FRAN KELLY: Myanmar's future prosperity depends on mining, and the world's big resource
companies are keen to exploit the country's vast gas and mineral wealth.
But for a developing country transitioning to democracy, this is an area with
social, economic and environmental problems.
Our Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb has been on a four-day visit to
Myanmar, where he's met with political and business leaders. Andrew Robb is
speaking here with Karon Snowdon about a positive role Australia can play.
ANDREW ROBB: Certainly there has been from my observation in the last few days a great
sense of welcoming of Australia's involvement. We are committing something like
$90 million dollars a year of aid monies and so many of the skills and
experiences that we have got in Australia are the sorts of things they need. And
I think so far we have come in to Myanmar in a way that is not confronting, it's
respectful, it's co-operative and I think that is reflected in this request to
bring together a range of people from the mining sector in the months ahead to
help them with the regulations that will attach to the mining legislation which
I think is due to go through in the next few weeks.
KARON SNOWDON: Does it give Australia too much influence perhaps in an area in which
Australian companies are very keen to participate?
ANDREW ROBB: No, I think it is very important in the developing world that they get
responsible mining. There are so many examples around the world, in the
developing world where there are companies coming in that have got no interest,
really, in the locals, have bad safety records and are unethical in their
behaviour. And I think we have so much to offer if we can help them set up their
laws and the rules and the framework, then they will attract significant
companies, not just from Australia but from all around the world to help them
develop their resources and energy capabilities and of course their agriculture
in due course.
But it must start with good regulation, they want stability and certainty
here, and the only way they will get that and the trade and investment that goes
with it, is if they have the right legal and rules based framework and that
seems to be understood, very much from the president down and it's a very
conducive atmosphere for getting a lot of progress here in this country. It is
quite a remarkable state of mind I'm finding amongst the officials and leaders
and I think we can really do some wonderful things here in helping them realise
KARON SNOWDON: It's in stark contrast, though, isn't it perhaps to our other resource-rich
neighbour and I'm thinking of Indonesia, here. I can't imagine Australia for
example being asked to review Indonesia's mining laws or helping it out in that
But still, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has signed the intelligence-sharing
agreement yesterday with Indonesia. Now do you think that that signing will
contribute to improving the trade and business relationship as well with
You know – it's been suffering for some time with the beef ban and the new
mining law is not comfortable for us; and generally that relationship isn't
really meeting that potential.
ANDREW ROBB: Well, one I think it's very much back on an even keel with the signing by
Julie Bishop yesterday but secondly I just say to you, the last 11 months or so
it has been a lead up to an election and a lot of what has happened and
transpired in terms of the relationship or the reporting on the relationship or
the things that have been said and done, in part reflects that there was an
election coming up and we in some ways
were the meat in the sandwich.
I must say on the trade side, Tony Abbott and myself and Julie Bishop went to
Indonesia in the first 10 days after the election as a signal of the
significance we attach to Indonesia and I stayed on for a few days and basically
the live cattle exercise was reinstated during that time.
I had major round tables with the whole industry and representatives of the
5.9 million farmers and all the representatives in the industry and many other
meetings with ministers and all the rest and that trade is back to the point
where it ever was, so whilst all of that argy bargy was going on, on some of the
Intelligence issues and other things the trade issues were, I thought, quite
strongly developing in that period.
And I am really quite confident now that not only the trade but the broader
relationship will settle down and will be what it should be between two close
KARON SNOWDON: Returning to where you are right now in Myanmar, in your press release
announcing your visit there, you pointed out in the country's transition to
democracy, ongoing work with human rights will be essential.
Now given as you've mention that we spend $90 million in aid in the country,
and just this month the United Nations has said there is a humanitarian crisis
in Myanmar where 250,000 displaced due to internal conflict, the Rohingya people
face harassment and violence. Should we be so keen to do business there given
ANDREW ROBB: Well a lot of those problems are a function of the past and they are real but
they were perpetrated so much of that displacement and all the rest was because
of tensions in the past
KARON SNOWDON: There are ongoing conflicts.
ANDREW ROBB: And it does seem to be, I am sorry ..
KARON SNOWDON: There is ongoing conflict with the Kachin and the Rohingya are still being
ANDREW ROBB: I haven't finished yet, sorry, I am just saying, if I could just finish, a
lot of that displacement , and I am not saying that there are not some ongoing
disputes, but a lot of that displacement, the quarter of a million people was a
function of the problems and it is one of the reasons I think why there seems to
have been clear decisions taken by the government here to seek to bring
Myanmar back into the global, normal situation, with the rest of the world and
to re-enter the normal relations with the world and to seek to restore
prosperity to their people. Now there does seem to be a real keenness in all of
the discussions, a real willingness to engage anyone who can help them to
restore their reputation.
Bear in mind in the '20s and '30s in the last century, Myanmar was the food
bowl of Asia. People from other countries would, in the region come to Myanmar
for health treatment and other things.
Now all of those things have disappeared but the resources and the natural
strengths of this country are there and there is a still a latent but strong
foundation of the English language, which I think will help them enormously in
their engagement with the companies and governments and it is a question of the
strength of the will and we are helping them with all of their systems
including, how they address the welfare of the people here and that in the end
is the ultimate objective is to restore peace and harmony through prosperity.
KARON SNOWDON: Australia still retains limited sanctions in the area of military weapons in
relation to Myanmar. Was that issue raised during your visit with your visit? Is
the Myanmar Government seeking an end to that situation?
ANDREW ROBB: No, it hasn't been raised with me, I am aware of it. They seem to be grateful
that Australia was in the forefront of removing the other sanctions and we have
been as a people very generous, I think, in the aid monies, we have been very
Our objective at the present time is to restore their ability to look after
themselves and to properly develop the wonderful resources that they have in
this country so that they can put in place electricity supplies, they can put in
place health services, they can get all those normal things that everyone else
in the world takes for granted to give those to the 60 million people in their
At this stage we are very much looking at the infrastructure and the rules
base and all of those systems that will help them re engage in the world in a
very constructive way so that they can in fact deal with the human rights issues
and the depths of poverty that exist in many parts of the country.
KARON SNOWDON: What's your assessment of the progress of the country's transition to
democracy during your visit there and with your association with the country
more broadly? Do you think it is progressing at a reasonable pace? There are
many critics that say of course only the easiest reforms have gone through and
next year's election is a case in point.
ANDREW ROBB: Well we will see what happens there. All I can say is it is encouraging. Of
course it has to continue. There are still enormous amounts to be done.
- Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555