FOREIGN MINISTER: Well a very positive and productive first day here in New York and an opportunity for a number of key meetings starting with the ‘Call to Action on the World Drug Problem,’ convened by the US President, Ambassador Haley and the Secretary General Guterres. This was followed by a number of events around the broad issues of human trafficking, modern slavery, exploitation — all very important discussions, and particularly Australia’s leadership is recognised through the Bali Process with our Indonesian counterparts, and the regional impact of those issues. A discussion convened by the United Kingdom and France in relation to ongoing issues in Myanmar — but most particularly focused around the work of the UN Fact-Finding Mission released just last week. And some key bilaterals today with, amongst others, the United Kingdom and China, and an opportunity to reinforce some of those key relationships. So, all-in-all so far a very productive day here in New York and, of course, not finished yet, more to do.
REPORTER: Minister, your predecessor said that she had been phoned by others, other world leaders, asking why she wouldn’t be here, and that it’s getting the reputation of the coup capital of the world in Australia. How do you explain to your counterparts here what’s happened, and what your role is moving forward?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well I think it’s a fact of life, we’re all politicians one way or another, those of us who are here in capacities as either leaders or foreign ministers this week. Although it’s not circumstances that we would necessarily wish on ourselves, they are what they are, and we are getting on with the job.
REPORTER: Have you had any direct questions from other delegates here asking where Julie Bishop is, given that she is probably a familiar face to many of them?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Indeed, well happily I am a less familiar but nevertheless familiar face, having spent three years as Australia’s Defence Minister, a lot of people with whom I’ve worked over that time are here in various roles this week. I’ve had the chance to renew some of those relationships, and hopefully reinforce to them that we have a consistency of approach, a consistency of foreign policy, and that I’m getting on with the job.
REPORTER: I guess one issue that Julie Bishop was quite passionate about was seeking some answers, and justice for the victims of MH17. Is that something that you plan to continue to push for? And I guess I am interested to know what does that look like? What do we hope to achieve when we talk about a good outcome there, or getting justice? What does justice look like?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I will be certainly meeting with my counterpart from the Netherlands tomorrow, with my counterpart from Malaysia later in the week and with other members of the Joint Investigative Team, and most importantly I think determining what exactly transpired, those who were responsible, making sure that families who have lost loved ones are able to understand the details of what occurred, that is part of the work going forward.
I’m looking forward to meeting with my counterpart from the Netherlands. We don’t have a meeting scheduled until tomorrow, but certainly taking up those issues and reassuring Australians, and those who called Australia home, that their families know that the Government continues to be absolutely committed to working with our co-members in the Joint Investigation Team and ensuring that we are pursuing those issues.
REPORTER: Minister, there seems to increased talk about an international flotilla in the South China Sea, would Australia be open to participating in that, and is it something the Government is considering?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well Australia works very regularly, as you know, in the South China Sea and more broadly around the region. As Defence Minister last year we saw our largest joint task group in 40 years traverse the area and work very closely with a number of our counterparts. This year that task force had a focus on the Pacific, visiting a number of our Pacific neighbours before it headed to RIMPAC and then coming back through the Pacific as well.
So we are very focused on ensuring we are exploring every opportunity that is available to us in the open seas under the requirements of international law, the rules based global order, but importantly pursuing our opportunities with regard to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight. We’ve done that consistently for decades. In various iterations we work with counterparts from other nations to do that. Most recently we saw ourselves working closely through the RIMPAC exercise with over 20 nations ,if I recall correctly in terms of those participating in that.
So we will always take an opportunity, which presents itself, to work together closely and there is a number of reasons for that. Navies working together closely are much less likely to have accidents, much less likely to experience misunderstandings, and much more able to work together when crisis actually occurs. Now that crisis can take a number of forms, but we know that in the Pacific and in our region it often takes the form of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. As a responsible participant in the area we want to make sure we are able to lead or to support activities like that, and experiences and familiarity build our capability of doing exactly that.
REPORTER: Minster, I think it’s fair say the relationship with China and Australia at this sort of, at the level you’re at, has been troubled in the last few years. Have you taken this as an opportunity to reset — with the bilateral that you’ve just had today?
FOREIGN MINISTER: We’ve had a very productive and constructive bilateral. It was my first meeting with State Councilor Wang Yi, but obviously he is aware that I have a long background in the Parliament and a background more recently as Defence Minister and we explored discussions around the opportunities that we have going forward, bilateral opportunities where we can engage closely together. We have a strong history as you know, Australia’s economic relationship with China is extremely important to us, and a strong, positive, contributing China is exactly the sort of thing that I think the world community wants to see. So I’m very much looking forward to building on that and continuing to engage with our Chinese counterparts. We have had a good discussion about a number of issues, I’m not going to go into the detail, I regard these things as confidential bilateral engagements, but a very good discussion and we have undertaken to meet again in the relatively near future.
REPORTER: Did you say anything all about, you know to reassure China or otherwise about some of the rhetoric that you’re sort of hearing not just from Australia, but here in the United States from the Trump Administration?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well without going into the details, I think I can say that I reinforced the strength that we both bring to the table as proud, sovereign nations who will always pursue our own interest and protect our national interests, but nevertheless, absolutely have the capability to work together constructively and I think that was a message which was hopefully well received.
STAFFER: Last question.
REPORTER: Any prospect of further meetings, has anything been scheduled?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, we did say that we would look to meet together again relatively soon because we have more to discuss.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555