2GB Breakfast, Sydney - Interview with Alan Jones

  • Transcript, E&OE

ALAN JONES As I said to you earlier, I'm joined in the studio be Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Now I've said before, so I'm happy to be able to say in front of her, that Australians feel a great sense of pride that they are represented on the international stage by a woman of such presentational class and capacity, Julie Bishop.

She is of course, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. In my view that ought to mean she is the Deputy Prime Minister but she's not, that goes to the minor party the Nationals.

She is a graduate in law from Adelaide University. A lot of people aren't aware of all of this. She became a partner at an Adelaide law firm at the age of 26. She went to Perth and worked as a lawyer at Clayton Utz, specialising in commercial litigation, and was selected in 1994 as the Managing Partner of the Perth office of Clayton Utz which had 27 partners at the time and about 200 employees.

She won the seat of Curtin at the general election in 1998. She was named by Harpers Bazaar as their Woman of the Year last year, receiving praise in the article from people like Gina Rhinehart, the Australian Attorney-General George Brandis, who described Julie Bishop as "the complete political product. Someone who has mastered her portfolio, who has proven she can be among the best".

But it is not only in Australia that she has been acknowledged. Last year in September, Julie Bishop, our Foreign Minister, was awarded a rare honour from the Dutch Government for her work in procuring access to the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 crash site. She was presented a Dutch order of merit medal by her Dutch counterpart Franz Timmermans during a meeting on the sidelines of a NATO Summit meeting in Wales last September. It was only the eleventh time the order had been granted and Julie Bishop is only the third woman to receive it. It's what the Dutch Foreign Minister Franz Timmermans said that matters. He said that "Julie Bishop did a marvellous job this summer. She helped the Netherlands, she helped Europe, she helped me personally to tackle one of the most difficult situations the Netherlands has ever faced". He said that together the pair, Timmermans and Julie Bishop, through the UN Security Council, convinced the world "that we should be allowed to repatriate the victims and their belongings". He said without Julie Bishop's "brilliant interventions" the countries would not have succeeded.

She's beside me listening and I know she'll be saying, enough of all this back scratching let's get on with it.

So welcome to the program.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning Alan and thank you for that very kind introduction. I feel quite humbled but I'm pleased that I'm here.

ALAN JONES What kind of world do you think we are living in now?

JULIE BISHOP A very volatile world. The situation in the Middle East is diabolical and it is having an impact across the globe. There are now about 90 countries that claim to have foreign terrorist fighters taking part in the conflict in the Middle East. The terrorist organisation known as Da'esh has territorial ambitions over, not only Syria and Iraq, but also Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan. And if this terrorist organisation is not stopped and defeated then I fear we will see its tentacles spread even further and particularly to our part of the world. So a great deal of volatility around terrorism but there is also economic issues in Europe and beyond, so it is a very volatile and challenging time.

ALAN JONES I notice you use the word Da'esh instead of ISIS and just to elaborate upon that, to delegitimise in any way the groups activities, the people involved in Islamic State don't like the word, they basically argue that it might be an Arabic acronym but they want to be recognised as a state, hence Islamic State. I've never heard you use that, you always call them Da'esh. They don't like it do they?

JULIE BISHOP No they don't like it at all but it is used in the media and in the street in Arabic countries in the Middle East in particular, and it is seen as somewhat insulting. It is an acronym essentially of Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham but it can also mean something less pleasant - somebody who creates disunity and disharmony. So it is not a phrase that the terrorist organisation appreciates, hence I use it. The other point is they would like to be called Islamic State and I do not believe we should recognise this organisation, these barbaric terrorists, as a state. They are not a state, they are claiming that status, they are trying to undermine the sovereign nation states of Syria and Iraq and we should not give them that credibility.

ALAN JONES [inaudible] Syria and Iraq. They have obliterated the border now between Syria and Iraq and occupy Eastern Syria. Does that mean that because the border doesn't exist, and you are getting legal advice I know on this, is there a legal rational that we can, the West can, enter that area for terrorist strikes?

JULIE BISHOP Yes there is. The United States already relies upon the principle of collective self-defence. In other words the defence of Iraq and the Iraqi people is being undermined by attacks from Da'esh from Syria and because there is no government in control of the border, the Assad regime is not in control, the Abadi Government in Iraq is not in control, the United States sees this area as just one theatre of war, as do the terrorists. So under this principle of collective self-defence of Iraq and its people, the United States believe it can carry out air strikes against Da'esh over the border into Syria and that was contained in a letter that the United States wrote to the UN Security Council.

ALAN JONES We are operating in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi Government. Has there been a request made to you, to Tony Abbott, to the Australian Government from Washington to escalate our involvement in this area?

JULIE BISHOP Yes there has. There's been a formal request by the United States through our Defence Ministers to take part in air strikes over Syria. We are already involved in air strikes over Iraq at the request and with the consent of the Iraqi Government. The Iraqi Government itself cites the attacks coming from Syria as being an attack on Iraq and they would like to see the air strikes also take place over Syria to prevent them coming into Iraq. So the United States uses this term of collective self-defence, as do other countries who are involved in the air strikes.

ALAN JONES And how have we responded to the Washington request to escalate our involvement?

JULIE BISHOP We have not yet responded formally. It is to be dealt with by our National Security Council (sic) it has not yet been discussed because we are seeking legal advice. We also want to talk to all of the other Coalition partners and we also need to speak to Tehran. We need to speak to the Iranians who are heavily involved in both Iraq and Syria so that they understand what role we would be playing. We don't want there to be any misjudgement or miscalculation as to what we are doing. For example, we would not be in Syria to support the Assad Regime, we would be there only for the purposes of trying to defeat Da'esh.

