PRIME MINISTER:

As you know, last night we had the Australia-ASEAN Summit. It was a very, very good, warm and constructive meeting. The main themes were security, counter-terrorism, education and trade. We received very warm, positive feedback from our ASEAN neighbours, real appreciation of Australia’s role in the region and a great credit to our continuing diplomacy and engagement with our neighbours. Very strong commitment to continuing our work to open up markets, promote free trade. Strong recognition of similar themes that we saw at the G20 in Hangzhou.

We obviously entered into an updated declaration on combatting terrorism - very important to update that in recognition of new technologies and new developments.

So it was a very good meeting. Also it took great appreciation of the way in which so many young people from ASEAN countries go to university and college in Australia and, of course, real delight at Julie Bishop’s New Colombo Plan, seeing thousands of young Australians coming to go to universities in the region. Of course, the largest country in ASEAN receiving those students is Indonesia.

Turning to Indonesia, we had a very good and again, very warm bilateral meeting with President Widodo this morning. The focus was on a range of issues, education, of course, investment, but particularly trade, a real commitment from the President who was there with his Trade Minister and indeed the previous Trade Minister, Tom Lembong, who is still involved with the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement - a real commitment to move that along so that we can have more investment, more trade, opening up the markets between Australia and Indonesia.

Obviously our cooperation with Indonesia on security, counter-terrorism, is critically important to both countries and that is becoming more intense all the time. Our engagement becomes closer and more intimate all the time. Because we recognise that the challenge of terrorism is a thoroughly global one and a transnational one. We discussed the importance of moderation, tolerance, mutual respect as being one of the major weapons against violent extremism. Because, of course, as everyone acknowledges, as everyone acknowledged at the Summit yesterday, that violent extremism begins with extremism. So President Widodo’s leadership as the democratically elected leader of the world’s largest majority Muslim nation, who makes the case that his country, Indonesia, demonstrates that Islam, democracy, moderation and tolerance are all compatible. So that is positive proof and he makes a very strong case for that, he’s a great example.

We also had this morning, a very good bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Vietnam. Again, it was very warm. The themes were largely about trade. We discussed a whole range of issues there, but also education. It’s a very strong, very warm relationship. Both meetings were very positive.

So this is an opportunity here in Vientiane to reinforce the goodwill that Australia has built up over the years, over many years in the region, to reinforce that with strong personal relationships.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister when you reflect on the meetings, summits and side meetings here in Laos and the G20 in China, what progress if any has been made on the South China Sea?

PRIME MINISTER:

I would say that the progress is slow but there is – I would say - a sense of cautious optimism that agreement can be reached on the code of conduct.

As you know our position has been thoroughly consistent. That doesn’t necessarily please everyone but it has been consistent and very clear. It is simply this; that territorial disputes should be resolved in accordance with international law, peacefully and by negotiation. Secondly, until that is done, all parties should refrain from any unilateral conduct that is either likely to add to or create regional tensions and in that regard we strongly encourage all the parties to reach a final agreement and conclude the code of conduct.

JOURNALIST:

It’s quite a determined effort by the Chinese here to make sure that any states at the summit do not mention the decision at The Hague. What’s Australia’s position on that? Does Australia believe that the statements at the East Asia Summit should acknowledge the ruling by that court in The Hague on the South China Sea?

PRIME MINISTER:

As you know, the statement from the East Asia Summit is a statement by the Chairman. It is not an agreed communiqué to the – for example, the negotiated communique in the way it is at the G20. The discussions late in the day, I believe will be of course diplomatic, but they’ll also be frank. I think that everybody knows where they stand and the decision at The Hague is a fact – it is a reality.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Turnbull, have you had any feedback, initial feedback on your offer to the host the special ASEAN Summit in 2018? Is it positive, negative?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, there will be a special Australia ASEAN Summit in Australia in 2018.

That invitation has been received with great enthusiasm and we look forward to that, as another building block in this very, already very strong relationship.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, I know that you are going to put some matters on donations by foreign powers to Australian political parties on the agenda of the parliamentary committee – but what is your personal view on it? Should it be banned? But does that money then need to be picked up public funding?

PRIME MINISTER

Well, let me first say the resignation of Sam Dastyari from Labor’s frontbench underlines Bill Shorten’s failure of leadership. Now Bill Shorten was defending Sam Dastyari and his conduct right up to the moment Dastyari chose to fall on his sword. The real issue I think here is what is it about Sam Dastyari and his hold on Mr Shorten? What is it about this Sussex Street operator’s control of the numbers within the Labor caucus that Mr Shorten was not able to make a move? Frozen, terrified by this 33 year old “junior Senator” that he described - so junior that the Leader of the Opposition did not have the courage or the integrity to stand him down himself.

