Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Joint Press Conference with Minister Julie Bishop, Jakarta

Tuesday, 1 October 2013 (All day)

Jakarta

Prime Minister

Minister for Foreign Affairs

Subjects:

Visit to Indonesia; the live cattle trade; Operation Sovereign Borders; the America’s Cup; foreign investment in Australia

E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

I was always intending this to be my first overseas trip as Prime Minister as quickly as we reasonably could after the swearing in. This is an absolutely critical relationship for Australia’s future. It’s a relationship with so much promise and I believe that the relationship has been enhanced by this particular visit. Good to have with me the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, the Trade and Investment Minister, Andrew Robb. Good to have the opportunity to make some significant announcements – the Australia Indonesia Study Centre at Monash University which will join the Australia United States and the Australia China Centres elsewhere in our country.

I was particularly thrilled that President Yudhoyono has agreed that the best and brightest Australian student coming to Indonesia in any year to study under the new Colombo Plan will be our Yudhoyono fellow. President Yudhoyono has been a great friend of Australia and it’s very appropriate that he should be honoured in this way. It was good to have such a large Australian business delegation with me on this trip. This is a strong relationship with very firm foundations, but there is so much more that we can do in the years and decades ahead and an important part of that is not just the people-to-people links, not just the greater understanding, mutual understanding that will be fostered by the new Colombo Plan, the Australia Indonesia Study Centre and in other ways, but it’s important that we boost the economic relationship and that’s why it was so good to have so many, not just the captains of Australian industry, but the admirals of Australian industry with us on this trip.

Finally, I just want to say that the more I see of the Australian diplomatic service, the more impressed I am. Our embassy does a great job. It’s good to have Ambassador Nadjib here as well. The Indonesian embassy does a great job in Canberra, but the Australian embassy does a fine job here in Jakarta and I want to thank everyone involved with the preparations for this trip. You have done magnificently under a bit of time pressure.

Thank you so much.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister…

PRIME MINISTER:

Phil.

QUESTION:

When your predecessor was here three months ago there were signs from President Yudhoyono about the preparedness perhaps to ease the quota on Australian beef. Have you in your private discussions here, or you Ms Bishop, had any indication that that still may happen, or been encouraged on that at all?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I am encouraged, but given the sense of shock that went through Indonesia at the cancellation of the live cattle trade a couple of years back, I think there is a bit of work yet to be done. I’m confident that there is an enthusiasm on both sides to do that work under this new red meat and cattle partnership which will be funded by the Australian government to the tune of $60 million. If I could just say that yesterday’s discussions between Julie, myself and Andrew on the Australian side, President Yudhoyono and most of his ministers on the Indonesian side, everything was on the table – everything was on the table. They were candid, collegial and constructive. A lot of the details necessarily will be left to discussions at ministerial and official level including the detail of how we can actually get the live cattle trade going again as part of an expansion and enhancement of the cattle industry in Indonesia as well as in Australia.

QUESTION:

In that case Prime Minister, was there any specific discussion of specific policies with regard to people smuggling? Specific operational details as it were of Operation Sovereign Borders?

PRIME MINISTER:

One of the things that you’re going to find from me, Mark, is that I am not going to put words in other peoples’ mouths and I am not going to spill the beans on discussions which necessarily should be confidential if they’re to be as constructive and collegial and candid as they need to be between trusted partners. Everything was on the table. I made it very clear that this is an issue of sovereignty for us and I think I can say that on the Indonesian side, there was a willingness to be as cooperative as was possible to ensure that this evil scourge is ended as quickly as we can. As President Yudhoyono said in his press briefing afterwards, both Indonesia and Australia are victims here. I mean this is bad for both countries. It’s obviously bad for Australia because we’ve got this border security nightmare, or we’ve had this border security nightmare, but it’s bad for Indonesia too because they’ve had tens of thousands of people transiting through their country and not necessarily up to much good while they’re here. So, we both want to end this and what you’ll see arising from the discussions yesterday is a developing bilateral framework under the Bali process to ensure that this happens.

