JULIE BISHOP: After completing a very successful meeting with our counterparts in the United Kingdom last week, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary, it is timely that we are also here now in the United States to meet with our counterparts, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. The annual AUSMIN meeting in an opportunity for us to discuss matters of mutual interest and concern and this AUSMIN was one of the most productive and fruitful that I have attended. We covered a range of issues. We reaffirmed the standing and enduring nature of our Alliance and we committed to continue to cooperate on a whole range of areas, particularly focusing on our region the Indo-Pacific. It was a very positive meeting and we have come up with a joint workplan that we will be completing in time for next year’s AUSMIN which we will be hosting in Australia.
MARISE PAYNE: This has been a very productive couple of days with Secretary Mattis and Secretary Pompeo. Both of them opened their remarks with observations about 100 years of mateship. So that message about the depth, the history and the breadth of the alliance is not lost on any of us in the engagements we’ve had over the past two days. They’ve been very valuable opportunities to talk around cooperation, collaboration, particularly the work that we do together military to military both in the region, here in the United States and more broadly. We’re of course both engaged in key missions in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The United States is very supportive of our engagement in the Philippines, particularly in terms of our counter-terrorism work after the siege of Marawi last year. So the opportunity to consolidate those efforts of cooperation and collaboration, develop further habits of cooperation, as we were reminded is a very important one, and it’s certainly one we’ve taken advantage of in the last two days.
JOURNALIST: Minister, did you get a commitment or a sense of timing on the Ambassador to Australia and is it a worry that we still don’t have one?
JULIE BISHOP: We didn’t discuss that in detail; it’s a matter for the Secretary of State and the Trump Administration. We’re working very well with the chargé Jim Carouso and we have great relationships with the Trump Administration. We have access at the highest levels and we work very closely with our counterparts. So it’s an issue for the United States and we’ll be welcoming, I have no doubt, an Ambassador in due course.
JOURNALIST: Minister, in the last two months Donald Trump has whacked tariffs on Canadian imports and insulted Justin Trudeau. He has put tariffs on European imports and insulted Theresa May. You spoke about 100 years of mateship but this is their closest ally and their oldest ally, what makes you think we won’t be next?
JULIE BISHOP: Well if you look back over the last 18 months we have a very strong working relationship with the Trump Administration. We have had that from the outset. We are in constant contact with the Trump Administration, with the White House and we’re working very closely with all levels of government and we’re seeing the results of that very close cooperation. The Prime Minister has a good working relationship with President Trump—they speak often. I know Marise speaks often to her counterpart Secretary Mattis, and I’ve developed a very strong friendship with Secretary Pompeo. So we’re continuing to work closely on a whole range of issues. The importance of this Australia-US Ministerial meeting was that we were able to articulate areas of cooperation and collaboration, as Marise said. We have a joint work program that Australia and the United States is working on together to achieve peace and further prosperity in our region. So it’s a very close and deep relationship at the moment.
JOURNALIST: Minister Payne, the communiqué mentions increasing troop numbers in Darwin to two and a half thousand. Is that something that will be happening and how does that reflect the status of the defence relationship?
MARISE PAYNE: Well that has of course been the target for the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin since its inception. And the numbers have been gradually trending over time. We’re very pleased that the United States is continuing to commit to that engagement in a very strong way and reinforcing it in our joint work plan means we’ll be able to pursue that in the coming months.
JOURNALIST: Senator Payne, on that question, were there any discussions on other military aspects of cooperation such as possible higher rotation of American bombers coming through Northern Australia or ship visits to Perth or basing in Perth even?
