Joint Press Conference - Indonesia

TRANSCRIPT: JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH INDONESIAN MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, YUSGIANTORO PURNOMO

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, STEPHEN SMITH

MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT AND INFRASTRUCTURE, ANTHONY ALBANESE

MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS AND JUSTICE, JASON CLARE

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY AND E & OE

DATE: 4 September 2012

TOPICS: Indonesian relationship

MINISTER PURNOMO: [Introduction in Bahasa Indonesia]

Do you want to add something?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well thank you very much Pak Purnomo. I am very pleased to be here as Minister for Defence, together with my Ministerial colleagues Anthony Albanese, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure and Jason Clare, the Minister for Defence Materiel, Home Affairs and Justice.

This is my seventh visit to Indonesia since becoming a Minister, but my first visit as Defence Minister to coincide with the holding of the first annual Defence Ministers Dialogue between Australian and Indonesian Defence Ministers. This follows on from the first annual meeting of leaders, the President and Prime Minister's meeting in Darwin earlier this year and the so-called two plus two in Canberra earlier this year between Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministers.

As Pak Purnomo has explained to you, we're essentially meeting in three sessions this morning, Pak Purnomo and I met, as did the Transport Ministers and the Home Affairs Ministers. We have just come from a session dealing exclusively with search and rescue matters and tomorrow Pak Purnomo and I will sign the Defence Cooperation Agreement between Australia and Indonesia, make some Defence announcements, and we'll also deal with Justice Jason Clare, wearing his Defence Materiel cap and his counterpart, in Defence Procurement and Defence materiel issues.

Later this afternoon we will call upon the Vice President, and we're very honoured to be able to do so and earlier today we met with Coordinating Minister Djoko Suyanto. So we've been very pleased to have significant calls.

The focus of today, as Pak Purnomo has said is in the search and rescue area and I'll ask, Pak Purnomo if you're happy, Anthony Albanese to make some remarks in that respect but we've had very good conversations in the course of the day, very productive, again reinforcing my view that Australian and Indonesian relations have never been better.

There is such a high level of cooperation now that the search and rescue matters have been dealt with were flagged in Darwin a short period of time ago, and our respective agencies have been working very hard to bring these matters to a conclusion.

Our Ambassador tells me that since January 2008 there has been something like 100 two-way Ministerial visits, which is a high level of Ministerial exchanges, and Pak Purnomo and I will elaborate tomorrow on the Defence-to-Defence and military-to- military relationship has never been better.

So, I'll ask Anthony Albanese to make some remarks about transport and search and rescue matters, followed by his counterpart, which I understand for transport there will be a separate briefing by the two Ministers in the Transport Minister's office.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thank you Stephen and to my Ministerial colleagues and to the Defence Minister and his Ministerial colleagues. It has indeed been a very warm welcome back here in Jakarta. This is the third time I've attended a Transport Ministerial Dialogue here, between Ministers in Jakarta.

The first visit I made after being appointed Minister in 2007 was here in January 2008. I think emphasising the importance of the relationship. Today has seen a focus on search and rescue and the specifics of what has been agreed. I will be outlining that with the Transport Minister shortly at anotherc venue but in general terms I think it's important to recognise that we officials have been undertaking discussions since the meeting between Prime Minister Gillard and President Yudhoyono in Darwin a short time ago.

There was a basis for the cooperation through the Indonesian Transport Assistance Package. This has been an extremely successful program and one in which on previous visits to Jakarta, I sat down with people involved in the maritime sector at BASARNAS and each and every one of them has had contact directly with Australia whether it be engagement with AMSA in Canberra or whether it be the ongoing cooperation at sea.

So there is a basis for our ongoing dialogue and cooperation and that is important when it comes to the current issues which have been discussed. It's important also to note that what we were looking for in terms of outcomes is programs that weren't just related to issues that have received some substantial publicity with good reason. Some of the tragedies at sea which we have seen, between people trying to get to Australia, we were searching for solutions that would provide greater assistance for capacity for Indonesian maritime search and rescue services and so the range of programs that have been agreed today, I think, will see that very much, very much occur.

In the budget earlier this year, we, in spite of the fact that it was a tough budget, have capacity to have an extension of that program because we regarded it as such a priority and I'll be back in Indonesia later this year for discussions with the Transport Minister and the Assistant Minister to complete our signatures on the extension of that agreement. So that will occur later this year.

It has been an extremely productive session and this is an issue in which AMSA and BASARNAS are particularly engaged in the maritime sector is international by its very nature and hence the area of cooperation in order to save lives at sea, particularly we know there are many incidents with vessels here in Indonesia with the archipelago spread over 5200 kilometres east to west. It is an issue that if we can provide any assistance, I think it is one in which we can be another element of what is already a strong relationship between our two countries.

