JULIE BISHOP: I am very pleased to announce this morning the Australian Government’s Regional Health Security Initiative. The fact is that diseases in our region can impact heavily not only in the countries of our region but also in Australia. And if there is a serious disease outbreak it has no regard to borders and can have a devastating impact on the economy and health of nations including our own. This kind of disease outbreak or epidemic can impact on trade and investment and travel and can slow economic growth and development. So the Australian Government wants to work with other nations in our region, with our governments, with other organisations, the public sector and the private sector to build the capacity of the public health systems in our region so that they can manage these outbreaks of disease and that we can keep our people, our citizens safe and secure. This funding will go to increase research particularly in drug resistant diseases; malaria, TB. It will also go towards new partnerships to ensure that we can leverage our funding and get the best value for money in building capacity in regional health systems. We’re also establishing a new initiative – the Health Security Corps – where health professionals in Australia will be deployed in countries in our region to help build the capacity and capability of those health systems. This is the single largest investment in regional health security and health and medical research under Australia’s aid program. It supports our region. Importantly, it supports the safety, security and wellbeing of the Australian people. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: Is this allocation of biggest funding in terms of the last budget or is this the biggest ever?
JULIE BISHOP: This is the biggest ever in terms of health and medical research under the aid budget for our region. And the focus is specifically on health security. We saw with the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the MERS outbreak in South Korea, the Ebola epidemic, that the capacity of health systems to cope is one of the most important issues in containing disease. So we want to be part of building the capacity of those health systems in our region through research, partnerships and our Health Security Core who will be deployed to help manage this program.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you’ve outlined a number of measures this will fund. How is this different from what we’re already doing?
JULIE BISHOP: This is a focus specifically on building capacity in health systems. We’ve had research efforts in the past and this will build on those research efforts. We’ve had opportunities to deploy volunteers overseas but this will be building on that work bringing it all together into a regional health security strategy. So it’s building on work that’s already been done but this $300 million is specifically directed to health security in our region, and the communicable diseases that threaten Australia – including TB and malaria and others such as Zika, dengue and the like. It is a really exciting announcement as you’ve seen from the researchers and health professionals that are here today including those that have come from other countries to support our work.
JOURNALIST: Minister, speaking of regional security, Donald Trump says in relation to North Korea only one thing will work – suggesting that 25 years of agreements and money have achieved nothing. Do you take his tweet to mean he’s advocating military conflict?
JULIE BISHOP: I take his tweets to mean that the United States and the international community are frustrated that North Korea has continued to defy numerous UN Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. He’s also expressing the frustration that over many years North Korea has signed agreements with the international community including the United States that in return for abandoning their weapons programs they will receive aid and yet North Korea has broken every single agreement that it has signed and entered into. There are now 8 UN Security Council resolutions that have been violated by North Korea. This has the potential to undermine the authority of the Security Council and the standing of the Permanent Five members including the United States and China if North Korea is allowed to continue unchecked. If North Korea does realise its aspirations then the authority of the Security Council will be undermined. It will have the potential for international disorder. The United States will have no option but to increase military presence in the region. South Korea and Japan will feel that they are vulnerable and will need to increase their deterrence capability. What of other nations who have illegal nuclear aspirations? So we believe that the collective strategy of bringing maximum political, diplomatic and economic pressure to bear on North Korea must be undertaken by all nations to ensure that North Korea changes course.
JOURNALIST: Minister, are these comments unhelpful though to the global effort to halt Korea’s weapons programs?
JULIE BISHOP: The President is highlighting the fact that North Korea is undertaking illegal ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs that not only threaten our region but present as a global security risk.
JOURNALIST: Minister, how are you feeling about the High Court citizenship hearing this week with three of the Member’s careers under threat?
JULIE BISHOP: Well the High Court is considering this matter. We have brought it before the High Court to gain clarity and we will await the High Court’s outcome.
