Press Conference - Dhaka, Bangladesh - 21/05/2024

21 May 2024



Subjects: Australia-Bangladesh cooperation on climate change, education, maritime security, sustainable development and people smuggling; Rohingya humanitarian crisis, UTS-Premier University partnership.

DR HASAN MAHMUD, FOREIGN MINISTER: We are very pleased to have Australian Foreign Minister Senator the Honourable Penny Wong for visiting Bangladesh. This is the first visit of any Australian Foreign Minister within last 26 years time. We had very good discussion, very friendly discussion we have just concluded. And Bangladesh, Australia they are having very good relationship, diplomatically, the relationship has been strengthened over time, and in the development process of Bangladesh over the last 52 years time, Australia has contributed a lot in the development process of Bangladesh, and we are thankful for that. And today our business basket is about 4b Taka. This is quite impressive and this basket business basket has been increased over the last ten years time. Ten years ago the size of business basket a lot is smaller.

We have talked about many issues and I have asked honourable Penny Wong, the Foreign Minister, for their continued support because we are going to be graduated by 2026 from LDC to developing country and we are now enjoying quota free, duty free access in the Australian market and I am very thankful honourable Foreign Minister has said this will continue though we are going to graduate from a LDC to developing country. I have asked honourable Foreign Minister for investment in our hundred economic zones that we have decided and in the development process and I have asked our Foreign Minister for more Australian investment in our IT villages. We know that we have our government setting 40 IT villages around the country and Australia has extended their hand for skill development and with our three PPC Bangladesh technical training centres Australia is going to give assistance for a skill development.

We have talked about human trafficking and we have agreed to work together to combat this as per body process. We are committed to do that and we have talked about environmental cooperation because Bangladesh, you know that is innocent victim of climate change. So, we have talked about cooperation in the field and environment and animal protection and climate change and honourable Foreign Minister in the past she was Climate Minister of Australia and I had the privilege, Prime Minister gave me the charge of environment for five years time, almost four and a half years time. So, environment is in our heart. So, we have talked about this and we have talked especially in the agricultural field we could have cooperation between Bangladesh and Australia. Our agriculture is not very good. They have many invention, many crop varieties which are resistant to climate change. So, we have talked about this.

We have talked about joint working group and recalled, leader, another leader of Australia in 1975 and our founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh and we have expressed satisfaction about the expanding bilateral relationship and we have talked about, in the field of education, more cooperation between the two countries. Now almost 100,000 Bangladeshis are living in Australia and they're working in different fields, in IT, in education, in different other fields. They have been working and they are contributing to Australian economy, they are contributing to all economies there. So, we have talked about skilled migration and more cooperation in the field of education.

One Australian university, the name is UTS, they have developed a joint programme with Bangladesh University, Premier University in Chittagong. And the first batch of the Premier University within that joint program has already gone to Australia. So, first year in Premier University, next two years is in UTS. So, we have talked about how we could properly expand this cooperation in the field of education. Now I give the honourable Foreign Minister, Honourable Senator. Thank you.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you very much and I'm very grateful to be here with the honourable Foreign Minister, Doctor Hassan Mahmud, and I am grateful to him for welcoming me to Bangladesh. We have a warm relationship between our two countries, which is founded on more than 50 years of diplomatic relations. And I have had the privilege today not only of meeting with my counterpart, the honourable Foreign Minister, but of course, the honourable Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister today. And I'm grateful for the time.

What I express to the Foreign Minister, what I express to your Prime Minister is that we share a region, we share an ocean and we share a future. And we are determined to do all that we can to work with you and other partners to ensure a region that is peaceful, that is stable and that is prosperous. Like Bangladesh, Australia understands the importance of the multilateral system. We understand the importance of upholding international rules and norms. And we are deepening our economic relationship, as the Foreign Minister has announced, and I am very pleased today to just confirm, that Australia will provide additional funding for technical education, training colleges.

We will provide additional funding to Austrade, the Australian trade agency, to deliver deeper economic engagement. We will provide additional economic assistance to support your economic reforms, to support your graduation from least developing country status. And we will provide additional funds to help Bangladesh align its labour laws with the requirements and aspirations of that graduation.

Equally we are working, as the Foreign Minister said, on practical, shared solutions to climate change, to regional maritime security and people smuggling. And all of these challenges, we understand, cannot be dealt with by a single country in isolation. They require partnership and collaboration and we are very keen to deepen our cooperation, to strengthen our cooperation with the Bangladesh government in this area, particularly between our coastguards.

The Foreign Minister and I also discussed the regional challenges posed by the conflict in Myanmar and in particular the displacement of the Rohingya, the largest humanitarian crisis in our region. And I want to express Australia's recognition of and appreciation for your government and your people in providing, in hosting so many Rohingyas. And we will continue to work with you not only to provide assistance to you and to these displaced communities, but to maintain focus on this critically important issue to our region, which is what is occurring in Myanmar. We need a safe and enduring solution to the crisis that allows the Rohingya to return, realise their goal of a safe return to their homeland. Tomorrow I will travel to Cox’s Bazaar to see firsthand how our assistance is being delivered through partners.

