Transcript of joint press conference with Prime Minister Najib, Canberra
THU 03 MARCH 2011
Subject(s): Australia-Malaysia relationship; Regional processing; Parliament; Australian Labor Party
PM: [AUDIO BREAK] -But this is his first visit as Prime Minister, and he is a very welcome friend.
The Prime Minister, with me, is a friend of Australia, a leader in our region. We’ve discussed today the depth of the relationship and partnership between our two countries, and it’s a partnership with a very impressive history.
We have fought shoulder to shoulder together during the Second World War and in the emergency, fighting against Communism.
We have studied together and we have talked today about how 300,000 Malaysians have been educated in this country. That’s a long-standing part of our relationship.
And we have prospered together. We are countries with a dynamic economic partnership and we will be seeking to build on that for the future.
Today, we’ve discussed the economic ties between our two countries, and we’ve determined that we want to accelerate the free trade agreement that our two countries have been discussing. The Prime Minister made a request of me to accelerate those discussions, and I’ve agreed that that is a good idea, so we have determined today that we will conclude this free trade agreement between our two nations within the coming year, and we want to see it concluded and signed before the anniversary of this visit next year.
We’ve also talked today about cooperation in areas as diverse as education and as important to the Australian community as sport, and we’ve had the opportunity to talk about sports mad country. We’ve signed today two memorandums of understanding, one a memorandum of understanding on further cooperation on education, one a memorandum of understanding on further cooperation in sport.
We’ve also talked about approaches to regional issues, and the work we do together in regional forums, particularly the East Asia Summit, which was the first occasion that I had the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister.
We’ve re-affirmed our shared commitment to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
I have also congratulated the Prime Minister on his impressive leadership on combating people smuggling and countering terrorism and transnational crime in our region. It’s clear that these regional challenges require regional solutions, and we are continuing to work together on them.
The strength of our cooperation extends to work we do in Afghanistan. I’m particularly proud of the joint program we have to train in Malaysia master teachers who then go to train teachers in Afghanistan. That is very impressive work.
Today, Prime Minister Najib and I took stock of our nations’ shared history, and we committed to define our relationship as a relationship for the 21st Century. Our shared achievements in the past will be built on by shared achievements in the future, because we live in the region where the future is going to happen – the Asia-Pacific region.
Prime Minister, I’m very honoured by your visit and I welcome you to make some remarks.
PRIME MINISTER NAJIB: Thank you very much, Prime Minister Gillard, and first of all I would like to say how delighted I am to be here once again in Australia in a slightly different capacity, but I do know Australia pretty well over the years. I’ve been here many times, but as you put it, this is my first visit as Prime Minister, and this is to reciprocate your visit to Malaysia.
We had a very productive, very useful discussion. I can only second what the Prime Minister, and certainly those are the areas of agreement that we arrived at today.
I started by expressing our sincere, heartfelt condolences with respect to the very, very damaging floods in Queensland, but we are so impressed with the indomitable spirit of the Australian people that you have recovered well. That you have a great sense of volunteerism, and you’ve been very, very positive, including helping Malaysian students. I’d like to say how grateful we are to you, Prime Minister, and to your Government.
And we certainly look forward to a much deeper relationship, a relationship that has been predicated on a very strong foundation over many, many years, starting of course with your soldiers fighting for our freedom, and we are very grateful for your stalwart and sterling support for us in the defence of Malaya and then subsequently Malaysia, and that defence relationship is still very strong today. The APDA arrangements, it’s important because that leads to peace and stability in our region.
We recognise there is a great deal of importance with respect to human trafficking and people smuggling, boat people, which is a big issue in Australia. It is an issue that we can identify with because many years ago we had similar problems with respect to the Vietnamese boat people and we had to handle it, and therefore I pledge our support to be as cooperative as possible. We will take this up in Bali in due course in the near future and we will try to find cooperative solutions and be as useful as possible, and we’ll do our part to make sure that Malaysia is never a transit point for these people, and this is where cooperation, in terms of exchange of timely intelligence will be very useful for us to make the appropriate interdiction.
In the area of fighting global terrorism, we continue to cooperate and as you know we’ve been fortunate we are free from Al Qaeda activities in Malaysia, and also the threat of Jemaah Isamiah is very much under control in Malaysia, and our efforts in the southern Philippines, for example, I briefed the Prime Minister that is to make sure that the southern Philippines will be a region of peace and stability and will not fester the growth of unwanted terrorist activities in that part of the world.
With respect to economic cooperation, our total trade is in the region of $10 billion, which is a good level, but we believe that we can push it to even greater heights, and therefore I was very, very keen that the negotiations, with respect to the Malaysia-Australia free trade agreement, MAFTA, will be concluded as soon as possible and we both agree that it would be useful to set a certain timeline for our negotiations to conclude, and we both agree that within a year we should sign the Malaysia-Australian free trade agreement, and that comes on the back of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiations of which will continue and hopefully by the time APAC takes place in November there’ll be some interim agreement and eventually we will become partners within the Asia-Pacific region.
I would also like to mention that the education links have always been strong, and when I was Education Minister I gave approval to the setting up of three universities from Australia, namely Monash, Curtin and Swinburne. All these three universities have campuses in Malaysia. They are very happy, very pleased with their presence in Malaysia, and they are doing very well, and we hope that, if you like, there are so many Malaysian students studying here over the years - more than 200,000 have studied here – and a very, very strong alumni, even in our Malaysian cabinet. So we would like to see more Australian students studying in Malaysia and there is some understanding that we should encourage, for example, one semester during the course for Australian students to study in Malaysia. The numbers are quite small.
