Tom Connell, Sky News Australia

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-Indonesia relationship, Visa changes for Indonesians coming to Australia, Israel-Palestine relations.

Tom Connell: Indonesian President Joko Widodo has left Australia after his meeting with the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. The PM hosted Mr Widodo in Sydney yesterday, the two discussing green energy, and new visa rules which will make it easier for Indonesians to travel to Australia. Australia will also work with Indonesia to prioritise strategic cooperation on manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries.


Anthony Albanese: Our countries continue to choose to draw closer together, as economic partners, as security partners, and as partners in the global transition to net zero.

Joko Widodo: We want the Indo‑Pacific to become a stable and peaceful region that focuses on collaboration and concrete cooperation.

[End of Excerpt]

Tom Connell: Joining now is foreign affairs Assistant Minister Tim Watts. Thank you for your time. Starting off on this topic. Is it the most under-done diplomatic relationship we have given the size and proximity of disclosure?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, Tom, I think, I'd say that it's impossible to overstate the importance of Indonesia to Australia to our economic prospects, to our security prospects, and the way I would look at it is that it's an opportunity of ‑ it's a relationship of opportunity. So we know that Indonesia is on track to become one of the largest economies in the world, on track to become the fourth‑largest economy in the world, but it's not even in our top 10 trading partners. So we recognise that there's a need for a big investment of effort as a nation in deepening this relationship, and that's what we've seen between Prime Minister Albanese and Pak Jokowi in the last few days.

We know that Prime Minister Albanese made Indonesia his first priority bilateral visit as Prime Minister, brought a business delegation over there to try and deepen the economic trade relationship, and one of the things that he heard loud and clear on that visit was the importance to smooth people‑to‑people travel between our countries, and the visa arrangements that were announced as a result of this bilateral meeting are an important practical down‑payment on deepening this relationship.

Tom Connell: So on those arrangements, it obviously makes it a lot easier for Indonesians to visit Australia, to return visit to Australia here, to stay here longer. We've got a lot of different visa rules in place for different countries. Presumably, there are reasons for that. Did Labor work with the Department of Immigration, ask why this was in place, these sort of restrictions, and if there was a risk in changing these rules?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, Tom, let me say under the previous Government there was no rhyme or reason to immigration policy with any country, let alone with Indonesia. When we came into Government the average visitor visa from Indonesia was taking a median of 60 days to process, and we've got that down to seven days now, and we've got business visas down to just three days.

That's the kind of priority investment and priority focus that we need on a relationship of this importance. As I say, this was an issue that the Indonesians raised with us when we prioritised this relationship early on in the Albanese Government, and we've taken practical concrete actions to deepening this relationship, to try and realise the enormous economic potential that is right on our doorstep.

Tom Connell: The waiting times that you state there seem crazy, but that's not ‑ they're not the only changes. So just on the other changes, did you clarify with relevant departments about any potential unintended consequences about changes made?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Of course, we've got a joined up approach to government, Tom, so we've not only increased the investment into the Department of Home Affairs to ensure that this visa system is actually working for the people using it, not just the people coming to Australia, but the businesses in Australia and overseas that rely on it. But also, we've had specific initiatives as a result of this bilateral agreement, so a new business visa extension for three to five years, a frequent visitor visa arrangement, making that available to Indonesians, that would be a 10‑year visa viability arrangement, to really promote the intensity of contact that we want to see between the people that are making the trade and investment relations between our countries.

You know, the two‑way goods and services trade between Indonesia and Australia hit a record of $23.3 billion last year, and that's great, but we've got so much further to go, and it's not just the strength of the relationship between the leaders that will take us there, although that is obvious, it is concrete measures like this that will realise the opportunity.

Tom Connell: Right. But to ask it another way, you're confident there's no unintended consequences of these visa changes, that you'll have to sort of reintroduce any rules down the track?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: I'm confident that we will give all of the focus necessary to this crucial relationship between Australia and Indonesia. A strong prosperous Indonesia isn't just important for Australia, it's important for the whole Indo‑Pacific region. It's vital to the balance of power in our region that the Indonesian economy is strong, resilient, growing, and we want to be a part of that, and that's why we are giving this a focus of attention, not just at the leader level. It's great that Pak Jokowi and Prime Minister Albanese have met four times in the last 12 months, but right through Government we're giving this focus, all ministers in the Government are focused on realising the opportunity.

Tom Connell: Israel has conducted what's described as the largest bombing on the West Bank for two decades, killing at least 11 people. Israel justifies this by saying they were targeting a so-called "terror hub". Was this action justified?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Look, we're deeply concerned by the escalating violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories, including in Jenin. We recognise and respect Israel's right to defend itself, but also, we emphasise that civilian lives must be protected, and all possible steps need to be taken to protect civilian lives when undertaking operations of this kind.

So we urge all partners, all participants, all stakeholders to exercise restraint and to prioritise the protection of civilian lives and the avoidance of any disproportionate actions that could have an impact on civilian lives in the region.

Tom Connell: Are you concerned that this could become the new norm, Benjamin Netanyahu's formed a government with parties much more on the right, that this is going to happen more and more as a result?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, as I say, Tom, we are deeply concerned about this escalating violence, and it is a reminder for leaders on both sides of this conflict to really work, to get together to break this cycle of violence, to work to promote conditions for peace. That's the only way that we're going to resolve ‑‑

Tom Connell: But is that now less likely with the government that Benjamin Netanyahu's cobbled together, is the question?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: It's a very difficult situation, Tom, and we as an Australian Government oppose all unilateral actions that are obstacles to the realisation of a peaceful agreement in Israel and the Palestinian territories. It's on all parties to come together to break this cycle of violence, and to work together to create the conditions for peace.

Tom Connell: Final question: on the diplomatic front, but also the sporting front, we've got our two Prime Ministers, the British and the Australian one exchanging barbs of sorts over The Ashes. According to Rishi Sunak, we're breaking the mould of the spirit of cricket. What's your response to that?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: It's pretty simple, Tom. I was a wicket keeper growing up and every cricket coach I ever had told me "Stay in your crease." If you're not in your crease, any wicket keeper worth his salt is well within his rights to take off the bails. This whole Bazball, or Bazballing that we've seen from the Poms is just the usual whinging Poms, as far as I'm concerned, you know, I'm right behind Alex Carey, right behind Pat Cummins, they did the right thing, they're doing us proud, and as Prime Minister Albanese says, "Typical Aussies, always winning, I want to see more of it."

Tom Connell: Well, we'll see if we get more of it on Thursday. I mean every Swans supporter I talk to reckons that your Bulldogs got a fair bit of help from the umpires in 2016, so I guess you'd say always, you know, go with what the umpire tells you?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Tom, I think God ordained that Premiership in 2016. It was the most beautiful, most perfect day of football that this country has ever seen. So I mean, I think every star aligned in order to realise that Premiership in 2016.

Tom Connell: That's magnanimous, yeah, having ‑ I was actually there, I've never heard so much support from one side, it might just have helped. Tim Watts, thank you.

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