JOURNALIST: How confident are you that the Deputy PM will remain in that role by the end of the week after the hearings?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, I’ve read the legal advice that we received from the Solicitor General and the Government is confident and that’s why we referred the matter to the High Court so there could be clarity for future members of parliament in relation to citizenship issues.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what’s your views on Senator Xenophon going into South Australian politics – it is a blow to the Liberals there?
JULIE BISHOP: Well it would appear to me that Senator Xenophon will back the Labor Party so it’s quite clear in the upcoming State election that if you want to get rid of an incompetent Labor government that saw a first world economy undergo the most extraordinary blackouts - and failures of electricity generations is one example – then don’t vote for Senator Xenophon because his vote will only deliver another term of an incompetent state Labor government.
JOURNALIST: Has DFAT been able to ascertain whether any Australians were involved in the most recent incident in London?
JULIE BISHOP: We have been looking at this matter very closely. We understand it was a traffic incident, if you mean about the vehicle mounting the curb it was a traffic incident and at this stage we have no information to suggest any Australians were involved.
JOURNALIST: Just on your travel expenses issue, Minister – do you plan your work trips around birthdays?
JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely not. In fact, that was such a ridiculous article. My sister is devastated. She has all these friends ringing her and asking her why they weren’t invited to her party – she didn’t have one! And I reject absolutely the suggestion that for me to attend a Chinese New Year event – the 25th Anniversary of the Australia –China Medical Association – that that somehow is not official business. There were several hundred people present. I was a keynote speaker. I was present with other Members of Parliament including the State Labor Health Minister and to suggest that that’s not official business, I reject it absolutely.
JOURNALIST: Do you catch up with your sister when you are there?
JULIE BISHOP: This is nothing to do with my sister’s birthday. This is utter nonsense. It’s complete rubbish. If you knew my sister you’d know that she doesn’t talk about her birthday. So this is a complete unsubstantiated beat-up. I take my job very seriously and my claims for travel expenses are within the official guidelines for parliamentarians.
JOURNALIST: Are you able to tell us what other events you attended on the other three occasions that coincided with your sister’s birthday?
JULIE BISHOP: Every single claim I make for travel expenses relates to official business and the very nature of my job means that I meet a whole range of people on national security issues, on international engagement and as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party I travel the country promoting the Government’s policies, meeting with members of community and meeting with business organisations, NGOs. Today I’m in Brisbane on a Sunday morning promoting a regional health security initiative for the benefit of the Australian people. Yesterday I was in Adelaide at two events relating to business and community engagement. On Friday I was in Adelaide giving the Sir John Downer Oration, supporting the Joanna Briggs Research Institute, speaking at a New Colombo Plan event. All of my claims for travel expenses relate to official parliamentary business.
JOURNALIST: Minister, is the Government prepared for a bi-election in the seat of New England possibly to be ordered as soon as next week?
JULIE BISHOP: Well clearly the Government will await the outcome of the High Court decision.
JOURNALIST: A young woman passed away in Fiji – are you aware of that, can you provide any further comments on that? That was a young nurse that passed away from septicaemia in a Fiji hospital?
JULIE BISHOP: I’m not aware of the details of a nurse in a Fiji hospital. I’m sorry.
JOURNALIST: This Institution is something of an institution in Brisbane – you’ve had a look around this morning. Can you just give us your views of what you’ve seen?
JULIE BISHOP: I was delighted to be here at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research Berghofer - the QIMR Berghofer - because this is a prestigious health and medical research institution. They’re doing remarkable work particularly in relation to the elimination of malaria and we spent some time this morning looking at some of their specialist labs and the mosquitos they are breeding within them so that they can carry out what will be lifesaving research in relation to malaria and other communicable and non-communicable diseases. Queensland has every reason – and Australia has every reason – to be proud of the competency and the remarkable work and the professionalism of our medical research institutions and this is an example of that. And I’m very proud that we were able to announce our Regional Health Security Initiative here and recognise the work that this Institute is doing.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555