Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference after visiting SMPN 2 Babakan Madang High school in Jakarta, Friday, August 31, 2018

Doorstop Interview, Indonesia

31 Aug 2018
Prime Minister
Indonesia; Malcolm Turnbull; Pacific Island Forum; Myanmar; Peter Dutton
International and Trade

Image: AAP Image

PRIME MINISTER: It’s a great privilege to be here today at this school here in Indonesia because the children of Indonesia and the children of Australia will be the biggest beneficiaries of the meeting that I’m having today with President Widodo. This meeting we’re having today is about our continuing and strengthening relationship. This is one of Australia’s most important relationships. It is becoming something of a tradition for a Prime Minister to have their first visit to Indonesia and I am very pleased that in such a short period of time that I’ve had the opportunity to come here and say once again how important this relationship is to Australia, to our region, but a lot more than that, because Indonesia is playing, and will continue to play, a much greater role on the global stage – whether that is in the area of economy but also in the areas of security. As we know, Indonesia is taking on the seat on the UN Security Council but the relationship between Australia and Indonesia is not just about governments and policies and all of these things, it’s about the children in this school and the children back in our schools in Australia, and what we share together. This is one of the largest democracies in the world, fourth largest population, it is the largest Muslim population country in the world today. This is a country that has a history that Australia has had a key involvement in – going back to 1947 – but what we share today is this. I want an Australia where our economy is strong, I want an Australia where we keep Australians safe and I want an Australia where we keep our people together. And they are exactly the same goals, I believe, of what Indonesia wants and President Widodo wants for his country, and that’s how we can come together so comfortably, so easily. Prime Minister Turnbull has enabled me to be here today and to take up the work that he begun to pull together the comprehensive economic partnership. That is the part of the relationship where we need to do some more heavy lifting – on the economic relationship. We are not realising the full potential of this important part of the partnership we have between our two countries. We work incredibly closely together on issues of security, we work – I think – in harmony both representing countries that have wide diversity, many different faiths, many different cultures, many different peoples, and that is something that is managed here in harmony in Indonesia – just like we do, as I believe, the most successful immigration country on the planet. But the area where we’re going to do more heavy lifting which the President and I are looking forward to speaking to today and meeting in person for the first time is to do that heavy lifting on our economic relationship. So much more can be achieved and when that is achieved then we will see a prosperity here and our own country that will benefit future generations. Thank you.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, much was made in the close relationship between Malcolm Turnbull and Joko Widodo. How important is it for you to foster a similarly close relationship so that this agreement draft signing today becomes more than just a piece of paper?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s incredibly important. It’s so important that I should be here in my first week as Prime Minister and that’s where I am. This has been an important priority for me as Prime Minister and for my Government and shows the continuity between the work that has been done by my predecessors but there was a very special bond between President Widodo and President – I should say – Prime Minister Turnbull. A very close relationship. There was a very special relationship and I know that that has provided the entrée for me to now continue that relationship and I’m looking forward to our – certainly our formal discussions later today but also the opportunities we’re going to have to spend just a bit of time together. He’s an extraordinary fellow. I mean, I mean, a story I just told those young children. I mean, if that’s not a fair go for someone who’s having a go and he becomes President of Indonesia than I don’t know what is. I mean, he is an inspiration to his people and, frankly, I’m just really looking forward to meeting him.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, one of the key elements we expect to be in the free trade deal will be that Australian universities will be able to be majority owned and operated here which opens the door for unis like Monash, RMIT, Central Queensland. How important is that? What impact do you think that will have on the Australian education sector and what would be the impact here in Indonesia as well?

PRIME MINISTER: I think it’s just a massive win-win. I mean, this is a skills transfer and some sharing. This is building up capabilities within economies. It’s about using Australia’s strengths to build in Indonesia but, at the same time, provide opportunities for Indonesia to tap into what’s happening in Australia. It’s much more than a trade deal we’re talking about today. It’s not a transaction. This is a partnership and this is something that has been in the making for a while and what we’ve seen in our relationship with Indonesia over many, many years, it has just continued to build and it is my absolute intention and priority to keep that momentum going and to take it to a new level and the platform that has been built by Prime Minister Turnbull with President Widodo to get us to this point,  I am very happy to hear, to pick up where the Prime Minister previously left us and to take it forward for both countries.

