Subjects: CHOGM, Indonesia, Debt Ceiling
REPORTER: Now at CHOGM, the Prime Minister very firmly said that he would put asylum seeker boats as focal points for his visit. Is that the most pressing issue that’s facing Australia, with regard to our region?
ALAN TUDGE: Well there were a number of issues which were discussed at CHOGM. There were poverty issues, there were trade issues, as well as of course people smuggling issues too. People smuggling of course is a very important issue for Australia, and it is for Sri Lanka as well. So of course that was an important topic that was discussed at the meeting.
REPORTER: What is the agreement though that we gave to patrol boats to Sri Lanka to help in the fight against people smugglers. What’s the agreement that’s been done to providing those patrol boats. Are we happy for the Sri Lankan Navy to use them in any way to stop asylum seeker boats?
ALAN TUDGE: Well there’s an agreement where the Prime Minister on behalf of the Australian government gave to the Sri Lankan government to use with their border protection in Sri Lanka and to help stop the people smuggling trade from Sri Lanka. Now it’s very important we have a good relationship with Sri Lanka because this year there’s only been 12 boats that have come directly from Sri Lanka to Australia. Where as last year there were about 140 boats. So if we work well together, then we can really make a difference in terms of stopping the flow of boats from Sri Lanka. And these two boats will help work alongside the Sri Lankan Navy to help stop the people smuggling business at its source there in Sri Lanka.
REPORTER: Are we happy the if say the Sri Lankan Navy judged that they may not rescue people from a rest boat, they might have to stem away from a people smuggling boat. Are we happy with whatever they choose to do with our boats?
ALAN TUDGE: Well, we’ve provided them the boats. And we’re also providing some training to the Sri Lankan’s as well. And in addition to that there will be a memorandum of understanding between Australia and Sri Lanka as to the operation of that boat. And my understanding is that that is still being worked through.
REPORTER: On the issue of human rights there, and abuses by Sri Lanka in that 26 year war that they had, the civil war. You mentioned that only 12 boats have come from Sri Lanka in the past year. So is it alright to put Australia’s self interest, which is only trying to stop the trade of perhaps 12 boats or more, before a moral stand against the human rights abuses there.
ALAN TUDGE: I don’t think that’s the correct characterisation Helen. I mean all of us have an interest in stopping the people smuggling business. It is an evil trade. And we’ve had almost 1000 people drown at sea, as a direct result of the people smuggling business being back in business after the Labor Party dismantled the pacific solution. We all have interest in stopping the people smuggling business, including the Sri Lankan’s . Now in relation to human rights. The Prime Minister took the approach to engage with Sri Lanka, not to lecture it. The Foreign Minister has had very constructive conversations with her counterpart. The Prime Minister has had constructive conversations with his counterpart. But our interest is to ensure we engage with Sri Lanka as much as possible and ensure that they can be on a constructive pathway to being a terrific international citizen going forward.
REPORTER: Alright. So that is a more important, a more sensible way for Australia to go, than to take the British Prime Minister, David Cameron’s approach and to say – morally, Sri Lanka is in the wrong on human rights
ALAN TUDGE: Sri Lanka, only four years ago, came out of a very bloody, 30 year civil war. Thankfully that is over now. And I think the Sri Lankan government is now on a pathway towards rebuilding the country’s democracy, democratising the country and the country being a great international citizen. And all of us have an interest in seeing Sri Lanka head in that direction, and working with it in that direction. And the Britisj British Prime Minister, the vision he took is up to him and the British Government, and the position we took is obviously up to us and what is in our interests from Australia as well.
REPORTER: Alright, well, Tony Abbott made some comments when he was asked about torture at CHOGM. Let’s have a listen to what he said there and then he was asked about it at Question Time today [plays clip of PM’s press conference at CHOGM].
ALAN TUDGE: I think the Prime Minister crystal clear in the House of Representatives yesterday [today] that torture is unacceptable under any circumstances
REPORTER: He did say at CHOGM that diffcucult circumstances require difficult things to be done
I think that he said very very clearly yesterday in the House of Representatives that torture is unacceptable under any circumstances
REPORTER: SO he clarified an earlier statement that he made on torture?
ALAN TUDGE: He could not be clearer that yesterday in the House of Representatives
REPORTER: I think it was actually today, because today is Monday… yesterday was Sunday, but anyway.
ALAN TUDGE: I apologise, it’s been a long day Helen.
REPORTER:I mean he clearly clarified what he said at CHOGM
ALAN TUDGE: The Prime Minister could not have been clearer than what he said today, and I don’t have anything further to add on that
REPORTER: On the spying issue. It is very embarrassing isn’t it, that we are seen to be helping the US spy on senior leaders, their private mobile phones, of our close friends and neighbours. Are you concerned about this, is the government concerned? Because Tony Abbott didn’t seem to want to make an apology today to Indonesia and now Indonesia is very angry about this.
ALAN TUDGE: Indonesia is one of our absolute most important relationships right on our doorstep. We have a great interest in developing further that relationship. In relation to intelligence matters, every country in the world, as the Prime Minister has said today, and at other times, engages in the collection of information. But we do not, we never do, no party ever does comment on specific intelligence matters. That’s been a convention for a very long time, and I’m not prepared to break it here tonight.
REPORTER: Alright. Well are you upset that the Indonesian Ambassador has been recalled to Indonesia as we understand.
ALAN TUDGE: We have a great interest in developing a constructive, respectful, cooperative relationship with Indonesia. That is our great interest. And we will be doing everything that we can to further the development of that relationship. And the Prime Minister going to Indonesia as his first point of call, having been elected into government, was a clear indication of how important we see that relationship. And we will continue to build upon it, through people to people links, through trade links, through other mechanisms, because they are our largest and nearest neighbour and incredibly important to us.
REPORTER: Just very briefly on the debt celling debate. When you were in Opposition there was much talk about the debt emergency. Has it gone away, because you are now wanting to increase our debt.
ALAN TUDGE: We want to increase the debt ceiling. Because labor’s legacy has meant that the debt under them and going forward is going to peak at $370 billion. That’s their figures, projected in the forward estimates.
REPORTER: What, at 2016-17?
ALAN TUDGE: First of all, the debt ceiling is going to be broken on the 12th of June. We are going to go through $300 billion so it’s urgent that we amend the debt ceiling. We are proposing that the debt ceiling be $500 billion because under Labor’s own forecasts, it was going to peak at $370 billion and we’ve been advised by Treasury that we need at least $40-$60 billion of buffer so that we can do things like re-financing.
REPORTER: You’ve got an extension to $400 billion sitting in the Senate now. Labor says why not accept that and perhaps stop any uncertainty.
ALAN TUDGE: Because Helen, it’s simply not enough on the Labor Party’s own figures to deal with. As I said, their forecast is for a peak at $370 billion and the Treasury advice which was given to Wayne swan as much as to us, suggest that we need to have at least a $40-$60 billion buffer. Now that takes us in the vicinity of $430 billion. So we are asking for a $500 billion limit so that we never have to come back to the parliament and ask for an increase to the debt limit ever again. We are asking the Labor Party – let us fix the mess that you gave to us. Let us fix that mess so that we can put Australian back onto a stably financial position.
REPORTER: Alright Alan Tudge, unfortunately we have run out of time. Thank you for joining us.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks Helen