ANDREW FORREST: I would like pay a really great tribute to our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for taking time out of her busy budget schedule to be here with our Chinese customers, to show the great importance of the Chinese relationship to Australia by being here to celebrate a momentous occasion to Australia and a momentous occasion to Australia’s ability to serve the people of China. We have the heart holding out in friendship and love to the people of China like I expect the people of China to have a heart holding out in love to people of Australia. Fortescue is proof of that heart.
JOURNALIST: Minister, I saw you were very excited. Western Australians are going to benefit from China’s economy reform. What do you think about the China-Australia relationship?
JULIE BISHOP: China has been the most remarkable economic success story in modern history and Australia is proud to have played a part, and that is why I am here today with Fortescue Metals Group, because FMG has also played a part in the strong and enduring ties between Australia and China. This is our most important trading relationship but the people-to-people links are much deeper, and it is through efforts by people like Andrew Forrest that this very special relationship will continue to endure. I am very pleased to be here, to pay tribute to the Australia-China relationship.
JOURNALIST: The Australia-China relationship right now, as some media is saying, it is frozen. How can you unfreeze?
JULIE BISHOP: That is profoundly misinformed commentary. The Australia-China relationship continues at the highest levels. We are deeply engaged across a range of activities. We have a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China which means that we engage across all sectors of society, our communities and government to government. So it is a very special and important relationship, and will continue to be so. I am not going to be distracted by ill-informed commentary.
JOURNALIST: Minister Ciobo will soon be in China again. Why is the Australian media so conscious and are taking a lot of notice in the China-Australian relations?
JULIE BISHOP: You will have to ask them because it is very much in our national interest to promote and strengthen our economic relationship with China. You are quite right - our Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Steven Ciobo will be in Shanghai shortly. I am planning to be back in China again this year. I have a very good professional relationship with my counterpart Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and I am looking forward to seeing him again shortly.
ANDREW FORREST: If I can comment – the Australian media and particularly newspapers, when it gets reprinted in China, it does break my heart because they don’t have government endorsement. They are not the government voice. They are business people trying to sell a few newspapers. Saying we are great friends with China, we have a very, very deep relationship with China. Me saying that we hold out the heart of Australia to the people of China and we expect the people of China to hold out their heart in friendship and love for Australia – that is not going to make print here because it is great news. If I said something negative, it would be headlines. Sadly, the real message is the great heart we have for China. It won’t be reprinted in Australian newspaper in China and Chinese media, it should, because that is the real story.
JOURNALIST: With regard to looking after the Fortescue family, there was a report in today’s paper of a study of 1,100 FIFO workers that showed they had three times the level of psychological distress of your average Australian. What more does an industry need to do to look after FIFO workers?
ANDREW FORREST: I’m no fan of FIFO. Everyone knows that. I grew up here. I think living up in this great north-west, particularly with the technology which we have is fantastic for kids. I am product of those kids. Now, where we have to have FIFO because there is no choice, you don’t just give the compulsory, if you like, counselling, make all those services which you have to by law available. What you do is you create a family. You create chaplainage. You create a deep culture of love and support for one another. Whether or not you are FIFO or you are just happily wearing the Fortescue colours, you have a responsibility to be there at the lowest point for your mates, as your mates will be there at the lowest point for you. That is the Fortescue culture. That is how you drive through those inevitable bad times that I have, you have, we all have – you rely on our mates and that is the culture of Fortescue.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you will be next month at G20 where you will meet Wang Yi, your Chinese counterpart - what will you talk about?
JULIE BISHOP: Wang Yi and I have a very strong relationship. We talk about all issues that affect China, affect Australia. We talk about regional challenges and opportunities, and also we focus on China’s growing global leadership. Indeed, China as a permanent member of the Security Council is playing a leading role in trying to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula, for example. In recent days I have spoken to my counterparts from Japan, and South Korea and shortly with China, and we are all determined to ensure stability, prosperity and security for our region, and China is playing a significant role in that. We will talk about the kind of issues that we always discuss at our meetings – how China and Australia together can promote peace, stability and security in our region.