QUESTION: A couple of questions. First of all though, this time last week, you were looking forward to going to watch the Sharkies play and now you’re here in Indonesia as the Prime Minister meeting with school students, talking to them about becoming a future generation of leaders. It must be pretty surreal for you? And second of all, can you talk a little bit about the shift from the relationship with Indonesia being one based on security into being much more of a partnership and particularly given your role as the former Immigration Minister involved in that process?

PRIME MINISTER: First of all, all sorts of challenges get thrust upon you in life and that’s why what you believe and what you values are matter because, at the end of the day, that’s always what guides your decisions and that’s why that’s always been something very important to me to always be very much in touch with those core values that help you in those challenges and I take on this new role with a great deal of both optimism and application. But you’re right about the shift in the emphasis on the relationship. It’s not about stepping back from the incredible partnership that we have on security issues but also on the issues of building harmony and how we both manage those tasks in our respective countries and President Widodo has been a real leader when it comes to the inter-faith discussion that occurs here in this country and is very keen, I understand, to see how that can also be part of our ongoing relationship and how we learn from each other and how we manage those issues in our two countries. But the economic relationship is where we’re underdone and it’s the economic relationship that needs more ballast, more grunt, more investment, more engagement and that is what we’re here to really set off today with this new arrangement and we need to still talk that through this afternoon but I’m very keen, as I’m quite sure President Widodo is, he’s just getting on with it because this is going to be great for our countries.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, we talk a lot about the expansion of China in the region and our elevation of the relationship with Indonesia now, I guess, comes at a very important time for us. What is our priority when we talk about this comprehensive strategic partnership? Are we looking for more backing or, you know, partnership from Indonesia when it comes to standing up to China on issues like the South China Sea, on issues like economic influence in the South Pacific?

PRIME MINISTER: We all live in this part of the world together and that means we all have to work towards having the best possible relationship we can at the highest level we can. The people-to-people relationships I’m not going to underestimate either but for one relationship to be stronger, another relationship doesn’t have to be weaker. I don’t accept the zero-sum game of dealing with our partners and our neighbours. We have great friends in the United States, we have great friends in the United Kingdom, we work closely and we’ve shared prosperity with our friends in China as well and here in Indonesia, we have a bond – particularly going back to 1947, when we have been the advocates for the Indonesian people for decades and decades and decades. And that advocacy has been in the international realm but you know what? It’s been right here - $200,000 under a Howard Government program to build this school, that’s advocacy for the Indonesian people and helping them realise their goals and their dreams so, look, this is about ensuring that we have good relationships and good partnerships. And I particularly want to commend Julie Bishop – now, Marise Payne has taken on the role of Foreign Minister – but this is the things that Julie and I would often talk about. She was a great relationship manager and forger and she recommended to me that Marise Payne took on that role and I think for exactly the same reason. She has tended those relationships carefully and she has delivered Australia with great opportunities – one of which I’m standing in right now as we go into this meeting today.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, would you like to see students from Indonesia come to Australia through the agreement that’s going to be…

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll have a bit more to say about those things later today, about the details, so I might address that at the normal time.


PRIME MINISTER: Well, all Australians benefit. You know, one of the key planks of our economic plan to make our economy strong which means we can guarantee the essential services that all Australians rely on has been our passionate commitment to ensuring we have open trade. As Bill English used to say, “You don’t get rich selling stuff to yourself”. You’ve got to reach out as an economy like Australia and engage in the world.” And that’s what we have been successfully doing as a Government since 2013. Everything from the China Free Trade Agreement to the work we’re doing here today in Indonesia and I should also mention the work former Minister Steven Ciobo has done in getting us to this point which is now being taken up by the new Minister Simon Birmingham.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, congratulations on your first foreign trip. Can I ask you though about a domestic issue on Peter Dutton?

PRIME MINISTER: Sure, are there any other [inaudible], happy to address those.

QUESTION: Given what you’ve said, you chose not to go onto the other countries that your predecessors have attended to. The Pacific Islands Forum, surely that should have been a priority for a new Prime Minister to call to on the way home? Are you disappointed not to be there and why did you choose not to go?

