PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 23029

Press Conference, Bali

Photo of Abbott, Tony

Abbott, Tony

Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015

More information about Abbott, Tony on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 08/10/2013

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23029

Location: Indonesia

Subjects: APEC 2013; border protection; CHOGM; Australia-Malaysia relations; Australia-Papua New Guinea relations; entitlements; Pollie Pedal charity bike ride; the Government’s review of indigenous training and employment programmes.

E&OE……………………….……………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning everyone. Day two of APEC and I want to congratulate President Yudhoyono for the job he’s doing bringing people together and leading discussions. Some of you may have been at the APEC dinner last night and it was – I think everyone would agree – a magnificent spectacle and a tribute to the organisers of this particular conference.

One of the great things about APEC is that it gives leaders an unprecedented opportunity to talk to each other without the presence of squadrons of minders and this is one of the real advantages of an international gathering such as this.

It also gives national leaders the opportunity to talk bilaterally and I’m pleased to say that yesterday I had bilateral discussions with Singapore, with Thailand, with Canada, with Malaysia, with Mexico. Today I’ll be having bilateral discussions with PNG shortly and later on today with John Kerry, the US Secretary of State.

I think these are very important meetings for our country. I think they’re important meetings for our region and for the wider world. It’s worth observing that there seems to be universal enthusiasm for the New Colombo Plan. As all of you I’m sure would recall, the Colombo Plan operating from the 1950s to the 1980s was very good for our region. It brought many of the future leaders of our region to Australia to study. We had a great deal to offer. We still have a great deal to offer and that’s one of the reasons why so many students come from the region to Australia.

I think it’s now certainly true that the region has a great deal to offer us and that’s why it’s so important that we don’t just bring the best and the brightest from our region to Australia, but that our best and brightest goes to our region. If we are to be a truly Asia-literate society, this is the course we need to embrace and this will be good for us, but it will also be good for our region.

So, I think that we can say that as well as being a triumph for President Yudhoyono, so far at least, this has been a good APEC for Australia.

QUESTION:

Can you explain the tardiness of your arrival at your first Leaders’ meeting and whether that was embarrassing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I was in discussions with Prime Minister Harper of Canada and we got a message that there was no-one there. Then we got a message that everyone was there. So we rushed in as quickly as we could.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott did you claim travel entitlements to attend and Ironman event in 2011 and if so will you pay it back?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ll deal with non-APEC issues in a minute. Are there APEC issues and we’ll deal with them now?

QUESTION:

Can I ask about your meeting with Mr Harper? We asked you yesterday about CHOGM. Did you discuss with Mr Harper, his decision on CHOGM at all and did you attempt to persuade him to go or have you left it as you said yesterday?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I explained to him that I think the Commonwealth is important and that’s why I’ll be there. Obviously, Australia has some significant bilateral dealings with Sri Lanka over people smuggling as well. I’d be there anyway, but look, for his own reasons, he thinks that it’s important that he make a stand and that’s why he’s not going to be there, but I accept that different countries have different national priorities and in accordance with their national priorities, they may or may not attend certain international conferences. Karen and then Jim.

QUESTION:

With Prime Minister Najib from Malaysia, did you discuss the former government’s Malaysia solution? What is the status of that arrangement now?

PRIME MINISTER:

We did talk about people smuggling issues and in all candour I have to say to you that I said to Prime Minister Najib that it was rather unfortunate that Malaysia had got caught up in a rather intense party political discussion in Australia and I made it very clear to Prime Minister Najib that our Opposition was never to Malaysia, it was to the former government. Our criticism was never of Malaysia, it was of the former government. I guess, you might say that in my own way I offered an apology, because I appreciate that this was a difficult situation for Malaysia and it was only in that difficult situation because in its own way, it had tried to help out a friend and I indicated to Prime Minister Najib that I appreciated that Malaysia was trying to help Australia at the time. I still think what I thought then that it was not a very good deal, but nevertheless, Malaysia to its credit was trying to help Australia out.

QUESTION:

Did he raise that point?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I raised that with him. Now, the problem with the Malaysia deal is that it was ruled illegal by the High Court and nothing’s changed. Jim?

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, on that bit, what was Mr Najib’s response to your apology and secondly, back on the meeting with Stephen Harper, was the reverse the case? Did he explain to you why he thought it was a bad idea for CHOGM to be going ahead in Sri Lanka and in any way suggest that Australia might like to consider following the Canadian example?

PRIME MINISTER:

We didn’t go into this in any great depth or detail because I know where he stands, he knows where I stand and I think there’s just an acceptance, as there ought to be between friends, that at different times you‘ll take a difference approach. So, no, he didn’t attempt to persuade me not to go to CHOGM and I certainly – beyond saying that I valued the Commonwealth and thought it was important to support the Commonwealth – I didn’t attempt to persuade him.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, you’re about to meet with the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. What will you be seeking in those talks, in particular on Manus Island? You did express some concern prior to the election about the arrangements, the lack of detail, the guarantees. What are you after?

PRIME MINISTER:

As we said at the time, we thought there were problems with the way the former government presented the arrangement, but we thought there was considerable merit in it, fundamentally and that we would – I think the phrase was salvage what we could from the arrangement. Now, I’ve indicated to Prime Minister O’Neill that I am grateful for the assistance that he’s giving to Australia in its hour of need, like this. I’ve indicated to him that we certainly want to take full advantage of PNG’s offer to host, if necessary, very significant numbers of illegal arrivals by boat in Manus and that’s what we’ll do. We will take advantage of this but nevertheless, we are extremely grateful to PNG for the assistance that it is giving to Australia and obviously in return we are happy to boost our assistance to PNG. For instance, there will be 50 Australian Federal Police officers serving with their PNG counterparts by Christmas and there are discussions about additional police and other support for PNG and that, again, as it should be, between friends. They are helping us out with the boat people issue. They have certain domestic issues that they believe we can assist with and we are.

