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Transcript of press conference: Vientiane, Laos: 7 November 2012: Asia-Europe Meeting; Laos aid initiatives; Bali Democracy Forum; Houston review; live exports; Treasury costings; US election

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Subjects: Asia-Europe Meeting; Laos aid initiatives; Bali Democracy Forum; Houston review; Live exports; Treasury costings; US election

PM: It’s been a very great delight to visit this school today. I’d like to say a very big thank you to the principal and the kids, to the teachers here at Hom Neua School. We’re here today to mark the friendship between our two countries.

And as I frequently say in Australia, there’s nothing more important happening in any nation on any given day than what is happening in the schools of that country.

So if you want to see the future defined, go to a school. That’s true of our country, it’s true here in Laos and it’s been great to be able to visit this school today.

I’m glad we’ve been able to make a little bit of a difference for this school too, by presenting 100 books. And our embassy through its own fund, which helps with small works, is donating $40,000 to get this school a new roof. I think you can see why it’s required.

I’m here too to formally announce that Australia will fund two new aid initiatives for the Lao people.

First we will be devoting $43 million to a rural livelihoods program. This will be working with some of the poorest Lao people, people who are farmers, who are looking for an opportunity.

It will do very practical things like help clear unexploded ordinates from what is arable land if you can get to it safely. It will help with financing arrangements so people have somewhere safe to store their savings, and so that they can get the appropriate support to start a small business if they want to.

It’s about boosting incomes for some of the poorest people in this nation.

I’m also pleased to announce today that we will fund through $20 million an institute jointly for our two countries, which will be about boosting public sector capacity; making sure that we are assisting with training and capacity development so that the Government of Laos has available to it better skills and resources to roll out its own programs of change.

It’s been good to be here today with some government representatives who I know are very passionately focussed on education in their own country. I very much enjoyed my visit to this great nation. I very much enjoyed participating in the Asia-Europe Meeting.

I want to thank this nation, Laos, for its hospitality, for everything that it has done to make me and my fellow leaders and representatives of nations in Asia and Europe so welcome for what has been a productive meeting.

Now I think I have failed though - and must frankly acknowledge - I haven’t talked up Australian cuisine, so I’m going to have to hone my pitch when it comes to selling vegemite around the world because I’ve spectacularly failed to do that today!

But I’m happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Are you off to Bali, can you give us an idea of the message you will be taking there. You’re co-chairing that conference?

PM: I will leave here to fly to Bali. I’m doing so because President Yudhoyono has asked me to co-chair a session of the Bali Democracy Forum.

This is President Yudhoyono’s initiative. He started it a number of years ago to talk about the development of democracy. Indonesia is uniquely placed to speak about the development of democracy. It’s been amazing I think, as an individual and for our whole nation, to watch Indonesia’s amazing journey of change.

As a very young parliamentarian I had the opportunity to act as an election monitor for the first free and fair Indonesian elections. I went to West Timor and watched villages with delight cast their ballots in that election.

We’ve seen our neighbour move from that election to being a strong democracy and President Yudhoyono wants to take his experience and the strength of the Indonesian democracy and its message out to the world.

My predecessor, Prime Minister Rudd, participated in the first of these forums at President Yudhoyono’s invitation. So I’m delighted to accept his invitation to co-chair a session of the Bali Democracy Forum.

JOURNALIST: The Human Rights Commissioner, on a more domestic issue, has raised concerns about Nauru. She says that any more than six months there is a breach of international human rights obligations. What’s your response to Gillian Triggs?

PM: Our intention is to fully implement the recommendations of the review of Angus Houston, which has at its basis a no advantage principle. So if you get on a boat, if you pay a people smuggler, then you don’t get any advantage. You don’t get a resettlement opportunity any more quickly than if you would have stayed put.

We are very determined to implement the recommendations of the Houston review and will do so. This is not a system for indefinite detention, but it is a system to make sure that you get no advantage because you’ve got on a boat to Australia.

JOURNALIST: What about that Australia will be breaching human rights, international human rights obligations because of this policy?

PM: I’m sure opinions on these questions will vary but the Government is determined to implement the recommendations of the Houston review.

JOURNALIST: Gillian Triggs wants to visit Nauru. She needs the permission obviously of the Australian Government and the Nauru Government. Will you grant it?

