Transcript of Doorstop Interview
FRI 07 SEPTEMBER 2012
PM: I’ve just arrived in Vladivostok for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and I’m pleased to be here after what has been quite a long flight. I’m looking forward to the two days of meetings to come.
APEC is important to the Australian economy. I come here after Australia has recorded 21 years of economic growth. Our economy has grown by more than 10 per cent since the Government was elected despite problems of the global financial crisis. But even with that economic strength we need to keep building for the future.
APEC has stood the test of time and has helped with economic cooperation in our region. Australia was proud to be a founding member and driving force for the creation of APEC way back in 1989 and its uplifting to Leaders level in 1993. Since then it has established a good track record of enabling nations to better work together for economic growth. APEC represents more than 50 per cent of the world’s GDP and around 70 per cent of Australia’s trade in goods and services. Over the next two days I’m looking forward to pursuing three issues particularly here at APEC.
Firstly, at the last APEC we agreed that there should be a push to reduce tariffs on environmental goods so that there could be freer trade in the goods that will help all of us shape a clean energy future. It is a task for this APEC meeting to define the list of such goods. Good work has been done by Trade Ministers in the run-up to the meeting and I am optimistic that we will reach agreement on that list and see freer trade in environmental goods as a result.
Second, this meeting has a focus on higher education, particularly the mobility of students, researchers and education providers in the Asia-Pacific. As I have said consistently back in Australia, nothing will define more what kind of nation we become in the future than the quality of our education system, which is why we are driving for reform at every level including particularly in school education following the announcements I made on Monday.
It makes sense to build on that national development of our education system by looking towards the region in which our future will defined; the region of economic growth in this century, and to enable our students, our education providers and our researchers to move more freely across the region. So that is an important work-stream for this meeting of APEC.
Thirdly, this meeting of APEC will consider matters about better financial integration. This is an issue of importance to Australia enabling the freer movement of capital. We are hosting a symposium on this next year and it will be one of the areas I will be particularly focused on.
I am also looking forward to participating in the business events that are associated with APEC. APEC brings together government leaders and political leaders but alongside APEC stands two important business events. One is the APEC Business Advisory Committee that I will participate in and second is the CEO Forum which I will have the opportunity to speak to.
Then, this meeting bringing leaders together does give me the opportunity to meet with my counterparts from a number of countries. I will have formal bilateral meetings with Japan, with Vietnam, with Malaysia, with Peru, with PNG and with New Zealand. And of course the format of the meeting enables me to have discussions with leaders attending the meeting in the margins of the meeting. So it’s a full work program for the next two days and I’m looking forward to it.
I’m happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What would your message be to Najib Razak on the future of the Malaysian people-swap deal?
PM: I’ve had the opportunity over the last couple of weeks to speak to the Malaysian Prime Minister about the agreement we have with Malaysia. I spoke to him by phone following the receipt of the Houston Report. I indicated that Australia is still interested in pursuing the agreement with Malaysia, that Angus Houston and his team had made some specific recommendations about what should be done and that I would look forward to our officials discussing those issues and of course Minister Bowen discussing them with his counterpart Minister Hishammuddin. Prime Minister Najib agreed in the telephone conversation with me that that would occur.
JOURNALIST: So you won’t be bringing it up when you meet with him?
PM: Look, of course we will be discussing it but in terms of agreeing to further discussions that’s already occurred.
JOURNALIST: And with Papua New Guinea will you be discussing Manus Island?
PM: Yes I will. I saw the Prime Minister of PNG very recently at the Pacific Island Forum and we are working hard to conclude the memorandum of understanding with PNG.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there has been a lot of attention in the lead-up to this meeting about territorial disputes over islands and so forth. Do you expect that to be something that affects these talks and will it be something you will have anything to say on?
PM: I think we have to be clear that items of that nature are not on the APEC agenda. This is an economic meeting dealing with economic issues but of course in the discussions that occur in the margins of the meeting I would anticipate that nations will be discussing issues in the South China Sea.
Australia’s position is very clear – we do not take a position on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. But what happens in the South China Sea is of importance to us. It is a very big trade route for what we export to the world. Consequently we do support the ASEAN efforts to get a code of conduct for the South China Sea.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you have arrived in a country where they have jailed three young women for an artistic performance, a controversial artistic performance, for two years. What do you think of the jailing of Pussy Riot, do you think they should be freed?
PM: We have indicated our view that the sentence for these young women we believe is disproportionate and that view has already been conveyed to the Russian Government.
JOURNALIST: How was that conveyed to the Government?
PM: That was conveyed through our Embassy at the time that the sentence was first announced.
