Joint Press Conference with the Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste

30 Aug 2019
Dili, Timor-Leste
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Prime Minister Ruak, thank you for the opportunity to be here today and your invitation to make some remarks. It is a great day for Timor-Leste. Today is all about Timor-Leste. This day, 20 years ago, when more than 400,000 people cast their ballots and decided their own future, a nation was born and democracy was celebrated. And the Foreign Minister Senator Payne was there as part of an Australian delegation to observe those elections. A delegation that I note was led by the late former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, who I know, who is no longer with us, would be celebrating this day very much. 

I'm honoured to be here to celebrate these achievements. Your commitment to democracy, Prime Minister, and your nation forged through sacrifice is perhaps the greatest achievement of all. Last year more than 600,000 Timorese had their voices heard again at a peaceful election, the fourth since independence. But alongside democracy you’ve built strong institutions to uphold human rights and to prevent corruption. You have built roads, you have built schools, you have built hospitals, you have reduced poverty and you have saved lives through eliminating polio. These are truly great achievements and things for which the people of Timor-Leste, they should be very, very proud. As a neighbour but more importantly as a partner and as a friend, Australia celebrates those achievements with you and we are pleased to have been able to play the part that we have walking alongside Timor-Leste over this period of time. And there is so much more, as we've been discussing, that we can do together. 

Our relationship is deep. It is long lasting. There is a sense of connection and affection that has been on display in our meetings today and has long been present and will endure into the future. In the last 20 years Australia and the people of Timor-Leste have worked together to increase development and improve regional security. Our relationship is much more than the sum of our achievements. At its heart is the relationship between the people and that is on display today. I was so pleased to be joined by so many other Australians at the lunch today and later this evening. The people of Australia are celebrating Timor-Leste today. 

We celebrated with you in 1999 and we will always work closely with Timor-Leste. This year, 200 Australian students studied and returned here as part of the New Colombo Plan and 47 Timorese Australia Awards scholars are studying in Australia today. Australia is investing in the skills and capability of the Timorese people and I am pleased that Timor-Leste has also joined our new Pacific Labour Scheme. Our relationship will endure. We respect and celebrate your hard won sovereignty and independence and we will continue to walk with you. 

So today we open a new chapter in our relationship and we have just had a wonderful conversation. I'm particularly proud during this visit to announce that Australia will be supporting Timor-Leste to establish a sub-sea cable link to Australia. As the first step, Australia will fund the front-end engineering and design process for a fibre optic cable linking Timor-Leste to Australia. Following the design process, Australia is ready to work with Timor-Leste on financing and construction options. That fibre optic cable will transform Timor-Leste’s digital connection with the world and reduce the barriers between people, skills, business, and governments. It's a project that will certainly change lives. We will also soon be working together as part of a new maritime security package. Australia will fund construction of facilities at Timor-Leste’s naval base and has offered to fund a concept design for a broader upgrade of the base. We'll also provide a vessel for Timor-Leste’s Guardian Class Patrol Boats crew to train in preparation for Australia's gift of two Australian Guardian Class Patrol Boats that will arrive here in 2020-2023. And this afternoon, the Prime Minister and I will exchange diplomatic notes at a special ceremony to bring our new Maritime Boundary Treaty into effect. So that is a moment for great celebration of an extraordinary young nation that we are pleased to call a friend. 

What Timor-Leste has achieved in just 20 years is simply remarkable, and in the years ahead I look forward to this new chapter unfolding in our partnership. One where we revitalise our friendship and work together to ensure a better future for the people of both our countries. It's been lovely to have our meeting today and I look forward to welcoming you in Australia when you have that first opportunity. Thank you very much Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER RUAK: Today is a very important day for Timor-Leste. As you’ve seen 20 years ago, we have fought and eventually achieved our independence. So [inaudible] of the nation was not Timor-Leste’s alone with the support and the help of Australia and also the international community and thus we are here today to celebrate. So we’re celebrating this event not for the celebrations alone but also for the [inaudible] 20 years ago. So for a long time, 20 years, Australia has always been part of the support for our struggles for independence. So it’s invested resources to develop and invest in Timor-Leste. In 20 years Australia has invested a lot in many areas including agriculture, communications, defence and other related areas as well. Today will mark a new beginning, a new phase for both countries. Timor-Leste has decided to maintain and continue with this relationship and also open up new opportunities for corporations in various areas. So one of the areas the Prime Minister of Australia has just mentioned is the fibre optic in which to facilitate the access of internet. Another important area is maritime security borders, we know Australia has a lot of facilities, equipment and can help Timor-Leste maintain its border and security. Other important areas are border management and [inaudible]. As the Prime Minister of Australia said, today forward will be new beginnings, new corporations in those areas will certainly enhance the corporations further in the future between Australia and Timor-Leste. Lastly I would like to thank the Prime Minister for coming to Timor-Leste and partaking in the celebrations. I hope we will see each other, probably on my visit to Australia.

PRIME MINISTER: I understand there's going to be three questions from the journalists. Happy to begin with those from Timor-Leste if they would like to ask first and then there is Hannah Sinclair from SBS.  

JOURNALIST: Welcome, Prime Minister Morrison. You’ve talked about opening a new chapter. Do you think that is possible while we haven’t closed the previous one with the trial of Witness K and Bernard Collaery still continuing?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's a domestic matter in Australia it's currently before the courts. So it's not a matter I intend to offer comment on. The key issue that will close today is the matter of maritime boundaries. That's something we've been working towards for many years and I think this is a tremendous thing for us to conclude today. Before coming here we were able to pass the necessary measures through our own Parliament and that was given high priority by our Parliament to ensure that I could come here today to be able to ensure that those matters were firmly settled.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, my question is directed to you. Do you think that Australia should drop the Witness K case? Should Australia drop the Witness K case?

PRIME MINISTER RUAK: As of now it’s a different event, Timor-Leste and Australia, we don’t exchange notes, this is a different case, a domestic case, I’m sure the Ministry of Justice in Australia will look into the issues, and Timor-Leste will look into the issues as well.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, we will exchange notes today but after the exchange of notes will Australia return 10 per cent of the revenues that have been collected a couple of years ago to Timor-Leste?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the agreement and what was worked through over quite a period of time was that those sharing arrangements commence from the time of the exchange. That’s what we’ve agreed and that’s what we will do. Next one was to Lizzie Pearl.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Morrison, you’ve said that it’s a domestic issue but given there’s a lot of work being done to strengthen the relationship between the two countries, do you think it would be a good show of faith on Australia’s behalf to drop the case against Witness K?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s not a matter that is directed towards Timor-Leste. It’s a matter that is being addressed in Australia in relation to domestic matters.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: We entered into a process to come to an agreement on how these matters were to be determined and that’s what we’ve done. Both entered into that agreement knowingly and enthusiastically and as equal partners and that’s the agreement we have. What Australia has been doing for the last 20 years has been investing as the principal developing partner with Timor-Leste. Australia has invested some $1.7 billion directly through our various programmes and we continue to invest now over a $100 million every year. Why? Because we believe it be to the best for Timor-Leste, we believe in them having their economic security and political sovereignty and charting their own way forward. We work closely with a whole load of these projects. Today has been a wonderful opportunity. Whether it's talking about projects at the airport or elsewhere, border security, we have a big agenda of programmes we're going to keep working together on and Australia will keep investing. Thank you very much.