PM: She is welcome to work with the Minister of Immigration on that. We are not trying to keep secret what is happening on Nauru or on Manus Island. But we are determined to implement the recommendations of the Houston review.

JOURNALIST: Were you able to use any of your discussions at the ASEM to discuss regional migration issues, even further regional agreements on migration, any progress on that?

PM: It wasn’t the focus of the meeting here, so no it wasn’t the focus of my discussions. The focus of the Asia-Europe Meeting and the things I was able to discuss both in the meeting and with my fellow leaders included the challenges to the global economy. Asia and Europe are in different positions but we’ve got a joint interest in a strong global economy.

Talked to leaders about challenges for the world like Syria, like Iran. Talked to leaders about the continuing challenge too with North Korea. And I also made it a personal mission to speak in my capacity as an advocate of the Millennium Development Goals. So that’s been my focus.

JOURNALIST: Just on the domestic issue of the Treasury leaking. Do you get your department to conduct analysis of Opposition policies and if so, and when and if you and Wayne Swan do that, are you effectively diverting those resources away from implementing your own policies? Is it a waste of resources?

PM: I believe in an informed public debate. I believe if policy proposals are put out there for the consideration of the Australian people, then they should be fully costed. I think Australians are entitled to know what a policy will cost our nation and their entitled to know if the Opposition’s policies are going to cost businesses more than $4 billion in the first year.

Now I do understand that the Opposition sort of worked itself up into a hysterical state about all of this. But the facts here are, their policies - three of them - will cost Australian businesses more than $4 billion in the first year alone.

I think businesses, the Australian people, are entitled to know that.

JOURNALIST: The fact that it was leaked information rather than a press conference was held doesn’t that show that there is a political nature to this? That in fact Treasury is being used to promote the Government’s political agenda, it’s being politicised.

PM: Facts are facts. I know in much of the Australian debate about things like carbon pricing the Opposition forgets facts are facts and just wanders around and tells you Whyalla’s going to be wiped off the map and so on and so forth - ridiculous claims.

But at the end of the day, facts are facts. And those policies will cost business. That’s a fact. It’s been costed. It will cost business more than $4 billion in the first year. That’s a fact.

Why would anybody in the Australian political debate say people aren’t entitled to those facts? If you were in the Opposition and they were your policies, why would you be ashamed for people to know those facts? Why doesn’t the Opposition want people to have the facts? That’s the question.

JOURNALIST: One of the other domestic issues is the sheep trade and I see that some of your caucus colleagues were talking about it. I see some remarks from Melissa Parke about needing to move Australia towards a different model where it’s domestic processing and then chilled exports. Do you think that’s worth aiming for? Do you think it’s even achievable?

PM: I’m not at all surprised that people both within and beyond Labor are very concerned, very disturbed, very upset at what they’ve seen on their TV screens. These are graphic images, they are appalling images of animal cruelty and I’m not surprised that right around the nation, including amongst my own caucus colleagues, there’s a great deal of distress about this matter.

I believe that there is a sustainable future for the live animal industry. It is about having the best possible standards and we’ve worked hard with the industry to ensure that we can track and trace and ensure Australian animals are being slaughtered in circumstances that comply with international standards.

But I do understand people’s sense of distress and so I’m not surprised that their speaking about it.

JOURNALIST: Bob Carr just quickly has been in the region as well in Malaysia. Has there been any movement there in terms of the Houston recommendations?

PM: The discussions between our two countries there are being held between Minister Bowen and his counterpart, Minister Hishammuddin. That’s how the original agreement was worked through in detail as well as of course me engaging with my counterpart.

So that’s a continuing work, but it would be dealt with by Minister Bowen.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly do you reckon that Barack Obama might be slightly ahead?

PM: I’m not going to put myself in the shoes of election commentator particularly given I’m not bunkered down in front of a TV screen watching the results come in. There’d be a lot of people who are in an easier spot to engage in election commentary than me. I know many Australians will have the TV flicked on and they’ll be following it.

Whatever the outcome of the US election, the friendship and alliance between our two countries will be strong. It has been strong for 60 years, it will continue to be strong for the future.

But I’ll let the election callers in the US and their friends in Australia actually present the details of the result to people.

Thank you very much.