Prime Minister: I’m very pleased to be here today for the inauguration of President Widodo, and joined by my wife Jenny. This is the fourth occasion that an Australian Prime Minister has been here for the inauguration of the Indonesian President, starting on that first occasion with Prime Minister Howard, so I’m very pleased to be here today, particularly for the inauguration of President Widodo. He has been an extraordinary friend of Australia and his repeat election at this most recent election, I think speak volumes about Indonesia where we have someone such as President Widodo who has come very much from outside the Indonesian establishment and to have been successful at two successive elections is an extraordinary achievement. And it’s not just because he has the best smile of any leader I think in the world today, but he had a real passion for his people, and he is a very significant participant in our regional dialogues and his conception of the Indo Pacific ideal and how that has been relayed through ASEAN and the broader regional fora I think has been incredibly important. Australia has been a big partner with Indonesia, and in particular with President Widodo on that very construct of the Indo Pacific. It’s where we live, it’s where we engage, it’s where our future is, and it’s where so much of our present also is in terms of our trading relationships, our people-to-people relationships. So this is a very significant relationship. We have a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, it was the first place I visited and he was the first leader I met with after becoming Prime Minister just over a year ago. So we are very pleased to be here.
Also today we have had the opportunity for further bilateral discussions of course with President Widodo, but also with the Sultan of Brunei and Vice President Wang of China which was also a very positive and constructive meeting.
JOURNALIST: PM as you said you were here just over a year ago. The two of you hammered out the deal for the IA-CEPA agreement that looks like it’s going to be ratified by the Australian parliament by the end of the year. Did you discuss with President Widodo whether it would be ratified by the end of the year by the Indonesian parliament?
PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s, as you know James, let me go back a step. The House of Representatives will be considering this matter tomorrow, and we’ve arrange for that to be on the notice paper for tomorrow, for that to be progressed tomorrow in the House, and it will obviously move through to the Senate soon after that when they reconvene after Estimates and I was very pleased to be able to relay that to President Widodo today.
Now as you know, they have two options for proceeding: down the presidential path, or down the parliamentary path and it’s my understanding that they will continue to proceed down the parliamentary path and that’s still very much with them.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify, he didn’t put a timeline on it or…
PRIME MINISTER: Not yet, no. But no issues were raised as to any of this presenting any obstacles.
JOURNALIST: Your meeting with Vice President Wang went quite considerably over time today, can you tell us what was discussed and whether he extended any invitation for you to come to Beijing?
PRIME MINISTER: Well it was a good meeting and as you say it was scheduled for half an hour and it almost went for twice that and I appreciated that. Vice President Wang, I should stress, was there as an envoy of President Xi, and so it is not for him to be offering invitations or doing those sorts of things. So that was not his remit today.
We had a great opportunity to discuss the full gamut of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership we have with China, and the many things both China and Australia have been saying in recent times and align those and focus on the positive elements of our relationship which are so optimistic and so bright. And so that was a great opportunity. It was constructive, it was positive, and it was a good opportunity to reflect across the broad spectrum of the relationship.
JOURNALIST: PM it sounds like you are taking heart from this meeting. How would you characterise, or interpret it though. Are you taking from this meeting that there is something of a diplomatic thaw with China?
PRIME MINISTER: I think what we saw today is that there is much analysis about the relationships that countries have with China and I think there is indeed a lot of over-analysis of those relationships and whether it’s the United States and China, or anyone else. And I simply made the point, which was well received, that Australia is an independent sovereign nation. Yes we are very much proud of our Western liberal democratic tradition, our open economy and our engagement with the rest of the world, and that gives us a set of eyes that look into the world very much from our perspective. And I respect the fact that whether it’s China, or indeed Indonesia or any other country in this part of the world, they will have their unique perspective and that’s all fine. There’s no issues with that. But what we also stressed today was, is that we will never feel corralled into any sort of binary assessment of these relationships. Binary assessments of a relationship which says pro-United States or pro-China, as Australia has a comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China and we have an enduring, and incredibly important alliance with the United States which is fundamental to our security. We have our biggest investment partnership with the United States and our biggest trade partnership with China and these are not mutually exclusive. And the comments that I’ve made, particularly more recently which have been quite stoically in support of this independent, anti-binary view, I think are very well received. I took the opportunity to congratulate China on where they were able to get to with the United States on the first phase of their trade discussions. I think that’s very good for the global economy and I think it bears out the optimism that we’ve always had about rejecting this binary nature.