QUESTION:

Last night you said there were times where all sides of politics should have said less and done more. Is that an admission that the rhetoric on asylum seekers has been over the top and how much personal responsibility do you take?

PRIME MINISTER:

See the important thing, if I may say so, is not to generate a story, but to stop the boats. The important thing is not to start a fight, but to get things done. Both Australia and Indonesia are robust democracies. Both Australia and Indonesia have a robust free press and in the culture of our two countries, people are exposed to questioning as is right. That generates stories which generates more questioning which generates more stories and in the end, an appearance of conflict can be created when there is none or when there is none based on real disagreements. So, look as far as I am concerned, what was clear yesterday is that Indonesia is hardly less anxious to stop the people smuggling trade than we are and wants to cooperate fully, under the Bali process, through a bilateral framework under the Bali process to make that a reality. Sid.

QUESTION:

At the risk of trying to generate a story, you said last night that Australia respected Indonesia’s sovereignty. The Indonesian Foreign Minister this morning has said we’ll have to wait and see on that. Now, do you see a way where some of Australia’s policies under the Coalition like tow backs and the payments to villagers for boats etcetera can be implemented without compromising Indonesian sovereignty?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, just a few observations and then I might ask Julie to add to it because Julie has been having very detailed discussions with Marty Natalegawa, as in coming weeks Scott Morrison will have with Minister Suyanto, the Coordinating Security Minister. Can I just scotch this idea that the Coalition’s policy is or ever has been tow-backs. Our policy, which we have repeated till we are blue in the face, is that we reserve the right to turn boats around where it is safe to do so. There is a world of difference between turning boats around in Australian waters and the Australian Navy towing them back to Indonesia. There is just a world of difference and if I may say so, there has been a tendency of people to put to other people what is not the Coalition’s policy in an attempt to, I think, generate a headline rather than constructively address this issue. So, everything was on the table yesterday. Nothing was off limits yesterday and the clear agreement is that operational details will be dealt with on a no surprises basis at Ministerial and officials level. And on the subject of sovereignty Sid, look, we are fair dinkum about doing what we can to help Indonesia in every way and you might be aware of the fact that there were some people who turned up in the Torres Strait last week wanting to grandstand about issues in Papua. Well, very swiftly under the MOU with PNG, they went back to PNG. There was a Freedom Flotilla that wanted to set off from Australia. Well, one way or another it didn’t get very far and we want to do everything we reasonably can to demonstrate to the Government and the people of Indonesia that we respect Indonesia’s sovereignty. We want to work with Indonesia to ensure that Indonesia is strong in the years ahead because Indonesia is a future global leader and we want to be its trusted partner on this journey.

Julie?

MINISTER BISHOP:

