Subjects: Southeast Asia visit, ASEAN centrality, Pacific Islands Forum, AUKUS Five Power Defence Arrangement, cybersecurity, consular, visit to Kota Kinabalu, Myanmar sanctions, Professor Sean Turnell.
PENNY WONG, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Can I just start by saying particularly to the travelling media, to thank you all for coming with me. I know that it's not normal for a Foreign Minister visit to have travelling media. You don't have to record all of this, if you don't want to. I'm just talking to you. It's not sort of your usual business, but I think it's really important. I think that we've got a lot of work to do in the region and you saw some of that yesterday. Part of what the Government has to do, we have to engage more with the region, we have to talk more about Australia to the region, but we also have to talk to Australians about the region, and I think to continue to strengthen our understanding of the region that is so critical to Australia's future. So, thank you for coming, and I'm glad you didn't get lost.
JOURNALIST: You seem like you've got a lot to say. It feels it’s like you've got this sort of pent-up message that you've been wanting to give Southeast Asia probably for a long time, right? That's what it looks like.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, we've been in opposition for a long time, although I did point out, that you can't say that in Malaysia given that Barisan Nasional was in Government for, what was it, 50 years?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: So, you can't talk about how long it was here. I'm reluctant when I'm overseas to get into partisan politics. What I would say is: I think as I have said many times, we are in a time when the region is being reshaped and the world is being reshaped and this generation of leaders and media people, we've got an opportunity to help shape that and a responsibility to do that.
And the new Government – and me as Foreign Minister—I do feel that sense of responsibility, as I think do the people from Foreign Affairs here on post and who are travelling with me. We know that this is a really important time for Australia and the engagement we have now goes to our relationships and our capability, our capacity to influence the shape of the region that we want to live in and that we want our children to live in. So, if that means I have more to say, I suppose I do.
JOURNALIST: You've been on an extraordinary blitz of Pacific and Southeast Asian countries —
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Blitz?
JOURNALIST: I do like the word "blitz".
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: You like the word "blitz". There's a lot of blitzing.
JOURNALIST: In reference to diplomatic trips. It's a tabloid term. Is there one common theme that all these countries have been telling you that Australia, perhaps, wasn't doing before?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I think people appreciate the energy. People appreciate the engagement. People appreciate the willingness to listen, and I want to approach this job being able to listen and not just to tell people what we think they should do.
I think Australia diminishes its capacity to influence the region if we spend a lot of our time appearing like we're telling people what to do. I think there's a process of dialogue, a process of engagement, and that's what I want to be engaged in.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the Lowy poll came out today.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Yes, I saw that.
JOURNALIST: Three-quarters of Australians see China's foreign policy as a military threat. People are feeling very unsafe. I'm just wondering how we meet the messages of ASEAN's centrality with addressing those insecurities?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: First, we know we live in challenging times. We know that that means we have to increase Australia's influence in the region and globally, and you do so by delivering actual strategic capability, and you do so also through your diplomacy and through your relationships.
ASEAN is important, as I tried to articulate in the speech. ASEAN centrality recognises that the centre of a peaceful, stable region in which sovereignty is respected requires ASEAN to be at the core of that. We understand that. That's the basis on which we will engage.
What I would say to people in response to that: I understand why people are feeling unsettled. I understand why people are feeling nervous in a time of change. So, we have to act with confidence and clarity and a sense of purpose, and that's what the new Government is seeking to do.
JOURNALIST: Minister, China has invited Pacific Island leaders to a separate meeting on the same day as the Pacific Island Forum retreat. Do you believe that China is deliberately trying to sideline that forum?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I'd simply say this: I gave my first speech as Foreign Minister in the Pacific Island Forum in Fiji for a reason. I did it because we respect regional architecture, in the same way as in my discussions in Southeast Asia and in the speech you heard today, and I think also in Hanoi, we talked about the regional architecture. I would hope that any major power, any external major power, engaging with the Pacific would respect the regional architecture.
JOURNALIST: You seem to be also seeking some understanding for Australia's position joining the Quad and also AUKUS. I mean, you mentioned quite a lot AUKUS, but you know, there's room in the —
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I figured you'd asked three questions on AUKUS yesterday so you probably had everything you needed on that, Amanda.