We are gratified the number of Australians visiting Malaysia, in terms of tourists, the numbers are burgeoning. We had 8.9 per cent increase from 2009 to 2010, and about 580,000 Australians now visit Malaysia per year. We are increasing the linkages between our two countries, and the latest will be the direct flight from Perth to Kota Kinabalu and we expect that the numbers will be on the upswing in the future.
We also talked about Australia’s competency in the field of carbon reduction, and Malaysia hopes to learn from Australia how we can reduce our carbon footprint in Malaysia.
Also, in the area of public sector reform, we note your accomplishment in this particular field, and we’ll be very keen to learn more about what Australia has done to improve the efficiency of the public sector.
So, all in all, I’m very pleased with the discussions we had. I think it’s very clear that Australia is a close friend of Malaysia, a long time partner, and we hope to take the relationship to be even stronger as we move forward. Thank you.
PM: Thank you very much. So, we’ll take some questions now in turn from the media. You may want to start with the media representatives from Malaysia.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Gillard, is Australia seeking to increase investments in Malaysia, and if so in what areas will that be?
PM: We’ve had some direct discussions today about Australian investment in Malaysia. Australian businesses want to increase our trade and they want to increase our exchange and investment two-way, we want to see Australian investment in Malaysia and we welcome investment by Malaysia in this country. So we’ve talked through that today, talked through some very specific companies that have interests in new investments in Malaysia, including Rio Tinto that’s investing in, seeking to invest in aluminium and we have one of our banks also seeking to invest. So that has been raised today as an example of our growing economic partnership.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) Andrew Probyn from the West Australian, welcome to Canberra Prime Minister. My question is about border protection, firstly I would like to know what your impressions or thoughts or views are on Prime Minister Gillard’s idea for a regional processing centre in East Timor?
And secondly, Australian authorities believe Malaysia is a transit point for many asylum seekers that reach Australia, especially Kuala Lumpur International Airport, if you could detail what further cooperation you are offering?
PM NAJIB: Well first of all we’ve amended the human trafficking act in Malaysia, people smuggling, and we have increased the penalties; penalties now are very severe.
Secondly we’ve also stepped up our interdiction and there’ve been many instances of people have been interdicted in Malaysia before they move on to Australia. I think that kind of cooperation will continue.
With respect to the processing centre, this is a regional initiative, and I believe this will be discussed in Bali, we need a bit of time to study the Australian proposal but we will be as positive as we can.
JOURNALIST: Are you positive at the moment, what is your disposition towards it at the moment?
PM NAJIB: We have to take a regional outlook first, and we will be as cooperative as possible.
JOURNALIST: Question for Prime Minister Gillard. The Prime Minister mentioned that there is a big disparity between the number of students here, Malaysian students here in Australia and a number of Australian students in Malaysia. Are there any plans for you to increase the number of students going to further their studies in Malaysia?
PM: We had the opportunity during our discussions in the Cabinet room to discuss this matter with our relevant Minister, Chris Evans, who’s the Minister for Tertiary Education. We noted that there are some study patterns now where students in Australia who are doing qualifications at Australian universities can spend a semester in Malaysia and we both agree that that’s a very good development and we would like to see more of that.
So the Minister for Tertiary Education, Chris Evans, arising from our discussions will now be raising that issue with Australian universities to see what we can do to have more Australian students visit Malaysia and study part of their courses in Malaysia, that would be a good way of facilitating exchange.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Gillard, if I could ask a domestic question, on the Green’s proposal on Territories’ powers. Is it your understanding of that will anyway allow the Territories to move their own laws on gay marriage or will the Federal Marriage Act still have primacy and effectively prevent that?
And also on your factional delegation yesterday you received, what pressure are you under now to exert yourself as the leader of the Government to assure people that Bob Brown’s not running the country?
PM: Well thank you for that question with so few assumptions made in its formulation - if you’d just excuse for one moment dealing with a domestic matter – if I can deal with this in some detail and describe exactly the Government’s position.
The Caucus meeting on Tuesday considered an amending proposition about the ability of Territories to make their own legislation, the Labor Party supported similar legislation in 2006, so there was discussion at Caucus and we have supported similar legislation in the past.
Subsequent to the Caucus meeting a number of Caucus members raised a concern with me about the breadth of that legislation, there were some amendments to the Bill that came in quite late as I understand it during the course of Monday, some Caucus members raised concern with me about the breadth of the legislation.
Can I say there is nothing unusual about that process, I see Caucus members frequently, they are members of my team and I see them very frequently to discuss over issues and an issue was raised with me yesterday.
The Government determined to support the reference of that Bill to a committee, the committee will now look into it and we may well learn some things from the Committee’s deliberations.
I’d also note that members of the Opposition have been favourably disposed to this kind of legislation in the past, unsurprisingly they are people who represent Territories and I would point in that regard to Senator Nigel Scullion, for example, who is on the record in defence of the Territory he represents in the Senate, supporting propositions like this one.
I do want to just deal with some media reports today. I understand that there have been media reports that during the discussion about this legislation yesterday that someone raised with me concerns about the influence of the Greens on the Government. That report is completely untrue, no Caucus member has ever raised such concerns with me.
So we will have the Senate inquiry and we will see what emerges from the Senate inquiry.