2GB, Sydney - interview with Luke Grant

  • Transcript, E&OE
07 January 2015

JOURNALIST [Question on reissue of Indonesian travel advice] …the way you were talking last night it's pretty serious stuff isn't it?

JULIE BISHOP It is vital that any Australians intending to travel overseas should read carefully the travel advisories that are put out from time to time by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and then follow that advice and these are available on the Smartraveller website and again for your listeners at www.smartraveller.gov.au. This is a free service, people can register to receive the updates automatically and these travel advisories are updated regularly with advice from our security and intelligence agencies and our diplomats who are on the ground.

Now in relation to Indonesia, the threat level for Indonesia generally remains high. That does include Bali so that means that the threat of a terrorist attack remains high. There was an update yesterday to take into account the advice from the United States authorities about potential attacks in Surabaya. But also Indonesia, like Australia, does have a number of citizens who are fighting with or are supportive of ISIL in addition to the other longer term extremist groups that exist in Indonesia. So our advice is that Australians should exercise a high degree of caution but I also strongly urge any Australian travellers going overseas to take out travel insurance - if they can help avoid medical bills for example if something goes wrong. And also my very strong advice is for Australians to remember that they are subject to the laws of the country that they're visiting and that there are limits to what the Australian Government can do should somebody get caught up in the legal system of another country. So this is just general advice that we are providing to Australians travelling overseas but I urge people to look at the Smartraveller website so they can get the latest information on matters such as the threat levels for terrorist attacks.

JOURNALIST And this is a time that we have lots of Australians travelling all around the world particularly with Bali there you talk about very strong advice. It does sound to me, if I was just a punter in the car, not just a punter, if I was a punter in the car hearing you and I chat, my reaction to what you just said would be I'm not going there in a million years.

JULIE BISHOP But if you have a look at the travel advisories for countries around the world it's evident that a terrorist attack can take place virtually anywhere at any time. There have been high profile terrorist attacks in London, in Paris, New York of course – back in September 11, 2001. So there have been terrorist attacks over the last few decades in a number of cities around the world.

The point we're making is that if you read the travel advisories you'll get the latest information that we have from our security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies as well as from our diplomats on the ground in these countries. We try to update the information. Not all of it has been verified independently by the Australian security agencies. For example, the Indian travel advisory was reissued yesterday taking into account information we've received from the Indian authorities indicating militants may be planning attacks in Mumbai. Now that's the view of the Indian authorities. We haven't been able to independently verify that so we haven't changed the overall threat level which is to continue to exercise a high degree of caution but we have provided the information from the Indian authorities about a potential attack in Mumbai. Now that doesn't mean you don't go to Mumbai, it just means you've got to be very cautious and as we keep emphasising, always exercise a high degree of caution when you're travelling overseas.

JOURNALIST Alright, I thought we were going to hear some good news on Peter Greste this morning. I heard it might have been that he tweeted, or Facebooked, or [inaudible] last night at least an indication that things are looking a bit better than the day before. Is that how you feel about things now?

JULIE BISHOP I believe what has happened is that the Greste family has now submitted a request to the Egyptian authorities for a transfer back to Australia under the new Egyptian law but as I've indicated previously, recently Egypt announced a change in its laws to include some kind of prisoner transfer agreement and we're hoping that Peter Greste and his family will be able to take advantage of that point.

I understand they've now made a formal request for a consideration of his transfer back to Australia so that would mean not necessarily awaiting the outcome of the retrial. But the good news of course is that at the hearing of this appeal, his appeal was upheld, the conviction was overturned. So he's now in the position of a person who has been accused of certain offences awaiting a trial rather than a convicted person facing seven years in jail. So his status has changed and I believe his family have submitted a request now for him to be transferred back to Australia.

JOURNALIST Okay. Is that different from being deported which I assume if they've made up their mind that the bloke was no good for the place that they can get rid of him that day, couldn't they?

JULIE BISHOP Well that's right, the details of this new law are rather sketchy. Deportation is one issue, prisoner transfer is another and I won't go into the details as that's really a matter for his lawyers to take into account but the Australian Government stands ready to assist in any way that we can. Our aim from the outset had been to get him home as soon as possible.

JOURNALIST With the return of terrorists, or alleged terrorists from overseas, who've returned to Australia, and there was a story just the other day that blamed loopholes in the Australian law and I'm not sure to what extent you can or can't comment on this, but can you give us some assurance that you are looking at what brought about those loopholes such that if someone is overseas fighting for ISIL for example, when they come back here we can deal with them the way that we'd like to?