MINISTER PURNOMO [Speaks in Bahasa Indonesia]

JASON CLARE: We have made some important decisions today which will help save lives and the Transport Minister will go into that in some more detail at a separate press conference. I just wanted to make the point that we face a significant challenge here. More than 400 people have died on the sea between Australia, between Indonesia and Australia over the last few months and hundreds of Indonesians have died, have drowned between the islands of Indonesia.

We shouldn't underestimate how difficult search and rescue is; rough seas, very large areas and a very large archipelago to cover and it is impossible to cover all of that and the key part of that is making better use of merchant vessels. We learned in discussions today that there are 1000 merchant vessels that go through the Indonesian search and rescue area every day and the recommendations that we looked at today draw very heavily on that information and making better use of that capability.

Today I also took the opportunity to meet with KAPOLRI General Prabono, to pass on the condolences of the Australian Government for the death of the INP officer recently in Solo, Central Java, and to continue our discussion on cooperation in counter terrorism and in addition to that, work on preparations for the 10th Anniversary of the Bali bombing.

I also met with the Minister for Law and Human Rights, Minister Syamsuddin. That's given me an opportunity to provide the Indonesian Government with an update on changes that have recently been made to the law in Australia with respect to off-shore processing and mandatory sentencing and minors and that meeting has also provided an opportunity for us to agree to continue the work that our two government's are doing in developing an international transfer of prisoner's agreement.

JOURNALIST: My name is George Roberts from ABC Australia; my first question is to Jason Clare [indistinct]. Last week Australia handed over 55 people who were from an Asylum seeker tragedy who were handed back to their country under the refugee convention. You said you wouldn't turn back boats to Indonesia, so doesn't this represent a U-Turn on that policy and also government policy against what Australia has committed to as a signatory to the Refugee convention? And to Indonesia, Pak Purnomo, are you happy with today as far as cooperation with Australia, given that two months ago you expressed a keenness for Australian authorities to come into your area?

JASON CLARE: The tragedy that occurred last week is a good example of how Australian agencies and Indonesian agencies work together. Many of the people who worked on that search and rescue were in the room today; BASRANAS, Indonesian police, as well as our Customs and Border Protection people and the Australian Marine and Safety Authority.

We were able to save as many people as we did because those agencies were working together and the discussion we had was how we further improve the work we do together. The decision to transfer those people who survived to Merak was made by the operational experts on the ground, based on the fact that it was the closest port and those survivors needed to get to hospital care as quickly as possible as you would know. Many of the people rescued were in very poor health, some of them needed hospital care very quickly and the closest port of call where they could receive that hospital care was in Indonesia.

JOURNALIST: With respect, the question I asked was the decision to hand over survivors to a country that was not a Refugee Convention signatory, given that those asylum seekers had asked Australian authorities on board HMAS Maitland to take them to Australia.

JASON CLARE: Just let me emphasise again, the decision was made by the operational experts on the ground based on where we can get survivors to hospital care as quick as possible. There is a party in Australia which is different to the government which has a different position on whether you should take survivors or people on a boat to another country whether they have or haven't signed the UN Convention on Human Rights.

JOURNALIST: So you feel comfortable with that?

JASON CLARE: The focus here is on saving people's lives and that was legislation which was passed through parliament is what drives the people aboard our patrol boats, our aircrafts in the air and the decisions that we made today. The faster we act, the more coordinated our actions, the more people that we can save and last week the decisions that were made were intended to make sure the people got hospital care as soon as they possibly could.

MINISTER PURNOMO: So far we are happy with Australia in the Defence cooperation. This morning we discussed a lot of areas. Starting from the international issues, regional issues and then bilateral issues and then things that interest both of us. Regarding the joint statement on search and rescue, as what mentioned before, the press conference on the search and rescue will be held in the office of the Transport Minister.

You can see that both Ministers of Transportation are here because they want to announce the statement in their office and I don't want to step on their toes. After this you have to go to their office to listen to what has been achieved in the meeting. What I can share with you, because I was also in the meeting was that the meeting was very very productive and they achieved their conclusion on what has to be done between your country, especially in the search and rescue in the sea. Thank you.

STEPHEN SMITH: I might add because I have probably got a little more capacity to not tread on Pak Purnomo's colleagues' toes. You might recall in Darwin in the margins of President Yudhoyono's visit that Pak Purnomo and I met, and one of the issues that arose from our discussions was whether it was possible in a search and rescue context to see whether rapid clearance could be given to search and rescue planes which are needed for search and rescue purposes to go into sovereign Indonesian territorial airspace.

We had further discussion about that issue today, as Defence Ministers, but more importantly it was also the subject of conversation at the meeting of the Transport Minister, the Minister of Home Affairs, Pak Purnomo and I and the Vice Transport Minister and the detail of that, as Pak Purnomo said in the beginning, will be given at their press conference, but we had a very productive conversation on that issue and Pak Purnomo and I are pleased with the outcome of that.