It was perfectly obvious that he had to go. Even, finally, Dastyari had to do it himself, bereft of a leader. He had to take the sword into his own hands and dispatch himself. It’s an indictment of Bill Shorten’s lack of leadership, lack of courage.

JOURNALIST:

But on your view on foreign donations, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

As you would know, all of you would know, for many, many years – in fact long before I was in Parliament – I have argued that ideally donations to political parties should be limited to people who are on the electoral roll, voters. So you would exclude not simply foreigners but you would exclude corporations and you’d exclude trade unions. I’ve always felt that would be a good measure and again I’ve been on the record long before I was in Parliament.

It is a very complex issue, however, and it is something that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters should look at very carefully. You see in many respects, what we’ve seen is an evolution in political campaigning where particularly on the Labor side, the Labor Party itself has become in many respects just a brand. The real players in the election campaign have been trade unions and organisations like GetUp! for example. Now if you pass a law that effects donations to political parties that does not address the full range of financial involvement in the political contest, then you may actually be achieving very little indeed. It is a complex matter but my own position is a matter of public record for a very long time. Ideally I would like – if we can manage it – for financial participation in the election process to be limited to those people who can vote. That’s where we should get to, but we do have big legal issues and indeed some constitutional issues. That’s why it needs to be looked at very carefully.

JOURNALIST:

Shinzo Abe spoke yesterday about what he called an “increasingly severe security situation in the East China Sea”. You say there’s optimism but how much is at stake?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I was talking about the South China Sea in respect to the code of conduct, yes but please go on.

JOURNALIST:

The situation in the East China Sea then how much is at stake at today’s meetings?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is an enormous amount at stake. Let me underline how much is at stake. We have seen in our region for 40 years, relative peace and relative harmony - relative to the rest of the world. That has been the foundation, the essential foundation on which so much prosperity has been built. The hundreds and hundreds of millions of Chinese that have been lifted out of poverty during this period of economic growth, would not have been lifted out of poverty had it not been for this period of peace. So everybody has a vested interest, from the biggest countries to the smallest countries. Anything that destabilises that puts so much at risk. So there is a lot at stake that is why it calls for very cool heads, calm disciplined communication and a very measured response to these issues.

The leadership that Australia provides is consistent, calm diplomacy, which is what we do. Everybody here knows, all the other countries here know what our position is. It has been thoroughly consistent. There are no surprises.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, on the question on the South China Sea, have you held or will you hold talks with the Philippines President and, if so, what will you have to say with him with regard to the Philippine’s role in the South China Sea?

PRIME MINISTER:

I spoke to President Duterte briefly last night at the dinner. We haven’t had a bilateral meeting as you probably know the events, the program became very late, dinner started after 10pm so hopefully I will speak to him at further length today. But really the Philippines, of course, were the plaintiff, the applicant in the arbitration in The Hague. They have together with Vietnam the most active disputes with China, so it is very important particularly given he’s relatively newly elected, it’s very important for us to hear what his views are and what his perspective is firsthand.

JOURNALIST:

So Prime Minister, just on that case, the Philippines won in The Hague, China lost. Should in your view China vacate that particular island, reef?

PRIME MINISTER:

What we seek is that the rulings of international tribunals, including this one, are respected. The critical thing is that we’ve got to remember, we’re not a claimant. Our interest is solely and wholly in the maintenance of stability and peace in the region and we support the rule of law, we encourage all parties to comply with international law and resolve disputes by negotiation peacefully. That is the goal.

JOURNALIST:

That would mean vacating the reef?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is critically important that the parties resolve these issues between them. We’re not going to give directions to one side or another as to how they resolve a dispute between themselves. Our concern is that unilateral or coercive actions are not undertaken and that disputes, where they exist, are resolved peacefully. You have to remember the goal here is not a one particular rock or another. That’s of great importance no doubt for the parties but Australia’s interest is in peaceful negotiation, peaceful resolution and the makings of the stability and the harmony that has underpinned the economic growth in the region, including in our own country, where I hasten to remind you, we have now had 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth. Which would be put at risk by tensions, conflict in our region. So that’s our concern and we encourage the parties to work through these issues peacefully and harmoniously. On that note, last question, then I’d better go.

JOURNALIST:

You keep talking about - everyone keeps talking about - restraints to build these negations but Philippine’s yesterday released some images of the Chinese in Scarborough Shore and this is off the back of The Hague decision in July. So do you think China is actually listening to these messages that everyone’s sending? Because images would suggest otherwise.

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m actually going right now to a meeting with the Chinese Premier so no doubt all of these issues will be on the agenda.

Thank you very much.