2GB, Sydney Live - interview with Ben Fordham

  • Transcript, E&OE

BEN FORDHAM Julie Bishop, good afternoon.

JULIE BISHOP Good afternoon Ben Fordham.

BEN FORDHAM How is life going for you as Foreign Minister on a day when we've got Russian ships on their way towards Australian waters?

JULIE BISHOP Well Ben we are well aware that there's a Russian Surface Task Group operating in the Coral Sea to Australia's north. We've been aware of that for quite some time and it is under surveillance. This is not unusual. Foreign ships often traverse the international waters near Australia, likewise the Australian Navy traverses international waters through South East Asia, into North Asia and beyond. So it's not unusual though, we are treating it as we would any other navy.

BEN FORDHAM Is it a show of strength from Vladimir Putin?

JULIE BISHOP Russia has a significant navy, it's a significant power and it does undertake exercises in international waters, likewise Australia undertakes exercises in international waters and one could say that that's a show of strength, a show of force. Likewise the United States Navy is constantly in our region and they are a substantial power, with a substantial navy. So we knew that Russia was intending for its vessels to travel to southern areas in the Pacific Ocean. Their movement is consistent with the provisions under international law for defence vessels to exercise free navigation in international waters.

BEN FORDHAM As you mentioned, the fact that Australia has done similar things, and other nations have done similar things, I'm immediately thinking back to the dramas we had with Indonesia when Indonesia was concerned about the Australian Navy straying into their waters while we were trying to deal with the influx of asylum seeker boats.

JULIE BISHOP That was a misjudgement on the part of the Australian Navy. There was no intention to breach Indonesia's sovereignty and it won't happen again. We've managed to put in place a standard, so that won't happen again.

The activity of the Russian Navy is consistent with its previous movements ahead of major international events. Russia has done this before. I recall back in 2009 Russian Naval vessels were deployed to South East Asia for the APEC Conference in Singapore. Apparently in 2010 they were deployed to coincide with President Medvedev's visit to San Francisco. So we should not have been surprised that there would be the Russian Federation's Navy in and around our region, because of the precedent.

BEN FORDHAM Okay, considering that Vladimir Putin is a guest of ours here for the G20, if the Russian ships do request a port visit we would accept that would we not?

JULIE BISHOP We would consider that at the time, but my point is this flotilla is in international waters and they are entitled to be in international waters just as Australia is entitled to be in international waters. So it's entirely consistent with the international law for military vessels to exercise freedom of navigation.

As I say, Australian naval vessels also exercise the same freedom and the fact that Russia has publicised the intention of its navy to travel to the southern areas of the Pacific Ocean meant that we had the opportunity to have them under surveillance and our ADF, our Australian Defence Force, regularly undertakes maritime surveillance patrols as ships come into international waters near us.

BEN FORDHAM Minister you've got a very calming, soothing way of dealing with these things that are described by others as a diplomatic crisis. I suppose that's your job isn't it?

JULIE BISHOP You can't overreact to events. You deal with them methodically, purposefully and diplomatically – that's my job. Each and every day I focus on representing the interests of Australia in our international relations and the events surrounding the G20 are just part of the job that I have to do.

BEN FORDHAM When you spoke to Vladimir Putin about MH17, I appreciate there would be aspects of that discussion that you can't discuss and I understand it was probably a pretty short conversation on the sidelines as well..

JULIE BISHOP Not that short.

BEN FORDHAM 25 minutes or so?

JULIE BISHOP That's quite long for a bilateral meeting with world leaders.

BEN FORDHAM What did you say and how did you communicate the anger that was coming from Australia, particularly considering that diplomacy dictates that you need to be respectful of the point of view of the person you're talking to and the guy you're talking to is saying – it wasn't us – we didn't shoot down the plane?

JULIE BISHOP I understood Russia's position from my previous discussions with their Foreign Minister and with their Ambassador to the United Nations so I anticipated what the President's response would be.

I took the opportunity during proceedings of an Asia-Europe meeting in Milan to approach him and he came to one side of the meeting and we had about a 25 minute conversation, which I thought was quite lengthy considering it hadn't been arranged in advance, and he spoke in English for the first part of the – probably 10 minutes – and then an interpreter came up for the next 20 minutes or so.

