JULIE BISHOP: Good morning. I am delighted to be here at Latin-America Down Under with Mark Coulton, the Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. This conference represents a significant partnership between Australia and the countries of Latin-America. A number of Latin-American countries are studying the Australian experience of economic reforms and how we’ve developed our minerals and energy sector, and our agricultural sector. Likewise, many Australian companies are interested in investing and doing business in Latin-America, and so I was delighted to officially open this event which underscores the need for our Government to continue to be focused on negotiating free trade agreements around the world. We have a number with Latin-American countries, either underway or that have been negotiated – for example, with Peru. We stand with Latin-American countries in advocating the benefits of free and open trade. As Mark knows, the tourism links between Australia and Latin-America are growing. The student exchange is now an exceedingly important part of our education sector. So business, tourism and education are underpinning this very important partnership between Australia and Latin America.
JOURNALIST: You were standing next Andrew Forrest yesterday and he criticised the Australian media’s coverage of China, suggesting it was undermining bi-lateral trade. Do you agree with him?
JULIE BISHOP: I believe that some of the commentary about the current state of the Australia-China relationship is ill-informed. The fact is, we are continuing to work very closely with China across a range of areas including trade. As Steven Ciobo our Trade Minister indicated our two-way trade is still going ahead at record levels. Ministers are visiting China. Steven Ciobo will be there shortly. My counterpart and I are planning a meeting shortly and so much of the commentary is ill-informed, and I think Andrew Forrest was pointing out that there are many positives about the Australia-China relationship but that doesn't seem to make the news.
JOURNALIST: In what ways are they ill-informed? Do you have examples?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes.
JOURNALIST: What are some of those examples?
JULIE BISHOP: There was an article yesterday in the Australian Financial Review yesterday that was fundamentally flawed in its assumptions, and clearly the author didn't check with my office or anybody in Government to determine the actual state of the Australian-China relationship. This is a good news story. We have a positive relationship with China. China is our largest two-way trading partner. The Australian exports to China were worth about $110 billion last year, and about 50 per cent of that was from iron ore. So we have a very strong relationship with China. Australian iron ore is going into the steel that is driving China's urbanisation. We are great trading partners, and we have a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China which means we engage at many levels including at the highest levels of Government and that's continuing.
JOURNALIST: Minister, are you referring to Geoff Raby's article in the AFR?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes, I was.
JOURNALIST: Has the Government got the balance between regional security and trade correct in this relationship with China?
JULIE BISHOP: I believe we have. We have been balancing our national interests for quite some time with China, but also with other growing economies in the region. We are negotiating a free trade agreement with Indonesia currently, and we're working very closely with Indonesia on counter-terrorism measures. We work very closely with Malaysia - our 10th largest trading partner - not only in economic terms but also we're working very closely on border protection and counter-terrorism with Malaysia. So Australia is adept at balancing our national interests, whether it be economic or security.
JOURNALIST: Steven Ciobo is in China at the moment and it has been reported he hasn't secured any meetings with Chinese ministers. How can you maintain the relationship is in good shop when our ministers are not getting access they used to?
JULIE BISHOP: Please. Steven Ciobo is in Shanghai for a football match. He's there to support Port Power who has established relations with businesses in Shanghai. There are many visits planned and many visits reciprocated. So I wouldn't overstate the current circumstances relating to the Australian-China relationship. It is strong, it is positive and it is growing.
JOURNALIST: Just on the absence of any announcements on the petroleum resources rent tax in the budget - how close is the Government to actually finalising its review given that foreign multinationals like Exxon and Shell are going to be the biggest players?
JULIE BISHOP: Clearly these are matters the Treasurer has under review. He'll be carefully going through the proposal, and I'm sure in good time he'll make an announcement.
JOURNALIST: Is there any change to the Indonesia travel warning?
JULIE BISHOP: The travel warning has been updated on Smartraveller to reflect the attacks over the weekend in Surabaya, but the level has not changed. It is still ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ but I do urge anyone planning on travelling to
Indonesia to read the travel advice because it is updated regularly to reflect circumstances on the ground based on security and intelligence advice that we receive.
JOURNALIST: I’m interested, I mean, is there any advice - you’re here in Perth obviously - we have got a lot of people who go to Bali, a lot of people seem to be flouting the warning and continuing to go.
JULIE BISHOP: The attacks have taken place in Surabaya in East Java, and our Consulate there has been in touch with the very small number of Australians who are actually in Surabaya based on the registrations. Many more Australians, particularly Western Australians, visit Bali, and I urge them to register their travel on the Government's Smartraveller website, to ensure they have travel insurance - if you can't afford travel insurance you really can't afford the travel - and also to ensure they read the updated Smartraveller advice which reflects the circumstances on the ground.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that North Korea is threatening to pull out of talks with South Korea because of the military exercises with the US?
JULIE BISHOP: The South Korean-US military exercises are an annual event. They have been going on for many years, and the United States is determined to press ahead with a summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore, I believe on the 12th of June. We support this summit. We think that any opportunity to bring North Korea to the negotiating table should be taken, and North Korea is in direct defiance of numerous UN Security Council resolutions banning its illegal nuclear weapons program and its ballistic missile programs, and preventing it from carrying out tests in the region which are a risk, a security risk, to other nations. So we welcome any efforts to bring North Korea to the negotiating table so that we can see denuclearisation on the part of North Korea and ultimately peace on the Korean Peninsula.
