Monday, 3 June 2013
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy. Minister, how is the government's AsiaBound program contributing to stronger relations with countries in the region? Moreover, what obstacles are there to Australia's relations with our neighbours?
I certainly thank the member for Reid not only for his question but also for his interest in Asian century policy. Through the AsiaBound program the government are supporting young people studying in Asia. We are providing financial support for around 3,600 students a year from Australia to go study in Asia. There is legislation being debated to bring that to fruition from 1 July. In addition, through the Asian century scholarships we are supporting young people from the region coming to study in Australia. Indeed, the Asian century scholarship program supports 12,000 students from the region and therefore dwarfs the Colombo Plan. Everyone knows of the Colombo Plan, but this is so much bigger. In fact, the Asian century scholarships does in five years what the Colombo did in 30 years.
I am asked about obstacles to building those relationships with our neighbours in the region. Of course, there are very substantial obstacles, and they are sitting over on the other side of the parliament. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has embarrassed not only the coalition but also the Leader of the Opposition, the Australian parliament and the Indonesian government by falsely claiming that high-ranking Indonesian ministers and officials have indicated privately that Indonesia would cooperate with a coalition government to turn back people smuggler boats. The report says the Deputy Leader of the Opposition insisted on that. Indeed, to quote her, she said:
I have had a number of conversations with high-ranking Indonesian ministers and officials, as has Scott Morrison as has Tony Abbott and I am convinced we can work in cooperation with Indonesia to achieve our policy aim—
of towing back boats. She was challenged about that by the Indonesian ambassador, who completely repudiated any such suggestion. When he said, 'No such collaboration will happen between Indonesia and Australia to bring back the people to Indonesia,' the Deputy Leader of the Opposition told the Guardian:
Professional diplomats are paid to present particular views but what goes on behind the scenes can be quite different …
So she is saying that the ambassador for Indonesia has had a private conversation with her—obviously, no such conversation with her ever occurred.
Ms Julie Bishop interjecting—
Oh, really? She has just again raised this proposition that the Indonesian ambassador had said to her privately that they will agree to tow back boats. They will not. Indeed, the foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, has said they will not and the Indonesian ambassador has said, 'We will not,' yet she persists with this false claim. (Time expired)
Mr Frydenberg interjecting—