Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Press Conference, Bali

Monday, 7 October 2013

Indonesia

Prime Minister

Subjects:

APEC 2013; Australia-China relations; Trans–Pacific Partnership; West Papuan activists; CHOGM; border protection; Australia-Indonesia relations; entitlements.

E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s good to be here in Bali. It’s good to see some familiar faces and thank you for the time and the effort you have made to be here.

Just a few points from me before I throw to questions. I want to start by saying that APEC matters. APEC is one of the very important forums that bring together the leaders of our region; a region of ever increasing economic importance to the world and to Australia. Australia, of course, was one of the founders of APEC and I am pleased to say that APEC has gone from strength to strength since 1989.

APEC has had tangible outcomes for the people of our region. Over the last couple of decades, on average, tariffs in APEC countries against each other have dropped from 16 to 6 per cent. Over the last three years it is estimated that the trade liberalisation which APEC has sponsored has created some $60 billion worth of additional wealth for the people of our region. Of course, one of the recent APEC initiatives – the APEC Business Travel Card – now held by about 90,000 people in the region including close to 20,000 Australians allows visa free access to nearly all of the countries of APEC to its holders.

So, APEC matters. It is an important regional institution. It is an important regional institution and Australia was there at its birth and it is important that we make the most of APEC, hence my presence here.

This APEC is all about trying to ensure that we do get genuinely freer trade as quickly as we can and I look forward to discussions, dialogue, consultations with regional leaders individually and collectively to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership and also the closer economic partnership negotiations which have been in train for some time.

Of course, it is also an opportunity for bilateral discussions. I have had a couple of those already. Most of you are aware that last night I had a meeting with President Xi of China. I think it was a good meeting. Australia has a strong relationship with China and it is in everybody’s interest that that relationship grows stronger and broader and deeper in the months and years ahead.

I was pleased to receive from the President an invitation to visit China in the near future. It is my intention to visit China in the first half of next year and because the relationship should be broader and deeper and stronger, I intend to go with a significant delegation not just of business leaders – although that is important – but I hope to take at least some Premiers because Australian government is not just the Commonwealth, it is the states as well. But as well as governmental officials and business leaders, I hope that this delegation will include the academe, science and culture because I want the relationship with China to be on as broad a basis as possible.

Finally, let me just say that it is important that we increase trade and investment in our region. The prosperity of each country in the region, including Australia, critically depends upon increased trade and investment. Our recent prosperity critically depends on the massive expansion in resource exports to countries in our region, particularly to China and we want that to continue, not to slow down.

The point I made on election night was that Australia is open for business and this is a message that I am very keen to repeat over and over again to our regional leaders. They have benefitted from doing business with us. We have benefitted from doing business with them. Australia must always be open for business and that's certainly the intention of the new Coalition Government.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, given the trade goals you have stated for this APEC summit, is it a disappointment to you that President Obama is not here and how likely do you think the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be of reaching conclusion by the end of this year?

PRIME MINISTER:

David, it is a disappointment that President Obama isn't here. America is, of course, ably represented by Secretary of State Kerry, but we have to understand that while President Obama is deeply committed to this region, while the American pivot to Asia is real, in the end, the President does have to be in Washington at a time of potential political deadlock. So, I fully understand that the most constructive way that America can engage with the world depends upon America being as strong as it can be at home and so naturally enough, President Obama has got some pressing domestic issues. I don’t think anyone here holds it against the President that he has very important business at home and it is certainly in no way inconsistent with the pivot to Asia that just at the moment because of this very important issue in Washington his place is at home.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] the TPP still be finished this year?

PRIME MINISTER:

I got a very good update from Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb on arrival here in Bali last night. Andrew advises me that the Trans–Pacific Partnership negotiations are going well. Inevitably, there are issues. There always are. There is always horse-trading in these negotiations but in the end if you can come to a deal, everyone is better off. Our objective is ever freer, ever more liberal trade – not just in goods but in services as well – around our region and in the wider world and Andrew is confident that we can finalise these discussions by the end of the year. That’s not necessarily to say that we will, but he is confident that we can.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, both you and President Xi spoke of a desire to accelerate a China-Australia free trade agreement. What does that mean? What is the best estimate for how this can be driven towards a conclusion particularly around, I suppose, your trip next year?

PRIME MINISTER:

It would be wonderful if a trip towards the end of the first half of next year was consummated with an agreement here. That might be a little too optimistic, but our intention is to move as quickly as we can and I have to say I would be disappointed if we can’t conclude a significant free trade agreement with China within 12 months.

QUESTION:

Is one of our stumbling blocks because of the zero threshold for state-owned enterprises investing in Australia? Are you willing at all to revisit that or is that a non-negotiable item?