JOURNALIST: Would you expect to have the opportunity to speak with President Putin himself and if you do would you raise it with him?
PM: Look, I’m not going to pre-empt the kind of discussions that I have in the margins of the meeting but I do understand I’ll be seeing President Putin obviously as he chairs APEC.
JOURNALIST: You’ve made Higher Education a priority for this meeting, it’s here at a university, but what can you say to people about what the chances of the timeframe of achieving this freer tertiary system would be?
PM: Realistically it will take some time, this is a big thing to do, to have nations work together to enable student recognition and exchange. I mean obviously some of that happens now, but to enable more exchange by being clearer what students qualification mean from one nation, and consequently for what purposes they can be used for entry into other courses in another nation or indeed entry into the work force, to credential education providers from one country into another country, to build the linkages and patterns of cooperation between researchers, these are all big picture things. Some work is already happening, but it will take some time. But it’s a good vision of the future, that we, in a growing region of the world, would see greater and greater exchange between our higher educational institutions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, I know it’s dark but can I get your first impressions of Vladivostok, in particular the huge amount of infrastructure that has been set up for this event?
PM: Look, I’ve only seen it pass through the window of the car as we’ve driven from the airport, so I’m not going to pretend any great expertise in Vladivostok. I’ve never been to Russia before, I’ve never been to Vladivostok before, but I do understand that where we’re standing now has been purpose constructed for APEC, and that it is on a journey to be a university campus.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said yourself that this has been a very long flight for you to get here, there’s a lot of overlap with the various different leaders meeting that are occurring around the region, you have a lot of demands on your own time.
What do you think the future for APEC holds, do you think the organisation is drifting somewhat, might it disappear?
PM: I certainly don’t think it will disappear, I think APEC has got a strong future and every Australian Prime Minister has attended APEC meetings because we’ve understood the importance of APEC to our economic future and to the economic future of our region, and it has enjoyed considerable success.
APEC is an interesting, indeed unique organisation that brings peer pressure to work to get people to embrace change and it has enjoyed success at that. And that success has meant freer trade, better economic integration and consequently more Australian jobs and more prosperity across our region.
So it’s an important forum; by their very nature the issues that APEC has on its agenda are fairly complex issues, often technical issues, they require a lot of hard work and continuous labour. So you don’t see overnight results, but we can track the journey of APEC from its first iteration as a leader’s forum in 1993 and point to things that have been achieved, and given that, given the success APEC has enjoyed in the past, I think we can look forward to further successes in the future.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there should be any consideration, just following on from that question, as to whether the leaders should continue to meet annually, perhaps ministers having meetings annually and leaders biannually?
PM: I think it needs to be an annual meeting. Leaders meetings catalyse change, that’s the purpose of bringing leaders together. Yes, Trade Ministers labour long and hard, and Dr Emerson has been here, making a difference to the negotiations in the lead up to the meeting; but bringing leaders together catalyses change, it sends a message through every nation that attends that this is important, this is a priority.
And let’s be clear about what APEC has achieved. It set itself an ambitious goal about tariff reduction across our region and it has enjoyed success at that. Even this issue of environmental tariffs, and reducing tariffs on environmental goods, so important to a clean energy future.
Whilst it is not a done deal, I am optimistic we will see some change at this meeting, the issue having first been raised at the last APEC meeting. The WTO, the World Trade Organization, has been grappling with this for ten years without reaching a result yet. So I think you can see from that that APEC does make a difference.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how important is this meeting in terms of dealing with potential strategic tensions over time in the region, are these sorts of talks useful in terms of getting people talking together, to have a secondary purpose in some ways of lowering tensions, and how much might spreading education around the area, young people, future leaders get to meet each other, know each other, might also have an effect in doing that?
PM: The most important thing for nations understanding each other over time is people-to-people links. And that happens at a series of levels. Yes it happens when leaders meet other leaders. It also happens when a young person decides that they will travel to another nation to undertake a course of study, to spend some of their time in university and they come back from that experience with their outlook changed for a lifetime.
People talk about the success of the Colombo Plan from all those years ago and now of course in the modern age Australia more heavily invests in scholarship and exchanges with nations overseas than we ever did during the days of the Colombo Plan.
That’s a recognition that if you can get people forming their individual links, collectively that ends up mattering for the destiny of nations. So, freer and freer exchange of study, of research, of educational providers, I think is a really good vision for the future.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister just finally, there was something interesting on the menu in the dining hall for the journalists the other day called ‘ear of rudd’ which we are told was a sort of Russian fish, will you be asking to try that one?
PM: I understand Dennis Shanahan has already done that for the nation.
Thank you very much.