PRIME MINISTER: I am disappointed to not be there and Senator Payne will be representing me there, and in the ordinary circumstances, I would be there because I love getting together with friends in the Pacific. I’m sending them a message which is for those of you who are familiar with Maori, that in the Pacific we are “whanau”, we are “family” and in the Pacific, that’s how I see our relationship, that we can deal with each other honestly and openly and strongly as family and to all those leaders at the Pacific Island Forum, many of which I know, I respect your “mana” and you can count on me to be able to have a close and friendly relationship. I spoke to Prime Minister O’Neill before coming up here last night, amongst many other things, he’s hoping to maybe catch up with me in the finals. Segeyaro who plays for the Sharks had a special message for his Prime Minister so he’s looking forward to coming and seeing ‘Seggy’ but it’s a good relationship but in the Pacific, it’s a family relationship and we have special responsibilities in the Pacific and that’s what I know. Senator Payne, as my Foreign Minister, will be out there representing on my behalf next week, and I look forward to my next opportunity to engage with my Pacific brothers and sisters.

QUESTION: Just quickly on the Pacific Island Forum, do you expect some of those leaders might be a little bit annoyed that their [INAUDIBLE] not going to be there.

PRIME MINISTER: You’ve spent some time in New Zealand I know.

QUESTION: Do you expect that they might be a bit annoyed that the leader won’t be there.

PRIME MINISTER: I think that they will understand in the circumstances. We are going back to Parliament the following week. I have some very pressing matters as a new prime minister I have to deal with in my own country. Those in particular are the issues of drought, and I’ve taken a number of reports on drought, we’re settling the arrangements for Barnaby Joyce in that special role of Envoy and we have our joint agency taskforce coming together under Stephen Day which is focussing on the drought. There are a number of issues that I want to be progressing next week on that. There’s the critical issue of getting electricity prices down and the work I’m doing with Angus Taylor there and as well as working with Melissa Price on Australia’s many environmental challenges. So there’s a lot of work to do in a short period of time before we get back to Parliament in just over a week’s time. As you know we’ve had very good meetings with the crossbenchers in the lower house which means that we return to the Parliament in a stable environment. Compared to the very unfortunate events of the other week – that means we can get back to work. So look, it is a unusual set of circumstances and I’m sure that my colleagues in the Pacific Islands Forum will be very understanding but I suspect they’ll tease me next time I see them and have a joke at my expense.

QUESTION: Can I just get a comment on the Australian filmmaker James Ricketson? He’s been sentenced to six years jail in Cambodia. Is there anything the Australian Government can do or is planning on doing to help?

PRIME MINISTER: Foreign Minister Bishop at the time had made some direct approaches about that issue and represented Australia’s view at that time. He can expect to get all the consular and other support from the Australian Government you’d expect in these circumstances. And I think, as usual, in these types of events it’s best, I think, to deal with these things calmly and directly and in a way that best assists [INAUDIBLE]

QUESTION: And what about the fact-finding mission on Myanmar? The UN fact-finding mission? It’s come up with this recommendation that six of the top generals including the army chief be prosecuted for genocide. Australia is becoming an outlier in that it hasn’t severed relations with the Tatmadaw, the Burmese Army. Are we looking at that? Are we looking at any movement on that front given the US, the UK, Europe, Canada, have all come out and imposed sanctions on the Myanmar military.

PRIME MINISTER: Of course, we live in this part of the world and it’s the sort of issue that I’d be happy to discuss with my regional colleagues around this. One of my first visits as a Minister in the Abbott Government, is, I’ve been to Myanmar. I’ve been in the Rohingya camps in Myanmar. I’ve been to [INAUDIBLE]. I’ve seen it first-hand. I’ve met with Ministers there and so I’m no stranger the events there and the human circumstances that are there. And so I’ll proceed patiently on these things. These are big questions and these are big issues and I’ll work closely with my regional colleagues in addressing those issues.

QUESTION: On a domestic issue if I may.


QUESTION: Peter Dutton has suggested that he may… someone from within Government is leaking against him in this au pair case. Do you think that’s the case? Will you ask for an investigation and does he have your full confidence in his handling of these matters?

