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Transcript of doorstop interview: London: 27 February 2019: Brexit; FTA; India and Pakistan conflict; Hezbollah; Huawei; China



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Transcript - doorstop, London Subjects: Brexit, FTA, India and Pakistan conflict, Hezbollah, Huawei, China.

Transcript, E&OE

27 February 2019

FOREIGN MINISTER: Happy to be here in London, I have come from Geneva and Paris from the Human Rights Council and bilateral engagements in Paris, particularly with my counter part Jean-Yves Le Drian and Annick Girardin who is their External Territories Minister, and Defence Minister Florence Parley. Obviously consolidating the increasing engagement we have with France, particularly because of the signing of the Strategic Partnering Agreement on the Submarines. But here in London today, a valuable opportunity for me to catch up with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at an important time in UK processes for their move towards Brexit. We think that offers new opportunities ultimately for Australia in terms of enhancing our relationship, our strategic relationship, our trade relationship and on the other levels as well. We are obviously working closely together to ensure that our relationship continues smoothly in the Brexit context and then to look for opportunities for closer relations.

When Simon Birmingham was here a short time ago he signed, as you know, a wine agreement, a mutual recognition agreement which has been very important. What we will do, once a decision is made here, is pursue our negations on a comprehensive FTA with the UK. That will be an absolute priority for us, as soon as possible, goods, services and investment.

There is just one other thing I wanted to say. As I was travelling here this morning I was hearing very serious reports about an escalation of the conflict between Pakistan and India. I am very concerned about those. If those reports are correct we would certainly urge both sides to exercise restraint. To avoid further military action, this is dangerous cycle of escalation. I would encourage direct dialogue between both countries to endeavour to resolve these matters in a peaceful way and I will seek further information as soon as I am in a position to do so.

JOURNALIST: Do you worry that the elections in India are behind this escalation?

FOREIGN MINISTER: No, I believe the terrorist attacks in Kashmir recently generated some significant angst for obvious reasons. What does concern me though, is the cycle of escalation which is very dangerous for all concerned.

JOURNALIST: Is it to early to sort of put consular advice or think about the safety of the embassy staff like what happened in 1999?

FOREIGN MINISTER: We would continually review those and I would be expecting advice from High Commissioners on that matter. That is a matter that DFAT takes very seriously both in terms of the safety of those we have working in posts and also of course Australians travelling.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect this to be your last visit with Foreign Secretary Hunt before the election?

FOREIGN MINISTER: For me?

JOURNALIST: Or as Foreign Minister I suppose.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Life is full of opportunities. I never know quite know what the travel schedule looks like but I stay in regularly contact with the Foreign Secretary and would always welcome opportunities to continue to meet in the coming months. But we will see, I don't have a crystal ball, the timing of the election is as the Prime Minister has said, but that is several months away now.

JOURNALIST: Will you be discussing with him the UK's ban on Hezbollah and is that something that Australia would consider following suit on?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I understand that there was debate and a decision on that in the House of Commons yesterday. And certainly I will seek the Foreign Secretary's perspective on that and take that back with me to discuss with my colleagues.

JOURNALIST: Is that something Australia will be open to, going further on that?

FOREIGN MINISTER: We have measures in place, as you know, particularly in relation to the ESO and the criminal sort of threshold around criminal behaviour but I would want to look at that carefully with my colleagues

JOURNALIST: Will you have a message for him on Huawei?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Australia has made our decision in relation to 5G. It is a decision we made in the context of protecting Australia's national security from using the strong advice of intelligence agencies on that matter. The decision of other countries is a sovereign one for them. But I am always happy to share with appropriate counterparts that sort of information that is appropriate, and that I am able to share, in terms of Australia's decision.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the noises coming out of the US on this are slightly shifting as well, does this give the Australian Government any pause for thought at this state, at this stage? Trump has signalled that it may not be as concreate of a ban as we thought?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think that is a matter for the United States. Australia remains committed to the decision we made and announced last year. To protect Australia's national security, we would ensure that the development of our 5G network, those who participate in the 5G network, must have no other - we don't want anyone in our communications networks that have an a obligation to any other Government.

JOURNALIST: If the US were to reverse, or wind back any of its declared bans on 5G that would not effect our position is what you are saying?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think that is a hypothetical, but I have no reason to think that Australia will be changing our position.

JOURNALIST: Are you going to be discussing trade? You mentioned the FTA, I know it is obviously Simon Birmingham's portfolio but will that come up with your discussion with the Foreign Secretary? Do trade issues form a part of your brief?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well it is a post-Brexit matter, obviously no movement on that occurs until after decisions are made here. But it is an overriding interest of Australia's to make sure that we are working closely together with the UK to look at opportunities for closer cooperation, that is part of my discussion with Secretary Hunt today.

JOURNALIST: I don't know if it is in your brief but, although we don't know what will happen with a no deal Brexit right now, there is some talk that they need to in the next week or two they will need to announce what tariffs they will be applying if there is a no deal Brexit that will be happening in about a month's time. And the protection that they might or might not put on for the farmers here is a pretty live issues for our farmers. Are you going to talk tariffs in that sense?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well we will look at whatever they publish in due course and obviously the Trade Minister and I will discuss the approach that we should take to that. I think it would not be constructive to speculate at this point.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a preference?

FOREIGN MINISTER: A preference for?

JOURNALIST: Do you want no tariffs at all? Or do you accept that the UK will need to impose tariffs?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I'm not sure speculation on that helps us.

JOURNALIST: Back to China, it is a very live issue here, the Cabinet seems to be divided, the Defence Secretary said last week that the maiden voyage of the new aircraft carrier will be in the south-Pacific, which I am sure is welcome news to Australia. But as we discuss this with China we walk into a situation where there is a balance of forces in the British Government. Are we pushing for the UK to engage deeply in the strategic agenda that we have in the South China Sea and in the South East-Asian Region?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think from Australia's perspective we encourage countries who share our strategic priorities of stability, security, prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. We encourage countries, whether it is discussions I have had in France recently or potentially in the UK today, to contribute to that in what they do. The UK has in recent years, as you would know, had an increased level of visits, naval visits particularly, to the region - a number of vessels in recent years. I expect that to continue because that is the trajectory that they are on. In the post-Brexit context we have seen them articulate a view about a Global Britain and our part of the world is very important to that. We, as I said, we encourage all partners to make constructive contribution to a free and open Indo-Pacific. We personally are strongly committed to freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, according to international law. We have said that consistently, we have acted on the consistently. Australia itself has a very large task group Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 currently in the region heading towards Sri Lanka and India at the moment. That task group will come back via South East-Asia. That is the third year in a row Indo-Pacific Endeavour has embarked on such an activity and we have worked closely with counterparts for positive engagement in that regard. We operate according to international law, we don't resile from that. We continue to engage accordingly.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that if there is no Brexit reform that puts more emphasis on some of these developments in our region at risk?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well I think that is ultimately a matter for Britain. They will make their own decisions. But I have seen strong commitment from this government to our region, including the opening of new posts in the region, including the presence of Ministers at key regional for a, such as the Pacific Islands Forum, obviously around the APEC context. So, I have seen only productive engagement in recent months and very much enjoying working with our counterparts.

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