JULIE BISHOP: We have had more good news overnight regarding the rescue operation in Thailand of the young boys and the soccer coach who have been trapped inside a cave in Chiang Rai for 15-16 days now. Following the successful rescue of four boys, four more were successfully rescued last night. It is wonderful news that we now have eight boys from the cave but five still remain. It is a high-risk operation but I understand that this last phase was able to be achieved far more quickly than the first phase, because of changing conditions and also because of the efficiency of the rescue teams. There are still 19 Australian personnel directly involved including Dr Richard Harris who is playing a critical role in the health assessment of the remaining boys and the soccer coach in the cave. Last evening Thai Prime Minister Prayut visited the site and he specifically thanked the Australian personnel and he expressed the deep appreciation of the Thai people and the work that the Australian team has undertaken. Prime Minister Prayut is well known to us. He was here in Sydney for the Australia-ASEAN Leadership forum earlier this year. The operation is ongoing. It still will take some time for the last phase to be completed but we wish all of the rescue teams the very best. Our thoughts are with the boys, their parents and families, and the rescue teams who are working tirelessly to achieve what would be a remarkable outcome if all are able to be rescued from the cave safely.
We have also had news overnight that UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has resigned. The United Kingdom is one of our closest allies and friends, and Boris Johnson is a great friend of Australia. He was reshaping Britain’s foreign policy including in relation to deeper engagement in the Pacific announcing more UK posts in our part of the world. We will miss Boris in his role as Foreign Secretary. I developed a very close personal rapport with him. We worked closely together on many regional and global challenges and developed a strong friendship. I look forward to welcoming the new Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. I look forward to working with him and I hope to make contact with him as soon as is appropriate.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what impact might Boris Johnson’s resignation have on the upcoming AUKMIN meeting in Edinburgh?
JULIE BISHOP: We are yet to work out whether AUKMIN will proceed in its current format and so we are working with our counterparts in the UK in relation to that matter.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned this is the beginning of the end for Theresa May Government?
JULIE BISHOP: There are obviously significant challenges in relation to the Brexit matter. First, there are negotiations to be had within the Government to agree on a negotiating mandate and then of course there must be negotiations with the European Union. So there are some challenging times ahead for the Government but I am confident that the British Government will achieve a negotiating mandate and then negotiate a positive outcome with the European Union. I hope that Australia will be able to continue our discussions with the United Kingdom regarding a free trade agreement with Australia when the time is appropriate.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned about how under Mr Johnson that he had put a Pacific focus on British foreign policy. Are you worried that could be lost under the change to a new Foreign Secretary?
JULIE BISHOP: I am looking forward to talking to the new Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt as soon as possible about some of the initiatives that we achieved with Secretary Johnson and what continuity there will be. He will of course want to put his own stamp on Britain's foreign policy, but we have achieved much together over a number of years. I have been Foreign Minister of Australia for five years, there have been a number of British Foreign Secretaries in that time, and there is always a close and deep engagement between Australia and the United Kingdom. We are close friends, we are close allies, we are very strong trading partners.
JOURNALIST: We have heard from New Zealand's Acting Prime Minister that he believes a spill is on over in the UK. Do you think Boris Johnson would make a good alternate Prime Minister?
JULIE BISHOP: I am not going to enter into a commentary on the internal workings of the Tory Party. What Australia wants to see is stability and certainty, and we want to continue working with the UK Government on matters of concern to us, and that includes a free trade agreement when the time is appropriate.
JOURNALIST: On that free trade agreement there has been a view put that the soft Brexit proposed by Prime Minister May, in fact makes a free trade agreement with the UK unworkable because the UK remains relatively enmeshed with the EU. Are you concerned that the soft Brexit will actually compromise Australia's opportunities in that regard?
JULIE BISHOP: It is very early days. The negotiating position within the Government has to be determined, then there will be very long and protracted negotiations with the European Union, so it is very early days. We are obviously watching the matter very closely, but we hope to be in a position to negotiate a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom after they have exited from the European Union.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about the Thai rescue - have you had any personal contact with any of the Australians involved? Will you have any personal contact? You must be enormously proud of the role the Australians are playing?
JULIE BISHOP: I am very proud that the Australian team have been able to play such an important and critical role in the rescue. Dr Harris, for a start, has been intimately involved in the health assessment of the boys. Our Australian Federal Police divers have been part of the daisy-chain of rescuers. The Navy clearance divers have also been involved and we have crisis response teams on the ground. I have not made contact directly with them. Their priorities are on the rescue, but our Embassy in Bangkok is involved. We have people from our
Embassy there. At some appropriate time, I will most certainly make contact with our team and thank them for the extraordinary work that they have put in. This is part of an international effort. We are not the only rescue team there. We are working under the guidance of the Thai Government and the Thai Royal Navy specifically, but there are also rescue teams from the United States, and from China, and Great Britain, and others.
JOURNALIST: Would you like to see them recommended for their bravery and perhaps will the Australian Government reward them or recognise them for their bravery?
JULIE BISHOP: Our focus is on ensuring that all of the boys and their coach can be rescued safely, so that is our focus. That is our priority at present.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can I ask what you make of Mark Latham's robo-calls overnight?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, it is an interesting turn of events, isn't it, when even Mark Latham is calling Bill Shorten a liar. This is a man that the Labor Party wanted the Australian people to have as the Prime Minister of this country. So, for the first time in a long time I agree with Mark Latham.
JOURNALIST: Mud starting to stick for Bill Shorten?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, let's see. We are focused on creating jobs, on growing our economy, on fixing challenges like the GST distribution, that is our focus. Mark Latham and Bill Shorten can enter into a slanging match, calling each other names, but our focus is on ensuring that the Australian people have job opportunities, that we get on with prudent, fiscal management, getting the budget back into surplus, paying for essential services and ensuring that our nation is safe and secure. They are our priorities.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask about another matter – former AFL star Brian Lake is in a Japanese jail at the moment. Can you confirm whether we are providing consular assistance?
JULIE BISHOP: I wont go into details but we always provide consular support should we be contacted.
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