SUBJECTS: First visit to Indonesia as Labor Leader; importance of Indo-Pacific relationship; trade agreements between Australia and Indonesia; tourism agreements between Australia and Indonesia; human rights in Papua and West Papua; ICAC; Jamie Clements; new Indonesian capital; Indonesian infrastructure; Timor-Leste infrastructure.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Today I chose to make my first visit, as the Labor Leader, to a foreign country right here in Indonesia. Just as when I was sworn in as a minister in 2007, my first visit was to Indonesia. That is to underline the importance of the relationship between Australia and our northern neighbour. Indonesia is of course the world’s third largest democracy. Indonesia is also the home to the world’s largest Islamic population. It will also grow to be one of the top five economies in the world in coming decades. And it’s critical that the relationship between Australia and Indonesia be nurtured, fostered and developed further from the close relationship that has existed from the very time that, indeed, Ben Chifley negotiated for Indonesia’s independence. Labor has a proud history with Indonesia; from the Whitlam Government through the Hawke and Keating through to Rudd and Gillard, of emphasising the fact that engagement in our region is critical for Australia’s national interest. And I intend to continue that as the Federal Labor Leader particularly with Penny Wong as the Foreign Spokesperson for Labor. Today has been a very successful visit. We had a successful meeting this morning with Foreign Minister Retno in which we raised a range of issues and we were welcomed and it was terrific to develop an ongoing relationship between Penny Wong and the Foreign Minister and for myself to have the first meeting I’ve had with the Foreign Minister. We also had, hosted by the Australian Ambassador at the Embassy, a roundtable with leaders here in Indonesia, with MPs, with representatives of non-government organisations, with foreign policy think tanks, with journalists and with senior people for a discussion about the context as we see the President about to be sworn in on October 20 for his second term. And it was a good opportunity to discuss what a second term presidency will look like and about the implications for Australia and Indonesia.
This relationship is particularly important given the global context. We discussed for example, the outlook statement to ASEAN, looking towards the importance of the Indo-Pacific region at a time whereby the rise of China and the competitive nature of the superpowers, the United States and China, mean that the importance of regional arrangements and countries such as Indonesia to Australia’s national interest is increasing as the days go by and will be increasingly important in coming years. The fact is, that in terms of the discussions that we have, we discussed ASEAN and regional politics, we discussed foreign policy, we discussed the economic relationship between our two countries and how we build the trade relationship into the future. It is unfortunate that Indonesia isn’t in our top 10 trading nations and we can anticipate that the relationship will grow into the future. We also discussed human rights issues and issues of social policy here in Indonesia. We discussed the whole gamut of issues and it was very constructive indeed.
I look forward to this being the beginning of a relationship as Labor Leader rather than any mid-term or any conclusion to it. It’s about building relationships and one of the things that I found when I was a minister in the Government, when I visited Indonesia on four times as the Leader of the House and Government Minister, was that you need to develop those person-to-person relationships. Programs like the Indonesian Transport Safety Assistance Program, that’s still going. That was commenced when I was the Minister and has enjoyed bipartisan support on issues like aviation security and safety, on issues like road safety and importantly here in Indonesia on maritime issues. It’s also the case that I initiated an annual dialogue between Indonesian and Australian Transport Ministers and I think those personal relationships over a period of time are very important. Today is the start of that. And I was very pleased to be welcomed here in Indonesia. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Do you or does Labor have any issues with IA-CEPA, the free trade agreement with Indonesia, and will Labor support it in its entirety, in its current form?
ALBANESE: Well the Economic Partnership Agreement has of course been signed by Australia and Indonesia. It will go through the processes in the normal way in terms of the Treaties Committee and will go through Labor caucus processes. But can I say this, the economic relationship between Australia and Indonesia is vital. At a time whereby we’re seeing the implications of trade conflict on the global stage, it’s important that we have a rules based order. It’s important that we have agreements between countries in our region that promote trade. Australia is a trading nation. This isn’t just about trade of course, it’s an economic partnership. And there are already agreements in place between Australia and Indonesia that this will replace. We’ll consider it in the normal way. The Treaties Committee hasn’t given consideration to those processes yet. But it’s in the context that we believe that free, fair and transparent trade is very important and the world is getting a reminder of that at the moment, of what occurs when there’s a potential breakdown in the rules based order for international trade.
JOURNALIST: The full details have been out for quite a while now. There’s nothing that jumps out at you as being problematic for Labor?
ALBANESE: The Treaties Committee will give consideration to it and we’ll have our processes.
JOURNALIST: But haven’t you previously expressed concern about the dispute resolution mechanism in that trade agreement?