MARISE PAYNE: Well, I won’t go into all of the finer details of the nature of those discussions but what we did press was the deep levels of cooperation that we already have. So we’ve been obviously working together in the region; our Indo-Pacific Endeavour Task Group which is currently at RIMPAC embarked almost 40 Marines and transited with them through the Pacific and up to RIMPAC. That’s part of our work program at the moment. So we also took Marines on HMAS Choules to New Caledonia for the largest humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise in the region, Croix du Sud. So those engagements are business as usual for us and the marine rotation force gives us an opportunity to enhance and to grow those. We look forward to welcoming over 24 countries to Exercise Kakadu in coming weeks in the Northern Territory and then just after that Pitch Black, the Air Force exercise. So the tempo is significant, and the value of the tempo is that it develops those habits of cooperation as I said. It develops that interoperability; it develops our confidence in working together which is invaluable in times of crisis or urgent response.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can I ask, did you learn anything more today about Donald Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin and how concerned are you that that meeting in Helsinki may embolden Russia and perhaps encourage them to dodge responsibility for their past actions and their involvement in MH17?
JULIE BISHOP: The United States is very clear-eyed about Russia’s behaviour. The President has seen an opportunity to engage Russia and we support that. But at no time did we get any indication that the United States would not be holding Russia to account for its behaviour in backing the Assad regime in Syria, or indeed in relation to MH17 and holding Russia to account for its role and you heard it directly from Secretary Pompeo. It was a matter that we discussed in our bilateral meeting but also in the broader ministerial forum that the United States will continue to work with Australia and the Netherlands in holding Russia to account for its role in the downing of MH17. So the United States is very clear-eyed about Russia’s behaviour, as they are about other nations that seek to disrupt the rules based order and we will continue to work very closely with the United States in that regard.
JOURNALIST: Just further to that, when you learnt about Donald Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin, did you make your request to the White House that he bring this up in the meeting or that he ask about it?
JULIE BISHOP: The United States has been and is aware of our concerns in relation to Russia’s role in the downing of MH17. The United States has been with us all the way since the 17th of July 2014 in working to investigate this matter and hold the perpetrators to account. We couldn’t do it without the United States’ support and that is continuing.
JOURNALIST: Secretary Mattis said it’s obviously Australia’s sovereign decision what we do in terms of the South China Sea but was there a specific request during the talks for us to take a more active role there?
MARISE PAYNE: As I said to Cameron I’m not going to go into the specific military discussions of that nature but what is really important to remember is that Australia is leading in engagement in the region already. So we prosecute the case for freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight in an overwhelming number of our activities. I think we had something like 38 port visits through Southeast Asia last year including 18 transits of the South China Sea. That was a combination of both our Indo-Pacific Endeavour 17 Task Group — the largest task group Australia has sent into the region in 40 years — and our normal deployments into Southeast Asia and North Asia. We have Indo-Pacific Endeavour 18 underway as we speak, as I referred to earlier, and all of those are designed in the interests of ensuring that we preserve freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, the security, the stability, the prosperity of the region. We make a very significant contribution in that regard and we certainly reinforced that with our US counterparts.
JOURNALIST: Minister Bishop, you mentioned in the press conference that Australia might assist as far as North Korea goes in possibly helping verify any dismantling of programs. What do you mean by that, what sort of assistance would that be?
JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government has already offered expert advice to assist the inspection regime that must take place in order to verify that North Korea is denuclearising. We have expertise in the detection of nuclear elements. We have experts that work within the IAEA. We have offered that support to the United States and they noted that and took that on board. Clearly there is going to have to be an independent inspectors regime to ensure that North Korea is doing what it promised and Australia has offered to be a part of that.
JOURNALIST: Minister, Emma Husar has announced she will take leave from her role while this investigation goes on into her actions. Is that sufficient?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, I understand that Labor is carrying out an internal investigation into the complaints of I understand over 20 staff members. I hope that that investigation is open and transparent and that the concerns of the staffers involved are properly dealt with.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Syrian refugees Minister, what is the status of the 1200 Syrian refuges that PM Turnbull had the discussion with President Trump about shortly after his inauguration? CNN is reporting that just 44, the US has accepted just 44 Syrian refugees in the last year. Do you know what – has the US kept its word?
JULIE BISHOP: Are you referring to those on Manus and Nauru?
JOURNALIST: I’m referring to the Obama-
JULIE BISHOP: They are not necessarily Syrian. They are people from a number of different nations. We understand that that is progressing and that a number of people have left Nauru and have been resettled in the United States. I understand that that’s ongoing and that it has been occurring, the resettling process has been progressing.
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