Doorstop – Makassar, Indonesia

07 Jun 2022
Prime Minister

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: Well, thank you very much for joining us and I do want to thank JJ or Professor Jumpa, a proud graduate of James Cook University in marine biology, for the warm welcome here to this university, Hasanuddin University, a university with 40,000 students, one in which 152 alumni from Australian universities are teaching right here. This is a practical example of the people‑to‑people exchange, which is how you build relations between nations and across cultures, and we need to extend that in the future. I want to see more Indonesian students studying in Australia. I want to see more Australian students studying in Indonesia.

I was very keen to come to Makassar. This is the largest city in eastern Indonesia. It is a city which has a history of connection with Australia going back hundreds of years. The Makassan seafarers sailed to Northern Australia, to Arnhem Land, and had contact with the Yolngu people. They exchanged in trade and those relations mean that when you travel, as some of you will do to the Garma Festival, you can actually go and look at the rock art, the bark paintings, that go back such a long period of time that document those connections between people from Makassar and the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land. This is just an example of the interconnections and how close Indonesia is, of course, to Australia, which is why we need to build on the relations, which is why this is my first visit, in terms of bilateral visit, and why I was so pleased with the very warm welcome that was received by us from President Widodo yesterday, and why it was so good that such a large delegation of my Ministers, but also the delegation from the business community who last night got together with the Australian–Indonesian Business Association for such a successful function here last night.

After this, I will go and pay my respects to the Governor, and that will be an important meeting. And then we’re off to one of the biggest flour mills in the world, the second‑largest in Indonesia, that takes Australian wheat amongst its products and converts that into bread, into noodles, and often will then post‑production export it back into Australia. It is an example of an Australian–Indonesian joint venture. I want to see more investment here in Indonesia to help with the development of Indonesia, but also to benefit Australian companies. Indonesia will grow to be one of the top five economies in the world in coming years. What that represents is enormous opportunity for Australia. I’m happy to take some questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just your reaction first to today’s interest rate rise. It’s gone up by 50 basis points.

PRIME MINISTER: Jim Chalmers will respond back. I make it a policy, I said this on my first visit, I intend to stick to it, that I won’t be commenting on domestic issues while overseas. Dr Chalmers and our Ministers back in Australia will respond to those.

JOURNALIST: I have a question on the region, if I may. There were reports overnight that further developments are being made with the base near Sihanoukville in Cambodia. How concerned are you that that base does seem to be going ahead in the northern quarter of the existing Cambodian base? What are the implications for both Australia, for Indonesia and for the region?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is concerning. We’re in regular contact with the Cambodian Government and we have been consistently assured that no foreign military will be granted exclusive access at Ream. We’ve been aware of Beijing’s activity at Ream for some time, and we encourage Beijing to be transparent about its intent and to ensure that its activities support regional security and stability.

JOURNALIST: Just on wanting to develop these trade ties outside of places like Jakarta and Bali, you’ve been speaking with business leaders; do you think there’s an appetite to extend that type of investment and do you see it is a way, we know China has been investing a lot in the Pacific, do you think it’s a way for Australia to really bolster its presence in Southeast Asia?

PRIME MINISTER: It is clearly in Australia’s national interest to boost that investment. Australia, at the moment, in terms of Indonesia as a trading partner is 13th on our list. It should be much higher. Common-sense tells you that that’s the case. We can do much more. I was really heartened by the level of the delegation that came with us on very short notice. They got the same notice that you did about this visit. And on very short notice, the fact that you had the head of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott; you had the President of the Australian Industry Group; the CEO of the Commonwealth Bank; representatives of major companies like the CEO of Wesfarmers, Fortescue. Major companies all sent senior people at CEO or close to it level here on very short notice. What that indicates to me is that there’s a recognition of the opportunity that is here for increased investment from Australia, and it’s a very positive sign indeed.

And also, last night, to be honest, I walked into that room last night and expected a much smaller gathering than what was there. Again, congratulations and thank you to the Australian Embassy for the work that they have done. That was put together on very short notice and the fact that you had hundreds of representatives, including senior Ministers in the Indonesian Government, as well as senior business leaders were there on short notice, and that interaction was a very positive sign indeed.

Greg Combet will be leading a delegation in coming weeks to Indonesia as the head of the—one of the heads of the superannuation industry in Australia to look at ways in which Australian superannuation funds can invest in Indonesia. That’s a huge opportunity of a win–win.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just in regards—you’ve talked about the importance of climate change in your dealings with Indonesia, but at the same time, one of the biggest areas of trade growth between Australia and Indonesia since the trade deal came into effect in 2020 has been coal. It’s almost doubled the value of exports to Indonesia. Do you see further opportunities for the growth in the export of coal from Australia to Indonesia or is this at loggerheads with the idea of having a sort of green trading arrangement?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I see, as I said repeatedly during the election campaign, Australia’s exports of our resources will be determined by demand overseas. What I had with President Widodo was a very clear indication and commitment. President Widodo is absolutely committed to transforming the economy through clean energy. There is enormous opportunity here through green hydrogen and the investment that Fortescue are making here, but other opportunities as well including the potential implications of the Sun Cable project in the longer term as well and what that represents. There are real reasons why, apart from emissions reduction, clean energy and reducing pollution and air pollution particulates, all of those issues means that Indonesia is certainly looking towards acting on climate change in a serious way. That’s why our commitments were very much welcomed by not just President Widodo, but all of the Ministers. And I must say that the changed policy on climate change that my Government was elected to implement has been welcomed here in the region and indeed by every world leader who I’ve spoken to.

