QUESTION: You said in your speech that China respects strength. Do you do you feel the Australian rhetoric toward China has perhaps softened too much in recent months?
JULIE BISHOP: No, I believe that we strike the right tone and have for some time. The important aspect of relationship building is to be consistent in your messaging and I believe that the Coalition has been utterly consistent in what it says publicly and privately to China, and that’s why we are able to manage the relationship in a positive way.
QUESTION: You’ve talked about divisions within the government over climate change. How much of an issue will that be going into the election? Because you said the Australian public actually wants something to happen on climate change.
JULIE BISHOP: That’s right. The opinion polls consistently show that the public want to see action on climate change and the Coalition has a commitment to have affordable and reliable energy that enables us to meet our international obligations under the Paris agreement. The fact that there is division over the issue of climate change is hardly secret, as I said in my remarks, it has been played out publicly since 2007. But I believe that the Coalition’s focus on keeping electricity changes low will be an important factor.
QUESTION: You make a wonderful exposition of the idea of Hong Kong beginning. What was the context of that? Why now? Is the idea of Hong Kong at risk?
JULIE BISHOP: I was paying tribute to the fact that Hong Kong as an economy is such a significant part of the global economy, and Hong Kong is Australia’s sixth largest trading partner. When you look at our other trading partners, the top 10, they are significant nations, massive economies, and here is Hong Kong at number six. Our fifth largest source of foreign direct investment. So my message was to Hong Kong to say what you’re doing must be preserved. Of course, within the one country, two system concept that Australia recognises and supports.
QUESTION: So, no concerns about the future of one country, two systems?
JULIE BISHOP: Well I believe that the idea, is common sense, is so precious it should be treasured. So, in the event that there were any reduction in support for the idea of Hong Kong, I was putting my perspective as clearly as I could.
QUESTION: An Australian citizen is in detention in China on suspicion of endangering national security. Do you think that is connected to the Huawei dispute? And has Australia been strong enough in working for his release?
JULIE BISHOP: There is no evidence of which I am aware that connects Mr Yang’s detention with the Huawei matter. The Australian Government has been making very strong representations and I understand that the Foreign Minister and the Defence Minister have raised the issue with their counterparts, but of course we have to respect the legal processes of other countries, and as far as I’m aware no charges have laid.
QUESTION: Would you like to see the rest of NATO members follow in Australia and others’ footsteps in halting the use of Huawei’s technology in their 5G and government services?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia took a decision based on our national security concerns, based on our assessment of the situation, and other countries can do their own due diligence, make their own assessment as to the need or otherwise to use Huawei technology. Australia made a decision based on expert intelligence and technological advice, but it’s up to other countries to make their own assessment.
QUESTION: Australia and Hong Kong have just negotiated a free trade agreement. One thing that’s missing from that free trade agreement which is in most others that Australia signed with other countries is a double tax agreement outcome.
JULIE BISHOP: Australia has a number of double taxation agreements under consideration. Hong Kong is one. But each agreement has to be looked at in the context of our relationship and also our overall economic circumstances. And so I understand it’s under review but we are very keen to conclude the free trade agreement as soon as possible. I understand that the draft text will be available shortly and that it will be in a position to be signed hopefully by March, and that is a positive step forward. So the double taxation agreements don’t always accompany a free trade agreement. There are a number of complementary economies where we don’t have double taxation agreements, but I know that’s under consideration and that this has been raised including by the Australian Chamber…
QUESTION: So it’s under review? The DTT’s under review?
JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely.
QUESTION: We’ve seen independent people, like Julia Banks, who is an independent, challenging sitting Liberal Members, I think Mr Frydenberg and Greg Hunt. Does that worry you that people are now challenging some existing Liberal Party seats?
JULIE BISHOP: There have always been Independents running in elections. I’m disappointed that Julia Banks left the Liberal Party I made that known at the time. But it’s inevitable that there will be Independents running. I won my seat off an Independent Liberal back in 1998 so I know the challenge ahead. But I’m confident that we’ll run a very good campaign in both Kooyong and Flinders.
QUESTION: I’ll ask again: Will you recontest the seat of Curtin in this year’s election?
JULIE BISHOP: I’m preselected as the Liberal candidate for Curtin and it’s my intention to run.
QUESTION: If the Morrison Government loses will you stay on in politics?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, these are hypotheticals. I take each day as it comes. I’m confident the Morrison Government can win.
QUESTION: Do you think Australia should or will join the US in freedom of navigation exercises within 12 miles of artificial features in the South China Sea?
JULIE BISHOP: I don’t comment on specific Australian Defence Force operations but I can make the point that Australia has been involved in what we call freedom of navigation exercises for many years. We traverse the South China Sea, we uphold our international right of freedom of navigation freedom of overflight. How each country adopts freedom of navigation is up to that nation. The United States has a global FONOP’s program. Australia does not. So the United States conducts FONOP’s around the world. Australia is conducting freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight in international waters through the South China Sea and will continue to do so.
QUESTION: As things stand the Liberal Party’s headed towards its biggest electoral defeat since 1983. Is the party out of touch with the electorate and has it moved too far to the right?
JULIE BISHOP: The point I was making today is that I don’t accept that the party is headed for electoral defeat and I’m confident that, as we roll out policies over the next few months, the Australian people will understand the focus that we put on security, on economic security, on national security. Two of the most fundamental perspectives that a party can bring to government and in both areas the Labor opposition is wanting. So I don’t accept your question.
QUESTION: Do you think it’s out of touch?
JULIE BISHOP: No I don’t. I believe that Bill Shorten’s team are out of touch with their changes to negative gearing, to capital gains tax, to imputation credits. They are policies that will hurt some of the oldest and most vulnerable people in our communities and I think that’s out of touch.
QUESTION: How concerned are you about the trade war? And if Xi and Trump don’t reach an agreement how worried would you be about it? What implications would that have for Australia?
JULIE BISHOP: Well nobody wins from a trade war between the United States and China, and of course I’ve been concerned as others have been about the increasing rhetoric about the trade conflict. The United States does have legitimate concerns about cyber security and allegations of cyber theft. But what we want to see is a peaceful negotiation, and I think the meeting in Washington holds out hope for that. Indeed, the President’s words have been most encouraging and for some time I have been stating publicly that it’s my hope that while the negotiations have been fraught with conflict, that at the end of the day there will be a positive deal. Indeed, I hope it manifests in a US- China free trade agreement and that would be good for the global economy. We want to avoid anything that would cause upheaval in the global economy. Most clearly, a US-China trade war would be catastrophic. So I believe that both leaders appreciate what’s at stake and that they will find accommodation and hopefully a free trade agreement will result.
QUESTION: Can I ask one question? Our art scene here in Hong Kong is gathering momentum and Australia is quite famous for our art scene. How do you think Hong Kong can learn from Australia in that way?
JULIE BISHOP: In the arts scene? Well, clearly Hong Kong has its own unique culture its own unique arts scene. Australia has embraced diversity. We’ve received significant federal government funding, state government funding. Our artists are in many instances revered and when I was foreign minister we certainly used our art skills and capability and reputation as part of our soft diplomacy. And I’m not going to give Hong Kong advice, I’m sure they’re more than capable of developing their own arts scene. But it’s a recognition that arts and culture can be part of your international engagement, and Hong Kong as a global city would certainly be able to take advantage of that and leverage its arts scene in promotion of its soft power diplomacy.