On the eve of the official visit to Moscow Deputy Leader of the Australian Opposition, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs of Liberal-National Coalition Julie Bishop gave the interview for ITAR-TASS news agency.
– What are the main objectives of your upcoming visit to Moscow? What issues do you plan to address in your meetings with Sergey Lavrov and with Russian business leaders?
– I have accepted an invitation from Foreign Minister Lavrov to visit Russia, and, given that Russia is the chair of the G20 summit this year and Australia will be taking over the chair next year, I hope to discuss those arrangements with him. Australia has an election in September of this year and, should our party be elected to government, we would be having to take over the G20 leaders summit immediately, and I want it be a seamless transition. So it seems an opportune time to talk to him on the G20 agenda.
Russia is going to be an important market for Australian exports and investments, and my party – the Liberal party – has a very heavy focus on encouraging Australian trade and investments on a global basis. I think, given that Russia is a part of WTO, there are opportunities for us to enhance two-way trade. I come from Western Australia – a very resource-rich state – and we have much in common with Russia, which is also a significant resource nation.
I hope to meet with some representatives of Russian companies that are currently operating in Western Australia, including Nornickel, which is one of the top three Australian nickel producers and the largest exporter of nickel and intermediate products; and the company has an office in Perth. Likewise, I hope to meet with representatives of RUSAL. Recently there were some rather salutary comments made by the RUSAL Chief Executive, Mr. Deripaska, about the decline in Australia's competitiveness due to the increase of energy costs, particularly the carbon tax. My party opposes the carbon tax and we will seek to repeal it, so I'm keen to talk to RUSAL about the costs of doing business in Australia. We are also joint members of a number of international forums, including the UN Security Council, the G20, ASEAN, the East Asia Summit; Russia is a global power and a significant economy, so it makes sense to pursue a closer economic relationship with a country of such economic and strategic significance.
– If the Coalition wins the next election do you plan on changing your political and economic engagement with Russia?
– We intend to broaden and deepen relationship with Russia, to pursue closer economic relationship with Russia. We believe that there are many areas where we can work more cooperatively and there have been many opportunities that have not been pursued. I believe it's time for us to have a more diversified trading relationship with other countries in the world, and Russia is a country of such significance. And in that regard I think that we certainly, instinctively, recognize that Russia is growing in importance as a destination for Australian exports and investment, and we will certainly seek to deepen that relationship.
– According to the Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the total Russian-Australian trade volume in 2011 was less than 2 billion dollars. Do you think this is a sufficient and expected level of trade, or do you believe that there is a potential for developing more economic ties between Russia and Australia? In which areas Russia and Australia can increase their levels of cooperation?
– I think there is enormous potential for us to increase the merchandise trade and also services, for example, in education, and also financial services. I think
there are areas where we could increase the services trade enormously. I think Russia is also an important market for advanced Australian technology, which can help to improve the efficiency of its resource and energy sector. Russia, like Australia, is a significant coal exporter. We also have many modern technologies that Russia could use to assist and add to its coal expertise. I think there are some additional opportunities for Australian mining equipment, technology and services (nickel, iron ore, gold, copper, zinc and uranium).
– In a recent interview in the Australia Oleg Deripaska, the Head of RUSAL, heavily criticized the Сarbon tax, which, in his opinion, may lead to some companies outsourcing manufacturing from Australia to other countries. What is your view of this tax, and what changes to it will the Coalition implement if it wins the September election?
– It was a very powerful and disturbing message. I was concerned with his comments about the Carbon tax, the design of this tax, which could lead to local processing and jobs moving overseas. This deeply concerning message would certainly reinforce our view that Carbon tax is bad for our economy and could risk jobs. Many Australian companies have not spoken out, and it was refreshing to see the comments from Mr. Deripaska, who has particular experience in significant long-term impact on the Queensland Alumina joint venture. We intend to repeal this tax completely. We have said often that we believe that the next election will, amongst other things, be a referendum on the Carbon tax. If we are elected to government, we believe it would represent a mandate from the Australian people to repeal the Carbon tax.
We are very keen to increase Australia's international competitiveness and make it a more attractive place for people to do business and to invest, and ridding the economy of unwanted and unnecessary taxes will be a part of our economic plan, which will also include repealing the Mining tax. The government has also introduced a Mining Resource Rent tax on top of all other existing taxes. We intend to repeal that tax as well should we be elected government. The Mining Resource Rent tax is particularly poorly designed and fundamentally flawed, and it should be repealed.
– In the event of a Coalition victory in the next elections, what will be the major foreign policy priorities of the new government?
– The Coalition’s foreign policy will have an economic focus. We will be heavily focused on economic diplomacy, and ensuring that our diplomats are skilled in economic statecraft. We are a global nation with global interests, but our priorities will be regional. We are an Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific nation, and we intend to focus our foreign policy assets, whether it be military and defence capabilities or economic and trade capacity or diplomatic and foreign aid, not exclusively, but unmistakably, in our region.
– Some political observers think that Australia should eventually choose between United States and China. Could you comment on that please?
– I think it is a false argument. It assumes that Australia cannot maintain strong strategic and economic relationships with more than one country. Clearly we can. When we were in government under Prime Minister Howard (1996–2007), we were able to balance interests exceedingly well. Relationships should be
based on mutual respect, recognizing where we disagree with another country, but also highlighting where we have areas of mutual interests to pursue. The
Unites States is a strategic ally. The ANZUS Treaty is a bedrock of foreign policy in Australia, and that would not change under the Coalition government, but we intend to broaden and deepen and diversify our relationships with a number of significant countries, including with China. We would seek to conclude a Free Trade Agreement with China, which would hopefully diversify our trading relationship beyond minerals and resources to a broader range.
We would also pursue other Free Trade Agreements with countries in our region, including Japan and South Korea. I am interested in talking about the possibility of a Trade Agreement with Russia, which is one of the reasons why I was keen to accept Foreign Minister Lavrov's invitation to visit Moscow.
Australia is able to maintain strong and productive relationships with a number of countries, and I don't believe that we will be called upon to choose between the United States and China. The United States and China are working more closely together than perhaps is generally appreciated; for example, in some of the more contentious geopolitical issues at present, like North Korea, both the United States and China are calling for denuclearization of North Korea. So they are on the same page in a number of contentious matters, and I think it's a false argument to suggest that we should need to choose between the two.
– What do you think about possible Free Trade agreement with Russia?
– It's just a general idea. Given that the Doha round has stalled, I believe that we have observed that other countries have been very active in concluding bilateral and regional Free Trade Agreements. In the last few years Australia has dropped the ball in concluding Free Trade agreements. They have not progressed significantly under this government. The priority of the Coalition government would be to pursue quality Free Trade agreements with other countries, which would serve our national interests. That is why a country like Russia is of interest to me, and I want to talk to people about what opportunities there would be to boost Australia's GDP, and of course Russia's GDP, if there were closer economic ties between our two countries.
– Is this your first trip to Moscow?
– Yes it is. This is my first trip to Russia. I am disappointed that it's not very cold in Moscow right now, because I was looking forward to some true Russian weather. The Russian Ambassador in Canberra, working with our Embassy in Moscow, has put together a very good program for me. I hope it will be a very productive visit for me, and most certainly not my last.
By Pavel Vanichkin