PRIME MINSITER: Look, Peter of course does. I just had him appointed to the Ministry as the Minister for Home Affairs. And look, Canberra loves it when dust gets kicked up and people sling some mud about. There’s nothing new about that in Canberra. But I don’t see those sorts of activities and those sorts of machinations as grounds for anything. I deal with facts. I deal with my colleagues. I deal with the real information that’s before me. Look I’ve been a Minister for Immigration. I know of all the many, many decisions you make on ministerial interventions. And they are made directly by the Minister. That’s not a decision of Cabinet, that’s not a decision of any other group. They have to be exercised personally by the Minister. Now we have some other cases like that which you know are running presently and I referred to those in my press conference yesterday. So no is the short answer in terms of having any direct concerns there. I think it’s the usual Canberra circus and any issues of substance, of course I would consider, but there are none such before me.


QUESTION: Will you be seeking the facts from Mr Dutton?

PRIME MINISTER: I’ve talked to Peter about this on many occasions and it’s just as I’ve outlined to you.

QUESTION: Malcolm Turnbull [INAUDIBLE]. Are you disappointed that he’s not sticking around until the election?

PRIME MINSITER: Well of course I’m disappointed Malcolm is leaving the Parliament and is leaving public life. Malcolm has been a dear and close friend to me for a very long period of time and he’s served his country well and grandly as a Prime Minister who’ll be well remembered, I believe, over time as a Prime Minister who delivered some very big things for Australia. No smaller than Snowy 2.0. No smaller than Western Sydney Airport and [inaudible]., I know, to ensure that this is getting off the ground. And there are many other projects and there’ll be time enough to go through those on other occasions. But right now I just want to send to my friend Malcolm and to Lucy and their entire family all my best wishes and all my love. You know how much he used to like talking about love. Well, mate, love’s coming right back at you, Malcolm. And I want to wish all the best to you and the time that you’re going to have with your family now and to be able to get out of the madness of politics and all that sort of nonsense that occurred and to be able to refresh and reset. You deserve that, mate. You absolutely deserve that. You’ve served our country well, and on behalf of our country as Prime Minister I just want to say thanks.

QUESTION: What about the banks increasing interest rates? As Treasurer you threatened to use a big stick. What’s your message to them as Prime Minster today?

PRIME MINISTER: Well they should be justifying what they do to their customers. I’m not convinced and I don’t know why their customers would be. And their customers should take their business elsewhere if they’re not happy.

QUESTION: When you were Immigration Minister, did you ever overturn a departmental decision that… to the effect that someone should not be admitted to the country in the same way that the current minister has done?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I made hundred, no thousands, of decisions as Minister for Immigration and it wouldn’t be unusual to do that. Because, at the end of the day, the Minister makes the decision. It’s not a decision power that’s vested in the Department. It’s a decision power vested in the Minister for Immigration who is accountable to the Parliament and who is accountable to the Australian people. That’s where the authority rests for making those decisions and they’re made on each case by their merits which is what Peter has assured me about. And that doesn’t surprise me because I made plenty of them myself. And they’re difficult decisions. They’re personal decisions. Human decisions. The facts are many and the considerations are large so you would often see Peter and you might have seen me with them… you’re working around with a pile of folders about that high. Every single one of those is a life and every decision you make on that affects those lives and all the lives of the people around them. You don’t makes those decisions in a rush and you make them carefully and in a considered way. So I have no reason and I have no doubt that every time Peter exercised that decision making authority in the same way that David Coleman is making them now, then they’d be following exactly that process.


PRIME MINISTER: Who hasn’t had one? Who hasn’t had one? You were waiting… you were waiting very patiently.

QUESTION: I was asking you about Dutton. You’ve answered the question.

QUESTION: I would like to ask about Julia Banks if that’s alright.


QUESTION: How will the Julia Banks allegations be dealt with here?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I’ve been in touch with Julie as you know, and I particularly want to thank Nola Marino again and Kelly O’Dwyer as the Minister for Women who’s been getting around our colleagues after what was a very bruising week, last week. But those issues we will continue to address as colleagues, and work those through as colleagues. But as you know, not only do I not have any truck with bullying, I stand up to bullies, as well, as people know. I do what’s right in Australia’s interests and I am setting a tone and a culture that I expect all of my colleagues to follow and I know they will. And I know they will, I have great confidence in them to do that. We have got a big job: an even stronger Australia, keeping our economy strong, keeping Australians safe, and keeping Australians together. And my first job with my team is to make sure they come together for Australians. Thank you.