JOURNALIST: What are your plans to replicate FMG in Argentina? Can you elaborate on those?
ANDREW FORREST: We can. Argentina is a resource rich country with fabulous people. It has got great economical responsible leadership. It has had socialist leadership for 75-80 years - it has torn that country apart - but the fiscal management of that country is now responsible. We are seeing across South America, the great socialist-populous experiment finally coming to an end. Where people are saying: ‘When you tell me things that I want to hear, I know you are lying. When you tell me things are good for my country, for my long-term future, I know you are not telling the truth’ - that is what I am seeing across South America. That flame has been lit in Argentina and I am hoping that it spreads right across South America for the good of the world.
JOURNALIST: So is FMG going to boost exploration in South America, in Argentina specifically, and do you have plans to invest more?
ANDREW FORREST: Yes. FMG has exciting projects on the way in Ecuador, in Colombia and in Argentina. We are really happy to be collaborating with the sovereign management of those countries, and the business sector of those countries. But most importantly, we do it the Fortescue way - we start with the communities, we build up the strength of the community, we build up the support from the community and then we take that community support on in to infrastructure, into businesses, into exports, into the wealth of the local people.
JOURNALIST: What about the next ten years for FMG? Will you be diversifying away from sole exposure to iron ore?
ANDREW FORREST: I want to get really clear. We are a management and leadership company. Where you need operations, where you need leadership, call for Fortescue. We are the world’s best in trains. We are now the world’s best in iron ore bulk shipping. We are now the world’s best in automation. This is a company which puts iron ore through those systems but it is the systems which are more important. It’s the management and the leadership and the operations of those systems – that can be applied to copper, to industry, to wherever we look. That is the beauty of Fortescue.
JOURNALIST: Do you have specific ambitions in any one commodity? Like lithium for instance?
ANDREW FORREST: We are looking across the battery materials space and that can be copper, that can be gold, that can be lithium, that can be nickel, graphite – wherever the world needs our resources and leadership - if there is an opportunity for Fortescue to add value to those communities, we will be there.
JOURNALIST: How important is it to you to boost your grades and counter the price discounting and do you think that is going to continue to be sustained?
ANDREW FORREST: See, the beauty of Fortescue is we are there when times are tough. When right now, China steel industry is rolling at a record 900 million tonnes annualised last month, so things are great. But when things are crook and (inaudible), when the steel price comes down, that is when you need to be the most competitive. You are not worried about how much money you can make, you are worried about how much money you can save, and when we get to that point, the great and old friend of the Chinese people will be their strongest because we will have the lowest cost, the best value and use, and be China’s best friend. But I will be improving our grades under the core leadership team, and Greg, we are improving our grades every day and I am terribly excited about that as well. I don’t think we are going to move away from costs because that low cost is China’s best friend.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you spoke quite highly of Fortescue’s achievements in a lot of women in high places in the organisation - look at your own Liberal Party, is the current situation of women in senior positions, apart from yourself, is it satisfactory and are there lessons you can learn from Fortescue?
JULIE BISHOP: Fortescue is a leader in diversity, and as I said today they lead by example - with Alison Gaines as the female CEO, with 50 per cent of their board females, with 50 per cent of the core leadership female they are leaders in that field - but we want to see more women in Parliament, more women in decision-making roles. I am pleased that we have set up a fighting fund for females who want to be pre-selected as candidates for the Liberal Party. In recent times we have seen women replace male Members of Parliament. For example, Amanda Stoker replaced George Brandis as a Senator in Queensland. People must be pre-selected on merit but I want to encourage more women to seek a political career with the Liberal Party, and certainly receive my support in doing so. FMG is showing that in corporate Australia you can see more women take leadership positions and we want to see that in the Liberal Party as well.
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