JULIE BISHOP Well there aren't loopholes in the law. The fact is that if someone who is known to our security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies comes back to Australia, if we have evidence that they have committed an offence such as they have been supporting or fighting with ISIL overseas, then they can be detained, they can be investigated and if we have the evidence they can be charged and prosecuted. So there is not a gap in the law in that sense. And that's what we're intending to do for anyone returning - if we have the evidence then we can of course investigate it. The challenge is getting the evidence because we don't have a mission in Syria, for example.

We have very limited consular assistance in Baghdad because of the security situation, so for us to be able to gather evidence of what somebody is doing when they are overseas is obviously rather difficult. That's why we have new measures, new offences such as declaring some places off limits. So for example, if an Australian citizen is in Al-Raqqa Province in Syria, that's the headquarters of ISIL, they'd have to have a very good reason to justify being there, a journalist, or a humanitarian worker or they've got family there, but if they are just in Al-Raqqa Province and cannot give any valid reasons why they're there that could well be an offence under Australian law.

JOURNALIST Right, I think the thrust of the story was the retrospectivity so people had been over there prior to the new laws that came into pass and look I know that you've kept politics out of this but the other thrust of that story was that rather than - the Coalition's position was ban people from going to a country or if they went to a certain country we could pursue them - whereas the ALP wanted more focus on certain areas of the country that were known to be an area where they might be fostering terrorists.

JULIE BISHOP Well that's what I've done, I've actually proscribed Al-Raqqa Province in Syria as a no-go zone. Unless you've got a very good reason for being there, why would a young Australian with no connection to Al-Raqqa Province turn up there when it's the headquarters of this brutal terrorist organisation? So we have introduced new offences, new measures. We've argued them through the Senate and they are now law so that we have a whole range of measures that we can take and adopt should there be people returning to Australia having become hardened, battle-hardened terrorists in that they have been working with, or supporting a terrorist organisation. It is against the law in Australia in any event to support ISIL in any way. It's punishable by up to 25 years in jail for someone to take part in terrorist activity.

JOURNALIST Yes, but if they go to that area you've proscribed, or if they don't, as you said it's understandable, it's very hard to prove if they went to 'sector a' or 'sector b', wouldn't it be better to have that whole country, somewhere like Syria or Iraq in the legislation?

JULIE BISHOP You couldn't have a whole country because the entire country hasn't been taken over by ISIL and people have very legitimate reasons for being in Syria - humanitarian workers, people who are supporting the humanitarian work of charities and the United Nations and there are a whole raft of reasons why people have to be in particular countries.

Look, this is not the only offence, we have a range of offences – promoting or advocating terrorist activities, supporting ISIL and I have cancelled about 80 passports of people seeking to travel overseas who we fear will be a national security threat. We have cancelled passports of people who are overseas, wanting to come back to Australia and so we are taking every step that we can to keep Australians safe from those who pose a security threat to Australia and to Australians.

JOURNALIST Alright I know I've got to let you go, a couple of very quick ones. This probably shouldn't be quick but I'll say it anyway, the Human Rights Commission's President Gillian Triggs and her idea that a detained Indonesian refugee who beat his Australian spouse to death with a child's bike and amongst other things has been talked about by mental health experts as having a high or moderate risk of reoffending, how can she even think of giving the bloke $350,000 and letting him free?

JULIE BISHOP The Human Rights Commission is independent of the government and I guess this is stating the obvious - the Australian Government doesn't always agree with the views of either its President Gillian Triggs or the Human Rights Commission and I think the Australian people can judge for themselves whether they agree with the work of the Commission. I can't go into the details of this particular case. I don't want to comment on an individual case but let me assure your listeners that the Abbott Government will always put the safety of our community as one of our highest priorities so in this case we would obviously be looking at the safety and security of the community as the highest priority here.

JOURNALIST Now, you did attend because we saw picture evidence, a party with the Prime Minister and a number of cricketers. Given the fact that we're 3/400 or 4/400 I'm assuming you've gone up next to Watto and said 'listen, front foot forward, head and eyes over the ball, keep your elbow bent' because they've all done so well. Can we put it down to you Foreign Minister?

JULIE BISHOP I don't expect people to tell me how to do my job and I don't expect to tell them how to do theirs and cricketers are experts, I'm not going to tell them. Mind you I do get plenty of free advice on how I should be doing my job!

JOURNALIST I bet you do! You would be brilliant at saying to the Cabinet, listen here if you want to scare this bloke, this Kohli bloke out of his game, you would be one of Australia's great scarers Julie, I mean really!

JULIE BISHOP Well, they don't want to take that many tips from me I'm only a politician but as I say there's no shortage of advice in politics, I'm sure there's no shortage of advisers in cricket either!

JOURNALIST But you're doing a great job, appreciate your time.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.

JOURNALIST Thank you, good on you.

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