PRIME MINISTER:

When you say, Simon, there’s a zero threshold, that doesn’t mean that state-owned enterprises can’t invest in Australia, of course they can invest in Australia and we want them to invest in Australia. It’s just that they face Foreign Investment Review Board scrutiny from the first dollar rather than simply at the standard $240-odd million threshold. Now, I want to make it crystal clear here, as I did with the President last night, we welcome foreign investment, including foreign investment from China. The President made it clear to me how much foreign investment China hopes to make in coming years and I want Australia to get a fair share of that foreign investment because that foreign investment will be good for jobs, it will be good for economic activity. It should be good for government revenues and it will certainly be good for prosperity back home in Australia.

So, I want people to be under no doubt: foreign investment is good for our country. Without British investment, we wouldn’t have the agricultural industry that has been so important for Australia. Without American investment, we wouldn’t have the manufacturing industries which we place so much store by. Without American, Japanese and other investment, we would never have had the resources boom which has done so much to sustain us in recent years.

So, foreign investment is good for Australia. It’s important that it does pass the national interest test. That’s why we have the Foreign Investment Review Board to scrutinise investment under certain circumstances but it’s light-touch scrutiny because we know that in the medium and long-run, foreign investment is important for Australia’s economic development.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, in the Indonesian press today there were reports that 22 of the 28 survivors from the boat tragedy from late September are being deported. Do you find this an encouraging sign?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not familiar with those reports, Andrew, and what happens to people in Indonesia is essentially a matter for the Indonesian Government. So, look, I really can’t say any more than that.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, why do Coalition members think it’s ok to use taxpayer funds to attend weddings and are you confident that the wedding of Sophie Mirabella was the only one that you used taxpayer funds to attend?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ll deal with that question in a sec but are there any further APEC-related questions? We’ll deal with that subject and then we’ll go onto general subjects. Karen?

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, before you arrived yesterday, three Papuan activists scaled the wall at the consulate to make an APEC-related protest.  Your Foreign Affairs Department says that no threats were made to them to have them removed but they were carrying a mobile phone which had an open line. People who heard that conversation say they were told that if they didn’t leave, police and military would be called. Can you tell us what happened, what’s your view of that and what’s your view of the demands they made about greater press freedom there and freedom for political prisoners?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Karen, yes, there were some West Papuan activists enter our consulate, as I understand it, seeking to protest and to make demands. Consular staff, as I understand it, had a very lengthy discussion with them and after that very lengthy discussion, they agreed to leave. That, as I understand it, is the fact of the matter.

Now, I want to make two fundamental points – and I want to stress these points, I want to put them up in flashing neon lights, I want to underline them.

One: Australia will not give people a platform to grandstand against Indonesia. We have a very strong relationship with Indonesia and we are not going to give people a platform to grandstand against Indonesia – I want that to be absolutely crystal clear – and people seeking to grandstand against Indonesia, please don’t look to do it in Australia. You are not welcome.

The second point I make is that the situation in West Papua is getting better, not worse, and I want to acknowledge the work that President Yudhoyono has done to provide greater autonomy, to provide a better level of government services and ultimately a better life for the people of West Papua.

The other point I should make is that Australia absolutely respects the territorial integrity of Indonesia and while I acknowledge the right of people to free expression, I acknowledge the right of people to fair treatment under the law, I should also make the point that the people of West Papua are much better off as part of a strong, dynamic and increasingly prosperous Indonesia.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, you have meetings today with the Canadian and Malaysian leaders. On Canada, will you be pressing Stephen Harper to drop his boycott of the CHOGM Summit in Sri Lanka, and on Malaysia, will that be a difficult meeting given you and the Coalition spent two years being very critical of Malaysia’s treatment of migrants?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I am meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper later today. I’ve had a number of previous meetings with Prime Minister Harper who I think is doing an outstanding job leading a very strong and effective government. So, I’m looking forward to my meeting with him. Whether he attends CHOGM is really a matter for him, but certainly I intend to attend CHOGM and will do my best to make a constructive contribution to the deliberations there.

I do think the Commonwealth is an important forum. It's amongst our oldest international associations. There is, I suppose, familiarity amongst members of the Commonwealth which doesn’t always exist in every other forum and I think it’s important that those friends we have, we should keep. You do not make new friends by rubbishing your old friends or abandoning your old friends. Certainly, the incoming Coalition Government will take the Commonwealth seriously.

As for the Prime Minister Najib, look, my argument was never with Malaysia. My argument was never with Prime Minister Najib. My argument was with the Gillard Government. I think in nearly every respect, the Coalition's argument with the Gillard Government has ultimately been vindicated. The policies that the Gillard Government put in place were ineffective to stop the boats. The Coalition is determined to stop the boats. I think that we have already made a difference and I'm looking forward to bringing that whole wretched issue to a much more satisfactory conclusion for our country and for our region.