ALBANESE: As I have said, we will give consideration to that in terms of the Treaties Committee and also caucus process. It is one of the things that I’ve been very determined to do as the Labor Party Leader and I’ve done it consistently, is to not pre-empt those processes and to give proper respect to the consideration and internal processes that we have. The process has always been, for these agreements, that the Treaties Committee gives consideration to it, makes a recommendation to Parliament and then it’s considered by the Shadow Cabinet and caucus processes. That will occur and people will have an opportunity to examine exactly what the Treaties Committee has to say about it at that time. At the moment it hasn’t been considered of course by the Indonesian internal parliamentary processes either. So I’m not about to pre-empt that. I have stated the values that I have and I’ve also stated the values that Labor has had. We regard the economic relationship between Australia and Indonesia as being critical. It’s no accident that Luke Gosling, the member who represents Darwin, Australia’s northern capital, has been appointed with the specific task of promoting trade and engagement between Australia and our Indo-Pacific neighbours.
JOURNALIST: So can I drill down a bit into the meetings with Retno Marsudi and other business leaders, did the Foreign Minister here raise any issues or flag any concerns about the ways in which the relationship between our two nations may be underdone and may be improved? And secondly more specifically, what would Labor do differently to the Government to better manage the relationship?
ALBANESE: Well of course I won’t go into all the detail of what was a private meeting and you wouldn’t expect me to do so. But can I say this, that Labor has a record of engagement with the region. Whether it be the record of Chifley in the very support for the very creation of Indonesia as an independent nation, one of the three people who were appointed to negotiate at that time. Gough Whitlam of course brought in a new era of engagement in our region at a time whereby that was quite a radical position. The Hawke and Keating Governments built on that. The creation of APEC was a very important initiative in the region. And under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard we had, I believe, a new and unprecedented level of engagement in our region including here in Indonesia and that’s played a very important role in a range of organisations including the creation of the East Asian Summit, the APEC organisation, in terms of bilateral ministerial. negotiations and leadership negotiations. And all of those events have been absolutely critical to building on that relationship. I think Labor comes to these positions from a position of strength. One with a record of engagement in the region of respectful dialogue on understanding that regional engagement with Indonesia and with the entire region is very much at the centre of our foreign policy initiatives but also at the centre of the way that we deal with our economic relationships.
JOURNALIST: If I could just pin you down there, Mr Albanese, or attempt to pin you down on some specifics; is there anything that Labor would like to see done differently or changes that can been made? You talked about person to person relationships, a constant bugbear for Indonesians wanting to visit Australia is the actual red tape involved in getting a visa. There are dozens and dozens of questions, it’s quite expensive. Australians can come here and visit for up to a month, visa free.
ALBANESE: I think there they’re the sort of issues – when you deal with the economic relationship between Australia and Indonesia, and when we’re talking about an economic partnership – you have to look at opportunities that are there for Australia. We have in this vast country across the archipelago, a rising middle class. That has a potential of a considerable increase in tourism to Australia from Indonesia. That’s something that has been raised; it was raised also with the Australian officials here as well who see that prospect. At the moment, Indonesia is the second highest destination for visitors from Australia after New Zealand. The fact is, that the numbers going back the other way are around about 200,000. It can grow to much more in the future and a lot of the focus in our region is often on – And I say this as a former Shadow Tourism Minister – it’s on visitors from China. What we need to understand is that as a nation located as we are, for the first time in a part of the world which gives us a comparative advantage rather than a disadvantage from the tyranny of distance; that we’ve suffered from for a long period of time during the last century. We are located in the fastest growing economic region of the world in human history. Much faster than occurred during the Industrial Revolution. That provides with us an enormous opportunity. And there’s a focus, quite rightly, on the advantages that that can bring from China. But also when we look at the Indian Ocean region, and we look at Indonesia where – I flew up here from Perth, three hour flight – closer to Jakarta than it is to Sydney. India to our west provides with us enormous opportunities. And one of the things that I want to see, and I pay tribute to the work that was done by Penny and by Bill Shorten and others with the work that was done on the Asian Century in the last term. Is that we have an opportunity to gain enormously not just in terms of our economy as well. But from the advantage that’s there for creating a stable and peaceful regional environment. That comes with economic engagement; that comes with person-to-person engagement. That comes with understanding of each other and respect for each other. And one of the ways that we can do that is through that person-to-person engagement. Some of the people who were there today at lunch for example, have participated in sponsored visits to Australia in just recent times. That has had an enormous benefit, in terms of their understanding of what makes up the multicultural nation of Australia.
I have found that in my visits here to Indonesia I’ve learnt more in one day coming here today on my fifth official visit – and I’ve been here other times as a tourist – than you could sitting down reading a book or watching a documentary on Television. These relationships are very important and that is why it is in our economic interest to promote that engagement. And it is also a fact that it has such enormous potential. And one way that we can promote that is by recognising for example, when it comes to tourism and the specific issue that you’ve raised. People have choices about where they go and quite often in today’s world where they can find out how to get a visa or where to go online, in the case of minutes – find out themselves, they will choose between ‘Destination A’ and ‘Destination B’ based upon ease of travel, because they want to make instantaneous decisions. We should be having a common sense solution to that, recognising that we are in a competitive global environment and doing all that we can to take advantage of the potential that’s there for growth.
