JULIE BISHOP: I’m really pleased to be here with my Cabinet colleague Senator Nigel Scullion and we are in the second day of the diplomats visit to Darwin and the Northern Territory. Today we were hosted by Inpex, as they explained to our delegation the significance of the Inpex LNG project here in Darwin, the jobs, the investment and the future opportunities that this massive project brings, the largest Japanese investment outside Japan and obviously the largest Japanese investment here in Australia. We have also visited Charles Darwin University and have been treated to the examples of the world class research here through the Menzies School of Health Research and also the specific activities on supporting indigenous culture, indigenous employment. It has been fascinating for our diplomats and I know that there will be many more visits here to continue to find opportunities to engage between the Northern Territory and the rest of the world.
This really is the gateway to Asia. Australia sets great significance on our engagement with Asia and Charles Darwin University is exquisitely positioned to nurture that engagement. I also announced the 2019 Mobility Grants under the New Colombo Plan. Over 11,800 students will travel overseas under the New Colombo Plan to undertake part of their studies in universities in 36 locations in the Indo-Pacific as well as undertake work experience and practicums.
This program, an initiative that I established in 2013, will see over 40,000 young Australians between 2014 and 2020 live and study and work in our region, and what an extraordinary investment that is in our engagement in the Indo-Pacific.
JOURNALIST: Minister, New Zealand has today highlighted China’s growing influence in the Pacific in a strategic outlook and says nations there will increasingly depend on Australia to support their security, is Australia ready for that task?
JULIE BISHOP: I welcome New Zealand’s White Paper. They have been through a process similar to the one we undertook in 2017 and we released our Foreign Policy White Paper last November. I am particularly pleased that New Zealand has confirmed that it has no better friend than Australia and we feel similarly about our friends across the Tasman. Of course, our part of the world is becoming more contested, more congested, more competitive as the economies in the Indo-Pacific increase in size and dynamism, so too will their strategic challenges. We look forward to working closely with New Zealand to ensure that ours is a prosperous stable and secure region.
JOURNALIST: New Zealand statement notes China has “views on human rights and freedom of information that stand in contrast to those that prevail in New Zealand” – is that the same position as Australia?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, it is self-evident that China has a very different political system to Australia. We’ve made that clear in the past. That is a statement of fact and we certainly look forward to continuing to work with China where we have differences of opinion over various matters. It is how you work through those differences that counts. On human rights, we have a human rights dialogue with China, I think the only ministerial human rights dialogue China has with any other country and Australia works through our concerns through that dialogue.
JOURNALIST: Defence Chief Mark Binskin says Beijing has broke its promise not to militarise the South China Sea, means it has squandered the trust of its neighbours and undermined its aspirations to regional leadership, do you believe that?
JULIE BISHOP: President Xi Jingping had said that China would not militarise the South China Sea Islands but we have been concerned by militarisation of some of the features. These are matters we have raised with China privately and publicly and our position on the South China hasn’t changed. We are not a claimant nation but we urge all countries to resolve their differences, their various claims peacefully not unilaterally and most certainly resort to the international tribunals established under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea if they are not able to resolve them.
JOURNALIST: Is it encouraging to see Wellington call out China for not adopting the traditional governance and values championed by the existing international order?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia is a champion, promoter and defender of the international rules-based order. This is the network of alliances and treaties and institutions underpinned by international law that has evolved since the Second World War and China and every other country over the last 70 years has benefited from that international rules based order. In the case of China, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty under that international rules-based order. Australia along with New Zealand and other likeminded nations will continue to seek to strengthen the rules-based order. It is undoubtedly in our interests to do so and it seems, from New Zealand’s Foreign Policy White Paper, they agree that championing and strengthening the international rules based order is in New Zealand’s interest as well.