QUESTION:

Just on that, the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has just announced more asylum seekers on bridging visas have been placed in detention after facing criminal charges and he has announced that mandatory behavioural protocols will be developed in consideration by the Government. What exactly have you got in mind there? Will they be something on top of the criminal code?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I’m not going to elaborate on Scott Morrison's announcement today. What we are doing is methodically and purposefully putting in place the policies that we took to the election and that's what the people expect of us.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, Scott Morrison says that you will still keep your full toolbox of election promises, including turning back boats, buying boats from Indonesia fishermen etcetera. How does that fit into your promise not to offend Indonesian sovereignty? And secondly, a people smuggler tells me would be better counter-bribing the police they bribe and you'd save more money in doing that than buying back boats, just interested in your thoughts on that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we’ve sort of wandered off APEC and I’ll deal with this one but then we will try to go back to APEC again if there are any further APEC questions. We obviously stand by the policies that we took to the election but there was some misunderstanding of the policies that we took to the election. We were simply making available a modest sum of money that would be spent in cooperation with our Indonesian partners to try to combat this evil trade. That's all that was ever committed to pre-election and obviously we stand by it. Now, I’m very pleased to say that we have long had strong cooperation from Indonesian authorities at all levels here and I'm confident – particularly in the wake of the discussions that I had in Jakarta recently, that Foreign Minister Bishop had with Foreign Minister Natalegawa in New York recently, that officials have been having underneath those Prime Ministerial and ministerial discussions – I’m confident that we are going to get even stronger cooperation with Indonesia in the weeks and months ahead.

Let's not forget President Yudhoyono's statement in Jakarta just the other day that both our countries are ‘victims’ here and that we would have a new bilateral partnership against people smuggling under the Bali Process, something that we might perhaps describe in shorthand as Bali-plus. That's now being put into practice. I'm very pleased that it is and we are going to make a difference. We are going to stop the boats and stopping the boats is absolutely in the best interests of Indonesia and Australia.

QUESTION:

With respect Prime Minister, the question was about policies that Indonesia has labeled as violating Indonesia's sovereignty and you have promised not to violate Indonesia's sovereignty.

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not sure that language in quite those terms has been used by anyone at senior levels in the Indonesian Government. We absolutely respect the sovereignty of Indonesia. We respect and will do everything we humanly can to guarantee our own sovereignty. We respect Indonesia's sovereignty. We understand that Indonesia respects our sovereignty. The Lombok Treaty is all about mutual respect for both countries' sovereignty and, of course, for us, people smuggling is a sovereignty issue and I think everyone now understands that.

QUESTION:

With regard to the China FTA, do you favour a comprehensive trade-finance-investment type of agreement or are you prepared to look at some kind of stripped-back arrangement in order to get something done in 12 months?

PRIME MINISTER:

I want the agreement to be as comprehensive as possible, but I've always taken the view that you should take what you can get today and pitch for the rest tomorrow when you've got a strong foundation to build upon. One of the good things about the various free trade agreements, the various bilateral free trade agreements that have been negotiated between the countries of our region, is that it is helping to build preparedness to engage in a bigger and better the multi-lateral agreement such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. So, we will get the best deal we can. I can't at this stage say it is going to include everything. If it doesn't include everything, that will be a disappointment but, still, whatever we can get, which is a substantial advance on where we are, is worth having.

QUESTION:

So the best you can do within 12 months, basically?

PRIME MINISTER:

We will get a good agreement. We will get a good agreement. I'm confident that we can get a good agreement within 12 months. Let's face it, the Kiwis, our friends across the Tasman, have had a series of agreements including one with China, which have been very good for their economy, particularly for their agricultural exports and they managed to go from start to finish much more quickly than we have been able to manage over the last few years under the former government and I think we can do a lot better than that.

Now, Alex, I’m going go to your question because that might be the end, if you don't mind, because I've got more things I need to attend to as part of APEC.

Look, when the controversy arose after the Michael Smith wedding, I remembered that some seven years ago, I’d been to a couple of weddings and so I went back and I checked. I was advised – because I sought advice on this – that the entitlement was unclear and so, in order to avoid doubt, I paid the relevant money back and, look, that's what people should do: they should act within entitlements, they should err on the side of caution and if there is any doubt, they should act immediately to clear the matter up. That's exactly what I have done.

QUESTION:

But why would you claim it in the first place, Prime Minister, to go to a wedding?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I was the Leader of the House of Representatives and the Leader of the House of Representatives has certain representational roles and I believed it was within entitlements. After the Michael Smith matter, I decided that I should check. I was advised that the matter was unclear and, in order to put the thing beyond doubt, the money was repaid.

Thank you.

[ends]