ALAN JONES Just on this Syria, this is terrible stuff. We've got this ancient Syrian city, and I know you've talked about this before, of Palmyra, described as the pride of the desert. I've talked to my listeners about this before. It is regarded by UNESCO, this Palmyra, as the birthplace of human civilisation. Now it has now fallen to Islamic State, or Da'esh as Julie Bishop calls it, they've bulldozed pre-Islamic archaeological sites and reduced them to dust. They've laid waste to Shia mosques and Christian churches in the name of their interpretation of Islam and they are now obliterating these priceless antiquities in Palmyra that can't be plundered and sold. Islamic State say that Palmyra contains false idols that must be smashed and at Hatra, close to Mosul, they've already laid waste to artefacts that were more than 2000 years old, dating back to the Parthian Empire. And Palymra, before the Syrian civil war, attracted more than 150,000 international visitors a year, described as the crossroads of ancient Greek, Roman and Semitic civilizations. How on earth, Foreign Minister, do you stop this?

JULIE BISHOP This is a crime against humanity - the ancient temples. There was a beautiful Roman temple there on the road to Damascus, Da'esh took hold of this location in about May. At that time the head of UNESCO, the Director-General Irina Bokova, said that it would be a tragedy for civilisation if anything were to happen to these ancient ruins and then recently the antiquities curator was beheaded, he was 82 years old, and then they destroyed the Roman temple.

I have met with Irina Bokova about this, earlier, because we are involved in a global attempt to prevent terrorists gaining finance from the black market sale of antiquities. And this kind of destruction of these ancient ruins goes way beyond the black market sale of antiquities. This strikes at the very heart of who we are as a civilisation, but this is part of the perverted, twisted ideology. They don't want there to be any remains of what we hold dear. They don't want there to be any history that the civilized world can embrace. They want to obliterate that and impose their sick ideology through their caliphate. It is quite terrifying.

ALAN JONES Just Irina Bokova, her exact words, she said "it would be an enormous loss to humanity", she is the UNESCO head, "there is absolutely no political or religious justification for the destruction of humanity's heritage". But of course with this mob controlling more than half of Syria, this is your point isn't it, and I heard you the other day talking about bombing and striking from the air. Can those air strikes work technically unless there are ground forces to marshal people to where you want to make the strike? That's the problem, isn't it?

JULIE BISHOP The air strikes have had an impact because previously we saw Da'esh or Islamic State, as they like to be called, marching in formation. You recall there was a lot of footage of columns of Da'esh fighters in their black jumpsuits and their flags storming into towns and territories. Well the air strikes prevented that, so they had to change their tactics. In other words, the air strikes were effective in dismantling those kind of columns of fighters. So what is happening now is the air strikes have to be much more targeted, much more focussed and of course the United States will not tolerate civilian deaths and so the terrorists are using civilians as shields and that is the challenge.

There are countries though, that are prepared to be on the ground. Iran has troops on the ground in Iraq, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard are on the ground, the Shia militia is having a big impact in Iraq. Now this is not ideal by any means. The situation is incredibly complex and complicated because you have a government in Iraq, militia, the Iranians, but in Syria you have the Assad regime which is not considered legitimate because it used chemical weapons against its own people, you have the more moderate Free Syrians, you've got Al Nusra which is a rival to Islamic State, to Da'esh. It is so complex and complicated.

ALAN JONES Well take that back to home because we were told yesterday 10 school aged children who were considering going to war as jihadists, and they are now undergoing deradicalisation programs. What is happening there?

JULIE BISHOP Alan we have about 120 Australian citizens who are currently in Syria and Iraq that we know of. We have about 150 back here in Australia who are actively supporting, through finance and resources, this terrorist organisation. We have cancelled about 120 passports of Australians who are seeking to travel overseas to take part in this conflict and we will prevent them going because we do not want them to become experienced hardened terrorists and then use their skills back here.

ALAN JONES What do you say to those people who say let them go but stop them coming back?

JULIE BISHOP Well that is easier said than done. We want to stop them going in the first place because they will make connections, and build networks and gain experience that they could use in other countries and then come back into Australia. Of course we are doing all we can to prevent people coming back into this country and we have changed the laws, we've increase resourcing, we are working very closely with other countries, security, law enforcement and intelligence agencies but they only have to be lucky once. We've got to be lucky every single time.

ALAN JONES Just before you go, because we are running out of time, Canning, that candidate over there Andrew Hastie, the Labor Party tweeting some dreadful stuff about this bloke.

JULIE BISHOP Appalling stuff. Andrew Hastie is one of the finest young men that I've met, one of the most outstanding candidates I've seen on either side of politics for a very long time. I've spent quite some time with him campaigning. He is absolutely delightful. We are not asking people to vote for him because he was an officer in the SAS but because of the skills, the experience, the character, the temperament, he is first class.

ALAN JONES So are you. Good to talk to you. I tell you what I don't know how you manage it, getting in and out of planes, travelling economy, not getting sleeps, eh?!

JULIE BISHOP They let me go business class Alan, come on. We can't overstate it. I'm allowed to fly business.

ALAN JONES Very good and you can lean rather than lie down. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, thank you so much.

JULIE BISHOP I'm honoured to have the role.

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