2GB Mornings, Adelaide - interview with Luke Grant

  • Transcript, E&OE

LUKE GRANT Minister, all the best for the festive season first off and I do appreciate your time very much indeed.

JULIE BISHOP Same to you Luke and your listeners, and I'm afraid that the year hasn't started off too well, or the end of the year hasn't finished and the new year hasn't started too well for the families and relatives of those on board the AirAsia flight, but thank you for your good wishes.

LUKE GRANT Not at all, yeah no you're right it's been a terrible year really with a number of air incidents. Are you confident, first off Minister, that there are no Australians or Australian nationals on board that flight?

JULIE BISHOP The information that we have is that there are no Australians on board. I believe that there are no dual nationals or permanent residents but we are still seeking to check the manifest to ascertain whether there are any linkages with Australia and so those details are still to be ascertained but I can confirm no Australians are on board.

LUKE GRANT Alright I noticed the Prime Minister said yesterday that Australia would do anything humanly possible. I'm just wondering, we have that P3 Orion aircraft on standby, what other help can we offer the people involved who are obviously going through and dealing with potentially a horrible tragedy here?

JULIE BISHOP The priority is to locate the plane and so the search and rescue operation is the first port of call if you like. That's where we've offered support, as have a number of other countries. Singapore, of course, as the nation where the plane was to land, has offered support and I believe ships and planes from Singapore have been made available for the search and rescue operation.

This was called off overnight but I understand it is starting again first thing this morning. However we've got to remember that Indonesia is about 4 hours behind Sydney time-wise so this will just be underway now. Other countries have also offered assistance including Malaysia, I believe Malaysia is providing some equipment or resources, India and of course Australia. So there is international support for the search and rescue operation should it be required. And nations in our region have cooperated before in relation to natural disasters and other incidents of this type and it was natural that the Prime Minister should offer our assistance.

Likewise I had earlier spoken to Foreign Minister Marsudi, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, and said that we would provide whatever support and assistance was required, but the first thing was to locate the plane.

LUKE GRANT Of course, it does look grim, although we'll obviously wait for the experts to tell us what does go on through the course of the day. We must be, amongst the Pacific nations and Asian nations, be well recognised as a country that is happy to put its hand in the air when things as grim as this occur. We just seem, I don't know just as an observation Minister, we just seem to be very ready to help whenever we can.

JULIE BISHOP We are good neighbours and we make a constructive contribution to the region. Our humanitarian fund has been available for natural disasters and other incidents of this nature, out of our aid budget, and that's been called upon a number of times and of course we're commemorating the 10 year anniversary of the tsunami, the Indian Ocean Tsunami, when Australia provided a billion dollars in assistance to Indonesia at that time.

But of course nations in our region respond when Australia is going through some challenging and difficult times. I received phone calls and text messages from foreign ministers in our region, in fact globally, in relation to the Sydney siege and so that's why yesterday, when I knew that foreign ministers from a number of these nations who had citizens on board this AirAsia flight would be really feeling the pressure I contacted them. I rang Foreign Minister Marsudi and spoke to her, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, I spoke to the South Korean Foreign Minister Byung-se because there were three South Koreans on that flight, I also exchanged text messages with the Foreign Minister of Singapore Shanmugam and the Malaysian Foreign Minister.

We've all been in touch with each other over the past 12 months in relation to some pretty horrific matters so it's comforting to know that your friends, your neighbours are with you and there for you in times of need.

LUKE GRANT Yes indeed. Now before I let you go, and we'll stand by for news on this through the course of the day – mind you, it is a reminder isn't it, I just find it amazing in relation to MH370 and now this plane, we sometimes think there is someone watching us all the time knowing our every move but it's a reminder, we think we know the world back-to-front and have got every centimetre covered but we don't, do we? To think that in area like this we can't instantly find the missing aircraft as we've had trouble doing with the MH370, a reminder of just how big the planet is.

JULIE BISHOP Well in the case of MH370 there is a belief that it is somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Now we in Australia know how large the Indian Ocean is. I come from Perth, the Indian Ocean is massive. And the search and rescue operation that would need to be carried out, should we be able to locate the plane, would be very complex. As it is now we're not trying to find the needle in the haystack, we're trying to find the haystack.

In the case of MH17, of course that was shot down over Eastern Ukraine, and there is evidence available as to what happened to that plane, and of course we were able to locate the wreckage. In the case of this AirAsia flight QZ8501 it's a very concise, confined patch of the ocean - the Java Sea between Indonesia and Singapore and even then, here we are almost 24 hours later still seeking to find the plane. So it really does challenge our perceptions that 'big brother' is always watching over us.

LUKE GRANT It certainly does. I spoke to Mike Greste earlier in the week and he was very complimentary about your efforts in trying to get Peter back to Australia but he did make the point that there have been glimpses in the past but it ends up being nothing. We know that on January 1 there is an appeal due to be heard or at least the beginning of that. Do you still have confidence that we'll see Peter Greste back in Australia sooner rather than later?

JULIE BISHOP I've remained, I've said 'mildly optimistic'. It depends who you're speaking to within the Egyptian Government and so we're dealing with this issue at every level - at the political level, through legal channels, administratively, bureaucratically, we're dealing with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the President's office, so we remain deeply engaged.

The Foreign Minister had said to me as recently as a week ago that the legal proceedings had to run their course, in other words the appeal listed for the first of January had to proceed. But then we had indications that the President would exercise his authority regarding a pardon or a clemency plea in advance of the appeal, so we're still pursuing every avenue available to us. I have spoken to both Michael and Andrew Greste, Peter's brothers and keep them informed but it's a very difficult time for the family and of course for Peter, coming up twelve months since he was first detained.

LUKE GRANT Yes. There are lots of other things to talk to you about but they seem not so important when we haven't found the aircraft and there's people in jail overseas that shouldn't be. Do you ever sleep by the way? You seem to be always working.

JULIE BISHOP Well you have to put things in perspective don't you, and there are always issues involving Australian citizens at home and abroad and as a caring national government we have to ensure that we are available to provide assistance as and when we can.

I've been having some good sleeps here in Adelaide but you're always alert to the fact that you might be called upon at any time to provide assistance and guidance and direction and support.

LUKE GRANT Alright, always good to talk. I'm glad we got the chance to speak today, I appreciate that. If you can enjoy the rest of the festive season but obviously, as you said earlier, our minds and hearts are with those people lost on that aircraft.

Thank you so much Julie, good to talk to you again.

JULIE BISHOP Thanks Luke. I hope it's a brighter 2015 for everyone.


There she is, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, always great to talk to and listen to. It's no surprise, is it, that she's as popular as she is.

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