JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, the case of James Ricketson, the Australian film maker in Cambodia – you’ve now taken the step of writing to Cambodia about his situation. Can you tell us what you said in that letter and the family has called for more sustained political pressure on the Cambodian regime over the situation, are you willing to apply that pressure?
JULIE BISHOP: In these cases where Australians find themselves in difficulties overseas, we have to be very careful not to do anything that could be counter-productive. We have been providing consular assistance ever since he was detained and that assistance is ongoing. But there are limits to what we can do when somebody is within the legal system of another country. What I have sought to do is register my concerns with my counterpart. I won’t go into the details of the submission that I made but it will have been noted that Australia and the Australian Government is concerned about this case. We will continue to do all we can behind the scenes - not through the media because I don’t want to do anything that would prejudice his position in Cambodia. We work closely with Cambodia on a range of matters and I know my counterpart. There will be opportunities for me to raise it with him on other occasions as well.
JOURNALIST: But your assessment is that more public pressure would inflame the situation?
JULIE BISHOP: I don't want to go into specific details on this case, but it is my experience and the advice I have received from our experts in consular matters that quiet diplomacy behind the scenes can often result in better outcomes. We will obviously work closely with our Cambodian counterparts but in the meantime the Australian Government is and has been providing consular assistance such as we would for any other Australian citizen who found themselves in similar difficulties.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, were you moved by Susan Lamb's speech to Parliament yesterday and does that do anything to change the government’s resolve that she needs to take her case to the High Court?
JULIE BISHOP: The fact remains is that Susan Lamb is a dual citizen. That is the fact. I understand that there are further steps that she could take, including through the Queensland authorities, to obtain the necessary information to renounce your British citizenship. We believe that the Labor Party should refer her case to the High Court, should she continue to remain in the Parliament because only the High Court can determine what is a reasonable attempt to renounce your citizenship. In the case of the United Kingdom, they do assist in the renunciation of citizenship. Whether or not the steps she has taken to date are reasonable is a matter for the High Court to determine. Now, my view is that in order not to be unnecessarily partisan, each party should take responsibility for their members and as we did, we referred Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash, Matt Canavan to the High Court and the Labor Party should similarly do the right thing and refer Susan Lamb to the High Court.
JOURNALIST: The Opposition was hoping that her emotional story yesterday to Parliament would draw a line under the issue and Parliament could perhaps move on. Are you saying that is not the case? We are still a long way from resolving this?
JULIE BISHOP: I sympathise those who have difficult personal relationships. The fact is that the law must be adhered to and Section 44 of our Constitution makes it very clear and the High Court determination in recent cases makes it clear that you can only be an Australian citizen if you have a seat in the Australian Parliament. That is the law.
JOURNALIST: How long do you think we’ve got to play on this? Do you think this is going to draw out for another six months, towards the next election?
JULIE BISHOP: This is a test for Bill Shorten. Bill Shorten told the Australian public, indeed told the media, that the Labor Party's processes for ensuring eligibility was so watertight that he had nothing to answer for. He misled you. He deceived you. A number of his members were in fact ineligible to sit in Parliament. David Feeney has done the right thing now and resigned. But Susan Lamb, by her own admission, is a dual citizen. Only Bill Shorten can answer for why he said that his processes were watertight. So Bill Shorten should take responsibility for the scenario and do the right thing and refer her to the High Court.
JOURNALIST: I am interested to know if you think this is going to get murkier and dirtier before it ends up being cleaned up? Because Labor seems to think that if Susan Lamb has a problem than Josh Frydenberg has a problem. I know we talked previously about his background and his family.
JULIE BISHOP: No, there is a very big difference here. By Susan Lamb’s own admission is that she is a British citizen. This is not me saying it. She has admitted it. So the law should apply equally.
JOURNALIST: On North Korea, there are reports Kim Jong-un is going to send his sister to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in the next few weeks. How should we interpret this? Is this a sign that North Korea does want to come in from the cold, so to speak?
JULIE BISHOP: We welcome any effort by all relevant parties to ease the tensions on the Korean Peninsula but the fact remains that North Korea is in defiance of numerous United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding its illegal weapons program and its nuclear program. We hope that the Winter Olympics may go some way in encouraging North Korea into dialogue, get them back to the negotiating table. I well recall in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics when a team from North and South Korea marched in as one under the same flag, same uniforms. There was a short respite in the tensions but then they resumed. So we mustn't be naive about what this means but should encourage more dialogue between North and South if it leads to North Korea abiding by its international obligations to cease its illegal weapons and nuclear programs.
JOURNALIST: Why should the Australian public not have a lesser view of Barnaby Joyce in light of what has emerged about his personal life?
JULIE BISHOP: Clearly, all those involved in this matter are going through a very difficult time. I don't intend to add to their difficulties by making public comments on it.
JOURNALIST: Are there any element of that story that are in the public interest do you think? And does Barnaby Joyce have any questions to answer in terms of his conduct?