The Foreign Minister spoke at length about his experience in climate change and both our histories in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations, which are not for the faint hearted. They require a lot of discipline and a lot of persistence and we've been partners for many years on this issue. Can I say, your country has been a powerful, powerful voice. Your country has been a powerful voice in calling for action on climate change. And the Australian government, which was elected some two years ago, is deeply committed to making substantial cuts in our admission and to transforming our economy, transforming our economy to a clean energy economy, an economy which can deliver net zero. And we want to continue to offer support, including practical support.

Finally, on people to people links I would make this point. We are a multicultural nation. One in two Australians is either born overseas or has a parent born overseas. And I am one of them. And when Australia looks out into the world, we see ourselves reflected in it. Just as I hope the world can see itself reflected in us. And as the Foreign Minister reminded us all there are significant people to people links between our countries. Bangladeshi-Australians, your students, your diaspora, they are an important part of our community. And finally, I end today on one of our greatest shared interests that your Prime Minister spoke about, which of course is cricket. And I wish Bangladesh a successful 2024 T20 Women's World Cup and the best of luck to both the Bangladesh and Australian national teams. Thank you very much for having me here today.

FOREIGN MINISTER MAHMUD: Just one moment. One moment please. I thank the Foreign Minister, the Senator Penny Wong for their continued support for Rohingyas, and according to what she told me that this is the biggest humanitarian assistance for Australia, single biggest humanitarian assistance in the world, what they are providing for the Rohingya people. And I recall my memory both working with Australian team in Cancún in 2010, with the Australian Environment Minister and we work together to facilitate the talk, negotiation, finance in the NFCC conference and that was the conference when it was decided to establish climate change, the climate fund.

JOURNALIST: My question is that from Bangladesh for the Australian Foreign Minister. Bangladesh is solely taking the burden of hosting over 1 million Rohingyas. The western countries, including Australia, are talking big about humanitarian assistance towards Rohingya. Whether Australia is willing to take a portion of our 1 million Rohingya?

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: Well, first I want to say you are taking the lion’s share of the burden and we acknowledge that. And in every meeting I have today, I’ve recognised that. And we have provided, if you look at both Bangladesh, Myanmar and the communities, 860 million Australian dollars over a six year period. So, it is a substantial investment because we understand the importance of it. And we will continue to work with ASEANs and other countries of the region to try and encourage the resolution to the conflict in Myanmar and the regime being held to account for its behaviour which has caused this humanitarian crisis. What we all want, I think what your government wants, what we want is the conflict in Myanmar to be resolved so that Rohingyas can realise their aspiration for their return.

JOURNALIST: Madam Minister, you mentioned about cooperation in the ideas of militancy field. What are the specific initiatives that you are willing to take with Bangladesh in terms of militant situation?

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: On maritime security? Well, we've had quite a lot of discussions about that. One of the things we want to do is to have deeper cooperation between our coast guards and my discussion with the Home Affairs Minister today, I said to him, we will bring the head of our coast guard here to talk with the head of your coast guard. So that we can have more practical cooperation together because we understand this is a shared challenge. We're further south, but it is a shared challenge that we face together. That we want to work with other countries of the region as much as possible.

JOURNALIST: Did you have any discussion about Quad?

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: Well, we are a member of the Quad and we are a member also of other regional fora. As you know, we hosted the Indian Ocean Conference in Perth earlier this year. Australia is a middle power, we're not a great power, we're a middle power. And we care about partnerships and collaboration and engagement. So, we will collaborate with the countries of the Indian Ocean through IORA. We will work, we are the first, we were the first dialogue partner with ASEAN.
We just have celebrated 50 years of being the first dialogue partner. We have Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for the countries of ASEAN. We have a growing relationship with Bangladesh and we are a member of the Quad. So, these are all ways in which we collaborate. What I would say to you is I can speak to you about our motivation, I know there's a lot of commentary about various aspects of this architecture. Australia's motivation is always peace, stability and prosperity. That is what we engage in the world.

JOURNALIST: Excellency, thank you. If I talk about the IORA, SARD, Commonwealth, the WTA and UN Bangladesh, Australia and Bangladesh share the common values, including human rights, democracy and the rule of law, sustainable development, environment, gender equality and many things. Regarding this perspective, what Bangladesh can do with the regional powerhouse?

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: What can Bangladesh do? I don't want to speak for Bangladesh.

JOURNALIST: If you think about the regional powerhouse, what Bangladesh can do?

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: I think, we're a democracy. We care about the principles and the issues you spoke about. We also are committed to doing what we can, in whatever ways we can to facilitate development. And the reason is we believe that we are all more secure if populations are safe, if populations are prosperous. Those are the conditions for peace. And Bangladesh will continue to move down that path of development, of stability, of the continued progress on those issues that you raise, such as human rights, on climate change. That is an example to many countries about the way in which development can be multifaceted across all of those domains. It's a great pleasure to spend this time with you. Thank you.

Media Contact:
Foreign Minister's Office: +61 2 6277 7500

Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.