It’s simply a fact that China has arrived at an incredibly impressive point in its economic history. It’s impossible to dispute that. And that means that they’ve done incredibly well and raises their level of technological achievement and capability. Similarly, more broadly in their economy but also say, militarily, and that’s a reflection of the significant progress they’ve made over that time. And so, you know, one can only acknowledge that and then pursue our partnership based on our interests, which are aligned with China to the extent that we have both done so incredibly well out of their success. And so that was the dominating part of our discussion today.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister there was some strong pushback from China’s Ambassador to Australia about your calls for China to be treated as a developed economy on the world stage. What sort feedback today did you get about those comments that you have made?
PRIME MINISTER: Well we had a good discussion about the course of history, I think it’s fair to say. We both, I think, were able to point to that incredible economic development that China has been able to achieve. The most rapid I think any of us have ever seen and certainly in our lifetime and arguably, well unarguably, in all of history. And so that means that China is the second largest economy in the world today, which is a point we discussed today. And as a result, that means that China has arrived at a very different point in how it engages economically with the rest of the world. I’ve never seen this as a surprising point, I think it’s quite an obvious point and as a result, the world will recalibrate as a result of their great success.
JOURNALIST: from what we heard of at the start of the meeting, it was requested by Australia. Is it stronger as a result of your discussion today, the relationship between the two countries, because the context has been one which has been tested?
PRIME MINISTER: The context of today was we were both here to celebrate the inauguration of the President of Indonesia, and given we were here, and both here, it seemed to us to be a good opportunity to sit down and have a chat, which we did. And it was a chat that we had very much in the spirit of the partnership that we have. And very much inoculated from all of the assessments that are made about the relationship. And that’s why I came out of the meeting pleased with the generous time that we both afforded to it and were happy to have extended today in our discussions. So I came out the discussion pleased that there is I think a very clear understanding of where Australia is coming from, our commitment to the relationship and I think that is understood and appreciated by China as well.
JOURNALIST: So beyond China, back to Jokowi for a second.
PRIME MINISTER: Sure, we are in Indonesia after all.
Journalist: We are indeed in Indonesia. You talked about IACEPA. You also touched on security I gather and trilateral arrangements with India as well, is that right?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes, and RCEP too I should stress. We had a good discussion about the RCEP agreement. There’s a meeting in November in Bangkok of Trade Ministers – that will be very important, together with other partners in the region. We’re very keen to try and bring this together this year and that’s something that Indonesia also shares as an objective, and so we’re hopeful of some good progress on that meeting in November before the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Forum later this year.
The other matters, at our last meeting the President and I we discussed our trilateral agreement and relationship with India. We both see this as a very positive development. As you probably know, we’ve also had some great engagement with India most recently with the Quad, and there was a Ministerial level meeting of the Quad which was held for the first time in New York around the UN General Assembly. So all of these intermeshing, multilateral fora that we have willingly between independent nation states in this part of the world, I think is very positive, it’s very positive. It enables issues to be progressed, it provides a stabilising influence in the region, and that’s good for business, it’s good for investment, it’s good for peace, it’s good for stability, it’s good for social progress. And there is a great coalition of like-minded and shared interest parties right across this region, whether its India, or whether it’s China or whether it’s Australia or whether it’s Indonesia. This is a pragmatic and productive time.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Australian media companies are campaigning for greater openness on whistle blower protection, freedom of information and so on. What would your government do, if anything, to response to that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well we are, and we have a process currently going on the way at the moment in a joint parliamentary inquiry. We’ve already acted to issue the Minister for Home Affairs’ guidelines and direction which I think both well codify what the processes are, and in fact improve them, and I think that’s been well received, particularly by groups like the AFP which are finding those instructions very very helpful. So I do think that’s an improvement, but we’ll still await the report from the inquiry. But let me simply say this – my government will always believe in freedom of the press. It’s an important part of our freedoms as a liberal democracy. Also believe in the rule of law and that no one is above it, including me or anyone else, any journalist or anyone else. And the rule of law has to be applied evenly and fairly in the protection of our broader freedoms. And so I don’t think anyone is, I hope, looking for a leave pass on any of those things, I wouldn’t and nor should anyone else.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister can I just take you back to the free trade agreement between Australia and Indonesia which is approaching ratification. Many Australian businesses have been involved in ushering this through over the last decade or even longer, but at the same time as we seem to be close to the finishing line, in Indonesia there has been a law put out which appears to substantially affect the independence of the corruption eradication commission. Given that many Australian businesses are concerned about corruption in this country, what would you say to them?