JOURNALIST: But really it's more about—you seem to be saying, look, ASEAN centrality is a given, but there's room for others in this.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I think the nuance of that message is important, and I don't want to go over history but obviously there was a reaction in the region to the AUKUS announcement. We are supportive of the submarine decision, as you know. What I'm trying to do is explain the context of that decision.
JOURNALIST: How important is the Five Power Defence Arrangement to counter that, reinvigorating that?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: We should be focusing on what we do and what we are for rather than what we are against. The Five Power Defence Arrangements has been around for a long time, probably longer than some people here have been alive, and it's a reminder of historical and very deep strategic ties between Australia and the region.
JOURNALIST: You referred to their meeting in Penang.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Yes, there's currently, I think an officials level meeting. You should be aware we have regular exercises in the context of the Five Power Arrangement, and that's a good thing.
JOURNALIST: Is there any move to impose sanctions in Myanmar, and have you sought any advice from DFAT as to who might be sanctioned and how you would best target them?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I said clearly before the election that was something we thought was necessary, and you should anticipate that that's a matter under active consideration. But what I would say on Myanmar is this: obviously, Myanmar has been a topic in the meetings I've been having in the region. I have been struck by the extent to which members of ASEAN with whom I have met are realistic about, and share our frustration about, the lack of progress in relation to the Five-Point Consensus. It's important for us to engage with regional leaders about the next steps we wish to take as well as others seek to take in Myanmar.
JOURNALIST: Both yourself and Minister Saifuddin have mentioned cybersecurity on this trip. Is this kind of like a trade off for their concerns about AUKUS?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: You're so cynical! [Laughs] No, because cyber is—if we are serious about making sure we keep our nations and people safe, this is a domain in which we have to improve our capability and also the international framework. It's another security domain that we can work together in. Sorry, you asked?
JOURNALIST: Just on Myanmar and Sean Turnell. The previous Government had asked Cambodia to put a word in, if you like, to try to get him out. Can you sort of articulate where that's at? If that was successful at all? The news out of there is obviously it doesn't happen. It doesn't come very often.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Professor Turnell is our first priority when it comes to Myanmar and we have obviously engaged with regional counterparts about this issue. We’ve acknowledged the role that Cambodia has played and we will continue to press through regional interlocutors our view about the importance of Professor Turnell being released.
JOURNALIST: Just one more on that. Obviously, we heard from Marise Payne a lot that sanctions were under consideration. That was her standard answer every time that was asked.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Was it?
JOURNALIST: I think you know that. So, what you've said is not that much different, you know, "is being actively considered". What does that actually mean? I mean, are we going to see sanctions?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I'm not going to announce that as much as you would like me to and you know that we are obviously wanting to talk to our counterparts about this, but we made clear our intentions before the election.
JOURNALIST: Just one more thing —
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: And I'd also make this point: I think one of the things that I did before in opposition was to engage with the NUG and I can flag to you that it is my intention to do so again.
JOURNALIST: I was actually going to ask, you talked about speaking to regional partners, but obviously, the US managed to secure Danny Fenster's release by sending in an envoy that understood that region well. Is that under consideration? I mean, I know we're looking at a Southeast Asia envoy for more general purposes, but is that under consideration, the prospect of spending someone into Myanmar?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I think the previous Government made some efforts on that and I think the judgment at the moment is to try and utilise other counterparts in the region. But we will do what we think is best to try and maximise the chance of his release.
JOURNALIST: When can we expect an announcement on the Southeast Asia envoy?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, I have got to get home and look at a few things first.
JOURNALIST: So, what, in the next couple of weeks?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: No. We've got a few announcements to work through.
JOURNALIST: Have you raised in relation to officials the case of Annapuranee Jenkins, the Adelaide grandmother who went missing in Malaysia?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Look, not in this trip. I've previously raised that in opposition, as you know, but we can find out where that matter is at—it's very distressing. I was briefed on it quite a lot in opposition, and it's obviously very distressing for the family under those circumstances.
JOURNALIST: Could you just say one thing for the camera about being home?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: It is really wonderful to come back to Malaysia. It's such an honour to be here as Australia's Foreign Minister and I'm looking very much to going back to the town of my birth where I first went to school and where our old family home still is and to see my brother and his wife and my niece and nephew and the broader family. Looking forward to it.
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Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.