SUNDAY, 1 NOVEMBER 2015
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s commitment to climate change in the Pacific; Peter Dutton’s joke about the Pacific; Australia’s AID funding; resettlement of refugees in PNG.
JOURNALIST: Why the Pacific tour and why now?
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Labor takes our nearest neighbours very seriously. Labor takes the challenge of climate change very seriously. Nowhere is the challenge of climate change more acute than in the South Pacific and our near neighbours. Papua New Guinea's experiencing extreme draught, changes in weather conditions and we're going to be subsequently visiting Kiribati and the Marshall Islands where people there are experiencing, because of rising sea levels, not just challenges to their economic security but indeed to where they live. So Labor takes our nearest neighbours very seriously. That's why I've got senior members of my team including my Deputy Leader and foreign affairs spokesperson and my spokesperson for immigration because for us foreign policy starts in our nearest neighbours, Papua New Guinea is one of the most important relationships Australia has forged in times of terrible conflict but it remains a key part of Australia's foreign policy.
JOURNALIST: Not to diminish the importance of the climate change issue but did this seem like an even better idea after Peter Dutton made that joke?
SHORTEN: I think having Liberal Ministers making a joke about climate change, especially when rising sea levels are threatening the livelihood and homes of our neighbours was incredibly poor taste but Labor doesn’t get distracted by Liberal gaffes. We've got a strong commitment to improving our relations with our nearest neighbours. We recognise that PNG has lots of challenges but also under Prime Minister O'Neill it's been making practical steps forward. Labor wants a partnership between Australia and Papua New Guinea. Tonight for instance we're catching up with the Minister for Environment so we can talk about climate change. One thing is for sure though, the message I'm already getting loud and clear is that climate change is a first order issue for our neighbours and we need in Australia to have serious policies, credible policies which will help to contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change in our region.
JOURNALIST: How up to speed are you on some of the recent political issues in Papua New Guinea?
SHORTEN: Well we've had good briefings and both Tanya and Richard are across a lot of what's happening in PNG. We follow some of the matters very closely. We're looking forward to meeting with the Prime Minister of PNG tomorrow. Labor's sending a senior team of representatives because the sort of government we would be if we were elected at the election next year is one that is focused upon close ties with our neighbours but happens in PNG and our region from climate change and their economic growth is important to our national security and our place in the world. I'll hand it over to Richard and Tanya.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well I'll just make a brief comment; it's fantastic to be here at the university to see wonderful work the university is doing in educating the next generation of scientist, entrpreneaurs, and particular nursing and midwifery students, the students we have spent most time with today. We're here in the dormitories that where expanded to allow the expansion of the nursing and midwifery course here. We've seen the new education facilities, the new lecture theatres and that Australian aid also help build. We know that PNG is a country that's got extraordinary health challenges, so many woman giving birth with no skilled birth attendant, high rates of child mortality, high rates of perinatal maternal death and being able to help PNG help its self but training more nursing and midwifery students is exactly what our aid dollars should be doing and we also know that these young women will go back to their communities and be an inspiration to another generation of girls to do well at school and to dream about going to university, being economically self-sufficient bringing money into their families and their communities. It's a real honour to see the work that began under a Labor government completed so well.
JOURNALIST: In the foreign portfolio how concerned are you about some of the recent political instability that we're seeing here in PNG, some of the accusation that are being made and also PNG's financial state?
PLIBERSEK: Well we're certainly not here to make comments about PNG domestic politics, we're looking forward to productive meetings with the Government - number of government ministers.
JOURNALIST: But instability is a concern for Australia isn't it?
PLIBERSEK: Well we're here to have productive meetings with a number of ministers, I'm confident that's what will happen over the next couple of days. Of course we hope for all of our neighbours that their political situations are stable and friendly. We don't always have that in Australia.
JOURNALIST: With the Manus Island issues and the resettlement, how confident are you that this process is actually going to be done properly and/or be some meaningful outcomes for those people who've been found to be refugees on Manus Island?
RICHARD MARLES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION: Well we welcome the announcement from the PNG immigration minister that the resettlement program has gone through the National Executive Council here. That is a good step forward in terms of seeing resettlement in PNG, obviously that's what needs to occur so that the numbers of people within the facility can start to decline but what we really need is for the Australian Government to be working as cooperatively as they can with the PNG Government to help facilitate this. From our perspective is very important that that occur with dignity and acknowledging that PNG comes to this really having done Australia a service, helping Australia out with an initiative in relation to what is a region problem but coming up with a regional solution. So it's important that we as a country work with PNG with respect in this relationship and that's how we would go about things
JOURNALIST: I’ve been talking the guys on Manus who are now in line to be resettled probably in Port Moresby, they're really concerned about their personal safety, about their living standards, some of them have already been assaulted, you know, and suffered on Manus Island. What sort of reassurance can we offer them about their resentment in PNG?
MARLES: Ultimately that is a matter for PNG to develop a resettlement program for people here but we do think that there are opportunities in this country with a growing economy for many who are qualified to pursue their livelihood here, of course many Australians have done exactly that. People’s safety and wellbeing obviously critical to whatever program is put in place and it's important that the Australian Government works with the Papuan New Guinea Government to help assure that.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Australian Government should be doing anything more on that front though?
MARLES: I think it's really important that the Australian Government works very closely with PNG to make sure that resettlement happens. It’s to state the obvious that we are concerned on the part of the way in which the Australian Government has engaged with PNG that it's more than two years past the signing of the resettlement arrangement and we are, only now, we are starting to see people resettled in PNG. Now I don't blame PNG for that, from our point of view it was simply not good enough that when this government, the Abbott Government, was elected it was months before we saw a minister come to PNG and engage with this government about the question of resettlement. So we do need to see an actively engaged Australian government at a political level with the PNG Government to make this policy work and we shouldn't forget this was an Australian initiative and PNG came to our aid in respect of this. It’s important that the Australian Government treats PNG with dignity and respect in relation to this.
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