BEN FORDHAM I thought you were about to tell me that you spoke in Russian for the second part!

JULIE BISHOP My schoolgirl Russian? Don't think so.

It was a very warm and engaging conversation. I talked to him about our concerns over the progress with access to the MH17 crash site. I informed him that it is our view that Russia has influence over the separatists in Eastern Ukraine and that Russia could influence them to enable our investigators to access the crash site. I informed him of our concern that there were still remains and belongings on the site and for the families in Australia and around the world who had been affected by this shooting down of MH17 we owed it to them to go back onto the site once more.

He appeared to sympathise with that position but he indicated that he didn't have the level of influence over the separatists that I may have assumed he had. We agreed to disagree on that point and we then talked about the independent investigation being run under the auspices of the Dutch Government to ascertain the cause of the crash. He indicated that Russia too was keen to see an independent investigation underway.

BEN FORDHAM When do you expect that we will find out the cause of the crash, if ever?

JULIE BISHOP We need to access the site to remove the wreckage of the plane back to the Netherlands so they can carry out further tests and investigations, for that is an important point. After my conversation with President Putin, the Dutch authorities and the OSCE – that's the Organisation of Security Cooperation Europe – did get access to the site and more remains were recovered and so the body identification process is ongoing.

I expect that this investigation into the causes of the crash will take quite some time. In fact we have asked for an extension of time. We'd be happy for it to be open-ended, as long as we are able to determine the cause and hold those responsible for it to account.

BEN FORDHAM A couple of other ones before I let you go because I know you've got a busy time in the countdown to the G20. You've come under fire for not describing yourself as a feminist. You said, when asked, "it's not something that I describe myself as, first and foremost I'm a parliamentarian, a minister, I'm a female politician, I'm a female foreign minister. Get over it!". Today, the deputy opposition leader, and the shadow foreign affairs minister Tanya Plibersek - your opposite number from the Labor Party – has written a reply of sorts, she wrote " I am a feminist, not because I'm a whinger or a victim, because I understand how very fortunate I am and I'm grateful to the women and men who've made that possible". How do you take that reply from Tanya Plibersek?

JULIE BISHOP As I've said all along, I have no problem at all with people self-describing as a feminist, and in the speech I gave at the National Press Club, which started this whole debate, I went into some detail about the work that I do as Foreign Minister in empowering women in our region, in supporting women who are the victims of sexual violence in conflict, the significant amount of money we devote to gender equality throughout our region.

My point was that as Foreign Minister of Australia, and one of the most powerful positions in the Government, I don't blame my gender for any setbacks in life and I was asked to self-describe myself as a feminist. And I said well that's not a label I attach to myself. I've subsequently said if someone wants me to self-describe, I'll say I'm an Australian - so you know where I'm from, I'm a Member of Parliament - so you know what I do, I'm the Foreign Minister – so you know what I've achieved, I'm a member of the Liberal Party – so you know what I believe, what my values are and I think that's sufficient labelling for any one person.

BEN FORDHAM One of the interesting things about this is a number of people have jumped on you, including some very very powerful and opinionated women who do identify as feminists, but they've had a go at you for this, and one thing I've never understood about that is if you believe in equality and you believe in women having equal rights and equal voice, then surely a woman is allowed to say 'no I don't identify with being a feminist and that is my opinion, my right'.

JULIE BISHOP Yes, it is interesting isn't it? Apparently I'm not entitled to describe myself as I see myself but I have to describe myself as others wish to define me. Well I've never agreed to that in life. I look at my life, through what I've done, what I've achieved, and what I can do for others. And I'm not in the least bit concerned about others describing themselves as a feminist - that's their right, that's their choice. But surely I'm allowed to describe myself as I wish, and that's the beauty of living in a country like Australia. I can self-describe as I see fit and surely people should recognise my freedom to do so. I'm not dictating to anyone else how they should describe themselves. I'm not suggesting anyone else can't use the term feminist. It's just not a term that I use anymore.

BEN FORDHAM Did you use it once?

JULIE BISHOP I may have, I don't recall. In the 1970s someone may have asked me. I'm being asked today, describe yourself - I'm Australian, a Member of Parliament, I'm the Foreign Minister, I'm a member of the Liberal Party, surely that is enough.


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