As officials have done more work between Darwin and here, what we've also discovered as a potential improvement for practical cooperation is the capacity potentially for search and rescue planes to land and refuel in Indonesia. Because what often occurs is that if a search and rescue obligation falls upon Australia and they're flying north from Australia or from Christmas Island, as they run short of fuel they have to return to Christmas Island or to the Australian mainland for refuelling purposes.

We've had a substantive conversation about that today to explore the possibility of permission being given to land for refuelling purposes to save that time and as Jason Clare has emphasised, time is always of the essence in such matters. The two transport ministers will deal with that in more detail with that, but as Pak Purnomo said, we had a very productive and positive conversation as Defence Ministers on our Defence Cooperation Program, which we'll detail tomorrow. That will culminate in the signature of the Defence Cooperation Agreement, which is a very significant step, and we've made our small contribution to the list of positive initiatives which Mr Albanese and his counterpart will announce.

JOURNALIST: My first question is to Jason Clare. The Indonesia Justice Minister today has given some assurances that the people smuggler or alleged people smuggler known as Sayed Abbas will be extradited to Indonesia after he finishes his sentence here in Indonesia. Can you comment on that please, and confirm if you've had any discussions with him today about that?

And Bapak Purnomo, there have been some suggestions and calls in Australia from some parts of Government for the asylum seeker boats going to Australia to be turned back by the Australian Navy and towed back to Indonesia, forcibly towed back. What is your opinion of that, do you think that is something would be a negative, something that is not good for the relationship between Australia and Indonesia, perhaps unhelpful?

JASON CLARE: Sayed Abbas is currently serving a sentence here in Indonesia at the moment and the Australian Government has made it clear that we would seek to extradite him to Australia at the conclusion of his sentence here in Indonesia. This was one of the issues that we discussed this morning. Australia stands firm on its intention to apply to extradite Sayed Abbas to Australia at the conclusion of his sentence and we had a good discussion this morning with the Minister about that. It was a fruitful discussion.

MINISTER PURNOMO: The cooperation between the AMSA and BASARNAS has been there for a long time and they have been there successfully doing a good job to rescue the people, including also illegal immigrants. Really we are talking to which point that they're going to have to move the illegal immigrant. The way I look at that will depend on the case by case; we'll have to look at it and see. I cannot be speaking on behalf of BASARNAS because we also have a Navy here in Indonesia. At sea you will meet with seven agencies. One is, call it the National Guard - he is the head of the national guard - and then second is the Navy, is us, and then police, and then also from Fisheries and then from Customs, and then from Immigration. You are the coordinator. He is the coordinator. So we have to look at really a case by case basis. We cannot just put a line that has to be bring this, has to be bring back at that point so I cannot answer it generally. I will look at that case by case, you know, in these matters.

JOURNALIST: Bapak with respect though, I guess the question is that there is calls in Australia for the boats that travel almost all the way to Australia, that are beyond Indonesian territory, to be towed back by the Australian Navy, and towed back into Indonesian territory and be basically told to go back to Indonesia and be left for Indonesia to deal with. I'm wondering whether you think that would be negative for the relationship, and perhaps even in breach of the Lombok Treaty?

MINISTER PURNOMO: We discussed in fact with my colleague here Minister Stephen Smith there way that, if the rescue has to be made in our territory, or the rescue has to be made in international waters, what kind of conduct, what kind of rule of standard and procedure has to be made, so far that what we tried to do in search and rescue and also with AMSA, is that if there is an SOS signal [that indicates a boat] has to be rescued, then they will be allowed by the authority to come and rescue them, because what is important is human assistance. To which end, the point to be made for these people, you know, I think really has to be discussed further in a meeting. Because this is usually the domain – it's not only us and Defence but also Customs and other agencies and I think the search and rescue operation under BASARNAS and AMSA I think will have to make a decision whether that will happen, case by case.

JOURNALIST: But would you accept the Australian Navy forcing boats that are in Australian waters - the Australian Navy forcing them - to return to Indonesia?

MINISTER PURNOMO: Well, as I said to you before, for the Australian good effort, the ship that crosses jurisdiction, there has to be a rule, and the rule that before when we were in Darwin was brought up, is what kind of conduct we have to meet for any ships across the border of the jurisdiction. For instance, if there is a ship in our waters, and someone, or whoever, I did not say an Australian, that tries to come into our waters, especially for rescue, what kind of rule and procedure has to be done in order to do that. And this afternoon, in the second meeting, we have also from, not only from BASARNAS, from the search and rescue International Agency, but also from the National Air Defence Command. The trouble with rescue, it may not be only be done by boat but by also by the Dornier aircraft and also by the Dash 8.