QUESTION:

You did express concern along with Julie Bishop though about how aid money, our aid money that’s spent in PNG, giving them, you argued, more control over how it’s spent. Are you going to wind that back?

PRIME MINISTER:

My understanding is that the aid budget has always been spent on a cooperative basis. PNG would put up proposals to us, we would assess them and if we were happy with them they would go ahead. That’s a perfectly good arrangement. That’s the kind of arrangement that should apply between friends and that arrangement will continue.

QUESTION:

Further to Jim’s question, I don’t think you answered it entirely as to whether what Prime Minister Najib actually said in response to your apology, but also on top of Adam’s question, can I ask whether you routinely claimed travel entitlement for the Pollie Pedal?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let’s deal with APEC issues and then we’ll deal briefly with travel allowance and travel entitlement issues. Look, with Jim, I don’t propose as a general rule, to try to put words in the mouths of my counterparts and I’ve told you that I offered an act of contrition, if you like, to Prime Minister Najib for the way Malaysia got caught up in what was a very intense and at times somewhat rancorous debate in Australia. He knows that we play our politics pretty hard in our country and I think he understood but look, we had a very good discussion. We had a very good discussion about a whole range of issues and I am confident that our friendship with Malaysia is strong and it will get stronger and more collegial and more consultative over time.

QUESTION:

Did he express any concerns about Scott Morrison’s visit to Malaysia [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. No, he didn’t.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister I think we need to deal with the entitlements. I know you’ve got an appointment and we’ve got some questions.

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure. Ok, well look, I think I’ve been asked about ironman. Look, I believe that all of my claims have been within entitlement and let’s not forget that Port Macquarie was a marginal seat effectively and I want to assure you that I don’t go to marginal seats simply for sporting events although the sporting event in question was a community event. I think you’ll find that there were quite a few other community events involved in those visits.

Now, on the question of Pollie Pedal, I’m not sure whether anyone here has been on a Pollie Pedal with me, certainly there are quite a few journalists who normally do accompany me on Pollie Pedal and as – Tim Sweeney, thank you Tim for volunteering! Look, Pollie Pedal is a very intense engagement with the community. I mean, the great thing about Pollie Pedal is that it takes me to towns and communities, sometimes hamlets, that very rarely see a politician. I suspect that most of the places that I visited on this year’s Pollie Pedal would not have seen a politician other than their local Member in decades, let alone a Leader of the Opposition. I will do Pollie Pedal next year as Prime Minister. I am looking forward to it very much. It is a perfectly legitimate thing for a Member of Parliament to do and, yes, to the extent that it involves being away from home, I will claim travel allowance.

QUESTION:

Kevin Andrews was on that Pollie Pedal with you on a number of occasions and hasn’t claimed, so is it possible that you have been cavalier with your travel expenses?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it’s not. It is absolutely not possible. Look, every Member of Parliament makes a judgment about his own role in these events and I lead the Pollie Pedal. I attend numerous community events as part of the Pollie Pedal. Not all of my colleagues do – not all of my colleagues do. Now, sometimes they do, but they certainly don’t always and Kevin may well have made a judgment that he was insufficiently involved in the community events associated not to claim. As I said, I invite every one of you to go back to look at the programme for this Pollie Pedal, previous Pollie Pedals and ask yourself the question, is this a frolic or is this a very serious act of community engagement? And I think you would have to conclude if you are fair dinkum that this is a very serious act of community engagement.

QUESTION:

You pursued Peter Slipper very vigorously on the issue of misuse of taxpayer funds. Is it a bit hypocritical of you to use taxpayer funds yourself to attend this wedding

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, again, I was in Queensland for Consilium. Some of you may actually have been to Consilium in one or other capacity. It is an important annual event. I have been to quite a number of Consilium events. Usually, I make a speech at Consilium and so I attended his wedding on the way back from Consilium. Now, when attendance at weddings became an issue I looked again and the TA associated with the Slipper wedding – as opposed to the trip to Consilium – I thought, to avoid doubt, I should repay and I have done that.

Now, I’ll take one more question on this. Ok, Alex.

QUESTION:

Given that you have paid the money back, surely you concede that this area needs to be reformed. Do you support the Greens’ call for integrity?

PRIME MINISTER:

Fair question, Alex. Very fair question. Look, whenever entitlements become an issue there are calls for change. It doesn’t matter what the rules are, there is always going to be an argument at the margins. The point I make is that people should be careful and cautious when they claim entitlement. If there is any doubt, they should resolve the doubt in favour of the taxpayer and that is exactly what I have done.

Now, there is one final point I want to make on another subject before I go to meet Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. As you might remember during the election campaign, I went to the Cloudbreak mine in Western Australia with Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest. There I announced that we would be reviewing indigenous employment programmes and that Andrew Forrest would lead that review on behalf of the Government. I am pleased to say that that has now been confirmed and finalised, Andrew Forrest will be leading a review of indigenous employment programmes. I think this is very important. I want to congratulate all of the Australian businesses that have been involved in the Australian Employment Covenant. I think this does offer a new beginning to indigenous people who want to have a serious career in the private sector and I want to thank Andrew Forrest for the commitment that he has shown.

[ends]

Transcript - 23029