PM heads to Asian security summit amid expenses row

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott's focus will shift to global security as he heads to Brunei for another major international summit but he'll also be facing more questions about politician's entitlements.

Mr Abbott will head to the tiny sultanate for the East Asia Summit (EAS) on Wednesday after attending APEC talks in Bali for the last two days.

Ongoing tensions in the South China Sea and on the Korea peninsula will be high on the agenda at the EAS, which brings together 18 nations.

But he won't be able to fully escape domestic issues.

The prime minister has repaid more than $1700 he claimed to attend the 2006 weddings of two parliamentary colleagues but has been forced to defend expense claims relating to trips he made for charity and community sports events.

Mr Abbott is set to hold his first formal meetings with the leaders of Japan, India, South Korea and Vietnam on the EAS sidelines.

But it's unclear whether he will get a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A senior official attached to another APEC nation's delegation says there was tension in the air when Mr Abbott turned up late to an APEC session and sat next to Mr Putin, who did not so much as look at the new Australian PM.

"There was no engagement, no acknowledgement, an iron curtain," the official who was present at the meeting told AAP.

Australian officials insist there was nothing untoward in Mr Putin's treatment of Mr Abbott but APEC comes at a delicate time in the relationship.

Australia has raised concerns with Russia about the piracy charge levelled against Australian Greenpeace activist Colin Russell. The two countries have also recently disagreed over the conflict in Syria and the detention of punk band Pussy Riot.

Mr Abbott also used his first meeting with Malaysia's leader to apologise for the way Malaysia's name was dragged through the mud of Australia's asylum seeker debate.

"I said to Prime Minister Najib (Razak) it was rather unfortunate that Malaysia had got caught up in a rather intense party political discussion in Australia," Mr Abbott said.

"I guess you might say that in my own way I offered an apology."

The coalition was highly critical of Malaysia's treatment of migrants when it was arguing against the then-Labor government's controversial people swap deal.

Mr Abbott also met with Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O'Neill and US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday.

He assured Mr Kerry the new Australian government still viewed the US alliance as the bedrock of the nation's security.

The pair also discussed the ambitious 12-nation regional free trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Mr Abbott hopes can be concluded by the end of the year.

He conceded a lot of work still had to be done on the deal, including raising awareness about it among the Australian public.

"The public do need to get their head around the fact that we're talking as an alternative or as an addition to free trade agreements ... about this plurilateral agreement," he said.

But the prime minister's most successful meeting was arguably with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday. Trade was the focus of that meeting, with Mr Abbott subsequently declaring he wants to seal a free trade agreement with China within 12 months.

But Labor on Tuesday said that wouldn't happen while the Abbott government pursues it's "xenophobic" policies in foreign investment.

The coalition plans to lower from $248 million to $15 million the Foreign Investment Review Board threshold on examining agricultural land purchases.

"I know from my own discussions with the Chinese leadership that the anti-foreign investment sentiment rife in the coalition would kill stone dead any chance of a free trade agreement with China," Labor's trade spokesman Richard Marles said.


Source AAP

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