JOURNALIST: You talked about human rights; I mean you said you talked about human rights today. Was the issue of Papua and West Papua raised in any conversations you had, either with Minister Retno or in the roundtable, and what was said?
ALBANESE: I guess it was. And of course we welcomed the President’s call for calm; that he has made. But we also made it clear, consistent with Australia’s view on human rights, that human rights needed to be respected in Papua and West Papua. We also understand that there’s a bipartisan commitment, held for a long period of time, for the territorial integrity of Indonesia and that is understood. That having been said, we raised the issue of human rights as you would expect us to do and there was a very constructive discussion about that, with the people who we met with today.
JOURNALIST: What’s your response to evidence given to ICAC today in Australia, that former New South Wales Labor boss, Jamie Clements, was seen with a bag containing $100,000 cash after a meeting with banned donor Huang Xiangmo?
ALBANESE: These meetings are subject to ongoing legal processes and you wouldn’t expect me to comment on them specifically. But I’ll say this: electoral laws need to be complied with. By any ALP official; any Liberal Party official; any National Party official; or any Parliamentarian. These processes will take place, electoral laws are there for a reason and they need to be complied with.
JOURNALIST: Just in terms of the Labor structure itself, the fact that ICAC is investigating whether fake donors were used to mask the true source of those donations, $100,000 in donations raised at a Chinese Friends of Labor fundraiser in Sydney?
ALBANESE: I can’t comment on any specifics. I obviously haven’t been there and haven’t heard what has been said. What I can comment on is the principle which is that all electoral laws should be complied with by anyone who’s involved in the Australian political system, to ensure that its integrity is upheld.
JOURNALIST: President Joko Widodo today announced that Indonesia will begin construction of a new capital by late 2020. With a view to people moving there by 2024. Would you commit a future Labor government that you lead to moving Australia’s embassy in Jakarta to the new capital?
ALBANESE: It’s a very big call but good try, James, to ask for a commitment less than two hours after the President has made this statement, and I give you credit for hutzpah in trying to do that. We will respect decisions of the Indonesian Government. It is up to the Indonesian Government to determine where their capital is. We will respect that and would make decisions accordingly at the appropriate time. As I might say, I would expect that the Australian Government, no matter who it was at any particular time, would do.
JOURNALIST: Would you like to see Australian firms involved in the infrastructure build?
ALBANESE: I would always like to see Australian firms involved in any infrastructure build. That’s one of the things that I discussed today. When I was the Minister, we had an MRU between Australia and Indonesia about infrastructure co-operation and transport. Australian engineers for example, engineering companies, have a great deal of expertise in terms of delivering major projects. Australian companies are involved here. I think that there is a potential for much greater engagement here, much greater Australian investment here in Indonesia. And yes, I would like to see that, because I want to see the Indonesian economy grow and prosper. I want to see more Indonesians lifted up in terms of their living standards. Because that is in Australia’s national interest as well as, of course, in the interests of the individuals but also the nation of Indonesia. But I also want to see Australia benefit to the extent that we can by both being able to contribute expertise, but also to benefit economically from that engagement.
JOURNALIST: Just on that issue of Australian companies participating in infrastructure projects. Next door to Indonesia, you know, East Timor has a very ambitious infrastructure project it’s hoping to get funding for. I was there last week and speaking to a few officials, including Mari Alkatiri, he suggested that Australia had an obligation to invest – not to provide donor funds – but to invest in that $14 billion Tasi Mane project on the south coast, which will bring, hopefully, oil and gas from the Greater Sunrise Field. What’s your position on that? Would it be in Australia’s interests, given our interest is in seeing East Timor prosper?
ALBANESE: It is in Australia’s interest to be deeply engaged in investment in our region. It is in the interests of – the expertise that we bring – we have in terms of infrastructure considerable advantages. We have a very sophisticated market; we have an engagement in terms of skills across the sectors from engineering, planning and we can offer a great deal of expertise in the region. It is in Australian companies interests. This is of course not a Government decision; this is a decision of those private organisations. But I have always encouraged, and one of the things I did as Infrastructure Minister was encourage two things. Not just Australian companies, to be engaged, but I also encouraged foreign companies to come and be based in Australia as a springboard into the region with its Australian based subsidiaries. Because I think that Australia has a number of advantages that it can provide and that would be a good thing for our country. But more importantly as well, that’s a good thing for the region and a strong prosperous region means a more stable region and that’s in everyone’s interests. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.