Tuesday? So we are speaking a week in advance of the Australian Budget and of course the Australian Budget is subject to Australian parliamentary processes so we are having a discussion in advance of the Budget announcement about how New Zealand citizens will be affected. Now we have, I'm afraid, other commitments, so can I take one last question?
JOURNALIST: Mr Brownlee, are you satisfied with the Turnbull Government’s reassurance on the issue of 457 visa working rights?
GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, I am. We have very longstanding arrangements in that regard and there is no question they are subject to any change.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you everyone.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555