JOURNALIST: On the GST, what was your reaction to NT Treasurer Nicole Manison claiming that it looks like the NT may be $30 million worse off under the new GST system?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, she’s wrong. The Northern Territory will be $189 million better off. It is disturbing she is a treasurer and she can’t get the stats right. They will be $189 million better off and I hope that the Northern Territory Government sees this as a once in a generation opportunity to put the GST formula on a sound footing. More certainty, less volatility. There will be a floor put in place so that no State or Territory suffers the experience of Western Australia where we receive 29 cents out of every dollar we generated in GST. The Territory received $4.50 from every dollar it generated from GST. So, we have put in place a floor that will start at 70 cents and increase to 75 cents. We have also ensured that the GST pool is much larger. In the past it has just been derived from the GST, the consumer and consumption tax, but now the Federal Government will be topping up the GST pool with Federal Government funds for the first time. So that means the pool will be much larger. No State or Territory will be worse off and I am sure Nigel would love to have something to say on that point.
NIGEL SCULLION: Certainly. Thanks Julie. What Territorians expect is some adults in this conversations. Now, with an $11 calculator you can work out exactly where the Territory is up to. Before I agreed to this process I knew that this is going to be something better for the Territory. So, if Nicole Manison believes that we are $30 million worse off, it looks like she’s saying that we are sticking with the old formula and of course, every Territorian will be saying – why are we doing that? It just doesn’t add up. So I call on the Treasurer to be a bit fair dinkum to Territorians and to be a little more sensible about these utterances. This is really important for Territorians and she should be able to rise above some petty stunt because her calculator doesn’t work. This is really important for Territorians. We are going to have a confident and predictable future for Treasurers up to eight years in advance and in every year we are doing better so this is just silly nonsense and I feel a little bit ashamed sitting next to Julie from Western Australia when I have to talk about our Treasurer and the Territory, frankly, just looking a bit silly about all this. This is a really important conversation. A lot of people have put a lot of work into this and I think what she needs to do now is come up with a sheet of paper so she can actually explain what is nothing more complex then arithmetic about how she actually came out with a $30 million loss because all of the Commonwealth Treasury officials who are very experienced in these matters have provided documents and details to myself and the Cabinet Ministers that I have seen. Now, if she is saying that some of those formulaic processes are incorrect then she should demonstrate where the error is and she should do so soon.
JULIE BISHOP: We are absolutely confident that the Northern Territory will be $189 million better off during the transition period.
JOURNALIST: One of the reasons the Northern Territory gets such a big share of the GST is because of the number of seriously disadvantaged ingenious people who live here, do you think there should be accountability for the Northern Territory Government about how that money is spent and whether it actually goes to actually addressing -
JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely. Every government should be accountable for the tax payer funds that they utilise. The Territory Government is no different and that is exactly why the Territory gets more, about $4.50 for every dollar generated in GST, whereas an economy like Western Australia has received 29 cents – it is improving somewhat – but every government should be accountable to the taxpayers for the money they spend. Just because it is GST funds that has been distributed by the Federal Government doesn’t let the Territory Government off the hook and more importantly, the indigenous communities across the Northern Territory deserve that kind of transparency and accountability from the Territory Government.
JOURNALIST: So you’d support an audit of that funding?
JULIE BISHOP: The Territory Government should be accountable for every dollar they spend in GST like every other State Government should be.
JOURNALIST: The situation in Thailand at the moment, obviously we’ve just heard of a tragic death there, you’ve said that you’ve considered sending more AFP agents over there, is that something you will reconsider now that there has been a tragic death of a navy seal?
JULIE BISHOP: First, we are deeply saddened to learn that a former Thai Navy Seal who volunteered his time to assist in the rescue has died and we send our condolences to the Thai Government and of course to the diver’s family. This just underscores how dangerous this rescue mission is. We are at a very critical stage. Some very serious decisions are going to have to be made over the next few days, hopefully not weeks, to see how these boys and their soccer coach can be rescued safely. Australia already has 14 personnel on the ground from the Federal Police, from the Defence Force and also from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We have offered to send medical practitioners as well. We are working closely with the Thai Government and with the Thai Navy Seals in this rescue effort but it is at a very crucial time, it is very dangerous, as the death of the volunteer diver who was a very experienced Thai Navy Seal, has demonstrated.
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