Thanks Prime Minister. As would be evident over a number of years Foreign Minister Natalegawa and I have communicated regularly on a range of issues from when I was in Opposition and now as Foreign Minister. We have been in touch on many occasions. We spent a lot of time together last week in New York meeting at bilaterals, trilaterals and quadrilaterals and other forums. So, we have had many opportunities to discuss a range of issues and indeed one of our conversations ended up in a transcript that ended up in the media. That was a mistake and Foreign Minister Natalegawa has indicated that it was not meant to happen, it was unintended, but that being the case you would have seen from that version of the conversation that very detailed matters were addressed, very detailed. So, we have an open and candid relationship. We talk about operational matters but we agreed that we wouldn’t discuss them through the media because it would be counterproductive for what we are both trying to achieve. Indonesia wants to dismantle the people smuggling trade that is occurring within their borders. Indonesia wants to stop the deaths at sea. Indonesia wants to stop the boats taking to the waters between Australia and Indonesia because it is a very dangerous journey as we have seen in recent days. So, the relationship between our two countries is very candid, very open, as evident not only by the discussions I have on a frequent basis with Foreign Minister Natalegawa but also the discussions we had yesterday with the Cabinet. For us to go into operational minutia would defeat the very purpose, the joint purpose that Australia and Indonesia are seeking to achieve and that is to stop these boats.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister you have talked about [inaudible] how turning back the boats would work. Can I ask about the policy you took to the election about buying back boats and paying locals for information on people smugglers. Do you stand by those? Are you open to amending, negotiating the detail?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, of course we stand by our policies but above all else we want to work effectively to stop the boats. In the end that is all that really counts – have we stopped the boats? We stand by our policies and now having put those policies out there we are going to work constructively with Indonesia under the Bali process to ensure that is exactly what happens. On the particular policy David that you have mentioned I know it has been characterised in a certain way but it was simply the establishment of some money that could be used by Indonesian officials working cooperatively with their Australian counterparts to ensure that as far as we can we have got people working with us rather than against us.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott do you expect these negotiations to take place that your Operation Sovereign Borders will be able to push back boats towards Indonesia?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are confident as a result of the good will shown to us over the last 24 hours by every level of the Indonesian Government, we are confident as a result of the constructive cooperation that has been pledged to us over the last 24 hours, we are confident that this problem can be dealt with.

QUESTION:

But you are not answering the question will you still turn the boats back to Indonesia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Again my object here is to stop the boats. It is to stop the boats and in order to ensure that the boats are stopped I want to have the best possible relationship with Indonesia. We have a great relationship what we are looking to develop is even stronger cooperation on this particular matter in the future than we have always had in the past. Now, I think that we are well set to get that. I think we have now got a bilateral framework under the Bali process that will enable that kind of cooperation to take place. It will start in coming days and I am just not going to engage in the kind of press banter, if you like, that is not going to be conducive to what is in our overall national interests, Australia’s and Indonesia’s, to get these boats stopped.

Karen.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, you mentioned again [inaudible] work with us not against us, there have been many reports over years of Indonesian authorities and police turning a blind eye to the departure of boats from Indonesia and worse perhaps, assisting. How big a problem is that? Did you raise that yesterday and what actually can be done about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

It has never, ever been official policy in Indonesia to do anything other than strongly crack down on this people smuggling trade. I accept that Indonesia is a vast country, all sorts of things happen that aren’t officially approved. The same thing I regret to say sometimes happens in Australia. I dare say that there is the odd Australian police person who isn’t exactly doing the right thing. The important thing is not whether occasionally someone does the wrong thing, is officialdom striving to do the right thing?  I am very confident that that is the case here in Indonesia.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, just to clarify on the buying back the boats and paying for information, you’re now saying that money would go to Indonesian officials to spend. Is that what you took to the election?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I’m saying that that money is available for our joint purpose to stop the boats.

QUESTION:

Done in cooperation with Indonesia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Everything is done in cooperation with Indonesia. We do nothing in Indonesia other than in cooperation with Indonesians. I mean, that’s the whole point. We are good friends; we fully respect each other’s sovereignty. We fully adhere to each other’s sovereignty. We are determined to work even better in the future than we have in the recent past together and that’s what I am confident will happen. Phil?

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, in your discussions, did you raise the issue of clemency for members of the Bali Nine? Was there any discussion about Schapelle Corby and, if I may, have you heard that Australia’s about to launch a bid to win the America’s Cup and a response to that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look…

QUESTION:

It wasn’t discussed?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, it wasn’t discussed yesterday. No. Well look, on the America’s Cup, it was great to see that there were a number of Australians very prominently involved in the winning side in the recent race. Although I have to say I commiserate with our Kiwi cousins on their disappointment. As for what might happen in the future, let’s see how things unfold.

On the issue of consular cases, look, I did raise consular matters but I want to make it crystal clear that public commentary on any individual case is not going to be helpful and I don’t propose to do it. Phil?

