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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on APEC
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks to Jim Middleton on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Vladivostok.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks to Jim Middleton on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Vladivostok.

Ms Gillard discusses asylum seeker policy negotiations with Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, as well her education platform and the Asian White Paper.
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: Not Julia Gillard may have been forced home but she did conclude important business at APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation), notably on the issue dividing Australian politics, asylum seekers.

Addressing key aspects of the subject with Malaysia's Najib Razak and Papua New Guinea’s Peter O’Neill.

I spoke to the Prime Minister just before she was told of her father's untimely death.

Prime Minister, welcome back to the program.


JIM MIDDLETON: Let's deal with this first, the PNG Prime Minister says he wants asylum seekers processed on Manus Island as speedily as possible. You say they're to get no advantage over other refugees.

Your own Immigration Department says that 75 per cent of applicants for refugee status can expect a visa within 12 months. Does that mean that people on Manus Island can expect to stay there no more than 12 months?

JULIA GILLARD: Jim, there's three stages here. Firstly, people are processed, and of course we do processing as quickly as possible to ascertain whether or not someone's a genuine refugee. If they're not a genuine refugee then they can expect to be returned to their home country or to another country that they've got a right to enter.

JIM MIDDLETON: JULIA GILLARD: Second, under the Houston principles there is then waiting time. So even if you are a genuine refugee you would not get a resettlement opportunity earlier than you would have got it if you hadn't moved by boat.

Then third, of course once those stages are acquitted we want people resettled as quickly as possible. As does the prime minister of PNG and the president of Nauru.

JIM MIDDLETON: That means people in PNG on Manus Island are going to be there for years, does it not?

JULIA GILLARD: Well we haven't as yet announced the times that they will be there. We will consult with UNHCR and others, the High Commissioner for Refugees to ascertain what the right amount of time is. But the aim here is so people don't get an advantage if they get on a boat, pay a people smuggler and risk their lives at sea.

JIM MIDDLETON: Fair enough, let's move to the APEC agenda itself. Your passion for education is well enough known. The education crusade, as you've described it, that you're on now, and it's also intersecting with the agenda for this summit. Vladimir Putin's initiative, the success of it would appear to depend on incentive and quality. If students are going to travel abroad to study they at least need to know they're going to get credit for what they do overseas back home, is that right?

JULIA GILLARD: I think that's a big element of it.

We're very pleased that Russia, in its leading of APEC this year has put this squarely on the agenda. And we believe leaders will agree to what is a comprehensive program of work to achieve a few things. One's student mobility, so that is recognising each other's qualifications or at least getting an accurate description of what those qualifications mean out of different systems so there's more mobility after people have qualified.

There's also mobility while people are studying. An Australian perhaps coming here to Vladivostok and doing one year or one semester of their course and having it recognised. There's the mobility of researchers and academic staff, and importantly for Australia there would be Australian institutions able to go and set up campuses overseas. Now they do that now but the easier it is, the better for Australian universities who are very export orientated and want to take Australian education into the region.

JIM MIDDLETON: Do you think that Australians underestimate the quality of institutions, of educational institutions available to them within the region? There are 175,000 students from APEC economies studying in Australia; only a handful, by comparison, of Australians studying in Asia. Is this something that we need to fix?

JULIA GILLARD: When we chart the future course of our nation through the Asian Century White Paper we will be making very clearly the point that global economic weight will be in our region of the world. You will see Asia continue to rise and its middle classes boom. You will see the quality of its institutions, like universities, continuing to rise. And so a young person in Australia in the future might well say to themselves that the best university they could go to is a university in our region rather than a sentimental view about going to Oxford or Cambridge or even Harvard in the United States.

This is going to be our future and I think we've got a deepened community understanding of it. That's why I was so enthusiastic about the white paper process. It's not just about government, it's about everybody in our nation thinking about what this future of change in our region of the world really means for us.

JIM MIDDLETON: When you say everybody in the nation, does that mean that you are thinking of enlisting business to have a role in expanding Australian students' educational horizons either through overseas scholarships, even overseas cadetships?

JULIA GILLARD: I'd like to see everybody playing their parts. I'd like to see business leaders helping the Australian community understand the tremendous opportunities for our economy in our region of the world. I'd like them to talk about how important it is for young people to get an experience in one of the countries in our region of the world and how they will value that Asia literacy as an employer.

I'd like our media organisations to routinely report the economic news from Indonesia. I see plenty of news on our TV that's about the economy of Germany, the economy of France, I can understand why that news is on our TV but I think I'd find it pretty hard to dial in or channel, get a channel on my TV screen that's telling me in detail about the economy of Indonesia or Vietnam or so many of the other countries in our region.

At every level we've got to be preparing for this century of Asian economic growth. It will be our future, an age of prosperity for us, if we get out there and seize it.

JIM MIDDLETON: Will the white paper be recommending additional expenditure to help Australians study abroad, particularly within the APEC economies?

JULIA GILLARD: Well, I'm not in a position to tell you what's going to be in detail in the white paper. But I would make this point, we are already at record expenditure for scholarships for people from our region to come and study in Australia. That's great for us, those people to people links, those future leaders of nations in our region actually getting an experience in Australia. Obviously I want to encourage young Australians to get out and do the same.

JIM MIDDLETON: Food security is once again on the agenda here at APEC. Do you understand why many Australians worry that food security, the term, is simply code for foreigners buying up Australian land?

JULIA GILLARD: I do understand that people feel concerns, and there's often times when the way in which this is reported in the media, to be frank, is overly dramatic. Let's get the statistics right. I mean 99 per cent of Australian agricultural businesses are wholly Australian owned, only 6 per cent of land is wholly foreign owned. So let's keep it in perspective.

We are a nation that cultivates an abundance of food and we export it to the world. That's how our farmers earn their income. And long may that last because that's the source of great prosperity for our nation.

We will best prosper in this century of economic change by having our face looking towards our region rather than closing inwards or succumbing to some very silly populist debates, even if they are being pursued by leading personalities in the Opposition like Barnaby Joyce.

JIM MIDDLETON: Do you fear, though, that foreign investment could become as divisive an issue in Australia in the lead up to the next election as asylum seekers proved in 2010 and right to this day?

JULIA GILLARD: Well, that's a question you'd really have to put to the Leader of the Opposition.

JIM MIDDLETON: But isn't it also about your ability to market the benefits of foreign investment to Australians to assure them and reassure them that they don't lose anything from having foreign investors buying Australian land, buying Australian food producers?

JULIA GILLARD: Well I will certainly be doing that. And that is my responsibility as Prime Minister to explain to people what is in our long term economic interests even if it's not instantaneously popular. At the end of the day, that's what pricing carbon is about, in our long term economic interest, not instantly popular. NBN (National Broadband Network), all of the work we're doing in education, infrastructure, about building this positive economic future for our country.

We've got 21 years of economic growth now, I want to keep building for the future.

JIM MIDDLETON: One final question on this subject, is foreign investment essential if Australia is to achieve its ambition of being an even greater food bowl for the burgeoning nations of Asia?

JULIA GILLARD: We are a net capital importer. You will see investments from overseas in all sections of the Australian economy. There is a rigorous national interest test that we have through our Foreign Investment Review Board processes. No one should pretend that somehow this is unregulated or that, you know, the statistics are anything other than the ones I've given you. That's the facts, that's the truth.

JIM MIDDLETON: Prime Minister, it's been a pleasure talking to you.

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