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I’m not about to run a commentary on some domestic matters that are being pursued here in Indonesia, and so I won’t go to those matters specifically, other than to say that in any economic partnership, and it’s true for Australia. Right now in Australia my Assistant Minister Ben Morton, working together with the Treasurer and the Minister for Industrial Relations, in a separate line of work, is looking to see how we can streamline the system, remove unnecessary regulation, regulations that can sometimes impede investment and create uncertainly. That’s what we’re doing to ensure that we can attract investment and maintain investment, and that’s what we’ll continue to do. And so where businesses and pension funds and others are looking to invest in other countries, they’ll obviously be looking to see how they can best do that. So our example in this area, which is what I can speak to is that we will always seek and will always continue to seek to remove some of those barriers, because at the end of the day, if you want to see investment flow and trade, then you’ll obviously need stability and certainty for investors and that’s what they’re looking for and I believe that’s what IA-CEPA is all about. It’s about doing exactly that. I and my ministerial colleagues have had tremendous engagement with the Indonesian ministers here, talking about these very issues and how there can be greater investment from Australia in Indonesia. And the IA-CEPA in particular has some very big components that deal with skills transfer and education opportunities, and we are looking forward to those being realised by Australian universities up here in Indonesia.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister on the freedom of the press, that you just mentioned that you’re a supporter of. Do you think that foreign journalists, and indeed foreign diplomats, should be free to visit Papua and West Papua, where we have all been banned for at least the last month?
PRIME MINISTER: Simply to say that this is an issue we discussed today, and the approach that we’ve always taken to these issues is to encourage an openness on these matters. And I’ve got to say, in all of my engagement with President Widodo I have found in him, personally, someone who has a great passion for Papua and for the living standards and conditions of the people of Papua – from President Widodo himself. It’s a matter that’s often discussed in our Pacific forums and I understand that at the recent election he secured over ninety percent of the vote in Papua. If I could get that in Cook back home I’d be very happy. But point being that he’s been there thirteen times as President, which is more than any of his predecessors, and I think the shows at his level, I think a dedication and ear to the challenges that are there, and that is something I welcome. So when he and I discuss these matters, I’m discussing them with someone that I think has a keen understanding, a keen interest, in actually seeking to address these issues in the best possible way. But ultimately it’s a matter for the Indonesian government, and we respect the Lombok Treaty absolutely, and it’s a matter for their judgement and decisions. But we have the type of relationship, both as two countries and myself, with the President, to be able to discuss these issues in a very constructive way.
JOURNALIST: And on your meeting with the Sultan of Brunei, similarly there have been issues recently that have hit the headlines there. Did you discuss the further implementation of Sharia Law and how that impacts on human rights in Brunei?
PRIME MINISTER: I have to say that the meeting with the Sultan today was a very brief one and there was a particular item that we were keen to discuss there and that was about Australia’s engagement with ASEAN. But that matter has been raised and has been dealt with at a Ministerial level.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister we’re in the fabulous building. It cost $400 million. President Widodo wants to build a new capital. Can you promise Australians that tax payers won’t spend another $400 million on another embassy on Borneo?
PRIME MINISTER: Well let me talk about why this embassy was built here and it has the security that it has today. You can go out into the garden and you can see the memorial to the people who have lost their lives when our embassy was the subject of a bombing attack. And so I’m never going to make excuses for the fact that we will always make sure that our officials, whether they’re working here in Indonesia, in Jakarta, or anywhere else around the world, they will have the facilities and the workspaces which is safe and enable them to do their job, and that is the promotion of Australia’s national interest. Now it is not up to Australia as to where a country puts its capital. That is a matter from them. The President and I actually discussed it today and obviously this is something that has a long timeline. In fact we discussed the fact that not far from the where this site is, in Balikpapan is where my grandfather actually served out the last part of his time during the Second World War when he was there with the 7th AIF. So that is a matter for Indonesia, and we would obviously, as a government, through those processes be looking to make sure that as best as possible, that our people are equipped, positioned and able to prosecute our interests as well as they do under the Ambassador here today.
JOURNALIST: Does that just mean that building another embassy costs $400 million in Indonesia?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I think the question is frankly, very premature. This is not a matter that I expect to come before me in this budget cycle or any one soon. There is an enormous amount of work still to be done I think on that matter, and it’s entirely a matter for the Indonesian President and the Government of Indonesia and when decision are made and plans are laid, and all these sorts of things, well I think that’s the time when we can talk about those issues. But I don’t think there’s any event of any sort of significant allocation of any sort being made for those purposes any time soon.