So what kind of conduct, code of conduct, has to be made in order to do that. That is now being discussed. And I think we came to a conclusion that is covered by the six points announced in the Ministry of Transportation

STEPHEN SMITH: The Minister has given you his answer in the search and rescue context maybe I can help -

KARLIS SALNA, AUSTRALIAN ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes I was asking in the other context –

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, you had three goes, and the Minister gave you his answers on three occasions in the search and rescue context. But let me just make this clear, that the Australian Government's policy is not to force back into unsafe waters, is not to tow boats back. We've made it very clear from the highest levels, that we regard that practice as dangerous and not only risking lives of asylum seekers or refugees on the high seas, not only putting their lives at risk, but also putting the lives and the safety of Australian Defence personnel at risk.

There's no better authority on that than the Chief of Navy who's given evidence at Senate Estimates of his own personal experience and his very strong view that this is an unsafe practice. The fact that this is an unsafe practice and not able to be put into effect was reflected by the review recently done and made public by Angus Houston, Michael L'Estrange and Paris Aristotle, so it is not Australian Government policy to have the Navy seek to tow boats back into Indonesian waters, or indeed to leave them on the high seas. We regard that as an unsafe practice which will only add to the difficulties that we have in terms of search and rescue on the high seas, but also the safety of Australian Defence Force and Navy personnel.

JOURNALIST: Thank you, my name is Amad Faisel from Radio Republic Indonesia, The Voice of Indonesia. Well, if we see the current situation of international relations around the world, it seems that there is at such time interdependency among nations to fulfil their basic military needs. So I would like to ask the Australian Defence Minister, in this case, does your coming also aim at building military equipment together with Indonesian defence industries. Second question is that the problem or tension in the South China Sea has [risen] and I know that your coming coincides with the US Foreign Minister, so does your visit also aim at reducing the tension in the region together with Indonesia and the US in the South China Sea region. Thank you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thank you for your questions and let me deal with them in reverse order. Yes, we did have a conversation today about regional and international strategic matters, including maritime or territorial disputes in the South China Sea or East China Sea or indeed elsewhere, and I think there is a lot of consistency between Australian and Indonesian policy on this front. Pak Purnomo can speak on behalf of Indonesia, but Australia's policy position is that where there are territorial or maritime disputes, whether they're in the South China Sea or East China Sea or elsewhere, that firstly these are matters for the parties to the dispute to resolve, we want to see them resolved amicably, we want them to be resolved in a way which don't cause concern and we want them resolved in accordance with international norms, in accordance international law and in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Australia isn't a party or doesn't take sides to such disputes, we simply urge the parties concerned to resolve them in accordance with those principles. Australia, as an ASEAN Dialogue Partner, indeed the first ASEAN Dialogue Partner, is also a strong supporter of the ASEAN code of conduct and, like ASEAN foreign ministers resolved recently, believe that should be implemented as soon as possible to form the reference point or the basis for ASEAN consideration in this area. And because these disputes can be causes for concern, because they can place in front of the region risks of misjudgement or miscalculation, then relevant international and regional institutions, whether it's the East Asia Summit, whether it's the ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus, are entitled to play a role and take a view on these matters, which the ASEAN defence ministers in Hanoi in 2010 did and which the ASEAN Foreign Ministers recently did.

I think there is a fair amount of consistency there, so far as Australia's approach is concerned and Indonesia's approach is concerned. Pak Purnomo and I planned this visit some time ago, so who else is in town is an entire coincidence, so I wouldn't read too much into that. But Australia is a strong adherent to those principles which I have outlined. We want these issues and disputes resolved in accordance with international law and the Convention on the Law of the Sea. We don't want them to be cause for concern, misjudgement, or miscalculation.

In terms of Australia and Indonesia's relationship and the potential for us to grow our relationship where it comes to defence capability or acquisition or procurement or [inaudible] we're having a separate session on that tomorrow, that's one of the reasons why Defence Materiel Jason Clare is here. And very many countries now are going through a period of fiscal restraint and difficulty so far as defence budgets and expenditure is concerned, so it makes sense for good friends and partners to cooperate on these matters, just as we did in Darwin with the gifting of four Australian C-130H's to Indonesia to assist Indonesia in its heavy airlift capability, particularly for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

So tomorrow we'll explore whether there are further opportunities for us to collaborate and cooperate. More generally on capability, I've made it clear to Pak Purnomo and I'm very happy to make it clear publicly, that as we move towards our 2013 Defence White Paper where capability issues will be under consideration, that we will consult fully with Indonesia in this respect and, just as we are very happy to see Indonesia pursue this so-called 'minimum forces' policy approach, which Pak Purnomo and I spoke about in the course of our meeting today.

MINISTER PURNOMO: [Conclusion in Bahasa Indonesia]

[ENDS]