Doorstop, Adelaide Zoo

  • Transcript, E&OE

Topics: Panda contract signing; China spy allegations, Westpac; PNG loan.

24 November 2019

Simon Birmingham:     I’m thrilled to be here today for this contract signing that are going to keep Wang Wang and Fu Ni in Adelaide for the next five years. And listening to Elaine outline the celebrations that the zoo has in store over the course of the next month; it sounds like there’ll be a little bit of pandamonium here as Adelaide Zoo celebrates the fact that Fu Ni and Wang Wang are here to stay for the next five years. And I pay tribute to Zoos SA and their partners; to the China Wildlife Conservation agency; as well as our diplomatic representatives. Both China’s, through their embassy in Canberra and their consulate here in Adelaide; as well as our representatives at the Australian embassy in Beijing, who’ve all worked collaboratively to make sure that this extension is a success and that everybody understands the true valuable work that has been undertaken here by Zoos SA over many years now to not just pursue a breeding program that we hope can be successful in the years to come. And as you can see, there’s probably a little more science than love when it comes to panda breeding, and we hope that science pays dividends in the years to come. But also of course, all of the other aspects in terms of research, knowledge and support that Zoos SA has provided in that time.

The financial support from the Australian Government over the last ten years and South Australian Government over the next five helps in terms of conservation programs and other research initiatives that help to sustain panda populations in the world. And importantly, what the Premier and I were thrilled to announce earlier this year was the Federal Government stepping up to provide a significant $11 million-plus support for the development that Zoos SA is pursuing up at Monarto, whilst the State Government’s stepped up to support the panda extension.

It’s another example of the co-operative, collaborative approach that the Morrison Government in Canberra has managed to strike with the Marshall Government here so that we can deliver these types of win-win outcomes.

Journalist:        What will the new deal mean for tourism, not just in South Australia, but Australia?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, this is a wonderful opportunity now to plan properly for the next five years in terms of promoting the pandas, trips to Adelaide. We know that Australian tourists, domestic visitors who come to SA, love to visit the pandas while they’re here. We also know that they are a drawcard for international visitors as well. And we all hope that we can have that boom occasion of a baby panda cub at some stage over the next five years. But Fu Ni and Wang Wang are well worth visiting and are highly entertaining, as we’ve seen today, in terms of the show that they can put on for families and visitors alike.

Journalist:        How much did the Federal Government chip in for the pandas [indistinct] in the last ten years?

Simon Birmingham:     Around a million dollars a year at that stage. And contract terms vary of course over a period of time. But what we did on this occasion was sit down with the state government, there were competing demands, if you like, in terms of the needs of Zoos SA for the next few years. That’s why we stepped up to the plate – the large investment in Monarto, which the State Government’s also putting some funds towards, whilst the state’s stepped up to fill this void here in terms of making sure the funding is there for a deal with China.

Journalist:        Can you expand a bit more about how these pandas are fostering our relationship with China; which can be a challenging situation?

Simon Birmingham:     The pandas provide the opportunity for us to continue to enhance understanding at a people-to-people level that visitors who come to the zoo understand and are educated in terms of not just the pandas but where they come from and the types of programs that are being pursued by the Chinese Government to support the pandas into the future. But of course, there’s also that depth of relationship in the research links that are established as a result of a partnership like this. And that’s very important. Now, it’s a demonstration that whilst the relationship can have challenges at times, we are also committed to continuing to pursue the partnership between Australia and China through positive ventures such as this one.

Journalist:        Speaking of those challenges, is the Government sympathetic to the asylum claim being sought by Wang Liqiang?

Simon Birmingham:     Well these are very sensitive and difficult issues that have been raised. Of course, they are and will be handled by the appropriate authorities in terms of a full investigation and assessment of the claims made.

Journalist:        But would you say that this case is going to put more pressure on our already strained relationship with China?

Simon Birmingham:     I think we’ve demonstrated as a Government our commitment and resolve to make sure that we advance the areas of the partnership wherever we can, whilst acknowledging there will be differences and difficulties from time-to-time. And we’ll work through those difficulties. And in this case, we will make sure that the relevant authorities and agencies are the ones who do the thorough work that’s required.

Journalist:        The Chinese Government says he’s a fugitive and a convicted fraud. So, if that’s true would Australia be harbouring him to be helpful with relationships with Beijing? Would that be helpful – by us harbouring him here?

Simon Birmingham:     I’m sure our agencies and authorities will take into account all claims and counterclaims made as part of their investigations.

Journalist:        Just on another matter, should Westpac bosses resign over the breaches being investigated?