JOURNALIST: Is the threat by Pyeongyang to pull out of these talks, does it undermine their claims to want genuine peace?
JULIE BISHOP: I have said from the outset that North Korea must demonstrate concrete, verifiable steps that it is genuine in its desire to denuclearise and to work towards peace on the Korean Peninsula. We have been down this path before. It's quite obvious that a number of nations are sceptical about North Korea's commitment to peace, and therefore North Korea should take concrete, verifiable steps to show that it is genuine in wanting to negotiate a better outcome for the people of North and South Korea and the region more generally.
JOURNALIST: A report has found 63 per cent of millennials think politicians have a negative impact on society. What do you think can be done to change this?
JULIE BISHOP: What was the report?
JOURNALIST: A Deloitte report.
JULIE BISHOP: A Deloitte report - here in Australia? How many people did they survey?
JOURNALIST: I'm not too sure.
JULIE BISHOP: Well, I obviously want to look at the details of the survey before I responded but I would encourage young people to be involved in political life in the national debates, the national discourse. It does impact on people's lives. I'd like to see many more young people take an interest in politics and certainly be involved in the national debates on national issues.
JOURNALIST: Is Bali safe? I know we were talking about Surabaya but is Bali actually safe do you think?
JULIE BISHOP: Our travel advice for Indonesia is ‘exercise a high degree of caution’, and we encourage people to take responsibility for their own safety. There is a lot of advice set out in the Smarttraveller travel warning and I do urge anyone seeking to travel to Indonesia to read it. Indeed, if they're travelling anywhere in the world, I would recommend that they read our Smartraveller advice. So people should take care not to be in places where there might be a terrorist attack, to read the advice, to take notice of what local authorities say and to register so that the Australian missions overseas know that they're actually in country.
JOURNALIST: If you had a holiday booked to Bali right would you go or would you cancel?
JULIE BISHOP: I would go.
JOURNALIST: Last week, artwork by school children in Rockhampton was changed by the local council because it depicted the Taiwanese flag. The local mayor says the council was contacted by Chinese Vice Consul in Brisbane about the matter. Do you think that was inappropriate or appropriate? Should it have been handled differently?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, Australia recognises our One China policy, and in accordance with that, it's a bipartisan view, the Federal Government recognises One China. It's a matter for local governments as to how they respond to these sorts of requests.
JOURNALIST: Should it have been handled through the embassy in Canberra though?
JULIE BISHOP: That's a matter for the two parties involved. If there was a concern raised at a local level, it can be dealt with at a local level.
JOURNALIST: What is your take on the protests that we have been seeing in Gaza?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia is deeply concerned at the level of violence in Gaza and we call on all sides to show restraint. The protestors are being incited by Hamas and yet Hamas must know that if they encourage protestors to cross into Israeli territory, there will be a response. Likewise, the Israeli Defence Force is carrying out Israel's right to self-defence but it must be proportionate, and there must not be an excessive use of force. We call on all sides to de-escalate the tensions, stop the violence and return to peaceful negotiations so that we can achieve a two-state solution whereby the people of Israel and the people of the Palestinian territories can live side-by-side behind internationally-recognised borders.
JOURNALIST: Do you condemn the use of live ammunition?
JULIE BISHOP: I certainly call on all parties to de-escalate. The protesters should not seek to enter the Israeli territories by force. Hamas should not be instigating this kind of protests which they must know could lead to violence, and the Israelis must use proportionate measures in self-defence.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the IDF did use proportionate measures with lethal force?
JULIE BISHOP: I'm calling on the IDF to use proportionate measures. We are obviously following this matter very closely - as are other nations around the world - but both sides need to de-escalate. There is enough violence in the Middle East without Gaza being embroiled in it, and we would hope that both sides will return to the negotiating table.
JOURNALIST: Argentina recently raised its interest rates for a third time. People say it's going to impact economic growth. Do you see this being a problem for Australian miners investing in the region?
JULIE BISHOP: I'll be in Argentina on Monday for the G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting. I will be meeting with the Argentinian Foreign Minister and it is certainly a matter I will discuss with him. We are interested in seeing more Australian investment in Argentina. FMG, BHP and other big mining operations from Australia are very keen to continue investing in Argentina. I'm sure that with the economic reforms underway, Argentina will be very alive to the fact that it is a very competitive world, and global capital goes to the location that is most attractive. That's why Australia is seeking to lower our corporate tax rates, so that we are internationally competitive, while we are investing in infrastructure - the $75 billion infrastructure package announced in the Budget is to drive productivity - enhancing infrastructure - but we also need to have an attractive regulatory and tax environment. That's why corporate tax cuts are so important because otherwise Australia will be internationally uncompetitive.
JOURNALIST: In Malaysia, do you think Anwar Ibrahim will become PM?
JULIE BISHOP: We certainly welcome news that Anwar Ibrahim is likely to be released from jail. He has a great deal to offer. We look forward to working with whomever the Malaysian people in their wisdom choose as their Government, but I believe Anwar Ibrahim does have a lot to offer Malaysian politics.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that Najib Razak's defeat represents a defeat for China’s strategic ambitions in that region?
JULIE BISHOP: I'm not going to run a commentary on another country's elections. We welcomed the outcome of peaceful elections in Malaysia. Malaysia is one of our closest trading partners. We have a very strong connection with Malaysia both through the Commonwealth and through the ASEAN-Australian relationship, and we look forward to working closely with the new Malaysian Government.
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