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Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Page: 6893

Foreign Affairs


Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (14:11): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer him to the tensions that have been created in our relationship with Indonesia over the live cattle export ban, with East Timor over the regional processing centre, with Malaysia over the people swap deal and with Papua New Guinea over the stalled proposal to reopen the detention centre there. When will the foreign minister travel to Jakarta, Dili, Port Moresby and Kuala Lumpur to stem the damage that is being done to the relationships we have with our nearest neighbours?


Mr RUDD (GriffithMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:12): The first thing I would say to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is that Australia's relationships with the region are in excellent shape. Over the course of the last several years we have had to deal with certain legacy problems from those opposite. I draw the attention of honourable members to, for example, the relationship with Indonesia. I remember, as a member of this place within the last decade, an Indonesian government that would not pick up the phone to Prime Minister Howard, an Indonesian government that just opened the doors when it came to the flow of people through the Indonesia archipelago and a whole range of other measures by the then President of Indonesia because the state of the relationship with Australia was so poor.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition talks more broadly about our engagements with the region. On the question of the negotiations in which the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship is currently engaged, we have together contributed processes such as the Bali process, which for the first time brings about a regional framework agreement and for the first time incorporates international legal standards into the way in which we operate assessment centres and undertake processing within our neighbourhood. On top of that, it provides specifically for the existence of assessment centres in the region, the first of 13 regions around the world to arrive at such an agreement. That has been made possible because we have an excellent fabric of relationships upon which to build such arrangements.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition also spoke about the relationship with East Timor. The relationship with East Timor is in first-class working order. If anyone bothered to survey the detail of that in terms of Australia's ongoing engagement on the ground in Dili and the overall development program within East Timor, they would understand what is being invested in roads, what is being invested in hospitals, what is being invested in schools and the fact that we stand solidly by the people of East Timor in the long-term economic development of that country.

I also say to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, on her question about Papua New Guinea, that Australia proudly stands as the single largest source of external development assistance to the people of Papua New Guinea. That is why we are making a difference with HIV-AIDS infections in Papua New Guinea. That is why the overall primary school attendance ratio within Papua New Guinea has gone up 10 per cent in the last 18 months. That is why we are building roads across Papua New Guinea in partnership with the government of the country. That is why I, together with other government ministers, continue to be in direct engagement with our South Pacific counterparts.

If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition also paid attention to today's reports she would have noticed that changes have now been made to the cabinet of Papua New Guinea. There is now a new foreign minister and a new finance minister. Because there has been a recent period of instability within the PNG government, it has been difficult to engage directly without being directly intrusive in the internal political affairs of that country. I look forward to visiting PNG at the earliest opportunity, having already spent a considerable amount of time on the phone and in the flesh with the current and continuing Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Michael Somare. That relationship, together with the others I just referred to, is in first-class working order, having cleaned up some of the wreckage left behind by those opposite.


Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (14:16): Mr Speaker, I have a supplementary question. Will the foreign minister advise the House when he intends to return to Bougainville?


Mr RUDD (GriffithMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:16): The Deputy Leader of the Opposition asks about Bougainville. I say to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition as she embarks on one of her first visits to Bougainville in the next week or two something which the House may not be apprised of. The Australian government remains deeply seized of the Bougainville peace process, the upcoming referendum on Bougainville's future and therefore what we must do as a country to ensure that that peace process is brought to its proper conclusion. That is why Australia is directly engaged. That is why we continue to be engaged with our friends in Papua New Guinea and across the Pacific Islands Forum.

Mr Pyne interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Sturt is warned.

Mr RUDD: That is why we should be very sensitive about any external interventions by well-meaning Australian politicians.