JOURNALIST: Ita Buttrose has given a speech at the Lowy Institute where she flagged a return to the days of more international broadcasting as a soft power tool. Would your government consider funding that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well we are already doing that. What I have funded the ABC to do more of, is greater participation in broadcasting in regional areas. That’s where I’ve got their attention at the moment – out serving our regional and rural communities, which they do such a fabulous job at. And the most recent increases that we gave the ABC were actually focussed on that job within Australia.
A big part of the Pacific Step Up was being able to access a great amount of Australian content – largely entertainment content and others kinds of cultural content which is part of the social diplomacy effort. And we’re working with a whole range of different broadcasters and content providers on those issues, as we should. But right now, I’m keen for the ABC to remain very focussed on the communities in Australia and the additional support that we gave to them to support rural and regional communities.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you’ve said that the drought is the number call on the budget.
PRIME MINISTER: Correct.
JOURNALIST: Is the drought an important enough issue to merit a cross-party cabinet?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I’ve noticed that point. If we as a government continue to consult widely and listen, most importantly, to people in rural and regional Australia. But I do note that even at a time, even when Australia actually was at war, there was no such war cabinet as described by the leader of the opposition. So they can explain the context of the nature of their proposal, but we were elected to get on with the job, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. I think those sorts of proposals are novel, but they sort of, don’t bear out against Australia’s government experience. If you’re not having a war cabinet involving non-government members in an actual time of war, and I point out that at the time of World War II breaking out, Sir Robert Menzies then, in the UAP who had sought to form coalitions both with the Labor Party and the Country Party at the time at a time of war, and that didn’t come to effect and ultimately a Labor government was formed at that time under John Curtin. So they can make those proposals, but our government is filled, both in Cabinet and on our benches, of Australians who have a direct experience and live in drought affected communities, right across New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia, and indeed from other states where drought has affected them in the past. And so we have the right people and our ears are wide open and the commitments we’ve made on the drought continue. It is a rolling response.
Since returning from the United States we have announced a series of measures – whether it’s increased support directly to farm households through changes we’ve made to the Farm Household Allowance, both on its eligibility and indeed the additional supplementary payment; in additional support to communities through the Drought Communities Program – which is the second phase of what we do to respond to drought – helping those districts, towns and communities affected by drought; and thirdly, the significant announcements we’ve made in relation to water infrastructure all around the country – twenty one projects, two very significant projects announced just last weekend at Dungowan and throughout western New South Wales, looking after the long-term water resilience needs of Australia with infrastructure to support that program. So we have a clear plan, we’re going to get on with the plan, and we’re also going to work closely with the states and territories. On the issue of things like our fodder and freight subsidies, they come specifically into the remit of the state governments, and the New South Wales and Queensland governments have existing fodder and freight subsidies and whether they’re to be changed or expanded upon, well that’s a matter for those state governments. I note the New South Wales’ government I think, overnight, yesterday, made further announcements of community support on drought, and I welcome that. The Farmers’ Federation this week released their policy statement on drought and it aligns absolutely significantly with the responses that the Government has been making and I note that they didn’t call for additional freight and fodder subsidies from the states and territories, but that’s matter for the NFF. So we will continue on responding and supporting Australians who are living through this drought. We can’t make it rain, we can’t make it like it was before it stopped raining, but we can continue to help Australians make the decisions that they are making through the course of this drought and supporting them as we can and as we should, and we’ll continue to do that and we’ll consult with everybody, and just get on with the job.
JOURNALIST: Did you talk about the events in Northern Syria with President Jokowi today and the possibility of the return of foreign terrorist fighters, and what actions Australia and Indonesia and its other partners will take in this region against that.
PRIME MINISTER: Yes it was a brief discussion on those items today and not a surprising one because we both have nationals who are caught up in what’s happening there. It was a matter that I’m sure will get more discussion when we meet again. President Widodo is being inaugurated today so we weren’t going to have a long meeting on these matters today, but we will certainly return to them when we hook up again at the East Asia Summit in the not too distant future, because we do meet regularly about these things and are in quite regular contact with each other. But that is a challenge, as is our shared effort in combatting terrorism in our region. This is something that I know is very high on the President’s agenda with Australia on our cooperation, and it’s very high on our agenda with Indonesia. And we have had great success working closely together and we acknowledge the deep trust that exists between Australia and Indonesia in our operational and strategic cooperation when it comes to counting terrorism within our region. And I thank the President, and I thank the entire institutional infrastructure that goes in behind this relationship. It’s deep, it’s experienced and there’s a deep sense of trust too, which I think makes it work incredibly well. So thank you very much for your attention.