QUESTION:

Back on beef, in your speech you said how Australia and Indonesia could best cooperate was in feedlot technology and Australia providing the pasture. I assume you’re not precluding Indonesians….

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, I’m not. I’m not.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely right, absolutely right. Look, we welcome foreign investment. Always have, always will. Now, there are rules for foreign investment in Australia, as there are rules for foreign investment in most countries and we’ll play it by those rules but we do welcome foreign investment and if some Indonesian joint ventures in cattle are an important part of getting this trade re-started, well please, bring them on. Bring them on. Alex?

QUESTION:

Julia Gillard last night said that [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I’m just not going to run a commentary on what former prime ministers and former ministers say. I’m very pleased that I’ve got a very strong Cabinet. I’m disappointed that there wasn’t another woman in the Cabinet and had the electors of Indi done differently there would have been another woman in the Cabinet, but there are strong and capable women at every level of the Coalition and that’s going to increase over time.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, the Indonesian Trade Minister, when he was speaking, mentioned the figure of I think one per cent of GDP which would bring two-way trade to, I think it was $25 billion. Is that a goal that you share and would you care to put a time frame on when you’d like to achieve that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m sorry that Andrew’s not at the podium to help answer this question because he was actually in a bilateral with the Indonesian Finance Minister when we started our press conference today. I want the trade to increase and as I said in the speech, it’s a little embarrassing that Australia’s two-way trade with New Zealand’s four million people is currently greater than our two-way trade with Indonesia’s 250 million people. I want to increase trade with New Zealand but I certainly want to increase trade and investment with Indonesia and there is vast upside scope for this. One per cent would be about a doubling of where we are now but let’s not be content with that.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, did Indonesia agree to take the Australian money to implement your policies and if it didn’t will you redirect that fund [inaudible]? And can you just clarify that you’re 100 per cent committed to turning back boats?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are 100 per cent committed to stopping the boats and we are 100 per cent committed to implementing the policies that we took to the election and the policies that are necessary to stop the boats. Now, we will spend the money we need to spend to stop the boats because frankly, the cheapest thing we can do for Australian taxpayers is stop the boats as quickly as possible. Every single illegal boat, every single illegal boat costs Australian taxpayers some $12 million. That’s every single one of them. We saw over the last five years over $11 billion in cumulative budget blowouts. So we will spend what we need to get this job done. We will spend it as quickly as possible to get the job done as quickly as possible. I’ll take one more question. You’ve had one, Mark. Yep?

QUESTION:

Just on trade investment, you talked about lowering thresholds for foreign investment [inaudible] are you still committed to those levels, and what’s your attitude generally to foreign companies actually buying large tracts of Australian land [inaudible]. What’s your attitude to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well my view is, the Coalition’s view is, that we are in favour of foreign investment. We want foreign investment to be in Australia’s national interests and 99 times out of 100 it is in Australia’s national interest because 99 times out of 100, foreign investment creates jobs and it boosts economic activity. That said, there is a foreign investment review process. The threshold for the purchase of agricultural land will be reduced to $15 million but this is not designed to lock up our country, this is designed to ensure that the Australian people understand that the foreign investment we have and the foreign investment we welcome really is in our own best interests and I just want to scotch any suggestion that there might be out there that somehow trade and investment is bad for Australia. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Trade and investment is good for Australia. Every time an Australian sells something abroad, that’s good for us. Every time an Australian buys something from abroad, that invariably is good for us as well and if we have more trade and investment all countries get richer and that’s good for everyone.

So I’m very excited about this trip, I’m really thrilled that we’ve had such a high level business delegation come with myself, Minister Bishop and Minister Robb. The fact that so many of our leading businesspeople have been prepared to invest the time and money and coming to Indonesia with me and my ministers shows that not only is Australia open for business but that we are eager to do business with the wider world.

Thank you.

[ends]