Simon Birmingham:     Well look, these are terrible, terrible failures by Westpac and they ought to be held to account. And it is to the credit of AUSTRAC, a regulatory agency in this case, for their thorough and diligent work in identifying these failings, in bringing them to the public attention. And obviously, there has to be thorough accountability within Westpac. Now, it is for both Westpac and other relevant authorities to make sure that that type of high standard we expect of our banks is actually held to account and that that means, whether it’s board or senior executives, all obviously need to reflect on their position and make sure that confidence is restored.

Journalist:        But why is the Government leaving it up to- making the regulator decide whether they should keep their jobs?

Simon Birmingham:     We establish independent regulators to do a job. You don’t get a dog and tell it when to bark. You actually trust that when you establish independent regulators with teeth; that they then do their jobs effectively. And what we’ve seen in relation to AUSTRAC is they have done that very effectively.

Journalist:        Do you hold heightened concerns for Australian citizens in Beijing if they seek to retaliate over the views that Australia is harbouring Wang Liqiang?

Simon Birmingham:     Look, I wouldn’t want to leap to those sorts of conclusions. We continue of course to engage in relation to some sensitive consular cases directly with Chinese authorities at every opportunity that’s available to us. But again, we work as hard as we can to advance the partnership where we can in areas of mutual agreement and interest.

Journalist:        Your Government has worked pretty hard on restoring the ties with the Chinese communist regime. So are you worried that this episode is going to aggravate those ties and the relationship?

Simon Birmingham:     I think people need to keep a very strong sense of long term perspective when it comes to relations and engagement with China. There will be incidents that come up from time-to-time. That’s to be expected. But we share a region in which we are both significant economic players; in which we are both leading nations. And through these decades to come, we will have to make sure we forge the most cooperative partnership we can that complements and advances the interests of both our nations and sensibly work through difficult and sensitive issues as they come up; whilst in Australia’s case, being true to our values, our systems, and the commitments that we have given in various international treaties and agreements.

Journalist:        Now can I ask you just briefly about Papua New Guinea as well? Australia’s abandoned years of financial caution towards PNG and you’ve agreed to a $440 million loan direct to its budget. Why is that?

Simon Birmingham:     We are working closely with Papua New Guinea government as we have for decades in terms of supporting them through various overseas development and aid initiatives. In this case, in relation to dealing carefully with some financial management and budget issues that PNG brought to the Australian Government. We’re doing that, though, in close collaboration with the International Monetary Fund. And I trust that we will see an arrangement in place that provides Australian taxpayers with certainty that loan facilities advanced to PNG will be appropriately repaid, whilst giving PNG the longer term certainty that they need through cooperation with the IMF.

Journalist:        What would those arrangements be – so the Australian citizens can be sure that the money is not being used for corrupt or frivolous activities?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, these are about supporting budgetary arrangements in Papua New Guinea. The type of financial and contractual arrangements entered into we do through existing mechanisms, such as Export Finance Australia, who have experience in providing firm contractual arrangements between Australia and overseas governments in terms of financing solutions.

Journalist:        So will you have restrictions on what this money can be spent on? Because it seems like it’s going direct to the Papua New Guinea budget.

Simon Birmingham:     Well, this is about addressing some budget issues that PNG has faced. We of course continue to work with PNG on a whole range of other development and governance programs that complement this type of initiative.

Journalist:        And if Australia is worried about China’s so-called debt trap diplomacy in the Pacific, how can this loan not make matters worse for PNG, which currently owes the world $10 billion?

Simon Birmingham:     This is about responding to requests from PNG. Australia, of course is still one of, if not the largest contributor in terms of development assistance to Papua New Guinea. And so we do that in terms of providing direct financial grant-type assistance in a whole range of areas to assist with their development. This is about dealing with a unique financial circumstance that PNG presented to us, and working through finding a sensible solution that isn’t just about Australia and PNG, but as I say, brings in the IMF to make sure that it is an appropriate, global-standard solution that respects the sustainability of Papua New Guinea’s budget and governance position into the future.

Journalist:        Coming back to the panda, from your perspective, why so people love the pandas so much? I mean the people in Australia; I mean the whole world?

Simon Birmingham:     I think the world has been infatuated by pandas because they’re cute, because they’re playful and we’ve seen them play it up for the cameras today, as they do for tourists and visitors each and every day. But of course, the world also responded to the threat to panda populations as a result of their vulnerability, and the type of research and conservation commitment we’ve seen in relation to stabilising and working to rebuild panda populations is indeed an exemplar that could be pursued and ought to be supported in many other endangered population programs too.

Thanks, everyone. Cheers.