JULIE BISHOP: Clearly, given that there is so much public comment about it, it is in the public domain now. I don't intend add to it.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can I ask about Harry Harris? It is now looking firm that he is going to be the US Ambassador to Australia after its tick-off by the White House. Do you think that his appointment is going to present some sharp choices for Australia given his stance in particular when it comes to militarisation in the South China Sea?
JULIE BISHOP: As Foreign Minister I will not pre-empt an announcement by another country of their ambassador to Australia. There are obviously processes to go through and procedures to be completed before an ambassador is announced. I won't pre-empt any announcement by the United States as to who their next ambassador to Australia will be. I know Admiral Harris. He has visited Australia many times. He is a distinguished military person from the United States and should he be selected as our ambassador, we would welcome that. He is a very good friend of Australia and he has been a strong advocate for the bilateral relationship. He is well-known in the region and I know that other countries will respect the United States' choice should it be Admiral Harris as ambassador. I am not going to pre-empt the United States, I am not going to pre-empt the White House in confirming who will be the next ambassador.
JOURNALIST: Joe Hockey has suggested that he has given the Trump Administration advice in regards to infrastructure. How do you think he is performing as an Ambassador and how would you describe our relationship with the Trump Administration?
JULIE BISHOP: Our relationship with the Trump Administration is very strong as befits the fact that the United States is one of our largest trading partners, in fact, our second largest trading partner and the largest source of foreign direct investment into Australia. In economic terms, the United States is a very important partner for us. United States is also our long-standing ally, defence partner, strategic partner. The relationship is as deep and as close as it has ever been. We have very good working relationships with senior members of the Trump Administration. I will be meeting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shortly and we will continue to discuss, as we have two date, matters of mutual interests, regional challenges, global challenges and how Australia and the United States can work more closely together. And in the case of Ambassador Hockey, he has been presenting information to some of the congressional committees about what Australia has done in the infrastructure space and I know that we often exchange ideas and legislative concerns and thoughts on domestic issues. I am aware that Ambassador Hockey has been passing on information about the Federal Government's commitment to more effective and efficient infrastructure.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Prime Minister should use the opportunity when he meets President Trump later this month to raise the issue of the TPP and maybe make a push in that area?
JULIE BISHOP: I have no doubt that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be discussed with the President, given the statements he made at Davos and given the fact that we have now concluded the TPP-11 which is a great credit, not only to Australia but to Japan and Canada and Mexico and Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Chile and the other countries involved. It is a great credit to them to continue to negotiate a high quality comprehensive free-trade agreement that will be of benefit not only to the individual countries but to our region. And it is an open architecture underpinning the TPP-11. That means other countries can accede to it provided they agree with the standards and bench marks that we have set. We would welcome the United States coming on board the TPP-11, as we would other nations who have indicated an interest - from the United Kingdom through to South Korea and Thailand.
JOURNALIST: Minister, just on a domestic issue, the Prime Minister copped some flak this morning from Pat Dodson and others for leaving a Closing the Gap event early. It turns out, we believe, that was to compose a statement to the House on the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse. Nonetheless, he has caused a level of offence. Was that a mistake and does the optics of that undermine the appearance of his commitment to Indigenous issues?
JULIE BISHOP: I am not aware of the details of the Prime Minister's schedule this morning but I have seen him at a number of meetings. He made a statement in the House as you said. The Prime Minister’s day is always back-to-back but he does give an enormous priority to the Closing the Gap initiative and he spends a lot time with Indigenous communities and Indigenous leaders. I know where his heart and priority lies and he would never want to cause offence to any group and he is very committed to Closing the Gap.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe, there is a report out today about Indonesia being under a dark cloud, a fairly grim assessment of its future. It runs contrary to a lot of the received wisdom on its trajectory. Do you agree with that assessment?
JULIE BISHOP: Indonesia is a close friend and partner of Australia. It is the largest Muslim nation in the world in terms of its population - 260 million people. It is one of the largest democracies in the world. But, it is an emerging democracy and Australia has supported Indonesia and its aspirations to be a fully functioning democracy. That often brings challenges. It is not easy to pursue such a significant change to become a democracy of 260 million people. So we continue to work very closely with Indonesia. I meet with my counterpart Retno Marsudi on a regular occasion. The Prime Minister and President Widodo have a very close and engaged relationship. We support Indonesia's aspirations to grow its economy, to bring stability and security to its vast island nation so we will support Indonesia in its efforts to be a fully functioning democracy and a significant regional and increasingly global voice.
JOURNALIST: Congress has apparently passed somewhat bewildering legislation to prevent staffers and Members of Parliament having relationships. Could you see that ever happening here and can you stop staffers and Members of Parliament having relationships?
JULIE BISHOP: A particular legislative course that the United States Congress takes is a matter for them, of course. I mean, these are laws for the United States so I won’t comment on that. It would be very difficult to draft legislation that could cross so easily into people’s personal lives. Government has no business interfering in people's personal lives and we wouldn't want to cross the line so that the moral police were able to dictate what happens between consenting adults.
- Ends -
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555