JOURNALIST: Last night you spoke about trade diversification. There’s often been a focus on India in terms of trying to reduce the reliance on China. Do you think the Indonesian market has more opportunities than India, or what’s your assessment?

PRIME MINISTER: I think both of them have enormous opportunities. What we’re seeing in both countries is significant economic growth, significant growth in the middle class, as well as [inaudible], and that represents a huge opportunity for our region. We identify a four‑part plan in terms of trade, in terms of diversification during the election campaign, two parts of which were India and also Indonesia, because these two economies stand out as representing enormous opportunities. Indonesia, because of its close location as well in terms of its geography, represents a great opportunity for Australian investment in terms of trade, not just in terms of manufacturing, resources, but also in terms of services going forward as well.

We talked to some of the young students in here at the university here. A nursing student who wanted to go and finish her studies or to work in Australia for a period of time through to a young engineer who was also looking. So, blue collar, white collar—there’s enormous opportunities here. Australia needs to seize them. For a long period of time Australia looked at our place in the world as an island continent located where we are and spoke about the tyranny of distance from Europe and North America, the big growth centres. We’re now in a situation with the ubiquitous nature of technology that growth will be determined by population, because of the changing nature of the way that economies are functioning with globalisation. What that means is that we are in the fastest growing region in the world in human history, and it’s going to get faster. That represents an incredible opportunity for an advanced economy like Australia going forward.

JOURNALIST: Obviously, you’ve been accompanied by these business leaders, and you said they’ve scrambled on short notice. Do you think that reflects a judgement by Australian business that the opportunities that we lost with China over the last couple of years are—that that’s a door that’s closed? And also, it’s long been an aspiration of many Australian Governments to [inaudible] two‑way trade with Indonesia. We’ve had this discussion for 20 years. It hasn’t happened. What will you do to ensure it does?

PRIME MINISTER: We’ve started getting it done. The presence here of not just myself but my Ministers, but the business leaders as well, has sent a very clear message. The other reason we’re in Makassar here as well is that I think for a lot of Indonesians, they know that Australia knows about Jakarta and knows about Bali. What they want is an Australian Government that understands this vast archipelago and this vast nation, and wants to engage with the entire country of Indonesia. That’s why this visit to Makassar is so important. And one of the things I discussed with the President yesterday was on a future visit going to another region as well which we will do when I return on my next visit. It’s really important that we take this relationship seriously and clearly the business community are doing so, and I regard their presence as being very positive.

JOURNALIST: Just to go back to Katherine’s question though about China and those doors closing for those $20 billion worth of export industries; do you think that those sectors there [inaudible] there is no chance of getting back into China at all?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I have said that the sanctions have been imposed by China are unjust and should be removed. That remains my position and that should occur. We’re a trading nation. We should be able to trade on the basis that benefits economies. Good trade benefits both the exporter and the importer of that trading activity, and we’ll continue to work on trade diversification though, as it is important because at one stage the trade proportion for China was up above 45 per cent. We need to make that we diversify the opportunities, which are there. Indonesia is obviously a very important element in that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: One more. Two more.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, your first bilateral visit overseas as Prime Minister. How would you necessarily rank the trip as a success in what you were looking to achieve in the first place? And would there be very similar topics of discussion going forward with New Zealand’s Prime Minister ahead of her visit to Australia this weekend?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, other people are commentators. I’m not. But I will say that from my perspective, the visit has exceeded all expectations. You know, we’re a fortnight into this Government. I was sworn in 15 days ago. And the election was 17 days ago, and they’re still counting votes. This is a Government that has acted from day 1, we’re acting in the national interests. We’re acting to make sure that we maximise the economic opportunities from engagement in our region. But also, that we deal with the challenges which are here in our region that strategic competition brings, and that we develop good relations with people. But you need to do that on a one‑on‑one basis.

I look forward to Prime Minister Ardern’s visit. She will be in Australia on Thursday. We’ll have an informal dinner on Thursday night. I think I indicated that Prime Minister Ardern, not surprisingly, was the first person to ring me. I was still in the car. We have each other’s mobiles. I now have a few more mobile numbers in my phone than I had prior to 21 May. But Jacinda was good enough to ring me when I was on my way to the  Canterbury–Hurlstone Park RSL. So, I hadn’t yet spoken that night. She’s been a friend of mine for some time. I look forward to catching up with her informally on Thursday night and then for us to have a meeting on Friday. We’re good friends, Australia and New Zealand. We can do much better in terms of cooperation and build stronger relations, and I’m sure that myself and Jacinda will be able to achieve that. Last one.

JOURNALIST: You’ve clearly marked this trip as a success, but you do leave Indonesia this afternoon. You’re going to have your work cut out for you back at home with the significant increase in interest rates.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you can ask me that tomorrow. I am going to be really consistent because I breached that rule once and you’ll all be on it like a—I can think of various things, all of which are inappropriate—all of which are inappropriate. But what’s also inappropriate is to comment on domestic matters while I’m overseas. Richard Marles is the Acting Prime Minister, and we have a Treasurer and a Minister for Finance who will respond.